An Apple a Day (is not enough!)

Autumn. There are many things to love about this most anticipated of seasons (yes, even more anticipated than Christmas, ‘cos winter’s after that). Everyone will say it’s the sweaters, the layers, the changing colours and the casting off of sweaty, sand scoured mosquito bites that they love most; but for me, it’s always about The Food. This planet’s abundance will never cease to amaze me, and capturing those moments in flavors to share is what life is all about.

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The apple is a fruit found in every kind of history and myth, folk tale and recipe book. It is one of the first fruits cultivated, so its sweet and savory capacities can sometimes seem limitless. I have a cook book, though, by the Rose Bakery in France, which cannot stress enough that simplicity in food is always your best bet. The fewest and freshest ingredients will always yield the best results. Right now, in Ontario, the early apples are a bit tart, very crisp and have a heady perfume that comes from lingering hot sun. These apples are great with sharp cheeses, but my favorite way to use them is in apple butter. A bushel of apples, little apple cider vinegar, a few spices and some local honey go a long way in a slow cooker.

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Ingredients:

Two 3L boxes fresh early apples, or other tart apples

1/2 cup local honey (local to you!)

1 tsp sea salt

2 TBSP cinnamon

1/2 TBSP nutmeg

Tools:

Slow cooker (there will be different rules for an Instant Pot, so read the instructions!)

sharp knife

peeler

Optional:

black pepper for heat

turmeric for health

maple syrup for sweetness

no sweetener for savories

flower petals for beauty

Method:

Plug in your slow cooker and set it to high.

Wash your apples well, and core them. Peel them if you want a smoother butter, leave them in for health. Cut the apples coarsely (or real fine, if you like a labor of love) and put them in the slow cooker with everything else. Cook on high for about 8 hrs, then cook on low to finish another 8 hrs or overnight. For a very smooth butter, use a hand blender or tabletop blender. If you don’t mind texture, you can just whip it all up by hand. I tend to make it smooth for gifts, and just eat it as is at home. If you like canning, follow a pressure canning recipe after filling your sterilized jars at this stage. Otherwise, grab a spoon and toast the season! butter.jpg

Around the Table, Around the World

By Siv Volden, Anita Rubino, John Martin, Pamela Capriotti Martin

One of the greatest benefits of Facebook to our family has been connecting with family members, particularly overseas. Daughter Maille connected easily with her cousin Siv in Vinstra, Norway and her cousin, Anita in Naples, Italy about their family traditions in their homes and countries. When I read their accounts, I immediately recognized some of the traditions from my childhood through Siv (we are related through my grandmother, Hildred) and some from Anita (Johns mother Giulia and Anitas father, Guglielmo are sister and brother). John has added his memories of how his Italian mother and Irish father brought their family celebrations together during the Christmas holidays.

Anita:

One of the two main Christmas traditions in our family and in Naples can be found in the nativity or ‘presepi’. At midnight the 24th of December we sing a song and in procession take the little Jesus Christ to the main scene of the nativity. Usually it is the youngest member of the family who has this honor of carrying the Christ child.24956869_10213029430922792_1783634754_o.jpg

On Christmas Eve we eat fish. We begin with a salad with shrimp followed by spaghetti with sea fruits, bass cooked in the oven, fried shrimp and there is a special salad which is named insalata di rinforzo (backup or reinforcement salad) ironically because the dinner doesn’t need any backup! The salad is cauliflower with olives, pickled peppers and many other things.Image-1 (1).jpg

The rule for the end of the meal is fresh fruit and eating almonds and other nuts.

The other tradition every year are lighting fires in every home, out on the balcony or on the terrace of the building: at midnight of 31st of December. It’s a gesture of invitation to the Virgin Mary, who can warm newborn Jesus next to the warm flames. Afterwards, according to tradition, families would use the ashes as charms to protect the house from damage.

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Siv:

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Advent is very important in the Norwegian tradition. It starts Dec1. Most children get a Christmas calendar with one little gift a day until Dec. 24. Norwegian television has calendars with Christmas stories and lots of people are having Christmas parties with neighbors and family.

