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December is here: Start Your Holiday Engines!

Original post made by Jacqui Love Marshall, San Ramon, on Dec 1, 2011

It's officially December and that means the countdown of days until Christmas and Hanukkah has begun. So, now my holiday canning, baking, and gift-making gets serious. For those of you who are tried-and-true gift-makers, here are a few tried-and-true recipes to jump start your holiday cooking...

==B Candied Pecans (makes 1 cup)==
1 cup pecan halves
4 tsp melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 min. Toss toasted nuts in a bowl with butter and then sugar. Let cool on a plate. Once cool, they will keep for about two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

==B Maple Sugar Walnuts (makes 4 cups)==
4 cups shelled walnuts
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chile powder or ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
3 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine butter, syrup, water, salt, cinnamon and chili powder in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Mix in walnuts and stir to evenly coat. Spread nuts in a single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
3. Bake 45 min. to an hour, stirring every 15 min. Spread on waxed or parchment paper to cool. Store in an airtight container or package for gift giving.

==B Chocolate Peppermint Bark (makes 4-6 gifts)==
1 11-oz bag white chocolate chips
2/3 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies
1 tsp mint extract
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. In double boiler (or bowl set over boiling water), melt white chocolate chips. Remove from heat and stir in crushed candy and mint extract.
2. Line a small sheet pan with wax paper. Pour in white chocolate mixture and spread evenly. Refrigerate until firm.
3. Melt bittersweet chocolate and spread until evenly over white chocolate layer. Refrigerate until firm. Break into pieces, Store in refrigerator.

==B Bread & Butter Pickles (~6 quarts)==
2 cups salt
2 gallons sliced pickling cucumbers
2 quarts cider vinegar
2 quarts sugar
2 Tbsp tumeric
2 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 Tbsp celery seeds
2 Tbsp cracked black pepper
2 quarts thinly sliced onions
1. Dissolve salt into 3 gallons of water. Add sliced cucumbers and soak for 24 hours. Drain and reserve cucumbers.
2. Combine vinegar and sugar over low heat and cook until the sugar dissolved (do not boil). Stir in tumeric, mustard seeds, celery seeds, black pepper and sliced onions. Add cucumbers.
3. Bring mixture to a simmer. Turn off heat and ladle into hot sterilized canning jars. Wipe the rims and partially tighten lids (do not tighten all the way). Place jars into boiling water, making sure the tops are completely covered and the glass jars are lifted from the bottom of the pot.
4. Boil for 10 min., remove the jars from the water and let cool completely at room temperature. For best flavor, store for at least two weeks before opening. Will keep, unopened, for up to a year.

==B Drunken Fig Jam (makes 6 1/2-pint jars)==
2 lemons
4 lbs ripe fresh figs, cut into 1/2" pieces (~9 cups)
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup brandy or cognac (I use Courvoisier)
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons *yellow part only) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips (~3 Tbsp). Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy and 1/2 tsp coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan, let stand at room temperature for 1 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Bring fig mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium, continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to cut large fig pieces, 30-35 min. Remove from heat.
3. Ladle mixture into 6 hot, clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4" space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands.
5. Process jars in a pot of boiling water 10 min. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

Diablo Magazine and Michelin recently announced their top picks for Bay Area eateries. There are many in our neighborhood for you to support, when you're not home baking:

==B Diablo Magazine’s 2011 Food Awards==
1. Oliveto, 5655 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 547-5356,
2. Prima Ristorante, 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780,
3. Plum, 2214 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7586,
4. Artisan Bistro, 1005 Brown Ave., Lafayette, (925) 962-0882,
5. Va De Vi, 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-0100,
6. Esin, 750 Camino Ramon, Danville, (925) 314-0974,
7. Wente, 5050 Arroyo Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2450,
7 More Locations to Watch:
Chevalier, 960 Moraga Rd., Lafayette, (925) 385-0793,
Élevé, 1677 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-1677,
54 Mint, 785 Oak Grove Rd., Concord, (925) 969-9828,
Ottavio, 1606 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 930-8008,
The Peasant and the Pear, 267 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-6611,
Picán, 2295 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 834-1000,
Sasa, 1432 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 210-0188,

==B Michelin 2012: SF Bay Area Restaurants==
The French Laundry, Yountville
The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena
Baume Restaurant, Palo Alto
Benu, SOMA
Coi, North Beach
Cyrus, Healdsburg
Manresa, Los Gatos
Saison, Mission/Bernal Heights
Acquerello, Russian Hill
Alexander’s Steakhouse, Cupertino
Applewood Inn, Guerneville
Atelier Crenn, Fillmore
Auberge du Soleil, Napa
Aziza, Richmond District
Bouchon, Yountville
Boulevard, Embarcadero
Campton Place, Union Square
Chez TJ, Mountain View
Commis, Oakland
Dio Deka, Los Gatos
Domaine Chandon – Etoile Restaurant, Yountville
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
Fleur de Lys, Nob Hill
Frances, Castro/Noe
La Costanera, Half Moon Bay
La Folie, Russian Hill
La Toque, Napa
Luce, SOMA
Madera – Rosewood Hotel Sand Hill, Menlo Park
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
Masa’s, Union Square
Michael Mina, Embarcadero
One Market Restaurant, Embarcadero
The Plumed Horse, Saratoga
Quince - San Francisco, Embarcadero
Redd, Yountville
Santé at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Sonoma
Solbar – Solage, Calistoga
Sons & Daughters, Nob Hill
Spruce, Presidio Heights
Ubuntu Napa, Napa
The Village Pub, Woodside


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