The Smells of Christmas

Now that Christmas is upon us, decorating is in full force, the sounds and smells of Christmas are filling the house, and I'm getting super excited for my favorite holiday.

They say smells bring back the strongest memories, and in the spirit of the smells of Christmas, I had to share the mulling spices that are filling our home at this time of year. My mother always had a pot of mulling spices on the stove; I can't remember a Christmas without them! Mulling spices and Glogg, that is (shout out to all those with Swedish heritage!). Turn them on in the morning, after coming home in the afternoon/evening, and breathe in Christmas.

It's wonderful how easy it is to make your home smell like Christmas. Our family recipe goes a little like this:

  • the peel of 1 orange
  • 3-4 small cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of whole cloves

Throw all of the ingredients into a small pot filled approximately 1/2 full of water, and simmer. Your home will smell like Christmas in no time! This is a very loose recipe, so you can tweek it at will.

There are so many different types of home-made mulling spices out there. I was searching around for some variations to add a little "spice" to my mulling spices, and found some that sound great. I haven't tried them yet, so I can't attest to the wonders of their scent, but you can't really go wrong.

Mulling Spice Blend very similar to my own - just add whole allspice


Holiday Mulling Spices that include cardamom, peppercorns, star anise, all spice, and more. 

From the Cooking Channel

Homemade Mulling Spices that add a twist with candied ginger.

From Shutterbean

The Smells of the Season mulling spices include cranberries, yum!

From Make it Do

The Mountain Rose Blog has a slightly more intense recipe, but the list of ingredients would smell divine!

From The Mountain Rose Blog

I hope your home starts smelling like Christmas in no time!

Better Than Your Average Pumpkin Pie

The family is packing up and heading out this Thanksgiving, making the trek across the country to my in-laws'. I was a little sad not to be making my own turkey dinner (only a little), so when Toddler G asked me to make a pumpkin pie the other day, I was super excited. I'd heard that adding Dulce de Leche to a pumpkin pie would make it even better and I couldn't wait to try it out.

Pumpkin Pie with Dulce de Leche drizzled over the top

There wasn't enough time in my weekend schedule to bake a pie from scratch - I usually like to make my own pie crusts - so I opted for the Trader Joe's version. They sell frozen pie crusts and canned organic pumpkin, the can even has an easy recipe on the side. I don't know why, but pumpkin pie has always intimidated me. But this recipe is crazy easy, it really surprised me.

After letting the crust defrost, I tried to unwrap it and put it in the pie pan. That was near impossible. The crust broke into a million pieces! Urg. I spent a ton of time trying to press the pieces together, and barely got it into the pan. Note to self, make crust from scratch, it takes almost as much time.

After mixing the ingredients and putting the pie in the oven for a few minutes, I added the secret ingredient  - Dulce de Leche (another Trader Joe's holiday staple). I heated a few tablespoons in the microwave and drizzled it onto the pie. Important note, make sure the pie has cooked for 10 minutes or so in order for the dulce de leche to stay on the top rather than sink to the bottom. You could even make designs in it (wish I'd thought of this before I started, next time!).

Voila! The pie was done and Toddler G got to sample her requested pie. It was great, Toddler G even had 3 bites! (She usually won't eat pie at all, so this was really impressive). The Dulce de Leche added a lot of extra yum to an already yummy pie. I'm most definitely going to make pumpkin pie with Dulce de Leche going forward, without a doubt!

Hope you try it and love it, too! Tell me your thoughts and any pumpkin pie twists you use and love.

PS. This post is in no way affiliated with Trader Joe's, it just happens to be my favorite grocery store.

Pumpkin Seed Fever

This pre-Halloween weekend is turning into a busy one - its all-pumpkin all-the-time. 

I picked up a few more pumpkins at Trader Joe's (cheapest, best pumpkins around!), cleaned out a total of 4 (felt like 100), then carved and cleaned up the seeds for roasting.

I've never roasted pumpkin seeds on my own before. I only have memories of making them with my mom every year as a kid. Thanks mom!

