Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner

I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Mine was busy but great. My dad and stepmom drove down from Kansas to visit us, and my mom, stepdad, younger brother, and my in-laws came over for dinner. I had grand plans for dinner and dessert and with lots of help we managed to pull off most of them. The above picture shows me in the center with my main helpers - my mom (on the right), my dad, and my stepmom (on the left).

Let me back up to last weekend first. I went to two Thanksgiving related classes last Saturday. The first was a Thanksgiving dinner class at Le Cordon Bleu. I learned some new recipes, and I decided to incorporate the brussels sprouts recipe and dressing recipe (with some tweaks) in my menu. The second class was a tarts class. I didn't make any of the tarts from class yet, but I plan to make one or two of them sometime during the holidays. I did use the Chantilly Cream (whipped cream) recipe from class rather than using canned or frozen whipped cream.

I wanted my Thanksgiving menu to use more fresh produce and scratch recipes than usual so in addition to the two recipes from class I also used Alton Brown's green bean casserole recipe, a mashed sweet potato recipe from Cooking Light, and butter rolls from the Bread Bible. My mom brought fruit salad, and my mother-in-law brought cranberry sauce.

We also had the normal turkey (bought a free range one from Whole Foods this year) which I had hoped to brine, but I ran out of time. The instructions that came with it made it sound like it would take 4 hours to cook the 17lb bird, but I was planning to follow the Le Cordon Bleu chef's and Alton Brown's suggestions to cook for 20-30 minutes at 500 degrees first and then lower the temperature. I didn't realize how much faster the turkey would be done doing that so it ended up being done really early and was a tiny bit dry. It still tasted good, but it wasn't perfect. We also had ham which was really simple and turned out great. My dad took care of cooking the ham.

I had never made brussels sprouts before, and I didn't really think they would be good. But, they were great with maple syrup, bacon, and pecans. I was really amazed that everyone ate them.

The green bean casserole was really good, but it was definitely a bit more work than your normal canned variety. You have to blanche the green beans, bake the onions coated in panko crumbs, cook the mushrooms and other ingredients to make the cream of mushroom, and then bake it all in a cast iron skillet in the oven. But, it really did live up to the recipe's name of Best Ever Green Bean Casserole.

The day before Thanksgiving I had planned to spend the whole day baking, but I had an appointment and a couple other errands so I was a little short on time. Fortunately my mom came over to help when she got off work. I had chosen three recipes from the Pie and Pastry Bible - Pumpkin Pie, Designer Apple Pie, and Pecan Tart. I also chose Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie from Throwdown which has a graham cracker crust. I made all of the pie dough before my mom came over and had started making the dough for the rolls and the first pumpkin pie filling so we had a lot of work left to do. This was my first time making pie dough (outside of a class) so I ran into some problems, but it mostly turned out okay. The all butter recipe was my favorite. I did discover that I prefer Alton Brown's technique of rolling the dough in a ziplock bag and just cutting the edges of the bag. Amazingly in a few hours we managed to get everything except the apple pie mostly done, and the apple pie was about half way there. I finished the pie and rolls that evening except for baking the rolls. I stuck them in the fridge overnight, pulled them out of the fridge a few hours before dinner so they could continue to rise, and baked them right before dinner.

Here's the designer apple pie. My one complaint about this pie is it was a little shallow. I almost wish I had filled it with apple and then put the design on top of the other apples.

The pecan tart with a chocolate lace design and whipped cream rosettes:

The butter rolls were delicious. I bought some backup premade rolls just in case, but there was no need to even open the package.

I had my husband set up the tables. We put the food on a separate table buffet style so we could have more room at the table. He was a great help with all of the little things that needed to be done.

Monday, November 22, 2010

HCB: Chocolate Genoise with Whipped Peanut Butter Ganache

This is going to be a much shorter post than normal because my Thanksgiving Day list seems like it's never ending right now. I was pretty skeptical about this cake as it sounds everyone else in the group was. For one thing I had never made a genoise before so I really had no idea how it would turn out, and the flavor combination of black raspberry, chocolate, and peanut butter sounded a little odd to me. I actually didn't use the black raspberry liqueur and went with a pomegranate juice instead, but it still turned out much better than I had anticipated.

I had a busy weekend with cooking and baking classes on Saturday and then two things to bake on Sunday so I finally got started on this cake Sunday before dinner. It was pretty simple, but there were a few parts of the recipe that were a little more tedious than your simple butter cake. Clarifying the butter was one of those. I had never done that before so I wasn't completely sure if I let mine go long enough.

Having to heat up the eggs over a pot of simmering water was another one, but it wasn't too bad. Only thing I probably should have done was strain the eggs just in case any of them curdled, but I think it turned out okay. For the most part the rest of the batter was relatively easy. I really need to get a fine mesh strainer or sieve to use for sifting because it would be much easier than the hand crank one. Once it was done baking I let it cool while I ate dinner and then started the icing and simple syrup later.

