Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cookie Sale Time

Gingerbread Snowflakes
It's hard to believe, but it's already time for another Christmas Cookie Box sale to benefit hunger ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Boy the year went by fast!

For me, the annual sale is a lot of work but it's also a lot of fun because I get to bake thousands of cookies with my friends.

Each box contains more than 40 all-butter cookies and is artfully packaged with a shiny red bow and decorated gingerbread cookie like these pretty white on white snowflakes that I made. Inside the box are shortbread cookies, brownie biscotti, ruglach, Linzer cookies and Russian teacakes, just to name a few.

Next Sunday, we will be pre-selling the boxes in Kempton Hall at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (147 NW 19th Ave) between 9 a.m. and noon and this is the only way to buy a box, so here's additional information:

It’s once again time for the Annual Christmas Cookie Box sale benefiting hunger ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  This is our largest fundraiser of the year. Each box contains 40 + delicious all-butter cookies, made in-house by a team of bakers from the Wednesday Community Meal.  Cookie boxes are artfully packaged and make wonderful gifts!  The cost is $40 with 90% of the proceeds going directly to Hunger Ministries.  Boxes can be pre-ordered on Sunday Dec. 7 in Kempton Hall before and after the 10 a.m. service.  Pick up must be on Sunday, Dec 14th between 9 a.m. and noon in Kempton Hall.  We do require pre-ordering and payment at time of order (cash, check or credit card).  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sack Lunches And Thanksgiving Preparations

Edible centerpieces for the Community Thanksgiving Meal.
We handed out 215 sack lunches today at The Wednesday Community Meal since we were unable to serve in Kempton Hall due to it being set up for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's annual Community Thanksgiving Meal.

In addition to the sack lunches that included turkey sandwiches and homemade chocolate chip cookies, we served cups of hot soup and drinks.

Luckily the weather was nice, no rain and in the mid 60's, so our guests were comfortable eating outside. And, as always, they were kind and understanding about the change in service and many said they were looking forward to returning for tomorrow's big meal.

In addition to preparing and serving the sack lunches, community meal volunteers helped with the Thanksgiving preparations by arranging centerpieces, filling candy dishes and making gravy. 

I am so thankful for all the volunteers who work so hard each week. They are a blessing!

One of my jobs today was making gravy. Standing on a stool makes it so much easier to whisk. Plus, it's nice for once to be the tallest person in the kitchen.

Volunteers making sandwiches for the sack lunches. Thank you Nancy for smiling for the camera!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cake Tip: Add A Frosting Frame

A cake with a frame. Adding the design detail is easy when you create an outline to follow.

A piped icing frame around lettering on a cake is a nice way to add decoration and little extra oomph to the design. Piping a perfect shaped frame is easy to do if you first create an outline and you do this using a dish. That's right, a dish.

Let me explain. First add the lettering to your cake then find a dish with a shape you like that fits around the writing.

For a recent sheetcake, I used a 2.5 quart CorningWare casserole dish. Once you have your dish, you just carefully set it upside down centered around the lettering on your cake so that the lip creates an outline in the base frosting to follow for piping your frame. Carefully remove the dish, add the piping and you have a frame for your cake.

The casserole dish that I used.

Adding the piping.

Piping closeup. I used a Wilton star tip for this design.

A few icing roses are also nice but that's another story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


I lost a friend today.

I first met David more than six years ago when he began hanging out near Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and eating at The Wednesday Community Meal. He was always very friendly, talkative and curious about what I was going to be cooking.

David liked to cook too, having worked in restaurants, and would share his stories with me. His all-time favorite food was beef stroganoff and I think he must have asked me fifty times or more when I was going to serve it at the community meal. I told him I promised to make it if I ever got a donation of steak and mushrooms in the same week.  "I'm looking forward to it," he would say.

Finally after years of waiting, Phil's Uptown Meat Market donated a small container of already-made beef stroganoff,  just enough for one giant serving for my friend. I was so excited and couldn't wait to surprise him. "Wow do I feel special," he said when I gave it to him. "You are special," I said.

