Tag Archives: Christmas

Eggnog Encore

I posted my recipe for eggnog back in 2010, but it’s so darn good that I’m posting it again. This recipe has been part of my Christmas for more than 25 years – an old welcome friend.

In the south, bourbon is the liquor of choice for eggnog but I’m squarely in the brandy and rum camp. This eggnog is pretty high-octane, but that’s part of its charm.

Don’t be put off by the instructions to heat up the egg/sugar/milk mixture. It’s easy enough to do with a bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and will make your eggs safe and your nog oh so creamy. You’ll need a thermometer for this step, but everyone should have a kitchen thermometer in their utensil drawer.

If you have eggnog lovers in your family or among your friends, they will want you to make this every year. If you’re the only one who loves eggnog, don’t miss out, make half a batch. You’ll be happy and festive.

Deirdre's Eggnog recipe from Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre’s Eggnog

You’ll need a mixer (or strong arms), saucepot (or double boiler), spatula, sieve, large bowl, whisk, an extra mixing bowl if you don’t feel like washing the original one, pitcher, and a rasp or grater for nutmeg.

  • 12 lage eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 cups milk, preferably whole
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups brandy
  • 2/3 cup Myers dark rum
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Nutmeg

Beat eggs until very pale, quite a long time. With beaters going, add sugar slowly until it’s all incorporated into the eggs. Add the milk while beating slowly.

Put the egg mixture into the top of a double boiler. Instead of a double boiler, I use my mixer’s stainless steel bowl on top of a saucepot. Don’t let the water in the bottom pot boil, just lightly simmer. If it boils, the eggs may cook a bit too much. I keep the bowl covered until the temperature approaches 140. Keep scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula so the eggs don’t cook. Heat until the temperature reaches 140 and then stays at or above 140 for 3 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 160, whichever comes first.

Once it reaches the temperature (either 140 for 3 minutes or 160), immediately remove from the heat and cool the bowl down for a little while in an ice bath. Strain mixture through a sieve into a larger bowl — I use the one that had the ice in it. This will remove any cooked bits of egg – no matter my vigilance, there always seems to be cooked bits. Whisk in the vanilla, brandy and rum.

In a mixer (or by hand), whip cream to the soft peak stage — when you pull out the beaters, the peak of cream curls over or flops a bit. Fold the cream into your nog. It will look clumpy, that’s fine, you’ll give it a good stir (or whisk) before serving.

Pour into a pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to chill a few hours. Or, if you can’t wait (it’s been known to happen), serve warm in mugs. Before serving, give it a good whisk or stir so the whipped cream blends in. Serve chilled in a festive glass. Top each glass with grated fresh nutmeg.

Yield – one gallon

Adapted from: Nat’s Eggnog, Gourmet, December 1985 (not published online)

Russian Teacakes

As long as I can remember, my mother has made Russian Teacakes at Christmas. She still does. I expect to see a container of them when I visit soon, if not I’ll make some.

Your family may have another name for these melt-in-your-mouth cookies — butterballs, snowballs, or Mexican wedding cakes. I think the Italians have a similar crescent-shaped cookie.

I don’t remember where I got this recipe. Because I wrote it on an index card, now nicely yellowed with age, I’m assuming it’s my mother’s. My recipe may have more almond extract than others because I love that almond flavor. Keep an eye on these cookies toward the end of baking. They can overcook and get a bit dry. 

These Christmas cookies make a great snack, dessert, or, if you must know, breakfast. Santa loves them too.

christmas cookies mexican wedding cakes butterballs snowballs

Russian Teacakes

Yield 48

 You’ll need two mixing bowls and a baking sheet.

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, sifted, plus more for coating the cookies
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped (or pecans)

Mix butter, sugar, almond and vanilla extract thoroughly. Sift together and stir in flour and salt. Mix in walnuts. Chill dough.

