Bye, bye, Blogger! SGCC has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 5 seconds. If it does not redirect, please visit
http://stickygooeycreamychewy.com
and remember to update your bookmarks.

Monday, December 31, 2007

For Auld Lang Syne

.

Today is my daughter's 14th birthday. She was born at 2:44 a.m., on December 31, 1993. It was the happiest day of my life. My husband and I had tried for seven years to have a child. It was a long, hard road, fraught with many disappointments. After surgeries and numerous other procedures, years of fertility drugs and injectable hormones (most of which I can't pronounce), and hundreds of blood tests, God finally blessed us with a with a beautiful baby girl. She was the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen, with a full head of wavy, honey-colored hair, big blue eyes and the deepest ruby, little rosebud lips. I was totally and hopelessly in love! Suddenly, all of the pain and heartbreak was forgotten. My life began anew, full of joy and eager anticipation. I have loved every moment I've spent helping her grow into the lovely, caring and talented young lady she has become.
.

.
It is ironic that I had a New Years baby, since the new year is a time that most of us look at as a fresh start - a kind of "do-over". It is such a hopeful time, where all possibilities seem "possible". We make our well-intentioned resolutions and plan the ways in which to carry them out. Sometimes, we follow through. Sometimes, we don't. The important thing for me is the desire and willingness to grow and change and move forward.
.
This year will be all about self-improvement for me, both inside and out. I want to make my body healthier and my heart purer. I resolve to get my butt to the gym more often and play a lot more tennis. I resolve to become much better organized! I resolve to become a better photographer. I resolve to be more patient and less demanding of others. I resolve to try to let go of old wounds inflicted upon me (You know who you are.), and let myself heal. I resolve to let the people I love know that I love them a lot more often. Oh, yeah...and I resolve to learn some HTML so that I don't have to pull my hair out every time I work on this blog!
.
Have you made any New Year's resolutions? If so, I'd love to hear about them if you're inclined to share.
.
In the meantime, I am going to leave you with my wildly popular recipe for Salmon Mousse. It is a terrific dish to serve at parties,(um...like New Years Eve parties), and it is ridiculously easy to make. Most of the ingredients you'll need are probably already in your fridge and pantry. The original recipe calls for canned red salmon, but I have used pink salmon, crab, and shrimp before, and the results have been great. If one of your New Year's resolutions is to watch your weight, you could use light cream cheese or neufchatel cheese. I don't think fat free cream cheese would be a good choice for this. Better to just eat a little less.
.
I make sure to whip a lot of air into the salmon mixture. I think it makes for a more light and airy product. This mousse is creamy, dreamy and delicious. I guarantee that you will get lots of requests for this recipe. I know I have.
.
.
It is helpful to spread a little mayo around the mold before you pour in the mousse. This prevents the mousse from sticking. To unmold, gently slide a sharp knife cut around the perimeter of the mousse. Then, set the mold in a shallow pan filled with warm water for a few minutes. This should do the trick. If the mousse does stick, just scoop it out and mix it in a bowl and call it salmon dip!
.
Here's wishing you all a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year! I hope it is all you ever dreamed of!
..
Salmon Mousse
.
Ingredients:

1 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
2 packages unflavored Knox Gelatin
¼ c. warm water
1 can cream of celery soup
3 stalks minced celery
1 medium onion, minced
1 8 oz. can RED salmon

Directions:
.
• Mix cream cheese, mayo, salmon, onion and celery in a mixing bowl.
.
• Beat cream cheese mixture at medium high speed about 3-4 minutes. The more air in the mix, the lighter the mousse.
.
• In a small bowl, dissolve gelatin in warm water. Set aside.
.
• Heat soup until hot, but not boiling.
.
• Remove from heat and mix gelatin into soup.
.
• Add soup mixture into cream cheese mixture. And blend well.
.
• Pour into a mold and chill for several hours or overnight.
.
• Unmold and serve with crackers, crudités, etc.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2007

O Holy Night

It's Christmas Eve. If you're anything like me, you still have plenty to do before tomorrow morning, be it cooking, baking or wrapping. I love to wait until everyone else has gone to bed and finish up these tasks in quiet solitude. I put on some soft music or a treasured old holiday movie, and wrap the last of my gifts, write out the cards for my family and plan my schedule for the big day. This gives me an opportunity to wind down from the frenetic pace I've been keeping and relax a little.