Building up to the Christmas holiday we will make homebrewed beer, bake lefse, clean the house and make seven different cookies. Years ago, Norway was a very poor country which is why so many families emigrated to the United States, including Pamela’s great-grandparents Mathea and Thron Thronson. (Siv and Pamela are related through Mathea). So long ago the custom was to bake the seven kinds of cookies to show neighbors that we were wealthy enough to bake so many cookies.24209224_1483484111698650_1112224394_o.jpg

In Norway, Christmas Eve is when Santa Claus arrives with gifts. The holiday starts Dec 24 at 5 pm. Dec 25 and Dec 26 are also holy days. Santa Claus has a Norwegian relative: fjøsnissen, who live in the barn and are taking care of animals and people at the farm IF people treat them nice. So we’re making porridge and putting it in the barn on Christmas Eve so fjøsnissen will keep on helping us at the farm.

Typical Christmas dinner is: pork ribs, lamb ribs, lutefisk and lefse.24321780_1483482095032185_956396611_o.jpg

John’s Christmas traditions include Italian traditions like the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve and Irish traditions on Christmas Day.

John:

We always had pasta with different fish including smelt, shrimp, and some sort of white fish. On Christmas Day there would be a roast, usually beef with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert a Christmas pudding with stirred custard.

Pamela:

My family had Christmas Eve with my mom’s parents and Christmas Day with my dad’s family where we usually had turkey with all the trimmings including pies for dessert. My Norwegian grandmother always thought Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas Day and was always the first to open her gifts. The house smelled of cookies and lutefisk but she always made a pork crown roast with lingonberries for dinner.

The melding of John and Pam’s heritage began with honoring our Italian and Norwegian roots on Christmas Eve. While I did not grow up with any Italian Christmas traditions despite my last name, John did. On occasion we would prepare several fish dishes and pasta, but mostly we would order a crown pork roast stuffed with sausage, my grandmother Hildred’s Norwegian tradition. There would be cranberry compote (too hard to find lingonberries) mashed potatoes, and root vegetables. For dessert? That’s always been pretty open to whatever the girls wanted to make or wanted to eat but there would be lefse and sandbakkels. This year we are making pasta. Christmas Day we now are fully committed to prime rib, roasted English potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert – well John gets his mince pies, Christmas pudding and a puddle of custard. For the rest of us – an apple pie with the same perfect custard robe.

Happy Christmas to all.IMG_0694.JPG

Have a Holly, Jolly Meatball

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

We’ve been blessed to have friends who love to cook as much as we do. Sally, Luke, and Sophie are great friends and Sally is a marvelous, creative cook and baker. And the cooks in our house, and the cooks in their house have a tendency to talk smack about whose dish is better. For John, Sally, and three of my daughters – the big smack one year was meatballs. When the Meatball Shoppe opened in NYC and issued a cookbook, the talk got louder and louder. While some of us thought all their meatballs were fabulous, some people wanted affirmation.

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And so the Great Christmas Meatball Off was born. I organized the rules and the teams were formed. Team One: Sally vs Team Two: John and Manda vs Team Three: Morgan and Maddy. I decided to remain neutral and organize the judges: Andrew, Todd, Jeff, and Luke – all a bit “cooking” challenged but big lovers of meatballs.

The plates were the same, the ballots were created and the meatballs fashioned, simmered, and served.

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Over the years we have enjoyed having celebrations to share with our friends and neighbors and the Holiday Season is a perfect time to open your home for a soup party (everyone bring a pot) an appetizer and cocktail party (bring your favorite signature cocktail mix and a fun appetizer, and one year a New Year’s Day Dessert Levee – everyone brought cookies, cakes, pies and we sugared our way through New Year’s Day. Make it simple, make it delicious, make it fun and invite everyone to play a part.

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I shall keep the meatball winner(s) of this particular Meatball Off a secret but here are some winning meatballs.

