Smells Like Christmas Spirit

There is nothing that makes my home feel more in the Christmas Spirit than a good simmering potpourri. Once as the yuletide scent hits the room you will find me Singing & Dancing while baking cookies, wrapping gift, and making new holiday creations.

I feel like this time of year all my favorite stores have a distinct Christmas smell. So I wanted to create my own. Experimenting with cranberries, oranges, cinnamon, rosemary, and vanilla, I came up with my “Christmas Scent”.

The fun part is there is NO WRONG WAY to make your Christmas Scent. Play with your favorite smells and ingredients.

Fruits: Slice up fresh oranges or throw in dried oranges. You can use mandarin oranges, tangerines, clementines or lemons. They all work and smell wonderful.

Fresh Rosemary or Pine: This adds the depth scent and screams Christmas.

Cranberries: These are not a must but I believe they make your potpourri beautiful and add to the aroma. This time of year cranberries are easy to find.

Vanilla: use the extract or pop open a vanilla bean

Cinnamon: The powder or the sticks. The sticks are easy to find on Amazon or even your local grocery store.

Whole Cloves: A few go along way!

Simmering Potpourri

Cut oranges in slices. Add all your ingredients to a large pot (or slow cooker). Add water to fill pot to 3/4 full.

Bring pot to a boil. Then take the potpourri to a simmer. Enjoy it for hours. Keep an eye on it to add water as needed. Never leave it unattended for an extended period of time. You don’t want the water to completely evaporate.

Make it a Gift

Add all the potpourri items to a cellophane bag and tie it up with a cute bow. Tie on the directions. You have a gift all ready to go.

Keep Singing & Dancing,

How I Brine A Turkey!

Look At That Brine

So I brine a turkey every year because it makes me happy. What is Brining?   Brining involves soaking a turkey in a very salty solution for a certain length of time, long enough for the salt to get into the turkey and actually make the meat so yummy. It doesn’t turn it into a salty mess, either. It just results in a juicy, fantastic turkey. You will Sing & Dance

You can buy pre-made brining solutions. The one that I have trusted comes from The Pioneer Woman.  It works every time and nothing needs to be changed in my opinion.  

Let’s Brine!

3 c. apple juice or apple cider

2 gallons cold water

4 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c. kosher salt

2 c. brown sugar

3 tbsp. peppercorns

5 whole bay leaves

Peel of three large oranges

Brine Bag or Tub to submerge the turkey

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Turn off heat, cover and allow the brine to cool completely. 

Place the uncooked turkey in a large brining bag or pot, pour in the brine solution to cover the turkey, and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours. 

Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine (discard the brine) and submerge the turkey in a pot or sink filled with fresh, cold water for 15 minutes. This removes excess salt from the outside. 

Remove the turkey from the water, pat dry, and cook according to your normal roasting method.

Hummingbird Cake

“We just need to find three hummingbirds and we will be ready!” I say to Whitaker as we are finishing up at Whole Foods.  “WHAT!?!”  Oh, his look was priceless and he was fully questioning everything about my baking at this point.

Hummingbird Cake is a staple of the south.  There is something about the pineapple, bananas, cream cheese frosting, and pecans that welcome the spring.  I fell in love with this cake about a decade ago while living in Virginia. Then I started making it for Easter each year.  You just need one slice of the rich cake to understand why it is looked forward to at our home. 
For planning purposes, you can make the cake layers ahead of time. You can freeze the layers until you are ready.  Then create your cake when ready.

Fun Tip:  Find a fun cake stand to display your cake on.  There is something special about a great cake stand.  

Hummingbird Cake

Cake Layers Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
2 cups chopped ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Vegetable shortening

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened
2 (16-oz.) pkg. powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cake Topping:
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted

Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

Bake in a preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire

Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble Cake: Place 1 Cake Layer on a serving platter; spread top with 1 cup of the frosting. Top with the second layer, and spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with the third layer, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of the cake. Arrange pecan halves on top of cake.

The GRINCH Milkshake

I have to share this fun, green drink to celebrate my friend The Grinch.  You know, the Grinch is like so many of us.  This guy had some emotional wounds.  Some deep scars that started all the way back in childhood.  So The Grinch developed coping mechanisms (like I have and maybe you have) and even sequestered himself away from any sort of hurt.  He found a place so far away from anyone that could hurt him.  That cynical, grumpy attitude was really just a protective suit for The Grinch.  Ever put one of those on?  But The Grinch, even sequestered, protected, and guarded, was so lonely and missing connection.

I loved it when Jim Carry played The Grinch.  The character who flips the table is Cindy Lou Who.  Just a little girl who stayed curious.  You know we don’t do this enough.  I am so guilty of forming my opinions and moving on when someone’s expressions or enthusiasm does not match mine.  Maybe when someone’s values are different or they don’t share my beliefs, I easily move on.  But not Cindy Lou Who!  Cindy was invested!  Cindy Lou Who stayed curious and wanted to see the good in The Grinch.  Cindy knew something caused The Grinch to be this way and she knew he had a heart.  Even when everyone doubted Cindy, she still believed in The Grinch.  

