Monday, December 29, 2008

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

When I was little, I tried to delay the Christmas season as long as possible. Having a December birthday, I wanted everything: decor, songs, gift wrap, to have to wait until AFTER my big day was celebrated. Mom did her best to comply, and for a woman who deeply loves Christmas, I'm sure it was a little bit of a downer for her. One thing I never minded getting started on, though, was the Christmas baking. Mom always put together festive trays for the neighbors, and as we got older we were allowed to help in various ways. My sister will always be famous for biting the tops off of the Hershey's Kisses after unwrapping them. Thankfully, Mom always noticed and neighbors didn't receive nibbled chocolate. 
Now that I have a home of my own, and a deep love of baking, I do as much of the Christmas baking as Mom will give up. (Having some overlapping friends and neighbors means they would be flooded if we did separate trays.) 
Here are a few photos from this year: 

The counter on the 19th: lots of chocolate, and my Charcuterie book and mortar & pestle. The last two were for the brisket I was corning to make corned beef hash for Christmas breakfast. 
The 20th: Banana breads. 
Apple Frangipane tartlets. I like to put one or two new things on the tray every year; this was one of them. Delicious, not too sweet, with a perfume-y hint of local honey.
Trays in the back of my car, my work and Mom's combined, ready to be delivered. On them we have a loaf each of banana bread and zucchini bread, half a dozen peanut butter cookies, 8 gingerbread cookies, a dozen buckeyes, an apple frangipane tartlet, and a bag of homemade peppermint bark. 

Yes, I know that's a lot of egg crates in the corner. They are waiting (still) to be recycled.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Birthday Girl!

Some of you may know that there was a birthday this past week at Chez Marshmallow. Being the fiend for baking that I am, I requested that I get to make my own cake, but everything else was orchestrated by Hubband and Mom. I got presents throughout the day,  (Thank you so much everyone! I'm so spoiled!) lazed about in my pj's as long as I wanted, and was given a wonderful dinner at Mom's house, attended by family and friends. 
For the cake, I decided to try a recipe that the Daring Bakers recently used: Shuna's Caramel Cake. Many of the bloggers that I myself read daily, like this one or this one, are members of the Daring Bakers, so I had seen a lot of reviews, and I couldn't resist trying to work with a recipe that some people had hinted was a bit... finicky. (Why on earth would I pick a challenging, new recipe and make it on the actual day it was needed? Because I am wild, people. Wild.) 
I did want a layer cake, but my 9-inch round pan isn't very tall, so instead I divided the batter between two 8-inch pans. They came out slightly uneven, which was a little difficult to hide, even with frosting, but those are the risks you take when you are a wild woman like myself. The frosting was also quite soft, and didn't want to hold any complex piping designs. This could have been solved with ample chilling time, but having left it to late afternoon, I was forced to just smile and tell myself no one would notice. If anyone did, they didn't mention it. Sweet.

It's obvious in the picture just how soft the frosting was; the top layer is sinking and pushing out the frosting in the gap. Do I mind? Not particularly. If the cake had been for someone else, I would have been upset, but it was only for me, and it was DELICIOUS, so I just let it go. 
The cake was moist and dense, but still fluffy enough to satisfy me. It had a distinct buttery caramel flavor that I really enjoyed. The frosting was the real winner here though. T said it should be criminal, and I will take that as a ringing endorsement. I added a teaspoon of sea salt to the recipe for a salted caramel flavor, and it really came through. It cut the extreme sweetness, and added dimension. I will absolutely be adding this to the permanent recipe collection. 
This recipe is a long one, so check it out here

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Things have been very busy around Chez Marshmallow this past week, so instead of an in-depth recipe, I think it's time for a photo round-up. These are all dishes I've made over the past few months that seemed to have blog potential, but for one reason or another didn't make it in. 

First up: a pumpkin-caramel-pecan pie with whole wheat crust. A layer of soft caramel studded with chopped toasted pecans is hiding beneath the traditional pumpkin custard.

Cinnamon-sugar palmiers, gruyere-thyme gougeres, and cheddar-ham mini biscuits for Mom's book club meeting.
Chicken breast stuffed with sauteed swiss chard, on top of shallot orzo with roasted cauliflower.
A whole-wheat Linzer torte, filled with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. 

All were tasty, but all needed tweaking in some way. I'm sure I'll revisit them eventually, and hopefully spruce them up enough to make a more detailed appearance here. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vegetarians, Avert Thine Eyes.

