Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Striving To Serve Healthy Food

Volunteer Zane did a wonderful job slicing all of the pork tenderloin that we served today.
Lean, oven-roasted pork tenderloin was a highlight of today's Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Alongside the pork, we served baked potatoes, roasted vegetables, slices of cold watermelon and soup, salad and dessert.
Dessert today was warm, just-baked cake that volunteers Ava and Quinn sliced and topped with chocolate and chopped peanuts.

High-quality proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive to buy and what's usually lacking in our guest's diets so that's what we always strive to serve at Trinity's weekly free meal.  Our guests are primarily the homeless but we also serve the elderly, the working poor and families.

For the meal, we utilize gleaned ingredients as much as possible and then compete the meal with ingredients generously purchased by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Lunch is served between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and everyone is welcome, no questions asked. All you have to do is show up and I promise you will be greeted, seated and served. We served 366 meals today.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Great Volunteers

We didn't have as many volunteers as usual at The Wednesday Community Meal today but it all worked out thanks to a small but great group of people. Together we served 405 meals during our two hour service.

Guests today were treated to entrees of roasted pork loin, turkey breast, enchiladas, salmon, baked potatoes topped with chili and cheese and pizza. There was also soup, salad and dessert. We had just enough food for everyone who came to our door.

During most of the service, there was a line to get inside and we were so busy that by the time our doors closed at 1 p.m.,  I realized I had forgotten to snap any photos. So, at the end of our service, I  asked a few of our hard working volunteers to pose for me...

Fred puts in more volunteer hours than anyone.  He organizes all of the gleaning for the meal and does much of the gleaning himself. He also attends all of the organizational meetings and manages the dining room. I love working with him.

Ava and Jack are fun and so capable. Ava was in charge of desserts today and Jack worked in the kitchen plating food.

Dan works with Dean each week serving coffee, hot chocolate and tea in the dining room. It's not easy work and keeps him on his feet for a solid two hours straight. He is a dedicated volunteer and I don't know what we'd do without him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate Sheetcake

I needed to make a super-sized dessert to serve at the Wednesday Community Meal tomorrow and so I created this moist chocolate sheetcake. I love making sheetcakes because they come together quickly and because you serve them right from the pan, they are a breeze to frost since they require just a top coat.

I made a double batch of the recipe for my extra large 13 x 19 -pan and after the cake cooled, frosted it with buttercream that will be very hard to recreate.  I had some raspberry and salted caramel buttercreams in my freezer left over from making macarons, so I added to those to a package of cream cheese, a stick of unsalted butter, vanilla, a cup of cocoa powder and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and whipped it until it was smooth and creamy. My nephew who is my official taste tester said "oh, that's gooood," when he took a taste.

It's fun getting creative and using leftovers to make something special. And really, just about any frosting would be great with this easy cake.

Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Sheetcake 
1 1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 large eggs

Grease and flour a 11 x 17 baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the water, cocoa powder and espresso powder until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In another medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip together the butter, sugars and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whip after each addition until the mixture is smooth and well-combined.

Alternately add the flour and cocoa/water mixture in three additions, beating after each on low speed until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan before frosting. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SPARKS Volunteers

The great SPARKS volunteers who helped us today, Jack, Sadie, Robyn (camp director) and Brooklyn.
We were fortunate to have the help of teens attending Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's SPARKS Community Service Camp at today's Wednesday Community Meal. This is the fourth year the campers have volunteered with us and as always, it was a wonderful experience. 

The campers were enthusiastic about helping and got right to work, serving in the dining room. They did a great job and also enjoyed lunch alongside our guests.

We served 305 meals today and had a full dining room for most of our two-hour service.  We changed our menu multiple time to utilize food gleaned from Good Samaritan Hospital, Phil's Uptown Meat Market, The Oregon Food Bank, Pizza Schmizza, Baker & Spice, Ken's Artisan Bakery, Grand Central Bakery and Starbucks.

The first guests got frittata, then there was enchilada casserole, beef stir fry, hot turkey and cheese sandwiches, beef curry and finally pizza. We had the perfect amount of food, just enough for everyone who joined us. 
An enchilada lunch.

