Archive for the ‘Christmas food’ Category

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is making offerings from kitchen and heart for friends and family.  A consistent favorite among recipients not just for gifts but also gatherings is my cashew bark, a confection of chocolate, salty nuts, butter, and sugar.  Heat transforms the butter and sugar into a crisp toffee.  The chocolate and nuts encapsulate everything.  The combination is genuinely addictive.  Thank goodness the recipe is simple!

Before you get started, make sure that you have a heavy-bottomed pot (stainless steel is good), a candy thermometer, and a jelly roll pan.  You can do without the latter, but the first two are absolute necessities.


I was able to get every ingredient listed in organic form.

  • 3 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate chunks (dark chocolate or semi-sweet; milk chocolate is too sweet for me for this recipe)
  • 3 cups roasted, salted cashews (option:  try other nuts, like almonds, for a toffee more like those candy bars that shall not be named)
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) real butter (no, you may not use margarine; it will not work)
  • 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chop chocolate chips or chunks in a food processor, pulsing on and off to avoid the chocolate melting, until they are just bits of chocolate.  (You may, of course, do this step by hand.)  Transfer the chocolate bits into a big bowl and then chop the cashews roughly, pulsing again.  They should retain some characteristics of cashews, not be pulverized into nut butter.  Mix the chopped cashews with the chocolate bits and set aside.

Now put the butter and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot. (Electric burner users:  you may want to use a wire diffuser to avoid burning.) Let the butter and sugar melt together at first over medium heat, stirring to combine.  As the mixture combines, hook the candy thermometer over the side of the pot, making sure to keep the tip submerged but well away from the bottom of the pot.  Make sure that all of the sugar crystals are melting, and then increase the heat a bit, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, grease the jelly roll pan (about 17×11 inches) and use half of the cashew-chocolate mixture to coat the bottom lightly but evenly.  Just gently sprinkle it on. Now go back and stir the butter and sugar, which should be starting to resemble rising, molten lava.  Add the vanilla.  Be very careful, as the mixture will feel like molten lava if it gets on your hand!

Keep stirring while you watch the thermometer edge toward 300 degrees F, also known in candy making as the hard-crack stage.   Increase the heat if you must, but watch that temperature!  As soon as it hits 300 degrees, pick up the pot and quickly drizzle the butter-sugar lava over your cashew-chocolate mixture, leaving gaps that the lava will mostly fill in for you.  If any sections are left uncovered, smooth out the lava with the back of a metal serving spoon.  You need to move fast, as the mixture will start to harden almost immediately.  (No, sadly I do not have pictures, as I never have time for photographing  at this stage.)  Now quickly sprinkle on the rest of the cashew-chocolate mixture, making sure to get to the edges.  Press the cashew-chocolate mixture into the pan with the back of the same metal serving spoon you used above.  The chocolate will start to melt and hold everything together.  

Let the pan sit for a couple of minutes and then put it in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how much time you have.  Be sure that it is relatively flat or the cashew bark will be thicker on one side than the other.

After a couple of hours in the freezer or a few more in the refrigerator, the cashew bark should be thoroughly chilled and ready to break into pieces.  Lift one edge and start breaking!

Ultimately, you want pieces that one could eat in one to three bites, since the toffee is incredibly rich.  Any smaller bits will make a wonderful topping for ice cream!

Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or the freezer for a bit longer.  You can package the cashew bark for gift-giving too, as you long as you forewarn the recipient to keep it cold, or simply set it out as your offering for the next potluck or party.  Just be sure to save some for home, or you’ll find your family protesting!

This cashew bark has become a holiday favorite among my friends, family, and co-workers since I started making it almost two decades ago.  Do you have a favorite sweet treat you share for the holidays?  What’s the dish or treat you look forward to at holiday gatherings and in gift baskets?

You may also be interested in last year’s chocolate gift recipe, chocolate chip gingerbread.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Ozarkhomesteader's Pepper Jelly


Like a brilliant jewel, pepper jelly made with red chiles and cranberry juice tantalizes for fall feasts and Christmas presents.  I’ll post the full recipe in a couple of days.  It’s incredibly easy and oh-so-delicious with cream cheese and crackers, on cornbread, or even as a sweet-sour-and-hot drizzle sauce for chicken, fish, or vegetables or a dip for egg rolls, spring rolls, and other appetizers.


