best of (a holiday round-up)

DSC_0433

Season’s Greetings! It’s really happening. Since I’ve adopted the tradition of giving mostly food gifts, my kitchen becomes a factory of sorts this time of year. While I really love to do a little bit of experimenting during the holidays, I have a few go-to treats that I can’t do without. Here are a few of my favorites. If you’re looking for some last minute gift ideas, this is for you.

DSC_0278

granola – I’ve heard that this granola has become somewhat legendary in certain circles. People tell me that it’s become their favorite and that they’ve passed the recipe on to others, which makes me incredibly happy. Granola is surprisingly easy to make and totally customizable – add whatever seeds or nuts or dried fruit you like. I love this granola mixed in with a big dollop of plain Greek yogurt. And if you put it in a Mason jar and tie it with some pretty ribbon or fancy twine, you’ve got yourself the perfect gift.

DSC_0118

vanilla marshmallows – The first time I made these marshmallows, I was shocked by how insanely good a plain marshmallow could be. These are perfection. Pair them with a tin of hot cocoa, or some graham crackers and a bar of dark chocolate and you’re all set.

DSC_0407

fleur de sel caramels - I could not let a holiday season pass without whipping up at least one batch of these caramels. Rich, chewy caramels topped with a sprinkle of fleur de sel – need I say more? I know a handful of people who look forward to seeing these caramels every Christmas, and I can’t say that I blame them.

DSC_0078

quince jam - My obsession with quince is relentless. Every Christmas, I make some sort of quince treat; whether it’s membrillo or jam or jelly, I just love this stuff. Since quince pairs really nicely with cheese, I like to give jars of quince jam with a wedge of Manchego. It’s the perfect gift for the foodie(s) in your life.

DSC_0211

rugelach – Rugelach is one of my all-time favorites. These little crescent-shape pastries are one of those treats that really get me going, especially because they’re not super easy to come by in these parts. A tin of ruggies is such a treat. Your friends and family will be impressed.

I know we’re nearing the big day, but I might have one or two new goodies to share with you before then. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that I get everything done over here. In the meantime, I hope you’re getting all of your holiday shopping and/or treat-making taken care of and enjoying these days with loved ones. I’m hoping to sneak in a little down time – I’m so ready for some warm, spiced apple cider (with a nice big splash of bourbon). Happy Holidays, my dears!

 

fleur de sel caramels

I don’t know about you, but to me, the holidays seemed just a bit more crazy this year. This past week has been filled with candy making, gift wrapping, pie baking, family functions and so on, and so on. I am spent!

I decided early on that this was going to be a happy homemade holiday. I just can’t deal with the crowds and the lines and the department stores the way I used to.  I also wanted to avoid staying up until the wee hours of the morning baking dozens of cookies like I normally do every Christmas. So I took the easy route: handmade caramels.

Earlier this year I went to a birthday party where a friend of mine brought Ina Garten’s fleur de sel caramels, which were totally the foodie highlight of the day. It’s probably not a huge surprise to anyone that I am an Ina Garten fan. I adore her approach to cooking and entertaining and find her recipes extremely user friendly. So when it came time to think of homemade gifts, it was obvious to go for the caramels. I am so glad that I did! They are surprisingly easy to make and they are so much more exciting and decadent than a cookie. And from what I’ve been hearing, I’m pretty sure the caramel recipients were also happy with my decision to skip the cookies this year.

fleur de sel caramels

yields 16-20 caramels (depending on size)

from Ina Garten via foodnetwork.com

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over the sides.

In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix.

Meanwhile, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.

When the caramelized sugar has reached the proper color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel – it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248°F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.

When the caramel is cool, use the parchment paper to lift from the pan onto a cutting board. Starting at 1 end, roll the caramel up tightly until you’ve rolled up half of the sheet. Cut the sheet across and then roll the second half tightly. You will have 2 (1 by 8-inch) logs. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, cut each log into pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.