Holidays

January Foodie Holidays

Posted on Updated on


Here's Cooper and Daisy with the monthly holiday announcements!

It’s good to be back after taking a little bit of time off for the holidays.  So I do apologize that this is a day late.  Hopefully all the hangovers and “bad-decision juice” has been worked out of everyone’s systems.  But with all the focus on physical recovery and recuperation, let’s not forget all those National Holidays that are taking place this month (there is another “National Pie Day” this month on the 23rd; the other one was last month).  I know when we think of January, New Year’s Day is always on everyone’s mind.  It is also National Hot Tea Month, National Oatmeal Month, National Slow Cooking Month, and National Soup Month.  Here are some of the National Holidays that we should be celebrating this month:

Buffet Day, Cream Puff Day

Chocolate Covered Cherry Day

Spaghetti Day

5  Whipped Cream Day

Shortbread Day

Tempura Day

8  English Toffee Day

Apricot Day

It's obvious these two don't get along! At least they're cute when they're trying to stay warm

10  Bittersweet Chocolate Day

12  Marzipan Day

13  Peach Melba Day

14  Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

15  Strawberry Ice Cream Day

16  Fig Newton Day

18  Peking Duck Day (yum!)

20  Buttercrunch Day, Cheese Lover’s Day

21  Granola Bar Day

22  Blonde Brownie Day

24  Peanut Butter Day

25  Irish Coffee Day

26  Peanut Brittle Day

27  Chocolate Cake Day!

28  Blueberry Pancake Day

29  Cornchip Day

30  Croissant Day

31  Popcorn Day

Christmas Biscotti (with boozy cranberries and pepitas)

Posted on Updated on


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

Posted on Updated on


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. . .

Sugar Plums

Posted on Updated on


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

Posted on Updated on


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

Posted on Updated on


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.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Posted on Updated on


The holiday season is time for cranberries.  And whenever we see some fresh cranberries, we must bake something!  Usually it’s some Cranberry Bars with a nice cream cheese frosting.  But we tried something new this time.  This recipe was taken from the Tasty Kitchen.  It’s a little bit different from what you may consider to be a “pie”.  Honestly, I think it’s closer to a cobbler than a pie, and it was made in a cake pan.  So, really it’s kind of an upside down cake.  Actually it’s closest to a buckle, which is one of the many types of cobblers (I should do a post on the different types of cobblers).  But the recipe calls itself a “pie” and who am I to make a pie conform to my definitions of what pie should be?  Well, it’s tasty, whatever the name is.  Plus it’s very simple to make so you can have a nice dessert in about an hour!

Here’s what you need:

  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2 c. (heaping) cranberries
  • 3/4 c. pecans, chopped (measure, then chop)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 c. sugar, divided
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 t. almond extract
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 T. (sanding) sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Butter and 9-in. cake pan.  Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle with 2/3 c. sugar.

3.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 c. sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt.  Stir gently to combine.

4.  Pour batter slowly over the top in large “ribbons” in order to evenly cover the surface.  Spread gently if necessary.

5.  Bake for 45 – 50 minutes.  5 minutes before removing from the oven, sprinkle surface with 1 T. sugar for a little extra crunch.

6.  Let cool and slice into wedges.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

December Foodie Holidays

Posted on Updated on


Just slowly working away at what's left of the holiday pumpkin

Happy December everybody!  Been out of commission for a while due to an increasingly packed schedule.  But it’s the first of the month and it’s time to learn about our disavowed national holidays from Mr. Squirrel (or is it Mrs?  maybe Ms.?).  It really is the holiday season, but there are other days that deserve recognition, like World AIDS Day which is on the 1st.  Of course, there are the biggies that (mostly) everyone knows (and these are in chronological order according to my Just Chocolate Labs calendar) — Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Eve.  But here are some of the other national holidays that we should incorporate into our regular rotation.