Tonight, take a deep breath, grab a cup of decaf and join me. I'll be watching Christmas in Connecticut and the lovely video from Celtic Woman, which you can see below. Sing along, if you like. I will be. I've even typed out the lyrics for you!

O Holy Night

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
Noel, Noel, O night divine!
Noel, Noel, O night divine!

Noel, Noel, O night divine!

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Celtic Woman / Chloe Agnew - ''O Holy Night''

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Yule Log That Almost Wasn't

.

Well, here it is, my very first Daring Bakers challenge. I'd been waiting a long time for this. I was so excited when I first got the recipe and my instructions for this challenge from this month's co-hosts, Ivonne and Lisa. A Yule Log. What could be more perfect at this time of year? The project looked challenging, but not oppressively so. I could handle that. I couldn't wait to get started!
.
I marked a few days off my calendar for earlier this week so that I would have plenty of time to leisurely create all of the components for this challenge and still have it fresh and ready to serve for Christmas. I broke the whole process down into manageable blocks of time; one for baking the genoise, one for making the buttercream and the last for my mushrooms and other adornments. I envisioned myself sauntering around my kitchen, puffs of powdered sugar, lingering like little clouds in the air, humming along to my favorite Christmas songs with the ghost of Norman Rockwell smiling down upon me. What is it that they say about the "best laid plans"? Oh, yeah.....they often go awry. And awry, they did go. So awry, in fact, that I almost had to beg off this challenge and not participate at all!
.
It all started about two weeks ago. I was loading the dishwasher after dinner, when all of a sudden, my feet felt wet. Huh! I looked down and there was water streaming out into my kitchen from underneath the cabinets. WTF! Of course, I immediately turned off the water and screamed for my husband.....and towels. That water flowed freely for quite a while - just long enough to flood not only the kitchen, but also the living room that backs up to it. What a mess!
.
Of course it was a Friday night, so the earliest I could get the plumber out was the following Tuesday. It is never a good sign when your plumber is tinkering with your pipes, tsk-tsk-ing and shaking his head all the while. Four hours and several hundred dollars later, he informed me that our main drain line had failed (failed?) and that the only thing to be done was jackhammer through the floors and re-pipe. I actually felt a little nauseous when I learned how much the whole ordeal would cost. Ugh!
.
The next several days passed in a haze of plumber guys, fiber optic camera guys, jackhammer guys, pipe blaster guys, resin polymer guys, concrete guys and God knows what other guys! In the meantime, no water, except for emergency flushing. That, folks, meant no cooking or baking either.
.
I was despondent! What was I to do? I had Cookies from Around the World to bake for, the December SHF event and of course, my first Daring Baker challenge! Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. I was now a Daring Baker, after all. With a little ingenuity and a lot of help from friends and neighbors, I managed to bake a few cookies and a delicious bread pudding, while keeping the flood waters at bay.
.
By the time that last of the "guys" had gone, I had two days left to make my Yule Log before it was post time. I worked feverishly as the take-out containers piled up around me. But, I got it done. It wasn't exactly what I dreamed of, but given the circumstances, it came out pretty nice nonetheless. I'm happy with it.
.
.
I originally planned to make a chocolate genoise, instead of the plain version in the original recipe. But, then I decided to make a rich, dark chocolate ganache to spread on the cake under the coffee buttercream filling. I thought that the lighter cake would look prettier contrasted with the dark chocolate and the buttercream, so I opted to make the cake according to the original recipe.
.
I was a bit intimidated by this cake, considering I had never made a genoise before. I had no idea what the batter was supposed to look like. Mine seemed a little on the thin side, but I had followed the directions precisely, so I crossed my fingers and prayed. My first try yielded a very large, very flat, rectangular pancake! Crap! Double Crap!!! What the heck happened? There was no time to cry over it. I was under the gun, so I started over. I wondered if, perhaps, the eggs I used were too large. They were pretty big eggs! For the second batch, I used only two egg yolks instead of three. I could immediately see a difference in the batter. It was a thick and billowy, pale yellow cloud. As I loaded it into my oven, I again, crossed my fingers and prayed.
.
.
This time, the cake turned out just as it was supposed to, which was a lucky thing since I was out of eggs.
.
I used a recipe from Dorie's Baking From My Home to Yours to make my chocolate ganache. It came out great, but was there ever any doubt? Her recipes always come out great.
.
.
Then.....the buttercream. I was a nervous wreck over making the coffee buttercream! I have made many a fabulous buttercream, but never using this method. After reading about all of the trouble some of my DB colleagues had, I was scared $%&#less
! I proceeded with extreme caution, (especially after the genoise incident). Well, by the time I was finished with this component of the challenge, I was ready to drink that Kahlua straight from the bottle! Yes, you guessed it. My buttercream curdled. Thank God, for the experience of some of the other DBers! I put that sucker back over the simmering water and whisked as if my life depended on it. Then, I put another stick of butter in and whipped it up a bit in the Kitchenaid. It pulled together and got all smooth and creamy. Hurrah!
.
.
I made a little extra of the espresso/brandy mixture, except that I used Kahlua instead of brandy. I did this so that I could brush some on the genoise to make it more pliable for rolling.
.
When it came time to spread the fillings on the cake, I was careful to leave about a 1 to 1 1/2 inch border around the edges. I'd neglected to do this in the past with other roll-up recipes and had the guts spill out all over the sides. The actual rolling up part caused me to break out in a cold sweat! I was so worried that my cake would fall apart a la Tyler Florence on Iron Chef America. The fates were with me, though. The cake rolled up fine, save a few minor cracks that were easily hidden by the buttercream.
.
I decided to make my mushrooms out of marzipan, figuring that I could also mold some other decorations out of it as well. Nick Malgieri made this recipe on an episode of Sara's Secrets and he also used marzipan. Since it was his own recipe, that was good enough for me! I colored some of the marzipan red and green to make holly berries and leaves. I still have red hands! Inspired by Helene from Tartelette, I also made a cute snowman out of the marzipan. I call him Bob, after the snowman in the sweet children's book, A Snowman Named Just Bob. I think it suits him, don't you? Melted chocolate served as the "glue" for my mushrooms. I dipped the stems in it and stuck them to the caps.
.
.
All in all, I had a lot of fun with this challenge. It was an ambitious one for me and I am really proud of myself for completing it, especially under the circumstances. I broke my neck to get it done in time, but I am so glad I did. I can't wait for my family and friends to see and taste it on Christmas Day!
.
.
I know that everyone is really busy right now, but please take some time to see what the other Daring Bakers have done with this challenge. There are some awesome Yule Logs out there!
.
Yule Log
Adapted from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Cakes