Winning Meatballs

INGREDIENTS

For the tomato sauce:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
700g passata
75ml dry red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 mozzarella balls, sliced
Salt & pepper
For the meatballs:
250g good quality minced beef
250g good quality minced pork
100g pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
60ml buttermilk
50g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp dried oregano, chopped
A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50g grated Parmesan cheese,
Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS
Cook onions and pancetta until translucent. Let cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs. Season with salt and pepper and mix until completely and evenly combined. Using a tablespoon form large golf ball sized meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Transfer to a large baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture, cover and leave in the fridge to become firm for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place a large frying pan over a medium high heat and add a good glug of olive oil. If all the meatballs don’t fit in the pan at once, fry half the meatballs until browned on all sides, this will take 8-10 minutes and then transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. If doing two batches, wipe out the pan with kitchen paper, add another glug of oil and fry the remaining batch. Preheat the oven to 300F.

Drain any excess oil from the pan and place back on a low heat, add the garlic and allow slowly simmer until just golden but not browned. Pour in the passata and red wine a stir through. Season with dried oregano, chili flakes, salt & pepper. Bring to a steady simmer and allow to cook for 5-6 minutes before adding the meatballs to the pan and gently turning to coat them in the sauce with a tablespoon. Cover the pan with a lid and transfer to the oven.

Cook gently for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, turn up the oven to 425F and dot the meatballs with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan and return to the oven.
Serve the baked meatballs with spaghetti cooked in a pot of well seasoned boiling water until al dente and sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese.

Books to Celebrate

by MK Martin

Have you ever read the Nutcracker? It’s a stunning book, illustrated by Toller Cranston who, if you’ve never been into figure skating, was a prominent athlete in the sport. Do yourself a favor and search for him on Youtube. Preferably in his canary suit.

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There’s also a lovely version illustrated by Maurice Sendak I love very much. But the reason I love these stories is the same: Godfather Drosselmeier. This resplendent, but somewhat homely be-caped uncle, shows up at an otherwise ordinary Georgian/Victorian Christmas (depending on the version) and brings with him the most fantastic mechanical inventions, of his own design.25358410_10155332707358737_3923440631684682061_o.jpg

There are children in this story, but this guy, this is who I wanted to be. He wowed the crowd without witticisms, he stunned the savvy without good tailoring. He was far more interesting than Santa, and he didn’t outsource. Though his creations were all wondrous, it was one in the back that over a young lady’s heart. A carved Nutcracker who, though his proportions were mishap and his grin a little wide, his purpose was clear and his mission unfailing. When night comes, and the dread Rat King comes to terrorize the world of magic, it is the Nutcracker who saves the day. The illustrations are beautiful, captivating, and somehow, Sendak manages to convey Marie’s expressions in just a few lines, and terrify with the enormous Sweet Tooth, who could represent any frightening authority figure of any era.25398240_10155332707408737_2490535478702731558_o.jpgBabar, Jean de Brunhof’s epic tale of his title character’s search for Father Christmas, comes up in our reading rotation even if it isn’t Christmas. Any story where the characters are all animals, walking around our human world in suits and silks, and ruling their own kingdoms is instantly a favorite. I love that Babar is a champion for his subjects, that he adopts orphaned members of his family, and others, and that his wife, Celeste is always the quiet (well, elephant quiet) voice of reason. One of his adopted kids, Zephyr, discovers Father Christmas brings toys to children all over the world, and he wonders if it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to write and see if he will come to Elephant Country too?

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Since it’s too long to wait for mail of any kind, Babar decides to go on a quest for his kids, to make sure their letter gets there alright. He’s lead a merry chase through interesting places, aided by some and thwarted as well. The ending is happy, and Father Christmas has a very cool airship.

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My very favorite holiday story, though, is The Secret Staircase, by Jill Barklem. The illustrations in her works are breathtaking journeys, a story to be told in each one. It was this story that first introduced me to Midwinter: the ‘pagan’ observance of the darkest day, the Death of the Year. It is a fleeting moment in the calendar, because, the next day is already longer than the last. It is like witnessing the Universe being born all over again; from the darkness, light, and then everything begins.25394764_10155332707413737_3003422095016284018_o.jpg

Ms. Barklem must also find this to be magical, because she takes us with her little mouse heroes up, up into the palace hewn and carved from a massive tree, to rooms and cupboards not seen in any remembered age.

