Giveaway Winner! (Bonus: Bourbon Balls Recipe)

Congratulations to the winner of PRiMO preserves, #11, Katie Sweet!  I'm certain you'll love these preserves, Katie, and I hope you agree that they are the next best thing to homemade.

For December 12th, it looks more like March 12th out there today.  It’s nearly 50 and heavy with fog. In years past, I’d already be nearly done with my Christmas baking by this date. But the factors stacked against me, including freezers near capacity with little room for stashing cookies for safe keeping, have me just beginning today. We’ve been talking about making Mexican Wedding Cookies for some time. They were called “Butterballs” as I was growing up and for good reason as they seem nearly half their weight in butter.  I had 30 cookies from this recipe from King Arthur Flour, and they fit nicely into a single container that I did have room for in the freezer.  Since I was nearly coated in powdered sugar myself, I figured I’d keep the oven on and give some bourbon balls a go.

Traditionally, I make rum balls.  I’m not a fan of rum in general, unless it is baked into something chocolatey or used as a flavoring in quick breads or cakes.  I watched an interesting documentary once on the history of Puerto Rican rums and even still I never developed more than an intellectual appreciation for it… though I do love rum balls.  LOVE rum balls.  I love that the earlier you make them the better they get.  I love that by the first of January, they seem a little tired and crumbly but that makes them all the more delicious.  And I love them all the more since I bit the bullet a few years ago and started making my own vanilla wafers to use in them.  

vanilla wafers.

I thought I’d try something different this year. In part because the only rum on hand was a dark, spiced one (and not what I’ve used for rum balls in the past), I thought I’d give some bourbon balls a go. I usually don’t post a recipe I make only once, but this is one I’m going to. In part, I’ll do it to remind myself next year of my method and also to remind myself to include a bit of espresso powder, since I think it needs it.  I also wanted to record the weights of things, since making homemade vanilla wafers throws one off of regular recipe.


I chose a base bourbon ball recipe from Epicurious, and I have to say I was suspicious of it holding together… but it did just fine.  I also would like to preface that I’m not an advocate of corn syrup.  But 3 tablespoons once yearly I am not going to get bent out of shape about.  And besides: rum balls!  (Or bourbon balls!)  I am also assuming that before you begin, you have made a single batch of vanilla wafers using the best recipe I’ve ever seen for them, by Alton Brown.  A single batch makes 14 oz. of vanilla wafers (about 3 3/4 c. of pulverized crumbs).

Bourbon Balls (adapted from Mrs. Harold M. James)

yields about 40

14 oz. (3 3/4 c. ) pulverized vanilla wafers

1 1/4 cup (4.75 oz. / 135 g.) crushed raw pecans (see photo above)

1 cup (3.75 oz. / 110 g.) confectioners sugar

1/2 t. - 1 t. espresso powder (optional, but I regret not adding it)

2 T. cocoa powder

3 T. light corn syrup

1/2 c. bourbon (I used Bulleit) 

additional powdered sugar for rolling

Pulverize the vanilla wafers in a food processor if you have not done so.  Aim for a uniform, sandy texture slightly finer than rice, and then transfer them to a large bowl.  Do the same with the pecans, and also transfer them to the bowl.  Add in the confectioners sugar, cocoa powder, and espresso powder if using.  Stir well to combine and transfer the mixture to the food processor and process until very finely ground - it should look like it’s almost starting to clump together. Transfer the finely ground mixture back to the large bowl.

Whisk together the corn syrup and bourbon in a small measuring cup and add to the dry ingredients.  Stir well with a spatula until well combined and no dry pockets remain.  Use a 1 tablespoon size scoop to scoop out packed balls of dough.  Roll them gently between your palms to form balls, drop them into confectioners sugar to coat thoroughly, and store in an airtight tin to age for at least a couple of weeks.  You may wish to re-coat with confectioners sugar before serving.

bourbon balls.

PRiMO Giveaway!

