Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30th is National Candy Corn Day

I love candy corns.

I dressed Cainan as a candy corn for his very first Halloween.

I lost all respect for Moose A. Moose when he sang his "I Don't Like Candy Corns" song.

In honor of the tastiest little seasonal treats ever I thought I'd share some cute candy corn ideas.

Check out these candy corn cookies from Bake at 350.

Or if you are on a diet you might prefer this GIANT Candy Corn yard ornament idea that I found at Zakka Life.

Either way, enjoy some candy corn today. I know I will.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Dry Dilemma

I'm a victim of my own success.

The kids loved the macaroons so much that now Ryker wants me to make some for his birthday this weekend, in lieu of cake.

He wants four different flavors......and colors.

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but macaroons need to be dry, dry, dry. That means no liquid flavorings or colorings can be added. I have some powder food coloring left over from my cake decorating days, so that shouldn't be a problem.

I can add cocoa powder to the recipe to make chocolate ones and I have some powdered chai flavoring I'm going to use on another batch. They loved the cinnamon macaroons so I'm going to make those again too, but how do I make a strawberry flavored macaroon without using anything even remotely liquid?

For the fillings I think I'll try a vanilla buttercream in the chocolate macaroons, a pumpkin filling of some sort in the chai macaroons and chocolate ganache in the cinnamon ones again. If I can't get the macaroons flavored strawberry maybe I can make a plain vanilla macaroon and make the filling strawberry somehow.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Haunted House

Originally published Oct. 28th, 2007

I often complain to Brian that since Ryker started school I don’t feel like I have much time with him. It is especially rare to have time alone with him, without Cainan or Kinley. It is hard to go from being together all 12 waking hours to just being together for the last 4 waking hours. I do his reading assignments with him and his piano practice but that is about all we have time for between church responsibilities and his playing with Cainan.

Brian tries to find ways for us to be together. He’ll send us to the store alone or on a special errand, which is really nice. But his most recent idea was that I should take Ryker to the local Jaycee’s Haunted House. I was not fond of the idea. I don’t particularily like haunted houses, especially not when I am supposed to be the big brave adult in the situation. If I have Brian with me and I can be the one that is scared and clinging to him with my eyes closed they aren’t that bad. Brian assured me that since it was just the measly Jaycee’s it couldn’t be too scary. It would be fun.

I wasn’t going to mention the idea to Ryker and just let it drop. No such luck. Brian told Ryker about it and he was so excited. He really wanted to go. So last Saturday night we headed out there. Brian called us on the way and was teasing Ryker about being too scared to eat supper when we got home. To which Ryker’s response was, “Bring it on!”

It was a little bit chilly and we had to stand in line for 30 or 45 minutes outside. Apparently they were only taking in 2-3 people at a time so the line was moving very slowly. We struck up a conversation with the people behind us. It was a man and his 13 or 14 year old son. They were irritated about the slow moving line so I told them that they could go in with us if they wanted to. They agreed.

Finally we went into the pitch black fortress; Ryker first, then me, then the boy and then the man. The guide asked Ryker to hold on to her arm as she led us through the maze of cardboard box walls. It all started out harmlessly enough. We walked through rooms with dead bodies lying on slabs and saw prisoners in an insane asylum moaning. But then it started to get a little scary.Thank goodness for the man behind us. Scary people started coming out of dark corners and chasing our group, but the man in back caught most of that and Ryker and I didn’t really see it.

Then we came to a very narrow passage and the guide told us to be sure and stay to the right. I, in all my wisdom, scooted as far to the left of the passage as I could. I was not about to let someone grab my feet. My mistake. A chainsaw started up right beside my ear and blew my hair into a giant tangled mess as I screamed and practically trampled my son in my attempts to get away. It was at this pointed that Ryker started saying that he didn’t like it and wanted to get out.

