Friday, December 25, 2009

Bring us some noggy pudding

During the past few weeks, I've been to several holiday parties. The group of knitters that comes into the bookstore on Thursdays had their shindig earlier in the month. A few weeks ago, one of the ladies, Susan, brought in some leftover bread pudding that she had made for the holidays. She said it was made with eggnog. I usually don't care for it but that didn't deter me from sampling the dish. I must have had a wild hair that day. I'm glad I didn't skip out because it was good! I asked her for the recipe and she wrote it down for me. Not only is it tasty, it's easy!

Instead of bread, she uses Italian panettone. I have to admit that I normally skip over these guys at the grocery store but at the same time, I've always been curious about them. I was excited for the excuse to pick one out from the display at Trader Joe's.

The recipe is simple:

1 Italian panettone
1 quart of eggnog (Do not use lite! Get the real deal!)
4 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp of vanilla

Break up the bread and put it into a casserole dish. Whip the eggs, nog, nutmeg and vanilla together and pour it over the top. I used a ladle for more even and controlled distribution. Bake it for 50 minutes to an hour at 350 and then you get this...

I made it for a party with some friends the other night and it went over quite well! I've had it warm and cold and it's delicious either way! You could probably even add a touch of rum or brandy to the batter before baking. It couldn't hurt!

This was a hectic, yet wonderful holiday season for me and I hope that it was equally joyful for anyone reading this. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

100th Post!!

I know it's been a while since my last post. This is my 100th entry and I wanted it to be special. It just took a while before I was able to scan my picture and put it on my laptop.

I've been a fan of Nigella's for almost ten years. I remember watching her on the Style Channel when she had the show Nigella Bites. She was creative with her cooking without being pretentious and she was the first woman I'd ever seen on television who made me feel like it was okay not to be a size 2. She was dead sexy and still enjoyed food. As I watched her fry Snickers and call for a reprinting of Liberace Cooks, I lost my heart.

Over time, I acquired and enjoyed all of her books. She recently released Nigella Christmas and during her book tour, she had a scheduled stop in Princeton! I just happened to be at Barnes & Noble when the sign was out and I couldn't believe my eyes! I don't watch T.V. I don't have cable so I really don't know many celebrity chefs other than what we carry in the bookstore where I work. Nigella and I go way back though. Meeting her has been on my life's to do list for years.

I put the date in my calendar in my phone and took the day off of work since I also had something to do at Molly's school that morning. I made arrangements for her to go to a friends house after school so I could spend the afternoon and evening waiting at the shopping center where Nigella would be. The event started at 7:30 with limited seating. I know this is crazy but I got there at 1:00. I wasn't about to take the chance of missing out! I'd been there when other celebrity authors were in town and the lines were insane by 3:30.

When I arrived, the event area wasn't even set up yet and I didn't see a crowd. I checked the service desk to make sure I had the right day! I found a flier for the Nigella signing and I was in the right place at the right time. I couldn't believe no one else was there yet! I was reading the rules and I could already tell that she was going to be cool. As long as you bought her new book, she would sign as many others as you had. She was also willing to personalize greetings AND pose for pictures. This is very rare for authors. I brought Nigella Bites, How to be a Domestic Goddess and Feast for her to sign. As you can see, I also brought my Polaroid. I still have some film stashed away for it.

I spent several hours roaming around the shopping center to kill some time. I went to Starbucks and got some iced tea and a muffin for when I got hungry in line. I went back to the bookstore and there were chairs set up and about 3 people waiting. They weren't going to let us take seats until 6:00. I ended up next to some ladies who were sisters. They seemed really close and it made me miss my sisters. They were a lot of fun to talk to and hang out with and the time passed quick.

The first 3 rows of seating was reserved so I got as close as I could when we were allowed to go in. I was happy with my spot. I had some magazines to read and that helped speed up the remaining hour and a half. There were lots of people there by that point.

She came out at about 7:40 and I was surprised at how short she was. She had a pencil skirt on and a green sweater that hugged her curves. I couldn't believe I was looking at Nigella Lawson in person. She gave a talk about her new book. How Christmas is really important in England because they don't celebrate Thanksgiving ("for good reason" she smirked). She let some people ask questions. Someone asked if she was going to be back on TV and she said that she preferred to just stick to writing because she was able to do it while her children were at school. Filming a show took too much time away from her family. I was amazed. How many celebrities to do see going right back to hectic work schedules right after they have children? To see her putting her family ahead of her career was quite refreshing. I'm not trying to start a debate here. I just appreciate that someone that I look up to so much is actually in the same boat as me! I base my work schedule around Molly's school and I know that I am very luck to have an employer who supports this. I don't take it for granted at all!

