Monday, December 24, 2007

I Think I'm Ready For Christmas...

As I mentioned before, my mom as well as my mother in-law both asked me to bake some sweeties for each of our Christmas parties, and bake I did!! I decided to go with a few old favorites, as well as some new recipes I've been dying to try out. I was extremely flattered that they turned to me for dessert, and was quite excited to start baking. So excited that I started baking earlier this week, making each type of sweets per night.

Pictured above you'll see (starting at the top): two different kinds of fudge (milk chocolate and peppermint), pink buttery spritz cookies (from the Betty Crocker cookbook I got as a wedding gift) that I decorated with melted Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, pumpkin molasses cookies (from Cara's Cravings' blog in the Foodie Blogroll to the left), and lemon crinkle cookies (as per my brother's special request). I've also made two pumpkin pies, and an apple pie with authentic lattice-work that I did myself (so proud!). So, that being said, I think I am officially ready for Christmas to be here. Bring it on! I'll feed ya!!
And, just for fun, and because I so dearly love them, my nephew and niece's Christmas gift:

A five month-old boxer puppy named Merlyn!! Isn't he just absolutely the cutest ever? He looks so much like our dog Cody that when they play together, it's hard to tell when one ends and the other begins! They're instant friends, they love to play and chew on each other's legs. It's almost exhausting watching them play, actually. But, during this busy time of year, whenever I get to feeling a little blue, I just think of puppies and how cute they are, with their wet noses and big paws. And now we have a brand new puppy right here in my family!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My, Yule Look Nice!

NOT! Ok, I know I'm no newbie to cooking, I've been doing since I was practically a fetus, but this Daring Bakers challenge (tradition holiday Yule Log) got me feeling extremely inadequate. And it all comes down to one element: buttercream. I now loathe buttercream, and rue the day I ever have to bake with it again.

The lovely hosts for this month's challenge are also the founders of the Daring Bakers ( Ivonne ( and Lis ( The day I found out about this challenge, I was a bit apprehensive, but confident nonetheless. My husband told me that his mom used to make one every year, so if I felt I needed a bit of assistance, I could call her. Which I did, and it still didn't help.

Everything started out in typical Daring Baker fashion (tons of eggs and butter) and since I had set the entire Saturday aside devoted just to my yule log, I figured I could just take my time and go with the flow. Here's the recipe, in case you would like to try your baking chops at this month's challenge:

Plain Genoise:

-3 large eggs

-3 large egg yolks

-pinch of salt

-¾ cup of sugar

-½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)

-¼ cup cornstarch

-one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

Instructions: 1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. 2. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering. 3. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch). 4. Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5. While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch. 6. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder. 7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 8. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly (Note: This step made my entire house smell like a quiche. No joke, it was all eggy smelling). 9. While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream. 10. Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

(My genoise has tumors!!)

Coffee Buttercream:

-4 large egg whites

-1 cup sugar

-24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened

-2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

-2 tablespoons rum or brandy

Instructions: 1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. 2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.
My buttercream looked narsty, after three attempts, it kept turning out like this. All separated and curdled-looking. I said screw-it, and decorated my yule log with it anyway.

Filling and frosting the log: 1. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan. 2. Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper. 3. Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper. 4. Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using). 5. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder. 6. Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours. 7. Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end. 8. Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top. 9. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump. 10. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark. 11. Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:

-3 large egg whites, at room temperature

-¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

-½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar

-1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar

-Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Instructions: 1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.

(My meringue peaks are so pretty!)

Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended. 2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. (This part was fun!) Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue. 3. Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets. 4. Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

The final product:

So, I know it's not the prettiest yule log out there, but hey, at least I tried!! It's a very rich dessert, and I'm not a big fan of heavy, rich desserts, so I wasn't a big fan of my yule log. Which looked diseased or something. However, I think this may have been a combination of user error and the recipe, because I know my mother in-law's recipe is quite different. I'm just glad I did it and got it over with, instead of chickening out. I'm just looking forward to next month's challenge.
Merry Christmas, Blogosphere!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time For Something New

Do you ever find yourself in a dinner rut? Taco night, spaghetti night, stir fry night, etc etc. Lately, I've been feeling like that. I think it's because of the lack of really yummy fresh produce, since it's no longer summer. I actually cooked one of those Chicken Helper Dinners (gasp!) last week, just for something new. (Note: I regretted it. It was just far too salty and artificial tasting).

It's times like these where I turn to my cookbook shelf. I literally did it Russian Roulette style: I closed my eyes and pointed to a cookbook (my Betty Crocker Newlyweds Cookbook I got as a wedding present). Then, cracked it open and closed my eyes once again and pointed to something near the middle. Thank goodness I didn't end up picking something like bread pudding! Though... bread pudding would have been good too, however, inappropriate for dinner.

Anyways, the lucky dish turned out to be Chicken Cacciatore. Now, I am not Italian, but I figured it would be pretty simple since I had all the neccessary ingredients lurking in my kitchen anyway. So, here's Betty Crocker's Chicken Cacciatore-Mehgan Style:

-1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
-1/2 cup AP flour
-1/4 cup vegetable oil (I actually used olive oil)
-1 medium bell pepper
-1 medium onion
-1 can (14 1/2 oz)diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained
-1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
-1 cup sliced mushrooms (I nixed these, for I loathe mushrooms)
-1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh or 1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1 tsp chopped fresh or 1/4 tsp dried basil leaves
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-mozarella cheese

Directions: Coat chicken with flour. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in oil 15-20 minutes or until brown on all sides. Drain excess oil. Cute bell pepper and onions crosswise in half, cut each half into fourths. Stir bell pepper, onions and remianing ingredients (except cheese) into chicken in skillet. Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut. Serve with cheese on top.

