Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Word Wednesday . . . Sushi.

Took a ferry ride across the Bay and found these wind-up Sushi in a touristy toy shop in Sausalito, CA . . . however, we had hamburgers for lunch (post to follow!).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Faux Gingerbread House

This year I wanted to make sure I had time to make a gingerbread house but I was inspired by an old Martha Christmas book to make this faux one instead, complete with candy windows. Here's a link to a similar way to construct this.

I used this gingerbread recipe and my best interpretation of the house. You can see the template at the top of the photo. I didn't trace it- just free-handed it. I also slightly overbaked it.

Even though it's hard to see, I made candy window panes out of sugar ( recipe in the link). I just poured the molted sugar into circles on the silpat and used a knife to trim. Martha makes clay molds but that was unnecessary. I have also made candy windows by crushing hard candy like peppermints, filling the windows and baking with the dough. They sometimes turned out great, other times, not so good.

Once cooled, I attached the candy window to the house with royal icing.

Finally, the house went on our buffet. Note the hanging snowflakes from our previous post.
And the results were great! My windows weren't as amber as I had thought but the faux house looked very pretty. I might save it and make more for next year! I actually used to make an entire facade village...maybe next year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let It Snow!

Well it's snowing quite a bit in Justin's hometown in Minnesota but these are the only kind of snowflakes we're having. I made these gingerbread cookies both as decorations and to eat!

These snowflake cookie cutters are available online and I love how they came with mini-cutters to make your own lacy patterns.

I made three batches of this recipe. I found it to be easy to roll and it doesn't have a big chill step.

When using these intricate tiny cutters, I recommend cutting out the larger cookie, transferring it to the parchment covered cookie sheet, and cutting the inner cutouts directing on the sheet. This way, you won't have to transfer the lacy cookie and deform the shape.

Once the cookies are baked and cooled, I frosted them with royal icing using meringue powder. Click here for the "outline" consistency recipe I used. I always adjust the water as necessary such the icing is as think or as thick as needed. I used white sanding sugar, which can be hard to find this time of year. I recommend stocking up in advance.

I also used nonpareils which looked a lot like snow!

Inspired by our previous bat-mobile experiment, I decided to hang some of these cookies with ribbon from our chandelier. These would also make excellent Christmas tree ornaments.

Here's a close-up. The royal icing becomes very hard and can last a long time!

Here are a few of the other patterns I made. They really turned out to be quite lovely. Hope you are having a lovely holiday!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Omelets A La Justin - Our First Vlog!

Inspired by this video of Julia Child showing us how to make an omelet, Justin makes Christmas morning breakfast for me and his dad. Hope you enjoy our very first vlog.

Merry Christmas to You!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Lauren and Justin

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

One Word Wednesday...Cutouts

These are the most beautiful snowflake cookies I've ever made thanks to a new set of cookie cutters that have little cutout cutters. With the tiny cutters, you can make your own patterns! Finished photos coming soon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Colorful Side Dishes: Green Beans and Persimmons

Do you need a new side dish for your holiday meal? We recently modified this recipe and found it to be both lovely and delicious.

We used Fuyu persimmons (the short and fat ones) with onion and fresh green beans. We rinsed and snapped our green beans and blanched them in boiling water for about 3 minutes. They aren't cooked all the way through but they should be a bright green. We plunged them into ice water to stop the cooking.

Then in a frying pan, we cooked the onions in a bit of olive until translucent. Once, they were about ready, we added some thinly slice persimmon and cooked until they are softened but not falling apart.

Finally add in the green beans and saute until they are done to your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Favorite Appetizer to Share: Baked Brie in Puff Pastry

This baked brie wrapped in pastry is a huge party favorite. It is one of those great recipes that looks very Martha Stewart but is actually very Rachel Ray! Your party guests will ooh and ahh over this melted, cheesy goodness and you can make it festive with a few cutouts on top.

With very little preparation and about 30 minutes of baking time, this indulgent appetizer was ready to serve. I have often made it without the raspberry jam but I was inspired by this post from Elise at Simply Recipes to add a bit of raspberry jam. My baked brie was a bit more rustic with the folds on top. If you want to have a more polished look without the jam peeking out, check out this video that puts the folds underneath. And this site here has a lot of ideas for variations with nuts, dried fruit etc.

