Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas All Through the South with the Novel Bakers

I'm joining the Novel Bakers today and Wednesday to present Southern Living's Christmas All Through the South, a book overflowing with charm and old fashioned magic. You'll tour gracious holiday homes, stopping to look at outdoor decorations, foyers, mantels, staircases, wreaths, and gorgeous trees. Along the way, you'll see a home in the pines and a house by the sea (to name a few), and a menu has been prepared for each home, reflecting the season and geographic location. The last chapter is devoted to festive recipes.

While leafing through the book, I was inspired to create a Hilltop Christmas dessert buffet, using recipes from my files and from the book: bourbon-pecan balls, peanut butter fudge, gingerbread cake, banana trifle, and bourbon ginger punch. With the last two items, I encountered gremlins. I do most of my work in the pantry, but it has a crazy, scary-small doorway, and everyone knows to holler, "Coming through!" But, as I carried the trifle to the living room, I forgot to shout a warning, and collided with a Big Man. Heaps of custard and whipped cream ended up on the kitchen floor. Somehow, the bowl didn't break, but it smashed the Man's toe. Yet another accident was looming. Months ago, I'd bought a charming glass and galvanized tin dispenser at HomeGoods, and I'd planned to use it for punch. When I poured the fragrant bourbon-and-ginger libation into the jar, I noticed a puddle. The puddle grew into a tipsy ocean. The punch found a stable, if unusual, home: a large hurricane globe.

 My cake recipe came from Pinterest, and when I pulled the pan from the oven, I breathed in the very essence of an old fashioned Christmas. But while the cake cooled, gremlins attacked, stomping and deflating the cake into a pitiful, shriveled thing. Bandwidth suggested that I find another source for recipes (I think he's right) and asked if I was pitching the cake into the compost pile. Not on your life, buster. I can't do much, but I can rescue horrible cooking--and Cool Whip is a favorite edible bandage.

The gremlins were also busy messing with the weather (which was strange and alarming--weeks of dark, Wuthering Heights days, and odd, jarring temperatures. Just two days ago, a dark 70 degree day turned into a raging evening thunderstorm, complete with hail and lightning, then the temperature plummeted to a tooth-chattering 19 degrees, leaving a dusting of snow, along with grim darkness). 
(Note to self: read your camera's manual.)

I also made no-fail peanut butter fudge.

Peanut Butter Fudge
1 cup peanut butter (I used smooth)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butter
Melt on med-low heat until blended. Remove from burner. Mix in 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, adding 1 cup at a time, blending well. Spread evenly in a greased 8" or 9" pan (line pan with parchment paper). Chill 4 hours. Remove from pan and cut into squares.

As for the bourbon pecan balls, well, they're gone.
Pecan Bourbon Balls
                 From Southern Living

1 (12-oz) package Vanilla Wafers, finely crushed
1 cup powdered sugar 
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup bourbon
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
chopped toasted pecans
Mix first 6 ingredients. Shape into 1" balls. Roll in powdered sugar or pecans. Refrigerate. Keeps 2 weeks. (Notes: I used a Cuisinart to process the wafers. I also ended up using 8 tablespoons of the corn syrup...though it could have been gremlins.)  
Bourbon Ginger Punch
                            from Southern Living

Make a sugar syrup with1/2 cup white granulated sugar plus 1/2 cup water. Cool. Mix 1 cup fresh lime juice and 2 1/2 cups bourbon. Slowly add 3 12-ounce bottles of ginger beer (I used cranberry ginger beer). Pour into a leakproof container. Garnish with lime slices and cherries.



The Novel Bakers will return Wednesday, December 21st, for another look at Christmas All Through the South.
For Christmas cheer, beautiful photography, great food, and inspiration, please visit the Novel Bakers:
Jain at a quiet life


  1. Michael Lee, Your home is sparkling in all its Christmas finery, hanging greens and twinkling lights! I *deerly* love your plates set on the soft colors of your quilt...the reflection of the wreath and table in your mirror...your merry hutch with cookies for Santa and stockings hung with care. The men at your house must have been thrilled with your punch and dessert buffet. Your frosting looks like a snowy white blanket rather than a bandage and part of your recipe! I had a dispenser leak once in the fridge, what a mess and your hurricane makes a perfect vessel to ladle from. You captured the magical blue hour beautifully. ♥

    P.S. Dear Santa: Please bring me a rusty wheelbarrow to fill with babbles and greenery and elves to decorate my house like Michael Lee next year :)

  2. What a lovely home, you have created such a festive scene. Those little critters in the stockings are too cute! I think we all have had those disaster times at a holiday, and you did great just picking up and moving on. I adore Southern Living and have every one of the Christmas With Southern Living annual books going back to the first one in 1981. Thanks for the preview of this one! And I agree with Bandwidth, Southern Living is a better source for a recipe, LOL!!