Every turn shows them beauty, majesty and hidden secrets of a world since forgotten. If there’s a history buff lurking in your kid, this story will draw them out. The purpose of their search, is to find something a little bit more stunning for the Midwinter recital and log burning. A popular, but well worn poem has been chosen, and they are looking for a little glamour. Where else should you find those things, but in your great-great-great-great-great grandparents’ closet? The greatest illustration is of the denouement, and I read the poem out loud, with gusto every year.

When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,
The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,
The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,
The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,
Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest,
And dress in your richest and finest and best ..

For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,
And now it will give you
The promise of SPRING!!25440301_10155332707378737_9020581678556255886_o.jpg

To me, it’s the kids’ books that are the classics, of any age. Grown up stories tend to drag along with them the social trappings of the age, while a child’s story is to the point. I hope you get a chance to read these, some day.

What To Give

by MK Martin

I’m going to mention the Grinch again, because it really is a story that laid the path for my life. I used to wish he would come and steal Christmas where I was, and everywhere, so we would all have to go outside and hold hands and sing. He never did, though I did go to a few midnight masses with my Mum.whos.jpg

Are there any holidays revolving around Midwinter, that do not involve gift exchange? I couldn’t find any. The hot Pagan dirt this year, is that there was a Mother Deer before a Father Christmas, but we still have to give her all our butter and hope she leaves us something in return. Because the days are dark, am I right?

Every year, after everything has been opened, after my shoulders come down from around my ears and my nails start growing again, gift giving anxiety sets in. The season means so many different things, to so many different people, and I know most of them. Many have all they could want, or need, some proclaim not to want or need anything! How can I work with these parameters?

Knowing as much as you can about your giftee is the key, of course. You could try reminding yourself that it doesn’t have to be the best gift ever, but that’s really the only reason I can think of to give such a thing. You want their experience to be a little thrill, sometimes.

With that in mind, here are my top gift ideas for three stereotypical receivers, that everyone thinks exist. We’ll call it: The Anxious Person’s Guide to Gifting.

Person: Unenthusiastic Receiver:

You could try to stun this person, but they are suffering from too much stuff. It’s all interesting, and beautiful, and designed well. What this person needs is a big hug, and maybe a box of their favorite chocolate. If you really want to up the ante, ask them how their day is going.

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Person: I Don’t Want Anything!
This person is me. They are too anxious about receiving presents, giving presents, being present and anything in general that has to do with anything. They do like to receive, but they couldn’t possibly figure out what right now. Consider a combination of small items with personal meaning, that equate to a quiet, still moment. Or, a pat on the back to remind them they’re not as close to exploding as they think they are.

Person: Itemized Color Coded List with Alternative Shopping Locations:
This person is either your kid, or they just really know their own mind. For either, the best idea is to pool money for one not too extravagant option and make sure you soak up the excellent reaction they will give you. Another great option is a little outing for lunch, or to an interesting shopping space they’ve never been.

Person: Partner
This person wants to be surprised by you, so do that. If it’s been a rough year, observe them carefully for a few days without being weird, and see if anything is obviously missing. If it’s been a good year, write them a note about it, thank them for being around with you. If it’s just another year in the stretch you agreed to walk together, thank them for that too. Nothing’s more surprising to people, sometimes, than the appearance of true gratitude. Sure, they’re still doing that thing that’s so annoying!! But not all the time.

It might be easy to see that the theme here is: you don’t necessarily have to buy something to give a gift. Like Eeyore’s friends, who included him in every activity and always remembered his birthday, even though he was sour as pits and rarely ever grateful, our only job as fellow humans is to be there for each other. Sometimes that looks like a pair of earrings, brand new socks to last the year, or toys and sometimes, it looks like a warm smile and watching the stars from the porch with nothing whatsoever to do. You are the gift that keeps on giving, and I guess maybe I am too. Happy Holidays, friends ❤calvin.jpg

Have Yourself a Hygge Little Christmas

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

Simple pleasures. Family, friends, graciousness; sharing and caring for others. The Danish word “hygge” has become part of our vocabulary recently, and this year, it was pretty much the guide I used as I bought my Christmas gifts.

