Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

Barking Up the Right Tree

Regardless of holiday party plans, as host or attendee, no matter how long or short (or nonexistent) gift and wishlist’s may be, I have two words for you: Peppermint Bark.

All it takes is chocolate and crushed candy canes, yet it can elicit the same level of enthusiasm as a laborious multi-tier Christmas cake. You’d think the stuff was sprinkled with pure gold judging by the way some people clamor to snap up piece after piece, as if they had struck it rich at the dessert buffet.

Something about the combination of creamy chocolate slabs, festooned with crunchy red and white striped mint confections seems to strike a chord with everyone, young, old, jolly, and curmudgeonly alike. It’s all about the ratio and quality of ingredients that always hits the sweet spot.

For all the breathless praise this classic confection receives, the real beauty is in its simplicity. Even the fanciest renditions, decked out in layers of dark and white chocolate, can be made by the pound in a matter of minutes, for pennies on the dollar. If you’ve forgotten someone in need of a sweet holiday greeting, or need a last-minute contribution for a party, peppermint bark has your back.

This year, my bark is even better than a quick little bite. Blending cocoa butter with brilliant, full-bodied vanilla, freshly ground candy cane, and rich cocoa, I’m starting from scratch, building my bar from the ground up. Maybe I took it a bit too literally at that, but I couldn’t resist the double entendre of making it look like bark of the earthier sort while I was at it.

Of course, it’s still the very same straightforward concept at heart. Any shape will do, be it a bar or snowflake or edible spoon. The only way to mess this one up is to not make it at all.

Continue reading “Barking Up the Right Tree”

Easy Brie-zy Entertaining

What’s that I hear, off in the distance? Could it be the sound of winter boots storming down the driveway? The staccato knock of knuckles against the front door? The unmistakable chime of the doorbell, ringing out as clear as day: YOUR GUESTS HAVE ARRIVED!?

Ah yes, it sounds like the holidays are here again! Trickling in slowly, gathering in greater numbers with every passing minute, the kitchen swells with sounds of merriment, laughter and banter ricocheting off the walls. Cue the music, crank the oven, and break out the appetizers; it’s time to dazzle with more than sparkling tinsel lining the hallways.

Play your cards right, and one spectacular starter will set the whole party in motion. The pros know that it’s only possible by keeping it simple, prepping ahead, and using the best ingredients. That’s why I’m dropping this show-stopping wheel of homemade vegan brie, supple and soft, crowned with the bold combination of tart raspberries and balsamic vinegar. If that doesn’t kick off the festivities with applause, at least, perhaps you’ve invited the wrong audience.

Buttery, creamy, melting at room temperature, this brie isn’t a dead-ringer for its dairy counterpoint, but it doesn’t need to imitate exactly when it can exceed that experience. Reaching into my pantry for an easy accompaniment, bottles of Alessi White Balsamic Raspberry Blush Vinegar and Alessi Raspberry Infused White Balsamic Reduction inspired this unconventional, yet compelling combination. Melding that tangy, fresh flavor with sweet whole berries in a lightly simmered compote created a heady aroma that no one could resist.

I can count on Alessi ingredients to raise the bar on everyday staples, no matter the recipe or occasion. Family owned and operated for 72 years, these essentials have stood the test of time. They’ve been stocking grocery store shelves across the country for as long as I can remember, that’s for sure. Going straight to the source reaps the greatest rewards, though, since orders over $20 ship free and no where else can you find such a wide section of authentic Italian specialties. As if that wasn’t enough, if you shop directly through Alessi.com and enter the code HANNAHK at checkout, you’ll get 15% off your order! This code is good for 1 use per customer, until December 31.

Both the cheese and chutney can be made up to a full week in advance, so there’s no need to stress on the big day. Just take off the chill as conversations warm and spirits flow. The savory wedges will melt in your mouth, and any extraneous worries will melt away. Now that’s what makes a happy holiday.

Continue reading “Easy Brie-zy Entertaining”

Looking Sharp

Why should bunnies have all the fun when Easter rolls around? They’re not the only lovable little herbivores to spring out of a sleepy winter funk. Right alongside Flopsy and Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, porcupines emerge to share all the fresh green shoots, fruits, and leaves now ripe for the foraging. Sure, they’re not as outwardly cuddly with those intimidating quills raised, but trust me, it’s all just a facade. Unless provoked or threatened, porcupines are about as vicious as newborn kittens.

Consider setting a place at the table for a more diverse cast of characters at your Easter feast. Engaged in the right conversation, their wits are likely sharper than their quills.

Rather than rolling out predictable bunny buns, take just a few extra swift snips to bring these steamed porcupettes to life.

Don’t be daunted by homemade bao, which are simply stuffed balls of bread dough. Fillings can be sweet or savory, from red adzuki beans to meaty seitan, depending on whether you’re in the mood for dessert or dinner. Start with a basic formula for bao dough and watch these charming creatures come to life in your hands.

After sealing the goodies within rounded parcels of dough, gently pinch one end of the ball to make it more oblong for the nose. Make many little triangular snips with very sharp kitchen shears just on top of the dough, without cutting all the way through to the filling, to form the quills. Mix together a tiny bit of aquafaba and cocoa powder and apply tiny drops with toothpicks to make the eyes.

That’s all there is to it! Just steam until fluffy, or bake if you prefer more golden brown goodness. Either way, your new Easter mascot will happily rise to the occasion.