Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving INSANITY

WOW.  So I have, in the last 11 months, certainly had lots of days when I claim to have spent all day cooking or baking, or when I say that I have created lots of food.  None of those days can compare to the pre-Thanksgiving craziness of today!  This year is the first year in a very long time that Thanksgiving is not at my house; I have to say that I am relieved.  It let me spend all day today making what I felt like bringing to my family party instead of what we usually do on Thanksgiving Eve, which often involves scrubbing walls and shining the stairs.  You may laugh, but that is really stuff that Mom would have us do.  Anyway, I was assigned a blueberry pie, but other than that, I could be creative.   I decided to bring two kinds of cookies, the pie (more on that later), croquembouche (basically cream puffs stacked up), and an orange almond layer cake.  I was also making a double batch of soup, one for us tonight and one to bring to my friend from work who just gave birth to twins!  So was this day absolutely insane?  Yes.  Did I bake and cook from 10 AM to now, with only a break to hold some amazingle gorgeous day-olds?  Yes.  But it was kind of fun.

I started with the pie crust and filling.  I will assemble and bake the pie tomorrow.  I know that I was assigned a blueberry pie, but really that is kind of boring.  I wanted to spice things up a bit.  I knew I could count on Annie; she had a recipe from cranberry blueberry pie, along with her recipe for dough.  I made the dough in my beloved food processor and put it right into the fride; I will use it up tomorrow.  Then I made the filling on the stove, which is a nice thick juicy mix of blueberries and cranberries.  I loved that it steeps with cinnamon sticks for a while!  I hope it's a bigger hit than blueberry pie (which is kind of a joke because as the host of Thanksgiving for 50 people for the last 10ish years, I can honestly say that most years, the blueberry pie never even gets cut into!  There are a lot of other desserts and it just gets overlooked.... let's see if I can break the pattern!)

Then it was cookie time.  I was going to bring some cookies to my friend tonight with the soup, and her son and husband requested chocolate cookies in particular, so I decided to make the chocolate crinkle cookies that I made back in August.  They were a huge hit then and they still are now.  Here was my mistake: I doubled the recipe.  What I forgot was that the recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies!  I literally spent a ridiculous amount of hours making these cookies today.  I think my hands could roll balls of dough, toss them into some powdered sugar, and put them on a pan in my sleep.  100 chocolate crinkles later (no joke), and I have more than enough to give to a proud new brother, to bring plenty to Thanksgiving, and to have lots left over, since both sisters and my mother ate so many that they felt sick :)  They are very addictive; they taste like brownies but they are in tiny little bites, which makes it feel totally okay to eat a lot of them.  Beware!

More cookies followed; I have wanted to try elephant ear cookies since I saw them on Annie's Eats a couple months ago.  They are fairly easy to make; you roll out puff pastry and top it with chopped roasted pecans, brown and granulated sugar, and cinnamon.  Then you roll it up - and that's as far as I got today.  It is in the freezer for now, waiting for me to slice it and bake the cookies up tomorrow!  I'll let you know how they come out.

Then I made the soup.  It was in my Thanksgiving edition of Food Network Magazine and had white beans, pasta and kale in it, so I knew I would love it.  I figured it would be easy enough to double the recipe and take half to my friends.  Of course, I was forgetting that my To Do list still had 3 things on it, but babies came first today!  The soup came together pretty quickly.  I did not have any fresh thyme, but I used dried and it worked just fine.  I also did not add as much water as the recipe says; since I was doubling it, I would have needed to add 4 cups of chicken broth (which I did) and then 12 cups of water!!!  I added 2, and I think it was more than enough.  The soup had great flavor and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  I thought it was great, although I could do without the bacon.  I love bacon, but in a soup it just gets wet, and blegh.  But everything else was great!  All my broth has been soaked up by the beans and pasta, so this is not the best soup to reheat, but luckily we ate most of it!

No, I am still not done.  After sneaking out to bring the soup and cookies to Amanda, and spending time snuggling precious babies, it was back to the kitchen for me.  I bought some oranges a week or so ago, and they are delicious, but there have never in the history of oranges been a fruit with so many seeds.  There are honestly 4-6 seeds in each segment.  It makes it not so fun to eat.  So, Mom has been asking me to make an orange cake to use them up.  I figured now would be a good time to do that, since we never eat a whole cake by ourselves in my house.  Of course I can't just choose a quick orange cake recipe; I had to choose a Martha Stewart one that had me folding stiff egg whites into the batter (why does every cake I make lately seem exactly like baked Alaska?!) and grinding almonds to add in,  but that is one less thing to do tomorrow.  I will just have to make the Swiss meringue buttercream and frost it up tomorrow.  I read online that the best way to keep the cakes fresh overnight was to wrap them up tightly with plastic wrap, so I did it; fingers crossed that tomorrow I still have two perfect orange almond cake layers!