Perfect for Holiday Gifts


How hot do you like it?  Discuss.  🙂

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader

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Okay, so I had two servings of turkey breast left, some Southern cornbread dressing, and some other odds and ends I didn’t mind parting with for this meal.  After thinking about eating plain turkey again, I decided that turkey croquettes were the best solution.  Croquettes combine cooked flesh (turkey, chicken, salmon, tuna) with bread of some kind plus vegetables plus seasoning.  My challenge was to integrate two major leftovers–turkey and dressing–without my picky (leftover hostile) husband’s sensing that he was getting leftovers.  Here’s the recipe for 4 good-sized croquettes (patties):

  • 1/3-1/2 pound roasted turkey, off the bone and diced
  • 1/2-1 cup cornbread dressing (stuffing for you yankees!)
  • 1 stalk fresh celery, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup homemade ranch dressing (or store bought if you don’t have homemade on hand)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • fine bread crumbs (about 1/3 cup)

Combine together everything except the bread crumbs, starting with less ranch and adding it as you need for binder.  You want a texture that will easily hold together but that also is not too dense.  Form patties using a 1/3 cup measure.  Turn each patty into your hand and press it together into a slightly thinner patty.  Roll each patty in the bread crumbs.

You now have two choices on how to continue.  The healthier option is to put the croquettes on a well-greased pan (I used cast iron), spray the tops with oil, and then bake at 375 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes, rotating and flipping to make sure that they cook evenly until they are nicely browned top and bottom.  You can also pan fry the croquettes, flipping half way through frying.  Frankly, baking works just fine for this recipe, so I took the healthier option of baking.

I served the turkey croquettes with a fresh salad of mesclun (baby greens) and a slightly sweet vinaigrette.  You may want it with buttered noodles, on a bun, or any number of other ways.  Enjoy!

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Tonight I’m just not sure what to make for dinner.  We have few things that “have to” be eaten except for leftovers.  I thought of making turkey pot pie, but that would leave the potatoes.  I thought of making shepherd’s pie, but I’d prefer to make it with ground meat.  So I’ve decided to make Shepherd’s Pot Pie.  I can use everything that I’ve got left over, plus I can add carrots, celery, and some chopped onions.  You could substitute other leftovers for these.  How about butternut squash cubes?  How about mashed sweet potato as the topping?  It’ll all work–unless those sweet potatoes were loaded with sugar or marshmallows!

  • turkey, cubed
  • leftover green beans (cut small) with turkey bacon
  • leftover mashed potatoes, loosened with a bit of milk to make the mashed potatoes more easily spreadable
  • leftover gravy
  • leftover dressing (known as stuffing to some of you!)
  • onions, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid
  • carrots, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid
  • celery, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid

Prep the onions, carrots, and celery, beginning with the onion and adding the carrots and celery after the onions have sauteed a little while.

Then add the leftover bean liquid to help everything soften.

Cut the beans into small pieces.  Dice the turkey. Stir together everything except the gravy, dressing and mashed potatoes.  Add a little dressing to flavor the mix.  Add sufficient gravy to moisten everything. Put the mix in well-greased individual pie pans or ramekins (or in one big casserole).  Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Bake at 350-375 degrees F until the mix is warm and bubbly and the mashed potatoes are nicely browned.  Depending on how much milk you added to the mashed potatoes, you may need to broil the pies briefly to get the tops to brown.

You may also be interested in a more traditional shepherd’s pie: https://ozarkhomesteader.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/greek-inspired-lamb-shepherds-pie-with-ozark-grown-ingredients/

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We are visiting family outside the Ozarks tonight, but we are getting snow here and expect to find snow at home too.  A white Christmas is always a beautiful gift!  I want to wish all of my readers a merry Christmas. Thank you for visiting the blog!  If you, like so many Americans, are suffering from financial losses, may you remember that this holiday is about love, not stuff you buy from stores or trinkets you hang on your tree. I hope you’ll enjoy holiday-friendly ideas and recipes like Christmas lettuce, breakfast casserole, grits casserolechocolate-chip gingerbread, turkey gravy, turkey brine, and turkey hash.

