Limoncello and A Few Other Homemade Gift Ideas

limoncello and cream

When my grandmother was alive, I learned to be careful with my words, especially when paying any compliments.

If I told her I liked her raincoat, five minutes later she would have snuck it into the trunk of my car. If I admired her olive bowl, I would later find it wrapped in paper tucked in my suitcase. If I spent too long thumbing through one of her cookbooks, it soon would be mine.

I was reminded of this feeling earlier this month when Ben and I spent the morning at our friend Jim’s mother’s house learning how to make prosciutto. Before we began, Antonietta showed us the cold room of her basement, where prosciutto, capicola and week-old sausages hung from the ceiling, homemade wine aging in carboys lined the perimeter, and mason jars of homemade tomato sauce, roasted peppers and pickled vegetables filled a closet floor to ceiling.

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Grand Marnier Chocolate Truffles

grand marnier chocolate truffles

After serving a delectable Thanksgiving Eve dinner of cedar-plank grilled arctic char and roasted Brussels sprouts, my mother and aunt poured coffee and passed around plates of these Grand Marnier chocolate truffles, a party trick they learned from their mother, something they always have on hand this time of year.

A cup of coffee, a boozy bite of chocolate — is there a better way to end (start?) the day? This time of year especially, when there never seems to be enough time, having a stash of truffles in the cupboard has been known, in our family at least, to save the day. Truffles make a simple dessert, an elegant homemade gift, a festive treat to break out at impromptu gatherings. One batch, which yields at least 3 dozen, can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge. Just be sure to bring them to room temperature before serving.

Easy to make and pretty to boot, what’s not to love? My gramma taught her daughters well. [Read more…]

Making Pie Dough? Watch This Video. // Also, Two-Month Free Membership to Salted

just-baked chess pie

A few weeks ago I received an email from the founder of Salted, a recently launched online cooking school designed for home cooks, comprised of videos from over 50 master chefs across the country.

Jeff Appelbaum, the founder, wondered if I or you, my Readers, might find this type of content helpful, and last week, after watching just a handful of tutorials, I emailed him back immediately: yes, absolutely, who wouldn’t want to watch Roy Choi of Kogi Truck fame make a stir-fried rice-and-beef bowl? or the pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern make apple crisp and cream biscuits? or Daniel Holzman make meatballs?

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Ronnie Hollingsworth’s Most Excellent Squash Pie // A Few Ideas for Thanksgiving

butternut squash pie

May through September, it never crosses my mind to open a can of fruit to make a pie. But as soon as October rolls around, it never crosses my mind not to open a can to make my favorite pies and quick breads and muffins. Is this odd?

I hadn’t thought about it till last week, and the truth is that I had no intention of mastering pumpkin pie from scratch — using canned pumpkin never bothered me. Besides, last Thanksgiving I made Ina Garten’s pumpkin pie from Foolproof, and everyone, high on punch or otherwise, raved.

And I would have made it again had I not read The Dirty Life and been directed by one of you (thank you, Laurie!) to Ronnie Hollingsworth’s Most Excellent Squash Pie, one of four recipes printed at the back of the book. In the preface to the recipe, Kristin Kimball sold me: “Pumpkin shmumpkin, winter squash has more flavor and better texture.” She likes butternut best.

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AK Cookies

chocolate chip cookies

I need a cookie. You?

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Homemade Fluff, Bruléed or Not

hot cocoa with bruléed fluff

Upon returning from NYC, I headed straight to Lowe’s to purchase a blowtorch and a one-pound tank of propane gas. On my way home, I stopped at the Co-op for Fluff and a pint of dulce de leche ice cream.

Lest you worry I’m embarking on some sort of dark, emotional journey, let me remind you about that sundae my friend and I split at Ichabod’s a few weeks ago: homemade vanilla ice cream, pretzel bits, salted caramel, bruléed marshmallow. The bruléed marshmallow, it turns out, was Fluff, which got torched just before serving.

As you might imagine, I felt a little tormented purchasing the Fluff. I avoided looking at the ingredient list for days, choosing an ignorance-is-bliss approach to enjoying my daily -Fluff topped hot cocoa and ice cream sundae. [Read more…]

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake with Booze and Coffee, Plus Two Fair Trade Giveaways

Nigella Lawson's dense chocolate loaf cake with brandy and coffee

Nigella Lawson’s recipe for dense chocolate loaf cafe, well traversed in the blogosphere, needs no tinkering. Moist, rich, tender, chocolatey — what’s to improve?

Well, when my box of Fair Trade treats arrived, and I saw the bag of coffee and chocolate nestled together, I couldn’t help think that coffee, known to heighten the flavor of chocolate without imparting much coffee flavor at all, might make a subtle difference. And because a splash of booze is often a nice addition to quick breads/loaf cakes, what would be the harm in replacing the final two tablespoons of water with brandy? And because every cake needs a pinch of salt, a pinch of salt would be added, too.

The result? Intense chocolate, subtle coffee and booze, perfect sweetness, complete deliciousness. This cake gets better by the day and is as impossible to resist with morning coffee as with postprandial cordials. Coffee, booze, salt — somehow I think you (and Nigella) would approve. [Read more…]

German Peach Pie with Brown Butter & Walnuts

german peach pie and ice cream

A few weeks ago, in the daily cooking newsletter from the NY Times, Kim Severson discussed the joys of cooking with friends, the benefits of learning from others, the potential discoveries that might be made, such as peach and blackberry crisp, “whose luscious secret, borrowed from the pastry chef Nancy Silverton, [is] four tablespoons of butter browned in a saucepan with a vanilla bean poured over the fruit before the sugar and nut topping [goes] on.”

No recipe was provided, and I couldn’t find an exact match with my googling, but I think the point is that you don’t need a recipe here. Every bubbling-fruit, crumb-topped concoction you make can be adapted to have vanilla bean-flecked brown butter.

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Rhubarb Schnapps | Rhubarb Cake

rhubarb schnapps

Every spring this happens: I blink, and rhubarb season passes. And in one second, my to-make list of rhubarb recipes dissolves, my thoughts shifting to stone fruits and no-cook dinners and popsicles. Before we know it, it will be the Fourth of July, and I, my mother’s daughter, will be declaring summer over. Ugh, depressing.

I think I might, however, have a solution to these time-passing-too-quickly woes: rhubarb schnapps, a mixture of chopped rhubarb, sugar and vodka, the cheapest you can find, Nigella insists. Sounds like a win, right?

Let’s hope. Unfortunately, this is another one of those recipes whose success I cannot guarantee. In six weeks, I will report back, but as with the lemons, won’t it be more fun come mid-July to open our Mason jars together?

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Orange & Chocolate | Fair Trade Giveaway

loaf of coffee cake

It took 32 years for me to start listening to my mother. I’m only just beginning to understand how annoying this must have been, only just appreciating how many gray hairs I may have caused, only just accepting how many wrinkles I may have induced.

The other day I asked Ella (my four-year old) to help me pick up a mess she created, and she said: “Um, you can just do it all by yourself.” I’ve read enough self-help parenting books to know that freaking out is not the appropriate reaction to this response, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to strangle her.

I have it in for me. Every time Ella yells: “No Mom, I’m telling you a question!” I think of my poor mother and all the times she offered advice only to receive pushback.

Why was it so hard for me to just say, “Yes! Of course! That’s a great idea!” every time my mother told me to “Enunciate!” or to “Eat [my] greens!” or to “Put [my] shoulders back!”?

Why couldn’t I have just said, “You’re right,” when she told me the best chickens come from her kosher market, the best lamb from Australia?

Why couldn’t I have just smiled when she told me not to frown?

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