How was your 2007?

There are alot of year end reviews floating around the blogosphere right now. Including an event where you are asked to post your Best of 2007.

How do I choose though?

Seriously? I made alot of wonderful things this year. Some were huge successes, others were flops - though there weren't too many flops, I am happy to say.

I can be proud that I participated in 12 Daring Baker challenges: Croissants, Chocolate Intensity Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Crepe Cake, Gateau St. Honore, Bagels, Strawberry Mirror Cake, Milk Chocolate Caramel Tarts, Cinnamon/Sticky Buns, Bostini Cream Pie, Tender Potato Bread and finally, A Yule Log. That's alot of butter, alot of sugar, alot of cream, but most of all, alot of new blogging friends.

Last New Years I made a few little resolutions, which I can honestly say I have kept throughout all of 2007. One of them was to make at least one new recipe a week, rather than sticking with the tried and true that I knew my family would eat. I pushed their boundries this year, making things I wasn't sure they would eat, regardless of the outcome. Which means there were a few things that I had to either eat myself or throw out. On the other hand, my children have expanded their own comfort zones a bit - they will now eat Butter Chicken and Naan, and my oldest will now eat Talapia.

There are alot of things I would like to try in the new year - learning more about Indian food and perhaps getting my family to try some more vegetarian style meals. Progressing further in my cake decorating, maybe even getting to go back to classes for it! Pushing some more of my own cooking and baking comfort zones. And while I explore new foods and techniques, I plan to have my camera along with me, taking more and more pictures as I go along.

Sounds like a good way to start a new year to me!

Everyone knows a turkey...

And in this house, the turkey still has a name and is walking around somewhere, glad to have survived Christmas dinner intact.

And while that smelly bird strutted his stuff in a large pen with others (I've been involved in a turkey harvest - they smell and they strut and they are dumb!) we enjoyed a completely different Christmas dinner entirely, where the cow was not so well off as the turkey was.

I planned my Christmas dinner some time back, probably in late October or November, whenever the December 2007 issue of Fine Cooking made it to my door. The beef tenderloin on the cover made me drool and glad I was not a vegetarian. It's simplicity also appealed to me, though the price of a good beef tenderloin made me shudder. It's not often a 30 pound turkey would be cheaper than buying a small piece of beef. Yet despite this, I forged ahead with my plan and carefully put aside this magazine where I could find it again (which I actually did!)

This beef was amazingly good. It was so tender you could cut it with the side of your fork. The seasoning was perfectly matched to the beef, though not overpowering. It was good hot or cold, and still wonderful the next day as leftovers.

My plate styling, however, was not so good. So forgive the picture and just take my word for it - this beef was great!

I had made the creamy mustard sauce included in the recipe, replacing the cream fraiche with sour cream when I could not find any. It was alright but certainly not needed with such a flavorful beef. I think if I were to make it again, I would use a grain mustard instead.

Mashed potatoes accompany the photo on the cover, but I didn't want those. I wanted a potato and fennel gratin I had seen on The Barefoot Contessa, and when I was actually able to find the recipe online, cheered! The fresh fennel in the gratin was going to be a nice side to the crushed fennel seeds on the beef. In fact, it was a wonderful accompaniment. Made in advance so that all I had to do on Christmas Day was to throw it in the oven, it was creamy and mild and delicious. Word of warning though - if you make it in advance, don't be surprised if your potatoes look greyish underneath the cheese and cream. Don't worry, that disappears during baking.

To go with my beef tenderloin and potato fennel gratin, I oven roasted some fresh, sweet carrots, and white asparagus. I hadn't planned on white asparagus but that was all that was available at the stores. The white was a bit too woody, though still tasty, and the carrots were so sweet and soft that they melted into your mouth.

