Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mickey Mouse Birthday Cake

I spent the better part of today making a first birthday cake for my nephew, Parker. The theme was Mickey Mouse, which was fun and challenging for me as I figured out how to design the cake.

Lots of parents, including Josh + Liz, decide to make a healthy first birthday cake because up to this point, most children haven't been eating much in the way of baked goods. Josh sent me the recipe they wanted to use, which I ended up quartering and slightly adapting to make Parker's cupcakes (see recipe here). However, after reading through the ingredients, I decided that the adults at the party (aka: everyone else) would probably not like to eat cake that tasted like sweetened bran muffins. I think it is a great idea to ease kids into sweets plus it could also be good for people who can't/should eat processed white flour and sugar (aka: my diabetic boss).

For the grown-ups' cake, I ended up making two different cakes and two different frostings. Happily, I was able to use leftover chocolate frosting that I'd previously frozen instead of making new, cutting down on the time I spent in the kitchen.

For Mickey's face, I halved the carrot cake recipe found here and baked the cake in two 6" pans for about 35 minutes.

For Mickey's ears, I used the almond cake recipe found here and baked the cakes six 4 1/2" pans for about 25 minutes. I only used four of them for the ears and enjoyed snacking on the other two while assembling the cake! [Aside: I actually chose to use this recipe because it is the cake I brought to the hospital for Josh + Liz the day after Parker was born.]

For the white frosting, I halved the simple cream cheese frosting recipe found here.

For the black frosting, I used ~2 cups of chocolate frosting from my freezer and added 1/4 teaspoon black food coloring.

If I could do it again, I would simplify things by making just one type of cake. However, all things considered, this was a really fun project. As I wait for my own little one's arrival, it is nice to have some distraction so that I don't just sit and wonder when she'll make her debut!

Baby's First Birthday Cake

This birthday cake is great for little ones whose palates and tummies haven't had much experience with processed flours or sugars.

Baby's First Birthday Cake
adapted from Wholesome Baby Food

Makes 6 cupcakes.

In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons shredded carrots
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons apple juice

Cover and let simmer until the apple juice has evaporated and the carrots are tender.

Place cooked carrots in a food processor. Add:
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon raisins
1/2 cup apple juice

Process until smooth. Set aside to let cool.

In a medium bowl, combine:
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix in:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons applesauce

Once all ingredients are evenly incorporated, mix in the pureed carrots and raisins.

Divide batter evenly between six cupcake liners.

Bake 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting [Sugar Free]

In a small food processor, combine:
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon apple juice
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raisins

Puree until mostly smooth (it won't get completely smooth because of the raisins).

In a small bowl, combine:
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons apple juice

Let sit for a minute to let gelatin soften. Then microwave for 20-25 seconds to dissolve the gelatin. Mix into cream cheese.

Eat up!

Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream Cheese Frosting
Kelley Gondring

Enough to frost one 9" two-layer cake.

In a small bowl combine:
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use a hand mixer to cream together.

1 pound confectioner's sugar
Beat together until no lumps remain.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sweet Palmiers

This has got to be one of the easiest and fastest ways to make cookies ever! Last weekend was filled with varying social events, one of which was a End of the World/Birthday/House-Warming Party. Strapped for time but still wanting to make something new, I went to epicurious to see what I could find. There, they had about a dozen recipes utilizing puff pastry dough. I adapted the recipe a bit, adding a lot more sugar and making less cookies, but they were a hit. In fact, multiple party-goers (none of whom I knew previously) approached me to ask about these sweet little bites.

Sweet Palmiers
adapted from epicurious

You'll need:
2 sheets puff pastry, a little cooler than room temperature
~1 cup sugar

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a clean counter top, sprinkle two spoonfuls of sugar.

Unfold one puff pastry sheet (they normally are folded in thirds) and place it on top of the sugar. Sprinkle more sugar on top of the puff pastry.

Use a rolling pin to roll pastry into a 10" square.

Take the left side of the pastry dough and pull it to the middle of the square. Do the same with the right side. Repeat one more time.

Fold the left side of the pastry dough over the right side.

