Friday, December 21, 2012


the start
iced sugar cookies

decorated gingerbread

attempts (bad!) at red fox and brown bears
new favorites: snails and porcupine
packing tins

 ginger spice cookies

heading to bed

Sunday, December 16, 2012


The plan was to give my book-group friends jams, as usual, for Christmas. But, wanting to do something more luxe this year, I consulted the books and decided hot fudge sauce would be perfect. Most people love hot fudge but never make it. And buying? Commercial hot fudge is often low on chocolate, high on sugar syrup, and blah on the tongue. So, decision made, the first pick-up of the day was a box of pint jars from Adler's (no, Home Depot does not carry them). A pint jar of hot fudge is generous (in my not-so-humble book) and may be more than some skinny persons want, so consider half pints (jelly jars). Then I bought cream, chocolate and butter, a lot.

I have some favorite hot fudge sauces. One, from Jacques Pépin, is slightly bitter, exceptionally smooth, and has only two ingredients, heavy cream and high-end bittersweet chocolate. The other is classic Maida Heatter - thick and fudgy, made with butter, cream, Dutch process cocoa, and light and dark sugars. The third has no name attached to it but is nearly identical to one recently printed in The New York Times and it's rich and creamy.

Figuring how much you need: a class jars has two parts, the main container and the top glass where the screw lid fits. I filled the main container to about 1/2 inch under the glass screw-top band. The following recipe gives you a little more sauce than needed to get to this level so I poured the extra into a second jar and immediately started making another batch of hot fudge. This is easy to do - recipe is fast and simple - so the chocolate will stay warm. I didn't double or triple the recipe, just made batch after batch in the same pan.

Salted Hot Fudge

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (chopped a bit)
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa, sifted
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt (should be very fine if you use sea salt)
2 tsp vanilla

• In a heavy pan melt the chocolate and butter over low heat until melted; stir or whisk

• Add cocoa, sugar and 3/4 of the heavy cream, one at a time. Turn heat up to medium low and stir or whisk constantly for about 3 minutes until sauce is warm and thick (need to whisk constantly so sauce doesn't burn)

• Add the remaining cream and whisk another minute. Sauce will be very smooth.

• Take off the burner and mix in the vanilla and salt. Pour into jar/jars and cool on a rack. Cap the cooled jars and store in the refrigerator.

Cut squares of wrapping paper (Container Store solids are just the right sturdiness) for the lids and use rubber bands (mine are fruit department green from Whole Foods) to hold the paper down. Be creative with tags. I painted cheap packing tie-ons with watercolors, easy enough. Put the jars back in the original carton and all that's left is delivery.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Edwards' (Surry, Virginia 1-800-222-4267) Virginia hams are my go-to hams (old post: ). You can order small hams, giant hams, fresh hams or smoked hams but always popular is a little one - the Petite Boneless Ham. Looks are deceptive; the ham is flavorful, salty (definitely not a holiday spiral ham) and meant to be sliced thin. A little goes a long way.  

Edwards also cures their own version of a traditional Spanish ham. It's called American Surryano and last year we tried it, and loved it. Maybe it won't trick your friends from Madrid, though it might.You can buy a bone-in whole ham, a boneless ham or four vacuum-sealed 3-ounce packages of ultra-thin slices. Whole hams begin at $200 and then you need to come up with a surgeon friend with the right knives to produce paper thin slices. We bought the vacuum-sealed slices ($34.95 plus shipping) and it was enough to stretch through two cocktail sessions of eight+ persons.


Sure, you hope to bring along a home-made Buche de Noel* when you visit friends but here are some easy alternatives if you're pressed for time:

• Stop in at Simple Pleasures (6 Richmond Square, Providence  401-331-4120) and pick up all sorts of small chocolate treats not available elsewhere in Providence. The tiny shop looks especially pretty for Christmas. Buy yourself a luxurious scarf.

• Visit Garrison Confections factory store (72 Ledge St, Central Falls 401-725-0790) Thursdays through Saturdays until Christmas, and on Sunday, December 23, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Select French-style macarons, chocolate-covered, sea-salted matzoh, elegant small chocolates. The chocolate-covered ginger is terrific.

• Order from semi-local Sweet Lydia's, a small Massachusetts vendor who showcased her wares at Craftopia in November. Personally taste-tested by my friends and me were toasted-coconut covered marshmallows (soooooo good), Lydia's version of a s'more, and one super-delicious chocolate bar.  Use discount code Craftopia12 to get 10% off online orders until December 17th.

• And order from John Kelly Chocolates, the Santa Monica purveyor of possibly the best fudgy sea-salted chocolates, some with caramel, you will ever taste. Expensive, totally worth it.

• Need to arrive with pastries or tarts but don't have the time or inclination? Susan VandenBerg operates the french tarte (774-280-4803) out of Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. I wandered in and purchased flaky pastries while shopping the Saturday Farmers' Market. She can be your new friend for the holidays.  Order ahead.

* And, if you do have time, try either of these easy Bûche recipes: or