white chocolate cranberry almond biscotti: another year, another round of joyous giving.

If you haven't been able to tell already, I love Christmas. I love the smells associated with it (mellow nutmeg, sweet cinnamon, spicy cloves), the music (Carol of the Bells - reminds me of singing in the Christmas choral show of my youth), the joy (when someone's eyes light up and crinkle into unending smiles when they recieve a thoughtful gift, or see a long lost friend or family member - another reason to also adore airports, especially the arrivals gate), and the food (cooking, to me, is a medium for bringing those around me closer, and sharing cheer).
Every year, I make Christmas gifts. My standard for the past few holidays has been truffles in little hand made boxes, either with snowflakes drawn on the outside, or a texture of paper mache. However, this year, I thought I would try something different. A throwback to the 70s - Ephram's Bottle Cutter.
Since I have been entertaining so much this past little while, I gained a growing (still!) collection of wine bottles on top of my shelves. I have always been a proponent of Buy-Nothing Christmas (well, as little as you can), and so attempt to do so every year while making spectacular gifts for friends and family. This year - individualized cups, frosted of course, with cute sayings such as 'brush your teeth' or 'drink me', filled with as many biscotti as I can fit (I attempted three, but had to narrow it down to two each - they were huge pieces!!).
This is the first set of biscotti that I made for presents. Almonds and cranberries remind me of this lovely season, as well as compliment each other oh-so-well.
White Chocolate Cranberry Almond Biscotti(adapted from Joy of Baking)

2/3 c. white sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. almonds, chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries

1 c. white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Whip white sugar and eggs with a hand held blender for five minutes, until when you pull out the beaters the eggs fall in slow ribbons. Blend in vanilla extract until incorporated.

2. Combine flour, and salt. Combine egg mix and flour mix until fully incorporated. Add in almonds and cranberries and mix them in fully.

3. Place the biscotti dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, and make it into a long shape, about 12 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide.

4. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove it and let it cool until you are able to touch it. Cut it into 3/4 inch slices, on a diagonal to make the slices longer. Reduce the heat in the oven to 325 F.
5. Place the biscotti, with the sliced side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, flip all the pieces over and bake for another 10. Remove and let cool.

6. Melt the chocolate with a double boiler. Drizzle over the pieces, or dip one side in.

7. Pray. Eat. Enjoy making presents for those you love.

apple streusel coffee cake: the perfect treat after a snowy day.

The heady smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, roasted nuts and sweet apples floating through steamy air: there is nothing better than apple coffee cake on a cold winter morn.  The scent seems to instinctually remind almost all who catch a waft of home and comfort.  
A simple recipe, it is easy to whip up in the a.m. and impress those around until the p.m. (when the likelihood increases that it has been eradicated). It is also wonderful to come back to after a marvelously exhausting day of snowmobiling (also affectionally referred to, by those in the 'know', as 'sledding').
We made some 'man-wiches' to sustain ourselves through the day. Look at all that protein! A must for ice and snow (and male-ness involving large exhaust-spewing-machines).
Armed with long johns and banana chips (those who know me also realize that these little slivers of delight are my favorite obsession), we unloaded the sled and made our way up groomed trails to reach glowing, untouched powder.
Brendan played masterfully.
I rode like an old lady. Of course, it was my first time, so my horrendous posture and use of my legs as bent shock absorbers was forgiven.
These two little buttons were my saviors this day - they control the heat on the handle bars. Let's just say that my usually-cold-little-digits were quite taken with these gray buttons of heat.
An interesting adventure - we ended up digging out two more of my namesake on the mountain (a Samuel and a Samson) and earned two cold beer for our hard work. One of them is on the paralympic ski team, and yet sleds as a paraplegic - t'was very neat. We went down the mountain satisfied with a good day's work, and concluded it with warmed apple cake - the scent filling the air and our souls with lovliness.
Apple Streusel Coffee Cake
(adapted joyofbaking.com)

1/2 flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 c. butter, cubed
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

1/4 c. white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 c. buttermilk

3 large apples, peeled and chopped/shredded

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the streusel ingredients. Set aside.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt. Set aside.

3. Beat sugar and large egg on high for one minute. Add the vanilla and mix it in.

4. Alternate pouring in the flour and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mix. Pour in the apples and mix them in. Pour the mix into a greased pan and sprinkle the streusel evenly all over the top.

5. Bake the coffee cake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Try something new and different (and exciting) -- go snowmobiling.

korean ddukguk (rice cake soup): an adventurous christmas night.

