Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Here's one last pumpkin treat to enjoy before Pumpkin Treat Season officially ends on January 2nd. I based this recipe on my friend Kelli's recipe for pumpkin dinner rolls. I replaced most of the white flour with whole wheat flour in order to make myself feel better about all the brown sugar I've added. And the butter. And the cream cheese frosting.

I made these once and when they were gone, we ended up with left over frosting. So I made some more cinnamon rolls. Then the frosting ran out. So I made more frosting for the remaining rolls. Now there are only a few cinnamon rolls left, but half a bowl of frosting. This is getting scary.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups milk
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 T. yeast (or 2 envelopes)
9 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
melted butter to brush on dough
brown sugar
ground cloves

for frosting:
8 oz package of cream cheese
1/2 stick of butter
four cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
maybe a little milk

Scald milk. Combine scalded milk, pumpkin, melted butter, sugar, and salt in bowl of mixer. Add yeast and half of flour. Mix thoroughly. Add the rest of the flour and mix for about five minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down. Divide dough in half. Roll out dough in a large rectangle. Spread with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Pretty much cover the dough. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves. Roll up dough starting on a long side. Cut into rolls with a serrated knife. Place them on a greased cookie sheet, leaving space between each roll. Cover lightly with a clean dish towel and let rise for about twenty minutes. Repeat with other half of dough. Bake at 375 for about 18 minutes. Mix all frosting ingredients together until creamy. Lick beater.

You could add raisins and or  pecans to the rolled out dough. Yum.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Here We Come A Caroling..."

We have these amazingly talented next-door neighbors. They are very musically gifted. They’re pretty much professionals. They and their extended family and all their friends. Music is what they do. And at Christmas time, they’ve been known to do it in the form of caroling around our neighborhood. Only I’m realizing that they haven’t been around in several years. At least not to our house. And I’m pretty sure I know why.

There was a caroling incident.

One evening during a Christmas season past, Kent and I arrived home from somewhere. Our teenage boys were goofing around, as usual. One of them, (I think it was Kurt) said to another one of them (I’m pretty sure it was Jeff), “Oh yeah? Well, I’m telling Mom what you did to the Petersons tonight.”

“What did he do to the Petersons tonight?” I demanded.

Jeff immediately jumped onto Kurt’s back and tried to stifle him with a hand wrapped around his head, covering his mouth. Kurt probably licked it or something. Maybe tried to bite it.

“You did it, too, Kurt,” he accused, as he fell to the floor with a thud. “It wasn’t just me.”

“WHAT DID YOU GUYS DO TO THE PETERSONS?” I was a little bit nervous by now and when I get nervous, my volume increases. Kent and I have always been good neighbors. Considerate, polite, conscientious. What had these hooligans we call sons done?

“The Petersons came to our door Christmas caroling,” Kurt told us.

“Yeah, and Kurt didn’t want to go to the door,” Jeff was quick to add.

“Neither did you!”

“So what happened?” I demanded, rather impatiently. Was I going to have to be making amends after I heard whatever this was leading up to?

“So they were singing, and we didn’t want to go to the door. It’s so awkward when people sing to you. And Joel came downstairs and was going to get the door, but we stopped him. But I think they heard us. Anyway, we just stood still and tried not to move after that. I know they knew someone was home ‘cause they kept singing. I swear they sang about four songs waiting for someone to come to the door.”

And then Kurt started laughing. And Jeff attacked him again.

“And then Jeff, while they were standing there singing, turned off the porch light!”

Oh my gosh. So they knew someone was definitely home.

I looked at Jeff. He flashed a smile at me. The kind that says, “You’re not really going to get mad at me, are you?”

I shook my head and walked away.

I’ll come right out and say it: Christmas caroling can be awkward. I’m talking about when you are the recipient. It’s awkward in the same way that Happy Birthday is when you’re the one being sung to. You stand there feeling uncomfortable, wondering where you should look, and wearing a goofy smile. But Happy Birthday is relatively short and then you blow out the candles. If you could sing along it would help. But you’re not supposed to sing Happy Birthday to yourself. Nor are you supposed to join in with the carolers. I would never attempt to join in with the Petersons. I’d ruin their beautiful harmony. If I just had something to do while they sang… Maybe wave my arms around in a conducting pattern. As if that wouldn’t embarrass the kids. Maybe I could just tap my foot and nod in time to the music.

Anyway, I’ve missed the caroling. The Petersons haven’t come, and neither has anyone else. Maybe all the other carolers (like the Crafts and their extended family – some other very musically gifted neighbors of ours) heard the word that our family was inhospitable to their kind. But our boys have grown up. Mostly. And I think I’ve matured enough over the years to enjoy the music without feeling awkward.

