Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Sweet Treat

Can you guess what I'm making with these three ingredients?  Heavy cream, milk and candy corn.  Hmmm...what could it be?  You'll have to read a little further to find out.

First, are you a candy corn fan?  I am.  It's my favorite Halloween candy.  But like so many candy corn lovers, I can only eat so much...if I venture past the appropriate amount...then I realize I'm just eating mouthfuls of pure sugar.  I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of mouthfuls of pure sugar.

I told James that I was making a treat, but I was pretty sure he and Ethan wouldn't like it...but I couldn't help myself.  When I read this recipe on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, I just had to make it.  I told him I was making something with Candy Corn!  His reply was....I like candy corn...after all, it's just sugar!  After 22 years of marriage, how could I not know that he liked candy corn... I actually thought he hated it.  Well, you do learn something new everyday.  It helped me to not feel so guilty about making something that I thought only I'd like.  Then I realized I'd been eating all the candy corn for the last 22 years, without sharing it...and that was now going to have to change.  Bummer!

Have you guessed what I'm making yet?  Well, here's how the base looks after 12 hours in the fridge and it's ready to go in the ice cream maker.  That's right, we're making Candy Corn Ice Cream (just in case you haven't clicked on the recipe link above).  What a beautiful fall color!

After a few hours in the freezer...the ice cream had a beautiful creaminess...even though this is a Philadelphia style ice cream without any eggs (we generally like the custard based/French style better, but this one was really creamy.)

I served it with a batch of tin roof ice cream that I had also made (which is just down right to-die-for!)

I have to say, I'm a tad bit disappointed in the candy corn ice cream.  I had such high hopes for it after reading about it on others' blogs...alas...I didn't think the flavor was that distinct (however, by the time it was ready...a day after I started the recipe...I had eaten quite a bit of candy corn on it's own (after all, I did have a 1/2 bag left) maybe I had reached my candy corn saturation limit for 2010 before I even tried the ice cream).  Ethan didn't like it at all, a buddy of his who was over thought it was great and James ate it but also said it wasn't very special.  Oh well, I couldn't pass it up...had to try it...and I'm glad I did.

Friday, October 29, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - marie-helene's apple cake

This week, our cooking assignment from Dorie's around my french table was marie-helene's apple cake.  I was quite excited to try this recipe.  As a child, my grandma would ask me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday.  I would always request her to-die-for Dutch Apple Cake.  Her cake had a crusty top, much like a muffin, and then moist, tender cake with bits of apple throughout.  The cake was a deep golden brown and pure heaven!  For some reason, as an adult, I've never made the cake for myself.  I guess it's the kind of cake that someone needs to make for you.  I've included my grandma's recipe at the end of this post.  I love reading her recipes.  They're written in her writing and in her style...short, sweet and to the point.  Luckily, I grew up cooking with her, so I know how to read her recipes.

My grandma died 12 years ago, when I was on bed rest, pregnant with Ethan.  I didn't get to say goodbye to her, or go to her funeral, or help my sisters and my mom in my grandmother's last weeks (she was on hospice, choosing to die at home, rather than in a hospital).  I've always had regrets about this, wished that I'd been able to help.  However, the positive of this is I remember my grandma as she was before she got sick.  Grandma was a tiny woman (4'11" with her heels), quick to smile and incredibly loving with her grandkids.  Throughout the rough times in my childhood, grandma was often there to rescue me...if only for a Friday night sleep over where we would play cards and eat vanilla ice cream with strawberries on top.

Anyway, when I saw Dorie's apple cake recipe, I was excited to make it and see how it compared to my grandma's.  Dorie's recipe is a bit different from grandma's (it doesn't include 1 1/2 cups of oil...holy toledo, what was grandma thinking?), but it's also quite similar too.

Most of the needed ingredients, on my adorable tea towel from Paris.

When I started making the cake, I thought I was out of butter and then discovered my PLUGRA!  Thank goodness.
I love using my apple slicer/corer to cut my apples before I peel them. 

Lots of apples!

The batter was beautiful and had a lovely flavor (yes, I sampled it!)

I only have a 9" springform pan, not an 8"...this recipe definitely needed an 8".

Dishes, dishes, dishes!!

Straight from the oven.  My top didn't quite look like Dorie's.  I think using the 9" pan caused the cake batter to spread out too much, so my cake wasn't quite as tall and there wasn't enough batter to cover all the apples.

It still looks pretty darn yummy!

Out of the springform, it's a fairly short cake.

