A bottle of wine dressed up in a festive bag is the usual accessory when invited to a holiday gathering. But it’s fun to mix it up. With available time for most folks in such short supply, gifts from the kitchen are becoming a rare gem.
This gift idea is almost as simple as purchasing a bottle: make a riff on Bailey’s Irish Cream–the one perenially stocked in the liquor department.
I made my own Irish Cream, divided it between Bell Jars and put a plaid ribbon around the lip. I delivered it to some favorite cousins, who claim ancestry in the Emerald Isle. Here’s the recipe:
In a blender, combine 1-2 cups of Irish whiskey, 1, 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup, 2-3 teaspoons instant expresso (or coffee). Blend on high until combined. Stir in the cream until incorporated. Keep refrigerated and serve chilled. (Lasts as long as the expiration date on the cream that you used.)
Yogurt and Fig Cake
Something demanding more time, but a simple recipe all the same, is Yogurt and Fig Cake. (Featured in the recipe below.) A friend and incredible pastry chef, Anna Marie Ascher, once told me that the perfect cake is one you would enjoy eating for breakfast. This certainly meets that criteria.
I might add that the perfect cake for gifts is the size of a loaf pan and easily portable. When cool, wrap the cake in brown parchment paper (so that the topping doesn’t stick), tie with a bit of twine and stick a sprig of holly between the string and paper. Voila!
I can savor this cake for a good two weeks, if tightly wrapped and refrigerated. Try serving with a dollop of freshly whipped cream enhanced with a liqueur, such as Grand Marnier to complement the orange zest. It also freezes well up to a couple of months, ready to thaw when the occasion demands.
Chocolate Truffles with Bacon
Or step it up yet another notch and make your own chocolate truffles. Take a look at the recipes–they really aren’t as hard as you’d think. Craft shops carry small boxes that are perfect for these morsals.
Women that grew up in countries outside of the United States, immigrated to America as young adults, raised families and have grandkids, capture my imagination. They’ve escaped war, poverty and oppression, many bringing only the shirts on their back and the recipes from their homelands. And their stories? Makes my life look like a pony ride at a country fair.
The recipe yields about 10 servings. I made four ramekins and one mold, to be sliced into 6 pieces. Whatever works for you.. I’m serving it for 2 meals to different guests.
Having lived my adult life in a multi-cultural college town, I’ve befriended many of these women who’ve immigrated to the United States. And they’ve expanded my culinary horizons. Immeasurably.
I’ve posted hundreds of blogs borrowed from their memories through the years. Most recent posts–Babcia’sStuffed Cabbage Leaves, and Abeula’sPumpkin Flan below…these recipes are from my (semi) fictionalized Polish and Cuban grandmothers who express their love for their family with food.
I just received a comment on a recent cookie post. Julie was channelling her Belfast gran’s sage advise for making cookies, and sharing it with us. Thank you, Julie. Thank you, Gran! R.I.P.
To all of you–I’d love to hear your grandmother’s culinary words of wisdom. It’s some granny thing I’ve got going these days–makes me feel cuddled, safe and loved!
Molds must be baked in a water bath (bain marie).
Last week I posted that prior mentioned recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves. Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan, as well, needs advance thought and planning. Unless, of course, you are an Abuela, which is the Cuban endearment for grandmother. (Or Aubuelita, or Lita. Depending.) An Abuela can whip up a flan as fast as she can denounce Fidel’s dictatorship. Abuelo’s are greased lightening. Poetry in motion.
If you want to laugh out loud, seriously laugh out loud for four solid minutes, take a look at this YouTube. It compares a grandma raised in the American South to an Abuela raised in Cuba. Maybe it’s because I had Alabama grannies, whatever, but this was sidesplittingly funny to me.
Melting the sugar…
I asked my friend, Guillermo, whose mother was born and raised in Cuba, if this Abuela is a stereotype. I’ve met his mother, a lovely women, and she didn’t seem to fit the category. He said, indeed, his mother was not so easily pigeon-holed. But this YouTube’s rendering of a typical Abeula, from his experience with his Cuban family and friends was accurate, he said. And very amusing.
The caramel is ready! Careful! It can yield a nasty burn.
