Archive for December, 2013

Christmas Wrap-Up – Fun, Family and Food

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I really feel like I did everything I wanted (and didn’t want) to do this Christmas.  I made the teachers cookie jars in time.  We listened to Christmas music (at home, not the mall).  I found the cracked crab for Christmas Eve dinner (after hitting three stores).  We went to the Nutcracker and the Symphony.  We took the kids to Glide to experience a church and community resource like no other.  I didn’t stay up until midnight wrapping gifts.  We didn’t race through decorating the Christmas trees and no ornaments were broken.  I made enough cookies for our family and to share with others.  I didn’t get in an argument over the grandparents giving too many gifts.  My kids got appropriately dressed for the events that required more than yoga/athletic wear.  My daughter found gingerbread house kits to decorate with the grandparents.

 

All in all it was a very nice and leisurely holiday.   It probably helped that my kids were out of school a week earlier than usual (construction and moving the school).  I was thankful to have shopped early and much of it online.  We were also fortunate to celebrate with various family and friends – not all on the same day.  Even on Christmas Day, I had a few blissful hours to myself  while my family went to the driving range.  Since we’re doing some remodeling I haven’t been alone in the house in weeks.  On Christmas Day there were no contractors to bang and clang while I cooked.  With everyone gone I made a lovely butternut apple soup, dessert and prepped for the rest of the dinner.

 

The menu?  Interestingly enough we went vegetarian.  With so many dietary restrictions and preferences between my family and my in-laws I wasn’t sure what to make.  No red meat.  No pork.  I was thinking of making a turkey but a few days before Christmas we celebrated with my family and a turkey spread (of which I was able to take lots of leftovers).  We always do cracked crab and fondue for Christmas Eve – so that’s easy (not easy to find at 3pm on the eve, but easy to make).  But while I was fighting the crowd and roaming the grocery aisles I remembered my vegan sister and the lovely “roast” she had, that my kids loved at Thanksgiving.

It all turned out great.  The butternut soup, the Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute (so easy), roasted little potatoes, brussels sprouts (remember I promised more), and rolls.  My in-laws were surprised but pleased.  I didn’t know Grampa didn’t like brussels sprouts.  Oops!  Well he hadn’t eaten them in years.  He tried mine and he liked them.  Just to really mess with everyone I even did a vegan dessert.  My kids cruised through the Vegan Desserts in Jars Cookbook, since my mom returned my jars from Thanksgiving (brought in her luggage!) and picked a chocolate grasshopper.  My son loved it.  Others ate it.  But my daughter and I thought the mint tasted like mouthwash.  Luckily our neighbors gave us a box of chocolates so we happily dove into those.

 

 

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Santa’s Favorite Cookies – White Chocolate Peppermint Meringues

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

 

I know I’ve written about cookies as currency.  But this year it is true at our house like no other time.  You see we’re doing some construction on our house.  So some days I’m baking cookies for the contractors to show my appreciation.  And some days I’m baking cookies for the neighbors to apologize for the contractors.
In between I’m making ginger molasses cookies for my friend’s cookie exchange (super fun and great way to get a variety of cookies) and sugar cookie cut-outs for my kids’ play dates.  While Baking I’m cranking the Christmas tunes for the spirit of it and to drown out the 12 banging contractors.  I thought we’d already been doing some serious baking however  my daughter asked this morning “Where are the cookies for Santa?”  I said, while gesturing to the boxes of homemade cookies, “Well any of the cookies could be for Santa”.  She indignantly replied that Santa’s favorite are the peppermint meringues and we have to give him those.  I kind of chuckled and thought well yes, they are one of “Santa’s” favorites.
Ever since I saw this recipe in the Sunset Magazine in 2011 these have been a household favorite.  They’re actually called White Christmas Dream Drops and were a first place winner from a reader in Tustin, CA.  But that doesn’t describe how chewy and light but packed with chocolate and peppermint flavor they are.  I brought some to a family gathering tonight and was asked for the recipe.  I couldn’t find the blog I had done when first discovering the Sunset issue so I figured I’d repeat myself.  I think I’ll be needing another batch anyways…for Santa of course.
White Christmas Dream Drops or White Chocolate Peppermint Meringues
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar $
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips $
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp. coarsely crushed peppermint candies

