Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Cookie Boxes

Secret Non-Denominational Holiday Gift Exchange+Holiday Gifts for the lady who got the driveway at the Cape house plowed+Blizzard=COOKIE BOXES!!!!

Both my mother and I needed a multitude of gifts including cookies so we used the absurd amount of snow that was dumped on New England last weekend as an excuse to bake.
We made:

Gingersnap Stars

Chocolate Cherry Coridals and Chai Snickerdoodles
Lime Curd Bars
Earl Grey Tea Cookies
Fruit and Spice Cake
Labels for individual cookie bags
Boxes (leftover from the out-of-town gift boxes from my brother's wedding last year)
Filled with tissue and cookies
Closed up and ready to be gifted!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Chocolate Tart with Candied Cranberries

Thanksgiving desserts in my house are usually dominated by my brother Dave (this year he made pumpkin creme brulee which was amazing), but I found this recipe from a 1999 Bon Appetit that I wanted to try.
It was basically really simple, but I highly recommend reading the recipe before you start, something I have major issues remembering to do.
  • For the crust I just threw all the ingredients into the food processor and combined them that way, but then the dough had to chill for at least 2 hours (first non-advanced-recipe-reading issue).
  • Then the crust had to bake and cool before I could put the filling in and chill for at least an hour after the filling was in (second non-advanced-recipe-reading issue)
  • Then the cranberries needed to be candied and put on the filling and chilled for another few hours (third non-advanced-recipe-reading issue).
Anyway, it turned out great and was a huge success and was actually really easy, just time consuming. Good to make while there's a game or movies you've seen so many times you don't care about missing parts of (like Overboard starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Thanksgiving Advice

One of my good friends is hosting Thanksgiving dinner at her house for the first time this year. Since I took over Thanksgiving about five years ago, I thought I'd throw some of my life-lessons at her. Just as an aside, I tried to give it back last year, but it turns out I'm too much of a control freak to let certain things go.

We do Thanksgiving at my parents house on Cape Cod on the "three-season" room in the middle of a pine forest. I like to think it's pretty much what it was like for the Pilgrims. You know, running water, deep fried turkey, heat...

The Advice:

Contributions: If I were you, to make sure that you're going to have what you want, I'd send out an email or get in touch with people sooner rather than later to see what they're planning on bringing. If you make a turkey and mashed potatoes and believe that the good of the world will provide you with contributing guests, well you might end up eating turkey and mashed potatoes.

In Advance: I would probably work on making things in advance. Cranberry sauce could be made this weekend and either tossed in the freezer or fridge. You can make things like mashed potatoes and stuffing the day before. Just make sure you don't actually stuff the turkey the day before, if you planning on stuffing it, I have been told that will give all your guests salmonella poisoning and they probably won't ever want to come back (which, depending on your guest...). If you're making something that involved squash or sweet potatoes, you can always roast them in advance then mix them up on the day of. Both of those things come out of their skins better when they're hot, but it's murder on your doigts. Green veggies obviously don't take a lot of time if you're just steaming them.

Make a Plan: My biggest suggestion is to figure out all your recipes and your shopping list as early as possible. I like to put all my recipes into one document. Then I can print out a few copies and have everything together. I pull out all the ingredients and group them into categories in another document for the shopping list. When you're making your list, make sure you take into consideration if you're doubling or whatever (obviously). Then, do your shopping. This weekend is probably going to be crazy for shopping, so if you can do it some evening, that would work. Obviously, you only want to buy the stuff you can keep for a week :-)

Turkeys: As far as turkeys go, I think we usually get fresh frozen, or whatever those are. You'll pay a lot more for fresh and I don't know that there's a difference. I never like the turkey much on Thanksgiving anyway, it's all about the sides for me. If you're responsible for carving the turkey, read up on it first, there's definitely a right and wrong way to carve a turkey.

Oven Space: The big thing about the day of isn't usually not having enough time to do things in, it's oven space. I cook my turkey on the grill to open up the oven. I highly suggest two ovens. If you don't have two ovens, make yourself a schedule. They laugh at me when I pull out the schedule, but it helps keep me on track. That's another thing about people bringing things; find out if what they're brining is going to need oven time and how much. Then you can work it into your schedule. See, organization makes sense - it's tricky to get everything hot at once!

Oh, and if you're going to grill the turkey, do it in a tin foil roasting pan. It works really well, and there's a much better chance of NOT lighting the grill on fire like I did the first year.

Appetizers: Also- don't worry about Appetizers too much. People are going to eat too much anyway. If you throw some cheese and crackers their way before the main event, they're bound to be happy.

