Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gingerbread and the Science of Butter Cream Frosting

Gingerbread dough is pretty easy to make. Making a gingerbread house is, on the other hand, for the damn birds. It's hard. Especially if you ignore the fact that butter doesn't harden at room temperature. More on that later.

Laura was out shopping, so the kids and I were in charge of making the dough. It seems that I've been thrown into the baking realm these days, in spite of the fact that I am not a baker. Haven't we discussed this? I am a person who throws things in a big soup pot. I am a person who chops, braises, sears, sautées and simmers. I don't work well with baking powder. I make cream sauces and soufflés, not brownies or cookies. Nonetheless, I have children I can blame if anything goes wrong. And things did, indeed go wrong. Though, not with the making or baking of the gingerbread dough.

Cyd measured the spices. Fiona measured the more important ingredients. The hat? I knitted it for her last weekend and she's been wearing it every day and night for the past week. She is insanely attached to it. Which, frankly, warms my heart. Even when a kid at her school made fun of it. She didn't care. It's so "Coat of Many Colors", by Dolly Parton. (If that song doesn't make you weep, well, you are dead inside.)
Everything was going great. We can so do this.

And then they decided they wanted to LICK the counter. I let them because I rock as a parent. Plus, I have disinfectant.
Our dough came together beautifully.
A few hours in the fridge and we were ready to build. Laura was in charge of making the template and cutting out the house.

I would never have thought about labeling each piece. In fact, I would never have made the template to begin with. We could have winged it! But not really.
And then the real fun began. Well, until we realized our mistake.

The recipe called for royal icing, made with egg whites. With Cyd being sick, I didn't think eating raw egg whites was a great idea. Plus, who doesn't love butter cream icing? Nobody. We all agreed on the butter cream. Mistake. When we put the roof on, all the walls started to collapse because the butter cream didn't cement the walls well enough. We didn't give up. We put the half built house outside so the butter could harden in the cold, winter air. This is science. This is baking. This would never have happened with soup.

This gave Fiona time to decorate some gingerbread people. Hello, silver lining.
 Yes, she has green teeth. It's Christmasy.
Finally, the walls were solid.
A few more finishing touches and it was back outside. You can't tell from the photo, but there were snow flurries, which was festive as hell.
 The gingerbread kid's bleeding, but besides that, It turned out pretty good.

 I especially like the chimney.

 It was Fiona's idea to use the ribbon candy for a fence.

Happy, merry.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Candy Canes, Soup and the Power of Now

It's time. For candy cane straws in oranges.
 And festive M&M pancakes.
And excessive love for our cats.
And goofy photo sessions.

And Chicken Tortilla Soup:

You can get the soup recipe from Pioneer Woman's blog. Except, let it be known: I made my broth from scratch, with a carcass and everything. Pioneer Woman used a boxed broth, because she doesn't have that kind of time on her hands. She's too busy being a successful blogger. Unlike myself. So, actually, never mind about the broth. Use whatever you have in your pantry. Pioneer Woman knows what she's doing. Obviously.

After dinner, we went out to see the lights in town.

It was a good Saturday night overall. We had to stop at Burger King for a bathroom break, because my children's bladder is the size of a thimble.  But the good news is that we went to bed early. And this means that the children get up even EARLIER than usual.

Fiona and I were up first on Sunday morning. We played "Guess Who?" I guessed who first for all four games. Then we decided to make Laura and Cyd breakfast in bed.

The "puffed pancake" didn't puff even though we measured stuff like real bakers. But it was still tasty. We decided to call it "pancake cake" instead. It worked.

And now, it's Monday and I'm trying not to miss yesterday. Because Eckhart Tolle assured me that the present moment is the only moment during which I can find inner peace. I haven't found it yet this morning, but that may be because I haven't had a single drop of caffeine.

Enjoy your week. I mean, enjoy the now. Apparently, there's power in it

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Loaded Bacon and Cheddar Baked Potato Soup (Gluten-Free)

I know. Another post about soup. But, seriously, this is the best potato soup I've ever made and, dare I say, ever had. You'll want to make this. Trust me.
First, coat eight large potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 350 for an hour or until fork tender. (Don't forget to pierce potatoes a few times before baking, to allow air to escape.)
2. While those are baking, fry 12 slices of bacon (one whole package) in a large stock pot. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool. Crumble and reserve for topping. Stealing a few bites is expected.
3. Add one chopped onion and four minced cloves of garlic to the rendered bacon grease. Cook until softened. Add thyme if you have it on hand. (I personally add thyme to everything I make. Except maybe to chocolate cake.)
4. Add one stick of butter. (I know, one whole stick. I could feel Julia Child smiling at me.) Stir until melted.
5. Dice four of the baked potatoes into bite-sized pieces, leaving skins on for extra nutrition. For the remaining four potatoes: scoop out the flesh and mash until smooth.
6. Add four cups of chicken broth and four cups of whole milk to the sauteed onions/garlic. Add the diced and mashed potatoes.
7. Heat soup, but don't boil.
8. Add two cups of cheddar cheese and heat until melted.
9. Combine two tablespoons of cornstarch and two tablespoons of broth or water in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add this slurry to the soup and stir until soup thickens.
10. Optional: partially blend this soup if you like it extra thick.
This recipe makes a huge amount of soup.

Ladle into bowls and top with shredded cheddar, sour cream, bacon and chopped scallions.
I forgot to add sour cream, even though I accidentally bought two containers of it by mistake. Now, I need recipes using inordinately large amounts of sour cream. Suggestions welcome.

You should make this soup tonight. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Soup's On. Bring on the Snow!

The wind is blowing.

Chicken pot pie is on the menu:

We celebrated the upcoming winter solstice (we like to celebrate early, to make it last longer) with one of our last bonfires of the season.  Our outdoor dinner came with a side of s'mores.

A giant bear stopped by unannounced.

Goodbye, autumn. It's been real.
I'm ready to bury myself in a hole and read every book on my list. I'm ready for hot chocolate and the scent of pine needles. But most of all, I'm ready for the peaceful silence of snow, which will soon be blanketing our earth. Not to mention giving the children something else to do besides ransacking the house for tiny toys to scatter all over my freshly mopped wood floors. 

Also, candy canes and sweet oranges. 

p.s. I made the crust for the pot pies from scratch. Even though I don't like to measure stuff.