Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Cooking and Baking Tips

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

Today I have tips I hope will be helpful to you during your Thanksgiving baking and cooking.

If you are trying to cut back on salt, as many of us are, try mixing together this salt free blend to use on poultry before roasting or sprinkle on a vegetables with a little butter.

Salt Free Herb Seasoning

Mix together:
5 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. celery seed

Add this to a shaker, and use on poultry, seafood or vegetables.

Herb butter is an easy addition to your holiday table that will have everyone ooohing and ahhhhing.

Holiday Herb Butter

1 cup softened butter (light butter is fine)
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary
2 tsp. fresh minced parsley
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Combine the herbs with the butter. Store in a nice, covered bowl that you can set out at the table during dinner. This butter can be used on bread, rolls, vegetables or spread it on roast turkey or chicken during the last half hour of baking. You can also use it on seafood.

jtsmama is one of our long time board members and she shared with us her method of preparing fresh pumpkins:

I just cut them in half, dig out the seeds and bake them at 300 degrees until they are done.Then I scrape it out and measure into 3 cup portions in inexpensive storage bags and put them inside a good freezer bag, it's just short of the 28 ounce can but makes no difference You could also do 1 1/2 cup measures for the 15 ounce can and it will work. I can't give a time as it depends on the size of the pumpkin. Some people scrape the pumpkin out and boil it but it comes out too watery and I suspect a lot of nutrients are lost that way. I've heard of people scraping out the pumpkin directly into the crock pot and letting it cook on low until it's done too, but I haven't tried this myself.

I always make at least two pies for my measurements for two pies are:

3 cups of cooked pumpkin, mashed
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
4 eggs beaten just so they are together, not light and fluffy
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk

Bake in the oven 375 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour. I cover my crust with foil till the last 20 minutes so it doesn't burn.

On OFL we have delightful Cuban recipes for turkey & pumpkin flan!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Recipes: Homemade Biscuits

Homemade biscuits are so easy to make, and if you follow a few simple rules, they will always turn out fluffy and delicious. I use what I call the Grandma Method. I don't use a pastry cutter, or a fork, I use my clean hands to work in the butter with the flour. It's messy, but it works for me. Whether you do this or another method, it's important not to overwork your biscuit dough. Mix until it's all moistened, and then GENTLY fold it over rather than kneading, then roll it out, or pat into shapes.

Baking Powder Biscuits

(from a 1933 Recipe)


2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tablespoons butter or shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
about 3/4 cup milk

Sift Flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift again. Cut in shortening or butter. (this is where I use my hands by rubbing the butter into the flour). Add milk gradually, stirring until soft dough is formed. Turn out on slightly floured board and lightly "knead" for 30 seconds, enough to shape. Roll 1/2 inch thick and cut with 2 inch floured biscuit cutter. Bake on ungreased sheet in a 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Makes 12 biscuits. You can also make tiny tea biscuits that are only 1 1/2 inches wide with a small cutter or glass bottom. These are great served with tea, jam or honey. Makes 24.

Thyme and Cheese Biscuits


2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme
1/2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside. Mix flour, baking powder, herbs and cheese in a large mixing bowl, using a fork. Cut in the butter. Mixture will be crumbly. Add the milk and stir until dough holds together, you may add more milk if necessary. Drop by large spoonfuls on the cookie sheet an inch apart. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Pecan Biscuits


2 1/2 cups biscuit baking mix
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
Preheat over to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine baking mix and pecans. Add cream and stir until a soft dough forms. On a lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Use a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut out dough. Place on greased baking sheet and brush tops with butter. Bake 7-10 minutes or until light brown.

Almond Biscuits with Berry Butter


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Using a pastry blender cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Combine milk, almonds and honey. Add to butter mixture, mixing just until flour is moistened. Knead dough gently; shape into a ball. Roll out or pat down dough on a lightly floured surface to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a floured 3 inch heart shaped cutter, cut out the dough, rerolling as needed. Place about 1 inch apart on unbuttered baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden. Serve warm with Berry Butter.

To make butter:

Place 1 stick softened butter, cut into pieces, 1/3 cup strawberry preserves and 1/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries in work bowl of food processor; process until smooth. Or, you may stir together by hand. Transfer to covered container; refrigerate until ready to use.