 I love visiting small grocery stores run by those whose culture is different from my own. Yesterday, I found myself meandering around a Korean store, 'ooh-ing' and 'ahh-ing' over the variety of ingredients so different from the ones I usually cook with (I also gave a small squeal of delight when I purchased a rib-steak, one quite large and fresh, for only two dollars!).
 I love kim-chi. Many will hold their noses at that statement, but any recipe which calls for it is alright by me. What I usually do in these shopping situations, where a recipe has not been requested, is find one solitary ingredient -- usually an interesting one -- from which to base the rest of the meal. Last night it was rice cakes. The evolution of the recipe climaxed in the decision to make Korean Ddukguk, or rice cake soup.
 I was blessed to have my best friend with me to share the new and exciting experience of cooking a dish I have never attempted before (though it was demanded of me that I leave the kim chi out of hers). So while we enjoyed our soup, and our silly soma of a TV show, I worked on my favorite project of the year - Christmas presents for all those who are large and lovely figures in my life (I also had the realization I'm a geek, for who else would order a particular tool off of Ebay just to create Christmas presents, and then give a hoot of joy when it arrives).
Guess what you're getting for Christmas, I dare you (unless I've already told you . . . ), in fact, if you can guess -- I'll make you a spectacular dinner.
 Korean Ddukguk (Rice Cake Soup)

4 c. beef broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 c. sliced rice cake

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 lb. cooked bulgogi (follow this link to a previous recipe I did)
1 piece of nori (seaweed), sliced

1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large pot on the stove. Let simmer for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, beat the egg olks and heat a non-stick frying pan on medium-high. Add the yolks and swirl them around the bottom of the pan to make a thin pancake. Cook thoroughly. Remove from the pan and cut into thin strips.

3. Add the egg white and rice cakes to the broth. Simmer for ten minutes.

4. Add the green onions and let simmer for two minutes.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls and add the bulgogi, sliced seaweed and sliced egg. Garnish with a few pieces of sliced green onion.

6. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Make Christmas gifts for everyone and feel the cheer exude out of every one.

chili con carne: spicy reconnections.

It was a spicy night on Tuesday. Between training someone to take over my hectic job and getting Christmas presents ready during my lunch hours, I was running as if I had flames egging me on.  After such a day, I needed spiciness to keep me going, as I had guests coming over. Chili seemed the answer to my peppiness problems.
I love cilantro. I am sure there are many of you 'booing' me out there. But I do love it.
To make the chili more 'heart-healthy', I used turkey (actually, that is a lie, Josh just couldn't find ground beef in the supermarket . . . . ).
The spiciness all around was enjoyed - displayed by the beads of sweat on our noses. The sign of a successful chili. 
Chile Con Carne
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. ground turkey
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium JalapeƱo pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
1 tbs. oregano
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. chili powder (totally forgot this one, but it tasted delicious anyways)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper1 dried bay leaf
1/2 chipotle pepper blended with 2 tbsp. adobo sauce
2 tbs. lime juice
1 large can diced tomatoes2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a large pot and add jalapenos, onions, and garlic. Caramelize them for 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Reconvene with old friends. 

carnitas tacos: and a very mexican christmas to you too.

Caroling. The word conjurers up innocent children, pure faces pointed to the sky, eyes shut, their mouths in a perfect circular 'O'.
Our version of that was slightly different. Boisterous and loud, we traversed West 4th Street for two hours, bringing off-key joy to the neighborhood.
Delight and stares of amusement filled the air as we traipsed through Capers and Safeway, stalled outside of several restaurants, and amused those purchasing gifts for their loved ones.
We then carried on our musical ways to the boys house, singing in the car on the way there, and throughout Save-On-Foods.
With wine and pork in hand, we settled in for a lovely evening, filled with many new arrivals to our troupe and joy all around - a festive fiesta of a night. Ah, 'tis the season.
1 large pork roast
3 adobo chili peppers, with chipotle sauce, chopped
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs. dried Mexican oregano 
2 tsp. dried basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large onion, cut into 4 pieces
4 cups chicken stock
salt, to taste

1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Turn element to medium-high and bring to a simmer.

2. Simmer for 4 hours, or until pork is tender enough to shred and the liquid has boiled off or been absorbed into the meat almost completely.

3. Take two forks and rip apart the meat until it is completely shredded.

4. Serve on either hard or soft tacos with fresh salsa or pico de gallo, and lettuce. Re-fried beans are always a nice addition too. 

5. Pray. Eat. Enjoy and remember to swallow before belting out tunes that are off-tune and may not be pleasing to the ear, but are pleasing to the soul.