Sweets & Treats Reprised

Last year, the women in my family attended the Santa’s Tea Party at the Grand America together and enjoyed it SO much (scones!) that we decided to do it again this year.

MEET THE CONTENDERS:

From left to right: Katie, Eleanor, June, and Emmaline.  Ready, set, tea par-tay!

Emmeline spent a good amount of time on Grandma’s lap:

And naturally Kathryn and Katherine were also party buddies:

I was buddies with the food:

NOM NOM NOM.  I am a total sucker for teeny sandwiches.  You can pretty much get me to do anything for a sandwich the size of a postage stamp, so think of the possibilities if you had a sandwich the size of a football!

Even the children’s sandwiches were cute.  This is a fancy pb&j idea that I have to steal:

Orders of hot chocolate came with little cappuccino cups of whipped cream:

This was all fine and good, but what Eleanor was really interested in was meeting Santa Claus.

Katie came along with her, and we were worried she would cry, but instead she was far more interested in getting Santa’s beard.

Meanwhile, dessert:

I was in heaven.  My mom was of the opinion that it wasn’t as good as last year, but I suspect that was mainly because my sister and her children weren’t able to come (they are awaiting a new baby brother back in Pittsburgh).

However, pates des fruits and citrus madelines did do a little something to assuage the pain of missing Liz.  Eleanor was completely satisfied afterwards:

NOM NOM NOM.

Pie Nap

My friend Angry Baker gave me her personal “Most Likely to Throw a Themed Party” award.  To accept the award, I must pose with my favorite homemade treat; to decline, I must take a nap.

I couldn’t decide:

I AM AWESOME

(The caption is also part of the rules.  Oh, and the nap lasted about .03 seconds, or however long it takes the shutter on my camera to open and close.)

The dessert is Crisp Coconut Chocolate Pie from Martha Stewart Living.  It’s very easy and that filling — whoa.  It’s essentially straight ganache.  To make it:

  • 11 oz. sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz. good-quality dark chocolate (I prefer 50% cacao) chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take 1/3 of the coconut and the butter and grind it into a ball in a food processor.  Combine this with the rest of the coconut (use your fingers).  Press this into a pie pan, leaving the top edge fluffy.

Shield the edge of this “crust” with a strip of foil, then bake until center is browned.  (The recipe says this should take 10 minutes, but it took me more like 30 minutes.)  Remove the foil, then bake 10 or so minutes more until the edge of the crust is brown, too.

While the crust cools, make the truffle filling.  Put the chocolate in a bowl; bring cream just to a boil, then pour over the chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir it with a whisk until it is smooth and combined.  Pour filling into cooled crust, then refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before devouring.  (I like to let it warm on the counter for 20 minutes or so before eating it.)

It tastes like a gigantic Bounty bar, only much, much better.  Here’s a prettier picture of the results:

Oh!  I also just realized that I could have titled his post “Pie Napple.”  This is probably a sign that I need to go to bed.

Take THAT, L.M. Montgomery!

Hey, do you remember the part of Anne of Green Gables about the ice cream social?

Of course you do — it’s the one where Anne is excited to make a “bosom friend,” but almost doesn’t go because Marilla Cuthbert thinks Anne has lost her treasured amethyst brooch?  DON’T YOU REMEMBER?!??

Well, anyway, as fabulous as that ice cream social was, it couldn’t possibly compare to THIS:

That’s right.  You’re looking at two-dozen kinds of ice cream.  HOMEMADE ice cream.  This is a tradition in my neighborhood.  It was particularly fabulous this year, even if it made me late for my children’s literature discussion group (AGAIN).

Brian and I take our ice cream making seriously.  In the past, we’ve contributed flavors like Almond Fudge Ripple, Ginger Spice, and Mango Jalapeno.

This year, Brian contributed one we’ve made many times, Kill the Mint Cookie:

We rip up the (very invasive) fresh mint from our garden and steep it in the cream for the flavor.  Then we add crumbled chocolate cookies to the finished product.