David was a regular at the Wednesday meal and when he didn't show up, I worried because I knew he lived and slept outside and his life was hard. He suffered from alcoholism, seizures and abuse. One day he showed up at Trinity with hands down the worst black eye I had ever seen. "I was beat up during the night," he said. He told me Trinity was the place he felt the safest.

Despite all his suffering, David somehow remained gentle and kind. He reached out to me and wouldn't leave a Wednesday meal without stopping by the kitchen window to smile and say "thank you." 

David was found dead this morning of exposure. He was only 54 years old and had dreams of one day having his own apartment.

It's so much easier to find public assistance in this country if you are female or a senior citizen. David was in great need of help but he fell through the cracks of our system and sadly he's not alone. By my estimate, more than 80-percent of our guests on Wednesday are men between the ages of 30 and 60. This is not equality. 

We served 285 meals today and for two hours our guests were able to be comfortable and warm, but what about now? It's night, it's cold and it's raining.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guinness Chocolate Cake With Peanut Butter Filling

What's better than a Guinness Chocolate Cake? Two Guinness Chocolate Cakes with Peanut Butter Filling!

Hands down, my most requested cake is Chocolate Cake With Peanut Butter Filling and Chocolate Buttercream but sometimes it's fun to experiment and mix things up a bit. So staying with the peanut butter and chocolate theme I instead made two Guinness Chocolate Cakes and topped each of them with Peanut Butter Filling and Cream Cheese Icing.

I just thought the smooth lightly sweet icing would go really well with the chunky peanut butter filling. And, there really is no cake better than super moist Guinness chocolate.

When it came to decorating, I kept the sides of the cakes bare since I like the look of the bright white cream cheese icing against the dark chocolate brown cake. For a little extra pizazz I piped borders around the top, middle and base of the cake. The border also hides the not so pretty edges of where the peanut butter filling and icing meet.

I'm serving this cake tomorrow at the Wednesday Community Meal in recognition of our volunteers who have November birthdays and I hope it's a hit.

Here's how I made it:

Guinness Chocolate Cake
(makes two 9-inch cakes)

2 cup Guinness
2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups sour cream
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and line two 9-inch springform pans.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, add the butter in slices and heat until the butter is melted. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer mixture and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Divide the cake batter among the two greased and lined pans and bake the cakes for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Leave them to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack before releasing them from the pan.

Once the cakes are cool, make the filling and cream cheese icing.

Peanut Butter Filling:
1 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk

In a mixing bowl, whip peanut butter and butter together. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Finally add milk and beat just until the filling comes together and is spreadable. Don't over beat.

Cream Cheese Topping
2 packages (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and whip again. Add the cream and whip again until it's light and spreadable.

To Assemble:
Place one of the cakes on a platter and top with half of the filling.

Spread the filling evenly over the cake being careful not to get too close to the sides.

Add a little more than a third of the icing to the top of the filling and spread it evenly, trying your best to keep it neat and the layers separate.

Top the first cake with the second cake and repeat, adding filling and cream cheese icing to the top.

Put the remaining icing into a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice and pipe a border around the top of the cake.

Also add a border around the middle of the cake. This hides the messy edge of where the filling meets the icing.

Finally, add a third border to the base of the cake. Keep the cake chilled until you are ready to serve. Enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Coffee Salted Caramel Macarons

These Coffee Salted Caramel Macarons are cute, delicious and easy to make. The filling is just butter, salted caramel, espresso powder dissolved in a bit of water and an extra dash of sea salt whipped together.

After her first taste, my daughter Eleanor gave me a big smile and said "Mom, the kids at my school would go crazy for these because they taste just like a Starbuck's caramel frappuccino."

The macaron batter is colored with a bit of fuschia and violet gel paste but the filling is au natural.

The color of the macaron batter before baking.

