Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu

My in-laws will be joining us for Thanksgiving and it will be the first time that I am doing the holiday at my house. I am NOT making the turkey, though. I have always wanted to try deep fried turkey but am not brave enough to do it myself. Plus, I really, really, really hate touching raw poultry and the idea of having to do any manipulating of that big bird gives me the heebie jeebies. So, I ordered the turkey from our local meat market and only will have to reheat it. But everything else I will do myself.

Company comes tomorrow night, and I will be serving them a fun recipe that I found on one of my favorite blogs, We are Not Martha: Pumpkin Pasta with Chicken Sausage. I will be using whole wheat pasta and Fage 0% yogurt instead of the other dairy. But, I have a major thing for pumpkin lately. I have been going through cans of it. You get such a nutrient and fiber rich punch and a lot of flavor. I add it to my oatmeal, to LL's smoothies, to cookies, and my new favorite "treat" - Fage 0% yogurt, 1/4 cup of pumpkin, 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice, 1 packet Splenda (aka elixer of the Gods), and a sprinkle of Fiber One cereal. So, anyways, this pasta sounds really great.

I also have the whole wheat variation of no knead bread rising right now and will bake it off tomorrow.

Then, Thanksgiving morning I will be doing the 5 mile Run Through the Woods race and then a Thanksgiving yoga class so they will be on their own. Luckily for them, I will leave them some of Dorie's Allspice Crumb Muffins for them to munch on while I am gone.

For lunch, we want to eat light, but still be in the Thanksgiving spirit. So, I will be serving a roasted butternut squash and apple soup from the NYtimes Dining section. and a big, beautiful salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries, diced honeycrisp apples, and some of the sweet and savory spiced nuts that I just made from a Gourmet recipe and that can easily be munched on all weekend. Hopefully we will have some bread left, but if not, I have an extra one in the freezer just in case!

And, onto the BIG meal. As mentioned, the turkey will be a deep fried one. Along side, I will be serving a Sausage, Chestnut and Mushroom "Dressing" (first time I ever used that word, but I am in the South now) that I found in the Williams Sonoma catalog. Only, instead of focaccia, I will be using the Cook's Illustrated Corn Bread.

I am will also be making maple pecan sweet potatoes. I know that they are from Cooking Light, but they will be amazing! I love sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and pecans, and they have some butter, so there is nothing dietetic about them. However, this recipe does call for one ingredient that I have never added to sweet potatoes before, but many of you have: marshmallows! Back in high school, my friends and I used to have a "Day After Thanksgiving" Feast, and I famously was aghast when my friend even suggested this, telling him, "I am not a Goy!" However, here I am in Texas and the tiny marshmallows are waiting to be bruleed on Thursday!

For the cranberry sauce, I made a light and fresh cranberry orange relish from Gourmet. It was good last night, and is supposed to be even tastier a few days later. And, for "something green", but something that still goes with the deep fried turkey and southern theme, I will be making brussel sprouts with bacon. Not sure which recipe I will be using yet, but anything with bacon is bound to be good!

And last, dessert . . . Oh, how I had a hard time with this one. I wanted to make so many desserts, but we are only 5 adults, one of whom had a heart attack recently, so it seemed as though I should reign in my desires to bake up a storm. In the end I settled on DrRuckus's favorite - classic, two crust, deep dish apple pie. But not just any apple, pie! First, I will be using the magical Cook's Illustrated vodka pie dough. And, on top, we will be serving homemade cinnamon ice cream and butterscotch sauce from Food and Wine.

The exciting thing is that I used all of my magazines for this menu, as well as my beloved NYTimes. The bad part is that I am so far ahead of the game that I am now rethinking that second dessert decision.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TWD-Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Oh, I thought that this month's TWD baking would be no problem, what with getting to choose any two of the TWD November recipes and then posting them on any two Tuesdays during the month. However, here I am, blogging about a cake that took me an entire weekend to prepare on a day when I have to prepare for the first Thanksgiving that I have ever made on my own! Those Molasses Spice Cookies were so good and simple, but I let DrRuckus choose the second recipe. He saw "chocolate" and "caramel" and decided that I would make him that cake. It seemed fine at the time. I thought that I had all month.

