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

by Caroline


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.


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.

Pumpkin Apple Bread, because there’s still a whole lot of pumpkin puree to use

by Caroline


The cooking division of labor in our household goes like this: my husband Tony handles the stove, and I manage the oven. In practice, this means that he generally makes dinner and I make The Accessory Foods: roasted vegetables, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, bread, and other delicious — but not necessarily very sustaining– items. Tonight, Tony was out for dinner, and I didn’t have it in me to make my standard mom and the boys alone dinner, but luckily our local bakery, Arizmendi (which makes a different kind of pizza every day) was making roasted potato and pesto pizza, a big hit with the kids. With that and some carrot sticks and green beans, dinner was taken care of, and I turned my attention to our pumpkin puree. Remember the pumpkins that were sitting on our front stoop all October? I only roasted the big reddish one, and we’re still (two batches of muffins and one quart of puree in the freezer later) working our way through it. So I made pumpkin apple bread to give to Ben’s teachers. It has filled the house with such a fabulously cinnamon-y smell that I might have to bake a couple more for ourselves.

recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

For the topping
1 T flour
5 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 T unsalted butter, softened

note: I am, my sister might point out, one of the only people in America that doesn’t like streusel topping, but even I say don’t skip this one! it melts into a buttery, crackly cinnamon crust on the top of the bread.

For the bread
3 c flour
3/4 t salt
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice
15 oz pumpkin puree (that’s one can of solid-pack pumpkin; I measured out a scant 2 cups in a liquid measure, which seems to have worked out fine)
3/4 c vegetable oil
2 1/4 c sugar
4 eggs
2-3 tart apples or firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 2 c)

Blend together all the topping ingredients in a small bowl until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter two 9×5″ loaf pans (or line with parchment).

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, sugar and eggs. Add the flour mixture, stirring until well combined, then fold in the apples.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans. Sprinkle each loaf with half the topping. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool loaves on a rack for a few minutes, then remove from the pans to cool completely.

Summer in a Jar: Salsa Verde

by Caroline

We’re almost past the time, here in California, when we can stock up on extra produce at the farmer’s market to store away for the winter. There are some tomatoes coming still, but I’ve got about as many as I can handle, cooked into sauce and tucked into the freezer, next to a few dozen pesto cupcakes, some apricots and some berries. I don’t have a huge freezer, so I don’t put up a lot, but if I’m careful we’ll still have something that we can pull out of the freezer for a shot of summer on a dark February day.

But happily there are some foods that taste brightly of summer to me but are easy to make out of ingredients that are available year round. Salsa Verde is one of those things. If you’re lucky enough to have an abundant lemon tree, like Lisa, and a pot of parsley on your window sill or in your garden, so much the better, but otherwise pick those up fresh at the market; all the other ingredients are pantry staples, which means this is something you can assemble in five minutes and then have ready for chips, or carrot and cucumber sticks, roasted potatoes, a piece of fish, or simply to eat by the spoonful.

salsa blender

Toss everything into a blender, blend, then taste and adjust seasonings.

2/3 c parsley leaves
2 1/2 T drained capers
6 anchovy fillets (optional)
1-2 cloves of garlic (to taste; the garlic mellows after a few hours)
1/2 t good mustard
1/2 t red vinegar or the juice of one lemon
1/2 c olive oil
salt to taste

salsa fries

Morale-Boosting Banana Coconut Muffins

by Caroline

There comes a time in every child’s illness when the child is still too sick to attend school (he’s got to be fever-free for 24 hours) but is too well to lie docilely on the couch watching videos while his mother catches up on her New Yorkers. And that is the time, in this house, when we make muffins. I know this might appall some of the more germ-conscious of you, but I am just not really an art project kind of mom. Plus, we are not making muffins to distribute to our friends; these muffins stay home, in the family, where we’ve all been exposed to the same germs already for quite some time. And of course we wash our hands before we start to cook, which we do whether we’re sick or not.

So here we were, after another feverish night but with the Tylenol finally taking effect. Eli was hungry for a snack, tired of his usual dry crunchy things, but not yet up for a real meal. He noticed some browning bananas in the fruit bowl. For the most part, I try to stick to local fruits, but in the winter, when I do even more baking than usual and the variety of fruits available is slightly more limited, I make an exception for bananas. And of all the various banana breads and banana muffins that I make, this might just be the simplest. I’m linking to the original version on Epicurious (pause here a moment to mourn Gourmet, but to be grateful that Conde Nast is keeping the website alive), but of course I always tinker a little bit, so here’s how Eli and I made the muffins today.

a potato masher makes quick work of soft bananas

a potato masher makes quick work of soft bananas

slicing the butter for melting is a good time to practice knife skills

slicing the butter for melting is a good time to practice knife skills

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
½ c ground flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (3/4 cup)
5 T unsalted butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
a splash of vanilla
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin cups with liners.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and flax in a bowl. Whisk together bananas, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and 1/2 cup coconut in a large bowl until combined well, then fold in flour mixture until flour is just moistened.

Divide batter among lined muffin cups and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup coconut. Bake until muffins are puffed and golden, and a tester comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes; keep an eye on them toward the end, as the flax makes them brown more quickly than usual, and you don’t want the flaked coconut to burn. Transfer muffins to a rack and cool slightly.

Sweet Rice

by Lisa

Finn is not like the rest of us.

For instance, he just ate a fish taco for breakfast.

Also, he loves rice with a passion that makes me wonder if his conception and birth were blessed by Buddha himself.  (He has, too, a kind preternatural patience and even-keeled temperament that is positively other-worldly.) If there is rice on the table he will eat it. Whereas his sister, even as an infant, sprouted an indifferent attitude toward this versatile grain, saving her starchy passion for pasta and potatoes and bread, Finn has always chosen rice above all other forms of carbohydrates.

So, I cook it more, and that means leftovers, which both kids will happily eat for lunch, pressed into cute little star/animal shapes, and sometimes rice pudding, and most often, a dish that I just call Sweet Rice because it’s not really pudding. It’s more like porridge, and I’m certainly not the first to serve it for breakfast, but it’s so easy and versatile (think breakfast, snack, dessert) that it’s worth sharing.  In fact, with some minor supervision over the stove, Finn can make it himself.

Sweet Rice

  • Leftover rice
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon (part of a stick or powdered)
  • Vanilla (highly optional)


Spoon the rice, however much you have, into a saucepan.


All of it.


Cover the rice with milk.


Add sugar to taste.  We used about 1/4 cup of sugar for maybe 2 cups of rice.


Sprinkle in a dash of cinnamon, or break off a small piece of the stick and plop it in.


Stir over medium heat until much of the milk is absorbed and the porridge thickens a little. This is the part I supervise, so no picture.

Serve and admire.


Taste and cheer.