Month: December 2011

Christmas Biscotti (with boozy cranberries and pepitas)

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Happy Boxing Day everyone!  Alright so I’m a little bit behind schedule with a “Christmas cookie”, but I know folks that have holiday celebrations for several weeks after Christmas.  These days with multiple-family households, and in-laws, and friends, it seems like we have this party and that party and an open house here and a potluck there.  At all these get-togethers, all kinds of cookies come out of hiding.  And for whatever reason, biscotti really makes a big appearance during the holidays.  So I offer up this for those that still have some Christmas obligations coming up.

Biscotti” is a term that means “twice baked“.  Now here’s a cultural nugget for ya — back in ye olden days, baking something twice was just another way of preserving your baked goods.  When you bake something again, it helps to dry it out further and thus increase its self-life.  That’s important when refrigeration isn’t as readily available.

I’m pretty sure y’all have seen recipes for this out there.  They usually have either cranberries or cherries with some pistachios.  Now I was fresh out of pistachios, but I had lots of pepitas about, so those will have to do.  You still get the classic Christmas colors of red and greed, and you still get some additional nuttiness and flavor from the pepitas.  This was adapted from Giada de Laurentiis and her Chocolate Chip Anise Biscotti or maybe it was just Chocolate Biscotti.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 stick butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. pepitas
  • 2/3 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. rum

1.  Place the cranberries and the rum in a bowl.  Microwave for about 30 seconds.  Let steep for about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or with a silpat.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the flour mixture and blend together.  Fold in the pepitas and the drained cranberries.

3.  Form the dough into a 16 x 3 in-wide log on the prepared sheet pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden.  Cool on the rack for 30 minutes.

4.  Transfer the log to a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut into 1/3 – 1/2 inch slices.  You can cut on the diagonal if you like.  Arrange on the baking sheet cut side down.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an air-tight container.

Cranberry Cheesecake

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Here’s another holiday menu post!  I do want to start by apologizing for some of my pics.  When I was doing my Winter Feast, I was so concerned with keeping to my schedule and feeding hungry guests, I forgot to take pictures of the finished products 😦  Like the Savory Bread Pudding, the Rapini with Fried Apples, the Biscotti, the Roasted Fennel, and this.  But luckily there were some leftovers (as is the usual with large parties) and I got to take some shots.  Of course, I don’t know what my excuse is for not taking pics of the cheesecake because this was made the day before.  But it was evening, so natural light wasn’t available.  Plus it’s been very cloudy lately which makes taking good pictures more challenging.  That was the case when I was trying to take some pictures of what was left of the cheesecake (and it was raining a little bit).  All the Christmas lights in the world really can’t replicate natural light.

Chanukah Bear and the Christmas Turtle (or is that a Frog?) are happily sharing a piece of cheesecake.

Anyhoo, I wanted to put a different twist on cheesecake for the holidays.  And then I asked myself, “Waterlily, why don’t you add some of the Cranberry Compote to the cheesecake batter?  What a wonderful idea!  Such fun!”  So that’s essentially what this is, with a little tweaks here and there. . . maybe.  This makes a relatively tall 9″ cheesecake (and that’s 9″ wide, not 9″ tall).  Here’s what you need:

For the crust:

  • 12 graham crackers, the large 4-piece kind
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 T. crystallized ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 T. butter, melted

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray 9-in springform with cooking spray.  Pulse the graham crackers, sugar, and salt until fine.  Add the crystallized ginger and chop (I like having larger bits of ginger in the crust, but you can keep everything a uniform size if you like).  Drizzle in the melted butter and combine.

2.  Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pan about 1 inch.  Bake for about 15 minutes until slightly browned.  Allow to cool.  After the pan is cool to the touch, wrap in foil to prevent water from seeping in.

For the filling:

  • 5 8-oz. packages cream cheese
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 c. Cranberry Compote

1.  Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy using the paddle attachment.  Be sure to scrape down the sides as you go along.  Add sugar and salt and mix well, scraping down the sides.  Add eggs one at a time, again scraping down the sides after each addition.  Mix in the sour cream well.  Fold in the compote.

2.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.  Place the springform in a roasting pan; now fill the roasting pan with hot water halfway up the sides of the springform.  Bake for about 90 minutes until set in the middle.  If there is too much browning during baking, loosely place some foil on top of the cheesecake.

3.  Allow the cake to cool on a rack.  After about 15 minutes, run a knife around the edges of the cake to help release it from the pan.  Let it cool completely before wrapping the top with plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight (even better)!

Notes — I was hoping that this would be a little bit more pink.  I guess I could always add some coloring, but I’d rather not. . . You are supposed to bake this in a water bath, but if you don’t happen to have a roasting pan you can just use a sheet pan.  Fill the pan as high as you can with water; you will probably have to refill the pan at least once during baking.  But halfway through the baking process, loosely place some foil on top of the cake.  This helps trap some steam around the cake, which helps it bake. . .

