With the reality of Fall being in full force, the holiday season will follow quickly. All of us know, holiday & hectic can often go hand and hand. My goal, this year, is to get a jump-start on the holidays with a few preparations leading into the season. The smells of fall baking and comfort foods are imprinted on my heart & soul from early in childhood.
I’ve noticed a pattern of ingredients which are used often in these traditional recipes, so to streamline this year’s process the pre-season focus is to inventory and stock the kitchen leading into the holidays. Some items I’ll buy from the grocery store; others I’ll make on my own. I’m sharing the DIY essentials and ingredients in an effort to prepare for the Fall season… enjoy!
#1 – Vanilla Extract & Spices
So many seasonal recipes call for Vanilla Extract. Nothing gets on my nerves more than preparing to make a lemon pound cake or apple crisp to find that its impossible because I’m out of extract. When I head to the grocery store and find they too are out… ugh!! It seems everyone is doing the same thing at the same time of the year… baking!!!
To help with my Vanilla Extract deficiency/ frustration problem, I’ve decided to make my own this year. Could I just go to the store and stock up on Vanilla Extract? Yes, however, making my own falls into the DIY category (which speaks to my heart) plus there are no additives or preservatives in its contents. Is it cheaper to make? No – just functional and adds more flavor to recipes, according to resources. It takes only two ingredients and Time is your friend for the success of this process.
- 8 oz. Glass Bottle or Jar
- 7 Madagascar Vanilla Beans
- 1 cup Vodka 70 Proof/35% Alcohol (or you can also use Bourbon, Rum or Brandy; any brand/quality)
- I decided to use both, Vodka and Bourbon, making two variation of extract. The Vodka will have a more natural flavor and the Bourbon extract adds a unique exotic taste.
- Vanilla Bean Pods: These babies are expensive, locally. Ordering online saves a ton…that’s my next project.
- Slice the Vanilla bean pod lengthwise and insert 3-5 very special pods into a clean glass bottle. Pour 1 cup of Vodka or Bourbon over the pods and seal. NOTE: Make sure the pods completely immersed.
- Shake once or twice a week.
- Wait about 4-6 weeks and the alcohol will turn into delicious vanilla! NOTE: When the extract is ready, you can filter using a coffee filter to remove the small beans from the contents.
I’m excited about this process and look forward to it helping stock the spice cabinet with Vanilla Extract; a key ingredient for seasonal baking.
Seasonal Ingredient Inventory List
Organizing the spice cabinet is a good component of keeping the frustration down with holiday cooking. Having duplicates or not knowing what’s available costs in many ways. Getting a jump-start on the ingredients will attribute to holiday cooking efficiency.
Below is my seasonal list of ingredients for a stocked spice cabinet, as well as, other related cooking ingredients:
- Un-salted Butter
- Brown and White Granulated Sugar
- Self-rising Flour
- All-purpose Flour
- Cream of Tarter
- Baking soda
- Sweetened & Condensed Milk
- Nut Meg (I prefer the whole; momma always said it adds more flavor J)
- Salt & Pepper
- All Spice
- Ground Cinnamon & Cinnamon Sticks
Did I miss anything that may be on your hit list of holiday spice must-haves that’s not represented? Please share.
#2 –Baking: Remember Safety
The holidays call for a lot of baking, which means proper protective gear is essential to avoid getting hurt. I’ve been guilty of not checking my oven mitts until I use them and realize they don’t have the necessary protection they once had. It’s one of the last things I think of when I’m at the store, so taking a look at the oven mitts before the season, will help avoid getting burned when pulling the pound cake out of the oven.
I love this set. Finding these, at my local Home Goods store, was a delight and a steal for just under $7.00. TIP: Don’t forget to check the pot holders to protect countertops & such.
#3 – Pie Crust
With all of the homemade pies in my holiday recipe arsenal pie crust is an essential component to my holiday cooking. In my early years of marriage, when the kids were not walking or talking and stationary, I would make my own pie shells. The recipe I used was difficult, time-consuming and didn’t freeze well. As a result, I started buying pie shells from the grocery store. At times, this process was a bit annoying as I would often find pie shells that were not worth purchasing, as they were, picked over/ chipped/ or became brittle with a little bit of handling.
After trial, error and search, I’ve found a recipe that’s easy to make, freezes well and doesn’t become dry & brittle. Is it cheaper to make? It cost about the same as the grocery store, however, it’s preferred for its convenience, taste and quality. The recipe is below:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 5 tablespoon cold water
- Combine the first FOUR ingredients in a large bowl and use pastry cutter (or a fork) to gradually work it all together until mixture resembles ‘crumbly’.
