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FOOD FUN: Christmas Tree Brownies & Peanut Butter Cups

There are plenty of chocolate Christmas trees and tree-shaped holiday cookies.

But these two treats from Orange Glad Box, which is a box delivery service for gourmet sweets.
 
 
1. CHRISTMAS TREE BROWNIES

Ingredients

  • Brownie recipe or mix
  • Christmas tree cookie cutter
  • Mini candy canes
  • Green icing (soft frosting or hard royal icing
  • Candy tree decorations (small round candies, sprinkles, edible glitter, crushed red and white peppermints)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BAKE your favorite brownie recipe and cut out tree shapes with a cookie cutter.

    2. USE an ice pick to create an opening for thin candy canes. Break off the crook tops of the candy canes and insert the straight portion into the openings. You can crush the crooks and use them to decorate the “Christmas trees.”

    3. DECORATE the trees with a piped icing garland and “ornaments”: small round candies, confetti, round sprinkles or edible glitter.
     
     
    RECIPE: PEANUT BUTTER CHRISTMAS TREES

    This recipe was inspired by one from Delish.

    Ingredients Per Tree

  • 1 regular and 2 mini peanut butter cups
  • 1 Hershey’s kiss
  • Green icing (soft frosting or hard royal icing)
  • Candy tree decorations (sprinkles (photo #3), glitter)
  • Soft green or white icing
  •  
    Preparation

    1. USE soft icing to adhere the peanut butter cups: small, regular, small. Affix the kiss on top.

    2. DECORATE the tree with a piped icing garland and “ornaments”: small round candies, confetti, round sprinkles or edible glitter.

     

    Christmas Tree Brownies
    [1] Brownie Christmas trees with candy cane trunks (photo courtesy Orange Glad | Facebook).

    Peanut Butter Cup Christmas Tree
    [2] Peanut butter cup Christmas tree (photo courtesy Delish).

    Christmas Sprinkles
    [2] Peanut butter cup Christmas tree (photo courtesy Delish).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Hummus Tacos For Taco Tuesdays

    Hummus Tacos
    [1] Meatless Mondays meet Taco Tuesdays, with these vegetable-hummus tacos.
    Here’s the recipe from Mountain Mama Cooks.

    Nacho Hummus
    [2] Nacho Tuesday substitutes for Taco Tuesday (photo courtesy Hannah Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog).

     

    You can combine Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday with meatless tacos, like this recipe for Veggie Hummus Tacos (photo #1) from Mountain Mama Cooks.

    You get a nice portion of mixed veggies, along with nutrient-packed* hummus.

    And, you don’t have to be literal on Taco Tuesdays. You can serve taco chips with a hummus-nacho dip, as in the recipe below.

    If you don’t want either vegan or vegetarian† tacos for your main course, try this starter from our colleague Hannah Kaminsky of Bittersweet Blog. She serves it with a selection of tortilla chips, plain and flavored.

    “Nacho hummus,” Hannah says, “delivers all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals compliment and contrast one another: a natural union that has been long overdue.

    “Whether you smear it in pita, thin it out to drizzle on tortilla chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudités, it’s a foolproof formula.”

     
    RECIPE: HUMMUS NACHOS

    Ingredients For 6-10 Appetizer Servings

  • 1 14-ounce can (or 1-1/2 cups cooked) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red pepper, seeded and roasted, chopped (substitute jarred pimento)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Tomato paste
  • 1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
  • Garnish: thinly sliced scallions
  •  
    Plus

  • Tortilla chips/taco chips (photos #3 and #4)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic and lemon juice to a food processor. Pulse to breaking down the ingredients, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

    2. ADD the tahini, mustard and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

    3. PURÉE, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed.

    4. ADJUST the spice level to taste. Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

     

    TORTILLA CHIPS, TACO CHIPS, CORN CHIPS: THE DIFFERENCE
     
    Tortilla chips and taco chips are the same thing.

    Tortilla chips and corn chips are cousins, are made in very different ways.
     