I like vegetables. I really do. All different shapes, sizes, and colors of vegetables. You never would have known that if you peeked in my fridge last Saturday.
On the bottom, there are two half-sheet pans holding 5 slabs of cured pork belly, patiently developing a pellicle and waiting to be smoked. (Look! A bag of leftover acorn squash, next to the pork belly! See? I like vegetables!) On another half-sheet pan above them, we find 8 hand cut NY Strip steaks. How do I know they are hand cut? I own the hands that did it. Having broken down many a beef tenderloin for filet mignon in the past, I was comfortable trying my hand at the big honking piece of meat we found, and carved it into 1.5 inch thick steaks. They are sitting, uncovered, in the fridge for a bit of dry-aging. It really only takes about 15 minutes of work to butcher out the steaks, and the price is outrageously low. This is good quality meat, made even better by the dry-aging, but because I did the little bit of extra work myself the price comes out to about $5 a steak. One steak with a couple of sides is enough to feed the two of us, so that's a pretty great deal. 
But what about that other giant lump of meat, you ask? Oh. That's 3 big slabs of baby back ribs, also destined for the smoker. Hey, if you've already got the thing fired up, might as well get the most out of it, right? We took the bacon, the ribs, and some applewood chips over to my brother-in-law's house on Sunday, smoked the bacon till it reached a mouth-smacking shade of juicy red-brown (and an appropriate internal temp) and sliced off a few strips, for research purposes, of course. Mmm. So much better than my first batch. I used pork from free-range Ossabaw hogs this time, and it's obvious. The meat is sweeter and much more tender, and the slabs are much easier to slice. Unfortunately, the price to overnight ship 25 lbs of meat from South Carolina is considerable. 
We provided the meat, so my sister and her husband provided the sides, and whipped up pasta salad, baked beans, (which sat in the smoker beneath the ribs, to catch some goodness) and a fabulous grilled romaine salad, topped with freshly smoked bacon and chopped red onions cooked in the rendered bacon fat and then deglazed with balsamic, and sprinkled with a little parmesan. Well done, K. I should have taken a picture. It was a really nice impromptu late lunch/early dinner, and we invited K's father-in-law, sister-in-law, and our mom over to share. 
Monday night the bacon was still lurking in the fridge, not yet portioned and frozen, and I couldn't resist it's siren call. "BLT", it said. "But I don't have any bread, and I haven't got time to bake any today!" I mentally wailed. "BLT!", it insisted. So I boiled up half a bag of whole wheat shells, cooled them, and tossed in some crisped bacon pieces, romaine lettuce, some great cherry tomatoes, mayo, black pepper, and celery salt. Voila, BLT pasta salad. I served it with roasted chicken breasts that I had marinated with rosemary and red jalapenos from our patio garden. Delicious.


Friday, December 5, 2008


I'm sorry for the silence around here. We arrived home from our New England trip on Sunday afternoon, and our internet connection went down Monday morning. After numerous phone calls and an ridiculous run-around from the provider, we finally got it back about an hour ago. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Boston Thanksgiving

I mentioned about a week ago that our Thanksgiving isn't quite the typical one. First off, I'm a food blogger who doesn't get to cook a thing (*GASP*) for the meal. Instead, we go to Boston to visit my family, and the meal is hosted by an uncle who lives there in the city. A confirmed bachelor who doesn't cook, he hosts the meal at a luxury hotel.
Thursday morning began with us meeting my father and stepmother for breakfast, and then going into Boston Common, (Boston's version of Central Park) with my brother-in-law and niece. We were trying to tire her out to ensure a good noontime nap, and thus a peaceful meal afterwards. Although most of the leaves on the beautiful old trees had already fallen, a few of the weeping willows were still looking magnificent.  
The brisk 35 F air was a quick reminder that holiday time was upon us, and after about 40 minutes, we headed back inside. A few hours later, we went to my uncle's apartment to meet up with the rest of the family, have a few cocktails, and catch up on what everyone has been up to. I have a large number of cousins, most of whom were in attendance, and everyone was very happy that we had made the trip north.  After a couple hours of chat, we headed to the private hotel dining room where we have the actual meal. The menu itself is very traditional and has a few amusing twists to suit our family. We always start with a choice of lobster bisque or shrimp cocktail. Seafood is a pretty traditional component to a New England Thanksgiving, and my grandfather and cousins are fiends for shrimp cocktail. Personally, I always get the bisque. It's divine. The next course is a choice of arugula salad with parmesan and vinaigrette, or iceberg wedge salad with italian dressing. The iceberg salad choice is there specifically for my grandfather, who believes it is really the only salad worth eating. None of those fancy lettuces or dressings for him, thank you. The man knows what he likes. By the way, has anyone else noticed that grocery stores have started labeling it "Western Lettuce"? Are they trying to duck iceberg's rep as the least nutritious green veg there is?
The room itself is beautifully decorated with damask, paneling, and a crystal chandelier, has a view of the Common, and the ornate place settings, candles, gourds, and floral arrangements are always impeccable. 
After the first two courses, one of the many chefs employed by this fine establishment enters the room to present our turkey. 
The rest of the meal is served buffet style, beginning with a carving station for the bird, and continuing with gravy, two varieties of stuffing (both with and without giblets), roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, whipped butternut squash, whole berry and jellied cranberry sauce (for my cousins, who insist the only good cranberry sauce is "the kind with the lines!' Sigh.), green bean casserole (Del Monte recipe only; I told you there were some amusing conditions.), haricot verts with almonds, and creamed onions, as well as several types of bread. 
Dessert is also buffet style, with pecan, pumpkin, and chocolate chiffon pies, chocolate satin cake, apple crisp, vanilla and cinnamon ice creams, and various sauces. 
Individual ice cream sundaes were brought out for my niece and nephew, both under age 2. They were heartily enjoyed! 

I realize that this is not everyone's Thanksgiving experience, and I'm always grateful to my uncle for arranging such a lovely and stress-free gathering. We are very lucky to be able to have it, and that is something we never forget.