Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Last Minute Meal

Sierra making sandwiches for today's meal volunteers whenever she is on a break from school. She is a joy to work alongside and has been volunteering since she was in grade school. I wish she could help every week.

Due to it being New Year's Eve, there wasn't a Wednesday Community Meal scheduled for today. But hunger doesn't go away just because it's a holiday and a small group of us volunteers were able and willing to serve,  so we did.

It's been a bitter cold week in Portland and we knew hot food and a warm and comfortable place to eat it would be much appreciated. Usually we serve a wider range of guests, including the elderly, the working poor and the homeless. Today we served primarily the homeless since they were the ones outside who saw the sign we put out advertising our last minute meal.

With a small group of volunteers, we had to keep our meal simple so we served hot soup donated by Phil's Uptown Meat Market and Good Samaritan Hospital and turkey and cheese sandwiches. The lean turkey that we used for the sandwiches was donated by the Trader Joe's on NW Glisan. We made 290 sandwiches and every single one was gone by 1 p.m. when we ended our two hour service — Proof that serving today was the right thing to do.

In additon to the meal, we handed out bags of canned food and handmade scarves knitted by the mother of regular volunteer Nancy.

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Eve Party Food

Still wondering about what to serve on New Year's Eve? Don't stress.
You've still got a few days to prepare and to help, here is a reposting of some of my favorite easy appetizer recipes that are sure to please.
What's most important is to remember to relax and enjoy the party. Guests like to see their hosts smiling and having fun.

Have a Happy New Year!

Homemade Crackers 

Impress your New Year's Eve party guests by serving these homemade crackers.

They are studded with sea salt, fresh rosemary and crushed black pepper and cost under a dollar to make.

Fancy store bought crackers can cost between $5 and $10 a box and don't taste as good as these.

Feel free to experiment by adding other herbs and seasonings to the recipe. Parmesan cheese and sesame would be a nice combination. 

Homemade Crackers
(makes 24 to 30)
 1 cup flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter (cut into bits)
1/3 cup milk
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and rosemary. With the processor running, add the butter and keep the machine running until it is evenly distributed.

Finally, with the machine running, slowly pour in the milk and process until a ball of dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a floured board and roll it into a large rectangle that is 1/8 of an inch thick. Be sure to use enough flour so that the dough doesn't stick.

Don't be afraid to use a lot of flour on your board. You don't want the dough to stick.

Evenly sprinkle on some sea salt and black pepper and use your rolling pin to press it into the dough.
Use your rolling pin to press fresh ground black pepper and sea salt into the dough.

With a knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Don't fret about getting the crackers perfectly shaped - imperfection is part of their charm.

Transfer the crackers onto two sheetpans that are lined with parchment paper. With a fork, prick each cracker two to three times.

Bake the crackers for 12 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let the crackers cool completely on a cooling rack. They will crisp up as they cool.

 Cheese Puffs

These cheesy delights made with classic pate choux pastry can be made and baked in advance and reheated right before serving for a quick and pleasing appetizer.

Cheese Puffs
(makes three dozen)

1 cup water
1 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Don't use the convection setting. Also, line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Heat the water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted.

Add the flour and with a wooden spoon stir until it comes together and forms a ball in the pan.

With the heat on medium, continue stirring for 5 minutes or until the dough becomes stiffer. The idea is that you want to dry out the dough so that when the eggs are incorporated later it will still hold its shape.

Transfer the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low speed for a few minutes to cool the dough.

With the mixer on medium, add the eggs one at a time until the dough is the consistency of cookie dough.

Finally, add the cheese and a generous amount of black pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a large tip or use a teaspoon to place 1-inch mounds of dough on the sheet pans.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temp to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes or until the puffs are golden brown and crisp.

Smoked Salmon and Dill on Brioche
It's actually almost embarrassing how easy these are to make. They are an elegant appetizer that goes great with champagne.

The pretty and tasty salmon treats.
Arrange mini brioche toasts (I like the one's from Trader Joe's) on platters, pipe on a dollop of softened cream cheese, add a piece of smoked salmon and top with a sprig of dill. These look so pretty and guests love them.

