Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dipped Marbleized Cookies

I really wish I could, but I can't take credit for the clever marbleizing technique I used to create these colorful cookies.

The genius behind it is decorator Meghan Rosko who generously shared it on her YouTube channel. She also has a website called Nutmeg and Honeybee.

Besides the look of these cookies, I love how quick it was to decorate them. In just 10 minutes, I had two dozen cookies done and I didn't have to use a single pastry bag!

The cookies are decorated by dipping them into thinned royal icing that has food coloring painted on the surface. These were so much fun and I can't wait to experiment some more.

To decorate cookies, first soak some paint brushes in water. Then thin to flood consistency in a bowl some white royal icing and squeeze out your gel colors of choice onto a plate. I used moss green, cornflower blue, teal, ivory and rose.

Add strokes of the color to the top of your royal icing. Be sure to dip your brush in water to clean it off between colors.

Dip the cookies one at a time into the icing, holding your fingers back and just coating the top. Swirl and shake the excess icing off, still holding the cookie upside down. Place the cookie icing side up on a sheetpan to dry. Repeat, adding more gel coloring to the icing as needed. I found that I could get three cookies dipped before needing to add more color. Let the cookies dry completely before serving.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Breakfast For Lunch

Dining room volunteers Helen and Virgina with today's "breakfast".
Guests at today's Wednesday Community Meal ate breakfast for lunch and they loved it!

We served slices of homemade frittata that were filled with chunks of roasted red potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, tomato and onion, lean bacon, warm biscuits and fruit salad.

A meal ready to be served.
The colorful fruit salad was made and donated by volunteer Elizabeth. It was so generous of her to make it for us and she couldn't have picked a better day. It really went perfect with all of our other breakfast items. 
Fruit salad closeup.

The premium applewood smoked bacon that we served was Nueske's brand and was donated to us by SP Provision. The smell and the taste really made our guests happy. Everyone got at least three pieces, but there was an exception.

"Heidi, do you think I could get an extra piece of that bacon and a biscuit to go?," asked one of our regular guests as he was leaving.

I obliged since it's always my preference to say "yes" whenever possible. When life is hard, little pleasures mean so much. Plus, it was a joy to see his big smile when I said "you got it" and handed the extra food to him.

We served 488 meals during our two hour service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and we couldn't have done it without all of our dedicated volunteers who gleaned, cooked, served and cleaned. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Early Easter Meal

We had an early Easter celebration today at The Wednesday Community Meal and served an extra special entree of mustard-glazed pork loin and crispy oven-roasted potatoes.

Usually we have to change our menu multiple times to utilize the ingredients we glean, but today we served the same entree throughout our entire two-hour lunch service.

The ingredients for the meal were donated by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and our guests were very appreciative and complimentary.
Just out of the oven, mustard-glazed pork loin.

Also receiving raves was a homemade horseradish sauce that we added to the plates. One guest even asked me for the recipe — It's just sour cream, horseradish sauce, fresh parsley, salt and black pepper mixed together. Super easy and really delicious!

We served 377 meals today.

Volunteers John and Mary came in early at 7 a.m. to help with all the tedious prep work. In the foreground are the pork loins that we cooked today.

Davis assembled the oven s'mores that we served for dessert and he sliced all of the pork loins that we served.

My daughter Eleanor with our friend Bob, who was so sweet and brought us each a box of Easter chocolate. Eleanor has known Bob her entire life. I first met Bob a little over 16 years ago when I began volunteering at the Trinity Food Pantry and Eleanor was a newborn baby, strapped to me in her baby carrier.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mint Macarons

Mint macarons are so delicious and very refreshing.

My absolute favorite way to enjoy them is with a mug of steaming hot chocolate. The cool mint/hot chocolate combination is heavenly — Imagine eating a deconstructed Girl Scout Thin Mint, but homemade, more sophisticated and much better. Serve that at your next dinner party and I guarantee, your guests will be impressed.

The mint filling for these is so simple and quick to make. It's just unsalted butter, powdered sugar and mint extract whipped until light and creamy.

Here's the recipe:

Mint 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
Teal food 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.  Towards the end of mixing, add the food coloring and tint the batter as desired.

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. 
The piped macarons before baking.
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.

This shows how the color fades after baking. Be sure to tint your macaron batter darker than you want it to turn out.

Sort into pairs and fill with Mint Buttercream. Store the macarons covered in refrigerator until you are ready to serve them.

Mint Buttercream
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on high speed until the buttercream is smooth and creamy. This takes about 5 minutes.

Filling the macarons.

So cute!

