Christmas time is here…

Well, my big plan was to post a how-to on pie crust after making 5 for Thanksgiving, but unfortunately I’ve been afflicted with a glitch on the memory card of the camera I was using.  Hopefully I can get that sorted out before Christmas.

But let’s turn away from digital mishaps and towards what’s really on all our minds: Holy crap I have to assemble Christmas presents.  Yes, there are still two or three weeks left, but I have finals, so if I don’t plan NOW, those presents around going to get shoved into a three day rush to assemble everything.

Second thing that pops into my mind: Holy crap I have no money.  Nobody does!  Because of the total systemic break down of our global economy, luxurious presents are one of the many casualties scattered in the wake of our scramble to keep our lives together.  And really, it’s not something to get too broken up about, because there are great, cheap(er) ways to check everyone off your list, from your friend’s friend who you don’t really remember their name but they’ll be showing up at that party to your neighbor who refuses to cut their lawn to people you actually want to give a gift to.

I’ve decided to give everyone booze.  Holidays make people drink anyways, so why not aid and abet?  By investing in some shockingly large bottles of alcohol (thanks to my mother’s trip to Nevada, where  the liquor taxes are MUCH lower than Washington’s) and some small jars scrounged from Goodwill, I have a gift that can be divvied up and spread around.

I chose to make a few more bottles of lavender infused vodka, which I’ll put in smaller bottles with a nicely written copy of the Lavender Lemon Drop.  But since many people have already tasted that, I started poking around and found the following recipe for a cranberry liqueur.  I happen to love gin, and I was mentally sold on the combination with cranberries, so I’m giving it a try.

Cranberry Liqueur

This is actually an old Gourmet magazine recipe that I found when I went to their site to mourn a little more.

8 cups of cranberries

4 cups gin

4 cups sugar

All ready for stirring!

Pick over the cranberries for any less than ripe (or more than ripe) berries and stems.  If you have a food processor,  chop them up and put half in one 2 quart jar with sealable lid and half in the other.  Pour 2 cups of sugar in one jar and 2 in the other.  Pour 2 cups of gin in one jar and 2 cups in the other.  Seal the jars and shake until the sugar dissolves.  Set them aside for three weeks, then strain with a seive, pushing all the liquid out of the berries with the back of a spoon.  Should yield 6 cups of liqueur.

I had to hunt around for containers, so I mixed it all up in a bowl first, but I highly suggest doing it their way – it got a little messy and sticky.  Also, if you’re like me and lacking a food processor, prepare to be chopping for a long time – it took me a good 45 minutes to wrangle the whole batch.  Luckily Gabrielle was there to entertain me; I was less inclined to be thwarted by some unruly bog berries since I wasn’t bored.

Aww, it's already Christmasy colored!

Besides the alcohol, I started thinking about what else I could give out.  And because I really didn’t want to concentrate on the finer points of the allowed derrogations from national treatment under the WTO Agreements or the economically efficient rate structure of a public water utility, I poked around in the kitchen until I found my silicone ice cube tray that I got at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum: chocolate Space Invaders would fit the double billing of procrastination tool and cheap Christmas ideas.   Warning: this is a dry run, so the instructions are pretty rough.

Chocolate Space Invaders

You could easily do this with any mold you can get your hands on.  I just happened to notice that my ice cube tray was food grade silicone and safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  I figured some warm chocolate would do just fine.

As for ingredients, I just eyeballed it.  I got a pound of dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s and compared the size of a square of chocolate to the size of my Space Invader, then sectioned off what I thought would fit in the mold, plus an extra square, as there is chocolate loss in the process of melting and remolding. Next question – flavors.  I love mint chocolate, so I picked up some peppermint extract.  I had some cardamom oil that I picked up at Mayuri’s, my local Indian food store, so that was Invader flavor two, then I decided to try some of my lavender sugar I made a month ago, and rummaged around until I found my instant espresso powder for the final Invader.

All ready to go...

I chopped enough chocolate for one row on my mold, as I wanted to have each Invader shape to be a distinct flavor.  I then put it in my double boiler over barely simmering water – actually below a simmer.  It’s more like where the bubbles are just thinking about forming, and every once and awhile a brave one meanders on up to the surface of the water.  As the chocolate slowly melted, I used a spatula to pull the melted chocolate away from the warm metal surface of the bowl and force the still solid sliced against the heat.

DO NOT OVERHEAT THE CHOCOLATE.  If you head the chocolate beyond what’s absolutely necessary to make it liquid, you begin to break down the bonds in the chocolate and it won’t resolidify, or it will become grainy and super not tasty. Also, be very careful not to get ANY water in your chocolate; it’s easy to do by messing around with the double boiler, or not drying it out fully after washing.  But if water gets into your chocolate, it will instantly resolidify into a equally nasty mass.  Not useful.

Just liquid and lovely.

I then spatulaed this into a sandwich sized ziplock and added about a teaspoon or two of espresso powder (just taste it) and mixed it quickly, then sealed the bag, cut the corner off, and piped it into my first row of Invaders.

Now the waiting begins - please do yours more neatly than I did mine...

Repeat!  I highly suggest doing only one flavor at a time.  You can see that some of my rows of chocolates are not so pretty – the chocolate started firming up in one bag while I was finishing another, and it got rather difficult and ridiculously messing.  I had chocolate all over the kitchen and myself.  I didn’t mind the latter THAT much, but the kitchen, yes.   In the end, I used about a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract to five or six thick squares of chocolate, 2 or 3 drops of cardamom oil (if you have it) for the same, and just don’t do the lavender sugar.  It was gritty and not very tasty.

Because it was absolutely freezing in my kitchen (we don’t heat the living room.  I just huddled by the stove and it was all good), my chocolate set up quickly; within a half hour.  It’s better to bring them down to temperature slowly.  Don’t instantly stick them in the fridge, but let them drop down to room temperature naturally. Because this was just a dry run, I didn’t pretty them up, but it works better if you take a spatula to the back of your chocolates while still molten and make sure their backs are flat, instead of mounding up the chocolate.  They lie better, look neater, and their little legs and antennae are crisper.  The same clean detail will come out no matter what mold you are using.

Invasion of flavor, feel free to destroy and consume.

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!

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