Friday, January 30, 2015

A Lot Of Help From My Friends

I haven't posted about the Wednesday Community Meal in two weeks and I promise I have a good excuse.

Initially I had planned to miss just the meal on Wednesday January 21st because of a family trip to New York City but then that darn blizzard hit the city and our flight home was cancelled causing me to also miss this week's meal on January 28th.

Volunteering is something I look forward to every week and I felt really bad about not being able to be there two weeks in a row but I didn't stress because I knew the meal was in the good hands of my friends and fellow volunteers.

When I told Fred who helps organize the meal that I would have to be gone a second week he kindly said "Don't worry," and added "Portland is 54 degrees, sunny and no wind." Of course the rain stopped and the weather got nice when I was away!

Volunteer Cheryl is the one who filled in for me in the kitchen, planning the meals to best utilize the gleaning and figuring out what additional ingredients were needed. She did an amazing job and having lived on the East Coast,  she told me she knew that my original hope that I could still catch a flight home in time for the meal was "wishful thinking".

"I wasn't optimisitic when I talked with you this morning about a flight Tuesday night. We'll be fine and all is under control," she texted me.

I really do have the best friends! So many of them came in extra early to make both Wednesday Community Meals a success. I owe them big time!

On the 21st, they served 301 meals and on the 28th, they served 302 meals. Cheryl and Nancy kindly sent me photos so I wouldn't feel too left out. I'm really looking forward to getting back to work next week and seeing everyone.

Wednesday January, 21st. 

Cheryl, Martha, Kate, Terri, Ann, Andy and Bill pose for a quick pic in the kitchen.

Most of the guests got hot dogs and fries as their main entree which I have no doubt was very popular with the guests.

Wednesday January, 28th.

Volunteers Andy and Tom came in extra early to help out.

Volunteers Frank and Frank (I love that!) worked hard serving in the dining room.

Guests got homemade meatloaf, rice and green beans as their main entree. This looks so good! The meal was obviously in great hands.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cake For A Crowd

Mini Red Velvet Cakes
Before serving, place each cake in a cupcake liner and add a dollop of cream cheese icing.
These Mini Red Velvet and Carrot Cakes were part of a dessert buffet that I recently catered and of all the things I made, they were the easiest and very well received. I think people liked that the mini cakes were small enough that they could try one of each without over indulging and I liked that I was serving cake without having to slice and plate it.

To make the mini cakes, I simply baked my favorite Red Velvet and Carrot Cakes and then broke them into crumbs that I mixed with enough cream cheese icing to form a mixture that would hold together. This is basically how cake balls are made except that I skipped the rolling into balls step and the dipping into a coating step and just scooped (I used a 1-inch cookie scoop) and released the cakes flat side down on a piece of parchment paper. When you are ready to serve, place each cake in a mini cupcake paper and add a dollop of cream cheese icing on top. That's all there is to it and you have my favorite new way to serve cake to a crowd.

Mini Carrot Cakes

A tray of mini carrot cakes at the reception.

Here are the cake and icing recipes I used, but don't be afraid to get creative and make these using other cake and frosting recipes. Be creative and have fun.

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.

Carrot Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable (I have also used canola or olive oil)
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups raw grated carrots (I usually add an additional cup to bring the total to 4)
1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. With a whisk, cream together sugar and oil. Add eggs; cream well. Add flour, soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix well. Add carrots, nuts and pineapple. Mix well and pour into two 9-inch cake pans that are greased and floured. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

 Cream Cheese Icing
1 1/2 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, January 15, 2015

Birthday Cookie

This cute double-decker Birthday Cookie is so simple to make, decorate and customize with a personal message. All you need to make it is cookie dough, royal icing and an edible ink marker.

When it came to cutting the parts for the cookie, I used a knife and cut them freehand. I cut a large 6-inch square for the base and for the candle, a thin strip of dough and a teardrop shape for the flame. 
The cookies parts before baking.

Candle close-up.

Here's how I decorated and assembled the cookie:

Outline and flood the base cookie with royal icing and set it aside to dry completely.
With a paint brush, paint on the dark pink and gold royal icing for the candle and the flame and let these dry completely before attaching them to the dried base cookie. I even added icing to the sides of the candle and flame cookies so that there were no bare edges to be seen after they were attached to the base. Let the cookie dry for another hour or so until the "icing glue" is set.
Then just use an edible ink marker to write a birthday greeting and that's all there is to it.