Plain Genoise:
.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch
1 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again
. .
1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).
.
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.
.
Coffee Buttercream:
.
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy (I substituted Kahlua coffee liqueur for this.)
...
1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
.
2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.
.
Filling and frosting the log:
.
1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert
.
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
.
1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
.
2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
.
3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.
.
4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.
.
Marzipan Mushrooms:
.
8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder
.
1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.
.
2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
.
3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.
.
4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.
.
5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.
.
6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.
.
7.Smudge with cocoa powder.
.
*Below, is the recipe for the chocolate ganache that I used as part of the filling for my Yule Log. It is not part of the original recipe, but I have included it in case anyone is interested in trying it.
.
Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
.
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup + 2 tbsp heavy

cream 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
.
1. Put chocolate pieces into a heat proof bowl.

2. Heat cream in a small saucepan until boiling.

3. Pour half of the cream over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir gently in small circles. Add the rest of the cream and stir. Add the butter and continue to mix until shiny and smooth.

Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SHF #38: The Proof is in the Pudding


This month's installment of Sugar High Fridays is being hosted by Zorra of Kochtopf. I'd never had the pleasure of visiting her blog before, but I'm so glad that I finally did. Most of it is written in German, but she's got some mouthwatering recipes on there and her photos are lovely. I have a neighbor that is from Germany and I've already asked him to translate for me!
.
The theme that Zorra chose this month is Puddings. This includes an extremely broad category of foods. Depending upon where you live, the definition a pudding is wildly diverse. Puddings can be baked, steamed or boiled. The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink defines pudding as follows:
.
"A term describing several different desserts, usually cooked, including cake like confections such as plum pudding; or a dish of suet crust containing fruits and sugar; or a spongy steamed dish; or a pastry crust filled with chopped meats, like kidney; or Yorkshire pudding, a crisp, bread like side dish made from a flour-and-egg batter cooked in pan drippings; or, as is most usually in contemporary usage, milk-based dessert made with flavorings like chocolate or vanilla cooked with a starch until thickened and then cooled until well set...In the present century a pudding almost always means a soft-textured, milk-based dessert, the most popular being those packaged commercially and a large number of which, called "instant puddings," require no cooking at all..."
.
So, you see, the possibilities here are endless!
.
For my SHF entry, I chose to make Panettone Bread Pudding with raisins and and a Scottish Cream custard sauce. For those who don't know, panettone is is a typical sweet, cake-like bread, probably originating in Milan, and usually prepared and enjoyed during the Christmas season all around Italy. The dough is an acidic one, similar to sourdough. It is cured for a long time and then proofed for several days. This proofing process gives the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. Traditionally, it usually contains candied orange peel or lemon zest, as well as raisins. Many other variations are available also, such as panettone with chocolate chunks. I purchased my panettone at an Italian specialty store, but I have seen it at my local supermarket as well.
.

.
The original recipe is one of Giada's. It calls for amaretto to be added to the sauce, but I decided to use some Scottish Cream liqueur instead. First of all, I love it and I felt that it would make a richer custard. Second, I still have a bottle left from my trip to Scotland last year, and I try to use it whenever I can. I really liked the flavor of the custard with this liqueur and it did make it really rich and thick. The brand that I used is Drumgray. I don't know if it is readily available in the U.S., but you can certainly substitute Bailey's Irish Cream instead. You can find that everywhere.
.
I also added extra raisins to this dish, because, well....I really like raisins. I have also added other dried fruits to this, such as cherries and apricots.
.
.
The preparation of this dish is very simple. First, you need to chop the bread into chunks. Then, mix up a custard base using milk, cream, eggs and sugar. Pour the custard over the panettone and bake it. What you top it with after that is up to you. You can make a sauce like I did, or you can use maple syrup or fruit preserves. I have served this with both ice cream and sweetened mascarpone as well. If you have the time, I urge you to try the custard sauce. It really is good and it is the traditional way to serve this pudding. This dish would make a lovely and delicious addition to any Holiday table!
