holidays

Christmas Candy: Spicy Pumpkin Seed & Cherry Chocolate Bark

by Caroline

I discovered this recipe last year in Catherine Newman’s Wondertime column, and now the only problem is making enough both to give away and keep some in the house for ourselves. I’ve made two batches already, and expect to make at least that much more before this holiday season is over. It is so easy the kids can do it without much supervision (just caution them about the baking pan, which is hot when it first comes out of the oven), and of course you can vary it any number of ways (I might make a semi-sweet version next, with raisins and peanuts), but the spicy pumpkin seeds are my favorite.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds (the green kind)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 (11- or 12-ounce) bags semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried, pitted sour cherries (we get ours at Trader Joe’s)

Heat oven to 250. Line a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (or rimmed baking sheet) with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil until a drop of water sizzles on contact, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring constantly until the seeds are fragrant, starting to brown, and making popping sounds, about 3 or 4 minutes (sometimes the pumpkin seeds fly right out of the pan, so be careful!). Turn off the heat, stir in the salt and cayenne, and leave to cool about 5 minutes.

pumpkin

Scatter the chocolate chips evenly in the prepared pan. This is a great job for an enthusiastic helper:

dumping chocolate

spreading chocolate

Place pan in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and spread chocolate with a rubber spatula.

melty chocolate

Scatter the cherries over the top of the melted chocolate, then scatter the pumpkin seeds; push them in a bit so that they really stick.
bark with seeds and berries

Chill at least 2 hours, until firm enough to break into pieces, then store in the refrigerator until ready for gifting.

packages of bark

Christmas Cooking: Ben’s Chocolate-Coated Candied Orange Peel

by Caroline

oranges

I am always ready to start the Christmas baking too early to actually start the Christmas baking. Last year (at exactly this time, I see), I was stirring up a batch of Wonderballs, no-bake peanut butter-oatmeal concoctions that we keep in the fridge. They are an excellent transitional snack, whether the gap you’re trying to bridge is from lunchtime to dinner, or from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

naked oranges

This year, I figured it wasn’t too early to start in on some of the Christmas gift candy-making. Every year seems to add a few more people to the list of folks who have helped us through the months, from the boys’ many teachers to the guy who delivers the Sunday New York Times, and while I make batches and batches of cookies during the holidays to share with folks who come over, I make candy to give away. It keeps better than cookies, it’s less fragile, and I can produce it quickly in great volume.

Now candied orange peel might not be at the top of everyone’s favorite candy list, and I think that’s probably because too many people have been subjected to too much bad fruitcake studded with plasticky candied citrus. Fresh candied orange peel is a revelation: it’s delicious, with all the citrus flavor concentrated in a couple tender bites; it’s sparkly and beautiful; it’s also (except for one tedious step) easy, quick, and cheap. What’s not to like? I’ve been making it for years, and now it’s one of the first things Ben asks for when we start to talk about Christmas cooking, so I can’t resist making it for him.

Place in a saucepan:

peel in pot

Peel of 3 oranges, 2 grapefruits, or 6 lemons, removed in wide strips

Add water to cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh cold water, and simmer until tender. Drain, refresh under cold water, and then remove the remaining pulp or pith by scraping it away with a spoon or paring knife. This is the tedious part of the process and it’s a little too delicate to delegate to the kids yet, but I hope to next year.

pith

Cut the peel into 1/4″ wide strips.

sliced peel

Combine in a large, heavy saucepan:
1 c sugar
3 T light corn syrup
3/4 c water

Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit peel and cook very gently over low heat until most of the syrup is absorbed. Cover and let stand overnight.

cooking peel

Bring to a simmer again, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the peel to a baking pan lined with parchment and sprinkled generously with granulated sugar.
sugared peel

Use tongs to toss the citrus peel in the sugar until well coated. Let dry for at least an hour.

You can stop there, or you can go one more step and dip the candied peel into chocolate. This is something the kids could do, if you trust them not to eat every other piece.

Melt or temper half a pound of bittersweet chocolate (since I store these in the fridge, I don’t go to the trouble of tempering, but go ahead if you’re feeling fancy). Dip the end of each piece of peel in the chocolate and let dry on sheets of waxed paper. Store the finished candy between layers of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 months.

chocolate peel

Finally, don’t toss the sugar you used to coat the candied peel; it offers a nice orange-y tang to any baked goods or even your next cup of tea.

Thanksgiving Without An Oven?

by Caroline

oven

We alternate Thanksgivings either back east with my family, or in a beach rental here in California. For years, we shared the beach rental with my late mother-in-law, who would scout the rental kitchen ahead of time and pack boxes with good knives, mixing bowls, and her big white KitchenAid mixer, not to mention all the food. After she died, the kitchen scouting fell to me, and if I couldn’t check out the kitchen in advance, I channeled Nancy and presumed it was inadequate, packing my own rolling pin, pie pans and other baking dishes. I measured out the dry ingredients for breakfast pancakes, muffins, and pie fillings into Ziploc bags so that I didn’t have to bring many cookbooks (or count on finding measuring cups), carefully counted eggs (4 for pancakes, 3 for one pie, 2 for another – ah, better just bring two dozen) and made sure we had plenty of parsley and lemons for Tony’s stuffing.

But Thanksgiving back east is, logistically, easy. It’s a long trip, for sure — whether it’s at my parents’ or my sister’s, we travel 12 hours, door to door – but once we arrive, we can count on a well-stocked kitchen, good nearby markets, and lots of willing and talented cooks to help prepare the meal. Like any family, we have standard dishes we all want to see on the table (Mom’s brown and serve wheat germ rolls; whole berry cranberry sauce; an uncomplicated pumpkin pie) and we try new things every year, some of which join the annual menu (Sweet Potatoes Anna) and some of which just don’t (lentil and mushroom timbales).

This year, I’ve been really looking forward to Thanksgiving at my sister’s. I took the final issue of Gourmet to bed with me and started dog-earring recipes; we emailed a couple ideas back and forth. And then, she wrote that the oven had broken. It took a while to realize what was wrong; a nicely-browned cake turned out to be all gooey on the bottom, so she just flipped the thing over and baked it the rest of the way. It took a bit more cooking to realize the lower heating element wasn’t working. So while my sister put in calls to the repair people, tried to find a replacement part for her twenty-year-old oven, and polled her friends to see who wouldn’t be using their ovens on Thanksgiving, I started thinking about an ovenless Thanksgiving: barbecue the bird; make a hearty salad with pickled beets instead of roasted vegetables; bake individual pies in the toaster oven (I still might vote for individual pies: more crust!). My sister started pre-baking batches of Mom’s rolls in the toaster oven, and I considered making a vegetarian main dish soup instead of our usual roasted vegetable pot pie.

Today, my sister wrote to say that the oven is fixed. We won’t have to walk several blocks to use her friend’s (thanks for the offer, though!). We’ll be able to enjoy the smells of roasting and baking at home all day while we chop and stir together. We’ll only have to clean up one kitchen at the end of the day, not two. It would have been fine, and it would have made a great story. But this will be easier, and will likely also generate some great stories, since being together always does. Come back later next week, and I’ll share the final menu (here’s last year’s) — plus, of course, some recipes.

Happy Thanksgiving! Wishing you all a great meal and wonderful company.

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