Sunday, December 30, 2007

candy for Christmas

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law and I had our annual candy-making extravaganza last weekend. This time we ended up with eleven different kinds, five of which were new to us:

almond brittle
peanut butter bark
peanuts covered in white bark
raspberry jellies
Earl Grey truffles (the cream infused with tea)
Carribean truffles rolled in coconut (the cream infused with coconut-passionfruit tea I brought back from St. Martin)
peppermint bark:

and pretzel wreaths:

I have never been much of a candy maker--anything that involves a thermometer and boiling sugar makes me nervous--but I'm getting good at melting white bark and pouring it over things like chow mein noodles and pretzels! And really, all truffles are is melted chocolate that gets gussied up.
So are you a holiday cookie baker, a holiday candy maker, or neither? What are your sweet holiday traditions?

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

time to thai one on!

We had a particularly delicious Supper Club dinner earlier this year. This time the theme was coconut milk--I mean, "dishes from Thailand"--and they were rich and flavorful! Appetizers included Thai-spiced pickled veggies and deep-fried fish balls. Here's one of the main courses, chicken with veggies and coconut milk,

and perhaps everyone's favorite dish of the evening, shrimp curry with coconut milk (both prepared by Cynde and Todd).

Or perhaps Katie and Aaron's velvety coconut milk chicken soup was the favorite?

Mr. Tart and I provided dessert. Our lemongrass sorbet never quite froze, so I called it a "lemongrass icee" and served it in glasses,

but the sticky rice with, yes, sweet coconut milk sauce and mango was a success!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

satisfying our curd cravings

Now, y'all know that I'm not a football fan and that Mr. Tart is not a sports bar kind of guy. But when in Green Bay...

and when you really want good fried cheese curds, and when your parents want your unborn child to be inculcated into Packer fandom, well then you have lunch at Curly's Pub at Lambeau Field. (That's us posing with his statue at the entrance to the legendary stadium.)

While we all had entrees (burgers and brats, mostly), the main event for Mr. Tart and me was the curds:

Yes, that's $8 for a big bowl of curds. Curly's urges its diners to "tackle Packer-sized portions."

As you can see, one picture is worth a thousand curds. (Or something like that.)

By the way, speaking of portions that could fell a linebacker, here's what we didn't order for dessert:

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

on a sugar high

So we're having this holiday cookie swap at work tomorrow, and for some reason we're each supposed to bring six to eight dozen cookies. That's right, six to eight DOZEN. I think maybe the idea is that this way, everyone goes home with several assorted cookie plates they can then give to people. I dunno. I also don't know quite how I'm going to get all this stuff to and from work tomorrow, because I walk to work. All I know is that it means I've gone through a truly astounding amount of butter in this weekend's baking.

My contributions: maple-date bars, lavender-vanilla bean shortbread, lemon curd thumbprints, and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-mint ganache and mint buttercream frosting (from the fabulous Cupcake Bakeshop blog). The cupcakes, which you see above (sorry for the less-than-optimal photo) were my first cupcake effort, inspired by my purchase of a nifty decorating set - instead of a pastry bag, it's a small plastic accordion-pleated squeeze bottle that's a lot easier to control for a beginner. I'm a decorating klutz, but it worked out well.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Monday, December 03, 2007

the perfect baby shower game for a foodie?

My former colleagues from CSU--many of whom are also close friends and/or mentors--threw me a baby shower yesterday. It was great fun and felt so warm and affectionate and supportive. (Can you read the cake? It proclaims "Welcome Croissant"!) And they even heeded my wishes for "no stupid baby shower games."

Well, there was one almost-game, which the hostesses (one of whom was Katie from my supper club) were careful to call a "challenge activity." It involved giving everyone a dollop of pureed, unadorned baby food from nine different jars to see if we could identify the flavors. I ended up with eight correct (missed "peach"). The general consensus was "No wonder babies spit up so much--this stuff tastes awful!"

Salt is definitely a good thing.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

bread heaven

Sometime in the summer, I woke up thinking about this wheat grinder that my parents had when I was younger. In my morning haze, I was wrapped up in memories of the sound of wheat berries popping down into the grinding blades, warm flour piling up in the metal bread pan resting below. I told my mom about my musings and she informed me that they still had the grinder and I was welcome to use it.

I drove down to my parents' house and rescued the grinder from the basement (and a hand-crank wheat grinder that we used for cracked wheat--my favorite breakfast food). Because I had new wheat grinding tools, I had to get wheat so I purchased a 50-lb bag. I immediately cracked some wheat for breakfast and ground some beautiful fluffy, nutty flour. Then, I set about baking bread.

I rarely bake bread. Growing up, our whole wheat was mainly used for waffles and pancakes (which my be why I had such good memories of the wheat grinder). I am not a break baking expert. I made a couple of transitional loaves and they worked fine, but with 50 lbs of wheat in the house, I really want to work with whole wheat. I made a stab at an entirely whole wheat loaf. It tasted fine, but it was so dense. A brick of chewy, dark bread. Not really what I was looking for. I found recipe for pumpkin whole wheat bread and that worked beautifully--the pumpkin made the bread creamier, lighter. But, I don't want to be throwing pumpkin into every loaf of bread I make.

My search for whole wheat bread recipes online were unsatisfactory, so I went to the bookstore hoping to find something that would change my baking life. The first think I saw on the shelves was Peter Reinhart's new Whole Grain Breads. The book was beautiful, the directions were detialed, and the quotes on the back seemed enthusiastic (unlike those negative book blurbs!). It was a little pricey, but it was birthday month. I bought it and looked at it for a couple of weeks before actually giving it a try.

So far, I have made a basic sandwhich loaf and cinnamon rolls. OMG. This is bread perfection. Reinhart uses a delayed fermentation method which includes making a biga and a soaker the day before shaping and baking. You have to plan ahead with this bread, but it is perfect. Light, soft, flavorful. The steps are many and a first look at the book suggests a complicated process, but it's quite easy. Reinhart gives measurements, weights, and baker's proportions so you can approach the bread with simplicity or a little more finesse (I went for the easy measurements and things worked fine). I think my next attemps will be challah and bagels.

If you have any bread baking ambitions, I highly recommend checking out this book. If you don't want to use whole grains, you may want to get his Bread Baker's Apprentice. I actually haven't looked at it, but I can only imagine it's fabulous.

I may just get through that 50 pounds of wheat.

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