Preheat oven to 400. Roll dough into 1” balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet. The cookies won’t spread so you can put them close to each other. Bake until set but not brown, about 10-12 minutes. Tops and sides will be pale yellow and bottoms will be light tan.

While still warm, roll in confectioners sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again.

Italian Fig Cookies – Cucidati for Christmas

I love Italian cookies. My grandmother’s neighborhood in East Cambridge, Massachusetts had a fantastic Italian bakery, Royal Pastry Shop. Whenever we went to Grandma’s house, she would send out my Grandpa to get donuts, Italian cookies or Portuguese sweet bread. But the Italian cookies were always my favorite.

Even today, Italian cookies from Royal are bound to show up at a family event. My cousin even had them at her rehearsal dinner on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I’m hoping someone brings them to Christmas this year. But just in case, maybe I’ll make some of my own, starting with these fig cookies.

Every few years, I bake a lot of Christmas cookies. Last year was one of those years. I made these delicious Italian fig cookies along with several others. They take some time since you have to make candied orange peel – unless you’re lucky enough to find high-quality peel in a store. Plus, there’s the rolling and cutting. But, by gosh, they’re worth it. I made five different cookies last Christmas, and these were our favorites.

itlalian fig christmas cookies cucidati recipe

Italian Fig Cookies – Cucidati

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

You’ll need a vegetable peeler, small saucepan, tongs, food processor, plastic wrap, two baking sheets, parchment paper or Silpat, rolling pin, pastry brush,

Dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cold unsalted butter or 1/2 pound cold lard, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs

Filling

  • One 12-ounce package dried Calimyrna or Mission figs
  • 1/2 cup unblanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup plump golden raisins (rehydrate in hot water if necessary)
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced (see recipe below)
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt, for egg wash
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse just to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse 20 times. Add eggs and pulse until dough forms a ball on the blade. Remove from processor and knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface until smooth. Shape dough into a log and wrap in plastic.

Remove stems from figs and cut the figs into medium-size dice. Put figs and remaining filling ingredients into the food processor and pulse with the metal blade until finely chopped. Scrape filling onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead to blend it, and shape it into a rough log. Cut the log into 12 even pieces.

Position racks to divide oven into thirds and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough under your hands to form a 12-inch rope. Use a rolling pin to roll the rope into a 3- by 12-inch rectangle. Run a blunt knife under the dough to make certain it hasn’t stuck to the work surface and brush the top of the dough with egg wash.

Roll a piece of filling into a 12-inch rope and center it on the rolled-out dough. Pull the dough up around the filling, making a seam, and roll it into a cylinder, about 15 inches long. Cut them as long as you want.

Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Bake cookies for 15 minutes, or until a light golden color. Transfer to racks to cool.

Icing

  • 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Sift sugar then add milk slowly to form a soft, smooth icing. If icing gets too thick, microwave it for 10 seconds to thin it enough for dipping. Hold cookie in your hand and turn upside down so you can dip the top half in the glaze; turn over and place on pan. Do about six quickly then immediately top with sprinkles (nonpareils) so they will stick. Allow icing to harden overnight; then store in air-tight containers or freeze.

Original recipes: Cucidati (Italian Fig Cookies), Proud Italian Cook and Cucidati (Sicilian Fig-Filled Cookies), Nick Malgieri, Great Italian Desserts, page 198

Candied Orange Peel

  • 1 large navel orange
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Using a vegetable peeler, cut the orange part of the peel from the stem end of the orange down to the navel end, forming long 3/4 to 1-inch-wide strips.

Bring a heavy small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the peels and cook for 1 minute. Drain and then rinse the peels under cold water. Repeat cooking the peels in the saucepan with fresh boiling water and rinsing under cold water.

Stir the sugar and 1/2 cup of fresh water in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Add the orange peels and simmer over medium-low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the peels to a sheet of parchment paper to dry slightly, about 1 hour.

