Saturday, December 29, 2012

Here We Come A-Wassailing

For those of you who don't know, wassailing was a tradition wherein people would walk from house to house singing Christmas carols.  Scholars believe the practice started as an Anglo-Saxon pagan ritual based of an Old English salute - "waes hael" - which basically meant "good health."  In addition to walking along and singing, carolers or wassailers would "beg" for some sort of charitable gift and perhaps a warm beverage as well.  Wassailing traditionally occurs on "Twelfth Night", January 5th or 6th, rather than before Christmas. So if you haven't gone wassailing yet, you still have time.

I managed to start a new Christmas tradition last year when I found this delightful recipe for wassail at the Jane Austen Centre's online magazine.  (I do love trying out historical recipes.)

I did some fiddling and adjusting this year based on how last year's wassail turned out, and everyone agreed it was better than before.  To make this "stronger" you can also mix in brandy while the wassail is heating, but I always serve it on the side, as there are some in my family who prefer to leave out the alcohol.

And yes, we did sing before we drank it.  No, no one got it on video.  Thank God.

Traditional Wassail

  • 1/2 gallon apple cider
  • 3 small (6 ounce) cans of pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup of hot tea (I used English Breakfast, but you can use any black tea you like)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • French brandy (optional)
  • Orange slices (for garnish)
  1. Measure out the spices into a coffee filter, and securely twist and tie the filter with thread or string to prevent anything from leaking out.  This creates a spice bag.
  2. Pour the cider, pineapple juice, and tea into a 4 quart pot and stir to combine. Add the spice bag.
  3. Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Then reduce the heat to low to keep the wassail hot.
  4. Offer orange slices for garnish - and a slightly stronger citrus flavor.  Offer brandy on the side if anyone wants to add a splash to their cups.
Notes:  This can also be made in a slow cooker.  Combine all ingredients and heat on low for 4-6 hours.  In place of ground cinnamon, a cinnamon stick can be used, and you can also add allspice.

And with that, "may God bless you and send you a happy New Year!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Savannah Sponge Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote (OXO Product Review)

One of my coworkers celebrated a birthday a couple weeks ago, and I tasked myself with making her birthday dessert.  It was a small challenge, because she can't have anything with dairy in it, even if it's baked. Fortunately, this sponge cake recipe from The Savannah Cookbook has no dairy.  In fact, it's so simple, it has only four ingredients.

It would be beautiful topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, but I wanted to be a bit more festive.  So I decided to whip up some strawberry-rhubarb compote (you might remember me mentioning in when I made the meringue cupcakes - a.k.a. Cupcakes of Doom - in May).  And since I had some strawberries and rhubarb tucked away in my freezer from this summer's crop, it seemed the perfect combination.

And it was.

What was even more fun is that I got to use my new Mini Measuring Beakers from OXO.

Aren't they cute?  They come in four sizes - 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, 2 ounces and 1 ounce.  Plus they next together for easy storage.

The fill lines are well below the top of the beakers, which means no spills, and if you overfill, it's very easy to pour the liquid back into the container.

Aside from using them to measure the lemon juice for this sponge cake, I've also used them to measure flavor extracts while baking my Christmas cookies this year. I love them.

Anyway, would you like to learn how to make the cake and compote?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Be a Good Cookie (OXO Promotion)

Are you a good cookie?  Want to be one?

This is OXO's "Good Cookie" Spatula, a special product designed in conjunction with Cookies for Kids' Cancer, a non-profit organization started by two OXO employees dedicated to raising funds for pediatric cancer research.

You can be a good cookie and help in two different ways.  The first, possibly the easiest, is to buy one of these adorable little spatulas for yourself.  It's available directly from OXO and also on Amazon, and 50% of the proceeds from each spatula's sale goes toward pediatric cancer research.

But helping doesn't have to stop there.  Cookies for Kids' Cancer has a way you can get directly involved in the fundraising efforts.  All you have to do is host and register a bake sale!  What's particularly cool is that, up through the end of 2012, OXO is going to match the funds raised and/or donated through registered bake sales which mention OXO, up to $100,000.  (And there are lots of other corporate sponsors too.)  Your bake sale doesn't have to be huge.  It can raise as little as selling 2 dozen cookies at your school, office, or church.

I was hoping to get my own little bake sale up and running - the faculty room at my school is a great place when it comes to fundraisers and baked goods. Combining them would be brilliant.  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to set anything up, so I'll have to hold off until after New Year's.  But that doesn't mean I don't have some cookie ideas!

For starters, I have my quick sugar cookies that I can whip up in 45 minutes.  There's the old standby, the original Nestle Toll House cookie recipe.   Bakerella's chocolate peanut butter cookies would be brilliant.

And how about this recipe?  (I sorta made it up.)

White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in vanilla.
  2. Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Blend in oatmeal, cranberries and white chocolate chips to create a stiff cookie dough.
  4. Drop by heaping teaspoon (or by cookie scoop) onto either an ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  (You may have to adjust for your oven.)
It's not too late to register a bake sale with Cookies for Kids' Cancer and mention OXO.  Get out those baking tools and cookie sheets, and be a "Good Cookie"!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Skillet Okra Gumbo

I'm really starting to think I was born in the wrong part of the country. I'm just in love with my copy of The Savannah Cookbook.  Southern food, in general, just seems to make me happy.

When my husband and I went to Georgia during spring break, I ate okra for the first time.  It happened to be fried and had this really tangy mustard sauce to dip it in, but I enjoyed it, much to my own surprise.  Okra isn't particularly prevalent in my corner of the U.S., but this summer, one of the vendors at our local farmer's market had some for sale.

It was adorable and delightful, and I made this delicious skillet okra gumbo with it.

Now, you can buy okra at the grocery store, but it's not always a given and probably isn't nearly as good as what you'd buy at the farmer's market (or anywhere in the South, for that matter).  But I would imagine that, if you're like me, you're willing to do with what you have available.

Served over steamed rice, this recipe is enough to serve as a main course for up to six people.  It can also be used as a side dish without the rice, or if you need to stretch it over more than six plates.