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I first had breakfast casserole in 1980, when my great-grandmother died.  It’s hard to believe that it was three decades ago.  I’d love to know more about the bigger history of this dish, but for now I’m content with the family history.  Dear family friends brought the casserole to the house, and it became an instant classic.  Two things–okay, maybe three–make it good.  First, you can make it ahead and save only the baking for when you serve it.  Second, it has all of your country breakfast basics–bread, eggs, and meat–with nothing processed, like I see in some other breakfast casserole recipes.  Third, it holds well for seconds and thirds.  It’s even pretty darn good on day two, if there’s any left after the initial breakfast.

Here’s my basic recipe, designed for a large casserole dish, up to 9×13 (smaller dishes okay if they are deeper):

serves 6-10, depending on how hungry they are!

  • 6 slices of whole-grain bread, torn into bits
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • 1 pound turkey sausage (yes, you  can use pork sausage)
  • optional:  2 teaspoons each rubbed sage and crushed red pepper (this will include bits of the red flesh part and the seed, but the name will vary)
  • 1-2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Begin by browning the sausage, breaking it up as you go.  If it’s standard commercial sausage, you may want to add about 2 teaspoons rubbed sage and 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper (0r more!).  If it is pork sausage, be sure to drain it well. Now grease your casserole dish.  Put the torn bread in the bottom of the pan, spreading it out evenly.  Next evenly sprinkle on your well-seasoned sausage.  Then spread evenly the grated cheddar cheese.  Finally, beat the eggs and milk together, and pour the mixture over the rest of the casserole.  That’s it.  You can now refrigerate the dish.  In the morning, put the casserole dish in the oven first and then set the oven to 375 degrees F.  (By adding the casserole to the cold oven, you’ll reduce the chances of breaking your casserole dish, which could happen if you put a cold dish in a hot oven.)  Bake the dish for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the shape of your dish.  The breakfast casserole should be set thoroughly, and the top should be nicely browned.  To serve, you can either cut the casserole into slices, or just let your guests scoop it out themselves.

You can also pre-bake and freeze the casserole, but it’s not quite as good as baking it the morning you eat it.

By the way, I’ve also made *three* breakfast casseroles in large outdoor Dutch ovens to feed a crowd on a camp out.  This recipe is that versatile!  I just pre-browned the meat and pre-grated the cheese and froze both.  Two kids who were early risers broke and “beat” the eggs in large zippered bags while I tore the bread.  Follow the directions as above, add coals, and in a little less than an hour you’ll have breakfast for two dozen people!

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Two smells from exotic places make me think of the holidays:  ginger and chocolate.  Neither product is local, and wars were fought over both of them as the world learned of their culinary power.  Nonetheless, if I use all other local, organic ingredients, I’m happy to use ginger and chocolate in moderation, just as my grandparents did.  This recipe for Chocolate Chip Gingerbread uses both flavors, and it’s easy enough for a grade schooler to bake.  Enjoy!
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
  • 1/4-1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup molasses  Grease your measuring cup to get all of the molasses out.  If any linger, swirl the hot water (below) in it to finish the job.
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 + 1/3 cups whole-grain oat flower
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of ginger  Yes, this is a lot of ginger. If you don’t like it, use less.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of cinnamon
  • sprinkle of allspice  If you don’t have allspice, you can use a really, really tiny sprinkle of ground cloves.
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease 2 bread pans, each about 4″ x 8″.  In a large bowl, mix together the wet ingredients, being sure not to cook the egg with the hot water.  Now toss all the floury dry ingredients and spices on top, taking care to sprinkle the baking soda across the top.  Stir everything together thoroughly to make a thick, dark batter.  No, don’t add the chips yet! Now pour about an inch of the batter into the bottom of each greased pan.  Now mix the chocolate chips into the remaining batter and pour it, split evenly, on top of the inch of chip-free batter in each bread pan.  Bake at 325 degrees F for about 50 minutes.  Cool well before you remove it from the pan.

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I enjoy sharing gifts from our garden for the holidays.  I always make lots of extra jars of pickles and, when we have a good apple harvest, apple butter.  I share our garden bounty as hostess gifts for holiday parties. At this point in the year, though, with summer veggie season over, if you didn’t can pickles, you really can’t start now.  Store-bought cucumbers now will be the wrong variety for pickling, plus they’re coated with wax, which will keep the pickling brine from penetrating, no matter how hard you try to scrub it off.  Instead, look to apples and peppers for gifts from the garden.

If you had a big apple harvest, you can still make apple butter.  Apple butter is a luscious version of apple sauce, full of spices and cooked down into a decadent caramel flavor.  Let me know if you’re interested in a recipe.

