Day 13, Pear Pizzas

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

There will be more DIY gifts and desserts to come, but for now, kick back, hang out with the family (or friends, or pets), and make some pizza. Maybe put on a movie and some comfy loungewear and enjoy an evening in.

I was inspired by both the arrival of the new Cup4Cup Pizza Crust Mix in stores and this recipe, though I changed it up pretty significantly. I kept the pear base but played around with nearly everything else.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

Pears and gorgonzola are a beautiful thing, but add a drizzle of honey (truffle, if you have it), and the whole thing sings.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

If you’re worried about gorgonzola or blue cheese being gluten-free, you need to check into it, but you certainly can find GF versions of them both. This page is old, but lists commercial options for each. Or, if you get the good stuff, your cheesemonger should be able to steer you in the right direction.

recipe after the jump

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Day 12, Churros & Chocolate

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

When Gil and I visited Madrid for a week in October (it was for work! really!), I fell head over heels in love with the city. It wasn’t just the beautiful scenery (though it was a feast for the eyes), or that there seemed to be one restaurant per resident (though dining establishments were numerous and mostly quite good) or the flirtatious old men (though they were wonderfully, shamelessly mischievous). No, my friends, it was the churros.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

We needed a pick-me-up the day of our arrival, and I insisted upon visiting Chocolateria San Ginés, where I discovered the wonders of the churro. You may wonder why a gluten-free blogger went straight for fried dough. A fair question! When I travel, I throw aside gluten-free considerations and indulge, knowing I’ll pay the price. And while my joints got progressively worse, it was tolerable — nothing like the hobbling I’d experience here if I’d eaten even a fraction of that wheat. So yay, lucky me.

Now, these weren’t the thick, doughy churros sold at subway stops around NYC, but long, thin, crispy batons served with a cup of chocolate that fell somewhere between hot chocolate and pudding in consistency. I returned daily and probably could’ve ordered “the usual” by the end of the week. After a couple of days, I realized I much prefer to dunk them in café con leche than in chocolate, but that’s probably because I grew up eating beignets, for which café au lait is the preferred dunking medium.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

Another fun part of the trip was catching up with our friend Jessica, who flew in from Naples to visit with us for a few days. She played tourist with me while Gil was at his conference and graciously worked my daily visit to CSG into her schedule. One day, while the three of us were getting our nosh on, we noticed a few churros at an empty table next to us and thought it was funny that anyone would leave without finishing. Just then an older woman swooped in from down the street to pick up the leftovers and bounced back to her group of friends, proudly waving the churros before her like a prize. I ask you, when was the last time you ate something so delicious that people will steal it from a stranger’s plate? Never, I’ll bet.

I can’t say I was itching to recreate them when I got home because 1) I was a little over the experience and 2) I have a definite fear of frying. But with the reality of those churros fading from memory and Hanukkah in full swing (festival of fried dough!), I thought this might be the perfect time to try them out for myself.

And, well, they were not the biggest success I’ve ever had in the kitchen, which was entirely my fault. The dough is quite thick, and combined with my small pastry tips and low-rent pastry bag (a Ziploc, of freezer thickness, even), I had a blowout immediately:

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

One good thing about this experiment is that mistakes are totally edible, even if they don’t appear cookbook-worthy. So I regrouped and rebagged with my largest pastry tip (still far too small) gaffer taped for reinforcement and set about frying in earnest. By the time I was done, the bag was so patched up with black tape that it couldn’t have looked more Frankenstein’s monster-like if it had bolts and big shoes attached. Still, I think the churros turned out pretty swell, all things considered. And look, I randomly pulled a few interesting shapes from the oil:

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

The churros canes are very seasonal! The knot isn’t something I could reproduce if I spent a month trying! Overall, the churros were much crisper with less give than the authentic ones, but really good, especially after they’d been coated with cinnamon-sugar.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

Fried dough + sugar + chocolate = amazing, no matter the trials and tribulations.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 12

recipe after the jump

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Day 11, Homemade Vanilla Extract

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 11

As promised, homemade vanilla extract! Once you try this yourself, you may wonder what took you so long to get with the program.

The principles are simple — choose a liquor for the base that’s about 40% alcohol, add vanilla beans and wait — but the results are extraordinary. I keep dark rum and bourbon versions on hand, though vodka is what you’ll usually find in stores because it has a very neutral flavor. I made the jump to dark liquors when I realized that either one would shine in nearly any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. Most baked goods would be complemented by them, don’t you think?

Because vanilla beans can be prohibitively expensive to buy in stores, I ordered mine from ebay. Yep, ebay. This store has a great reputation and a broad selection. And it’s a real bounty of beans, at least for a non-baker like me; I’m still working on the shipment I received a couple of years ago.

If you want to give this as a gift, I’ve created two versions of the label in the picture at the top of the post; they’re the perfect size to affix to a Ball jam jar. Just circle the base you used and they’re ready for gifting!

