This past holiday season, we were very motivated to clear out the pantry. In part to see what canned foods that were close to expiration date we could donate to food banks. In part to finally chuck out vintage ingredients that had been sitting in there untouched . . . which would remain untouched.
Some things we did consume ourselves, like a can of smoked albacore tuna. I think it was part of a ‘Christmas hamper’ we got ages ago. Canned crab and asparagus turned into Truc’s signature soup; but we actually went out and bought quail eggs at farmers’ market and made our own chicken stock. But you know what? Her version, with all canned ingredients, tastes much better. We also ate an expired box of Kraft Mac and Cheese dinner, and made a lasagna.
Do things expire if they have no expiration dates?
Then there were also a lot of ingredients we were trying to use up . . .
We had a lot of dried jujubes, which are called red dates in Chinese. It’s from Joe’s parents’ tree. The only time I use them is to make Chinese chicken soup, where you toss in a few dried jujubes for sweetness, and few goji berries. But I usually forget. So I was barely making a dent in the stockpile of jujubes.
Since the holiday baking season was approaching, I decided to look for a recipe that could use up these jujubes. I found several for date pinwheels in the standard American cookbooks I had. But they invoked a rather low ratio of fruit to dough. I’m trying to use up jujubes!
Then I found a recipe for ‘cucidati’ a Sicilian fig cookie in a free Italian cookbook I got, which was a crescent shaped cookie filled with chopped figs, like a fig Newton. I figured I could substitute jujubes for figs. And I also had some of Marcella’s orange marmalade; which I also needed to make a dent into our jam supplies from her. Walnuts and raisins we always have on hand. The only thing I had to go out to buy was gulp . . . vegetable shortening. I’m not experienced enough a baker to figure out how to adjust by using butter instead.
The tricky thing was there were no photos or illustrations of exactly how to fold the dough into shape. So I experimented with the shapes; they all ended up looking funky. They tasted OK, maybe a little bit overdone/almost burnt on the bottom. Joe didn’t like them, but everyone else did. Later I went online a found a few recipes for cucidati, but none of the photos were very clear. One suggested using a floured glass as a cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles and fold over into a half moon. I think I will try that next time. I’m just really thrilled to have found a decent recipe that will allow me use up all those home-grown jujubes.
“Do you want some flour?” Marcella asked me. Her husband had bought a 50 lb sack at Costco. And as much as she bakes, she barely goes through a 5 lb bag in one holiday season. I took some to help her out, and started making pancakes for breakfast.
I made two batches of apricot almond shortbread bars, also as holiday gifts. And then idiot I was, I had forgotten where I had put the half-remaining bag of sliced almonds. I thought Joe had snacked through them. So I went to buy another bag, opened it and then found the original bag.
My office was having a mini-holiday potluck. I decided to make Mexican chocolate brownies (with the Ibarra tablets I had on hand). But I forgot: I had made them once and they came out very dry. This batch came out just as dry. Good thing I had made them two nights before the potluck. We just polished them off with vanilla ice-cream.
The night before the potluck: Since I had a lot of flour and sliced almonds on hand, I pored through the cookbooks again and found a recipe for almond quick bread. I made it and brought it in, but I have to admit it’s not very good. Maybe I overbeat the dough, but it’s rather dense and dry. Also I finally figured out I don’t like the taste of quick bread, which is based on oil, not butter. Joe won’t touch it at all. I have a-half loaf left. Maybe I’ll just make some fruit compote with the dried jujubes, to eat with the almond quickbread, to finish it off and not waste.
So you might have figured out by now that I’m a rather weird baker/cook. I don’t look at a recipe and go out to buy ingredients for making it. Rather in reverse, I look at what ingredients I have that I’m trying to use up, and then look for recipes that will use those ingredients!
So it came to be that for Christmas, I received (a) a regular panetone and (b) and a double tin of Swedish ginger snaps from my sister- and mother-in-law respectively. This on top of 4 mooncake tins of home baked cookies they had made for us. Well, they knew I liked those things, and I am rather difficult to shop for. I wish I had gotten a mini-panetone instead, and a single tin of gingersnaps (but I don’t think they sell those commonly, the double tin is more widely available.)
I ate one slice of panetone, and made half of the rest into bread pudding when I invited Chris over for brunch. She said it was tasty but made her sleepy. I did put some rum in it, but the alcohol was baked away. The other half panetone is in the freezer. I hope someone invites us to a potluck or something soon, so I can make it into another bread pudding.
For both Thanksgiving and Christmas I had made Joe’s mom’s cheesecake, with graham cracker crust. It is really tasty, but in personally beating 1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4, count’em 4 bricks of Philly cream cheese, I felt rather icked out and consuming so much artificial ingredients, I decided I wanted to try make a cheesecake with real food ingredients, like ricotta cheese cheesecake. Also I could use up a goodly amount of the gingersnaps to make the crust, in lieu of graham crackers (which I’d have to go out an buy). I’ve always wanted to try making a gingersnap crust anyway, since I like gingersnaps.
I burnt the crust a little. The ricotta cheese filling was a bit heavy: maybe I didn’t beat it enough, or maybe I’ll try reducing the amount of cheese next time. It just so happened that Kathy and Norman had invited us to NYE dinner, so I brought it as desert. The consensus was that it was OK. (Actually the first batch of Mexican chocolate brownies I had made, that were too dry, I had also brought to a potluck at Kathy’s.) I’m not sure she’ll let me bring desert again: I feel like I’ve struck out twice!