Figgy Jam

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Figgy Jam! Just the name alone conjures Christmas spirit! And it’s December – time to plan cheese pairings!

Personally, I think a jam, paste, or curd is a wonderful addition to a cheese platter, because it enhances the cheese. This one has a little savory component to it, but it’s not a chutney. And, it’s really not a jam, because it’s not that sweet.


Just as the Spaniards are so good at pairing their beloved Manchego with quince paste, I make my figgy “jam” to pair with cheeses like Chèvre, Brie, and my favorite stinky cheese of all time – the famous Époisses from the Burgundy region of France.

I love dried figs, but I have to admit something. When I eat a dense fig jam, it can sometimes feel like I’m chewing sand because of the seeds. So to the figs, I added dates and dried cranberries. That way, I will have the figgy flavor, but not so many seeds.

And the cranberries provide a more scarlet color, which fits the holidays.
So here’s what I did:

Figgy Jam

1 pound dried fruit – chopped figs, chopped dates, and dried cranberries
1 apple, peeled, cored, finely diced
¾ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup ruby Port
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

On a scale, weigh out the fruit you’re using – in this case, figs, dates, and dried cranberries.

Place all of the ingredients in a pot including the cinnamon stick.

Cook the mixture with the lid on for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.

Pretty much all of the liquid will have been absorbed; you want the dried fruit hydrated, but also have a little liquid left over in order to process the jam.

Let the mixture cool. Remove the cinnamon stick, then put the mixture in a food processor. Pulse, scrape, pulse, scape, and continue, using a little more orange juice if necessary. I don’t make a paste – I prefer to have a little texture.

Place in jars and store in the refrigerator. Alternately, freeze the jars and thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

The jam is best at room temperature served with a variety of cheeses, crackers, breads, and more dried fruits!

There are brie logs that would make lovely canapés.

Also, the figgy jam could be put on a brie wheel of any size, warmed slightly. Then you get the combination of oozing cheese and the figgy jam.


I drizzled a little maple syrup over the brie as well.

The jam is also good with goat cheese.

However you use it, you will love the combination.

The figgy jam isn’t terribly sweet, so it’s also good on toast in the morning!

Christmas in your Mouth!

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Okay, weird title, but there’s no other way to describe this after-dinner drink. It just tastes like Christmas, which I happen to love.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times over the years that I’m no mixologist. I’ve made some good margaritas, but it seems like when I try to make something creative, it’s terrible.

Actually, it’s not that my skills are completely lacking because I’m typically following recipes, but I don’t enjoy a lot of cocktails, especially if they’re terribly strong. Like martinis. So whatever I might make and dislike, which seems to happen often, I pass on to my willing husband.

Typically when the weather turns cold, I stock up on seasonal liqueurs. I love Amarula, Eggnog, Bailey’s, various chocolate liqueurs, and so forth. Some I will put in coffee or hot chocolate, or some over ice in lieu of dessert.

One night I got super creative (sarcasm) and combined all of two different liqueurs together for my husband and myself. We both thought that this drink was so good that we haven’t been able to stop drinking it!!!

It’s good, it’s pretty, and it’s Christmas in your mouth. You’re welcome.

Christmas in your Mouth
Makes 2 drinks

2 – 8 ounce cocktail glasses
Small ice cubes
4 ounces Buttershots
4 ounces Rumchata

Fill the glasses with ice.


Divide the buttershots and Rumchata evenly in both glasses.


Stir and serve.

You can add some freshly grated nutmeg if you’d like.


And, it’s Christmas!

Cranberry Salsa

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Years ago I was visiting with my favorite florist Dan, who is quite a foodie, and he asked me if I’d ever had cranberry salsa.

Cranberry salsa? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Where have I been? This just made me absolutely giddy. It’s always so exciting to come across something new and different.

Dan printed the recipe, and gave me a few suggestions on adaptations he’d made to it. But he promised me I’d absolutely love it with the turkey I’d be serving on Thanksgiving.

And I did. Here is that recipe. Thanks, Dan!

Cranberry Salsa

1- 12 ounce package cranberries
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup super-fine white sugar
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Place the cranberries in a colander. Remove any bad ones and give the rest a good rinse.

Then place the cranberries on a towel to dry.

Place the jalapenos, garlic and sugar in the food processor and pulse until you can’t see any large pieces.

Add the cranberries, cilantro, oil and lime juice and pulse all of the ingredients, without over-processing.

Pour the salsa into a bowl and fold in the sliced green onions. I’ve found that this is easier than using the food processor to chop up green onion.

Cranberry salsa is really good, and I serve it with tortilla chips or pita crisps.


