Snack Time -> Candied Pecans

  styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

I love candied pecans. I took elements from recipes and blended them together to get all the elements I love the best. Sweet, salty, buttery, and a hint of heat. Since pecans come in an array of package sizes, I altered the recipe for smaller 16 oz bags and larger 24 oz bags which is what I purchase from a place in Georgia (Adcock Pecans in Tifton). Use the smaller measurements for a smaller quantity of pecans and the higher for a larger bag. These are addictive. When we were photographing them, it was the one subject we couldn’t stop eating. :)

Candied Pecans

Ingredients

16 - 24 oz whole pecans

1/2 - 1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 - 2 egg whites

1/3 c brown sugar

1/2 - 2/3 c white granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (1/2 tsp will not set you on fire)

1 - 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 325. Add pecans to a large bowl. In a separate small bowl beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugars, salt, cinnamon + cayenne. Pour over pecans and stir until evenly coated. Spread evenly on half sheet pan or jelly roll pan. Drizzle butter over pecans. Bake pecans for 3o minutes being sure to flip and stir them every ten. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack covered in parchment paper. When cool, eat until you explode. :)

  styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

Cocktail Time -> Mulled Winter Sangria

  styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

If you desire a warm hug in a glass in cold, wet weather as much as I do, you are in luck. Last week the weather was so gross day of our Christmas party and I really wanted a warm drink that was comforting and felt cheerful. I flipped through many a cider and mulled wine recipe but nothing jumped out at me because what I really wanted was sangria. It’s my favorite party drink because wine and fruit and you mix it up in a pitcher and forget about it. But it’s also cold. And it was cold outside. And raining. So I thought I’d try my hand at a warm version. I’ll be honest, this was a gamble on my part as I am not a drink maker. But it turned out great plus it’s really easy to throw together. Also, crock pot! Make and walk away. AND it keeps well in the fridge if there is any left + reheats in the microwave beautifully. The first batch disappeared really quickly - always a good sign - so I threw together a second batch. I’ve had several people ask for the recipe so thought I would throw it on the old blog to share.

NOTE: obviously the end result will vary depending on the wine purchased. My first batch was made with a Côtes du Rhône Villages (75% Grenache/25% Syrah blend), the second with a Cabernet. They each had their own personality but the first batch was my favorite and the one that disappeared quickly. I had some of the cabernet batch left over and it mellowed nicely in the fridge (and I might’ve enjoyed having it around to sip on in the evening). I would suggest letting it marry longer if you choose a cab or merlot varietal because it definitely became quite lovely the next day.

Mulled Winter Sangria

Ingredients

1 bottle red wine (read NOTE above)

2 c unsweetened apple juice (I used Martinelli’s)

2 c cranberry juice (not cocktail)

1/2 c black rum (I used Gosling)

1/4 - 1/3 c orange liqueur

1 orange

1/2 - 3/4 c brown sugar, packed

4 cinnamon sticks

1 - 2 tsp whole clove

1/2 - 1 c fresh whole cranberries

Directions

You can use a crock pot or do this on the stove top. Several ingredients have a range. This is because I literally made this up as I went so there were a couple adjustments; mostly around sugar/spices as I did not want to make it a sweet drink. I would start on the low end of the measurement and move up from there.

Add red wine, apple and cranberry juices to crockpot. Using a vegetable peeler, peel three good strips from the orange being careful to avoid the pith (it will make the drink bitter if too much pith) and toss in crock pot. Slice the orange in half and juice directly into crock pot. Sprinkle in the sugar, spices, and cranberries. Turn crock pot on high and give it all a good stir before putting the lid on. Let it heat for 30 minutes. Give it a taste test (careful, it will be hot) and adjust spices + sugar as needed to taste.

Seasonal Entree -> Whole Roasted + Stuffed Pumpkin Magic

  styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    Alyssa Joy Photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by Alyssa Joy Photography

Let me begin by saying there is a degree of “fly by the seat of your pants” when doing a whole roasted + stuffed pumpkin. Size and variety of pumpkin both play a part in how long it takes for it to cook through. That being said, it is an easy recipe as most of your effort is in prepping the pumpkin and ingredients. The rest is just hurry up and wait. I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Around My French Table as my main guide as well as perusing a couple of other versions I found online.

Most people use pie pumpkins for this recipe for their small size. But I love a challenge so of course I bought an heirloom variety twice the size of a pie pumpkin. A fairytale pumpkin to be exact; approximately 6ish pounds. I can’t say for sure on weight as my kitchen scale doesn’t go that high. As most pie pumpkins are half that weight or smaller, you can see why I’m harping on “guide” here. Especially since heirloom varieties often have thicker flesh. Everything below is approximate so add as much or as little as you want of something. All the ingredients are pre-cooked anyway so if there is something you love (bacon!), by all means, add more (mushrooms!). I recommend baking this on a sheet pan or in an oven safe skillet/braiser. Be sure to read recipe through before beginning. If you have questions feel free to ask!

