Sunday, January 8, 2012

7 Food Resolutions for the New Year!

Happy New Year! We loved experimenting with a few new things over the holidays. After all of the cooking and eating, here are 7 food resolutions we are taking into the new year.

1. Make More Soup- especially French Onion

We hosted Christmas Eve dinner this year and made delicious bowls of French Onion soup with gruyere and toasted baguette. It's one of our favorites and who knows why it took us all year to remember this!

2. Start Some New Food Traditions- even if they use shortcuts

Thanksgiving weekend was the perfect time to make this gingerbread house and enjoy it all December long. Thanks to Costco, this house was already pre-built and came with frosting in a bag and candy. I used a bit of my own pearls and sprinkles as well but after other years of making my own gingerbread - I loved that I could go straight to decorating. This house became the centerpiece on my dining room table all month long. Can't wait to do this again next year and with our little guy in the future. (This is our second year of pre-fab gingerbread- click to see last year's A-frame)

3. Reuse Recipes That You Love- and look for new ones year round

This chocolate peppermint cake has never let me down. And I've made it for Christmas several times- why? because not only does it taste good, it's easy and it looks great. After baking this in a pinch this year, I wondered why I don't have a few other tried and true recipes that can come through in the clutch. So, resolution number three is about finding some new recipes to rely on rather than always experimenting every time ( even though we love to experiment!)

4. Try Something You Have Never Made Before

After seeing this recipe for a cranberry pomegranate gelatin shaped like a turkey, I channeled my inner 1950s housewife, and went for it. A few quick clicks on Amazon and I had the pan, and about four hours of boiling cranberries and creating layers and we had this turkey gelatin creation. Frankly, this recipe was ridiculous- took way to long and the final layer created more liquid that the recipe suggested so the gelatin to liquid ratio wasn't quite right and it was a little soft. Despite that, it was my first foray into shaped gelatin and I can't wait to try again. You'll notice our fresh cranberry relish in the upper left as a nice backup.

5. Recreate Restaurant Inspirations at Home

A few before Thanksgiving, we had a butternut squash soup shot at a restaurant for my birthday. We could do this at home- and so as the starter for Thanksgiving dinner, we served this butternut squash and apple soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of thyme. Not only was it a great dinner starter but a conversation starter as well.

6. Read the Reviews on New Recipes

This pear-cranberry faux lattice pie was a new recipe for me and this time I actually read the reviews before I baked it. Thank goodness. The recipe suggested reducing the amount of cranberry and increasing the amount of pear to avoid being too tart- good advice that really paid off. It was a big success but I'm sure those reviews saved the day.

7. Celebrate Your Cooking Successes- and chalk the rest up to learning

Let's face it- not every recipe I make works out. And sometimes it happens on holiday dinners which is even worse. But sometimes I make things that are a big hit- like this pie this year and in the spirit of experimentation and creativity, I'm going to celebrate the wins just a little more and just chalk the losses up to learning.

So, we'll see how we do on these resolutions in 2012. Do you have any food resolutions?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting Fired Up for Thanksgiving.

The day before Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year . . . a day for venturing out into the world to shop for some last-minute brainstorms, finalizing cooking plans, and starting things in motion well before the guests arrive and, as host, the social part of the program begins.

On this year's menu:

Grilled/Smoked Turkey. This year I'm going to test out the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) in lieu of the Big Green Egg (BGE). I'll let you know how it goes. I still love the BGE for turkey and those looking for tips should check our past posts and make their way to the Naked Whiz site and the BGE Form. Hopefully, the users in the WSM community are just as inspiring.

Oven Turkey. We're contemplating using Michael Ruhlman's Roast/Braise Method, which looks like it may help us crack the code on perfectly cooking the white and dark meat while maximizing moistness.

Mashed Potatoes, aka DezMo's Holiday Potatoes.

Gravy. Already got a jump on this by preparing our turkey stock earlier this week. Again, thanks for the tip from Ruhlman.

My Grandma's Cranberry Relish.

Cranberry Gelatin in turkey shaped tins.

Butternut Squash Soup in shot glasses, got the idea to serve in shot form last night celebrating Lauren's birthday at Va de Vi Bistro and Wine Bar.

Pear Cranberry Pie.

Pumpkin Blondies.

Cheese Assortment for early arriving guests.

And that's what we're making! Our unstoppable guests will be bringing the dressing, shrimp salad, antipasto, sweet potatoes, green beans, and cheesecakes (one pumpkin)!

Just writing this I feel almost full, but there's that shopping to do . . . Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baking at 6AM: Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

We haven't had a post in a while and it's not because we aren't cooking, in fact since we've had our baby, we've been cooking at home more than ever. But baking, my favorite part of cooking, has been on the backburner. And blogging, well, it's been a busy month but we're hoping to use holiday cooking as a reason to get back on the blog!

With a full time job, a long commute, and a little one in the mix, my evenings are now full of family time and work catch-up. But I think I've come up with a way to get a little bit of baking back into the mix- ok, it's actually starting with a mix. I've never been one for mixes but at this point, a good quality baking mix is a great shortcut. And it's either a shortcut or no baking.

This shortcut is especially helpful at 6AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning, which is when I made this cinnamon crumb coffee cake- a mix from Trader Joe's. My little peanut doesn't have a snooze button and he's up at 6AM. I've figured out that I have a little window of time in the morning with him in the pack and play to whip out a simple recipe or baking mix.

