Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Can it be that another year has already whizzed past? It's been a busy year. Between baking, homeschooling, vacationing, hosting cooking camps, and watching my granddaughter grow up, I haven't been posting nearly as much as I would've liked to. I'm not making a resolution of it, but I will try to be a bit more consistent in the coming year.

So here's a toast to the year gone by and the one yet to come. May the joy increase, the inevitable pains be productive, the lessons be learned quickly, and the calories not count.

I'm toasting with a glass of the best eggnog I've ever had. I've never been a big fan of egg nog. My family always got excited when the cartons showed up in the grocery store and I would buy it for them. But the gloopy texture and the odd taste didn't please my palate, so I'd pass.

But this fall a friend told me about his family's tradition of making eggnog. More specifically, Gramma made the egg nog. A gallon at a time. Every Christmas. Even on vacation.

He related how one Christmas the extended family was on vacation together in Mexico and it just wouldn't be Christmas without Gramma's eggnog. So they hiked into to town to buy the supplies for a gallon of eggnog. After hiking back with their burdens, Gramma put together the splendid libation, and they took turns stirring it for the 40-50 minutes needed to thicken it. Then it needed to sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors meld. Having nothing else on hand, she poured the eggnog back into the plastic jugs that had held the milk.

The next morning, arriving back after some frolic time, they were appalled that the jugs were empty and in the garbage can. The cleaning crew told them they'd thrown the milk away since it had obviously gone bad. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

Back to town. More supplies. More stirring. Then after more chilling, the cleaners held at bay, Christmas was back on. There was eggnog at last!

If the eggnog was worth that kind of perseverance, I just had to try. And, yes, it's worth it. Light, delicious, frothy, and not overly sweet. One small glass is never enough. I've become an eggnog fan!

You could make the recipe as written, but then you'll probably kick yourself and say, "Why didn't I make more??" If you want a whole gallon, multiply the recipe by 4.

I used raw, whole milk and farm fresh eggs from healthy chickens. If you are uneasy about using raw egg whites, you can substitute powdered egg whites for that. And if you are not comfortable pouring rum into your eggnog, you can use rum flavoring (which is alcoholic, too). If there are kids at your gathering, you can put the rum on the side so adults can add their own to taste. And if anyone dislikes nutmeg, putting it on the side accommodates their tastes as well.

Gramma Jane's Famous Eggnog 
 - adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1968 Edition
  serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups whole milk
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Rum to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)

1- In a large saucepan beat the 1/3 cup sugar and the egg yolks. Add salt. Stir in the milk.

2- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats a spoon. It will not be as thick as a custard. (I timed it while making a gallon. This took about 50 minutes. Taking turns stirring is a good way to make it easier.)

3- Pour this mixture into a medium mixing bowl and set that into an ice bath to speed the cooling. Stir occasionally as it cools.

4- When the mixture is cooled, beat the egg whites until foamy. With the mixer going, gradually add the 3 Tbsp sugar, beating until soft peaks form (when you pull the beater out of the egg whites, they should make little mountains that floomp over at the tip).

5- Add the beaten egg whites to the custard and mix thoroughly. Add the vanilla, rum (unless you'll be serving it on the side), and nutmeg. Chill 3 or 4 hours.

6- Pour the eggnog into a punch bowl or cups. Dot with dollops of whipped cream and add a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.

Thank you Jane for sharing the recipe.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Crack

It's been 4 years now since I shared on my blog the perilous substance known as Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge. I've been strong and resisted the temptation to make it for quite a while now, but I've gotten some terrific comments from readers who have. My favorite was this:

This is the fudge my husband rebukes, the way any good evangelical man rebukes sin, fearing and secretly lusting after it. He literally carries plates of this stuff to the neighbors so that it will not dwell under his roof, or on his waist. And yet I keep making it. The making AND the rebuking; a weird holiday tradition now.

Yes, I am all about holiday traditions and keeping it festive for my readers. With that goal in mind, I present to you my latest concoction, Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Crack. This is the evil cousin of the Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge. It's pretty simple to make, and yet it's irresistible. And once you've tried it, you are helpless; you simply must go back for more. And more. And....well, you get the picture.

