When a fellow blogger encouraged me to share my love of gift-wrapping in a “How To” post on my blog, I couldn’t resist! Supplies are simple: satin ribbons, decorative boxes, colorful berries, gift tags, quirky embellishments, and framed photographs. Put them all together and you have a captivating gift-wrapped package that will have your friends and family adoring its beauty rather than trying to sneak a peek inside. Place the the gifts under the Christmas tree or on the fireplace hearth to spread excitement as well as anticipation of an upcoming event. Decorated packages become “Instant Décor”. Interesting boxes can be found anywhere all year long. Often greeting cards, scented candles, exotic fragrances, and luxury beauty products are packaged in unique and vibrant boxes. It’s a shame to discard them after opening when you can go “green” and give them a facelift as a phenomenal package for someone else. Satin ribbon is classy and elegant, in my opinion. Choose polka dots, geometrics, or muted tones. Make single or multiple bows. Angle cut the ends to create a nice finish. Incorporate any embellishment such as a sprig of rosemary, a pine cone, a branch of holly, or an interesting ornament. Let your creativity shine! Sometimes I attach a gift tag, other times I take a snapshot of the recipient and put it in a miniature frame. Who doesn’t love seeing photos? Afterwards, the frames hang on the tree as memorable ornaments. Just be sure to include the date on the back for reminiscing years later. Whatever you design, have fun and be creative. Anything goes!
Eating My Way Through the Holidays: Sweet Celebrations! Good times naturally accompany good food. Every family has its favorites. Some indulge in time-worn traditions while others enjoy modern classics. As you embrace the holidays with companionship, nostalgia, fusion food, or festivities, celebrate the spirit of the season. In the next few weeks, join me as I share sweet dishes as well as inspiring ideas. Bring it home for the holidays with Sweet Celebrations from Gail’s Kitchen!
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What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Zebra Almond Bark! Isn’t it funny how things get their name? Almond Bark doesn’t even contain nuts. Seriously. I guess, technically, there is a popular candy coating people believe is white chocolate, but isn’t. It’s made with vegetable oil and often artificial flavors. It was used originally to be melted into chopped almonds to make Christmas candy that people went crazy over. So, although I borrowed the name “almond bark”, I actually preferred to use white chocolate chips instead. The ingredient list mentioned cocoa butter and natural extracts, which sounded more appealing and taste better, in my opinion. Whatever you choose, we’ll still refer to it as “almond bark”.
ZEBRA ALMOND BARK
2 cups premiere white chocolate morsels
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat white chocolate morsels on High for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave at 30-second intervals until morsels are melted and consistency is smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Spread thin. In another microwave-safe bowl, melt mini chocolate chips the same way, stirring until no lumps remain. To form “zebra” stripes, drop tiny spoonfuls of dark chocolate into the white chocolate. Take a cake tester and create a swirl pattern by dragging the dark chocolate outward into stripes. The more random the design, the prettier it looks. Place baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes to set. Remove pan and break Zebra Almond Bark apart into pieces. Store candy at room temperature.
“The lofty pine is oftenest shaken
by the winds; high towers fall
with a heavier crash; and the lightening
strikes the highest mountain.”
“To me a lush carpet
of pine needles or spongy grass
is more welcome than the
most luxurious Persian rug.”
~ Helen Keller
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Your Grandma’s Molasses Cookies! For years I was on a quest to bake soft, chewy cookies. No matter what I did, it seemed as soon as the cookies cooled, they turned crunchy rather than chewy. Don’t get me wrong, they still disappeared in my house because…well, kids seem to love homemade cookies no matter how they turn out. Then, the other day I was rifling through a stack of recipes scribbled on random slips of paper tucked away in a ziplock bag. I came across the familiar handwriting of my beloved Grandma Frieda. I remembered visiting her in the summertime when she’d bring out the Game of Cootie for us to play. Afterwards, she serve a plate of sugary molasses cookies with a glass of milk. Those are good memories, that’s for sure.
