Sunday, December 30, 2012

christmas eve recap

our christmas eve dinner has always been fairly open-ended. we tend to change things up each year and haven't quite settled on a standard menu yet. honestly i don't know if we ever will, and i kinda like that :) this year though we knew we were having dumont's mac and cheese (a la jade)--this was decided at thanksgiving. after some holiday recipe browsing, i suggested ham for the main. back in california, we used to almost-always get a honey baked ham for christmas, so why not bring it back! the rest of the menu kind of stemmed from that, and i tried to keep things simple since there wouldn't be too much time to cook the day of (blah, work). 

so, here's what we had:
- freshly shucked oysters (thanks, sean!)
- chicken liver pate with sage, apple, thyme
- spinach apple walnut salad (ALL for jade, heehee)
- "use a spoon" chopped salad
- parker house rolls (mm, so buttery)
- dumont mac 'n' cheese (great job, jade! SO. GOOD.)
- ultra fluffy mashed potatoes
- sauteed rainbow chard (could have done with more seasoning--whoops)
- sauteed brussels sprouts (ditto the chard comment--double whoops)
- maple glazed ham
- dessert: chocolate peppermint roll (gluten-free!)
- bonus treats: homemade holiday truffles (two recipes below)
  * peppermint (rolled in crushed candy canes)
  * bourbon (rolled in chopped pecans)
  * plain dark chocolate (rolled in holiday sprinkles & sugar)
  * chocolate stout (rolled in cocoa powder)

the truffles were a fun treat to make and my first time attempting "candy." things got a little messy, but when the mess consists of melty chocolate it's totally okay. i think they all turned out great, except for whatever reason the crushed candy canes got sort of melted and made things gooey (not cute--boo). the major hits were the boozy truffles--bourbon and chocolate stout. i think these will definitely make an appearance next year!
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chocolate truffles
(makes about 50)
16oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons flavored liquor (optional)
1-2 cups chopped topping of choice
1. heat chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture smooth. remove from heat, add butter and liquor/flavoring if your heart desires (do it).  stir until butter is melted.
2. pour mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish. cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for about 2 hours.
3. line baking sheet with parchment paper. using a very small (about 1 inch diameter) ice cream scoop (or melon baller), drop balls of chocolate in whatever coating you wish. roll to coat.
store in an air-tight container in the fridge until ready to serve. they keep for up to two weeks.

* for the peppermint truffles, i poured in 2 heaping tablespoons of peppermint extract.
* for the bourbon truffles, i poured in 2 heaping tablespoons of knob creek.

chocolate stout truffles
(makes about 18)
1 cup stout beer (i used sierra nevada)
8oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
cocoa powder for coating

add the beer to a pot over medium-high to high heat (watch it carefully as it tends to foam). reduce by half (about 1/2 cup remaining), stirring frequently. remove from heat and add 8 ounces of chocolate, stirring until smooth and completely melted.
allow to cool to room temperature. cover and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
use a ice cream scoop or melon baller to scoop out the chocolate. you can shape them slightly with your hands, but fair warning this can start to get messy. if the truffles are getting too soft, stick them back in the fridge for a few minutes.
once the chocolate is all rolled out, drop each truffle in cocoa powder to coat. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

macarons, not macaroons

this little french cookie is sweet and delicate but oh-so intimidating. i'm grateful for all the articles and blog posts out there on macarons--the tips, techniques, trials and tribulations, and the multitude of flavor combinations. my first ever attempt at macarons (years ago) were pistachio with vanilla filling, and let's just say they looked as lumpy as the bunny i plated them next to.
i learned then that you can't rush the macaron making process. with a little more research and practice, i'm happy to say i have since successfully produced batches of proper delicate macarons. i've kept things easy by using pre-made spreads for the fillings: nutella, tj's chocolate-almond, speculoos/cookie butter. all delicious. the speculoos was a pleasant surprise and the best received (here's looking at you, book club). this way i was able to focus on making the shells. 

most recently though i wanted to make a something a little more "seasonal," so i attempted a chocolate-mint ganache, and just for experimentation purposes, i froze the filled macarons to see how they'd keep. results? success! i let them thaw in the fridge, and they tasted just like a nicely matured macaron :) the minty chocolate filling also made for a nice holiday treat. what flavors should i try next??

so, what are some things i've learned about making macarons?
* read notsohumblepie's post on macarons. she is a true macaron queen and has gone through extensive research on perfecting them. ms. humble's scatter plot macarons has been my go-to recipe for macarons (it's kind of lengthy so i won't reprint it, but you can find it in the above link). 
* sifting your ingredients is key. it keeps everything light and smooth.
* do not overbeat your egg whites--keep them glossy.
* FOLD, not stir, your flour-sugar combo into the egg whites. (is it sad that my arm gets tired from the tension of properly folding? maybe not "sad" so much as "weak." hm, my hand gets tired from squeezing the piping bag too--yeah, definitely weak.)
* parchment paper creates a nicer foot than a silpat (for me, at least).
* keeping macarons in the fridge or freezer totally works and doesn't mess with the "integrity" of the cookie.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

:: chocolate mint ganache ::
(fills 3-4 dozen macarons)

200g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
100g heavy cream
2-3 drops of peppermint oil (or extra drops if using peppermint extract)

place the chopped chocolate into a heat-safe bowl. in a small pan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. pour over the chocolate, giving the bowl a little wiggle to submerge the chocolate. allow to stand for one minute before stirring.
stir to combine the cream with the chocolate, add a few drops of peppermint oil to taste. once smooth and uniform, leave at room temperature until it has cooled slightly and thickened. 
pipe or drop spoonfuls of the ganache onto your macarons and top with another shell.

