It’s Christmas and I’d like to wish everyone a very happy day! Though it is not my holiday religiously-speaking, I am really looking forward to spending time with my family today and in the coming week.

I am sure you will agree that it has been a very busy month. I’m personally going to take a few days off from posting on the blog because I’ve caught kind of a nasty cold and I just need a break. I’m also hoping to catch up on some reading and start a new knitting project (and there’s always all that house cleaning that doesn’t happen by itself).

I hope that you, too, get some well-deserved time off, and that you have a very Happy New Year. I’ll see you in 2010!

Before I go, here is a recipe for a delicious fennel frittata. I had this for breakfast today, and I liked it so much I will probably make it again when I have guests for New Year’s brunch. It’s really simple to make but the flavor is quite elegant. Perfect for entertaining when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

fennelfrittata

For the tomatoes, I used defrosted slow roasted tomatoes that I made this summer with organic tomatoes from my garden. These tomatoes also have lots of garlic and herbs in them, so if you are using chopped raw tomatoes (or your own plain defrosted garden tomatoes), I would add a nice sized handful of chopped herbs of your choice to this recipe: basil, rosemary and parsley will all work, or use a combination. If you’re not using slow roasted tomatoes, I would also add some minced garlic (1/2-1 Tb. ) when you are sautéeing the mushrooms and fennel….

Recipe for Fennel and Tomato Frittata

Ingredients:

*2 tablespoons organic butter
*1 tablespoon olive oil
*1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced
*3-4 large mushrooms, sliced
*2 cups defrosted slow roasted tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
*1 large handful of herbs, chopped (if not using slow roasted tomatoes)
*6 eggs, preferably organic and free-range
*2 tablespoons ricotta cheese-optional
*Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a cast-iron skillet, heat the butter and oil. Add the optional garlic and the sliced mushrooms and fennel and cook over low heat until they are very soft, about 10 minutes. If you are using uncooked tomatoes and herbs, add them in after about 5 minutes. If you are using defrosted cooked tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes), just mix them in at the end.

3. Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Add the ricotta and whisk well. Pour egg mixture over the vegetables.

4. If using a cast-iron skillet, you can use it to bake your frittata. If you are not using cast iron, or if you don't want to bake your fennel frittata right in the skillet, you can butter or oil a deep pie dish or other casserole pan and pour in the frittata ingredients.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the frittata is set. Allow to cool before slicing.

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

We were challenged to make a house “as big or as small as we’d like”, and it had to meet these requirements:

1. Everything needed to be edible – no glue or inner non-food supports allowed.

2. We had to bake the gingerbread ourself. No graham cracker allowed.

3. We had to use some sort of template.

4. The house had to be able to stand on its own.

Before we go on, I want to stress that if you want to make a gingerbread house from scratch, it’s a great project, but please leave yourself plenty of time. From start to finish, this takes a little while, so pick a day when you don’t have a lot of other stuff going on.

I started by making one of the challenge recipes but found it hard to roll out. I didn’t want to have to struggle with it, so I wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator and just made a second batch of dough using Martha Stewart’s Honey Gingerbread Cookie Recipe. I found the latter much easier to work with.

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

I also turned to Martha for a template; I used her Swedish Gingerbread Cottage Template to make my gingerbread house.

I have never attempted a homemade gingerbread house before. I’ve always been too scared to try, and have opted for the kits. But my general feeling about the kits is that they pretty much stink. My houses always fall apart and I think the actual gingerbread tastes terrible. So I was definitely eager to do this challenge.

Apart from having to make the dough twice, I didn’t have too many problems with this challenge. Rolling out the dough and cutting out the pieces of the template was pretty straightforward…

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

…and the simple syrup worked really well at holding the pieces together. In the past, I have always used frosting to hold the pieces together and it never worked. Simple syrup is your friend (but it’s hot, so be careful).

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

I did end up with one broken roof piece, though. I used additional simple syrup to “glue” it back together and then when I piped out the royal icing, I covered the break as best as I could. Break and all, everyone thought it was pretty cute.

gingerbread house | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

My house was structurally sound while I took all my pictures, but wouldn’t you know it fell down shortly after. The dough was really delicious, though, so most of it was eaten up.

Then I managed to get the original dough workable enough so that we also made a bunch of cookies and ornaments; I let my kids do most of the work this time around.

maddieginger

dylandecorating

gingerbreadrandoms

All in all, it was a fun project. Not something I’ll do again right away, but next holiday season? For sure.

I’m a big fan of hot drinks, especially in the winter.

Teas of all sorts, flavored coffees, spiced cider, even just plain old warm water with some lemon squeezed in..heat it up and I’ll happily drink it.

Here’s one of my absolute favorites, though…real hot chocolate (meaning there is no water or processed hot chocolate mix involved) with homemade marshmallows.

hotchoc

I make my real hot chocolate with raw milk. That’s right- milk straight from the cow that I purchase from a local farm. If raw milk is unavailable to you or if you wouldn’t dream of drinking it, you can use organic milk. If you don’t do dairy, try this with homemade or store-bought almond milk (or hemp milk).

Besides the milk, all you need for hot chocolate made from scratch is raw cacao powder (or organic/high quality cocoa powder), a little sweetener of your choice (can be organic sugar, honey, agave syrup, etc), and an optional pinch of salt and/or cinnamon…yum…..

If you want your hot chocolate to be on the decadent side, you can whisk in some dark chocolate. In fact, you could skip the cocoa powder and just use more dark chocolate (about 3 oz. per serving) if you’re looking for something really rich; top it with real homemade whipped cream for an over the top hot chocolate experience.

While the idea of regular marshmallows is gross to me, I feel differently about the once in a while consumption of homemade marshmallows. If you’ve never made them before, don’t be intimidated; I made this recipe from Not Lazy.Rustic. over the weekend…it’s easy and the marshmallows have a nice touch of cinnamon and cocoa…definitely a fun treat. I gave most of them away as gifts, but did save a few for hot chocolate purposes!

Homemade Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

*1 1/2 cups raw or organic milk (or milk alternative of your choice)
*1 Tb. raw cacao powder (or organic unsweetened cocoa powder)
*1 Tb. organic white or brown sugar (or honey or agave syrup)
*1/2-1 oz. dark chocolate, preferably organic (there are many brands I love; my newest favorite discovery is Valhrona 61%- not super dark, but really good)-optional
*pinch of sea salt and/or ground cinnamon- optional
*homemade marshmallows for serving-optional

Directions:

1. In a small pot on the stove, heat the milk until it is just short of boiling. Whisk in the rest of the ingredients until well blended. Serve with the marshmallows, if desired, and sip very slowly so you can thoroughly enjoy every last bit.