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Apple Cinnamon Caramel, Goat Cheese, and a Cocktail

Every so often, my friend Tenaya and I get together and build a cheese board. She brings the cheeses and I come bearing preserves and other treats. A few weeks ago, we had a little mid-afternoon party for two in which we paired a log of downy goat cheese with apple cinnamon caramel, cranberry caramel, and crunchy caramel popcorn.

The cranberry caramel is essentially a version of this strawberry caramel I made for Simple Bites many moons ago (8 ounces of cranberries cooked with 1 1/2 cups of water, and then pureed until very smooth). The only change I made was to cook the caramelizing sugar to 285F rather than 250F (for a deeper caramel flavor).

I made a batch of this oven toasted caramel corn to go along with the cheese and preserves. In our minds, this array would be a fun spread for New Year’s Eve, and that’s the perfect night for a sweet, crunchy treat.

Tenaya and her brother Andre have had two cocktail-centric books come out this year (The New Cocktail Hour and Turner Classic Movies: Movie Night Menus) and so she whirred up a creamy, nutmeg flecked cocktail. Make sure to check out Tenaya’s post about our board.

However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, I hope it’s a very happy turn of the year!

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Honey Maple Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving

This Honey Maple Cranberry Sauce is sweet, tart, and perfect for serving with turkey on Thanksgiving!

honey maple cranberry sauce in jars

Let’s take a moment to talk about cranberry condiments. They are a Thanksgiving staple and are one of the easiest things to make rather than buy.

honey maple cranberry sauce in jars

I’ve made a number of different versions to serve with turkey over the years. There was my “canned” cranberry sauce in which I molded a homemade version in a tin can in order to achieve the classic ridges. Before that, I shared a simple cranberry jelly made with just a pound of berries for easy DIY-ing.

washing cranberries for honey maple cranberry sauce

I’ve also made a bunch of cranberry-centric jams that go well with the traditional Thursday meal. Spiced Cranberry Jam. Pear Cranberry Jam. Low-sugar Pear Cranberry Jam. Apple Cranberry Jam. Apple Cranberry Compote. Any one of these would be a natural addition to your menu. (And if you need more inspiration, each one of my books contains at least one Thanksgiving-appropriate cranberry preserve.)

cranberries in the pot for honey maple cranberry sauce

Despite the fact that I’ve got so many variations at my disposal, I couldn’t resist making this Honey Maple Cranberry Sauce. Initially, I was going to mold this naturally sweetened version in tin can like I did all those years back. But honestly, it felt like too much trouble and do we really need another gimmick these days?

cranberries in the food mill for honey maple cranberry sauce

I find that cranberry skins are often tough, so I typically work my finished cranberry sauce through a food mill when it’s finished cooking. That results in a sauce that it more uniform in texture and is an easier sell to the people who have only just graduated from the overly sweet canned cranberry jelly. It’s an entirely optional step, though.

close up of honey maple cranberry sauce in jars

The finished cranberry sauce is flavored lightly with lemon zest and a cinnamon stick and is sweetened with both honey and maple syrup. It’s appealingly tart and sweet, and I am looking forward to heaping a generous scoop onto my plate come Thursday.

Do you have a house cranberry sauce or relish? Share your tradition in the comments!

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My Imaginary 2016 Thanksgiving Menu

cookbooks-for-thanksgiving-inspiration

I’m cooking Thanksgiving this week. I’ve not gotten to make the whole meal since 2008, so I’m feeling pretty giddy about the whole thing. However, as I’ve planned the menu and made lists, I’ve realized that my fantasy Thanksgiving and the reality of the one I’m cooking are pretty far apart.

sriracha-pimento-cheese-recipe

In my fantasy, I’d make all sorts of fun, new things, taking inspiration from some of the new cookbooks I’ve gotten recently. However, I’ve come to realize that the classic are where it’s at for the crowd who will be gathering around my table. So I’m satisfying my urge for the new by sharing my dream menu here.

creamy-sunchoke-soup

For nibbling before the meal begins, I’d make the Sriracha Pimento Cheese from Kristin Donnelly‘s gorgeous book Modern Potluck. I’d serve it with baguette rounds and cucumber slices. And for the very start of the meal, the Creamy Sunchoke Soup from The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini.