Now, I served mine on top of a bed of rice, because I've seen this done before, however, the recipe doesn't call for that. I supposed you could serve it with noodles instead of rice, but whatever you like, it'll still taste yummy. I loved all the fresh flavors in this, and it's definitely a new recipe for me. I love how simple it is, too. It kind of reminds me of chicken parmesan, but stovetop. The hubby liked it as well, he licked his plate clean. :-)

I know the picture doesn't really do it justice, but it was really tasty. And I love those little Santa's in the background. They just look so happy!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It Just Wouldn't Be Christmas...

...Without some sweet treats from Mehgan!! You see, my reputation precedes me: both Christmas parties we'll be attending this year have requested that I make and bring along some sweets for desserts. So, I thought for a while about what kinds of stuff I want to make, and have come down to a nice collection of classics. I'll be posting them as I make them, so be ready!!

First up, I've been dying to play around with chocolate, so I decided to make some brownies. Now, in my experience, there are two kinds of brownies in this world: the doughy, cakey kind and the chewy, flaky kind. It was a hard decision, but I went with the doughy, cakey kind and used Nigella Lawson's brownie recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess (aka Old Reliable).
Let me take a second to pause here, and give you a little insight into myself a bit. I am a peppermint freak. So, this time of year, I go insane with it (because any other time of year and it would just be...weird). I buy peppermint lotion, body spray, candy canes, peppermint tea, etc etc. My sister even nicknamed me Peppermint Patty (and my niece we've nicknamed Junior Mint). When I saw that Hershey's has a new Candy Cane Kiss, I knew I had to buy a bag... or two... or three.
I love them. They have little bits of crushed up candy canes in them, and they're delicious white chocolate. So delicious. They quickly became an inspiration for the brownies I made last night as a little "warm-up" to my cookie-making extravaganza. Here's my recipe for White Chocolate and Candy Cane Brownies:
-1 2/3 cups soft unsalted butter
-13 oz bittersweet chocolate
-6 large eggs
-1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tbsp peppermint extract
-1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp salt
-20 to 25 Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses (without wrappers)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Line or grease 13" x 9" x 2 1/2" pan (sides also). Melt butter and chocolate together (I used the bowl over a boiling pot of water method) until smooth and creamy. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla, peppermint extract and sugar. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, beat it into the eggs until smooth, then stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. In a microwavable bowl, melt the Kisses (I heated them in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stirred them, and heated them for another 30 seconds). Drizzle the melted Kisses on top of the brownie batter in lines. Take a toothpick and carefully drag it up and down the lines to create a cool web effect. Place the brownies on the center rack of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
These brownies went over really well at work, everybody (including the cleaning guy) absolutely loved them. At first, when people bit into them, they didn't know what that new flavor was, but when I told them it was peppermint, they were able to nail down what it was they were eating. I'm so glad they liked them, and they were so much fun to make. I had forgotten how much I love working with chocolate. It's just such a wonderful substance, and makes my house smell divine.

And while I'm getting exceedingly sick of taking pictures without any sunlight, it is fun taking pictures in front of our Christmas tree! Merry Christmas, everyone!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perfect for a Cold Fall Day

You know those really rainy and cold days in Seattle that just make you want to stay at home and have some soup by the fire? Well, recently, my husband and I had one of those days. It was cold. It was gloomy. And it was raining. To top it all off, we had to haul two truckloads of firewood that we had just purchased. Now, I don't normally participate in such... "manly" endeavors, but alas, there was no one else to help the dear hubby in this one. So, in between loads of firewood, I threw this together in the crock pot so we'd have something tasty for dinner when we finished up.

Beef Stew (or, Soup, if you prefer):

-1 lb stew beef, cut into bite sized portions
-3 to 4 medium white or red potatoes, chopped
-1 whole onion, chopped
-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-3 to 4 stalks of celery, chopped
-3 handfuls of baby carrots (you can chop them if you like, but they're good whole, too)
-3 cans of beef broth
-salt and pepper

Instructions: Place the potatoes, onion, garlic, celery and baby carrots in the crock pot along with the broth. (I turned my crock pot to cook at the 4-hour rate). Let these stew for about an hour. While those are going, salt and pepper the stew beef (you can pan-sear these in a little butter to lock in the flavor). After the veggies have cooked for about an hour and the broth is nice and hot, add the stew beef. Cover and let stew for another 3 1/2 to 4 hours, being careful not to mess with it too much, or you'll extend the cooking time. When the potatoes are tender, it should be done. If the broth isn't thick enough for your liking, you can add a spoonful or two of flour and that should thicken it up a bit.

I love this recipe, because 1) It's so simple, and 2) There's always tons of leftovers to take for lunch the next few days. It's hearty, it's hot, and so tasty. I love to make a nice loaf of homemade bread to go with it, too. If you asked my husband, he'd probably tell you I make this too much (almost twice a month), but I love it, so he's just going to have to deal with it. :-)

This was actually one of the first recipes I tried when we first got married and received the crock pot as one of our wedding gifts. I was trying to replicate my mom's beef stew (that'll never happen), but I think I got pretty close. There's a lot of room for variation, I've heard people like to add stewed tomatoes, or capers, or even leeks and mushrooms (gag, I hate mushrooms). So, the next chance you get, play around with the recipe and let me know what you come up with. I'm always interested in new stuff.