The icing came together pretty easily. When I started noticing it was getting a tiny bit grainy I stopped whipping it.

The only problem I had was mine was really moist and a little warm so I couldn't do any piping on the cake like I wanted. I wanted to put it in the fridge, but my fridge was already pretty full with stuff for Thanksgiving. I stuck the rest of the icing in the fridge in hopes that I could do a little in the morning. This morning I started moving things around in the fridge because I needed to make space for the turkey anyway, and I managed to get the cake in there while I got ready for work. So, I was able to make it look pretty before I left.

I took the cake to work for the monthly birthday celebration and saved one slice for my husband. The rest of the cake disappeared. My coworkers commented on how moist it was.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Sunday Mornings: Nutella Scones

When I saw that a new group was starting up to bake through Baked Explorations I knew I had to join. Back in October I went to a class at Central Market taught by the authors Matt and Renato where they demonstrated some of the new recipes. I really liked everything they made so I thought it would be really fun to bake through both of their books.

So, today is the first day of Baked Sunday Mornings, and we started with the Nutella Scones. I actually had this recipe flagged to try. My husband just started buying Nutella, and he really likes scones so I thought he would really enjoy these.

The recipe is really simple. It doesn't even require pulling out the mixer. After I went to the grocery store this morning (to avoid the Thanksgiving rush later today) I got all of the ingredients out and ready to bake.

First I whisked together all dry ingredients and then added the butter. I've never actually made scones before so I was a little unsure about how much to mix and didn't want to over mix.

Next up you add in the wet ingredients. It almost seemed like there was enough moisture, but it did come together.

After kneading it a little and forming it into a rectangle you spread half of the Nutella on the mixture in a criss-cross.

Next you roll it up and then push it down into a disk and cut slices to put on a baking sheet.

Once they came out the oven and cooled I spread the rest of the Nutella on them. For some reason it just didn't want to pour very well. I put it in the microwave longer, and that just didn't help much.

I liked them. I'm not a huge fan of scones, but these were still a little moist and the chocolate helps. My husband said they were really good. He said they were a little moister than most scones he buys and liked the flavor as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Bostini

Since I missed out on making the Bostini a couple weeks ago while I was recovering from foot surgery and because it got such rave reviews I decided I had to make it for the free choice week. The only problem was there were a few other recipes I wanted to try and not enough time for them. I actually had the ingredients for 5 different recipes that I thought about making. I probably would have made the pumpkin cheesecake as well, but I went to a puff pastry class on Saturday and spent part of the rest of the weekend turning my dough from the class. (Hopefully I'll have a post up on that in the next couple days.)

I started with the Orange Glow Chiffon Cupcake batter Saturday evening. It was pretty simple. The only parts that were at all difficult were trying to squeeze the juice out of the stupid oranges and having to clean the mixing bowl and beater part way through making the batter. With the orange I remembered that if you roll the orange between your hand and the counter prior to cutting it will be easier to squeeze.

First you mix the dry ingredients and then make a well in the center to pour most of the wet ingredients.

Then you mix those together and pour in another bowl if you don't have two mixer bowls. I've considered buying another mixer bowl, but I can't decide if I would rather just ask for the 6 quart Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas (it's between that and a new camera for taking better blog pictures). I currently have the 5 quart, but I've been told that anyone who bakes a lot should really get the larger, more powerful one. I told my husband that Alton Brown said that in his baking book.

Once you have that bowl cleaned you beat the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar to a stiff meringue and then fold the that with the batter. And then it goes into the muffin pan.

I guess I got a little greedy when filling my pans because I overfilled them a little. Oh, well. They still tasted good.

On Sunday evening I finally got around the finishing the Bostini. I got everything out to make the cream. I was a little nervous about this part because I had never made a custard or cream like this before. For some reason my large organic eggs just aren't very large. I had to use an entire extra yolk to equal the weight we were supposed to have. My husband went to the store earlier that day and accidentally bought jumbo eggs instead of large ones so I wonder if those yolks would actually be the right size. Also, I decided to use vanilla bean paste instead of the seeds from the vanilla bean, but I did use a previously used vanilla bean pod when cooking the cream.

First you mix the sugar salt and vanilla seeds (or paste in my case), and then you scald the cream, sugar mix, and vanilla pod. This part seemed to take forever. Maybe my pan was too big, but I was scared to have too small of a pan after what happened the last time I made caramel.

Then you add some cream to the eggs before adding the egg mixture to the cream. Then you whisk the cream until it thickens. It sure is starting to look good now.

Then you pour it through a strainer and into a bowl. I didn't even notice all of the steam at the time. I think I was too busy trying to get every last drop from the pan into the bowl.