My flavor this year was Blueberry Cheesecake.  I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever made.

The recipe is from Ann Hodgman’s excellent cookbook Beat This! only quintupled (yes, this meant we separated 30 egg yolks).  When we poured the finished product into a plastic tub for storage, we mixed in chopped up chunks of frozen cheesecake.  This was done mainly because we didn’t think people would eat 5 quarts of plain blueberry ice cream, but would easily down anything cheesecake-oriented.  Turns out we were right.

I ate about 2,348,549 spoonfuls of many different flavors.  My favorite was the Lavender Honey.  Many good wishes upon the creator of that delight, O Universe.

And in case you don’t like ice cream, did I mention the cookie table?

Yes, yes.  Much with the evil carbohydrate consumption.

We’ve always had children’s activities as part of the social, but this year the neighborhood kicked it up a notch.  Yes, that’s a bouncy house.  Yes, Jeffrey spent 99% of his time there.

I’m not even sure he ate any ice cream.

Road Tested Recipes: Chilled Avocado Soup with Herbed Breadsticks and Lime Spritzers

I have a deal with my mother-in-law: if she buys the ingredients, I’ll do all the cooking.  On Mother’s Day, I wanted to make something really light and springy for Kathryn, and this is what I chose.  We followed it up with a grilled shrimp salad and finished with angel food cake and strawberry ice cream.  But Brian and I think the soup was the real superstar.

It’s from the book Baby Showers by Gia Russo and Michele Adams, which is out of print.  I’m not necessarily a fan of themed baby showers, but all the recipes in this book are EXCELLENT.  It’s rare that I can say that about a cookbook.  So far, I haven’t found a single dud.

This avocado soup is both refreshing and luxuriant — and best of all, easy to make!  The yield may seem small, but keep in mind that one ladleful is quite enough for one serving.

The herbed breadsticks are a necessary accompaniment, in my opinion — but don’t worry, they’re easy too, owing to using frozen bread dough.

And the spritzers?  That’s known as The Thing My Kids Will Actually Eat.

Chilled Avocado Soup

  • 4 ripe avocados, medium size
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • extra avocado slices and cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Chop avocados into big chunks.  Place in a blender along with stock, cilantro leaves, lime juice, and peppers.  Blend until smooth and creamy (add extra stock or water if it’s too thick).  Place the soup in a big bowl or pitcher and refrigerate until well chilled.  To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with extra avocado slices and cilantro sprigs.  Makes about 5 servings.

I suppose you could also swirl some sour cream in there for garnish, if you wanted to be extra decadent.

Herbed Breadsticks

  •  two pounds frozen bread dough, thawed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and grease with cooking spray.  On a lightly floured or cooking-sprayed (is that a word?) surface, knead the herbs into the bread dough.  Divide dough into fifteen pieces, roll into breadsticks, and place on the baking sheets.  Brush each breadstick with melted butter and bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes 15 big breadsticks.

Lime Spritzers

For each serving, you need:

  • juice of one lime
  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 10 ounces club soda or soda water
  • ice
  • lime slice, for garnish

In a tall glass, combine lime juice and superfine sugar.  Add club soda and stir until sugar dissolves.  Fill glass with ice and garnish rim of glass with lime slice.

Brian’s Zinc Birthday

Brian turned 34 this past Saturday.  Since there aren’t any obvious milestones associated with this birthday, I took it upon myself to christen it the “zinc anniversary” of his birth.  ‘Cause zinc is cool and underappreciated.  We wouldn’t have telephones without zinc!

It was a splendid day.  We went out to rake leaves in the morning, and the kids serenaded us with their impromptu garage band:

Then we headed inside for homemade pumpkin spice doughnuts.  These were YUMMY.  Eleanor was especially rapturous about them.  “Mom, I love these all the way up to my chin,” she said, gesturing with her hand.  Then, a few minutes later: “Mom, I don’t think I can live without these doughnuts!”  Nice to know the girl has her priorities straight.

