Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Advent 2014 - Making Scented Cork Decorations

For 2014 we have decided a two-fold Advent Calendar.  On the Backyard Patch Facebook Page we are posting a recipe a day beginning November 30 and continuing through Christmas Day.  Each week will be a different theme.  This week it is side dishes.  Stop over there around 6 pm everyday for the new recipe.

On the Blog we have decided to share a weekly HOW TO.  Each we will have a recipe, gift or decorating item to enhance your holiday and give you a moment to reflect. 

The first week we did Scented Pine Cones.  The second week we featured Herb Butter Cookies. This week we thought we'd give you something you can place on your wrapped packages to provide an herbal touch.

This is a fun, quick, scented item you can make almost at the last minute to tie to a gift bag and make it extra special. 

Scent the corks with rosemary and clove orange essential oil for a scented and colored wine cork gift topper ornament.  Wire them together with jewelry wire or glue them with hot glue.  Colored ends make them holiday festive.

I had several of those synthetic corks and I used those along with the real corks for texture.


5 corks
ribbon in two colors
hot glue sticks and a gun
colors (stamp pads, water color markers, even crayons)
scents  (Essential oil or perfume oil)


Step One - Soak corks in water for 15 minutes to keep from crumbling before you cut them.

Step Two - Cut 5 corks in half.  This will give you enough to make one wreath, which will use 9 halves. I used an exacto blade and scissors and  to cut them.  You can also use a sharp knife or even a box cutter.

Step Three - Color ends of corks, you don’t need to color all of them.  This allowed me to use some of those synthetic corks in between as they do not take color or scent, but did make a great filler. If you color the ends when they are still wet, you get a watercolor like shade.

Step Four - Attach corks in a circle with the hot glue.

Step Five - Scent corks.  You can only add scent well to a real cork.  Add 2 to 5 drops of essential oil to the uncolored sides of the cork and allow to soak in.  Pine, cinnamon, clove orange or rosemary are all good choices or a combination of rosemary and citrus scents.

Step Six – Add ribbon.  Using one color of ribbon to make a loop about 6 inches long.  A second piece of ribbon (about 9 inches in length) create a fold-over bow.  Attach both pieces of ribbon to the top cork with a thumb tack.   I used clear push pins, but I think a gold tack pin would have looked nice too.  You now have a bow and a hanger.  Attach it to your gift bag or wrapped present.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Recipe - Citrus Salted Olives

Not only is this a great items to serve at a party, but it makes a wonderful gift.  And if you make them now your family will be able to enjoy them through the holiday season.  Be sure to include a "Use by date." on your gift tag.

Citrus Salted Olives 

2 lemons
1 orange
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 pounds assorted brine-cured olives, drained

From each lemon, cut three 3/4-inch-wide strips peel; place in 1-quart saucepan. Grate any remaining peel from lemons, and place in large bowl. From orange, cut three 3/4-inch-wide strips peel and add to saucepan. Grate any remaining peel from orange, and add to lemon peel in bowl.

Peel garlic and cut each clove in half; crush with side of chef's knife. Add garlic, oil, and thyme to saucepan with citrus peel, and heat on low until hot but not smoking, about 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 10 minutes.

Place olives in bowl with grated peels. Pour oil mixture over olive mixture, and toss to coat well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate olives at least 24 hours to allow flavors to develop, stirring occasionally. (Or place olives in large self-sealing plastic bag, turning to coat olives well. Seal bag, pressing out excess air. Place bag on plate and refrigerate olives, turning bag occasionally.)

Spoon olives into tightly sealed containers or jars for gift giving. Store in refrigerator up to 1 month. Serving size is based on each 1/4 cup.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Still More Edible Gifts

Prepping for the Holiday

Wrap up some bread pans, bread mixes and flavored butters or spreads tied up in a table cloth or apron. 

Here is another idea for a bread basket that is a bit easier than baking bread.  Make seasoned pita chips.  In a basket provide several packages of pitas, a bottle of olive oil and a seasoning mixture in a shaker made with this recipe.

Seasoned Pita Chips

4 pitas, cut in 8 wedges
3 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
Shaker of seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange pita wedges on a rimmed baking sheet.  Brush top of each wedge with olive oil.  Sprinkle seasoning mixture evenly over wedges.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until nicely toasted but not hard.