Yogurt Herb Biscuits


2 cups buttermilk baking mix
2/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
2 tablespoons snipped parsley
1 tablespoon snipped chives

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients until soft dough forms; beat an extra 20 strokes. Smooth dough into a ball on a surface dusted with baking mix. Knead 5 times. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured 2 inch cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown; 8-10 minutes. Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her
husband and three kids.  She is also editor of and has a family friendly blog, On the Front Porch.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Herbal Gifts for the Season

Gratitude takes three forms: a feeling in the heart, an expression in words, and a giving in return. ~John Wanamaker

Herbal gifts are one of my favorite things to give during the holidays. They are such a pleasure to make and give to friends and family. Of course, always keep a little something for yourself!

Lavender Jelly
from Cooking with Lavender by Joyce Ellenbecker

Infusion: Bring 3 cups distilled water to a boil in a non-reactive pan and pour over 1/2 cup fresh lavender flowers or 3 tbsp dried flowers. Steep for 15-20 minutes, strain and save in a non-reactive container for up to 2 weeks.

Jelly: Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly:
2 cups lavender infusion 1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Stir in 1 envelope (3 oz) liquid pectin. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add food coloring if desired, pour into jars and seal. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. For gift giving, process the jars in a water bath for 5 minutes after sealing with canning lids. After the bath, turn upside down for 5 minutes, then turn right side up and cool.

Handmade Herbal Lotion

1/8 teaspoon borax
1/4 cup distilled water
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1 Tablespoon grated beeswax

Combine the borax and distilled water. Set aside. Heat the oil and the beeswax gently until the beeswax is almost melted. Remove from the heat and stir. Heat the borax and water till almost boiling. Slowly pour the borax water into the almond oil mixture while stirring with a wire whisk. Add 4-5 drops of an essential oil such as rose, lavender, rose geranium, or other gentle scents, also whisking it into the mixture. Pour into a container and allow to cool. Makes 8 ounces.

Sock Drawer Sachet
The Herb Companion, October/November 1993

4 tbsp. Lavender
4 tbsp. Thyme
2 tbsp. Lemon balm

Especially nice for a man's drawer or wardrobe, this mixture has a clean, refreshing scent. We've trimmed our small burlap bag with raffia and a cedar acorn hot-glued in position. Recipe makes about 1/2 cup, enough to fill a 3-by-4-inch bag.

Herbal Sachet

2 ounces dried lavender flowers
1/2 ounce dried rose petals
1/2 ounce dried rosemary
1/2 ounce dried mint
1/2 ounce dried thyme
1 ounce dried scented geranium leaves

Blend all ingredients in a large bowl. Place the mixture into a large glass jar or tin and place on a tight fitting lid. Allow the herbs to sit for 2 weeks. Shake a couple times per week. It's also optional to add a few drops of essential oil such as a mixture of lavender and rose to the jar. After the 2 weeks divide the mixture and use for sachets or place in small muslin bags. Enclose the sachets in plastic bags to keep until you are ready to give them away.

On OFL we have more herbal gifts to make:


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reader's Questions: Growing, Cooking & Cleaning

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~W.T. Purkiser

I'm popping in today with a few questions and answers. It's been a chaotic fall here at our house between sick kids and busy schedules. The trees have mostly lost their leaves here, and we've gotten most of our outside chores wrapped up. I hope you all have been enjoying your autumn days.

I read your article about growing jade plants. I don't understand about how to water deeper to make the stems stronger. Could you please help? ~Irene

One method that works well for houseplants is to add the water to the soil until it comes through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Set the pot on a plate or in a bowl, sink etc. and in a hour or so, whatever is left can be dumped out. Don't water the plant again until you can stick a finger in the soil and feel the soil is dry again. I know it's hard to water just the right amount, but mainly remember that you want the water to get ALL the way down to the roots, but then drain out and slowly dry, so they are never soggy. If you just water the top of the plant, then the roots won't grow deeply-they will be shallow.

I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of a smell in my dishwasher. Any suggestions? Also, I need to find out how to clean/disinfect a wooden cutting board. It is used only for cutting meats. ~Pat

You can run a 1/2 cup of bleach or 1 cup white vinegar through your dishwasher by pouring it in the bottom, then running a cycle. But first reach down in the bottom and make sure there is nothing lodged. Also scrub the rubber seal that is around the edge. You can also pour a cup of baking soda in the bottom and run that through a cycle. Does your dishwasher have a trap? Some do, so get out the manual and check for that.

You can use a mixture of bleach and water to disinfect wooden cutting boards. Allow it to sit for 4 or 5 minutes then rinse well. You can also stick it in the microwave for 5-10 minutes on high to kill bacteria. Use 2 tablespoons bleach to a quart of water as a solution for sanitizing. Wash with soapy water, rinse, soak in the solution and rinse again, then wipe dry.

On a side note: some very good, reliable universities have done studies showing that hardwood cutting boards are just as safe as plastic boards, and in some case more safe, as long as they are sanitized properly.

I am interested in using natural things for coloring my cooking and baking and wondered if you had any tips on using pureed beets for color and moistness in baking. ~Sandy

This recipe uses pureed beets, so it will give you an idea of how to use them. Five medium sized beets will give you about 2 cups of the puree.

Chocolate Beet Cake

3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup oil
1 3/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 cup cooked pureed red beets
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup of the oil in the top of a double boiler over hot water. Cream the sugar and the eggs in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the remaining oil, the pureed beets, the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Sift the flour with soda and salt, then slowly stir into the batter. Pour into a greased or buttered bundt pan. Bake about 1 hour or until cake tests done. Allow cake to cool a on wire rack about 15 minutes before removing from the pan. Sprinkle the top with the confectioners' sugar.

On OFL we have tips and questions on baking a Red Velvet Cake:


Wordless Wednesday: Fun in the Leaves

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Organize Your Seasonal Home Decorating

I don't spend a lot of money decorating my home. Many people don't want to spend the time or money to decorate with the seasons, but over the years I have learned some ways to creatively seasonally decorate that have cost little or next to nothing.

Because I work a lot, I don't spend very much time decorating my home. When I'm updating my home to a new seasonal theme, I don't spend more than a couple of hours arranging and rearranging to get a nice seasonal effect. Here are some of the ways I've learned to organize my seasonal accessories:

- I store my seasonal decorations in several large stackable Rubbermaid containers: two for Christmas, one for Easter/spring, and one for autumn/Thanksgiving. When I'm ready to change themes, I get out the one(s) to put things away in, dust or otherwise clean the area(s) where the new decorations will sit, and then get out the new decorations. The storage containers get put back away, and everything is still organized for next season. Make sure you mark the containers in some way to know which one is which. Color coding them buy buying different colored containers works well.

- You will inevitably forget to put something away and stumble across it when you're cleaning another day. In each bathroom I have a corner of a closet shelf reserved for miscellaneous seasonal decorations. Or if someone gives you a seasonal gift you don't have anywhere else to put at the moment, this is a good place to put it.

If you find the task of re-decorating your entire home overwhelming, look for certain areas of your home that would be good for displaying seasonal decorations. In my home the kitchen, dining room, and living room are the focal areas of our home. There are certain areas where I concentrate when decorating for the seasons:

- Kitchen: I don't do a lot of seasonal decorating in the kitchen, but there are a couple of easy things you can do to liven it up a little. Seasonal dish cloths and hand towels are really cute, as well as seasonal floor mats. If you use the towels for decoration only, like hanging from your oven door handle, they will still be nice for the next year. Seasonal refrigerator magnets are also easy to update.

- Dining Area: Our dining room table is the focal point of our dining room. We have a long oak table that is great for seasonal decorating. A table runner makes a nice seasonal addition. I have one made out of Easter fabric for spring, a floral one for summer, and one of Christmas fabric. I just need to get one for autumn. You can accessorize with seasonal place mats, napkins, and napkin rings. These you can make yourself or pick up at yard sales or clearance sales off-season. I also like to decorate the center of the table for the season. A lot of times I will use a vase of seasonal flowers. For autumn I have a vase of artificial fall foliage. I accent the vase with Indian corn, gourds, and artificial fall leaves.

- Living Room: The main areas of the living room I concentrate on are the fireplace mantel and hearth, a corner curio shelf, and the entertainment center. I lay a garland across the top of the entertainment center that can be changed with the seasons: fall foliage for autumn, flowers for spring and summer, and evergreens for winter. On the shelves of the entertainment center and the curio shelves I rotate my seasonal knickknacks. The last place I decorate is the top of the piano. Sometimes I just decorate with houseplants and photographs, but it is also a great place to showcase collections, like my angels at Christmas or my bunny village in the spring. I also have a piece of fabric draped over the piano that I can change with the seasons.

- Other: Window clings are great for any season. Door wreaths can also be rotated any time of year. My grapevine wreath goes up in the autumn and is soon replaced by my Christmas wreath. You could have one for every season. Although I don't have one yet, a lot of people have seasonal flags or banners displayed outside of the house. These you could buy or make yourself.

These are just ideas to get in the mood of seasonal decorating. Learning to bring the outdoors indoors can be fun--there are many easy, inexpensive ways you can change the look of your home to get in tune with the seasons.

Copyright 2002 Rachel Paxton
Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of the Creative Homemaking Recipe of the Week Club Cookbook, a cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For recipes, tips to organize your home, home decorating, crafts, and frugal family fun, visit Creative Homemaking .