Use a sharp butcher knife to cut the dough into 1/2" slices (making 16 cookies per puff pastry sheet).

Place each cookie into the bowl of sugar and thoroughly coat.

Place cookie cut-side-down onto the lined cookie sheet. Cookies should be about an inch apart.

Repeat with remaining puff pastry sheet.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, flipping about halfway through. Because these are baked on parchment paper, it may take longer for these cookies to bake; however, the upside is that they won't stick to your cookie sheet.

Once cookies are out of the oven, let them sit for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Let cool completely before serving.

These cookies are best if eaten immediately -- they get a little soggy if too much time passes.

Eat up!

Chai Cheesecake

I used to think that one of the downsides to making a cheesecake was that you had to do it ahead of time. But during this holiday season, I actually found that the do-it-ahead-of-time component of cheesecake making was perfect. I made this cheesecake on a Friday afternoon and didn't serve it until Sunday afternoon. Unlike other desserts, I didn't have to worry about it drying out or getting soupy. Instead, I could just cover it and put in the refrigerator until we were ready to leave for Jason's family's Christmas lunch.

Chai Cheesecake
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 500º

Combine in a medium bowl:
1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Thoroughly mix so that all ingredients are well incorporated. Pour mixture into a greased springform pan. Spread crumbs evenly across the bottom and partially up the sides, using your fingers to firmly pack. Place in refrigerator.

In an electric mixing bowl, add:
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
16 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened

Using the paddle attachment, mix at moderate speed for thirty seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and slowly add:
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix 1 1/2 minutes so that the ingredients are smooth and creamy. Half way through, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Over beating the batter will result in it rising too much and then falling when it cools, so set a timer if necessary.

One at a time add:
4 large egg yolks
Beat until yolk is just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat.

Pour in:
2/3 cup freshly brewed, strong chai tea, cooled*
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix until liquids are evenly incorporated.

*My favorite chai tea is Bombay Chai made by Mighty Leaf. I steeped two chai tea bags in 2/3 cup of hot water for 4-5 minutes.

Pour batter into the spring-form pan over top of the ginger snap crumb crust. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 200º, remove aluminum foil, and bake an additional 50 minutes.

Turn off the oven and use a wooden spoon to hold the oven door ajar. Let the cheesecake sit for at least thirty minutes but preferably an hour (this one didn't quite make it an hour because I needed my oven to bake Sweet Palmiers for an End of the World Party).

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool completely before refrigerating. Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Decorate as desired.

Eat up!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Squares

I made these little bites for our office party this year. They are not terribly difficult to make - they just take a little time and practice.

First, you'll make a cheesecake of your choosing. I chose to go with peppermint cheesecake because it felt appropriately festive. If you have a square springform pan, use it, as you'll waste less cheesecake. I only have a regular circular 9" pan, so I made do with it.

After your cheesecake is has been chilled for at least 6 hours, place it in the freezer for at least 60 minutes. Run a large butcher knife under hot water for thirty seconds to heat the blade. Use a clean towel to dry and immediately use knife to cut the cheesecake into 1" squares (If you started with a circular pan, first cut the cake to make a square. I placed the extras in a Tupperware container and put them in the fridge for late night snacking!). You will have to clean the blade after every couple of cuts. The colder the cheesecake and the warmer the knife, the cleaner the cut. Don't be afraid to reheat the knife blade and/or place the cheesecake back in the freezer periodically.

After the cheesecake has been cut into 1" squares, place back in the freezer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make chocolate ganache.


Chocolate Ganache
The Joy of Cooking

In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Turn off heat and cover for a minute. Whisk together chocolate and cream until chocolate is completely melted. Cover to keep warm.


Working in batches, place cheesecake squares on cutting board and even up top and sides. Place squares on a wire cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet (choose a cookie sheet with a lip).

Use spoon to pour ganache over the top of each square so that cakes are evenly coated (if you've made petit fours before, this is the same concept). Carefully transfer the cakes to serving dish. If there is a lot of ganache collecting on the cookie sheet, use a spatula to scoop up and place back in the saucepan where it can be reheated.