herb-roasted-turkey

For the main event, I’d use the recipe for Herb-Roasted Turkey with Gravy from Jenny Rosenstrach‘s book, How to Celebrate Everything (I love this book. There’s nothing that I like more than a good food tradition).

cranberry-and-persimmon-relish

I confess that I like a traditional cranberry sauce (we’ll have a honey-sweetened one on the table this year), but this one combining cranberries and persimmon from Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore by Anna Thomas speaks to me.

triple-threat-celery-mash

My husband would be very sad if I omitted traditional mashed potatoes, or did anything to them that made them “interesting,” but if I had my druthers, I’d make a batch of this celery root, potato, and celery stalk mash from the book Mashed by Holly Herrick.

roasted-sweet-potato-pudding

This roasted sweet potato pudding from Rebecca Ffrench‘s Whole Protein Vegetarian looks awfully good and might be something I make for Christmas at my sister’s house. I like that it’s minimally sweetened with maple syrup.

healthy-root-vegetable-gratin

If the table could hold one more root vegetable dish, I’d call on the Healthy Root Vegetable Gratin. It’s another one from Modern Potluck and is something that is on my to-make list this winter.

roasted-and-raw-sprout-salad

No meal is complete without a green vegetable (at least, so says my mother) and the Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad from Modern Potluck looks a good, seasonal one.

normandy-apple-cake

For dessert, the Normandy Apple Cake Tatin Style from French Desserts by Hillary Davis. Served with vanilla ice cream, of course!

wild-rice-and-turkey-muffins

Now, a bonus recipe. This one for Wild Rice and Turkey Muffins, from Cooking Wild by John Ash and James O. Fraioli seems like a really great one for using up leftover turkey and would be far more inspired than my typical pot of soup.

I’m curious. What are you guys making come Thursday?

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Holiday Giving: Oven Toasted Caramel Corn

jar of caramel corn

Back in the days when we were still allowed to bring homemade treats to school for holiday parties, my mom would make honey butter popcorn. She would pop enough corn to fill a clean brown paper grocery bag, and boil brown sugar, honey, butter, and vanilla extract together.

When it was thick, she’d pour the hot syrup over the popcorn, tossing vigorously with a long handled wooden spoon. The popcorn would also get a generous sprinkling of salt as she stirred the syrup in. As soon as the coated corn wasn’t molten hot, we’d be allowed a few tastes.

popping corn

When it was cooled enough to handle, but not entirely firm, she’d portion it out into plastic sandwich bags and tie them off with the colored ribbon that you could curl with a scissors blade. I was always excited to share that popcorn with my friends at school, thinking it the very best offering possible.

These days, I still think that crisp, sweet popcorn is one of the very best treats around. It’s one of those things that I love to make but only cook up a batch when I know I can move most of it out of the house immediately. My self control wanes when there is caramel corn within reach.

caramel popcorn sheet tray

Last Saturday, some dear friends had their annual holiday party. It’s an event that features a wide array of delicious, sugary, holiday-themed confections and I needed something worthy to add to the spread. After a quick appraisal of my pantry stores and the amount of time left before we needed to leave for the party, caramel popcorn was the winner.

These days, I use an approach that marries how my mom would make hers, with the low heat toasting that Molly Wizenberg wrote about some six years ago. It results in a crisp, deeply caramel-y corn that keeps its texture best if you stash it in jars or zip-top bags the moment it is cool.

top of caramel corn

This popcorn also makes a terrific addition to holiday cookie plates and gift bags. If you’re mailing out treat boxes, a quart bag of this corn bulks out your offering without increasing your shipping costs much. It can also serve as an edible cushion for more fragile baked goods and jars. Pair it with a bag of Eleanor’s roasted Chex Mix, for the pinnacle of sweet and salty.

Before we get to the recipe, a note. There is a suggestion in the very back of Food in Jars that you infuse flaky sea salt with vanilla beans. If you’ve made it and have a jar kicking around, make sure to use it on this popcorn. The subtle hint of vanilla you get from the salt makes a darned fine addition to the popcorn.

