Boiled Raisin Cake

boiled raisin cake 1

Boiled raisin cake is a Christmas staple in our house.  My Aunt Connie wrote out the recipe when she was twelve years old and gave it to my mom who has been making this cake ever since.  (Family trivia:  the recipe from Aunt Connie is still tucked away in one of my mother’s cookbooks.)  If you celebrate the twelve days of Christmas as do those of us living in this part of the world, you still have plenty of time to make it; after all, Christmas is not over until 06 January!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb Earth Balance butter
  • 2 cups sugar (organic)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups raisins

 

  • 3 cups of flour (all-purpose or spelt)
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Combine first six ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often.  Place the hot saucepan in a sink of cold water to cool.  Add the flour and baking soda.  Pour into a greased tube pan and bake at 300 degrees (F) for 2 hours.

boiled raisin cake 2

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When left out for Santa, this cake is traditionally served with strawberry Purity syrup, a thick and very sweet syrup that is mixed with water.  Santa loves it!

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Gingerbread: Ninjas and Zombies

Ninjabread Man in action!

Ninjabread Man in action!

OK, I haven’t created the zombies yet, but with Christmas closing in on us, I thought I’d go ahead and post a bit about gingerbread ninjas. Last year I got some cookie cutters called “Ninjabread Men” and had some fun with them. The gingerbread men recipe that came with them made good gingerbread men, but curiosity got the better of me and I experimented with making the man from my old gingerbread recipe since it was for a very dense loaf-type gingerbread. And…it worked! (You’ll need to add more flour to make a workable dough. I’ve added a note to the bottom of the gingerbread recipe about gingerbread men. I would caution you that you need to roll the dough out very thin or you’ll end up with hilariously fat ninjas! The figures are thin, not just in the thickness of the dough, but also with thin arms and legs unlike the short wider limbs of traditional gingerbread men, so they don’t hold their precise shape when you transfer them from the cutting board (or parchment paper, etc) to the baking sheet. This isn’t a problem, though: it means you can make adjustments to their “stance” when you lay them out for baking. This Halloween I scored some “zombie” cookie cutters, so come Christmas, it will be zombies versus ninjas! Here’s the recipe for my gingerbread, which is super easy…and if you roll it very thin, it will make a nice chewy gingerbread man (or ninja, or zombie).

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Holiday Parties: The Sticky Business of RSVPs

usualsuspects-0153.jpg‘Tis the season for parties! Whether you’re throwing parties or going to parties, RSVPs are not optional. I love throwing parties, both large and small. I love cooking for parties. Indeed the only bad part of a party are those pesky RSVPs. There are two conflicting aspects to RSVPs: the host’s need to know how many are coming, and the strange ways people invited to parties think about RSVPs. Whether you’re throwing a party or going to a party this holiday season, I hope this post will shed some light on the Mystery of the Missing RSVPs!

Those people who don’t RSVP in a timely manner often have a “one more won’t make any difference” attitude. They are, of course, correct that one more won’t substantially alter the amount of food prepared, but if five people — and their spouses and children — think that, then the total number for party in which 2 dozen people have said “yes” is suddenly increased to around 3 dozen. That does make a difference. In the case of a smaller party, if 4-5 people show up or RSVP a couple of hours before the party starts, the host may be faced with twice the people and only half as much food! By the way, grabbing a dessert at the store on the way doesn’t compensate: five desserts does not make up for the five more substantial servings that are missing due to not letting the host know you were coming before she or he buys the groceries. (Ditto for catered parties!)

I think a lot of people don’t have a clear idea of what it takes to plan and throw a party. For instance, I have to know in advance how much food to buy. Even if it’s a small casual thing; I still need to know whether I’m cooking for 6-8 people or 2-3. It makes a huge difference in how much food I buy, and can affect the menu. (One side dish or three?) The host or hostess can’t assume that no response is either “No” or “Yes”. Responding “Maybe” is almost as bad. I know people who always give me “maybe”s right up until the minute they show up on my doorstep. They will never commit one way or another because they’re waiting to see if something better comes along for the weekend. They want to keep their options open, see what all the offers are, and then decide within a few hours of the party. A friend of mine, when someone gave him the runaround of “maybe” because they wanted to keep their options open for a better offer, then just told the person, “Fine. Don’t come.” And never invited them to another party. If you jerk people around, you could find yourself dropped from some people’s party invitation distribution list. (I haven’t done this, but I cheered the friend who did.)

