Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy birthday Liz!

It was a night that had been carefully orchestrated for weeks - a surprise (early) birthday dinner for a friend! My contribution was as driver of the unknowing birthday girl and supplier of cake. Mmmm cake. If you're wondering - it all worked out beautifully! It was so wonderful to see such genuine emotion for the guest of honor and friends - true joy, surprise, and happiness on everyone's faces! :D We had a delicious dinner (go team Left-Side-of-Table!!) and it was topped off with a surprise birthday trifle.

I'm not sure what comprises a 'true' trifle, mine was more like cake-in-a-bowl. I think I may try this concept again as it was:
1) Extremely easy to transport.
2) Saved me the trouble of icing & decorating the sides.
3) If layered well - extremely beautiful.
4) Scooping is fun!

I made additional berry sauce to top off the cake - apologies in advance for the blurry photos - I was in a bit of a rush and took it whilst sitting on my living room floor!

I kept in mind that Liz adores my zuccotto - so the 'white' filling is comprised of whipped cream with fresh raspberries, toffee candy bits, and whole toasted hazelnuts folded in. The over-powering brown layer is an orange chocolate mousse (I didn't realize I had made so much & didn't want leftovers!). The layers are alternated with dark chocolate and vanilla cake. The whole shebang is topped with more whipped cream filling, raspberries & some decorative writing.

I had some great feedback from the writing - and here is my secret: it's candy melts. Dark chocolate flavoured.
Candy melts are amazing to use in an aesthetic setting - it flows like chocolate, tastes like chocolate and hardens in a flash. Also - it's much less sensitive to temperature! So while it does melt in your hand, it's not going to disintegrate or sweat at the thought of hot lights. Even though they are an amazing medium to use - do not use them in cookies! Let me rephrase that - they are not suitable for cakes or cookies or to melt to be used in brownies (or cake). There is a reason why they are called 'candy melts'! They are not chocolate! So if you need to make some decorations for cakes or pastries, I highly recommend candy melts. They also come in a variety of colours too (you can tint the white candy melts, but sometimes they come out a bit chalky, so if it matters to you - try and source the coloured melts).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to Baked Goods

In case you're wondering - yes, I still have a ton of turkey left over. A hefty freezer bag full, actually! Also about 3 pints of turkey stock. Oh man. Turkey. Make it for one night - eat for a month!

But enough about turkey - back to baking! I hosted Koi at my place and she kept me company in the kitchen, always staying close to clean up any bits that would fall on the floor. Unfortunately I had a little mishap with some brown sugar and she licked up quite a few crystals! Not too many though - but enough to make her rather hyper for our evening walk! I think next time she is over while I'm cooking, I'll have to set up a gate so she stays out. Won't stop her cute little face from poking in. Awwwww....Koi. Yes, I'm a proud mum.

I've been trying to develop some recipes of my very own - yes, my own recipes! Baked good recipes! Not the "uh...what am I going to eat for dinner" type of recipes, but methods and ingredients that I know would work. The idea I had in mind was a simple twist on the whoopie pie - a chocolate chip variation! My particular twist would be to brown the butter beforehand and mix in dark brown sugar for a nutty twist.

Without further ado, I present - chocolate chip whoopie pies!


1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar (gently packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup chocolate chips


Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a small saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat.
When the butter has browned, take off the heat and mix in the sugars, stir to combine, let cool about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, sift together the dry ingredients, set aside. 
Transfer the butter & sugar mixture into a mixing bowl and beat for about 2-3 minutes or until fluffed.
Add in the egg and vanilla, mix until incorporated.
Slowly add in the dry ingredients, alternating in 3 portions with milk. Mix well.
Add chocolate chips.

Prepare your cookie sheets - scoop out about 1 tablespoon (for small whoopie pies) or 2 tablespoons (for regular whoopie pies) about 2 inches apart. For a standard 1/2 sheet pan, this would yield about 12 - 16 cookies comfortably. With wet hands, gently shape the cookies (if needed) into even and round portions to ensure even cooking.

For small whoopie pies, bake for about 12-15 minutes. For regular whoopie pies, bake for about 15-18 minutes. Check about a minute before baking time to ensure that the cookies are browning nicely and evenly. The tops should be golden but light and the bottoms should be browned. Let cool.
Frost & sandwich!