Here's a side by side comparison of the baked and unbaked macarons. The color of the batter always lightens after baking so you need to color the batter darker than the color you want.
I really like the look and taste of these and I'm anxious to see what others think when I serve them this Saturday at the Leonard Cohen Alternative Liturgy at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

If you'd like a taste, please join us. Here are the details about the Liturgy which is a fundraiser for Trinity's hunger ministries which supports The Wednesday Community Meal and the recipe:

Saturday, November 15, 6:00 p.m., Kempton Hall. Join Trinity for an alternative liturgy set to the songs of popular music’s saint of solitude, prophet of the heart and brother of mercy. From “Hallelujah” to “Tower of Song,” Leonard Cohen stands with Bob Dylan as one of the world’s most fascinating and prophetic songwriters. But this Alt.Liturgy will show that he also stands with David in the Psalms, constantly asking, “Can you hear my song?” A freewill offering will benefit Trinity’s hunger ministries.

Coffee Salted Caramel 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
fuschia gel coloring (optional)
violet gel coloring (optional)

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 coloring if desired and mix well.

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 them 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 Coffee Salted Caramel Buttercream.

Coffee Salted Caramel Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup salted caramel sauce
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of hot water, cooled

Whip the butter until it is smooth and light. Add the caramel sauce, dissolved espresso mixture and salt and whip again until light and creamy. 

Filling the macarons.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quick Decorated Cookies

If you have your heart set on making decorated sugar cookies but don't have a lot of time, these simple mini cookies are the answer.

As I've mentioned before, decorated cookies are not something to be made last minute because they are time consuming to make and not just because of the baking and decorating. They take a full day just to dry.

Luckily there are exceptions and these Blue Mini Heart Cookies are one of them. Because the 1.5-inch heart is small, I was able to use a thicker flood icing to fill them which reduced the drying time to six hours.

Usually I flood cookies with 10 to 15-second icing which is icing that takes that long to settle back into place after drawing through it with the side of a spoon, but for these I was able to use 20-second icing.

Another time saver was that I didn't use a separate icing to outline the cookies. Instead, using the same 20-second icing,  I outlined and filled each cookie in one step. This kind of decorating goes really fast and in the end it took me just four hours to bake and decorate 100 cookies. They'll take another six hours to dry and then they are done and ready to package and/or serve.
Step 1: Make and bake the cookies.

Step 2: Mix 20-second icing and outline and fill the cookies. I like to decorate three cookies at a time. After filling, use a scribe tool or skewer to evenly distribute the icing and give each cookie a gentle shake to help the icing settle into place.

Step 3: Wait for the cookies to dry.
For added interest I went for an ombre look, using three shades of teal icing and I'm really pleased with how they turned out.
Using different shades of icing is a nice way to add interest to a simple design.

These cookies are going to be served at this Saturday's Leonard Cohen Liturgy to benefit Hunger Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. I hope you can join us. Everyone is welcome and the event is free. It's great opportunity to enjoy wonderful live music and eat cookies.

Here's more infomation:

Saturday, November 15, 6:00 p.m., Kempton Hall. Join Trinity for an alternative liturgy set to the songs of popular music’s saint of solitude, prophet of the heart and brother of mercy. From “Hallelujah” to “Tower of Song,” Leonard Cohen stands with Bob Dylan as one of the world’s most fascinating and prophetic songwriters. But this Alt.Liturgy will show that he also stands with David in the Psalms, constantly asking, “Can you hear my song?” A freewill offering will benefit Trinity’s hunger ministries.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lingering And Not Wanting To Leave

Volunteer Frank serving the first two meals of the day — meatloaf, baked potato, roasted green beans and baked apple slices.

When I arrived at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral this morning, a bit before 7:30 a.m. to start cooking for the Wednesday Community Meal, I saw a man bundled up and huddled with his back against the church trying to stay warm.  He was first in line for a meal that was still three and a half hours away and he was so crouched over that I couldn't see his face.

