Did you know that it’s actually still January? I guess that seems like a ridiculous question if you’re in New England and shoveling out from 2 feet of snow. Meanwhile, here in Kansas it’s warm and I’ve got the windows flung open wide, sun pouring in from every direction. Listening to Paul Simon and birdsong. Dreaming about flowered dresses and linen sweaters. Winter will be back tomorrow, but for today I breathe deep and fill my soul with Spring.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know that I’ve been plugging away on a pretty pink cardigan this month. The pattern is Primrose, by Cecily Glowik MacDonald, and the yarn is The Woolen Rabbit Essence, in the colorway Blush. I’m having a bit of a love affair with the color pink right now, so it seemed the natural choice. I thought this would be the perfect project to get me dreaming about spring while stuck inside under a blanket of snow — but we haven’t gotten any snow this year, and it’s supposed to be almost 70° later this week! Fortunately* I’ve been sick off and on for most of the month, so there’s been plenty of downtime for knitting anyway. And I eventually resorted to making my own snow, from this tutorial, which really cheered up the mantel after the Christmas decorations were put away. [*Obviously not great that I’ve been sick, but from the perspective of getting this sweater done, it’s been a terrific opportunity!]
Besides the knitting, there have been a few kitchen projects here and there. A chocolate pie, an epic failed attempt at baking bread, some lovely apricot scones, butterscotch blondies, and my new favorite thing: the Marocchino. It means ‘Moroccan’ in Italian, but the drink isn’t Moroccan at all. Apparently the name derives from the color of the drink, which is reminiscent of Moroccan leather. The first and only time I had a Marocchino was last winter at a little bar in Milan, where Flavio and I had stopped to get out of the rain. It’s a mixture of cocoa powder, ristretto (a very short, strong espresso), and frothed milk, typically served in a glass cup with a metal handle. Yesterday we were pretty bored and discussing what kind of coffee to have post-lunch, and one of us had the idea to try making a Marocchino at home. It’s a little bit involved for such a small drink, although not at all difficult.
Marocchino (serves 2)
1.5 – 2 oz. ristretto
about 1/4 c. frothed milk
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
Sugar, for serving
To make the ristretto, we used our regular old 2-cup stovetop moka pot, but only used half the normal amount of water (and the usual amount of coffee). The trick is to pay close attention as the coffee brews, because it doesn’t make the typical hissing/gurgling sound when it’s done.
The easiest way to make frothed milk is with one of those little electric frothing wands, but you can also use a small French press or the steamer thing on an espresso machine (although I could never make that thing work). Any kind of milk will work, but low-fat and skim milk will be foamier than whole milk.
To assemble the Marocchino, first dust a little cocoa powder in the bottom of a small (about 3 oz.) cup. Glass is traditional, so you can see the pretty layers. Next, pour in half of the ristretto. Carefully pour in a couple tablespoons of frothed milk, holding back the foamiest part with a spoon, then dollop a bit of the foam on top. Finally, dust with additional cocoa powder. Serve with sugar.
Kind of getting this in under the wire before the holiday season ends, but I wanted to share some pictures of the Christmas treats I made for my family. I wasn’t really planning to do the Christmas baskets this year, because I didn’t think I’d have time, but at the last minute I decided to whip up a few goodies. Nothing canned this time, but they all got red plum jelly over the summer. Right before Christmas, I got an amazing deal on a KitchenAid stand mixer at Target, and that made a tremendous difference in being able to knock out all of this baking in just 2 days. Alright, on to the goodies:
- Hazelnut Coffee Toffee – recipe here (and also in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook — my copy had a typo re: butter amount, but the blog recipe is correct). I also made a batch of this for my coworkers. Accidentally doubled the espresso powder in the batch I made for my family, but it still turned out amazing. My mom kept telling everyone that if they didn’t like it, she’d take theirs! But the only one who didn’t enjoy it was my 2 1/2-year old niece…she shouldn’t have had it anyway, but I think she grabbed a piece right out of her daddy’s hand. Note: the recipe is designed to be poured onto a 9×13″ baking sheet. It sets up nice & thick this way. For the batch I made for my coworkers, I needed more toffee, so I multiplied everything by 1.5 and poured it out onto an 11×17″ baking sheet. It came out a little thinner this way, but was still super delicious.
- Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzels – recipe from Pretzel Making at Home, by Andrea Slonecker. Meh, these didn’t turn out so great. I don’t think I baked them long enough, or rolled them out thin enough. They tasted great, and they looked pretty (well, some people thought they looked like little piles of fake dog poo, but I thought they were pretty!), but they were really hard to eat. I would’ve preferred to make soft pretzels, and still think those would’ve turned out better, but hard pretzels store better. Oh well! Wouldn’t be one of my Christmas baskets if there wasn’t something inedible in it! :)
- Iced Sugar Cookies – similar cookie recipe here, icing recipe here. A classic. I make these every year, and was so happy to have found my favorite royal icing recipe when I was organizing my recipe collection a few months ago. It’s so billowy and white, like marshmallow fluff. And the stand mixer handled it like a pro — last year, all of that powdered sugar burned up the motor in my little hand-mixer. The cookie recipe I’ve linked to here is the closest I’ve found to the one I actually use, which came attached to a polar bear cookie cutter I bought from King Arthur Flour a few years ago — just omit the ginger & nutmeg (or leave them in, because they sound delicious!). I had such a fun time decorating the cookies this year; the bells were spray-painted with metallic gold Cake Graffiti, the brown frosting was flavored with Dutch cocoa powder & ground cinnamon, and I hand-painted names and seasonal sentiments on a few of the cookies with a mixture of red gel coloring & almond extract.
- Gingersnaps – recipe here. Last Monday, I had made the toffee and the doughs for the pretzels and the sugar cookies (both of which required an overnight rest in the fridge), and still had most of the afternoon ahead of me. I decided to go ahead and make these gingersnaps, despite barely having enough ginger. Mostly I just wanted something to put in these adorable little boxes!!
So, that was my holiday baking for 2014. I’ve already got lots of ideas for next year’s baskets, including homemade sausage, something canned (maybe tomato sauce?), chocolate truffles, and of course the iced sugar cookies!
(All of the packaging was from World Market, except for the labels on the toffee boxes — those are just the standard labels that come with a box of Ball jelly jars.)
This year, one of the gifts I wanted to give my husband was an Italian-style holiday dinner. I was hoping that we’d be able to have some of my family join us, but that didn’t work out, so it was just a really epic dinner for two. Of course, this couldn’t even compare to a real, traditional La Vigilia meal, where you’d probably find two primi (first courses, typically rice and/or pasta) and maybe even three secondi (second courses, typically meat and side dishes) — so this was my take on a pared-down, Americanized version of my husband’s favorite feast.
Antipasti (clockwise from top-left):
- Salami trio – Italian dry salame, peppered salame, and sopressata
- Celery filled with cream cheese and peanut butter
- Deviled eggs with smoked salmon, dill, & chives
- Affettati (lunch meats) filled with gherkin pickles & cream cheese
- Russian salad (recipe here)
- Affettati platter – capicola, prosciutto, and roast beef
- Cheese tortellini cooked in chicken broth
- Cherry-port glazed spiral-sliced ham (recipe here)
- Cheesy au gratin potatoes
Formaggi e frutta:
- Double-creme brie
- Humboldt Fog chevre
- Hickory-smoked gouda
- Green table grapes
- Martini & Rossi Asti spumante
It was a wonderful, delicious meal, but I think we both learned that it’s not the food that makes the feast — it’s the people you share it with. I think we both enjoyed the leftovers we took to my mom’s house the following day much more than the original feast. And we’re crossing our fingers that in 2015 we’ll be able to enjoy a real Italian holiday feast!