I know if you are a regular reader you might feel I've abandoned you...  Really, I think about what I would write every day.  Every time I'm stirring a pot of something, or wiping off the dining room table for the 10th time in a day, when I'm so excited about learning about Hannibal and the Punic Wars that we scratch the rest of the afternoon to make rough puff pastry and bake up baby elephant ears.  (I even took pictures of that, thinking I might get to setting pen to paper about it!) Time elapses and I don't need to make excuses for it. I have taken to embracing that I'm wrapped up in the hug of a two-year-old, or busy diagramming sentences and reading about Hannibal. The food world will still be there when these boys have all of a sudden grown into men and I wonder where the days of hectic life went.  Those days I try not to daydream of, when my small house is trashed with stuffed animals and legos and it's 4 o'clock and I haven't thought about what supper will emerge from my hands.

The folks at PRiMO preserves reached out to me again this fall and asked if I'd like to host a giveaway of one of their beautifully packaged gift boxes. I felt really guilty because I really love their preserves and felt like their preserves deserved a more prominent place in the food blog world than on my all but neglected site.  My metrics are a sorry state since I've taken to one post a month, and as far as "career" bloggers go, I am just plain terrible at updating social media.  Even so, I am so flattered that they like my little corner of the Internet, and I'm pledging my best to get the word out about their line of preserves.  

thanksgiving cheese plate w/ PRiMO

I hesitate, and rightfully so, to describe their preserves as "product".  They aren't a product but rather something so homemade that you can be proud to have it sent out as a gift, or even to enhance your entertaining at this end of the year time.  I opened my gift set at Thanksgiving when I hosted my parents and we all agreed that these little jars taste like we made them ourselves.  That might be another reason why PRiMO appeals to me so much: from a DIY standpoint, their entire line not only tastes like you made it, but is packaged so well you can go on reusing the heavy glass jars for just about ever.  And don't get me started on the box it's packed in.  As a quality design fanatic, it's just plain nice to have something that feels so good in the hands... and can be repacked and sent on for a new life with someone else instead of sheepishly getting chucked into the recycle bin...

image from PRiMO

image from PRiMO

So I'll keep the rules simple: just leave a comment on this post before midnight on December 10th (that's next Thursday) and I'll assign a number to each commenter in the order they appear and select a winner at random.  You'll receive a gift box of 4 jars of PRiMO's signature preserves, one jar each of limited release Holiday Pumpkin Spread, Spiced Cherry Preserves, Berry Pasilla Preserves and Raspberry Habanero Preserves. You can read more about PRiMO and their preserves line on their website. I know you'll enjoy all of the flavors for yourself, but it would also make the best host/hostess gift or "secret Santa" type gift.  You could also separate the jars, I'd imagine one would fit nicely in the foot of a stocking!

I hope you are happy happy during this Christmas season, even in spite of all the terrible news accosting us every single day.  Even in the midst of that I think it's more important to concentrate on what good things come each day, what blessings we have to be thankful for.  Sweet things that come in the mail, and genuine artists that create!

It's Giveaway Time!

Rice. (Arborio Rice Pudding)

I've been thinking a lot about rice lately.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem that important.  In the midst of attacks, more attacks, and attempted attacks, me thinking about rice in the small corner of Wisconsin hardly seems mentionable at all really.  But maybe that is the point.  That all of us are tiny, living (or trying to live) out our lives in a small way in a minuscule part of the globe.  Like grains of rice, each one of us matter and are important.  Like grains of rice, we function better together than separately.  

I've been reading Michael Solomonov's Zahav - maybe you are too.  I find myself losing 20 minutes at each instance I open it, so full of stories and good looking things to make and eat.  A different perspective on the world - and on rice.  When I was growing up, my family always had a late Sunday lunch - usually a casserole or something long cooking that could go on "timed bake" while we were away at church.  Even when I was really little, I would hope for chicken and rice, which my Mom baked in a beat up graniteware oval baking dish.  The rice would bake and stick to the bottom and sides of the oval, and it was the best part.  My Mom thought so too - and would gladly take the portions that would stick to the sides.  Until this point in my life I was unaware of Persian rice, which prizes this crisp bottom layer and gives it the name "tahdig", which means, literally, the bottom of the pot.  