I gave Brian a copy of Mario Kart Wii for his birthday, so he and the kids indulged and played it for most of the afternoon.  Jeffrey was so excited that he couldn’t play it for more than thirty seconds at a time.

Then, in the evening, a party!  Both sets of our parents were able to attend, along with a passel of friends.  We had a scrumptious Italian feast, including my friend Laura’s excellent Pasta Bolognese.

For dessert (and as a second birthday present), I asked Brian to choose any cake from my favorite pastry cookbook, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.  He chose the Mystery Cake with Mystery Ganache.  I made it just like the picture in the book — the exterior edge lined with Pirouettes and tipped with red icing.  They look like birthday candles, right?

My mom said that watching me set the Pirouettes into the ganache coating was so sumptuous that I should think about hiring myself out to candy stores — to sit behind a plate glass window and press cookies into chocolate cakes in order to attract customers.

William helped Brian blow out the real candles:

Why is it called “Mystery” cake?  Because of an unusual ingredient: condensed tomato soup.  It’s in the cake batter and in the ganache.  The citric acid deepens the flavor of the chocolate, and adds a subtle zing as well as extra moisture.  Brian thought it the most intriguing — as well as delicious-looking — cake in the book.  After tasting it, I heartily concur.  Who knew something so humble as tomato soup could be so fantastic?

Time Capsule

curryvillage.jpgThis morning Brian spent time doing his latest favorite persuit: shredding papers. (Never is there a man as content and industriously blissful as my Brian with a shiny new gadget.)

He was merrily bzzzzz-ing his way through check stubs from 1998 when he came upon a fat little envelope which contained something fun — a bundle of receipts and a handwritten budget for our honeymoon.

That was back in December of 1999. We went to Yosemite National Park. Trip expenses included:

  • Gas purchased in Salt Lake City for $1.32 a gallon
  • Rental of a cabin in Curry Village for three nights: $194.68
  • The purchase of a dessert called “Obsession” at the Wawona Hotel: $4.25

Yeah, it hasn’t been quite long enough for those prices to seem quaint (except for the gas, maybe). We made our cabin reservations via the Internet, which was considered very cutting-edge and techie then, or at least to our parents. It’s been eight years, but I can still recite the Curry Village Anthem:

Wild strawberry freezes

And fresh mountain breezes

Make Curry the Camp of Delight.

Warning: Reading This Post Could Raise Your Cholesterol

pancakes.jpgLast night, I asked Jeffrey what his favorite food is.

“Anything I make,” he replied. This was an unexpected answer — usually Jeffrey’s homemade concoctions consist of a vague mash of raisins and Goldfish crackers created in the biggest bowl he manages to haul out of the kitchen. But then I remember that Jeffrey gets to do a lot of cooking at preschool.

“What food do you like to make?” I ask.

“Pancake spaghetti,” he promptly responds. Huh?

“You make a pancake, then tear it up into spaghetti,” he explains. “Then you put sausage meatballs on it.” Hmm. That sounds like it could actually work.

“Do you put spaghetti sauce on it?” I tease him. He makes a face.

“No, that would be yucky,” he says, giggling.

“So what else could we put on the pancake spaghetti that would taste good?”

“Um . . . how about . . . cream cheese?” he says.

Whoa. I was expecting “maple syrup,” but cream cheese sounds AWESOME. But wait — there’s more:

“And then we could FRY it!” he squeals. “And put maple syrup on TOP!”

Good. Gravy. My son is a culinary genius. Yeah, it sounds pretty much like a funnel cake with a cheesecake filling, but would that be such a bad thing? And who would expect it from a five-year-old? If I weren’t trying to lose the baby weight, I’d seriously think about giving the Pancake Spaghetti a whirl.

However, I really think that all this was caused by the influence of my sister-in-law, Kristen, who has stated on numerous occasions that her favorite color is “fried.”

Ah, role models. What would my kids be cooking without them?