Repeat until you've all the cheesecake squares are covered (or you're tired of doing it; I got tired of doing it. I ended up coating about half of them in chocolate; the other half I topped with a thin layer of red cream cheese frosting and then sprinkled diced Candy Cane Hershey Kisses over top).

Decorate as desired.

Eat up!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peppermint Bark

Today I am thankful.

Thankful for a dreary, rainy Sunday that started when Sydney woke us up at 7:30 in the morning instead of letting us sleep in.

Thankful for a warm shower followed by the happy success of fitting into an outfit for church.

Thankful for my off-key singing of Christmas hymns.

Thankful for my Eggs Benedict brunch where we celebrated our friends' recent engagement.

Thankful for seeing my nephew, who will be a year old (!!) next Sunday, happily chomping on rice puffs and cantaloupe, haphazardly experimenting with talking gulps of water from his mom's water glass.

Thankful to come home and be bored with nothing to do but watch bad Christmas movies and chew on Tums to ward off the joys of acid reflux.

Thankful to eat leftover pizza for dinner and spend the evening making peppermint bark and other holiday sweets.

Thankful for taking a break from the kitchen and watching football with Jason, as he explains yet another rule I never knew (and probably could have gone my entire life without knowing).

Last Sunday I certainly would not have been as purposely thankful for a day like today. But then, last Sunday was not juxtaposed with one of the year's most tragic man-made events. I hope that you, too, are thankful today for the often unrecognized pleasures of simply living.

Peppermint Bark
Kelley Gondring

A couple of things before you get started:

First, I adapted this recipe so that instead of using a double boiler to melt the chocolates (because I don't have one and find it annoying to use a makeshift one), I use the microwave. The key to using a microwave as opposed to the double boiler is to microwave in short increments and after each increment to thoroughly mix the chocolates. This is to assure that the heat is evenly distributed and that chocolate doesn't get so hot that it burns. If you chocolate hasn't completely melted after following the instructions below, microwave it in 15 second increments followed by 10 second stirring until smooth and melted.

Second, because buying high quality baking chocolate can get expensive, it is tempting to use chocolate chips, which are far cheaper. If you choose to do so, remember that chocolate chips are designed not to melt into a puddle but instead keep their shape when put in high heat. This means that if you are microwaving chocolate chips instead of baking chocolate, it is going to take more time, thus you are going to have to be more patient!

Keeping these two things in mind, invert a 12"x9" cookie sheet and cover with a piece of waxed paper or aluminum foil (if using aluminum foil, you can wrap it on the lip of the cookie sheet; if using waxed paper, you'll need a bit of tape). Set aside.

In a small glass bowl, microwave for 30 seconds:
5 ounces white chocolate
Use fork to mix the chocolate. Place back in microwave for an additional 30 seconds. If chocolate is completely melted, pour onto cookie sheet and use spatula to evenly spread in a rectangle.

Dust with:
1/4 cup smashed peppermint candies
Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium glass bowl, microwave for 45 seconds:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
Use a fork to mix chocolate (it will not be completely melted yet).

1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup whipping cream

Place back in microwave for an additional 45 seconds. Remove and use fork to mix together. If the chocolate is completely melted at this point, pour over the white chocolate and use a spatula to evenly spread.

Refrigerate until chocolate has hardened (about 30 minutes).

In a medium glass bowl, microwave for 45 seconds:
12 ounces white chocolate
Use a fork to mix the chocolate. Microwave an additional 45 seconds. Again use fork to mix. Pour over the hardened semisweet chocolate and use spatula to evenly spread.

Immediately sprinkle overtop of the melted white chocolate:
1 cup smashed peppermint candies

Place in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened (about 30 minutes).

Remove the waxed paper from atop the inverted cookie sheet and place on cutting board. Use a sharp butcher knife to cut into squares.

Keep refrigerated before eating.

Eat up!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's a Cookbook!

I apologize for being MIA for the last couple of weeks. No, there's no baby yet. And yes, I have still been cooking - just not blogging. Instead of blogging, what I have to show for my absence is a cookbook! I've spent the last several weeks working to perfect the recipes, formatting, and photography for the 55 recipes I've included in my very own cookbook!