You can refrigerate the salsa overnight, but serve it at room temperature.

And as a condiment, it’s spectacular with turkey.


I make turkey cutlets often, and the pairing is fabulous.

Whether served as an appetizer or as a condiment, you’ll enjoy the zing of the cranberries and jalapeño.

The original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, but I can’t fathom adding more than the 1 cup of sugar I used. It’s perfect to me just the way it is.

Next time I might consider adding some toasted walnuts or pecans to the salsa at the last minute.

Also, ginger could be used along with the garlic. Or, crystallized ginger…

Pink Prosecco Margarita

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My friend Dan loves a good cocktail. So when he made a point to text me this recipe, I knew it would be good.

He found it online originally, and made a few adaptations, but because I don’t know the origin, I’ll just call it Dan’s recipe.

It’s basically the ingredients for a real margarita, plus pink lemonade and Prosecco.

However, I couldn’t find pink lemonade where I live. Maybe it was sold out? But I did find strawberry lemonade, which I never knew existed, so I thought I’d try that, mostly because I’m impulsive. Same cocktail, but subtly strawberry flavored. Still pink, in fact hot pink!

I imagine if you’re not having a girls’ party like a bridal shower or somesuch, you can use regular lemonade for this cocktail, but the thought of making and serving a pink drink was so compelling to me!

My girlfriend helped out with a perfect happy hour setting at her house to test out the cocktail. I mean, to help with the photography.

Dan’s Pink Prosecco Margarita

1 cup pink lemonade*
3/4 cup Patron tequila
½ cup Patron orange liqueur
2 ounces lime juice, about 3 small limes
1/2 – 1 cup Prosecco, well chilled
Lime and salt for rimming

Pour the lemonade in a serving pitcher, and add the tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Chill in the refrigerator.


Right before serving, add the Prosecco.

Rim the glasses with lime juice and dip the rim with salt.


I also tried the margarita over ice, mostly because it was hot out and my girlfriend and I had been working so hard on this photo shoot (thanks Jil!) and that was also good. (not pictured.)

Overall, this is a lovely summer cocktail, but in fact, could be served at parties at various times of the year. I can see cranberries thrown in at a holiday party for example!

* Use one 12 ounce can thawed, frozen pink lemonade concentrate, or strawberry lemonade concentrate, and mix with two containers (24 ounces total) of water.

Gin Ramos Fizz

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I remember the first time I tasted a gin Ramos fizz at a friend’s house. I wasn’t a drinker back when I had it, but I never forgot its uniqueness. There was a subtle orange flavor, and the best way to describe the drink, was that it was fluffy!

Years later, on a Christmas morning after marriage and children, I made the drink for my husband and myself, but I quickly learned that drinking on Christmas morning and having two kids just didn’t go together.

Fast forward to 2018 and gin Ramos fizz popped into my brain! I found this recipe online at Epicurious.com. According to Epicurious, “This version of the classic New Orleans cocktail was created by Eben Freeman, bartender of Tailor restaurant in New York City.”

Being that Christmas had passed, I thought I’d serve these cocktails for Easter.

Gin Ramos Fizz
serves 1

1/4 cup (2 ounces) gin
1 dash (3 to 4 drops) orange blossom water
1 large egg white.
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) half-and-half.
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lemon juice.
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lime juice.
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup.
1 cup ice cubes
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) seltzer

In large cocktail shaker, combine gin, orange blossom water, egg white, half-and-half, lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds more.

Strain mixture into 8-ounce glass. Slowly pour soda water down inside edge of shaker to loosen remaining froth. Gently ease soda water/froth mix onto drink and serve.

I do think that the cocktail could also be made in a blender, but for the sake of making these for the first time in 30-something years, I followed the directions!

And, I doubled the recipe, but it’s easily quadrupled.

The drink is truly spectacular. You taste the gin, the orange flower water, and the citrus. Plus, it’s creamy and foamy. What’s not to love?!!

After using the recipe I found online, I found this one I’d copied from somewhere. Next time I’ll make this version!

Note: Seriously dropper the orange flower water into the cocktail mixture. It smells lovely, but can become bitter if too much is used. Add a few more drops if you don’t taste it.

 

 

 

Colombian Coconut Rice

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When my husband and I were visiting our daughter a while back, she told us she was going to be vacationing in Colombia. My first reaction was, “Oh, Columbia in South Carolina?”

I should have known better. This is the kid who’s already been to Argentina, Hungary, Croatia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Australia – 6 countries we hadn’t been to yet.

Our immediate thoughts were of course of drug cartels and kidnappers, but she assured us that the old part of Cartagena, where she’d be staying, was safe.