I tried to laugh it all off and make fun of the guys in dorky costumes, but I don’t think it worked very well. I even pointed out the fact that our guide had made two cell phone calls and yelled out things like ‘Hey Dave, it’s 8:30!’ as she led us through the maze. Ryker just continued to hold tight to the guide’s arm with one hand and cover his ears with his shoulder and his other hand. I don’t know if he kept his eyes opened or closed. Well, to make a long story short we walked through a graveyard** and some kind of alien hospital room where a zombie tried to get our blood (which interestingly was the part that terrified Ryker the most).

At the very end we had to crawl through a tunnel about the size of a refrigerator box laying on its side. Of course it had a couple of corners in it that you couldn’t see around and Ryker made me go first. I went, but I knew that something was going to be waiting for me around that first corner. Sure enough some kind of zombie guy came crawling toward us. I tried to back up but the guys behind me were staying firm. The undead man retreated so I continued to inch my way forward through the tunnel until the guy behind me said, “Hey, you’re leaving your boy behind.” Apparently, in fright Ryker had crawled backwards past both of those guys and was still cowering in the tunnel. I couldn’t turn around in there so the three of us coaxed him into crawling forward up to where I was.

We finally made it out into the fresh night air and Ryker said, “I am never doing that again! Why did Daddy make us do that?” I was thinking the same thing. The night ended OK because they also had a fun house that was shaped like a pirate ship. We went through that and Ryker felt a little better after laughing at himself in the silly mirrors.

Brian felt really bad when we got home and told him what happened, but now he tries to put a positive spin on it and say that Ryker and I built priceless memories that night, blah, blah, blah. I guess it is one experience that we will always share and hopefully never repeat.

**On a side note I was once again reminded of how old I am, even in the midst of a haunted house. When we walked through the graveyard the guide told us to make a conga line and hold on to the waist of the person in front of us so that we wouldn’t wander off the path and step into any graves. I heard the 13 year old boy behind me whisper, “You do it Dad.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macaroons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macaroons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Let me warn you all....this is not an "American macaroon". Like me, most of you have probably only eaten macaroons made of globs of coconut and gooey sweetened condensed milk. And they're good. But they aren't real French macaroons.

These macaroons are a cookie made of egg whites, almond flour and confectioners sugar with a filling sandwiched in between. We could choose any flavoring or coloring for the macaroons that we wanted and we were also encouraged to try different fillings. I decided to go with a cinnamon flavored macaroon and a chocolate ganache filling.

I followed the recipe exactly....well pretty much. I couldn't find almond flour in the lone grocery store in town so I had to grind my own. I had no idea how many almonds I would need in order to produce 2 cups of almond flour. Turn out one bag is only enough for 1 1/2 cups. So I had to add in 1/2 cup of all purpose flour. That was probably the kiss of death, I know.

My macaroons did not develop the "feet" that they were supposed too. Maybe the flour was the problem. Maybe its the rainy weather and the 100% humidity around here. Whatever the cause they are still really delicious. Since I've never had a real macaroon before I'm not sure if they are exactly the right texture, though. They are somewhat chewy, but I like that.

I think they are marvelous and I will definitely try them again some time. I'm dying to go to a bakery now and try a "real" macaroon to see how mine compare. For now, here is the recipe so that you can try it yourself.

Cinnamon Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache Filling


Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature, preferably aged)

(For this recipe you need to age your egg whites for 3 days or so. That means leaving them out on the counter at room temperature, like this.....Just remember that we Americans tend to have an obsession with refrigeration that the rest of the world does not share. Eggs are safe even if they are not kept cold. Room temperature egg whites whip up SO much better than cold ones....and "aged" egg whites that have some of their moisture evaporated out are even better.)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t over fold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip. You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

(Just for fun I made two HUGE macaroons, just for me!)

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.


4 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

Heat cream to boiling over medium heat. Add chocolate to cream. Whisk as it melts. Whisk in butter. You will have a beautiful, shiny, creamy chocolate ganache. Pipe into macaroons.
(Please refrain from licking your computer screen!)
This recipe has been linked to Tuesdays at the Table and Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Manic Monday

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go Faster, Mommy

If you take a 3 year old out in public often enough you are going to have an embarrassing moment or two eventually.

