Holiday Gift Ideas with Pumpkin Cheese Bread

Country Living magazine is one of my favorites.  I receive it as Christmas present every year and I always look forward to finding it in my mail box each month.  Magazines make great gifts because they are relatively inexpensive and the recipient can enjoy them throughout the whole year. Think about that when you’re can’t decide on a gift for that hard to buy for person on your list.  Country Living happens to have great recipes, decorating ideas, clever craft projects, and information on the hippest collectibles. (Note – Country Living is not compensating me to say this.  It’s just the truth.)

I have a couple other great gift suggestions that I’ll get to by the end of this post, so please follow along.  (None of the other companies are compensating me either.  It’s just the truth too!)

The November 2011 issue of Country Living sports some pretty delicious looking recipes that remind us readers of next months anticipated feast – Thanksgiving.  I was particularly enamored by a recipe for Pumpkin Cheese Bread, a rustic, wholesome looking bread with an intriguing line up of ingredients.

Because this recipe caught my fancy, I decided to make the bread, or should I say a slightly modified version of it.  I LOVE the way the bread turned out.  The flavor and light, soft texture are perfect. I know it won’t be long and I’ll be making more. It’s going fast – too fast!  With a few tricks up my sleeve I modified the recipe so is not identical to Country Living’s printed version.


3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour + 1/4 c. for 1st kneading

1 tbsp. light brown sugar 

1 tbsp. yeast

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. Aji Amarillo chilies, dried and minced fine

1/8 tsp. Vietnamese cinnamon

1/2 tsp. butternut squash seed oil

3/4 c. pureed pumpkin

1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese

1 c. water

In a large bowl; add flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt, dried pepper, cinnamon, squash seed oil, pumpkin puree and cheddar cheese.  Lightly stir ingredients until blended.  Pour in water and mix by hand until all ingredients are combined. * I did not use a mixer for this recipe.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface (using the 1/4 cup of flour you set aside).  Knead dough until it forms a smooth ball.  Place ball in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set in draft free location and rise until doubled.

On lightly floured surface; punch dough down and roll into two loaves.  Place in greased bread pans, cover, and let rise until nearly doubled. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 23-25 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when tapped.  Turn onto cooling racks and brush with butter.

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If you really want to make the most of your bread then make a fresh sandwich with it.  This sandwich is complete with turkey, lettuce, tomato, Hellman’s mayo, Naples Valley Brand Mild Mustard, and black pepper.

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Now, I promised to share some more great gift giving ideas with you.  These ideas are perfect for the foodies in your life.  The ones that like to eat, and the ones that like making good eats.

1.) offers the most unique line of specialty foods and ingredients I’ve ever seen in one place.  Whether your looking for dried chilies like I used in my recipe, truffles, edible flowers, whole spices, or frog legs, you will find it at Marx Foods.  Their orders ship the same day if you order by 10AM Eastern time, or you can choose your delivery date at checkout.  All of their prices include shipping. 

2.) King Arthur Flour is a US 100% employee owned/100% committed to quality company. They are located in Norwich, Vermont. They offer  top of the line baking supplies and tools. From secret ingredients like their robust boiled cider, to the Vietnamese cinnamon I used in my bread, to pre-made mixes of just about any kind,  or their cute cupcake wrappers, they’ve got you covered.  They also offer a gift card option which takes even more work out of your holiday shopping. View their catalogue on-line, or order yourself a hard copy and start your holiday shopping early.

3.) Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods is small Finger Lakes company  located in Geneva, NY.  They produce the finest food grade roasted squash and pumpkin seed oils you will ever find.  This is a farm to table product.  The oils are processed in small batches and are a healthy, delicious alternative to olive oil. The uses for them are endless. The Butternut Squash Seed Oil I used in my recipe has a wonderful, buttery, nutty flavor that really enhances any recipe.  My suggestion – fill all of your foodie friends stockings with these oils, and don’t forget to buy a bottle or two for yourself.  Ordering is made simple through their on-line store, or look for a retailer near you from their website.

4.) Naples Valley Brand Products is a small company that hand-makes delicious products from their kitchen at the Bristol Mountain Winter Resort in Bristol, NY.  They offer jalapeno jams, sweet jams, marinated garlics, gourmet mustards, dipping oils, vinegars, sauces, seasonings, rubs and spices, and stuffed olives. Their products are available to order on-line, and their gift boxes are make a perfect gift choice.  Naples Valley Brand Products offers free shipping on orders over $50.00.  I am proud to say I’ve been buying their mustard since it first hit the shelves.

