We are all so busy nowadays and quickly grabbing something from the store is an efficient and easy way to tick the boxes off your gift giving to do list; you’ll get no argument from me! But that’s what makes homemade gifts so special, taking the time to make something from scratch and presenting it to someone who also has a lot on their plate (no pun intended!). Think about teachers, neighbors, friends, hostesses, as well as those who help keep our worlds moving smoothly, like school bus drivers and postmen. Those people (and their families) will appreciate the time spent creating thoughtful gifts for them.
Christmas is naturally a wonderful season to share homemade presents with those around us. But these gifts work well all year round, anytime you would like to say “thank you” or just brighten someone’s day. My passion lies in the kitchen, so baking gifts is where I turn. Your strength may lie in photography, flower arranging, knitting, crafting, gardening, etc. If you’re able to, please consider sharing your talents!
Below are some of my favorite homemade gifts to give… nothing exotic, over the top, or containing hard to find ingredients. But, they are all heartfelt and give me great joy to share.
I was going to post about Pumpkin Bread, and tie it together with the Roasted Pumpkin Puree (and I will) but I was seriously sidetracked by some Pumpkin Pancakes. And it was all quite by chance.
My husband is a wonderful cook. Weekend mornings he can be found whipping up the fluffiest pancakes; his chicken parmigiana is unbelievable and he can smoke a Boston butt or deep fry a turkey with the best of them.
This weekend the kids requested pancakes. While dear husband gathered the ingredients, I made the coffee. As I poked my head in the fridge for some half and half, my eyes landed on the last of the pumpkin purée. Eureka moment. “Hey, why don’t you throw this pumpkin in the batter?” Silence. Dead silence. I could hear crickets. Not one to give up I asked, “What do you think?” Long long pause. (Translation- don’t mess with my pancakes.) Finally a reply, “Let’s leave it up to B. Whatever she thinks.” I have to admit, at this point the deal was sealed because I knew exactly what B would say, “Pumpkin pancakes? Yum!”
The regular weekend pancakes were already top notch, but the addition of pumpkin, cider, and the classic spice combination of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves turned already stellar pancakes into something very special for fall and winter breakfasts (and dinners!). Gently warmed maple syrup with butter added a touch of sweetness, while the toasted walnuts sprinkled on top provided a satisfying crunch to contrast with the fluffiness of the pancakes.
Needless to say, pumpkin pancakes have been officially added to the rotation at White House Red Door.
Have you ever had that moment of spontaneity in the kitchen? A eureka moment that led to something delicious?
2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
1 cup pumpkin purée
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
warm maple syrup with butter
toasted walnuts or pecans
Preheat griddle to 350°-375°.
Mix dry ingredients. In a separate container, whisk eggs, then add vanilla, cider, and milk stirring well.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until just combined.
Stir in pumpkin, then add melted butter.
When griddle is ready, spoon 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Cook until the top of each pancake is dotted with bubbles and some have popped open. Carefully flip and cook until the other side is golden brown. Serve immediately with maple syrup and toasted walnuts. Though best enjoyed right away, the pancakes can also be kept warm in a 200° oven until ready to serve.
This summer, we had a phenomenal family trip to London and Ireland.
While we explored the British Museum, Hyde Park, the Churchill War Rooms and the Tower of London, observed the Changing of the Horse Guard and took a spin on the London Eye, my thoughts were never too far from food. In fact, we kicked our trip off with a tour of Borough Market (I highly recommend Context Travel).
Celebrating and tasting your way through artisanal British and Irish cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy is a wonderful beginning to any day. Meeting and sharing ideas with farmers, spice vendors, and even a tea importer helped us connect to London in a very real way. Continuing the unofficial theme of local foods, we planned our dinners at restaurants that embrace a farm to table philosophy, locally sourcing their products based on seasonal availability. We enjoyed delicious meals at St. John, The Harwood Arms, and Tom’s Kitchen. An absolute standout at Tom’s Kitchen was the “Homemade Ricotta [with] balsamic glaze, dried herbs, grilled sourdough.” Oh. My. Goodness. This ricotta was so incredibly luscious, smooth, and creamy- yet light and airy, that only the fear of public humiliation kept me from stealing the entire dish, huddling in a remote corner, and licking the bowl clean.
Since our return home, that ricotta has been on my mind. We have a fairly wide selection of ricotta cheese at the grocery store, but it seems unfair to compare them to what I had in London. Even the best that I can get here is good, but not Tom’s Kitchen Homemade Ricotta good. What to do? The kitchen gods spoke. Challenged accepted. I learned to make my own.
It turns out, homemade ricotta is not hard to make. In 30 minutes you can be sitting down with your own bowl of lusciousness, ready to devour, spoon in hand. Even better, you control the ingredients. No fillers, thickeners, or stabilizers needed, just four simple ingredients- milk, cream, white vinegar and salt. It’s a bit like a science experiment, so if you have kids they are going to love this. But please don’t let “science experiment” intimidate you. My nine year old is now making the ricotta on a weekly basis.
The final texture depends on how long you leave the ricotta to drain. Ten minutes yields warm, soft curds perfect for enjoying by the spoonful; twenty minutes yields still soft but slightly more spreadable ricotta, while thirty minutes or more will leave you with a firmer, drier, ricotta that holds it shape. Between 10-20 minutes of draining is my favorite for spreading on grilled bread- savory with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of fresh herbs and a pinch of salt, or sweet with a drizzle of honey and topping of sliced berries. The ricotta that sits longer is perfect to dollop on warm pasta or pizza, either before or after it comes out of the oven.
PS- What about the whey? From 4 cups of milk/cream you will have about 1 cup of ricotta and 3 cups of whey. That is a lot of whey. Before you toss it down the drain you could…
• Replace the water with whey in pizza or bread dough recipes
• Add the whey to soups and stews
• Feed it to your chickens, pigs, etc.