The brioche toasts that we found at Trader Joe's. They were packaged tightly and not a single one was broken.

Spanakopita Triangles
Crispy Spanakopita Triangles

You don't have to be Greek to love Spanakopita.

For my non-Greek family it's a favorite comfort food. Spanakopita is layers of crispy phyllo dough encased around a flavorful filling of spinach, dill and feta cheese.

Spanakopita is baked but the crispy exterior makes it seem like it came right out of the fryer. It's a delicious treat and the triangles are my go to appetizer for a crowd.

Spanakopita Triangles aren't hard to make but they do take some time. It takes about 90 minutes to get one batch ready for baking. But, it is time well spent and the triangles can be made in advance and frozen between sheets of parchment.

Then, when you get the Spanakopita craving all you have to do it put them right into a hot oven. They take just 10 to 15 minutes to bake.

When you work with phyllo dough, it's important to let it defrost in the unopened box in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Then, let the box set on the counter at room temperature for at least 2 hours before using it. Phyllo dough dries out quickly so you have to work as fast as possible once you pull it out of the box.

Some people recommend covering it with a damp towel but I don't like that method. The dampness causes the layers to stick together and makes it even harder to pick up and use. I prefer to just cover the phyllo with a dry paper towel and get to work.

Spanakopita Triangles
(makes 40)

30 ounces fresh spinach, washed and dried
2 bunches green onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
1 cup crumbled sheep's milk feta cheese (I like Valbreso Feta)
2 eggs, beaten
salt and black pepper to taste
olive oil

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the green onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the spinach in batches and saute, stirring constantly until the spinach is wilted.

Transfer the mixture to a colander and press out as much liquid as possible. Add the dill and feta and mix well. Taste the mixture and season with salt and black pepper. You won't be able to taste the mixture for seasoning after you add the eggs.

Finally, add the eggs and mix well.

Taste the filling for seasoning after you add the cheese.
Finally, add the eggs. Mix well and you are ready to assemble.

To assemble:
1 pound box of phyllo dough, defrosted for at least 24 hours in the fridge and left at room temperature for at least 2 hours before assembling.
Olive oil

Open one roll of the phyllo dough (there are two per box) and gently unroll the layers.

Lift and lay out one layer of phyllo dough and cover the rest with a paper towel.

Using a teaspoon, drizzle some olive oil on the outside thirds of the phyllo.

Fold the phyllo in thirds by folding the edges towards the center.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the lower left hand corner of the phyllo. And, drizzle on another teaspoon of olive oil.

Fold the corner towards the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Lift the bottom corner of the triangle up and fold straight up.

Keep folding up the strip of phyllo dough until you end up with a triangle. It's just like folding a flag.

Place the triangles on a parchment lined baking sheet.

When you have finished folding, brush the triangles with a bit more olive oil and put them into a 400 degree oven.

Bake the Spanakopita Triangles for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eleanor's Snowman Cupcakes

Eleanor with her latest kitchen creation.

Eleanor used chocolate chips placed upside down for the eyes and orange and brown sprinkles for the noses and mouths.

I feel so lucky that my parents gave me free rein of the kitchen as I was growing up. They were so easy going about letting me experiment and have fun as long as I cleaned up my messes and looking back, I know that's why I love cooking and baking today. The kitchen is a comfortable place for me and it's where I get to be creative.

Trying to mimic what my parent's did for me, I try to remember to step aside when my daughters feel the urge to exert some independence in the kitchen. And when I do, I'm always amazed at what they create like these cute Snowman Cupcakes created by my daughter Eleanor this week.

She made vanilla cupcakes and buttercream from scratch and then used chocolate chips and orange and brown sprinkles to make a snowman face on the top of each. "The hardest part was sorting out the orange and brown from the jar of rainbow sprinkles," she said.

Here's how Eleanor made them:

Vanilla Cupcakes
(makes 20)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with cupcake papers.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes.

Beat in the eggs plus egg yolks, one at a time, until combined. Beat in vanilla.