Print
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
 
Making your own vanilla extract couldn't be easier or more delicious!
Servings: 48
Calories: 14 kcal
Ingredients
  • 3 medium vanilla beans
  • 1 cup dark rum or bourbon
Instructions
  1. Sterilize your jar or bottle by pouring boiling water into it and letting it sit for 10 minutes. Pour out the water and continue.
  2. Slice vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife. Tuck beans into the bottle or jar, then fill with liquor. Screw on the cap and shake it, then place it in a cool, dark cabinet or closet to mature.
  3. It’s ready after sitting for eight weeks with you shaking the jar once a week or so. I’ve seen other recipes that say you can use it after only two weeks, which may be the case. I haven’t had to break into my stash so early.
  4. As your extract gets depleted, top off the jar with more liquor and add another bean every now and then. You can even reuse a vanilla bean that’s been steeped in cream, just wash it off before putting it in the jar. I don’t bother taking the beans out until the extract is completely gone, but some people prefer to remove them after the initial 8 weeks is up. It’s really your call.
Recipe Notes

I usually make this in huge quantities in the original liquor bottle (omitting step 1). It's a nice use for older beans, if you have those lying around. Start with 10-15, depending on size and freshness. Dark rum comes in a nice brown bottle that keeps sunlight from affecting the extract. Stash bourbon in a pantry. 

Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

Day 10, Flavored Salts

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10

Flavored salts are so easy to make and they’re such a great way to punch up dishes at home.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10

Cook with them or use them as finishing salts — either way, they’ll impart loads of flavor. I made three versions for you today.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10
Doesn’t this just look like Christmas with the red chiles and green lime zest? So festive!

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10
Very subtle smoked flavor with great umami.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10
My favorite of the three. It’s smoky and spicy with a big hit of fruity orange.

I took the Chile-Lime recipe directly from The Kitchn‘s guide to making flavored salts, but winged the other two with ingredients I had in my kitchen, just to see if I could do it.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 10

Because that took so little time and I was so happy with the results, I created labels for you to download if you’d like to give these to the food-lover in your life. They’d make great little stocking stuffers, don’t you think? You can download the labels here. I affixed them to my 2-oz. spice tins with Scrapbooker’s Glue. (I tried, I mean really tried to do these on printable labels, but the template was impossible to work with. Perhaps it works better if you’re on a PC.)

recipes after the jump

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Day 8, Macaroons

Chocolate-Drizzled Pecan Macaroons

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

For our Save the Date wedding cards, Gil and I originally wanted something along the lines of, “A Cajun Mennonite and a Jew walk into a bar…” Upon further reflection, we decided fielding questions or hearing the end of the joke from a couple hundred people while we were planning a wedding in another city wasn’t the brightest idea, so the card defaulted to more traditional wording. But you can see that, right from the very beginning, we knew how to blend.

While we both came into this thing with an appreciation for Mel Brooks and Faulkner House Books, Gil has taken on LSU football and the whole “Christmas with a large family + boudin” thing with gusto, and I’ve learned to appropriate a few of his holidays while putting a southern spin on them. Example the first: Pecan-Brown Sugar Macaroons.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

. . . with bourbon vanilla extract and drizzled chocolate! Happy Hanukkah, y’all! (I know I should be frying something instead, but these are easier and leave my house smelling a whole lot better.)

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

I started with my go-to recipe from the past few years, but wasn’t sure what the added moisture from the brown sugar would do, so I used a little less. The pecans were a one-for-one swap for the almonds, and the bourbon-vanilla because you can’t have pecans and brown sugar without a little bourbon, amirite? (I’ll get to the finer points of making your own vanilla extract in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.) I probably don’t have to tell you how delicious these were, so I’ll just let Ru do the talking . . .

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

Honestly! I took Otis out for five minutes and came back to discover this. My initial surprise turned to wonder. Why did he leave three? Is he ok? Is he saving them for a midnight snack? To quote Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad; that’s amazing!” (And yeah, we got confirmation that Ru was the guilty party during our walk the next morning. That jerk.)

Chocolate-Drizzled Pecan Macaroons
Print
Pecan Macaroons
Prep Time
40 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 

Pecan macaroons with bourbon and brown sugar, glazed with melted chocolate.

Course: Snack
Servings: 16
Calories: 68 kcal
Ingredients
  • .25 cup organic palm sugar, or brown sugar packed
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • .25 cup pecan pieces toasted and finely chopped
  • .5 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract (or pure vanilla extract)
  • pinch coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon coconut flour
  • .25 cup bittersweet chocolate chips melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Whisk together sugar and egg white in a large bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients and allow mixture to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  2. Form dough into sixteen 1-tablespoon mounds and drop each onto sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake macaroons until golden-brown on bottoms and edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

  3. To finish, using a spoon, drizzle melted chocolate over cooled macaroons. Macaroons will keep, covered, for up to one week.

  4. Macaroons will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.

Recipe Notes

Recipe: Homemade Vanilla Extract

Adapted heavily from Martha Stewart.