While I do love being able to go online to find recipes, I personally find it much easier to cook from a traditional cookbook than I do to cook from a website. First off, a cookbook stays open! It doesn't time out and close because I haven't touched it within the last three minutes, so I don't have to log into my book multiple times. Which is great because I also don't have to wash and then dry my hands unnecessarily between egg-crackings in order to remind myself whether I mix the cake batter after each egg addition for thirty seconds or a minute and thirty seconds. Second, I can easily notate changes to a recipe so that in the future I know if I did something different than the recipe said - whether it was substituting or adding an ingredient, doubling the recipe, or doing future troubleshooting so that I don't repeat the same mistake twice! Third, I'm old-school for being not that old: I like flipping through the pages to have a picture jump out and say "pick me, pick me!"

So if you're interested in having your very own or you're looking for a Christmas present or you just want to see what I've been working on, you can check out the hard copy of family, friends and food here. Or if you're not quite so old school as I am, here is the eBook version. I'd love to know what you think!

PS: Blurb has a coupon for 25% off that goes until December 17th. Promo code is WARM [all caps].

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cranberry Orange Muffins

As I mentioned here, Thanksgiving this year was a bit different than in years past. The biggest difference for me is that we didn’t spend it in Winston-Salem. Instead, we spent the weekend at the beach. Because we celebrate the holidays with so few family members - the result of my parents’ siblings and their families living in Australia and Kansas - it was logistically easy to move our five-person gathering to the beach. Jason and I drove down after eating Thanksgiving brunch with his family, making it there just in time to eat, but not prepare, any of Thanksgiving dinner.

We spent the weekend doing a whole lot of nothing. I wrote several blog posts, baked tasty muffins, finished reading Hotel at the Corner of Bitter + Sweet, ate shameful amounts of food (though in small but frequent meals, as my stomach seems to be getting smaller as quickly as my belly is getting larger), watched two terrible movies, all while continuing to marvel at every kick, and punch, and hiccup that little snow pea delivers.

Several friends and acquaintances, especially of the male variety, have asked me if it is weird or strange to feel the baby moving around. Pre-pregnancy, I would have asked the very same questions but now that I am experiencing it, I have to say that it neither weird nor strange.

Instead, it is a little frightening, as every single movement is a reminder that this is real. And each shift in position leads to another question: Will she inherit my impatience? What about my haphazardly wavy hair? What kind of baby, toddler, adolescent, and adult will she be? Will we have a strong relationship?

It is also awe-inspiring. There is child - a daughter - that has grown from a tiny single-digit mass of cells into a human being that has bones and muscles and is able to kick me square in the ribs on a daily basis. Someone that we will finally get to meet in less than six weeks (if she is on schedule).

But mostly these bumps and turns and pushes are comforting. If she is kicking and rolling around in there, she must be thriving, right? And the physical discomfort I experience must be indicative that she is growing into a healthy, ready-to-be delivered baby.

In the last week or so, these movements have grown a little more predictable, a little more persistent. If I’m stressed, she moves less. When I am ready to go to bed, she moves more. And about five minutes after I’ve eaten, she moves most! Given the holiday that celebrates thankfulness through the abundance of food, it should come as no surprise that I experienced quite a bit of movement this weekend. These muffins specifically got her tossing and turning!

Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from Obsessed with Baking

Makes 14 muffins

Preheat oven 400º

In an electric mixing bowl, combine:
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs

Beat for 1-2 minutes.

Mix in:
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange juice
zest of one orange

Mix in until just incorporated:
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

Line muffin pan with liners.

Fill each halfway with batter. Add 1 teaspoon leftover cooked Thanksgiving cranberries.* Use a skewer to swirl in the cooked cranberries. Fill to liner’s rim with the remaining batter.

Bake 17 minutes. Once toothpick comes out clean and tops of muffins are golden brown, remove from oven. Remove muffins from pan and place on cooling rack.

Prepare orange glaze and orange-zest sugar.