Not RSVPing because you’re waiting to see if something better presents itself is not very nice…and makes party prep a nightmare. For instance, for a big Christmas party I will do most of the grocery shopping 5-6 days ahead and cookie baking starts 4-5 days ahead. Fresh vegetable items or other perishables are bought a couple of days before the party. Some food prep is done 2 days ahead and some cooking and prep is done the day before. RSVPing the day before or the morning of an afternoon party to say you will be coming is as bad as not responding at all. It’s not any help at all for the person who’s already bought the food and is rattling around in the kitchen when the phone rings. (On a number of occasions I’ve had someone RSVP literally hours before a party they’ve known about for weeks.)

This is why I send reminders, do follow-up phone calls and basically plead with people to let me know if they’re coming. Not RSVPing causes a lot of unnecessary aggravation for the person who invited you. They’ve invited you to a party; they’re going to feed you good food. The very least you can do to show your appreciation to them is to give a definite RSVP, even if you have to say “No, sorry”. It’s the season of Good Cheer, of Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to your fellow beings on this planet. Be gracious and considerate to those who invite you to parties. That means RSVPing soon after you get the invitation.

I know you’re probably saying that if you don’t RSVP, or RSVP late, that it’s not because you are waiting to see if you get a better offer, but stop and think about that for a minute…what, exactly, are you waiting for? Surely if a worse option presented itself you wouldn’t plump for that instead of a party a friend is throwing? If you wait, you’re always waiting for something better. When you drag your heels about RSVPing you’re really saying to the person who invited you that you don’t give a damn about them or their party — which they are busting their ass to prepare for. (And if you feel that way, you really should just say “No” up front.)

Sure, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that make it hard to give a firm answer. Say, an elderly parent in the hospital or other extreme circumstance that you have no control over and which might at any minute require your presence. Read that italicized phrase again. If the reason you haven’t RSVP’d doesn’t fit that criteria, you need to RSVP now. Don’t whine that you don’t know what you are doing at the time of the party, so you can’t RSVP until “later”. You’re just fooling yourself, but you’re not fooling anyone else. Make a damn decision. If you drag your heels then you’re just another jerk “waiting to see if there’s something better” and you’re insulting the people who thought enough of you to invite you to their party. The cases in which you can’t RSVP in a timely manner are rare occurrences, unless you’re James Bond or your life is such a living hell that you are living from crisis to crisis, minute by minute and day to day. (In which case, you really do need to party.)

If you truly don’t want to go, just say no. If you’re hoping something will come up so you can get out of a social situation you don’t want to go to, there’s no reason to delay RSVPing. Since you never intended to go, go ahead and say you won’t be there. (Social networks, and online invitations make this painless; you can say no and don’t have to stammer through an excuse.) Even though you’re declining the invitation, by RSVPing soon, you at least won’t be causing any problems for the host planning the party.

Sometimes something unexpected that you have no control over happens and you may have to bow out at the last minute. Sick kids, car trouble, the unexpected arrival of relatives, some disaster at work you have to deal with, the earth being threatened by super villains, etc. If you RSVP “yes” then can’t make it due to circumstances beyond your control, the friends hosting the party will understand, because we’ve all had our plans wrecked from time to time by events beyond our control. But, you know, you need to make those plans!

Remember: “Maybes” are utterly useless to the person throwing the party. Even if you know the party will be catered so they’re not buying, prepping, and cooking the food themselves, they have to put in an order for food for a certain number of people well ahead of time. If they have to guess because of non-responders and “maybe”s, then you’ve either caused them to waste food and money by getting too much, or are responsible for wrecking the party because there won’t be enough food. (If you didn’t RSVP or RSVP’d late, you don’t get to bitch about a party being lame because they ran out of food.)

Most people are so scheduled — or over-scheduled — that they know if a time is free at least a week in advance, maybe more. There is no legitimate excuse for not RSVPing, or waiting until it’s too late to RSVP.