My heart is to be more like Cindy Lou Who.  I want to look for the good.  I want to see past the protective walls that are built.  I want to see the heart of the person.  I want to stay curious until we get there.

To celebrate this season, we are celebrating with these fun Grinch Milkshakes!  A little reminder to my family that The Grinch just needed someone to believe in him.  Who can you believe in this Christmas?

The GRINCH Milkshake
(makes 2 milkshakes)

2 cups vanilla ice cream (I used Blue Bell)
¼ cup whole milk, plus more if needed
Green food gel – a few drops until desired color
Whipped cream, for garnish
Christmas Sprinkles
Candy Cane
6oz white chocolate or white almond bark

Melt white chocolate in the microwave until melted. Put the sprinkles in an open mouth bowl that the rim of glass will fit into.  Working one at a time, dip the rim of the milkshake glass into the chocolate. Immediately press the chocolate coated rim into the sprinkles, pressing lightly. Turn cups upright to dry completely.

Combine the ice cream, milk, and green food gel in a blender.  Puree on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until well-blended.  If the milkshake is too thick, add 2 tablespoons more milk at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Pour into two milkshake glasses. Garnished with whipped cream, sprinkles, candy cane, and fun straw.

Mike’s Hot Honey Citrus Cocktail

I’m basically married to a mixologist.  In all seriousness, my hubby can make a cocktail to celebrate any holiday, big event or even a casual get together.  This is just one of his amazing qualities.

For the holidays we have whipped up this delicious cocktail using Mike’s Hot Honey.  It is delicious served cold but could be yummy warm as well. 

We have recently discovered Mike’s Hot Honey.  This is not your normal honey.  It is so versatile you will be adding it to wings, pizza, cheese boards, salads, and cocktails!  Mike’s Hot Honey is carried at lots of groceries.  Of course you can find it on Amazon as well.  Go get yourself a bottle!  Grab a couple extra for hostess gifts or stocking stuffers.

Mike’s Hot Honey Citrus Cocktail

Spicy Honey Syrup
(makes about 6 cocktails)
1/3 cup Mike’s Hot Honey
1/4 cup water
1/2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t Mexican Vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until combined.  Pour syrup into a jar and allow to cool before using.

Make the Cocktail
1 T Spiced Honey Syrup (see recipe above)
1 cup Lemonade
3 T Whiskey

Shake all ingredients together using either a cocktail shaker.
Strain over ice in a lowball glass and garnish cinnamon sticks.

Halloween Muddy Buddies

Our Halloween Muddy Buddies Mix is a festive treat this time of year.  This mix gives you a little salt, a lot sweet, some crunchy and chewy.  We added in our favorite Halloween treats to give it all the fall colors.  You better believe we take handfuls of this chocolatey treat each time we are in the kitchen. 

Keep Singing and Dancing,

Halloween Muddy Buddies 

9 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 t vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
1 1/2 cups mini pretzels, slightly crushed
1 1/2 cups candy corn
1 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Halloween Joe Joe’s Cookies, slightly chopped (or Oreos)
1 cup Reese’s Pieces
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup brownie mix

Pour the Chex cereal into a large bowl and set it aside

In a microwave-proof bowl, combine the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter. Microwave for 30-90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate chips are completely melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the Chex cereal and gently stir with a rubber spatula to coat, trying not to crush the cereal. Divide between two gallon-size Ziploc bags and pour the powdered sugar into one and the brownie mix into the other, then seal and shake to evenly coat all of the cereal.

Spread the cereal out on parchment paper to let the chocolate firm up a bit, for about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the chocolate coated cereal with the pretzel pieces, candy corn, Trader Joe’s cookie pieces, and Reese’s pieces. Store in an air-tight container. 

Divide mix into separate decorative bags for sweet treats for friends.  

Frosted Cream Cheese Pumpkin Cookies

It’s officially FALL!!  Time to stock up on all things pumpkin.  I have been waiting patiently to share this recipe with you.  It has easily stolen the hearts of my boys.  There is something about the soft pumpkin cookie and cream cheese frosting on top that makes FALL MAGIC.  Your house will smell amazing while you are baking.  If you play “Autumn in New York” by Billie Holiday while baking your kitchen will become a dance floor.  I promise this will become a Fall favorite.

Keep Singing and Dancing,

Frosted Cream Cheese Pumpkin Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 T pumpkin pie spice, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 t Kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin 
1 egg
1 t Mexican vanilla

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces (1 brick)cream cheese, room temperature
3 T butter, room temperature
1 t Mexican vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt until combined.  Set aside.

With a mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 1 minute until light and fluffy.  Add in the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat on medium-speed until just combined.  Fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Using a cookie dough scoop, make a heaping tablespoon of dough.  Drop scoop on prepared cookie sheet by heaping tablespoonfuls.  

Bake for 15 or until the cookies are cooked through and bounce back slightly if you touch them.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool until they reach room temperature.  Then frost with cream cheese frosting, and sprinkle with an extra pinch of pumpkin pie spice.  

Please read: Cookies are ready to serve.  Otherwise, refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 days.  In my family’s opinion, the cookies don’t taste the best right out of the refrigerator.  So plan ahead before your event.  Take cookies out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before your event.  