I only had white rum, rather than dark rum, I wonder if that made a difference in the color of the cake?

My apples seem to be more at the top and not as evenly distributed as the ones in Dorie's photo.

I served the cake with my homemade French Vanilla Ice Cream.

The cake was a hit with everyone (as was the homemade ice cream).  It's a perfect fall cake.  Simple to make, light and delicious to make.  I'd say we've got a winner here!  (Next time I will definitely use an 8" pan and try it with dark rum.)  It's not quite the same as grandma's cake, but then it also doesn't have a cup and a half of oil!

Grandma Spencer's Dutch Apple Cake
(exactly as it's hand written on her recipe card)

1 1/2 c oil
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t soda
3 C flour
1 t salt
3 C diced apples
1 C chopped walnuts
1 t vanilla

Mix oil, sugar + eggs.  Sift flour, sift together w/soda & salt.
Blend w/oil mix, blend in apples + nuts, vanilla.
Bake in tube or loaf pan @ 350 for 1 hr 15 mins.

If you try it, invite me over for a piece, please!

For even more apple cakes go to French Fridays with Dorie.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Adventures in Megan Iverson

My niece, Megan, wrote an essay for her English class about her trip to France.  I thought it was wonderful and wanted to share her perspective.  Here it is...verbatim.

Adventures in France
By Megan Iverson

It was the day before I was going to have the best month ever; I packed in, then back out, then back in, about twenty times just to make sure that I packed everything. My mom was stressing out, my dad was giving us so many hugs, and my brother, well he was just playing video games. My sister and I were finally prepared. We had to go to bed, but I had so much anxiety that I could not sleep. The next day I was going to go stay with my Aunts Uncle and cousins in France!

“BEEP. BEEP.” my alarm clock beeped.

I immediately got up, and my mom was right there watching me sleep. I was thinking in my head, what the heck are you doing. She told me to get up and get dressed. I slipped on my sweatpants and we were off. My mom drove us to LAX and there I could have sworn I saw Cameron Diaz, one of the best actresses ever! We checked through baggage and we were off. My sister and I met up with my Aunts friends and we flew to Paris, France. On the plane it was really fun because we were allowed to watch movies and there was a lot of space.

“Hi Auntie!” I said with excitement

“Hey sweetie” my aunt said.

We continued with our boring “how are you doing” good what about you” kind of conversation, after that we got into a car, and the car had “a lot of character.” My aunt drove us to our little town called Burgundy, we were on the outskirts of town. My cousins greeted us at the door and showed us the house. The house was very rustic, there were no screens on the window, and it was very open. The house on the outside was beautiful, but on the inside I was thinking, how someone can even begin to fathom living in this house. The catch phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover applies to this situation.

We had many great adventures in France, but this one was one of the ones that stood out the most. We went zip lining in France! It was a lot of fun, many people did not speak English, so we had to get out our guide book and try understanding what they were saying and what we were going to say to them. It was a challenge, but eventually we figured it out. We learned what to do and we were on our way. My cousins and I were up about 200 feet up in the air…trying to figure out the hard obstacles…without any help. We struggled to get the challenges, and we were very determined. We finally made it through everything but the red level (the hardest, my aunt wouldn’t let us do it). After we got done un-gearing ourselves we went out for pizza at our favorite pizza place in France. It was delicious.

Have you ever wondered where all of the kings, princesses, princes, etc.? People have always lived in France or Italy, or Spain, but they never say if they lived in a house or chaetae, or even a barn. Well I went to a chaetae that ALL the high in power went. People way back when made sure to get every royal highness to sleep in that chaetae even if it was just for a night. It was ignoramus, and we got to tour it! It had very high class living suppliences. They had everything in the chaetae from balconies, to churches, to even thinking rooms. We saw at least 24 rooms. It was insane!

The very last thing we did is the very best thing. We went to the very top of the Eiffel Tower! It was the very best thing about the whole entire trip. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. As we were in line to go up on the elevator onto the Eiffel Tower a man walked up to me and said, “Buy! Buy! From me!” I got a little freaked out and my aunt said to just stay away from them, that they were just trying to sell me some junk.

“Next!” the woman running the elevators said.

Oh Geez. It was our turn to go up. All seven of us got onto the elevator, we were very squished. DING. DING. DING. Off we go. We got onto a whole different elevator to the very top.

“Oh my goodness!!” I said.

We walked around got good look of our surroundings, took a few pictures, and we just enjoyed being able to be that lucky. I mean, how many people can say that they have been to the top of the Eiffel tower!

