Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just Some Macaron Moral Support

Cindy's Toasted Coconut Macarons

My friend Cindy made her very first batch of French Macarons today and invited me over to guide and offer moral support.

As it turned out, she really didn't need my help and I got to relax and sip coffee as she successfully whipped up a top-notch batch of Toasted Coconut Macarons.

The macarons really did turn out great. They were uniform in size, had matte tops, even feet and tasted great!

Cindy really impressed me. Look at those even-sized rounds!
Lime green polka dot cupcake liners and self-sealing cellophane bags make for a nice presentation. Super cute!
Working with Cindy reminded me that macarons are indeed intimidating little buggers but once you decide to go for it and have success, it's deeply satisfying. Sometimes you just need a little moral support.

I knew Cindy could do it and you can too. Don't be scared, here's the recipe:

Toasted Coconut 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

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.

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 toasted coconut buttercream.

Toasted Coconut Buttercream
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

Toast the coconut in a 350 degree oven until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, coconut extract and salt and whip on high speed until fluffy. Add the toasted coconut and whip again.

Transfer to a pastry bag for filling the macarons.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Patiently Waiting

Even after opening the doors, the line to get into the meal stayed long throughout our two hour service, running all the way out to the sidewalk.

Wow! What a busy day at the Wednesday Community Meal.

We served 446 meals and there was a continuous long line of guests patiently waiting in wet and blustery weather to get inside.

The line to get in ran from the porch of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, through the courtyard and out to the sidewalk for most of our two hour service.

Once inside, guests were treated to crispy oven-baked chicken, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and just baked cornbread. There was also hot soup, salad and homemade apple crisp.
Today's meal.

The people who come to our meal each week are wonderful so I want the food to be worth the wait. I hope they thought so today — Serving them is an honor and something I look forward to each week.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lazy Susan For Cookie Decorating

A dozen cookies on my new Lazy Susan that are all ready to be iced.  I can rotate the Lazy Susan to move from cookie to cookie without having to pick up cookies and risk messing up the icing.

I'm anxious to share with you my new favorite cookie decorating gadget - A Lazy Susan.

The wooden 15-inch Lazy Susan was an inexpensive surprise find on a recent shopping trip to Ikea with my friend Cindy who also decorates cookies and liked it so much that she bought one too.

What caught our attention was that it was sturdy, broad and short (so using it won't add too much additional height to my work station).

I used it for the first time while decorating my most recent batch of Letter Cookies and it proved to be very helpful. I can set cookies on it and rotate it to easily move from cookie to cookie and decorate without having to risk handling the cookies and messing up the icing.

My new gadget will also be helpful with cake decorating. I love that it is short and doesn't raise the height of my work table too much.
The Lazy Susan cost just $7.99 and will also be handy for cake decorating. I even think it is attractive enough to be used as a cake stand or platter for serving.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Easy Valentine Cookie

This two colored Valentine cookie is pretty and very easy to make.

Besides two colors of royal icing, you also need two cookie cutters to make them — a large cutter of your choice for the base cookie (I used a plaque-shaped one) and a smaller heart cutter.

I chose to fill the heart with a fuschia colored icing but pink or red would also look great.

This design once again proves to me that it's often the simplest ones that look the best. And, getting a perfect shaped heart in the center of the cookie was no problem because I made a guide to follow by using the heart cookie cutter to make an indentation before baking.

Use a heart cutter to make an indentation in the cookie before baking.

This outline will stay after baking.
Outline the cookie and heart shape and flood with white royal icing.

Immediately fill in the heart with the color of your choice. I chose fuschia. Let the cookie dry completely before packaging.
Hey, now that I think of it, this using a cookie cutter to make an indentation technique has a lot of decorating possibilities.

I happen to have a small bee cutter and wouldn't a "Bee Mine" Valentine cookie be sweet?

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Writing On Cookies

Cookies for a handwriting workshop.

Writing on cookies takes patience and most importantly the right consistency of royal icing.

If your icing is too stiff it will leave peaks and break and if it's too thin it will spread and your letters will gradually become indistinguishable.

When thinning icing for writing, I aim for the consistency of yogurt - a consistency that will hold it's shape but is still soft enough flow evenly as you pipe and not leave peaks.

The best way to test for proper writing consistency is to first practice piping onto a plate to test the icing. With my recent batch of cookies for a handwriting workshop, I did this and it saved me from ruining a few cookies.
Wait for the icing base coat on your cookies to dry before adding writing.

I started by using a #1 tip which didn't work with my icing. The tip wasn't large enough for the icing to flow evenly.  It zigzagged out of the tip and was impossible to control

I changed to a #2 tip and as you can see from the photo of my practice plate (below), that did the trick.
The #1 tip just made uncontrollable squiggles. That's a pretty bad looking "C". Switching to a #2 tip made all the difference as you can see from my "A's" and "B". Always test your icing on a plate before going for it on the cookies.