    Corn Chips

  • Corn chips are made from corn meal (ground corn, or masa), which has been is mixed with salt and water, extruded (shaped) and fried.
  •  
    Tortilla Chips, A.K.A. Taco Chips

  • The corn in a tortilla chip undergoes a process known as nixtamalization, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution such as lime water, and then hulled, ground and made into tortillas.
  • The tortillas are then sliced and fried into crispy chips.
  • This ancient process was developed by the peoples of what is today Mesoamerica.

  • Tortilla chips, however, were invented in the late 1940s in Los Angeles. Here’s the history of tortilla chips.
  • National Tortilla Chip Day is February 24th.
  •  
     
    ________________

    *Hummus contains crucial nutrients, most of which come from the tahini: a high content of important minerals like copper and manganese, along with calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. It is relatively rich in vitamins C and B6, and also contain vitamin E, K, folate (B9) and thiamin (B1).

    †The difference, in this recipe, is sautéeing the vegetables in oil (vegan) or steaming or roasting them, versus sautéeing in butter (vegetarian).

     

    Mango Lime Chile Tortilla Chips, Cabo Chips
    [3] So many flavors of tortilla chips to complement your dish. These are Mango Chili Lime chips from Cabo Chips.

    Nopalito Tortilla Chips
    [4] Nopalito’s handmade tortilla chips at (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

     

      

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    RECIPE: Chanukah Cocktail Riff On A Piña Colada

    Chanukah Cocktail
    [1] The Chanukah version of a Piña Colada (photo courtesy Weddings By The Breakers).

    Chanukah Cocktail
    [2] A champagne cocktail with blue curacao and a gold sugar rim. You can substitute edible gold glitter (photo courtesy Living-On-Cloud-Nine.com).

     

    Just as many of us “drink green” on St. Patrick’s Day, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy a blue cocktail on the first night of Chanukah (December 12, 2017; the date varies each year according to the Hebrew calendar).

    You can use any cocktail recipe with blue curaçao. Add a white accent and you have the colors of the Israeli flag.

    This cocktail recipe* (photo #1), from The Breakers in Palm Beach, is a riff on the Piña Colada, with orange flavor (from the curaçao) substituting for the pineapple juice.

    Don’t like coconut?

    Here’s another blue Chanukah cocktail recipe without any coconut flavor.

    Want something elegant? Pour blue curaçao into a champagne flute, add sparkling wine. You can create a rim with sparkling sugar.

    RECIPE: BLUE & WHITE CHANUKAH COCKTAIL

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces Malibu Rum (coconut or pineapple)
  • 2 ounces Coco Lopez
  • 1/4 ounce blue curaçao
  • Flaked or shredded coconut
  • Agave or honey
  • Ice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the rim of the glass. Set down to shallow dishes: one for the agave, one for the coconut. Dip the rim of the glass into the dish of agave; then twist in the dish of coconut.

    2. SHAKE the other ingredients with ice and strain into the glass.

    TIP: If you want to save calories, use coconut milk instead of Coco Lopez.

     
    MORE CHANUKAH COCKTAILS

    More blue cocktails: Create a whole cocktail menu!
    ________________

    *They didn’t intend it as a Chanukah cocktail, but as one matching the beautiful blue ocean around The Breakers. They call it the Coco Snowball.

      

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    CHANUKAH: Latke Roundup & The History Of Latkes

    This year, Chanukah, the Jewish Festival Of Lights, begins the evening of December 12th (the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar).
     
     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHANUKAH

    In ancient Judea, the Syrian King Antiochus ordered the Jewish people to abandon their religion and worship the Greek gods. In 165 B.C.E., Judah, leader of the band that called themselves the Maccabees (Hebrew for hammer), drove the Syrians from Israel and reclaimed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, removing the Greek statues.

    When they finished their work, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, they wanted to rededicate the temple by lighting the eternal light (N’er Tamid), a candelabra that is present in every Jewish house of worship. Once lit, the light should never be extinguished.

    But there was only a tiny jug of lamp oil—enough for a single day. There was no more purified* oil to be had. A miracle occurred: The light burned for eight days.

    This is the origin of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which is celebrated for eight days. The word Chanukah means “rededication.”
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF LATKES

    To acknowledge the miracle of the oil, foods fried in oil, like latkes, are celebratory fare for Chanukah; as are sufganiyah, jelly donuts; and loukoumades, deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar (oy, the carbs!).

