The holiday season is upon us! The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the holidays surround us everywhere we turn, as nearly everyone finds themselves crazily busy in this span of time from Halloween through the new year celebrations. Adding “busy-ness” to the plethora of activities and events happening, this season frequently involves food and drink, often in large quantities and much variety.
We all have our “go-to” recipes and techniques, from the just-perfect way to bake a turkey or ham, to the traditional appetizers and finger foods, scrumptious sweets or the thirst quenchers to wash down all the delectable tidbits. However, it never hurts to find new recipes to explore, and possibly add new favorites to your culinary repertoire.
I’m offering an appetizer, a beverage, and a dessert for you to check out.
Spinach artichoke dip has been around for quite awhile and is a favorite of many people. Looking for a new and different way to incorporate it into the menu? How about a spinach artichoke dip (with chopped roasted red peppers, for the added taste and festive look) rolled into puff pastry, sliced, and baked? Frozen puff pastry is convenient and easy to use, but adds a deceptively simple, yet impressive new look and ease for serving whatever you roll into it. I’m thinking that buffalo chicken pinwheels would be a delicious next project.
A cake roll is always a festive looking dessert. Since I love the spiciness of gingerbread, have a fondness for maple syrup, and adore cream cheese in a filling or frosting, one recipe that combines all three is a definite winner in my book! Don’t try to “short-cut” the ingredients. It is definitely worth the extra effort to peel and grate fresh ginger root for the gingerbread rather than using the pre-ground stuff. Fresh ginger adds flavor nuances that you just can’t get from the ground ginger. When using maple syrup in recipes, use Grade B maple syrup if you can find it. For the best maple taste (and caramelly undertones), the “B” in this case stands for “Best!”
A tip that makes working with sticky ingredients like molasses or maple syrup much easier: coat the measuring cup or spoon with nonstick spray before measuring the sticky stuff. It will then slide out without any of your measured ingredient adhering to the measuring utensil.
My daughter-in-law’s mother introduced me to a warm spiced cranberry drink several years ago. It is a traditional part of their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. It is spiced with cinnamon, but adding a few whole cloves would also add an extra element of deliciousness, I’m sure. Although I haven’t yet tried it, I’m thinking that adding an orange liqueur would enhance both the flavor and the warming aspects of the cranberry cider.
Spinach Artichoke Puff Pastry Pinwheels
• 1 lb. fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped, cooked
(or ½ of a 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed)
• 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
(net approx. 8 oz.)
• 1/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper
• ½ cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt
• 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 2 tablespoons horseradish
• 1 package frozen puff pastry
Drain spinach well and squeeze dry.
Stir filling ingredients together.
Thaw puff pastry at room temperature 30 minutes. Unfold pastry and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll over lightly with rolling pin to erase folds. Spread one half of the filling mixture over the pastry sheet, leaving a half-inch border. Roll up pastry, jellyroll fashion, pressing to seal seam. Wrap tightly in heavy-duty plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining sheet of pastry and filling mixture. Freeze at least 30 minutes (or up to three months).
Cut into ½ inch slices and put on baking sheet. Preheat oven to 375 °F. Bake 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.
Makes 4 dozen
Gingerbread Roll with Maple Cream Cheese Filling
• 5 large eggs, separated
• ½ cup molasses
• ¼ cup dark brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
• ¾ cup flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¼ cup PLUS 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup (Grade B preferable)
• 1 tablespoon half-and-half or heavy cream
Glazed pecans and dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 ° F. Line a 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the pan with nonstick spray, then put in the parchment paper and spray it again.
Whisk flour, baking powder, ground ginger, allspice, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until pale, about 2 minutes. Add the molasses, brown sugar and the fresh ginger. Beat until combined, then add the dry ingredients and beat to incorporate.
In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the ¼ cup granulated sugar and beat until firm and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks remain.
Spread batter onto prepared pan in an even layer. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the cake with the remaining two tablespoons granulated sugar. Run a sharp knife blade along the edges of the pan to free cake edges. Cover the cake with a clean smooth kitchen towel and top with a large cutting board. Holding the pan, towel, and board, invert so the cake is on the board. Remove pan and carefully peel the parchment paper from the cake. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let cool completely.
Beat cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar on low speed until smooth. Add maple syrup and cream and beat about 2 minutes, until fluffy.
Putting it together:
When cake is completely cool, spread the filling over the cake, leaving a ½ inch border all around. Starting at the short end, roll up the cake…slow and easy! Wrap the gingerbread roll tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least three hours.
To serve, remove plastic wrap and put cake roll on a platter. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Cut into slices and bring to room temperature. Garnish with the glazed pecans and dried cranberries.
Spiced Cranberry Cider
• 1 package cranberries
• 3 quarts of water
• 2 cups sugar
• ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
• 2 cups orange juice
• 2-4 sticks of cinnamon
• 1 lemon and 1 orange
Boil berries in water until they pop (5-10 minutes). Let steep a few minutes. Drain, discarding berries, and add remaining ingredients. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves.
Slice lemon and orange, and place in clear glass pitcher. Pour cider over fruit slices.