Here's the step-by-step for my rustic version:

You will need:

• frozen puff pastry (which should be thawed in advance of when you want to use it) The Dufour brand says 2-3 hours but the Pepperidge Farm brand is a little less.
• raspberry jam
• a round of brie cheese
• an egg (optional)
• small cookie cutters or a knife to cut shapes (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Oil or use cooking spray to oil a cookie sheet.

2. On a cutting board, unfold the thawed puff pastry. Press out any seams with your fingers. You can gently roll it if you like or not.

3. Place the round of brie in the center.

4. Put a bit of jam on the top and begin to fold the pastry up on top. Trim excess as necessary. This is a rustic version where the pastry was not sealed shut and the cheese and jam bubbled a bit. Check out the other links above for a more formal baked brie.

5. Using a small cookie cutter or a knife to cut out leaves or shapes from the scraps. Feel free to reroll the scraps as needed.

6. Place the cutout on top of the wrapped brie. Beat the egg with a fork and brush the pastry with the egg wash. This will give it beautiful golden brown color. You can use the egg wash like glue to seal any pastry or even to adhere the cutoffs if needed.

7. Place on the cookie sheet and bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. This baked brie puffed up to reveal the jam- which gave it a festive, colorful look. Your pastry may have puffed apart revealing some melted cheese spots in the photo above- don't worry! I used a bit more jam to fill in over the open melted cheese opening for better presentation.

8. To serve, remove from cookie sheet with spatula and place on a dish with high edges. Let cool AT LEAST 10 minutes before cutting. This is key because if you cut the baked brie too early, the molten cheese will gush out and deflate ( hence the dish with the edges). Serve with crackers.

I hope you like it as much as I do!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Food Science Friday: Pop Rocks!

Our food scientist friend, Aaron, recently gave us a Sizzling Bacon Bar, a milk chocolate bar embedded with both bacon and "popping candy", known non-generically as Pop Rocks. Overall, the popping that came with eating the chocolate was fun, but the chunks of bacon that got caught in my molars was not as appealing.

You may wonder what is the science behind the magic of Pop Rocks? Students of the confectionery sciences should go directly to the source and review US Patent 4,289,794. In that work (1981) food scientists at General Foods described an improved the process that built on the prior art in order to maximize the popping sensation in the candy.

The basic process is fairly straightforward: a sugar blend is heated to a molten condition, quickly mixed with gas under pressure, and then cooled and solidified under pressure. You can imagine the resultant product as a hard sugar glass (like brittle) that is broken into tiny pieces, but with each shard containing many tiny pressurized gas bubbles (usually carbon dioxide). When the sugar starts to dissolve in your mouth the walls surrounding the bubbles break down and the pressure releases yielding the characteristic 'pop'.

The scientists at General Foods perfected this process by establishing heating and mixing conditions (near 280F) that created fairly large gas bubbles (most between 300-350 microns in diameter). A sensory panel helped establish the optimum conditions for creating bubbles that would maximize this popping sensation.

I wonder if the original scientists envisioned their invention being practiced once day as an inclusion in a chocolate bar also containing bacon?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Word Wednesday . . . Meringue

Application of the meringue to the lemon filling.

As a Midwestern boy I grew up with exceptional pie bakers. My personal universe of pie was ruled by the triumvirate of: rhubarb pie (Mom's specialty #1), minced meat pie (Grandma's specialty), and lemon meringue pie (Mom's specialty #2). On a recent visit, my Mom treated us to her lemon meringue . . .

I love the fact that this pie is a balanced duet that includes both sweetness and acid, smooth filling and fluffy topping, egg yolks in the filling and a perfect place for the whites in the soft peaks of the meringue.

