Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Friday night, I dreamed about these brussels sprouts. More importantly, I dreamed that I was in the running to win a James Beard award just for these brussels sprouts. Well, to be more specific, Dan was in the running to win the James Beard award. I'm not sure why he was getting the credit, but I didn't even care as long as these brussels sprouts got the recognition they deserved.

That's how freaking good they are. Dan was going to get MY faux James Beard award and I DIDN'T EVEN CARE.

Going into Thanksgiving, I knew I was making roasted brussels sprouts, but I hadn't quite decided on a recipe. With three conflicting recipes, there were lots of decisions to make. Bake at 400 or 425? With shallots or without? Bacon or no bacon? Simple or with dressing? In the end, I sort of made it up as I went along and worked with what I had (which meant a last minute switch from a sheet pan to a baking dish).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Yield: 6-8 Servings

1/2 lb bacon
3 lb brussels sprouts
2 shallots, sliced thinly
olive oil
salt & pepper
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay bacon out on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Bake bacon for 25-30 minutes, or until crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Set aside and increase the oven heat to 400.
2. Trim the ends off the brussels sprouts and cut in half through the root end. Place brussels sprouts in a 9x13'' baking dish with shallots. Drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
3. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally to promote even cooking. Meanwhile, chop or crumble bacon. Add to brussels sprouts and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the brussels sprouts are tender and starting to caramelize, another 20-25 minutes.
4. Remove vegetables from the oven and drizzle with vinegar and honey. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Jefferson Gingerbread House 2011

Last night we unveiled the giant Gingerbread House my co-workers and I have been working on for the past month!

Isn't it cute! Ok, so I'm a little biased since I put my blood, sweat, tears, and hours of work into it. Hey, you try unwrapping 300 starbursts without jabbing yourself under the fingernail with those sharp little paper corners.

It was actually a really fun project to work on. It's located in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel here in Richmond and is huge as far as gingerbread houses go. It's plenty big enough to fit 3 or 4 people inside, standing up (if you're a little on the shorter side)! Here are some in-progress shots.

Just starting to put the roof shingles on

The finished roof, chimney, and walls. We attached all the bricks one by one 
and mortared in between all of them with royal icing.

Starting to put the candy and fondant decorations on

Almost finished!

I love the roof!

Ready for showing!

The front door

A peak inside at the Christmas tree, presents, and gingerbread-tiled walls 
(as one of the shortest people working on the house, I spent a lot of time in there)

The "working" fireplace

See, told you it works


The pastry staff inside our creation!

At the unveiling

To answer some of the most common questions we were asked last night at the Christmas tree lighting and house unveiling-
Yes, everything on the house is edible except the wooden structure underneath.
It took about a month to complete and 350 hours of labor.
Everything is attached with royal icing. No glue was used.
When we're finished displaying it, the whole things gets demolished. No, no one eats it and we don't save it for next year.
The bathrooms are through the doorway and to the right.

We were already thinking up ideas for next year! It will be on display through the whole month of December, and the whole hotel is decorated beautifully for the holidays. Come see it if you get a chance!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cranberry Sauce

I know most people like to post Thanksgiving recipes, you know...before Thanksgiving. But I like to live life on the edge, which means waiting until the (in my opinion) most important holiday of the year to test out new recipes.

Yeah, you can imagine how fun it is to be in my kitchen on the big day. This year I totally winged it on the salad dressing, tried a completely new technique for baked sweet potato fries, mashed together three recipes for roasted brussels sprouts, made the always risky decision to bake yeasted rolls, used a brand new recipe for brownies, made my own additions to an apple tart, and found this last minute recipe for cranberry sauce. Thank goodness I wasn't in charge of the turkey or who knows what would have ended up on our plates.

The bad news is I was absolutely no help with planning your Thanksgiving meals. But come on, I knew you had it handled. The good news? Now I can share all the winners, leave out the sweet potatoes losers, and maybe give you some good ideas for the fabulous holiday parties I know you'll be hosting before the end of the year. Or just for dinner tonight!

To be fair, cranberry sauce is usually toted out once a year just for one night. But it's sassy. It deserves more than one night out a year. And to date other birds. Cranberry sauce with orange roasted chicken? I think yes. Or, if nothing else, you'll have a fail-safe cranberry sauce all lined up for next year.

