Holiday Goodies

Golden Rum Cake

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by Susan Russo

ImageWhat would the holiday season be without desserts? And booze? Fortunately, the sassy ladies behind the spirited cookbook Booze Cakes have got ya covered. Authors Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone have created the ultimate fun baking book with over 100 bodacious, boozy confections.

The book is divided into four sections:
1. Classic Booze Cakes such as English Trifle and Tipsy Tiramisu.
2. Cocktail Cakes such as Pumpkin Martini Cakes and Tequila Sunrise Cake.
3. Cake Shots including Rum & Coke and Screwdriver Shots.
4. Cakes with a Twist such as Black Jack Praline Cake and Rosemary Limoncello Cake.

Castella and Stone are girls who want to have fun, and they want you to have fun too. That's why they include helpful icons for special occasion cakes and a cheeky "Booze Meter" that rates cakes as "Lightweight," "Feeling It," or "Totally Tipsy." (In case you're wondering, I picked a "Totally Tipsy" cake.)

Recipe of the Week: Sugarplums

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by Susan Russo


Since it's Christmas time, I chose to make Anita Chu's Sugar Plums recipe. Anita writes in her Field Guide to Candy, "When visions of sugarplums dance in children's heads, it would be interesting to know exactly what sugarplums they dream of." She explains that historically "sugarplums," referred to a wide variety of candies, but more recently have come to refer to "soft, sticky balls of dried fruits and nuts, often rolled in shredded coconut or confectioners' sugar. They do not necessarily contain plums."

According to Anita, "Sugarplums were immortalized in Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicolas" and "Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker." Hence our association of sugarplums with Christmas.

(Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet for about 1 hour until firm.

Notes: You can substitute the fruits and nuts in this recipe. Dried cherries, figs, or raisins work well, as would hazelnuts, pistachios, or pecans. Try adding chopped candied ginger or candied citrus peel.


All Hail the King Cake

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by Seale Ballenger

kingcakeThis morning as I was headed to work wishing that I was celebrating Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, Mobile, Venice, or anywhere other than snowy New York; I walked past the local bakery where I was aghast to see a King Cake for sale in the window for $65 dollars!  

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a King Cake, it is a fairly simple brioche pastry twisted into a wreath and decorated with multi-hued icing in colors of purple, green and gold. 

The delicacy (and I use the word in jest) is sometimes filled with cream cheese or cinnamon, but the true secret to a King Cake is that baked somewhere inside is a tiny plastic baby and the person who finds the trinket, and hopefully doesn't swallow it, is considered king for the day. 

A French tradition that in this country is centered around Mardi Gras, King Cake is eaten during the pre-Lenten hurrah right up through Fat Tuesday, the final day in while unbridled Bacchanalian abandon is allowed to continue. 

How to Make Italian Pepper Biscuits

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by Susan Russo

pepperbiscuits.jpgNow you may be asking yourself, "what is a pepper biscuit?" This recipe was my grandmother's original and has been in the family for over 80 years. It's a savory Italian biscuit made primarily of flour, olive oil, black pepper, and fennel seeds. They can be found in many Italian delis and are usually ring-shaped biscuits that have been boiled.

My family's pepper biscuits are baked instead of boiled. When you bite into one, you'll find the texture to be satisfyingly crisp and slightly crumbly. They're all-occasion biscuits too. Serve them as a part of an antipasto. Crumble them into "croutons" for a unique salad topping. Or savor them with a hot espresso or tea.

Pepper biscuits make great easy and inexpensive Christmas gifts too because they can be made ahead. Once cooled, store in air-tight container (preferably tin to maintain their crispness) and keep in a cool area; they should last up to a month.

Even though my mom loves to make pepper biscuits, she prefers when my dad does because he twists each cookie so uniformly. If you're not into twisting, you can also roll the dough into a cigar shape and simply form a circle. They're equally delicious no matter what shape they come in.

Green Beans with a Twist

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by Susan Russo

greenbeansSometimes I wonder if I'm truly an American. I mean, I have never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, I have never eaten at Taco Bell, and despite its nearly iconic status in American cuisine, I cannot abide green bean casserole. You know the one – green beans with cream of mushroom soup, topped with crispy fried onions.

Growing up, I never knew what a casserole was; my mom (and grandmother) never made them. After hearing about green bean casserole from friends at school, I felt like I was missing out – I told my mom, "It has fried onions on top! It's like green beans with Funyuns!" The next day she bought the ingredients for green bean casserole; I couldn't have been happier.

Unfortunately, she made the green bean casserole in front of my grandmother, Nan. I still remember her look of shock when my mom opened the can of fried onions. "Onions in a can? Who ever heard of such a thing? And who puts soup on string beans?" she said, "Bah, that's American food." I reminded her, "Nan, we are American." "Yeah," she replied, "but we cook Italian."

