Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Apologies, and 12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: The Big Wrap-up

So... it's been a while.  21 days, to be exactly.  But that is nearly precisely how long it's taken me to get back in the kitchen following what I fondly call The Plague of 2012.  On Day 10, after a delicious dinner of frog legs (which I now unfortunately cannot think of without being a bit nauseated), I was brought down by some godawful sickness.

I seriously cannot remember the last time I was so sick.  I had a fluctuating fever for two days, didn't eat food for one day and didn't eat anything solid for nearly three days.  My stomach was a disaster zone.  It was miserable.  Alec was struck with the same thing, of course, so neither of us had anyone to take care of us.  And therefore I really haven't done much in the kitchen for nearly a month.

It's been rather tragic.  I obviously didn't finish the 12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge, but I will still post the pictures of everything else that was made.  And try not to get queasy thinking about the aftermath of Day 10.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying.

On the sixth day of Christmas, I made Foie Gras Stuffed Dates.

Mmm, not my favorite.  Did it because they "kindof look like eggs."  It was a different foie gras recipe than I usually use, and I ended up turning the foie gras mousse into normal foie gras, and we ate it like that.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming.

On the seventh day of Christmas, I made Black Swan and Flying Swan.

These weren't too shabby.  I preferred the Flying Swan (right) better.  Sour Apple Schnapps, rum, and orange juice.  How can you go wrong?  The Black Swan was a white chocolate martini.  

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking.

On the eighth day of Christmas, I made Tirimisu Milkshakes.

This?  Delicious.  I would make this again.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing.

On the ninth day of Christmas, I made Ladyfingers.

Omg.  These were a result of my 2012 goal to start (slowly) cooking through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  And they are amazing.  I'm sure I'll be doing an actual post on these.  Because I'm sure I'll be making them again.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a-leaping.

On the tenth day of Christmas, I made Frog Legs.

 Honestly?  These were so good.  Alec and I were raving over them while we were eating them.

But now?  I'm kindof grossed out just looking at the picture.  It's such a shame that I will always relate them to The Plague.  Maybe in a few years I'll be over it.  Because I'd really like to eat frog legs again.  But now I really have to stop talking about them.

All in all?  I hope for better luck next year with finishing, and, you know, not being direly ill.  But I made some yummy things and tried a lot of new foods and methods.  So?  Worth it.

...five gold rings...

... four colly birds...

... three French hens...

... two turtledoves...

... and a partridge in a pear tree.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: Day Five- Five Gold Rings

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings.

On the fifth day of Christmas, I made "Golden" Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts.

I love making doughnuts.  Or maybe I just love doughnuts.  Scratch that.  I definitely love doughnuts. I was debating between making onion rings making doughnuts, and then I thought, "Who am I kidding?" and I made the doughnuts.

These were a new method for me.  I've done baked cake doughnuts and I've done yeast fried doughnuts, but these?  These were yeast baked doughnuts.  And they were pretty delicious.  They had the wonderfully light texture of a yeast doughnut without the admittedly unhealthy (though admittedly amazing) addition of frying oil.  Alec claimed they were the best doughnuts I've made, though I don't know if I'd go that far.I liked them enough to eat three doughnuts and several doughnut holes that night alone.

"Golden" Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts
makes 10-14 doughnuts, plus doughnut holes!

1 egg
1/4 c. sugar
1 c. milk, at 115 degrees F
1 tbs active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 c. flour
1 stick butter, softened, cut into pieces

1 stick butter, melted
1 c. sugar and 2 tbs cinnamon, mixed

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, if you have one.  Beat the egg and sugar together for 2 minutes.  Add milk, yeast, salt, and vanilla.

Lower mixer speed to low, and add in 2 c. of the flour.

Switch out the paddle attachment for the dough hook and mix on medium, adding in one piece of butter at a time until combined.  Reduce speed to low and mix until dough comes together and is pulling away from the side of the bowl, slowly adding in more flour.  Dough should be soft and moist, but not sticky.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Gather into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Turn over to coat.  Cover with damp towel and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about one hour.