Monday, November 26, 2012

thanksgiving recap

::gobble gobble:: another thanksgiving meal under my belt! it always feels so good to be able to prepare something nice for my family. <3 LOVE <3

this year i was fairly relaxed in terms of planning and prepping. i guess after a couple of years i've finally figured out a solid menu and learned to keep things simple. everything came together really well ::pat on the back:: 

sunday i made the gravy and cranberry sauce. wednesday was for baking the pumpkin breads and cheesecakes, blanching the green beans, peeling/cutting/soaking the potatoes, and air-drying the turkey.

thanksgiving day was everything else~

thanksgiving 2012 menu:
- "use a spoon" chopped salad
- roasted (kosher) turkey (13.88lbs lucky~)
- dead simple turkey gravy
- basic cranberry sauce
- mom's sticky rice
- ultra-fluffy mashed potatoes
- green beans with crisp shallots
- butter sauteed corn
- roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower
- mini pumpkin goat cheese cheesecakes with pecan crust (gluten free)
- mini vegan walnut pumpkin breads (to take home)

Monday, November 19, 2012

pumpkin cupcakes with brown butter icing and candied walnuts

this past weekend was the fourth meeting of our girls book club. carly hosted an amazing brunch at her place; there were breakfast quesadillas, almond flour waffles with cinnamon apple slices, bacon and egg bundles, LOTS of cheese, bread, and crackers (courtesy of jade and steph), and a super boozy apple cider. 

to round out the menu, i decided to bring some speculoos macarons and seasonal cupcakes :) pumpkin, brown butter, walnuts. mmm mmm, hello, fall!

:: pumpkin cupcakes with brown butter icing and candied walnuts ::
(recipe from shutterbean)

for the cake:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (i used cardamom instead)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup warm milk

1. heat the oven to 350F. butter a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan. line pan with parchment, and butter the parchment. coat pan with flour, and tap out any excess. (i used a muffin pan to make one dozen cupcakes and lined them with cupcake liners, no butter or flour. also had enough batter for a mini 6-inch cake but ran out of icing :P)
2. in a large bowl, sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
3. in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. add eggs, and beat until combined. add pumpkin puree and milk; beat until combined. add reserved flour mixture; beat on low until just combined.
4. pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes). transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool. let cake rest 20 minutes.
5. unmold cake. using an offset spatula, spread icing over top of cake, and decorate with caramelized walnut halves.

for the icing:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

1. in a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in color, about 10 minutes. remove pan from heat, and pour butter into a bowl, leaving any burned sediment behind.
2. add sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk; stir until smooth. if the icing is too thick, add the remaining tablespoon milk, a little at a time, until consistency is spreadable. let cool 5 minutes. use immediately.

for the walnuts:
1/2 cup sugar
10 well-shaped, large walnut halves

1. in a small skillet, melt sugar over medium-high heat until medium golden, about 3 minutes. remove skillet from heat. working quickly, drop walnut halves, one at a time, into the melted sugar. if the sugar hardens, return skillet to low heat, and stir several minutes. using a fork, turn walnuts until they are evenly coated. (work FAST; the sugar hardens and gets really tricky to work with.) transfer walnuts to a wire rack to cool completely. use to decorate cake.

Monday, November 5, 2012

roasting veggies

ROASTING: my new favorite way to prepare vegetables right now.

broccoli and brussels sprouts are a constant on my grocery list. i usually just steam the broccoli (boring, i know) and eat it plain (double boring) or with some peruvian green sauce (if i have any). for the brussels sprouts, i've played with a few recipes and different preparations, but most of the time i'll end up sauteing them with garlic.

so i was pretty excited when i saw a recipe from sprouted kitchen that combines all my veggie stand-bys. it is super versatile; the first time i made it, i only had broccoli, sprouts, and spinach, and it turned out great.

cauliflower has also made it into my veggie rotation, and i've learned that roasting it brings out a nice nutty flavor. again, super simple and tasty.

so many veggies--doesn't it make you feel extra healthy? (and totally justifies that extra cup of hot chocolate...)

:: emerald salad :: 
(recipe from sprouted kitchen)
serves 4.

1 lb broccolini*
1 lb broccoli
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 large leek*
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 garlic cloves
6 oz (about 3 cups) spinach, roughly chopped
3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped*
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup feta cheese

oven set to 475 degrees.

