December 2009


Still coming down, harder than ever. I’m unofficially calling the party canceled.

And yeah, that guy’s van is stuck.


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And so life intervenes!

The eggnog is pretty much done, and I was just waiting to whip in the whites until shortly before the party, but otherwise it’s ready to go. Likewise the angel food cake is resting upside down in its pan, and I was going to blog about it when it came out, but…

It turns out the party may get canceled! That’s right, Christmas Eve may be canceled, or at least dramatically scaled back to an extent that would quite obviate the need for two dozen chocolate muffins AND wassail on top of creme brulee, sugarplums, and everything else.

Why shut down the party? Ironically, it’s the exact thing you always hear eeeeeverybody wants this time of year:

A white frickin’ Christmas.

Oh, and it’s getting bad alright. Behold my poorly cobbled together time-lapse photography:

Then…

THEN…

So further cooking efforts are put on temporary hold, pending more info on the party. Which means if it DOES happen, I’ll just have that much less time to cook (or be forced to drop something).


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This dish is pathetically simple to make and tastes wonderful as a holiday side dish. It all begins with:

That’s right, Sweet Corn Bread Pudding. Yeah, that’s a can of cream style sweet corn in the middle.

Oh, wait, you thought I meant “Sweet Corn Bread“?? No, no… this is “Sweet Corn Bread Pudding,” and it still tastes great. By the way, if you don’t own a cast iron skillet and you ever really cook much at all, you should pick one up. I got that fine beast at Walmart for $15, I believe. Two handles, even a slightly pursed lip on one side for pouring. Just watch out, they can get fiery hot.

So you take the onions and spices and sweat them for a little in the skillet. Meanwhile you take everything else and mix it up (I’d add the bread towards the end so it doesn’t get too soggy). That leaves you with:


(I added the bread after this was taken)

Add the mixture to the skillet, toss the whole thing into a standard 350 oven for half an hour or so, and when it comes out, you’ll have THIS:

Absolutely you gotta let it cool a bit before touching it. The cast iron will retain its heat for a long time, so it won’t cool so fast you’ve got cold bread pudding. But even if you do, just pop the whole thing back in the oven for a couple minutes and voila.

Next up, Angel Food Cake!

Oh, and the sugarplums from yesterday needing to be coated in sugar? They turned out great:


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Thought I’d expired, eh? Well, you’d be wrong. I’ve just been running around, ice skating and carousing instead of updating the ol’ blog. I’ll try to be better next time!

This is a bit of an unusual dish, since I’m not even sure exactly how it’s supposed to taste! I suppose I’ll just wait till it’s done and see, but there’s nothing to over/under-cook, and what is there is pretty tasty by itself.

So we begin with our ingredients:

Whew that’s a lot of software! Nuts, dried fruits like figs and apricots, and four different kinds of seeds. Oh, as a side note, do you know how hard it is to find Anise Seeds in the middle of Oklahoma?? Not easy, let me tell you. It took three stores, including one where an employee on the phone blatantly lied to me and assured me they had them… Then when I arrived told me they had Fennel Seeds, which “were the same thing.” Under almost any other circumstance I’d probably have just gone with his assurance, except that my recipe called for BOTH Fennel Seeds AND Anise Seeds. So if there’s not distinction, why include both? Heck, why SELL both? Eh, third time/supermarket’s a charm, and I returned home triumphant.

So the nuts and fruits go into the food processor, and:

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have processed them until they became a big, fat ball, but I learned another important lesson along the way… If you’re using figs, be sure to remove the pits! They’re seed-shaped and hard as rocks, and more importantly not friendly to food processors! I didn’t destroy my precious Cuisinart, but the chopping blade definitely had several fig pits rather comically embedded into it. Poor guy, he tried his darnedest!!

Before mixing up the nuts with the seeds and sugar, be sure to toast the seeds on the stove briefly to wake up the essential oils. It doesn’t take long, and will fill your kitchen with aromatic goodness:

Mmmm, hard-found Anise Seeds!

Finally, put all the ingredients in a big bowl with some honey, mash it around for a bit, and use a little mechanical scoopy to put onto a cookie sheet:

One note I’d make at this point is, if your dried fruits are of especially high quality, as mine were (no, I’m not bragging, I was actually gifted a huge plate of Harry & David dried fruits by a client), they’re going to be juicy. Combined with some honey and you have a sticky sticky mixture in that bowl. Now, I’m not say you absolutely MUST have a spring-loaded mechanical scooper like I have above, but it can get gooey things onto the sheet far more effectively. I could only imagine trying to do this with a spoon or non-mechanical scoop and it would have been a HUGE pain.

Ultimately, here was the result:

Not 100% perfect, but absolutely serviceable little sugarplums. Now they shall dry for a bit (probably overnight), then rolled in some coarse sugar for a finishing touch.

Woo, am I beat. This has been one heck of a day, and TOMORROW is Christmas Eve! I’m going to need to start early and get that oven firing. Oh, you haven’t seen anything of the Eggnog, as I promised, but it’s not because I slacked. It got separated and beat a bit, but needed to cool, but I figure I’ll beat the egg whites into the mixture tomorrow (and give the requisite post then). I did swing by the ol’ megamart for replacement ingredients after my cocktail sauce mishap from before and got it into the processor, and here was the result:

So 3 1/2 of 8 dishes down. Not too bad for one day, all things considered. But now it’s almost 2 AM and I’ve got another long day tomorrow, so all’s well that ends well. Allez cuisine!