Original recipe: Candied Orange Peel, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network

Warm Up with Glühwein on Christmas Eve

When I lived in Sacramento, one of my favorite Christmas traditions was the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) at the Turn Verein, a German community center, in my old neighborhood. After browsing craft tables, buying a Christmas tree ornament, German Christmas cookies and maybe a sausage sandwich, I would make a visit to the glühwein stand.

Glühwein is a mulled spiced red wine fortified with a bit of liquor. There’s nothing better than a walk home on a chilly day with a steaming cup of glühwein in hand. I suppose that’s illegal but who’s to know. Besides, tis the season, officer.

This recipe is pretty flexible. I started long ago with a recipe that made gallons of glühwein. I cut back the ingredients, improvised a bit and ended up with this one. However, it’s different every year depending on the wine. Give it a taste after it’s heated up to decide if you want to add more spice, fruit or sugar.

Don’t go too cheap on your choice of wine; otherwise your glühwein could taste a bit vinegary when heated up. The less oak in your wine, the better for this recipe. I recommend Beaujolais, Garnarcha, Nero d’Avola, Pinot Noir, Syrah (Shiraz) or Zinfandel.

A crockpot of this makes the house smell like Christmas. It’s a great beverage to serve before dinner, at a party or just to warm up a chilly afternoon. I’ve stored leftover glühwein in the refrigerator for a day or two, covered, and heated it back up in a crockpot. Make some this afternoon and enjoy it as you wrap presents, make dinner and hang out with your loved ones.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

gluhwein mulled wine recipe christmas

flickr photo by flamesplash

Glühwein

  • 1.5 liters dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 cloves, whole
  • Optional – 2 crushed cardamom pods, 2 star anise
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp mace
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced

Set crock pot to low and pour in the wine. As it begins to warm, add the 1/2 cup sugar. If you have cheesecloth, enclose the spices in a square of cloth, tie it off and add to the pot, otherwise just drop them in. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the brandy, orange and lemon. Steep for about one hour over low heat.

Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if you wish, stirring well so it dissolves. Turn the crockpot to warm or turn off the heat completely, keeping it covered, until you’re ready to serve.

Serve hot. Ladle into glasses. I like footed glasses with handles (Irish coffee glasses). Garnish each glass with an orange slice, cinnamon stick and/or star anise pod.

Merry Christmas!

gluhwein mulled wine recipe christmas

photo by Leon Brocard

Serious Gingerbread

Gingerbread is the ideal counter cake. It sits on the counter and gets more and more delicious every day. Friends drop by during the holidays, you cut a few slices, and damn it’s good — intensely spiced, moist and tasty. It also goes really well with eggnog.

This recipe was developed by Claudia Fleming when she was the pastry chef at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern. The chef and the restaurant are respect-worthy. I have a penchant for cooking with beer so that’s another reason this recipe appealed to me.

When you inhale the aromas of the boiling beer and molasses, you know it’s going to be gingerbread unlike any other. It’s serious gingerbread. My choice of beer, a roasty and robust Highland Brewing’s Oatmeal Porter, gave a deep flavor to this hearty chewy cake. Pour a glass of nog or winter brew and enjoy!

gramercy tavern gingerbread baking recipe cake

photo by Natalie Herr at Oven Love

Serious Gingerbread

  • 1 cup oatmeal stout or porter, or regular stout or porter, like Sierra Nevada or Anchor — try to find an American microbrew stout or porter, otherwise, there’s always Guinness!
  • 1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground ginger (yes, tablespoons!)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch (or more) of ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously, and I mean generously, butter a 10-inch (10- to 12-cup) bundt pan and dust it with flour, knocking out the excess. Removing a cake from a bundt pan can be a nightmare unless you’ve greased your pan extremely well. Even then, sometimes the pan won’t cooperate.