It isn’t about the expense. It isn’t about technology or hype. It’s about bringing the actual ‘comfort and joy’ in the old song, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.IMG_0677.JPG

As a writer, we are meant to give texture to our writing with more than just dialogue and plot points, bringing together the ‘life’ details around our characters. It’s really the same for the Christmas season for me. Living in the South there are some missing elements: the scent of the pine trees, the feeling of snowflakes on your eyelashes. The scent of a first snow before it begins. The warmth of hot chocolate in your mittened hands. And so, Hygge is about honoring the five senses for me this Christmas. The sounds. The sights. The tastes. The touch. The smells. The simplicity that brings joy.IMG_0694.JPG

I’ve created a Christmas playlist on my phone. Random Christmas songs don’t bring me joy. I love the sounds of Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and perhaps a few artists who are still with us, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and even a little Madonna.

My top ten songs for Christmas:

White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Santa Baby by Madonna
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Michael Buble
Count Your Blessings by Rosemary Clooney
Holy Night by John McDermott
Sleigh Ride by Harry Connick Jr.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Dean Martin (childhood favorite)
Silent Night by Frank Sinatra (1957)
The scents of Christmas support the feelings of warmth. I’m a candle person. My diffuser is always out of whatever is meant to bring scent to a room, but my candles this season bring warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the fruitiness of cranberries, the piney woods, and even the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven. (Although, there are plenty of cookies baking.)

Taste. There are so many tastes that evoke the season. The tartness of dried cranberries in granola, biscotti, and oatmeal cookies. Who needs raisins? The warmth of cider with spices and a beautiful velvety chocolaty hot chocolate. I’ve included recipes for both. My husband is Irish and Italian and so it’s not Christmas without a Christmas pudding, a large pot of spaghetti on Christmas Eve and mince pies.

While my grandmother scented the house with Norwegian Christmas traditions of lefse, warm rommegrot (a Norwegian pudding) topped with cinnamon and sugar and the not so welcome Lutekfisk, my grandfather, who was German brought out the pickled herring and sauerkraut. The best though were her homemade cookies, the sandbakkels which signaled Christmas to me. They’re baked in little tart tins and some were terribly stubborn and didn’t come out of the tin perfectly. And that meant they were to be eaten because they wouldn’t make the cookie tray. Shucks.

Warm flannel nightgowns made by my mother were part of our Christmas tradition. I remember particularly one that was a pale blue print with hearts, so soft and warm for those cold Minnesota winters. My daughters have received Christmas pajamas for most of their years, not always flannel pj pants but some in soft cotton or silky fabric that feels delightful on the skin. There have been cashmere socks or hats and scarves, mittens, and other things that envelope us in warmth. Not to mention handwarmers from LLBean in the ski boots and ski mittens.

The sights of Christmas are married with the sounds.

Films and Books I recommend:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – A beautifully illustrated children’s book

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – Strangers on a train bound for Los Angeles at Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 from Father Christmas to his children

Madeline’s Christmas Ludwig Bemelmens – My favorite childhood heroine

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Wish by Lori Evert (Author),‎ Per Breiehagen (Illustrator) – A beautiful book. Anja wants to be one of Santa’s elves. When she skis off in her quest to find Santa, a bird, horse, musk ox, polar bear, and reindeer show her the way.

Christmas Films:

Holiday Inn – Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Every single number but the 4th of July dance with the firecrackers is my favorite.

Come to the Stable – Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. I loved the tennis-playing nun the best.

Miracle on 34th Street – Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn. I wanted to be Susan. And I wanted her house.

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyk. Just a sweet retro pic.

The Santa Claus – Tim Allen. I don’t love Tim Allen but I do love the whole silly premise but mostly the relationship between Charlie and his dad. And the souped up sleigh.

Love Actually – Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and more.