Solomonov talks about his (half) brother-in-law trying these last 40 years to continually perfect his pots of rice.  Something so simple becoming so transcendent that it changed the way Solomonov thought about cooking in general.  The surest way to perfect something is to do it often, over and over again; the humblest of ingredients become transformed into something much more, in this case the grains of rice reminding us of humanity, of family and tradition, culture and heritage.  All of those tiny grains nourishing generations of people all over the planet -  it's almost easy to feel an overwhelming connectedness to people everywhere when considering it.

arborio rice pudding

I've never been the best rice cooker.  In my kitchen notebook, I have rice ratios written that no matter how much I try I can never memorize.  While I will likely take years more before mastering savory rices (and tahdig is now definitely on my list), I feel pretty confident about one rice dish: arborio rice pudding.  The source recipe is long gone, and what remains is a sugar-slashed version that includes a bit of almond extract.  To make it in my favorite oatmeal pot, I use the smaller ratio listed.  The full amount will cook nicely in a 3 quart pot.

Take care not to cook the rice too long since it thickens more as it cools.  The pudding is my favorite texture, temperature, and flavor about 2 hours after making it, and I sometimes plan my dessert eating around it that way.  But even chilled completely, the texture is so lovely and soft. That is the nature of arborio, it is the definition of comfort.

Arborio Rice Pudding

yields 3 cups (4 cup amounts in parenthesis)

  • 6 T. arborio rice (1/2 c.)
  • 3 c. whole milk (4 c.)
  • 3 T. sugar (1/4 c.)
  • good pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (1 1/2 t.)
  • 1/4 t. almond extract (1/2 t.)
  • as many raisins (or currants) as you wish or don't wish.

Combine all the ingredients except the extracts in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.  Immediately lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rice is al dente.  Remember that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and also that the rice will continue to soften after you remove it from the heat.  When it has cooked enough, stir in the extracts and transfer it to a glass storage container.  Cool at room temperature for a bit and then refrigerate.  Best eaten within 3 days.

arborio rice pudding

I usually don't measure the quantities of vanilla and almond extracts that I use, or the amount of raisins.  I've also been known to include some freshly grated nutmeg or even a cinnamon stick if the mood strikes.  But no matter what I do to it, the arborio never lets me down with a lacking texture.  It's silky and encouraging, and just the thing to remind you of all the good things in life when the bad seem overwhelming and likely to overcome you.



Slashing Sweet. (No-Sugar Coconut Granola)

Do you dream of sweets?  Do you go through your days thinking about desserts, when you can make them and how often you should eat them?  Do you read entirely too much information on how sugar reacts to your body, your child's body, the bodies of laboratory animals?  Do you wonder if you are truly addicted to sugar and if you really could cut it out of your diet completely for 30, 60, 90 days, or maybe even a whole year?

That's me.  I don't want to think that I have a sugar problem, I don't want to think that I shouldn't maybe eat sugar each and every day but sometimes I wonder if all the sugar reduction hype holds some water.  The latest book I read on the subject, I Quit Sugar, tells me that as an adult woman, I should eat no more than 6 teaspoons a day - and that the sugar involved is not just refined sugar but the sugar present in fruit as well.  It was nothing I haven't read before, in many different places and formats, but the simplicity of the information did make me consciously want to reduce my sweet tooth again.  It's hard for someone who dreams of sweets.  I wish I were one of those people who don't have a sweet tooth.  I don't know about those people; I just can't understand them.

My natural approach to life, gifted to me no doubt by my beyond wonderful parents, is one of moderation.  Eat some cake, just eat one you made yourself and don't eat the whole cake.  And don't eat the whole cake you made yourself every day.  But even in my moderation sometimes I feel like I just can't get sugar out of my head, like it truly is an addiction.  During those times, I like to reduce even more than usual.  I like to see if I can go a whole day or two without any sweet stuff at all.  Maybe even longer.