Oh, and just one last thing. If you are looking for a good way to make stove top popcorn, may I suggest the Whirley-Pop? It is definitely a unitasker (forgive me, Alton Brown), but I love mine with an unreasonable amount of passion. If you are a popcorn lover looking to break your dependence on the microwave stuff and have a sliver of spare storage space, you should get one.

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My Imaginary Menu: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving cookbooks

Thanksgiving is approaching and Scott and I are attending two celebrations this year. We’ll will be spending the actual holiday with his mom down in Virginia and then on Saturday, we’ll gather with my family back up here in Philadelphia.

Because I’m not hosting either meal, I don’t get to have much of a say in the menu beyond bringing my assigned potluck items (pie and potatoes). And so, to satisfy my urge to sift through cookbooks and choose a selection of harvest-y dishes, I bring you my imaginary menu, Thanksgiving style (you last saw me do this last spring in anticipation of Passover).

lentil pate and semolina cracker sheets

To start out, I’d make a batch of the Lentil Pate from Kim O’Donnel’s fabulous book, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations. I made it last year for a story on Table Matters and it was seriously amazing. For dipping, I’d bake up a batch of the Semolina Cracker Sheets from Ivy Manning’s Crackers & Dips. I’d put out a few jars of pickles and preserves, along with a log of chevre and call the appetizers done.

pumpkin cozy rolls

Before we get any further, I must make it clear that the turkey is assumed. I haven’t selected a recipe for it because I’ve spent many a year roasting turkeys with my dad and so it’s one of those dishes that is ingrained in my muscle memory.

With the turkey taken care of, I’d bake off a batch of the Pumpkin Cozy Rolls from Tara Matazara Desmond’s fantastic new book, Choosing Sides. A great number of my recipe selections are from this book, so prepare yourself to see it a lot in this post.

caramelized onion and roasted garlic herb stuffing

No turkey centered meal is complete without some kind of stuffing. I love it when it’s cooked inside the bird, but know that it’s a method that gives food safety folks the shakes. Whether cooked inside or out, I think this Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Herb Stuffing sounds like a winner.

arugula with sugar cranberries and pancetta

I’m a big believer in having lots of lighter vegetables on the Thanksgiving table and so some sort of salad is a must. I’m something of a fool for arugula and so think that Arugula with Sugar Cranberries and Pancetta from Choosing Sides sounds like just the thing. If was cooking for my Jewish family, I’d skip the pancetta and sub in some toasted nuts instead.

green beans with smoky pistachio dust

Buttered green beans topped with slivered almonds are a Thanksgiving requirement in my family, but if they allowed me to tweak things ever so slightly, I’d do so by making these Green Beans with Smoky Pistachio Dush from Cheryl Sternman Rule’s Ripe instead.

browned brussels with maple butter

For my husband, I’d do a batch of these Browned Brussels with Maple Butter from Choosing Sides. He cannot abide the green bean but loves sprouts, maple syrup, and butter. The combination would make him thankful indeed.

roasted butternut and spuds

If the table could handle just one more dish, I’d add a batch of the Roasted Butternut and Spuds from Choosing Sides. I have a casserole of mashed potatoes, winter squash and a mountain of cheese that I dearly love, but it is HEAVY. This version sounds lighter but still delicious.

pear and chocolate oat crumble

For dessert, I’m turning to Nigel Slater’s newest work, Notes from the Larder. He has such a nice way with seasonal desserts. This recipe for Pear and Chocolate Oat Crumble looks both restrained and decadent. I bet it’s perfect with a little bit of vanilla ice cream and a post-dinner mug of tea.

That wraps up my fantasy menu for the coming holiday. Now your turn. What dish do you long to make for Thanksgiving this year?