*If you don't have leftover cranberries, add 1/2 cup raw cranberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup orange juice to a small saucepan and let simmer covered 10-15 minutes over medium heat.

Orange Glaze
In a small cereal bowl, combine:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice

Microwave 90 seconds.

Orange Zest Sugar
In a medium cereal bowl, combine:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon minced orange zest

Hold muffin upside-down and dip the top of the muffin in the orange glaze. Let excess glaze drip off and then dip the top of the muffin in the orange zest sugar. Repeat. Serve warm with a dollop of butter.

Eat up!

Pecan Pie with Orange Zest

One of the dishes I most enjoy during the holidays is Pecan Pie. Unfortunately, it often just isn’t that good! Thankfully, for our Fakesgiving meal, Evan made a stellar pecan pie (with a gluten-free crust, no less!). Shelley commented on how much she liked it and pointed out that one of the worst things about many pecan pies is that the filling is often gritty.

When I was trying to decide on what dessert to make for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, I got to thinking about Shelley’s comment. I’d made a pecan pie before and thought it turned out pretty well, so I decided to make one again this year and see if I could figure out how a pecan pie went wrong.

As far as I can tell, there are two things pecan pie-makers can do to avoid the pitfalls I associate with pecan pies. The first problem is the one Shelley pointed out: gritty filling. Fixing this problem is all about technique. Instead of just combining the sugars and syrups in a bowl with all the other ingredients, you’ll first want to cook them in a skillet at a low temperature. This allows the brown sugar to dissolve into the liquids. The trick is not to allow the syrups to get to hot, as this can cause them to begin to caramelize and then crystalize.

The second problem is that because pecan pie has two fairly expensive ingredients, it is an expensive pie to make. Too often, the filling is heavy on the cheaper ingredients (corn syrup + brown sugar) and light on the more expensive ingredients, like pecans and maple syrup. This results in a pie that is heavy on sugary, somewhat tasteless filling and light on nuts. Fixing this problem is easy, if not kind to the wallet. Buying in bulk at stores such as Sam’s and Costco and/or keeping an eye out for sales in your local grocery store can help eliminate this problem.

Pecan Pie with Orange Zest
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 375º

Prepare 1 baked pie crust.

In a small skillet, melt over medium heat:
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Whisk in:
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup

Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until the brown sugar dissolves, about 7 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil (a slight simmer around the edges is okay). Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine:
3 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk in 1/4 cup of the syrup into the bowl. Repeat with an additional 1/4 cup before adding in the remaining syrup. [Slowly adding the syrup instead of all-at-once prevents the eggs from cooking.]

2 cups toasted pecan halves

Pour into the baked pie crust. Bake 50 minutes or until the center of the pie is set.

Cool at least an hour before serving.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Eat up!

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham

Thanksgiving 2012 was a different affair than in years past. Instead of eating Thanksgiving lunch AND Thanksgiving dinner - both with turkey and all the fixings, we debuted Thanksgiving brunch with Jason’s family. I wasn’t exactly sure what dishesThanksgiving brunch would yield but it ended up working out wonderfully. I was a bit afraid that folks would try to make turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, etc. into a brunch meal but thankfully, we ended up with some brunch favorites like Eggs Benedict, pancakes, and fruit with yogurt and granola, along with autumnal Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Coffee Cake, and Sweet Potato Biscuits.

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham

Makes 16 biscuits

Preheat oven 425º

Prick all over with a fork and then place on a microwave safe plate:
~2 pounds sweet potatoes
Microwave potatoes for a total of 15 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes. Remove from the microwave and cut each potato in half. Let cool for about 15 minutes before scooping out the flesh.

Measure out 2 cups of cooked sweet potatoes and place in a large bowl. Reserve any leftovers for another use (like adding to traditional mashed potatoes).

Mix into the potatoes:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to allow the potatoes to continue to cool.

In a food processor, combine:
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Pulse together until the ingredients form a coarse meal.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the refrigerator and add the meal to the bowl. Use a spatula to fold the potatoes into the flour to form a moist dough. Invert the bowl onto a clean, lightly floured counter. Use hands to create one cohesive ball of dough. Knead dough until smooth, about 10 turns.