To Make Cream Cheese Frosting:
With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla together on medium-high speed until smooth.  Gradually add in the powdered sugar until it is all combined and the frosting is smooth.  If frosting is too thick, add in a tablespoon or two of milk until it reaches your desired consistency.  If your frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar until it reaches your desired consistency.

You know I LOVE Trader Joe’s. I used Trader Joe’s Organic Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese

Growing up in the south, I have always loved pimiento cheese.  When I lived in Texas, my favorite grocery store, Market Street, began creating a Smoked Gouda Dip that took pimiento cheese to a whole new level.  Every time we return home, we always get some.  And I was determined to create it myself.  With the help of my taste tester (Chris), we have got it right where we like it.  

Recently, we had a getaway at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.  I highly recommended this beautiful place.  While there we ordered their pimento cheese for a poolside snack.  Besides being very yummy, their pimento cheese was served with pork rinds. Oh my goodness!  I am hooked.  Such a fun way addition to your appetizer.

Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese 

1 cup mayo (I used Duke’s Light)
1 (7 oz) jar pimiento, drained, and rinsed
1 t Worcestershire sauce
½ t garlic powder
½ t cayenne pepper (this gives a little heat, use less if needed)
1 (8 oz) block extra-sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded- about 2 cups
1 (8 oz) block smoked Gouda cheese, shredded- about 2 cups

Stir together mayo, pimientos, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and cayenne powder.  Add in the cheeses until well blended. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.  

Sing and Dance Tip: rinsing pimentos will cut down on the salty taste

Since and Dance Tip: shredding your own cheese will make dip more creamy.  Pre-shredded cheese will make your dip dry. 

Serve with celery, bagel chips, pork rinds, or Everything crackers.

Confetti Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

I love these cupcakes.  There is something so yummy about the fluffy light cake and the classic buttercream frosting.  Filled with your favorite sprinkles, they are ready to help you celebrate your favorite people.  

Confetti Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting
(Makes 24 cupcakes)

1 cup milk
5 egg whites
2 t vanilla extract (I used Mexican vanilla)
3 cups cake flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 t baking powder
½ t kosher salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chucks, at room temperature
½ cup of favorite sprinkles (I used these from Williams Sonoma)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. 
Line 24 cupcakes cups with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup of the milk, the egg whites, and vanilla. Set aside.

Using a mixer, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until thoroughly combined.  With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, mixing until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Gradually add the remaining ¾ cup milk and beat for 1 or 2 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer on medium speed, gradually add the egg mixture.  Mixing well and scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Gently fold in the sprinkles.

With a large ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about two-thirds full.  

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool for 15 minutes, then remove the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cool completely before frosting the cupcakes.  

Buttercream Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chucks, at room temperature
6 to 7 cups powdered sugar
½ cup milk
2 t vanilla extract (I used Mexican Vanilla)
A few drops of liquid gel food coloring (optional)

In a mixer, cream the butter on medium for 2 or 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar, ¼ cup of milk, and the vanilla and mix on low speed, until smooth and creamy.  Add the remaining ¼ cup of milk and mix until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.  Gradually add 2 cups more sugar, then add up to 1 cup more sugar if the frosting seems thin, and beat on low speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

If you want to tint the frosting: Add a drop or two of food coloring to the frosting, mixing well, then add more coloring as necessary until you reach the desired shade. If you want multiple colors, scoop frosting into several bowls, then add food coloring. 

The frosting can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerated for up to 1 week.  If you refrigerate, bring to room temperature before you use it.  Then transfer the buttercream to a mixer.  Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  

Change Your Life Grilled Chicken Marinade (Seriously)

In our home, I rule our kitchen and Chris is the king of the grill.  We are getting close to twenty-two years of marriage and we have not blurred those lines at all.  It’s like that line on Dirty Dancing where Patrick Swayze tells Jennifer Grey, “This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine.”  It is our happy places and we love it. 

During the last few months of really cooking at home, we have found a marinade that has taken our grilled chicken game to the next level.  Like Will (14.5 yo) can take down 2 or 3 chicken breasts because he loves them.  I will ask Chris to double the amount just to have extra for grilled chicken salad the next day.  This chicken is so good and yummy! 

Keep Singing and Dancing!

Change Your Life Grilled Chicken Marinade (Seriously)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/8 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t dried rosemary
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t  kosher salt
2 t ground black pepper
2 t garlic powder
6 chicken breasts 

Combine all ingredients, except for chicken, in a large mixing bowl. Whisk all the ingredients together until well blended.
Remove a half a cup of marinade and reserve for basting the chicken later.

Take chicken breast and remove any extra fat.  If needed, flatten chicken breast to a consistent level to guarantee  the breast will grill at the same consistency.

Place chicken in a large ziplock bag and pour marinade over the top. Close securely. Or you can put in a big glass container with a lid.

Marinate for at least 4 hours.  You can marinate up to 24 hours.  

Preheat the grill to medium high heat.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off.

Grill chicken for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until cooked through (165 degrees)

Use the additional marinade to baste the chicken occasionally.  

Once your chicken is complete, remove from the grill.  Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes for serving.