*will follow up with seven minute frosting recipe

Monday, October 11, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 5 - The Aftermath

All in all - we ate about a third of the bird, which is pretty good for 5 1/2 people! (the 1/2 person was a late arrival)

I had a mini turkey dinner for lunch and then a delicious open-faced turkey sandwich for late dinner - what did I use?

Rye bread topped with mayo, cranberry sauce, caramelized onions, warmed turkey. Mmmmm. It was awesome.

Unfortunately I didn't make my zucchini & carrot pasta, but I'm looking to recover this week with some veggies! Perhaps with some turkey soup? Hahahaha! I did save the carcass of course and I have about 3 cups of drippings (I used a premade restaurant gravy mixed with some fresh drippings) that I can make gravy with. After reserving 7 turkey lunches for tomorrow, I don't actually have too much leftover! I pretty much managed to use up all the sides and have just a bit of onions and brussel sprouts left. It's mostly the 'post' turkey preparations - making stock and gravy really. And finishing up the rest of the turkey meat - but it's terrific protein, so I'll probably be happily snacking on it for the rest of the week.

So did I learn anything? Oh yes. Don't use 2 cups of salt in your brine. Even if the recipe says so. The meat was a touch salty (but then again, I find most things oversalted) so I would also recommend a very thorough rinse. If you can - empty your brining container and fill with fresh cool water for maybe a quick 10 minute soak/rinse to get all the residual salt off. A meat thermometer is key. An instant read for insurance as well. I don't cook large pieces of meat without both. As I mentioned previously - try to integrate as many 'make ahead' dishes as you can - the turkey is work! You don't want to be fussing over your carrot gratin while your "main attraction" is needing some TLC! I purchased a gravy separator and a baster just for the occasion, they definitely came in handy, although not completely essential.

So would I make a turkey again? For sure! But...maybe not a 20lb one. For those who are a little intimidated of making a turkey - don't be! If anything, start small with a chicken and work your way up. A chicken is a perfectly good small-scale test for a turkey - it's basically the same - but a lot (a LOT) smaller. The cooking time is shorter, there's less meat to carve, less juice to process and less leftover to worry about. If there are any leftovers at all!

Thanks for reading!

Turkey Tales Pt. 4 - The Big Day!

They came. They saw. They ate.

It was goooood.

The bird was lifted out of the brine at around 9am to chill in the fridge uncovered until it was stuffed & loaded into the oven around 11:30am for 6pm eat time. I always underestimate how awesome my oven is. It's gas - btw, top AND bottom, so yes, it's a little frightening to hear the "click click" of the ignition, but once it gets to a certain temperature, it STAYS there. Only one mishap to report too - so with an oven thermometer, I've had very good luck. I mention this because even at 375F, my turkey cooked exceptionally fast - and browned nicely about halfway, so it was tinfoil tented for the rest of the time. I had some leftover stuffing, so it got put into a loaf pan as a side.

 (Skin splittin' good!)

My side dishes didn't get started until about 4:30pm - potatoes (whole, unpeeled) were put in a large pot and boiled until tender and them mixed with cream cheese, butter, and cream. My onion bake was assembled and heated up in the last 45 minutes and I decided to skip the zucchini & carrot dish altogether as it would have been too much. Another guest brought a delicious brussel sprout dish and J (of T&J) prepared some roasted butternut squash.

What was served:
Cider brined turkey with stuffing (2 ways)
Dried cherry & cranberry sauce
'Big Martha' mashed potatoes
Roasted onion, crouton & gruyere bake
Brussel Sprouts with bacon & walnuts
Roasted butternut squash

Oh, and gravy too. Not homemade though. More on that tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 3 - The Day Before

So. The big day is tomorrow!

I gave in last night and let my turkey soak in a 'pre-brine' - still in the package, but floating in a cool bath in the fridge to speed up the thawing process. It worked because the bird was nice and squishy the next morning - ready for the final brine! I had a couple extra things to pick up, so I joined the hordes of people at the local grocery store to pick up some last minute items. The mothership graciously picked up all the items on my list (that I had meticulously itemized by department and then specified quantity & size with descriptions to aid her) and had packed it all up in my fridge, but there were a few things I wanted to pick out  myself. Or that I knew she would have some difficulties finding. I made it home and started the process for my brine - here's what it looked like in the stockpot:
Included in this brine are: 1 sliced apple, 2 sprigs fresh sage, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 5 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 3 sticks of cinnamon, 2 cups of coarse salt and 2 litres of apple cider.