Lightly flour the top of the dough. Place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the dough and use a rolling pin to roll out dough so that it is about 1” thick. Use a biscuit cutter or the top of a round water glass (2 1/4” in diameter) to cut out biscuits. Repeat until all the dough is used, making 16 biscuits.

Place biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, melt:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Brush butter over tops of precooked biscuits.

Bake for 18-22 minutes so that the tops of the biscuits are golden brown.

Cool 15 minutes.

While the biscuits are cooling, prepare 1/2-3/4 pound country ham.

Cut ham into biscuit-sized pieces.

Place in a skillet over medium heat, 60 seconds on each side.

Remove excess fat.

Cut biscuits in half and place 1-2 pieces of country ham on each biscuit.

Eat up!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gingerbread Cheesecake

This evening, our friends gathered for our second annual Fakesgiving. That's right - Fakesgiving. So named and organized by our friend, Chris, Fakesgiving is a Thanksgiving meal held the Sunday before the real deal holiday. This year we had a smaller crowd than last year, but to be honest, I enjoyed it more than last year. I think it is because smaller meant more manageable, so 1) everyone at the table could participate in the conversation; and 2) everyone could fit around one dinner table (as opposed to last year where some folks were relegated to the "kids" table).

I also really enjoyed that the whole thing felt less rushed. I remember last year's gathering to being a much more efficient affair. Friends arrived, friends ate, friend left. This year, however, while our start time was four o'clock, we didn't have our first course until around 5:30. Plus, we ate in courses, helping to slow things down and let our food settle.

Jessa had the great idea of plating the salad she made (meaning I actually ate the salad!), which we paired with Shelley's Curried Carrot Soup. The main meal had all of the traditional favorites, including a fourteen pound turkey, green bean casserole, corn casserole, sweet potatoes, and cranberries. We also had several non-traditional spins on traditional dishes, like gluten-free dressing, gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and stuffed pumpkin. And dessert included apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies, as well as gingerbread cheesecake. Needless to say, everyone left full and satisfied.

Towards the end of the evening, when only a handful of us were left watching football, I found it completely appropriate when Auld Lang Syn came on Pandora radio. New, newish, or old, good friends are priceless.

Gingerbread Cheesecake
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 350º

Combine in a medium bowl:
1 1/2 cups gluten-free ginger snap crumbs
4 tablespoons melted butter*
1/4 cup brown sugar

Thoroughly mix so that all ingredients are well incorporated. Pour mixture into a greased springform pan. Spread crumbs evenly across the bottom, using your fingers to firmly pack. Place in refrigerator.

*If using regular, full-of-gluten ginger snaps, increase butter to 6 tablespoons

In an electric mixing bowl, add:
2 eight ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 eight ounce packages reduced fat cream cheese, softened

Using the paddle attachment, mix at moderate speed for thirty seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and slowly add:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix 1 1/2 minutes so that the ingredients are smooth and creamy. Half way through, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Over beating the batter will result in it rising too much and then falling when it cools, so set a timer if necessary.

One at a time add:
4 large egg yolks
Beat until yolk is just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat.

Pour batter into the spring-form pan over top of the ginger snap crumb crust. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325º and bake an additional 10 minutes. While the cheesecake is baking, prepare sour cream topping.

Sour Cream Topping
In a small bowl, combine:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Spread over top of the cheesecake after it has baked at 325º for 10 minutes. Place back in oven and bake 7 additional minutes.

Turn off the oven and use a wooden spoon to hold the oven door ajar. Let the cheesecake sit for an hour.

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool completely before refrigerating. Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Decorate as desired. [I sprinkled the top of each slice with a bit of turbinado sugar and made little baby ginger snaps, which I placed on a pillow of whipped cream.]

Eat up!

Shelley's Curried Carrot Soup

Shelley's Curried Carrot Soup
Shelley Sizemore

Serves 10 [as an appetizer]

In a large saucepan, heat:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

After oil is hot, add:
1 1/2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced

Let cook for about 5 minutes.

4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like the heat!)

