Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween from the Wednesday Community Meal!

We had a lot of fun dressing up and serving our guests today.



We served 278 servings of super nachos today which the guests loved. We made the nachos to order and topped them with sour cream and a side of salsa.

Super nachos ready for the hot oven.

Volunteer Diane with two plates ready to be served.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Red Velvet Cake With Coconut Cream Cheese Icing

The addition of coconut to the cream cheese icing makes this cake extra special.
Icing the cake. I always start at the top and work my way down over the sides of the cake.

I love my recipe for red velvet cake.

The batter is thick and loaded with tasty ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream and pure unsalted butter.

I use my basic red velvet recipe for both cupcakes and cakes and have been thinking of ways to change it by alternating the traditional cream cheese icing. The addition of shredded sweetened coconut and a half teaspoon of coconut extract does just the trick.

This cake is super moist and chocolatey.  The red cake and snowy icing makes it perfect for the holidays but it's good on any occasion.

Two red velvet cakes ready for the oven.

Red Velvet Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ounce red food coloring
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line two 9-inch cake pans.

Cream butter, add vanilla and mix well. Add sugar and beat until fluffy.

Add eggs, sour cream, food coloring and buttermilk. Mix well.

Add salt and baking soda. Mix well.

Add cocoa powder and flour and mix just until blended. Don't over mix.

Divide batter among the two cake pans and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until done.

Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 box cream cheese (8 oz) room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/3 cups shredded and sweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Whip together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whip again.

Add the heavy cream and whip until light and spreadable. Add the coconut and coconut extract and whip again.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Star And Moon Sugar Cookies

I needed to make a big batch of sugar cookies for a concert this weekend so I knew I should chose a simple design that would take minimal time.

These star and moon cookies were a good choice. They are nothing fancy but basic can be beautiful and choosing to make them was a good choice because cookie decorating should be fun, not stressful.

I timed myself and it took me just 32 minutes to decorate 50 blue stars.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mini Halloween Cookies

Only four colors of royal icing are needed to make this assortment of mini Halloween cookies.

The mini ghost, pumpkin and bat cookie cutters came from a Halloween set my mom bought me more than 10 years ago. I'm pretty sure she found it at World Market. I've seen similar sets at Fred Meyer and Michael's.

The cutter I used for the cobweb is just a 1.5 inch square cutter. You could also use a small round cutter. These cookies are so easy to make and because they are small — one batch of cookie dough makes at least 60 cookies.

Here's how to make them:

My favorite design is the cobweb.

Bake small square or round cookies.
Outline and flood the cookie with white icing.
While the white icing is still wet, use flood consistency black icing to pipe two circles and a dot.
Use a skewer or toothpick to pull the icing from the center to each of the four corners. Be sure to wipe clean your skewer or toothpick between swipes.
Pull the icing four more times in between each of the corners. The result is simple but spectacular.
To make the ghost, outline and flood the cookie with white icing. Then immediately add flood consistency black icing for the eyes and mouth. That's all there is to it!
To make the bat, outline and flood the cookies with black royal icing. I use a skewer to ease the icing to the edges.
Add two white eyes and you're done.
To make the pumpkins, outline and flood the cookie with orange royal icing.
Add a little green stem. The pumpkins add a nice pop of color to your mini cookie assortment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Warming Up

When the temperature drops, the Wednesday Community Meal isn't just a place to get food, it's a place to get warm. 

During the Fall and Winter our guests tend to stay longer for the meal which is served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in NW Portland, Oregon. Because lets face it, a hot meal in a warm dining room is much better than the bitter cold.

Today our dining room was bustling as we served 327 meals and did our best to keep our guests warm, at least until 1 p.m. We served bowls of hot soup, salads and plates of ribs, shepherd's pie, sweet and sour shrimp, pasta, burritos, turkey and pizza.