Hopefully, my suggestions will help make your holiday shopping a little easier.  If you make this bread please post it on your blog and share the link back here under the comments section.  We would love to see it!


A Marx Foods Recipe Contest – A Recipe You Don’t Want to Miss

When Marx Foods recently contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in creating a recipe using dried chilies for a contest they’re hosting I jumped at the chance.  Seriously, their inquiry couldn’t have come at a better time.  I  love a good cooking challenge and I haven’t had one in what seems like forever.  Suddenly I felt as if I was a contestant on Master Chef, armed with a variety of somewhat unfamiliar ingredients, and being challenged to create an original and winning recipe with them. 

When I opened the package from Marx Foods I found six smaller packages of beautifully colored dried peppers to examine.  Each donning a unique appearance, scent and flavor.  I immediately realized that not all chilies are created equal.

My mind was in a whirl.  The closest thing I’ve ever used in the dried chili department are red pepper flakes.  I know it sounds pathetic, and it is… 

I weighed many choices before I finally settled on a recipe idea. This was no easy feat. Do you realize the possibilities for using dried chilies in recipes is endless? In creating this recipe I decided to stick to what I’m comfortable with – baking.  Not a sweet this time, but a savory and spicy treat. 

And my recipe???  Drum roll please…

                    Kickin Habanero Cheese Crackers

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Once I decided on my recipe I then had to decide on the pepper I was going to use. I had to choose between the Aji Amarillo, Mulato, Cascabel, Japones, Puya, and Habanero chilies that were sent to me. A great resource for deciding on which pepper to use can be found right at Marx Foods.  It’s called the Scoville Scale.  This scale gives you a heat index for each pepper along with a flavor profile. The Scoville Scale has been around since 1912. 

I have to admit I didn’t use the scale though – I just picked the pepper that I was the most attracted to at the time.  

                                           The Habanero 

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The habanero packs a little more heat than some of the other chilies so I proceeded with caution when applying it to my recipe.  I didn’t want the pepper to overpower the rest of the great flavors in the crackers.

The first thing I did to start preparing my dried pepper for my recipe was take a sharp knife and cut one of the chilies in half.  I then removed the seeds and ribs of the chili and chopped it into small flakes.  If you need help learning the techniques for preparing chilies you can find that information at Marx Foods Chili Pepper Recipes and Techniques.

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One small habanero produced about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper flakes.  I decided to use 1/4 of a teaspoon of the pepper flakes in the recipe so I put the left over pepper into a small airtight container for later use.

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Recipe for Kickin Habanero Cheese Crackers

1  1/2 c . grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (room temperature)

1/4 c. grated jalapeno pepper jack cheese (room temperature)

1/2 c. butter (room temperature)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. dried habanero chili flakes

dash of nutmeg

1/4 c. cornmeal

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 large metal cookie sheets with parchment paper, or use 3 ungreased pizza stones.

In a large bowl, add cheese and butter; beat with electric mixer until the cheese and butter are well blended.  Stir in salt, onion powder, habanero flakes, nutmeg, cornmeal and flour; mix thoroughly by hand. 

On a lightly floured cutting board, divide the dough in half.  Roll each dough into equal rectangular shapes.  Using a crinkle cutter or sharp knife, slice dough into cracker shapes and place on cookie sheets or pizza stones.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes on metal cookie sheets, and 15 minutes on pizza stones. Keep close watch, bottoms of crackers should be light brown.  Transfer to cooling rack.  Once cool, store in airtight container at room temperature.  Makes about 48 crackers.

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Now, I have just one more suggestion for these little gems.  Put a small dollop of (whipped) cream cheese and some pepper jelly on top to really turn things up a notch.

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These crackers make great appetizers and pair well with your favorite bottle of wine, or serve them with a warm bowl of tomato soup. They have a slight kick, but it’s not the kind of kick that you should be intimidated by.  I’m not a fan of hot and super spicy foods and these are neither, but if you are a fan, don’t be afraid to increase the habanero to satisfy your heat index.

Please drop over to Marx Foods and vote for Kickin Habanero Cheese Crackers.  Voting will take place between September 12th and 16th.

In the future I will be creating more recipes using some of the peppers I received from Marx Foods – so please stay tuned…