Category:  Holidays

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Spicy Ornaments

In Cookies, Candies & Sweets, Holidays On December 10, 2010 2 Comments

When it comes to holiday cookies, my family is notoriously picky about flavors and textures. My son and I love chocolate in everything, but my husband prefers light, dry cookies with just a hint of chocolate. Since all of us enjoy aromatic and spicy tastes, a few Christmases ago I created a cookie to please all of our palates – it features cocoa, cinnamon and cloves.

These Spicy Ornaments echo the sparkle of Christmas and the excitement of opening gifts. Be patient and enjoy the cookie – it will surprise you with a zesty finish!

When I entered this recipe in the Holiday Cookie Bakeoff this past November, it became one of fifty finalists. It resulted in the LA Times becoming a follower of The Kitchen Buzzz. Thanks to all my supporters who voted for Spicy Ornaments and Happy Holidays.

Prep time: 45 minutes
Bake time: 12 to 14 minutes
Makes: 32 to 34 cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon chipotle ahumado powder
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup red crystal sugars, set in a small bowl
¼ cup green crystal sugars, set in a small bowl
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
2-1/2 to 3 teaspoons cold water
Pastry bag fitted with a narrow tip

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Grease and flour two large, nonstick rectangular baking sheets; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a 1-quart bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and chipotle ahumado powder; set aside.

3. In a 4-quart bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until mixture is uniform, about 2 minutes.

4. Stir in the combined dry ingredients and beat on medium-high until a dough is formed, about 2 to 4 minutes.

5. Pulling off pieces of dough, form 1-1/2-inch balls and set them on a flat surface.

6. Roll half of the dough balls in the red crystal sugars and other half in the green crystal sugars (about 16 to 17 balls of each color). Divide dough balls evenly and set on baking sheets, spaced two inches apart.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes. Invert the sheets and bake an additional 6 to 7 minutes or until cookie tops crack and feel slightly firm to the touch.

8. Remove baking sheets from oven and set on a counter. With a spatula, immediately transfer the cookies to a flat surface to cool.

9. In a 2-cup bowl, vigorously stir the powdered sugar and 2-1/2 teaspoons of the water until mixture is smooth. The icing should feel thick and not watery. If it is too firm, add a little more water. Transfer icing to the bag, pushing it all the way down to the tip.

10. Holding bag firmly in hand, decorate the surface cracks of the cookies with curvilinear designs.

11. Spicy Ornaments can be made two weeks ahead and stored in freezer in double plastic food bags (without the icing).

To thaw: remove cookies from freezer and from plastic bags. Set them on a platter at room temperature for two hours. Decorate with icing before serving.

Note: Chipotle ahumado powder can be purchased online at GOURMETSLEUTH.COM.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Celebrating Chanukah – Potato & Chives Latkes

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Holidays, Vegetables On December 4, 2010 9 Comments

Lasting eight days, Chanukah, also known as the “Festival of Lights”, is a Jewish holiday  which commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (Second Temple) in Jerusalem. At Chanukah, one of the traditions occurring in Jewish homes is the lighting of a candle on a Menorah – a candelabrum – in a prayer at dinnertime. Over the years, I have been invited to my Jewish friends’ homes in order to participate in such a joyous celebration.

A popular side dish served at Chanukah dinners consists of potato pancakes called “latkes”. Latkes are crunchy on the outside and deliciously sweet inside. I finally learned how to make them with an added accent of chives. Serve these latkes as tradition has it – with applesauce and sour cream. Enjoy.

Active prep time: 10 to 15 minutes
Inactive prep time: 4 minutes
Cook time: 16 minutes
Makes: 6 to 7 latkes

Ingredients:
1 pound Russet potatoes (approx. one large)
1 small white or brown onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
Dash ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces (1 cup) ready-made applesauce
8 ounces (1 cup) sour cream

1. Peel and grate potato into a large bowl with cold water. Peel and grate the onion into the same bowl; stir in ½ teaspoon of the salt. Let mixture soak 1 to 3 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart mixing bowl, beat together the egg, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, black pepper, flour and chives. Set aside.

3. Drain the potato-onion mixture in a colander, pressing down to remove excess water.

4. Transfer the drained potato-onion mixture to a cheesecloth or clean white kitchen towel; roll up and squeeze out excess water.

