Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DB: French Yule Log

Well, here it is! I completed my first Daring Bakers challenge! And they weren't kidding when they said "challenge." The first time I looked at the recipe I went, "Oh, boy. What have I done? Is it too late to back out?" This was not your average, everyday, roll up a cake, put some frosting on it, yule log. This is a frozen French concoction that involved no less than six separate recipes and 3 days to pull off. But I hung in there, and this was my result.

Gotta love the Jackson Pollack look.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux . They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.  

I'm not going to write out all the many recipes for this. Check the links to the hosts' sites if you want more info.

That's the official part. Now for the what I thought part.

This was a pain in the butt to make. Thank goodness I had time off from school, otherwise I would have had to spend a whole weekend putting this together. I will never make it again. It's simply too much work for a dessert.

That being said, I'm glad I did it. I have now officially beaten egg whites to stiff peaks, piped stuff with a pastry bag, used a double boiler twice, made mousse with a Pate a Bombe (which I choose to pronounce "pat a bomb"...sorry French diction professor), made ganache, and discovered dacquoise (which I choose to pronounce correctly because it sounds cool. Say it with me...dah-kwah. Don't you feel so oo-la-la?) Of course, because it is a French recipe from French people and translated from French, it was fairly confusing and I had trouble with every step. And I'm usually good at this stuff. Let's review, shall we?

Note from the editor: (That's me, by the way.) My friend Brenna, the francophile, says it is pronounced dah-kwahz. With a Z sound on the end. Sorry Brenna. Sorry french people.

I started with the Creme Brulee layer. Because it was only one layer in a multi-layered dessert, I was working with really small quantities. Which meant when I poured this in the pan to cook, it was about half an inch high. I had read on the Daring Bakers forum that most people had trouble getting this to set because the translated temperature of 200 degrees F wasn't working. I doodled around online and decided to go with 275 degrees for an hour. Apparently this was too long, and I got distracted and didn't check it. So I ended up with overcooked brulee. Since this step required a $12 vanilla bean, I was not excited to remake it. I tasted it, and it actually wasn't too bad. I decided to go for it. Here it is in its frozen state:

See the little missing spot on the upper right corner? Mmmmm..
Next, I tackled the praline layer. This is really a misnomer, since I didn't want to come up with or make my own praline. So instead, I did a white chocolate/coconut variation. Did I mention that the original recipe was over 18 pages long? This was mostly because every layer had multiple variations and recipes for each one. Once I cut that all out, it was down to a manageable 12 pages. Whoopee! Anyway, this is basically white chocolate, toasted coconut, (which I almost burnt...who knew coconut toasted so fast?) butter and smooshed up Rice Krispies. I'm a little concerned that it won't cut well in the dessert. I tried to make it super thin, but I guess lots of people had it squish everything below when they tried to cut it. I probably should have broken it up. But I managed to cut it to size and I was happy, so I left it in one piece.

Next came my big fear. I was really worried about the chocolate mousse that basically holds this whole thing together. The recipe had really tiny quantities to work with and at one point there are about four things that have to happen at once. The Pate a Bombe is just whipped up egg yolks and a sugar syrup.  It took FOREVER for my egg yolks to reach the right consistency. There were only 3 little yolks in my big KitchenAid stand mixer, and they barely got touched by the beater. I should have used my hand mixer, but I needed it to whip cream, which I think I over beat. Besides that, my chocolate seized up...I'm assuming that's what it means when it turns into a big blobby lump instead of being melted and smooth. Again, I had read about this on the DB forum and I remembered someone saying they added some more cream and just kept stirring. I also turned the heat up a bit and it smoothed out. The most tricky part was trying to make the sugar syrup. Thank goodness I have these:

You probably can't tell, but these are teeny tiny cooking tools. The pot is only one cup. Here it is in comparison to my one quart pot.
Isn't it cute?

