A little round-up of things sparkly and fierce to get you ready for the party (I'm basically a magpie with a credit card). All the big stores are having their after-Christmas sales, so why not splurge a little? (Your spend-less-money resolution doesn't kick in until Thursday anyway.)
Ring in the new year with a party dress you scored on sale (L-R, top to bottom): sequin skater dress; black dress with metallic bodice and fluffy skirt; beaded bodice dress; let-your-inner-Liza-Minelli-show dress; pretty paillette dress made from vintage deadstock. Or break free from the pack with a pair of sequined leggings (because leather leggings are so last year) (ugh except I still really want a pair).
1. The fat chunky gold glitter in this polish (named G-Old Money!) from ella + mila screams New Year's Eve. Add to that the fact that all their nail polishes are vegan and cruelty free, and there's no reason not to add this to your collection.
2. The touche eclat highlighter from Yves St. Laurent is universally beloved for the radiant glow it bestows, and now comes in a nifty leopard print case to glam up your vanity.
3. These mirrored gold loafers will get you from party to bar in style without killing your feet.
1. The brass and gold of these earrings from Baleen make them a New Year's Eve classic, and the art deco style brings some sophisticated glam.
2. I'm a fan of Josie Maran's products - vegan, organic, cruelty free (and also they look and feel great) - and just got this lip stain in Poppy Paradise, a hot pink that is perfect for New Year's Eve (or if you're more traditional, the Getaway Red is pretty stunning). The lasting power of the stain means your look stays perfect through round after round of champagne and all-night partying.
3. I was a life-long MAC Smoulder girl, until I met this drugstore steal. I love the inky color of L'Oreal's Silkissime black eyeliner, and it really does glide on like silk, and lasts all night to boot.
Finally, for the day after:
1. Prep a dish the night before - like Smitten Kitchen's spinach and cheese strata - that just requires you to pop it into the oven after you wake up, and your hungover self will thank you.
2. Revive your tired skin with this super moisturizing and nourishing yoghurt mask from Korres.
3. Coconut water is nature's Gatorade - and this stuff from Harmless Harvest is miles beyond the plastic-y flavorless stuff you normally find in stores (it's never heated, so it really does taste just like drinking from a fresh coconut), plus they have a business model focused on sustainability
And because it's not a party without something festive in your glass, refinery29 has a holiday cocktail recipe round-up for some inspiration - and don't forget the champagne!
Wishing everyone a happy and festive New Year's, and a sparkly 2015!
My Christmas contribution was the be-all end-all of gingerbreads. I even bought a new bundt pan for the occasion (this one, from Nordic Ware, which manufactures everything in the US and was awarded a Green Business distinction - on sale at A Cook's Companion, very solidly made and with a lovely finish).
Really good molasses is the key to this sticky, spicy wonder, and baking it fills the house with a lovely, warm, yuletide smell.
The recipe calls for a 1/4 tsp of ground cloves, which I forgot to bring with me, and a pinch of ground cardamom, which I couldn't find for the life of me (nor could I find whole cardamom - where has all the cardamom gone? Maybe the way of the cowboys . . . ). Instead, I just upped the other spices slightly and didn't miss a thing.
Start by bringing one cup of Guinness (or similar oatmeal stout) and one cup of dark molasses to a boil on the stove. Use a larger pot than you think you'll need, because the mixture will froth and foam and rise quite a bit.
Once it's bubbling, whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and remove from heat. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
In the meantime, assemble your dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and whatever spices you are using. Since I was without cloves and cardamom, that meant a heaping 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinammon, and nearly 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs, one cup brown sugar (I only had turbinado, so that's what I used), and one cup white sugar. Then add 3/4 cup vegetable oil, then the molasses mixture. Then add your dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
Then pour into your bundt pan, which has been thoroughly buttered and floured, bash a few times on the counter to remove any air bubbles, and pop into a 350 degree oven for fifty minutes.