Then you whisk the cream to allow it to cool and pour it into the cups. I guess my espresso glasses were bigger than the ones in the book because I only ended up with enough cream to fill 4 of them. That's all I had so it worked out okay. Plus, there are only two of us so we certainly didn't need 8 Bostinis.

This chocolate sauce was super easy to make - just chocolate and butter. The recipe called for dark chocolate, but since my husband's only requirement for the cake choice was no bittersweet chocolate I used the semi-sweet Callebaut chocolate I got at Central Market. Funny thing was when he ate the Bostini he said it would have been okay with a more bitter chocolate.

Daniel and I both really loved this one. The cream was definitely my favorite part of this one. It certainly lived up to the rave reviews. After making this I feel like trying to make other custard desserts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake

I've missed baking with the HCB group, but the last couple weeks my foot just wouldn't tolerate it. When I read through this recipe I thought I might be able to make this one even though I would still be on crutches because it really looked very simple. The weekend before I realized that I could use one of our rolling office chairs to get around the kitchen and get ingredients out. So, I had my husband pick up the almond cream and pears at the store. I had never purchased almond cream before but I thought I remembered seeing it near the chocolate. I found it online and showed him a picture before he went to the store.

First I made the almond cream. It was pretty simple to make. The food processor does all of the work. (The small bowl and blade worked great for this and took up less space in the dishwasher.) The hardest part for me was getting the ingredients out and doing the dishes afterwards. It's amazing how long it takes to get ingredients out when you can't walk around the kitchen. I was glad the recipe said it could be refrigerated because I could really only handle a short amount of time in the kitchen.

After a little break I got out the ingredients for the batter and mixed up the batter which was also very simple. I made the trough around the inside of the batter for the cream. When I added the cream I wondered if the trough was really wide enough or deep enough because the cream didn't all fit in there.

I think I misread the directions a little. When I read that the pears needed to be sliced in 1/8th inch slices I was thinking about the slices I would normally cut for a fruit salad. Then I thought the pears were only supposed to go over the cream and not layered over the whole top of the batter. I thought something seemed off, but I just went with it.

The cream spread a little on the top of the cake. I was a little concerned it was going to burn, but it looked okay when I pulled it out of the oven.

This cake was very simple, but it tasted really good. The crumb was very small and soft. My husband really liked how the outside was hard and slightly crunchy, and the inside was very soft. It definitely could have used the extra pear that I left out, but that's okay.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Petit Four Cakes

Last night I went to a Petit Fours class. I had signed up for this class well before I scheduled surgery. I was looking forward to the class but not looking forward to how my foot would deal with sitting in class the whole time. Even at work I can prop it up on my desk with a small pillow under it and wrapped with an ice pack.

The evening didn't start out great, but it ended up being a fun class. It was raining, and I found out when I got there that there isn't any handicapped parking and all of the spaces right in front of the store were taken. I freaked out a little because I'm still on crutches and not supposed to get my foot wet. I managed to get inside and was pretty upset, but then things got better. Heidi, our instructor, helped me get situated with my foot propped up, and everyone was really helpful the rest of the evening.

For those like me who thought that a petit four is just a little square cake with icing around it I learned last night that they are really just any bite sized dessert. You should be able to eat them in just a bite or two. The bite sized cakes are petit four cakes.

First we went over the two cake recipes - vanilla bean cake and chocolate cake. She said we can use a variety of pans to bake them in. In class we used a jelly roll pan, a silicon mold with individual one inch square openings, and a metal pan with small flower shapes. Next we made the icings - chocolate ganache and petit four icing. She also gave us a white chocolate ganache recipe which might be a good alternative to the petit four icing, but if you want to color the chocolate you have to use water based color. For the petit four icing you can use gel based color just like you would use for buttercream frosting. All of the recipes were really simple.

Then we learned how to cut the cake from the jelly roll pan. It's important to be pretty precise when cutting those so you end up with fairly uniform sizes of petit fours. A ruler is a must for that. Our instructor recommended scoring where you want to make your cuts before actually cutting. We spread raspberry preserves without seeds in between two of the 1 inch square pieces of cake.

Everyone seemed to be having problems with the petit four icing. It just didn't want to stay fluid enough. We ended up with some pretty ugly little petit fours. I'm not quite sure if these ones really qualified as petit fours anymore, but my husband still like the ones I took home. He really liked that icing. He already requested these petit fours for his birthday next year.

The chocolate ganache was much more cooperative. It stayed nice and fluid the whole night. Only problem with that was the petit fours were harder to move after covering them because they stayed sticky.

After covering them with the icing we got to do a little decorating with tiny gumpaste flowers and chocolate drizzled with a parchment bag. That reminded me that I really should practice making parchment bags because it's quite a bit cheaper than a plastic piping bag especially for something like this. Besides, with parchment bags you can reheat the chocolate in the microwave to make it a little more fluid. I think mine turned out pretty cute. Fortunately I got help from Heidi and one of the store employees getting to my car after the class.