Cream Cheese and Red Sauce for #tbtfood, Holiday Edition

red sauce1crop

Every year that we were in town for Christmas and not at Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray’s in New Jersey, we went to Queenie and Ivan’s Christmas Eve Party. And an epic party it was. Adults wearing everything from tacky holiday sweaters to long dresses adorned with crystals talked and laughed; drank and ate. And drank. It was a loud party; it was a fabulous party; it was a delicious party. It was the kind of party where, even if you only saw these folks once a year at the party, you brought them a little Christmas treat. As little kids, we all played together almost every day anyway. At the Christmas party, we just played in nicer clothes. As we got older and went away to college, we kids would carve out a space in the downstairs rec room and pull up chairs. We’d catch up, first with sodas and then over beer and wine. The Christmas Eve Party was our touchstone.

Everyone brought food. All the women and some of the men had their specialties that had to make an appearance lest they not be invited back the next year. My mom made cheese olive puffs. Queenie made Nuts & Bolts–the real kind, back before crazy fake blends of crackers were sold as “Party Mix.” Ivan’s mom Ethel made vegetable sandwiches. Incidentally, I’m in charge of the vegetable sandwiches now since Ethel died this year. I will endeavor to do her proud. Queenie often made those fantastic little ham and cheese “biscuits,” the kind with the poppy seed and mustard spread.

And then there was red sauce. I don’t know if there was one specific person in charge of making it since it was a neighborhood recipe. I have no idea who first came up with this stuff, but if I did, I’d give them a big old kiss.

Wow, that good, huh? Show!

Edible Holiday Centerpieces Round Up: Buche de Noel and More!

Edible Holiday Centerpieces

I grew up in a family where the centerpiece of the table was most likely some silk flowers or maybe some plastic holly with candles sticking out of it. But man, nothing really says “abundance” like edible holiday centerpieces: anything from bowls of fruits and nuts artfully arranged to more elaborate confections: a beautifully decorated cake, gingerbread houses, bûche de Noël, croquembouche. Once you finish your meal, just slice up your centerpiece and have it for dessert.

Today, I’m bringing you a round up of edible holiday centerpieces, specifically bûche de Noël (bûches de Noël?). I think some people are a bit intimidated by the thought of making a bûche de Noël, especially the cake-rolling-up part. Once that part is behind you (and honestly, it doesn’t matter one little bit if it cracks some as you start to roll), it’s all about the decoration. So here’s a round up of some beautiful, creative edible holiday bûche de Noël centerpieces.

Note that while some of these are decorated to look like realistic logs, many are just evocative because of the shape of the cake. No need to get stressed out if you’re not crafty–just decorate yours in a way that reflects your own aesthetic.

Show me! I need some inspiration!

Holiday Brown Butter Carrot Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

holiday carrot cake 2crop

I met a pastry guy on twitter a couple of weeks ago. One of my fans made my oatmeal beer bread into rolls in her Dutch oven, and I tweeted the photo she sent me. And that’s when I met the pastry guy. He responded that the rolls looked great. Then I said that I love it when folks make my recipes. Then he said that he does too. And then somehow, I found myself accepting a pastry challenge from Ryan Kurr, pastry dude and author in Chicago. He just self-published Sugar Burn: The Not So Hot Side of the Sweet Kitchen, his account of working in acclaimed pastry kitchens in Chicago and what he learned from those experiences. If you want to know what it’s like to work in a professional kitchen–the unvarnished, non Food Network truth–check out his book!

Anyway, that’s how I found myself sending a virtual stranger (now virtual friend!) my post for Pumpkin Caramel Latte Flan and receiving an email with his recipe for carrot cake. This isn’t just any carrot cake either. This is a browned butter-coconut oil carrot cake. One made with a braising liquid. No, you don’t braise the cake. You braise an orange in some spiced simple syrup and then use that liquid in the cake.

Fun! And the cake sounds fabulous!

Chocolate Buche de Noel with Cran-Raspberry Mascarpone Cream

chocolate buche de noel

I have not always been a good baker. I was, for a long time, a barely competent baker who followed a recipe down to the sixteenth teaspoon of fairy tears called for. I would search high and low for fairy tears, and if I couldn’t find them, I’d try and find a reasonable substitute. One time I needed 1/4 cup of creme fraiche for something or other. These days, I’d either make my own or not sweat it and use cream or sour cream. Or yogurt. But back then, I pounded up and down the linoleum tiles in front of the dairy section searching for the stuff until I wore a groove in the floor. I finally asked a grown up wearing an official shirt about what to use as a substitute. He conferred with another grown up, and they decided that my best bet was to combine cream cheese, cream and sour cream. So I bought those items so I could use about a tablespoon of each. Lord.

Years ago, when I still lived in a little crack house duplex, I decided I would make a buche de Noel for our family’s Christmas dessert. Of course, I knew we’d also be having plum pudding and trifle, but I wanted to contribute, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I was wrong.

