Dec 192012
 

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Dec 162012
 

eggnog_2012-12-15_06

Ahh, eggnog. What’s not to love? Aside from the cloying taste and extra-thick unnatural texture, that is. I also want to wail in despair whenever I read the ingredient list, as cheap, low-quality sweeteners are usually the second ingredient and it just goes down-hill from there. Luckily, those issues are easy to remedy by making this holiday treat at home.

I had long wanted to tackle this drink at home, but hadn’t dipped my toes in until this year, when I saw a great write-up on America’s Test Kitchen feed, and inspiration struck. So we headed to the market to get really good eggs, and you can imagine what happened from there.

Yesterday was a very Christmas-y day in our kitchen. I made my family’s gingerbread mini-muffins, and when the process was interrupted (as it invariably is these days) by the baby’s need to eat, The Hubs jumped into action and made the nog. So there were plenty of reasons to be merry in the house, and if you are looking for one to brighten up your own holiday, you can look no further!

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Nov 282009
 

Ok, seriously – does anyone actually cook the day after Thanksgiving??? Who isn’t sick of the inside of their kitchen by then? And aren’t the contents of your refrigerator quick to take away any reason for one to turn on the stove (except to reheat leftovers, of course)?
Well, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t as kitchen-adverse this Friday as I have been in the past.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to actually cook anything for lunch. The last thing I wanted was a plain turkey sandwich – I was craving something healthy (no surprise there, given the gluttony that took place the day before) and even though my Thanksgiving table is laden with far more veg than most (without having to resort to green bean casserole! Boo-yah!), I didn’t want to just nosh on leftovers. I’m all about re-inventing last night’s food whenever I get a chance, and when I spied the unused greens in my fridge that didn’t quite get turned into a salad with poached pears, candied nuts, gorgonzola, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I had my inspiration.

I scooped the spinach into a bowl, tore off chunks of turkey breast, added some leftover roasted butternut squash, topped it off with some juicy pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans, and finished it with a drizzle of shallot-cacao nib vinaigrette that had graced the roasted squash the night before.

Chances are you don’t have those exact ingredients on hand the day after Thanksgiving unless you stole my menu, but no worry, there are plenty of ways to make your own. Try using homemade cranberry sauce instead of pomegranate seeds or perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower instead of the squash. The point is that you’re only limited by your imagination. Unless you’re like me and you’ve already transformed your turkey leftovers into a steaming pot of delicious soup, chances are you still have plenty of food on hand with which to make your own creation. So go nuts and go fix yourself a salad while you’re waiting for me to get to the really good stuff: the Thanksgiving menu, plenty of food porn, and bread that flowed continually from the oven!

Who would eat a turkey sandwich when this beautiful and delicious gem was an option?
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Jan 242008
 

There is something about baking a pastry – a real, from-scratch, layered bit of flaky dough – that makes you feel like a total badass.

Let’s face it, pastries have a pretty formidable reputation. They’re certainly not in the “if you can boil water you can handle this” category. I’ve always had a huge soft spot for croissants, but there is another indulgence – the humble Danish pastry – that has a special, sentimental significance to me.

If there was ever a recipe for me to cut my pastry chef teeth on, this one had to be it.

Follow the yellow butter road
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See, this is another recipe that is near and dear to my heart. Like beef burgundy, my family has been eating these delicacies around holidays since I can remember. Perhaps even more significant, my Mom has been eating them ever since she can remember. When she was a kid, her next-door neighbor (the eponymous Mrs. B) would bring them over each Christmas Eve so that their family could chow down on them the next day. Before my parents’ wedding, my Mom had a kitchen shower where the guests brought treasured recipes to give to her. Mrs. B brought this.

Dough coiled and ready to rise
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So when, as I mentioned earlier, Cory and I were in the midst of forging our own traditions, these little gems were so in. I made my very first batch sans supervision this last Christmas (my previous foray being the year before when my Mom was visiting for Thanksgiving) and on the morning of Cory and I ate like royalty, feasting on the light, fluffy, and delicate (both in flavor and texture) yumminess.

Pastries glazed, baked, and cooled
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I will warn that this is not the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. In fact, if you lack the proper patience it’s probably actually the hardest I’ve shared thus far. So with that in mind, use a light hand when folding the dough – you don’t want to tear it. If it happens, don’t hesitate to pinch the dough closed and put the dough in the fridge since it will start oozing butter. So take your time, enjoy being a real-life badass pastry chef, and enjoy the end result even more!

A pastry close up
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Jan 162008
 

I may have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with butternut squash. As soon as it hits the grocery store, I’m burrowing through recipes, writing down the weight of the squashes I’ll need in my upcoming cooking marathons, and re-inventing the stuff as much as I can.

Ready to face the heat
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Sadly, though, there are very few recipes for the stuff that don’t involve roasting. Not that I’m complaining – roasting is one of my favorite methods because it’s totally fuss-free and extremely adaptable – but sometimes I just want some texture with my squash!

Then the folks at Cafe Cacao (the erstwhile Scharffen Berger restaurant, now sadly defunct) came to the rescue: their first executive chef whipped up this recipe, which is just beyond flippin’ perfect. The nibs add not only just a bit of crunch, they also toss in a subtle chocolate flavor. Not a huge fan of unsweetened chocolate? Never fear, the squash provides that sweetness! This recipe is genius. Pure genius.

Scharffen Berger to the rescue!
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Can you see why I wanted to have the wedding rehearsal dinner there?
Skeptical about chocolate and squash? I’d like to clarify and say that Scharffen Berger nibs and Hersey’s have about as much in common as apples and baseball bats. Hersey’s (and other mass-marketed chocolate) are all about the sweet, sweet, sweet. There is not much chocolate to speak of. On the other hand, the nibs have a very warm, complex, nutty, fruity, vanilla-y, and above all, pure chocolate-y flavor. So throw caution to the wind and give this recipe a shot while the squash is still in season.

Squash and chocolate - an unlikely match made in heaven
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Jan 142008
 

Every year since I can remember, my family has eaten beef burgundy on Christmas Eve. The warm wine and beef flavors, served atop noodles, the meat perfectly tender… this is the food that memories are made of. Which is good, because it means that the substantial effort required to put this meal on the table is worth it. I mean, come on, this is a dish three days in the making – you know it has to be good. This recipe is like the poster child of the slow food movement.

The beef begins its long slow marinate
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Even though this year was the first that I’d ever enjoyed this meal on Christmas itself (it was our tradition to eat this on the Eve), this is the single dish that I associate the most with warm and cozy family dinners around the holidays. We often spent Christmas with extended family, but Christmas Eve was a smaller affair, and beef burgundy, with its warm and sensuous flavor, was the perfect dish for a more intimate setting.

Deliciousness is served
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Now that I’m all grown up, having married and struck out on my own, I find that I’m in a fun situation: I get to make my own traditions with Cory now. Not surprisingly, beef burgundy made the cut. We enjoyed our first Christmas as husband and wife huddled over a bowl (or two), eating the food that will tie the years of our lives together.

Every family deserves a beef burgundy of their own.

For the backpacker’s version of this recipe, scroll all the way to the bottom: it’s posted at the end of the traditional version of the recipe.

I don't want to wait another year to eat this again!
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Click for the recipe →

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