By Allison Davis
As I peered out my frosty window in the wee hours of the morning to see snow falling and gathering on the ground I can’t help but to think of food. Say huh? I’m a foodie not a fashionista (though I desperately try to be both) so instead of thinking what boots or what jacket I’m going to wear, I start thinking, “Do I still have fresh herbs?” “Wonder if the stock is ready?” “I need to pick up some leeks and cream before I get home.” This may sound really crazy to some, but I know I’m not the only cook out there who thinks this way. The weather can affect your mood in terms of what you want to eat and there is no better time to cook than on a blistery cold snow day, especially when the kids are out of school. Turn it into a project and make some homemade gifts for the holidays. There are so many wonderful treats you can make from bourbon pecan butter to quick and easy peanut brittle, candied bacon, Holiday Spiced Oatmeal Cookies in a jar, and one of my personal favorites…Napa Valley almonds. Put them in a mason jar, tie some twine around the top, and make your own labels with a special note. Is there anything better than a homemade gift? I mean, really…what are the holidays all about? Family, love, togetherness, smiles…and if you ask me, that doesn’t have to be expensive, or difficult, or full of gifting guesswork. It’s a win-win! Happy holidays to all and I look forward to sharing my kitchen secrets with you in the New Year!
Napa Valley Almonds
One bag of whole raw
1 package of fresh rosemary
2 TBSP Extra Virgin
Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
In a large pan bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the almonds and blanch for about 1 minute. You must be careful not to overcook because you want the almonds to remain crisp. Remove the almonds, drain, and rinse in cold water. Lay flat on a dry towel and then you will begin to peel off the outer skin of the almonds. It should be fairly simple by rubbing your thumbs and middle finger together. Removing the skins will take a little time but you can do it sitting in front of the television watching your favorite Christmas special. Note: if the almonds start to dry it will be more difficult to peel, just rinse again under cold water, and start again until you have finished removing all the skins.
In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil and bring to medium to high heat. Once your oil is hot add in the almonds. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until a few almonds start to brown. Now add the rosemary, season heavily with the salt. I like to add in just a hint of cracked black pepper at the end.
These almonds have always been a huge hit!! Keep refrigerated & these will last well over two weeks. Pair with a block of fine aged white cheddar, a bottle of wine, and some dark chocolate and you will start a new family tradition!
Holiday Spiced Oatmeal Cookies in Jar
These are some of my favorite oatmeal cookies—they’re a little more rustic looking than your average cookie, but they’re crazy tasty. Just a touch of holiday spice goes a long way to make these extra-special. To complete the holiday feel I like to add cranberries and walnuts, but these can be swapped with other nuts, fruit, or chocolate chips—mmm!
Makes about 16 cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour (140g.)
½ Tsp. baking powder
¼ Tsp. baking soda
1 Tsp. cinnamon
¼ Tsp. nutmeg
⅛ Tsp. ginger
⅛ Tsp. cloves
2 cups rolled oats (160g.)
⅓ cup dark brown sugar, packed (about 65g.)
⅓ cup sugar (about 65g.)
½ cup dried cranberries (about 60g.), or other dried fruit
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped (about 50g.), or other nut, more dried fruit, chocolate chips, m&m’s, etc….
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, or dairy-free substitute, melted
⅓rd cup milk, or dairy-free substitute
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir in the butter, milk, and vanilla extract. Scoop 1½ Tbs. sized balls onto a lined cookie sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just barely set on top. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet.
To Layer in Jars:
One recipe fills one quart-sized mason jar. I layered the ingredients into the jar in this order:
Flour (with the baking powder, baking soda, and spices whisked in)
½ the oats
½ the oats
I then labeled each jar with baking direction on top:
Directions: In a bowl, stir cookie mix. Add 1/3rd cup milk or milk substitute, 6 Tbs. melted butter or dairy-free margarine, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract.
Mix well, and scoop into 1½-2 Tbs. sized balls onto a lined cookie sheet. bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until just barely set on top. Let cool 5 minutes before devouring!
Bourbon Spiced Pecan Butter
⅓ cup toasted pecans, chopped
2 Tbs. Maple Syrup
1½ Tbs. Bourbon
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Tp of cinnamon
1 Tsp. of fresh grated nutmeg
1 stick of butter, softened
Whip the pecans, syrup, bourbon and spices into the softened butter using a paddle attachment and stand mixer. Spread on toasted bread or cracker of your choice and serve. Store in a glass mason jar in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
Microwave Peanut Brittle
I know some may say its blasphemy when it comes to cooking in a microwave, but this recipe is a keeper and came from one of the first microwave cookbooks when microwaves entered American kitchens. Unlike most peanut brittles that can break your teeth this brittle is crunchy and delicious. One note to remember is this recipe cannot be doubled.
1 cup white sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 cup salted peanuts
1 tsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
Butter a cookie sheet. Combine sugar and corn syrup in a glass bowl and microwave for 4 minutes. Stir in the peanuts and microwave for 3 ½ minutes more, then stir in the butter and vanilla and microwave for 1 ½ minutes. (watch that it doesn’t become too brown) * Be very careful as this mixture will be extremely hot, you must use a pyrex glass dish that can handle very high heat.
Stir in baking soda until light and foamy. Pour onto the cookie sheet and spread thin. Cool completely and break into pieces.
12 thick-cut hickory or applewood smoked bacon slices
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbs. cayenne pepper
1½ Tbs. cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a wire rack in over an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet.
In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Generously sprinkle and heavily coat each strip of bacon with the sugar mixture. Place the bacon in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the bacon is crisp and sugar mixture is brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool on the wire rack. The bacon will become crisper as it cools. Place in mason jars and wrap with ribbon for an sweet and spicy homemade treat.