Preparation

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 250°. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl with a mixer, using whisk attachment if you have one, just until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and salt. With motor running and mixer on high speed, pour in 1 tbsp. sugar and beat 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat until all sugar has been added. Scrape inside of bowl and beat another 15 seconds. At this point, meringue should form straight peaks when beaters are lifted. Fold in chocolate chips and 1/3 cup candies with a flexible spatula.
  2. 2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, using a bit of meringue at corners as glue. Using a soup spoon, drop meringue in rounded 1-tbsp. portions slightly apart onto sheets, scraping off with another spoon. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. candies.
  3. 3. Bake until meringues feel dry and set when touched but are still pale, 30 to 35 minutes, switching pan positions halfway through. Turn off oven, open door, and let cookies stand about 10 minutes. Let cool on pans.
  4. Make ahead: Up to 2 days, stored airtight.
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Brussels…Love ’em? Hate ’em? Try them!

Friday, December 20th, 2013

I find that many people are divided about their likes and dislikes with food.  Texture is a big deal.  Some prefer more or less spice.  But one food seems to really divide people and that’s brussels sprouts.  People seem to love them, hate them or won’t try them.  This is definitely a case of depends on how you prepare them.  No one likes anything cooked to bitter mush, which is what some people remember them tasting like as a kid.  They are overcooked or boiled and lifeless.

I’ve shared a favorite brussels sprouts recipe before for brussel leaves.  However you don;t always have time to peel.  This year I’ve been making a quick roasted brussels sprouts recipes that are enticing people not ask for an actually try (and enjoy) brussels sprouts.

First there was a “feast” at my son’s school.  This was very cute as each child brought in a favorite recipe to share with the class.  They each got up and told why they brought the dish, when they usually eat the dish and if there was any significance to their family.  They are next making a poster with the written recipe with a photo of them with their dish.  Recipes had to be approved by the teacher first because otherwise we would have all been eating our favorite family desserts only.  My son asked me to make stuffed grape leaves and while I loved the suggestion I was short on time.  Next he asked for brussels sprouts.  I loved this idea because I am always asking people to try them.  And in the class there were a few kids (and adults) who tried them for the first time.  Especially cooking for babies, getting to be there for a first bite is so fun.  It’s still fun for me if it isn’t babies.

The sprouts were eaten, with the exception of about 5 pieces, and my daughter polished those off in the car on the way home from school.  We had a potluck for my son’s tae kwon do that night and wasn’t sure what to bring.  It’s always a lot of pizza and desserts.  We decided to head to the store for more brussels sprouts and I made them again for that night.  It is not even the holiday yet and I made two batches in one day.  I thought my kids would be burned out on these, but my daughter asked yesterday, “Can you make brussels sprouts for Christmas?”  Sure I will.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Choose small firm compact heads with tight fitting leaves that are bright green in color for the freshest taste.

1 lb. brussels sprouts

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon rosemary sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Trim bottoms of brussels sprouts, but keep leaves intact.  Cut each sprout in half lengthwise.  Place sprouts in a plastic bag or bowl with oil and toss to coat.  Place sprouts on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, turning halfway through.  Bake until outside leaves begin to brown and crisp, and inside is fork tender.  Sprinkle with cheese and serve warm.

 

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Vegan Desserts in Jars – Cookbook Review and Pumpkin Cream Brûlée Recipe

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

A few weeks before Thanksgiving I received the cookbook, Vegan Desserts in Jars, Adorably Delicious Pies, Cakes, Puddings and Much More by Kris Holechek Peters.  I was very excited flipping through the book since we would be going to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner, sharing dinner with my sister and brother in law (the vegans) and in charge of making dessert.