Whole Roasted + Stuffed Pumpkin

(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Around My French Table)

Ingredients

1 pumpkin, washed thoroughly (mine was a ‘fairytale’ variety, 6ish lbs)

2 cups pre-cooked rice (I used basmati cooked in chicken broth)

1 pound bacon, cooked crisply and diced or sliced into lardons (I used about 8 slices)

portobello mushrooms, sliced + sauteed (I used a half dozen or so)

1 small onion, diced sauteed

1-2 clove garlic, minced

5 oz (-ish) cheese of choice, cubed (I used emmenthale. Gouda would also be great.)

thyme, few sprigs, de-stemmed + more for garnish

1 cup (-ish) heavy cream

nutmeg, pinch freshly grated

kosher salt + pepper to taste

olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and center a rack. I lined a baking sheet with foil and then lightly sprayed the foil. Things didn’t get messy but I also chose a more dense variety of pumpkin. Cut the top out of the pumpkin. This isn’t a jack o’ lantern so make it a bit wider so you have room to work. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Thoroughly season the inside of the pumpkin with salt + pepper.

In a large bowl, mix the rice, bacon, mushrooms, onion, garlic, cheese, and thyme. As I prepared each ingredient I used salt + pepper accordingly. Test for salt + pepper preference and add accordingly keeping in mind the bacon and cheese are going to release salt into the mix. Fill the pumpkin with the mix all the way to the inside top. You may or may not use all the filling. Season the cream with nutmeg and a little salt and pepper to taste. Remember not to overdo it because bacon + cheese! But I did find in mine that I needed to add a bit to the cream. Pour the cream over the rice mixture but not all at once. Pour over a half cup and check the moisture level. Your mixture might require more or less than the recipe calls for. You want it moistened by not soupy as the pumpkin is going to release moisture into the rice mixture as well. Put the cap on. Rub olive oil over the outside and sprinkle with salt. Pop it in the oven. Mine took approximately 3 hours to cook. This means that you WILL NEED to cover with aluminum foil once the skin starts to darken to keep it from blistering too much. It is done when you can easily pierce the pumpkin flesh with a fork. You will need to periodically check for doneness as it cooks. I checked at the two hour mark and again 30 minutes later. You may want to remove the lid for evaporation purposes if the stuffing is too moist for your liking. When it is done you can scoop it from the inside like a pot of stew being sure to pull some of the pumpkin into the mixture or you can cut into wedges. I did the old scoop and pull as I wanted to keep its shape for serving.

Be sure to check out Dorie’s recipe as well as she has ideas for different ingredients. While researching I discovered Armenian and Turkish versions called ghapama - stuffed with rice, dried fruits, and honey! - and I will definitely be trying that in the future. Good luck! You got this!

  styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    Alyssa Joy Photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by Alyssa Joy Photography

Seasonal Dessert -> Summertime Strawberry Shortcake Mini Bundts

Is there anything more quintessentially the fourth than a strawberry dessert? Even though they're out of season here in Tennessee, it's hard to justify a July celebration without something strawberry. So here's to them being in season elsewhere and being able to still get them at the grocery store! 

I love strawberries and wanted to do a shortcake for the fourth but I also wanted to do something other than the usual biscuit or angel cake style. Enter mini bundts! I baked up a vanilla citrus batter in my mini bundt pan and then split them in half after they cooled. I plopped a couple hefty spoonfuls of fresh whipped cream, pressed macerated berries into the cream, and garnished with a little lime zest + a sprig of basil. They check all the boxes: simple? Yep. Homemade? You bet. Adorable, individual morsels of deliciousness? I mean...

The recipe I used is below but if you already have a favorite vanilla bundt recipe, by all means use it. I chose this recipe for the pale color of the cake's outer crumb.

Summertime Strawberry Shortcake Bundts

     (cake recipe adapted from The Culinary Jumble)

Ingredients

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 small eggs

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup of milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

whipped cream (below)

macerated strawberries (below)

garnish, lime or lemon zest + basil or mint sprig

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 320°F. Prepare a mini bundt pan with non-stick baking spray. *Even if your pan is nonstick, I recommend spraying as I had a difficult time removing these from my nonstick pan.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each until incorporated. Mix in the lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, mix baking powder, flour, and salt until well combined. Gradually add to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk, until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into prepped mini bundt pan. Bake for approximately 18-23 minutes, checking for readiness with a wooden toothpick or skewer. *This batter will remain pale so don't let them brown or they will be too done.

Cool for ten minutes and flip onto wire rack. Finish cooling before adding cream + berries. This recipe made six mini bundts in my pan. 

