Holiday Treat Gifts

There are always people that you want to send holiday wishes to during this season but don't want to spend a fortune on gifts.  Cards are nice for all of the families, couples, and distant friends.  Food gifts, though, are perfect for those you see frequently and should get something a little more substantial from you.  When you spend your time and energy creating something enjoyable for them, they will be very appreciative of the gesture, not to mention the amazing eats!

This Christmas I decided to make some festive red velvet cupcakes for the first time.  I adorned them with little holiday toppers, boxed them up, and trimmed them with some festive baker's twine.  Off they went to all of those on our list that needed a little holiday cheer...And they got great reviews!  I would definitely recommend this recipe.  Keep it in mind since Valentine's Day is coming up quickly.


For cupcakes:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons red food coloring
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For frosting:
4 ounces butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with liners.
* On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.
* In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.
* Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.
* Again, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the salt, baking soda and vinegar. Turn to high and beat for another couple of minutes until completely combined and smooth.
* Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife or skewer inserted into the center of the largest cupcake comes out clean.
* Next, make the frosting. Using the whisk or beater attachment for your mixer, whip the butter and cream cheese on high speed for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium high and whip for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.

* Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the pan and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
(Recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker)


Updated Holiday Bread

I don't really care for fruit cake, but the traditional panettone is pretty big here in the UK. It's a little lighter than a standard fruit cake.  I'd much prefer a moist coffee cake, though, to panettone or a dense loaf of dried fruit.  When I got a bunch of persimmons in a recent veg box delivery, I thought I'd make more of an updated version of holiday bread. I had never cooked or baked with persimmons before, but I figured I would give it a try.

This recipe came out amazingly well.  It was moist with the perfect amount of holiday spices.  Even the extra loaf that I made with raisins incorporated into the batter came out great.  So, I decided that this should be the replacement holiday recipe for getting into the spirit of the season.  It's got the flavor to conjure up cozy evenings at home, and it's perfect to give as seasonal gifts that people will actually love to eat.

Persimmon Bread

* 5-6 persimmons to make about 1 cup of pulp
* 2 tsp baking soda
* 3 cups sugar
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 4 eggs
*1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp nutmeg
* 1 1/2 tsp salt
*2/3 cup water
* 3 cups flour
* 1 to 1 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
* 1 cup chopped peanuts (or preferred nuts - optional)

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans (3 x 6 inches in size)

* Cut persimmons and remove center if tough.  Blend the persimmons in a blender on puree until the are smooth.

* Push puree through a sieve over a medium sized bowl. Add baking soda and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken.

* In another medium bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon, and salt.  Blend together until smooth. Then, alternately mix in the pulp, water, and flour.  If preferred, mix the raisins into the batter. 

* Pour batter into the loaf pans to fill about halfway.  Add the nuts on top of the batter if preferred.  

* Bake for 1 hour until a toothpick comes out clean.

* Remove from the oven and let the bread sit in the pan for another 10 minutes before removing.  Enjoy!


Quick Sticky Bun Breakfast

I woke up last Saturday morning craving our typical weekend carb-loaded breakfast, but I didn't really want to go all out in baking something.  I decided to peruse my bookmarked recipes for something that was quick and easy (i.e. ready-to-eat in about half an hour with the least amount of dirty dishes possible).

I came across this recipe several months ago and decided to bookmark it since my husband loves monkey bread. When it popped up in my saved recipes, I saw that it was loaded with buttery, brown sugar goodness, and it really only required that I have a can of biscuits in the fridge.  Perfect!  I had just bought a can of biscuits from the store "just in case" anything popped up.  I must have been channeling this recipe at the grocery store.

Although my husband still prefers the traditional monkey bread to this recipe, I actually think that this takes about 50% of the effort to get 95% of the satisfaction of monkey bread.  Here it is for you to judge for yourself.


Christmas Tree Debate...Settled!

Every year my husband and I go to one of the local Christmas tree farms and get a real tree for our house. I was really wondering this year whether this was a good choice for us as a household that tries to live sustainably when possible. I knew that fake trees carry a lot of chemicals that just add to all of those already present in your home, but I wasn't completely sure if cutting down a tree every year was a good idea.

I found this great article at the National Geographic website that talks about how real trees are the more environmental choice.  Yes!  We made the right decision.  Apparently, fake trees do contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions, landfill space, harmful toxins in living spaces, and water and energy usage. You have to take into account the way the fake trees are processed in factories (usually across the globe) as well as how they're disposed of after use.  Real trees can be recycled and used for a variety of things that may even improve quality of life.  I especially like the example given in the article of using the mulch in local parks and flower beds.

Of course, if you really want to go all out, you can get a live tree that can be replanted and used again the next year.  We tried that last year, but since I have quite the black thumb, I couldn't even keep the tree alive for a few months.  From now on, I'll be comfortable with my decision to continue buying a real tree every year.  Thank you, National Geographic, for approving of my decision.


Five Minute Doughnuts

I crave doughnuts.  Basically, I could eat them at least every weekend if not more.  Recently, I had these amazing melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts at a local pumpkin patch, and I knew I had to find something similar to make at home.  After searching the web for the easiest possible recipe, I stumbled over this gem that uses a can of biscuit dough.

This is the first time that I've ever fried anything in my kitchen.  I have to say that I was a bit concerned that I was going to set the whole place on fire, but luckily it was very easy with little mess.  The frying only took about one minute on each side, and then they were done!  This recipe is sure to please when you're craving some fried dough but don't want to go to all out.


Classic Britain

I recently returned to Britain from a short trip back to the states.  This time when I got back to the UK, I have to say, that it actually felt more like home.  Instead of missing all of the shopping and eating opportunities in the states, I had missed the adorable little British town I live in. What I love about living here is that each town has its own charm. In my little town, I love that the cobblestone roads get narrower the closer you get to the cathedral, Christmas trees are perched above each of the businesses in town, and the farmers market in the town square is only a five minute walk from my front door.

You can see this charm in the preservation of the old, which is many times juxtaposed with the new. Though we live in a fairly new townhouse, just across the road are several row houses built at least a hundred years ago...And it works. Britain feels pleasantly classic because of this preservation, and it's comforting to have some things in your town that you know will be there for years to come.