YOUR GRANDMA’S MOLASSES COOKIES
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon cloves, ground
1 teaspoon ginger, ground
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar plus 1/2 cup
1/2 cup molasses
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line baking sheet with a silicone baking mat and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and 2 cups sugar until combined. Add in the molasses and eggs and mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the ingredients of the stand mixer and mix until all is combined. Fill a small bowl with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Form teaspoon-size dough into balls then gently roll them in the granulated sugar. Place onto baking sheet, two inches apart. Repeat until all the cookie dough has been used. Bake only 10 minutes for soft and chewy results. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Xmas Pear Pupus! A popular Polynesian appetizer, served hot or cold, comes from the Hawaiian word “pūpū”. It can be anything from a buffet table of skewered meat, tempura veggies, raw fish, and other finger foods to simple cold trays of tropical fruits, deviled eggs, edamame, and smoked salmon. Remember to make everything bite-size when planning an informal gathering. Because pear trees live such a long time, their fruit is very symbolic during the holiday season. The pear often represents immortality, wisdom, and health; a treat fit for royalty. By creating a pear pupu platter, you’re giving your guests a gift of intangibles they may treasure for years to come. Get the conversation started. Serve freshly sliced ripe pears and cinnamon dusted pear chips with a wheel of warm Brie. How festive!
XMAS PEAR PUPUS
2 pears, thinly sliced for baking
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 wheel Brie cheese, warmed
2 tablespoons cranberry relish
2 tablespoons sugared pecans
2 pears, cut into wedges for eating
Cinnamon Dusted Pear Chips must be made in advance. Preheat oven to 225°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Pat dry sliced pears. Place them on the parchment paper in a single layer. Dust with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake 3 hours until dried and crisp. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
For Pear Pupus, warm a wheel of Brie cheese in a 350°oven for 5-10 minutes to soften. Spread cranberry relish over top. Sprinkle with sugared pecans and chopped pears. Serve with pear wedges and cinnamon dusted pear chips.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Walnut Brown Sugar Butter! Ahh, sweet butter. I don’t know if it’s the winter weather or the upcoming holidays that get me in the mood for bakery ideas. Who doesn’t appreciate aromatic cinnamon, sweet nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice? The smell of bread baking in the oven triggers all kinds of emotions. It can lift our mood and impact our behavior. Honestly, it would have been pretty easy to feature today’s compound butter all by itself. But tell me, isn’t it better to imagine slathering it all over those freshly-baked cinnamon rolls?
WALNUT BROWN SUGAR BUTTER
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
In a mixing bowl, combine unsalted butter, brown sugar, and sea salt until smooth. Fold in chopped walnuts. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Spoon compound butter onto plastic wrap. Roll layer of plastic wrap over butter to form a log. Roll tight and place in refrigerator for one hour or until firm. Serve over toast, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, or muffins.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Veggie Pot Pie! Do you like to make pie dough? What if it’s not flaky? Are you okay with that? How do you keep the bottom crust from being soggy? Is it necessary to have a top crust? All very good questions, I assure you. Forget them for now and come with me into the land of phyllo dough where tissue-thin layers of unleavened dough are brushed with melted butter creating a crispy golden crunch. Expert bakers took the time and skill to make our lives easier by rolling and stretching the dough multiple times so we don’t have to. The result is a product as close as our neighborhood grocer. With pre-made phyllo dough as your starting point, anyone can be a gourmet chef. No dough-making required.
VEGGIE POT PIE
7-ounce box antioxidant blend frozen vegetables, thawed
1 cup pearl onions
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup frozen green beans, thawed
1 sweet potato, skin on
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, cut-up
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Keep phyllo dough chilled until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, combine antioxidant vegetable blend, pearl onions, corn, peas, and green beans. Gently toss to keep vegetables from mashing. Wash skin of sweet potato. Pierce with a knife. Microwave on High setting for 3 minutes. Let sweet potato cool enough to handle before cutting into cubes. Gently toss into vegetable mixture. Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom pieces. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook, stirring occasionally until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl of mixed vegetables. Add parmesan cheese. Mix beaten egg into vegetables. Sprinkle with kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Butter a 9” iron skillet. Unroll the phyllo sheets and lay them on a flat surface. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel. This prevents the dough from drying out. Keep phyllo covered after removing each sheet. Fit one phyllo sheet into the skillet, allowing the edges to hang over the sides. Brush lightly with melted butter. Continue working quickly by placing one phyllo sheet in the skillet at a time. Turn skillet a quarter-turn, then top with a second sheet; brush lightly with butter. Repeat with remaining sheets and butter. When finished there should be about a tablespoon of butter left. Spoon vegetable mixture evenly over phyllo layers. Sprinkle goat cheese over top. Fold edges of phyllo dough up and over the filling toward the center, overlapping slightly. Center will be exposed. Brush the top of the phyllo with remaining butter. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Transfer iron skillet to a wire rack. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. The flavor of roasted vegetables intensifies at room temperature. Serve warm. (Leftovers may be reheated in the iron skillet with the crust remaining crisp.)