Cranberry Compote

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Here’s my third post from my “holiday menu“.  To be honest, I think “cranberry compote” is just a fancy term for a cranberry sauce.  But again, alliteration is always a nice thing!  In case you’re wondering, a compote is basically fruit stewed in some kind of syrup.  It can serve as a topping for ice cream or just served on its own.  I did use some of this to make a cheesecake for my Winter Feast.  Of course, that’s going to be the next post.  Exciting stuff!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 – 3 cinnamon sticks, depending on strength
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 4 c. cranberries, divided
  • 1/2 c. cognac

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Bring to a gentle boil until the sugar has dissolved.  Reduce by about 1/4.

2.  Add the orange juice and cook for 1 minute.  Add the cinnamon, anise, cardamom, and 3 c. of the cranberries.  Bring to a boil.  Once you start to hear some of the cranberries pop, reduce the heat and allow to stew for about 10 – 15 minutes.

3.  After the mixture has thickened, add the remaining cranberries.  Once the cranberries have started to pop, reduce heat to low and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes.

4.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cognac.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Notes — theoretically, this should last for at least a week, but it usually gets used up quickly in my house. . . you could try brown sugar which might be a nice change. . . I have seen some recipes that use maple syrup. . . another thing to try would be to add some ginger. . . I did make a double batch and just reused the whole spices.  It worked out fine.  You could cut down the amount of spices if it might be too much for you. . .   Adding cognac is optional, but I think it helps round everything out.  But of course, I don’t need an excuse to booze something up!

Sugar Plums

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I love Sugar Plums!  Even though they don’t seem to be popular at my holiday gatherings, I will stand by them.  It is a nice holiday alternative to the richness and sweetness of other holiday treats; essentially these are made of dried fruits, nuts, and spices.  How healthy is that?  Sure it’s rolled in sugar, but that’s beside the point.  Now often times we associate sugar plums with Christmas (e.g. — “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads” and “the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”), but that’s not necessarily the case.  The Food Timeline website offers a little bit of information on the history of Sugar Plums, in addition to some other traditional Christmas fare.

This recipe was taken from Alton Brown’s Good Eats program; and the link is nice because there is also a video available.  Here’s what you need:

  • 6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
  • 4 ounces dried plums
  • 4 ounces dried apricots
  • 4 ounces dried figs
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coarse sugar

1.  Coarsely chop the nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the plums, apricots, and figs.  Pulse about 20 – 25 times until coarsely chopped, but before the mixture forms into a ball.

2.  Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.

3.  Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions and roll into balls.  If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve.  If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve.  Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.

Notes — The sugar plums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month. . . I didn’t have almonds so I just used some walnuts as a substitute. . . I’m sure you could substitute any number of dried fruits. . . maybe add just a touch of booze?  but I’m always trying to add a touch of booze to everything.

Martha’s Eggnog

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It's got bourbon, cognac, and rum! Nothing wrong with that!

This is one of several “holiday menu” installments, so brace yourselves!  Alright, so let’s start the holidays off right with some eggnog.  The recipe that I’ve been using for the past couple of years has been adapted from Martha Stewart.  Now I was looking on her website a couple of weeks ago and I really couldn’t find the right recipe.  I found one for her “Classic Eggnog” but the amount of booze seemed a lot lower than I remember; even if you made a double batch it still didn’t sound right.  Luckily I found one on Food.com which was a lot closer to what I remember.  Of course, I changed it a little — I changed it from 1/2 c. rum to a full cup because why would you just put 1/2 c. of rum into anything?

In addition to a nice large serving bowl, here’s what you need:

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 c. superfine sugar
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 quarts heavy cream
  • 3 c. bourbon
  • 2 c. cognac
  • 1 c. dark rum
  • freshly grated nutmeg
If you drink too much, then chaos ensues!

1.  In a very large bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale yellow.  Gradually add sugar to the yolks, whisking to combine.  Gradually whisk in the milk and 1 qt. of the cream.  Now add your bourbon, rum, and cognac, stirring constantly.  You can make this base of the eggnog a day or so in advance.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff (you can add a little bit of sugar if you like).  Gently fold that into the mixture.

3.  Whip the remaining cream to soft peaks and dollop or fold into the mixture.  Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve!

Notes  — There is a caution at the bottom of the recipes that I found stating that “raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health is compromised.”  It’s probably a not to let pregnant women, babies, or young children to drink something this boozy!. . . supposedly this serves 24.

Holiday Menu Planning

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Entertaining and menu planning may seem tricky, but the execution doesn’t have to be all that intimidating.  It just takes a lot of thought and timing.  You have to take into account what the dishes are, how many people are attending, and when dinner is supposed to be served (along with a whole host of other things to consider).  But all this planning can be spread out over a whole month.  Now I just had my “Holiday Feast” the other day and here was my schedule.  The day was busy, but I still got to spend time with my guests before dinner and take part in the festivities (i.e. – drink booze).

3 weeks prior:  send out invitations.  Hopefully you will hear back relatively quickly about who can and cannot attend.

2 weeks prior:  finalize menu.  Here’s what was decided:  Roasted pork shoulder, marinated turkey breast, bread pudding with mushrooms and roasted peppers, roasted fennel and carrots, rapini with fried apples,  egg nog, cranberry cheesecake, holiday biscotti, and sugar plums.  Now that I actually see it written out, that’s a lot of food.  Even more so because it was also a potluck.  I will do posts on all this stuff soon with a focus on the more holiday-ish items first.

