Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cranberry Orange Pumpkin Bread

It's Fall and there's no better time to bake than this time of year! For all of you Pumpkin Bread fans, you will enjoy this next recipe of Cranberry Orange Pumpkin Bread. Not only will it fill your home with an amazing aroma that reminds you of Thanksgiving, but this treat is moist and the tart cranberries complement the spicy pumpkin bread perfectly. I've added a Cinnamon Sugar Topping for an extra dose of sweetness. Wrap up as gifts to give to family and friends or simply enjoy this for yourselves.

Cranberry Orange Pumpkin Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups granulated sugar
1 (15 ounce) can Libby's 100% pure pumpkin
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (may use melted butter)
1/2 cup orange juice (I use fresh squeezed, about 2 oranges)
Zest from 1-2 oranges
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (I use fresh when in season)

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9x5 inch loaf pans. Combine flour,pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Combine sugar pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil, orange juice and orange zest in a large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add pumpkin to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.

To make Cinnamon Sugar Topping, mix together the sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon to form crumble topping. Sprinkle crumble topping on top of prepared loaves filled with pumpkin batter and bake for 60-65 minutes or until wooden tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes Two 9x5 loaves

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Harvest Tree

What started out as a joke, has turned into a family tradition for us in the Johnson home. In October about five years ago, my husband Steve had begun transforming the bare attic of our home into a sleek office space. While he was diligently working up there, I noticed lots of white dust enveloping practically everything and I was determined not to have a "white" Christmas tree that year. So I got this brilliant idea of hauling it down two flights of stairs, setting it up in the living room and decorating it to reflect the beauty of the Fall season. While our attic is just about finished now, this tradition will live on year after year... even with the constant jokes and laughter from our children at the very sight of it.

Even after all the jokes and laughter, it really is a lovely sight and I thought it was worth sharing. To make this tree you will need to first decorate the faux spruce with lots of tiny white lights. One fabulous trick is to string those lights deep into the tree for added light and interesting shadows. I then purchased two or three grapevine wreaths and unraveled them before wrapping them slowly around the tree in a spiral from top to bottom. Add silk garlands of leaves and berries and fill in the rest of the tree with an assortment of silk mums and branches. Glittered pine cones and copper acorns hang from the branches while mossy birds nests are nestled in the tree. Add whatever you would like and begin this season with your own Family Harvest Tree.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Life is full of sweet memories and great food.  Not too long ago I attended a wedding with a dear friend of mine and we came across one of the best things we've ever eaten - Pumpkin Pancakes!!!  The lovely couple decided to serve a Southern breakfast for dinner at their wedding which was genius and delicious all at the same time.  Once we took a bite of those pancakes, we were hooked and when I say hooked....  I mean they were so good that when everyone else got in line for the cutting of the wedding cake, we decided go for seconds and thirds of the pumpkin pancakes. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Pumpkin Pancakes

1 1/2 cups milk (may use more depending on how thick you like your pancakes)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon  salt

In a bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar.  Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a separate bowl.  Stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat.  Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.  Brown on both sides and serve hot with butter and syrup.  You may also want to add a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 6

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mom's Chili

Fall is my favorite time of year and so it is no surprise that I enjoy celebrating the beauty of this season with family and friends.  We decorate our front porch steps with pumpkins in different sizes and shapes, add gold, orange and red mums along with green cabbages and purple kale.  Hung on our front two doors, we added colorful wreaths filled with flowers, twigs and leaves to welcome guests to dinner in our home.

As the weather begins to cool down, there's one recipe we all enjoy and it's a  giant pot of Mom's Chili.  Serve this recipe with a salad and a great big slice of buttermilk cornbread and you have a hearty meal. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled for a large gathering.  You may also want to make ahead as it freezes well.

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pound can crushed tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
2  (1 pound) cans kidney beans
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 bay leaf (optional)

Saute ground beef and onion until tender, then add the green pepper.  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, salt, chili powder and bay leaf.  Simmer one hour and serve.  Delicious with shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions to garnish.

This recipe serves 4

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Caramel Corn

Everyone enjoys a little something sweet, so I'm going to share a great recipe for this time of year.

8 quarts popped corn, plain or slightly salted (about 4 bags of of microwavable popped corn) and place in a large roasting pan.
2 sticks butter
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup Karo syrup, clear
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine and boil butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup and sugar for 5 minutes.  Take off stove and add the baking soda and vanilla, then stir to combine.

Pour the the hot mixture over the popped corn in the roasting pan and stir to thoroughly combine and bake for one hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes.  Cool and place in covered containers or cellophane bags and tie with ribbons to give as gifts.

Date Night in Chapel Hill, NC

I may not have grown up here in the South, but in my heart I feel as though I should have.  North Carolina is known for her Southern charm and hospitality; in many ways I am inspired to write simply because of her beauty.  One of my favorite places to frequent is Chapel Hill where giant oaks line the many winding roads and brick sidewalks, and along them you’ll find large plantation styled homes with wrap around porches complete with rocking chairs and porch swings.  In their gardens, dogwoods, hydrangeas, ferns and perhaps a fountain to cool a wandering guest. In this neighborhood, the porch lights are on in the evening, just beckoning neighbors and friends to stop by for a while.  The pace seems slower during the summer and time with family and friends are what matters most. 

Chapel Hill can be many things, but for my husband Steve and me, it’s a great place to go for a date night.  This Friday evening we decided to take that winding drive through the country where even the scenery became the backdrop to relaxing conversation and time to catch up with each other’s day.  As a tip from a dear friend, we ventured in to Crook’s Corner for an early dinner where they boast of fine Southern cuisine with casual Southern dining.  We chose to eat on the back porch and it seemed that we were not the only ones with this idea.  Surrounded by a bamboo forest, modern artwork and the sound of a water garden added to our experience, but the Carolina Sampler we ordered was the main attraction.

There’s always something fun going on in town.  This evening was no different as we walked past the historic Carolina Inn, where many gathered on the front lawn to enjoy a bluegrass band entertaining a large gathering of folks.  This fun event was called Friday Nights on the Front Porch.  To check out other gatherings, contact

E Franklin Street is where we headed next and because it’s a Friday night, this little college town was with young students, professors, business men in bow ties, their wives In colorful sundresses and those like us who wanted to spend a little time with their sweethearts. There’s something wonderful about taking an evening and spending it with a walk, hand in hand. The sun is setting, so we ventured to the bell tower just in time to see it light up before the sky grew dark and then headed over to another favorite hot spot of ours…  off to Sugarland’s, for dessert!  The place is amazing as you walk in through its colorful doors and are immediately greeted with the smell of sweet treats.  They specialize in their signature cupcakes and gelatos.  Let’s not forget about a great cup of coffee or mocha.  I also noticed this evening that they serve martinis for those who might like to indulge one step further.  This place was bustling at 8:30pm and that’s ok, because they stay open late on Friday nights until midnight. 

On our way home, the air was still warm and the crescent moon was hanging high; what a perfect Friday night to spend with my sweetheart.  Perhaps this will encourage you to take a little time out and turn an ordinary evening into a special memory too.