I even thought that I was so ahead of the game because I found the chestnut spread and the roasted chestnuts weeks ago. I had stocked up on chocolate from the King himself. Because of this, it didn't even dawn on me until I put it all together, that this might have been the most expensive cake I have ever baked. So much good quality chocolate and those chestnuts really added up. Good thing that it was completely worth it! It was really delicious and decadent.

As the deadline approached and I realized that I would be busy with Turkey Day prep, I decided to start the cake last Friday. Well, i started the salted caramel milk chocolate ganache that day anyways. Dorie says in the recipe that this cake might just be an excuse to eat that ganache because it wouldn't be polite to lick it right out of the bowl. Well, she is right! I am not really a milk chocolate person, but if I was not already married, I could have easily gotten a proposal out of my husband with this concoction. It was ridiculously rich and creamy, chocolaty, salty, insane!

Revisiting the recipe that night, I realized that this cake was going to be so over the top in every way that I was going to have to throw a party in its honor. Luckily we were already planning on watching DrRuckus's childhood friend on Food Network as the sous chef to Jose Garces on The Next Iron Chef that night, so we had an excuse for a cake party!

On the second night, I made the dark chocolate glaze for the cake. Dorie says that it might take up to 4 hours to thicken up, but a few other bloggers said that it took longer and in my hot, moist kitchen, I knew it would have a hard time setting up. So, I decided to give it an overnight. It is a good thing I did because it took almost 20 hours for it to reach an almost spreadable consistency. Even then, it was on the brink and was quite melty and messy.

The cake itself was pretty simple, and was much easier since I finally invested in a second bowl for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Without having to clean out the bowl in between the batter and thew whipped whites, it took very little time. My only problem was that I forgot that my square cake pans are all 8 inchers, When I poured my batter in, my cake pan was very full! However, though it baked about 10 minutes longer, everything turned out just fine.

The advantage of that 8 incher was that it was very easy to cut into three nice, thick layers and so I was not intimidated by this step. I used Grand Marnier instead of brandy in the syrup between the layers and the orange flavor went well with the chocolate and nuts. The ganache spread easily, though it was hard to resist licking the spatula and the bowl when I was done. One thing that Dorie doesn't mention but not everyone would realize is that you must let the ganache come to room temperature to be able to spread it. Some of the other TWD bakers used leftover ganache to make truffles, but I put as much as I could on the cake and saved the rest for my beloved. The chopped chestnuts between the layers added texture, but I don't find them to be very flavorful. Which is too bad because I have so many now that I am currently putting together a chestnut stuffing for T Day. Well, chestnuts and corn bread and sausage and fennel.

The most difficult part of this cake was the dark chocolate glaze. It was very runny and messy, and even with Dorie's innovative drip catcher (i.e. parchment under a cooling rack), I had chocolate glaze all over my counter. As soon as I put as much as I could on, I put it in the fridge to firm up. It did, but then I had to take it back out to get to room temperature before serving it. At which point, the glaze started running again and the cake had to be rushed back to the fridge! Still, nothing wrong with the taste of that runny chocolate glaze. Yum!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TWD-Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies

This afternoon was so rough, that I don't even have the energy to bake. (I know!!!) Usually I find it very zen, very relaxing, but today it just seemed like too much work. Luckily for me, I baked my TWD - Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies a couple of weeks ago and already put the pics on the computer so I can post this and still keep up with my commitment to bake along with my favorite baking book.

Why was this afternoon so rough? I am not really sure. First of all, my Little Ladybug has a cold and is teething, so her already Drama Queen personality is exaggerated by her discomfort (poor baby). B (as my sister would say) - they were both really hungry from being too excited to eat lunch due to having friends over. Lastly, neither one slept this afternoon (never a good thing). So, LL was on a major crying jag from about 4:30 on and her siren like cry makes blood boil. Z Man and I were actually doing a pretty job keeping it together until he dropped his bag of marbles from his Quadrilla set and that was it! I actually managed to remain calm despite dozens of marbles scattering across my tile floor and just whisked LL upstairs for bath and bed (yes, it was 5:30 but I had tried everything else) with an admonishment to Z Man to "not do anything else until you find all of the marbles (aka baby chokers)" on the floor.

