Countdown to Christmas 

Countdown to Christmas Countdown to Christmas 
This year, I thought I had it all under control. I did most of my holiday shopping ahead of time figuring that shipping would be an issue, and it was. That is not my normal method of tackling the holidays. I usually cut things a little bit closer to the deadline. But this year, of all the years, I was on it. Everything arrived and is now wrapped and waiting under the tree. Or so I thought…

You know that old saying  “out of sight, out of mind”?…yeah. It’s a thing. Since the world is in lockdown, there are people that you used to see everyday that you just don’t get to see anymore. Sure you talk and text occasionally but it’s not the same. Normally, this person would be front and center right there on your gift list but alas…pandemic brain.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this position with very little time to get anything sent? Well, if you work in a grocery store, you get creative. Sure you could go for the easy bottle of wine, fancy bourbon or box of chocolates because they are nice gifts and, well, we could all use a little shot of somethin’ right now…am I right? That’s the easy way out. The other option is putting together something with a little more thought.

Here are two possibilities I came up with. One of them is the gift I actually used. You can decide which one that was.

Option number one would be to put together a Tea gift basket of sorts, though you don’t have to use an actual basket. (Gift boxes work equally well.) We have some beautiful ceramic tea mugs in our tea section as well as infusers and a wide variety of teas. Pair any of those items with some locally produced honey and maybe a box of shortbread and/or chocolates and you have a great gift that will give your recipient a little warmth and relaxation as well as letting them know you appreciate them. (You could also do something similar with hot cocoa or coffee.)

The second option is Soup in a Box. Here you have a number of options. You can grab some dried beans, some barley or some farro. There are also several dried soup mixes to give someone a head start. A concentrated broth base like Better Than Bouillon is great. I recommend the chicken or the vegetable for those who don’t eat meat. Some artisan small sized pasta. A few dried spices like thyme or even something spicy. Go for a nice selection. Some cornbread or biscuit mix to go with the soup would be yummy. Finish it all with some Fleur de Sel and a jar of peppercorns and you have not only shown your love but provided them with a hot meal as well.

I will caution you. These types of gifts can be great when you are on a budget but can also add up if you go too crazy. Like adding a rockin’ bottle of wine to go with the soup.

If there is one thing I have learned during this crazy holiday season, and frankly during this year, it is that the little gestures matter. Making cookies for my neighbors and having them make some for us was probably the highlight of my December. It was something so easy to do and it gave all of us so much joy. So, while something like grabbing a couple of items at the store to give to someone might seem like no big deal, it could really make the day of the person on the receiving end no matter what it may be.

To our customers who have stuck with us during this past year through mask wearing, entrance lines, disinfectant, and plexiglass, it has been our extreme honor to serve you. We thank you for your understanding, patience, your encouragement, and your cooperation during these incredible times. There is no way we could have gotten this far without working together with our community. For that reason we would like to wish you a very happy and above all healthy holiday from the Piedmont Grocery family to yours.

Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Classic Cinnamon Swirl BreadGive It a Whirl
Usually at the end of the year you start to see articles or news stories about what they big trends were in during the past year and what they will be going forward. I have not seen any yet…but if I had to pick a big trend for 2020, it would be bread baking.

The shelter-in-place order in March caught a lot of people off guard and put a huge strain on the food supply chain. On top of that we were bored. So, many people turned to bread making, not only out of necessity, but as a mean to pass the time and, frankly, for some much needed therapy. Suddenly people were sharing sourdough starter and trading baked goods for yeast.

Now that supplies have normalized, there are still several “new” bread makers that have embraced the hobby, but might need some new equipment to take them to the next level. A good bread pan can make a fantastic holiday gift either by itself or filled with something freshly baked and yummy. Quick breads like Banana Bread or a Cranberry Tea Loaf make great gifts—and an even better snack with a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. Decent bread pans can cost $15-$18 depending on how serious you want to be. The fancy ones with different shapes and designs on them are, obviously, a bit more but a good basic loaf pan is always a good piece to have in your kitchen.

For those who want to show off their newfound bread making skills, this Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread is a perfect choice. (High-end cinnamon would make a great stocking stuffer too!)

