Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Supportive Family

My niece Rachel and my daughter Eleanor working at the Wedneday Community Meal today. In the background is my nephew Sam.

It's pretty much a given in my family that if you are visiting me on a Wednesday, I'll ask you to work at the Wednesday Community Meal.

My niece Maya and nephew Sam who live just blocks away from me are regular volunteers as is my daughter Eleanor and they helped again today along with my nieces Rachel and Gese who are visiting from Ellensburg, Washington.

Also joining us was Gese's friend Mary who was such a  good sport and enthusiastic when I asked her to help. She said she'd be happy to and that it actually sounded fun.  I felt spoiled having six extra helpers today.

Starting at 7 a.m. this morning, we made a shopping trip to Cash 'n' Carry for pork loin and salad ingredients. I knew we would have a large crowd with it being the fifth Wednesday of the month and wanted to be sure we had enough lean protein for our meal. It was so nice to have help carrying everything to and from the car.

Once in the kitchen of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, there was lots of prep-work to be done. Eleanor and Rachel took on slicing just-picked cucumbers from garden of volunteer Kate and Gese and Mary washed and cut green beans from the Oregon Food Bank.

Maya was on kale chopping duty with Ginny and Fran and Sam helped get the pork loin ready for the oven.
My niece Maya helping Ginny and Fran chop kale for the meal. In the background in the white t-shirt is my other niece Gese.

The Wednesday Community Meal really is a team effort.

Once we started serving at 11 a.m, Gese and Mary worked at the exit table, handing out extra items like bread and pastries and saying goodbye to guests as they left. They said they really enjoyed meeting the guests and visiting with them.

Rachel worked alongside Amanda serving soup in the dining room.

Afterwards Rachel told me "the people who eat at the meal are so nice." They are nice people and so are my nieces and nephew for volunteering with me.

We served 400 meals today of oven-roasted pork loin, rice, seasoned slices of crisp cucumber and of course soup, salad and dessert.
Zane took on slicing all the pork loin today and did a super job.

Slices of garden-fresh cucumber donated by volunteer Kate.

Gosh I wish Rachel, Gese and Mary could stay longer and help again next week. I'm going to miss them.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Almond Chocolate Macarons

My latest batch of French macarons are filled with lightly sweet almond buttercream and a generous dollop of dark chocolate.

I don't know why it took me so long to make a macaron with an almond filling? An almond filling should have been an obvious choice because the shells are made with ground almonds.

I tinted the filling with a touch of blue coloring and kept the shells natural. I like the simple look of these and I love how they taste.

Here's the recipe:

Almond Chocolate 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 a dollop of dark chocolate and Almond Buttercream.

Almond Buttercream:
2 large egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt
Blue coloring (optional)

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 the extracts and sea salt. Add coloring if desired. 
Whip until light and fluffy.
Transfer the mixture to a piping bag.

Chocolate Filling:
Place 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)  in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwaave and stir. Keep microwaving for 10 to 20 second sessions and stirring until the chocolate is melted. Stir in 1/8 of a cup of chocolate chips and stir until the chips are melted. This is called seeding and tempers the chocolate. Let the chocolate cool just for a bit before transferring to a piping bag.
If you don't have a piping bag, you could add the chocolate with a teaspoon but the bag makes the task so easy. I like to use disposable piping bags.

To assemble:
Flip one of the macarons from each pair over and add a dollop the the dark chocolate. Let this set up for a bit before adding a dollop of buttercream and sandwiching the macarons together. Store the macarons in the refrigerator. Macarons are best made a day or two ahead of time and then brought to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Staying Positive

Our wonderful team of kitchen volunteers.
At the Wednesday Community Meal it takes positivity and determination to feed an unknown number of guests each week.

We have to utilize the limited amount of food we have the best we can and basically just work hard, keep an open mind and get creative if we have to, because we aim to feed everyone who comes to our door between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

I feel strongly that we shouldn't turn anyone away and it's an attitude I learned from my parents.

I grew up in a large family, I have three brothers and a twin sister, and it was common for at least one of us to have a friend over at dinnertime. My parents always said "of course they can join us, there's always enough for one more."  They were easygoing and welcoming and they were right — if you are willing to put in the effort to figure something out, there's enough. This positivity made our home happy and very popular.

Today at the meal, we had to put in some of that effort to feed everyone. There was an extra long line to get in for the first hour of service and by noon we were quickly running out of entrees.