P.S. Where’s the fish?? In the US, many Italian-American families celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Unsurprisingly, my northern Italian husband has never even heard of that. Italians are resourceful and tend to eat what’s most plentiful in their region. In Piedmont where he’s from, holiday feasts are more likely to include roasted meats, risotto, homemade salame, and liqueurs made from Alpine herbs.
Today was supposed to be amazing. They were predicting 3-5 inches of snow. I spent all day yesterday running around, gathering supplies to make sure we had everything we needed to stay well-fed, warm, and entertained for the next few days. I bought firewood, popcorn, good beer, and the snuggliest sweater. We were ready to be snowed in.
The snow was supposed to start around 9 or 10 this morning. I wanted to wait until it started before taking outfit pictures, but by 10:30 I couldn’t wait any longer. Just as we went out on the deck, the first few flakes began to fall. A few minutes after we came back inside, big fat flakes started to fall. A lot of them, coming down really fast. It was so beautiful! In hindsight, I wish that I’d grabbed my camera and run to the window to capture them — but I didn’t, because I thought it was just the beginning of our beautiful mini-blizzard.
Five minutes later, while Flavio was downstairs building a cozy blaze in our newly-functional fireplace, the snow stopped. We got a few more flurries a couple hours later, but what you see on the leaves there is pretty much the sum total of our first snowfall. What a letdown! I’m sure we’ll get plenty of snow this winter, but there’s nothing quite as special as the First Snow…
As we’ve done pretty much every year since I moved out on my own, my mom and I are splitting the Thanksgiving dinner duties. Last year she traveled up here to Lawrence to have dinner at my house, but this year we’re back at her house in Wichita. My mom’s work schedule has changed, and she has to work Wednesday and Friday, so celebrating on Thursday will just be too hectic — so we’ll be doing dinner on Saturday, freeing Thursday up for prep. We’re pretty big fans of doing as many things ahead of time as possible, so we look for recipes that allow us to do just that.
In the past, we’ve done twists on the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but this year my mom was craving a good old fashioned turkey dinner with all of the trimmings. I still stubbornly insist on doing things from scratch, with little to no processed shortcuts. And my husband, who misses all of the big 4-hour-long holiday feasts that he’s used to, has requested a classic Italian dessert. The following menu is a direct result of all of these things coming together.
- Turkey in a Pot (from Cook’s Country, November 2014 – online recipe available to members only) — Because there are only a few of us, and my mom isn’t a fan of dark meat, we typically only cook a turkey breast instead of the whole turkey. When I saw this recipe for a turkey breast cooked in a Dutch oven, with a gravy made from the drippings, I knew it would be the perfect recipe to try this year. Cook’s Country rarely (never?) gets it wrong, and this recipe is both simple and straightforward.
- Mashed Potatoes — Leaving this to my mom, because my mashed potatoes never turn out good. She uses a little milk, lots of butter, and an electric mixer. As long as she doesn’t accidentally dump in a truckload of black pepper (it’s happened before), these are guaranteed to be delicious.
- Sausage Cornbread Stuffing (from a Jimmy Dean Sausage ad my mom saw in a magazine) — Like the turkey, this is a recipe we’ve never tried before. For me, I could take or leave stuffing…I’ll eat it if it’s on the table, but I don’t miss it if it’s not there. That’s probably because I grew up with Stovetop, which is easy but bland. My mom, on the other hand, grew up with her mom’s completely from scratch cornbread stuffing. This recipe looks like a good compromise between the two.
- Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole (from Cook’s Country, October/November 2010 – online recipe currently available to anyone, but will probably be members-only after this month) — I made this from-scratch Crockpot version of my beloved green bean casserole for Flavio’s first Thanksgiving in America, back in 2010. I was just learning how to cook, so this was probably my only real contribution to dinner that year (although I seem to remember also making cranberry sauce from the recipe on the bag, and maybe helping out with the relish tray). I’ve got a lot of memories of this recipe: driving across town to my dad’s grocery store to pick up a 2-lb. bag of perfect hand-selected green beans that he’d made up just for me; spending pretty much all dang day chopping, sautéeing, and slow-cooking this casserole; and being so blown away by how much yummier it was than the “traditional” canned green bean & cream of mushroom soup recipe we all know and pretend to love. This recipe takes some work — don’t let the “slow cooker” label fool you — but it’s worth it, especially if you’re trying to free up space in your oven. I plan to do as much of the prep ahead of time as I can this year.