.
Here's another lovely Christmas carol to get you in the Holiday mood while you make this pudding!
.
.
Panettone Bread Pudding with Scottish Cream Custard Sauce
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
.
Custard Sauce:
.
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup Scottish Cream liqueur
2 teaspoons cornstarch
.
Bread Pudding:
.
1 (1pound) loaf panettone bread, crusts trimmed, bread cut into 1-inch cubes
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
.
To make the sauce:
  • Bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. In a small bowl, mix the liqueur and cornstarch to blend and then whisk into the cream mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. (The amaretto sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)
To make the bread pudding:
  • Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Arrange the bread cubes in the prepared dish. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, milk, and sugar to blend. Pour the custard over the bread cubes, and press the bread cubes gently to submerge. Let stand for 30 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread cubes into the custard mixture.
  • .
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • .
  • Bake until the pudding puffs and is set in the center, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly.
  • .
  • Spoon the bread pudding into bowls, drizzle with the warm custard sauce, and serve.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
.
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
..
Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
.
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
.
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
.
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.
As a musician, celebrating the Holidays is inconceivable to me without the music of the season. By late September, I have already begun to immerse myself in Christmas hymns, carols and cantatas, preparing for the numerous concerts, recitals and various other programs on my schedule. By far, my favorite of them all is the Messiah. Christmas just isn't Christmas to me if I haven't sung at least one Messiah! It is like a dear, old, favorite aunt that you only get to visit with once a year. Preparing for the visit is time-consuming and takes a lot of hard work, but once she arrives, you have the most wonderful and special time together.
.
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". It is a beautiful song with powerful words and a haunting melody. If you would like to hear it (and even sing along), click on the title above. The lyrics, which I have shared above, were originally written as a poem entitled "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on Christmas day in 1864. Our country was in the midst of the Civil War, and Longfellow had just received the news that his son had been injured on the battlefield. Having recently lost his wife as well, he was firmly planted in a state of depression when he wrote the piece. The text speaks to the underlying sadness and sense of despair felt by all during that bleak time in American history. This song is as much an anti-war song as it is a Christmas song. The original stanzas 4 and 5 refer to the battle, and are usually omitted from most arrangements.
.
Why, you ask, am I telling you all this? This is a food blog for Heaven's sake, not an 8th grade history text book! Because, my friends, we are at war. I am not just talking about the conflict in the Middle East, although that, in and of itself, is bad enough. We are at war on so many different levels - on our own respective turf. Take a walk through a domestic violence or homeless shelter and you will see war. Visit a Hospice house, and you will see war. Look at the American foster care system and again, you will see war. Speak to the mother of a sick child, afraid to go to a doctor because she has no health insurance and you will hear about war. Look into the beseeching eyes of a hungry child in any part of the world and war will be reflected back to you. Medicare = War! Drugs = War! Senseless Crime = War! Global Warming = War! People chatting on their cell phones while driving = War! (one of my biggest pet peeves) Get the idea?
.
What possible relevance could this all have to a post about Christmas cookies? Well, these are not just any old cookies. They are World Peace Cookies! If I were writing the ultimate fairy tale, one bite of these crunchy, buttery and intensely chocolatey morsels would magically cure all the ills of the World. The wars would end. Suffering, despair, sickness and violence would cease. Everyone would have what they need. The World, and all who inhabit it, would be finally, blissfully, at peace.
.
If only it were that simple. If only a delicious chocolate cookie could be the catalyst for peace.
..
.
These cookies are a creation of the incomparable Pierre Herme. They are a butter-rich, sandy-textured, slice and bake member of the sable family. These little babies are made with silky, smooth cocoa powder and are chock full of deep, dark bittersweet chocolate chunks, with the merest hint of saltiness from a little fleur de sel. Oh, my! I think I need a moment......
..
..
This recipe was first printed in Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets and again in her baking bible, Baking From My Home to Yours. Originally called Korova Cookies, they were dubbed World Peace cookies by Dorie's neighbor, who claimed that, "A daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness."

