Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Tale of 3 Gingerbread Houses and a 5 year old

I was blessed to be able to spend Thanksgiving in Aliso Viejo this year with my godson, Sam, his parents and his "Nanna" and "Pappa". I thought is would be fun this year, since Sam is 5, almost 6, to get him involved in constructing a gingerbread house for the first time. Sam enjoys cooking... A lot... As I found out during one of my visits. I had decided to give his mom, my best friend, a night off for dinner. So I had hauled all of my pizza making equipment with me and a BIG batch of dough, with what seemed like a million toppings. He absolutely LOVED making his own pizza. It was, and I quote, "The bestest pizza ever!!" But I digress and that is another post, that I will have to put up, once I finish editing the pictures.

So armed with something resembling the pieces to a modular home:
I arrived with all the accoutrement to facilitate construction of 3 gingerbread chalets.
The list of candy/cookie decor was as follows:

  • Necco Wafers - Both Multicolored and Chocolate (For Slate Looking Tiles)
  • Chocolate Non-Perils (They look like snow on the roof)
  • Peppermint Straws (Window Sills)
  • Red Hots (Window Trim)
  • M&Ms (Misc. Walkways and trim)
  • Spearmint Leaves (Bushes)
  • Mini Spice gumdrops (Misc roof ridge line and walkway borders)
  • Giant Smarties (Roof ridge line and walkways)
  • Belgian Waffle Cookies (Roofing Tiles)
  • Belgian Tea Cookies (Doors and Shutters)
  • Candy Canes
  • Starlight Mints
  • Old Fashioned Lemon Drops (Crushed and used to make window panes while baking the dough)
  • Extra Miniature and Tiny Gingerbread men & Women fitted with Toothpicks before baking
The recipe for the gingerbread house pieces is located here on

I usually "glue" the pieces together using a dry caramel, I find it holds better than the Royal Icing that is typically used. I waited to assemble while he Sam was taking a quick nap in order to alleviate what would have in
evitably resulted in burns, I should know, I burnt myself twice with hot, sticky caramel so there was NO WAY I wanted Sam anywhere near the kitchen while I was doing that part.

I made a double batch of pseudo Royal icing:

2 boxes (8 cups) C&H powdered sugar
1 cup Crisco (butter may be used, but it doesn't make as white of an icing, and I wasn't going to be eating this anyway)
1/3 cup water (you cannot use milk or the frosting will not harden)
1 tsp Vanilla
Beat all ingredients together until fluffy.
Cover the surface with plastic wrap at room temp until ready to use.

After filling the 2 pastry bags (1 with a #4 writing tip and one with a #32 shell border tip)
and some quick instructions to Sam, his mother and his Nanna which resulted in my hands being covered with frosting, thus no pictures were taken during the process, the fun began.

Sam did very well, and while it was hard for him to squeeze the pastry bag, with some help from his mother, he was more than capable of decorating and having an absolute BLAST doing it.

He even helped me put the walkway, candy canes and "bushes" on the one I made for my friends autistic nephew. (below)

Here is a closeup of Sam's Gingerbread house.

And here is a picture of his Nanna's Gingerbread house.

Good fun and lasting memories were created for all of us. Lot's of laughter and scrambling to find fallen candy before Otto, my dog, could eat it. In my book, a much better activity for a Black Friday, than going shopping and dealing with craziness...


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

These 'shrooms Were Made For Stuffin

I don't make these that often because they are extremely decadent. But hey, Thanksgiving only comes once a year... Sorry for the quick photo, but I was on my way out the door; embarking upon my travel to Aliso Viejo where I would be spending the Thanksgiving holiday, so I was out of time to arrange a shot.

Pesto Stuffed Mushroom Caps

3 oz Pancetta
40 small Crimini mushrooms (or white button)
8 oz Cream Cheese
4 oz Mascarpone
1/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 TB Pesto Genovese
a couple grinds of Green Pepper
3 1/2 - 4 TB butter; melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Pull stems from mushrooms to leaving the hole in the cap and mince 36 of the stems finely.
Fry up the pancetta until crispy then remove from pan and add the minced stems.
Saute until they give up their liquid and begin browning.
Chop pancetta up fine.
In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, mascarpone, paprika, pesto and green pepper.
Beat with an electric mixer until combined.
Add pancetta and sauted stems, then mix again until incorporated.
Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a large tip, with the stuffing.
Pipe stuffing into the caps.
Now the bad part... as if the filling wasn't rich enough.
Using a fork, stab mushrooms just below the filling and dip in the melted butter before placing in a glass baking dish.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, let cool about 10 minutes before serving.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cranberries... Beyond the sauce

It is the mad baking rush for those of us traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. At some point I will get around to posting the Gingerbread cookie and House madness I have been going through the last couple of days. But for now, a Thanksgiving tradition.. Well at least since 2000.

