Thursday, December 24, 2009

orangettes

orangettes

Well, it’s Christmas Eve. And when they say “not a creature was stirring” they really do mean it. The subways this morning were empty, almost abandoned. On my way to work, the city streets were quiet, and the air just hung still. For the first time in a long time, we have snow in New York on Christmas. It feels very appropriate.

bright, pretty oranges

I don’t care what anyone says, but I’ve been listening to holiday music since Thanksgiving ended. I can’t help myself. I also can’t get enough of these orangettes; I’ve been eating them as fast as I’ve been making them, which poses a problem since I was planning to give them away as gifts. Come January 1, I’ll have to draft some resolutions: and eating fewer sweets will certainly be one of them.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

sugar-and-spice candied nuts

sweet & spicy nuts

Last year I got these as a gift from Deb who gave me a generous, pretty jar filled to the brim with these nuts. Not half an hour later, the jar was empty and I was peering inside it trying to figure out who ate all the nuts. Certainly, I couldn’t have done it in thirty minutes’ time. I even stuck my finger in the jar trying to pick up all the sweet bits and lick them off. It was better than nothing, but still, the nuts were gone and I had to face the music: portion control – epic fail.

sweet & spicy nuts

A week later, I sat my physician’s with a fever and found the recipe in a November issue of the New York Magazine. When the nurse called out my name, I, flustered and achy, accidentally (I swear!) shoved the magazine into my oversized bag, and thus brought it home at the end of the day. I figured the recipe called out to me so much, that maybe, subconsciously, I intended for this issue to be mine. I clipped the recipe and it promptly got lost in my towering recipe pile where it stayed lost until I moved to Brooklyn.

sweet & spicy nuts

A few months later, I was sitting at Hill Country and eating brisket. And ribs. And some serious sides. And drinking a beer. But I digress. Not a half an hour after the brisket was placed in front of me, it was gone. And I was, you guessed it, licking my fingers once again. Ladylike? Who, me? Believe it or not, my parents did raise me with table manners and taught me things like how to use a fork and knife, keeping elbows off the table, and not talking with a full mouth, just to name a few. And yet, here I was, licking my fingers. In public.

sweet & spicy nuts

I suspect my lapse in manners isn’t entirely my fault. I hold Elizabeth Karmel, the executive chef at Hill Country and creator of these nuts, partly responsible. Her food has a certain power over me (and I suspect over logs of others as also) in that I am compelled, whenever in the presence of her food, to lick my fingers and the plate the food came on. I consider it a very good thing, good, ladylike manners aside, that someone can consistently put out food that makes your forget your surroundings and it’s just you and your dinner. [Pan camera Matrix-style 360 degrees around you and the plate.]

sweet & spicy nuts

Let me be clear – these make an awesome holiday gift, be it Christmas or Hannukah (totally belated, I know, but I’m a delinquent gift-giver!), or any other holiday for that matter. And as an added bonus, during this crazy-busy holiday time when we constantly feel two steps behind, these nuts are also a cinch to make, requiring mere minutes of hands-on time and just a quick peek in the oven to stir and rotate your baking sheets. What comes out of the oven is so good, that I teetered on keeping these to myself instead of giving them away. But ‘tis the gift-giving season and I like presenting people with tiny cellophane bags with little red bows.

sweet & spicy nuts

Not that I haven’t ripped open a few for myself. I would never!

sweet & spicy nuts

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Monday, December 21, 2009

cashew brittle

salty cashew brittle

It dawned on me this weekend that Christmas is but a week away. A week. That’s seven days to be exact. Because that’s what a week is: seven days. And I had yet to start my holiday shopping. Talk about leaving things until the very last minute. And this is so unlike me, to procrastinate like this, I’m usually way ahead of schedule – I start planning Thanksgiving in July! But this year, I’ve been remiss. There’s a fatigue that’s been slowly setting in for the last few months and, somehow, I barely have enough energy for work and this lovely space here. But holidays? Presents? I am overwhelmed just thinking about it.