- Beat the egg and add to the mixture, along with, the vinegar.
- Add cold water, next.
- Stir it all together until it comes together. NOTE: Add another tablespoon or two of cold water if mixture needs the moisture.
- Form the mixture into two balls. Wrap them in individual freezer bags, seal and place in the freezer. Remove 30 minutes before using the ball(s)/ if frozen, then set out 45min-1hr before using.
#4 – Pumpkin Puree
Another seasonal ingredient which disappears from grocery store shelves, like a magic trick, is Pumpkin Puree. This is an easy process, to make on your own. It saves time, money and is 100% natural Pumpkin. I use a “GA Candy Roaster Pumpkin” which is sweeter and great for making Pumpkin recipes. I typically purchase them from Tate Farms for $5.00 where they also use the GA Candy Roster to create their coveted Pumpkin pies.
The GA Candy Roaster Pumpkin is very dense; therefore, it makes quite a bit – you’ll have plenty for the holiday season. Is it cost effective? Yes! The average price for an 15 oz. can of Pumpkin Puree is $2.50-$3.00 per can. A medium size GA Candy Roaster makes, at least, 10 times as much, FOUR 16oz bags of puree. The simple process is below:
- Slice the pumpkin length-wise
- Scoop out seeds
- Lay pumpkin on it’s tummy and pop in a 350 degree oven
- Bake until insides are soft, puree & freeze.
#5 – My Secret Garden
I love my Secret Garden. The reason it’s a Secret is because it’s in my front flower bed; hidden by the lavender and flowers – from the curb it appears as just a flower bed. What brought me to this unconventional way of gardening? Engineering has hindered my spontaneity. Having to have a detailed designed plan for big projects, is just not reality with a busy family life. For years, I’ve toiled with where to put the garden, what’s my design configuration, do I want raised beds or no beds, will I have time for maintenance, etc.
After fussing and getting no where, I decided to put something in the ground in a controllable area and figure out the big picture later. Here is a glimpse of season1 of ‘my secret garden’. I planted three types of lettuce, the day before Easter; this little garden produced THREE harvests and it feed my family for 2-3 months.
This beginning phase worked for our family; we all enjoyed the planning & harvesting. This little spot was easy, manageable and allowed me to begin and not be stagnant. Now we are in the process of planning our raised beds for the near future – in the meantime, my ‘secret garden’ will go through yet another season and we will have some essentials for the holidays.
I’ve began the planning process for FALL where we’re focusing on editable vegetables which smile on the cooler temperatures and thrive throughout the season. We’ve planted some of our family’s favorites: Broccoli, Lettuces, Cabbage, Spinach, Red Onions, Herbs, Asparagus and Garlic. It’s rewarding to know that I don’t have to go to the grocery store as often with the stocked variety of opinions at my disposable.
Want to know what to plant for FALL? Check out this complete listing of vegetables, via P. Allen Smith
This year I ran into a bit of a problem. My front flower bed is not only a ‘secret’ but it’s a really ‘SMALL secret’, therefore, room for planting was not in abundance.
I have no more flower beds to give up for planning nor the time to till a new spot. So, I’ve learned of a ‘Garden HACK’ which has given me inspiration to begin our Raised Bed Garden process – Compost Bag Planting. Tracy Cook, Horticulture Specialist from the Huntsville Botanical Garden shared this brilliant tip with me. We were not ready to begin our Raised Bed Garden planting; however, we knew the general area of the beds’ location. Tracy suggested this technique which will allow us to move forward, not have to till, and allow us to enjoy additional fall veggies.
The process is below:
- Lay out your compost bags
- Cut rows for planting
- Plant your vegetables. NOTE: Make sure you cut a hole on the back side, of the bag, for each plant to have room to stretch it’s legs toward the ground.
My hope is that everyone has a wonderful holiday season; getting a jump-start on critical baking components is one factor that will help with a smoother cooking experience so we can focus on enjoying family and not allowing lack to spoil memorable moments.
Benita Hampel blogs about home & life organization over at The Wizehouse. A former engineer, she's blessed to be a WAHM, wife, and aspiring entrepreneur. She's a lover of DIY, the DE-cluttered life, sewing for her girls, and creating systems which bring ease & energy to on-the-go family living! You can see more of her home organization tips on Pinterest and by following her on Twitter.