3 ½ cups whole milk (NOT Ultra High–Temperature (UHT) pasteurized)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Set aside.
Combine milk and heavy cream in a saucepan. Gently warm the milk mixture over medium heat until it reaches 180°. Remove from heat.
Add the white vinegar and salt, stirring gently once or twice to distribute evenly. Leave the milk mixture undisturbed for 10 minutes while the curds and whey form.
After 10 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the cheesecloth lined sieve. Once the larger curds have been placed in the sieve, carefully pour the remaining curds/whey into the sieve. Let drain for at least 10 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached. The longer the ricotta drains, the firmer it will be.
Transfer to storage container and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Enjoy as you would any ricotta, savory or sweet… in lasagna, ziti, cannoli, atop grilled bread, or just by the spoonful from the bowl!
The back to school catalogs began arriving in mid July and straight into the recycling bin they went. Now, more than a month later, I can no longer deny the fast approaching first day of school. The highlighted square on the calendar smugly reminding me that order will return in the form of routines, schedules, homework, and afterschool activities. Fuel is needed for us all, especially first thing in the morning. Enter granola.
Good granola is a tasty mix of humble ingredients barely touched with sweetness. Oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits- all relatively inexpensive on their own, but for reasons I don’t understand, suddenly become a hot commodity when combined, packaged, and put on your local grocery store shelf. Make your own. You’ll save money, have control over the ingredients, and create something far better than anything you could get from a cardboard box.
This recipe makes a little more than 8 cups and keeps for several weeks in an airtight container. My granola goes into mason jars, but tupperware,and ziploc bags work too. I have it every morning with plain yogurt and whatever fruit is in season. My daughter‘s spin is little fancier; she likes to make yogurt parfaits- layering the granola with fruit and yogurt. Keep it simple and put the granola out in the morning as part of a breakfast bar. Each person can enjoy it the way they like best… with milk… with yogurt… with fruit… or even straight up by the handful as they race out the door to catch the school bus.
PS- A batch of homemade granola makes an excellent gift. Think teachers, new moms, care package for college kids…
3 cups rolled old-fashioned oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
1 cup unsalted raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup unsalted nuts… almonds, walnuts- whatever you want
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup coconut oil (comes in a jar- solid form)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 ½ cups total of your favorite dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, dried apricots, dried figs, dried apples, dried cherries)- either a combination of fruits or just one
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and nuts. In a small saucepan melt coconut oil over low heat, add cinnamon, ginger and maple syrup- stirring to combine. Take off the heat and add vanilla and pinch of salt. Pour coconut oil/maple syrup mixture over oat mixture and combine- stirring to be sure everything is evenly coated. Spread onto cookie sheet.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring the granola about every 10 minutes- rotating the cookie sheet once or twice so the granola bakes evenly. The granola is ready when it just begins to turn a light golden color.
Remove from the oven, add dried fruits and stir well. Let cool,
stirring once or twice to break up any clumps.
*This recipe is very easy to play around with. Consider adding different dried fruits, wheat germ, flax seeds, etc.
My first post… where to start; what to make?!?! This is a first impression. “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” Oh, the pressure!
Taking this idea of blog from a spark in my mind to an actual functioning website has been quite a learning curve… and I am definitely still learning. At first all I could think about was, “what I am going to make, eat, photograph, write about?” The possibilities are endless and even better, so delicious. Then reality struck… domain names, mapping your domain, blog themes, plug ins, code, pixels. All the behind the scenes that go into creating every single website you visit. And that doesn’t even begin to include the actual content. All of the technical aspects sidelined me for a while. I started to think, “I can’t make the site public, it’s not ready; it’s not perfect; it could be better. But I’ll never think it’s ready, or perfect or couldn’t be better. And that is life- you can’t wait for the perfect moment- because you may be waiting a long time. So here I go!
As I said, I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while. Imagining how it will look and feel, and what it will say about me in my kitchen. According to the calendar, it’s Spring, a season of new beginnings, perfect for my new venture. I’ll definitely make something spring inspired, and local. Scrap that, in the northeast, after this winter, we still have snow on the ground. Lots of winter squash and root vegetables to be had… I’ll do something hearty and warm.
Fast-forward to a Friday night, I didn’t plan to make this meal my first post, actually I didn’t plan to make this meal at all. We were going to have Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce. Just as I was about to put the dish in the oven, I remembered it was Friday, during Lent, which means no meat for us. Did I mention my son had a buddy over for dinner? And he needed to be home in 30 minutes? A brief moment of panic and then a quick regroup. I fell back on an old friend, tried and true… Breakfast for Dinner! We love Breakfast for Dinner in our house, but haven’t been down that road in a while. I did a lot of it when the kids were younger, but not lately. Breakfast for Dinner can mean eggs, pancakes, French toast- it’s fast and you probably have all the necessary ingredients on hand. So on this particular Friday night, I made the Puffy Pancake (also known as a Dutch Baby). Five humble ingredients, an ovenproof skillet and 20 minutes are all you need to bring a warm, delicious and dramatic dinner to the table. If you’re feeling ambitious serve with some fruit on the side… sautéed sliced apples in the cold weather months or fresh ripe berries when they’re in season make perfect accompaniments. Maple syrup is optional, a dusting of powdered sugar or dollop of jam are just as sweet, and in my opinion even tastier!
½ cup milk
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 425°
Whisk milk, flour, sugar and eggs together until smooth. Melt the butter in a 10” ovenproof skillet (cast iron is terrific). Tilt the pan so that the butter coats the sides. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook, without stirring for 1 minute. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, 12-15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately as the pancake loses it’s puff fairly quickly.