Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Culinary Architecture: Take 2

An evening of baking, creating, munching, and other delightful revelry.
With these two wonderful fellows. :o)

Without matches, we improvised in the lighting methods of our Christmas candle.

R's Santa Claus cabin complete with killer gummy bears (remember last year?!)

S's snow-covered mission church

Complete with gum drop lighting

Finished off the evening with a little of this:
And lots of laughs....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Edible Church - A Foray into Culinary Architecture

Oh my. I am so excited and happy to be back on the bandwagon with the Daring Bakers this month! :o)

The December 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers' everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I have to be honest; I was a bit nervous as to what December's challenge might be after last December's Buche du Noel. Every bit rich and delicious, but certainly a personification of the word 'challenge.' :-) Don't get me wrong -- I love the prospect of a challenge -- but this time of year is so packed with activity as it is, I find it difficult to take on tasks that require many consecutive hours of work. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this year's Daring Bakers' Challenge to be a little less of a challenge in terms of elements, but moreso on creativity. ;-)

I chose to use the Scandinavian gingerbread recipe for my walls:

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
2 T. cinnamon
4 t. ground ginger
3 t. ground cloves
2 t. baking soda
1/2 c. boiling water
5 c. all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well-blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

After making templates, cut out gingerbread house pieces and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees F. Trim the shapes, if necessary, after the pieces have cooled on the baking sheet.

I did not add enough water to my dough so it was too stiff and dry the next day when I attempted to roll it out. I broke off crumbly pieces and tried to meld them together with moistened hands. The dough was extremely stiff and difficult to roll out. Fortunately, I managed to roll out enough for my walls, but the remainder went in the garbage. Next time, I will listen to my intuition when it says to add a bit more liquid... :-)

I traced out walls on a piece of cardboard and carved them out of the dough with a knife.
I had to make a little purchase at the store before commencing my baking project, however, as we were without baking sheets in our new apartment....and they were a worthy investment as they've been used about a dozen times already for other Christmas baking endeavors.

The walls assembled quite nicely, except that I should have allowed for some extra length on my roof pieces in order to cover the front and back walls. My gingerbread house became a church as the walls were rather long and tall, reminding me of the long nave of a church. I had even considered adding stained glass windows but realized too late that I should have stuck the candies into melt before I stuck it in the oven to bake the dough. Oops.
Two of my brothers joined me in my gingerbread house-making escapade. We took a trip by the grocery candy bins and picked out ample amounts of festive candy to adorn our houses.
Complete with a wreath, tree, and Christmas lights on the eaves.... One of my kids at school made a gingerbread house using Frosted Mini-Wheats for a snow-covered roof...ingenious! I followed suit.

The royal icing recipe smelled like glue to one of my brothers. Luckily, it worked just like it! It held my walls together fantastically.

Royal Icing

1 large egg white
3 c. powdered sugar
1 t. white vinegar
1 t. vanilla extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on the pieces and allow to dry before assembling.

The icing was very sticky. It was easy to take small pieces and attach the candies.

I hope our gingerbread house assembly party becomes a family tradition. It was a delight making them from scratch.

Stay tuned for the boys' houses.... ;-)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Betty the Snowman

At the change of every season, we re-do our 'get-to-know-me' display boards at the school where I work with themed photos. During the Fall, our overall theme at the school was popular children's books so we chose a 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' motif. Each of the teacher's was photographed biting into a large chocolate chip cookie in any fashion they desired. Some people approach their cookies in rather interesting ways, let's just say...

For the winter season, I was asked to 'dress' a snowman in gear that was well-representative of myself. One of my fellow teachers has nicknamed me 'Betty Crocker' as, she says, I am always whipping up tasty treats with the children and fattening up the staff with goods from my kitchen. Thus, it seemed fitting to create 'Betty the Snowman'.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas...

'Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night....'
Hope yours is one filled with delicious delicacies, joyous laughter and beautiful memories. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Canning

The thought of canning foods has always been rather intimidating to me, yet, it is something I have always wanted to try my hand at. After watching a friend of mine in college transform a large bag of apples into apple butter and can them in cute Mason jars a few years ago, the idea of attempting it myself became less scary.

The thought of the delicious, warm spices permeating the house with their wonderful smells while cooking enticed me; the idea of the adorable, little jars adorned with festive ribbons; the desire to offer gifts made by my own hands this Christmas finally made it a reality.