If, like me, your 3 year old happens to be a cute little girl with long blond hair you will always have people approaching her and touching her hair or tickling her chin or waving or smiling or making faces in her direction. We're used to it.

So today when we were cruising through Wal-Mart (Kinley standing on the end of the cart looking behind me) and Kinley yelled, "Go faster, Mommy. There's a lady chasing us!" I expected to see some well meaning jokester teasing her from afar.

Instead I saw an elderly lady with an oxygen tube in her nose and a tank in the "trunk" of her motorized wheelchair/shopping cart coming up on my heels. Ooops. Apparently she didn't see the humor in the situation. She just looked at me disgustedly as I quickly turned the corner.

And that's when I gave Kinley a sucker to keep her mouth busy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just Sleepin'

Today I had a meeting at the church. It couldn't be scheduled for another time, so even though I had an extra 3 year old girl with me I had to attend.

I set up a movie for the girls in the wing off the sanctuary and took lots of snacks for them. They did great.....except for interrupting me for two emergency bathroom breaks. As the meeting was wrapping up and we were visiting just outside the door I heard some movement and giggling from the front of the sanctuary.

When I peeked in I could see that the girls' movie was over and they were LAYING ON THE COMMUNION TABLE on the stage! Kinley was on top of it and her friend was on the shelf underneath. Shocked, I yelled loudly exclaimed, "What are you girls doing?" The response was a simple, "Just sleepin'. This is our bunkbeds."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nerd Alert

We had a major nerd alert in our household last night.....and not because we were all huddled in our bathroom mixing peroxide and Mt. Dew. (That is a story for another post.)

No, this nerd alert was called on Ryker. You see, he belongs to a Star Wars club at school. (Yeah, now you are seeing the nerd factor emerge.) In this club the self-appointed leader determines, mostly randomly I think, what level each member has attained. Aspiring Jedi battle daily to gain favor with the Jedi Master and hopefully achieve Jedi Knight status, or maybe even a spot on the council.

Apparently major lightsaber duels take place on the playground at recess and occasionally someone is promoted from padawan to Jedi. But the power does go to their to heads and sometimes a member of the council will turn to the darkside in an attempt to overthrow the Master.

As a matter of fact, Brian has been trying to encourage Ryker and his friends to gain Jedi status and then turn to the darkside, raising a coup against the Master. (Brian enjoys hearing the tales of galactic struggle every day after school almost as much as Ryker enjoys telling them.)

Anyway, back to today....Ryker came home with a busted lip. When I asked him what happened he explained that his injury occurred during a heated lightsaber duel with his friend Johnny. He proceeded to demonstrate all of the moves that Johnny had used on which point I had to interrupt because I didn't have 2 free hours and exclaim, "You mean they let you take real toy lightsabers out on the playground?!?" Ryker informed me that the lightsabers are indeed imaginary but apparently so vivid that they did cause him to ram his face into the pavement in an attempt to escape their blows.

Despite his injury he was very excited because he has finally made it to Jedi Knight. He was thrilled that the Master had granted him the honor, but it did come with some responsibilities. He had to research another Jedi and report back. So, at the time the alert was called my 10 year old son was on the laptop researching, and taking notes, on Plo Koon (a Jedi Master that was killed during Operation 66) so that he could report back to another 10 year old on the playground today.

If that isn't nerdy I don't know what is.

That said, I love nerds. I married one. (I evidently gave birth to at least one.) Nerds are some of my favorite people. I may even be one...after all I was the one videotaping the glowing Mt. Dew.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mousseline Au Chocolat

Sadly this is my final Julia Child recipe. I've already renewed the cookbook once and now it is overdue again. I guess it is time to let someone else try it out for awhile. I couldn't take my foray into French cooking without trying a chocolate mousse though.

The recipe wasn't much different from the base for the bavarian cream but for some reason it didn't work this time. I experienced my first Julia failure! I was able to beat the egg yolks and sugar until they "formed the ribbon" but when it was time to cook them over the double boiler I think I left them on too long.