Even using my 1 cup pot, it was pretty hard to get the candy thermometer  to stay in it so I could get an accurate reading.
The mini measuring cup I just got from my sister for Christmas (Thanks, Monica!) and measures 1/4 cup at most. This came in really handy later when I had to measure 0.5 oz water. The French people forgot to translate that one.

Fuzzy picture, but look how cute!

After much stress and worry, the mousse came out fine. I will spare you the picture of the chocolate and gelatin mixture. Think mud and squished up Oreos and you're on the right track. But in the end, I had this:

Not bad, right? Shockingly, it was pretty smooth and held its texture. The best part was the Pate a Bombe. I had no idea that egg yolks and sugar could taste so good. Nice job French people.

The next step was the dacquoise (ooh-la-la!) My first chance to beat egg whites. "But wait," you say. "Are you telling me you've never beaten egg whites before? How is that possible?" Well, I say, I have this phobia. It's called toohardrecipeitis. Whenever I see the words "beat egg whites" or "grease and flour" or "pastry bag" I quickly turn to a new recipe. Because I read cookbooks like novels, I know what to do, I've just never done it before. Which is why I became a Daring Baker, to force myself out of my laziness comfort zone.

ANYWAY...I do digress. The dacquoise was the easiest part. I even got to make a trek to Trader Joe's for almond meal. (Does anyone have a use for leftover ground almonds?) I did have problems with the egg whites, having never whipped them before. I'm not totally sure what stiff peaks are supposed to look like, so I guessed. I had decided to put the dacquoise on the top and bottom of the log, so I doubled the recipe. Apparently I would have been okay with just one batch. Here are my top and bottom pieces.
This is a very light, almond flavored cake type dealie. Very yummy.
Since I had a bunch leftover, I baked up the rest of it for me to eat some other purpose. I forgot to take it out of the oven, so it cooked more than the other two. When I took it out, I realized I had undercooked the first two. Sigh. So I used the small one for the top of the log and used this one for the bottom piece.
Can you tell that this one is slightly darker? It was also crisper when it cooled down.

Here is the cakey deal in my old loaf pan fancy log mold. I cut it too short so I added a piece.
The whole mold thing was another big undertaking. There was much debate on the DB forum over what size pan to use. I just used what I had and crossed my fingers. It all worked out. Preparing the mold was also a project. After a trip to Office Max, I lined the pan with Saran Wrap and then cut some sheet protectors down to size and stuck them in there in an attempt at a smooth finish. I used double-sided tape to keep everything in place.
Are you getting tired yet? I am. Are we done? No? Okay. Are you sure? Okay. Moving on.

The last big piece of this was the ganache layer. This one was exciting because I got to pour hot cream into hot sugar. It boiled up to the very top of the pot. So exciting! It kept boiling for a couple of minutes after I turned off the heat. Very funky. I can't really complain about this layer. Not too eventful. I was just tired of the whole thing by then. It turned out well I think, again, never having made it I have no point of comparison. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, so here's the empty bowl:

And here is some evidence that I actually piped the mousse and the ganache using a real live pastry bag and star tips that I had to buy for this endeavor.
Look how clean the pastry bag is...after squirting ganache all over the place! Aren't you impressed? Notice I am not showing you the picture of the bag I used for the mousse as I didn't remember the "fold the bag down when filling it" part and it looked like a tragic chocolate accident had occurred.

Finally. I'm done. I'm not? Oh, crap.

After spending the night in the freezer, I got to put chocolate icing on the log. (Did you catch that? It says that I spent the night in the freezer. Misplaced my modifier. Hate it when that happens.) Take Two: After the log spent the night in the freezer, I got to put chocolate icing on it.

This would be the icing, cooling. Which took a while because my awesome Le Crueset pot really keeps in the heat. FINALLY it was cool enough so I could do this:

I made a double batch of the icing because, once again, the DB forum said they had trouble getting it to cover completely. I got it all except one little spot in the back that I didn't see until it was too late. The only bad thing about the icing is that it stunk to high heaven. I've never used plain gelatin before, and let me tell you, it smells DISGUSTING. I looked up what it's made out of, and I totally understand why. So the icing kind of smells like chocolate guts. GROSS! I am hoping it will smell less when frozen.