Someone else asked for restaurant recommendations in London and she gave two places. One place that she loves for good Italian food and another for traditional British fare. Another girl was getting married in the UK and she told her felicitations. She said congratulations to her fiance because he was the lucky one. The girl wanted a suggestion for a traditional English dish to serve at their wedding. She suggested toad in the hole in individual ramekins. I've never had this but I plan to make some with Morningstar links sometime soon!

I actually got to ask her a question too! I told her that reading How to be a Domestic Goddess always sent my imagination rolling when I would see a recipe that called for some kind of flavored sugar. She sometimes calls for sugar that is flavored with vanilla or orange, etc. I told her that I was also a big collector of various types of salts and sugars. I mentioned vanilla salt that I'd picked up in Germany and she was taken aback. Vanilla salt?! With her accent, it sounded more like solt. :-) I told her that I always imagined her kitchen counter to be covered with various jars of flavored sugars and such and I asked if I was on track. She said that in her kitchen, she has what is known as the Cupboard of Doom. She said that you are taking your life into your own hands if you open it. I have one of those too!

We got in line for the signing and I got my books ready. I had her sign Nigella Bites for my mom because she's also a fan. When I called her the next day to tell her, she was thrilled. When it was my turn to meet Nigella, I tried to make it a point not to totally gush! She asked me what I was going to do with the vanilla salt and I told her I'd probably attempt some salted caramels. "Oh, I think that's a wonderful idea!" she said. When I whipped out my Polaroid, a few people laughed. I didn't care. I've always wanted a Polaroid with Nigella. The guy who was taking the pictures was impressed and Nigella was impressed too.

I was glowing when I left the bookstore almost 9 hours after I arrived. Meeting one of my biggest inspirations in cooking was absolutely worth the wait!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Journey (Part 3)

The past few days have been a baking whirlwind. I guess that meeting Nigella really brought out the domestic goddess in me!

I let my fruitcake mixture sit for a few extra days but it was fine in the fridge. I could have done the baking by Friday but I was obviously busy that day! Saturday saw a bit of a more pressing matter....

These bananas needed to get taken care of! I wanted to have a backup for people who think they don't like fruitcake and also for those who are allergic to nuts since they have pecans in them. I decided to, once again, use the banana bread with chocolate chips and ginger recipe from A Homemade Life. Nine ultra ripe bananas yielded quite a bit of cake!
Two big loaves and four mini loaves. Perfect for teachers and coworkers. I am probably going to take one to my French teacher tomorrow since it's my last class. I didn't forget about the Paris posts on Tuesday. I have a really good one cooking up but I need to get my hands on all of the components first! It won't be ready by tomorrow.

Anyways, back to my fruitcakes. I had two jars of buttery spiced fruit and rum mix to work with. That ended up making two big cakes and six minis!
I was dying to use my St. Nicholas mold I got in Germany. There were some issues but I think I managed to salvage it. Whew! It's a real shame to let any of this stuff go to waste! I would not have been happy! It looks a bit messed up on the bottom but it's the cake that was meant for the house anyways.
These are the six minis. For the next two weeks, the cakes will be periodically basted in Kirschwasser. The flavor will mature and they will be ready to give as gifts. They'll be done on December 21st so I barely made it! I need to start them earlier next year. The longer they have to sit, the better they are! I heard that they start them at the end of October in England. I am going to aim to do the same thing!

We'll see if it actually happens.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Goddess Herself!

I will post my picture and more details later but I just had to make a quick entry to say


She was beautiful, gracious, sassy and awesome. Everything I hoped she'd be. She signed all four books I had with me. I didn't want to be greedy and have her sign all of her books that I own (and I do own them all!) so I picked my three favorites. I also bought her new one and it's signed as well!

Meeting her was a dream come true and I absolutely cannot believe it actually happened!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Journey (Part 2)

I removed my rum plumped fruit (aka macerated fruit) from the jar tonight and marched onward to the second step.

I figured that I probably had enough fruit for three large loaves of cake so I tripled the recipe. That means, I put a ton of butter in it! I also added the sugar, spices and unfiltered apple cider.

I let it all simmer for a while and relished the lovely scent. My house only smells like this one day a year and I absolutely love it!

I let the pot and the precious contents cool and then put it back into the jar. The liquid was slightly thicker. I actually had to use a second jar because there was much more than what I started with due to the additional ingredients.

Now it has to sit in the fridge for two days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Journey (Part 1)

I started the almost three week journey to fruit cake today. Yes, I said fruit cake.

It's a personal tradition now for me to make Alton Brown's Free Range Fruit Cake recipe for the holidays. I enjoy the process and it's delicious!!! Fruit cake has a bad wrap but this is seriously good stuff and the people who are lucky enough to receive it as gifts RAVE about it.

Step one is to soak the dried fruits in spiced rum for 24 hours.

We have cranberries, cherries, currants, golden raisins, candied ginger, prunes and apricots combined with the zest from one lemon and one orange.

More to come...