1 week prior:  finalize attendees, buy supplies and groceries.  Alright so it wasn’t completely finalized and it hovered anywhere between 12 -18.  It finally ended up at 13.

4 days prior:  clean house, iron table linens.  Now cleaning the house is a daily thing, but I did a major cleaning on this day.  I ironed the napkins and prepped them so that I could fold the “birds of paradise” relatively quickly.  I like this fold because it looks nice and is relatively easy to do.

3 days prior:  buy fresh ingredients (fruit and vegetables), make cranberry compote.  The cranberry compote could even be made the week before.

2 days prior:  make cranberry cheesecake, bake biscotti.  Making this now lets the cheesecake set up in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Just cover it with plastic wrap after it cools.  The biscotti should stay fresh for several days.

1 day prior:  blanche rapini, peel carrots, make sugar plums, assemble bread pudding.  The sugar plums need some time to dry out a little before rolling in sugar.  The bread pudding can sit and all the flavors can marry while sitting in the refrigerator.  Plus the bread can really soak up the custard.

6 hours prior:  roll the sugar plums in sugar, fold napkins, set the table.  At this point, I still didn’t know how many.  My best guess was 12, which was nice because everyone could sit at the table.

3 hours prior:  start holiday music playlist, attend to early attendees, make beer bread, drink beer.  Now we asked folks to arrive at 3:00pm with dinner to be served at 6:00.  Not everyone will show at the start which is fine.

2 hours prior:  attend to early attendees, roast fennel and carrots, drink wine, eat cheese.  Serve appetizer dishes that guests brought.

1 hour prior:  attend to attendees, bake bread pudding, make egg nog, drink egg nog.  Egg nog is usually a big draw because of all the booze 🙂  I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which has 3 c. bourbon, 2 c. cognac, and 1 c. rum.

30 minutes prior:  light candles on the table, make rapini and fried apples, place fennel in oven to reheat, finalize drink orders, drink more egg nog.  Everything is coming together and all your hard work and planning is paying off.  Hopefully you won’t be too tipsy at this point.

I know this looks like a lot and that you’ll be in the kitchen and not enjoying anyone, but everyone always ends up in the kitchen anyway so you won’t be missing out.  You won’t really be missing out if you prep everything ahead of time.  Just pop into the kitchen to take out the bread and pop some veggies into the oven.  Then you have an hour to play with your guests before the next thing goes into the oven.

Breakfast in Traverse City

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Here’s another post from my trip up to the Traverse City area.  If you saw my post on Elk Rapids, I likes me a nice breakfast when I’m on vacation — usually an omelette (still don’t know if it’s one “t” or two).  This time I got a chance to go to J&S Hamburg on Front St. in Traverse City, MI.  It has that whole charming hole-in-the-wall / diner feel.  Plus, it was during Halloween, so that gets to add a little something to the experience — I guess some folks like to dress up in their costumes for the whole day.

Farmer's Omelette @ J & S Hamburg

I ordered a Farmer’s Omelete which had tomatoes, sausage, and mushrooms.  Much to my surprise it came with a stack of pancakes!  Everything was delicious and well cooked; maybe I’m just a sucker for eggs, but since I always order them, I know a good omelette when I taste one.  It’s like when I judge a sushi restaurant by how good their spider rolls or temaki are.  But I digress. . . you get a lot of good food for the price.  Definitely worth a return visit.

Of course, I also had to check out what the town had to offer in regards to pumpkin donuts.  And that’s where Potter’s Bakery comes in.  As you may recall, I visited the Elk Rapids Sweet Shop and sampled their offerings.  Potter’s makes a doughnut that can challenge the Sweet Shop for what I think is the best pumpkin doughnut.  What makes the one from Potter’s different is in the flavor profile.  The main thing that stands out is the spiciness of the it.  It wasn’t overwhelming, but gave it a nice kick.  It was a nice way to warm up a chilly autumn morning.

Can we go to D.O.G. Bakery now?

Also joining us on this road trip were the puppies Daisy and Cooper (well, maybe not puppies anymore).  So I wanted to make a stop that was specifically for them.  And Traverse City is home to D.O.G. Bakery, which stands for “Daisy and Oscar’s Gourmet Bakery”.  You may have seen some of their goods since they have vendors in Michigan, Florida, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee.  The store is located on Front Street in Traverse City and has some of the standard items that you would find in any pet store.  What makes them special is the bakery in the back (plus the fact that they donated over 7% of their proceeds to pet focused charities).  They use quality ingredients and use local food producers whenever they can, which is great.  Naturally dogs are welcome inside.  Thankfully there were no other puppies inside when we went in because Daisy and Cooper have a tendency to be excitable.  But it was nice for them to go to a place where they can be included — it’s not like those two would be welcome inside North Peak Brewery (which I will post on soon).

Special Treats for the puppies!

So stay tuned for my final post about my trip up north when I will share a little bit about North Peak and Shorts Brewing Companies!  It’s the last post about my vacation, I promise!  That is, until the next vacation.