That happened recently and I switched to green smoothies and cut out desserts completely.  If I felt deprived (and I did) I grabbed a soup spoon and set out for the jar of coconut manna.  Seriously.  It helps.  And I also made a variation of a granola recipe in the I Quit Sugar book, which is a surprisingly great granola all by itself, sugar reduction or not. 

no sugar granola

The story of the coconut granola actually goes back a month or so ago when my neighbor asked if I had tried Dang Coconut chips.  I hadn't.  I actually didn't want to tell her that it's not in my budget at all to buy prepared or packaged snacks.  But the same day we talked I did go out and buy a bag because she said they were awesome, and she also said that it was something we should be able to make.  She was right: they were awesome (though, truthfully I thought they were almost too sweet), and I did think that for sure it was something I could produce from my home kitchen.  I didn't put the thick cut coconut chips on my bulk grocery list until I read about this granola however - the flavor profile fittingly similar to Dang's being salty, sweet, crunchy.  I think it's a win.

Sarah Wilson makes this granola without the oats, but I'm not about to go grain free when cutting out sugar... and besides I have a hard time thinking about a granola without rolled oats.  It almost makes me sad.

Coconut Granola (adapted from Sarah Wilson)

makes about 7 cups

  • 3 c. thick cut coconut flakes
  • 2 c. cashews
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. chia seeds
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 325.  Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat.  Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the center of the oven.  Start checking at 20 minutes for doneness: you want the granola to be deep golden but not burnt.  Stir a few times as you see fit.  It will seem very wet and you'll wonder how it will ever be crispy but it will.  After it's golden brown, remove from the oven.  Use a spatula to scrape it into a mound and let it cool completely.  Then store it in glass jars in the freezer, where it will stay extra crisp until you eat it.

chia seed

There is should always be a voice of reason when reading diet related information.  We all know sugar isn't the best for us, but is it really that bad?  Do I really feel that much better when I'm not eating gobs of it?  I do, I'll admit.  I enjoyed the posts that Local Kitchen did on sugar last year, and it made me feel confident that a moderate approach to the topic is all that I really want for myself.  And maybe when I start  getting that sugar-junkie feeling creep up on me, then I dial back and choose non-sweet alternatives, crunchy, barely-sweet alternatives like this granola for a few weeks and then I feel much better.  And then I can go back to dreaming about desserts.


In the interest of time.

Sometimes I feel like I'm floating through the days and weeks somehow just elapse.  It's garbage day, it's laundry day, it's library day, it's pizza night.  It's a blur.  All the time I hear my Mom's echo: "my 30's came in clumps", and my 30's were no exception.  Now that I'm at the tail end of them, the elusiveness of enough time seems more than ever present in my thoughts.  If I had extra time, I'd start croissants, I'd nixtamalize some corn to make homemade masa for tortillas, I would sit in the backyard with a book.  Maybe not even a cookbook, maybe a full-fledged novel.

And I'd definitely make more recipes that I'd make time to share with my (hopefully not dwindling) group of readers.

vegetable torta

Meanwhile, I've got a new batch of cookbooks that I've been cooking heavily from.  My time in the kitchen is not as full as I'd like it to be, and yet I still make the time to delve into new recipes.  My new crush is the America's Test Kitchen The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.  The day I picked it up from the library, I made the cover recipe - a simple tomato tart with a food processor butter crust.  Last night, I made the vegetable torta (above).  I shouldn't be stunned that these were so wonderful but somehow ATK always makes me feel that way.  I know the one thing you should never do when entertaining is cook something you've never made before, but I frequently use their recipes to do just that.  

The tomato recipes were perfect for my handfuls of garden tomatoes - the precious few that the fusarium wilt didn't get.  Both recipes I tried instruct you to dust 1/4 inch thick slices of tomato with a bit of salt on paper towel for a half hour and then blot them carefully to remove some moisture.  The result is a super-tomato, meaty with the full summer flavor that by this time of the year you are trying so hard to eat enough of - to sustain you until next tomato season.