 

I realized the best thing about this book is inspiration for making dessert to go.  I know the jars are trendy in some restaurants however they are quite practical.  Since we had quite a drive for Thanksgiving, a pie may not have traveled as well, however these little jars with lids on were super easy to transport.  I’m going to keep this in mind for other potluck and school occasions.

 

The other thing I like about desserts in jars is the individual servings.  There is no bickering between my kids about the size of the slice or dollop or dessert.  Your jar is your jar.  You can experiment too with various size jars and vessels. Though many of the recipes are for 4 oz. canning jars which means you can reuse and try a variety of individual pies, cakes and puddings.  Canning jars can be found easily online and even at the hardware store.  Mine are from The Container Store which has a variety of styles and sizes in stock now for the holiday.  There is a section of the book that talks about jars and options.

 

I skipped the brûlée part mostly because there were so many things vying for space in my mom’s ovens.  So we made the suggested coconut cream.  I’ll be using that for all kinds of dessert toppings (or eat right out of the bowl).  I must warn you my sister, the vegan did not eat the pumpkin brûlées and that’s because she doesn’t like pumpkin pie and the consistency.  I somehow forgot.  However everyone else loved them.  My mom seemed disappointed at first because there was no traditional pie.  However we bought one from the Whole Foods bakery last minute to please the traditionalists and non traditionalists.  However it seemed the brûlées went faster.  Even though I’m not expecting any vegan guests, I’m already flipping through to see what to make for the next holiday dinner,…perhaps S’mores in a Jar or Rustic Rhubarb Cakes or Raw Pecan Pie or all of them!

Book Review:

Pros: variety of flavors and textures from pies, to breads, to custards etc.  Most of them are quick to make and convenient to transport. Great for vegans as well as those with dairy allergies.

Cons: powdered sugar wasn’t specified as “vegan”, which many vegans do not eat (see blog about bone char) . May have to invest in canning jars.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée (page 74, Vegan Desserts in Jars)

Creamy, spiced pumpkin with a crisp sugar crust is as elegant as it is comforting.

Ingredients

¾ cup non-dairy milk of choice

½ cup raw cashews

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar, divided

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)

¼ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1∕8 teaspoon salt

Makes 6 crème brûlées

Directions

Set aside six 4-ounce canning jars.

In a small bowl, combine the milk and cashews. Let them soak for about 30 minutes. Place the milk and cashews in a food processor or blender container. Purée until creamy. Add ½ cup of the sugar and the remaining ingredients, and blend until creamy, scraping down the sides as needed, about 2 minutes.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes. Fill each jar to just under the brim, leaving about ¼ inch of space. Refrigerate the jars until ready the serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar over the top of each jar. There are two options for brûléeing the desserts: using a propane brûlée torch or by broiling the tops of the desserts. If using a torch, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If broiling, place the jars on a rimmed baking sheet and turn the broiler on high. Place the jars under the broiler, with about 2 inches of space between the jars and the element. Keeping a watchful eye (the sugar burns quickly), heat the jars until the sugar caramelizes and becomes brown, 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the heat intensity.

Note: Don’t feel like messing with the brûlée part of crème brûlée? This recipe is just as delicious as a lovely custard. Dollop some Coconut Whipped Cream (page 111) on top and call it good.

Coconut Whipped Cream (page 111)

This coconut whipped cream is deceptively simple and will change your life.Be sure that you use good old canned coconut milk, rather than the boxed coconut milk beverage, so the fat content is correct.

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (not low-fat)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ to ½ cup powdered sugar, sifted

Makes 2 cups

Directions

Refrigerate the coconut milk for at least 3 hours, overnight if possible. Open the can and scoop out only the hard, white coconut cream, leaving the watery part in the can. Place the coconut cream in a large bowl. Add the vanilla and ¼ cup powdered sugar. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, whip the cream until fluffy. Add more powdered sugar, if necessary, to your desired sweetness.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. Store the coconut cream covered, in the fridge, for up to 4 days.

 

 

 

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