Cook until carrots and onions are tender. Remove from heat.

Working in batches, puree in blender. Add up to 2 cups chicken broth until desired consistency is reached.

Garnish with goat cheese and crumbled bacon.

Eat up!

Toasted Coconut + Lemon Curd Pavlova

For the last several months, Jason and I have had the privilege of participating in Dinner for Eight through our church. The idea behind Dinner for Eight is for eight[ish] church members (we have nine) to get to know each other over a meal, meeting four times in a six-moth period. Though Jason and I had toyed with the idea of signing up, it was actually an informal invitation from Lola that lured us in. Lola and her husband, Mike, were hosting the first Dinner for Eight in their group and asked us if we'd like to give it a try. We joined them for an excellent homemade dinner and were thrilled when we were invited to formally join their group. Meeting new people over food is exactly my forte so it has worked out wonderfully!

As our turn to host approached, I began looking for a way to "winterize" pavlova. Pavlova, as you may know from my previous post here, is dish I know and love because of my Australian family. Very few people here in the States would recognize pavlova if they saw it, which is unfortunate as it is quite tasty. So what is pavlova, exactly, you ask?

Pavlova is usually comprised of three parts: A meringue-like base, a mound of whipped cream in the middle, and a topping of fresh fruit (mostly of the summer variety). Unlike a traditional meringue, the base of a pavlova is crispy on the outside while its center is almost marshmallow-like. The end-product is a dish that literally melts in your mouth.

So for the last several weeks I've been trying to figure out how I can make it without using fruit that is out of season. I found a recipe that added a layer of lemon curd between the meringue-like base and the whipped cream, though still using a topping of fresh blueberries. I didn't want to use the berries, but thought the addition of the lemon curd was ingenious! Instead of the berries, I toasted a generous portion of coconut and sprinkled it on top.

Another idea I may try in the future (courtesy of my brilliant mother) is to make an orange curd and top the whipped cream with candied cranberries. Pomegranates as a topping may also be in my future pavlova-making repertoire.

Toasted Coconut + Lemon Curd Pavlova
Kelley Gondring

Serves 12

Preheat oven 300º

In a large electric mixing bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix on low for thirty seconds so that all ingredients are combined.

1/4 cup boiling water
Mix on high for several minutes until stiff peaks form.

Line large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour meringue on cookie sheet and use spatula to make an 8" circle. (The meringue will be pretty tall at this point; it will fall while baking). Once the circle is formed, use spatula to make the edge of the meringue a bit higher than the middle.

Bake for 50 minutes (meringue should be golden brown). Turn off the oven and use a wooden spoon to prop open the oven door. Let sit in warm oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and place in a dry place.

Lemon Curd
In a medium bowl, place:
5 egg yolks
Use a fork to break up the yolks. Set aside for a moment.

In a medium saucepan, combine over medium heat:
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
scant 1/2 cup lemon juice

Whisk together and bring to a simmer. Whisk constantly for a minute or two so that all of the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat to medium low. Remove 1/2 cup of the lemon mixture and whisk into the bowl of egg yolks.* Once combined, pour the egg yolks into the saucepan and whisk constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, about two minutes.

Remove from heat and mix in:
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
Pour curd into a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing plastic directly on the surface of the lemon curd (this prevents a rind from forming). Let cool completely before assembling.

*This is called tempering, which means that you are introducing the yolks to heat gradually. If you were to just plop them into the lemon juice, you'll end up with hard-boiled yolks.

Whipped Cream
In an electric mixing bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine the ingredients. Increase speed to high and whip several minutes until stiff peaks form.

1. Transfer the meringue to a serving platter.
2. Use a spatula to spread the lemon curd over the center of the meringue (if the curd has been in the refrigerator, microwave it for about 30 seconds so it is more malleable).
3. Spread whipped cream over the lemon curd.
4. Top with 1 cup toasted coconut.