What I really liked about this mix was the flexibility in the recipe to add butter or oil ( butter, of course), and to put the crumb in between the batter or only on top. I actually put it on top and drew a knife through it to add some swirl. I also went for whole milk- why not? The result was quite delicious and filled the house with the smell of coffee cake first thing in the morning. The cake was actually best when it had cooled and the sugar in the crumb had recrystallized for a crunchy texture in the swirl.

So, I'm going to keep exploring what a busy mom can bake at 6AM. My requirements:

1) a mix with quality ingredients similar to what I would bake from scratch. I love to add my own eggs, milk, butter etc. so I am not looking for a "just add water" kind of thing

2) simple recipes that use one bowl (or pretty close). Part of the key is not to have a bunch of bowls to clean up

3) recipes that can be baked in one step- I don't have time for recipes with multiple cookie sheets

4) things that taste great

5) I'm also considering making my own mixes the night before or in advance.

Do you have a favorite mix I should try? Or a simple one bowl - one pan recipe? I'd love to try it!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls with A Secret--Potatoes!

There's nothing like the taste of a homemade cinnamon roll and if there was a queen of them, it would be my grandma. Growing up, they were a special treat for me when we would visit. The soft, yeast-leavened dough with the sweet and spicy mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon was an inspiration to me and fostered my love of baking to this day. I was younger, I would sometimes spend a week in the summer with my grandma making deliciously leavened things like doughnuts, bread, and rolls.

So you can imagine how excited I was to spend a day with my grandma making her cinnamon rolls together and to share it on our blog. With Justin taking some photos along the way and baby P in good hands with his grandparents and godparents in the other room, we proceeded to fill the house with the amazing smell of leavened dough and make five and a half dozen rolls.

But first few things you should know about this recipe:

1. Cinnamon rolls are a labor of love. They have two proofs and therefore require some patience to let the yeast work its magic. Not to mention that you have to spread the brown sugar and butter and cinnamon and roll up and slice multiple times. It's not a 30 minute recipe!

2. This is a huge batch size. The original recipe is from my great-aunt Dorothy who lived in Nebraska and it's enough to feed everyone on the farm. This batch made about six dozen rolls. I once made this in college and underestimated what"double in size " really meant and I ended up with what looked like a dough explosion all over the oven and heating element. Whoops. Note to self- this requires a giant bowl to proof as shown in the above photo.

3. The secret ingredient is...mashed potatoes and potato water. Yes, that's right and it's delicious. what is the potato doing? Adding a fair amount of starch to the dough and giving a nice and tender texture.

4. We didn't follow it exactly. Grandma could make this with her eyes closed and I watched in awe as she adjusted the yeast, water and flour all from experience. As a scientist who measures everything, this was such a leap of faith for me but her experience reigned supreme as everything turned out as planned. She had a lot of good advice as I rolled the dough and spread the filling.

5. Cinnamon roll dough is wonderfully tactile. Not only do you touch it, you knead it, you develop it, you must know how it feels in order to make it. So many other foods are stirred with utensils, gingerly poked and prodded for doneness but cinnamon rolls are so much more hands-on.

The Recipe as Written

1 cup hot mashed potatoes

1 cup of lard/shortening

1 cup of sugar

2 cups of potato water ( leftover from boiling the potatoes)

4 eggs, well beaten

3 teaspoons of salt

2 packages of yeast

1/4 cup of warm water

7-8 cups of flour

cinnamon, sugar and butter for filling

powdered sugar and milk for icing

Mix potatoes with lard, cream well. Add sugar and potato water. Add eggs. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and add to mixture along with some of the flour. Let set until bubbly. Add remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead.

Let rise until double (we put it into a warm oven- turned on the lowest setting and then extinguished).

Punch down then roll out into sheets. Generously spread with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar evenly.

Then roll into a log and slice. Place on greased cookie sheet (we like a cookie sheet for individual rolls. you can put them into a greased glass pyrex where they will touch and bake together). Let rise. Bake at 350 deg F for about 15 minutes- take a look and bake longer if necessary.

Let cool. Mix powdered sugar and milk to an icing consistency and drizzle on cooled rolls.

And there you have it, enough for 5 to 6 dozen cinnamon rolls- plenty to share! Special thanks to my grandma for spending the whole day making these with me!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Remembering Lunch

I was scanning through some pictures and found this one from a year ago to the day . . . the memorable part of the meal wasn't the food, but because it was our last before being discharged from hospital with our new baby boy. Roast turkey, gravy, dressing, spinach, a cup of ice cream and we were on our way!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Justin!

Happy Birthday, Justin!

We celebrated with a carrot cake made with pecans and cream cheese frosting. The cake was not too sweet and actually a bit savory- a nice contrast with the cream cheese frosting. Click here to see Martha's recipe and the generous amount of butter that went into this cake.

In case you missed last year's birthday treat for Justin, here's a link to the homemade hostess cupcakes. You can see the difference in complexity now that there's a little one in the picture!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cookies I Wish I Had Made: San Francisco Sugar Cookies

I want to start this post with a disclaimer: I had no role whatsoever in these cookies. I didn't bake them or design them or even eat them. But, I admired them so much that I asked my neighbor if I could share them- and they said yes!

My neighbors are the queen of events- bridal showers, baby shower, weddings, you name it. And Lindsey created these sweet San Francisco-themed sugar cookies for a wedding shower. A quick note about Lindsey- she's an amazing hair and makeup stylist ( who also makes super cute cupcakes and cookies as well.

So how did they do these? A combination of edible markers for the bridge and different piping tips for everything else. How smart was it to draw the bridge and then also use it as template for the piping. So clever. I also really loved the texture of the waves. Thanks, Lindsey for letting me share.

If you were to make a cookie for your city, what would it look like?