Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

Holiday Prep: Stunningly Beautiful and Delicious Drink December 18, 2008

By Julia Pantoga, resident domestic goddess

finished-cranberry-vodkaI used to try to give this one away for gifts, but by the time I found bottles to use for giving it away, my friends and I had already made history of it.  Basically, it’s vodka marinated for 10 days with orange peels and cranberries.  The vanilla in the cranberry mixture makes it taste vaguely like cherries.  I serve it “neat” (with no garnishment), but it can be served mixed with tonic water, ice and a lime garnish.

Here’s the step-by-step:
1.     Combine 1 lb. cranberries, 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the berries burst, about 5 minutes.
2.    Wash and peel 2 oranges.  Cut peels into strips.
3.    Pour 1 bottle (750 ml) of vodka over orange peels and cooled cranberry mixture in airtight container.  After 10 days, strain into a clean bottle.  Store in refrigerator.
cranberry-vodka-marinatingAt left, marinating vodka-cranberry mix.

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Holiday Prep: Super-Yummy, Fast-Fast Party Snacks December 12, 2008

By Julia Pantoga

finished-scarabs1These are so easy, that you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh when you tell others what you did. Last year we named them “Scarabs” because they resemble Scarab beetles. But the name that sticks is “those Rolo-pretzel things.” Essentially, this elegant looking snack is a pretzel with a Rolo candy melted over it, topped off with a pecan. As my friend’s mother said, “The hardest thing about them is unwrapping all those *!#@$ candies!” Here’s the step-by-step:
1.    Unwrap two bags of Rolo candies. I take care of this step in front of the TV, the night before I make these. At Halloween, they sell the candies wrapped in packages of three; if you pick up a few bags then, you’ll save yourself some unwrapping work.
2.    Preheat oven to 300°.
3.    Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
4.    Spread pretzels out on the cookie sheet (not too close to each other or the melted caramel from one will stick to the other).
5.    Top each pretzel with a Rolo candy.
6.    Bake for 10 minutes. When they are ready, the candy will be soft, but it won’t melt over the pretzel.
baked-scarabs7.    Press a pecan into each candied pretzel.
8.    Let cool before bagging up for the freezer.
baggies-of-scarabs

I keep baggies of 2 dozen in my freezer, for quick contributions to informal parties. I’ve also been known to take baggies of these with me on long car trips.  This is a fabulous treat!

 

Holiday Prep: Two Recipes for Great Baking Gifts November 25, 2008

wrapped-gift-cakesBy Julia Pantoga

In my column, Giving Away Baked Goods, I promised to give you the recipes for some of my favorite baking gifts. Here, you’ll find two recipes and instructions for making them. See the Domestic Goddess column Giving Away Baked Goods for information about wrapping and ordering.

In my mind, here’s what makes a food fit for giving away:
•    It packs/wraps easily.
•    It can go without refrigeration for several hours.
•    It can be made and wrapped in advance and be stored in the freezer.
•    There is at least one thing “special” about the recipe that makes it unlikely that your recipients would make it on their own—which makes it a treat.

Recipe #1: Ginger Bread with Lemon Icing
This recipe makes enough for six gift loaf pans. Paper pans with wax coating do not need to be prepared.

lemon-brandy

Lemon Brandy
Zest from 2 Lemons
4 ounces Brandy

Steep the lemon zest in brandy for at least one day. You can replenish the brandy twice using the same lemon zest.

Ginger Bread
1 pound butter (2 sticks, I use salted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
4 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 GENEROUS tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
4 teaspoons lemon brandy (substitute vanilla at your own risk, do not use lemon extract as a substitute)
1 cup buttermilk

1.     Bring the eggs to room temperature (you can do this quickly, by putting them in a bowl of hot tap water).
2.    Preheat the oven to 350°.
3.    Cream butter and brown sugar.
4.    Add molasses and beat again.
5.    Beat in eggs.
6.    Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice).
7.    Add dry ingredients to mixture.
8.    Add lemon brandy and buttermilk and mix thoroughly.
9.    Arrange six gift loaf pans on baking sheet.
10.    Pour batter evenly into the six pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.
11.    Cool thoroughly before icing.

Lemon Icing
1 stick butter
Zest of one lemon
Two teaspoons lemon brandy
Two tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1.    Cream butter.
2.    Add lemon zest, lemon brandy and lemon juice and beat until fluffy.

Pre-icing the cakes.

Pre-icing the cakes.

3.    Add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time (Watch out. Powdered sugar tends to fly and make a big mess!)
4.    Pre-ice the cakes with 1 tablespoon of icing each. This will eliminate the possibility of crumbs in your lovely final cakes.
5.    After the pre-icing has hardened, ice the cakes with the remaining icing.
6.    Allow icing to harden before wrapping cakes.

wrapped-walnuts

Recipe #2: Fried Walnuts
This recipe falls into the category of recipes that will fool you by having few ingredients. First of all, any time you fry something, it is a mess. Before you start making these:
•    Put on an apron or old shirt on which you don’t mind spattering grease.
•    Clear a large surface for laying the walnuts out (I use my kitchen table)
The reason I make these every year is because they are GREAT. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love them. They also pack really well and one batch makes seven gift bags.

