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FOOD FUN: Snowman Cake Or Cookies

Snowman Cake

Melted Snowman Cookies

Snowman cake. This is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa, but we baked three cake layers instead. [2] Melting Snowman cookies (photo courtesy Pillsbury; here’s the recipe).

 

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or other year-end holiday, you can still have a special seasonal cake.

Make one with a nonsectarian snowman or snowflake motif. These work for New Year’s Eve, too (perhaps with a sparkler or two).

Snowmen are easier; snowflakes require some serious piping chops.

This photo is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa. We love the idea.

But we needed a cake. So we baked and stacked three graduated cake layers.

We made lemon pound cake* layers with coconut frosting (vanilla frosting topped with coconut).

Of course, carrot cake, chocolate cake, red velvet or any flavor you prefer would be just as nice.

MORE TASTY SNOWMEN

  • Snowman California Rolls (sushi)
  • Snowman Cheese Ball
  • Snowman Fruit Bowl
  • Melting Snowman Cookies
  • Snowman Cupcakes
  • Snowman Latte
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    *We wanted a dense, easy-to-cut cake rather than an airy one with a delicate crumb.

     
      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: GelPro, The Most Comfortable Kitchen Mat

    Along with tidings of comfort and joy, give real comfort and joy with a GelPro Mat.

    It’s a super-cushy and comfortable floor mat, so amazing that we not only have one front of our kitchen sink and stove; we also have one in the bathroom. We don’t know how we’d live without it.

    We almost always have aching legs, knees, feet and/or back and find that GelPro is the most cushy and comfortable mat we can stand on.

    A panacea for the aches, it’s shock-absorbing, non-skid and easy to clean. Almost everyone who has passed through THE NIBBLE kitchen has purchased one. Once you stand on one, you have to have one. At least one!

    Even people with no aches and pains get a lift from standing on them. It’s the difference between standing on hard flooring and standing on pillows. You just don’t get tired standing on these mats.

    The mats are available in a variety of sizes (from 20″ x 36″ to 9′ long!), colors and and designs, plain to fancy. They start at $99.95, depending on size and design.

    Whatever the price, trust us: We’d pay anything for the comfort our GelPro mats provide.

    They also make life more comfortable in the fitness room, garage, grill area, laundry room and workbench.

    Whomever you give one to will be thanking you for a long time.
     
    EXTRA SPECIAL COMFORT AND JOY FOR THE HOLIDAYS:
    20% OFF & FREE SHIPPING

    Head to GelPro.com.

     

    GelPro Kitchen Mat

    GelPro Kitchen Mat

    No matter how long you’ve been standing, a GelPro mat turns the floor into the cushiest pillow. Several sizes and numerous colors and designs are available (photos courtesy GelPro).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Struffoli, An Italian Christmas Tradition

    Struffoli Candied Fruit

    Struffoli Wreath

    Struffoli Cornucopia

    Frying Stuffoli

    Croque Em Bouche

    1000 Italian Recipes Book

    [1] A mound of struffoli, the traditional shape, from Linda’s Italian Table. It can be cut into slices, or for a party, put on the buffet so everyone can pick off what they like. [2] A loose wreath style from Il Cuori In Pentola. [3] A cornucopia shape, called Cornucopia di Sfoglia in Italian. It’s decorated with chocolate foil coins, by Oggi Cucino Cosi. [4] Frying the dough at My Spice Sage. If you can fry, you can make struffoli. [5] Croque em bouche, a special occasion treat in France, is often served instead of wedding cake. These smaller versions are decorated for the holidays by François Payard Bakery in New York City. [6] The recipes in this book include one for struffoli, reprinted below. You can see the recipes for any of these photos by clicking their links.

     

    How about a holiday baking project for family and friends?

    If you don’t have your own holiday baking tradition like Christmas cookies, gingerbread people or spritz cookies, how about struffoli?

    Struffoli (STROO-fo-lee) are puffy balls of eggy fried dough coated in honey. They are a traditional Christmas sweet in Naples and other parts of central and southern Italy.

    The fried dough is stacked into a cone-shape centerpiece or assembled into a wreath design. More ambitious cooks have the puffs spilling out a pastry horn of plenty. We like to present it with after-dinner coffee.

    It’s actually quite easy: If you can fry, you can make struffoli.

    Struffoli look like a smaller, flat croquembouche. Both have a crunchy outside and soft inside.

  • Croque Em Bouche is made from profiteroles—cream puffs—that are baked, filled and stacked into the shape of a large cone. The puffs are held together by caramelized (spun) sugar and finished with drizzled caramel. It is served for weddings and other celebrations.
  • Struffoli is made from deep-fried dough the size of marbles. There is no filling, but the balls are rolled in honey to stick together. They can be shaped into a cone or a wreath.
  • Stuffoli can be set on a cone base made from nougatine, a mixture of caramelized sugar and sliced almonds.
  • Croque em bouche is also traditionally served during baptisms and other special occasions. The name means “[it] cracks in the mouth,” which is what the caramelized sugar does!
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    DECORATING THE STRUFFOLI

    While struffoli can be served plain, you can express your creativity with decorations.