If you did well with hot peppers and froze or dried some successfully, you can still make pepper jelly,  Pepper jelly is absolutely wonderful served on crackers or toast with cream cheese.  You control the heat by your choice and quantity of peppers. I make mine with cranberry juice, so it’s got a ruby-jewel color that’s perfect for the holidays.  I’ll be happy to share a recipe.  Just ask!

What gifts from the garden do you give?  Chow-chow?  Strawberry jam?  Pie filling?  Do tell!

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Homemade gravy is one of those joys of life.  True, the turkey, dressing (stuffing with cornbread made in a pan, for the Yankee readers), vegetables, and pies bring a wonderful scent and flavor of home and family, but the gravy ties everything together.  Okay, I don’t use gravy on pie, but a little gravy may hit everything else on my plate for a holiday feast! As good as gravy is to eat, some folks have a hard time making it.  I’m going to give a recipe today for basic gravy that you can start with broth from the turkey neck bone and then expand with pan drippings.

When you prep your bird for brining, remove the turkey neck (it’ll be long, skinny and bony) and the heart, liver, lungs, etc.  If you wonder whether or not to brine, read here.  I have two cats that love turkey innards, and since they deserve a happy holiday too, I cook the innards separately for them.  I may address giblet gravy in a future post nonetheless. To make starter broth, boil the turkey neck, broken into a couple of pieces with a stalk of celery (cut into chunks), about half an onion, and a carrot, with enough water to cover.  I’ll also add fresh herbs from the garden, including a 6-inch piece of rosemary and a few sage leaves.  You could add a teaspoon or so each of dried sage and rosemary if you are not growing them fresh in your garden. Rosemary and sage are perennials where I live, if you give them a little help.  I cover them for a few months when it gets really cold, but just south of here I know of people who leave them exposed all winter and never lose them. Simmer the turkey neck and veggies and herbs for about an hour.  You’ll notice that this is a light broth, with very little fat.  You want it that way now, since you’ll be adding pan drippings later.  After that hour (or so), strain off the broth; that’s the base of your gravy.  Toss the veggies and herbs in your compost–they’ve done their job–or if you are really frugal you could save them for soup later.  Reserve the neck.  After the neck cools, you can pick off the meat.  It is full of good turkey flavor, making it perfect for turkey soup.  The remaining broth is a wonderful, protein-rich stock.  If you were to refrigerate now (which you could!), it would separate into a tiny line of fat on top with a jelly-like, fat-free aspic on the bottom.  The gelatin is protein.

Now the boiler where you were making the broth is empty but may still have some good stuff stuck inside, so let’s use it for phase two.  Begin by putting about 2 tablespoons of flour in the bottom, and then whisk in just enough broth to wet all of the flour.  Now add a little more broth until you have a smooth, thin paste.  Keep adding broth until it is all incorporated.  Now simmer the gravy base for at least 15 minutes, until the gravy base stops tasting like wallpaper paste.  No, it won’t taste good yet–we’ve added absolutely no salt yet–but it should be starting to look and smell like gravy.  Now turn off the heat and walk away.  If you’ve done this step well before when you’ll be serving the bird, refrigerate your gravy base.

When the turkey comes out of the oven (thirty to forty-five minutes before you want to serve it, since you need to let it rest to retain its juiciness), pour off as many pan juices as you can easily reach.  You can put the drippings in the freezer to speed its solidifying if you want to skim off the fat.  That said, it’s a holiday; just eat it!  Now start adding your pan drippings to the gravy base you made earlier, stirring as you add.  If you used salt in a brine or in other bird preparation, your pan drippings will give up some of that salt to your gravy.  Simmer the gravy to incorporate the pan drippings.  As you get the bird out of the pan, use a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or white wine to de-glaze your pan and get the fons (those wonderful brown bits!).  Incorporate the de-glazing mix in the gravy.  Taste the gravy.  How is it?  Does it need a little salt or pepper?  That’s easy!  Does it need something else?  See below for easy fixes to common problems.

Not enough gravy for your big family? If you are thinking of what you’ll need for days to come, don’t worry.  Just use your turkey carcass to make more broth after you disassemble the turkey.  It’ll have that great pan flavor with no additions.  Just follow the steps for above for making the broth and adding the flour.  If you need more gravy now, though, you can use a commercial chicken broth mixed with flour (see above) and simmered with rosemary to get a quick addition.  Follow the steps below to doctor the results.