1. cut the broccoli and broccolini into roughly two-inch chunks, on a bias. using the white and light green parts of the leek, slice lengthwise and rinse out the dirt. slice thin. toss the veggies with the olive oil, pepper, and lemon zest.
2. slice the garlic cloves as thin as possible, no mincing. add the broccoli mix to a large roasting pan. you don't want to cram them in a dish as they will end up steaming in their own moisture. give them space. sprinkle the garlic slices on top so they feel the direct heat in the oven.
3. at this point, you could cover and wait until you're getting ready to eat. or, pop that pan on the top rack of the oven for 12 minutes.
4. pull out the baking pan, and toss in the spinach, almonds, parsley, and lemon juice. toss in the pan so the heat wilts the spinach and the dressing it's created, distributes. put in your serving dish and crumble the feta cheese on top.
* i left these out the first time i made the dish.

:: roasted cauliflower ::
(adapted from jonathan waxman's italian, my way)
serves 4.

1 large cauliflower (about 2 lbs)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, sliced

1. preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. wash the cauliflower and separate into florets.
3. lightly coat roasting pan with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil.
4. in a bowl, toss the cauliflower with the salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil. place the cauliflower in the pan and roast for 20 minutes. you'll need to stir it once or twice. you want it to turn a nice golden brown.

Monday, October 29, 2012

happy birthday, jade!

in honor of my wonderful sister-in-law, i baked some vanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream and birthday-cake crumbs.

this birthday treat is made from three recipes mashed together:
- magnolia bakery's vanilla cupcakes
- joy the baker's vanilla bean buttercream
- milk bar's birthday cake crumbs

happy birthday, jade! love you <3
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:: magnolia bakery's vanilla cupcakes ::
(makes about 2 dozen cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

preheat oven to 350F. line 2 muffin tins with paper liners.

in a small bowl, combine the flours. set aside.

in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and creamy. gradually add the sugar, beating until fluffy, about 3 minutes. add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. add the dry ingredients in four parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, beating well after each addition. divide the batter into the prepared cups--about 3/4-full. bake until tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 to 25 minutes

remove cakes from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

:: joy the baker's vanilla bean buttercream frosting ::
(makes enough for 24 cupcakes)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still holding its shape

4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons milk
1 vanilla bean, seed scraped (or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)
pinch of salt

in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddel attachment, beat butter for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.

scrape the butter from the sides of the bowl and add 3 cups of the powdered sugar. beat on low, increasing to medium speed as the mixture combines. add milk and vanilla bean or extract. beat on high for 1 minute.

stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add 1 more cup powdered sugar. beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. if you'd like a thicker frosting, add up to a cup more powdered sugar, beating well. forst completely cooked cakes or cupcakes.

frosting will last, in an airtight container, for 10 days in the refrigerator.

:: milk bar's birthday cake crumbs ::

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup grapeseed oil, or canola/vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

preheat the oven to 300F and line a baking sheet with a silpat or piece of parchment.

in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles. mix on low speed until combined.

stream in the oil and the vanilla on low speed and continue beating until the ingredients clump and form small clusters.

carefully spread the clusters in a thin layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake them for about 20 minutes, breaking up occasionally. they will be slightly moist but will harden as they cool. let them cool completely before using.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

pumpkin granola

one of my favorite things about baking is how it fills my entire apartment with sweet, delicious smells, and this pumpkin granola did not disappoint. the smell of all the spices baking with the nuts and oats was pure fall.

i've been eating this for breakfast plain or sprinkled on yogurt. SO good! it has just the right amount of sweetness from the maple syrup and dried fruit, and i like that there are no oils or butters. i made a couple substitutions: cardamom in place of allspice and dried apricots in place of apples--which i only did because of what i had on hand. (and, i have to admit, i have a weird obsession trying to use my green cardamom pods whenever i can...)

:: pumpkin granola ::
(recipe from seriouseats)

3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice*
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dried unsweetened cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped dried apples*
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1. preheat oven to 325F. line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. in a large bowl, mix together oats, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. add cranberries, raisins, dried apples, pumpkin seeds, and almonds to bowl. stir to combine.
3. in a medium bowl, whisk together maple syrup, vanilla, pumpkin, and applesauce until well combined.
4. add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until even coated. spread granola in a thin layer over baking sheet.
5. bake granola until golden, stirring halfway through baking, about 40 minutes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

let's celebrate fall!

this year i realized how much i look forward to fall. while i may be less than enthusiastic about cold weather (being a california transplant, i can't say i've quite learned how to embrace northeast winters), i love that first breath of crisp air that comes with the season.

it may mark the end of summer, but to me fall has always marked the beginning of things, the start of a new year. it's when a new school year starts; it's when i started working; it's the hint of upcoming holidays. and now it's the start of my blog!

so let's celebrate fall with a little pumpkin kitchen time to-do list:

- pumpkin granola
spiced pumpkin coconut milk ice cream
pumpkin (cup)cake with brown butter icing
baked pumpkin pecan doughnuts

happy fall!