A batch of mint macarons. These are going to the Green Day Alternative Liturgy at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Vegan Irish Soda Bread

Making Irish soda bread is a St. Patrick's Day tradition at our house but this year, I made it a little bit different to suit our family's new way of eating.

I "veganized" the soda bread and truly, it tastes just as good as the bread I made in years past.

There are lots of recipes and variations for soda bread out there. Some call for butter, raisins, currants and/or caraway seeds, but just about every recipe calls for buttermilk. My recipe, for the most basic soda bread, is just self-rising flour, baking soda and buttermilk.  The recipe comes from a booklet called "Step-By-Step Irish Farmhouse Cooking," that I purchased in 1993 while living in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

To make the bread vegan, all I did was substitute soy milk mixed with a bit of lemon juice for the buttermilk. The ratio is for every cup of buttermilk, use 1 cup of soy milk mixed with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. I've used this substitution many times and it works brilliantly. And, if you don't happen to have lemon juice, you can use white vinegar.

Here's the recipe:
Note: The recipe calls for self-rising wheat and self-rising white flour which you can purchase, but I always make my own. It's much more economical so I've also included that recipe below.

Irish Soda Bread
2 cups self-rising white flour
2 cups self-rising whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 to 3 cups soy milk
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
all-purpose flour for shaping the loaves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Measure out two cups of the soy milk and stir in two tablespoons of lemon juice. You might need to mix up to one more full cup of this vegan buttermilk substitute, but don't mix it up unless you have to. Wait to see if you need it.

In a large bowl, mix together the self-rising flour and baking soda. Pour in enough of the soymilk/lemon mixture to moisten the ingredients and form a soft dough. If two cups isn't enough, mix up some more, 1/2 cup at a time.

Turn half of the dough onto floured surface and pat into a round. Place the round on a parchment lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Use a knife to score the top of the rounds into sixth's. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped with the fingers.
Loaves ready for the oven.

All done!

 Self-Rising Flour
1 cup all-purpose white or whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Many Meals

Longtime community meal volunteer Mary Ann with a meatloaf meal. She and all of the other dining room volunteers are amazing! Serving nonstop for two hours is hard work but they do it while smiling and taking the time to visit with our guests and make them feel welcome.
It was another very busy day at the Wednesday Community Meal. We served 372 meals during our two hour service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Northwest Portland.

The entrees we served were meatloaf, pork spare ribs, pork short ribs, enchiladas, chile rellenos and vegetarian lasagna. It's typical that we change our menu at least three or four times during the meal because that's just what you have do do when you utilize gleaned and donated food to feed a crowd.

The pork short ribs were particularly popular with today's guests and were actually short rib trimmings that were donated by SP Provisions. We seasoned them with chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt and oregano, moistened them with a bit of tomato sauce and cooked them long and slow until they were very very tender. The meat pieces might not have been uniform in size but they were darn delicious and there were many requests for seconds.

In additon to the entrees, there was soup, salad and dessert — a full four-course meal,  free to everyone, no questions asked.
One of the side dishes we served today was roasted red potatoes with caramelized Walla Walla Sweet onions. The potatoes were gleaned from The Oregon Food Bank and the onions were gleaned from New Seasons Market.

Our dishwashing team is the best! They are the last to leave after a long day's work but never complain and even seem to have some fun. Craig helped keep things especially light today with his green hairdo in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Friends At Work

We were fortunate to have Catherine's help serving in the dining room. Today is her 10th birthday and she chose to celebrate it by coming in to help. Now,  how did we get so lucky?

One of the best things about volunteering at The Wednesday Community Meal is that I get to work with my friends each week.

The aim of the free meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is always to serve hospitality and a delicious and nutritious meal to those in need. But, who says you can't also have some fun while you work?

It's such a joy each week to work among smiling volunteers and hear lots of chatter and laughter. One of my favorite sounds in the whole world is hearing volunteers and longtime friends Martha and Leah visiting and giggling. Their glee is infectious. Hearing them happy, makes me happy.

You know, I believe friendship just may be secret sauce that makes our meal program thrive.

It was a joy spending time with my friends today and helping to serve 290 meals.
Most of the guest today got homemade chicken enchiladas and roasted red potatoes that we topped with a bit of cheese sauce.
Three of my favorite people, Linda, Steve and Leah. Steve is part of our super dishwashing team and he was putting away pans when I told Linda and Leah to grab him for a quick picture. They are great!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Butternut Squash Cake

Butternut Squash Cake, chilling in the fridge.
The recipe for this rich, moist, spicy and delicious Butternut Squash Cake came from my friend Tom who found it in the November 2015 issue of Sunset Magazine, where it was touted as an alternative to carrot cake.