Pan drippings didn’t give enough flavor? Consider adding apple cider vinegar, white port, or sherry, one tablespoon at a time.  Consider adding quality soy sauce (umami!) a couple of quick dashes (shakes) at a time.  It’ll solve both the flavor and the color problem.

Does your gravy look pale? This problem can happen especially if you’ve had to use commercial chicken broth to add to your home-created turkey broth. Take a trick from Southern red-eye gravy and add a few grains of instant coffee (won’t affect thickness) or a teaspoon or so (add very carefully!) of brewed coffee.  Your gravy will take on a warm color and flavor.

Is your gravy too thin? Remember that gravy will thicken a little as it cools.  (See the protein-gelatin note above.)  If you think it won’t thicken enough, you can add more thickener now, but you need to be really careful about what you add.  The easiest thing to add to hot gravy to make it thicken without lumping is potato flour (not potato starch).  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of potato flour on the top of your gravy.  Whisk for a couple of minutes, and it will disappear like magic.  If you don’t have potato flour but have already fixed boiled potatoes, you can take half a medium red potato (no skin) and mash it into the gravy.  Start by mashing the potato half in a small bowl and then add gravy a little at a time to make it thinner and smooth.  Once it’s thinned down quite a bit, add the mixture into the gravy.  If you’ve made traditional mashed potatoes without anything funky added, you could do the same thing with it. Whatever you do, do not add wheat flour or corn starch to hot gravy.  You’ll make dumplings of wallpaper paste.

Lumpy gravy? This happens to everyone at some time.  If you have an immersion blender (a long stick that will go straight into the pot), pull it out and blend those lumps away.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender.  Just be very careful!  Hot liquids tend to sort of explode in the blender, so start by spooning just the lumps in the blender and then adding just enough liquid to blend.  No blender or food processor of any kind?  Strain the gravy as your pour it into your gravy boat.

Do you have a gravy problem I haven’t mentioned here?  questions?  Feel free to post!

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My turkey brine is quick and easy.  I just put it together in a few minutes, and you can too.  Start by putting 1 cup of salt without anti-caking agents added, like canning salt, in a medium-sized pot.  Add 1/2 cup (or a little more) of honey, brown sugar, or molasses.  Use what you have! Add enough water to come about half way up the side of the pan, completely covering the salt and honey.  Bring the pot to a boil.  While the pot gets hot, assemble the rest of your ingredients.  Put 2 tablespoons each peppercorns (mixed or all black) and 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries together to be crushed.  You can crush them in a chopper, with the side of a heavy knife blade, with a cast iron pan, or with a mortar and pestle.  As the salt-honey-water mixture comes to a boil, drop in the sort-of crushed peppercorns and allspice berries.  Now add 2 tablespoons juniper berries.  Juniper berries add a wild flavor to farm-raised turkey.  Has the pot boiled yet?  Let it boil for a minute or two and then turn off the heat.  Add a heaping tablespoon of celery seed and some chopped garlic or dried garlic.  (I had some dried garlic that I wanted to get rid of, so I put that in.) Now put a lid on that pot and walk away until it cools down.  In a few hours, I’ll add at least one cup of cider vinegar.  Sometimes I’ll add a sweetish wine too, like white port.  I also will put in handfuls of fresh herbs:  rosemary, sage, and thyme.  I have a canning pot that is large enough to hold the 18-pound turkey I’ve been thawing over several days.  I’ll put the turkey in the canning pot and alternate adding my brine mixture with water until the turkey is completely covered.  You can use a very large ziplock bag if you do not have a pot big enough to hold your turkey.  Refrigerate the turkey until you are ready to roast it, preferably giving the brine time to work overnight.

  • 1 cup canning salt (Kosher or sea salt are okay too but more expensive; do not use standard table salt)
  • 1/2 + cup honey, molasses, or brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons peppercorns (mixed or all black)
  • 2 Tablespoons allspice berries
  • 2 Tablespoons juniper berries
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 scant Tablespoon garlic (dried okay)
  • 1 cup (or more) real apple cider vinegar
  • optional:  1 cup white port (homemade wine is really good for this purpose)

What special ingredients do you add to your brine?  Please share!

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