Cranberry Sauce

1 orange
1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water
Sugar, salt, pepper

1. Trim the peel from the orange in long, large pieces, trying to avoid as much of the white pith as possible. Reserve the orange for another use.
2. Place all but 1/2 cup cranberries in a small saucepot. Add sugar, orange peel, and water to the pot. Place over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook until the cranberries burst, another 10-12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the reserved 1/2 cup cranberries. Taste and add sugar, salt, and pepper as necessary. Remove the pieces of orange peel and discard. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Recipe Notes:
  • I doubled this recipe for our meal of 12 and had plenty of sauce for dinner and some leftovers. However, if doubling, still reserve just 1/2 cup fresh cranberries to stir in at the end; 1 cup will overwhelm the sauce.
Recipe slightly adapted from Food Network

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 Round Up

Thanksgiving this year was a whirlwind. With only two days off work and 360 miles to drive round-trip, there was very little sleep to be had. But there was plenty of food! And since I'm still working on not enough sleep, I'm going to let my pictures (and video!) speak for themselves.

Yeah, we fry our turkey. In the driveway.

With cocktails

(I recorded a video of the turkey being lowered into the fryer but it's not uploading! Hopefully I'll get it up and running soon. Any tips?)

Oh, and we roast a turkey too. And bathe it in butter.

The result of the men's copious drinking hard work. It sort of looks like they're having a nice chat over a glass of chardonnay.

Yes, that's three turkeys. I think the final calculation was 47 pounds of meat. For 12 people. It was  just a tad excessive. But why stop at one turkey when you have enough oil for two?

Dan was elected to carve since he was the most sober of the menfolk and all the ladies were busy with the rest of the meal.

Besides, he's going to be a surgeon; he has to hone his craft somehow.

Recipes coming soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's almost here...

My favorite holiday is just a two days away!

Things have been crazy at work as we finish up the giant gingerbread house, so I've been storing up my energy for the marathon of cooking and baking that will commence this week. Here's what's on the menu:

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
Baked Brie with Fruit Chutney
Stuffed Mushrooms*

First Course
Roasted Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

Main Course
Roasted Turkey
Deep Fried Turkey
Cranberry Sauce*
Chestnut Stuffing
Macaroni and Cheese
Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Roasted Brussels Sprouts*
Potato Rolls with Compound Herb Butter*

Pumpkin Roulade Cake
Pear Apple Tart*
Oatmeal Cookie-Crusted Brownies*

What are you having??

*I'll post these recipes after the holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Royal Icing

Decorating cookies with royal icing gets addictive. It's amazing what you can do with some cookie cutters and tinted frosting! It may seem overwhelming to get started, so I've broken the basics down into steps. Start small! Just use a simple circle cookie cutter and one color. Or even buy plain sugar cookies from the store just to practice on. I promise, it will get easier the more you practice! And if you're ever at a loss for inspiration, just search decorated cookies on Pinterest, and you'll be overwhelmed all over again.

First up, supplies. You will need:
20-25 cookies
egg whites and powdered sugar
Food coloring (optional)
Paper towel
Plastic wrap
Piping bags and a small round tip
Squeeze bottle or disposable piping bags

Step 1: Bake your cookies and let them cool completely. If you can bake them the night before you decorate, even better.

Step 2: Make your icing. With an electric mixer, whisk 3 egg whites on med to med-high speed until very foamy. Gradually add 18 oz powdered sugar (you can sift it if you want but I usually don't), and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. The more you beat your icing the stiffer it will get so be careful not to overbeat it or it will be difficult to pipe.

Step 3: Color your icing if desired. Add a small amount of food coloring, and whip or stir until the color is incorporated. I prefer Americolor or Wilton gel colors. Using pure liquid food coloring or even too much gel can affect the consistency of your icing. If it starts to get too thin, just add more powdered sugar and/or whisk it until stiffer. Also, keep in mind your icing will darken slightly as it dries. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel pressed directly on the surface of the icing, plus plastic wrap, until ready to use.

Step 4: Lay out all your cookies on a flat surface. Fit a pastry bag with a small plain round tip (I like Wilton #2). Fill the bag about half full with royal icing and twist the top to tighten the bag. Reserve the remaining icing covered as above.

Step 5: Outlining. Use gently pressure to pipe a line of icing just inside the outer edge of the cookie. Try to keep your bag about 1/4-1/2'' above the cookie so you get a nice round line. You want the icing to sort of "fall" out of the bag. This will give you more control over where you're piping. Try to only touch down on the cookie when you begin and end. If you make a mistake, just wait until the icing dries and then scrape it off with a small knife. Let all the cookies rest until the outline is set (usually by the time I'm done outlining my last cookie, I can start flooding the first one).