In another large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With mixer on low, add a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating to combine. Beat in 3/4 cup buttermilk, another third of the flour mixture, another 3/4 cup buttermilk, and remaining flour mixture until just combined. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Fill the cupcake papers 2/3 full.  Bake for 18 to 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Vanilla Buttercream
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
 2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt

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 and salt and whip on high speed until fluffy.

To Assemble:
Chocolate Chips
Orange and Brown Sprinkles

Using a table knife, add an even layer of buttercream to the top of each cupcake.
Place two upside down chocolate chips on each cupcake for eyes. Then add one orange sprinkle for the nose and five brown sprinkles for the mouth.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick Cookie Decorating With Edible Markers

If you don't want to spend a lot of time mixing colors and piping, you can still make some pretty cute cookies using edible markers.

The markers are especially nice for tiny details that are difficult to add with a piping bag.  To make these cute Christmas cookies, I flooded the cookies with blue royal icing and immediately added some dots for snow. After that dried, I used the same white icing that I used for the snow to add snowman and tree shapes. Then you just need to wait for the icing to dry completely before you can go to town decorating with edible markers.

The edible marker method is really the easiest way to decorate cookies and the perfect project for young children.

My favorite markers to use are from AmeriColor. The colors are vibrant and not translucent. They are available online and in specialty baking shops. Once you have the markers, you'll find lots of other uses for them besides cookie decorating. Who wouldn't love to find a funny faced apple in their sack lunch?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Last Wednesday Community Meal Of 2014

We seasoned the chicken with a homemade blend of crushed crackers, garlic, paprika, sage, cumin, salt and black pepper.
With Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve falling on Wednesdays this year,  today was the last community meal of 2014 and we went out on a high note with good food and even Santa serving in the dining room.
Santa taking a break after a hard day's work serving hot chocolate and coffee at The Wednesday Community Meal.

The first hundred or so guests in the door at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral were treated to crispy oven-baked chicken served with rice, gravy and green beans. The homey meal received lots of raves in the dining room and there were even a few guests who ate and got right back in line for more chicken which was okay with us. We are there to serve and it's a joy to see the food so well-received.

After the chicken, the guests continued to be fed well thanks to generous donations from Good Samaritan Hospital, Phil's Uptown Meat Market and Pizza Schmizza. We went on to serve petite sirloin steaks, chicken skewers, beef and chicken kabobs, roast beef, fried fish, chicken curry, ham and pizza in additon to soup, salad and dessert.
The Petite Sirloin Steaks we served today were donated by Good Samaritan Hospital.

We served 293 meals today. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the guests and volunteers until next year when we are looking forward to getting back to work, providing hospitality and good nutritious food to the hungry in our community.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dark Chocolate Espresso Almond Sea Salt Bark

Dark Chocolate Espresso Almond Sea Salt Bark is simple to make and has a wow factor that's off the chart. I know the title of this treat is extra long but every single component really must be acknowledged because each one is essential in making it taste so good.

The only secret to making it is to use the best ingredients you can buy. My preference is Belgian Callebaut Dark Chocolate, Stumptown Espresso Beans and sea salt and slivered almonds from the bulk bin of my neighborhood grocery store. The bark is also quick to make, taking just about 30 minutes from start to finish and is a great homemade gift for family and friends this holiday season. It is addictive though, so be prepared to share the recipe or get asked to make it on a regular basis.

Here's the recipe:

Dark Chocolate Espresso Almond Sea Salt Bark
1/2 pound dark chocolate, in chip form or roughly chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup espresso beans
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes or until browned and fragrant. These go from toasted to burned very quickly so keep an eye on them. Remove them from the oven and set aside.

Put the espresso beans in a plastic bag and lightly crush them with a rolling pin. Set them aside.

Prepare a sheetpan by lining it with a piece of parchment paper. Set it aside.