Punch dough down, turn out onto a floured surface, and roll out to 1/2" thickness.  Using a 3" round cutter and a 1" round cutter, cut out doughnuts from the dough.  Definitely save the 1" cut outs for doughnut holes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place doughnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, 1" apart.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 25 minutes on top of the preheating oven.

Bake 5-8 minutes, until light golden brown.

Let cool just enough to handle, and then, one by one, dip briefly in the melted butter, and then into the cinnamon sugar.  Eat promptly!

Note: These do not keep very well.  They're best fresh and hot from the oven, and are still okay the next day. But after that, I threw the remainder away.  Invite someone over (or several someones, depending on how generous you're feeling) over to share.

... four colly birds...

... three French hens...

... two turtledoves...

... and a partridge in a pear tree.

12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: Day Four- Four Colly Birds

So, I'm very behind in posting.  As usual.  Here it is, Day 9, and I've only posted up to Day 3.  I'm ashamed.  But I blame it on Beggars.

This past Saturday was, of course, New Year's Eve.  There was an absolutely enormous party at the Casa Loma Ballroom for the Beggar's New Year's Eve show.  Nearly 600 people were in attendance, not to mention the Beggars themselves.  The show featured a champagne toast at midnight, wonderful music by the Royal We, and a multitude of out-of-town and local performers, including Armitage Shanks, Ray Gunn, Jeez Louise, and Lady Jack.

Here are a few links to some photos from that night, as taken by a few of the amazing St. Louis photographers.  (Note: you may need to be friends on Facebook to view some of these)

I spent Friday night and Saturday morning making 8 dozen cupcakes to sell.  There was French Toast and Bacon, Faux-stess, Candy Cane, and VanElla Surprise (a vanilla pudding-filled vanilla cupcake, in honor of Lola Van Ella herself).  And they all sold out!  It was quite a night.

I have been keeping up with cooking, just not with posting.  So... here we go.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds.

On the fourth day of Christmas, I made "Blackbird" Berry Pie.

Another thing I learned, besides the timing of the 12 Days of Christmas, is that the line was not originally "four calling birds."  The original phrasing is "four colly birds," "colly" meaning "blackbird."  The line has been modernized into "four calling birds."  Fun fact.

I had a ton of blackberries left from a 10 for $10 sale at Schnucks, so I figured... blackbirds... blackberries... blackbirds.  Close enough.  And then I threw on some bird cut-outs and called it a "Blackbird" Berry Pie.  

"Blackbird" Berry Pie
(serves 8)

1 pie dough recipe for top and bottom (below)
5-6 c. blackberries, rinsed, picked clean, patted dry
1/2-3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 tbs quick cooking instant tapioca
Place blackberries, sugar, juice, zest, cinnamon, extract, and tapioca in a large bowl.  Fold everything together very gently until the berries are well-coated.  Let rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 F.  You should have two balls of pie dough.  Roll out one on a lightly floured surface to 12" diameter.  Fit into a pie pan.  Chill in the refrigerator while you roll out the other crust.

Roll out the second ball of crust into a 12" circle.  Use a bird shaped cookie cutter to make bird cut-outs.  (Or you can do a lattice-top or a regular full crust, but a bird-scattered crust is much more fun.)

Spoon the berry mixture into the pie pan.  Place your bird cut-outs over the top of the berries.

Trim the edges of the bottom crust to 1/2" from the edge, then fold back over themselves and pinch to make a pretty edge.

Brush the crust with an egg wash (1 egg white, 1 tbs water, beaten).

Place the pie in the middle rack of the oven, with a backing sheet on a lower level, in case any juices bubble over.

Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes.  Then cover with aluminum foil, reduce the heat to 350 F and bake another 30 minutes.  The crust should have browned and the filling should be bubbling.