- Sweet Potato Biscuits (from Midwest Living) — My mom hates sweet potatoes. I know this because every time I say the words “sweet potato,” she reminds me how much she hates them. I don’t know what prompted me to make these last year, but I somehow managed to convince my mom to try one. She loved them! When we started planning our menu for this year, she demanded that these be included. They’re made with mashed sweet potatoes, orange zest, and smoked paprika. They’re spicy, sweet, smoky…a little bit of everything. They’re basically perfect, and if you’re feeding a lot of people you need to make a double batch.
- Fresh Cranberry Relish (from Whole Living, November 2012 – dang I miss that magazine) — This is a relic from a year that we decided to make a really fresh & healthy Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve held onto it because it takes like a minute to make, it’s got a nice balance of tart & sweet, it can be made ahead of time, and it’s completely no-cook.
- Pecan Pie — My mom is making this, and I really don’t know why. She doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, Flavio doesn’t like it. I guess she’s making it for my brother, but we’re still not sure if he’s coming to dinner, and it’s not even his favorite pie (he’d probably rather have apple or blueberry). But this has always been her Thanksgiving go-to. She makes it with dark corn syrup and Log Cabin pancake syrup. Gross and double gross. Sorry, ma!
- Tiramisù — This was Flavio’s request. I thought about making a pumpkin version (there’s a recipe for a pumpkin tiramisù pie in Ashley English’s A Year of Pie), but since the running theme this year is “Classic,” and it’s the only thing Flavio has asked for, I’m going with a traditional recipe. I’ve only made this once before, using a recipe from a bag of lady fingers, and it turned out extremely boozy. I figured I should dial back on the liquor this time, particularly since my sister-in-law is almost 6-months pregnant. So if you’ve got a particularly good, low- to no-alcohol tiramisù recipe, send it my way! I figure this may become a new Thanksgiving tradition for us, since this is a dish best served if it’s been allowed to sit in the fridge overnight.
So how do you Thanksgiving? Traditional American turkey dinner, or do you try something new every year? Are there any dishes that aren’t necessarily traditional but are absolute must-haves on your family’s table?
Life has been a little bit of everything lately, although not too much cooking. Dinner still happens, of course, but with much help and with very little fanfare. And there’s been no baking…I should really remedy that soon. Maybe something savory, though. I’m all sugared out after Halloween. We’ve been spending more time in the basement, trying to finally get it done. Flavio painted yesterday, and it’s just beautiful. Exactly what I wanted. The color is Majolica Green, by Sherwin-Williams. We’ve got an appointment to have the chimney cleaned next Thursday, and we’re waiting to shampoo the carpet until after that. Then it’s just furniture & finishing touches! I’m looking forward to many cozy nights knitting in front of the fire this winter.
Earlier this week I started re-reading Little Women, for probably the 6th or 7th time. I just love that book so much. It’s an especially nice reminder to me as we enter the holiday season, to be kind and loving and content with the blessings I have (and not sit around pining for more). I’m also knitting a little elephant for a sweet friend who just had her first baby. I may have promised Flavio it would be ready to mail by the end of October, but the poor little dear still needs arms & legs. Soon, soon. Maybe by Monday.
I’m sorry I’ve neglected this space so much lately. I’ve been posting daily outfit photos at a new Tumblr. It’s a little experiment, and I’m loving it so far. It’s forcing me to be more creative with my wardrobe and my hair & makeup, and it’s also making me get over my hatred of being photographed (though I’m still not a big fan of looking directly at the camera, clearly — my face goes all derpy). Anyway, I’d love for you to follow along with me over there, and I’ll try to post here again soon — maybe with this year’s Thanksgiving menu?