A final tip is don't decorate cookies when you are feeling rushed. Decorated sugar cookies keep for weeks so they don't need to be made the day before. Tackle the project when you can take your time and you will have much better results.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Free Handwriting Workshop And Cookies!

Getty-Dubay basic italic alphabet cookies.

For the third year in a row, I have the honor of making cookies to serve at Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay's handwriting workshop here in Portland, Oregon to "promote legible handwriting."

The workshop is this coming Saturday, January 25 and coincides with National Handwriting Day.

Last year I had fun making sugar cookies in the Getty-Dubay basic italic style and this year I think I'll do the same but also add some basic italic numbers and cursive italic to the mix.
Getty-Dubay Basic Italic

I'm also going to take the class since it's always fun and informative. If you would like to take it too, here is the information:

2014 Handwriting Workshop
Taught by authors Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty who are co-authors of the popular books on handwriting -- WRITE NOW: The Getty-Dubay Program for Handwriting Success, ITALIC LETTERS: Calligraphy & Handwriting, and the GETTY-DUBAY ITALIC HANDWRITING SERIES for children.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014, 10am—1pm

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Kempton Hall
147 NW 19th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209

The workshop is free and presented by Trinity Cathedral Arts. 

Workshop materials provided
Children accompanied by parents welcome
Books available at special discount
Come early -- this is a free event and seating cannot be guaranteed.
Download and print this information at
Suggested donation: canned or packaged food for Trinity Food Pantry.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Utilizing Our Frozen Assets

Changing our menu more than ten times today to utilize food from our freezer meant a very busy kitchen. We have such a great team of dedicated volunteers who all work so hard.
Volunteers Cindy and Karen.

There is much more space in the freezer at the Wednesday Community Meal because boy did we have dig deep into it in order to feed everyone today.

Luckily we had a good assortment of frozen foods donated by Good Samaritan Hospital and Phil's Uptown Meat Market from which to pull - Italian chicken, curried chicken, barbecued chicken, turkey, breaded fish and beef fajitas,  just to name a few.

With not a lot of any particular item, we had to change our menu more than ten times.

We served 333 meals today including soup, salad and dessert. The latter was homemade fruit crisp made by volunteer Cheryl with what else but frozen fruit.

Thank goodness for frozen assets!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Baby Lemon Tarts And Lemon Meringue Pie

Baby lemon tarts and a larger lemon meringue pie made from the same recipe.

I used mini muffin pans to make the baby tarts. I think they are so cute.
I've been working on developing a recipe for lemon tarts for some time now and at last I have the perfect recipe - it's simple, sweet and very lemony.

In my testing, one of the problems I encountered with lemon custard and lemon curd-based desserts is that they often have an "eggy" taste that I really, really dislike. Obviously this was due to the use of eggs as thickeners.

In my trials I found that this "eggy" taste occurred most often in recipes that called for fresh lemon juice versus concentrate. I won't pretend to know the reasoning behind it but lemon juice from concentrate for me yielded better results. An added bonus is that it's cheaper and more convenient to use.

I also discovered that using just the yolks in recipes tasted better than using whole eggs. So my final recipe calls for three egg yolks and 1/2 cup of lemon juice concentrate. I reserved the egg whites for a meringue topping.

On another note, I'm positive a negative response to "egginess" is more prominent in females. My two daughters knew exactly what I meant when I told them I didn't want my tarts to taste "eggy." "Yuck, I hate that," immediately responded my oldest daughter.

My husband and brother on the other hand both didn't really know what I was talking about. Well, I want to please everyone, men and women alike, so here's the recipe:

Lemon Tarts
(makes 36 baby tarts or one large 9 or 10-inch pie)

1/2 cup lemon juice, from concentrate
2 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue topping)

Dissolve the food coloring in the lemon juice. In a large bowl, beat the yolks until smooth. Add the juice and sweetened condensed milk and beat until well combined. Set aside.

2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Beat the butter and vanilla until smooth. Add the salt and powdered sugar and beat again. Finally, add the flour and beat just until a soft dough forms.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Large lemon meringue pie: 
Spray a pie pan or tart pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Use your hands to press the crust dough evenly in the bottom of the pan and up the sides.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown.
The large version before baking.

Prepare the meringue.

Baby lemon tarts:
Spray nonstick mini muffin pans with nonstick spray.
It's important to use nonstick mini muffin pans and spray the cups well with nonstick spray.

Drop 1-inch balls of dough into each of the cups.

I used a 1-inch scoop to get even sized balls.
Use your fingers to press the dough evenly in the bottom of each cup and up the sides.
Be sure to press the dough evenly in the cups. If there are any thin areas, you should press on a bit of extra dough. A sturdy crust is important for easy removal from the pans.

Fill each cup with filling. I used a 1-inch scoop for the job.

Using this scoop to add the filling worked well for me.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust is lightly brown.

Let the mini tarts cool in the pan before using a table knife to gently release and remove them.
Use knife to gently release the pies.
Transfer the pies to a sheetpan and they are ready for meringue.

Prepare the meringue.