    Potato latkes are a Chanukah tradition, but they are enjoyed year-round by Ashkenazi† Jews during.

    Latkes are not an ancient food (the word means “fried cakes,” i.e. pancakes, in Yiddish). The fried potato pancakes of European Jewish cuisine descend from sweet Sicilian ricotta pancakes that appeared in the Middle Ages (and evolved in Jewish cooking into cheese blintzes).

    They traveled north to Rome, where the Jewry called them cassola. Here’s a recipe for ricotta latkes. While traditionally sweet, you can make a savory version with herbs instead of sugar.

    Potato latkes are an Ashkenazi invention that gained popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800s.

    Modern Latkes

    For centuries, potato latkes were the rule. Toward the end of the 20th century, adventurous cooks bucked the tradition with sweet potato latkes.

    Then, anything was possible: latkes from beets, carrots, celery root, parsnips…If it’s a root vegetable, it can be turned into latke. You can also use non-root vegetables, like summer and winter squash.

    Whether or not you celebrate Chanukah (in our upbringing, we celebrated every holiday that had a food focus, regardless of religion or nationality), if you like fried potatoes, Chanukah is your opportunity to try eight days of different recipes and toppings.

    The latter range from the traditional sour cream or apple sauce, and luxury toppers like smoked salmon and caviar (photo #4).

    They can be served as a first course, a side, with the salad course, and as mini-bites with cocktails (photo #2).

    Or, serve breakfast latkes with poached eggs: the Chanukah version of home fries (photo #5).
     
     
    LATKE RECIPES

  • Easy Latke Recipe
  • Latke Garnishes
  • Mixed Vegetable Latkes: potato, onion, parsnip, carrots, leeks
  • Potato, Onion & Cauliflower Latkes
  •  
    But wait: There’s more!

    Here are 30 modern latke recipes including such gems as:

  • Brussels Sprouts Latkes
  • Celery Root Latkes with Pastrami & Dill Pickles
  • Confetti Latkes with Harissa Sour Cream
  • Eggs Benedict On A Latke
  • Latke-Crusted Turkey Stuffing Fritters With Liquid Cranberry Core and Schmaltz Gravy
  • Latke Pumpkin Pie (yes, pumpkin pie with a latke crust)
  • Potato and Zucchini Latke Waffles
  • Pumpkin-Potato Latkes
  • Sweet Potato Latkes with Brown Sugar Syrup & Candied Pecans (for dessert)
  • Turkey Burger Between Two Latkes
  •  

    Potato Latkes
    [1] Modern potato latkes with ginger and herbed goat cheese (here’s the recipe by Anne Druart for Vermont Creamery).

    Mini Latkes
    [2] Mini latke bites with creme fraiche and a seasonal cranberry sauce garnish (photo Great Performances |
    Facebook).

    Latke With Caviar
    [3] Potato latke with caviar: If only we could afford it (photo Tsar Nicoulai).

    Carrot Scallion Latkes
    [4] Gluten-free carrot-scallion latkes. Here’s the recipe from Elana’s Pantry.

    Latkes With Poached Eggs
    [5] Breakfast latkes, with a poached or fried egg. Here’s the recipe from IdahoPotato.com.

    ________________

    *For temple lamps, ritually pure olive oil was required. It took time to prepare: By religious law, the olives could not be pressed. Instead, choice olives were pounded and left to sit for several days, enabling the oil to drain out naturally—but very slowly. The yield for this special olive oil was (and is) very low [source]. So the Maccabees had to wait for new batches to be prepared.

    †Askenazi are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced as a distinct community in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium. They settled along the Rhine River, in Western Germany and Northern Franc [source]. Sephardim (Sephardic Jews) are the other major Jewish ethnic division. It emerged as a distinct community on the Iberian Peninsula, around 1000 C.E. They established communities throughout Spain and Portugal, and, exiled in the late 15th century, migrated to North Africa, Anatolia, the Levant, Southeastern and Southern Europe, and the Americas [source].

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Crosnes, An Arty Rhizome

    Crosnes
    [1] Crones, small rhizomes (photo courtesy Sid Wainer).