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Unlike the cocktail sauce, creme brulee is much more hardware heavy than software heavy (though with all that cream, the software’s pretty heavy too). Lots of ramekins, pans for the oven, pot for the stove, this is the kind of cooking I enjoy!

First thing to do is infuse the cream with vanilla flavor. Some people just use vanilla extract, but using the actual vanilla bean gives a much better flavor, in my opinion. These beans are the first I’ve ever gotten over the Internet (Beanilla.com if you’re interested, and they’re awesome), Mexican vanilla beans that are supposed to be awesome.

But you don’t just throw the beans. You have to strip them of their pulp to get all the flavor:

Just cut them down the center, split them, then run the knife along perpendicular, scraping out the insides. The pulp and the insides then go into a pot filled with all the cream:

Next, put the cream on the stove and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, to the eggs. I’m only using egg yolks for the creme brulee, 12 of them to be exact, and separating eggs can be tricky. As you can see below, I’m using the “three bowl method” for separating them: you open one egg into an egg separator (or in my case, a slotted spoon) over a small bowl and separate the whites from the yolks. When it’s done, if you didn’t break the yolk, put the yolk in bowl #2 and the white in bowl #3. That way if the yolk breaks, it doesn’t contaminate your whole set of whites.

Once that’s done (I lost 2 eggs in the process, btw. Always have extras.)…. OH! And be careful! If you don’t pay a decent amount of attention to the cream, it can boil over:

Okay, so, I made a bit of a mess (and lost about 1 ramekin’s worth of cream in the process), but I stayed on track, tempered the cream into the eggs with some sugar, and got them into their final resting places before sending them into the oven.



Now into the oven for 40 minutes or so, then into the fridge to cool. When cooled, I’ll cover them up so they don’t absorb any other fridge flavors, and there they’ll sit till tomorrow night. Sadly, it won’t be until then when I melt the sugar on top of them with my cool blowtorch, so there may or may not be pictures. But okay.

See, why can’t people just let me cook all day? Life intervenes, and thus the liveblogging. I now have to run across town and back, then back again later tonight (by which time I had hoped to be done with cooking) to go ice skating and make merry. Sheesh, I hope I do hope I get everything done by then so I’m not up late tonight getting stuff done. And I do NOT want to put anything MORE off till tomorrow if today is any indication!


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Well, this has started out well………..

…..

So I had my mise en place assembled:

He was just checking out the chili sauce. No worries, he didn’t touch it.

But so, everything looks good, right? Simplest thing I’m going to make, just stick it in a food processor and WHAMO! But you see that little golden liquid off the left? Yeah, that would be olive oil. Why am I putting olive oil in cocktail sauce? I don’t know either! But my carefully assembled recipe says to!

It all goes into the food processor, and like I said, WHAMO:

Eh, it LOOKS pretty good, but what you can’t see is the good oily film every bit of it has. I should have taken another pic of it running off my finger like…. well like oil! Upon further investigation, apparently in my desire to be uber-organized with all the recipes and ingredients (for shopping as well as assembly), 2 tablespoons of olive oil made it onto the cocktail sauce recipe even though it wasn’t supposed to.

Now what? Well, fortunately this recipe was the simplest to make, so I’ll just go out and buy the 2 ingredients that this batch ran me out of and make it again, probably later tonight or tomorrow. Now however, on to the creme brulee!


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So I’ve been increasing my cooking skill like a mad man over the past few months, and I have to say I’m getting pretty comfortable in the kitchen. I’m perfecting my steak au poivre, I brined and roasted my first turkey(s), and I even had the guts to assemble a baklava yesterday (eh… not a good demonstration of skill). So when my family began planning the big Christmas Eve celebration, I asked what I should bring. The grandmother is doing chicken, the uncle is doing ribs, various appetizers and side dishes are already in the works, as well as some frozen pies for dessert. So what’s there for me??

Dessert, they said. But that’s only the beginning, said I!!

So after much experimentation and testing the waters on the appeal of both simple and complex dishes, I’ve settled myself on EIGHT different things to make over the course of the next two days. Here’s where it will all take place:

And here’s what’s on the menu:

Appetizer :Chili Horseradish Cocktail Sauce
Snack :Sugarplums
Aperitif :Hot Wassail
Side Dish :Sweet Corn Bread Pudding
Indulgent Dessert :Vanilla Crème Brulee
Chocolate Lover’s Dessert :Chocolate Lava Muffins
Fat-Free Dessert :Angel Food Cake
After Dinner Drink :Bourbon Eggnog

Really, it’s not as insane as it sounds. But yeah… it’s a bit insane.

Anywho! Today is Day 1, which will consist of four dishes that will survive to tomorrow evening without problems. That means cocktail sauce, sugarplums, creme brulee, and eggnog. Day 2 will be the dishes best made the day of, wassail, bread pudding, muffins and angel food cake. Hmm, lots of baking on Day 2…

And to add a little more chaos to the mix, I’m going to in some fashion liveblog the whole thing, posting pics and any interesting things that happen as best I can. So from here, I’m headed to the kitchen to knock out that cocktail sauce!

Oh, and a picture of my cool magnetic knife bar, just because:


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