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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Did you know that peppermint is actually a hybrid mint? It’s part spearmint and part watermint (which I had never heard of before).

Peppermint is indigenous to Europe and peppermint oil has been used for centuries as a medicinal purposes. Peppermint contains a high level of menthol that produces a cooling sensation. This makes peppermint a great digestion aid as well as useful in calming intestinal irritation.

Peppermint is/was also used to freshen one’s breath and that cool sensation that it produces also makes peppermint oil a nice addition to foot lotions. Peppermint is believed to help with insomnia and its aroma is conducive to enhancing memory.

Peppermint is a popular flavoring too, used for everything from tea and toothpaste to candy and chewing gum. It’s especially popular during the winter holidays where peppermint candy canes and Christmas go hand-in-hand.

Side Note on Candy Canes

Mint candies date back to the Renaissance period and sugar-stick candy has been around almost as long. In Germany, it was a tradition for clergymen to hand out candy canes during Christmas services (as one popular belief goes) to help keep the little ones quiet during the long nativity services.

The shape of the candy cane is said to represent a shepherd’s staff (though there are some schools of thought that say it’s actually a “J” for Jesus). As early Christmas trees were decorated with ornaments made from edible things like cookies and candies, I think the crook of the cane would have made it easier to hang on a tree.

No one can say for sure where the red and white coloring came from. Hard candy sugar sticks were always straight and white, so sometime after the crooking, they started to stripe them as well.

In any case, using a candy cane to stir your hot chocolate on a cold night is a great way to relax.  Will try to bring you a couple new fun things to do with candy canes and peppermint for this winter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cheese Biskies

As we skootch into the holiday season, will be bringing you some party goodies starting out with a nice savory baked good to share with your guests.

Cheese Biskies

6 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, room temp
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 dry yellow mustard

In a large bowl, cream shredded cheddar cheese and butter until mixture is more smooth than not.

In a smaller bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, red pepper and mustard.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the cheese-butter mix.  Beat until dough comes together and starts to ball up (it may not make a ball, but it will be malleable enough to work with).

Roll dough into 1" to 1-1/4" balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Using a fork, press a cross pattern in the top (like you would when you make peanut butter cookies).

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Makes 4 1/2 to 5 dozen cookies (depending on size).


If you want your biskies to have a bit more bite, up the red pepper and/or mustard to 3/4 tsp.

You can also add a 3/4 cup chopped pecans to the mix to add some crunch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cornbread-Sausage-Pecan Stuffing

So it was pointed out to me (thanks Juliet) that I had yet to make my Cornbread-Sausage-Pecan Stuffing for you all. It’s been a big hit every time I make it and I never have to worry about leftovers. I’ve been making it for so long that I can’t even remember how I came across it to begin with but it was one of the best finds I’ve got in my collection. I try not to limit making it to Thanksgiving, but it is the perfect time to break it out and share it with family and friends.

Cornbread-Sausage-Pecan Stuffing

1 pkg cornbread mix, to bake and crumble
1-16 oz. pkg ground pork sausage*
1 lg onion, chopped
2 lg. celery ribs, chopped
1-1/2 cups pecans, chopped
1-1/4 cups broth, chicken or veggie
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg

*because one of our T-day dinner diners can't have pork, I substituted chicken sausage instead, so if you look at the photos and think "that pork sausage sure looks funny" it's because it's not pork, but since the original recipe uses pork we'll just pretend

Bake cornbread according to package instructions. After it’s done baking, allow to cool to the touch then crumble into small bits.

Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink.

(chicken sausage, not pork)

Remove sausage from skillet with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel. I usually line a bowl or dish with the paper towel and let it sit for a while.

Reserve 1 tbsp of the sausage drippings in skillet and use to sauté the onion and celery over medium high heat.

Cook the veggies until they are tender. Remove from skillet and drain.

In a large bowl, combine sausage, cooked veggies, cornbread and the remaining ingredients. Stir gently until all ingredients are thoroughly moistened.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased baking pan (9x13) or in a large covered dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through.

sorry about the yellow photo, my camera died and had to be replaced, but the back-up had to be recharged so a back-up, back-up camera was brought doesn't really look this yellow when you pan it, I promise

Serves 12 – unless your guests REALLY like dressing in which case you won’t be able to feed as many. It makes a great stand alone side in addition to a nice Thanksgiving side.


In addition to our non-pork T-day dinner diner, we also had someone with a gluten allergy, so I used a gluten-free cornbread mix and was able to substitute it for a regular mix without losing any of the taste or flavor, but guaranteeing a safe eating experience for our guest.

The chicken sausage we used was also gluten-free.  Of all the flavor varieties available, we chose the one with apples and maple flavoring because it best complimented the cornbread and pecans in the recipe.

