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Manolo's Food Blog - Part 31

Why Santa Gets Cookies at Christmas

Cookies for Santa

He's a handsy little fellas

We’re all familiar with the tradition of leaving out cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Some smart households even supplement the offering with a glass of milk or eggnog, in the general interest of keeping the stealthy old bugger away from the liquor cabinet. But does anyone know why it’s cookies we offer instead of, say, aspic molds or cupcakes or platypus turnovers?

I do, and I’m here to tell you the secret.

Santa is a ninja.

No, wait, this makes total sense: Santa is a ninja, and he does not in fact eat all those cookies; goodness no! Imagine the calories in all those carb-laden treats! What Santa does is, he uses his magical powers, which already allow him to visit billions of homes leaving presents at each in a single night, to turn regular cookies into ninja cookies.

Stick with me here.

Before:

Christmas Gingerbread Men and Women, BEFORE

Christmas Gingerbread Men and Women, BEFORE

After:

Ninjabread men

Ninjabread Men: this is what happens when Santa gets his mitts on regular cookies

See how that works? And here’s a lovely Spode tidbit tray of Ninjabread Men, just exactly as you see them in the morning:

Spode Christmas tray chock full of ninjabread men

My Tumbler

I bet you thought this would be about yet another of my blogs, didn’t you? No, it’s actually a post about dishwashing.

If there is one chore I enjoy less in this world than mucking out the stall of Hannibal Lecter, in the dark, it’d be washing dishes. And why, you ask? Because unlike wedding celebrants, high-spirited toast-givers, and dancing gypsies in bad movies, I never break expensive glassware having fun.

I break expensive glasswear washing it.

And god knows, I love to preserve my expensive glasswear, but there comes a point where simply buying more isn’t possible, and one must actually undertake to clean what one already owns.

“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes, and six months later you have to start all over again.”
Joan Rivers

What then happens is sad, but simple: the glasses snap off at the stem in pure spite at the fact I left them till the hangover was gone (in some cases, gone for so long it could legally be declared dead) before paying them some sanitizing attention. SNAP! Yes, the sound of quality crystal under stress is musical indeed, but it translates directly as, “There goes another $25 you clumsy oaf!”

But there is a solution, my friends. This solution is radical, indeed, but it is so vastly superior to the original not only in problem-solving but in actual stone-cold merit AND aesthetics (judging crystal is like judging figure skating, only less crooked; equal weight on technical merit and aesthetics).

That solution: wine tumblers. Specifically, Riedel Chardonnay Tumblers.

Riedel Chardonnay Tumbler

Riedel Chardonnay Tumbler. Because grown up wine doesn't need a high chair

Although recommended for Chardonnay, its bowl perfect for swirling away the too-oaky mistakes of some long-suffering Californian, I find this very rounded shape superior for any complex, aromatic wine. You can cup it, soothingly, if it’s a Stay-In-With-Merlot-And-Bridget-Jones night. You can swirl it knowingly if it’s a Stay-In-With-Pinot-And-Colin-Firth kind of night. You can get quite tipsy without tipsying it over (so I’ve heard). And it is, even empty, a thing of beauty and a joy forever, although only in the sense that a perfectly made bed in the presence of…oh, never mind where I was going with that. Where’d I put that Pride and Prejudice DVD?

Ahem.

To sum up: Riedel Chardonnay Tumblers=Good. Perfect, in fact. Riedel quality is such that it really is one of the few brands around worth fetishizing. You can find well-shaped, cheap wine tumblers that are great for parties containing large numbers of people you don’t want to treat to your VERY best, but should you even be throwing parties for those people anyway? This particular shape of tumbler is my favorite because it is so versatile and so beautiful; the others, frankly, look a little pinched, a little ungenerous, and a lot less sexy. I like my wineglass like I like my figure: all curves.

I always like to make a good exit

I always know JUST when to make an exit

It’s Christm…..National Sangria Day!

Yes, it is that most wonderful time of the year, National Sangria Day!  And since that coincides with the Holiday season through some weird coincidence, Cava Sangria would be excellent as a holiday punch.

Here is a good basic recipe for Cava Sangria:

8 oz. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice (or good Tropicana not from concentrate)
A Generous shot of gin (if you have it, a nice citrusy one like Leopold’s)
A Generous shot of vodka
A bottle of Cava (which is a sparkling Spanish white wine-Spanish champagne as it were)
3 Tablespoons sugar or 4 of simple syrup (more or less according to your sweet tooth)
A double shot of Gran Marnier
Orange slices
Strawberry slices
Mix everything except the Cava and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Just before serving add ice and then the Cava.  Serve cold over ice.  Refreshing and invigorating until glass #4, then not so much.