5. Stir the potato and chives into the egg mixture and blend with a fork until uniform.

6. Heat both oils in a 12-inch, nonstick skillet until oil is hot but not smoking.

7. Measure ¼-cup potato mixture into hands and form a round, flattish shape.

8. Place the flattened potato mixture in hot oil, pressing down with a spatula to form a 4-inch pancake (latke).

9. Measure and prepare 2 more flattened potato mixtures in skillet and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, on medium-high heat, until latkes are golden brown.

10. Drain on paper towels on a platter.

11. Serve latkes hot, accompanied by applesauce and sour cream. Latkes usually accompany beef brisket or other roasted meats.

Note: If oil is not hot enough, the latkes will be oily.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Pumpkin "Cheese" Cake

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On November 13, 2010 20 Comments

During the week before Thanksgiving I usually make pumpkin bread. This year, I reinvented this Autumn coffee go-with. I made a traditional pumpkin cake with an added cream cheese filling. Some of the white flour has been substituted with whole wheat flour. And, although I eliminated the oil, this dessert is still moist and scrumptious. Serve this “no fuss” cake for Thanksgiving – and don’t forget the coffee!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 40 to 50 minutes
Makes: One 10-inch cake

FOR THE CREAM CHEESE CAKE FILLING:
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

1. In a 2-cup mixing bowl and with a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar and egg.

2. Set aside until ready to assemble into the raw cake batter.

FOR THE CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
One 15-ounce can pumpkin
1 cup nonfat, plain yogurt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces) Dulce de Leche*

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour an 10-inch round spring form pan and set aside.

2. In a 4-cup mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and allspice; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a 2-cup mixing bowl, using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar and egg; set aside.

4. In a 3 or 4-quart mixing bowl, mix together the pumpkin, yogurt, eggs, sugar and vanilla on low speed.

5. Gradually add the combined dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and beat at low speed until the batter is uniform, about 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Pour half of the pumpkin batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a spatula; set aside.

7. Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly over batter in pan followed by remaining half of pumpkin batter. Make sure the top pumpkin batter layer covers the cream cheese mixture evenly.

8. Place springform pan with batter on a rack positioned in center of oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes.

9. After 40 minutes, check doneness of cake by inserting a pointed knife in its center. If knife has sticky batter around it, bake cake for an additional 5 minutes. Check doneness once more. Knife inserted should come out clean. If not, bake another 5 minutes.

10. Cool cake completely in spring form pan on counter.

11. If making a day ahead, cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate. Remove cake from refrigerator 2 hours before serving.

FOR THE CAKE GARNISH:
5-Minute Sweetened Whipped Cream (found in our recipes, under Desserts, Creams & Sauces)

1. When cake is completly cook and at serving time, remove sides of spring form pan and set cake on a platter (do not remove cake from pan bottom). 

2. Serve individual pieces of cake on your guests’ plates, topped with a drizzle of dulce de leche and the whipped cream.

*Dulce de leche is a caramel sauce from Argentina and can be found in Latin American supermarkets. It is usually packaged and sold in a 15-ounce glass or plastic jar.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Halloween Tombs & Cupcakes

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On October 6, 2010 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I was shopping at an arts and crafts store and noticed candy molds for skeletons and cakes. Making Halloween desserts with such fun decorations is a great art project for kids and adults. You’ll have a blast assembling the tombs and decorating the cupcakes. During this graveyard project, you won’t be able to resist tasting the candies and cakes. However, be sure to leave a few for your guests!

Prep time: 45 minutes (for the green skeleton candies & cupcakes)
Bake time: 25 minutes
Frosting time: 15 minutes
Makes: 8 tombs & 8 cupcakes

MAKE THE SKELETON CANDIES:
One 14-ounce bag Wilton® White Candy Melts
4 drops green food color
Pastry bag fitted with a star tip
Skeleton design candy molds

1. Melt the candies in a double boiler or in a microwave (follow microwave directions on package).

2. Using a wooden spoon, immediately stir the green food color into melted candy.

3. Set container with melted candy on a counter to cool 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Carefully spoon the melted candy into the bottom of a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.