In the past, to save time, I have also used a bag of Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing in lieu of baking fresh cornbread. Because the cornbread stuffing mix is much drier than fresh baked, you can simple add extra broth, milk, or sherry to the mix.

If you substitute chicken or turkey sausage for pork sausage, you are not going to have the same amount of drippings in the pan after frying it up, so if you need to add 1 tsp of olive oil to the pan when cooking your celery and onions.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good and Good for You: Nutmeg

As you will probably note from recent (and upcoming) posts, I do love baking this time of year.  When it's cooler outside, there's nothing better than a warm kitchen and the wafting aroma of holiday spices throughout the house.  One of my favorite spices to use is nutmeg.  It goes great on eggnog, it makes up an essential part of pumpkin pie spice, but it's also a great addition to savories like stew and chili.


Nutmeg has been around for a long time and is recorded to have made it's way from Indonesia to the Byzantine court in the 6th century.*  By the 7th century it was introduced into the Mediterranean and from there spread throughout Europe.  During the 16th and 17th century the monopoly of nutmeg (through the profitable and much up-for-grabs spice trade) bounced between Portugal and the Dutch East India Company.

In the Western world, nutmeg was originally used for perfumes and aromatics as well as used medicinally, though even then with a modicum of care.  Too much nutmeg can have adverse medical effects which is why even today it is used in small amounts.  Eventually it transitioned into a culinary additive.

Nutmeg is one of two spices produced by a nutmeg tree.  Ground nutmeg is made from the evergreen's seed and mace (a lighter more delicate spice) comes from the reddish lacy covering of the seed.

Though in large amounts, nutmeg can be a not-good-for-you thing, in smaller doses it possesses several beneficial qualities.

* Nutmeg contains several essential minerals and antioxidant vitamins.
* Like many spices, it has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties that can help protect from things like food poisoning (e.g., E. Coli).
* Nutmeg can be mildly sedative which ties into both its anti-depressant and aphrodiastic qualities (for that soft-edged feel-good feeling).
* It has anti-flammatory properties.
* Nutmeg is considered to play a part in digestive functions as well.

The one thing that was emphasized over and over in my research is that nutmeg needs to be used in moderation because it can be harmful in large amounts so BE CAREFUL and please keep that in mind!

*A special shout out to Joy E. who brought back some great spices, including the nutmeg seed in the photo, from her recent travels to Bali and to Juliet for sharing them with me!  Can't wait to use them.  Terima kasih! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Broccoli Corn Muffins with Honey Orange Butter

At Virginia's on King in Charleston, they started us out with a basket of cornbread bites served with some honey butter on the side.  Took a few minutes to figure out what the green in the cornbread was not jalapeno like I thought it would be.  Turns out it was broccoli.  Now it's not a favorite green veg of mine, but everyone really loved them and so I thought I would work up a variation for you to try at home.

Broccoli Corn Muffins with Honey Orange Butter


1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1 cup milk
1/3 cup frozen chopped broccoli, thawed to room temp


1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp orange zest

Mix the butter, honey, and orange zest in a food processor or mixer until the zest and honey are evenly distributed.

Put in a small dish and cover, refrigerate until ready to use.  In order to give the butter flavors more time to work together, I made my butter before starting my muffins.

In a large bowl mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, oil and milk.  Pour the egg mix into the flour mixture and stir gently until it comes together.

Gently fold your chopped broccoli into the batter until well blended.

Grease a muffin pan or line with cupcake holders and spoon the batter in (makes 1 dozen muffins).

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

When the muffins are done, generously slather the honey orange butter on and enjoy.  Goes well with chili, soup, or a nice hot beverage.


If your butter is completely softened, it's just as easy (and makes less clean-up) to mix it up with a fork in the bowl you're going to serve it in.

I actually used 1/4 cup of broccoli in mine (because I am not a big fan), so if you want to add a bit more or take some out, it will still be fine.  I would not use less than 1/4 cup though or you loose the broccoli flavor to the cornmeal.

Even though my frozen broccoli was technically "chopped" already, I put it on a board and chop it up a bit more so that there would be a more even distribution of broccoli bits throughout each muffin.

These are your par for the course crumbly-type corn muffins so don't be shy with the butter!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Night Sorries

As you may have guessed from this post's title, I've got nothing to bring you tonight except for the promise of good things to come.  Been out of town with back-top-back trips to Virginia Beach and Charleston, after which I drove back straight to Chapel Hill this afternoon for a Thanksgiving cooking class at The Southern Season and am finally home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Saturday special at Fast and French -- white bean chicken chili, fresh melon, french bread with brie and a glass of house wine

The weekend in Charleston was nothing if not culinarily inspiring.  My friends and I ate at some great places -- Poogan's Porch, Virginia's on King, the open air Farmer's Market, and Gaulart & Maliclet (aka "Fast and French," my new favorite eatery in Charleston).  My head is full of ideas for new things to try to make like She-Crab Soup, White Bean Chicken Chili, and Red Velvet Cookies, to name a few.  Will be working out some fun recipes to share next time, but until then, my apologies for a recipe-free, didyaknow-free posting.

