December 2009

National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day

When I was younger, we always bought my mother some chocolate covered cherries for every occasion—her birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, you name it. It was because the entire family was under the impression that she loved chocolate covered cherries. It turns out that this story was once true, when she was a teenager—but she had since gotten so burned out on the decadent treat that she started hating them. It turns out that all of those boxes of chocolate and cherry goodness had actually ended up either re-gifted or thrown away!


One of the things about

Christmas and New Year celebrations I love about German traditions are the use of marzipan, sweetened almond paste. Marzipan is used in the form of chocolates, stollen with marzipan in the center, and made into decorative edible candies on cakes and as festive hostess gifts. Marzipan is one of those foods that are enormously ancient in terms of traditions, and enormously fun. I suspect most of those of us in North America who cook with marzipan, or almond paste, buy it in tubes at specialty food stores. In the middle ages, marzipan was wildly popular not only on its own merits as a sweet, but as a decorative item added to cakes, and as intrinsic parts of "subtleties"; elaborate food constructions that were models of other objects, meant to the center pieces at huge formal banquets.

Gourmet's Favorite Cookies, 1941-2008

The recently deceased Gourmet Magazine has kept up their website to a surprising extent, which makes me wonder if rumors of its death may have been greatly exaggerated.  But I digress.  Recently they went through their entire magazine archives, and pulled out their favorite cookie recipe for each year of the magazine's publication.  

(By the sounds of it, they actually bake and taste tested each recipe, then voted on the best for each year, which if you think about it must have been quite a formidable enterprise.  Did they do this after the layoffs?  Or is this something they had been working on for a while before the magazine was shuttered?  Or was it a labor of love among employees who knew they would soon have to hit the pavement, but wanted to get in one last group project?)

Popcorn Balls

These are tasty, lots of

fun to make, and it's a project that works very well with kids. You'll have an easier time of it if you have good candy thermometer, but if you're used to cooking with sugar-based candy, you'll probably be fine without one. The basic method for making popcorn balls is to pop about two cups of kernals, then to place the popped corn in a large lightly oiled bowl (to make clean up easier). You make a basic sugar and butter syrup, then pour it over the popcorn, with any flavorings you want, then, having oiled your hands with butter or oil, you press the popcorn into balls that are no larger than a small apple.

Holiday Potluck Favorites: Ambrosia Fruit Salad

I am convinced that ambrosia is one of those things that people pretend to like in an ironic fashion, in order to camouflage the fact that they actually like it.  Since it's not cool to admit that you like ambrosia salad, you have to pretend like you're eating it with ironic intent.  Everyone mocks ambrosia salad, but let me tell you, whenever I bring it to a potluck or group function, I always come home with an empty bowl.

There are two kinds of ambrosia salad: molded (or jumbled up with Jello) and mixed.  Molded salads take a lot more work (relatively speaking) and of course you have to have an attractive gelatin mold.  Who has the time or the gelatin mold collection, I ask you?  

Instant Pudding and Nostalgia Cuisine

Lately I've been feeling very nostalgic

about food. I wrote about making Orange Stuff for Thanksgiving, and that was very much in keeping with my nostalgic cooking obsession of late. I think the nostalgia is partly because it's the holiday season, and partly, the fact that I've been looking at older cookbooks quite a lot. Many cookbooks from the fifties and sixties feature recipes using brand name products like Jello, Carnation Milk, and nationally distributed cookies, crackers and soups. I grew up with a lot of those recipes, especially for things like pumpkin pie and fudge and other desserts.

Fudging It: Christmas Fudge Recipes

Fudge is such a classic Christmas and holiday treat, and it's one of those things that is delicious all out of proportion to the difficulty in making it.  Much like Rice Crispy treats!  Unlike most other candies, making fudge amounts to melting stuff, then pouring it into a pan until it sets.  No candy thermometer required!

I have always used the Carnation evaporated milk fudge recipe.  It's a classic!  It used to be that this recipe was reliably found printed on the inside of the label on the can of evaporated milk.  This is no longer the case.  

Orange Stuff, Jello and Nostalgia Cuisine

A friend and I a few weeks ago

got all nostalgic about the things our moms used to cook in the 1970s and the early eighties, particularly in the context of holidays, and church suppers and pot lucks and the like. I remember being envious of the kids whose mom made "Jello" salads on a regular basis, especially those who had copper-colored Jello molds in the the shape of leaping salmon, roosters, and elaborate geometric shapes hanging on the wall. My mom wasn't opposed to Jello, it just wasn't on the regular rotation. Sometimes in the summer though she'd put halved fresh Bing cherries in cherry Jello, which was nice, but the molded Jello salads weren't her thing.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is one of those "comfort food" desserts. Historically, it likely began as a convenient and tasty way to use up day-old and even stale bread. I note that as early as 1747 in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (p. 109) Hannah Glasse advises