Well, she went, and she came back alive. But not without first texting me a recipe while in Cartagena for coconut rice that she fell in love with there. And she sent me a coconut rice recipe that she found online.

The recipe is from Serious Eats, and it’s actually called Colombian Coconut Rice, although the author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, claims that this rice is popular throughout a significant area in South America.

As Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and James Beard award winner, he definitely knows his stuff. Full bio below.

He writes, “At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it’s a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.”

The only issue is if the coconut milk used in the recipe has stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you’ll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the rice to brown.

So I set out to find coconut milk without stabilizers and preservatives. Not an easy task. Finally, I found coconut milk at Trader Joe’s, with only coconut milk and water as ingredients. After many stores and Amazon. Hallelujah!

Colombian Coconut Rice
printable recipe at bottom

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see note above)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups water

Heat coconut milk in a 2 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes.

Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Coconut rice is delicious, not too sweet, and actually works well as a side dish to meats and vegetables. In Colombia, my daughter ate it for breakfast with eggs.

And, at this point, this daughter has only been to 4 countries we’ve not been to yet, since we finally visited New Zealand and Australia in fall of 2017.


We’re catching up!

Note: When the solids separate from the oil and begin to brown, they look like crumbs. But have no fear. Once the water is added and the rice cooks, they will dissolve.

J. Kenji López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column The Food Lab, in which he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Kenji released his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, in 2015, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of a James Beard Award, and The Food Lab was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

 

 

Gordon’s Christmas Muesli

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I’m a big sucker for both Gordon Ramsay, and Christmas. Especially Christmas, but I really respect Gordon Ramsay.

Because he wasn’t well known in the U.S. until he exploded onto food television, many Americans weren’t aware that he’d had a long, tough, distinguished and successful culinary journey up to that point.

And he still is successful. His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars.

Gordon, since we’re on a first-name basis, and Christmas are represented beautifully in a book called “Christmas with Gordon, published in 2010.”

I’ve bookmarked many recipes, and made a few since I first bought the book. But this year while looking through it, a recipe popped out at me that I thought would also make a great gift, which is Christmas Muesli.

It’s not an especially unique recipe, especially for Gordon Ramsay. Beef Wellington is typically associated with the Ramsay name. But I’m excited to make the muesli as gifts.

It’s been many years since I made my own granola. It was so healthy, that only I would eat it. Lots of raw grains, rolled grains, toasted grains, toasted nuts, toasted seeds and no sugar. Yep, that’s why I was the only one who liked it.

But this recipe doesn’t contain lots of sugar. Instead there are an abundance of dried fruits. And, it’s also pretty.

Here’s the recipe.

Christmas Muesli
Makes about 1.3 kg
printabe recipe at bottom

400 g porridge oats
75g unsweetened desiccated coconut
100g skinned hazelnuts
100g skinned Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
100g soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
180ml water
120ml groundnut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
75g pitted dates, roughly chopped
75g dried apricots, roughly chopped
75g dried cranberries
50g crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Combine the oats, coconut, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, brown sugar, and ground spices in a large bowl. Mix well.

Whisk together the water oil, vanilla and salt and then stir into the dry ingredients.

Spread the mixture out in two large, shallow roasting trays.

Toast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, stirring and swapping the trays occasionally, until the muesli is golden and crisp, checking frequently towards the end.

Leave to cool.

Stir in the dried fruit and crystallized ginger.


Store in an airtight container.

I found some tall containers that would be perfect for the granola, and used a plastic baguette bag to line them.

Much prettier!

Enjoy with milk or any milk substitute, or plain yogurt. It’s honestly the best granola I’ve ever had! I’ve already made another batch…

 

 

The Dirty Snowman

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It’s rare that I peruse a men’s clothing catalog, because my husband isn’t a stylin’ kind of guy. Which is fine with me, since I’m not either. We probably often look like a couple of vagrants.

But during the catalog-intense period of time prior to Christmas, I happened to check out a men’s catalog that intrigued me. It’s called Huckberry, and the catalog pages were cute, with photos like this one.

But what got me excited was a cocktail recipe that was in the catalog, called The Dirty Snowman.


It contains cognac and dark beer, neither of which I like. I think it was the chocolate and hazelnut rim on the glass that got my attention!

Here’s the recipe:

The Dirty Snowman
Makes 1 drink

Cocoa nibs and chopped hazelnuts, for garnish (I used chopped bittersweet chocolate)
1/2 ounce simple syrup, plus a little extra for the rim
1 teaspoon cocoa nibs (again, chopped bittersweet chocolate)
1 1/4 ounce cognac
3 ounces dark beer (I used Guinness)
Splash coconut milk (I used freshly whipped cream)

Use simple syrup to rim a glass with the hazelnuts and chocolate.