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove it from the heat. The mixture will boil up once you whisk in the baking soda, so make sure your pan is large enough to prevent overflow. After you whisk in the baking soda, let it cool to room temperature.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs and sugars in another bowl. Whisk the oil into the eggs and sugars, then whisk in the molasses mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour the batter into the bundt pan and rap the pan sharply on the counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake in its pan on a rack for 5 minutes. If you’re able, carefully loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a slim knife or spatula. Turn out onto the rack and cool completely.

Serve the cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It’s even better if made a day ahead. The cake will keep three days, covered, at room temperature.

Original recipe: Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread, Gourmet, February 2000
Photo courtesy of Natalie Herr at Oven Love
gramercy tavern gingerbread cake baking recipe

Aschaffenburg Christmas market (flickr photo by herownjourney)

The Sunday Table: December 19, 2010

Sit down, let’s chat food. Sorry, the growler of Aviator King Rat Imperial Oatmeal Stout is kaput, but I made eggnog yesterday. Would you like me to pour you a glass? As always, there’s Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale chilling on the back porch.

Have you ever done Christmas shopping at the supermarket? Don’t laugh, on a Christmas Eve a few years ago I gathered the items for a football-watching gift basket at a Hannaford supermarket. My cousin loved it. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen shares some other last minute Christmas gifts you can find at the supermarket.

My friend Heather found this list by Adriana Velez of holiday gifts for foodies whom you loathe. World’s largest gummie worm? That’s the stuff of nightmares, shiver.

If a leftover sad-looking supermarket crudité tray crosses your path this holiday party season, don’t let someone toss it out. Take it home. Give it a new better life. Roast the vegetables! Why I never thought of this before, I’ll never know, but thank you Cheryl Sternman Rule for providing the recipe.

food cooking recipe foie gras christmas

photo by Ernesto Andrade (flickr/VirtualEm)

I love foie gras. I’m sorry if that offends any of you. I think. Maybe not. For budgetary and caloric reasons, I don’t indulge in foie gras very often, but the next time I do, as long as the foie is made in the USA, I’m fine with it. The Serious Eats team recently visited a foie gras farm in New York to see for themselves how the geese are raised, fed and killed. They assure us, “We are especially lucky, because we happen to live in a country where all of the foie produced is good foie.

This is hilarious. Denise Vivaldo is the women behind the recipes in a Sandra Lee cookbook. “I wrote and sold the recipe for the Kwanzaa cake to Sandra Lee and, while I’m confessing my soul, yes, for Christ’s sake, the Chanukah cake, too. There, I said it. Forgive me Father.

My Blackberry Storm is dying; it’s only a matter of time. I’m buying myself a Droid for Christmas, so these two posts are keepers for me. Brona Cosgrave shares her favorite mobile apps for the kitchen, and Carrie Kirby writes about apps for the grocery store.

I hope you all enjoy these next two weeks of Christmas. Keep the spirit of Santa Claus alive. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!

food cooking recipe gifts Christmas crudite

print from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery collection

Mince Pie

My mum and I are mincemeat pie lovers. Just a thin slice is the perfect dessert, or breakfast, at Christmas time. You can buy mincemeat in the jar, but it’s not that difficult to make your own.

Traditional mincemeat pies are made with beef or venison and suet. Suet is the fat found around the kidneys and loins. I know, that doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it adds richness. Mincemeat pies were first created to preserve meat, or whatever came home from the day’s hunt.

Some day I would like to make it that way, probably following the recipe in The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, but I’ve been using this Modern Mince Pie recipe since I first saw it in Bon Appetit. The only change I’ve made is the addition of walnuts. Instead of using the pie dough recipe they suggest, I make my ‘old faithful’ recipe from Elinor Klivans. It’s very forgiving and you can easily make it in a food processor. You could make a decorative top, like the star top I made a few Christmases ago, or just a plain top. Either way, it will be delicious and make your kitchen smell like Christmas.

mince mincemeat pie recipe Christmas

Mince pie, Christmas 2007

Mince Pie

  • 3 1/2 pounds small pippin apples (about 7), peeled, cored, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured (light) molasses
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange peel
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 pie crust dough disks (recipe below)
  • Flour for dusting
  • Milk and sugar, optional

Combine all ingredients (up to the pie crust dough disks) in a heavy large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook over low heat until apples are very tender and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool filling completely. This can be prepared up to one week ahead if covered and refrigerated.