Carameled Cranberry Pecan Tart 

6 oz Pecans, chopped
3/4 cup sugar - Divided
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 TB unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
6 oz fresh cranberries, chopped
1 baked (10-inch) Tart Shell - I use 1/2 batch of Pate Brisee but a Pilsbury ready-made will work too.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven for 5 minutes.
Leave oven on.
In a 2-quart saucepan melt 1/2 cup sugar over low heat until it begins to melt.
Continue cooking, stirring occasionally with a fork, to assure even melting, until sugar is melted into a deep golden caramel.
Tilt pan and add corn syrup; please do this carefully as it will bubble and steam - The caramel will harden but don't worry, it melts again.
Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved.
Remove caramel from flame and add butter, stirring until melted.
Let caramel sit to cool until it stops bubbling.
In a heat proof bowl, whisk eggs with salt, vanilla, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
Add caramel in a stream, whisking constantly.
Spread pecans and cranberries evenly in tart shell and pour caramel over them, tapping pecans and cranberries down to coat thoroughly with caramel-y goodness.
Bake tart until filling is set, about 30 minutes.
Cool completely in pan on a rack before removing rim of pan.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

BakeSpace Challenge #9 - Squash Recipes

Mission - Squash Recipe - Preferably one ending up on your Thanksgiving table; but not necessarily

Solution - Although it may be considered overdone at this point - Butter Nut Ravioli, with a twist... Apple Cider Gorgonzola
sauce - Sprinkled with browned butter walnuts.

I would like to say that this serves 6; being 6 raviolis per person, but honestly, 6 didn't fill me up, even with sauted asparagus on the side, but when I tried to eat 4 more, I discovered that 10 was too much. I am thinking that about 8 would make a nice main course; 6 makes a healthy first course, with 4 being perfect for appetizers. The only thing I may do different in the future is to use actual semolina pasta and after cooking, I would like to brown them in either butter or olive oil to add a little crispness to them.

1 1/2 cups Roasted Butternut Squash (Cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes - Until soft)
4 oz Mascarpone (Although Ricotta will work)
3 TB Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 1/2 TB Panko (ground fine)
1/2 tsp Sage (You knew it had to be in there somewhere)
1/4 tsp Ceylon Cinnamon (or 1/8 tsp Saigon - Keep it light)
1/8 tsp Mace
1/8 tsp Chipotle powder (Just a little heat - Cayenne would work, but it's missing the smokiness)
1/4 tsp plus a pinch Salt
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper

36 Won ton Wrappers

Walnut Garnish:
1/4 cup walnuts roughly chopped
1 1/2 TB Butter

Blue Apple Sauce:
3 TB Butter
1 TB Shallot; finely minced
3 TB Flour
1/2 tsp Dried Tarragon; Crushed
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/4 cup Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Juice (You can use apple cider if you like)
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
3 oz Gorgonzola; crumbled

Simply mix all the "filling" ingredients together with a fork until homogeneous .

I like to do this as quick as possible, so I lay out as many wonton wrappers as possible on my work surface.
Use a small 2 tsp scoop, and drop scoops onto the center of each wrapper.

Working fast, use a pastry brush to apply water to 2 of the sides.
Fold over and, starting with the point, begin pressing the edges together and trying to remove as much air as possible so they do not explode while cooking.

Lay finished raviolis on a baking sheet that has been dusted with cornstarch, to keep them from sticking together.....
Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate until water is ready.

Walnut Garnish:
While water is coming to a boil, heat butter in a small skillet just until foam subsides, add walnuts and stir to coat, cook until butter begins to brown slightly and walnuts are fragrant.
Drain on a paper towel.
Blue Apple Sauce:
In a small saucepan melt butter with shallots, sweating for about 2 minutes.
Add Flour and cook roux with shallots until light brown.

Add Chicken Stock and Apple juice.
Whisk until smooth and cook until thick and bubbly.
Add Heavy cream and blue cheese, stirring until melted.
Remove from heat and cover to keep warm, or leave over ultra-low heat so it doesn't scorch.

Cook and Plate:
Cook raviolis in salted, gently boiling water until they float.
Move 6-8 raviolis from water to each plate with a skimmer,
Drizzle with blue apple sauce and sprinkle with browned butter walnuts.

Deliciously sweet, slightly tangy, delightfully blue cheesy, mysteriously smoky, and subtle with warm spice. If my stomach was larger, I would have sat and ate all 36 raviolis myself... alas, I shall have to wait until tomorrow and Saturday to finish them off.