12 (+) days of Christmas

In a blended family like mine (with remarried parents, grandparents who act as parents, plus in-laws with close ties to extended family — not to mention shared custody of our oldest daughter), Christmas is an extended affair.  So while it’s New Year’s Eve morning for the rest of the world, Santa visited us just last night and this morning while the kids play with their toys (and Alice battles a fever — oh the holiday memories we’re making), I’m whipping up this Citrus Cardamom Coffee Cake.  I used this recipe just as it is, with a pinch of cinnamon in the batter (because I’m of the persuasion that cinnamon pretty much makes everything awesome).

Happy holidays to all — I’m looking forward to having some down time to write about our cookies, risotto, scallops, and other holiday cooking endeavors soon!


Sour face

I love me some sour face.  Especially when it comes to pickles.

I’ve been in love with homemade dill pickles since childhood (and in love with pickles, in general, as long as my family’s memory holds out — my grandma tells a wicked story of the time she broke my heart at the tender age of 2 by stealing the pickles off my McDonald’s cheeseburger.  Good thing I don’t hold a grudge…)

My husband and I met over pickles.  So to speak.  I’ve been canning myself since, oh, age 22 or so?  I’ll write more about canning as it happens, but a former colleague pinged me today asking about pickles, and I thought it might be wise to preserve my response here:

Q: Is pickle-making hard?  Does it take a lot of special equipment?

A: It’s not hard at all; just takes some patience and a little precision.  And not a ton of equipment — just a huge soup pot (that holds a couple gallons of water plus room to submerge your jars at least 1 inch underwater).

I’d also recommend a jar funnel, which runs about 2 bucks at any hardware store, and a jar lifter, that runs about 5-7 bucks, same place.

You’d obviously also need to get jars, rings and lids… once you buy the jars and rings you can use them over and over, but you have to buy new lids that seal every year.  Not a huge expense after the first year.  Or alternately, you can hit up an estate sale or Goodwill; they always have tons of secondhand jars.

I think Alton Brown does a good tutorial: (this one’s for jam, but readily applicable to pickles).  come to think of it — I bet he has a pickle episode, too!

If you want to read about it, Ball has a book called Home Preservation that’s super.

And, lastly: The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which is a trove of information (if you don’t mind sifting through government publications in your spare time…)


Next weekend, we’ll be live-blogging Christmas Cookies (we make 6-8 varietals of cookies annually that are given away to friends and family)… but this weekend was reserved for Dave’s big birthday.

It’s been insane planning and attempting to keep it a surprise.  Tonight, I finally got a chance to hang out where I do my best (the kitchen… because my CraftHovel ™ has yet to be built), and make Dave a birthday dinner (when a chef marries a baker, these things happen).

Dave’s 2009 Birthday Dinner

Cabbage Rolls #2 (based off this recipe and modified slightly by me)

1 medium head cabbage (3 pounds)
1 pound fresh-ground italian sausage
1 can (15 ounces) cream of tomato soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup instant rice (this is the only reason I have instant rice in my house)
1 tablespoon dried italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • Cook cabbage in boiling water just until leaves fall off head. Remove 12 large leaves for rolls; set aside remaining cabbage. Cut out the thick vein from the bottom of each reserved leaf, making a V-shaped cut to enclose filling.
  • In a small bowl, combine the sausage, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, onion, rice, italian seasoning, salt, dill and cayenne. Place about 1/3 cup meat mixture on each cabbage leaf; overlap cut ends of leaf. Fold in sides, beginning from the cut end. Roll up completely to enclose filling.  Place each roll in a 9×13 glass casserole dish (I call this my “lasagna pan”, and I think it’s actually bigger than 9×13 and definitely has higher sides.  However, I don’t think I know its technical name).
  • Chop the remaining cabbage and arrange in casserole dish.
  • Combine the tomatoes, sugar and remaining tomato sauce; pour over the rolls and chopped cabbage.
  • Cover and bake at 350° for 1-1/2 hours or until tender and meat thermometer reads 160°.

Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake

Dave's birthday cake 2009

'nuff said.