Monday, June 29, 2015

Red, White And Blue Cookies

These red, white and blue cookies are bold, bright and perfect for your upcoming Independence Day Celebrations. They are also simple to make and can be made days in advance. To serve, just arrange them on a platter and enjoy the party.

Here's how to make them:

Bake a batch of round sugar cookies. For my favorite tried and true recipe, click here.

The cookies after baking.
Make a batch of royal icing. Leave 3/4 of the icing white and divide the remaining 1/4 into small bowls and tint one red and one blue. Thin all of the icings by adding a teaspoon of water at a time, to 12 to 15-second flood consistency. This is icing that settles back into place in 12 to 15 seconds after you draw through it with the back of a spoon. Place the white icing in a pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip and place the red and blue icing in bags fitted with #2 pastry tips. You need to have all of your icings ready to go at once. Click here for my favorite royal icing recipe.

Work on one cookie at a time. Outline the cookie with the white icing.

Fill in the outline with more white icing and give the cookie a gentle shake to help the icing settle. You can also use a skewer or scribe tool to help evenly distribute the icing.

Now it's time to decorate. While the flood icing is still wet, add your red and blue embellishments. Here I added some simple red stripes.
To the red stripes you can add blue stripes going in the same direction.

Or, you can add blue stripes going in the opposite direction.

For this cookie I added more red stripes going in the opposite direction and some blue dots.

To make a chevron design, add red and blue stripes and then draw through them with a skewer, toothpick or scribe tool, going back and forth in opposite directions. Be sure to wipe your tool off after each swipe to keep the design clean.

This is one of my favorite designs because it looks impressive but is so easy to do.

You can also add dots.

You can add the dots in alternating rows for a Swiss dot effect.

Or you can just add the dots randomly.
Be creative, have fun and have a happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thank You Trader Joe's!

Today's lunch of roast beef, rice and seasoned tomatoes and cucumber.

The majority of the food we served today at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Wednesday Community Meal was kindly donated by Trader Joe's on NW Glisan Street. The store gave us six small beef roasts and more than 40 packages of pastrami and thinly sliced roast beef, expensive proteins that helped us serve 314 meals for under 80-cents each.

We served the tender roast to the first group of guests who were seated, with sides of rice and sliced and seasoned tomatoes and cucumber. The very first guest in line had been waiting since 7 a.m. this morning so it felt great to treat him to a wonderful lunch.

Pastrami and roast beef sandwiches topped with sauerkraut and cheese came later during the two-hour lunch service and were also well-received in the dining room.  We served them alongside crispy oven-roasted potatoes that we seasoned with garlic, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper.

The sandwiches we served today came with a side of crispy oven-roasted potatoes.
Also on the menu today were teriyaki chicken skewers, baked white fish, pork tenderloin, sliced beef over rice and salmon burgers that we topped with tartar sauce, capers and fresh dill. Utilizing primarily donated food to feed a crowd is always a challenge but it's a satisfying one. It means we have to be creative and change our menu frequently to use what we have but the extra work is worth it —  it saves money and stops perfectly good food from going to waste. And, the very best part is that we made a lot of hungry people happy today.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Macaron Assortment Tip And The Recipe For Raspberry Dark Chocolate Macarons

Raspberry Dark Chocolate, Salted Caramel and Lemon Macarons look great together and make a nice assortment for an event. Why? — Because the flavors aren't too similar and the colors compliment each other.
When I'm asked to make an assortment of macarons for an event, my motto is always "small selection but wide variety."

Too many flavors to choose from overwhelms guests because they can't try everything and they have difficulty deciding what to pick. Too many flavors is also hard on the host who needs to know and describe the choices. You don't want to have to keep note cards on what you are serving.

My preference is to limit macaron assortments to five flavors, but I think three is really ideal.

That said, I then aim for a "wide variety," meaning I want to choose three or five flavors that are completely different from one another, so there is something for everyone. For instance, I would never make raspberry, strawberry and cherry together or coconut, hazelnut and almond. These are way to similar flavor and color wise too. Contrasting colors make for a much better presentation.

When choosing what to make, I consider these categories: Berry, Citrus, Chocolate, Nut, Caramel, Coffee and Exotic, the latter is flavors like lavender, rose, green tea and  rosemary olive oil. It's also fun to also mix these categories up like Espresso Hazelnut Macarons or Raspberry Dark Chocolate Macarons, which I made for a recent event.