Gooey, sticky, spicy perfection. Let cool a few minutes in the pan, then pop it out to cool.
Eat while still warm, maybe with a nice flurry of powdered sugar (it'll help conceal the spots of cake that stuck to the pan) and a friendly dollop of slightly sweetened fresh whipped cream.
Leftovers are not unwelcome for breakfast, either.
On Facebook, I've seen a couple people posting about 12 Days of Giving, highlighting different charities over the course of 12 days in an attempt to bring the holiday focus on giving and helping rather than buying and presents.
Along that vein, I wanted to dedicate this post to a couple of local organizations that may be a little lesser known and who are doing very good work and are ever in need of additional cash.
The following organizations are so big that everyone knows who they are, but I wanted to include them here too because of all the good they do:
*Giving print by Institute for Inner Peace Studies, available here.
This was my first time trying my hand at sufganiyot, the fried jelly doughnuts traditionally made and eaten at Hanukkah. Hannah and I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and will definitely be returning to it.
A couple of notes: our yeast/milk/sugar mixture never became foamy, but everything turned out just fine. We added the zest of a lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to our batter. And we used You're My Boy Blue-Berry Bourbon Jam (which we ordered from Good Eggs) (no, they're not paying me to keep saying they're name, I just love the company that much!), which was a perfect filler for our donuts.
Since we followed the recipe to a T, I'm not reprinting it here, but here's the pictures from our process.
After mixing the batter, I lightly oiled the bowl with canola oil and then put the dough back in so we could cover it and let it rise for an hour.
After our dough rose, we turned it out onto a lightly floured counter to roll it out.
Then we used a glass to cut out little rounds of dough.
The dough wasn't too sticky, and when cut into little sort-of balls was very pleasing - a nice weight and softness in your hand and very cute.
I mean, just look at that picture - aren't they sweet?
After cutting the dough, we dropped a tea towel over them to let them rise for another forty-five minutes.
The leftover scraps we saved to test the hot oil when frying (and then eat once fried - yum!).
We heated some vegetable oil in a cast iron pan to 350 degrees and then slid in the little dough pats.
We fried them to a nice golden brown and set them out on paper towels.
Once the dough was fried, I poked a hole in the side or top with a knife. Then I cut the tip off the corner of a plastic baggie filled with jam, inserted the corner into the little hole, and squeezed until a bit of jam would blurp out the side. (Obviously, if you have an actual pastry bag, this step will be easier.)
Then I doused them with a metric ton of powdered sugar (you could probably do with less if that top picture makes you sneeze).
Thanks, Hannah, for being my donut-making companion and Hanukkah hosting extraordinaire!
To make our latkes, Hannah and I relied upon this recipe from Tori Avey (formerly known as Shiksa in the Kitchen) with some tips from Serious Eats.
We started with five pounds of russet potatoes from Good Eggs. They were a lovely deep brown color, unlike the bland pale ones you get at a grocery store. We scrubbed and peeled them before grating them in the food processor.
After shredding, we covered the potatoes with cold water and let them sit while getting the rest of our ingredients together.
That meant dicing two pounds of yellow onions by hand (I'll admit, I cried a lot during this stage).
After draining as much water from the potatoes as we could by wringing them in cheesecloth, we added about a cup of bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of potato starch and a couple of beaten eggs to loosely bind everything, as well as plenty of salt and pepper.
This was my first time using bread crumbs - I would normally use matzoh meal, but we couldn't find any, and Serious Eats had warned us against using flour, so we went with the bread crumbs, which are sort of similar to matzoh meal anyway? It made for a rather loose bowl of potato shreds that fried up nice and crisp and delicious.
After combining our ingredients in a large bowl, we heated about 1/8 inch of vegetable oil in our cast iron pans and got to frying.
Fresh from the local farm apple sauce and sour cream made the perfect complement.
Crispy fried perfection.