Meanwhile make your dough using the recipe below.

Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Lightly dust your counter and rolling pin with flour, put your disk on the floured surface, sprinkle the top of the disk with a little flour and roll it out to an 11 or 12 inch diameter round (about 1/8 inch thick). If it’s larger, no problem, you can use any scraps to repair thin areas.

Make sure the top of your dough is dusted with flour, then lightly fold it over in half and then again. Transfer this quarter wedge to a 9 inch diameter glass pie plate, positioning it in the center and then gently unfold and press it into place. Trim edges of crust, leaving 3/4 to 1 inch overhang. Patch any holes and supplement any crust edges where you don’t have quite 1 inch. Spoon filling into crust-lined pan, gently pressing flat.

Repeat the process for your second disk and roll it out to a slightly larger size, about a 12 or 13 inch round. You can either have a solid crust top or make a decorative top crust using a cookie cutter to create stars or whatever shape you’d like.

For a solid top: Fold the crust into quarters, as you did with the bottom crust, but this time make steam vents. With a knife make 3 or 4 angular cuts about ¾ inch long on each folded side. With your fingertips, spread a few drops of water on the rim of the dough in the pan. Place your folded top crust down, centered and gently unfold. Trim the dough all around so you have about 3/4 to 1 inch overhang. Now press the edges of the two crusts together and fold any part hanging over the rim of the pie plate underneath itself all around.

You’ll end up with a sealed ridge that you can decorate. Make a fluted edge by using thumb and first finger on one hand and first finger on other hand in between them to push crust in opposite directions. Hard to describe but you want to make a wavy edge. Or you can press the tines of a fork all around the edge to make little lines, like the photo above. If you’d like a golden top crust, spread or brush milk lightly all over the top and then sprinkle on sugar.

For a decorative crust: Cut out shapes using a cookie cutter. Brush bottom of each shape with milk. Place shape atop the mince, overlapping crust slightly and pressing to adhere to crust. Continue placing shapes atop pie in concentric circles, overlapping edges slightly until top of pie is covered.

Brush milk and sprinkle sugar on the shapes.

Bake until crust is golden brown and mince bubbles, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. Serve pie with ice cream (vanilla or rum raisin).

Original recipe: Modern Mince Pie, Bon Appetit, November 1991

Flaky Pie Crust

Makes only one 9-inch crust, so set aside enough ingredients to double this recipe, but make only one disk at a time in the food processor. Keep the butter, shortening and ice water in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make each disk, you want it as chilled as possible.

For each disk, you will need:

  • 1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 Tbsp chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces – I like using the shortening that’s sold in sticks, like butter
  • 3 Tbsp (or more) ice water

Mix flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening. Using on/off turns, process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle 3 Tbsp ice water over mixture. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. The amount of water varies because it depends on the moisture naturally present in the flour and shortening.

Gather dough into a ball, pressing it firmly together with both hands. It should hold together and be soft and velvety to the touch. If it doesn’t, add a few more drops of water where it’s dry and crumbly so you’ll be able to roll it out easily later, but only add just enough.

Flatten the dough into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until dough is firm enough to roll out, about 30 minutes. Repeat the recipe for the second disk.

Can be prepared two days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Original recipe: Flaky Pie Crust, Bon Appétit, November 2000

mince pie mincemeat Christmas baking recipe

Pere Noel by Morburre (wikimedia commons)

The Sunday Table: December 12, 2010

Look Santa! Another Julia Child book to add to my wishlist just in time for Christmas! Christopher Kimball, of Cook’s Illustrated fame, reviews a new book edited by Joan Reardon, As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. If not for Avis, I wonder if Julia would have ever managed to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published.