    Crosnes Plant
    [2] Crosnes serve as the roots of this flowering plant (photo Wikipedia).

    Crosnes
    [3] Close-up (photo courtesy Cuisinons Les Legumes.

    Swordfish & Crosnes
    [4] Crosnes with grilled swordfish at Il Goto | Paris).

    Crosnes & Peas
    [5] Crosnes and peas. Here’s the recipe from Honest-Food.net, photo Holly A. Heyser).

     

    Do you know about crosnes (pronounced crones)?

    We didn’t until about a year ago, when they were served to us as a main course vegetable at Petrossian in New York City.

    From the order Lamiales, the botanical family Lamiaceae, commonly known as the mint or deadnettle family, has lots of flowering plants, many of them aromatic.

    The family includes culinary herbs such as basil, hyssop, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, perilla, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme.

    But there are other family members that don’t fit in that group. One interesting member is crosnes (photo #1), pearly little tubers, the root of the plant.
     
     
    WHAT ARE CROSNES?

    Crosnes are rhizomes, edible roots of a flowering plant (photo #2). Crosnes have the unique look of larvae (photo #3) (as does malloreddus pasta from Sardinia), which can be cool or creepy, depending on your disposition.

    It is an aesthetic perspective: Chinese poets have compared crosnes to jade beads.

    They are harvested in the fall, like potatoes (which have similar nutrition but are from a different order, Solanales, and family, Solanaceae).

    The name references the French town of Crosne, a suburb of Paris. The root was brought to the area by local chefs returning from travel through Eastern Asia, in the 1800s.

    Local farmers grew the crop as something of a delicacy, and the vegetable was quite fashionable across Europe for some time, before declining in fashion (source).

    Depending on how they’re cooked, crosnes are crunchy, with a flavor and texture reminiscent of water chestnuts (order Poales, family Cyperaceae or jerusalem artichokes (order Asterales, family Asteraceae).

    (We provide this botanical information to illustrate that vegetables that may seem to be related actually have no kinship at all. )

    Originating in China, crosnes (genus and species Stachys affinis) are also known as Chinese artichoke, Japanese artichoke, artichoke and knotroot.

    The thin skin ranges from a pale beige to ivory white in color, with white flesh inside. It is not peeled before cooking. The nutty flavor is delicate.
     
     
    HOW TO SERVE CROSNES

    Crosnes can be prepared similarly to poratoes Jerusalem artichokes; but they require extra soakings and brushings to remove all the dirt from the small, convoluted shapes.

    Crosnes are used as a general vegetable or starch, in salads, and as a very interesting garnish.

  • If you like crunchy veggies, you can lightly blanch them; otherwise, cook them more thoroughly.
  • In French cuisine, crosnes often sautéed in butter. An alternative: olive oil and garlic.
  • They work with just about any sauce, spice or other seasoning. The knots and ridges catch sauces beautifully, like corkscrew pasta.
  • Roast them, or add them to stir-fries.
  • Eat them raw, like mini carrots.
  • We deep-fried them, like French fries—fun, if pricey, fries.
  • In Japan, they’re tempura battered and fried.
  • Use them as a garnish: whole, halved or shredded.
  • In China and Japan, they are pickled as a snack and condiment.
  • For the Japanese New Year (Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year), they are pickled and then dyed red with red shiso leaves (the result is called chorogi).
     
    Crosnes may be hard to find at conventional grocers. You’re more likely to find them at specialty suppliers, which sell to fine restaurants. You may also find them at farmers markets (with the farmers who grow them for the restaurants).

    Oh…and since so few farmers grow them in the U.S., they can cost up to $40 a pound at retail.

    Once the tubers have been dug up, they begin to dry out. Store them in a plastic bag in the fridge and plan to use them in a day or two.

    Crosnes should be white and firm to the touch. If they’re limp or dull in color, pass them by.

    And if you’re dining out and find them on your plate, you know what they are!
     
     
    RECIPES

  • Crosnes and Peas (photo #5)
  • Goat Cheese & Crosnes Salad
  • Sauteed Crosnes With Fines Herbes
  • Snapper with Truffled Favas and Crosnes
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