The directions say to cook them for 3 to 4 minutes or until they are too hot for your finger. They never got very hot at all so I just kept cooking and cooking....for maybe 5 to 7 minutes. They didn't appear any different than when I started but I took them off the heat and started beating them to cool them off. As they cooled they got more and more stiff and instead of a ribbon I had egg concrete. It was awful. I had to throw the whole thing away and start over.

The second time I just cooked it over the heat for 3 to 4 minutes as directed and it worked fine. I ended up with a beautiful, light and fluffy mousse. We ate it just plain and I also used it as a filling for my Vols-au-Vent. Another success.....on the second try.

Chocolate Mousse

4 egg yolks

3/4 very fine sugar

1/4 orange liqueur (or pulp free orange juice)

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back up on itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon. Beat in the orange juice (I used almond extract, but only a tsp. of it). Set mixing bowl over a pot of not-quite simmering water and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes or until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger. Then beat over a bowl of cold water for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.

6 oz. semisweet chocolate

4 Tbsp. strong coffee

1 1/2 sticks softened unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate with coffee over hot water. Remove from heat and beat in the butter a bit at a time, to make a smooth cream. Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar.

4 egg whites

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the rest.

Turn into a serving dish, dessert cups or petits pots. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just Wondering

On a recent trip through the mall I couldn't help but notice that wallets and cell phones are shrinking everyday.

Most wallets are barely more than 2 or 3 inches thick and cell phones are smaller than the palm or your hand....and they don't flip open.

And yet, the purses I saw were humongous! They were big enough for a pair of shoes and a small melon.

So my question is......What are people carrying in these huge purses?

Even with the size of sunglasses growing alarmingly it doesn't account for the outrageously spacious purses.
So, what's in your purse?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pure Joy

Is there any greater joy than jumping on a bed.....if you are three years old and weigh 30 lbs., that is?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

S'mores Cupcakes

For my friend's birthday I made a batch of these cupcakes that I found over at Proceed With Caution.
They have a graham cracker crust, a layer of gooey chocolate, chocolate cake and then marshmallow icing.
They were really good....and messy. I stuck to the recipe exactly for the cupcakes but I did change the frosting.

Instead of making a marshmallow buttercream I just made homemade marshmallows and piped those on top of the cupcakes. I also felt like it needed a little dressing up so I added the piece of chocolate on the top.
They were a hit with the crowd. A couple of people thought the marshmallow on top should have been toasted to give it a really authentic s'more taste. I may try that next time. I can never pass up the opportunity to use my little creme brulee blow torch.
S’mores Cupcakes
Yields 30 cupcakes
For the graham crust:
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 20 squares)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 - 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
For the cupcakes:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.
2. Combine 1/4 cup sugar,graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Spoon 1 tablespoon of graham cracker mix into the bottom of each muffin cup. Press crumbs firmly, using the bottom of a small glass. Save the remaining mixture for topping. Top graham cracker mix with several bittersweet chocolate chips.
3. Bake graham mixture for about five minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
4. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.
5. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir until well blended.
6. Add flour mixture to large bowl and beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full with batter (about 1/4 cup). Sprinkle batter with small amount of remaining graham cracker mixture.
7. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely, then frost.
Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
1 container (16 oz.) Marshmallow Fluff
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, plus additional sugar, if necessary
1. Spoon the Marshmallow Fluff into a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low.
2. Gradually add the butter pieces, beating well after each addition, until smooth.
3. Add the vanilla extract and the confectioner's sugar. Scrape the bowl well to incorporate. Add more confectioner's sugar, if necessary, to adjust the texture.
This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Manic Monday

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How To Clean a 20 Ft. Ceiling

Step 1: Borrow a telescoping pool vaccuum handle from a friend.

Step 2: Duct tape an old t-shirt to the end of the handle.

Step 3: Lean over the 2nd story railing and streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!