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream 

1 - 2 tablespoons confectioners or granulated sugar (see note)

1/2 - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

If you've never whipped cream before, let me assure you that it is very easy. The cream needs to be straight from the fridge because room temp cream can't hold air. I also like to chill my bowl and beaters beforehand in the freezer for about ten minutes. I recommend using either a hand mixer or a balloon whisk. A stand mixer is just overkill for this as it comes together very quickly.

Pour whipping cream into a well-chilled glass or metal bowl. I like to put mine in the freezer for about ten minutes before whipping. Add sugar and vanilla (amount is personal preference). Beat the cream to the desired consistency: soft peaks (thick enough to hold its shape in soft, billowy pillows), stiff peaks (cream stands in firm peaks when the beaters are lifted). For this recipe I stopped just before stiff peaks because I wanted the cream to have a soft appearance but also be firm enough to grab the berries. Be sure not to over beat or you'll make butter!

Whipped cream can be made up to 1 day ahead. I recommend using confectioners sugar over granulated if this is necessary. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If liquid separates from the cream, whip it again to incorporate the liquid. *Note: you can make whipped cream with either confectioners or granulated sugar. I do both. The difference between the two is the ability of the cream to hold together and not weep. Confectioners sugar contains a small amount of cornstarch that discourages weeping if the whipped cream stands longer than a few hours. Cream comes together so quickly that I always prepare it before serving. 

Macerated Strawberries

Macerated strawberries is nothing more than strawberries taking a swim with an acidic liquid, such as a liqueur or flavored vinegar, or sugar. Strawberries have enough natural water that a sprinkle of sugar will soften and juice them right up. Feel free to add another layer of flavor with citrus zest, your favorite liqueur, or herbs such as basil or mint. Depending on the amount you desire, hull and quarter a half to full pint of washed strawberries. Sprinkle with sugar and let sit for about 30 minutes. 

Assembly

Slice mini bundt cake in half and place bottom on saucer. Add two generous spoonfuls of whipped cream to the bottom cake half and press individual macerated berries into the cream. Add the top half of the cake, a small spoonful of cream, a berry or two, and your chosen garnish. If desired, drizzle a little of the macerated berry juice over the cakes before the final spoon of cream.

Seasonal Brunch -> Pumpkin French Toast Casserole

Nothing says brunch to me quite like French Toast and this cozy cool weather version is a warm hug in a pan, I tell ya. Pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, pecans - praise hands! I'll be honest and share that I add a little extra of everything: extra pumpkin, extra spice, and definitely extra pecans. When I was shopping for this recipe I got lucky and stumbled on one last loaf of brioche so I snatched it up to mix with the baguettes I already had in my cart. That eggy brioche makes it that much more decadent. If you expect to refrigerate leftovers, I would stick to french baguette or a similar hearty bread as the brioche can get a bit too wet when refrigerated after baking. I like to make my own pumpkin pie spice because I already have all of the spices anyway and it seems a waste for me to buy pumpkin pie spice. Plus I love to grate my own nutmeg as it's one of those spices that loses its punch fairly quickly if it sits on a shelf too long. There's really no comparison to buying it off the shelf and grating it yourself. But if you don't have all of the spices in the recipe, pumpkin pie spice is perfectly fine! 

  prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography:  alyssa joy photography    

prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography: alyssa joy photography
 

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole

(adapted from Little Spice Jar)

Ingredients

1 day old French, brioche, or challah bread, diced (see Note)

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

6 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

2 tablespoons vanilla

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (recipe below)

1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Streusal Topping

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup cold salted butter, diced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin spice (recipe below)

1/2 - 3/4 cup whole pecans

  The smell when this comes out of the oven is delightful. Prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography:  alyssa joy photography    

The smell when this comes out of the oven is delightful. Prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography: alyssa joy photography
 

Directions

Generously spritz a 9x13 dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add diced bread to baking dish, sprinkle with chopped pecans; set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and pie spice. Pour the prepared custard over the bread in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 3-4 hours and preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Streusal Topping: combine light brown sugar, butter, flour, and pie spice in a small bowl. Using your fingertips, quickly mix together until the butter breaks down into smaller pieces. Press the whole pecans onto the casserole and sprinkle the topping over the top.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. If the streusal topping starts to brown too much, tent with a piece of aluminum foil. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve with syrup of your choice, butter, and powdered sugar.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix

3 tablespoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk all in a small bowl and store in resealable container.

*We used a 50/50 mix of French + brioche breads. It is important that the bread not be fresh so it will stand up to the custard. To accelerate the process: cube or tear bread into chunks, spread on baking sheet and allow to sit out on counter for several hours. Every hour, toss the cubes to expose them to more air. When bread starts feeling dry to the touch, ready to use.

  prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography:  alyssa joy photography

prop + food styling: jennifer oatsvall of {feather + oak}, photography: alyssa joy photography

It's nutty and delicious and smells amazing when you take it out of the oven.