While up at Apple Hill one weekend, I purchased myself a box of 20 lbs of apples. I peeled and cut my way through most of them and placed them in a large pot with some water on the stove to soften. After about a half hour, I added an ample amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, and let it simmer away for about 3 hours. The aroma produced was so intoxicating. I wish I could just have apple butter simmering away on the stove all autumn/winter long. It is the perfect scent to make your home feel all warm and cozy. ;-) It is the perfect addition to oatmeal on a chilly, wintery morning. I also like to add it to my yogurt with a bit of granola on top. It wonderfully complements a batch of sweet potato pancakes or pumpkin scones or smear it on a slice of warm toast....

Although the thought crossed my mind of keeping it all for myself ( good!!), I dove in and started the process of canning. I hand-washed all my pint-size Mason jars, lids and seals in hot water and then left them to soak in the very hot water. (They must be quite hot when the hot liquid is added to them so that they do not crack and break! My brother can tell you all about that due to a science project gone awry...)
Filling them was a bit of challenge...I do believe my fingertips were rather toasted by the end of the process. Filled with just the tiniest bit of room at the top, I placed the seal squarely on top and screwed on the lid. After filling about 6, I placed them in a pot of boiling water and let them sit inside for about 10 minutes. This seals the lids and kills all the germs that might be lurking. They were then carefully removed from the water and set on a towel overnight to settle.
Checking them in the morning, only one lid unsuccessfully sealed. Not bad for a first try! :-)

My homemade treats will be making their way to the Christmas baskets of my family and friends this afternoon. Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese

Although it may seem strangely out of season to some, one of the joys of living in California is the ability to enjoy the beauty and taste of FRESH produce all year round. (I realized just how spoiled I was when back at school in Virginia, not only were the prices astronomical on produce in the winter, but the little that was on the stacks looked seriously malnourished....And why were the CALIFORNIA avocados in the foreign produce?!?) I am still able to enjoy vibrant green salads this time of year thanks to the wonderful sunshine that frequently beams brightly from above. :-) Although, I kind of miss the snow....

The past few days I've been heaping my plate with arugula (or rocket), cranberries, sliced almonds, and goat cheese, covered in a sweet poppy seed dressing. The contrast of the slightly bitter-tasting arugula is a perfect match with the sweet flavors of cranberries and goat cheese. The almonds provide a nice, little crunch to the mix.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Meet the Aurora Golden Gala. I discovered this sweet treat in the grocery the other day as I was meandering through the produce aisle. It is a hybrid of Gala and Splendour, developed up north in British Columbia in 2003.

It is a dessert apple, golden yellow in color, slightly lighter than the Golden Delicious. I was taken aback by its subtle sweetness. It has a honeyed flavor that lingers on your tastebuds.

It was titled in a nationwide "Name the Apple" contest. Although 'Aurora' is good, I think I would have chosen 'Sunrise' as its brightness slowly unfolds, bringing a beaming smile to your face.... :o)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joys of Childhood

Gnoshing Oreos.

Splitting the halves with a friend to see who gets the creamier half. Licking out the center before dunking into a large glass of cold milk. Attempting to eat the whole package in one sitting. Seeing how black your teeth can really get.
All causes of great delight.
But in my book, nothing matches this: watching a little one munch it up like cookie monster. Nom Nom. Crumbs flying everywhere, smearing cookies 'n cream in his hair....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pumpkin Fail...and Success!

Pumpkin cupcakes are supposed to have pumpkin, right? Well, tell that to the left side of my brain while the right side is off on another task...

I'm usually fairly good at multi-tasking but my attempts to bake and help create costumes simultaneously on Saturday turned into an epic fail. Okay, it wasn't quite that bad. But the next morning, as I was considering what I could do with the leftover canned pumpkin from the cupcakes I had made the night before, I suddenly realized I had no recollection of opening a can of pumpkin. Meaning, there was NO pumpkin in the PUMPKIN cupcakes I had made last night. Minor detail.

The fact that the batter was a bit thick didn't trigger a thought about the lack of pumpkin; I was simply going to add more buttermilk. Nor the comment from a taste-taster who said they were rather 'thick' and perhaps a tad dry. Or how about the fact that they weren't ORANGE. Yeah, I'm apparently a bit dense at times. These facts all came rushing to the forefront of my brain, however, when I realized the absence of pumpkin in my memory. (In an attempt to save face -- I was running back and forth between batches sewing patches into my brother's scarecrow costume. You'll forgive me my fault, won't you?)