Dessert had to be a made in advance affair. Nothing too fancy, nothing over the top. Not with the piles of chocolate that filled the stockings, and bowls of candy scattered around the house. With those requirements in mind, I chose to make some mini tarts, almost cheesecake like, decorated with fresh fruit. I found the recipe for these little bites on Joy of Baking, when looking for some other recipe. The bases, a shortbread cookie dough tart, could be made in advance, as could the lemon filling, freeing me up to enjoy time with my family on Christmas Day. A quick five minutes with my pastry bag and some fruit and I had a pretty plate of dessert. Served along side some of the other goodies I'd made in advance (sugar cookies, ginger cookies and caramel shortbread squares), the only thing I needed to do was put on a pot of tea.

I was very pleased with Christmas dinner this year. Everything was either made in advance or required only a little bit of prep work a few hours in advance. Nothing required standing over the stove at the last minutes. There was no rush to get a gravy gone while everything else stood by and got cold. I even had time to set the table early.

I hope everyone else had as lovely a Christmas meal as we did.

(I've just discovered that despite having used the sugar cookie dough several times in the life of my blog, I have never put the recipe up anywhere. I think I will have to go look for it and post about it tomorrow, as well as the recipe for the caramel shortbread squares.)

Fennel and Rosemary Beef Tenderloin with Creamy Mustard Sauce
by Fine Cooking Magazine

1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 1/2-3 lb beef tenderloin, excess fat trimmed
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, rosemary, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Stir to make a paste. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and rub the paste all over the surface of the meat. If necessary, tie the roast at 1 1 /2 inch intervals. (The roast can be seasoned and refrigerated up to 4 hours in advance.)
Put the roast on a rack on a small, rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 120F for rare, 125-130F for medium rare, or 135F for medium, 40-50 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche, mustard and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt to taste.
Transfer the roast to a carving board (preferably with a well for collecting juices) and let it rest, uncovered for 10-15 minutes before carving it into 1/3 - 1/2 inch thick slices. Serve the beef, passing the mustard sauce at the table.

Remember: Calories Don't Count on Christmas!

They don't count on your birthday either, btw.

So how many candies did you nibble on while making your gingerbread creation this year? I can honestly say none, though I can't say the same for my children, who had already gone through half of this tray before I took the picture. With icing.

And while they worked on their gingerbread train, I decorated a little extra treat to bring to a friends house - a cupcake tree! This was alot of fun, and a huge hit with the kids at the party!

But Christmas Eve would not be complete without a treat left out for Santa, who really does need to remember that calories don't count! Each of my children picked a cookie for Santa, from a large selection that I had made and decorated, and picked the only two snowflakes in the entire box that had blue on them. Go figure.

In case you are wondering - we leave out an apple instead of carrots for the reindeer. We figure after everyone else has left them carrots, they could use a little something different. They must have loved it because the only thing left this morning was a few seeds!

Oh, and Santa actually prefers Chocolate milk over white, but Mrs. Claus limits him. Not in this house though! He drank it down to the bottom, leaving an empty cup, a few crumbs, and lots of presents!

Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

Daring Baker's: A tale of 4 Buttercreams

Yes, it is indeed that time of month again, a bit early, when the food blogging world is enveloped in the creations of the Daring Baker's. I think it is safe to say that this can be the favorite time of month for many blog readers, who look forward to learning the secret recipe and seeing how different our identical recipe will turn out.

Oh boy are they in for alot of variations this month!

Now I can't recall how it came about, but instead of having one new Daring Baker host this month's challenge, we instead were treated to a double hosting by none other than our wonderful and fearless leaders, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, and Lis of La Mia Cucina! And they had a quite the challenge for us - A Yule Log!

Not just any yule log though, one made with a genoise cake, a meringue buttercream and either maripan or meringue mushrooms! Lots of steps, lots of ways to make the logs our own!

I decided to make mine a bit early, as usual, with an occasion in mind - parent teacher interviews and a teacher dinner. A few times a year, on nights when our schools teachers are going to be there quite late, a few of us volunteers donate various items and provide a meal for them. Call it a pot luck where we don't stay and eat anything. I volunteered to bring a dessert and took advantage of the opportunity to make my yule log early.