Two crumbled chocolate “jelly roll” cakes later, I decided to throw in the towel and just make a Yule Stump with regular layers. This posed another problem. The cake recipe told me to use what I now know to be the two-stage mixing method. I did a terrible job with the mixing, partly because I didn’t understand how the method worked and sort of thought that the folks who wrote it needed a good smack for not having me “cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.” Two peaked, stupid chocolate rounds later, I found a different recipe that asked me to cream things together and made that. Around 3am on Christmas day. I iced that bad boy with some chocolate frosting and drew some of it out to look like roots, spread custard on the top for the wood part and made a thin spiral of chocolate for the rings. I tucked in some plastic holly and some cocoa-dusted meringue mushrooms and slapped it defiantly on our Christmas table. I swear I looked like I had lived through The Lost Weekend. The cake tasted like desperation, but damn was it festive.

Well, this guy is lovely. Show me how to make it.

Unique Gifts for Food Lovers

unique gifts for food lovers

I love an Amazon affiliate link as much as the next person, but sometimes Amazon doesn’t carry the really cool stuff. The unique gifts for food lovers, bakers and cooks made by folks who had a great idea and a successful kickstarter campaign or who just buckled down and made their business dreams come true. I want to highlight some of those folks today for you. No Amazon affiliate links, just links to some small businesses who make some seriously cool and unique gifts for the bakers and cooks in your life.

How cool! Show me what you found!

Delightfulls Caramel Apple Pecan Blondies

caramel apple pecan blondies

I was thrilled–honestly, thrilled–when the Nestlé® Toll House® folks contacted me to develop a recipe for their new Nestlé® Toll House® DelightFulls™ Filled Baking Morsels. I sent them my shipping address and waited rather impatiently for my goodies to arrive.

Delightfulls come in four flavors: Peanut Butter-Filled, Cherry-Filled, Caramel-Filled and Mint-Filled. The lovelies at Nestlé sent me two bags each of Caramel-Filled and Mint-Filled Toll House Delightfulls, and I immediately ripped open one of each bag. Each chip is just a bit bigger than a standard Toll House chip–just big enough to stuff another delicious flavor inside. I received two bags each of the Caramel-Filled Toll House Delightfulls and the Mint-Filled ones. The mint ones I’ve been eating out of hand, and they are delicious. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be baking with them as well. I am picturing a grasshopper-type cheesecake.

Sounds…Delightfull! What did you make?

Orange Ricotta Mascarpone Cheesecake with Cranberry Puree and Whipped Mascarpone Cream

orange ricotta mascarpone cheesecake 2crop

I love cheesecake. I could eat my weight in cheesecake. That’s why I rarely make it, because bad things would happen. I am weak in the face of cheesecake, and I know my limitations.

But, it’s The Holidays. And holiday calories don’t count, especially if you don’t cut the dessert into slices but just take little bites off the entire thing. I read it on the Internet. Also, if I put a clothespin on my nose so I can’t smell the cheesecake while I eat it, then it will help me lose weight. I’m pretty sure I read that on the Internet too.

Stop babbling and give me the cheesecake!

Old Neighborhood Oatmeal Porter Oatmeal Beer Bread

oatmeal beer bread 2crop

The Beloved and I stopped by the Crafty Beer Shop when we were at Lafayette Village this weekend. I was looking for some beer to bake with, and as soon as I saw the Old Neighborhood Oatmeal Porter from Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, this whole post appeared before me. Honestly. I knew exactly what I was going to say. And make. An oatmeal beer bread made with oatmeal porter. Not a quick bread, but a yeast-raised beer bread, malty bittersweet to marry beautifully with oatmeal and the oatmeal porter. Like most of my breads, this oatmeal beer bread is made using a modified straight dough method: mix the oatmeal, beer and half the flour into a batter and let it hang out so the oatmeal hydrates. Then, just toss in all the rest of the ingredients and knead away. You could absolutely put some raisins or dried currants in your batter to make a perfect morning toasting bread.

I want some. Now.

Coffee Pecan Tart | #ProgressiveEats

coffee pecan tart 1crop

I was so bummed out to miss last month’s Progressive Eats virtual progressive dinner, but I hope you caught my round-up of everyone else’s goodies. This month I’m back, and I’m really excited to be the host of this month’s Progressive Eats meal. Since the holidays are getting closer and closer every day, I thought we’d all bring you Great Holiday Desserts! There is something for everyone this month from cookies to tarts to cheesecakes. Each of them delicious and each more than worthy of finding a place on your holiday table. So, from our virtual tables to yours, I give you Progressive Eats: Great Holiday Desserts!

I had planned on making small tartlets for Barb’s cocktail party last month, so I’m bringing back my original idea but making it as a tart. Tartlets are perfect for eating out of hand as one mingles at a cocktail party, but I think a full-sized tart is a pretty spectacular presentation for the holidays. The hint of coffee in the filling tones down the often-too-sweet pecan filling and adds a lovely and sophisticated twist to a holiday classic. The shortcrust is sturdy and crumbly and would make fantastic tea cookies should you decide to try that sometime.

Bring on the desserts!

White and Wild Rice Stuffing with Dried Fruits and Kale | Pacific Merchants Giveaway

rice stuffing

I had every intention of making a yellow rice to show off the lovely pieces I received from Pacific Merchants. I could even see the photos in my head: brilliant, saffron-colored rice nestled against a white baker and cozy, warm, wooden bowls. Dotted with peas and cilantro. Because green equals healthy. Then I read a tweet or a facebook update, I don’t recall which, about a rice-based stuffing, and I immediately scrapped my old idea for this new one.

I love it when you get ideas! Plus I hear there is a very keen giveaway!