Saturday night was the fifth night of Hanukkah, so we got together at Hannah and Brandon's to make latkes and sufganiyot, play dreidl, light candles, and listen to this amazing new classic.
We hung up Hanukkah-themed paper lanterns we'd picked up last year at Party City, as well as a menorah sign on the front door.
Gelt and dreidls decorated the dinner table.
More dreidls on the coffee table, along with rugelach we ordered from Good Eggs.
Vivian brought over a challah she made from scratch (it was delicious!).
I made a salad of butter lettuce, thinly sliced fennel, supremed blood oranges and grapefruit, and blue cheese. Juice from the citrus and zest from a blood orange made it into the vinaigrette.
And Hannah used this Ottolenghi recipe to make succulent roasted chicken with oranges, fennel and ouzo.
Of course, there were also plenty of latkes and deep-fried jelly doughnuts - I'll post the recipes later this week. It was, all in all, a very civilized and small affair (dramatically scaled down, in both guest list and menu, from last year's party), and a lovely way to celebrate the festival of lights.
It's that time of year for gift guides and crazy sales, so here's mine.
I lived in Williamsburg for four years and was always a fan of Whisk, a local kitchen and cooking supply store on Bedford Avenue. Going there was such a treat and a splurge, and they managed to pack a ton into not-that-big of a space (so does my new love and neighbor, A Cook's Companion).
So in the spirit of Small Business Saturday (yes, I know that was weeks ago, but we can still shop local), I went through Whisk's web site and picked out a few favorites that I wouldn't hesitate to make space for in my kitchen.
For starters, you can never have too many tea towels, and these by Claudia Pearson - featuring my beloved borough and herbs from the Greenmarket - are just darling.
When I moved into my old apartment in Park Slope, J bought me a beautiful chef's knife as a housewarming gift, and for my last birthday, Vivian very generously gave me an amazing Wusthof blade, so I'm squared away in the general chopping and slicing department (and am also one very lucky gal).
Now that that's taken care of, I could use a serrated knife for slicing bread and tomatoes and other more delicate things, and a place to store these sharp, sharp things - like this wall-mounted knife strip.
The more we eat salads (getting inspiration from recipes like this one, poured over a lovely heap of greens, or this one, or this one, or this one!) and other leafy green dishes, the more I pine for a salad spinner. I'm not saying I need a $50 salad spinner, per se - although this one by Oxo is certainly lovely.
Speaking of salads, I could use a salad bowl to toss and serve them in. I love the bright pop of color from this bamboo bowl, and as an added bonus, the bamboo it's made from is a sustainable resource.
Since I've started blogging and taking photos of my steps in the kitchen (not just the final product), I've found myself really wishing for some pretty mixing bowls. I didn't spring for any when I moved in because J had some that were perfectly serviceable, but they're not pretty. So first on the list of wants-but-not-needs are pretty mixing bowls. These glass ones are timeless and classic, and I'm also a sucker for navy striped anything.
I've been wanting to host a brunch party for ages (it would give me an excuse to make these delicious scones again), and if I got my hands on this darling little creamer, it might be just the kick in the pants I need to brew up a big pot of coffee for guests. (They also have a cat creamer! And a dog! And a dinosaur! I may need one of each.)
Why do I not have a cake stand yet? Seriously, why? I adore the mod-retro feel of this pretty jade one.
I could keep going and going - their whole store is enchanting. Instead of linking to every item they sell, I'll stop here and promise a free cake to anyone who buys me that cake stand.
Growing up, my Mom's friends had a yearly Christmas cookie swap party, and every year I looked forward to the wealth of treats she brought home (a particular favorite was the stained glass cookie - a sugar cookie with candies melted into a hole in the center, creating a colorful glass-like appearance).
It became tradition for Mom to make her mandelbrot - a Jewish biscotti (Serious Eats posted a recipe here) that she especially loved when stuffed with the dried candied fruit more frequently associated with the dreaded fruitcake. (I don't know if that's a traditional thing or not, her version is the only one I've seen like that, so I'm guessing not).