Let cool completely before serving.
 All Butter Pie Crust

2 1/2 c. flour
1 c. unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
6-8 tbs ice water

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl.  Cut in butter, or pulse in a food processor until mixture resembles sand, with very small pieces of butter.

Add in water, a bit at a time, and stir/pulse in processor until dough comes together and can hold together in a ball.

Separate dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Before using, let sit out 5-10 minutes to soften slightly.


My favorite part of this is the bird cut-outs.  In retrospect, I probably should have thrown a few more on, as they obviously shrink with baking.  In further retrospect, these would be adorable as mini-pies, with just one or two bird cut-outs on top.  I got my cookie cutter at Sur La Table.  Technically, it's a chick.  But whatever.

I'm not the biggest blackberry fan, but this is a pretty decent pie.  It's sweet and juicy and the crust turned out lovely, not too flaky and not too hard.  It doesn't get soggy.

Plus, the whole thing is super-cute, I think.

... three French hens...

... two turtledoves...

... and a partridge in a pear tree.

Friday, December 30, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: Day Three- Three French Hens

Perry Como singing The 12 Days of Christmas.  Because sometimes, Christmas should be delightfully laid-back.

And laid-back is exactly how I felt after making the following deliciousness.  Laid-back.  And full.  Very full.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens...

On the third day of Christmas, I made Stuffed Cornish Hens.
from Food.com
(serves 4)*

1 pkg long grain and wild rice mix
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbs butter, divided
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 4 oz can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
4 Cornish game hens

Cook the rice according to the box directions.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Saute the celery and onion in 1 tbs butter until soft.

Combine celery and onion mix, cooked rice, soup, and mushrooms in a bowl.

Sprinkle salt and pepper both on and inside each hen.  Stuff with rice mixture, which is, by the way, extremely delicious.

Place in a greased roasting pan.  If you have a roasting pan with a rack, use that.  I do not.

Cover with foil or with the roasting pan's lid.  Bake for 40 minutes.

Melt the remaining 1 tbs butter.  Remove the foil/lid from the pan and brush the melted butter over the hens.  Bake for another 25-35 minutes, or until the temperature of the hens is 180 F and the stuffing is 165 F.

Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

*The original recipe calls for 6 hens, but I only made 4.  Since I still made the same amount of stuffing, I had some left over.  I baked that along with the hens in a separate Corningware dish and had it on the side.  Excellent, excellent idea.

... two turtledoves...

... and a partridge in a pear tree.

12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: Day Two- Two Turtledoves

To start out, a lovely, fun rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas by Straight No Chaser.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtledoves...

For the second day of Christmas, I made Turtle Fudge.
from Diana's Kitchen
(serves rather a lot)

3 c. sugar
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 small can (5 oz) evaporated milk (Note: I couldn't find this, so I estimated a little less than half of a 12 oz can)
1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
30 caramels, cut in squares (I had a bag of caramel chips that I never used for another project, so I just used these)
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
1 c. pecan halves
1 tsp vanilla

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue boiling, still stirring constantly, over medium heat until the temperature reaches soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (234-240 F).

Remove from heat.

Add chocolate chips, stirring until melted.  Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined.  Pour into a greased 13x9x2 baking pan.  Cool to room temperature and cut into square.

**This recipe didn't work out the greatest for me.  I'm not sure what happened exactly, as I've successfully made fudge several times before.  The texture turned out oddly, but the taste is still good, so... oh well.  I'll still eat it.

12 Days of Christmas Cooking Challenge: Day One- Partridge in a Pear Tree

To introduce this segment, let me explain.  A few weeks before Christmas, I devised the grand scheme that it would be a fun idea to cook the 12 Days of Christmas.  Unfortunately, a few days later, I realized that we would be in Cleveland for Christmas, at Alec's parents' house.  Where, granted, there is a fully-equipped kitchen.  But... honestly, we really didn't spend that much time at the house.  Because there are a ton of delicious places to eat in Cleveland!