What is it, you ask? A layer of pretzels, a layer of caramel, a layer of chocolate, and then a sprinkling of Crack. And by crack I mean sea salt. Either chunks or flakes will do, just so long as you get a nice hit of salt with every sweet, sticky, gooey, chocolatey, crunchy bite. It's seriously amazing.

 I've made it three times now. The first time was just playing around with the idea, the second time was refining it and the third time was because the second pan went so fast I didn't take any pictures! And the third pan has been cut up and put into containers to be given away because I don't want my family to be in such a carb coma that they can't open presents on Christmas. But I'd better get those containers out the door quickly, or else certain unnamed family members might "accidentally" happen to pry open a container (even if it's already in a sealed box ready to be mailed) and "accidentally" fall face first into it. Not pointing fingers or naming names. I don't want to spoil Christmas. I'm just saying it's a possibility.

If you're looking for the ultimate last minute gift, the perfect hostess present, or just a decadent treat for your co-workers or yourself, this is it. Go buy some pretzels, cream, and chocolate and in a couple of hours (you can wait for the chocolate to set up, can't you?) you can be in serious salty-sweet heaven.

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Crack

8 oz. pretzels
1 cup heavy cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 lb. good milk chocolate, chopped
Sea salt (Fleur de Sel or Maldon Sea Salt are good choices)

1- Line a jelly roll pan (10-1/2 x 15-1/2-inches) with parchment paper and butter the paper. (Mine is a seasoned stoneware pan, so I skipped the parchment paper.)

2- Spread the pretzels in an even layer in the pan. Break up a few pretzels to fill in gaps as needed.

3- In a small saucepan combine the cream, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and remove from the heat. Set it aside.

4- In a large saucepan combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup. Stir gently just to combine. Be careful to not splash the sugar crystals up onto the sides of the pan. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. The steam from the simmering will help to wash any errant sugar crystals from the sides of the pan.

5- When the sugar is dissolved, remove the lid from the pan. Continue simmering until the liquid turns a golden caramel color. If your liquid is getting dark in one area and not in another, DO NOT STIR. You can pick up the pan and gently shake it side to side the even out the color.

6- When the liquid is golden caramel color, add the cream mixture and stir. The mixture will bubble up, so be careful. Simmer and stir with a clean wooden spoon until a candy thermometer in the mixture reaches 248 deg. F, approximately 15 min.

7- Pour the caramel over the pretzels evenly.

8- After the caramel has set, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. For a prettier presentation, you can temper the chocolate. (I was attempting to temper the chocolate, but got distracted, so it didn't go well, hence the artistic swirliness of the chocolate. If that happens to you, don't worry. People will think you went to an extra effort to get those swirls, so if they compliment you, just say thank you.)

9 - Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the caramel layer.

10- Sprinkle sea salt sparsely over the top of the chocolate layer.

11- When the chocolate has set up but not hardened, use a pizza cutter or a knife to cut it into squares.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Oh, man, I thought I was all set for Christmas. All of the planning and shopping done, just wrapping and shipping left to do. Wrong. Someone went and did something amazing, transferring their name from Santa's Good List to the Most Excellent List.

When I was typing up my last post I looked and looked for the recipe. I searched in all of the likely spots -the shelves that holds my cookbooks, the other other shelves that hold my cookbooks, the other other shelves that hold my cookbooks (what do you think, too many cookbooks?) and in the magazine holders that hold all my old Bon Appetite's and other cooking magazines. I came up empty handed and frustrated. I decided that since I hadn't posted since the paleozoic era (or close to that), I'd just throw up the post as is and hope that one of my faithful readers would know just what I was talking about and be able to supply the recipe. And there were many good suggestions, but none was it.

My husband saw my frustration and quietly went on a quest. While I had given up on the recipe and had moved on to other tasks, he methodically worked his way through all the possible hiding places, thoroughly checking each one. Then, with a pleased smile of satisfaction, he set the errant Baking Sheet in front of me.

"Where did you find it?" I squealed, leaping up to kiss him. He modestly informed me that it had gotten jammed behind the magazine holders and had slipped down and gotten somewhat squashed under them. What a guy! Santa's going to have to find an extra special way to reward this good boy. Maybe something with lace....

