Monday, February 29, 2016

Mocha Macarons

These really should be called double mocha macarons since there's espresso and cocoa powder in the both the shells and the buttercream filling.

The lines of drizzled dark chocolate are optional but I like the look and they do make the macarons even more decadent which I think is a very good thing.

It's important to use premium quality espresso and cocoa powder in these since except for some vanilla in the buttercream, the cocoa and espresso flavors are front and center and need to be delicious and bold. My cocoa powder preference is Ghirardelli Majestic Premium Cocoa.

Here's the recipe:

Mocha Macarons
180g ground almonds, sifted
270g powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder 
10g dark cocoa powder
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, espresso and cocoa powder 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. 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.

Sort into pairs and fill with Mocha Buttercream or if you prefer, first decorate the shells with dark chocolate.

Mocha Buttercream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whip until smooth and creamy. This takes about 5 minutes.

Chocolate Drizzle (optional)
Sort the macaron shells into pairs and set them all out on parchment.

Melt 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips in the microwave. Heat the chocolate in 30 second intervals, stirring after each. When the chocolate is thoroughly melted, stir in 3 more tablespoons of dark chocolate chips. Keep stirring until all the chocolate is melted. This is a tempering method called "seeding."

Then, put the melted chocolate into a disposable pastry bag and clip a very small bit off of the tip. Without applying much pressure and moving quickly, let the chocolate fall in lines across all of the shells.

Let the chocolate set completely before filling the macarons. You can speed the process by putting them in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Patiently Waiting

Catherine and Helen were part of today's great team of dining room volunteers. They worked nonstop, serving 418 meals in two hours!
Today, just like the last three Wednesdays, a man was already in line for the community meal when I entered Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to start cooking.

I always arrive before 7:30 a.m. and the meal doesn't even start until 11 a.m., so he had a very long wait ahead of him.

The first Wednesday I saw him waiting by the door,  I said, "good morning" and asked him if I could bring him a cup of coffee.

"Oh yes please," he said and when I returned with the cup of coffee and a Starbucks pastry he said, "God bless you lady."

Now that we've encountered each other three times, we know each other by name and I know just how Alfred likes his coffee.

"Hello, it's good to see you," I said to him this morning. "I'll be right out with your cup of coffee and I remember that you like it with sugar." He gave me a really big smile.

Alfred's sweet and grateful response is one of the reasons I love volunteering. Treating nice people just makes you feel good. Soon there were others waiting behind him and when the doors finally opened at 11 a.m. there was a very long line for the free for everyone meal.

Being the last Wednesday of the month, we were expecting a big crowd and we were right. We served 418 meals today.

One of today's most popular and colorful entrees was barbecued ribs with mashed sweet potatoes, tomatoes and blueberries. The ribs were donated by Good Samaritan Hospital and the blueberries and sweet potatoes were picked up by our gleaners from The Oregon Food Bank.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Embellishing Macarons

When it comes to getting creative with French macarons, bakers have moved well beyond just tinting the shells a variety of colors.

Macaron makers are getting wildly creative and the current trend is to embellish the tops with everything from melted chocolate and crushed Oreos to colorful toppings like sprinkles and Fruity Pebbles. Bakers are even painting the tops with streaks of color and edible gold.

Really there is no end to the creativity and I couldn't help but jump on the bandwagon with the macarons I made for Valentine's Day. I added a pop of violet color to the shells some black currant macarons, lines of dark chocolate to some mocha macarons and gold luster dust to some black raspberry ones.

I added all of these embellishments to already baked macaron shells. If you want to add toppings like crushed Oreos or shredded coconut, you add them to just piped macarons and bake them with the toppings attached. This way your additions will be sure to stay in place.

Macaron making is really getting fun!
For the black raspberry macarons, I tinted the batter light pink. Here are the macarons before baking.

After baking, I mixed some gold luster dust with vodka and painted the tops of all of the macarons.

I let the gold dry completely before filling them.

For the mocha macarons, I sorted the macarons into pairs and set them all out on parchment. Then I put some tempered melted dark chocolate in a disposable pastry bag and clipped a very small bit off of the tip. Then I simply piped lines off chocolate across all of the shells. I let the chocolate set before filling them. 

Filled mocha macarons.

