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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving sides and desserts

Thanksgiving was at J&J's house this year, so they provided turkey and trimmings, and we brought side dishes and a dessert. I brought three sides: Roasted Green Beans, Cocoa-Roasted Butternut Squash and Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin. The beans and gratin were total winners (thanks to my sister for pointing me toward the gratin recipe!), but the squash wasn't nearly as good as it sounded.
Cocoa-Roasted Butternut Squash
adapted (mostly to shrink quantities--the original recipe would feed an army) from a recipe printed in Oregonian FOODday, November 16, 2010

3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t salt
pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
scant 1/4 t cinnamon
1 t granulated sugar
2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into one-inch chunks
1 1/2 T vegetable oil
1/4 C toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 375. Combine cocoa, salt, sugar and spices in a small bowl. Toss squash with the oil, then with the cocoa-spice mixture. Arrange squash on foil-lined baking sheet, then roast for 40-45 minutes or until tender. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with almonds.

Perhaps I ended up with a particularly flavorless squash, but this didn't taste like mole sauce (as the article had promised). If I were to try it again, I would use less cocoa and swap the teaspoon of white sugar for a couple tablespoons of brown.

The dessert was a much less equivocal success. A few years back, a friend sent me a recipe, originally from Fine Cooking magazine, and I finally got around to making it.
Chocolate-Glazed Peanut Butter Tart
adapted from Fine Cooking Winter 2005

1 C cookies ground in a food processor (about 25 chocolate wafers, 8 whole graham crackers, 35 Nilla wafers)
2 T granulated sugar
3 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Mix crumbs, sugar and butter until well blended (I do it all in the food processor to avoid dirtying another bowl). Press crumb mixture into a 9.5-inch tart pan, using a straight-sided steel measuring cup. Bake about 10 minutes, then let cool.

1 1/2 C whole milk
1/4 t salt
3 egg yolks
1/3 C light brown sugar
4 t flour
1/2 C creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 t vanilla

Bring milk and salt to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar, and flour until well blended. Slowly add hot milk, whisking constantly. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a full boil. Boil one minute, then remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter and vanilla. Pour hot custard into the crust and spread evenly. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, at least two hours.

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 C unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 T light corn syrup

Melt chocolate and butter in a double-boiler or bain-marie, then whisk in corn syrup until smooth. Carefully remove plastic wrap from filling, then drizzle the glaze over the filling and spread to cover whole surface of tart. Refrigerate until glaze is set, at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quilled Snowflakes

Here's a Christmas craft for you to take on when you're snowed in.

To make these four snowflakes (adaptable for use as Christmas ornaments), I used one sheet of cardstock, a rotary paper cutter, and a large tapestry needle, no special quilling tools or papers. I adapted the pattern created by Reese Dixon to make a six-pointed snowflake. I also used this snowflake-quilling template, mounted to a piece of foam-core, to help hold them steady and symmetrical (with straight pins) while the glue dried. I used a clear liquid craft glue with a fine squeeze tip, but I think as long as you're pinning them in place with the foam-core template, standard white glue, applied with a toothpick, would be fine.

Use a paper cutter or a paper shredder that only cuts in one direction to make strips of the cardstock. They can be anywhere between 1/8" and 1/4" wide, but it's better if they're not wider, and it's important that they be as even as possible. Then cut them to the lengths needed for the snowflake pattern, only make the strip for the central spiral 10" long instead of 6". I might also cut the "arm" pieces a little longer, because I like the slightly airier look of the snowflake at upper left in the picture above. Its "arm" pieces were the same length as the others, just curled a little less at the ends.

Using a needle instead of a quilling tool meant it was a little harder to get each strip started winding, but it was totally doable and pretty quick once I got the hang of it.


Basil Treats

I realize it's a bit late in the year for these, since it's now frigid cold outside, but I did still see bags of fresh basil available at the local Co-op. For these two recipes, I used a large bunch of basil purchased at the farmers' market, probably half as big as my head. I've had herb and flower-flavored ice creams in the past, but the more immediate catalyst for my foray into basil desserts was a pair of French macarons I bought from Two Tarts Bakery's booth in the Portland Farmers' market. The first, purchased in early July, was a basil macaroon with fresh strawberry buttercream filling. It was transporting. In September, they still had the basil macaroons, but filled with basil buttercream. Strawberries no longer being readily available, this is the version I tried to re-create.

I started with Tartelette's basic macaron recipe, as published on Bakerella, then adapted for my circumstances (unground almonds) and preferences (basil!).
Basil Macaroons with Basil Buttercream

90 grams aged egg whites (from not-the-freshest eggs, at room temperature)
2 T granulated sugar
110 g blanched slivered almonds
200 g powdered sugar
pinch salt
leaves from 2-3 stems of basil (I used more than this, and they were very very strong)

Beat egg whites until foamy, then gradually add granulated sugar and keep beating until it forms a glossy meringue. The peaks should be fairly stiff, but it should still be shiny and wet-looking.