Step 6: Flooding. First, thin your icing. Begin adding water to your remaining royal icing 1/2 tsp at a time. Continue to add water until the icing is the consistency of honey or thick syrup. A ribbon of icing lifted out of the bowl should disappear back into the icing after just a few seconds. Transfer this thinned or "flood" icing to a plastic squeeze bottle or a disposable plastic piping bag. Snip just the very end off the bag. Pipe or squeeze this icing inside the outline of each cookie. This is called "flooding." Don't try to fill the entire cookie completely. Just fill it most of the way without the icing overflowing. Start with less and add more as necessary. Use a toothpick to guide the icing all the way out until it touches the outline, adding more thinned icing as necessary. Use the sharp end of the toothpick to pop any air bubbles.

Step 7: Let set. Allow the cookies to set until the icing is completely hardened. This can take as much as 24 hours, especially if the weather is humid or damp. If you want to package your cookies, let them sit for 24 hours. Don't worry too much about the cookies getting stale. The icing actually acts as a sealant and will keep the cookies fresh. If you want to pipe additional designs over your flooded icing, only do so once it is completely set. Use the thicker icing (outline) to do this.

Storing royal icing: Store royal icing in the fridge, with a damp paper towel pressed directly onto the surface of the icing. Cover with plastic wrap or the lid of an airtight container. Alternatively, if you have leftover icing still in a plastic piping bag, you can simply put the whole thing in the fridge to store.

I hope this has helped you learn the basics about decorating cookies with royal icing. Please let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them. Look for even more decorated cookies for more specific decorating techniques, coming soon!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Decorated Gingerbread Cookies

Remember my leaf problem? Well, thanks to Artie from Craigslist, my leaves have been blown and raked and bagged and are sitting on my curb waiting for pick up! And my yard (which I can finally see again) looks glorious!

And in honor of all those fallen leaves, I decided to make them into cookies. Where I worked in New York, I did a lot of cookie decorating. We had decorated sugar cookies for Christmas, for Valentine's Day, even for the NCAA basketball tournament and the Oscars. What can I say, we were a festive bunch.

But ever since moving and getting a new job, I haven't had the opportunity to further hone my cookie decorating skills and I really started to miss it. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and use a Williams-Sonoma gift card that had been burning a hole in my wallet for almost a year to buy some beautiful seasonal cookie cutters.

Ordinarily I would have chosen either a simple vanilla or chocolate recipe for these cookies, but I happen to know that Dan's twin sister loves gingerbread, and deserved something extra special after she valiantly came over the other night to remove a tick from our dog's head (because seriously, I was just not doing that on my own. Plus, she's a nurse and is therefore much more qualified to deal with anything related to tweezers and parasite removal. I shudder just thinking about it).

I've made gingerbread twice before this and both times were in the service of gingerbread houses. In fact, I've made probably close to 200 pounds of gingerbread dough in the last few weeks for the giant house we're creating at work. Seriously, the house is so big I can get into it, stand up, and probably raise my arms above my head, and could probably fit another two of me in there (and yes, at 5'2'' I'm pretty short). But, if you've ever made gingerbread strictly for a house, you probably know that it's not exactly something you'd want to nibble on after dinner. You'd probably break a tooth.

But this recipe for gingerbread cookies is the exact opposite. These cookies are soft and chewy, but sturdy enough to hold their shape through baking and stand up to decorating. I love the natural color, and think plain white icing with some sanding sugar would also look simple and beautiful. The flavor is also spot on for gingerbread, sweet and spicy.

I tried a few different designs when it came to decorating. Here are how to do two of my favorites. First, outline each cookie. By the time you finish outlining, the icing should be set enough that you can start flooding.

For the "hearts," I flooded the cookie in the same color as the outline, using "flood" or thinned icing and a toothpick to push the icing all the way to the edge of the outline. Then using a contrasting color or two, I added small dots right onto the wet icing. Use a toothpick and drag the end through the middle of each dot.

The second design I liked was a marbled look. Prepare two contrasting colors of thinned icing. Begin to fill in the cookie with one color, purposefully leaving lots of open space. With the second color, fill in as much of the empty space without overfilling the cookie. Use a toothpick to spread the icing out to the edges of the outline until the whole cookie is filled. Then, go back with your toothpick and marble the two colors together by dragging and swirling the toothpick through the icing until you reach your desired effect.

For some of the cookies, I went back and added a contrasting color outline and veins. I used Wilton gel colors in Orange, Christmas Red, and Green, and tinted each color with a little bit of brown so they weren't so neon. I'll be doing a post about royal icing that includes the recipe I use as well as some basic definitions and tips.

Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: About 20 3-5'' cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
Royal Icing

1. In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until soft and creamy.
3. Add the egg and molasses and continue to mix until incorporated, scraping down the sides as necessary.
4. Add all the dry ingredients and mix on low until just incorporated. The dough will look crumbly.
5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use your hands to form the dough into two discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4'' thick. Cut into desired shapes. Space 1-2'' apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
7. Bake cookies until crisp, but not dark, 12-14 minutes. Let cool on sheet pans, on wire racks.
8. Once cookies are completely cool, decorate with royal icing. Allow to set for a few hours or overnight.