I have always been deficient in presentation skills. Since this was such an involved creation, I didn't spend much time contemplating the decorations. I decided to melt a white chocolate bar and put some stripes or squiggles across it. Then I thought it would be cool to do some little star-type snowflakes. However, I used the ziplock baggie version of a pastry bag and cut the hole too big. So my white chocolate came glopping out everywhere instead of in nice lines.

Can you see the two spots I missed on the bottom left? Oh well!

Actually I meant to do this. Yeah, I wanted those big blobs. They look like leaves or flowers or something. Sure, I did it on purpose. I'm so artistic!

Tomorrow night I will be taking this to my friend Jill's house so we can fight over it celebrate New Year's Eve together. I'll take some pictures of the slices so you can see the inside, and I'll report back on how it tasted. Since I'm not a big chocolate dessert fan, I'm not overly hopeful, but you never know.

Are you still reading this? Wow, you are bored aren't you? Okay, I hereby promise never to write another post this long AND boring again. Long, yes. Boring, yes. But in future, I'll try not to combine the two. I promise! :-)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Fun

I'm so glad I got to spend Christmas with my family. Since I went down a day early to avoid weather problems, (Ha! Take THAT snow!) I got to watch my sister's children open their presents. They were so cute in the matching PJ's that their mom and dad got them.

Here's Max opening his talking helmet:

It says things like "Warning, danger ahead," and "Code Red." Apparently, it does NOT say, "Danger Will Robinson!" so I said it over and over again to make up for the oversight.

Here's Kenzie with her "Just Like You" doll:

I think she's unwrapping the little earrings for her doll to wear. They didn't have cool stuff like this when I was a kid. I love that she's wearing one of the bows on her pajamas. I always wear some part of the wrapping accoutrement when I open presents. Glad to see she's crazy like me following my example. (Do I get bonus points for using "accoutrement" in that last sentence?)

Here's Madison checking out one of her books:

I somehow managed to chop off her head, so you can't see her new headband. It goes with her leg warmers. Leg warmers!! I guess everything truly does come back in style again, even if it shouldn't. I probably got such a bad angle on this because it was 7:00 a.m. and I was just too tired to get up off my chair for the picture taking. These three pics are the only decent ones I got, and they're not that great. But I was really really tired!!

After hanging out for a bit, we went over to my brother's house. They only live about a mile away. However, they are on a pretty good sized hill and it was so snowy and icy that no one could leave once they parked. There was a lot of chaining up and fancy maneuvering going on to get people home.

Here is my brother, Tim and his wife Angela:

Aren't they gorgeous? There was an uneven distribution of the good-looking genes in my family. As in they went to everyone but me. (But I got lots of the smart genes...or so I like to think!) Tim and Angela, of course, have beautiful children. After I ask them, hopefully I can post pics of their two boys, Carter and Bryce.

It suddenly dawned on me this year, that my brother is a foodie. I know he likes to cook and play around with recipes, but it never occurred to me that he really loves food. Part of this realization was from the fabulous dinner they served, which featured a Lamb Rib Crown Roast. I'd never had this cut of meat before, and it was AMAZING! It was perfectly cooked and they served it with an herb reduction. I must have eaten at least 4 pieces. I've never had lamb that was so tender before. Now I understand why they prepare Lamb Rib Chops on Top Chef all the time. They rock!

The other thing that made me realize Tim's foodie tendencies was this appetizer:

They made dates stuffed with marcona almonds and bleu cheese and wrapped them in bacon. I have always wanted to make this. But I was afraid of the dates, and it's a bit out of my price range (I'm playing the "poor teacher" card on this one.) They were SO GOOD!

Monica was the first to sample one, so I commemorated the occasion.

Monica showing off her bacon wrapped stuffed date.