In addition to the Raspberry Dark Chocolate Macarons,  I made Lemon and Salted Caramel. The flavors are different and the colors are contrasting and look vibrant together.

I've already posted the recipes for Lemon and Salted Caramel Macarons, but the Raspberry Dark Chocolate ones are a completely new creation. I've made chocolate shells filled with raspberry buttercream before but these are raspberry colored shells filled with both a dollop of dark Belgian chocolate and a raspberry buttercream.

Here's the recipe:

Raspberry Dark 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
Fuschia gel coloring
Red gel coloring

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 as desired. I added about 1 part fuschia to 2 parts red. Remember that the color lightens during baking so tint them a bit darker than you want them to turn out.

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.

Piped macarons.
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 10 to 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 or spatula to help lift them off.

Sort into pairs and fill with Melted Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Buttercream.
The macarons sorted into pairs and ready for filling. This is a single batch!

Raspberry Buttercream
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Crofter's Raspberry Spread or another high-quality low-sugar raspberry preserve
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Just 3 drops of Raspberry Flavor (I used LorAnn brand)

Whip the butter until it is light and smooth. Add the jam, sea salt and raspberry flavor.

Whip this together until the filling is light and creamy. When you first start whipping the ingredients together, it will look like a curdled mess, but don't panic. The filling will eventually come together and be beautiful. Just whip it and whip it good!

Dark Chocolate Filling:
(note: make this only when your macarons are sorted, flipped over and ready for filling. Once you melt the chocolate there's no time to waste, you've got to be ready to go.)

1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips 
Place 1 cup of the dark chocolate chips (I used Belgian dark chocolate) in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Keep microwaving for 10 to 20 second sessions and stirring until the chocolate is melted. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of chips and stir until they are completely melted. Let the chocolate cool for an extra minute or two before transferring to a piping bag.

To Assemble:
Sort your macarons into pairs and flip both over. Starting with the chocolate, pipe a dollop on the back of one macaron from each of the pairs. Don't go too close to the edge or it will spill over. Let the chocolate firm and cool for at least 15 minutes before proceeding.

Add a dollop of Raspberry Buttercream on top of the chocolate and sandwich the pairs carefully together. 
Adding the dollop of dark chocolate.

After you add the buttercream, the macarons are ready to be gently sandwiched together.

All done!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Summer Reunion

I am so happy that Ian and Nicholas came in to help today. They are hard workers and lots of fun!

I love it when school is out and young volunteers come in to help at The Wednesday Community Meal.

My daughter Eleanor and I were the first volunteers to arrive at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral this morning and I had hopes that other young volunteers would also come in to help, but I didn't want to get my heart set on it with it being the first week of the summer break. School did just get out and lets face it, sleeping in does sound pretty appealing.

I shouldn't have for a second doubted the dedication of our fantastic young volunteers.

By 8 a.m., Sierra was in the kitchen ready to get to work washing and dicing three cases of squash from the Oregon Food Bank. Eleanor took on making croutons for the salads and then I peeked out into the dining room and saw Ian had come in and was already helping to set up tables in the dining room. Before I knew it, Nicholas, Ava, Zane and Olivia were also in the kitchen helping.

It really is a pleasure to see volunteers of all ages, working together to feed the hungry in our community. Ian, Zane and Nicholas just graduated from high school and will soon be heading off to college and I hate to think this might be their last summer volunteering at the community meal.  They've been coming in to help for years and they are an absolute joy to work alongside.

On the menu today was soup, salad, chicken enchiladas, pork tamales, rice, roasted summer squash, fresh salsa and watermelon.
A meal of chicken enchiladas, rice, roasted summer squash, fresh salsa and watermelon.
Zane made the salsa by combining diced fresh tomatoes, onion and cilantro with donated containers of salsa from Trader Joe's and a jug of La Victoria salsa purchased by Trinity from Cash 'n' Carry. He carefully seasoned it with extra chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and salt and made honestly one of the best and freshest tasting salsas I've ever tasted. It really is amazing what you can create with a little of this, a little of that, an open mind and a positive attitude. Negativity can really ruin a dish and there's no room or time for that in a busy and productive kitchen.
Zane's one of a kind super salsa!