A beef curry lunch.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Plum Perfect Cookies

A box of pretty plums at the grocery store inspired me to incorporate the shade into my cookie decorating. 

Color mixing is really one of the most important parts of cookie decorating and what I often find most challenging. The trick really is to have a visual of the color you want before you start mixing so with some purchased plums as my guide, I mixed up a wonderful shade using electric purple, royal blue, teal and fuchsia gel colors. Getting the shade I wanted took a while, since I added just the smallest touch of coloring at a time, but it was time well spent. I love the how the shade turned out. For more coloring mixing tips,  click here.

For the ombre plum cookies, I iced some with the original plum color using flood icing and a #2 tip. Then,  I added a bit of white for a lighter shade, and then even more white for an even lighter shade. If I am going for multiple shades of a color, I always find it easiest to start with the darkest shade and simply work off of that by adding white icing.

For the plum brushed embroidery, I first base coated some plaque shaped cookies with delphinium blue royal icing. After the base coat dried completely, I added the brushed embroidery. It's essential that the base coat be completely dry (this takes 8 or more hours) or the icing will crumble and crack as you add the brushed embroidery.

It's important that your icing be piping consistency, this is icing that's stiff enough to hold it's shape but doesn't hold a peak. Pipe the outline of a flower and then use a small square tip brush to pull the icing inward, without breaking the top edge of the original outline. Use water to clean your brush off periodically between strokes and be sure to pat it dry with a paper towel. After you've finished one row of petals, add another.

This cookie is almost done. Notice that the center petal looks a little too wet, that's because I didn't dry my brush off enough. The second row of petals will help hide it but it's something that you want to avoid.

Two down, more to go. This kind of decorating isn't hard but it does take time, so turn on some music and try to enjoy the process. The results will be worth it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Vanilla Coconut Macarons

The flavor of vanilla and coconut go great together and making the flavorful filling for these macarons really couldn't be easier because I used extracts. 

The filling is just unsalted butter, vanilla extract, coconut extract, a bit of powdered sugar and a pinch of sea salt whipped together until light and creamy. This would also be a great frosting for a coconut cake.

For macarons, I always aim for lightly sweet fillings because the shells are plenty sweet enough. I think this one is perfect and I hope you do too.

Here's the recipe:
Vanilla Coconut 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.

The 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 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.
The macarons after baking.

Sort the macarons into pairs and fill with Vanilla Coconut Filling.  After filling, refrigerate the macarons until you are ready to serve.

Vanilla Coconut Filling
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a stand mixer and whip until light and creamy. This takes a good 5 to 7 minutes. At first it will look like a gloppy mess, but don't worry, just keep whipping and it will come together.
A filled macaron.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Monarch Butterfly Cookies

You can make pretty monarch butterfly cookies any size you want. Just bake some cookies, round, square, whatever shape you want (I used a plaque cookie cutter), and then make a butterfly template that fits the cookie out of a piece of paper.

To decorate them, you need to have all of your icings ready to go at once. I used delphinium blue for the background and medium orange and black for the butterfly. I thinned these to flood consistency and put them each into piping bags fitted with a  #1 tip. Whenever I'm outlining and filling small areas, I use a #1 tip so that the icing is easier to control.

I also mixed some small amounts of white, yellow and dark orange flood icings and covered them with plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry out. I applied them to the cookie by using a scribe tool, a toothpick or skewer would also work.

You also need an edible ink marker to make these, here's how:

Bake a batch of cookies and cut a butterfly shape that fits.

Lay the butterfly template on the cookie.

Use an edible ink marker to trace the template.

Outline the body of the butterfly.

Outline the cookie with icing, I used delphinium blue.

Then start to outline the butterfly and fill in the background sections. Use a scribe tool, toothpick or skewer to help evenly distribute the icing.

Keep working around the whole butterfly.

It will look like this.

Use your edible ink marker to draw a border around the butterfly and draw the wing sections.

Outline and fill the border of the butterfly with black icing.

