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.
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:: 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.