The spice in the cake comes ground cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and ground and crystallized ginger. And, for even more flavor, there are some generous splashes of bourbon in both the cake and frosting.

When I first read through the recipe, I was concerned that grating butternut squash would be kind of challenging. It wasn't. In fact, grating butternut squash turns out to be even easier than grating carrots. The flesh of the squash was actually softer than that of a carrot and you can cut off one big chunk of squash and grate enough for the recipe in no time.

I decided to increase the amount of squash in the recipe to three cups and I did make a few other changes as well, like reducing the sugar in the frosting by half. Three cups of powdered sugar in a single batch of frosting is way too much! I also substituted my favorite Penzy's dehydrated orange zest for fresh zest.

There's is one more thing I have to mention about this recipe — It calls for you to bake the three layers of cake in three separate 8-inch cake pans.

Well, that wasn't a problem for me,  but I realize that most people don't own more than two 8-inch cake pans.

The good news is that you really don't need three pans to make this cake. Two pans will hold the batter just fine. Just be sure to increase the baking time by about 10 minutes. Keep a careful eye on the cakes as they are baking, and pull them out when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Here's the recipe:

Butternut Squash Cake
2 cups cake flour (I make my own. Click here for the recipe)
1 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Penzy's dehydrated orange zest (If you can't find this, substitute 2 tablespoons of fresh.)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
3 cups grated butternut squash

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and line with parchment three round (8-inch cake)  pans.

In a large bowl, mix together the cake flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice and set aside.

In a small bowl mix the dehydrated orange zest with the vanilla and orange juice. Set aside for 10 minutes for the zest to absorb the vanilla and juice and soften.

In another large bowl, use a whisk to beat by hand the oil, eggs, brown sugar, yogurt, bourbon and lemon juice. Add the orange/vanilla mixture.

Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Finally stir in the crystallized ginger and squash.
Adding the squash.

Divide the mixture between the three pans and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. 

Spicy Cream Cheese Frosting
3/4 unsalted butter, softened
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup unsweetened shaved coconut, toasted

In a stand mixer whip together the butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth and light. Add the bourbon, cardamom, sea salt, cinnamon and ginger and whip again until everything is thoroughly combined.
The frosting.

Toast the coconut on a sheetpan in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown. Be sure to keep a carefully eye on it and pull it out of the oven when the edges of the coconut shavings are golden brown.  Leave the coconut on the pan to cool completely.

To frost the cake:
Set a cake layer rounded side down on a platter, spread the top of it with about 3/4 cup of frosting.

Add the second layer and top with another 3/4 cup of frosting.

Add the final cake layer and spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting.

Press the cooled toasted coconut into the sides of the cake, a small handful at a time.
Adding the toasted coconut.

Keep the cake chilled until you are ready to serve. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Evolution of Mac 'n Cheese

A serving of homemade mac 'n cheese. Also on the plate is barbecued chicken and roasted zucchini.
Guests at today's Wednesday Community Meal were treated to homemade mac 'n cheese. Each week, I have to decide what to make based on what's been gleaned, what's in the pantry and what's on sale. My aim is always to create something that's pleasing, nutritious and affordable.

So this week I decided to make mac 'n cheese and here's why:

Last Wednesday, we served cornbread donated by New Seasons Market with the soup and there were lots of extra crumbs left over, at least three cups worth. Volunteer Martha wrapped them, gave them to me, and asked, "Can you use these next week? I'd hate to throw them out." "Yes," I said, thinking they would make a great crispy topping for a casserole.

On Friday, volunteer Dave, who also volunteers at Lift Urban Portland, asked me if I could use some donated boxes of matzo crackers. I said, "yes," thinking if I crushed them, they would also be perfect for a crispy topping.

On Saturday, I catered a memorial reception and was gifted all of the leftover cheeses to use for the community meal. I immediately thought of using the cheese to make some yummy mac 'n cheese. There was medium cheddar, havarti, muenster, sharp cheddar and I already had some Swiss in the pantry fridge, gosh this was going to be good!

On Monday, while gleaning at New Seasons Market with my fellow community meal organizer, Fred, we picked up a few gallons of milk and some containers of chopped onions. My idea for mac 'n cheese was coming together nicely. I just needed a few more items.

On Tuesday, I went to Cash 'n' Carry and purchased two cases of dried macaroni, two more gallons of milk, fresh parsley and a box of roma tomatoes. For color and nutrition, I wanted to top the mac 'n cheese with sliced tomatoes. The total cost of the purchased ingredients was $43.25.

The mac 'n cheese came together wonderfully— volunteer Terri helped me make nine hotel pans of it and all of our guests got a taste. We served it as a main entree or as a side for everyone. We served 297 meals today.