For a side dish we were serving pasta with kale, garlic and shallots. I knew the dish was seasoned well and could be turned into an entree with a few additions. So my fellow volunteer Nancy and I ran down to the basement pantry to see what we could find. We found garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers and shredded cheese and ran upstairs and worked as fast as we could.

The rest of the  kitchen volunteers were so supportive. They said "that sounds good" and "oh, I would like to eat that," encouraging us to keep going. There wasn't time for perfection and our friends in the kitchen understood that.

Today was a success because we served 343 delicious and nutritious meals during our two-hour service and there was enough for everyone.
The pasta and kale side dish that morphed into an entree halfway through our service today. The first lucky guests in the door got the pasta as well as ribs from Phil's Uptown Meat Market and homemade biscuits made by Sierra, Quinn, Nicholas and Ava.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wedding Dessert Buffet

This past Saturday was showtime for a wedding dessert buffet I have been planning for quite some time.

It was way back in February that I promised to make the desserts for the wedding of my daughter Eleanor's beloved middle-school math teacher, Ms. Bennett. Throughout the school year we tested and tasted recipes with Eleanor acting as my dessert delivery girl.

Desserts that made the final menu were sugar cookies, Oreo truffles, tirimisu, coconut and dark chocolate French macarons, berry bars and three kinds of mini cheese cake. All of the desserts except for the berry bars needed to be kept chilled, especially in the summer heat.

Fortunately for me, my friend Cindy and my sister Ursula came to the rescue by letting me keep treats in their refrigerators until the event. During transport in the hot car, I had the air conditioner on high and basically just prayed that things wouldn't melt.

Once at the venue, I had a small kitchen to work in and a fridge in which I just kept alternating keeping the desserts cold until it was time to present them. My daughter Eleanor was such a big help to me.  

When a dessert disappeared from the buffet, Eleanor quickly replaced it so that throughout the event the display was always full and beautiful.

I am so pleased with how things turned out and it was wonderful to be a part of Ms. Bennett's special day. It was hard work but also exciting and something Eleanor and I will always remember tackling together.

Three bowls of macarons.

Macaron close-up.

The sugar cookies packed and ready for transport.

There was a cute little spoon in each cup of tirimisu. Of all the desserts, this was the easiest to make and serve.

I wrapped each berry bar with a strip of natural parchment and baker's twine.

Making the Oreo truffles. This was the dessert that was the most difficult to deal with in the heat. Chocolate doesn't like to be above 70 degrees. When it's hot, it's essential to get them straight into the fridge to set up after a quick dip in melted chocolate.
The three cheesecake flavors were chocolate/peanut butter cup, lemon curd/raspberry and strawberry.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Decorating Tip: A Touch Of Blue Makes White

I'm making lots and lots of French macarons filled with dark chocolate, toasted coconut and coconut buttercream for a wedding this weekend.

I wanted the macaron shells to be white so I used a decorating tip that I learned nearly 20 years ago when I was writing an article on homemade wedding cakes for The Yakima Herald Republic and interviewing wedding cake decorators.

The tip I learned is that just the smallest touch of blue coloring whitens a buttercream. The reason behind this is that blue is the complementary color of yellow, the color of the butter, so adding the blue negates the yellow and turns the buttercream white.

For the article I made my very first wedding cake. When it was done, I was so anxious for someone besides myself to see it that I called my dad who was at work.  It was in the middle of the afternoon but my dad, understanding my need to show off the cake, drove over to my house just to see it. He even brought his co-worker with him which I thought was so sweet.
The macaron batter is yellowish from the almond meal so the touch of blue trick worked like a charm. You have to be careful though to not add too much. All you need is to put the tiniest amount of blue coloring on the end of a toothpick and just touch the batter lightly with it. Then, mix the batter and watch the magic happen.

After baking the macaron shells I filled them with dark chocolate, toasted coconut and coconut buttercream. I love how these turned out.
The piped macarons.

After baking.

The shells, sorted into pairs.

Filling the macarons.

All done!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SPARKS Volunteers

SPARKS Campers Julia and Ella eating lunch with our guests.

Today at the Wednesday Community Meal we had the help of middle schoolers from the SPARKS Summer Service in the City Camp that's held every summer at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The camp is held for two weeks and on each day, they volunteer at a different service organization in our community.