My summer was the best summer ever! Not only was it fun, but it also changed my life forever. I learned a new way of living, new surroundings, and even a new language! Well as the French say it, “Au Revoir!”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday night dinner

Tonight we had Savory Grilled Chicken with Honey & Sesame Butter (one of my favorite Dream Dinners), Porcini Mushroom Risotto (from a package that I bought at the Pasadena Cheese store...imported from Italy) and cauliflower-bacon gratin from around my french table.  Sure couldn't tell it was Monday night at my house.  The great thing about all of this is I decided at 4:30 to make the Risotto and Gratin and still had dinner on the table at 5:30.

I had the Chicken dinner thawing in the fridge from Friday (when I thought I was going to cook it for dinner and then got side-tracked with joining French Fridays with Dorie and needing to cook the hachis parmentier Friday night), so I knew all day we were having chicken for dinner.  I remembered that I had purchased two Risotto packages from the Cheese store (porcini mushroom & black truffle), so I thought I'd give one of them a try.  I opened my crisper to pull out some squash and found the beautiful cauliflower that I had purchased last week with the intention of making the gratin from Dorie's book and had promptly forgotten about.  It called to me...cook me tonight!

So, I flipped open Dorie's book, scanned the recipe and thought, yep...I can do this.  OK, issue number one...don't just scan a recipe.  Halfway in I realized I needed 5 eggs (only had 3 left after my marathon cooking this weekend), Gruyere (had to use Blue Jack instead), and heavy cream (had to substitute 1/2 and 1/2).  So, I tweaked the recipe quite a bit to fit my ingredients.  It still came out super yummy (how could anything with bacon in it not be yummy?)...and Ethan and James both ate all of theirs (which anyone who knows James knows is amazing since he doesn't like very many cooked vegetables...raw is fine...just not cooked).

The chicken was delish too, but the risotto wasn't a hit.  Ethan asked me if my feelings would be hurt if he threw his away (such a considerate kid).  I told him not at all, since it had come from a package.  I'm bummed about the risotto...the package cost $8 and was a splurge!  That will teach me...I should just make my own next time.  Here's what it all looked like!  I just discovered Picasa and am playing with bear with me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday morning - Peach & Pecan French Toast

This weekend, Jessica, Matt & Laci came to visit.  Jess is James' youngest sister and Matt is her hubby and Laci is their 9 month old daughter.  We haven't had a chance to get up to Oregon to meet the newest member of our family, so Jess & Matt were kind enough to come to So. Cal. so we could meet Laci.  (Jess also has lots of family on her mom's side of the family in the OC, so they got to visit them too.)

Bean bag papoose!

The kids had planned on spending Saturday night with us, so on Friday I put a Dream Dinners' Peach Pecan French Toast in the fridge to thaw for Sunday morning.  (This is one of the reasons I love Dream Dinners so much...obviously I love to cook...but I also like to be able to spend time with family and I plan my entertaining around things I'm going to make from scratch and things from Dream Dinners.)  Unfortunately, Laci had a rough time sleeping the first night in the OC, but the next night did well, so Jess decided it was best to go back to the OC to sleep, not wanting to have yet another new place for Laci to try to sleep.  Which meant that I still had a large pan of Peach Pecan French Toast for Sunday morning.

Such a nice treat for us...usually by Sunday I'm pooped out and don't want to cook breakfast.  This morning we had this yumminess and all I had to do was pop it in the oven!  (Yep, even though we are Dream DINNERS...we sometimes have breakfast/brunch dishes.  Love, love, love it!  Can't wait until December when our Raspberry Stuffed French Toast is back on the menu.  It's perfect for Christmas morning!)

Oh my goodness...this is so incredibly delicious!  Sorry you missed it Jess & Matt!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - hachis parmentier

I recently purchased a fabulous cookbook, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  Dorie is a James Beard Award-winning author and was called a "culinary guru" by the New York Times.  She is passionate about French cooking and currently lives in New York, Connecticut, and Paris.  You can get to know her a bit better at  Dorie's Blog.