The dough was super easy to make. It literally took me five minutes to put together. I used the Fauchon cocoa powder that I got in Paris last summer, and Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate that I got at.....are you ready for this.....Publix! The hardest part of making these cookies was not diving into that dough and eating it raw!
...
.
The finished product was nothing short of sublime! Enough said.
...

I am submitting these cookies to Susan from Food Blogga for her Christmas Cookies From Around the World Event. If you haven't checked it out, please do. She has done a great job with it! I posted briefly about it here the other day.

World Peace Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
.

  • Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

  • Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

  • Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

  • Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  • .
  • Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

  • Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
Peace!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals # 9: Chicken and Dumplings

.

It's been a few weeks since I last posted about a "Go To" meal. Between Thanksgiving, out of town trips and crappy Internet service (Yes, I mean YOU, Comcast!), I just haven't been able to put a decent "Go To" post together. I can't even spend much time on this one, because my kitchen is under water. It seems that every time I turn on the kitchen sink faucet, water streams out from under the cabinet. I'm no expert, but that can't be good. I've already gone through three rolls of Bounty! If ever I needed a big, quick and easy pot of comfort food, tonight was the night! This chicken and dumplings dish fit the bill.
.
The recipe for this dish comes from none other than the doyenne of color coordinated tablescapes.....Sandra Lee. Now, wipe those smirks off of your faces. We can't all be Julia Child in the kitchen every night, especially with no running water. Besides, while I am not crazy about a lot of Sandra's recipes, she does have some pretty good ideas. This is one of them.
.
The foundation of this dish is a store-bought rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. I used pre-chopped onions, carrots and celery, also from the supermarket. You certainly could chop your own, but.....why? Once you've added in the biscuits and gravy, you'll hardly even notice the vegetables! I tossed in a handfull of egg noodles, so that their starch would thicken up the broth a bit more. Also, I adjusted the recipe so that it could all be prepared in one pot. One less pan to wash.
.
I was pleasantly surprised with the way it turned out. The chicken stayed moist, and the sauce was quite tasty. Using refrigerator biscuits for the dumplings worked great. They tasted like real homemade dumplings. A word of caution: Make sure you use a big enough pot for this dish. Those biscuit dumplings really swell up when they hit the broth!
.
.
There was one odd thing, though. The whole time I was making this meal, I had this silly song stuck in my head from the musical, Grease. You know, the one about Sandra Dee? I just couldn't shake it, so I made up my own little variation. If you want to sing along, you can find a midi file here. I'm waaaay too easily amused!