Our top notch dishwashers worked nonstop today. Thank you Steve, Bill, Rodston and Dave!
Volunteer Kate roasted some donated anaheim peppers so that we can use them next week to make salsa verde. We are always trying our best to utilize the food we are given, prevent waste and thinking about what we will serve next week.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rose Topped Sugar Cookies

I made these rose topped sugar cookies just for fun so that I could use the royal icing baby roses I made a while ago. I think the look is simple and sweet.

To decorate the cookies,  I first added a cream base coat of royal icing and let it dry.

Next, using an ordinary table knife, I spread on a thin layer of light pink royal icing. I wanted the icing to have texture and look like an iced cake.

When the pink icing is still wet, add your royal icing rose and you're done.

Drying Royal Icing

My recent batch of cookies with slow drying royal icing.

I added a base coat of royal icing to a batch of sugar cookies yesterday morning at 10:30 a.m. and now, nearly 24 hours later, it's still not dry.

The time it takes for royal icing to dry is one of those elusive things - you can't rush it so you just have to wait.

Humidity and temperature play a big role and are things we have little or no control over. It's been raining a lot in Portland lately and it's getting cold and I'm cheap and am waiting as long as possible to turn on the heat — so that's what I attribute to my slow going sugar cookies.

From my experience drying time can take anywhere from two hours to nearly two days.

So the moral of the story is to be aware that drying time varies and make your cookies at least two days in advance.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lydia's Cake

Lydia's Cake was a hit. I thought about getting a picture of sliced cake when it was too late. Oh well, it was enjoyed!
The finished cake. The icing is lightly sweetened and made with cream cheese and whipped cream.

One of the perks of volunteering at the Wednesday Community Meal is that there are a lot of birthday celebrations and a lot of cake.

This past Wednesday, to celebrate the birthday of longtime volunteer Lydia, I made a vanilla almond cake soaked with orange juice and zest, raspberries and strawberries and iced with a lightly sweetened whipped cream and cream cheese icing.

I created the cake just for Lydia because she prefers simple cakes topped with whipped cream and fruit. In honor of Lydia, I've documented this recipe for future use and have aptly named it Lydia's Cake.

I hope you give this cake a try. You can use fresh or frozen fruit in the recipe which makes it great for celebrations anytime of the year.

Lydia's Cake

For the cake:
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups milk
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease, flour and line with parchment paper two 8-inch cake pans that are at least 4-inches deep.

Cream together the shortening, butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract. Add the milk, eggs, salt and baking powder and mix again. Finally, add the flour and mix until well combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans. Cool the cakes completely before filling and icing.

Lining the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper makes removing them from the pans very easy.


1 lb. raspberries
1 lb. sliced strawberries
Juice and zest of one orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

You can use frozen or fresh fruit to make the raspberry, strawberry and orange cake filling.

To assemble:

Line one of the cleaned baking pans with plastic wrap. Make sure the pan is completely covered and leave enough plastic wrap draping down the sides so that it can be folded over to top the assembled cake.

With a serrated knife, slice the cakes in half. Put one layer in the bottom of the pan and top with 1/3 of the filling. Add the second layer and press down the cake with the back of a spatula.

One layer of cake is in the pan and ready for 1/3 of the filling.

Top this second layer with another 1/3 of the filling and add the third layer. Press down again.

Finally top the third layer with the remaining filling and add the top layer. This is a tall cake and it will poke out of the top of the pan but that's okay. Press the cake down and fold over the plastic wrap to completely cover.

Put the cake in the freezer to set for 30 minutes before icing.

Creamy Icing:

1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 box cream cheese (8 oz) room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Whip together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whip again.

Finally, add the heavy cream and whip until light and spreadable.

To ice:

Remove the filled cake from the pan and place on a serving platter.  Ice the entire cake starting at the top and pulling the icing down over the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake before serving.

To ice the cake, start at the top and pull the icing down over the sides. A spinning cake stand is always helpful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pretty And Tasty

Our elegantly plated lunch. In addition to the burrito, guests got soup, dessert and drinks.

We served one of our best lunches today at the Wednesday Community Meal — A handmade burrito full of rice, chili beans, salsa and cheese; blanched asparagus tossed with a lemon vinaigrette; and oven roasted tomatoes topped with seasoned panko and Parmesan cheese.