It’s an easy enough recipe that a novice bread maker can handle it, but it looks like it is much harder to make. The flavor is divine. I like to toast my slice, but my kids cannot wait that long. They just slice and eat. A double batch of this for Christmas morning would also make some tasty French toast….

Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread Recipe
Adapted from King Arthur Flours
Yields 1 loaf Read more…

Dark Chocolate Toffee

Dark Chocolate ToffeeCookie Palooza
It’s Cookie Palooza this weekend. For those of you who may be confused, Cookie Palooza is the weekend that my daughter and I make an insane amount of holiday cookies and other treats to give to our family and friends. This year my sister is joining in on the fun so I am expecting any number of crazy shenanigans and a whole lotta sprinkles. (Don’t worry. My sister and her family have been in our pod since Day 1).

There will be Gingerbread Men with scarves (my sister), there will be Macarons (my daughter) and there will be Toffee and Caramels (me) as well as an explosion of other cookies from Swedish Ginger Cookies to home made Cranberry Orange Biscotti  (I like the dried cranberries and some grated orange peel to make them more festive.)

Cookie Palooza could not happen if I didn’t have decent cookie sheets. Of course, everyone’s definition of decent will be different. Some bakers prefer the double-layer cookie sheets that allow the air in the pocket between to heat up. Others like the heavy duty rimless sheets that allow your cookies to slide right off. Personally, I like my heavy duty half sheet pans they’re just so versatile. You can make drop cookies or bar cookies and of course, you can make an excellent dinner. At an average of $20 for a quality cookie sheet, they also make a useful and cost-conscious holiday gift for your favorite baker. And if you really want to treat them, pre-cut parchment sheets can be life changing.

While my family has already enjoyed the first batch of our traditional ginger cookies, (You can’t trim the tree without ginger cookies.) what they are really waiting for is the toffee I make every year. It’s melt-in-your-mouth happiness and must be kept under lock and key if you want to have it around for more than an afternoon.

With the latest stay at home order in full swing, now is the perfect time to plan a Cookie Palooza of your own…

Dark Chocolate Toffee Recipe
Yields 24 pieces
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

This toffee is a lot like a Heath Bar—both tasty candy and delicious crumbled over ice cream and other desserts. Read more…

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with LemonCookin’ Up Christmas
I think it’s safe to say that we all have all been doing more cooking than ever this year. Some of it born out of necessity and some of it just out of mind-numbing boredom. On the positive side, maybe you learned a new skill. Or, even better, found a new passion for preparing your own food. To do it right though, you need the right tools.

I have always loved to cook—and I have an embarrassing collection of tools in which I create my favorite flavors. However, there are certain pieces that I use day in and day out. The workhorses if you will. These are my “stuck on a desert island” tools and there are a variety. But, if I had to choose the single most useful thing I have in my cooking arsenal it would be my 12-inch cast iron skillet.

I am fortunate to have collected a number of Le Creuset enameled pieces over the years. Their Dutch ovens are hands down the best investment you can make. But, that’s the thing, they are a rather expensive investment.

My Lodge cast iron skillet however is $25 at Target for the 12-inch. (Or you can check out the Lodge Cast Iron website for the whole line.) If you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who has just discovered cooking, this is the one. And, even better, the price is right. What if your recipient already has one? It’s never a bad idea to have two of the same or another one in a different size.

Cast iron skillets heat evenly and they hold the heat well. You can take the skillet from the stove top to the oven and not have to worry about ruining the pan. They are basically nonstick once you get a good “season” on it. They last forever if you take care of them correctly . More than any other benefit I have found is that you get much better browning with a cast iron pan than with any other.

One of my favorite recipes I use my skillet for is this one for These Canal House Style Chicken Thighs. If you already have a cast iron pan, pull it out and make this for dinner tonight. I promise it will become your new favorite. I admit I leave the preserved lemon out more often than not. Sometimes less is more. The real star of this dish is the crispy skin.

If you like the idea of cast iron as a gift, include a card with this recipe on the pan and maybe a few other favorite recipes for your recipient to try out.

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon
Recipe adapted from Food 52 Read more…