Which is where the "tale" of buttercream comes in. Get cozy, we are going to be here awhile....

I swear I almost pulled out my hair and gave up buttercream frostings forever! I kept having to remind myself, "Self! You have made croissants from scratch! You survived the dreaded crepe cake and lived to go on to puff pastry and cream puffs! You've made caramel swirls and twirled lots of hot sugar! There is not way a silly buttercream is going to defeat you now!"

My first attempt had me running to Tartlette for help. And help she tried, but that buttercream when into the garbage with a clunk!

Can you see the picture? Doesn't it look awful? For this one I believe my butter was still not warm enough, and I may not have heated my egg whites quite high enough (though after this attempt, Tartlette was kind enough to post the temperature we were aiming for on the DB blog, for all of us, which is 140F, btw.)

My next batch didn't even get a picture, but instead was poured down the drain with a plop, plop, plop.

Six sticks of butter wasted, so far. More out on my counter warming up to room temperature.

This awful picture is attempt #3. It was made the morning I needed to bring the Yule log into the school, on a day when I had to work all day and would have no time to run home and finish a dessert. Instead I took my cake, already filled with a chocolate ganache, rolled and cut, my lovely little meringue mushrooms (which were fun to make), an emergency batch of regular cake buttercream (icing sugar, chocolate and shortening), and some tools with me to work, along with this batch. I had hopes that a bit of a chill and then some hand mixing, might fix things a bit.

As you can see by the dark color of my log, so lovingly adorned with my cute mushrooms and dusted with "snow", it was a good thing I had that emergency icing with me. One more meringue buttercream down the drain. Four more egg whites gone, another 3 sticks of butter.

That's a full dozen eggs, 9 sticks of butter, and 3 cups of sugar, gone. If you are keeping track. I was. I was running out of ingredients and frankly, confidence and patience!

Tartlette was a very understanding lady, trying her best to see me through it, but my buttercreams were not cooperating! And I was getting angry and more and more stubborn about this - NO BUTTERCREAM IS GOING TO DEFEAT ME!!!

So I decided to break the rules and go looking for another meringue buttercream recipe. I was sure that Lis and Ivonne would be forgiving of me. Afterall, it's not like I didn't try. So who else would I turn to but Dorie for help? Yes, sure enough, there is one listed in Baking From My Home to Yours.

And you know what? Her recipe is identical in ingredients to the one we were using, except for the flavorings and .... I'D MADE IT BEFORE!!!!

So here I was, pulling out my hair, angry and frustrated and throwing ingredients down the drain trying to make a frosting, thinking I am a failure at a meringue buttercream when I wasn't. I was just missing a step or two.

As most of the Daring Baker's know now, the buttercream will curdle sometime while you are adding the butter in. Don't panic! It's okay! Just keep adding and when you are done, turn the mixer speed up and walk away for a few minutes! Let it mix and come together!

Which is what I did the next day, the day after I had committed to bringing in a lovely dessert to my children's school. Sure, they got a pretty yule log (and were highly complimentary about it the next day when I was in for my own interviews,) but it was not what I had planned or wanted to bring in. And of course now I had a batch of meringue buttercream and no yule log. No problem, however, as I had also committed to chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate frosting to my children's Tae Kwon-do Christmas party and now had a lovely, smooth, and light buttercream with which to decorate with.

I still had a need to make a "proper" yule log, and did just this past Thursday, with the help of my husband, for his work Christmas pot luck lunch. And this time my buttercream came out exactly as it was supposed to, the first and only time I had to make it! Yahoo!

I liked the mushrooms on this one better, and was happy to hear that many of my husband's co-workers though they were real mushrooms, decorating the dessert he had brought! Hehehe I knew they looked good but didn't think they looked that good!

And what I have learned from all of this? Well, first of all, I already knew I was stubborn. Now I know that I am VERY stubborn. I can pipe a mean mushroom, and can roll up a pretty cool Yule Log.