A beautiful cava sangria for a festive New Year's or Christmas party.

All I want for Christmas is…

THIS.

Bosch IXO Vino Cordless Lithium-Ion Screwdriver with Corkscrew Attachment

The Bosch IXO Vino Cordless Lithium-Ion Screwdriver with Corkscrew Attachment. Have you ever lived through the very special Hell of having been stuck house-sitting in the house of talented and prolific winemakers? Talented and prolific winemakers, I should add, whose house has a fully stocked cellar, a hot tub, wraparound views, a fridge specially stocked with treats chosen just for you, and a fireplace?

And, apparently, not. one. freaking. corkscrew.

I tried the shoe-banging method. I tried the push-the-cork-down method. I finally tried the put a long screw in the cork and pull it out with pliers method. But this handly little gadget would have saved me a great deal of stress as well as looking innocuous and coming in handy every time I buy something from Ikea.

The Shoe-Banging Method, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it because you are not French and Desperate:

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Pulla, pulla, get your pulla here!

Every family has holiday traditions, usually going way back to their ethnic roots.  I am of Irish, German and Finnish descent.  So, we had several festive traditions.  Getting drunk on whiskey and fighting with each other, getting drunk on beer and invading France and getting drunk on vodka and trying to kill Russians.  Family gatherings were lively.

Beautiful braided Pulla loaves.

The Finns had one other tradition besides the Russian thing.  Pulla.  Pulla is a wonderful holiday bread made with Cardamom.

I remember as a child having pulla at family gatherings.  The wonderful braided bread, golden and infused with the rich flavor of cardamom is one of the best memories of my childhood.  Remembering my Aiti (It was not until I was an adult that I realized that Aiti was a title – mother – rather than her name.  To this day I have to look to see what her first name was) on the rare occasions we made it to Minnesota or vice versa.

Anyway, in recent years I have missed the Pulla.  So, last year I decided to make some pulla myself.  I am not sure why I waited so long, it is not hard.  (With one little warning).

First some stuff:

Cardamom is about the third most expensive spice in the world, after Saffron and vanilla.  Cardamom spice is made from the seeds of the cardamom plant, a type of ginger native to India, Sri Lanka and parts of Southeast Asia. It has been used medicinally and as a flavoring for food for at least two thousand years Like saffron, cardamom is expensive because it is labor-intensive to produce. The seed pods are hand-picked before they are fully ripe to ensure the freshness of the seeds. There are about 12 seeds per seed pod.

India and Guatemala are the main producers of cardamom. It is a primary ingredient in curry, a popular additive to coffee in Arab countries and is widely used in Scandinavia to flavor baked goods.

It is the Scandinavia thing I come from even though the Finns are not Scandinavians.  Still they retain some traditions from their years of oppression under the jackboots of the Swedes.  In my family we had it at Christmas and at weddings and special occasions.  In the later years of my life I was much surprised when a Greek family I knew gave me a traditional Greek Easter Bread that was cardamom flavored and tasted very much as I remembered pulla.

Anyway, pulla is very delicious and not that hard to make.  Here comes my little warning, though.  I had the bread dough in a stand mixer and I noticed that the dough started to march up the bread hook.  This is a very dense, sticky dough, and throughout the mixing process kept working its way up the bread hook.  Even with a spatula and a steady nerve, it got all over the place.  Recently I have learned about  an aftermarket attachment you can get for your stand mixer that prevents that and if I can find out the link I will put it in this article.

Anyway, pulla is a great holiday bread and not that hard if you remember to watch out for the bread crawling up the mixer.

Here is the  recipe:

Pulla

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely crushed cardamom
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions:

Preparation:  2 hours

Total Time: 2 1/2 hrs

  1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.
  2. 2 Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, 4 eggs, and add 4 cups of flour and beat well; the dough should be smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter or margarine, and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff.  Knead by hand for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled.
  4. Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts. Divide each third into 3 again. Roll each piece into a 12 to 16 inch strip. Braid 3 strips into a loaf. You should get 3 large braided loaves. Lift the braids onto greased baking sheets. Let rise for 20 minutes.
  5. Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 22 to 28 minutes. Check after 20 minutes as the bottom burns easily.

