Peppermint Bonbon Tart

December began in a flurry of icing sugar, clouds of winter-white whipped cream and cool peppermint candy canes.  My mother’s birthday was last week and I make her a peppermint bonbon tart every single year.  It’s her very favourite.  The recipe has been in our family forever – or at least since the gelatin-dessert-crazed sixties – and I absolutely love it.  My grandmother used to make this tart for my mom when she was a girl.  The recipe was eventually passed to me, as the designated dessert enthusiast of the family.   I made my typical, modern adjustments and adaptations (replacing shortening with butter; freshly whipping the cream; etc.) while keeping its vintage charm. Continue reading “Peppermint Bonbon Tart”

Embossed Gingerbread

These delicately embossed gingerbread cookies are the perfect way to welcome the festive season!  I’ve always loved the look of embossed rolling pins, and this one from Embossed Pin is so pretty with a whimsical forest scene that’s perfect, not just for Christmas, but all winter long.  And it’s really starting to feel like winter around here.  The light is different, it has an iridescent quality as if the sun is shining through shards of ice, and we’ve had three major snowstorms already.  But the house has never been cozier, especially when gingerbread is baking and the kitchen is filled with the blissful scent of cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Isn’t this the most magical time of year?! Continue reading “Embossed Gingerbread”

Biscuits de Noël

I don’t bake cookies very often.  There are so many more exciting desserts to be made this time of year – chewy fruit-filled meringues, fancy tarts, densely rich pies and, of course, the boûche de Noël.  Cookies seem so… dare I say, ordinary.  And, with so many store-bought varieties, well, sometimes I think, why bother?  But that is a very one-sided way of looking at it, isn’t it.  Cookies are exciting, both in their own right, but more so in feelings they evoke and the excitement of what they represent.  Especially if they are the biscuits de Noël.  In that case, there really is no choice – they must be homemade. Continue reading “Biscuits de Noël”

7 Winter Cocktails to Drink Now

Let’s play a little game.  Imagine, for a second, that it’s a few days before Christmas.  Your significant other has surprised you with tickets to the symphony (or Opera… or John Legend’s Legendary Christmas Tour… you choose!).  It’s a bitter cold evening; snow is in the forecast.  The wind cuts through your jacket with its icy fingers as you walk with your lover, arm-in-arm, toward the warm lights of the theatre doors.  Your partner feels you shiver and presses closer as the doorman throws wide the massive glass doors and you step into a whirlwind of theater-goers; the room is a dizzying and disorienting blur of tuxedo blacks and showy holiday evening gowns.  You arrive a little early so your partner takes you by the hand and whisks you through the swirling crowd to the bar at the far end of the lobby where the smell of tobacco and Dior J’adore hangs in the air like the London fog.  You are handed a beautifully crafted cocktail menu, curated, you’re told, by none other than the theatre manager himself, who dabbles in the art of mixology on the side.  Each drink is designed to chase away winter’s cold and lull you into a state of ultimate contentedness against the symphonic backdrop of the evening’s performance.  The only question now is, which one will you choose? Continue reading “7 Winter Cocktails to Drink Now”

Kolaczki Cookies

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a very wonderful Thanksgiving, if you celebrate… and if you don’t, I hope you had a fantastic weekend.  We discovered on Thanksgiving day that our refrigerator wasn’t keeping things as cold as it should.  Actually, I had suspected that was the case for a few weeks, when I kept having to turn the temperature down, but since I’d packed it full of food for the holiday it became very apparent that only the bottom of the fridge was maintaining a constant temperature. Continue reading “Kolaczki Cookies”

Whiskey Alexander

When it comes to dessert, I’d much rather have a glass of wine with a bit of cheese than a piece of cake.  If I’m feeling fancy, we might even make cocktails instead.  You know I love whiskey and whiskey-based cocktails and this is one of my favourites.  It’s a variation on a Brandy Alexander, made with whiskey, crème de cacao, vanilla, cream and nutmeg.  I love to entertain with this recipe.  It’s wintery and sweet, and with a touch of nutmeg, perfect for the holidays or just dessert on a Friday night.  Choose a good quality whiskey, but one that’s not too expensive.  I like to use a local whiskey from Leopold Bros, but if that’s not available, Tullamore D.E.W.  – a subtle and smooth Irish whiskey (for only about $30 USD a bottle) – is a great alternative. Continue reading “Whiskey Alexander”

Pots de Crème au Chocolat

A homesick American

On a dim side street that cut through the buildings like a crack in a rock there was a nondescript little candy shop.  It wasn’t too far from our apartment on Viale Italia, in Livorno, and I passed it frequently on my way to the market. You could easily  have walked right by without noticing but for the aromas that slipped beneath the door – apparitions of caramelized sugar and bittersweet cocoa.  Though I didn’t often stop in to buy anything (willpower, you know), just knowing it was there was reassuring.  I was quite homesick during that first winter abroad and everyone knows that a little chocolate is the best cure for homesickness.   Continue reading “Pots de Crème au Chocolat”

White Christmas

Today, I sat down to finalize the Christmas menu before going to the market.  “Simplicity” is the name of the game this year, so the menu looks something like this:  The star of the dinner table will be a very traditional American baked ham with a maple glaze and spiced orchard fruits like apples and pears.  The ham will be accompanied by a few of my French favorites like potato gratin with hickory-smoked gruyere, Brussels sprouts lardons (Ina Garten’s recipe, and my kids’ favourite way to eat them!) and, of course, crispy sourdough bread.  For dessert, I will make the Bûche de Noël from my last blog post. Continue reading “White Christmas”

Bûche de Noël

I always return to traditions during the month of December.  Throughout the rest of the year traditions have a reputation for being  “stuffy” or “old-fashioned,” but at Christmas time, when the world seems to be moving at record pace, and not necessarily in the direction we want it to, there’s nothing more comforting than falling back into the old and familiar.  Pulling out the old cookie cutters and sorting through the recipe box for those cookies we bake only once or twice a year; dusting off the boxes of decorations, digging through sheets of tissue paper to find the ornaments we packed away so carefully last year.  It’s almost like a long over-due visit with dear old friends.  (And when the dog accidentally knocks one of those ornaments off the tree, like she did today, and it shatters on the floor there are always tears as I sweep up the pieces.) Continue reading “Bûche de Noël”