This is the fourth year that the campers have volunteered at the Wednesday Community Meal and as always it was a real pleasure meeting them and having their help. In addition to working, they also ate lunch alongside our guests, getting to know the wonderful people we serve.

Many of our regular volunteers also helped today by acting as mentors to the campers. Working together we served 363 meals.

High School volunteer Sarah worked alongside the middle schoolers in the dining room.

And regular summer volunteers Ava and Eleanor had a blast working alongside Jack. They dished up lots and lots of ice cream for dessert.

SPARKS camper Niko was on drink pouring duty in the kitchen.

Julia and Ella served meals in the dining room.

Brigit and Fiona worked very hard carrying tubs of dirty dishes to the dishwashers. They really worked nonstop and helped the dishwashers get done in record time.

With all the help from Brigit and Fiona, Bill had time to resort to his favorite method of cleaning the bottom of an ice cream tub.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cherry Bars

The price is right for cherries right now because they are in season so it's the perfect time to make these fresh-tasting and easy to make Cherry Bars.

Now is also the time to get extra cherries and freeze them since I have a feeling you'll want to make these Cherry Bars again. Can you imagine how cute these bright red filled bars would be to serve to your sweetie on Valentine's Day? Cherries aren't easy to come by in the winter time, and if you do find them, they're expensive. I'm planning ahead.

Here's the recipe:

Cherry Bars
(makes 24 2-inch bars)
Crumb Mixture:
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup shortening
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 cups pitted pie cherries (frozen works just fine)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 inch pan then line the pan with greased aluminum foil or parchment paper so that after baking the whole thing can be lifted out of the pan after cooling. This makes cutting the bars much easier.

In a medium sized bowl make the crumb mixture by combining the sugar, baking powder, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the shortening and break it into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. I like to use my fingers to do this. Add the egg, mix well and set aside.

In a sauce pan combine all the filling ingredients and mix well. Cook the mixture over medium heat until simmering and the mixture thickens. Watch it and stir it constantly. This takes about 7 minutes.
The cooked filling. Adding red food coloring in optional but it really does make the filling extra bright and pretty.

To Assemble:
Press half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the greased and lined pan. Spread the filling evenly over the bottom layer. Crumble the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the filling layer.
The first layer.

The second layer.

The third layer.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is slightly brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool completely before lifting out of the pan and cutting into squares.
Let it cool in the pan before cutting into bars.

Being able to lift it completely out of the pan makes cutting the bars so much easier.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These decadent Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies are for tomorrow night's Beatles Concert to benefit The Wednesday Community Meal.  

I made them by whipping up a double batch of my favorite recipe for Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies and then adding a 10-ounces of dark chocolate chunks. 

These cookies are rich and satisfying but it's still hard to eat just one as my husband and I can attest to. I finally had to put them into a metal tin and wrap the whole thing with plastic wrap to keep us from getting more. I need them to last for the concert!

Here's the recipe:

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
(makes 6 dozen 2-inch cookies)
2 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/3 cup old-fashioned crunchy peanut butter
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
10 ounces dark chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt.

In a large bowl, whip together the peanut butter and shortening. Add the sugars and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and mix well. Stir in flour mixture. And, finally stir in the chocolate chunks.
A 1-inch scoop is a useful tool for getting even-sized balls of dough. Just scoop and then roll the dough in your hand and place it on the baking sheet.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and space them apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten the cookies by patten them down with your hand.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Yellow Submarine Cookies

My Yellow Submarine Cookies are done and ready to be served at the upcoming Beatles Concert to benefit The Wednesday Community Meal.

I had to make a lot for the event so I smartly decided to keep the design simple. 

It took two days to make them. One to bake, outline and flood coat the cookies with yellow icing and one to add the details after the flood coat dried. I think they're pretty cute and I hope the Saturday's concert goers agree.

Here's how to make them.
With medium consistency yellow icing and a #1 tip, outline the cookies. Let the outline dry for 15 minutes before moving onto the next step.

With flood consistency yellow icing and a #2 tip, fill in the cookie. Use a skewer to help evenly distribute the icing and give the cookie a gentle shake to help the icing settle.

Let the flood coats dry completely before moving onto the next step. This takes overnight.

With medium consistency red icing and a #2 tip, add two line details.

Finally, add bright blue dots using medium consistency royal icing and a #2 tip. Wait for the royal icing to dry completely before serving or packaging.