3 egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar.

Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Whip the cream of tartar into the egg whites. Gradually add the sugar and whip until stiff and glossy.
You are done whipping the whites, sugar and cream of tartar when you have stiff and glossy peaks.

Large lemon meringue pie:

Spread the meringue over the top of the pie, being sure to touch the edges so that it doesn't shrink while baking.

Spread on the meringue and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Bake for 15 minutes until set and lightly brown.

Let the pie cool for 1 hour at room temperature. Refrigerate the pie for 2 hours before serving.

Baby lemon tarts:

Place the tarts on a foil or parchment lined sheet pan.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag and pipe a large dollop on top of each of the tarts.
Use a piping bag to add a meringue topping to the baby tarts.

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until set and lightly brown.

Let the tarts cool at room temperature before placing in mini muffin papers and refrigerating for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Candied lemon peel on top adds a nice touch. These still need to be placed into mini muffin papers for easy serving.

My sweet niece Maya with a tart delivery for her family.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Apple Crisp And Falcon Enamelware

A serving of warm apple crisp with a dollop of whipped cream.
Last night I decided to throw together a quick apple crisp for dessert when I realized the only apples I had on hand were organic. 

Not wanting to waste a bit of the premium Pacific Rose apples and I admit, feeling a bit lazy, I decided to forgo peeling them and I have to say I would do it again.

Just thinly slicing the apples saved time and nutritional benefits since most of the fiber in an apple is in the peel which also contains cancer-fighting phytonutrients. 

Not peeling them also made the finished dish so pretty since the baking caused the rose colored exterior to lightly blush the flesh. In the end,  I think it heightened the crisp to an elegant dessert.
The color from the apple skin blushed the flesh and made the dish so pretty.

On a side note, I was also excited to use my new bright red Falcon Enamelware that my brother Josh gave me for Christmas.  Falcon is a British company that has been in business since the 1920's.

The bright colored pans are made with heavyweight steel, have a baked-on porcelain coating and won't break if you drop them.
My new Falcon Enamelware. Thank you Josh! 

Josh gave me the five-piece pie set and I used the largest pan (11-3/4" x  8-3/4") for the crisp.  I have absolutely fallen for enamelware. It bakes evenly and looks so nice that it can go straight from the oven to the table.

Apple Crisp
6 to 8 medium-sized organic apples, cored and thinly sliced (use apples that are good for baking like Pacific Rose, Fuji, Pink Lady or Honeycrisp)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 11-3/4 x 8-3/4 to 9x13 sized baking pan.

In a large bowl mix the apples with the lemon juice, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of flour. Lay the mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish.
The apple layer.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the oatmeal, 1/2 cup flour, walnuts, brown sugar and unsalted butter. Use your fingers to break the butter into the dry ingredients to create a crumbly topping. Evenly spread the topping over the apples.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Warm apple crisp ready to serve. I recommend serving it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of lightly whipped cream.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Valentine Treat Sale

Mark your calendars for Sunday, Feb. 9th because that's the day to buy handmade Belgian chocolate truffles, decorated sugar cookies and French macarons for all your loved ones and support feeding the hungry in our community.

The Valentine Treat Sale is from 9 a.m. to noon in Kempton Hall at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (147 NW 19th Ave, Portland, OR 97209) and all proceeds go to the church's Food Ministries which supports  The Wednesday Community Meal.

All of the treats will be beautifully packaged and ready to give. And, they are delicious. Just take a look at what was sold last year.....

Cherry Macarons.

Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons.

Handmade Belgian Chocolate Truffles.

Fancy Decorated Sugar Cookies.

Packaged sugar cookies ready to be transported to the sale. All of the Valentine treats are handmade, beautifully packaged and ready to give.

I hope to see you there!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chicken Again

Today's meal.

A scene from the busy dining room. We are so blessed to be able to serve our guests in a space that is both large and beautiful. Thank you Trinity Episcopal Cathedral!
We served oven-baked chicken again this week at the Wednesday Community Meal and our guests once again loved it.

Alongside the chicken we served rice with gravy, cranberry sauce and roasted vegetables.

In the latter were baby carrots from the Oregon Food Bank, onions, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms. The dish came about because we knew we didn't have enough carrots for everyone and needed to find and add other ingredients so that we could serve everyone.

The mushrooms in the dish were dried porcini and shiitakes, so we reconstituted them and reserved the flavorful mushroom water and added it to our gravy. Waste not, want not.

The medley was beautiful and quite tasty. Sometimes creating under pressure yields unexpectedly delicious results.

Kate and Rieko mixing our vegetable creation.

In addition to the chicken meals, we served hot soup courtesy of Good Samaritan Hospital and green salads topped with pomegranate seeds courtesy of Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale.

I want to give a special shout out to volunteers Teri and Martha who worked so hard removing all the pomegranate seeds. They did such a great job.
The super pomegranate seed removal team — A.K.A. Teri and Martha.
Beautiful salads.

We served 391 meals today during our two hour service.