December 8, 2014

ELF ON THE SHELF! - Real Holiday Spirits!

Holiday Spirits!
Photo by Mette Nielsen

The spirit of Christmas is, well, elusive. But real spirits are easy to find and to give. Those visions I waxed on about in last week's post, the walnuts and pomegranates, cards and the tree, remain just visions.  It sounded pretty good, right?

I've got a quicker fix for home made gifts. Holiday spirits, real spirits, some for me and some to share. Flavored Vodkas. Vanilla, citrus, rosemary, apricot, cranberry vodkas are easy to make, lovely to give.

Use good vodka, one that is clean tasting yet indistinct (not too expensive). Find great looking bottles and jars.  Do it now and it will be ready in a week or so.

It's not as messy as making cookies, quicker than putting up chutney. And, it is home made.

Here's how:

Vanilla Beans:  Split 4 to 6 vanilla beans down the center, put into tall container, fill with vodka. Give just as they are.

Rosemary:  Rinse 4 to 6 rosemary sprigs and put into a tall container, fill with vodka. Give just as they are. This vodka makes an awesome Bloody Mary!

Kumquats: Cut the kumquats in half, put enough in to fill the container 1/2 way. Fill with vodka. Before gifting, strain off the vodka, remove and discard the kumquats. Put a few sliced kumquats in the container and refill with the flavored vodka.

Cranberries:  Fill a container with cranberries. Add the vodka. Before gifting, strain off the vodka, remove and discard the cranberries. Put a few fresh cranberries into a container and refill with the flavored vodka.

Apricots:  Fill a container with dried apricots. Add the vodka. Before gifting, strain off the vodka and remove the apricots and place in a different container. Put a few new dried apricots into a container and refill with the flavored vodka. Put the vodka soaked apricots in another gift container (these are delicious sweetened with a little sugar and spooned over ice cream or cake.

December 3, 2014

Elf on the Kitchen Shelf

Cranberry Chutney
Photo by Mette Nielsen 

Making Christmas! ... Make it Fun

Christmas busts through the front door like a wild-eyed puppy. Hurry hurry! There are cookies to bake and cards to create and errands to run. We haul the fresh cut tree from the top of the car and string it helter-skelter with white lights, kid-crafted ornaments, and heirloom treasures. It stands, open-armed, like a diva, sending forth her resinous, riotous scent. We drag bundles of spruce, holly and mistletoe home from the farmers market, fill bowls with pomegranates and pecans in their shells. Crimson cranberries brighten breads and sauces, are tossed into salads and onto roasts.

Cranberries, heart-breakingly beautiful, are the last fruit of the season, a bright and bitter taste of celebration. One of the very few North American fruits, they come in from the bogs of Wisconsin, fresh cranberry capitol of the world. New Jersey and Massachusetts grow cranberries for processing into juice and jellies. (NYTimes got it so wrong.)

With a little sugar and a bit of love, cranberries make a tangy fresh salsa or chutney. These are pretty on the holiday table, and make wonderful gifts.

Fresh Cranberry Salsa
Makes 2 cups

This fresh, zesty sauce is great with chips, spooned onto roast turkey or pork, swirled into yogurt.

1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked through
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger, or more to taste
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and grind until finely chopped. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Hot Sweet Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 8 cups

A brilliant red condiment for roasts and the cheese plate, this keeps several weeks in the refrigerator. If you plan to process it, follow the instructions on the canning jars.

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 cups cranberries, rinsed and picked through
4 cups chopped onions
4 cups chopped, cored apples
4 cups chopped, cored pears
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

In a large deep pot, combine the vinegar and cranberries and place over medium heat. Add the onions, apples and pears and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugars, a little at a time so that they dissolve.  Adjust the heat and simmer gently for until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 minutes. Stir in the ginger and apricots. Continue simmering until the mixture is thick enough to mound onto a spoon, an additional 20 minutes, adding a little water if it begins to stick on the bottom of the pan. Spoon into mason jars and allow to cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator.