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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cookies

I had an accident earlier this week. Freak accident, really. I was doing my usual two mile loop around the reservoir, and as I crossed the street to jog the .08 miles down the sidewalk to my house, my left foot stepped on a random piece of metal ring, and my right foot caught it. I crashed down onto the sidewalk, throwing out my right hand to take my fall. Ouch. Off to the ER I went. Sit in the waiting room, go through intake, soak my scratched-up hand in iodine, take X-rays, and -- big sigh of relief to find out my wrist is sprained, not broken. They sent me home with a brace and that was that.

Unfortunately, since I cannot properly use my right arm or do anything forceful with it, I was not able to work this week in the restaurant kitchen that is now my job. I did, however, learn how to do many things with my left hand this week. I can now, with my left hand:

- Brush my teeth
- Apply mascara
- Crack an egg (one-handed, even!)
- Drive a stick-shift car (not recommended)


- Make cookies

Mind you, I did not make all the cookies in this photo. Instead, I made a few batches of cookies and held a cookie swap. There were cookies everywhere, and we all kept some of our own and took some others. Cocoa nib meringes, peppermint shortbread, almendrados (almond), pecan nut crescents, cranberry pistachio oat, nutella shortbread...I could go on. It was heavenly. Then, as if that were not enough, last night Justin and I dipped things in chocolate: pretzels in white chocolate, cashews in dark chocolate, more pretzels in dark chocolate with crushed candy canes...our kitchen looked like a confectionary. Then I boxed the pretzels and tinned the cookies and came up with this:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Figgy Pudding

Oh yes, I did. I made figgy pudding. I've been wanting to make figgy pudding for a couple of years now. Initially it was just a passing fancy and then, after discovering the Figgy Pudding 5K in Baltimore, I had to run it if only to get a T-shirt. (No figgy pudding at the end of the race, unfortunately, just beer). This year, when I planned a Christmas coffeehouse, I knew my opportunity had come to make this figgy dessert.

My figgy pudding T-shirt
Figgy pudding dates back to 16th century England. It involves figs and bread crumbs that are steamed with other ingredients to form a dense, sweet bread. In the 16th century, and maybe even still today, it was common to use suet, which is raw mutton or beef fat. Yum. The topping for figgy pudding is a custard sauce that is drizzled over the entire cake, with extra on the side for serving. Or, the pudding can just be dusted with powdered sugar.

I got the recipe off of a tea towel I ordered last Christmas. An odd place for a recipe, I know, but there you have it. The recipe calls for fresh black Mission figs. Fresh figs are not to be found this time of year, so I used dried Turkish figs (they don't seem to be as dry as black figs). The ingredients are heavenly: butter, orange zest, cinnamon, walnuts. So Christmas-y and delightful. After mixing all of the ingredients in a large bowl, I offered up a whiff to Justin: "What is that?" he asked, intrigued. "Figgy pudding!" I said, and danced around the kitchen in excitement. And let me tell you, the pudding did not disappoint. Served warm, with sauce on top, it was like the very best version of a fig newton. And I don't like normal fig newtons. But this had a nice seedy crunch from the figs, a moist-ness that you don't always find out of a Bundt pan, and a heady aroma.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cinnamon Almond Whipped Cream

You know what's nice to bring to parties? Fruit. It's healthy, refreshing, and different than other standard offerings. And, you know what takes it to the next level? I'm sure you have a guess: whipped cream! Not just any whipped cream, but homemade with cinnamon and almond extract added. It is so easy to put together. Add some nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and chocolate, and you have an elegant answer to the question, "What can I bring?"

I put this together last weekend as a nice little treat to go with relaxing in front of a Christmas movie. It felt so festive to be sitting by the Christmas tree watching Elf and dipping a fragrant orange slice into just-whipped cream.

The key to good whipped cream is not to over whip it. Most recipes say to whip "until soft peaks form" and they're absolutely right. You want the cream to be just solid but still soft, not hard and stiff. Make sure the bowl you use is larger than you think you need, since the cream will expand as air is whipped into it. It also helps to chill the bowl so the cream stays cold.

You can play around and try different flavors. Peppermint extract would be nice, as would maple. Vanilla extract is standard yet delicious. Strawberries, grapes, dried apricots, and different types of nuts and chocolates make great accompaniments.

Have fun wowing your friends with this easy dessert!

Cinnamon Almond Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

In a large, chilled bowl, combine ingredients. Beat with a whisk or hand mixer until soft peaks form. Serve with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and nuts.