Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My First Macaron

One of my gifts this year was a recipe box. I've been collecting a loose stack of recipes for Years, and the pile was getting out of control. I've sorted and stashed all the sub 8.5x11 recipes and placed them in this bright, shiny red box. Yes, it's a Martha product. But it's so pretty!

The funny thing is, at least Half of that box is the Dessert category. I guess I have a soft spot (ha, ha) for the sweets. But I think that simply makes a perfect excuse for Box Number Two, dedicated solely to the Sweets. Wouldn't you agree?

After much blogservation of the Macaron variety, I decided to give it a go. Particularly once I realized these are synonymous with Amaretti cookies ~ something I can not find locally and have a spring recipe simply begging for them. (Check back once rhubarb season arrives!)

I settled on a recipe, researched everywhere I could for tips and tricks, and set out 110g of egg white on the counter. I didn't give them overnight, because that just creeps me out. I did stick just shy of the 4hr mark, hoping that the baking and any in-the-shell processing would eliminate any particulate cling ons.

I whipped up the egg to stiff peaks, I finely ground the hazelnut (yes, I diverged from the recipe) nearly ending up with nut butter, then forced it thru a seive, along with the by weight icing sugar.

I put my decorator's bag to work. I don't care how cheap the plastic bags are (200 to a roll?) or how conveinient it is to snip the edge of a ziplock bag ~ they simply can not stand up to the function of a quality decorator's bag. I free formed my little circles, and pan one went in the oven. Once they baked, I realized that the tip to prop the door open with a wooden spoon had merit, and so batches 2 and 3 turned out much nicer.

In hind sight, I need to be more patient. I anticipate I would have had much better results had I allowed them to try to touch before baking. As it is, I have a mix of beautiful and crumbled Hazelnut Macarons.

As these were baking, I set to task breaking down the two pomegranates I purchased. Unfortunately number one was pretty gross, the top third was rotten on the inside, so I chucked it all rather than risking illness. The second, fortunately, was beautiful. These brilliant arils came out clean, sparkly, delicious.

Tomorrow, they will be assembled ~ dark chocolate ganache, hazelnut cookies, and a tart pom filling. Num? Num Yummy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël!

Breakfast ~ Chocolate Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls.
perhaps a little on the sweet side?

Dinner ~ Red and White Soup (not pictured)
Pork Tenderloin, Guacamole
Roast Parsnips, Squash, and Sweet Potato topped with candied chili pepper pecans
Peppers stuffed with Brown Rice and Squash Risotto

Dessert ~
Poached Pears
(or Baked Apple)
Chipotle Gingerbread

Many beverages later - and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Deck the Halls

This year was decoration-light. Not every ornament went up on the tree, not every piece of decor was used. But it is a mix of new and old favorites, such as this little house - one of many my Gammy made many years ago...

Newer glass ornaments...

A berry tree, full of love...

a pair of reindeer...

and Santa!

Candy Cane Cookie seeks Skilled Baker

One of Matt's favorite Christmas Cookies is the Candy Cane. As in, mandatory cookies. Not Optional. I have a copy of the family recipe, but it has Never worked for me, and I'm pretty suspicious of the 1c of milk it calls for. So, when I saw the King Arthur Flour recipe I decided to give it a go. Besides, I already bought the peppermint candies, so I may as well put them to use, right?

These cookies were invented for someone far more talented or far less picky than me. This dough is soft and delicious. But getting the dough to form a delicate twirl, then to lay down and shape with the perfect crook at the top? That's a little more difficult. I tried the method suggested in the KAFlour recipe. The ropes didn't stick to each other, so I have many parallelograms of colored, baked cookie stuff. So, I hand mushed and twisted and rolled the second batch. Still lots of breakage, a marbleized color... just not quite right. Me & CCCs? Not the best of friends, but I will continue to try.

Meanwhile, I think I'll browse King Arthur Flour's recipe pages, and drool over their photos.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

For all the years I've lived in the Portland area, and all of those years I spent Wishing for a White Christmas... finally!

This blanket of snow is amazing. The neighborhood is hushed, no traffic, just the gentle ongoing dusting of snow. This reminds me of white winters in the midwest. Of snow globes. Of Christmas carols and movies and snowball fights and getting schooled by a boy from Mass.

Let it snow, let it snow.... So long as we can still make it to Forest Grove to celebrate with our friends, then to the hospital Tuesday so Matt's knee fixup. Then? Let it snow!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ho Ho Holiday Baking

We have snow. In December, Before Christmas. Around here, that's a rare occurrence. I'm so happy! Unfortunately that means the cookie party across town is cancelled, so everything gets divided up in this year's gift baskets.