Despite Nan's protests, I got my green bean casserole. I was giddy with anticipation. Unfortunately, with the first bite, my giddiness ended. Green bean casserole was nothing more than mushy green beans topped with salty soup and greasy onions.

Coquito For Christmas

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by Matt Armendariz

coquito-blog.jpgLast week while visiting with our banker (yes, there are some things you just have to actually go inside a bank branch, apparently) we got on the topic of food. Naturally. We were trading names of favorite restaurants, talking about the holidays, when our banker mentioned how he couldn’t wait to enjoy his family’s Christmas coquito.

As a Puerto Rican in Los Angeles I could only imagine the lengths he must go through in order to enjoy his food. Because unlike Chicago or New York or even Miami, we fall short when it comes to Puerto Rican food. Miserably short. I’m glad I spent years in Chicago, eating lechón and mofongo regularly and ever since my first trip to Puerto Rico last year I’ve realized how sad it makes me that it’s a bit harder to find here. But enough of the sad story. Back to that coquito!

I’ve never made coquito myself, the creamy sweet coconut concoction that’s a cousin to traditional egg nog.  Egg yolks, cream of coconut, spices, condensed milk and rum are blended then chilled and POW – it’s sweet and powerful!

I must confess that I like it a bit more than standard egg nog and have decided that I’ll make it an annual tradition during Christmas starting this year. And I promise to toast my banker each time I make it!

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

Butter in my cookies, please!

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by Sue Doeden

praline_butter_cookies.jpgButter season. It's here. The inside of the door on my freezer holds several pounds of Land O Lakes butter. Many more of the 1-pound boxes are stacked on the shelves in my refrigerator. My holiday baking has begun.

Baking Christmas cookies is one of my favorite things in the whole world. There's nothing that puts me at peace during this crazy busy time of year like getting into the kitchen to do some baking while Christmas music plays in the background. Maybe it's because I think of the many years my mom and I baked holiday cookies together. When I make the thumbprint cookies, a family favorite for generations, I can almost hear my mom tell me to roll the little balls of cookie dough no larger than a walnut. Now I use my small portion scooper and each cookie is the exact same size. She would have loved that little tool.  We would stay up until all hours of the darkness to bake hundreds of special cookies that had become a tradition through the years.

I stll make many of the same cookies my mom and I created each holiday season. But, each year I find new ones to try. I have a stack of clipped cookie recipes that I flip through each November, pulling out a couple that will become newbies on the cookie tray. Some of those become keepers and are tucked into the "Keep Forever" file. Others are half-heartedly consumed and are never found on our holiday Christmas cookie platter again.

Shortbread Finger Biscuits

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by Joseph Erdos

chocshortbread.jpgOne of my favorite treats to have during the holidays is one that I can enjoy with a hot cup of tea. These traditional Scottish shortbread finger biscuits are one of those favorites of mine. I come back to the same recipe year after year, but this time I decided to try something new. Going on a tip from a Scottish woman to use a portion of rice flour for a more tender cookie, I instead decided to use garbanzo bean flour.

I've been meaning to use garbanzo bean flour ever since I purchased a package some time ago. I had intended to use it for making Besan Ladoo, an Indian sweet made from gram flour, which is their name for garbanzo bean or chick pea flour. I haven't had the chance to make that sweet yet, but I took the opportunity to use the flour for the first time. It turned out to be a very good idea. I achieved a much more tender cookie than what I've made in the past. And to gild the lily a bit, I dipped a third of each finger in melted semisweet chocolate and then sprinkled it with chopped pistachios. I must say they turned out great.

Chocolates for Christmas

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by Amy Sherman

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly chocolate." – Debbie Moose

kikas.jpgEach holiday season there are new chocolates and I am first in line to try as many as I can. This year there were so many I packed them all up and took them to Thanksgiving dinner to let my friends and family try them too. Here are the highlights:

I adore Kika's Treats. Kika is one of the most successful graduates of the La Cocina incubator program in San Francisco. Her caramelized graham crackers dipped in chocolate are unique and a wonderful melange of buttery toffee and rich chocolate. But her latest confection is equally compelling.

Luscious caramels dipped in dark chocolate with a pinch of sea salt and a surprising twist. They are lightened up with the addition of puffed brown rice that gives them the perfect crunch. A 9-piece assortment is just $16 (and the box is absolutely adorable).

A New Year's Eve Cocktail and Appetizer All-in-One

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by David Latt

ImageI enjoy spending hours cooking in the kitchen. Doing the prep work soothes my frazzled nerves. Watching a dish slowly come together as the various ingredients combine their flavors calms me down.

Being in the kitchen is a great escape from a contentious world. Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, gives me a lot of pleasure. Good food promotes good conversation and well-prepared dishes tell our friends that we care about them.

I like to have the meal completed before everyone arrives, but sometimes, like this New Year's Eve, I know I'll still be cooking. The best solution is a colorful cocktail that refreshes and entertains while I'm finishing dinner.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, including a spoon means the cocktail is a drink and an appetizer all in one.


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