Happy Holidays!

We are off tomorrow for our annual ski trip. We’ve been going every year since before the kids were born and this place has become a part of us. Both Boy and Girl have mentioned the desire to go to college in Colorado. Not to denigrate the fine learning institutions in Colorado, but I’m still pinning my hopes here. Or here.

I have a back/hip injury that may preclude my participating in the skiing this year (although I’m going to try!), but it will still be fun. We’ve never been over Christmas before (we usually go in January), so we’re looking forward to the torchlight parade and fireworks and lots of other special holiday events. Logistically, planning Christmas AWAY has been difficult, but it will be relaxing once we get there. I may have time to blog a little about our adventures (and the wonderful food that we’ll be having), but we won’t be cooking while we’re there.

We’ll be back in January and I promise lots more yummy entries. In the meantime, I hope that your holidays are safe, calm, happy and filled with family time and delicious food.

Gingerbread Cookies

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We went to a friend’s house last night for a little gathering and I brought these for the kids to decorate for dessert. I used this recipe from Epicurious. It’s an odd (to me) recipe, in that you cook the molasses/sugar mixture before preparing the dough, but the dough was easy to work with/roll out and was not too crisp/crunchy after baking. Only 2 of the baked cookies broke during transport and decoration. I think it could have used a slightly stronger gingerbread flavor, so I may use a bit more ginger if I make these again.

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E.

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C.

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Girl.

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L.

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Z.

The siblings: J, D and Boy (and their dads), were at this disappointing football game, while the girls, youngest siblings and moms stayed at home with the cookies.

We resourceful moms also came up with a winter-inspired version of the Lime Basil martini. I’m still playing with the proportions, but it is a Ginger-Vanilla-Lime cocktail (fresh ginger-infused simple syrup, vodka, Mexican vanilla and lime juice). I’ll try and refine and post a recipe and photos soon.

Padma Lakshmi’s Jamaican Johnnycake Bread

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Our friend, Jennifer, made this bread for us from Padma Lakshmi’s new cookbook (we gave her the cookbook for her birthday). It is a delicious, moist banana bread made with cornmeal and molasses. I can’t find a link to the recipe online, so you’ll just have to buy the book! We LOVED this – I would be embarassed to admit how quickly we finished it after Jennifer gave it to us! Mmmm….

Laurent Tourondel’s Braised Short Ribs and Chive-Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Spinach Salad with Balamic-Glazed Pecans

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Little Brother and his wife came over for our early Christmas celebration last night and I decided to make this recipe by Laurent Tourondel. I’ve had it tucked away for a few months, meaning to try it. A recipe that calls for 3 BOTTLES OF WINE?! What’s not to like?

I used 8 shortribs, instead of 6, because that was how many that were in the package that I bought (from Costco). I had a TON of the (very indulgent) sauce left over and am going to find something to use it for. It may end up being the base for a stew or becoming some sort of soup – we’ll just have to see. The browned butter was a little superfluous, but it was good on the mashed potatoes. If I make that again, I will add the garlic at the very end, because the garlic ended up getting a little overbrowned and bitter before the butter browned.

The salad was just baby spinach, thinly sliced apple, shaved parmesan and balsamic-glazed pecans with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Little Brother brought over pies: one chocolate-coffee-pecan and one peanut butter-chocolate (LB had roasted and ground the peanuts himself to make the peanut butter!). Mmm…

AND, LB and his wife bought me this for Christmas, which I have been wanting FOREVER – thanks!

Sweet and Sour BBQ Chicken and Hasselback Potatoes

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Adult plate.

I was at a bit of a loss for inspiration for dinner last night, so I pulled this recipe out of my trusty old file folder. It was easy and was kid-friendly and actually, quite yummy as well. I doubled the recipe, but it wasn’t really necessary – I think that the amount of marinade/sauce in a single batch would be plenty, even for 4 chicken breasts.

As for the potatoes, I saw Paula Deen and Robert Irvine cooking appealing Hasselback potatoes on a recent Food Network Holiday special, but when I went looking for the recipe, I found that the reviews on their version of the recipe weren’t great and went looking for another version. I found one by Nigella Lawson that looked potentially bland and a few others that looked too complicated, but when I saw this one by Emeril, it looked like a winner. His recipes can usually be relied upon to turn out well. I (of course!) did add a bit of Baby Bam seasoning (it WAS an Emeril recipe, after all!). The potatoes took a little longer than the time stated in the recipe to be cooked through, but they were tasty.