This morning I baked the cookies I mixed up last night. Jazzy Christmas music played via iPhone + Pandora, and the snow continued to fall outside the kitchen window. The house is filled with warm spice fragrances and the dogs are snuggled near the fireplace.

Biscotti - Chocolate, Almond, and Anise. The annual triad of double baked cookies. I must say, I'm not a fan of Nestle "dark" chocolate ~ and can't remember what prompted me to buy that stuff in the first place. Yurk. The almond missed the high water mark, as I ran out of almond extract. How is that even possible?! I guess that will simply help to keep me from eating them!

Next up - white chocolate cranberry oatmeal. Mmm.. just needs a cup of Earl Grey. I think the convection oven worked beautifully on these ~ and the recipe hasn't let me down yet. Simply turn over the lid from a tube of Quaker Oats, and you're good to go. I substitute dried cran & white chocolate for the standard dark chips, and they're holidaylicous.

I very nearly decided to do a flight of Gingerbread this year, as there have been so many fantastic gingerbread blogs showing up lately. I am trying the Soft Glazed Gingerbread, and hoping that the glaze dries shiny. If that fails, I've got a little fairy dust to shine them right up! They're cooling now, and then I can scramble to figure out how to stack & store them.
There are a few more things I want to bake ~ maybe after a quick nap. I mean workout. Oh, and lunch! Something salty is calling...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No more Chai Nog

Oregon Chai is my favorite. Particularly the Slightly Sweet, as it reduces the sugars without going the way of fake sugar. Then come the Holidays, and Chai Nog. A non-dairy (when mixed with non-dairy) and non-egg beverage that tastes Like Nog. I don't know how they did it, but it was Amazing.

I would mix this with rice milk or lactaid milk or hemp milk or almond milk, and enjoy a delicious Nog. I used the mix to spice muffins or pancakes. It was a favorite.

But Chai Nog is no more. I wrote to Oregon Chai, and received a very nice letter back informing me that they didn't have the sales to support the Nog.

This year, I am giving the Pepperming Chai a try, but it is just not the same. I might have to try Lactaid's Nog, but it will never be Chai.

Farewell Chai Nog, we hardly got to enjoy you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

8 days later

8 days ago I began my training.

I check my workout profile, and perform. It has been eight days of activity. I'm a little bit sore, a little more hungry All the time. I've logged more miles these past days than the prior few months combined.

Last night was a two hour ride, with 3 massive efforts. Do you know what it feels like to find "MAX" and try to push that, to maintain that for five minutes? The resulting legs that feel like stone once it is done, that don't want to move or pedal but you can't possibly stop, because that was just to get things going? Neither did I. After a recovery, one minute Max. Somewhere inside I gave up around 45 seconds in, I couldn't reach a full 60. One more recovery, and it was a 20 minute time trial effort.

Outside - cold, rainy, gray. Inside, on the bike on the trainer, and it's just me and the little yellow computer. Three rows of numbers blipping. A hand written note with the plan, and words like Max, Hard Effort, and Focus. Just me, my bike, my ipod, and 20 minutes of telling myself to Go - racing against an unknown clock, unseen competitors, anything to find that extra surge that will keep the legs turning over and over and over. I toggle thru gears, easier to harder to easier, creating little variations that make it feel like I had a break without ever letting off the gas. Sweat dripping, music pounding, my heart rate is pegged. I can hear it throbbing in my stomach, later in my neck, in my ears... my eyes start to blur and I have to remember to focus. I try to ignore the clock every time I check to figure how much longer this pain will last. Panting ~ panting turns to gasping in bizarre harmonics. 2 minutes to go - must keep going, must find every last ounce of effort and push it forward. Cadence increases, hope surfaces, and in a dizzying moment it is over.

My legs slow and pause, my heart rate is drowning out the music, the rear wheel spins noisily, but I made it. I check the clock, and set a new goal. Recover the heart rate, then spin fast enough to stay warm until I burn up the rest of this two hour workout.

Two hours. In a saddle on a stationary bike, just me and my ipod. There is a crazy focus in this place, where you can find out exactly what you and your saddle are made of.

My heart rate recovered more quickly than I would have imagined. I was able to hold a pleasant conversation when my hero returned with Chipotle lunch. I was able to finish the entire workout without cutting it short. I survived - and I will replace that saddle.

8 days, and 148 miles later - it has begun.