The lunch was as pretty as it was tasty and made our guests happy.

It takes work and careful consideration for our meals to come together. Here's a brief timeline of today's lunch:

Last Wednesday Afternoon:

After our work is done preparing, serving and cleaning up from the Wednesday meal, my fellow volunteers and I begin asking, "what can we make next week?"

We remember we have frozen salsa from the Oregon Food Bank and put it in the refrigerator to defrost so we can utilize it next week.

Monday Evening:

Volunteer Elizabeth calls to tell me that she is bringing in lots of tomatoes donated from her neighbor's garden. She also says she will bring some boxes of panko for us to use.

Tuesday Morning:

Volunteer Dave is picking up our order at the Oregon Food Bank and calls to say that he can also get some cases of "good looking asparagus" if we want it for Wednesday. Of course I say, "yes".

Tuesday Afternoon:

Volunteer Cheryl calls to say that we have lots of cooked rice gleaned from Good Samaritan Hospital.  We agree that we can jazz it up with the salsa, beans and cheese to make a burrito filling.

Wednesday Morning:

It's before 8 a.m. and I'm shopping at Cash 'n' Carry for the extras we need to create our meal. I buy tortillas, chili beans and cheese. I also pick up a few bags of coleslaw in case we run short of asparagus.

By 10 a.m. the burrito filling is made, the asparagus washed and cut and the tomatoes halved and topped with panko and cheese. Volunteers Jeff and Gwen begin wrapping the burritos and our lunch is right on schedule.

Jeff and Gwen on burrito wrapping duty. Volunteering at the Wednesday Community Meal is hard work but it's also fun. Look at that beautiful bowl of asparagus all washed and cut.

We served 286 meals today.

Now, what are we going to make next week?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes

These pumpkin cupcakes couldn't be simpler to make. They are moist, satisfying and baking them will make your house smell great.

I added a teaspoon of orange food coloring to the batter so that I would have bright crumbs to use for decoration. This technique of adding crumbs to the top of cupcakes for decoration is often used for red velvet cupcakes.

You might even want to consider making these cupcakes for your Thanksgiving table. They are definitely easier to serve to a crowd than pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
(makes 20 cupcakes)

1 cup canola oil
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon orange food coloring (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

Add the eggs, pumpkin and the optional food coloring and whisk again.

Add the baking soda, salt and flour. Mix until well combined.

A teaspoon of orange food coloring enhances the color of the batter.
A pan of cupcakes ready for the oven.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until done.

Frost with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
12 oz. (1 1/2 pkg.) cream cheese 
1/4 cup softened butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Whip cream cheese and butter thoroughly. Add vanilla. Add sugar, a little at a time and whip until smooth.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Stratta is easy and makes everyone happy.

After a full day of cooking at the Wednesday Community Meal, I sometimes find it hard to get up the energy to cook another full meal in the evening for my family. I love to cook but after preparing food for hundreds, I'm beat.

The solution is easy meals that make my family happy. Last night I made a stratta topped with sliced tomatoes from the garden and sharp cheddar cheese. It came together in minutes and my family loved it. Add a dish of fresh fruit and you've got a well-rounded meal.

(Serves 4 to 6)

4 slices bread, diced (I like to use whole grain bread because it's more nutritious)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
10 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease a 10-inch glass pie pan or baking dish. Toss the diced bread with the olive oil, Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Put the bread in the baking dish and toast in the hot oven for 7 minutes or until golden brown. You might want to toss the bread mid-toasting to make sure all the sides get crispy.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper. Mix well and pour over the toasted bread. Top with the tomato slices and bake for 20 minutes or until almost done.

Remove from the oven and top with the shredded cheese. Return the stratta to the oven and continue baking until done. The center will be set and the edges brown.

Slice into wedges and serve with fresh fruit.

The stratta is easy to slice and serve.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Little Of This And A Little Of That

Our menu changed many times today. The first 30 guests got barbecued chicken, rice and vegetables and a roasted tomato along with soup and dessert.