The temperature was just below freezing but felt even colder because of heavy winds. It really was miserably cold and even with a winter coat and gloves,  I could barely stand just walking from my parked car to the church.

Once inside, I asked my friends Mary and Martha who volunteer with me,  "Did you see there's a man already in line? I'm going to ask him if he wants a cup of hot chocolate." They both thought that was a good idea and said I should just bring him one.

So I mixed up a rich cup of hot chocolate and headed outside towards the man expecting to encounter sadness and even some gruffness since that's how I'd be if I was freezing and stuck outside.

That's not what happened.

"Sir, I have a cup of hot chocolate for you," I said. His head quickly lifted and I saw a smiling ruddy face with sparkly kind eyes.

"Oh that's so nice of you, I'd love a cup of hot chocolate," he enthusiastically said and added "I'm looking forward to the meal today."

He really surprised me with his positivity and politeness amid such suffering. He amazed me. The next time I get whiny about something trivial, I'm going to try my best to remember him and put things in perspective.

We served 287 meals today and noticed that our guests lingered longer and some even got back in line to eat two or three times, not wanting to leave the warmth of Kempton Hall.

Guests today were treated to beautiful handmade scarves all lovingly made and donated by volunteer Nancy's 86-year old mother Chieko. When I told a man who had chosen a scarf that it was handmade he said "I can tell and I'm going to cherish it. Thank you."

Meal Closeup.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Even Better Way To Package Cookies

I've found that the addition of a piece of heavy duty paper is an even better way to package sugar cookies while still using my favorite inexpensive self-sealing cellophane bags.  

The piece of sturdy paper adds support to the package and helps keeps the cookie safe and sound during transport and handling.

The use of pretty paper also enhances the look of the packaging and makes for a nice presentation.

My paper choice was acid free patterned cardstock that I found in the scrap booking section of Michael's Arts & Crafts. To assemble the packages I cut the paper to size, set the cookies on top and simply slid them together into the cellophane bags.

It really is easy and makes for a very professional presentation.

Part of the fun of adding paper to the packaging is deciding what design to put with what cookie.

The addition of paper helps the cookies stay upright and protected during transport.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Teal And Gold Heart Cookies

This elegant cookie design came about because I wanted to make some simple heart cookies for a sale this weekend but was determined to stay away from using pinks and reds which I felt just wouldn't be right for Fall.

I'm really pleased with this combination of teal and gold. For a little extra oomph and shimmer I also painted the border with gold luster dust.

To make these I used a round scalloped cutter to cut the cookies and then after baking I outlined them with gold royal icing.

After the border dried for 30 minutes, I flooded the cookies with white royal icing.

I let the cookies dry overnight and the next day piped hearts onto the cookies. If you don't feel comfortable doing this freehand, you could use an edible ink marker to draw a heart that you could trace.

The final touch was the addition of gold luster dust on the border. To do this, I put a teaspoon of luster dust in a small container and added just enough vodka to make a paint. Then I simply painted it on with a soft brush. Let the cookies dry completely before packaging.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Art Part Of Cookie Decorating

Painted Cookies

Brushed Embroidery
I started decorating cookies one day nearly ten years ago just because I was feeling creative and needed an art project. I've always been someone who has thrived on working with my hands and trying something new.

Actually one of the first things my mom said to my husband when we announced we were getting married was, "Do you know about Heidi and her projects?" What can I say? — I like making stuff and when I was younger I wasn't the best at cleaning up my messes.

When I gave cookie decorating a shot, I had been interested in it for a while after seeing Wendy Kromer demonstrate outlining and flooding on Martha Stewart's show and saving a 2004 issue of Sunset Magazine that had tips and a recipe from pastry chef Emily Luchetti. Her sugar cookie cutout recipe was so good that it is the one I still use today with one little change, the addition of a bit of almond extract.