I also learned, when there was a small piece left over from the pot luck that I got to try, that I do not like this recipe. Lots of people ate it, and enjoyed it. I found it dull and boring, especially considering the work I put into it. Yes, the cake was moist and light. As was the buttercream, a fluff of chocolate (this one had been flavored with a 100g bar of Lindt 70% chocolate, so it was not lacking in chocolate flavor.) I just didn't enjoy the flavor.

Maybe it was tied to my emotions throughout the process. After the turmoil I'd experienced trying to get a finished product, I needed it to taste like the most amazing thing I had ever eaten!

Oh well, what are you going to do?

Personally, I'm going to now direct you over to the Daring Baker's Blogroll, where you can link to up to 400 other yule log baking experiences! For the recipe to make your own, be sure to visit either Lis or Ivonne.

Go on... I dare you!

Playing with my food

I haven't disappeared, I've just been up to my elbows and nose in icing sugar and cocoa. Bob, my well loved stand mixer, has been working non-stop, yesterday alone going through 7 washings in one day for his bowl. I think he is getting a little tired and is looking forward to a break, though he's got awhile to go before he gets one.

In the meantime, here is a lovely little recipe I threw together last month for dinner. About the same time I made this, several other blogs were also featuring the same thing - we must have all been longing for summer and bbq at the same time, hence the abundance of pulled pork sandwiches.

My sandwiches started with an inexpensive pork roast in my slow cooker, drenched in a sauce I threw together using the ketchup I had made during the summer time. Several hours later, the succulent meat fell apart at a touch of the fork and was stuffed into soft buns and enjoyed along with corn on the cobb and homemade coleslaw, more memories of summer.

With the mountains of snow outside my door right now, I sure could use some summer right now!

Happy first day of winter, btw!

Memories of Summer BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup, lovingly made during a warm summer day (or storebought)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 dashes chili and garlic hot sauce

Mix together until there are no lumps, in a medium sauce pan. Heat until gently boiling and allow to bubble for about 5 minutes, reducing a bit.

For pulled pork sandwiches, pour over pork roast in slow cooker, place on lid and walk away for at least 5-6 hours.

For best flavor, lick drippings from your fingers while imaging sunshine all around you.

How to butter up your dentist

Bake him a birthday cake!

I am dentist phobic. Seriously phobic. Except with my dentist. Him, I like. And his staff, omg they are the best!

I've had alot of dental work done in the last few years, way more than anyone would like. So it helps if you like your dentist if they are going to spend alot of time in your mouth. (Okay the nitrous gas helps too.)

During one of those long, long visits, a few of us were talking cakes and baking. I think I had just brought them a baked treat, which is how we got onto the conversation of baking. Somewhere in that, I was jokingly asked to bring in a carrot cake for my dentists birthday (which was 11 months away or so.) I said I would, but I don't think he took me seriously. No one did, until I walked in with a cake for him. (A few days late though, as I was sick for the proper day, and it turns out he was as well.)

Since I've brought in a few home baked treats to the office, expectations are high when I walk in now. Everything I have made has been very well received and highly complimented. So where else would I turn when I wanted to make a "tada!" type of carrot cake than to Dorie? Dorie wouldn't let me down by giving me a recipe for a dry and dull cake, no way would she!

No, instead she gave me a moist, flavorful and huge cake that allowed me to bring in a two layer to the office and still have a layer left at home for my poor, deprived children who never get any baked goods from their mother. (Yes, I know, I can hear you giggling now.) The frosting was creamy and eat-with-a-spoon good, as well as being plentiful.

I only made one small change to this recipe, omitting the nuts from it. I did add a bit more coconut and raisins to compensate, but not so much that I measured. Half a handful maybe.

I am going to make this cake again. My 8 year old has already asked if I will make it again, but make him a full 3 layer, or maybe a 5 layer, version. This cake is so huge that I think he will have to be happy with the 3 layers.