  • The Italian preference is for pastel sprinkle mixes. We suggest red, green and white sugar holiday confetti or sprinkles.
  • For an old-fashioned approach: candied red and green cherries or other candied fruits.
  • You may want to avoid Jordan almonds or candied nuts, another traditional decoration, if any guest may be allergic.
  • Like to roll fondant? Drape a red “ribbon” around the pastry and top with a “bow.” You can use real ribbon if you prefer.
  • Want elegance? Get gold and silver edible dragées and pearls.
  • Our favorite: strips of candied orange peel or an assortment of all the citrus peels you can collect. Dipping the peels in chocolate is our own personal touch. Here’s a recipe.
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    RECIPE: STRUFFOLI (NEAPOLITAN HONEY BALLS)

    This recipe, from 1,000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone, can easily be doubled. It is © copyright Michele Scicolone.

    If you like the idea but not the labor, call the nearest Italian bakery and order one.

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup honey (about 6 ounces)
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    TIP: Use quality honey instead of the generic supermarket variety for a more elegant flavor.
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the cup of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.

    2. TURN OUT the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Add a bit more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.

    3. CUT the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a teeny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)

    4. LINE a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan and heat to 370°F, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.

    5. PLACE just enough struffoli in the pan to fit without crowding, taking care not to splash the hot oil. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown (1 to 2 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough. When all of the struffoli are fried…

     

    6. GENTLY HEAT the honey to just a simmer in a large, shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the drained struffoli and toss well. Transfer the struffoli to a serving plate and shape into a mound or wreath. Decorate as desired.

    7. TO SERVE: For each person, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server. Or, pass the plate so people can take what they like.

    You can store struffoli at room temperature, covered with an overturned bowl, for up to 3 days.

    STRUFFOLI HISTORY

    The ancestor of struffoli dates back to ancient Greece. A similar dish is described by Archestratus, a Greek poet from Sicily.

    Called enkris, the dough balls were fried in olive oil (source).

    The name derives from the Greek word strongoulos, meaning “rounded in shape.”

    Fast forward to the early 17th century. The nuns of Naples were famous for their sweets, which they sold to the public. Each convent had a specialty. According to tradition, struffoli are considered good luck because the balls are a symbol of abundance.

    At Christmas, the nuns made struffoli as gifts for their aristocratic patrons, to thank them for their charity throughout the year. The tradition was copied by home cooks and became a Christmas tradition (source).

     
      

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    RECIPE: Skillet Cornbread

    Skillet Cornbread Recipe

    New England Open House Cookbook

    Corn Bread Squares

    [1] The earliest cornbread was made in a skillet: Rectangular baking pans were not yet in use. This recipe is courtesy [2] the New England Open House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase. [3] Corn pone, also called hoe cakes and johnny cakes, was the immigrant European’s version of the Native American cornmeal flatbread. [4] Today cornbread is most often cooked in a rectangular pan, like this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

     

    Serve this skillet cornbread for breakfast with eggs.

    Or serve it for lunch with a bowl of hearty soup and/or a salad.

    The recipe is from the New England Open House Cookbook via Vermont Creamery, which used its exquisite cultured butter and crème fraîche. Chopped scallions create a piquant counterpoint to the rich dairy.

    The garnish is optional, but adds excitement to an already yummy dish. Crème fraîche or sour cream, plus fresh chopped scallions, are a delightful finish.

    We have three more cornbread recipes for your perusal:

  • Buffalo Chicken Cornbread With Blue Cheese Salad
  • Queso Fresco & Scallion Cornbread
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Jalapeño Cornbread (video recipe)
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    RECIPE: SKILLET CORNBREAD

    Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk (you can make your own—see footnote*)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh corn, cut from the cob
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Optional: 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh jalapeños, mixed red and green, or to taste
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    For The Garnish

  • 8 ounces crème fraîche (you can make your own) (substitute sour cream)
  • 2-3 scallions or fresh herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, sage, thyme), chopped
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    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.

    2. WHISK together in another bowl the milk, buttermilk and eggs. Pour in the melted butter and stir well. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir till combined. Gently fold in the corn kernels.

    3. POUR into the prepared cast iron skillet. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.

    4. TO SERVE: Top with crème fraîche and a sprinkle of scallions.
     
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    *To make buttermilk, just add a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar to a cup measure and add enough milk to make an even cup. Let stand five minutes.

     
    THE HISTORY OF CORNBREAD

    Corn, which originated in what today is Mexico, was turned into flatbread–the tortilla—in its native land. Leavened breads were not indigenous, and the concept of raised bread wasn’t known until the arrival of the Spanish.