I’m a bit of a nut for the aroma of pine. Not those hanging pine trees you see in taxis, but expensive candles and soaps, and, of course, real Christmas wreaths and trees, although sadly we have two fake trees so we use one of those instead of a real one. Michael Bauer from the SF Chronicle alerted me to a new culinary trend – chefs are cooking with Douglas fir. I wonder how it would work as a substitute for rosemary.

Have you tried any of the new cheap wines from Whole Foods? They’re selling Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Three Wishes Vineyards — their own version of Two-Buck Chuck, the famous Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe’s. Slashfood gave the wines a try, and gave them a thumbs up.

freelance writer blogger

flickr photo by Amy (Samdogs)

Jim and I entered the holiday season with a little extra meat on us, if you know what I mean, so I’m not making Christmas cookies this year. However, I bookmarked a page on the Providence Journal’s website for next year — links to hundreds of holiday cookie recipes published in other newspaper food sections.

Nutmeg makes its appearance in my kitchen throughout the year but has a special role at Christmas when I grate a bit on glasses of my homemade eggnog. It also made an appearance on ABC News this week for its part in a new trend in teenage drug use. Yes, nutmeg. It has quite a history, according to Saveur, and quite a hold on our brains. Food manufacturers add it to the most unlikely products because we’re hard-wired to prefer its taste.

You’ve probably heard of unami, one of the five basic tastes – sweet, salty, bitter and sour are the others. It’s the savory taste that gives food its oomph. Now you can get unami paste in a tube, “ripe with the flavors of anchovies, black olives, tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese” – your new secret ingredient.

Here’s a way to keep the fat off during the holiday season: just think about eating. Hmm, I do that anyways, maybe I can do it with more intention and cut back on what I actually eat. I read about a new study that found that “people who imagined themselves repeatedly indulging in sweet or salty treats ended up eating less of the actual foods than people who didn’t visualize eating the same foods.”

Merry Christmas!

freelance writer blogger

flickr photo by TW Collins

My Famous Eggnog

This is the 25th anniversary of my eggnog.

Wow. That deserved its own paragraph. It’s quite an old reliable friend. I first made it for Thanksgiving in 1985 from a recipe, Nat’s Eggnog, in the Sugar & Spice section of the December 1985 issue of Gourmet. I still have that stained page:

“My husband used to make the following eggnog every Christmas. For him Christmas was not Christmas without it. His friends would drop by early on the Eve — as soon as they thought it was ready.” ~Clotile P. Glover-Wilson, Chicago, Illinois

I was a restaurant general manager and had access to separated pasteurized eggs, something not easily found in the supermarket back then. I followed Nat’s recipe to the letter and the nog was a hit. I’ve made it every Christmas since.

When I left the restaurant business (for the first time) in the early 90′s, I lost my pasteurized egg connection. Even though I could buy safe eggs at the farmers market, I didn’t want any of my friends to worry at all about the risk of salmonella. I continued to separate the eggs and pasteurize them myself, heating the yolks in a double-boiler and making an Italian meringue with the whites, but that was a pain.

Then I decided to leave the eggs whole and pasteurize the nog base on the stove. What a revelation! Besides being so much easier to do, this added a custardy creaminess to the recipe, like a crème anglaise. I’ve made no changes since.

If you’re going to pasteurize the eggs like I do, you’ll need an instant-read thermometer. If you prefer to buy pasteurized eggs, you can skip the stovetop steps. It may not get as thick as my method but it will be even easier.

You should know, this nog has quite a kick. I served it at all my Christmas dinner parties in Arlington and Sacramento, my parents’ home in Massachusetts, my brother’s house in California,  our “pre-Christmas party party” at the CBIA office, the Bonn Lair parking lot (my neighborhood pub in Sacramento) and now here. It’s my most eagerly anticipated Christmas tradition.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

eggnog recipe christmas

Deirdre’s Eggnog

  • 12 lg eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 cups milk, preferably whole
  • 3 Tbsp vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups brandy
  • 2/3 cup Myers dark rum
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream

Beat eggs until very pale, quite a long time. With beaters going, add sugar slowly until it’s all incorporated into the eggs. Add the milk while beating slowly.

Put the egg mixture into the top of a double boiler. I use a stainless steel bowl on top of a sauce pot. Don’t let the water in the bottom pot boil, just lightly simmer. If it boils, you may cook the egg in spots. I keep the bowl covered until the temperature approaches 140. Keep scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula so you don’t cook the eggs. Heat until the temperature reaches 140 and then stays at or above 140 for 3 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 160, whichever comes first.

Once it reaches the temperature (either 140 for 3 minutes or 160), immediately remove from the heat and cool it down for a little while in an ice bath. Strain mixture through sieve into a larger bowl — I use the one that had the ice in it. This will remove any cooked bits of egg. Stir in the vanilla, brandy and rum.

Whip cream to the soft peak stage — when you pull out the beaters, the peak of cream curls over or flops a bit.  Fold the cream into your nog. It will look clumpy, that’s fine, you’ll give it a good stir (or whisk) before serving.

Pour into a pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to chill a few hours. Or, if you can’t wait (it’s been known to happen), serve warm in mugs. Before serving, give it a good whisk or stir so the whipped cream blends in. Serve chilled in a festive glass. Top each glass with grated fresh nutmeg.

Yield – one gallon

Original recipe: Nat’s Eggnog, Gourmet, December 1985 (not published online)

eggnog recipe

...and everything nice

The Sunday Table: December 5, 2010

Pull up a chair. I’ll pour you some of this Smuttynose Imperial Stout, one from their Big Beer Series, or I’ll get you a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale from the fridge — my seasonal house beer. I was disappointed in the Siren Noire Imperial Chocolate Stout from Heavy Seas, tasted off to me, so I’m not pouring that one. Now, let’s talk food.

The biggest food news this week came on Monday from Capitol Hill where the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act with the Tester/Hagen Amendment. Although there are now concerns that provisions of the bill are not constitutional because they would allow the FDA to impose fees on importers and on companies whose food is recalled due to contamination.  Since all revenue-raising bills must originate in the House, the Senate might have to bring the bill back to a recess-hungry Senate wrestling with tax cut extensions and filibusters.

Better news: the child nutrition bill is headed to the President’s desk after the House of Representatives passed it on Thursday. It gives the federal government more authority to set standards for food sold in vending machines and elsewhere on school grounds; provides funds to poor schools to subsidize free meals; increases the reimbursement rate for school lunches; and sets mandatory health guidelines for schools.

food news potatoes beer italian

photo by Ernesto Andrade (flickr: dongkwan)

Ah, the things people do for marketing. The head of the Washington State Potato Commission just ended a self-imposed diet of potatoes-only to prove that potatoes aren’t fattening. He said he lost more than 20 pounds in two months. I would never want to eat a potato again.

This week Italian trade officials launched the “Italianissimi” campaign to combat the use of misleading words and images to imply products are from Italy. The campaign will educate consumers about food products that are authentically Italian. I’ve always found it easy to figure out if something was imported from Italy or made here, so I wonder how much change this campaign will cause.

food news italian food beer

salumeria in Siena

If you have beer lovers on your Christmas list, take a peek at this holiday beer book gift list from All About Beer editor, Julie Johnson. I heard Santa might be buying me Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire.

Friday night I heard Patti Digh read from her latest book Creative Is a Verb: If You’re Alive, You’re Creative. Stop listening to those gremlins in your head. Create something! Make something for dinner. Bake some cookies. Make some spiced nuts. Write a Christmas essay to your parents. Or try these simple creations to decorate your table.

If you don’t like the way they turn out, no problem, you’ve got to eat them eventually. Ho ho ho!