Tis the season of sweets, of cakes, cookies, and puddings. If your belly’s already bulging from holiday parties and gifts, you don’t need me to tell you what season it is.

But you can make cakes and cookies in your sleep–after all, you bake some version of them all year round. With the exception, perhaps, of Valentine’s Day, there’s no better time than December to attack a fourth category of sweets: candy.

I know there are a lot of artisan chocolates and lowbrow candy bars out there, and I totally get if you’ve already ordered pounds of candied yuzu peel or chocolate-covered pretzels and don’t want to make your own.

I, on the other hand, can never resist trying my hand at the impossible.

Polka Dot Holiday Chocolate Log Cake

Posted by on Thursday Dec 18th, 2014

Our Christmas food tradition counts on chocolate cake more than anything else, in part because December 25th was my chocolate-loving grandma’s birthday, and cake had to be on the table. (You shouldn’t miss the recipe for my mom’s chocolate cake, one of the first recipes I posted here.)

But just because you love one chocolate cake doesn’t mean you can’t love another. Especially another classic, like this one. Yet until this year, this cake, though classic, wasn’t mine yet.

It’s Hershey’s. And it’s the one on the back of the cocoa powder can.

Cheesy Winter Squash Bake

Posted by on Wednesday Dec 17th, 2014

Look, I dug through all the sugar and found us some vegetables!

One of my favorite tricks to play on myself during seasons of vegetable apathy is to bury greens (or oranges) under melting pats of butter, generous pours of olive oil, or mountains of melted cheese. This is not a sabotage, a cop-out, or a rejection of salads or carrot sticks. It’s just self-imposed bribery.

Of course vegetables aren’t chores and fat isn’t bad, so my bribery is hardly treachery. Really, making a wild thing taste good is probably smart in the long run.

The vegetables involved in this particular production include a whole acorn squash and two carrots. The cheese? It’s Roth Grand Cru, a nutty, aged cheese from Wisconsin that adds tremendous depth to the vegetables in this dish. The cheese, cured in copper vats as the Swiss alpine tradition dictates, melts beautifully on top and within the rice-and-vegetable bake.

As for the dish itself, you’ve seen a version before. Somewhere between a frittata and a soufflé, this baked casserole centers on vegetables (you already heard about those), eggs, rice, and cheese. No one part overwhelms the others, and the resulting wedges present themselves as viable, yet humble breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The dish is as good at room temperature as hot or cold, and though I got into to talking about this as some way to disguise vegatables with cheese, that’s really not that point. The Cheesy Winter Squash Bake is best understood as an elegant hodgepodge, a nutritious and wholesome way to merge the foods we should eat with the ones we really want to–with the result that we remember how great carrots, squash, and their vegetable brethren are. Almost as good as cheese.

This post is sponsored by Roth Cheese, an alpine-style cheese crafted in Wisconsin. All opinions, as usual, are mine. Thanks for supporting BGSK’s sponsors!

Peppermint Snowballs

Posted by on Monday Dec 15th, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just ice cream, peppermint, and coconut. Today’s wintry dessert is dressy and fun: snowballs! Don’t miss Natalie’s recent recipe for cashew-cranberry turtles, which make a sweet Christmas gift.

I love Christmas traditions, both old and new. These peppermint ice cream snowballs are a tradition for my boyfriend’s family on Christmas Eve, and one I am more than happy to adopt! I’m a huge fan of peppermint ice cream with hot fudge; it just tastes like Christmas. Add in some coconut “snow” to make things even more festive and who could resist? Combined with the fact that these are probably the easiest dessert you’ll make all holiday season, there’s really no reason not to get the ice cream scoop out right now.

You’re going to want to get a little bit hands-on to make these. I’d recommend lining the counter with some waxed paper to help you work. Use a scoop to gather the ice cream, then use your hands to shape, working quickly to minimize melting. Covering the ice cream in coconut helps the scoops become more stable. Serve in a pool of hot fudge and/or pour it over the top. Old-fashioned ribbon candies make a beautiful accompaniment (available at most grocery stores), but crushed candy canes will look lovely, too.

Confession: A funny thing happens when I shop for gifts. I wind up wanting a whole lot more for me.

So, this year, instead of a gift guide, I’m taking a moment to share five recent purchases that have quickly turned into BGSK small kitchen classics. You can follow suit and treat yourself to something practical, in the midst of shopping for others. Or, maybe you’ll find a good gift idea below.

Even better, you can enter to win the ultimate in practical indulgences, thanks to Food52′s Provisions: one Able Kone Brewing System.