Whole-Grain Soft Molasses Cookies
 - adapted from King Arthur's Baking Sheet - Julie Christopher

1/2 cup (4 oz) applesauce
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz, 1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (3 oz) molasses
1 large egg
1/3 cup (2-1/4 oz) crystallized ginger, minced
1-1/2 cups (6-1/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (6-3/4) King Arthur Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Sugar for dipping

1- Drain the applesauce for several minutes in a fine strainer set over a bowl to remove excess liquid.

2- In a large bowl, cream together the applesauce, sugar, and butter; beat at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add the molasses, egg, and crystallized ginger; beat until well combined.

3- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, beating slowly until blended. Chill the dough for at least an hour. If you bake it the same day, the cookies will be crispy, flatter, and chewy. If you bake on the second or third day, the cookies will be taller and softer (like in my photos).

4- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5- Scoop the dough by tablespoons and form into 1-inch balls. (If the dough gets sticky while you're working with it, pop the dough back into the refrigerator to chill it.) Dip the tops of the balls into the sugar and place them, sugar-side up, 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

6- Bake for 10-11 minutes, until set, but still soft and puffy in the center. Remove the cookies front he oven and allow them to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Surprise Cookies

Christmas gift giving is tricky.  There is a decision to make- do you go for a big surprise, with the possibility that the recipient will not like the gift, or do you have them pick it out, making sure the size and color are correct, then wrap it and hand it to them?

I love surprises. That tingly feeling of anticipation as they hold your wrapped package in their lap, wondering what on earth it could be, not daring to hope, but hoping anyway that it might be that one  thing they really wanted. The tension builds as they gently ease open the wrapping paper (or tear it off, if that's the way they roll). And then, if you shopped/planned/or made correctly, the look on their face makes it all worthwhile.

Early in my marriage I tried for surprises and they always failed. First of all because my husband has an almost supernatural gift for knowing what's inside a wrapped package. I tried wrapping a tie rolled up into a squishy ball, foregoing the standard and obvious tie box. My husband, picked it up, gave it a squeeze, and said, "Oh, that's a tie." I was quite depressed. Then I tried the box within a box gambit. He'd pick it up, shake it, listen critically, and announce the contents. Boo again. He guessed the cologne before he even picked up the box, smelling it three feet away from the tree.

Finally my husband realized that knowing what all of his presents were a week before he even unwrapped them drained Christmas morning of a lot of its fun. He now has a strict no guessing policy. He doesn't shake, squeeze, or sniff any packages under the tree. Until Christmas morning. Then he releases his inner Karnack and has a good time.

But the other reason my surprises fail is because of finances. Since he pays the bills, unless I pay cash, he knows about it. And accumulating a stack of cash isn't something I'm good at. I do many things fairly well, but none of them generate income, so I'm stuck either asking him for money to buy him a present (which he always vetoes, saying he doesn't need anything) or buying in a very modest price range.

Last year I finally managed to surprise him. I'd been saving cash in my super secret cash stash and when I found a really good deal on Amazon on something he had on his wish list, I asked my daughter to order it and handed her the cash. She kept it at her house and brought it over Christmas eve, sneaking it into the house while my husband was occupied with the grand baby.

Christmas morning he was happy, amazed, and confused when he opened his gift. He said thank you many times, then asked over and over "How did you do it?" It drove him nuts. I loved that best of all.

Today's cookies are molasses cookies. An obvious choice for Christmas time and always welcome. What's the surprise part about it? Um, (she coughs in embarrassment and nervously shuffles feet), it's the recipe. There is no recipe today. You see, I made these cookies a while ago. I've been too busy with life to stop and take pictures of stuff I've made recently, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for this post. And after I'd gotten it written, I could not find the recipe. I'd helpfully written the notation that it came from a King Arthur's Baking Sheet and was Whole Wheat Molasses Cookies. So, if any of you happen to have the recipe, please email it to me and I'll post it. Till then, I'll keep looking. And hopefully I've inspired you to go bake your own favorite molasses cookie.