Last but certainly not least, the croquembouche.  This was Kenzie's choice.  You make cream puffs, a maple custard filling, and a caramel sauce; then you stack the filled puffs in a pyramid shape and drizzle them with caramel.  I made most of the parts of the recipe today; I made the puffs and the filling.  Tomorrow I will just have to make the caramel, fill the puffs, and set up the whole display.  It was a very different kind of dough, apparently called a choux; you make it on the stovetop, then pipe it into mounds and bake it.  I have lots of gorgeous little puffs in an airtight container in the fridge overnight; here's to hoping they stay perfect.  The filling was similar to making pudding and flavored only by maple syrup.  Mom and Kenzie already stole a puff each and dipped them into the filling; they both say I may have a new family favorite on my hands.  I guess I will know more after I finish them up and bring them over tomorrow.

Okay, that's it.  And forgive the lack of pictures; nothing felt finished yet today, and the things that were took me too long to stop and photograph!  Now I am so exhausted I am falling asleep as I type - I hope I made sense  - and my body is sore!  It is definitely time for bed, because all my work is not yet done!  Luckily tomorrow the only thing I actually have to make is the frosting for the cake and the caramel topping for the cream puffs; everything else juse needs to be assembled, sliced, and/or baked.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!  This year I am thankful that I have found something that I love to do so much, and I am grateful also for anyone who is willing to read my ramblings about my (first) year in the kitchen :)

cranberry blueberry pie
elephant ear cookies
orange almond cake with Swiss meringue buttercream

chocolate crinkle cookies
from Chef in Training

 2 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/3 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
powdered sugar for rolling
1.  Comine sugar, oil and cocoa in a large bowl. Beat until well blended.
2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
3.  In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to cocoa mixture, beating well.
4. Cover and refrigerate dough until it is firm enough to handle. If you are wanting them to firm up faster, stick the covered dough in the freezer until firm enough to handle.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a cookie sheet.
6.  Roll dough into 1-inch balls then roll them in powdered sugar. Place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart from each other.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes.

Pasta, kale and white bean soup
from the November 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine

3 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus 1 small piece rind (I used far less than this, and no rind)
1  1/2 cups, or about 8 ounces of small pasta (I used tri-color ruffles)
1  15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped kale (the recipe called for frozen but I refused)

1.  Put the bacon in a large pot of Dutch oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 4 minutes.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.

2.  Add the carrots, garlic, tomato paste, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook until the carrots begin to soften, about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, 6 cups of water (I did not find this much water necessary; taste your soup!), and the parmesan rind.  Increase the heat to high; cover and bring to a boil.

3.  Add the pasta and beans and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the kale.  Simmer uncovered until slightly thickened, about 7 minutes.  Remove the parmesan rind and stir in half the parmesan cheese; season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and top with remaining cheese.

croquembouche with maple cream

from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications: Holiday Baking 2012

1 recipe maple cream filling (see below)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs
1 teaspoon water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water

1.  Prepare maple cream filling.  Cover and chill until needed.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line two extra large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.  '

3.  In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 water, milk, butter and salt.  Bring to boiling.  Immediately add flour all at once; stir vigorously.  Cook and stir mixure until it forms a ball.  Remove from heat.  Cool for 10 minutes.

4.  Add four of the eggs, beating well after each addition.

5.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip, pipe dough into 46 1-inch mounds on prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between mounds. 

6.  In a bowl, beat remaining egg and 1 teaspoon water with a fork.  Brush puffs with egg mixture.  Bake, one sheet at a time, until puffs are golden and firm, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets on wire rack.

7.  Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a small or medium round tip.  Using a skewer, gently poke a hole into the bottom of each puff.  Insert pastry bag tip into holes and fill puffs with filling.

8.  For caramel, in a medium saucepan, stir together sugar and the 1/4 cup water (mixture will be grainy).  Using a soft pastry brush dipped in water, wash down sides of pan to prevent crystallization.  Bring to boiling over medium heat.  Do not stir!  Increase heat to high.  Cook without stirring for 6-8 minutes or until mixture turns an amber color; cool slightly.

9.  On each of two serving plates, arragne 7 puffs in a circle and one puff in the center for a base. Drizzle with caramel.  Continue adding layers of puffs to make a cone shape, drizzling each layer with caramel.  If caramel becomes too thick, transfer to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 100% power (high) for 10 seconds or until drizzling consistency.  If desired, garnish with sea salt flakes and/or caramel stars.  Serve immediately or chill for up to 4 hours.

Maple cream filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1  1/2 cups whipping cream, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 3 tablespoons cornstarch.  Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly (if necessary, use whisk to make smooth).  Cook and stir for 2 minutes more.  Remove from heat.  Gradually stir half of the hot mixture into 5 lightly beated egg yolks.  Return egg yolk mixture to saucepan.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes more.  Remove from heat.  Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Pour mixture into bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap.  Chill 1-2 hours.

Caramel stars: Line a baking sheet with foil.  Use a spoon to drizzle some of the caramel in free-form star shapes onto the foil.  Let stand until set and firm.  Gently peel stars off foil.

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