Once again we had to change the menu numerous times at the Wednesday Community Meal. We served gleaned and donated food that consisted of a little of this and a little of that and made a lot of hungry people happy.

In the end we served 197 meals that included barbecued chicken, beef stir fry, shrimp gumbo, fried catfish and shepherd's pie. Every guest also got a bowl of hot soup and homemade peach crisp for dessert.

One of the highlights of the meal today was a house made roasted squash side dish. It was so good that I'm going to make it again for my family this week.

The squash we used in the dish was Red Kuri Winter Squash donated by volunteer Kate who has an extraordinary garden.

The roasted squash side dish that was the hit of the day.

Here's the recipe:

Roasted Winter Squash
(serves 6)

6 cups winter squash, seeded and peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (we used Red Kuri)
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large baking dish toss together the squash, onions, olive oil and seasonings. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, stirring every 5 to 7 minutes until the squash is caramelized and soft.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pumpkin Macarons

These pumpkin macarons are delicious and would be the perfect centerpiece for a Halloween party. Using canned pumpkin in the filling makes them easy and taste just like pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Macarons
180g ground almonds, sifted
270g powdered sugar, sifted
150g egg whites, aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge and then brought to room temperature
100g granulated sugar
orange food coloring

Line four heavy baking sheets with good quality parchment paper and set aside. Also, set aside two pastry bags for the piping of the macarons.

Sift together your ground almonds with the powdered sugar and set aside.

Whisk the egg whites (at room temperature) to glossy firm peaks adding the granulated sugar gradually in four parts. Add the desired amount of coloring.

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites using a large rubber scraper.  Mix well. 
Fold the mixture with the rubber scraper by pulling down the sides and flipping the mixture over. Do this until you have a smooth mixture that falls like a “ribbon” off the scraper.

Transfer the mixture into the two piping bags. Use rubber bands to close the piping bags. Clip the tip of the bags, one at a time, and pipe small quarter sized rounds, leaving 1-inch of space between each because they spread as they set.

Leave to set for about 30 minutes or until the top has formed a crust and is not sticky to the touch.

While they are setting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven is preferable. 

Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes or until the cookie is firm, matte and doesn't wobble when touched.
Leave on the baking tray until cool then lift them all off the parchment carefully. You may need to use a thin knife to help lift them off.

Sort into pairs and fill with pumpkin filling.

Pumpkin Filling
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of fine sea salt

Whip together the cream cheese, butter, spices and salt. Add the sugar and canned pumpkin and whip again until light and fluffy. Transfer to a pastry bag to fill the macarons. You might need to chill the filling a bit before piping.

Macaron Test Results

The results are in and making french macarons with fresh egg whites does work but using aged egg whites is still best.

The feet of the macarons with the fresh eggs didn't rise straight up but instead spread out a bit.

And, the tops of the macarons didn't have the matte look I prefer. They look a bit shiny.

In terms of taste they are the same. So in a pinch you can do it but aged egg whites are preferable.

The feet of these macarons made with fresh egg whites spread out a bit and the tops look shiny.
These coffee macarons were made with aged egg whites and have the look I prefer — feet that rise straight up and matte tops.

Macaron Egg White Test

Pumpkin macarons made with fresh egg whites, resting before baking.
Today I saw pile of pumpkins outside our neighborhood grocery store and was suddenly inspired to make pumpkin macarons.

There was one problem though, I didn't have any aged egg whites at home.

Almost every macaron recipe calls for room temperature egg whites aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge. Aged egg whites are what I've always used with success since I began making macarons so I haven't tried anything different — until today. The reasoning behind using aged egg whites is that they contain less moisture than fresh eggs.

I'm making this pumpkin batch with fresh room temperature egg whites. So far things are looking good. The batter came together well and the piping went just fine. The real question is will they rise properly in the oven? Will they have cute little feet?

The results will be in soon.

 If this works, I'll be so happy because I'll be able to throw together a batch of macarons anytime I want.