The irony: first, I can't find pumpkin at ANY store; now, I can't manage to get it into the batter. I suppose I have learned to live without it for so long, I have gotten used to the notion its not going to be a part of my treats. ;-)

At any rate, I made these tasty 'pumpkin' cupcakes from Smitten's Kitchen. They were rather delicious even without the pumpkin. Spice cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. Besides the lack of pumpkin, the only other deviation from the recipe was I left out the maple syrup and 1/4 c. of butter from the frosting. And, of course, I added a little candy corn on top for flair.

The true hit of the evening, however, were my pumpkin rice krispie treats. I simply added a bit of red and yellow food coloring to the marshmallows and butter after melting them to give it a nice orange tint. I also added a sour apple bite to the top as a stem. They were every bit delicious and every bit accurate.

N.B. When shaping your rice krispie treats, let the mixture cool a bit before you get started molding. If it is too hot, it simply sticks to your hands. Although, too long and it will never come out of the pan...about 5-10 minutes does the trick.

A costume sampler:
Sally, 'Breaking News', and Swinging Dancer
Caped Masquerade
Napping Indiana Jones
The Freeway
Julia Child and her culinary creation
Hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween! :-)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Taste of the Irish

Back when I was researching the possibility of going to cooking school, I ran across this quaint culinary school in Ireland, Ballymaloe Cookery School. (Just the name of it gives me warm fuzzies...) A college friend of mine had recently done a series of course there, so it seemed feasible to me at the time. I dreamed of living in one of their cottages, rooming with another zealous culinary artist or two. I would wake up with my fellow classmates early each morning with the first light, and help pick the fresh, organic produce from the garden as the dewy drops hung in suspension still from the leaf tendrils. We would spend countless hours in the kitchen every day learning how to make bread dough rise just so, the exact ratio of flour and sugar to produce the perfect cake, how to cook a beef tenderloin to medium-rare, a myriad of new vegetable combinations for delicious salads I had never thought of before....and that would be just the beginning! The simiplicity was its charm. Every dish would be created using the simplest of ingredients -- nothing unnecessary and all well-balanced.

But the reality of distance and finances hang over my head (maybe some day), so I am resigned to making Ballymaloe dishes in my own kitchen using Myrtle Allen's, The Ballymaloe Cookbook. Forgive me if I speak in an Irish accent when I ask for the flour off the shelf....
In an attempt to use up some more of my never-ending basket of apples, I made this delicious breakfast pastry.
Irish Apple Cake
1 3/4 c. flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. + 1 T. brown sugar
1 egg
approx. 1/2 c. milk
2 cooking apples
Mix flour and baking powder together. Cut butter into pieces and mix in flour by hand until it resembles course crumbs. Add 1/2 c. sugar, beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft dough. Divide in two. Roll out one ball of dough and place in the bottom of a pie dish. Cut apples into chunks or slices, arrange on top of dough in dish and sprinkle with 1 T. of sugar. Roll out second ball of dough and place on top of apples, pinching down the sides. Cut vents on top. Bake about 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Easy as pie. :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Smashing Success

I've been eager to try out this particular smoothie ever since a friend, knowing my love for all things pumpkin, texted me about its existence.
If there is anything better than pumpkin pie and a creamy smoothie, it is the two combined into ONE. That's right...liquified pumpkin pie. The Pumpkin Smash smoothie from Jamba Juice contains all the warm, spicy flavors of Fall, yet you can enjoy it even when it is 80 degrees and sunny. Ah, the beauty of living in California.... ;-)

Friday, October 23, 2009


A lazy Sunday morning enjoying breakfast at Crepeville

I have yet to master the art of French crepe-making. One day when I'm rich I will invest in one of those ginormous, round griddles specially designed for making crepes. But until then I will satisfy my cravings for savory and sweet crepes alike at Crepeville.

Of all the American crepes I have tasted, the ones at Crepeville come the closest to authentic French cuisine. Even if they didn't, they are fantastically stuffed with delicious fillings, such as chicken and pesto, Canadian bacon, cheese and pineapple, marinara and provolone cheese. My favorite is the California crepe with spinach, avocado, onions, provolone, and sundried tomato pesto. Mmm, mmm good. The crepes are served with a generous helping of seasoned, roasted potatoes. Even one who is not particularly fond of potatoes will become a fast friend of these savory morsels.

