Monday, December 24, 2012

And Lo, I Bring You Tidings of Great Potlucks which Shall Be to All People: A Christmas Epistle

I have had no fewer than FOUR holiday gatherings within a week's time, and I had to prepare something to take along to each of them! So for the first two events, I simply bought double the ingredients to make two batches of crock pot Hawaiian (pineapple) meatballs, that are always a big hit at parties.

Hawaiian/Pineapple Meatballs

4 pounds frozen (1/2 or 5/8 oz.) meatballs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger (I use the kind in a tube)
6 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons soy sauce (I love the new Ponzu/citrus-flavored variety
6 tablespoons white vinegar (I like to use rice wine vinegar, too)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
squeeze of sriracha
1 large (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple
2 sweet peppers, cut into thin strips (optional, but pretty--use red and green for Christmas!)

Add meatballs to the crock pot when ready to make the sauce. Heat the oil on medium high and saute for the garlic and ginger for a few minutes in a saucepan. While that is cooking, in a bowl, whisk together the corn starch, soy sauce, vinegar, water, sugar, black pepper and sriracha. Add the slurry to the saucepan and whisk constantly (so that the sauce does not get lumpy) until it thickens. When it is thick, remove from the heat and stir in the pineapple and peppers. Pour this mixture over the meatballs in the crock pot. Mix up the meatballs and sauce. Cover and heat on low for at least two hours. It will sufficiently stay 4-5 hours on low heat with an occasional stir.

Then, of course, there was the fabulous annual Padula Cookie Exchange to attend. The theme this year was a Colonial Christmas.

As for my contribution to this lovely spread of cookies, I decided to make something easy but impressive-looking.  Since two of the guests are partial to Parisian pastries (ooh, dig that groovy alliteration!), I turned to the Barefoot Contessa and her simple method for making palmiers or elephant ears. Now, if you made your own puff pastry from scratch, these cookies would be extremely complicated and time-consuming (and even tastier, no doubt).  But if you start with Pepperidge Farm, you'll be done in a jiffy! You can make them just with sugar, or add cinnamon, or I decided to add a hint of cardamom and ginger to make a tasty chai-spiced pastry.

Chai-Spiced Palmiers or "Elephant Ears"
(Source: adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, via Food Network)

1 cup sugar, divided
pinch kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and kosher salt and pour it over a flat surface such as a wooden board or marble slab. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar mixture.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and the spices and spread the mixture evenly on the puff pastry. This is not about sprinkling; it's about an even covering of sugar. With a rolling pin, lightly roll the dough until it's a 13-inch square and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square toward the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over the other half as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers. Slice the dough into 38-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake the cookies for 6 minutes, or until caramelized and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

The last event of this festive week was a winter solstice party at Woven Meadows Farm. The evite instructed us to bring along our favorite winter cookies to share. I recalled these particularly excellent chocolate pistachio shortbread trees from a previous cookie exchange (recipe here), and though I was none too keen on rolling out dough and cutting out a bunch of cookies, I wondered if I could make them as slice and bakes? As it turns out, you can! I just divided the dough in half, rolled each part up in plastic wrap, chilled it, then sliced and baked the cookies. Once they cooled, I dipped the cookies halfway in chocolate and rolled the edges in ground pistachios. Pretty and pretty yummy!

Just when you thought this eternal post was over, I have one more holiday item to share. It was not for a party, at least not one that I attended. You see, back in September, my choir held a benefit concert and silent auction. The items that I contributed to the auction were two gift certificates for two desserts of the winner's choice. One of the gals who won one of the certificates decided to cash in on Christmas Eve. And she wanted cannoli, which I have never made before. I did not feel confident enough to make the shells, plus, I couldn't find the molds which are in a box somewhere.

So yesterday afternoon, my roommate and I drove down to Albany to check out the new Trader Joe's and do a little last-minute Christmas shopping, and we also hit up an authentic Italian bakery called Bella Napoli. They sold me two dozen cannoli shells for $0.69/apiece, and they were perfect! All I did was dip them in chocolate and pistachios (a culinary motif this year, it would seem), and then prepared a delicious fresh ricotta filling. I may have purchased the shells, but the ricotta was homemade with milk from my farm share, and that made all the difference. lease note: If you prepare these for an event, make the filling advance, but don't stuff the shells until right before your party. If they sit around longer than two or three hours, the shells will become soggy. You have been warned.

Cannoli Filling

whole milk ricotta made from a half gallon of milk (a generous two cups)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (or sweeten to taste)
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of one small orange or large tangerine (very fine)
1 tablespoon ground pistachios
3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

In the bowl of a food processor, blend the ricotta until very smooth. Add the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and orange or tangerine zest and blend again. Stir in the pistachios and chocolate chips and chill the mixture until ready to fill the cannoli.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Would love to have the recipe for Hunt's skillet mexicana, I used to make it all the time in the 70's. I can't remember exactly what was in it, but i have never forgotten how much we loved it. If you can help me i would sure appreciate it. Hugss Kathy from Louisiana you can email me at