Went upstairs, had a nice bathtime, book and cuddle and put LL in her crib and descended the stairs thinking that I would see Z Man (self proclaimed "bad finder") playing and not looking for his marbles. Instead I detected the unmistakeable odor of, well, poop. Asking about this, Z said, "I pooped on the floor". When I asked him where it was, he said, "{Phoebe the dog} ate it." Ugh!!!!!!!!! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but I felt awful knowing that I had told him not to do "anything" and he took it literally. Also, I was so worried about the dog getting sick! At this point, I too lost my marbles! But, I managed to remain somewhat calm (maybe it is the yoga I have been doing?) and get him clean and into bed. He hasn't had an accident in months and this was his second one today! He peed on himself at the gym after downing an entire water bottle.

Anyways, thank goodness I had made those cookies a few weeks ago. I wish I had them now to eat, but they are long gone and that is very sad. They would be a perfect holiday cookie, a perfect after school snack, a perfect after dinner snack. They are pretty much a perfect cookie! And, this is coming from a pretty die hard chocolate lover, but these were that good. Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle with a great slightly spicy but very sweet flavor. I really could go for one now. However, I will not be baking tonight. Alas, am already on my second glass of Rjoja.

Here is the recipe for the Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies.

I have never baked with molasses before, but I really liked the depth of flavor of it. I have also never put pepper in my cookies, and I was skimpy on it but will actually add more the next time.

The batter was very sticky and thick and was perhaps the first cookie dough I have had "raw" that I didn't think might be better right out of the bowl rather than baked.

It was a really sticky situation to roll them into balls, roll them in the sugar and squash them. The dough was really stuck to my hands and was quite a mess. I also had a hard time getting them to the right shape. I have subsequently learned a trick for the squashing part that I will employ next time: cut a square of parchment to place over the ball of dough and then use a measuring cup to make them round and even.

They didn't look done when they came out, but they cooled to a perfect consistency and tasted even better the next day. I really recommend trying these. Next time I am going to use 1/2 white whole wheat flour and a bit more pepper, but I will definitely be making them again.

Oh, and just to remind myself why days like these are worth it:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dirty Cookies

When DrRuckus was at work last night, I looked at porn. Food porn that is! I was searching for inspiration for a delectable and fun treat to bring with me to our annual Moms' Spa Weekend on Friday and Saturday (yay!), and ended up finding all sorts of naughty things.

For some reason, I had an idea to look for homemade Oreo cookies. I have no idea how that got into my head. I never buy nor eat Oreos. Z Man refers to them as "dirty cookies" because of the mess they leave on your face (which, apparently, is caused by the black cocoa powder. I don't have it but will be putting it on my next KAF order). One quickie Google of "homemade oreos" and I found a fantastic food blogger who had a recipe and the most amazing pics of her homemade oreos. Smitten Kitchen was immediately bookmarked after I tried to scratch and sniff my monitor for those cookies. I was so on board with one of her commenters who said, "Brilliant! This falls right into my 'why buy it when i can make it for twice the cost and 20 times the work' ethic." That is so me!

After that, I moved on. I thought that the Oreos looked fantastic and I knew that I would be making them soon, but they would not be the right thing for our outing. I got it in my head that cupcakes would be more festive and happily spent the next few hours (no kidding, hours) looking at cupcake blogs. I finally settled on my choice for Friday night: vegan margarita cupcakes since margaritas are delicious, celebratory and probably the official drink of Texas. Plus my friend who is nursing dairy intolerant twins will be with us so she can partake in the treat! (Don't worry, the alcohol is cooked out during baking!)

Anyways, today I was gathering the ingredients for the cupcakes and I purchased vegan, organic shortening. I was going to get started on my cuppersons, but realized that I didn't have enough limes. However, I remembered that this same shortening was one of the ingredients in the filling of the homemade Oreos. How convenient! (Yeah right, as if this was not my plan the whole time, to do both, this week!) I had the ingredients, DrRuckus was working, Smitten Kitchen's recipe looked so easy, my kids were exhausted and in bed before 7, so the stars were aligned to make my Oreos.

From Smitten Kitchen:

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman

Let’s talk about the sugar for a minute, shall we? This is a sweet cookie. A good, sweet cookie. Yet, if you think of an actual Oreos, the wafers are fairly un-sweet and actually on the slightly salty side, which contrasts with the super-sweetness of the filling bringing harmony, happiness, yada yada. If you want your cookie closer to that original, you can take out a full half-cup of the sugar. If you want to make the cookie by itself (as I did a while back for ice cream sandwiches), go ahead and use the full amount.