After bringing this to a boil, I added about 3L of cool water to bring down the temperature. After about 30 minutes, I transferred it over to my brining tub and added more water. You must not soak your turkey until your brining liquid is cool - I forgot why, but it's got something to do with bacterial growth I think. I'll be sure to do some research and update this post.
(below - brining tub with brine, turkey in brine in fridge!)

So fingers crossed it will work out. I'm taking it out at around 8am to dry and chill. At around noon it should be stuffed and ready to be cooked! I also worked on the cranberry sauce - which is super easy. It's basically a cranberry jam. I've done it in the past with dried cherries and it worked out really well so I made it again, although I don't remember which recipe I used so I had to kind if improvise a bit. Here's a picture of it in the saucepan with all the key ingredients:
Included is - 1 package of cranberries, 1 cup dried cherries, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 cup of water.

Let cook, enjoy hearing the cranberries pop and smush away! The cranberries should release all their wonderful juice and let reduce, like jam! I still had the entire day ahead of me, so under Koi's supervision I also prepared the 'onion part' of a roasted onion/gruyere dish I'm adding tomorrow. It's pretty much different kinds of onions, lightly seasoned and then roasted until soft. Prep some croutons & sprinkle on top and then add gruyere cheese and bake until bubbly! I decided to get ahead of the game and roast the onions, which will save me a lot of time tomorrow. It will reheat in the oven while the turkey is resting before carving.

So T-minus 19 hours until eating time!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 2

The turkey continues to thaw in the fridge - on the label it stated that a bird weighing 20 lbs should take about 4-5 days to thaw. I'm cutting it close - his/her fate is a lovely spiced brine bath where it will sit overnight. If it's still pretty solid on Friday night - it's getting a nice lukewarm bath in the sink to speed up the process.

So the menu for Sunday is pretty simple - turkey & stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and maybe a side. I explicitly explained to my guests that this is going to be a pretty casual dinner and most of them have generously volunteered to bring sides. When planning a big dinner like this - and with limited resources - it's best to think ahead and consider what dishes you can make ahead and heat up last minute. Or have friends you trust to bring dishes!

Step 1 (a): Set Your Menu

Technically, you should really do this first, before buying your turkey. But heck - it takes 4 days to thaw anyway!

Turkey with Sausage Stuffing Two Ways
Cranberry & Cherry Chutney
Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Zucchini and Carrot 'Pasta'

Tomorrow - let's discuss all the frilly fun stuff :P

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 1

So yes, it's been a long time since I've posted on el blog - sorry to let anyone down!
I've been busy! A 17lb fur baby named Koi has taken up most of my days and nights, and whines incessantly in between. I went road tripping for a weekend and then it was a week of 1:1 dog care (Koi stays at the mothership's full time, I alternate walks and drop by at least once a day for some cuddles) which pretty much ate up my time until now.

Which brings us to this weekend - Thanksgiving!

I am attempting to make a turkey dinner on Sunday for family and friends - my first real foray into turkey! This Spoon's family is quite small, so we've always eaten chicken on holidays or gone to friends' houses for turkey - I've never hosted a real traditional Thanksgiving. Until now!

So join me, dear readers as we count down to turkey day!

Step 1:

Buy turkey - start thaw.

Yes, I bought it frozen. Since it's my first turkey, I opted for the good ol' Butterball variety - I didn't want to do too much research for fresh turkeys and the politics that go into it, as well as the extra hassle in securing a fresh one for the big day! I picked out a nice fat 20lb turkey and it's sitting in my fridge thawing away.

The plan of action is for it to finish thawing by Saturday morning - at which point it will sit in a spiced brine bath until Sunday morning, sit out for a bit and then go in the oven promptly at 11-11:30am to be ready for 6pm. Yes, it will be stuffed - so I'm allotting some extra time and anticipating a 7pm eat time.

So I guess that's it for now. Nothing else to do really until Friday/Saturday. Tomorrow - I'll discuss what is on the menu!