Monica about to take a bite of her bacon wrapped stuffed date.

Monica making the "yum, this is a really good bacon wrapped stuffed date" face.

See what I mean about the good-looking genes? My sister is gorgeous! Back when I was young and skinny, people used to ask us if we were twins. HA HA HA! I wish!

Overall, it was a great Christmas. I hope your holiday was also filled with family, food and love.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

My gift to you! Have the merriest of holidays!
Love, Christine

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh, Fudge! (Oh, Toffee!)

Well, it's Christmas Eve and after a change in plans, I am now happily entrenched at my sister's house. I wasn't supposed to come down until tomorrow, but there was a break in the weather and we decided it would be safest to travel today. I am so happy to be here and grateful that my sister was willing to take me a day earlier than planned so we could all be together...thanks Monica!

For the last few days I have been baking away. I'm not a big fan of making cookies. I think it's because you have to keep sticking batch after batch in the oven and it takes a while to be done. I'm much better with candy. It's done much more quickly. Plus I LOVE to follow directions. I've always loved to read directions and rules. Then you can break the ones that are dumb. Anyway, candy making is very persnickety and the better you follow the directions, the better it turns out. The only problem is that people get pretty annoyed when I don't bring them candy at Christmas. So I have to make over ten batches. So much for getting done quickly!

The fudge recipe I use is one I found online a few years back. I've had great success with it. Plus, the site has lots of helpful tips so it is pretty much fail proof if you read all the directions. I make Skaarup's Fantasia Fudge, just the standard recipe with walnuts. The peanut butter fudge is the same recipe, but it's listed on the variations page. You sub in peanut butter for the chocolate chips and cut out two tablespoons of butter. I use creamy peanut butter instead of the chunky because it's smoother. It's SO GOOD!!!!! The only bad thing about it is that I forgot to pack it, and now it is sitting in my fridge, not getting eaten by us. Poop!

I actually made this when it was still snowing and I feel like it came out a bit drier than normal. Usually our air is really moist and so is the fudge. I'm thinking that the drier air resulted in a less moist fudge. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

I did remember to bring the toffee I've been making pretty much non-stop. There have been threats of leaving me out on the doorstep to freeze if I didn't bring it with me. The recipe is from my 1990 version of the Better Homes and Garden cookbook. It is fabulous!

Mmmm...doesn't that look good? My friends and family are lucky I don't eat it all before it ever makes it to them. This is even easier to make than the fudge. So if you're feeling so inclined, here's the recipe.

Toffee Butter Crunch

1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, toasted

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with foil, extending foil over edges. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts in the pan. Butter sides of a heavy 2 quart saucepan. In saucepan, melt butter. Add sugar, water and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium-high heat to boiling.
Clip candy thermometer to pan. Cook and stir over medium heat to 290 degrees, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully after 280* to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and pour mixture into prepared pan. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes or till firm; sprinkle with chocolate pieces. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes. When softened, spread chocolate over mixture. Sprinkle with finely chopped nuts. Chill until firm. Lift candy out of pan, break into pieces. Store tightly covered. Makes about 1 1/2 pounds.

Then you'll have a big batch of this:

How come I never make this for myself? What's that hips and stomach? Oh, yeah. Now I remember.

Happy Holidays everyone!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cute with Chris

One of the sites I visit regularly is Cute with Chris. It's basically pictures of puppies and kittens and other disgustingly cute things that the host makes fun of. Chris's sense of humor is totally whacked out and generally off-color. They recently reposted this Christmas episode and I thought I would share it as there's no swearing or anything TOO disgusting. Except for cat barf. And maybe some questionable use of tinsel.

If you're not easily offended, go check it out. If you ARE easily offended, just stare at this for awhile.

The View from my Windows

My mom reminded me that my digital camera can make short movies. Whoo-hoo!

Last night...

And this morning....