A side view of the finished cookie that's for our good friend Elise's 15th birthday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hearty Food

We had to change our entree menu a few times to utilize the food we had on hand but all of the 303 meals we served at the Wednesday Community Meal today were nutritious, hearty and well-received by our guests. In addition to the entree, guests were were served soup, salad and dessert. Dessert today was homemade pear crisp made by volunteer Cheryl.

The first guests in the door got oven-baked chicken with gravy over rice, green beans, cranberry sauce and orange slices. The chicken was crispy and flavorful and many guests stopped by the kitchen window to say how much they loved it. Harry, one of our regulars even fist bumped me and told me it was "the bomb."
A chicken meal.

The chicken was donated by Lift Urban Portland and we prepared it by seasoning it with a homemade blend of spices, herbs and salt and pepper and baking it until it was done and nicely brown, flipping it over once during baking. Every time we make baked chicken, our seasoning blend is different depending on what seasonings we have on hand, but that doesn't seem to matter. The chicken turns out delicious every time.

Next up today was gnocchi that we topped with a cheesy tomato sauce and served with meatballs, green beans and orange slices. The large meatballs were donated by Phil's Uptown Meat Market and a perfect accompaniment to the gnocchi that was donated by Good Samaritan Hospital. I have to give a special shout out to volunteer Terri who cooked a whole case of frozen gnocchi for us today by standing over the stove and dropping small batches into boiling water. It took a lot of time and a lot of patience and she cooked it perfectly.
A gnocchi and meatball meal.

The last thing we served today was shepherd's pie donated by Good Samaritan Hospital. The comforting entree, made with ground beef, mashed potatoes and vegetables is always popular with our guests. Alongside the shepherd's pie we served roasted potatoes, a green salad and orange slices.

A shepherd's pie meal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Musical Cookies

These Musical Cookies are for the celebration of a very talented friend of mine.

I could have used piping consistency icing to add the musical notes and symbols but because I needed to make a lot of cookies it was essential that I simplify the process without skimping on the design.

My solution was to use a black edible ink marker and it worked like a charm not to mention, I'm sure I had a lot more control in adding the design.

One tip I can offer is to practice drawing the musical notes and symbols on paper before adding them to the cookies.

Here's how I made them:

Outline your cookies with piping consistency white icing and let it dry before moving onto the next step.

Fill the cookies with flood consistency white icing and let this dry completely before moving on. Don't skimp on the drying or the pressure of the edible ink pen will crack the icing.

Practice drawing your designs on a piece of paper and then go for it. I must also mention that not all edible ink markers are created equally. In the photo is an edible ink pen from "Yummy Art" and it didn't work as well as my pen from AmeriColor which had a finer tip that was easier to control and the ink was less translucent.

Cookie closeup.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Three Blue Heart Cookies

When it comes to cookie decorating, the possibilities are endless and I think that's the main reason why I love it so much. There's always something new to try and every attempt is an adventure in the kitchen.

These blue heart cookies are the result of a recent challenge I gave myself — Make three different heart cookies using just two colors of royal icing. So I sketched and pondered and came up with these three designs and I like them all but my favorite is the simplest heart that I just painted on using a brush and thinned royal icing.

In the past I've painted on cookies using food coloring but that creates a look more reminiscent of ink pens or a smooth watercolor. Using thinned royal icing adds a textural element that's more like acrylic paint and I like the look a lot. I also found that the thinned royal icing was easier than the food coloring to apply and control. I'm going to have to experiment with this some more.

In the meantime, here's how to make these Three Blue Heart Cookies:

Knitted Heart

This knitted heart effect took some time but really was easy to create. If you notice at the top of the cookie, the icing has settled a bit too much for my taste. Using a stiffer royal icing would have eliminated this problem. I remembered to test my icing by piping onto a plate first but I didn't wait and watch it for a bit to see if it would gradually settle.  Next time I'll do better — Proof that I make mistakes and am constantly learning every time I decorate cookies.

I added a base coat of white icing to a cookie that I imprinted with a heart cutter before baking. The icing fell into the imprint and left a nice guide for me to follow. After the base coat has dried, add a row of blue dots to the top of the heart.

Use a small square tip brush to swipe each dot downward and add another row of dots and repeat.

Keep working all the way down the heart and let the icing dry completely before serving or packaging.
Sparkly Brushed Embroidery Heart:
After your white base coat has dried, pipe a heart with stiff royal icing.

Use the side of a square tip brush to pull the icing inward, working around the whole outline and cleaning off your brush periodically. Add another heart outline on the inside and repeat adding the brushed embroidery technique.

Outline and fill a heart shape in the very center. Let this dry completely.