And perhaps one of my very favorites, no matter the season, Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – made me want to do research and learn to make floating islands. I did. If you like this one – get every single one of the Hepburn/Tracy films. They’re dynamite.IMG_0681.JPG

One of the best parts of the season are the activities that bring you together as a family. Wrapping presents together. Creating your own festive wraps by decorating plain brown wrapping paper with a stamp with silver or gold, or writing Merry Christmas or other holiday words in script with a colored marker. Putting red or green ribbons around each package and making tags from old cards or brown cardstock and tying a bit of evergreen to the bow. Making ornaments.

Playing a game. In years past we broke into teams to play Trivial Pursuit. Mapomimoes (Europe) is a new favorite geography game. Apples to Apples or Candyland (another childhood favorite) with the younger crowd. Doing a Christmas puzzle together on the floor. Baking cookies or making gifts for teachers together. Making sure you allow the young ones to add their own creative and unique suggestions ensuring the perfection in the adult in you doesn’t overpower their vision.

For the time in Vermont this year, I’m packing the games, the pajamas, the hot chocolate mix I’ve made, the books, the songs, and I’ll decorate a little tree in Vermont. We will have ourselves a Merry Hygge Christmas. I hope there’s snow. (I’m sure there is snow)!IMG_0695.JPG

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved.

Homemade Mulling Spice

large orange, zested, peel and pith, minced

1 ounce jar cinnamon sticks, chipped

.75 ounce whole allspice

.75 ounce whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and put a piece of parchment paper down.

Scatter the zest, peel and pith over the parchment paper and bake for about an hour until dry. Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sticks in a Ziploc and wrap it in a towel. Smash. I use a wooden meat hammer but a rolling pin would work.

Mix everything gently together and store in an airtight container.

Add 1 tablespoon to each eight ounces of cider. Warm and strain into a mug.IMG_0689.JPG

All I Want for Christmas is a Panforte

by Sally Kerr-Dineen

Panforte is cross between nougat and fruitcake, a bread and a candy. I think this is one of the Christmassiest desserts ever. For me it’s the aroma that wafts around the kitchen when it’s baking.

There’s nothing to be intimidated by, it’s not tricky to make just a bit sticky to make. The honey syrup hardens really quickly so you have to move fast from mixing to getting the batter into the pan. What’s nice is that this Italian spiced “bread” keeps for ages, easily a month or two wrapped well at room temperature.

Ingredients:
2 cups toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 cups candied citron mixture (like lemon, lime, orange, cherry)
Grated zest from one lemon
¾ cup flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-cup sugar
¾ cup honey

-Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Spay paper and sides of pan with cooking spray.
-Mix the almonds, citron, zest, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
-Heat the sugar and honey in a small pan on low heat stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, bubbles slightly and reads 240°F on a candy thermometer.
-Pour honey syrup into nut mixture and stir well, the batter stiffens quickly, so work fast. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula or your fingers when it’s cool enough to handle.
-Bake for 35-40 minutes until the center feels like soft custard and your finger comes away clean. Do not over bake. The panforte will firm up as it cools.
-Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen, remove pan and cool completely. Remove the bottom and parchment paper, sprinkle heavily with confectioner’s sugar.

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Note: I mushed two recipes together; one from David Lebovitz and the other from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Sugar and Spice

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of young families in 25 houses with 68 kids. While my mother was the only one who had a full-time out of home job, the others served as afternoon surrogates with cookies, brownies, and treats galore. Every Christmas we would bake 24 dozen cookies and bring them to the annual cookie swap. I both dreaded the work and loved the exchange. The kids had our favorites and with no disrespect meant to the other mothers – we all loved Mrs. Jensen’s cookies the best. Mrs. Jensen was from Sweden and we thought her so worldly. Mr. Jensen was Danish, and as I found out when I interviewed him for a college Oral History project, was a leading member of the Danish Underground during World War II. He met Mrs. Jensen, a nurse, when he ferried Jewish families from Denmark to Sweden where she and others moved them to safety. The Danish Resistance managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. Sadly, I lost the tape of our interview, but I remember every detail very well. I remember being so awestruck that this hero was living down the street that I barely could keep my eyes on my notes and ask him questions. Thank heavens for a tape recorder. They were an amazing family right in our little neighborhood.