There's a car in there somewhere!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Induced Cooking

It's amazing what you can find in your kitchen/freezer when it's too snowy to go to the store. I swear, it WILL NOT STOP SNOWING! For anyone not from this area, this is not normal for us. I enjoy snow because usually it shows up, melts in a day or two, then bye-bye. I am ready for it to stop now! It has been going almost non-stop for 3 days straight. Yesterday I ventured out to my local neighborhood to do some Christmas shopping since it's only about 5 blocks away. I took my car because I'm worried about it sitting out in this cold weather not being run. (Plus I'm a lazy ass.) My car was covered when I left a few hours later.

Since it's too crazy to hit the store I thought about what food might be left in my house. I remembered there was some Bolognese sauce in my freezer from a big batch I made a few months ago. I poked around my pantry and found a half box of mostaccioli (that means "big pasta tubes" in English!) As it was boiling, I checked the box for how long to let it go and noticed a recipe for "Tuscan Pasta Bake" on the back. It was basically a meat sauce mixed with the pasta and cheese, then baked. I found some shredded mozzarella in my fridge (no blue mold or anything...how'd that happen?) and decided to go for it. I'm horrible at making up food, so this was a big leap for me. I heated up the sauce I already had and left out the Parmesan since I didn't have any (how'd that happen?) then baked the pasta and sauce for about 10 minutes uncovered because I ran out of foil (how'd that happen?) I threw the cheese on top and stuck it back in for 10 minutes more. While poking around in the freezer, I found a couple of flatbread things I'd bought a while back to try. I think they're made by the Boboli people. So I threw those in to bake at the same time. Here's how it all turned out.

It was so good! (How'd that happen?)

I used an 11 x 7 pan, but it's still a lot just for me. Guess I know what I'm eating for the rest of the week!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pathetic Confession #1

I am addicted to Hallmark made for TV movies. Ones with bad plots. That always have happy endings. And hot male leads. Especially Andrew McCarthy.

*picture from www.mylifetime.com
Feel free to judge me. I would.

Comfort Foods

It didn't take snow for me to know it was officially winter. I figured it out when I started having a hankering for comfort foods. It all started when I was perusing Confessions of a Pioneer Woman and found a recipe for pinto beans. I wanted them NOW. I've never made beans except from a can or BBQ Baked Beans during the summer. But I wanted those beans. I knew right then I was in trouble. Since I've been (somewhat) snowed in, I made PW"s Beans and Cornbread a few nights ago. Unfortunately, I added too much water. So I took off the lid and let some of the liquid cook off. But then I got distracted, and cooked off too much of it. They were still good, but next time I'll keep a better eye on it. It came out a bit too thick for me. The cornbread is the recipe from the back of the Alber's box. Apparently PW doesn't believe in putting sugar in cornbread. Sacrilege! Although, the whole frying it in a pan part sounded awesome. Look, I even cut up some onions for garnish (and because it sounded good.) Go me!

The best part is that I had half a package of bacon left over. So for breakfast I had eggs over easy, toast, oranges and BACON! No pictures, too hungry. Plus cold eggs are gross.

Then I got a craving for Mac & Cheese with hot dogs. Not even homemade mac and cheese, but the stuff from the box. And the cheap quality hot dogs I got for free (after a school fund raiser) which I had in the freezer. This stuff got me through college, in addition to 10 cent top ramen and "tube biscuits" that cost four for a dollar.

Check out that florescent orange color. How scary is it that I ate this? Do you think my insides are now this color? The really scary part is that I ate the leftovers for breakfast. ACK!

Today at lunch it was time for toasted cheese and tomato soup. Yum!

Yep, those are apples in the sandwich. I started adding Granny Smith slices a few years ago and it is so good! I've also used pears on occasion. But I like the apples best because they aren't too sweet and really compliment the cheese flavor. They also get slightly warm but don't actually cook down. My cheese probably looks a little funky. I tend to buy the cheese made with 2% milk. I don't notice a flavor difference, but sometimes the texture is a little iffy. I've gotten used to buying it so it's what's in my house.