Process remaining four ingredients in food processor until almonds are finely ground and basil manifests itself as tiny green flecks.

Fold almond mixture into meringue, without being too gentle--you don't want little peaks to stand up when you squeeze the batter from the pastry bag onto the cookie sheet.

Put batter in a large ziploc bag or pastry bag and squeeze 1.5" circles onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Let batter-filled sheets sit at room temperature for an hour before baking at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool completely before peeling off parchment.

Make your favorite buttercream (I'm not entirely happy with mine yet), only make it in the food processor or mini-prep, and add the leaves of a sprig or two of basil.

Basil Ice Cream
adapted from Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book

2 large eggs (or 3-6 yolks, if you want to save the whites for the macaroons)
3/4 C sugar
2 C heavy cream
1 C milk
pinch salt
leaves from half a large bunch (about 6 stems) of basil

Put cream in a small saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Submerge basil, remove pan from heat, and let steep 30 minutes. Strain, pressing leaves to get all the cream, then set aside to cool.

While the basil-cream mixture is steeping, whisk eggs (or yolks) until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Gradually add sugar and salt and keep whisking until completely blended, light yellow and glossy. Whisk in milk, then transfer mixture to a medium-size saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Whisk into cream, let whole mixture cool (I sometimes speed this part of the process by nestling the bowl in a larger bowl filled with crushed ice), then refrigerate in the coldest part of your refrigerator overnight. The next day, freeze in an ice cream maker. Makes about a quart.

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More Banners

I went a bit nuts making more banners for Cindy Lou's birthday party last month. I got carried away cutting triangles from just about every possible fabric in my stash, and ended up having to buy about 10 additional packages of bias tape. I made four more Fourth of July banners, and I was amazed at how well the other fabrics ended up falling into pretty neat categories. That way each banner would just have four to eight different fabrics in it, instead of 20. When I first starting making them, I was certain that I would end up giving a large number of them away as gifts. Once I had them all hung in the dining room, however, I wasn't sure I would be willing to part with any of them--it was like being in a circus tent.

One small note about cutting and construction: when you're folding over a piece of fabric for mass triangle cutting, make sure the first fold leaves the fabric with right sides out. That way when you're dividing your cut stack into pairs of triangles, they will already have wrong sides together, ready for stitching.

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Chocolate Cheesecake

Just in time for those of you considering less-traditional Thanksgiving desserts.
Killer Chocolate Cheesecake
from Luscious Chocolate Desserts by Lori Longbotham

9-oz package chocolate wafers, broken into large pieces with your hands
6 T unsalted butter, melted


1 lb bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (no more than 70% cocoa--I used a mixture of half 60% and half 70%)
1/4 C unsalted butter
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 C sugar
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 1/2 C sour cream, at room temperature
2 t pure vanilla extract

Before starting anything else, get the cream cheese, sour cream and eggs out so they can come to room temperature for a couple of hours. Then melt the chocolate and butter for the filling in a double boiler or bain-marie (steel bowl set over barely simmering water), whisking until smooth, then whisking in cocoa powder and removing from the heat to cool to room temperature.

Make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven, and preheat it to 350. Butter a 9-inch tall (3" deep) springform pan and wrap the outside with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Have a roasting pan (big enough to hold the springform pan in about an inch and a half of water) ready, and put a kettle of water on to boil for the water bath.

Pulse the chocolate wafers in a food processor until finely ground. Add the melted butter and process until just blended. Press mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set, then let cool on a wire rack.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer, starting on low speed and increasing to medium-high, until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add salt, then beat in the chocolate mixture until just smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are fully incorporated. If you aren't too nervous about the raw eggs, find a helper to lick the beater.

Transfer the filling to the springform pan. Set the pan in the roasting pan, place it in the oven, and carefully pour in enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is almost set but still slightly jiggly; do not overbake, as the cheesecake will firm as it cools. If you really, really think it's too jiggly, bake for an additional five minutes but no longer (I did an extra 10 and regretted it). Remove the roasting pan from the oven and let the cheesecake cool in the water bath for 15 minutes.

Remove the springform pan from the water bath and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Remove the foil and refrigerate the cheesecake, loosely covered, until thoroughly chilled, 12 hours or overnight.

To serve, let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides, smooth the sides of the cheesecake with a butter knife, and cut into wedges. Very small wedges--this thing is RICH. An inch is about perfect, so this cheesecake can serve at least two dozen people.

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