1  Pie Day

2  Fritters Day

4  Cookie Day

Sacher Torte Day

Gazpacho Day

7  Cotton Candy Day

8  Brownie Day

Pastry Day

10  Lager Day!!!

11  Noodle Ring Day

12  Ambrosia Day

13  Cocoa Day

14  Bouillabaisse Day

15  Lemon Cupcake Day

16  Chocolate Covered Anything Day

18  Roast Suckling Pig Day

21  French Fried Shrimp Day

23  Pfeffernuesse Day

24  Egg Nog Day

25  Pumpkin Pie Day

26  Candy Cane Day

27  Fruitcake Day

30  Bicarbonate of Soda Day

There are lots of links for folks to check out this month.  Personally, my favorite is “Chocolate Covered Anything Day”, but how can you not love a holiday all about Baking Soda?

Butternut and Acorn Squash Soup

Posted on Updated on


If you’re looking for something to serve as a side for the upcoming holidays, give this recipe a try.  It’s rich and creamy without using any cream at all, so it’s a little bit more waistline friendly.  This was taken from the cookbook An American Bounty from The Culinary Institute of America.  What’s nice about this cookbook is that it gives you some nutritional information with each recipe.  And this recipe is healthier than you think — 180 calories, 4 g protein, 10 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 285 mg sodium, and 40 mg cholesterol per 6 oz. serving.  It will serve 4 – 6 people.

I did try my best at making some fancy design like those baristas at those fancy coffee houses.  It almost worked, but since the densities of the soup and the cream were so different, designs really didn’t want to stay put.  I eventually settled on swirling everything together, which I liked.  It kinda looks like Jupiter. . . kinda. . . well, not really.  But I digress, here’s what you need:

  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, trimmed and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 3-4 c. chicken broth
  • 2 c. butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 c. acorn squash, cubed
  • 1/2 potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 t. salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 t. julienned orange zest

1.  Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

2.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

3.  Add the ginger and sauté for another minute.

4.  Add the broth, squashes, and potato.  Bring the broth to a full boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the squashes are tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, about 20 minutes.

5.  Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool briefly.  Purée the soup with an immersion blender, food processor, or run it through a food mill.

6.  Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Adjust the consistency, if necessary, by adding additional broth or water.  Taste the soup and add salt, pepper, and orange zest.

7.  Serve the soup in a heated tureen or individual bowls.

Notes — If you wanted to make this vegan, just substitute the butter with some olive oil and switch the chicken broth with some vegetable broth. . . add a few drops of lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavor. . . you can add a T. of orange juice concentration with the final flavor adjustment. . . if you wanted to make this in advance, complete up to step 5, cool the soup to room temperature, and refrigerate or freeze.  Before serving, return the soup to a full boil, and make final adjustments. . . can be served chilled. . . whip a little heavy cream to soft peaks, fold in an equal amount of sour cream, and add freshly grated ginger, to taste.  add a dollop to each portion. . .

November Foodie Holidays

Posted on Updated on


A chill is in the air and those lovely leaves are turning, so that means that autumn is in full swing.  Daisy, of course, fell in love with autumn at an early age, as you can see.  Even at the ripe old age of 2 (as you can see in the second picture), she still loves playing in the leaves.  But this all means that it’s November and holiday season is fast upon us.  Now everyone thinks of the traditional holidays like Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving (in the United States, that is), but there are others that we don’t take time to celebrate.  For example, November is:  National Fun with Fondue Month, National Pepper Month, National Georgia Pecan Month, National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month, and National Raisin Bread Month.  Here are some more of those unloved holidays:

1 – 7  National Fig Week

Deviled Egg Day

4  Candy Day

Nachos Day

7  Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day

8 – 13  National Split Pea Soup Week

10  Vanilla Cupcake Day

12  Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day

13  Indian Pudding Day

14  Guacamole Day

15  Spicy Hermit Cookie Day

20  Peanut Butter Fudge Day

23  Cashew Day

24  THANKSGIVING DAY

25  Parfait Day

26  Cake Day

27  Bavarian Cream Pie Day

28  French Toast Day

29  Chocolates Day

30  Mousse Day