In a shaker, muddle the 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of chocolate.

Add the cognac and shake well with ice.

Strain into the rimmed glass, add ice, and top with beer.

They suggest floating a splash of coconut milk on top, which could be tasty, but I preferred to add unsweetened whipped cream.

My husband loved it, and suggested I make some on Christmas eve.

Oh, and it turns out that Huckberry sells much more than men’s apparel. Cute stuff.

Coconut Eggnog

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I happen to love eggnog. I mean I love eggnog so much that I even buy it in the carton. I doctor it up a bit with spices and bourbon of course; this photo is from last Christmas Eve.

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But why stop drinking eggnog after the holidays? I say hell no to that! I want my eggnog!

Recently I came across a Goya magazine ad for coconut eggnog, or Coquito, which according to the ad is an authentic Puerto Rican beverage.

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Since eggnog isn’t available at the grocery store any longer (why?) I knew I would have to try this version for my eggnog fix.

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This isn’t the same as regular home-made eggnog, but I thought the coconut flavor would be really fun, and it definitely is.

Here’s the recipe as I photographed it from the magazine.

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In a blender jar, add the evaporated milk, cream of coconut, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Blend on high until mixture is well combined.

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Pour eggnog into a pitcher and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill until cold.

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When ready to serve, shake first, add to glass, and add rum to taste.

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Garnish with ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks, if desired.

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I tried the eggnog both chilled and at room temperature, and I enjoyed both.

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The color isn’t as pretty if vanilla extract and cinnamon are included in the mixture, so these photos don’t show the eggnog with those ingredients.

I did include a grind of nutmeg before serving.

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Note: If you chill this eggnog overnight, you could always include a few cinnamon sticks.

A Cookbook Gift

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Right after my daughter got married, a bit over 7 years ago, I did something that I’m very happy I did. I wrote a cookbook for her. Not just because she was married, or because she’d reached a certain age. It’s just that as she got older and busier, we didn’t really cook together much anymore, and I had so much I wanted to share.

I’m pretty much 99% self-taught, so I learned the hard way how to cook. I had no Grandma in the kitchen with me showing me the ropes, which is fine, but that’s what I mean about learning the hard way. I read recipes, and cooked. And I made mistakes.

When I made the decision to write the cookbook, I purchased a metal-ring binder kind of book. (There are many options on Amazon.com.”) It came with dividers, and pages I could put through my printer. I also used plastic-lined blank pages, so there was lots of room for pictures, drawings, and personal notes.

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A lot of the pictures I glued were pages I’d saved from Chefs Illustrated – they have the most beautifully illustrated tutorials, like on boning a chicken, for example. And I had copies of helpful reference charts, like how long it takes to steam different vegetables, or at what temperature to remove meat from the oven.

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I ended up being so happy with my “cookbook” that I made a duplicate for my younger daughter, and gave both girls the cookbooks at Christmas.
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Although I rarely cook the same thing twice, I still do have my favorite recipes, and these are in the cookbook. My Favorite Barbecue Sauce, for example. Or a recipe for White Sauce. I remember once thinking once that only chefs in fancy restaurants could make white sauce. How silly is that?!!!

My older daughter, who cooks often, has told me that she has referenced my cookbook quite often over the last few years. Of course, You Tube is available now for just about anything, but I think she likes having me “talking” her way through some helpful instructions.

I especially love that both of my daughters cook beans. They figured out how easy it is to cook a dollar’s worth of dried beans and make spectacular meals. I know adults who have never cooked beans from scratch! And, I credit my cookbook for encouraging this, because I simply showed how easy it is. It’s easier for young people to jump into cooking without any pre-conceived notions as to how difficult some of it might be. And honestly, as we all know, home cooking is quite straight forward and easy. It aint’ rocket science!

So I’m not writing this post to pat myself on my head. This is not a cookbook that I will be sharing with anyone else. I designed it just for my daughters, who both enjoy cooking and eating, so that they might not learn some things the hard way.

I wanted to pass this idea along to any of you who hadn’t thought about it, so you can gift your children a cookbook from your heart and soul. (Or anybody, really!)

Even if your children are young, it’s something you can plan for the future, gathering culinary tidbits here and there, maybe keeping track of the meal you made on every birthday and a photo to go along with the meal. Or a special section just on holiday menus that were enjoyed by all.

They grow up fast so plan ahead!

But I do know one thing. They will treasure your cookbook always.