Spiced rum caramel and a gingerbread cake

Christmas day has come and gone and I've looked at Orion's Belt from the cracks of evening branches, so proud of Virginia and the secrets between the birch trees. Thus far, highlights have included a Lego Movie Quote-Along with Aaron, chilly afternoon runs decked in fleece, going shot-for-shot with Dad's side of the family (who knew the Kohrs could handle their tequila so well?!!?!), and excitedly brushing up on my Italian...(!!!!!!) 

On Christmas morning we ate cinnamon buns with an orange cream cheese frosting and I painted a gingerbread cake. Gingerbread is my all-time favorite treat when it comes to holiday goodies. I love that the cookies look like little people and that I can dress them in whatever edible outfit I so choose. I love blending molasses and spices and then licking the beaters for that spicy warmth. I love it because it's so perfectly cozy. 

It's the season we long for extra arms to cover us in hugs and lips to soak our skin in kisses. Peppermint hot chocolate reminds us that we are not alone, and gingerbread traces our back with gentle fingertips. The holidays are SO DAMN COZY; a season for warm laundry and secrets and I really love that.

After we had sipped our port and the grownups retired the couch, Alec, Felix, Tina, Alex, and Ian all floated into my family room and down around the poker table. This location has served as our stomp-ground for many, many moons.  Back in the old days, our evenings consisted of truth or dare and shots and tumbles into the hottub. One night there were 25 sleeping bodies in my basement, and Al, Fe, and Teens and I made a nest out of blankets on the floor of the bathroom, allowing fifteen-year-old kids to climb over our bodies as we stayed up all night and told stories. Now that we're older, we casually drink beer and talk about our lack of funds and our excitement for what has yet to come.

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Whenever these kids come over, I make them eat. I made them eat this cake, which sounds like it's not very good, but I promise you it is. The gingerbread and caramel and buttercream play together in a sweet game of leapfrog perfectly suited for the holidays. This year, I made them a pile of desserts: chocolate covered marshmallows, toffee, mexican wedding cookies, vanilla cupcakes, and gingerbread cake.

You can find the entire recipe, including the cake and caramel buttercream HERE, at Top with Cinnamon's adorable little blog. This cake demanded I make wet caramel for the first time ever, finally succeeding on attempt #3 (the first two attempts burnt as I stared over the saucepan and swore.) The original recipe calls for whiskey, but my cousins brew a mean spiced rum so I threw that in there instead. And then I threw the rum caramel into the frosting and OH WOAH. Four layers of nothing but cozy, delicious sugar.


spiced rum caramel sauce

1 cup plus 2 tbsp  granulated sugar sugar

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 tsp spiced rum 

1 – 2 tsp flaky sea salt

Heat the sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt, swirl the sugar around the pan to break up any clumps without stirring. If necessary, use the bottom of a rubber spatula to gently smash any of the clumps.  

While the sugar melts, warm the cream and the butter in a separate saucepan until the butter is fully melted. Set aside. 

After the sugar is melted and has taken on a warm, amber color, remove the saucepan from the heat. Immediately whisk in the warm cream and butter. If the sugar begins to solidify, return the pan to the medium heat until the mixture is liquid. Stir in the salt and the rum. Pour the caramel through a sieve and then into a heat-proof bowl.  

You can put this caramel sauce on anything. Brownies, vanilla bean ice cream, apples, or the gingerbread cake. And said cake consumed with some sort of fire (candles always do) and sweet wine and laughs on a late night.

- Stay cozy 

 

Stovetop popcorn with rosemary-infused olive oil

There are so many reasons to smile.

It may be warm-weathered holiday season, but the holiday season is here nonetheless! Californians love their holidays, and I'm loving that almond milk eggnog is now a thing. I've been celebrating the increased cheer with late morning hikes alongside Kaitlyn, raw doughnuts at the yoga studio, turkey handprints with the boys, and explosions of cozy cooking. I've found that apple cider kombucha and champagne make an exceptional cocktail and have learned that the gypsy cat outside of my apartment is named Phinneaus. He's really digging the sunlight. 