Disclosure: All the cookbooks mentioned here were promotional copies, sent to me for review. However, all opinions expressed here are mine alone. 
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My Imaginary Seder Menu

Jewish cookbooks

One of the joys of living in a city with a huge extended family is that our holidays are chaotic and deliciously boisterous. These days, my cousins regularly host just the kind of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover gatherings I longed for when I was young and lived far away from any grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

However, there is just one (very small) downside to these large, collaborative holiday meals for me, and that is the fact that I never get to be in charge of the menu. I certainly always make contributions to the buffet and over the years have graduated from bringing secondary side dishes to the main course. But, as a food writer/blogger who reads cookbooks for recreation, I often find myself longing to craft the entirety of a celebratory menu.

kippered salmon snacks

I could certainly have secondary holiday gatherings and next year, when I’m not working on a book and life isn’t quite so frenzied, I hope to do just that. This year though, with Passover (and my cookbook deadline!) fast approaching, I thought that I’d indulge in a little fantasy menu planning instead of tackling the real thing. This way, I get all of the pleasure of flipping through cookbooks and imagining a meal, without any of the work of shopping, cooking or cleaning.

For my imaginary Seder, I pulled out four cookbooks. The Jewish Festival Cookbook (first published in 1954, but available in more modern editions), The Kosher Carnivore (a particularly good resource if you have kosher friends), The Mile End Cookbook (classic Jewish food with pages and pages of pickles), and The New Jewish Table (beautiful food). After a couple hours of reading, marking and stomach rumblings, here’s what I’d serve if I was hosting my family for Passover this year.

pickled heirloom beets with hard boiled eggs

For when people first arrived, I’d put out the Kippered Salmon Snacks and the Pickled Heirloom Beets with Hard-Boiled Eggs, both recipes from The New Jewish Table. Kippered fish has been salted and hot smoked, so that it’s fairly dry and meaty (more like the smoked salmon you get in the Pacific Northwest than the moist Nova salmon you put on bagels).

The pickled eggs with red beets are traditional in a number of cultures and are a nice symbol of the fresh, newness of spring. I did a version for Serious Eats last year that was quite tasty and very easy (you cheat with already-pickled beets). Chances are good that I’d also pull out a few jars of other pickles and chutneys that would complement these two official recipes.

Matza Knaidlach

After we made it through the Hagaddah, we’d move on to Matzo Ball Soup. I’ve long meant to make matzo balls according to the directions in the Festival book and this could be my chance (I love the line in the headnote encouraging young housewives to develop their knaidlach skills to win laurels as a cook). I’d use homemade chicken broth that was cooked ahead and pressure canned to save space in the fridge.

gefilte fish

I think gefitle fish gets a bad wrap. Most of the time, the stuff served at Passover comes from a can and tastes a little stodgy, fishy and funky. But homemade gefilte fish? It’s actually incredibly delicious and deserves a spot on the table. I’m hankering to try this recipe from The Mile End Cookbook.

Classic Brisket

For the meat eaters, I’d make brisket. And actually, this is the one thing I actually am making this year. I will take some cues from this recipe (she uses lots of aromatics for flavor) from The Kosher Carnivore and combine them with my own tricks (lots and lots of sauteed onions).

I’m also a believer in making brisket the day before you plan on serving it, so that it can rest in the fridge over night and develop more flavor. This also gives you an opportunity to skim the fat from the sauce and make a luscious puree from the juices and vegetables in which to gently reheat the brisket.

vegetable kishka

For vegetarians, the Vegetable Kishka with Sage and Paprika from The New Jewish Table seem like a good fit. And ever since watching a recent episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in which they made kishka, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with it.

Along with those main course options, I’d also make a big salad with baby arugula, sheep’s milk feta, and pomegranate seeds. Because any big meal needs a mountain of greens to balance things out.

homemade matzo

If there was time, I’d also make a batch of homemade matzo (I may actually make a batch of this in the next few days, with half whole wheat flour and some finely chopped rosemary. Because it sounds awfully good). For dessert, my beloved flourless chocolate cake.

For those of you who are hosting holiday meals in the next couple weeks (Easter is coming up soon, as well), what are you planning on serving? Are there any cookbooks that you’re using particularly heavily?

Disclosure: I received review copies of The New Jewish Table, The Kosher Carnivore, and The Mile End Cookbook for consideration. I bought my copy of The Jewish Festival Cookbook years ago. All opinions are my own. 
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