As its my first time, I wanted to try at least two different flavors, something completely different than what you typically expect of a pumpkin seed - sweet and salty pumpkin seeds. I found a bunch of different recipes for both Cinnamon-Sugar seeds and Old Bay seeds. I decided I had to try them both

The process I used is identical for both flavors, only the last step of which seasonings I tossed with is different. So, first things first:

Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Seeds

2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Old Bay Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds (this is all I had left, but you can easily increase the amounts for however much you have)
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp salt

What to do next

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. After rinsing and patting the seeds dry, I placed them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets and drizzled the oil over them.
  3. Toss with a spatula
  4. Bake the seeds 15 minutes (tossing every 5 minutes)
  5. After removing the seeds from the oven and while still warm, add your seasonings of choice, tossing again with the spatula.
  6. You're done! Eat and Enjoy!

Cinnamon-Sugar on the left, Old Bay on the right

So easy and yummy. I thought the Cinnamon-Sugar seeds would be my favorite, but the Old Bay seeds really surprised me and are delicious! Such a great treat at 9am - this is what I get for having two little girls who wanted to make pumpkin seeds as soon as they woke up. Glad it's Sunday!

I hope you try these and love them as much as I do.

Happy weekend-before-Halloween!

Fall Feasting

I've been baking and cooking up a storm lately. Between apple picking and wanting to try out a bunch of new recipes, I've been keeping my kitchen very busy!

The latest, and most amazing soup I've made in a long time, was inspired by one I found in InStyle, not quite where you'd expect to find a great recipe. Missy Robbins' Tuscan Kale and Root Vegetable Ribollita had such a yummy looking picture that I just had to try it.

This is my spin on it:

My version of the Tuscan Kale soup I found in InStyle magazine

This recipe has a mix of root veggies that I wouldn't typically think about using (celery root and parsnips, anyone?!), but they were so great together that I'm keeping this one in my recipe file.

My spin on it included ground turkey, cannellini beans instead of gigante beans (as a result of not finding gigante beans in any store), and reducing the amount of parmesan cheese and olive oil to keep the calories down. And I'm not sure how big the original servings were (4-6 as per the original recipe), but I'm going to get approximately 10 servings out of it - LOTS of soup!

Ingredients (my version):
½ lb sourdough baguette, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 lb ground turkey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, diced
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about ½ cup)
3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1½ cups)
½ tsp crushed red pepper
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
½ bunch Italian parsley
1 rosemary sprig
1 sage sprig
5 thyme sprigs
1 ¼-lb piece Parmesan rind
1 lb. Tuscan kale, stems removed and leaves torn (about 4 cups, loosely packed) - I used a 10-oz bag of kale from Trader Joe's, already prepped and no need to trim
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions (my version):
1. Preheat oven to 200°F.
2. Spread torn bread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until crisp but not browned, about 1 hour.
3. While bread is baking, cook ground turkey on high in a non-stick pan, no oil needed! Lightly salt and pepper the meat while its cooking. Hold to the side.
4. Once turkey is cooked, heat olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent. Add garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in root vegetables, red pepper, tomatoes, and ground turkey.
5. The original recipe said to gather parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme into a bunch and tie with kitchen twine. I don't own kitchen twine so I laid them into the pot and stirred around them to keep them together. Miraculously, it worked! Add to the pot along with the Parmesan. Add 8 cups of water to cover the vegetables; bring to a simmer over moderately high heat.
6. Cover and reduce the heat to low; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.
7. Discard herb bundle and Parmesan rind.
8. Stir in kale and beans. Cook until kale is wilted and beans are heated through.
9. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
10. Spoon soup into bowls, add dried bread to individual bowls until it's soaked. This step is perfect for my family as my husband usually gets home late and eats dinner after the rest of us. The bread doesn't have to get soggy if you add to individual bowls as you need it, instead of to the pot as the original recipe says to do.

I hope you try this out and love it as much as I did. Let me know what you think!