I normally have a hard-and-fast “no TV during dinner” rule, but the kids have both been sick and have had a bit of a tough week, so we watched a bit of the new Harry Potter “Order of the Phoenix” DVD while we were eating last night. I do have these great “snack plates” that we hardly get to use, otherwise. Every once in a while, you have to know when to bend the rules, right?

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Kid plate.

I popped an apple pie (recipe right off the box of Pillsbury pie crust) in the oven while the potatoes were cooking, so we had a warm dessert, too. It turned out a little messy (Hubby is a great pie crust “crimper” but he was working on another project last night, so I was in the kitchen alone), but it was yummy and was perfect for the rainy weather we had yesterday.

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Gingerbread Houses

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OK, so I cheated and bought the pre-made and assembled houses, but we do this every year and the kids always have a blast decorating them. I buy every conceivable Christmas candy, make a batch of Royal Icing (I add a bit of peppermint extract to make the inevitable finger-licking more fun) and just let the kids have at it!

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Boy had a friend over, so we let Friend make one, too, and he turned out to be SUPER creative, making icicles to hang from the eaves and using the paper from a Hershey Kiss to form smoke curling out of the chimney – WOW!

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Balsamic-Glazed Pecan and Stilton Bites

OK, all of you BCW Gourmet Clubbers that are stopping by – please leave me a comment to let me know what you think! That was a great party, huh? Does anyone have the Orange-Chipotle Pork recipe that they would be willing to share? That was scrumptious!

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NOTE: I’m going to be entering the photo above in the monthly CLICK photography contest. Wish me luck!

This recipe is adapted from one in the great little appetizer cookbook, Cocktail Food: 50 Finger Foods with Attitude (they are called “Nutty Napoleons” in the book and are made with dry-toasted pecans, instead of the balsamic glazed ones). I don’t remember where I originally saw the instructions for the balsamic-glazed pecans, but they were served over a spinach salad (with balsamic vinaigrette). I thought these two recipes would be great, if they were combined together. We are heading to a neighborhood party this evening and each couple is asked to bring an appetizer. I thought that these would be fun and festive.

Balsamic-Glazed Pecan and Stilton Bites

6 cups very large and perfect pecan halves, divided
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, divided
6 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
6 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, divided
salt

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces Stilton cheese, at room temperature
6 tsp. port wine
1 1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
chopped fresh chives, for garnishing (about 6 Tbsp.)

Line a large cookie sheet with foil. Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray and set it aside.

NOTE:
I prepared the pecans in 3 separate batches, with 2 cups pecans, 2 Tbsp. oil, 2 Tbsp. vinegar, 1/2 cup brown sugar and a pinch of salt in each one. It MIGHT work if you cook all 6 cups of pecans (and all of the other ingredients) at once, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for it, for sure (don’t know if the pecans would toast evenly, etc.). If you’re going to do all 6 cups at once, you’ll need more than one foil-lined baking sheet.

Whisk the oil, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until bubbly. Add pecans and cook until glaze is dark and thick and pecans are well toasted, stirring frequently and being careful not to burn the pecans (about 5 – 7 minutes). Remove pan from heat and pour pecans onto foil-lined baking sheet, gently separating the pecans as much as possible as you pour them, with a wooden spoon or spatula. DO NOT TOUCH THE PECANS WITH YOUR HANDS; they will be scaldingly hot (yes – I learned this the hard way – I have a blister under the tip of my left middle fingernail – ouch). Allow the pecans to cool for at least 10 minutes – you’ll be able to separate them more later.

Blend the cream cheese, Stilton, port, honey and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a # 18 (or similarly-sized) tip. (You can also use a plastic baggie with a corner cut off or a small, round tip.)

Put half of the cooled, separated pecans (flat-side down) on a serving tray. Pipe about 1/4 tsp. of the cheese mixture down the top of the pecan and then top with a second pecan (flat-side down). Pipe an additional 1/4 tsp. of cheese onto the top pecan and sprinkle with chopped chives to garnish.

The glazed pecans can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. The cheese mixture can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated, but allow to come to room temperature before assembling (pull it out of the fridge about an hour ahead of time).

You can assemble the pecans up to 3 hours ahead and allow to sit at room temperature.

Yield: about 120 bites, depending upon the size of your pecans.