Seasonal cuisine encourages us to explore our kitchens. November and December are the months where even the most culinary-shy bust out their grandmother's cookbooks and a deep-fryer for an experimental turkey recipe. Cooking is expected, so we often dare to try new things. 

As a junior at JMU, roasting a turkey was a new and terrifying thing. I gave it a shot, and specifically remember crying and holding a meat thermometer in the closet-sized kitchen of my college home. My seven roommates and I had offered to host the theatre-kids Thanksgiving, and I promised that if everyone gave me money I would make them a legit, skin-on, stuffing-stuffed, TURKEY.  It seemed no different than roast chicken, and I just really wanted to play hostess. What I didn't anticipate was the two-day defrost period, and learned this little fact about 12 hours before my house was raided with hungry, and often stoned, theatre kids. 

After a quick meltdown and a consultation with the internet, I found a method that would safely defrost the turkey as long as I was constantly around to change the water every 30 minutes. I skipped all my classes, turned on Netflix, and made myself comfy in the kitchen. I was also a vegetarian at the time, and so yanking the gizzards and guts from the bird's interior required opening a bottle of wine. Thankfully, the turkey came out and no one had food poisoning, but I have yet to make a turkey since. 

Instead, I just make lots and lots of popcorn. 

Anyone who has spent more than a day with me understands my affinity for popcorn. On average, I replace two meals a week with a big bowl of the stuff.  While it's great anytime of year, this batch is especially perfect for this dip into the holiday season. The rosemary lays like fallen pine trees, and fills the kitchen with an aroma that requires knit blankets and massive snuggling. 

Here in Los Angeles, it will serve as road trip food for Kaitlyn and I as we drive (topdown!!!) to Slovang for a Dutch-and-Wine-Country Thanksgiving with David and the rest of the Ballantine clan (but more on that later). For now, I'll leave you with a recipe for this simple and delicious snack. You can offer it up as pre-Turkey Day munchies, during holiday movie night (HOME ALONE, I repeat, HOME ALONE), or feed it to someone special. Back in Virginia, I made when it snowed, drank it with a glass of something bubbly, and watched the black sky illuminate above the newly white ground. And I smiled. 

Stovetop popcorn with rosemary-infused olive oil 

Popcorn

1 cup popcorn kernels

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons rosemary-infused oil

Salt

Rosemary-infused oil 

1 cup olive oil

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary 

 

To make the oil: combine the olive oil and rosemary in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the oil to cool to room temperature. Remove the sprigs and set aside.

Stir the popcorn and kernels and 1/2 cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot. Cover and cook over medium heat until all the kernels have popped, shaking the pot throughout the cooking process to prevent the kernels from burning. Transfer the popcorn to a large serving bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve. 

 

Thanks to Food Network and Giada De Laurentiis for this recipe! 

-stay cozy!

Paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

It's about time.

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Pumpkin pie and I have a long history. Sometime around elementary school, I asked for pumpkin pie over the traditional yellow-and-chocolate frosting birthday cake. Mish happily obliged, providing me with a giant orange circle of spiced goodness. Plastic pink-and-white candles stood stacked in the pumpkin like naked trees on fire, and I wore an old gypsy Halloween costume as I made my wish.

During my senior year of high school, my family would occasionally buy ginormous pumpkin pies from Costco during the fall season. They stuck around for about a week, steadily making their disappearance as we grabbed after-dinner (and often late-morning) slices. One night, I was up until four am annotating Memoirs of a Geisha. Annotating was a regular practice in my AP Literature class; each month we picked a novel for the month's theme (black history, women's rights, utopian societies), read it, and filled the margins with dozens of notes and ideas. My teacher, Mrs. Buckley, was phenomenal, and introduced us to so amazing reads that to this day I continue to use her list of recommendations. That being said, I had gotten so caught up in Sayuri's journey down the rabbit hole into Geisha-land (especially in regards to her infatuation with the Chairman), that I had ...ahem...skipped over some annotations to finish the story. So there I was, in the black of a November night, scribbling away at the margins as if my life depended on it. (Mrs. Buckley, if you ever read this, I loved this book and I'm sorry I was up until 4am making my annotations. Thank you for being understanding and wise.) Luckily, there was that Costco pumpkin pie. I dined on a hefty slice, looked a the oven clock and to see that it was 3:56, and thought "well this isn't such a bad way to spend my evening."