You Are the General in Your Army: Another thing, too many cooks in the kitchen sucks. Make sure if you're having help that you want it and that people have specific jobs and put Rob (or your significant other of choice) on duty to keep everyone out of the kitchen if you want them out. You guys should have a signal or something. Mine is swearing under my breath. That usually does it.

Don't Go Overboard: My last piece of advice it not to take on too much. The year we had 24 people and decided to make turkey Mr. and Mrs. Mallards and rock cornish hen versions of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack and Quack was a good example of this. It was fun, and it was even tasty once we put the baby turkeys in the microwave to finish cooking...

Pictures from T-day '07

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Election Day Cupcakes

Since I am currently bursting with civic duty (seriously, I can't listen to NPR without tearing up), and actually excited to go wait in line at 6:45 tomorrow morning, I decided to show my voter-pride with cupcakes to celebrate election day. I also spent the entire morning at a school librarian conference (shush) and had lots of time to plan. After realizing that a sheet cake with donkey and elephant boxing on it might be a bit of an over-estimation of my cake decorating skills, I decided to go the cupcakes, colored sugar, flags route instead.

So here they are, my Election Day Celebration Cupcakes. I'm bringing them to work so I made them bi-partisan (I'll admit there are a few more blue ones).

And in case you're wondering where my persuasions lie...

Don't forget to vote!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Football Cake

My friend Josh likes football. And he likes cake. The cake was good. The Patriots got frosted.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Wedding Cake

For those who do not know (if there are any of you left), I made my friends Anna and Ray's wedding cake for them. It turned out waaay better than I could have ever expected and I hovered around it like a mother bird all night long. It tasted pretty good too.

The cake was yellow with chocolate buttercream on the bottom and chambord buttercream on the top. The cake toppers are chocolate Mii's, which looks remarkably similar to the bride and groom and the fruit is all fresh.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Baby Naming Cake

I am a little confused because I thought I had posted a few weeks ago about my new niece, Magdalena Rose, who was born on July 11th and is probably the most adorable thing in the world, with the possible exception of myself as a baby, but I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, my brother and sister-in-law are now the proud parents of the aforementioned child and had a baby naming celebration today to, well, celebrate. I made the cake (shocker). This was a two-fold cake. On one hand, it was supposed to be a lovely cake for baby Maggie, on the other hand, a test run for the wedding cake I'm making at the end of the month. It ended up very pretty and I learned a lot about egg whites and their reaction to 248 degree sugar syrup. I'm not sure it was my most successful from-scratch baking endeavor, but people seemed to eat it nonetheless and I have had no reports of emergency room visits. I used a recipe for a Victorian sponge cake out of some cookbook that makes me thing I should just use the Paula Dean 1-2-3-4 recipe for everything from now on. It was filled with chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream which didn't set quite right and frosted with a very interesting frosting recipe that calls for granulated sugar, butter, flour and milk. It also involved my first foray into the world of royal icing, an venture that will not soon be recreated (needless to say there was a lot of swearing in the kitchen on Friday).

Anyway, as I said, it looked pretty:

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Baby Shower Cookies

We had a baby shower for Sara at work who's due two days before my sister-in-law and is walking around looking like she's ready to drop at any moment, or potentially beat the crap out of the next kid who pisses her off with nine days left in the school year.

I made these cookies from store-bought dough (which is why they expanded oddly) and the amazing, new cookie cutter section at Sur La Table. There were originally bottles, bears, carriages and rattles, but the rattles came out looking beyond phallic and were not fit for public consumption in the least.

The New House Cake

My friends Kim and Rob just bought a house in Medway. Supposedly that's somewhere south of Boston, though, to be completely honest, I'm not 100% sure it a. really exists and b. is in Massachusetts. All I know is you have to go on rte 109 for a long time and there are horses on rte 109, maybe cows as well.

Anyway, they bought this house so I made them a "Congratulations on your new house!!!" cake. The cake looks nothing like the real house, but the picket fence seemed necessary. The shingles are made out of chocolate bar pieces, which is extremely clever (if I do say so myself).

The best part was all the people walking by who said congratulations when we were waiting for our table at the restaurant and that now the entire restaurant staff loves me because we left them the leftovers. The worst part was that everyone I know seems to get really cranky when they haven't eaten and it's impossible to get a table in the Boston area because the Celtics are in a playoff game and we like places where they serve beer and have TV's. I'll just say that the roof was gone long before the rest of the cake...