Look at Me, I'm Sandra Lee,
Full of creativity.
Do what I've said,
And you will be well fed...
Because, I'm Sandra Lee!



Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from Sandra Lee
.
Ingredients:

1 whole store-bought roast chicken (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 container (7 ounces) chopped onions
6 (14 ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 container (14 ounces) pre-cut carrot sticks, chopped
1 container (14 ounces) pre-cut celery sticks, chopped
1 jar (12 ounces) prepared chicken gravy
1 roll (16.3 ounces) homestyle buttermilk biscuit dough

Preparation:
  • Remove skin from chicken and shred meat into large pieces. Set aside.

  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, add oil and butter and heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chopped onions, carrots and celery and saute until soft.
    .
  • Add broth, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes to soften vegetables, and then add shredded chicken. Continue to simmer while making dumplings.

  • While stew is simmering, prepare dumplings. Open can and remove biscuits. With a knife, cut each biscuit into 4 pieces. Set aside.

  • Stir in chicken gravy.

  • With the stew still simmering over low heat, stir in dumplings a few at a time. Once all dumplings are in to pot, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 10 more minutes.

  • Ladle into bowls and serve piping hot.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Toys in ev'ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

.It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

.After being away for almost two weeks, it certainly is nice to be home. While I was gone, it seems that my whole town has been transformed. Holiday decorations are up. The Muzak in all the stores has been tuned to the "Christmas Lite" channel. Santa has been hanging out at the mall. Even the check-out ladies at the market have donned their elf hats and little light up wreath brooches. Yes, it is definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
.
Each year, our local newspaper prints a supplement listing all of the addresses of homes in the area with special Holiday light displays. Many of these are quite spectacular. It's always fun to drive around and check them out. I have never outgrown the sense of awe that I feel when I discover one of these magical sights.
.
.
Yesterday, my husband finally had some time to haul out our own holiday decorations from the attic. It had been quite a while since they'd seen the light of day. It was kind of nice to see them again. Last year, we didn't decorate at all. My father had passed away just a few days before Thanksgiving and I couldn't bear the thought of having anything celebratory around me. Christmas came...and went, like any other day.

On our street, holiday decorating has become a friendly competition of sorts. It all started innocently enough, about five years ago, when my husband proudly installed the street's first air-blown, inflatable lawn ornament. (He is such a trendsetter!) It was a big old, light-up, Frosty the Snowman. He spent a good part of the afternoon setting it up, with the meticulousness of an aeronautical engineer. When darkness fell, he plugged it in. Frosty slowly began to puff up, bigger and higher, until he was finally in all of his seven foot tall glory. It was a sight to behold! A crowd of our neighbors gathered to watch. The wives all "oohed" and "aahed" over the spectacle, while the husbands all raced to their SUVs and off to Target, determined not to be outdone!

Pretty soon, the neighborhood lawns were teeming with inflatables, each one bigger and brighter than the last. Each subsequent year, the competition only got stiffer. I would have liked to think that my easygoing and good-natured spouse was above all that, but he wasn't. He too, joined the frenzy, and pretty soon, I needed a GPS navigation system to find my own house! Suffice it to say that Frosty has got a lot of air-blown company out there. Among others, a life-sized Santa, the Grinch, and Carolers in a giant snow globe, complete with falling snow and music have joined in the fun. This year, Bart and Homer Simpson, in a one horse open sleigh, will round out the scene!
.

