Homemade Cranberry-Cuties “Christmas Wine”

I’ve mentioned our holiday homebrewing tradition before. Rather than deal with crowds, traffic, people, and the kind of over-stimulation that drives us both nuts, we use holidays as a bit of quiet time at home, enjoying each others’ company… while brewing up something tasty.

A few days before the holiday, my husband clears space in the brew room, while I design our recipe. For our Christmas day brew, we try to do something holiday themed, both to remind us of our “holiday”, and so that the final wine will be something appropriately themed for future holiday consumption. You know, being labeled as “Christmas wine”!

The first year of this tradition was when we designed the recipe for “Cuties” Mead, which has since gone on to become a favorite not only with us, but with other homebrewers. Cheers, guys!

As I’d mentioned last Christmas, our 2010 Christmas Wine was a cranberry-Cuties wine. Oh MAN, did it ever turn out amazing! 1 year to the day we brewed it, we were serving this up at a friend’s “orphan’s Christmas” Dr Who marathon. (Having moved our traditional holiday brew day up 1 day to accommodate such a worthy event!).

home brew cranberry orange wine recipe

This turns out a gorgeous light red, fruity wine. The Cuties oranges work beautifully with the cranberries, and the result is a smooth, festive libation. We really love the use of “crack oranges” to flavor our holiday brews… and they certainly didn’t disappoint in this recipe. Don’t wait til next Christmas to put a batch of this on – those Cuties oranges are at peak season for another month or so!

If you haven’t attempted making wine before, don’t be intimidated! Check out our primer to home brewing, it starts here, with parts 2 and 3 here and here. Just a small handful of entries, and you’ll be good to go!

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Gluten Free Fruitcake Cookies Recipe

The fact that this recipe even exists… it’s sort of a miracle.

You see, I’m one of those people that hate fruitcake. It’s not that I buy into mass “ew!” hysteria (I love broccoli and Brussels sprouts, for instance!), it’s that I find glaceed / candied fruit to be one of the nastiest things on the planet. I mean, right up there with Velveeta. Gross.

Then, there is the “gluten free” issue.

As I mentioned in my recipe for an Easy way to make French Macarons, I am NOT a fan of anything that uses fake flours to make a regular recipe into a gluten free recipe. I’m a major “Gluten Free” Snob, and pretty much stick to treats that are inherently gluten free, such as coconut macaroons, Pavlova, and French Macarons.

I’ve just always found anything made with the fake flours to be nasty, both in taste and texture.

You may be asking yourself, right about now, WHY I created this recipe. Well, I’ll tell you – painkillers!

gluten free fruitcake cookies recipe

I really hate taking painkillers, as they make me feel really gross. I have to be in really rough shape to even consider it – and making tamales this weekend really beat me up. When I couldn’t move my arm/shoulder without screaming pain for a few hours, I finally caved in.

45 minutes later, I was sorta woozy and craving fruitcake. Yes, I know – I *HATE* the stuff.

So, I did what one would expect an ADD, creative baker with gluten allergies to do when high as a kite – I designed a gluten free recipe, and demanded nicely asked my husband to drive me shopping for the ingredients I would require.

I chopped the fruit and soaked them in booze overnight, looking forward to baking them the next day.

OH. WOW. These are amazing! I mean, amazing-amazing, not “amazing – for a gluten free cookie”. The substitution of dried fruits for glaceed, the Southern Comfort… it just created this vivid palette of flavor, and texture. These were so fabulous, my not-stuck-in-gluten-free-hell husband LOVES them. A few days later, and I’m already putting on a second batch! So good!

We used a mix of raisins, cranberries, cherries, apricots, and pineapple, but you can use a combination of whatever dried fruit you love. Oh, and don’t worry about buying too much – not only will you want to put on another batch once you try these… but I’ll be posting a recipe for gluten free fruitcake tomorrow!

For a HUGE variety of dried fruits, there’s no beating Nuts Online. Apples, blackberries, cantaloupe – so much variety! Just go for the more natural, chewy type dried fruit. Banana chips, freeze dried, etc – they won’t work as well.

gluten free fruitcake cookies

Gluten Free Fruit Cake Cookies Recipe
(This makes about 20-24 LARGE cookies… probably a good idea to double the recipe!)

1 lb (About 3 cups) mixed dried fruit*
1 cup Southern Comfort **
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup Sorghum flour
1/4 cup White rice flour
1/4 cup Coconut flour
1 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 lb. pecans, chopped

A day or two before baking the cookies, chop dried fruits into pieces, mix in Southern Comfort, and cover.

Preheat oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, or coat well with baking spray. Strain dried fruit mixture, leaving it in your sieve to drain while you prepare the rest of the cookie batter.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and zests, continue beating until eggs are fully incorporated and mixture is once again smooth and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add most of it (reserve about 1/4 cup) to the butter & sugar mixture, beat gently until well combined.

Add strained fruit to the reserved flour mixture, toss well to coat the pieces (to separate them a bit). Add coated fruit and pecans to the cookie batter, mix well.

Use a tablespoon, cookie scoop, or small ice cream scoop to drop rounded spoonfuls of the batter onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool on sheets for 5 minutes or so, before gently transferring to baking racks to finish cooling.

Once cookies are cool, keep them stored in airtight containers. Much like actual fruitcake, these tend to get even better with age!

* Although I’ve been a happy repeat customer for years, I am required by FTC law to disclose: Nuts Online actually gifted me a few ingredients for the development of some recipes several months ago. I would never in a million years recommend a company that I wasn’t thrilled with. It was my history as a BIG FAN of theirs, that prompted me to work with them in this manner in the first place. I receive no compensation for this endorsement – I just love em!

