Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 recipes in review: the best and the overlooked

Some of the most popular recipes of 2012
I've never done a year-end recap post before, so if you're already tired of them (best movies, best books, etc.), tough nooggies.

As an added bonus, I decided to include not only the posts that you, with your page views, deemed the best (or at least most popular) posts of 2012 but also the ones that I think you overlooked.

Frankly, cooking these recipes and writing these posts is a bit like being a parent: you insist you love each one equally but, really, in the deep honesty of your heart, you have favorites.

So here they are. Did you make any of these recipes yourself this year? Or are you inspired to try one now? If so, which one?

The Ninj wants to know.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I'm sure each of you has at least one never-to-be-messed-with family holiday traditions. Mine is panettone, a light, sweet, fruit-filled Italian bread.

(Well, it used to be homemade manicotti for Christmas day dinner, but then I married someone who is not Italian and we started spending the holidays with his non-Italian family.)

So I introduced my non-Italian in-laws to panettone. I'm happy to report it has become one of their traditions now, too (or, at the very least, they're humoring me, so thanks for that -- mwah.).

As I mentioned in my last post, I like to try one big new recipe at holiday time each year. This year, I decided to try my hand at panettone, complete with homemade candied citrus peel.

It turns out, there are a LOT of varied recipes for panettone out there on the web, which can make it difficult to decide which one to try, especially when you're messing with a tradition: you don't want it to suck.

To stay on the safe side, I chose Jeff Hertzberg's and Zoe Francois' recipe, straight from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. Even as an amateur bread baker, I have had such good luck with their recipes and instructions that I knew it would be a winner.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Candied citrus peel

Candied citrus peel
I like to try one new, big recipe for the holidays each year.

Last year, it was my mom's "fruitcake", which has been more aptly renamed the Boozy Zenith Bourbon Pecan Cake.

The year before it was Dorie Greenspan's figgy pudding.

This year, it is going to be panettone, the sweet traditional Italian bread that my family eats every year on Christmas morning. (Check back next week for the full recipe.)

Although you can make panettone with a variety of dried fruits, traditional recipes usually call for candied citron or citrus peel. Earlier this summer I had come across a recipe for candied citrus peel at Homemade Trade; it has been on my to-try list for months. Fortunately, even though it's no longer summer here in Vermont, Florida citrus is all over the local markets right now.

Clearly, there was some fate involved here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Peppermint sugar scrub

Peppermint sugar scrub
It has been a while, but I think it's time for a recipe that you can't eat.

While the holidays are a food blogger's dream -- that is, having the perfect excuse to spend all your free time baking -- it's also a great time to do a little making, too.

And, trust me, you don't have to be crafty. At all.

Case in point: this peppermint sugar scrub.

Who doesn't love to get a fun, spoil-yourself, spa-style gift for the holidays?

There really is nothing to this gift: mix the ingredients, pack it into some cute jars, wrap it with some festive ribbon and you're done. I used peppermint oil in this scrub because it seemed wintry and holiday-ish. You could certainly substitute other scents -- lavender, rosemary, whatever is your favorite -- and adjust the color accordingly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fruit and nut chocolate bark

easy DIY fruit and nut chocolate bark

Another 2012 milestone reached: the From Scratch Club cook-along virtual book club has come to the final chapter of Alana Chernila's  The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. And, as with so many other cookbooks, Alana saved the best for last: candy and sweet treats.

Now, I have to admit, ever since we started the book I've had my heart set on making the Twinkie recipe that is part of this chapter, way before the no-more-Twinkie shit hit the fan last month. I even added the Twinkie mold to my Amazon wish list.

Then -- ho, ho, freakin' ho -- the holidays closed in and there just wasn't quite enough time for Twinkies. (Don't fret: they'll make an appearance in 2013, although likely not until after Detox January.)

Never fear: Alana has a recipe for chocolate bark (what she calls "Easiest Chocolates") that was exactly as described (wicked easy) and definitely appropriate for the holidays.

If you can wield a knife and boil water, you can make this bark lickety-split.

