DIY Christmas Gift Project: Cookie, Muffin and Bar in a Jar Mixes

What unique gift can you give the family who likes to cook? This year, I am making each family member an individualized “Cookie Mix, Muffin or Bar in a Jar Mix.” The basic premise is to include the dry ingredients for the dessert in the jar. The “chef” provides the eggs, butter, vanilla extract etc; which are added to the mix and baked. Of course, you must include the instructions on how to prepare the baked desserts. Sort of like a boxed cake or brownie mix but much more creative (and homemade). The sky is the limit on what recipes can be adapted for this DIY Project and what ingredients can be added. Hey, you can’t find a store -purchased box mix for Matcha Muffins. Here is a batch of my “Macha Muffins with Cranberries” made from my “Jar Mix.” Not only is this a creative gift, but the muffins are extremely tasty, too.

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Black Walnut Cluster Kisses for the Holidays

The holiday season is a great time to bake cookies. Do you know of anyone who can object to receiving a plate of homemade cookies? I love to bake during the holiday’s, but don’t need to eat many of the rich cookies and desserts. So, let’s bake cookies and give them away (well, most of them)! This season I am making a tried and true cookie recipe, “Black Walnut Clusters,” and I am adding a Hershey’s Kiss in the center of each cookie for an extra “pop” of chocolate and a festive appearance. This cookie recipe is a favorite with the flavors of chocolate and black walnuts in a rich vanilla cookie. It is simple and quick to mix up.

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Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Flan

I’ve always wanted to make a “Flan” and was excited when I stumbled across a recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” in a vintage cookbook. It is another prefect recipe for Thanksgiving and the holidays. A custard-type dessert with caramel topping is by far my husband’s favorite dessert. In Louisiana, custard flans and a similar dish, crème brûlée, are standards on most traditional restaurant menus. I can always guess what dessert we will order when we go out to eat. This recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” is a baked custard using whole eggs, spices, cream and pumpkin puree. It includes a hard caramel glaze. This recipe, or at least the caramel glaze, is tricky to make. I included fresh pumpkin pulp from my “sugar pumpkins” in the custard which gives this flan a definite Thanksgiving “pumpkin pie” taste. The “Pumpkin Flan” turned out great including my caramel glaze. Creamy and smooth. Delicious.

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Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Swirl

Is there anything else for dessert other than pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? “Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Swirl” might be an idea. This dense, moist cake has both pumpkin flavor and the spices of pumpkin pie. With a cream cheese filling swirled into the batter, you don’t need an icing for this cake. It uses a one-bowl cake concept and is easy to mix up. Plus, it can be baked a day or two ahead of time. This cake might make an alternate dessert if you want something different to serve in addition to or other than pumpkin pie. With the flavor of pumpkin pie, but not the texture, this cake is quite tasty especially with a dollop of whipped topping.

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Easy Cook: A Small Batch of Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup

Autumn is the season for pumpkin, gourds, winter squash, apples and sweet potatoes. I look forward to cooler weather and all the fall produce. In addition to providing decoration for our homes and yards, pumpkin and winter squash are extremely tasty — when properly cooked. In my opinion, there is no comparison between freshly cooked pumpkin and the canned variety. My husband recently brought home several small “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins.” Okay, now I get to cook them! But, I’m ready. These pumpkins have a very mild, slightly sweet flavor and can be used in many recipes. Today I made a small batch of absolutely delicious “Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup.” Although some recipes for this soup are complicated, this Thai-inspired soup is extremely easy to make. 

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Let’s Cook “Minestrone Soup” with a Louisiana Twist

I love a hearty soup on these cooler fall days which we are finally experiencing here in south Louisiana. Soup seems to take the chill out of the air and warm a person’s soul. So, today I’m making a variation of “Minestrone Soup” by including several seasonal autumn vegetables. I associate “Minestrone Soup” with Italian cuisine, although actually the soup precedes modern Italian culture and can be traced back to ancient Roman days. It was considered to be “poor man’s soup” where any and all leftovers were thrown into the soup pot. My soup certainly has lots of vegetables and beans which makes makes for a very colorful and flavorful soup. In my recipe, all the ingredients blend together — it is not overly rich, spicy or “heavy.” The soup is easy to make, and is a great way to increase the vegetables in your meals.

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Persimmon Rum Pound Cake

This week I’m making a delicious “Persimmon Rum Pound Cake” using some of the Hachiya persimmons growing on my backyard persimmon tree. This type of persimmon tree grows very well in Louisiana, mine was loaded with fruit this fall — I counted over 100 persimmons! While the persimmons grow during the summer, they are firm and astringent — almost impossible to eat. When they ripen in autumn, the fruit becomes very soft and translucent. The persimmons become sweet, gelatinous and lose their pungency.

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Ridiculously Easy One-Bowl Oatmeal & Apple Cookies

My grandmother Ida’s pride and joy was her “Oatmeal Bars” which we helped her bake every summer during our visits to her Iowa farm. She was especially proud that you could make these bars using only one bowl. I decided to bake a variation of her recipe, but making cookies rather than bars. I had a very tart apple to use up and added this to the dough. The cookies turned out great. They are soft and moist yet chewy with plenty of apple and oatmeal flavor. The cookies are very simple to make. I used a large saucepan and “dumped and stirred” in the ingredients — one at a time in order. For further ease, I adjusted the ingredients so that most of them are “one” cup or “one” item. The hardest part of the recipe is peeling and chopping the apple.

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Fleur De Lis Cocktail Lounge and A Unique Roman-Style Pizza

Tucked away in the middle of Baton Rouge is a pizza parlor which serves a very unique style of pizza.. It closed temporarily during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a sigh of relief, the restaurant opened again last summer. For years, Fleur De Lis Cocktail Lounge has been a favorite late night gathering spot for an eclectic assortment of people as well as local sports teams celebrating afternoon games. The restaurant serves a distinctive square, thin crust pizza termed “Roman pizza.” You either like this style of pizza and become addicted to it or never return for another slice. Well, I happen to love the pizza. I’m going to attempt to make a similar pizza at home. Here is my adaptation of the pizza ready to go into the oven.

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Easy Cook: Italian-Seasoned Baked Catfish Filets

Every now and then, it’s nice to have such a quick and simple supper entrée to prepare, that you can almost make it in your sleep. This “melt-in-your-mouth” baked catfish recipe is very easy to cook and it is also very tasty. There is no chopping, dicing, stirring or mixing involved. It is a great recipe to fix when I arrive home from work, exhausted, but still want a home-cooked supper. I have several of these “simple” catfish recipes. This first recipe involves a “secret” ingredient.

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