Mrs. Jensen was a sweet lady who made the most delicate horseshoe shaped Swedish ginger cookies. We waited ever year for the crispy brown cookies and coveted the recipe although she never parted with it. My mother made Norwegian sandbakkels (a crispy almond sugar cookie baked in a fluted tin) every year. Many of the mothers in the neighborhood had Scandinavian roots and then there was Mrs. Gallagher (Lebanese) and Mrs. Grady (Irish) and Mrs. Woodburn (German). Popular cookies with the kids were candy cane sugar cookies, a wonderful stained glass cookie, spritz with sprinkles (although we always thought they were too small), almond snowball cookies, and always some great baklava which technically isn’t a cookie but it was much appreciated.image1.jpeg

Here are three of our favorite cookie recipes – my favorite easy shortbread, my grandmother’s favorite molasses cookies and my recipe for cranberry and pistachio biscotti.

Shortbread

Ingredients:
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use a heavy hand on this)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter of your desired shape. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

**Don’t want to roll them out – I generally don’t. Halve the dough, roll into two logs, (I always freeze one) cut them ½ inch thick and follow baking directions above. To festive them up – dip in melted chocolate of your choice.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

Ingredients:
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water. Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly. Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack. Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack. Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Great-Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)

Directions

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.

Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

MAKE AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.image1 (2).jpeg

Krampus is a Comin’

by MK Martin

Have you been good? Hide all your birch switches, and say something kind to everyone you see today. In many parts of Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated December 6th. On the night before, the horned devil Krampus roams the streets, seeking out the homes of naughty children. Mostly, he just swats at them, but some stories suggest very naughty children will be eaten! With that in mind, here are two sweet Icelandic recipes to try. Maybe if you leave him a little shortcake, he’ll walk on by.

Coconut Wreaths
(makes about 2 dozen)
These are pretty, and they smell great.wreath.jpg

The recipe calls for a cookie press, which is a tube gun you attach a metal thing to at the end. If you don’t want to use one, you can roll little balls and flatten on the cookie sheet, or try to loosely shape the wreaths yourself, but the dough gets a bit hard to handle! I found a free form photo above ^^

Ingredients:

200 g flour
200 g dessicated coconut
150 g sugar
200 g butter, softened
1 egg

Mix the flour, coconut and sugar. A whisk works well here.

Fold in the egg and butter, and mix until it just comes together. I know, it’s counter intuitive to most cookie directions, but it will come together.

Run the dough through the cookie press, fitted with a simple attachment, and run it through in lengths of about 6 cm, which you then shape into a wreath right on the baking sheet.

Bake at 350, for 8 minutes (but you know my rule, check after 7), until light and golden.

Icelandic Spice Cake

Here is a cake full of the flavor of the holidays, without the weight and prep time of a fruit cake. The warming spices are anti inflammatory, and anti bacterial, even if they’re being mixed with sugar. A little dark cocoa ups the ‘health’ factor.This is also a cake you mix by hand, but you might be able to get away with a stand mixer on lowest setting. (makes enough cake for two layers, but is often cut into 4. You can do a sheet pan as well.)

Ingredients

500 g flour
350 g sugar
250 g butter
2 eggs
3 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbs dark cocoa
milk, as needed

*What does ‘as needed’ mean? For many European cake recipes, a kneaded dough is used, rather than a batter. This is batter style, but the recipe still calls for a ‘medium thick’ batter, such as a muffin might have. I pour out a 1/2 cup of milk and use that, usually all of it. *

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.

Sift, or whisk, your dry ingredients together. Add to the butter mixture a few TBSP at a time, mix, then a splash of milk. This is why this part is better done by hand, as it will go faster than it sounds and not be overmixed.

Pour into greased 8 in cake tins, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, give or take, depending on your oven. My bake time always varies, thanks to spotty heat.

Serve frosted with layers of buttercream, or our favorite: for breakfast with a little fresh whipped cream.

cake.jpg