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies

For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar [see recipe note]
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream. Dunk generously in a large glass of milk.

These really are super easy to make, but I do have a couple of notes:
1. I made most of them them too big. I used my teaspoon ice cream scoop to scoop them and then smooshed them down with a piece of parchment under a measuring cup. This worked great in getting the cookies to perfect shape and width, but they spread in the oven and they are about 4 inches in diameter.
2. The ones I baked on Silpat and my good cookie sheets did not puff up as much. The ones on parchment and old cookie sheets puffed up so I just smooshed them with the same parchment/measuring cup as soon as they came out of the oven.
3. I ran out of filling near the end and had to whip up another batch. I only used a little and have a bunch left in a container. I should have thrown it away because my dear husband does not need to be eating it with a spoon, like I know he will.
4. I made some that were tiny, little one inchers, and these baked in only 4 minutes. They are cute little bite size morsels and would look great on top of a cupcake!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Toys for the Z Man

Funny, when I first started this blog, I thought that it would mostly be about all of the great things I have found for my kids that make all of our lives better. But, it has evolved to something else entirely. I know that I discuss by babies and some of the things that I have found for them, but it is certainly not the norm. However, I have to share some of our latest and greatest here.

Let me start out by saying that my kids are extremely fortunate. Not only do we adore them and shower them with love and affection, but we are able to provide for their needs and wants. And, on top of that, their grandparents do the same and send boxes of gifts all of the time. It is like a birthday here every week. We are all really, really lucky and try to instill in our kids a sense of gratitude and generosity as well.

Still, in the past few days, the Z Man has made out even better than usual. On Saturday, we were going to meet my friend in Round Top, TX. (She lives in Austin, and it is an adorable town halfway between us and has become our little spot.) En route to Round Top, we stopped at the Le Creuset outlet (didn't buy anything) and out of the corner of his eye, Z spotted something. "Mommy! Let's go over to that toy shop. I see something that I have been wanting!" I looked and sure enough was this Dalmatian race game that he first coveted when we saw it at a toy shop in Vail last winter. Knowing that it was under $20 and impressed that he had remembered it all this time, I bought it for him. It is not very interactive, but is cute and sort of mesmerizing, though the sound is rather annoying. But, he has been loving it.

In fact, it has been his obsession for the past 48 hours until it was package time again. You see, I subscribe to a number of online sample sales: Gilt , RueLaLa, ideeli, The Mini Social, and Hautelook. It could be a full time job scouring these sales each day, but I try to only look if it is something that I am really excited about. (Send me a message if you need an invite code to any of these, btw.)

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Hautelook had Hape toys and I checked it out. The prices were great, and, even better, I had some store credit with them. So, I ordered a game and an intro quadrilla set. As soon as I saw the quadrilla set, I knew that the Z Man would go bananas over it. It is just so right up his little alley to build tracks and study the motion of the little marbles. My little man might not have much gross motor coordination, but his ability to engineer a track is incredible. He is thrilled and delighted each time he attempts a new configuration and is really smart about knowing how the marbles will move. I am truly impressed with how he uses his brain and his hands to play with this toy. And, I haven't seen him this excited about a toy since, well, since his grandparents sent him a Lionel train set (!) a few months back.

This little intro set is perfect for a three year old and was only $15 from Hautelook! Only problem is that the marbles are "baby chokers" so we have to be extra careful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oooooh, Look at these shoes

Damn that Antropologie catalog! I should put it right in the recycling bin and not look at it. I do love everything in it, even the things that have no relevance to my life, like ornaments and stockings. It is like a fantasy world for me.

But those shoes! Chie Mihara, a Spanish shoemaker, makes lovely , well made shoes with great style. There are even some on sale at Saks for 40% off, but not with duckie heads! These ones have a sexy vintage looking heel, a lovely soft black leather, and a whimsical little mallard head. Oh, how I love them. Any friends with November birthdays want let me use their 15% discount to buy these pretty babies? I have just the place for them in my closet.

Oh, speaking of "damn" . . . Yesterday the Z-Man was playing with his electric train. He was trying to put it on the track and having some trouble. He said, "Damn it, Damn it." I had to walk out of the room to keep from laughing. I guess it could have been worse. Me, I prefer the F word!