I couldn't bring myself to make a candied fruit mandelbrot, but I also couldn't make anyone else's mandelbrot recipe. So I settled for this gingerbread biscotti recipe from Smitten Kitchen. She describes it as lightly spiced; I'm a little more aggressive - and, ok, accidentally dumped way too much ground clove into the bowl, so had to up the other spices to balance it out, and I think I like the end result better.
Start by preheating oven to 350 degrees and covering a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, I mixed together two cups and two tablespoons of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, three teaspoons of cinnamon, three teaspoons of ginger, one teaspoon of clove, and a few twists of fresh black pepper. If you're using unsalted butter, here's where you would throw in some salt.
In another bowl, I creamed together 7 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar. Then I mixed in two eggs and some vanilla extract (the recipe calls for two teaspoons, and despite sitting down to write this only three hours after pulling these cookies out of the oven, I can't for the life of me recall what I did. It'll probably come to me a few hours after I've posted this and I'll feel like a dunce. Let's just assume I went with the called-for two teaspoons).
Next, add wet ingredients to dry and mix thoroughly; I also added about one cup of semisweet chocolate chips. It took some time for my dough to become fully incorporated, and eventually I discarded tools and went in with my hands (a cook's best tool, they say). The dough was pretty dry and soft - which makes sense, these are denser and drier cookies than say your regular chocolate chip, so the dough won't have the same texture or wetness.
Next, divide the dough in two and form in long, flat logs. Brush with one egg white - beat the egg white first so that it's not just a giant glob that you can't brush evenly onto the cookie dough logs. Then pop in oven for 25 minutes.
After my logs came out of the oven, I let them sit on the counter just until they were cool enough to handle. They were cooked through but still soft and springy.
Once they had cooled, I transferred the logs to a cutting board and sliced them on the diagonal into strips as thick as the ones you see above - I guess they ended up being maybe about an inch thick.
Next, I dusted each both cut sides of each cookie with cinnamon sugar (1/3 cup white sugar with one tablespoon cinnamon - it made way too much, and I would probably skip this step next time as I don't think it added much and it also didn't really adhere to the cookie. Maybe another egg wash or some melted butter would help it stick, or add it before you do the first bake).
Then the cookies went back into the oven to back for twelve minutes on one side, and about ten on the other. They weren't completely hard and crunchy when they came out, so if you prefer that you could bake a little longer, but I liked them as they were.
And they went perfectly with a hot mug of tea and a Sunday afternoon Netflix binge.
(Apologies in advance: this post is basically the blogging equivalent of the non-stop Christmas carols you hear at the mall which everyone hates but I secretly love. There, you've been warned. I'm sorry for any cavities that may ensue.)
Growing up, there was an ice cream place right by the harbor that had the best ice cream, but there were only two flavors I cared about: the bright blue bubblegum ice cream, with actual gumballs frozen and buried throughout; and the cheerfully pink peppermint candy cane. Walking through the Heights the other day, I had the strongest craving for that peppermint candy cane ice cream - nevermind the recent snow storm and the thirty-something degree weather.
While Christmas ice cream makes more sense in Southern California than New York, in the spirit of that craving, I thought I would share some of my favorite holiday treats - the things that I look forward to all year round and which really put a festive spring in my step.
(And if you do feel inclined to create your own peppermint ice cream, the photo above is from Simply Recipes, which used a David Lebovitz recipe. It's much lower on the artificial coloring quotient than the ice cream of my childhood, but it still looks good.)
Pfeffernusse cookies: I don't know how this Jewish girl from Orange County developed such a fondness for a German Christmas cookie, but there you have it. I always end up buying a box every year, but The Kitchn shared a recipe that makes a homemade version seem simple enough.