Sadly, I have yet to try a sweet crepe, the numerous times I have been there, due to the filling nature of the main dish. One of these days -- so many choices: chocolate, raspberry blintz, strawberries and cream....

And on a chilly, blustery day, you can order a pot of tea in one of their nifty golden teapots. Their freshly squeezed orange or carrot juice is another excellent choice for quaffing your thirst.

Comes complete with a tea strainer to keep those pesky leaves out of your tea cup

Crepeville also has omelettes, salads, sandwiches, soups, and several other wonderful selections... none of which I'll probably ever bring myself to try as I love those crepes! ;-)

A friend we ran into on the way back to the car, storing up food for the winter

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin Scones

If there is one recipe in my collection that is well-worn, it is my pumpkin scone recipe. I have no idea where it came from originally, nor do I ever stick to its stipulations, but it has seen me through many a morning (and afternoon, for that matter).

Enjoyed one this morning with a dab of apple pumpkin butter straight from Apple Hill. I can't think of a better addition...although peanut butter comes in a close second. :-) (Almost didn't make it into the photo I was so hungry!)

Pumpkin Scones

2 c. flour

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/4 t. ginger

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice

1/2 t. cinnamon

1 t. baking powder

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 c. butter

1/3 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. pumpkin puree

1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and mix with dry ingredients until butter is the size of small peas.

Mix buttermilk, pumpkin and vanilla in a separate cup or bowl. Add to large bowl and mix together by hand just until it comes together.

Flour a clean surface. Pat ball of dough into a round about 1/2 in. thick. Cut into 8 triangles. Place on greased baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, until browned at edges.

This morning's scones were made using canned pumpkin pie mix so I left out the cinnamon and nutmeg. Often, I leave all the spices out as the pumpkin pie mix has its own added, but the flavor of the scones is more subtle without the added ginger and allspice. It's at your discretion...

I also like to make the scones with either all whole wheat flour or half whole wheat, half all-purpose. The whole wheat flour gives the scones a heavier texture, still every bit delicious, and they certainly keep you full longer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Supper

A tradition that I sincerely want to incorporate in my household someday is the tradition of Sunday suppers. An evening to inaugurate the week (or close the week depending on which end your looking from) where loved ones -- family and friends alike -- join together to enjoy each others' company and indulge in a delicious meal. An essential part of life is being in the presence of those you love, and nothing brings people together (and holds them captive!) like a good meal.

We celebrated the beginning of this week with a fabulous Fall supper tonight. That plethora of apples I have acquired is hardly dwindling. I do believe the apples are multiplying, producing baby apples, as they lie in the bag waiting to be cooked. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve, but am failing miserably. ;-p Hence, I browsed my cookbooks searching for a recipe combining apples and chicken. Voila! Success!

Normandy Chicken and Apple Saute

adapted from The Rustic Table

4 T. butter

8 small chicken breasts

salt and pepper

3 cooking apples (I used Granny Smiths)

1 large onion, cut into thin wedges

1 c. chicken stock

1/2 c. apple cider (or original recipes calls for Calvados if you have it)

1/2 c. half and half

1/2 c. coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and brown on both sides about 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add apples to the pan and saute in the juices about 2 minutes. Remove to separate plate.

Place remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter into saucepan and saute onions until golden, about 3 minutes. Return chicken to pan and add stock and cider. Bring to a slow boil, then place lid on top and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add apples cooking until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Strain and reserve cooking liquid. Place chicken, apples and onions on platter, and cover to keep warm. Return liquid to pan and add half and half. Let boil over medium heat about 3 minutes until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Spoon sauce over chicken. Sprinkle walnuts on top and serve immediately.

I was a tad leery of adding walnuts to the dish, but they were the perfect complement to the chicken and apples; it wouldn't have been the same without them.

To complete the dish, I made some mashed sweet potatoes to which I added a dollop of Greek yogurt and a dash of cinnamon, and a green salad.

My brother and his girlfriend whipped up a fabulous batch of pumpkin cookies. I've had to exercise some serious self-control in order to keep from eating the entire plate full.

They have a creamy glaze which fantastically adds to their sweetness.

Side note: These were made using canned pumpkin pie mix as regular canned pumpkin is still missing from grocery shelves...sad day, but we make do. :-)