By the time it was ready to serve, we had three more young helpers join our crew — Aidan, Scarlett and Isla Blue.

It was a fun and productive day and we made a lot of hungry people happy. We served 337 meals during our two hour service.

Olivia, Eleanor and Sierra getting the juice station ready. Eleanor burned her hand on the oven and as a remedy, has cold yellow mustard on it, held on with a plastic glove and painter's tape. I know this looks and sounds strange but for mild burns, cold yellow mustard works like a charm to cool and heal.

Aidan and Ave dishing up the chocolate pudding for dessert.

Isla Blue helped Cindy serve dessert in the dining room. They make the best team!

In addition to making the salsa, Zane cooked all of the pork tamales which were generously donated by Trader Joe's. He cooked every single one perfectly. Eleanor is alongside him, getting a plate of food for her lunch break.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Make Ahead Cake Decorations

When I decorate cookies, I often have leftover royal icing and instead of tossing it, I use it to make rose decorations that I keep on hand for decorating cakes in a pinch.

Just let the royal icing roses dry completely and then store them in an airtight container. They'll keep for months and they are so handy to have on hand.  And, they're so pretty that no one will even think for a second that they were made in advance and your cake was a breeze to decorate.

Here's how:
Whip the royal icing until it is very stiff and tint it using gel coloring. I like to make two-toned roses so I tinted some rose and some cream. Fit a pastry bag with a petal tip. My preference is a Wilton #103.
I used a rubber scraper to spread some rose colored royal icing on the inside of my piping bag.

Then I dropped in the cream colored icing. This will give me a nice two-toned effect and keep the pink color just on the edges of the petals.

Adhere a small piece of parchment to a flower nail. Pipe a dollop of icing on the center.

Add a petal around the dollop. When you use a petal tip, it's essential that the narrow end of the tip be up as you pipe. This gives you realistic looking thin-edged petals.

Keep working around your dollop of icing and add two more petals to completely go around the dollop which is the center of the rose.

Add another layer of petals. I stopped after the second layer since I wanted small roses but you can keep going if you want to make a bigger rose.

Set the roses on a sheetpan to dry completely. I let mine dry for two full days and then I removed them from the parchement and put them in a single layer in an airtight container.

Using a #67 Wilton tip, I also made some leaves.

Before I add my handy dandy rose and leaf decorations to a cake, I experiment with placement on a sheetpan first to get them exactly how I want them.

A pretty cake that was a cinch to decorate.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sam's Chocolate Coffee Ice Cream Cake

My wonderful nephew Sam just graduated from high school and I couldn't resist creating a special cake for his celebration. Coffee flavored desserts are his favorite so I made him an ice cream cake with two layers of moist Guinness chocolate cake, a center of coffee ice cream and a topping of espresso flavored whipped cream. It was a big hit and I know it's something I will make again and again and always think of Sam when I do.

Here's the recipe:

Sam's Chocolate Coffee Ice Cream Cake
(a celebration cake created for and named after the best nephew in the world)

1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream ( or substitute plain yogurt)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
A prepared cake pan. Line the bottom and the sides with greased parchment.

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 prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until done. Leave the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool completely before assembling.
The cakes after baking. Let them cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans.

To Assemble:
1 quart premium coffee ice cream, left at room temperature for 10 to 15  minutes to soften
2 pints whipping cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoons espresso powder
chocolate covered espresso beans

Line an 8-inch cake pan that is at least 4-inches deep with plastic wrap.

Drop in one of the Guinness chocolate cake layers.

Top the cake with the quart of softened coffee ice cream.

Use a spreader to evenly distribute the ice cream and press it down. You have to work fast because you don't want the ice cream to melt.

Add the second layer of cake.

Wrap the cake well with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer to set for at least 4 hours.

After the cake has set in the freezer, put the whipping cream, sugar and espresso in a mixing bowl and whip it until it holds a stiff peak.
Unwrap the frozen cake remove it from the cake pan. Place it on a serving platter that will be able to fit back into the freezer.

Spread the whipped cream around the sides of the cake.

Put the remaining whipped cream in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe a border around the top of the cake.

Inside the border, pipe dollops around the cake and top each of them with a chocolate covered espresso bean.

Place the cake back into the freezer for at least 20 minutes before serving. Enjoy!