    As corn spread from Mexico northward, it was cultivated by Native Americans across the southern region of what is now the United States. When European settlers arrived, they learned to cultivate and cook corn from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek.

    The North American natives had also learned to make another unleavened cornbread, in the form of flat oval cakes or loaves. Mixing cornmeal and water, they cooked the batter in hot ashes.

    The Europeans called it cornpone, or pone. Pone is a shortened version of the Virginia Algonquian word for bread, appone; although pone is fried cooked gruel rather than flatbread (the fine points can be argued, but not here and now).

     

    The immigrant Europeans added some salt and fried the mixture in lard in their skillets. Skillet breads, pies, etc. date back generations before people had home ovens, much less baking pans. Everything was cooked over a fire in a cast iron pot or a skillet; or in some towns, in a central community oven.

    In parts of England, hoe was a colloquial term for griddle. The tale that hoe cakes were cooked by field workers on their hoes over a fire is a story perpetuated but not substantiated.

    The fried corn batter is also known as hoe cakes and johnnycakes. Today, outside the South, we call them corn pancakes.

    Here’s a recipe for hoecakes and for johnnycakes; the photos are below.
     
    Johnnycake is similar, The modern johnnycake is found in the cuisine of New England, A modern johnnycake is fried cornmeal gruel, which is made from yellow or white cornmeal mixed with salt and hot water or milk, and sometimes sweetened

    The immigrants adapted cornmeal to their European recipes: bread loaves and muffins, corncakes, fritters, hoecakes and pancakes, liquor, porridge and so on. Most people had little cooking equipment. The skillet served multiple purposes, from frying to baking.

    Cornbread became popular as the main ingredient for a dressing or stuffing with fowl (the difference: stuffing is cooked inside the bird; dressing is cooked in a separate pan).
     
    What Is Cornmeal?

    Cornmeal is produced by grinding dried raw corn grains. The finest grind is used for baking, a medium grind for porridge and polenta, and a coarse grind for grits. Raw corn kernels spoked in hot water and an alkaline mineral like calcium hydroxide is called hominy (pozole in Spanish) and ground and mixed into masa harina, the dough used to make tamales and tortillas.

    Cornbread can be baked or fried, even steamed. Steamed cornbread is more like cornmeal pudding or mush, moist and chewier than a traditional bread. Here’s more on the evolution of cornbread plus early cornbread recipes.

    One thing to note: Originally cornbread did not contain sugar. As disposable income increased, this expensive ingredient was added as a variation, to make cornbread more like a cake.

    Unfortunately, more and more sugar was added until cornbread became an overly-sweet, simple bread. That’s fine if you want cake; you can serve sweet cornbread with berries and whipped cream.

    But if it’s bread you want, lose the sugar. We prefer to add whole corn kernels for sweetness, or enjoy cornbread as a savory bread.
     
    CRÈME FRAÎCHE, MASCARPONE OR SOUR CREAM?

    When should you use which? Here are the differences.

    Here are the differences.

     

    Corn Pone

    Johnnycakes

    Original Corn Plant

    [1] Hoecakes. Here’s the recipe from the Wall Street Journal (photo Christopher Testani | Wall Street Journal). [2] Johnnycakes come in different shapes—flatter, plumper, individual or the size of an entire skillet. Here’s the recipe for these pancake-syle johnnycakes from About.SouthernFood.com. [3] Who would have imagined that the wisp at the left evolved into the plump ear of corn we know today? Here’s the whole story.

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Merci Chocolates

    Need a bunch of small, affordable holiday gift for teachers, salon staff, the letter carrier and others you’d like to thank?

    Or do you need a stash of $10 gifts for anytime gifting?

    Give a box of Merci Chocolates. The very name of the product says “thank you” in French.

    The miniature bars, in an assortment of flavors* made with fine ingredients, nicely packaged in a gift box. There’s even a holiday-edition gift box printed with a red ribbon and evergreen branches—no additional gift wrap required.

    The delicious selection of rich European-style chocolates in multiple flavors* will delight the palate.

    Choices include:

  • All milk chocolate.
  • All dark chocolate.
  • Mixed milk and dark chocolate.
  • Assorted chocolate with almonds.
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    The 20-piece box, with 8.8-ounces of chocolate, can be found for $7.50 to $10.00 or so, depending on the retailer. You can purchase two boxes with free shipping for $21.90 on Amazon.

    In addition to Amazon, the chocolates are sold at CVS, Target, Walgreens and other chains and grocery stores nationwide.
     
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    Merci Chocolates

    Merci Chocolate

    [1] You can serve Merci from the box or in your favorite candy dish. [2] The holiday-edition box (photo courtesy Target).

    *Flavors include Coffee and Cream, Cream Truffle, Dark Cream, Dark Mousse, Hazelnut-Almond, Hazelnut-Creme, Milk Chocolate and Praline-Creme.

      

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