As if all of that wasn't enough to get me in the Christmas spirit, I decided to do a little holiday baking. I can't think of anything that makes a home feel more "Christmas-y" than the smell of fresh cookies in the oven. Surrounded by some excellent cookbooks, I whipped out my trusty notebook and began to make my cookie list for this year. First, I wrote down my tried and true selections. These are the ones I make every year, like my Butter Pecan Cookies. I wanted to try some new recipes this year too. I found one in Sherry Yard's, The Secrets of Baking, for Rose Water Almond Tea Cookies. Wow! They sounded so lovely and elegant! The recipe calls for rose flower water and almond meal, both of which I happened to have on hand, so I gathered the rest of the ingredients and got started.
.

While most butter based cookie recipes call for softened butter, Sherry Yard's didn't. She advocates using cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes. I tried it her way, (Who am I to argue?) and it worked great. The cookies were delicate with a sandy texture. The flavor of the rose water was very subtle, but definitely present. They weren't showstoppers, but I really liked them..
.

The Butter Pecan Cookies are divine! The recipe is from Martha Stewart and they are a snap to make. The key with these is to toast the pecans before you add them to the dough. The end result are crunchy little packages that explode into buttery, nutty shards of flavor when you bite into them.

Both of these recipes are well worth trying. They taste great and they make a really nice presentation. If you're looking for some new cookies to add to your Holiday lineup, these are sure to please!

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I was unaware of a really great blog event that was going on. Susan from Food Blogga is hosting Eat Christmas Cookies. She has invited anyone who is interested to submit their Christmas cookie recipes to her for a special holiday round-up. So far, she is off to a great start. I saw some terrific recipes when I visited her earlier. I think I'm going to join the party and submit my cookies too. If you have some time, check out her blog and send her some cookies!

Rose Water Almond Tea Cookies
Adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

Ingredients:
(Makes 3 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dusting
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. rose water
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions:
  • Sift together flour and almond meal in a medium bowl and set aside.

  • Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and rose water. Cream on medium speed until smooth and lump free. Scrape bowl and paddle.

  • Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition, and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until fully incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again.

  • On low speed, add the flour mixture. Beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough and wrap in plastic film, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and in the freezer, for up to 1 month.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust rack to lower third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  • Flour your hands. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Place the balls 1 inch apart on he baking sheets. Continue to flour your hands as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.

  • Bake one sheet at a time for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are light golden brown around the edges, rotating sheet halfway through baking.

  • As soon as you remove cookies from the oven, cover them completely with sifted powdered sugar. Let cookies cool completely before removing them from the sheets. Store cookies in in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Butter Pecan Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
(Makes 12 cookies)

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for coating
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • On a baking sheet, toast pecans until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Let cool completely; finely chop.

  • With an electric mixer, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla, salt, and flour, scraping down sides of bowl, just until dough comes together. Fold in pecans.

  • Separate dough into 12 pieces. Squeeze dough to shape into balls. Roll in sugar.

  • Place, 3 inches apart, on a baking sheet. Gently flatten with the bottom of a glass (reshape sides if necessary). Sprinkle with sugar.

  • Bake until golden brown, rotating sheet halfway through, about 15 minutes.

  • Sprinkle with more sugar. Cool cookies on a wire rack.
Enjoy!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can It Really Be December?

It has been a week since my last post - the longest I've ever gone without. The reason is that I have been out of town taking care of my mother, who has just had some surgery. Everything went really well and the prognosis is very good. But, we have been staying in a rented condo and the situation does not lend itself much to cooking or baking. I have missed it.

We will be going home on Wednesday or Thursday and I will be back in business then! I've been stockpiling recipe ideas and I can't wait to get back in my kitchen. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home!

It is hard to believe that it is already December! What a year this has been. I have experienced some of the brightest and darkest moments of my life during these past twelve months. This little blog has been my salvation. I have poured a lot of love and care into it, and have met so many lovely people along the way.
.

(My Victorian Choir is already practicing for the Holidays!)


As I write this, I'm looking out the window at a gorgeous and sunny Florida day. It is 79 degrees outside! To all of you out there freezing your butts off, I'm blowing a little warmth your way!

That's no December sky!
Surely 'tis June
Holds now her state on high
Queen of the noon.

Only the tree-tops bare
Crowning the hill,
Clear-cut in perfect air,
Warn us that still

Winter, the aged chief,
Mighty in power,
Exiles the tender leaf,
Exiles the flower.
.
- Robert Fuller Murray, A December Day