The holidays are happening this minute! If you’re in deer-to-the-headlights mode, there’s still time to pull it together and make gifts for family and friends without needing to trek to the malls and deal with traffic jams and long lines. And, the good news is that homemade food gifts are far more appreciated than “stuff.” So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.
Every autumn, as the temperatures drop, we are drawn to all things pumpkin and butternut squash. But is it really all about the squash or about the warming spices that bring these quintessential American foods to life? After all, winter squashes have a delicate flavor. The spices, on the other hand, were once worth a royal ransom and for good reason; they ignited our taste buds, warmed our bodies and provided an exotic pallet of flavors heretofore unknown in Europe. And who can dismiss the power of Pumpkin Muffins baking in the kitchen on a chilly late autumn or winter morning?
No Cranberry Sauce with the turkey? A few years ago there was a cranberry shortage and word spread quickly. Within a few weeks, there were no packages available in the markets. Fortunately, this year, we’re in far better shape. This is a good thing as everyone knows we need cranberry sauce with turkey! They’re both native to the Americas, along with Maple Syrup, allspice and vanilla.
Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens. I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal.
Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.
I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.
Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.
When it’s cold or stormy outside, it’s so nice to have a warm beverage and a few freshly baked cookies to enjoy while hunkering down and binging on Netflix or reading a book. Frankly, both Gina (our Contessa) and I enjoy having freshly baked cookies on hand whenever we’re in for a long stretch of work on the computer. It’s a nice incentive to keep going. So when I found this recipe for Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would be our new favorite. I made a batch for Gina’s birthday in November, sending her over-the-moon.
If you are a ginger snap or spicy cookie fan, look no further. A wonderful contribution to holiday platters, these cookies make great gifts and are perfect for a quiet evening at home, cozied up by the fireplace with a nice cup of tea.
This decadent Hot Fudge recipe, from Gourmet Magazine, is everything you’d expect from this traditional favorite dessert topping. Chewy and gooey, smooth and shiny, it’ll dress up everything from your hot fudge sundae to your cakes and brownies. Perfect served hot over ice-cream or even just a chilled spoonful, straight from the jar, it’s sure to become a household favorite.
Saffron has been a coveted spice used by people across many cultures for roughly 3,500 years. A little more than 200 years ago England was the world’s largest producer of saffron, growing it in the loamy soil in Essex County. Interestingly enough, David Smale has revived the art of growing saffron near the village of Saffron Walden. The town’s name was changed to its current moniker during the Middle Ages when saffron was first grown there.
While perusing Food 52’s weekly recipes for inspiration recently, there was a post for Mushrooms Bourguignon. I was planning a New Year’s Eve dinner for friends and wanted an elegant option for my vegan friends. What could be more elegant than a variety of meaty mushrooms in a flavorful, dressed-up sauce?
Gougeres are a French comfort food. Not a mac ‘n cheese kind of comfort food, but the kind that’s served fresh from the oven with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Or maybe stuffed with warm brie or some crab or smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The fun part is deciding how you want your gougeres (goo jeres)– small or medium in size, what kinds of cheese to add to the dough, or whether to stuff them with something substantial that works perfectly with a drink or as part of a small plates party.
Cream puffs and eclairs aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of versatile desserts. But in reality they’re wonderful edible containers that can be big, medium or small, round or elongated, and filled with all kinds of delicious options sweet or savory! Whipped cream? check. pastry cream? check. crab salad? You bet.
Planning a party takes time and energy. An impromptu party takes imagination. The trick to managing either is to have some strategic ingredients on hand or on a list under party supplies so you can pull a party together fast. Here are my personal favorites for small bites and small plates.
While these deliciously crunchy candies do not actually contain honey, the bubbles that give them their light air airy texture and their deep golden color, conjure up images of bees and nature’s sweet treat. Perfect for topping cakes and desserts or just served on their own, we think you’ll be pleased with their surprising texture and rich flavor.
It’s Fat Tuesday, the last day of Mardi Gras. Time to eat Beignets and drink Cafe au Lait, best made with a coffee-chicory blend or French Roast. Quite honestly though, you can make any day special by making and serving Beignets and you don’t necessarily need Cafe au Lait, though, why not?
No matter how carefully we want to eat, there are times when nothing short of a good dessert will do. These scrumptious baked donuts will not only surpass expectations, they also are baked, not fried. While they’re not totally guilt-free, they come pretty close!
Remember how excited you were as a child, thinking about what you’d be for Halloween and how much candy you’d amass? The chill and thrill of walking through your neighborhood, door-to-door after dark?
It’s interesting how a holiday with deep roots in pagan beliefs and early Christianity is widely celebrated as a secular holiday hundreds of years later. Halloween, as we celebrate it here in the US, has its origins in both early Celtic/Gaelic pagan practices and early Celtic Christianity in the British Isles. Samhain (pronounced Sow-ain,) fell between the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the dark time of the year. It was believed that the spirits and fairies were especially active during this time and that the souls of departed family members were out and about.
Persimmon Pudding is a rich, delicious cake that takes advantage of the delicate Hachiya persimmons — the orb or acorn shaped ones that must become soft to be ripe. Pudding is the classic term used for desserts in the UK. Recently, I discovered this was true here in the US into the 20th century. Served with lemon sauce and whipped cream, it’s divine! The perfect Thanksgiving dessert, it also serves well for December holidays. If you use just some at a time, I recommend wrapping the balance of the cake in a clean dish towel moistened with Brandy or rum.