Ah, comfort food. Now you'll be with me until the end of time...or at least until I get to the gym to exercise you off my hips.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Rosewood Cafe

*picture from www.rosewoodcafe.com

I told you I go other places to eat besides Tea Rooms. Very close to my house is a great restaurant called The Rosewood Cafe. The owner is super nice and it's an adorable little spot. It was originally built as a grocery store back in the day, but now they serve fabulous homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. All of the sandwiches are great and I love the Peasant Plate which is basically a small loaf of bread with lots of different cheeses and fruit. I always try to get their soup because it is the only place I've found that makes actual homemade soup. I love driving by and checking out their soup du jour on the outside chalkboard. In the summer, they open up the large green doors on the far right and have tables outside, too. I think I've drug all my friends here, and my sister Monica and I once ate all of our meals there for an entire weekend.

Have a mentioned that I live REALLY close to the Rosewood? Like I-can-see-it-from-my-house close? I won't say too much more, in case there's a stalker running loose trying to find out where I live. Unless you are a cute stalker. In which case, send me a picture and we'll talk.

The soup today was Chicken and Artichoke, so I got a cup with my Rosewood Deluxe, which is turkey with bacon, havarti and tomato, lettuce and onion all toasted and melty...I think they use a panini press. (Did you know that "panini" is Italian for "sandwiches"?) They were both awesome. Can you see the steam rising off the soup? Mmmmmmm...

I even had an ingredient discussion with the chef/owner. He told me he had added some lemon juice to the soup because the flavor was somewhat "one dimensional." I said that it went well with the artichokes. I felt so Top Chef!

When I was ordering, I noticed they had Apple Cake as their dessert special. So I ordered it with my meal. Good thing, because I got the last piece. Also, I was pretty full after half my sandwich so I never would have ordered it if I'd waited. So it was good for my taste buds, but bad for my waist line. Or waist bulge. Whatever.

The cake was somewhat dense with nuts and raisins. The best part was the very light cream cheese filling. It was fluffy and not overly sweet. The whipped cream tasted homemade, or a least very fresh. No Reddi-Whip happening at the Rosewood.

Overall, a great lunch and a fun time watching people walking and sledding and jogging (???) past the windows. If this snow keeps up, I might be back again tomorrow.


It took us a while, but we finally go some serious snow. It hit North Tacoma at about 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday and the streets were covered within half an hour.

I went to bed relatively sure there wouldn't be school the next day. Apparently, the snow held off in a lot of other locations until right before the morning commute. Yuck. I wish when it snowed, people would just stay home. For those of you who don't know, snow in the Seattle area causes commuter havoc. We have crazy hills and roads, weird snow patterns and a general lack of experience with driving in snow. Here are my top three tips for Seattlites on the road today:

1.  STAY HOME! Unless you are a police officer/ambulance driver/DOT employee, do you really need to be at work today? Really? Couldn't it wait until tomorrow?
2.  If you drive around, and find yourself stuck/sliding/clueless, do NOT (and I repeat DO NOT) leave your car sitting in the middle of a major freeway. I saw this for the first time last year. It happened again this morning. People give up, or don't want to sit anymore, and just walk away from their car. While it is in the middle of the road. COME ON! At least TRY to move it to the side! If not, I don't envy you the tow truck bill/police fine coming your way.
3.  SLOW. DOWN. I don't care what kind of "wheel drive" you have or how big and heavy your truck is. You CANNOT go the normal speed. And stop trying to run over those of us who ARE going slow.

Okay, enough ranting. I am thankful to be a teacher who gets to sit home and write Christmas cards today.

Once it started snowing again this morning, it hasn't stopped. Thank goodness I am close enough to walk to local stores in case I run out of milk or something. (Unless the store owners listen to me and stay home!) So the below pics show that we got THIS MUCH SNOW today, minus the stuff that blew away in the wind.

My windowsill from inside my house.