Possible Shaker seasonings:

Blend #1
1 Tbls. sea salt
1 tsp. dried dill
¼ tsp. black pepper

Blend #2
or Backyard Patch Pesto Blend

Blend #3
2 Tbls. Parmesan Cheese
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil

Products we recommend if you do not have time to make your own:

Cornbread in a Can (a savory cornbread mix you prepar in the ribbed can provided).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Calendar How to - Herb Holiday Cookies

For 2014 we have decided a two-fold Advent Calendar.  On the Backyard Patch Facebook Page we are posting a recipe a day beginning November 30 and continuing through Christmas Day.  Each week will be a different theme.  This week it is appetizers.  Stop over there around 6 pm everyday for the new recipe.

On the Blog we have decided to share a weekly HOW TO.  Each we will have a recipe, gift or decorating item to enhance your holiday and give you a moment to reflect. 

To celebrate National Cookie Day (which was back on Dec. 4th), I decided to do a how to with cookies.  (To see the scented pine cones from last week - click here.)

I like to make holiday cookies that are quick, easy and fun.  Most of the time I make shortbread cookies or butter cookies.  No frosting and minimal cookie cutters makes it easier and quicker but they are still tasty and of course, herby.

For this weeks’s Advent How To I have three techniques for making cookies I will share:
1.       Rolled out flat and cut with cookie cutters
2.      Rolled into balls and flattened before baking
3.      Rolled into a tube shape and sliced into rounds and baked.

If you like herbal cookie recipes here are some others you can enjoy too.  They can be found on my website in the Recipe archive.  I  put up two of my favorites.

The Steps

The steps for making cookies in this case all start out the same.  You cream the butter and sugar together.  Creaming butter and sugar is part of the leavening process making the cookies crisp and flaky and giving them some lift.

STEP ONE - You can cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer or by hand with a spoon or whisk.  For me it depends on the time of day and speed at which I want to get to the next steps.

STEP TWO - Add the egg, if used, would be next.

STEP THREE - Then add the herbs, extracts, salt, baking soda or baking powder as needed.

STEP FOUR - And finally add the flour gradually, making sure it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps in the batter.

STEP FIVE – Chill the Dough. In these herb butter recipes you chill the dough before the next step.  Sometimes as much as 4 hours, others as short as 30 minute.  This firms the dough up and keeps it from sticking when you make the cookies.

Now the recipes diverge and each is completed differently.  So here are the recipes and the finishing steps included below each recipe.

Herb Butter Cookies
You can make this recipe unique and special by using herbed butters and or herbs sugars and matching the recipe herbs to those.  This cookie can be different every single time by changing the herbs contained in it.  This dough you freeze for 4 hours so we are starting after the "Chill" step with these.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour, all-purpose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh or dried herbs: lavender, tarragon, lemon verbena, mint, thyme, and/or herb seeds
    Use 1 Tbls dried 2 Tbls fresh and add to dough while mixing
    Use another 2 to 4 Tbls fresh or dried for decoration

In a medium bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until combined. Add egg; beat until combined. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt. Divide dough in half.  Shape each half of the dough into a 12-inch-long rope. Wrap and freeze about 4 hours or until firm.  Preheat oven to 325°F. Unwrap dough; carefully slice the frozen dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices, cut sides up, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Top with desired herb or seeds; press in gently, if necessary.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool for a minute then remove from cookie sheets; cool on a wire rack.

STEP SIX - Divide the resulting dough in half and shape into a 12 inch rope.

STEP SEVEN - Wrap each rope in Wax or Parchment paper and freeze for 4 hours.
Rolled dough in the freezer

STEP EIGHT - Once the ropes are frozen, slice them into 1/2 inch thick slices and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are golden in a 325 degree oven.

cut roll
Note that they are not so round after cutting, but when they cook they rounded into a circle nicely.

I generally make this recipe first on cookie baking night, then when the other cookies are completed this will be ready to slice and bake.

Lemon Thyme Cookies
Fortunately, certain intrepid herbs can be snipped all year round, even under the snow. Thyme is one of those.  I leave a plant in a pot by the back door until we have consistent below zero temps.  Then I bring it inside.  It usually fares better outside than in and having it by the door means I do not have to run outside in the cold to harvest a bit for a recipe like this.

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
2 tablespoons freshly snipped lemon thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the ­butter with the sugar until fluffy, then add the flour and thyme. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes to firm it up, but not too long or it is tough to roll.  Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes (we like stars). Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake 10 minutes. Cool on racks.