Truthfully, I can’t wait to turn the corner with 2010. I am itching to get the new year under way. To think of how emotionally wrought this year has been, dealing with death and cancer in the family, just to name a few things, I’m hoping that 2010 really turns around. It has to, right? Adding to that, 2009 carried with it the reverberations of markets’ turmoil of 2008 – which has been emotionally draining as well. So is it any wonder that I now wake up at 3:30am unable to go back to sleep only to hit a wall by 10am later in the morning? That tropical umbrella drink with my name on it is slightly over a week away, but it cannot come soon enough. I’m ready for some sun, sand and friends.

salty cashew brittle

But what though this year brought its fair share of stresses; it delivered beautifully in the friends department. I have met and gotten to know some truly lovely people, and as result, my world is richer, brighter and I’m evermore grateful for these blessing in my life. They are my silver linings this year. And no matter how stressful things got this year, they were my safety net, letting me know that if I fell, they would, indeed, catch me.

salty cashew brittle

So it might sound silly, but I can’t think of anything more sincere than handmade thank you gifts this season. I feel like the last couple of years, as we watched our 401k plans plummet, have really reminded us of truly valuable things: that money and physical goods can come and go, but our family and friends are the things that mean something, everything. And so for the next three days, you will see my handmade gifts unveiled here one by one. First up – the salty cashew brittle, courtesy of Karen DeMasco.

salty cashew brittle

This brittle has been floating around for a few years. I’m oftentimes not the brightest star and hadn’t realized that the recipe I used from “The Craft of Baking” was, essentially, the same recipe seen here and here. Oh and also here (I had made it and didn’t even realize it). Which should tell you just how slow I can be sometimes. But no matter. This is good, gift-worthy, indulgent. It’s the kind of thing you want to share with your friends because it’s a little decadent and fabulously festive. Simple and straightforward, you will spend half an hour on this baby and look like candy-maker extraordinaire. Decadence and simplicity in one? I’ll take some in a heartbeat.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream-cream-cheese frosting

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting

I often joke that my friends no longer allow me to attend their parties without baked goods in tow. Cupcakes – to be more specific. Cupcakes topped with frosting generously slathered on, or piped in tiny dots, or with semi-Impressionist-looking flowers. But cupcakes in their most shining glory – a tiny, single-portion cake made just for you. It’s cake – personalized and it doesn’t get better than this. Somehow, in its miniature form is just that much cuter than its bigger cousin, but then again, baby anything is much cuter than its adult version.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

guinness stout ginger cake

guinness stout ginger cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart. No, this stout ginger cake is bold, serious, intense, brooding. Yes, brooding. A cake can brood; this one does. Trust me. And if you’re the kind of person who only likes yellow cake (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love yellow cake myself) then this might give you pause. Because this is a cake for those who like their sweets scaled back. It balances bitter notes with the spices, and adds a doze of restrained (we like our sweets restrained), mature sweetness. It’s complex, yet comforting; dark, yet not heavy and, unlike its last year cousin which goes much better with tea, this Guinness ginger cake is the perfect candidate for your Christmas morning coffee, making it a perfect accompaniment to opening presents. Besides, if you make it the over Christmas eve, you’re in luck–the cake tastes better the day after you make it. And who doesn’t love a make-ahead cake?

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

pear compote poached in vanilla bean and star anise

poached pear compote in vanilla bean & star anise

Oh mid-December with your mercurial weather–I cannot figure you out! Are you freezing cold with temperatures nearing zero or are you the kind of December that lingers in the forties, rainy and damp, like this morning? Do I warm up some soup and curl up with a book dressed head to toe in fleece, or do I just go into deep nesting mode and emerge outside when asparagus arrives to the greenmarket? Either way, I want to stay indoors and make lovely things in the kitchen and then eat them. Not terribly ambitious, am I? You see, inside my head, I am cooking all kinds of things for the holidays: cookies, and cupcakes, and brittles, and toffees. But in actuality, I can’t even bring myself to put the book down and wash my dirty pot from last night. I promise, I’ll do it as soon as I post this. Or after I eat some pear compote I just made.

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