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December baking: Successes and failures.

28 Dec

So Christmas is over yet again. Blah.

Putting Christmas stuff away is exactly as fun as packing to go home from vacation. Which is to say it’s a huge bummer. I’m doing it little by little – like I took all the Christmas cards we got from friends and family off the fridge. It was sad. That’s enough for this week.

I did a fair amount of baking this month, and ate about 92 cookies and a bunch of everything else. Here’s a sampling of stuff I made:

CHRISTMAS BUTTER

At least it's a cute jar.

At least it’s a cute jar.

Remember when I said I would work out the kinks before I gifted Christmas Butter to anyone? Well I didn’t. It still hardens and crumbles horribly after being refrigerated for any length of time. So to those who received my Christmas Butter, I’m really sorry. I feel like I might have ruined your Christmas a little bit, cause who wants to fight with hard butter? Reminds me of that old Dr. Katz episode… “When my mother was upset with my father she would never yell at him. She would give him a soft piece of bread and a hard pat of butter and just watch him struggle.”

Anyway, if you can manage to hoist some out and microwave it for a few seconds, it’s really good, I promise.

CREPES

Say you love Crepes!

Say you love Crepes!

I really only made these so we had an excuse to over-quote Talladega Nights incessantly. And we did. They were filled with a cream cheese/nutmeg mixture. They were delicious, if I do say so myself!

RED VELVET COOKIES

red velvet cookies

I found the recipe for these here and thought they were so pretty and Christmasy. It took me a few hundred batches (9 actually) to get the coloring right. At first I ran out of the necessary amount of red food coloring, and being the culinary genius that I am, figured I could supplement with a teeny bit of purple.  This made the mix look like something they would use for zombie makeup in a movie, so I added a few drops of yellow. Flashback to the time I tried to cut my own bangs as a kid. Just a little trim here, a little more there, a tad more off the sides, another inch over here to even it up…oh crap.

play ball!

The pictures above are from that first batch. As you can see, what I ended up with was something close to baseball clay. Eh, close enough.

By the 7th, 8th, and 9th batches, they looked more like this:

20121228_120003

Practice makes red cookies!

SUGAR COOKIES

20121217_142854

Before the ship-fail.

These were SO GOOD. Unfortunately, what made them so delicious also caused their demise. At least where my Florida family is concerned. See I tried this new frosting which claims to be the best frosting the interwebs has ever tasted. I’m telling you right here and now, it is. I will probably make this frosting for cakes and whatnot for the rest of my life. What I will not do however, is try to ship it in a box to someone four states away. This frosting doesn’t harden and hold together like Betty Crocker’s does. It stays soft and is super prone to melting. I had a feeling this was going to happen if I tried to ship these. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe that the post office people would take extra loving care with my boxes and it would all be ok.  I’m figuring things started to turn bad somewhere around Louisiana. All I know is many of them “did not make the trip”. I invite any of my family who received these cookies from me to post an “after” picture, if you have it. Caption: NAILED IT.

***

In other news, I find this to be absolutely hilarious.

oh, classic Grumpy Cat.

oh, classic Grumpy Cat.

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Thanksgiving Food

23 Nov

Well, Thanksgiving is over for another year.

I did cook this year, but I almost didn’t.

This year it just so happened that my little family of 4 was on our own for Thanksgiving dinner, which I’m perfectly fine with. No, living 20 driving hours away from your entire extended family is not a barrel of laughs, but it’s our reality and we’ve embraced it.

A few weeks ago I started thinking how I wasn’t really feeling the whole turkey and 8 side items shebang this time and maybe I just wanted to order one of of those catered Thanksgiving dinners from a restaurant where they’ll cook everything for you the day before and you just have to heat it up before you serve it.  Not sure what I was thinking. Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of cooking – an event I’ve been preparing for all year, and I’m gonna let someone else run the ball for me? note to self: try to make it so there’s less football on the television.

Aside from the fact that I prefer to make my family’s food myself, we would certainly be overpaying for the food through a caterer (pretty sure I can make a green bean casserole for less than $15.99).

So it was a no-brainer. I would be cooking Thanksgiving dinner myself.

Just in case you’re wondering, the catering deal was $60. It’s hard to say exactly what I spent on my ingredients because I picked up a few random non-Thanksgiving food items while I was at the store, but my entire receipt came to $58 and change. Cha-ching! Nailing this already.

I stumbled upon this video, which is the simplest turkey recipe I’ve found. It also happens to produce the most amazing gravy I think I’ve ever tasted. I was nervous about incorporating the neck and heart and stuff because, well, it’s super gross. I like to avoid thinking about the turkey as having been an actual living thing, and acknowledging the presence of a heart really makes that difficult.  But I followed Chef John’s instruction and used the bagged organs to make a stock which later turned into the aforementioned amazing gravy. Pretty sure when whoever first started using “gravy” as a street word to describe something that is better than good, they were inspired by this gravy. The gravy section is in part 2 of the videos, in case you’re actually interested.

What initially caught my attention was his technique of spreading butter under the turkey’s skin before cooking. I’ve never heard of that before. Of course I’ve since found out pretty much everyone else already knows about the under the skin trick and has done it before. This happens to me regularly. Sorta like the time I thought I invented the fact that heavy cream will turn into butter if you whip it long enough.

Anyway, amazing turkey. Here’s a picture of it before it went into the oven. I don’t have an after picture because when it came out of the oven I was thinking more about eating it than taking its picture.

In addition to learning about the under-the-skin thing, I learned that the celery/onion/carrot bed under the turkey is referred to as a mirepoix. Not, as I incorrectly texted to my mom, a meer-plah. Seriously, I had no idea what the guy was saying on the video. Just goes to show you, you’re never too old to ask your mama what a word means.

Anyway, the whole dinner went off without a hitch, amazingly. Except that the turkey ended up cooking faster than I had estimated (my Jedi math skills fail me again), and I had to scramble a little to get the other stuff finished quickly. But yeah. It all worked out pretty well!

Here’s a picture of my plate, before gravy. I didn’t want you to see how much gravy I heaped on. It was embarrassing.

I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving, surrounded by people who love you. I know I did.

ps- It’s officially Christmas now.

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