Back to flan. Not only have I been in Grandmother nostalgia land of late, I’ve also been craving pudding-ish desserts. Perhaps it’s the comforting texture. I adore Creme Brulée and Panna Cotta, yet, until now, haven’t made a custardy flan. Flan is enjoyed in various guises all over the world, most certainly Cuba.
Besides the ubiquitous Cuban Black Beans and Rice, flan commands center stage at the end of every meal, at every home and restaurant on the island. It can be dolled up with guava cheese, coconut, rum, pumpkin, or expresso. I”m thinking cranberry for next month? Nah. Just seems wrong.
The garnish is optional, but the cardamon flavors in the pumpkin seeds take the dish from delicious to extraordinary.
As I do with all recipes that tread foreign soil, I scrutinized many, many recipes for flans prior to making this. I made the first draft (the recipe below) and, honestly, can stop. Done. It doesn’t need another walk around the park. It is simply delicious. Especially with the optional garnish. Promise.
It’s a combination of half a dozen recipes from Cuban home kitchens that I found on-line. It will be the perfect finish to my Thanksgiving table, or rather two Thanksgiving tables (it’s complicated)–a creamy, lighter departure from the more traditional pumpkin pie.
So, friends, Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for you, dear readers, who enjoy this blog. I am thankful for the myriad folks from around the world who have found safe haven in the United States, and whose recipes have made their way into my kitchen. I am, especially, thankful for grandmothers.
You’ll find my favorite holiday recipes by clicking the gold holiday ball in the right hand column.
For me, the easiest way to collect tender leaves suitable for stuffing was to core the cabbage, and boil the head. Remove when the exterior leaves are tender,peel them off, then return the head to the pot.Continue in this vein. There are other ways, but this way worked best for me.
Disclaimer: This is not a recipe you can whip up in 30 minutes. This is a Polish Grandmother Recipe. And anyone who is a Polish Grandmother, or anyone who has a Polish Grandmother, or anyone (like me) who lives next door to a Polish Grandmother, knows that Polish Grandmother Recipes can’t be completed in less than thirty minutes.
But was my time spent on the following recipe worth it? I thought so. Absolutely. And so did my panel of expert eaters, who demanded the recipe. Here are some tips I learned in dividing up the prep for this recipe into manageable bites.
I made the tomato sauce a few days ahead, and the meat mixture 24 hours in advance. (I’ve also made the stuffed leaves and frozen them before baking. After a six week hiatus in the freezer, I thawed them, baked them and then enjoyed them.)
Cut out the tough center vein.
The only thing that I found to be a pain in the rear, was peeling off the cabbage leaves as they tenderized in boiling water. That’s a big head of cabbage to keep extracting and plopping back into boiling water. Wear rubber gloves.
My girlfriend, Janet disagrees. Says its easy. While boiling the cabbage, simply flick off the leaves and put them in a pan as they become tender. No need to keep removing the head from the water. I asked my friend if she had actually tried this flick method. She said, no, she saw it on TV. Martha Stewart makes the preparation of Molten Lava Cake look as easy as making a PB&J. You see my point.
Place rolled leaves seam side down.
Another Disclaimer: Your Polish Grandmother’s recipe for cabbage rolls may be different than mine. After all, my Polish Grandmother is fictional, a character in my next novel. And she’s passed away, at that. In the book, however, memories of her integrity influence her granddaughters as they struggle to keep their Detroit diner afloat. I made several different batches of cabbage leaves and decided that this recipe is what my Babcia makes. To my palate, as well as hers and her granddaughters, they are exquisite.
Before covering in foil and baking.
My next-door neighbor, Krystina, is a non-fiction, flesh and blood, Polish Grandmother who was raised in Poland. Her cabbage leaves are smaller, more delicate and have less stuffing and ingredients than the recipe below.
Delicious, most assuredly, but they are different. She tsk, tsked my recipe. Said they were too bulky. Hey! It’s a big world! You can’t pick a battle with a fictional Polish Grandmother! Especially one who’s passed away and is not able to defend herself. There’s plenty of room for every Polish Grandmother Recipe for cabbage rolls on the web.
By the way, it’s that time of year. You’ll find my favorite holiday recipes by clicking the gold holiday ball in the right hand column.
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