Next week: How To Take a Picture of Yourself Cleaning a 20ft. Ceiling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'm Blond, That's My Excuse

Last night as I staggered through rehearsal dehydrated and exhausted, I laid down the law to my cast. "You have to practice all of the set changes with the backstage lights off because that is how it is going to be during the actual performance." Five minutes later I had to go backstage to grab a prop. As I stepped behind the curtain I couldn't see a thing. It was pitch black. I exclaimed, "Wow, it's REALLY dark back here. How are we going to see to get these sets changed?" Then I stepped forward and the black side curtain hit me right in the face.

When I came home and told Brian about it he laughed and took the opportunity to remind me of a couple of other blond moments I've had over the years.

My freshman year at EIU was also my first year of ever living in a city. I had always lived out in the boonies where there were no amenities and it took 15 minutes to get to the nearest convenience store. Charleston was like heaven to me. I could walk to a TCBY or a McDonalds. Better yet I could have Chinese food, pizza or sub sandwiches delivered right to my dorm room. It was unbelievable!!! The first time I ordered pizza from Dominoes the delivery guy appeared at my room 20 minutes later and I gave him my $12 payment. He started to walk away, but since I was still standing there he said, "Do you want your change back?" Well, duh. "Yes," I said in a tone that let him know I was not going to be fleeced by a measly pizza delivery boy. So he rolled his eyes, handed me my $1.37 and stalked off. It wasn't until several weeks later when my roommate ordered a pizza and gave the delivery guy a tip that I realized what I had done.

Apparently I didn't learn much in college because four years later......

When I was teaching high school Spanish we occasionally had cooking days where we would try out typical Mexican or Spanish food. I had to buy a whole case of tortilla chips so I decided to try out Aldi for the first time and see if I could get them cheap. I pulled in to the parking lot and started walking to the front door. A man approached me and offered me his cart. I said thank you and started to take it from him, but he just stood there with his hand out. He was asking me to PAY him for the cart! I couldn't believe it. I told him no thanks and haughtily walked in to the store. When I got inside I couldn't find any carts anywhere so I had to struggle through the store carrying arm loads of tortilla chips and two liter bottles of soda. When I finally got to the checkout line I discovered that I had to BUY the paper bags. Good grief! And where were all of the carts? Everyone else had one. That's when I stepped outside and saw the giant row of carts....all tethered together by chains that could only be unlocked by shoving a quarter in to the slot. I felt like the biggest idiot on the planet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme

Casserole-roasted Chicken with Bacon, Onion, and Potatoes

I admit I did not follow this recipe EXACTLY, as I have the other ones. I mean, it's chicken, onions and potatoes, how can you mess that up? So I modified a few things.....namely, I didn't do all of the pre-cooking on the potatoes and onions. See, I was planning to use a crockpot (*gasp*) because (WARNING: SHAMELESS CHRISTMAS GIFT HINT #1) I don't have a casserole dish big enough to hold a whole chicken, let alone the accouterments. So I knew from experience that none of the veggies needed to be pre-cooked for use in a crockpot. However, (WARNING: SHAMELESS CHRISTMAS GIFT HINT #2) my crockpot was too small to hold everything and I ended up putting it all in a 13 x 9 pan and pretending it is a casserole dish.

So when it comes to the recipe, I'll give you Julia's way and my way and you can decide what you would like to do.

Of course this recipe begins with a whole chicken. I often buy them frozen at Aldi. Just clean out all of the "guts" and rinse it off before starting. I'm sure Julia makes something delicious with the neck and organs of the chicken but I just can't. I get rid of them. I waste perfectly good food. Well, it isn't a complete waste. My dog enjoys them very much.

In the meantime Julia says to boil 1/2 a pound of bacon for 10 minutes and then pat it dry and saute it in 2 T. butter until lightly browned.

Julia Child fries her bacon in BUTTER!

I just fried my bacon the old fashioned way. I can't even fathom boiling bacon in water. Gross!
So then you are supposed to truss and butter the whole chicken and brown it in the bacon grease.