Here’s why I love the Kone. After tiring of a single-cup reusable coffee filter that put hot water into contact with plastic, I searched high and low for a coffee brewing set that met two requirements: no plastic in contact with boiling water and no paper filters to buy and then toss. It wasn’t easy. But when I discovered the beautiful ceramic pitcher and stainless steal reusable pitcher at Able, I bought one immediately. I love it. Scroll down to see how to enter to win your own!

Before you do that, check out five more lovable, practical kitchen gizmos. They all reduce kitchen waste, because in a productive kitchen, the garbage can fill up really quickly–even if you pickle your chard stems.

Five Reusable Kitchen Gifts for You & Others

1. Flour Sack Towels

Absorbent dish towels save the day! You’d think they wouldn’t be so hard to find, but they are. These gems clean up spills and dry super quickly, reducing paper towel usage.

2. Kone Brewing System

See above for why I love this. It solved my coffee woes, no paper filters needed. You can make coffee for one or coffee for two.

3. Bee’s Wrap

Reusable wax covers wrap tightly around bread, half-eaten apples, and lemon wedges that didn’t make it into dinner. I still use plastic wrap on onions and other extremely scented foods, but I love that these have limited how much plastic we use.

4. Cute Cloth Napkins & Napkin Ring

We use cloth napkins at most meals–same as I did while I was growing up. But (and I hope you don’t find this gross), I reuse my own napkin a few times. In between meals, I push it into a napkin ring to remember that it’s mine.

5. Sap Buckets

Because you’ll still have the paper and plastic/metal recycling, so store it in nice-looking pails until you take it out to the sidewalk or basement. I’ve got two of these in our kitchen now.

Able Kone Brewing System Giveaway!

I’m giving away one Able Kone Brewing System (a $160 value) from Food52, so you can reduce your coffee filter waste while enjoying the best cups of coffee EVER. Here’s how to enter:

  • {one} Leave a comment below telling me your most beloved kitchen possession.
  • {two} Be a subscriber to the Big Girls, Small Kitchen newsletter and leave a second comment letting me know you’ve subscribed.
  • {three} Tell your facebook friends and/or twitter fans about the contest – post the link and tag @Big Girls Small Kitchen (facebook) or @BGSK twitter). Leave a third comment letting me know you’ve done so.
I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, December 20.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links that help support Big Girls, Small Kitchen.

This time of year, holiday parties ferry us out of our apartments and away from our kitchens–at the moment when we need home-cooked food the most, to balance out the frosted cookies and chocolate gelt. It can be wildly fun to be out at restaurants and bars, sipping themed cocktails and standing by the kitchen door in order to capture the first edition of each hors d’oeuvres. But, as a cook, I sometimes wish that some of the festive food came from our pots.

We do turn on the oven, of course, to bake (and there are lots of cookie, candy, and cake coming your way really soon). So far this December, I have been trying to come home to the kitchen when I can, to make chicken stock weekly, to eat some greens, and to pack carrots sticks with lunch. We’ll see how long into cookie season that lasts.

Those aren’t the only two options. Another thing entirely is to host some version of a holiday celebration yourself. This isn’t necessarily competition with the office party or the, er, FriendsMas/Friendsmakkuh fest, but a quieter affair, maybe with a few family members or friends from the neighborhood who can help you put ornaments on your tree. Serve them a garlicky roasted pork loin and a side of seasoned cauliflower that picks up the roast’s simple Italian vibe–and then end things with a contrastingly creamy maple creme brulee, potentially.

Or, keep this for yourself and save remaining portions as leftovers. The double roast–pork and vegetable–is a simple weeknight dinner at heart, even though it has the soul of a holiday meal.

How to Make a Cheesesteak

Posted by on Monday Dec 8th, 2014

As I’ve worked on this recent series about recreating restaurant favorites at home, I’ve landed some delicious victories. The mission of making great burritos or pizza from scratch appeals to my perfectionist side, and the tweaking needed to get to the best recipes excites my inner nerd. The best recipes, in turn, taste great. But that doesn’t mean that every formula I’ve deduced in the process is ideal for cooking right here, right now. Many are better as weekend projects.

But when I went to master the cheesesteak, I found a triumph of another nature: a meal that requires four ingredients and fewer than 15 minutes to make. In retrospect, that clicks: the cheesesteak is a sandwich invented by Philadelphia street vendors, who can grill you a fresh sandwich without a kitchen and in almost no time. That means if you’re not in Philly, you can delight in a homemade cheesesteak that’s no big deal to recreate – so long as you’re not too righteous about the right type of hoagie roll. Read the full piece over at First We Feast.