STEP SIX - Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.  Do not over chill this or it will be hard to roll out.

STEP SEVEN - Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness.  

STEP EIGHT - Use cookie cutters, any style will do to cut the dough into shapes.  Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Cool on racks to keep the shapes uniform.

Mint Butter Cookies
Can a winter holiday be complete without peppermint?  This is an easy cookie to make and a crowd pleaser.

1 cup butter (or 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening – I use butter flavor shortening)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 tablespoons crushed dried peppermint leaves
2 cups flour

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the salt, extract, mint leaves, and flour. Mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for 1 hour, or until it is firm enough to handle.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and roll them in sugar. Press each ball with your thumb. Place them on ungreased baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on racks.

STEP SIX - Chill the dough in the bowl in the refrigerator for 60 minutes or so, until firm and not sticky to the touch.

STEP SEVEN - Roll the dough into 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in sugar. I actually rolled them in mint sugar which gave them a great texture and enhanced the mint flavor.

STEP EIGHT - Place the Balls on an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment and press each ball with your thumb.  You can make them flat or create an indentation.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

More Edible Gifts

Prepping for the Holiday

Tea and Muffins are a wonderful gift. You can make this recipe or any other muffin recipe then present it in a fashionable package as a gift.

Banana & Chocolate Muffin Recipe   Yield: 12 muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a standard muffin tin, or line with cupcake liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, mash the bananas, then whisk in the buttermilk, sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla extract.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and whisk just until blended.
  4. Remove one cup of the batter, and add it to a medium bowl. Whisk in the cocoa powder, just until blended.
  5. Divide the main (non-chocolate) batter between muffin cups. It’s about 1/4 cup of batter per cup.
  6. Scoop 1 tablespoon of chocolate batter on top of the batter in each muffin cup.
  7. Using a toothpick, swirl the chocolate batter into the banana batter.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for about five minutes.
To create an elegant gift, line a hat box with a tea towel and fill it with homemade muffins and flea market teacups you fill with herbal butter or cream cheese spreads (try each of these: Company Cream Cheese and Herb Flower Spread.)  Tuck loose tea and whole lemons around the box and include a pretty butter knife.

A more casual idea would be to provide a Christmas breakfast by placing the muffins in a basket with a container of muffin themed spread and some gourmet coffee.

I adapted this recipe from an article in the Herb Companion Magazine of December 2007.
Pineapple Sage Muffin Spread 

This is great on muffins, toast and crackers.

1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbls. milk
3 Tbls. confectioners sugar (or more to taste)
¼ tsp. cinnamon
4 fresh pineapple sage leaves, minced and rubbed between your fingers to release flavor or ¼ tsp. dried
¼ cup crushed pineapple drained

In a medium bowl mix ricotta and milk on medium speed with a handheld mixer for 1 minute.  Add confectioner’s sugar, 1 Tbls. at a time, mixing after each addition.  Stir in cinnamon and pineapple sage.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Stir mixture and gently fold in pineapple.  Refrigerator for another hour before transferring to a serving bowl.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Products we recommend if you do not have time to make your own:

Monday, December 1, 2014

How to Advent 2014 - Scented Pine Cones

For 2014 we have decided a two fold Advent Calendar.  On the Backyard Patch Facebook Page we are posting a recipe a day beginning November 30 and continuing through Christmas Day.  Each week will be a different theme.  This week it is appetizers.  Stop over there around 6 pm everyday for the new recipe.

On the Blog we have decided to share a weekly HOW TO.  Each we will have a recipe, gift or decorating item to enhance you holiday and give you a moment to reflect.

Taken in Wisconsin, beautiful Hore Frost

I first shared this recipe in November 2010 on my blog. This year I mentioned that I wanted to make these as gifts and that I needed pine cones and suddenly people are sharing pine cones with me left and right.  I am loving it and made my first batch of scented pine cones last week. I have placed them in a bowl in my entry hallway and what a wonderful scent they have!

Before you make this recipe, I should warn you that if you collect pine cones outside there is a treatment you need to do before you can scent them.  It is quick and easy, but a must!  Place a sheet of parchment on an old cookie sheet.  Spread the cones over the sheet in a single layer and place in a 200 degree oven for 60 minutes. This will remove much of the pitch and all of the bugs.