Using thinned royal icing and a brush, add a thin layer of icing to the top of the dried center heart. Immediately dip it in sanding sugar and use a soft clean brush to remove any excess bits of sugar. Wait for the coat of icing to dry completely before packaging or serving.

Royal Icing Painted Heart:
This was the easiest cookie to make and my favorite. Outline and fill a cookie with white royal icing. Let this dry completely. Thin blue royal icing with water to make a spreadable paint and simply paint it on in the shape of a heart. Just be sure that you use a brush that's for kitchen use only. Wilton sells a set of brushes that I really like. Let the heart dry completely before packaging or serving.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

First Wednesday Community Meal Of 2015

This is the very first meal of 2015 that we served today  — Glazed Chicken, Rice, Green Beans and Roasted Pears.
 The first Wednesday Community Meal of 2015 went off without a hitch and it was so nice to be back and reconnect with my fellow volunteers and the wonderful people who join us for lunch each week.

With it being the first of the month, we weren't too busy (we served 220 meals).  Those who did make the trek to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for the free meal were treated to hearty, nutritious and delicious food — glazed chicken breasts (donated by Good Samaritan Hospital), Smithfield Smoked Ham (donated by a Trinity parishioner) and pork sausage (donated by a Trinity Parishioner).
The chicken we served came from Good Samaritan Hospital. The hospital donated the raw chicken breasts and then we season them with salt, pepper and herbs and baked them in a 350 degree oven. After baking, we tossed them in a light gravy to help keep them tender and moist.
Alongside the proteins, we served green beans, rice and roasted pears. The pears were donated by The Oregon Food Bank and they were flavorful but a little on the tough side so volunteers Andy and Nancy sliced them, tossed them with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and butter and roasted them until they were soft and caramelized. They were soooo gooood and a hit with both the guests and the volunteers.
Smithfield Ham with Green Beans, Rice and Roasted Pears. The high end ham was donated by a Trinity parishioner and loved by our guests.
 Volunteers Leah and Andy assembled today's salads and they were full of crisp greens and colorful vegetables.

Alongside each salad was a piece of just-baked focaccia that we made using whole wheat pizza dough donated by Trader Joe's. We spread the dough out on a greased sheetpan and topped it with a drizzle of oil,  kosher salt, Italian herbs and mozzarella cheese and then baked it until it was golden brown and the cheese was bubbling. Seriously, who can resist warm bread?

Today's colorful salads with a side of warm focaccia.
It's fun getting creative with surprise ingredients and creating treats for our guests. It makes you feel good because you are making people happy and saving perfectly good food from going to waste.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Textured Heart Cookie

A simple cookie design can be made more interesting with a bit of texture. Creating the textured background for the heart isn't hard at all, it just takes some stiff royal icing, a small square tip brush and some time.

Here's how:
Bake a batch of sugar cookies. I cut out squares and rounds of cookie dough and then with a smaller heart cutter made an impression in each of the cookies. The impression will stay during baking.

Pipe some thinned royal icing around the heart.

Use a knife to spread it to the edges of the cookie. Be sure it's just a thin coat of icing since you'll be adding plenty more in the next step. Let this dry completely before moving on.

Get your square tip brush, a small cup of water and a paper towel ready and starting at the top edge of the cookie pipe a row of dots using stiff royal icing. In one stroke and pulling downward, swipe each dot with the brush. Be sure to clean the brush periodically, dabbing off excess water with paper towel. Add another row of royal icing dots and repeat.

Keep working down the cookie and around the heart impression.

Try your best to keep your rows even and straight.

When you are done, let the icing dry before moving onto the next step.

Outline the heart with flood consistency royal icing.

Fill in the heart with more of the flood icing and give the cookie a gentle shake to help it settle into place. Let the cookies dry completely before serving or packaging.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Puff Pastry Tarts

No baking experience is required to make these delicious puff pastry apple tarts. These come together quickly and are a perfect last-minute dessert that will wow and amaze your guests.

I filled the tarts with diced apples tossed with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and a bit of flour but you could really any fruit and even preserves would work.

The main ingredient is store bought puff pastry. Just lay out the pastry, cut rounds and then with the extra dough cut strips, to add a border on top of the rounds that will rise and hold in the filling.
Cut rounds of puff pastry and then cup strips to add a border.

Bake the tarts on a parchment lined sheetpan in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes or until the puff pastry is crisp and golden brown and that's all there is to it.

These are especially good topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Trust me, your guests will think they went to the fanciest restaurant in town.