Day 7, For the Coffee Lovers

The best coffee you'll ever drink?

I bought a Chemex for the office so I could enjoy good coffee at my desk, but Gil intercepted it before I remembered to bring it in. He went completely bonkers for the coffee and once I had a cup, I understood why. For years I drank my coffee with milk to mask the bitterness from even the smoothest blend, but no more. I take it black these days and it’s the best thing ever. The coffee’s so remarkable, we now own three Chemexes — the original small size for an individual cup, a larger one for up to four cups, and a new model with a glass handle instead of the wooden corset to send down to my parents’ house for Christmas.

If you have a coffee connoisseur on your gift list, I’m almost positive they’d love to have one.

To get them started on the right foot, check out Brew Methods.

An excellent pot of coffee.
Please ignore the Thanksgiving detritus around the hipster husband.

A good sign of fresh coffee.
If you’re using especially fresh coffee beans, you’ll see this beautiful bloom as you pour water over them.

Chemex
Gil’s blackout beard is gone now, by the way.

Note: I’m planning to open an Etsy store in the new year to sell prints, cards, etc. Tell me: would you like to see these Advent Calendar posts collected into a set of cards with the recipes? Anything else your hearts desire?

Day 5, Orange-Scented Rice Pudding

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

It’s a real joy to reach into the fridge for prepared ingredients and pull together a new dish in no time flat. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I made extra rice for the smoked turkey gumbo on Day 2 and was left with orange sugar syrup from yesterday’s candied orange peels, so I added just a few staples and came up with this quick, elegant rice pudding.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The orange flavor wasn’t assertive at all, but the scent was divine. To send it over the top, add a little orange flower water.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

Garnish individual cups with a sprinkle of cinnamon, add a few candied orange peels, and you could serve this to guests who’d never know they were eating leftovers. Hah!

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The tiny cups are perfect for portion control, but determined eaters don’t let them stand in the way. We absolutely demolished this and I hope you will, too.

recipe after the jump

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Day 4, Lemon Curd Tart

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 4

I just love the bright zing of a citrus dessert, don’t you? Chocolate has its place — I’ve known and loved many chocolate desserts over the years — but citrus just seems fresher and lighter on the palate, if not in calories. This tart came about through a bit of trial and error, but I was very happy with the final product and hope you will be, too!

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 4

The fillings are quite sweet — apple-lemon curd topped with candied orange peel — so a buttery almond crust is the perfect foil. Elana’s Pantry is my go-to site for anything almond-flour related, and this simple, rich tart crust did not disappoint. Just be sure to make the base as thick as the sides. You can see my base was a bit too thin which caused a few problems when cutting.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 4

Instead of a straightforward lemon curd, I searched for something that would play well with apple, as my original idea was to top this with roasted apples (which fell apart, hence the candied orange peel) and found an interesting recipe for a Bramley apple-lemon curd. Bramleys are a variety of cooking apple popular in the UK, quite sour, and quite impossible to find in the states. Still, the recipe was intriguing enough that I substituted the tartest varieties of apple I could get my hands on and walked away with a sweet, delicate filling for the tart. Now that I think about it, I wonder if quince would be an acceptable substitute for Bramleys. Hmmm…anyone?

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 4

I have to admit I chose the candied orange peel for aesthetic reasons, as I did the amount shown in the photos, but apart from the difficulty it caused slicing the tart, it was a good choice. I’d advise topping the already-cut pieces with a few slivers of peel just before serving to make life a lot easier.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 4

But the absolute best part about this recipe? It’s a two- three- four-fer. Is that even a thing? The recipe makes a LOT of lemon curd, which is a wonderful homemade gift, assuming it can be refrigerated soon after you give it. Packaged with a little porcelain spoon and a sleeve of shortbread cookies, I promise it’ll bring a smile to your food-lover’s face. The orange peel recipe also yields a metric shit-ton, so give those as gifts, too, or make them even more special by dipping them in melted bittersweet chocolate first. LOVE. And then there’s the remaining orange syrup…stay tuned for that one.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Day 4, Lemon Curd Tart”

Day 3, A Winter Salad

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 3

A salad? What? I’ll admit it’s not sexy, but with all of the indulgences of the season, I welcome this homely little vegetable plate. And it’s a simple thing to throw together, unlike, say, mini apple pies or a gumbo. It’s just the thing to have in your arsenal when you’re rushing out the door in half an hour.

Simply julienne some kohlrabi and tart apples for crunch, add some finely chopped greens for depth, then toss with your favorite vinaigrette. I made this one with spinach, arugula and parsley, and tossed it with a vinaigrette of olive oil, champagne vinegar, grainy Dijon mustard and finely chopped shallots. I feel healthier just looking at it.

Note: I’m planning to open an Etsy store in the new year to sell prints, cards, etc. Tell me: would you like to see these Advent Calendar posts collected into a set of cards with the recipes? Anything else your hearts desire?