** If you’re not a fan of Southern Comfort, use Jack Daniels, Rum, or Brandy. Also, add a pinch each of cloves and nutmeg – it’ll work fabulously with these other spirits.

gluten free fruitcake cookies

Entering this recipe in the Food Bloggers of Canada “Christmas in July” Cookie Contest!

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Our “Tornado Smashed” Gingerbread House!

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My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!
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Back on May 22, when a tornado smashed our house, I had no idea how long the road ahead of us would be. I had no idea that, coming up on Christmas, I would be without a kitchen, would still be fighting the city, and that I’d only be beginning to process the trauma of the whole thing.

In fact, up until a few days ago, I was pretty sure I’d dealt with the trauma. I was convinced I’d managed to just put it aside entirely, and get to work. I thought that we were so “over” the tornado, that we could have a bit of fun with it.

I have no idea why we thought it would be a good idea / funny to make a gingerbread house representation of our house on May 23. No clue. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and hey – I’d never made a gingerbread house before. If it turned out looking horrible, I had the ultimate excuse: It being “tornado smashed”, it’s SUPPOSED to look awful/be falling apart.

So, I did a bit of research. I obsessed over fellow Food Bloggers of Canada member Barry Parsons’ Rock Recipes Blog – where he has detailed instructions for making gingerbread houses. He does just phenomenal work, you should check it out!

tornado gingerbread house

Anyway, armed with Barry’s gingerbread house recipe and TONS of source material photos from back in May, I set to work. (more…)

Confetti Bars! (Butterscotch, Peanut Butter & Marshmallow Bars)

Short and sweet post today…

.. so I’ve been dealing with a sick husband the past couple of days. While shopping for “sick” groceries (stuff we don’t have on hand, that are good to have around for illness – OJ, chicken soup, yogurt, etc), somehow I started thinking about confetti bars.

Yeah, I have no idea either. My brain sometimes makes completely bizarre leaps like that.

Anyway, confetti bars. Haven’t had em in a long time, and have noticed that they definitely aren’t the ubiquitous party / holiday treat here, that they are back home. You can’t go to a Canadian potluck, Christmas dinner, or wedding social without coming across these things! I’m not taking any credit for the recipe itself, as it’s one that you just learn as a kid, and absolutely everyone knows. You know, aside from most of the Minnesota locals that I know!

Are they a Canadian thing? I don’t know. Whatever they are, they take like 2 minutes to make, and are super addictive. Definitely a case of “The whole being greater than the sum of its parts”!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 package butterscotch chips
~ 1 small package rainbow colored mini marshmallows

In a glass bowl, heat butter, peanut butter, and butterscotch chips. I like to microwave it for a minute or so, until the chips are about half melted. Stir until everything is melted, combined, and smooth.

Add in mini marshmallows, stir until all are evenly coated. Use between 1/2 and 1 small bag of them, depending on your tastes. I usually use about 2/3 of a bag, but used a whole bag for this batch (as pictured). Sometimes you want more of the “fudge” part, sometimes you want more marshmallows. These bars are NOT a hard science 🙂

When marshmallows are coated, spread mixture into a lightly greased pan. (I used 8″ x 8″ for 2″ thick bars, 9″ x 13″ is a popular size to use for thinner bars.) Chill until set. Slice up and serve!

Chai Shortbread

Remember back when I used to offer non-caffeinated baking mixes? This recipe was the basis for the Chai Shortbread cookie mixes! Absolutely delicious, and super easy to make.

A note about shortbread: The secret to great shortbread is to NOT develop the gluten. This is the reason for the cornstarch in the recipe – a “secret” ingredient for many families of shortbread makers. Cornstarch does not develop gluten.

Additionally, this is why you should be very careful not to over beat the mixture once the dry ingredients have been incorporated! Much like how kneading bread dough is to develop the gluten – giving bread structure – over beating the mixture will do the same to these cookies. In this case, you don’t want developed protein, and strong structure – you want tender, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread – so Mix JUST until combined!

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Christmas at the Porter House

The holiday season means many different things to many different people. As an Agnostic married to an Atheist, and with all of our local relatives being of the Jehovah’s Witness persuasion (and therefore not celebrating at all), we’ve come to make the holiday season fun and meaningful in our own way.

We may not go crazy with gifts, attend mass, or have family to gather and celebrate with.. and we may be scrooges with the vast majority of holiday music… but we’ve developed our own traditions:

We enjoy the annual viewing of Santa’s Slay – which, really, has got to be the greatest holiday movie ever!.

We start brewing a batch of holiday wine. Last year, it was a gorgeous fruity mead, flavored with the peels of holiday “Cuties” oranges. This year, we used more Cuties peels to flavor a big bastard 5 gallon batch of cranberry wine. Yum! (*hic!*)

… and then there’s the tree. No, we may not celebrate the holiday season in any traditional ways, but we figure we’re close enough to pagan to be able to sorta co-op THAT part of the holiday. Or at least that’s our excuse 🙂

Our fully “decorated” tree, as it appears
on Christmas day!

Many people take a lot of pride in the final appearance of their Christmas tree. We do too, but our “final” is a bit different. Like many people, the decoration of our tree is a family event, with lots of help from the kids. Instead of taking place over the course of a few hours, ours takes place over the course of the whole holiday season.

Oh… and our kids have four legs and claws! Click through for photos of Christmas as it happens here at our house… be forewarned: cuteness overload ahead! (more…)