Use a scribe tool, toothpick, or skewer to add dots and short lines of the dark orange, yellow and white icing around the border. Just touch the icing to pick up a little and then drop it onto the border. This technique allows you to add very small details.

It will look like this.

Now, outline the wing sections with black icing.

Fill the sections with medium orange icing. Be careful not too add too much or it will spill over your outline and again use your scribe tools to move and manipulate the icing.

All done. Let the cookie dry completely before serving or packaging.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Cool Lunch

Today's lunch.
We served turkey, avacado, cheese and tomato sandwiches at today's Wednesday Community Meal and our guests were thrilled.
Our super sandwich assembly line. Thank you Gwen, Micah, Sam and Ian!

"They all love the sandwiches," said volunteer Carol who serves in the dining room and is always great about giving us feedback in kitchen. The sandwiches did look pretty darn good with the fresh tomato and avacado and a generous portion of sliced turkey breast. Alongside the sandwiches we served cold watermelon, cantaloup and potato chips. We also offered soup, salad and dessert — a full four-course meal.

Our wonderful dining room volunteers today included Judy, Carol, Lucy and Maddy.

There's been a heat wave here in Portland, temperatures have been in the 90's for nearly two weeks, and this has been hard on everyone but especially the homeless in our community. When you are living outside, a break from the weather is very hard to find.

One of our regular guests today asked me if I could possibly give him meals to take to two friends. "They really wanted to come today but they found a shady spot and don't want to lose it," he said.

I told him I would and said that I have noticed we haven't been as busy lately.

"That's because it's too hot to walk far," he said. Two men near us overheard and nodded in agreement.

My hope is that the shelter, hospitality and meal that we served today at least helped cool and comfort those who were able to join us. We served 260 meals today.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Macaron Meringue Tip

A meringue for lemon macarons. I can tell it's done because it holds a soft peak.

I am always happy and willing to help readers troubleshoot why their macarons aren't turning out. I find that helping others is also beneficial to me since there are so many variables to consider when baking macarons and there's always more to learn.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, "Why are my macarons hollow?" There are three reasons I can think of — The shells could have rested for too long before baking, the oven temperature could have been too high or you could have overbeaten the meringue. It's usually the latter. 

You want to beat the meringue just until it holds a soft peak. Remember not to overbeat the egg whites and not to beat them too quickly.

You want to whip the egg whites slowly starting on medium-low speed, gradually adding the granulated sugar in three or four parts, and then increasing the speed to medium and then medium-high.

Getting the meringue to soft peaks should take a good seven or so minutes but it's so worth the time. If egg whites are beaten too quickly, the protein structure won't be strong, resulting in hollows.

If you want to color the meringue, add gel coloring towards the end of mixing and finish whipping to soft peaks. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Saving The Potatoes

Quinn and Sierra sorting potatoes.

Volunteers Quinn and Sierra did a great thing at The Wednesday Community Meal today.

They sorted through 60 pounds of potatoes that were gleaned from The Oregon Food Bank and to put it nicely, the potatoes were on their very very last leg. Some had gone over the edge and some were still good. They just needed careful examination and some loving care.

Sorting the potatoes wasn't a pleasant job and Sierra and Quinn were so great about taking it on.  But that's not all, they then peeled and washed every single one that was salvageable. Their hard work allowed us to serve delicious potatoes as a side dish today and prevented edible food waste which is a real problem in our country.  It would have been so much easier to toss the potatoes, buy more and rationalize that they're not that expensive, but that wouldn't have been the right thing to do. As I most often find is the case,  the right thing isn't the easiest thing.

According to estimates from the National Institute of Health, as a nation, we waste 40-percent of the food we produce. It's a real shame and something that needs to change.

Every week at the Wednesday Community Meal, we utilize gleaned food and serve hundreds, a well-rounded, four-course meal. It's not an easy task, but saving food enables us to serve a crowd on a tight budget and do a little bit of good for our World too.

I am grateful to Sierra and Quinn and all of the wonderful volunteers who work hard and help make a difference each week — It takes teamwork and I most definitely couldn't do it without you! We served 267 meals today.