Here's a closeup of the black currant macarons. Decorating these shells was really easy. I made a paint using a few teaspoons of vodka and a small amount of violet gel coloring. Then I added some of the paint to the tops of the shells and let them dry completely before assembling.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mixing It Up!

A serving of the chili we made today.
One of the most popular entrees at today's The Wednesday Community Meal was created by just mixing up small amounts of food gleaned from Good Samaritan Hospital to create a large amount of something new.

That something new was a hearty chili and we made it from small portions of shredded pork, sliced beef, black beans and corn that was all donated by the hospital. 

After looking our gleaned ingredients and doing a little brainstorming,  my fellow volunteer Mary and I decided it would be most practical to combine all of them with some more beans and canned tomatoes from our pantry to make a big single dish. We also seasoned it with chili powder, garlic powder and ground cumin.

So what initially looked like small amounts of food suddenly became a big pan of a meaty and flavorful chili that we heated, served over rice and topped with peppers, green onions and shredded cheese.

It really is a great feeling when you not only save perfectly good food from going to waste but you create a delicious new dish. 

We served 413 meals today.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies

I just found a way to make my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe even better — Dip them in dark chocolate!

These cookies got a big thumbs up from my husband which is why I decided to make them for my recent fundraising bake sale at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  These are decadent but they are also very easy to make.

Here's the recipe:
Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies
(makes about 40 cookies)
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup old-fashioned crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt.

In a large bowl, whip together the peanut butter and shortening. Add the sugars and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and mix well. Finally, stir in flour mixture.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and space them apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten the cookies with a fork, pressing down twice in a crosshatch pattern.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Cookies ready for the oven.

The cookies after baking.
Dipping the Cookies:
10 oz. dark chocolate, divided (I like Callebaut brand Belgian chocolate best)

First off, have your cookies at hand, ready to dip and a counter or sheetpans lined with parchement paper before you prepare the chocolate. You have to have a place to set your cookies after dipping.

Place 8 oz. of the chocolate in a small microwave safe bowl. You need to use a bowl that adequately holds the chocolate but is small enough so that the chocolate isn't too spread out. You need depth for the dipping.

Microwave the chocolate in intervals of 30 seconds, stirring after each until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Immediately add the remaining 2 oz. of chocolate and stir until it's also thoroughly melted. This is called the seeding method and is a simple way to temper the chocolate.

Dip a cookie about 1/3 into the melted chocolate and give it a gentle shake to remove any excess. Place the cookie on parchment and keep working quickly until all the cookies have been dipped. Leave the cookies on the parchment until the chocolate is completely set.
Be sure to have pans lined with parchment paper ready before you start dipping the cookies. You have to have a place to set them.

Leave the cookies on the parchment lined trays until the chocolate sets. You can speed the process by putting them in the refrigerator.

When the chocolate sets it will look like this.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Homemade Lasagna

When you glean fresh pasta sheets from two local businesses, how can you resist not making homemade lasagna? Fresh pasta isn't something we regularly pick up.

And, also knowing that I had two cases of Cascade Farms Beef still in the freezer really sealed the deal.

Yes, making lasagna for today's Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral felt meant to be.

The pasta donations from Phil's Uptown Meat Market and New Seasons Market and the beef from SP Provisions couldn't have come at a better time. It's the Wednesday before Valentine's Day and we wanted to treat our guests to an extra special meal. It worked out perfectly.

Of course we also served soup, salad, dessert and drinks. We served 283 meals today
A lasagna meal.
We have such a great team of hardworking volunteers who help pull the meal off each week. Anne has been a regular and dedicated volunteer since the beginning and I am grateful.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Rose Valentine Cookies

Each time I decorate cookies, my skills improve and  I get faster and more consistent.

Yes, it's no secret that good old fashioned practice is the way to upgrade your cookie decorating and these wet on wet rose Valentine cookies prove that point. The technique isn't hard, you just pipe a blob of wet icing onto wet icing and swirl it around with a toothpick or scribe tool. But, it does take some experience and finessing to make a rose that looks sort of realistic.

What I really love is that after lots of practice, I'm not only better at making wet on wet roses but I'm faster, which is why I even considered adding them to cookies for my upcoming fundraising sale.

Here's a sneak peak:
These mini rose cookies will be for sale in sets of two.