Measure out 1/3 cup of the chocolate and reserve it for later. Put the remaining chocolate in a double boiler set over low heat. Slowly melt the chocolate keeping and eye on it and stirring occasionally until the mixture is smooth. When the chocolate is completely melted, remove it from the heat and stir in the 1/3 cup of reserved chocolate and keep stirring until it too melts.  This last step might seem strange but it's called "the seeding method" and it's one way to temper the melted chocolate. The tempered chocolate you reserved and add will enhance the crystallization process of the melted chocolate.

After all the chocolate is melted, pour it onto the parchment-lined pan and gently spread it out to 1/4-inch thick using a spatula. Lift and gently tap the pan on the counter to help the chocolate settle into place.

Immediately sprinkle on the toasted slivered almonds, crushed espresso beans and sea salt. Refrigerate the bark uncovered until it completely hardens. Break the bark into rough pieces to serve.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Trinity Christmas Treats 2014

A box of this year's Trinity Christmas Treats. Each box contains 45 treats.
After weeks and weeks of planning, preparation and work, this year's Trinity Christmas Treats are finally packed and ready to be delivered. The annual fundraiser is a project that takes a tremendous amount of energy but it's for a very good cause. All proceeds go to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Food Ministries which supports The Wednesday Community Meal.

I owe so much to all the wonderful volunteers who helped this year. Together we filled 100 boxes—That's 4,500 treats! Thank you Cheryl, Dave, Cindy, Mary, Terri, Martha, Leah, Nancy, Tom, Anne, Tiffany, Linda, and Madeline! I am grateful for your hard work, support and friendship.

Here are some pics from our busy week:

One of my first jobs was tackling the gingerbread snowflakes that grace the outside of the box.

After outline and flooding the cookies, I added piped details to every cookie.

After the royal icing dried, I packaged each snowflake in a cellophane bag.

Stacks of peppermint bark ready to be packaged.

I put my new baker's rack to good use cooling trays Dark Chocolate Espresso Almond Sea Salt Bark.

The delicious dark chocolate bark ready to be packaged.

Then it was time to make Russian Tea Cakes. Cheryl, Terri and Mary also helped by making doughs ahead of time so that we could spend one day in the church kitchen just focusing on the baking.

The baking team.

Finished cookies counted and placed in cupcake papers for the boxes.

Walnut Logs cooling after being dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with chopped walnuts.

Chocolate shortbread drizzled with white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.

Martha and Cindy filling the boxes.

Madeline and Mary working together to add ruglach to the boxes.

The bottom layer clockwise from top left: Cranberry Chews, Maple Cinnamon Chip Cookies, Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread, Vanilla Shortbread, Ruglach, Ginger Molasses Cookies, Linzer Cookies and Russian Tea Cakes.

The top layer clockwise from top left: Peppermint Bark, Ginger Molasses Cookies, Brownie Biscotti, Walnut Logs, Cranberry Chews, Ruglach and Dark Chocolate Espresso Almond Sea Salt Bark.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Enchilada Casserole, Pork Roast And Baked Potatoes

Those who made the cold and rainy journey today to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for The Wednesday Community Meal were treated to enchilada casserole, pork roast and baked potatoes.

A roast pork and baked potato meal.
The enchilada casserole was what we served first and is always one one of our most popular dishes. Today we made it with some extra creativity. We alternated layers of flour tortillas and a filling made with refried beans, black beans and cheese from our pantry and cooked corn and shredded chicken gleaned from Good Samaritan Hospital.

What we didn't have for our casserole were any cans of tomato sauce or tomato paste to make an enchilada sauce. This is where the creative part came in, we used the only tomato product we had on hand, ketchup, and it worked like a charm. I now know that by just thinning ketchup with water and adding chili powder, cumin and garlic powder you can make a darn good enchilada sauce.

Using what we have and turning it into something new and delicious is the part of cooking I love most. It's a fun challenge for me.

After we served the enchilada casserole, we moved onto roast pork and baked potatoes which were also very popular.

Louise, one of our regular guests said to me "Heidi, I have a complaint about the baked potato. There wasn't enough of it."

There is just something so comforting about a hot baked potato cut open and topped with real butter. It was very good medicine for the miserable weather.

We served 252 meals today.