I love that the flavor combinations are seemingly endless. I went with dark chocolate, dried apricots, crystallized ginger and pistachios, because that's what I like. But if you wanted to make the bark with white chocolate and peppermint, it would still work. Milk chocolate, peanuts and raisins more to your taste? Just follow the same directions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry-pistachio biscotti with crystallized ginger

Cranberry-pistachio biscotti with crystallized ginger
I have now participated in my first-ever cookie swap ... and it was a virtual one!

(Although a friend recently suggested a Cocktail Swap would be way more fun. I couldn't agree more!)

I signed up this year to take part in the second annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, which was not only just a fun way to exchange cookies and recipes with other food bloggers but also a fundraiser for Cookies for Kids' Cancer.

The premise was simple: once I signed up to participate, I received the names and addresses of three other food bloggers (all new to me, which was cool). I baked each of them a dozen of the same cookies and shipped them off to be enjoyed. In turn, I received three dozen cookies from three other food bloggers (again, all new to me).

So I got a ton of cookies to enjoy and some new blogs to check out: win win.

Today is the day that everyone who participated in the Swap was asked to post his/her cookie recipe. A great idea so that, if you really dug the cookies you received, you'll be able to make them again for yourself!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Auntie Nanci's noodle kugel

Noodle kugel
Happy Hanukkah!

Embarrassingly, I know very little about the Festival of Lights, other than what I learned from Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song". But, being pretty food-focused in my life, I do know about kugel and that it is traditionally served at Hannukah.

I had only tasted kugel once, in college, courtesy of my part Catholic, part Jewish roommate. (This is a great denominiation combination; for example, while she was married in a traditional Catholic church ceremony, we also got to dance the Hora at the reception!). And I loved the kugel ... and remembered it after 25 years ... and then managed to remember to ask the roommate for a recipe before Hannukah arrived so I could share it with you.

My roomie shared two different kugel recipes with me: one sweeter, more of brunch casserole, made by her aunt, and one less sweet, more of a side dish, made by her grandmother. (Wheeeee! Family recipes!) I asked her which she liked better and she chose the sweeter one, telling me, "It tastes a bit like French toast."

Done and done. Mr. Ninj loves French toast.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Individual yogurt cups

Yogurt cups
I found myself in another breakfast funk this week. I need variety but I also need make-ahead simplicity, given that I am most decidedly not a morning person.

There are only so many different baked goods you can eat for breakfast before it really just seems like you do nothing but eat cake.

So I decided to try DIY yogurt. Again.

A few years ago of my friends and I got on a big yogurt-making kick because we found a recipe for overnight crockpot yogurt. While the recipe was easy, it did take a bit of time and advanced planning, so I just stopped making it after a while.

This time around, I found another recipe for "crockpot yogurt" at Punk Domestics from One Tomato, Two Tomato. The thing that intrigued me was that you don't actually make the whole deal in the crockpot; it simply winds up being used like a water-bath canner.

This I had to try.

The recipe is very simple: bring some milk to a simmer on the stove, add a little plain yogurt (as a starter, to get all the cultures going), cool it, pour it into canning jars, add the jars to the crockpot with some hot water and let it sit for a few hours.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chocolatey peanut butter Cheerio treats

Chocolatey peanut butter Cheerio treats
With the holidays approaching, I think we're all in full cookie-making mode.

(Pffft. As if we need an excuse to make cookies.)

My cousin is even working her way through a book that showcases a different cookie for each day of December (you'll be happy to know that December 5th is NINJA DAY -- clearly an ideal day to whip up some Ninjabreadmen.)

This got me thinking: why the cookie? That is, why did the cookie become the de rigueur holiday tradition for swaps, parties, gifts and Santa snacks?

You know The Ninj: I jump at any chance to do a little food history research.

For once, Wikipedia completely let me down (shocking, I know). But not so the Cake Spy, who  asked these same questions in 2008 and did her own research via According to The Spy and The Timeline

Cakes of all shapes and sizes (including smaller items such as cookies) have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. Sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions. Did you know animal crackers began as edible ornaments?

All very interesting indeed. Apparently we can blame it all on the cookie cutter.

Leave it to The Ninj to throw all that out the window and make holiday cheerio treats.