  3. Michael Lee, There are hilarious bouts of laughter coming from me as I read of your trials and tribulations cooking for this post! Never a dull moment, is there? I'm sure nothing was funny at the time of the mishaps but adventures like these are what great memories are made of. When my cakes stick/look awful/fall I cut them into bite size bits and serve with a piece of fruit and toothpick or mix it up in a trifle dish. You might say that I'm better at fixing the mistakes than creating the cake to begin with. Your solution is perfect!!! And the last time I served punch I used my trifle dish for that too! I see that you were trying to use yours for an actual trifle! That punch looks delicious even now at breakfast time, and I wish I could pluck one of those bourbon balls from my screen. Michael Lee, your home looks so charming and welcoming, and I don't think the dark day interfered at all with the cheerful table you set. Merry Christmas! Linda

  4. Oh I just had the best time on your blog! That was pure Southern charm I loved every minute of it from the big man, to the Cool Whip, to the ocean of booze! your pictures are so refreshing, what a wonderful treat to start my morning :-)

    I adore your dishes… that means covet! The lighting is so beautiful your shots are spectacular shooting across the table to the Christmas tree and wreath in the background, be still my heart! Even all your fabulous super yummy tummy's are being overshadowed by the beauty of your home.

    Your hutch, stockings, Angel, antlers and Christmas car all make your house the epitome of Southern comfort!

    Thank you so much for being a novel baker it really was a wonderful treat to visit you this morning. See y'all on Wednesday!

  5. I am a lazy blogger, and I don't post very often, but I must visit here when I see your new post on instagram. All the recipes sound scrumptious and as always your photos are incredible, an I always get a little chuckle from yall's "real-life" fun, crisis, endeavours, love, and LIVING!

  6. Michael Lee, your presentation is beautiful and the food looks delicious! I bought the book last year and have been re-reading this year, it is full of inspiration just like your gorgeous home! Happy Monday!

  7. I can't wait to flip through this book in person Michael Lee, the South is such an incredibly diverse place. So many wonderful unique cities and towns, each with a culture of its own. You can't get more Southern than a holiday dessert buffet, with a boozy punch, a trifle, and platters of fudge! I am so sorry about your series of disasters, nothing frustrates me more than a recipe fail, and my stars, how awful to loose your trifle, I bet that required a lot of elves to clean up! Your home looks so holiday and welcoming, I hope you have a very merry week and everything stays jolly!

  8. Everything looks magazine worthy. Very pretty and delicious...

  9. Well, if this wasn't completely Southern, I don't know what is. Bless your heart, as we would say! The weather, the malfunctions, the accidents...hey, that Christmas angel in the corner...was she in time out, or just loafing??
    Quite apart from all that happened, no one would have EVER suspected, given your artful styling and array of treats, seriously! It's beautiful, and I have loved each of yours, Mary's & Linda's takes on this interpretation.
    We had that same very, very strange weather on Saturday/Sunday. It woke me up like a summer storm does.
    Looking forward to your post on Wednesday!

  10. Everything is beautiful.
    Marion and Family

  11. I have had those gremlins visit me too! Your food is inspirational to me right now I am gearing up for twelve for christmas dinner. The gremlin in my house (hubby) doesn't like or want prime rib...I know!?! Who doesn't like steak? So I have to make crown roast of pork just for him and steak for everyone else. lol Loving your bourbon balls, I am going to try that recipe! I may need 'em!

  12. Gorgeous photos and fabulous looking decadent Christmas recipes, I know my children will adore the peanut butter fudge! a Very Merry Christmas to you.

  13. What lovely things you have in your home. Everything is so elegant and gorgeous. Thanks for sharing. Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Blessed 2017.
    Marilyn and Family

  14. Micheal, everything is so festive and beautiful. Everything sounds yummy. Sorry you had so many mishapps.

    I am going to have to buy the book as I am a transplant Southern gal. I love everything Southern.

    Have a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


  15. I like your attitude. You always know how to rescue things and make them into delights.
    Your weather resembles ours. 80 degrees in the afternoon and drops to the 20s by nightfall. It's really cold here getting out to run errands isn't pleasant. I much prefer sitting by the fire, cup of tea in hand, reading beautiful, inspiring blogs like this. Thanks for sharing all this southern charm. You are the real deal!
    Merry Christmas to all at Rattlebridge Farm.

  16. All is merry and bright at Rattlebridge Farm! Hoping your Christmas and the New Year grants your deepest hopes and desires.

  17. What a fun read, Michael Lee! I chuckled through your writing, and know how good you are at salvaging and making do! The treats look especially yummy and love the drink in the canning jar. The quilt is a beauty that you've used as your table covering. Love your taste!

  18. I love all of your greenery and your christmas cabinet! Hope you had a merry christmas!!