Have a restful evening and will be back on track on Wednesday.

Bon soir,

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Okay, this is a straight-from-the-book recipe, well technically not a book.  I was flipping through the November 2011 Southern Living and came across this recipe.  It looked droolicious and I thought it was too good to pass up so I went ahead and tried it out for you. :) 

Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Southern Living November 2011, page 151 (instructions have been paraphrased)

1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2-1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed until creamy.

Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until the yellow disappears.

Add sweet potatoes, and beat well.

Stir together flour, next three ingredients and, if desired cinnamon (or nutmeg which is what I went with).  Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating low speed just until blended after each addition.

Stir in vanilla.  Spoon batter into a greased and floured 10-inch (12-cup) tube pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 65-75 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.

Remove from pan to wire rack, and cook completely (1 hour).

I prettied mine up with some caramel sauce and fresh chopped pecans.


You could easily substitute pumpkin or butternut squash for the mashed sweet potatoes.

Make sure to grease and flour your tube pan REALLY well or your cake will get caught and come out crumbled like (see photo above).

Actually this month's Southern Living had a nice collection of fall recipes that you might want to check out so if you don't get it already, you might want to pick up a copy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Kitty Nibbles" Doggie Treats

For all you dog lovers out there, here's a little something special for your puppy pals.

Since I was looking for something to do that was peanut-related and have enough canine connections to know that peanut butter is a dog's best friend, this made the most it was fun to make and something new add to my culinary repertoire. 

"Kitty Nibbles" Doggie Treats

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Combine all the ingredients in a mixer until they form a globular dough mass.  If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, use the paddle on medium speed, will only take a few minutes to bring it all together.

Dump the dough out onto a rolling mat and knead until it is smooth.

Then roll the dough out to a 1/4" thick sheet and use a cookie cutter to cut out the treats.

You can re-roll the scraps several times until most of the dough is used.  I divided my dough into two halves because it was easier to roll it out into manageable sections.

Place the treats on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Remove cookie sheet from oven, and let sit for a few minutes before moving the treats to a cooling rack.   

Cool to room temperature.  Then let the feeding frenzy begin.

Five out of five dogs agree, Kitty Nibbles rock!


The dough will feel a little greasy and your hands will get a little slick because of the peanut butter in the mixture, but that's why you don't need to grease the cookie sheet and they treats will come off the sheet easily.

You can use any shape cutter you want.  I chose a kitty cutter because I thought it was funny.  I may be a cat person, but I'm a cat person with a twisted sense of humor.

I was able to get 20 3" cookies out of the batch.  Depending on what shape you use, you can probably get another dozen out of the recipe.

If you don't want to feed your puppy the whole batch, you can freeze the baked treats so that they will last longer.  How long they last outside the freezer is anyone's guess because the dogs ain't letting them stay out long enough for us to find out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Peanuts*

* Unless, of course, you are allergic to them in which case you might dispute their classification here and I would not argue the point.

Oh the Glorious Goober, both friend and foe to many. 

Though it's got nut in the name, the peanut, aka groundnut, is not actually a "true" nut.  True nuts are defined as the hard-shelled fruit of certain plants (sort of a half-seed/half-fruit composite thing that Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining than I ever could).  Peanuts are a legume and associated with the pea family (for a recap of that long-standing debate, check out the Bean v. Legume).

Peanuts originated in South American but today they are grown in practically every subtropical area in the world.  Though China and India are the largest peanut producers, their peanuts are primarily used locally in the form of peanut oil.  The U.S. leads the world in exporting peanuts and most of our peanuts come from Alabama.

Now we know peanuts taste good, but it turns out they are actually very good for you too (unless you're allergic, of course).


* Peanuts are highly nutritious, they contain iron, vitamin E, and some B vitamins.
* They are high in antioxidants (with levels that rival both strawberries and blackberries) which helps protect against heart disease.
* Peanuts are a good source of protein.
* They are also high in monosaturated fats which are have been said to also help protect against heart disease.
* Peanuts contain a good level of tryptophan which is good for mood boosting and linked to brain function (good brain function).

Peanut oil has a high smoking point which makes it really good for frying things at high temperatures because it won't burn them.

Peanuts, shelled or unshelled, can be stored up to two months if kept in a cool, dry place.  They'll keep even longer if you store them in the refrigerator.  Because of their high oil content, peanut don't last long in warm condition and will go rancid.