Friday, November 28, 2008

The Good. And the Bad and Ugly.

Thanksgiving. A day for giving thanks. But mostly for cooking. And eating. And then eating leftovers.

This was our second Thanksgiving in North Carolina and while we briefly entertained the idea of making barbecue for the big meal, we went traditional in the end. In my post-Thanksgiving review and analysis, I give a thumbs-up to the turkey (made in my slow cooker), the cranberry sauce (made in a factory by Ocean Spray) and the biscuits (which were both a Thanksgiving side and breakfast today, served with gravy).

The secret to the biscuits is Maine's own Bakewell Cream. I haven't found it around here, but if you're into making biscuits, it's well worth a mail order. The leavening agent makes biscuits flaky and fluffy (unless you're a compulsive mixer or kneader, which I used to be -- and in that case, even the magic of Bakewell Cream can't save you). The moral of the story: Mix minimally. Knead lightly. Use Bakewell.

The day, however, was not without its disappointments. The biggest disappointment: Rachael Ray's Double-Decker Pumpkin-Caramel Pie.

Check out this link to see what Everyday with Rachael Ray promised me it would look like. Here's what it actually looked like:

I swear, there's a slice of pie under there.

This flop was particularly painful since dessert is the best part of Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie is the best dessert.

There were three main problems. First, I couldn't find the chocolate graham crackers for the crust, so I improvised with Oreos. Sounds good in theory, but they stayed in the pie plate. Second, the pie batter was a little on the bitter side, so I added a little (lot) more sugar. The pie never really set right. Third, the caramel whipped cream was made by melting caramel with cream, then adding the mixture to cream whipped to soft peaks. The caramel deflated the cream and turned the whole thing into a soupy, yucky-sweet mess.

Despite the obvious visual evidence that I had failed, I grabbed a spoon and tried a slice. This, after all, was Thanksgiving, and I needed some pie. It wasn't pretty.

Next year, it's back to regular old pumpkin pie. Hold the caramel.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Table Talk

This past Saturday was the first ever Bridge Community Church DelecTables event. Hostesses from the Bridge each decorated a table in a holiday theme, made a dessert and invited a few friends to come and enjoy.

Since my good china consists of a quarter of a set of Corelle Livingware, circa 1985, I had to pass on the tablescaping portion of the event. I did, however, volunteer to bring a dessert.

This was the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe I've been holding on to for just such an occasion: chocolate pound cake with Italian meringue buttercream.

I'll skip the play-by-play and just say this: It was good. Thanks in part, I believe, to the six sticks of butter and nine eggs it included.

I won't lie. I was nervous going into the production phase. The cake itself required delicate sifting, measuring and blending, none of which I do too carefully. But the real challenge was the Italian meringue buttercream. It required the whipping of, as they say here in the South, a whole mess of egg whites. Then it required me to heat water and sugar to exactly 245 degrees -- a process during which a kid named Steve came to the door selling magazines. I explained that I'd love to hear more but that if I didn't go stir the syrup my meringue would be ruined and I didn't suppose Steve wanted that on his conscience.

He didn't.

Once I had the syrup, I added it to the egg whites. I blended. I whipped. Then I added a little butter. Like two cups. As in a whole box. But I did it tablespoon by tablespoon. That made it seem a little more reasonable.

In the end, the cake and the frosting both turned out pretty well. I didn't get a photo of the finished cake, but I did photograph the mini version I made for myself (to test for quality). I've decided sifted flour and superfine sugar are the way to go with cakes -- you get a very fine crumb and smooth texture. And if you're feeling like your cholesterol levels can survive the hit, I'd highly recommend the meringue. (I found my recipe in Cuisine at Home, provided by CakeLove in Washington, D.C., but you can see the same recipe here.) It's not too sweet and very smooth. Like butter, you might say.

The food: Chocolate pound cake with Italian meringue buttercream
The verdict: The tastiest heart attack you'll ever have

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Election Day: An Excuse to Eat Themed Food

So, last Tuesday, when everyone else in the U.S. was out exercising his or her right to vote, this early ballot caster was at home, thinking up election-themed eats. I finally settled on mulled cider, in honor of all the undecideds out there, mulling over their choices, and variety-is-the-spice-of-life cake -- a nod to the new incoming president, whoever he would be.

The cider was comforting, the cake was spiced, the electorate was heard.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Books that Make You Want to Stop Eating Food

If you read my post on books about food, you may remember that I was anxiously awaiting Melanie Dunea's My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals.

I'm disturbed to report the book features a portrait of Anthony Bourdain wearing the main ingredient for his meal. This book is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. People, you've been warned.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When one bite just isn't enough

Last week at work, we held an office-wide potluck, featuring fried chicken and everyone's favorite sides and desserts from home.

I made apple-cinnamon bundt cake from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine. (That's the bundt in question above.) I used rome apples instead of granny smiths, which I probably wouldn't do again, but it turned out pretty well, except for the broken side piece. In a hurry to un-bundt it, I ripped out a little chunk, which stayed in the pan. I'm sure Martha would have made another for work and fed the mangled cake to the dogs, but I just covered the bad spot with a lot of icing and asked co-workers to avert their eyes.

The real stars of the potluck, however, were brownie bites topped with cream cheese frosting, courtesy of my pal Katherine. She and I each enjoyed one before the potluck began (we were considering them appetizers), I had one with lunch, then I swung by the kitchen in the late afternoon for yet another.

Katherine says she bought them at Whole Foods, but I'm pretty sure God just reached down from heaven and handed her the tray.

Whole Foods, if you're listening, I'd like your recipe.

The food: Whole Foods Market's bite-size brownies with cream cheese frosting
The verdict: I think I'm in love