Turning and browning a whole chicken (untrussed, another direction I ignored) is not easy. Julia recommends using 2 wooden spoons and a towel. I tried the 5 fingers and a pie server method and, surprisingly, had a little trouble. But eventually I got it all brown and yummy looking.

Next Julia says it is time to boil the potatoes in salty water for 5 minutes. The recipe calls for fingerling potatoes "trimmed to perfect ovals" and pearl onions. Well I have a garden full of potatoes so we will be eating very imperfect triangle-ish potatoes and random hunks of onions with our poulet.

I did not boil the potatoes. Once again I thought that they would get plenty soft enough cooking in the chicken juices for over an hour. I did follow Julia's next step and I learned a neat potato trick. If you cook the potatoes in hot butter (or bacon grease) briefly (2 mins) before putting them in the casserole this will evaporate their moisture and keep them from sticking to the dish.
Now it's time to put it all together. Of course, first of all we will need more butter. Of course. Melt a couple of tablespoons in the bottom of the casserole dish and then put in the potatoes. Push them to the edges and set the chicken in the middle, breast up. Place the bacon and onions over the potatoes and add the herb bouquet.

I skipped the herb bouquet because I didn't have any of the herbs on hand. If you want to do it Julia's way you can make a little sachet of parsley, bay leaf and thyme and throw it in. Then cover the chicken in aluminum foil and put the lid on the casserole. This is what mine looked like before I baked it.
Your poulet should bake at 325 for one hour and 10 or 20 minutes, basting 2 or 3 times with the juices from the pan. I wasn't able to baste anything because there wasn't even enough room in my pan for a spoon. It seemed to maintain it's moisture anyway. Here is the final product.
This is the only savory Julia Child recipe I've made and it got rave reviews. Brian loved it. The flavor was excellent and it was really easy to make. I will definitely make it again.

To find more great recipes check out Tuesdays at the Table and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. And by the way, Cole at TATT is giving away some great kitchen gadgets this week. Link up and get entered in the drawing....and help fight breast cancer too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

September Daring Bakers Challenge

The September Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that my September challenge would be a Julia Child recipe. Since I am already cooking several of her recipes I was thrilled to find another one that I could try. And then I read the recipe. Oh boy.

The estimated time to prepare this dish is 4 to 5 HOURS. The recipe calls for a french rolling pin with no handles (uh....don't have one) and a cool piece of marble for keeping the dough cold as it is rolled (hello....I'm not a millionaire). It also requires unusual amounts of arm strength. Wow.

But once I got started it wasn't that difficult and the results were fantastic. I actually ended up with two great new recipes in my repertoire.

Puff Pastry


2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g)
cake flour1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:

-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the
wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

-Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

Now to actually make the Vols-au-Vent:

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. (I never have parchment and I always forget that I want it when I'm at the store. I did not use it at all and everything seemed to turn out just fine.)

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)
Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly.

Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

I filled my Vols-au-Vent with chicken pot pie filling. Today I plan to fill the rest with Julia's chocolate mousse recipe. They really were very delicious and light and a Hungry Jack biscuit from a can with out all the grease.I still had the scraps to deal with, however. So I took the advice of the author and looked for another use for puff pastry. One of the options listed was "palmiers" so I looked them up on and found a recipe immediately. (Of course it called for frozen store-bought puff pastry, but I used my homemade stuff.)

Palmiers (a French pastry)

Roll puff pastry in to a 10 x 12 rectangle. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar on top of pastry and gently pat in to the pastry.Using a knife, gently make a shallow score mark across the middle of the dough. Roll up each side until they meet in the middle at the score mark.Slice in 3/8 inches slices. Place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. Flip palmiers over and sprinkle other side with sugar. Bake an additional 5 minutes until sugar has caramelized. Remove to a wire rack to cool.The Vols-au-Vent were good but the Palmiers were SCRUMPTIOUS. They are so rich and buttery and sugary. They are the perfect accompaniment to hot tea or coffee. We've been snacking on them like crazy. Are they worth making my own puff pastry for? Not sure. But I definitely know what to do with my scraps in the future.

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