Please come and carol to us. If you come and sing to us, I promise I won’t look around awkwardly, or wear a goofy smile, or pretend I’m conducting you. I'll be mature. I’ll just enjoy your beautiful talent and spend those few moments feeling the Spirit of Christmas in a way that I realize I've missed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa Claws And Other Creepy Ornaments of Christmas

I have a Santa-themed Christmas tree. Years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I was thinking about collecting Santa ornaments, and that’s all it took. Every year since then, I have found a new Santa ornament tied onto my Christmas present. Our Santa tree isn’t especially beautiful. When you look at it, you definitely don’t think “department store tree” or anything like that. But it’s not your typical let’s-throw-every-ornament-we’ve-ever-owned-on-it kind of tree, either. I actually really like that kind of tree a lot. With lots of big, colored lights and individual strands of shiny silver icicles. It would be topped with an angel or a star that some kid had made back in the 1940’s. I haven’t actually seen a tree like that in years. That’s the kind of tree that inspires that magical Christmas feeling of childhood, if you ask me.

But somewhere back in the 1980’s or so, beautiful trees became the fashion. I admit that I was caught up in trying to achieve a certain designer-floor-model look throughout the early years of my marriage, but finally concluded that it wasn't my thing. I just don’t have that type of creativity. That’s when I thought of collecting Santa ornaments. And my mother started buying them and sending them to me on my presents. Thanks to her, I have quite a large collection. When you look at our tree as a whole, it’s quite pleasant to behold. I do have some ornaments on it that aren’t Santas, but I mainly stick to red, white, gold and silver. I have several angels that I place high up around the top where, being less secular than Santa, they can be a little closer to Heaven. We have little wooden sleds with our names on them that we painted as a family one year. And there are the Lillian Vernon crocheted snowflakes I bought one year back when I was still attempting to create a beautiful tree. I think they work on this tree. I’d say it’s a passably pretty tree.

Until you get up close.

When you get up close and really start looking, you’ll see several Santa specimens that can only be described as unique.

Or ugly.

Or scary.

Probably the strangest one is the one I call Santa Claw. It’s handcrafted out of an actual lobster claw. Creepy, huh? It gives a whole new feel to the lyrics “You better watch out, you better not cry…”

I also have a Santa Gourd. Santa’s face is hand-painted on a dried gourd.

There’s Santa Star Fish, which actually looks pretty cute until you start thinking about it.

And Santa Milk Weed Pod.

How about Santa Cape?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with New England geography, it’s the shoreline of Cape Cod, where my mother found and purchased these Yuletide treasures. There are some very creative artisans on Cape Cod, and they are represented on my Christmas tree.

 I’ll bet everyone I know from New England has a Santa Claw ornament.

If you have one of those family friendly, colored-lights-and-tinsel trees, with ornaments the kids made in elementary school, maybe a chain with links made out of construction paper, and a foil-covered star on top, call me. I’ll come right over and enjoy the nostalgia. And you can come over to our house and I’ll introduce you to Santa Claw. Just remember, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…”

I hope your Christmas isn’t quite as creepy as ours!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Black Beast - a perfect holiday dessert

I got this recipe for a flourless chocolate cake from my mother years ago. It's called La Bete Noir, which translates as The Black Beast. The phrase is used in French to refer to something generally avoided or disliked.Yes, we should generally avoid this dessert. Dislike it? Impossible.

La Bete Noir

makes 16 servings

for the cake:
1 cup water

¾ cup sugar

9 Tablespoons unsalted butter

18 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I use good chocolate chips)

6 large eggs

for the ganache:

1 cup heavy cream

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 or 10 inch diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper cut round to fit. Butter the parchment paper. Wrap three layers of heavy duty aluminum foil around the outside of the pan, bringing foil to top of rim.

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar syrup into chocolate mixture. Cool slightly. Add eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until well-blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in large roasting pan and add enough water to roasting pan to come half way up the side of the cake pan.

Bake cake until center no longer moves when pan is gently shaken---about 50 minutes. Remove from water pan. Transfer cake pan to cooling rack. Cool completely in pan.

Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour over cake (still in pan). Gently shaketo evenly distribute ganache over top of cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set ganache. Cover and refrigerate until served. Cut into wedges to serve. To get a clean cut, rinse large knife under hot water after each cut.

At Christmas time, I like to serve it with peppermint whipped cream.
Whip heavy cream until almost ready. Add some powdered sugar. Finish whipping. Fold in crushed candy cane. If you let it sit a while in the fridge, the candy cane dissolves. Stir it up before serving. Put whipped cream in a ziplock bag. Cut off one corner. Squeeze out in dollops onto cake slices. Sprinkle extra crushed candy cane over top.

The rest of the year, it's fabulous with raspberry sauce.
Thaw 2 (10 oz.) pkgs. frozen raspberries. Squeeze out syrup through fine strainer or cheesecloth. Add enough water to make 1 ½ cups. Heat on stove. Mix ¼ cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in small bowl. Add to syrup. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ tsp. almond extract (real or imitation).

Merry Christmas!