Holiday Goodies

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly chocolate." – Debbie Moose

kikas.jpgEach holiday season there are new chocolates and I am first in line to try as many as I can. This year there were so many I packed them all up and took them to Thanksgiving dinner to let my friends and family try them too. Here are the highlights:

I adore Kika's Treats. Kika is one of the most successful graduates of the La Cocina incubator program in San Francisco. Her caramelized graham crackers dipped in chocolate are unique and a wonderful melange of buttery toffee and rich chocolate. But her latest confection is equally compelling.

Luscious caramels dipped in dark chocolate with a pinch of sea salt and a surprising twist. They are lightened up with the addition of puffed brown rice that gives them the perfect crunch. A 9-piece assortment is just $16 (and the box is absolutely adorable).

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cranberries.jpgPudgy, glossy and scarlet red. There they were, bright and fresh, in plastic bags piled one on top of the other in the produce department of the grocery store, reminding me the holiday season is quickly approaching.

Images of Thanksgivings of the past appeared in my mind. I pictured our family gathered around the dinner table, nearly finished with a big turkey meal, when suddenly my mom yelled out, “The cranberries!” The roll of jellied cranberries pushed from a can (I know, I can hardly believe it, either) into a long, narrow crystal bowl had been forgotten in the refrigerator.

Those who don’t care for cranberry sauce may be familiar with only the canned varieties. Nothing beats the flavor of firm, fresh, deep red cranberries that have been cooked with water and sugar until they pop, pop, pop.

These little red jewels are so lovable. They are easy to store, they’re versatile and they’re so good for you. Refrigerated in their original packaging, they can last as long as two months. Put the original bag inside of a freezer bag, and you can store them frozen for about nine months. This is good news for all cranberry lovers, since the season is short.

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ImageOne of the simplest yet most rewarding pastry doughs in French cuisine is pâte à choux. Invented by an Italian chef who accompanied Catherine de' Medici to the French court on her marriage to the king, the recipe for pâte à choux has transformed many times over the centuries, but it now consists of milk or water, butter, flour, and eggs. The resulting multipurpose paste-like dough can be turned into many different treats, such as cream-filled profiteroles and eclairs, fried beignets, and gougères among many others. Gougères are the savory version made with cheese, traditionally gruyère. So it's simply a very French cheese puff that's light and airy-hollow on the inside and crisp and cheesy on the outside.

The best part about gougères, and pâte à choux in general, is that the dough can be made in just a few minutes. The key is to have a strong arm to beat the dough into a paste-like consistency. A food processor or mixer fitted with the paddle attachment can be used if preferred. The dough is then piped onto baking sheets using a pastry bag and tip, but if unavailable, a resealable plastic bag with a corner snipped off works just as well. The puffs are perfect for large gatherings and parties. I made them ahead of time for this New Year's Eve and will rewarm them in the oven once the evening festivities begin. The puffs are a very nice hors d'oeuvre before a holiday meal or a New Year's cocktail party. You will want to bake up many batches, because they disappear too quickly.

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cheeselog.jpgThis is a fantastic and easy recipe from my friend Pat Loud which was passed down from her mother. She serves it at nearly every party that I’ve attended and it’s always a big hit.

As with most good recipes, the amounts are somewhat flexible – in other words, feel free to use more or less of any of the ingredients. Key to success, however, depends upon quality sharp cheddar cheese. I used Cabot Private Stock Extra Sharp Cheddar.

Any favorite bleu cheese will work – Roquefort, Danish Bleu, or English Stilton. Make sure that the cheeses are not too cold, or the mixture will not blend in the food processor.

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crop_110839.jpgThe American media warns us at every turn that Christmas is a time of over-indulgence. Women’s magazines sprout articles about how to avoid the buffet table, not to mention an extra ten pounds. Readers flip quickly past that article to the one depicting how to decorate a sugar cookie.

Honestly, that cattle call to temptation has never bothered me all that much. My university’s English department parties tend to offer a lively selection of cheap wine, together with three different kinds of hummus. Besides, I shed calories wrestling a five-foot tree into submission, grading final papers for my Shakespeare students, and fighting my way to Fed Ex to mail late presents.

But this year my husband and I are on sabbatical from our respective universities, so we packed up loads of books, two children and four laptops, and moved to Paris. We have a rangy apartment in the 9th arrondissement, with floors dating to the 1760s, four patisseries within a block or two, and a covered market just over the border in the 10th.

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