The mini rose cookies also look cute when stuck on top of a larger base cookie.

I used ivory, pink and a bit of moss green icing for these.

Here's a closeup of some mini roses. I used the same icing for the leaves to add groups of tiny dots.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Striped Double Decker Heart Cookies

I've been working hard for weeks now, making a wide variety of decorated cookies for an upcoming fundraiser to benefit The Wednesday Community Meal.

But after looking at my completed cookies yesterday morning, I realized there was definitely something lacking in the assortment. There were no cookies for the guys! Valentine's Day is for everyone and I needed to create a more masculine cookie option.

So that's how these striped double decker heart cookies came about and I couldn't be more pleased. Although they were easy to make, I think they turned out quite striking and prove that simple can be super cute!

Here's how I made them:
Make an equal number of rectangle or square base cookies and small hearts. Outline and fill the hearts with red royal icing and set them aside to dry.

Mix up flood consistency white royal icing and a small amount of flood consistency blue icing. Place them each in pastry bags fitted with #2 tips. Working on just one base cookie at a time, outline and fill it with white icing.

Use a scribe tool to evenly distribute the icing and give the cookie a gentle shake to help it settle.

Starting in the center, pipe a blue stripe and about 1/4-inch below pipe another one.

Keep adding evenly spaced stripes until you get to the bottom of the cookie.

Rotate the cookie so you can more easily add the remaining stripes. At least for me, working down is more comfortable than working up.

Add the stripes. It takes a few minutes, but they will all settle into the base icing for a flat look.

Set the cookies aside to dry completely and be sure to reserve a bit stiff icing for adhering the hearts.

Once the base cookies are dry, pipe a bit of stiff royal icing onto the back of a heart cookie and stick it to the base. Let them dry completely before serving or packaging.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gold Valentine's Day Cookies

This year's Valentine's Treat Sale to benefit Food Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is quickly approaching, so I have been very busy this week trying my best to make treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious. I have even been adding a touch of gold to some of them.

The easiest way to add gold is to make a paint by mixing a bit of edible gold luster dust with a few drops of volka. Then all you have to do is paint it onto completely dry royal icing.

From experience, I've learned that it pays to buy good quality luster dusts. Inexpensive ones don't dissolve very well and tend to look grainy and clumpy on the cookies. I think Crystal Colors makes the best ones and they can be purchased online. I ordered the Gold Blush color I used for these from Global Sugar Art.

My favorite luster dust.

Painting the gold onto a brushed embroidery cookie. It's important that the royal icing be completely dry before you add the gold.
Here are a few more photos of the gold cookies that will be fore sale on Sunday, Feb. 14,  from 9 a.m. to noon at the Cathedral in Kempton Hall. Come early for the best selection because we do sell out. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rotating Entrees

If you join us at The Wednesday Community Meal, you'll quickly learn that our entrees are always a changing.

We seat six to a table and it's common for guests to have a different entree than their tablemates. And, that's just the way it has to be because most of the food we serve is gleaned from our community partners — Good Samaritan Hospital, Phil's Uptown Meat Market, Pizza Schmizza, Ken's Artisan Bakery, Grand Central Bakery, New Seasons Market, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, SP Provisions and The Oregon Food Bank.  Utilizing gleaned food serves two purposes, it keeps our costs down and it prevents perfectly good food from going to waste.

Our regular guests are so understanding of the quirky rotating entree part of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's free for everyone meal. I've even been told that it adds a little excitement to their dining experience. 

"What you serve is always a surprise." said one of today's guests. "I thought I was going to get the ribs but I got turkey and that was pretty good."

The one thing that is consistent is that we always do our best to serve a delicious and nutritious meal. And, we strive to accommodate dietary needs such as vegetarian, vegan and even gluten-free.

We served 279 meals today. Here are some of them:
The first guests in the door today got oven roasted chicken made by volunteer Terri. Oh my gosh it looked good, magazine cover good! The whole chicken was gleaned from Trader Joe's.

The barbecue ribs we served came from Good Samaritan Hospital.

The turkey also came from Good Samaritan Hospital. The potatoes came from The Oregon Food Bank and we made the kale and cabbage side dish from greens gleaned from New Seasons Market.

We made lamb meatballs from ground lamb from SP Provisions.

The chicken fried steak also came from SP Provisions.