Fry walnuts

Fry walnuts

Ingredients
8 cups water
4 cups walnuts
½ cup sugar
Cooking oil
Sea salt

Drain walnuts.

Drain walnuts.

1.    Bring water to a boil.
2.    Add walnuts to the water and boil for 1 minute.
3.    Drain boiled walnuts and rinse with hot water.
4.    While the walnuts are hot, return them to the pot you used for boiling and mix well with sugar.
5.    Heat 1 inch of cooking oil to 160°.
6.    Fry the walnuts in two single layer batches for 4 minutes (Put lid or spatter guard on the pan to prevent more of a mess).
7.    While the walnuts are frying, lay wax paper on your clear surface.
8.    Scoop walnuts out of the oil with slotted spoon and drain well in a sieve (one year I didn’t drain the walnuts very well and they were so greasy that they were nasty.) [draining walnuts photo here]

Salt walnuts.

Salt walnuts.

9.    Spread fried walnuts in one layer on wax paper.
10.    Sprinkle warm walnuts with salt (don’t over salt). [salting walnuts photo here]
11.    Allow walnuts to cool thoroughly before wrapping.

Stay tuned for more recipes, tips on holiday decorating and parts two and three of my essays about making holiday cookies. See previous Domestic Goddess columns for more holiday tips.

 

Holiday Entertaining Made Easy November 11, 2008

entertainingBy Julia Pantoga

This is a sociable time of year. For some of us, entertaining is fun—a chance to show off our lovely homes, our cooking and our planning skills to friends; a chance to work on the puzzle of how to fit 15 people into a home that feels crowded with 3 people in it; and a chance to drag out party games and toys that have gone unplayed since last winter.

For others, entertaining is a stressful required chore of the holiday season—this year, it is your turn to host the family (including all the nieces and nephews and their children) for Christmas Eve. You don’t keep your house visitor-ready (i.e. clean and neat with valuables put away), you don’t feel comfortable around a lot of people, and cooking doesn’t come naturally to you. Whether you love to entertain or not, here are some tips to make it less stressful:

Entertaining is for you to enjoy
As you are preparing to entertain, remember always that entertaining is meant to be enjoyable for you. Don’t serve food you don’t like. Don’t invite people into your home you don’t like. Close off rooms of your house that you don’t want people in. If cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, or you don’t enjoy it, buy food from a restaurant or a caterer. If you really feel uncomfortable having several people in your home, throw money at the problem: entertain in a restaurant party room.

Prepare EVERYTHING in advance
You may want to serve foods to your guests that you can’t prepare much in advance, such as spinach salad. I’m sorry, but you really need to knock that off your planned menu because you need to prepare EVERYTHING in advance! There are two reasons for this:
1.    When you are entertaining, the only thing you should be thinking about is enjoying yourself.
2.    If you have a small space, you can use your food preparation areas as flat surfaces for putting out food.

This lovely display of family photos will be put away in the service of snacks!

This lovely display of family photos will be put away in the service of snacks!

Use every surface
And I mean EVERY surface: the stove (if you don’t have a flat top, use planks of plywood and table cloths to make it flat); the top of the coffee table where you usually keep magazines; the end table where you keep awesome photos of your kids; the kitchen counters (which you don’t need since you already prepared EVERYTHING in advance).

bookshelf-barUse the rest of the house creatively
Empty a bookshelf and use it as a bar. Keep the cold drinks in your bathtub or kitchen sink. Put everyone’s coats on the wicker sofa in the screened in porch.

Final reminders.
•    Enjoy yourself.
•    If you have only one bathroom, don’t use that bathtub for cold drinks.
•    If you don’t want people to go in your bedroom, don’t put coats in there.
•    Before you have people you aren’t close to in your house, snoop-proof it. Paper bags are helpful for this. Say you keep several medications in your medicine cabinet in the bathroom that you’d rather not have just anyone see. Put them all in a paper bag and put the bag in your underwear drawer. That is not a great hiding place to prevent burglaries, but it is good enough for a party.  While it is entirely likely that someone will open your medicine cabinet; it is improbable that a party-goer will rifle through your underwear drawer and open a paper bag. Use a paper, rather than plastic, because it makes more noise. Since your medicines are all together in one bag, they will be easy to return to the medicine cabinet after your party.

party-toys•    Leaving toys and reference books (atlases, dictionaries, etc.) out are always good for getting lively conversation going.

Easy and fabulous party foods:
•    Figs, cut in half topped with cream cheese mixed with chopped pecans (you have no idea how great this is until you try it)
•    Homemade cookies
•    Apple slices with lime juice squeezed over them, served with good cheddar cheese

The best party foods:
•    Don’t require a fork
•    Don’t require a plate
•    Can be eaten standing up and with one hand
And here’s the deal about serving:  Nothing you serve has to look fantastic. Rather, it should be easy to get to and serve, and it should taste great. Your friends are there to enjoy you and your hospitality, not to be impressed.

figs-and-cookies