5. Squeeze the pastry bag to overfill each skeleton mold – the top of each mold should look like it has a cloud of melted candy over it. Using a long metal spatula, scrape off the extra candy.

6. Set the mold in freezer, about 8 to 10 minutes or until candies have hardened.

7. Unmold candies onto a flat surface and set aside. Repeat filling the mold, freezing and unmolding the hardened candies until there are enough candy parts to form 8 complete skeletons.

8. If making ahead, set the skeleton candies in layers with paper towels in between each candy layer – inside a sealable plastic container. Make sure the candies do not touch. Freeze candies until ready to use.

FOR THE TOMBS & CUPCAKES:
5 mini loaf pans (5 X 3 X 1-7/8), greased and floured
8 Halloween baking cups, set in a muffin baking pan
One box Devil’s Food cake mix (1 lb. 2.25 oz.)
One Wilton® Orange Decorating Icing tube (4.25 oz.)
Decorating Plastic Tips to attach to icing tube
Halloween candies or decorations

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Prepare cake mix per package directions.

2. Pour a scant 2/3 cup cake batter into each loaf pan and divide remaining batter evenly among 8 baking cups set in a muffin pan.

3. Set the loaf pans on bottom oven rack. Set the muffin pan on top oven rack.

4. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until knife inserted in center of loaves and cupcakes comes out clean. If knife is coated with batter, bake an additional 5 minutes.

5. Transfer the loaf pans and muffin pan with cupcakes to a counter to cool completely. Unmold the loaves.

6. If making a day ahead, set loaves and cupcakes on a flat plate. Cover them with aluminum foil wrap and set aside on counter overnight.

PREPARE THE FROSTING & GARNISH:

1. With loaves right side up, horizontally slice off the rounded tops.

2. Set two of the sliced-off tops in a bowl and crumble – this will be used as edible earth around the loaves or tombs.

3. Arrange candies in each of the 8 tombs to form a complete skeleton and set aside.

4. Frost the cupcakes with the orange icing tube (fitted with a decorator tip).

5. Arrange tombs and cupcakes on a large platter with crumbled “earth” around them. Add Halloween candies as part of the decoration.

Happy Halloween!

Note: White Candy Melts, candy molds, pastry bags, premade orange frosting tubes, decorator tip attachments and Halloween baking cups can be found at party supply and/or arts and crafts stores.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Columbus Day Corn Bread

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Holidays On September 29, 2010 0 Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking of our October holiday honoring Christopher Columbus who arrived in America in 1492. I imagined him stepping off his ship in America, encountering an indigenous culture and new culinary delights – some made with corn or "maize". This idea inspired me to kick up our usual cornbread recipe with different ingredients. To test my invention, I recently brought this cornbread to work and set it on our kitchen counter. Everyone seemed to like it because it disappeared in under an hour – Happy Columbus Day!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 25 to 30 minutes
Servings: 12 to 14

Ingredients:
1 small zucchini, cut in chunks
1 small carrot, cut in chunks
1/2 red bell pepper, cut in chunks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1-1/4 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
1-1/2 tablespoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk (whole or 2% milk fat)

1. Heat oven to 400˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch spring form pan or regular cake pan; set aside.

2. In a food processor, pulse-blend the zucchini, carrot and bell pepper chunks until chopped but not mashed; set aside.

3. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons oil and stir fry the chopped vegetables on medium high heat for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, transfer the vegetables to a plate and set aside to cool.

5. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, cornmeal, flour and baking powder; set aside.

6. In a 4-quart mixing bowl, with a wire whisk, mix the eggs and sugar until uniform.

7. Stir in the oil and milk. With a wooden spoon, add the combined dry ingredients and mix until blended – do not overmix.

8. Gently stir the cooled vegetables into the batter; pour batter into prepared pan.

9. Set the pan on a rack positioned in center of oven for 25 minutes.

10. After 25 minutes, check doneness by inserting a pointed knife in center of cornbread – knife should come out clean. If knife has wet batter around it, bake cornbread for an additional 5 minutes.

11. Remove cornbread from oven and set on a counter to cool. When it is warm, loosen and remove spring form pan sides and slice the cornbread. If using a regular cake pan, loosen sides of cornbread with a knife and flip onto a flat plate. Slice and serve.

Enjoy the warm cornbread with soups, stews or chili.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real