College was a time full of microwavable dumplings and lucky charms and dixie cup jello shooters. I rarely took the time to bake, and when I did it was often outrageous baked goods covered in commercial baked goods (example: the zebra cake cake).  Luckily, come late October, our dining hall began serving slivers of some of the most amazing pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. The crust was likely industrialized, and possessed small imprints along the ridges that looked as if a squared-footed bird had confidently stomped in a neat circle. The pumpkin custard was perfectly spiced, and there was a wonderfully moist padding at the point where the crust and pumpkin made contact. The only problem was that the pieces were small, and so I would often return for seconds, earning myself the nickname "pie girl." It could have been worse.

I'm surprised it's taken me this long to tackle a pumpkin pie. For a bit I trusted that it would be available Thanksgiving Day, but that sort of hubris can leave a girl alone and pie-less. I needed to control my own destiny. I had to bake pumpkin pie, and I had to do it before Thanksgiving was over and everyone moved onto cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. (Though I really do love cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. Don't worry. I'll get to you guys.)

So I opened my brain and tackled the task at hand.  I've been doing a lot of paleo baking, a rather like the end result. Almond and coconut flours provide a nice texture, and my gut tends to thank me the next day. So after some internet research, I found a recipe. I had no pie plate but I did have a muffin tin, and from said muffin tin came irresistible baby pies that I love like my own children. My children that I eat.

The thing about making pumpkin pie is understanding the spice ratios. This is where you're allotted some freedom, but it's a bit like playing God with a blindfold on. You don't really know what the pie is gonna taste like, you just kinda throw in some nutmeg, maybe a bit more cloves, and hope and pray the thing tastes good. Libby's has a solid recommendation of spices, but I've made this before and it did not taste like my beloved dining hall pumpkin pie. After mixing around a bit, I think I've got it.

In most pumpkin pie recipes, you either go for a handful of spices or opt for the all-in-one pumpkin pie spice. The trick is to do BOTH. That's right, get your hands dirty and sprinkle all those babies right in the batter. I'm fairly certain dining hall pumpkin pie relied heavily on pumpkin pie spice, but I love the addition of extra nutmeg. It's adds savory warmth, and brings me back to those moments of dining hall dinners consumed before heading to rehearsal.  

I'm a proud pie girl. 

paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

crust

1 cup coconut flour

1 cup tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch)

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup coconut cil, melted

1 egg 

5 tbsp raw agave 

1 tbsp vanilla extract

filling

1/2 of a (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree, or 1 cup 

1/4 cup coconut milk (canned, full-fat)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground cinnamo

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 

1 1/2 tbsp agave 

1/2 tbsp tapioca flour 

 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, whisked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with your choice of oil or fat.

Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix unto thoroughly combined into a smooth, dough ball. If the dough seems too crumbly, add a bit more coconut oil. If it seems too oily, add a bit more tapioca flour.

sing your hands, drop a small ball of dough into each muffin cup. Use your fingers to press and shape the dough into a small cup, forming the crust. You can use a tart tamper, or a wooden cocktail muddler, to help flatten everything out.

Bake the tarts in the preheat oven for five minutes.  Remove the tarts. They will have puffed up some, so gently the middle of each tart with a toothpick or fork to release steam. Use the muddler or tart tamper to press down and bubbles. 

While the crust cools, prepare the pumpkin filling. Combine all of the pie ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, fill the cooled tart shells all the way with pie filling. Cook for ten minutes, or until the edges of the crust are just browned. 

Allow to cook completely on a wire rack. Using a spoon or small paring knife, separate the tarts from the muffin tin. Served with coconut cream, if desired.

This was adapted from a recipe on Our Paleo Life.  

Enjoy in the late morning with a cup of chai tea, with friends around the kitchen table, or alone, while reading a book, at 4am. 

P.S. No list links today, but I did read this wonderful article about letting go of the guilt revolved around "shoulds." Find it here!

- stay cozy