Once you craft these they can be placed in a trifle bowl and used as a centerpiece. They also look great stacked in a basket on the mantle.  From there you can even toss them into the fire for a crackle and scent.  I have also placed them in a burlap bag just to give off the scent from under my tree.  This is especially good if your cones are less attractive or have broken and smashed side.  Then I know I am going to do this, I do not even worry about collecting "only the good ones!"

So let's get to the task.  Once you have baked the pine cones you are ready to mix.
I let the cones cool thoroughly, leaving them on the parchment paper which allows the pitch to continue dripping out.

Step One - Cool the cones completely.  

Notice how they open up after being in the oven enhancing their attractiveness.

Step Two -   Mix the essential oils with orris root or arrowroot flour in a jar, shaking well to blend. Set aside. I used a bit of clove, rosemary, clove and sweet orange (about 5 drops each) and those called for in the recipe.

Step Three - Combine the herbs and spices in a zip lock bag.

Step Four - Add the pine comes to the bag.  About 10 to 15 depending on size, but I generally fill the bag.

Step Five - Add the scented powder to the bag and shake vigorously.

Step Six - Using as much patience as possible, allow the pine cones to meld in the bag for a week or so.

Step Seven - Decorate with them, hang them on your door wreath, or wrap them in cellophane to give as gifts, especially to those you know with a fireplace.

Scented Pine Cones
      2 Tbls. orange peel
      1 Tbls. cinnamon pieces
      1 Tbls. Hibiscus flowers
      1 tsp. broken bay leaves
      1 1 /2 Tbls. orrris root
      10 drops cinnamon oil
      10 drops bergamot oil
      10 to 15 drops any other spice oils of your choice
      10 to 15 pine cones

Mix together the essential oils with the orris root (use arrowroot flour if you are sensitive to orris.)  Blend the herbs and spices together with the pine cones in a zip seal bag.  Add the scented powder and shake to cover.  Allow to meld as long as a week in the bag before using.

Enjoy the scents of the season and have fun this winter!

Come back next Monday for another Advent How TO!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Beverages to serve and give as gifts

Prepping for the Holiday Series

We sometimes forget that the best way to communicate the season is through beverages and scents and what better way than with hot beverages.  And these make great gifts too.  You can make seasoning blends for cider, herbal teas or seasoned hot chocolate.

Spiced Lemon Tea Mix

½ cup lemon herbs (lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemon verbena)
1 Tbls. lemon peel
1 Tbls. ginger
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. cloves

Blend all ingredients together. Store in a sealed jar.
To use: add 1 to 2 tsp. per cup of boiling water.

Hot Buttered Rum Mix

2 ½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves
½ tsp. salt
1 stick real butter (unsalted room temperature)

Mix brown sugar and spices in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into 4 pieces.  Mix into the sugar well with a spoon or electric mixer.  Place in a plastic container with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator.

To use: Place 1 to 2 tsp. mix in a mug. Add ½ to 1 jigger rum.  Fill mug with boiling water.  Serve with a cinnamon stick or a Tablespoon of ice cream.  Mix will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Alternative use: For mulled wine or hot apple cider place 1 tsp. mix in a mug.  Add 1 cup red wine or apple cider.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute.  (You can simmer larger quantities on the stove.)

Cheating Cider Simmer

¼ cup powdered (sugar-free) lemonade mix
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

You can layer the ingredients in a jar or mix together before placing in jar. (If layering you must include instructions to shake well before using.). 

For decoration tie a cinnamon stick to the package.

To use: stir 1 tsp. of mixture into 1 cup hot apple juice, hot cranberry juice or hot cider.

Lavender Hot Chocolate

You can give this one for the winter holidays or save it for Valentine’s Day.

2 tsp. dried lavender buds
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 Tbls. Dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbls. sugar
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt

Blend cocoa powder, sugar and salt together.  Package the lavender and bittersweet chocolate separate.  Place all items in a decorative container. 

To use:
3 cups whole milk or half & half
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pour milk into a medium saucepan and stir in lavender flower buds.  Set over medium heat and bring just to a boil.  Remove the mixture from heat and allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  Strain the milk to remove lavender, then return milk to saucepan and whisk in the chopped bittersweet chocolate until melted and smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture.  Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla.  Divide among coffee mugs and serve with a marshmallow or whipped cream.

If crafting these beverages is not your cup of tea, try ours:

Mexican Spiced Cocoa

Sugar-free Hot Cocoa

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