Panetonne: Similarly, I don't know how my mother - who is Chinese and was raised in Peru - grew to love this Italian Christmas bread, studded with dried fruits, but she was obsessed. Every year she has to have it, and I never pass a display of panetonne without thinking of her. I've never tried making it myself, but here's a round-up of recipes incorporating panettone into other dishes, including a bread pudding that sounds amazing (pictured).
Trader Joe's Peppermint Pretzel Slims: They are the perfect blend of salty and sweet, and their crunch is addicting. I could easily inhale an entire package in one sitting, which is why I have to stock up as soon as these hit the shelves.
Better than Bailey's Hot Chocolate: My grandmother was fond of Bailey's, and I remember after big family meals, when the plates had been cleared and conversation had slowed as we patted our over-full bellies, she would try to get my mom and aunts to drink some Bailey's with her. One year when I was in high school she wasn't getting any takers, so she eventually turned to me - my mom intervened and declined on my behalf, and I'll always regret not getting a little schnockered with my grandma.
In her honor, then, is this recipe from Serious Eats for a spiked hot chocolate. It's more involved then your standard packet of Swiss Miss with booze stirred in, but if you feel like investing the effort, it looks delicious. And what could be more inviting on a cold wintry night than a steaming mug of boozy hot chocolate?
Nutmeg Maple Cream Pie: This is a new favorite, from Smitten Kitchen. I made it last year and have been itching to make it again (J vetoed it for Thanksgiving since we already had pumpkin and apple and three pies for five people was too many - in his opinion - I say you can never have too much pie). It is a breeze to make and just so, so good.
Starbucks holiday lattes: I saved this 'til the end because I thought if you saw this first, you might just stop reading. I know the green mermaid is ubiquitous, and you may be rolling your eyes at me right now, but (begin playing Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" - haters gonna hate) I get excited for the red cups. There's something soothing about these sugar bombs, and they're definitely in the spirit of holiday over-indulgence. I know it's all manufactured and artificial and corporate and whatever whatever, but a peppermint mocha latte break turns another grey and freezing day at work into something a little brighter.
What treats make your holiday season complete?
I saw the lead photo for this recipe on Smitten Kitchen (hers came out much prettier than mine), and was instantly sold. On top of that, we had some leftover sweet potatoes after Thanksgiving, and after our indulgences in Los Angeles (and then a dinner at Briskettown upon return), and I was ready for something simpler and wholesome.
Here, the sweet potatoes really shine. It's a little dressed up for a midweek affair, but the few extra steps look showier than the effort involved really warrants, and it's a pretty tasty result.
I started with four sweet potatoes, probably about a pound or so each. It's obviously easier if you use spuds that are relatively similar in size and shape, but I used what I had.
Peel and then thinly slice the sweet potatoes. Also thinly slice a large shallot, or two medium-sized ones.
Next, I browned about two tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet. Once it was all bubbly and brown and nutty and delicious-smelling, I sprinkled in some sea salt and black pepper, then started layering the potatoes. I only had enough to build an outer ring, and then I laid a few flat down in the center. In between every four or five potato slices, I slipped a little bit of shallot.
In a separate bowl, I mixed another tablespoon of butter, about a tablespoon of honey, about a tablespoon of olive oil, and a teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes. If I had ancho chili powder or cayenne, I definitely would have added that in here too. Nutmeg would make another good addition, and if you had maple syrup instead of honey, all the better. I mixed that together, and once the sweet potatoes and shallots had been assembled, I brushed the butter-honey-etc. mixture all over them.
Then covered the whole thing with foil and popped in a 400 degree oven for about forty minutes; then took off the foil, cranked the heat to 450 (as recommended by Smitten Kitchen), and managed to last about ten minutes before I couldn't wait anymore. Smitten Kitchen recommends twenty minutes, to get a nice crispy top on the potatoes, and that would probably be pretty delicious if you can hold out that long.
Instead, I scooped mine into a bowl (making sure to get that sticky buttery sauce from the bottom of the skillet), and sprinkled with some Italian parsley.