So what do you do if you’re throwing a party and people don’t RSVP? You can beg and whine for RSVPs. You can do like the friend of mine who stopped inviting people who wouldn’t RSVP. You can set a deadline for RSVPs and send reminders. You can’t yell at them, but you can share this on social networks and hope they get the hint. After all you aren’t calling them on their gaffe…I am! 😉

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

These cookies are rapidly becoming a Christmas favorite. Click the pic for recipe!

Christmas Tamales

Christmas Tamales, one still wrapped, one unwrapped with a splash of sauce.

Christmas Tamales, one still wrapped, one unwrapped with a splash of sauce.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican or Latin American Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day meal. Big families often spend a day preparing massive quantities of tamales assembly-line fashion for the holidays. If you don’t have a huge family, it doesn’t take all day (or night). The thing that takes the most time is cooking: the tamales must be steamed for an hour (some recipes call for boiling them). If you’re making more than a dozen and have only one double-decker bamboo steamer, then you have to cook multiple batches. Add to this the time soaking the corn husks, and you should plan on the whole thing taking a few hours from prepping the husk to the plate.

The recipe below makes about 21-24 tamales. That’s 2 batches in a double-decker steamer for an hour each, plus prep time. It takes a bit of time, but not all day — and you’re not in the kitchen the whole time. That’s enough for 7 servings of 3 apiece.

I’ve tagged this post “Tex-Mex” because I’m not Mexican or of Hispanic descent, but rather a Texan. This is my version of this classic dish. 🙂

1 6 oz pkg corn husks
1 pkg Gimme Lean sausage style soy
4 Tbls chili powder
2 Tbls cumin
1.5 – 2 tsp ancho powder
1 poblano pepper
1 small onion
Masa (aka masa harina)
Baking powder
Salt
Vegetable shortening

To prepare husks:
Boil for 10 mins, then weigh with plates and let soak for at least an hour. The package contains way more husks than needed. Some husks may not look good so sort and cook as many as needed; handle the dry husks carefully and try not to tear them.

While husks are soaking, prepare the filling, then the masa.

For filling:

Slice and de-seed 1 poblano pepper, slice in strips. Peel and slice the small onion. Simmer the pepper and onion in 4-5 cups of water until the onions are translucent and the pepper strips tender. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, reserving all the liquid. Puree onion and pepper in blender with 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

To prepare filling:

Mix Gimme Lean, chili powder, and cumin with a fork or (pastry blender). Add pepper and onion puree, stirring and mixing well until it’s homogenous.

To prepare Masa:

3 1/2 cups masa
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 – 2 tsp ancho powder
1 cup (or more if needed) reserved cooking liquid

Mix masa, salt, baking powder, and ancho powder. Cut in shortening until it is evenly incorporated. This will makes a soft mealy mixture. To this add 1 1/2 cups of the still hot liquid the pepper and onion were cooked in. Mix well with the fork, and then with your hands until it makes a soft — not wet — dough. It should have just enough moisture to hold together (not too crumbly), but not be wet or sticky. I think this dough works because it has enough shortening that given an ounce of encouragement it will hold together and it may pull moisture from the husk, and the comparatively wet filling. Also steaming is a cooking method that ensures that whatever you’re cooking will be moist, not dried out. So don’t worry about the dough not being especially wet.

Remove the corn husks from the hot water with tongs. Press a strip of the masa dough just to the left of the center of the husk, spreading it out so that it’s about 4 inches wide and doesn’t go all the way to the top or bottom of the husk. (The ends will be tucked under.)

Spoon (or I use the fork still) one small scoop of the filling in the center of the masa, leaving all edges clear. For a particularly big husk/masa patch you may use more than a forkful. Roll the tamale left to right, rolling the filling up in the masa dough and corn husk.

Tuck ends under when placing the tamales in the bamboo steamer. Steam over a big pot of water for 1 hour. Using a bamboo steamer with two levels, I have to do this in two batches. I can fit about a dozen in the first batch, then steam the rest in the second batch.

Makes approximately two dozen tamales.

I like these plain, as is, but if you want you can dress the finished tamales with a prepared salsa or a light tomato sauce. Here’s what I make:

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatos
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
2 Tbls fried onion flakes
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried cilantro (adjust amount to taste if you use fresh)

Simmer covered over a low heat about an hour.

If you want to serve “Spanish-style” rice as a side dish, prepare plain rice your usual way, then stir in a bit of this sauce a spoonful at a time until it looks right to you.