Recipe Notes:
  • Before pouring the molasses into a measuring cup, spray the cup with non-stick spray to make it easier to pour all the molasses out.
  • Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling. If you find it's starting to crack, simply press firmly on the dough with your rolling pin to condition it before rolling.
  • Only re-roll your scraps once, letting the dough rest to avoid tough cookies.
From Martha Stewart

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cold Spicy Thai Noodles

Do you ever have that magical moment when you see a new recipe and realize you actually have all the necessary ingredients in your stockpile? For me, that was the case for my Dirty Blondies, but these Thai Noodles came pretty close too. Aside from the garnishes, I had everything I needed!

I'm sorry I didn't time myself while I made these because I suspect that in the time it took for the pasta water to boil and the noodles to cook, I had prepped all the garnishes and the sauce. Unfortunately, I still had to wait a couple hours for the noodles to chill, but let me tell you, they were worth the wait. Spicy and savory, but still refreshing thanks to the cool noodles, crunchy carrots, and fresh herbs. But make no mistake, this is spicy! It'll make your lips burn and clear out your sinuses.

Mmm, hurts so good

Cold Spicy Thai Noodles
Yield: Serves 2-3 as a main course; or 4-6 as a side

1/2 lb spaghetti
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp soy sauce
Squeeze of lime juice
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped

1. In a small sauce pan, combine both oils and crushed red pepper. Heat over medium heat just until it begins to bubble. Cook for another 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Let the oil steep while the pasta cooks.
2. Prepare spaghetti according to package directions. Strain and set aside.
3. In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, and lime juice. Position a fine mesh strainer (or a strainer lined with cheesecloth) over the bowl. Pour the reserved oil through the strainer. Discard the chili flakes. Whisk the sauce until emulsified.
4. Pour the reserved pasta into the bowl and toss to combine. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
5. When ready to serve, toss pasta with carrots, onions, and cilantro, and garnish with peanuts. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Recipe Notes:
  • I used my vegetable peeler to get the long shreds of carrot.
  • You could definitely add some cooked chicken, meat, or tofu to beef this up a bit and serve it as a main course.
  • For a milder version, use just 1 tsp red pepper flakes.
Adapted from A Small Snippet

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dirty Blondies

I'd been craving something sweet for days, but couldn't settle on anything to bake. Did I want cookies? Some kind of bar? Maybe ice cream? As I was going through my pantry for inspiration, I pulled out a half-empty bag of white chocolate chips... that expired in August of 2010. Not ideal.

Not only was this a waste of chocolate, but I found three other bags of open goodies that were in danger of meeting the same fate! Since I couldn't figure out what I wanted anyway, I decided to dump everything that was already open into a bowl and hope for the best.

And the best is definitely what I got. A little nugget of chocolate or peanut butter in every bite, nice and dense, but chewy from all that coconut. Not to mention the crunchy, sugary graham cracker crust.

And of course, a drizzle of a little salted caramel sauce.

Oh yes. I went there. Totally optional. Except not really because this is absolutely necessary. Go out and get some (Mine's from Trader Joe's). You don't need to make it; you just made the most epic blondies of all time. Take a break. Get yourself a treat.

I had more than one of these after dinner. And no, I won't tell you how many more because it is OBSCENE. Someone come save me.

Dirty Blondies
Yield: 16 Blondies

4 graham crackers
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened + 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup, plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used a mix of dark and milk)
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Salted Caramel Sauce (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9x9'' baking dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the graham crackers to make crumbs. Add 2 Tbsp granulated sugar and the 2 Tbsp melted butter. Process to combine. Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool while you make the filling.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the remaining butter with both sugars until creamy and light, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter mixture, along with the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed until barely incorporated.
5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate and peanut butter chips, and coconut. Spread evenly over reserved crust. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Set on a wire rack to cool. Cut into 16 squares to serve. Drizzle with caramel sauce, if desired. Store at room temperature.

Recipe Notes:
  • This batter is very thick, more like cookie batter than brownies. Spread it gently into the pan so as not to break the baked crust. A small offset spatula works best.
  • Try different combinations of mix-ins: pecans and coconut, all different kinds of chocolate, pretzel pieces and caramel chips, etc.
  • Seriously, the caramel sauce is totally optional. These are delicious all on their own and there's already a lot going on with the chocolate, peanut butter, and coconut. The caramel sauce just takes them over the edge.
Adapted from my Blondies
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