Eat up!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spinach Ravioli

Ravioli-making is no simple task, but if you choose to partake then you will not be disappointed. It was only after I made my own ravioli for the first time that I appreciated the price on the menu at restaurants that took the time to make their own. I tend to think that many pasta dishes are over-priced, as many, not all, of the ingredients are quite inexpensive. However, with ravioli what you're paying for is the sheer amount of human labor it takes to make enough ravioli to serve everyone who orders it.

I've learned that if I am going to make ravioli, I need to allot at least 3 1/2 hours to get the job done. And this is after several rounds of practice. So if this is your first go at making this delicious dish, I would give yourself a whole afternoon. Worst case scenario you end up with extra time on your hands.

The other lesson I've learned is that if I am going to make ravioli for a crowd, I make it the day before so that there is no chance I am crunched for time. It is no fun to be frazzled because your guests are arriving in 20 minutes, you still have two batches of ravioli to make, your kitchen is a mess, and you are not showered. Believe me - I speak from experience!

If you aren't going to use all of this ravioli in one sitting, you can freeze it for weeks/months at a time. I actually made this yesterday and froze all but two servings of this batch so that when little snow pea arrives, we have several easy meals on hand.

Spinach Ravioli
Kelley Gondring

Makes ~80 large ravioli (enough to serve as an entree for ten people)

Determining the correct consistency for pasta dough is really tricky. It is truly a "practice makes perfect" kind of thing. While I follow this basic recipe, I always add either more oil or more flour (sometimes even an extra egg!) depending upon the consistency. I say this ahead of time so that you don't stress if you have to tweak the basic recipe.

Add to a food processor:
3 1/2 cups flour [do not pack flour]
6 whole eggs
1-3 tablespoons olive oil

Pulse together until the ingredients just come together.** The dough should be a bit crumbly rather than one cohesive ball. Remove from the food processor. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Add flour or olive oil as necessary.

**If the dough looks completely dry - not like dough at all - test it by taking a scant handful and pressing it together. If it doesn't stay together at all, add an extra egg to the food processor and pulse together again. If it does stay together but feels really dry, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil. Pulse together.

If the dough is one cohesive ball, there isn't enough flour. Remove from the food processor and place on floured countertop. Add one tablespoon of flour at a time as you kneed the dough together.

Cut the dough into eight pieces using a serrated knife. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine:
3.5 ounces spinach, cooked, chopped, and drained*
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 whole eggs
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup minced white onion
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon oregano
salt + pepper to taste

Mix together until evenly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

*Weight is after spinach has been cooked and drained; I used one 10 ounce package of frozen spinach.

Steps 4 + 6
1. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator.
2. Roll out using the lasagna attachment and carefully follow the directions that come with your Pasta Machine. Remember to lightly sprinkle flour on the dough whenever it begins to go from tacky to sticky, as it will get stuck in your machine if you don't.
3. Lay flat on cloth towel.
4. Place 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) filling 3/4"-1" away from the left and top of the pasta. Place next dollop of filling 3/4"-1" from previous dollop of filling. Repeat until you run out of room. [Start by placing the filling further apart so that you can practice. As you get better, you can place it a little closer together.]
5. If necessary, use a pizza cutter to cut between every third dollop of filling.
6. Use a pastry brush to brush water over the edges of the pasta and between the filling.

Steps 7 through 10

7. Take the bottom edge of the pasta and pull over top of the filling.
8. Use your fingers to press the top edge and bottom edge together.
9. Starting in the middle and working your way out, press the dough between the filling together, pushing the air bubbles out.
10. Use the pizza cutter to cut out ravioli and trim the edges. [I cut about half of the ravioli out in half moons. The other half I cut into rectangles, making about half of those even fancier by trimming the edges with a pastry wheel. If you choose to do this, let the ravioli dry for about 10 minutes before using the pastry wheel so that there is a clean cut.)
11. Place on lightly floured piece of waxed paper or on dry hand towel.
12. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Step 11

If you choose to freeze your ravioli, place them closely together on a cookie sheet, not letting them overlap. Place in freezer for 45-60 minutes before transferring to a freezer-safe bag.

If you choose to eat your ravioli right away, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Place ravioli in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. You'll know they're done when they float to the top. Serve with Tomato Sauce or Alfredo Sauce.

Eat up!