Easy Gift Ideas From Your Kitchen

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.

Irish Cream

Irish Cream

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

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

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.

Here are the links:  Chocolate Truffles, and, a bit  more savory , Chocolate Truffles with Bacon.

 

Vicki's Famous Peanut Brittle

Vicki’s Famous Peanut Brittle

Vicki’s Famous White and Dark Chocolate Bark (the feature picture) and Vicki’s Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle are other ideas.

The reasonably simple recipes are tailor-made for packing in tins and distributing amongst office mates.

May your days be merry and bright!

 

Yogurt and Fig Cake

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter as needed for greasing loaf pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup washed and diced figs, such as Black Mission Figs plus sliced whole figs for garnish, if desired
  • 1/4 cup fig preserves (other fruit marmalades may be substituted)

Instructions

  1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Generously butter metal loaf pan (apx. 9X5X3-inches). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Combine yogurt, sugar, eggs, orange zest and vanilla in large bowl; whisk until well-blended.
  3. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients. Using rubber spatula, fold in oil. Transfer batter to prepared pan and place pan on baking sheet. Place baking sheet in oven and bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes.
  4. Cool cake in an on rack 5 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Turn cake out onto rack. Turn cake upright on rack and cool completely.
  5. Stir fig preserves and 1 teaspoon water in small saucepan over medium heat. Brush 1/2 of hot preserves over cake. Arrange sliced figs on top of cake. Dollop remaining glaze over figs. Let cake cool and set.

Active time: 20 minutes

Baking time: 40-50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

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Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan with Caramel Sauce for Thanksgiving!

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 four ramekins and one pie mold, that can be sliced.

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’s Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, and  Abeula’s Pumpkin 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).

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...

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.

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 mixed into the glaze is a masterful palate pleaser.

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.

Recipe: Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan

Ingredients

  • FOR THE CUSTARD
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • FOR THE CARAMEL
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crème of tartar (to prevent sugar syrups from crystallizing)
  • FOR THE GARNISH (OPTIONAL)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. To make the custard, in a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until combined. Whisk in sugar, milks, mascarpone or cream cheese, pumpkin, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. (If mascarpone or cream cheese don’t incorporate well, give it a few whirs in a food processor.) Stir to release air bubbles. Reserve.
  3. To make the caramel, place sugar, water and crème of tartar in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and boil, without stirring, until caramel turns the color of apple cider, 6-8 minutes. Watch carefully as it is very easy to burn caramel. (At this time, you will also want to bring a separate pot of water to a low boil for the bain marie.)
  4. Remove caramel from heat and carefully pour mixture into mold or ramekin. Even a small bit of errant caramel may cause a bad burn. Swirl it around to coat entire bottom and sides. Let caramel cool and harden, 2-3 minutes.
  5. When caramel has hardened, pour custard into mold or ramekins.  Pour hot water into the baking dish so it cover 2/3’s of the mold or ramekins.
  6. Carefully place baking dish(es) on the center rack of oven. Bake until the center of the custard is set and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes.
  7. Remove from water bath and transfer to a rack until cool. Refrigerate 4-24 hours.
  8. To make the garnish, if using. in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, toss the pumpkin seeds with cardamom and honey. Line a cooking sheet with parchment paper and spread with seed mixture. Bake until seeds are toasty, 5-7 minutes. Cool.
  9. To plate the flan after it has been chilled: Shimmy a spatula around the sides of flam. Place a plate large enough to incorporate flan and hold firmly over flan. Flip the pan, and let flan slide onto plate, allowing caramel to drizzle over the top. For ramekins, do the same thing.
  10. Garnish with honeyed pumpkin seeds, if using, and serve.

* EQUIPMENT: You will need a pie pan, individual ramekins or another mold of your choice. You will also need a baking dish large enough to accommodate the mold or ramekins. It will be used as a bain marie for baking the custard in hot water.

 35 minutes to make the custard and caramel

45 minutes baking time

4-24 hours resting time in fridge

Number of servings (yield): 8-10 SERVINGS

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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Babcia’s Gołąbki–The Best Cabbage Rolls Ever!

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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 before rolling.

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 in prepared pan.

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. 

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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.

Recipe: Babcia’s Cabbage Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 large green cabbage*
  • Stuffing (recipe follows)
  • Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Chopped fresh dill for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill a pot that is large enough to accommodate cabbage head ¾ way full of heavily salted water. Place head in boiling water and cook 10-15 minutes or until outermost cabbage leaves are tender enough to remove. Remove from water and drain head in a colander. Do not pour out water from pot as inner cabbage will likely need more cooking time.
  3. When cool enough to handle, carefully peel away 12-14 of the outermost leaves. (Note that you may have to peel the outer layers first and then return the cabbage to cook if the inner leaves can’t be removed with ease.) With paper towels or a clean cloth, pat leaves dry.
  4. To facilitate rolling the leaf, with a sharp knife, cut out tough vein from the center of leaf. Depending on the size of the leaf, place 1-2 tablespoons of stuffing in the center of each leaf. Beginning at what was once the stem end, tuck in sides of leaf and roll up to completely encase stuffing. Continue in this manner until you’ve filled 12-14 leaves. Any extra filling may be rolled into meatballs and cooked alongside leaves in the sauce. Coarsely chop the remaining cabbage.
  5. Select 1-2 casserole dishes large enough to accommodate the cabbage rolls and sauce. Place chopped cabbage at the bottom of the dishes. (This will keep the bottom of the rolls from burning.) Place cabbage rolls, seam side down, atop cabbage in casserole(s). Ladle prepared tomato sauce over all of the cabbage rolls. Cover with non-stick foil or foil covered with cooking oil spray. This will keep the foil from sticking to the sauce.
  6. Bake on center rack of oven 60-90 minutes or until cabbage rolls can be pierce with the prongs of a fork.
  7. When finished cooking, remove the stuffed cabbage leaves from the pan carefully with a spatula. Top the rolls with the tomato sauce, with grated black pepper and chopped dill, if using. Serve hot. Rolls may be refrigerated for 4 days or frozen and reheated before serving. Delicious served with mashed potatoes.

* You will need 12-16 medium-large intact leaves for the recipe, depending on the size of the leaf. If small cabbages are only available, purchase 2 heads. I found it easier to blanch the cabbage, remove the leaves, and re-blanch the leaves until just tender. I also tried freezing the cabbage to soften the leaves.That method didn’t work so well for me.

Active time: 55 minutes

Baking time: 60-90 minutes

Number of servings (yield): # 6-8 servings (12-16 rolls)

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

Recipe: STUFFING

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • ¾ pound ground beef (80/20 grind)
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice
  • ¼ cup minced shallot or onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 3 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, optional
  • ¾ cup sauerkraut, rinsed, drained and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ tablespoon Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1.  In a large bowl, beat egg.
  2. With a large spoon or fork, mix in ground meats, cooked rice, minced shallot or onion, chopped dill, fennel, if using, sauerkraut, tomato paste, paprika, salt and pepper. Mixture may be made up to 24 hours in advance.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

Recipe: TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 28 ounce tomato sauce
  • 14 ounces diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • ½ teaspoon allspice or cinnamon, fresh-grated preferred

Instructions

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, garlic and allspice. Bring to a low boil and then reduce to simmer.
  2. Simmer twenty to thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with additional vinegar or sugar, if desired. Tomato sauce may be made up to four days in advance.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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