It's almost difficult to remember the days before homeschooling now, the ones where I spent a good amount of time in my day procuring and preparing food.  I remember the canning projects that I didn't need to sneak in just before bedtime, or just before suppertime.  Last week my parents brought me a bushel of tomatoes (1/2 Roma and 1/2 regular "canners") and I had no idea how I was going to get them preserved.  My Mom washed them all when we were visiting, and arranged them by ripeness on sheet pans, pans I needed to keep moving to ward off my toddler who will eat any ripening fruit or vegetable left on the counter.  The ripest 12 pounds I pureed right away in the Vitamix.  I left it stashed the puree in the fridge for a couple of days for (Local Kitchen) ketchup.  That lazing about in the fridge trick also worked well for the (Food in Jars) tomato jam: 5lbs. of tomatoes that I cooked mostly down before letting it wait in the fridge for awhile.  The last 26 lbs. of fruit I determined to roast, puree, and just can in pints.  The roasting and pureeing I did on Sunday afternoon and I finally got the canning done yesterday afternoon.  13 jars doesn't seem like all that much when it's resting on the counter.  But it is 13 weeks of pizza sauce.  I am immeasurably indebted to my Mom for canning me quarts upon quarts of whole tomatoes for the rest of our tomatoey needs!

tomato puree

The 35 minutes of general monitoring and kitchen cleanup when the tomato puree was in the water bath allowed me some thinking time.  When I have this time to think, I think of what things I could make to eat, what things I can make quickly and with pantry staples.  I think of all the things I wish my picky boy would eat, and how if he would just eat, it would be so much less stressful for me.  But there are tacos and pizza, both of which I make at least once a week and fully from scratch.  I have mastered a dozen, maybe more, pizza doughs - and I know which ones to use for the time frames I have to work with.  I can make tortillas in my sleep, and short order breakfast for dinner on a whim.  I seem to have developed all kinds of kitchen nuances that save me time and put food in our bellies.  Here are a half dozen recent time savers:

1.  Make extra rice.  Leftover rice seems to be better than rice made for the day.  It was Tamar Adler who first made me aware of this and just two days ago I turned the last of some Indian-spiced basmati into a small amount of rice pudding with currants.  One boy ate some for dessert, the other happily ate the rest for breakfast. 

2.  When grating cheese, grate the whole block.  You will use it in omelets, on tacos, for a grilled cheese, and you won't have to be bothered to stop and grate it on demand.  (Or better yet, if you have the food processor out to do something else that can stand a bit of cheese, drop large, hastily cut cubes of cheese into the running S-Blade.  It's not grated or shredded, but it's perfect for melting, sprinkling, using in general.)  If you don't think you'll use it up within a week, it actually freezes well too.

3.  Slice, dice, or chop extra vegetables.  Whatever the vegetable, onions and carrots for soup, peppers for frying or sautéing, extra prepped veg means less chopping later and more chance that I'll include them in something fast.

4.  Cold Brew Coffee.  It's definitely something I relied on all summer, but I think it will have a moment this fall as well.  I am the only coffee drinker around here, and some mornings a pause to make myself a moka pot or a cup of Aeropress is just too much to ask of me.  For mine, I coarsely grind 4 oz. of beans, soak it in 4 1/2 c. (36 oz.) filtered, room temperature water for 20 hours, then strain through a double layer of nut milk bag and decant to a quart jar.  It keeps a week in the fridge.  It's marvelous with heavy cream and a splash of maple syrup.

5.  Extra scrambled eggs.  Scrambled eggs are actually pretty good cold, and make good additions to sandwiches, tacos, and my gut when unexpected "hanger" strikes.

6.  Always soak a pound of beans.  I just recently got smart on this one.  We generally eat a half pound over a couple of days, no matter what the variety.  Making more leaves a batch for the freezer, which is good in a pinch or when I haven't planned ahead.


I could also add bread.  Always bread.  Earlier this year I was feeling bad about my lack of sourdough experimentation and a Flickr friend commented back that so many people buy the same cereal or ketchup for years and think nothing of it - and that really changed my perception of the joy of repetition.  This is my bread, it's always kind of the same, but always just a little different.  And it's good for and in everything.  In fact, America's Test Kitchen told me to use white sandwich bread in that vegetable torta, but I used my own bread to wonderful effect.  I never want for croutons or bread crumbs and when I sometimes feel sad that I don't have the time to devote to long and drawn out kitchen projects, I rest on the bread that I still can't believe I can make myself.  The moments devoted to good bread have given me back so many more minutes than I can count, and made them filled to overflowing... Reminding me all the more the reason it is a stable staple and spirit-filled entity.  If you have a good slice of bread, you have the whole world.