here's the last installment of homemade gifts for this holiday season. as you can see, we've been enjoying this berry vanilla jam and our first ever attempt at preserving. it was so much fun to boil the jars and then listen intently for the popping noise they make when they seal. we knew we were successful the next day when we checked the seals on all the jars and then opened one right away to taste! when i make small batches of this jam and don't preserve it, i eliminate the pectin - i think it thickens nicely with just the fruit and sugar. we're already enjoying the holidays with family and friends and will try to blog occasionally over the next few weeks from our travels. merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!

Berry Vanilla Jam
makes eight 8-oz jars

5 cups crushed mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries & blueberries)
1 vanilla bean, cut in half & scrapped
4 tbs lemon juice
1 pkg fruit pectin
7 cups sugar
Combine mixed berries, vanilla bean and lemon juice in a large, stainless steal saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat and stir in pectin until dissolved. Add sugar all at once, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute. Follow preserving instructions.


jars & ginger

this ginger cardamom scone recipe is adapted from Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery and is a great gift with all the dry ingredients layered in a large mason jar. the scones are delicious, buttery and loaded with chunks of candied ginger! i couldn't help myself and ate two with my espresso this morning. hope you like them as much as i do! also, check us out on Fish & Veggies today - Catherine loved my mom's chili so much she wanted to share it on her beautiful blog.

Ginger Cardamom Scones

2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
4 1/2 oz candied ginger, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, frozen
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus extra for brushing
preheat oven to 400 degrees F. in the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and ginger. pulse to combine. add cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine meal. transfer mixture to a bowl and make a well in the center. add the cream and stir with a fork until just combined. gently knead into a ball and roll or pat the dough into a circle on a lightly floured surface about 3/4-inch thick. cut out the scones using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, gathering scraps and pressing the pieces back together until all the dough is used.
brush the tops with remaining cream and bake 14-18 minutes until the tops are lightly brown.


that time of year

i have loved the combination of chocolate and salt since my first bite of Recchiuti's fleur de sel caramels and finally found a recipe that comes close to that heavenly taste. i found it in the december 2006 issue of gourmet and it is now a gift i like to give for Christmas every year. don't be intimidated by candy making! just be careful and have fun. i'll be making holiday gifts all week so check back in to see what other things you might find under the tree.

Salty Chocolate Caramels

2 cups heavy cream
10.5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon for garnish
line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. bring cream to a boil over medium high heat. add chocolate and let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. bring sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to a boil in a heavy pan over medium high heat. boil for 10 minutes without stirring until deep golden brown. carefully add chocolate mixture - it will bubble and steam. continue to boil, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes until mixture reaches 245 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Pour immediately into prepared pan and let cool 10 minutes. sprinkle generously with sea salt and cool completely on a rack for about 2 hours.
carefully invert onto a clean cutting board and peel parchment off the bottom. lightly oil the blade of a knife and cut into 1-inch squares. wrap in squares of wax paper and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


dessert for breakfast

this morning we had dessert for breakfast. some people can't eat sweet syrupy things in the morning but i am blessed with that ability. i've always loved french toast and just recently started experimenting with stuffing it. the possibilities are endless but here's an indulgent chocolate filling to be eaten at any time of day. enjoy!

Chocolate Raspberry Stuffed French Toast

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
4 1-inch thick slices crusty bread
1 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
3 tbs raspberry jam
2 tbs unsalted butter
3 tbs confectioner's sugar
preheat oven to 350 degrees F. in a shallow baking dish, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. with a pairing knife, carefully cut a small slit in bottom of each slice of bread to create a pocket. in a small bowl, combine chocolate and jam. spoon a small amount of filling into each slice of bread. soak slices in egg mixture for 3 minutes per side. heat butter in a large skillet and cook slices for 2-3 minutes per side until nicely browned. transfer to a baking sheet and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. to serve, cut each slice in half and dust with confectioner's sugar. top with fresh raspberries and maple syrup.


double dipped

for those of you who are lucky enough to have been to philippe's french dipped sandwiches in l.a., you know exactly what this post is all about.  and for those who have yet to venture over, you need to run, not walk to this famous landmark.  I remember the first time my dad took me there, i'd say i was about 10, and i didn't really understand the lure of the wait in a long line, carry food on your own tray and ruin your mouth with the devils own table side mustard.  it wasn't until many years and many trips later that it all started to make sense.  it's the beauty of the process, the simplicity of the keeping things the same for decades and how that mustard is now the very thing that makes the dip what it really is.  there are hundreds of ways to get a meal, from french dips with any of 5 different meats, to fresh daily pies, to unreal potato and macaroni salad.  when we went last week, my plate had a beef dip, twice dipped, with swiss cheese, potato salad and a side of pickles...and of course a whole lot of that famous mustard.


mom's famous (well sort of...)

i know we've already given you multiple meals in a bowl but i couldn't resist sharing another one. drum roll please - this is my mom's famous chili recipe. i guess it's really only famous in our family but it should be famous because it's that good! it's always better the next day if you can stand not eating the whole pot the night you make it and i never really measure the spices exactly so it tastes a little different each time. the recipe is slightly different from my mom's original and it changes depending on who i'm making it for - some people like more meat, some people like more beans, some people like ground turkey, some people like corn, etc. but whatever you add or take away, it always tastes fantastic. thanks mom!

Mom's Famous Chili

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
15 oz can chopped tomatoes
15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed
15 oz can black beans, rinsed
15 oz can corn, rinsed, or 2 cups frozen (optional)
2 tbs tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 beef bouillon cube
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs cocoa powder
1-3 tsp hot sauce (tabasco or tapatio)
In a large pot, cook beef until browned. Add onion and pepper and saute until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 1 hour. Serve with optional sour cream and grated cheddar cheese.


we heart heath

every time we are in the bay area, we try to hit up the heath ceramics factory & store in sausalito. they recently opened a store in los angeles as well but we haven't checked it out yet. all the pottery is beautiful and i wish our cupboards were overflowing with serving bowls, plates and vases! for now we will have to settle for the few pieces we collect with each visit. these are our two most recent additions.


thanksgiving favorite

thanksgiving was a great meal and we had a lot of fun cooking for everyone. the spread included spinach souffle, wild rice salad, roasted winter vegetables, mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots & creme fraiche, whipped sweet potatoes with orange, buttermilk biscuits with green onion, cranberry tangerine conserve and, of course, turkey. i highly recommend brining a turkey overnight, which we tried for the first time this year. but with all those delicious sides to choose from, our favorite by a landslide was the baked mac & cheese. gooey, oozy, and oh so comforting, this is a dish i'll be making again soon . . . maybe for christmas!

Baked Mac & Cheese

1 pound macaroni or shells
1 quart milk
6 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
12 oz Gruyere, grated
8 oz sharp cheddar, grated
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup bread crumbs
preheat oven to 375 degrees F. bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. drain well.
heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat but do not boil. in a large pot, melt butter and add flour. cook over low heat for 2 minutes and stir with a whisk. slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for 2-4 minutes until smooth and thickened. take off the heat and whisk in cheese, salt and pepper. add the cooked pasta and stir to combine.
pour into a 3-quart baking dish and top with bread crumbs. bake 20-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and top is nicely browned. enjoy!