When I got her book last week, I spent most of the day Saturday reading it.  Yes, it's a cookbook.  So to some it may seem odd that I would "read" it.  But I did.  From cover to cover.  Dorie tells great stories interspersed with her recipes.  Now that I've spent some time in France, some of the stories had more meaning for me.  After reading her book, I decided that I wanted to cook a lot of the recipes from it.  Like, maybe, all of them!  As luck would have it, I stumbled across French Fridays with Dorie where more than 900 people are doing just that.  A new Dorie recipe is featured each Friday.  Members of the site cook the recipe and post a link to their own blog each Friday, showing their adventures with cooking the Dorie recipe.  This sounded just like what I was looking for.  I think it's going to take a while to get through the entire book at the rate of four recipes a month, but it seems like it's going to be a fun journey.

Guess what?  Today is Friday and I'm posting my first French Fridays with Dorie "assignment."  Today we are cooking hachis parmentier (better know to you and me as Shepard's Pie).

Here's all the ingredients.

The first step includes boiling the cube steak and veggies and seasonings for an hour and a half.

This is what it looks like while it's starting to boil...gotta say...not too appetizing.

Dorie's recipe calls for sweet or spicy sausage as well as the cube steak.  This definitely seems like it has great potential!

 Here's the filling waiting for the topping!

The potatoes for the topping...waiting to boil!'

The completed hachis parmentier before it's baked.  It looks and smells so yummy at this point, I seriously contemplate sneaking a few bites before popping it in the oven (however, I do resist).

Here's what our lovely dinner looked like straight out of the oven!

And on the plate

The potato layer was a little overwhelming!

Along with Dorie's recipe, I made our favorite Pioneer Woman Buttered Rosemary Rolls.  These are the best rolls in the world.  They are drenched in sea salt, butter and rosemary.  This is what they look like before they've risen.

(Can I tell you a little secret?  These rolls are super easy, because you start with a store bought frozen dough!)  Make some for your family soon...they'll love you forever.

Here are my baked rolls...don't they look yummy?  No, you say?  They don't look quite right, do they?  Alas, my rolls didn't rise.  I didn't give them enough time because I lost track of time as I was making the hachis parmentier.  Sadly, this happens to me sometimes.  The nice thing about these rolls is they usually still taste totally yummy even when you screw them up! But, I am they have less calories when they don't rise...since they're about 1/4 of the regular size?  I'm counting on it, since I ate three!

The verdict is in...the dinner was a bit bland.  I'd read on the French Friday's site some reports from others that it was bland...but someone else said it was too I tried to be careful and not over season.  Ethan said the sausage was really good in it, but that I should have used spicy sausage (which I did...guess we need more spicy than than I thought!)  We did all end up cleaning our plates after a liberal dosing of salt and pepper at the table, but that could have been the fact that James and I didn't have lunch today!  One down...299+ to go!

Addendum...we ate the hachis parmentier for lunch again on Saturday (as we had quite a bit left) and it was a lot tastier.  Sitting overnight in the fridge really enhanced the flavors!  It was gobbled up with a "thanks Mom" from Ethan and a "this is good" from visiting sister-in-law Jess.

Check out all the other FFwD participants' hachis parmentier stories here.  There are some terrific blogs in this group!

Finding a purpose!

I've struggled since our return from France.  Struggled to figure out how to keep blogging.  Because, I wasn't sure what I wanted to blog about back in the States.  I thought I'd just keep sharing my daily adventures, stateside...but they seem so darn pedestrian.  And, it seems wierd to post about what's happening everyday, when I see most of you everyday...or talk to you.  When I was in France, I felt like I was so far away...and since I didn't call anyone when I was over there (except the very occasional call to Susanna to check in on the store)...I had a lot to share in my blog.  Back at home...not so much.

However, inspiration has finally struck.  It's silly that it took 53 days of being home before it finally dawned on me.  Especially since the inspiration is something that I have been doing almost everyday anyway through my Facebook postings.

What do I post about almost everyday?  What do I appear fixated on?  What do I love to think about and plan for and do?  There's one little word that sums it up perfectly.  Are you ready?  That's right, say it with me... FOOD!  Yep, I love it.  Everything to do with it.  The act of creating great meals (and simple meals), the excitement of finding a new ingredient or new recipe, the joy of sharing my creations and information with friends and family.

So, I'm going to blog about my food adventures, and boy do I have a lot of them!  I won't blog about every food adventure...that would be too much, I think.  But, I will blog about the interesting ones and some of the more mundane ones.  I hope you'll come along on this FOOD centered journey.  I hope you'll enjoy what I share and feel inspired.  Inspired to share a meal with a friend, to cook a recipe that you've never tried, to eat at a restaurant that's new to you, to get a little more enjoyment from what our bodies require us to do everyday.  I know that I'm feeling very inspired!