A meringue is a foam. The egg whites contain the protein albumin, which (in the absence of the oily yolks) can be whipped to incorporate air to form a light and stable foam. Proteins stabilize foams by going to the microscopic interface between air bubble and the watery continuous phase, unfolding, and forming a film. The cream of tartar (aka tartaric acid) helps facilitate this protein structuring and--while not absolutely essential--can help the foams reach their maximum volume. The sugar in the meringue thickens it by immobilizing some of the water, more sugar will result in a firmer foam.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marshmallow Monday

These cold and rainy days are perfect for a hot cup of cocoa and a homemade marshmallow. If you haven't had a homemade marshmallow, you are in for a real treat. The texture is AMAZING! As a convert myself, I was astounded to discover the pillowy soft texture of a freshly made marshmallow. They melt in your mouth and you can cut them into beautiful shapes.

So, I'll share an easy recipe with you as well as some fun food science facts about marshmallows.

First, marshmallows are actually a foam- they are a made with sugar and gelatin with plenty of whipped in air. Click here for the recipe link and below I'll show you the step-by-step.

1. Start by measuring the corn syrup with sugar, water and salt in a saucepan. You will need a candy thermometer for this step. Temperature is critical to make sure you bring the mixture to the appropriate sugar concentration. The temperature will affect the crystallization and texture of the candy.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, without stirring, take the mixture to 238F which is the soft ball stage. Make sure the candy thermometer does not touch the bottom of the pan to get an accurate measurement. Be very, very careful as the sugar is molten and can cause serious burns if touched.

For more information about the different cooking stages of sugar, click on this link to the Exploratorium site on the Science of Candy. It's a great link and hilarious as well.

2. While you are waiting for the sugar mixture to come up to temperature, mix the unflavored gelatin and water in a bowl for at least 5 minutes. This step is hydrating the gelatin. Gelatin is a protein that will stabilize the foam and keep the air bubbles that you will whip in from collapsing. I think powdered gelatin has a stinky smell when it is rehydrated. Gelatin is typically an animal product in case you are vegan or vegetarian. Don't worry, the marshmallows won't taste or smell like that.

3. Once the sugar solution is up to 238F and the gelatin has been hydrated, carefully pour the hot mixture into the bowl with the gelatin and using the whisk attachment, gradually take the mixture to high speed for 12 min.

4. The mixture will transform from a transparent solution to a thick, white mixture that looks like a taffy marshmallow. Add the vanilla.

5. While the mixture is thick, it still flows.

6. Spread the mixture into an oiled 9 X 13 glass dish lined with parchment and oiled again. I use a spray oil to even coat the pan and even the spatula, to prevent sticking. The mixture is sticky and tacky!

7. The recipe says to let the mixture sit for 3 hours or more. I don't always wait that long though. Remove the marshmallow from the dish onto a cutting board with powdered sugar.

8.Using powdered sugar to prevent stickiness, I cut the marshmallows into shapes like stars, trees or snowflakes. Toss the marshmallows in powdered sugar to coat them.

And there you have it! These marshmallows are beautiful in a cup of hot cocoa or delicious on their own! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tis the Season for Sweets: No-Bake Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Tis the season for parties, gatherings and lots of reasons to bring some sweets. We needed to bring a dessert to a party tomorrow, but after long week, I didn't have the time and energy to bake. So, using only a microwave, I made these lovely chocolate peppermint cookies. If you followed my original baking blog, these will look familiar but I decided to use semi-sweet chocolate as well as white this time.

You will need:
• peppermint candies or candy canes
• white chocolate chips
• semi-sweet chocolate chips
• Nabisco famous chocolate wafers
• peppermint extract (optional)

1. Start by crushing the peppermints in a plastic bag with a rolling pin.

2. Using a sieve, separate the fines from the larger chunks.

3. This will give you two different options for the candy cane topping. I prefer the chunky peppermint pieces versus the fines.

4. Melt the chocolate in a bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted. Add a drop or two of peppermint extract and stir. Drop the chocolate wafer into the bowl and spoon the melted chocolate over the top. Carefully remove using a spoon to lift the cookie from underneath, and place on wax paper. Sprinkle immediately with the candy cane pieces.

5. Don't worry if the chocolate spreads on the wax paper, once it hardens you can trim the edge.

6. If you want to speed up the hardening, place the cookies in the refrigerator.

And there you have it, chocolate-covered crunchy wafers that look festive and taste great. Make sure you keep them in cool place as the chocolate could melt if it gets too warm.