He makes kick-ass omelettes, too…

I am blessed with a Hubby that is very handy and can fix almost anything. He’s saved us thousands of dollars in various repairs and service calls over the years. He’s installed lights, beadboard, tile and a toilet in our current home. He can fix anything that could ever conceivably go wrong with a computer. He always has extra bits and leftover pieces of things from previous projects and can usually fix things without even having to make a hardware store run, because he usually has “just the right” screw, glue, widgit or wire to complete a repair in his little workshop corner of the garage.

A couple of weeks ago, our fancy-dancy, and relatively new, washing machine decided to get snooty on us. It has all kinds of safety and energy-saving features and will do things like stop agitating if the lid is opened or annoyingly drain all of the water if the cycle is stopped unexpectedly. The problem recently, however, was that the sensor/switch that tells the machine whether or not the lid was open was malfunctioning, so it wouldn’t start a wash load because it thought the lid was open, when it was, in fact, NOT. Luckily, my aforementioned Handy Hubby was able to rig up a solution. I don’t ask questions about Hubby’s solutions; I’m just grateful. It’s a little like seeing sausage being made; you’ll be a lot happier about the end result if you don’t know a lot about the process (although I would be very surprised if Hubby’s “fix” had NOT involved duct tape and maybe possibly Gorilla Glue).

As you may have read, we had a laundry CATastrophe recently. Predictably, the washing machine chose the precise moment when it was most needed to do a repeat of its previous snootiness and the lid sensor decided to stop working again. Again, I cajoled Hubby into service. He diligently worked on it for quite some time before announcing that his previous “fix” wasn’t working this time. He said that he would need to order a replacement sensor switch and that it wouldn’t arrive for about 5 days. “5 days?!”, I said. “What will I do with all of urgently-in-need-of-attention laundry???,” I panicked. “Not to worry”, Hubby said, “I’ve got a temporary solution rigged up so that you can wash stuff until the replacement switch arrives from the parts department.”

This is what he came up with:
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Standard-issue light switch.

It works perfectly.

A few setbacks…

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Well, we reached a roadblock with the cats: when we tried to move forward from “a little litter in the bowl” to “a little water in the bowl”, they rebelled. Or, more specifically, one of them rebelled, we’re not positive which one, but probably this one:
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Queenie, Persnickety Girl

Apparently, our bed was a much more appealing toilet than the water-filled bowl and we when we adjourned to the bedroom night-before-last, we were met with a really disgusting sight and I was up a few more hours than I planned, doing the resulting laundry. That was fun.

So, the cats are now quarantined in our bathroom, without access to anything appealing to eliminate in except for the toilet set-up. Don’t worry – our bathroom is very large (we moved the piano in there during a recent remodel, so that the kids could still practice) and their food and water are in there; they’ll be fine.

I’ve been wanting to try this whole toilet-training thing for a long time and this was precisely my fear: that two of them would take to it beautifully and there would be one holdout (I even predicted which one it would be) that wouldn’t figure it out and would require a litterbox. If we have a litterbox in the house, of course, the other two will want to use that, as well, and will no longer opt for the toilet. So, if Miss Priss doesn’t get the hang of this soon, we’re back at Square 1.

Dinner was also a dismal failure last night. I made (attempted? botched?) this Cooking Light recipe and it was AWFUL. I think that it was more of an execution error on my part than a true recipe defect, but it was definitely a team effort. The duck didn’t have much flavor on its own (was just sprinkled with salt and pepper) and the sauce really wasn’t distinguishable from a regular wine reduction.

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I expected some more flavor payoff from the semi-exotic ingredients (who keeps rhubarb around? ginger preserves? star anise?), but they just didn’t add much punch to the sauce. I seared the duck beautifully on the outside and the skin was beautifully crispy, but I could tell that it was still undercooked in the middle, so I tried to pop it into the microwave (Gross – I know, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures…) for just a few seconds to catch the middle up with the lovely outside, and of course, I turned it into a chewy, overcooked, rubbery, disgusting mess. The polenta was fine, but I added a little parmesan to it, which didn’t complement the sweet-ish sauce at all.

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Kid’s plate, with shaved parmesan on the polenta.
(The kids aren’t into having their foods all mixed together and didn’t want to try the sauce.)

The broccoli (frozen, but organic) was the best thing on the plate.
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It was a pretty plate (except for the gray-colored duck), but it tasted dreadful.