I didn't take any pictures of my first cookie decorating project, a batch of snowflakes, and that's probably a good thing. They were nothing special due to too runny icing and my lack of experience but they tasted great and I was hooked on the whole process of decorating cookies.

It's my art and I love it because the decorating possibilities are endless and there's always a new technique to try, learn and improve upon. Plus, I get the added pleasure of seeing smiles when I share the cookies with family and friends.

This week I've been working on some new designs for an artisan fair at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. I've been doing a little brushed embroidery work, painting and I'm making sets of cookie place cards that will be sold with an edible marker, perfect for setting Thanksgiving tables.  I can be found selling alongside my good friend Linda who makes the most adorable and super soft one-of-a-kind knitted dolls.

I hope to see you this weekend. Here are the details: 

10th Annual Artisan Invitational Fair. Saturday, November 8, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 9, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Kempton Hall. Admission: 2 cans of food or $2. Benefiting The Cathedral Arts Program and Trinity Outreach Food Pantry. Free parking.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fabulous Free Food

Every bit of the soup, salad, entrees and dessert that we served today at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Wednesday Community Meal was free thanks to our wonderful gleaners and the generosity of those in our community who share their leftovers.

A group of dedicated volunteers gleans regularly for us, collecting food from places like The Oregon Food Bank, Good Samaritan Hospital, Phil's Uptown Meat Market, Pizza Schmizza, Grand Central Bakery and Trader Joe's which helps us keep our costs down and stay within budget.

We are on track to serve just under 20,000 meals by the end of the year and even with financial support from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, donations and fundraisers, feeding everyone would be cost prohibitive without the gleaning.  Typically we need to purchase additional ingredients so that we can serve a well-rounded meal and have enough to feed everyone who comes to our door.

Today though, with a little creativity, we were able to utilize just our gleaned food and serve 247 four-course meals.  

It really is a shame how much food is wasted in our country and it feels satisfying to save it and put it to good use. It's also important to note that just because it's free, it doesn't mean it's not fabulous. The food we glean is high quality and nutritious and to prove it, here are some of the meals we served today:

Green Chicken Curry, Roasted Tomatoes and Green Beans, Carrots and Onions.

Baked Fish, Roasted Tomatoes, Rice and Green Beans and Onions.

Seasoned and Sliced Chicken Breast Over Rice, Green Beans, Carrots and Onions and Roasted Tomatoes.

Chicken Skewers Over Rice, Roasted Tomatoes and Green Beans, Carrots and Onions.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Salted Caramel Mini Macarons

Mini Salted Caramel Macarons
If you want many macarons, make mini macarons. I made another batch of Salted Caramel Macarons because I needed more to share with friends but this time made them mini-sized and got 80 finished macarons from a single recipe.

Mini macarons are so cute and I find that the small size is actually easier to pipe and bake, making them ideal for first time macaron makers. It can be a struggle to pipe even-sized rounds of macaron batter when when you don't have much piping experience so aiming for small nickle-sized rounds is a good place to start and then when you get the hang of it you can go bigger. As for the baking, I find that mini macarons bake more evenly because of their small size and are less likely to have hollow centers. 

To make the Mini Salted Caramel Macarons, just follow my original recipe but reduce the size and baking time — Mine took 10 minutes to bake but I started checking them at 7 minutes. It is important that you bake them long enough. They should feel very firm to the touch and not wobble a bit if you give one a gentle shake. It really is better to bake macarons a bit too long than too little. If they are underbaked, they won't want to release from the parchment and they'll tear and be fragile. I've been through this and it's very frustrating!

Please give mini macarons a try. Once you have success, you'll be hooked on making macarons and trust me, you friends and family won't mind one bit.
The piped mini macarons. I aimed for nickle-sized rounds and after settling they grew to be a bit bigger than a quarter.

Look at all those macaron shells from one batch! I got 160 shells, enough to make 80 finished macarons. Here the shells are sorted into pairs and ready to be filled with salted caramel buttercream.

The finished macarons.