This is a great holiday bread, very traditional, and not that hard.  Other than the mixing, the toughest part for me was to remember how to braid things.  I had not braided anything since I used to braid string in 3rd or 4th grade, Lo’ those many years ago.

Anyway, try the recipe out.  I think you will like the results as will your friends and family.

(And if I have screwed this up royally, Finns can feel free to drop a comment.  Swedes – shut it.)

In finland you only get caught once

Erik Nabler,

N.B. Guest blogger Erik Nabler blogs regularly about drinks and drinking at the Liquor Locusts.

Olive Oil For Christmas

I was trying to think about anything unusual relating to food that I had had recently. Something that might make a good gift for Christmas or just something interesting to try. A gift for yourself, if you would.

About 2 months ago I was invited to the grand opening of an artisanal olive oil producer, Lucero Olive Oils. They are located in Northern California and produce a wonderful variety of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and tapenades and mustards. Everything that I tried was good.

However, the most interesting thing I had was Chocolate Olive Oil over ice cream. It was delicious and unusual. A wonderful chocolate flavor with the silky (I was thinking slippery but silky makes better marketing) mouthfeel of olive oil. And still the hints of olive. It was extremely good over vanilla ice cream. I also tried their lemon infused olive oil which was also very good over ice cream and I think would be very good drizzled over some linguine along with some toasted pine nuts and sizzled garlic.

A must for the Choco-Holic who has everything.

If you want to try something different and delicious, order a bottle of the Chocolate Olive Oil. You can show off to your friends and give them an experience that they probably never had before. Be the first one on your block to have some.

Erik Nabler,

N.B. Guest blogger Erik Nabler blogs regularly about drinks and drinking at the Liquor Locusts.

Time Off for Bad Behavior

It's a wonderful life, is it not?

It's a wonderful life, is it not?

Greetings from a bar stool of misery! Some of the more perceptive of readers may have noticed a scarcity of raincoaster lately, and you’d have been right. I’m off for an indefinite, but probably short period of time dealing with an uppity liver (imagine! I’ve never given it any trouble!) and will be back to posting as soon as I can whip it into shape. In the meantime, you’ll have to do my drinking for me: can I count on you?

Affogato: Suprisingly Easy, Yet Elegantly Snooty

Affogato, easy and snooty to boot!

When I was asked to do a guest post by the Manolo I was stunned by the compliment. The Great Manolo Blahnik asking me to write a piece for him. Awesome! Sadly, my joy did not last when I learned that it was Manolo the Shoeblogger.
Affogato: try this, hoi polloi!
So, back to reality. Mostly I write about alcohol related items. This is a food blog, though. So, we need to combine the two.

I remembered years ago being taken to an Italian restaurant in the Marina District of San Francisco. We apparently went there because our companions did not cook. I found out how much they could not cook when they ordered plain spaghetti. When I say plain, I do not mean with a simple marinara or a nice putanesca, but boiled pasta. Just boiled. For God’s sake, learn to boil at least!

The dinner was good, though, and the dessert menu had an item I had never eaten, affogato. Affogato is Italian for “drowned”. It is a simple dessert where you pour a shot of hot espresso over a scoop of good gelato or vanilla ice cream. We loved it and were also suitably impressed by their ability to charge so much for a scoop of vanilla with coffee on top.

So, make this dessert to impress your friends. First, always refer to it as affogato, never “coffee and ice cream”. You can even buy good espresso at a coffee shop and reheat immediately before serving. Make sure that you use gelato or a very good, dense vanilla ice cream such as Ben & Jerry’s or Godiva, or, if you are lucky, the Holy Grail of ice cream – Dr. Bob’s.

And now to pimp the alcohol. To make this dessert truly impressive, find a bottle of Firelit Spirits Coffee Liqueur. This is simply the best coffee liqueur ever. It truly tastes of coffee and is not overly sweet as Kahlua or Tia Maria or others. Our review on this wonder beverage is here. Find a bottle of this, heat it, pour it over Dr. Bob’s or gelato and it will be almost impossible to top you in the dessert department. (For those poor souls who cannot find this spirit, try mixing Amaretto and espresso. It is good, just not divine.)

There you have it, an easy dessert that takes little time but will impress your Christmas or New Year’s guests just the same.

N.B. Guest blogger Erik Nabler blogs regularly about drinks and drinking at the Liquor Locusts.

Food for Thought