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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