I tried to resign myself to the fact that I would wait till next year to undertake this project.  But, really?  I can't wait for anything.  So I just started late, and am currently working on catching up to where we are now: Day 5.

One thing I learned early on in this challenge is that the 12 Days of Christmas start on or after Christmas, depending on the tradition.  I'd always lived under the assumption that they were the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but no!  For the sake of catching up, I'm going to say that my 12 days started on the 26th of December.  The 12 Days is also known as Christmastide or Twelvetide, and marks the period leading up to the Feat of Epiphany on January 6th.

To start this out right, here's one of my favorite renditions of The 12 Days of Christmas, John Denver and the Muppets!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree...

For the first day of Christmas, I made Wine-Poached Pears with Honey, Ginger, and Cinnamon Syrup, in a Phyllo Cup.
from Food Network
Serves 4

1 750 ml bottle Moscato wine
2 c. simple syrup (2 c. sugar + 2 c. water, brought to a boil and simmered 5 minutes, till sugar dissolves)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 tbs honey
1 3/4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped.
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 firm, ripe Anjou pears, peeled

3 sheets phyllo dough
1/4 c. melted butter
2 tbs cinnamon sugar

Vanilla ice cream, if you want (and why wouldn't you?)

In a large saucepan, combine wine, syrup, cinnamon sticks, honey, and ginger.  Scrape in the seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean, then add the vanilla bean in too.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until honey has melted.  Add in the pears and simmer, turning occasionally, until tender.  The original recipe claimed 15-20 minutes, but my pears were rather large, so it took longer.  Pierce with a fork to test tenderness.

 Remove the pears and allow to cool.  I put them in the fridge for later.

Continue to simmer the liquid until it thickens significantly, darkens, and is reduced by at least half.  Again, the original recipe said 15-20 minutes, but mine was not nearly thick enough by then. It should be a definite syrup-y consistency.  Strain the solids from the mixture and cool to room temperature.  Again, I stuck this in the fridge for later.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

For the phyllo cups, you will need to thaw the phyllo sheets according to the box directions.  Stack the layers carefully, brushing each layer of dough with the melted butter and sprinkling with the cinnamon sugar.  Cut into quarters, so you have four rectangles of dough.  Place four custard cups face down on a baking sheet and grease tops and sides.  Hopefully you, unlike me, have custard cups of the same size.  If not, oh well.  Drape the phyllo rectangles over the cups.  Bake for 12 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then carefully remove the phyllo cups from the custard cups.  Let cool completely.

To assemble, place a pear in the middle of each phyllo cup.  Spoon as much syrup as you want over the pear.  Add ice cream, as desired.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Beggar's Alley

If you're into St. Louis burlesque, you've probably heard of the Beggar's Carnivale.  It's a truly wonderful vaudeville/burlesque show and carnival, complete with a live band, out-of-town guest performers, vendors, and a hoochie-coo tent with sexy and dangerous sideshow acts!  When it first started, it was a monthly event held at 2720 Cherokee.  But, as it has grown in both size and popularity, the Carnivale has moved to the historic Casa Loma Ballroom and now takes place every other month.  This month, it happens to fall on New Year's Eve, and there is a huge New Year's Ball in the works!

It's an incredibly fun and unique event that I definitely recommend checking out.  Also?  I sell cupcakes (and assorted sweets) there as one of the vendors!  It's been a great opportunity to try out new flavors, do some experimenting, and really, it's helped to improve my decorating skills.

But why do I bring up Beggars?  Well, funny you should ask.  This weekend, there is a special Beggar's Alley show, featuring the sideshow acts usually kept safely away in the hoochie-coo tent.  Plus, you can see the show for only $5!  You'll have plenty of money left over to buy a cupcake or two.  I just know it.

The show starts at 9 on Friday at El Lenador.  You can find more information, including a list of performers, here.

Vagabond Opera, featured guest performers at the October Beggar's.  So good I bought a CD!