I'm not going to spend the next 10 minutes typing up the recipe for this carrot cake for anyone. It's in Dorie's Baking From My Home to Yours. And if you don't already have a copy, first of all, why the heck not? and second, why not buy a ticket for Menu for Hope and put your ticket in the draw to win an autographed copy of Dorie's book? I live too far away to win the chance to have her deliver it in person, but envy the person who gets to visit with her.

If you happen to live somewhere around me (okay, in Canada anywhere), head on over to The Domestic Goddess and see what we get to purchase our tickets for. Personally, I am liking the looks of the oil and vinegar set.

Happy Housewarming Peabody!

The flu has been going through my house, starting with me and lasting a very long time, but so far skipping the children. So far.

It's been an odd flu, with no fever, but alot of stomach problems, making food, all food, yuck! And while normally if I am sick that I don't want to eat, I still enjoy reading about food. Not this time. This time I posted an apology to my fellow Daring Baker's, that I would not be immediately reading all their wonderful bread posts until much later. It's much later and I barely feel I have made a dent in getting to the 400 or so posts that were made. (I think I'll either be at it all month or I will peter out in a few days.)

So this flu not only made me sick as could be, made me late for admiring my fellow bakers bread, but it also resulted in my missing a few blog events (I have a great carrot cake that was supposed to be submitted for Leslie's SHF) and nearly making me late for others. Fortunately I made my choice for Peabody's housewarming before I got sick and am now in good shape to "deliver" it to her lovely new home!

Chicken and broccoli puff pastry pockets are my choice for the party. Good to eat either warm or cold, with your hands or dainty with a fork, and easy to make with ingredients I happened to have on hand. (Which reminds me that I need to replenish my freezer supply of puff pastry!)

I served these for dinner along with fresh fruit skewers, and enjoyed them cold for lunch the next day. My husband enjoyed them but the kids did not. Just goes to show that they have no taste at all as there was nothing in them that they didn't like.

Now, I wonder what other goodies are at this little shindig? :-)

Chicken and Broccoli Puffs

1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 red pepper, finely chopped
small head of broccoli, finely chopped
3 cooked, boneless chicken breasts, diced
1 cup old cheddar cheese, grated
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 packages puff pastry, defrosted

Mix all the filing ingredients together in a bowl while the oven preheats to 400F. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. (I should point out that this filling would also be great in a sandwich at this point.)

Roll out the puff pastry so that it is large enough, and thin enough, to allow for 8 squares to be cut. (Sorry, I didn't think to measure.) I got 8 squares per package of dough. Spoon a heaping spoonful into the middle of the pastry, fold over and pinch edges to seal. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown. There will likely be a bit of left over filling.

If eating hot, allow to cool for 5 minutes before biting down. Enjoy!

Did someone ask for snow

Please, help yourself. We have something like 15 - 20 cm more coming today.


"The best dinner EVER!

That's how my picky 8 year old described this meal, something I made a few weeks ago. The Barefoot Contessa recipe for parmesan chicken sticks, along with buttermilk mashed potatoes and sauted peas and carrots.

He even watched me making them and was surprised to see how flour, eggs and breadcrumbs could turn into something so tasty. The science of it fascinated him enough that he said he'd actually like to make these with me sometime. (Course when I do try and get that help, he will likely have forgotten and be unwilling to help.)

Oh well, at least that night I know he ate well.

Parmesan Chicken Sticks (I skipped the stick part)
From The Barefoot Contessa Family Style

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (3-4)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
unsalted butter
good olive oil
optional Bamboo skewers or ice cream sticks

Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and slice each diagonally into four or five large strips.

Combine the flour, slat and pepper on a dinner plate. Beat the eggs with i tablespoon of water on a second plate. Combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on a third plate. Dredge the chicken breasts on both sides in the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixtgure and roll in the bread crumb mixture, pressing lightly to coat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the chicken strips on medium low heat for about 3 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Don't crowd the pan. Add more butter and oil and cook the rest of the chicken breasts. Optional Serve each strip on a skewer or stick.

You can keep the chicken breasts warm for about 15 minutes on a sheet pan in a 200 degree oven.