Holiday Goodies

chocolaterocksLike the perfume of freshly squeezed orange juice or the whisps of flavor that float on the air when chicken soup is simmering, the smell of melting chocolate and almonds softens my resolve not to eat just one of what I am planning to make: chocolate rocks.

They couldn't be easier. Or more forgiving. Or more interesting to experiment with. Caramelize some whole almonds, and hide one inside. Chocolate rocks are prefect for hiding things. A raisin. A hazelnut. Dried cherries or cranberries. Minced orange peel. Before you put them in the refrigerator, sprinkle them with fleur de sel. Or roll them in grated coconut. Cinnamon dust. Star dust. Whatever you have. And the best of all is that they take just minutes to make.

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brown-eyedsusans010a.jpg There are some cookies that are destined to become a holiday tradition. In my family's case, the traditional cookies were those that had become favorites -- my dad loved the thumbprints that his mom made each year and then they became my favorite. My brother loved the Chocolate Shot Cookies.

My mom would make dough full of powdered sugar and oatmeal and then roll it into logs. The logs would be rolled into sweet decorating sprinkles that she called shots. I don't see that word printed on the plastic containers of colorful decorating sprinkles I buy at the grocery store, but that's what she called them.

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treslecheCinco de Mayo is not necessarily celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico, but here in the United States it's a celebration of Mexican culture and a day where no excuse is needed to fill up on Mexican favorites. Guacamole, tacos, and margaritas are all popular when May 5 rolls around, but what about dessert? One of the most popular Mexican desserts is tres leches cake, a sponge cake made of three types of milk, hence the name. Sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream make up this incredibly sweet cake.

All over Latin America and even the Caribbean, people enjoy tres leches cake for holidays or just simple family get-togethers, so why not serve it on Cinco de Mayo this year? Some recipes for the cake use butter, which creates a more dense cake, but this recipe leaves it out to create a softer texture. Also, the egg yolks and whites are beaten separately, which creates more volume. The resulting texture is truly sponge-like, easily absorbing about 1 quart of creamy liquid. After chilling, the cake is ready for the final flourish of whipped cream.

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"Latkes are a kind of oil, into which small quantities of shredded potato have been infused." -- Jonathan Safran Foer

herodlamp_sm.jpg Latkes, also known as potato pancakes, are a traditional treat to eat at least once during the eight days of Hanukkah. The reason you eat latkes for Hanukkah is because they are fried in oil. Why oil? Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the second temple after a battle and along with the victory came the miracle in which mere drops of oil in an oil lamp lasted eight days. The "miracle" is much like a story about a fat man coming down a chimney with presents...

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easyturkey.jpgWith Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought it was time to experiment with some turkey recipes. Some years I have a house full of people and often cook two big birds, but other times it’s just a small group and cooking a huge turkey just seems to be too time consuming.

Roasting a turkey breast is a great solution for small gatherings and it makes a great dinner any time of year – not just at Thanksgiving! Most of the “experts” (Alton Brown, Emeril, Cooks Illustrated, etc.) recommend brining in a saltwater solution to season the meat and keep it moist, juicy and succulent and though it does add to the prep time, it’s really worth it.

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