Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cranberry Bread Pudding

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I'm on a personal quest to reduce the number of foods that I dislike. On the list of conquered food items we have avocados, tomatoes, and most recently, bread pudding. And of course now that I actually crave bread pudding, Dad made one just in time for a New Year's dessert to ship me off.


1 Panettone (We used Trader Joes with cranberries because I haven't conquered my dislike of raisins yet. You could use any type of Panettone or any type of bread you have lying around).
4 eggs
4 cups of milk
10 tablespoons Splenda
Fresh orange zest
Freshly ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon almond extract
Favorite type of nuts (Dad used pecans. I later tried this with pecans with much success)
Cinnamon/sugar for sprinkling on top

Note: You can really get creative with the ingredients here. I added chocolate chips to the Raisin one I made back here in SF. Later, I'll be trying a chocolate orange and then a dulce de leche.

1. Cut up the Panettone into bite size pieces, about a half inch by half inch by half inch.
2. Prepare mixture by combining the eggs, milk, Splenda, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, extracts, and nuts. Mix well.
3. Add the Panettone/bread pieces to the mixture. Soak for 15 minutes. Mix. Soak for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350. You should have two oven racks spaced in the middle - one for the bread pudding and the other below for a water bath.
5. Spray baking pan for bread pudding with a non-stick spray. Fill another baking dish with some water.
6. Pour Panettone mixture into the baking pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle walnuts, cinnamon and sugar on top. Place bread pudding and water bath in oven.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before cutting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If Only Raindrops Were Cookies...

It rained all day here in Northern Virgina. Typically, I like the rain. I find the pitter patter of the rain drops to be rather comforting, especially when curled up with a good book or fixing up a big pot of warm soup. But that's in San Francisco. Where the temperature has about a 20 degree range and rarely falls below 50. Where I don't mind a couple of drops of rain on my head as I sprint out to the car. Here though, it's cold and it should be snowing. Snow that is light fluffy flakes that you try and catch with your tongue. That are too light to really feel. But it's raining. Those rain drops are freakin' COLD!

I must have been baking too much recently because on the way to the post office to ship out MORE cookies, the little raindrops that were balling up on my windshield (thanks to lots of Rainx from Dad) reminded me of little balls of cookie dough. No, I swear, this is not something I came up with just because its 2am in the morning and I needed an segue into my cookie pictures. Honestly!

No, it's just that I baked 7 types of cookies, on my own over the course of the past couple of days. And for a girl who previously detested baking (what? you want me to actually follow directions?), that's a lot. So why bake so many cookies? Well, due to my lovely food magazine and blog obsession, I had a large handful of "I'll make that when I'm on vacation" and here I find myself on a two week "vacation" at home with the parents (they really aren't that bad). That + desire to take pictures + requests from Dad's office + need for Christmas gifts = 7 batches of cookies and a subsequent photo shoot.

Thus, without being even more of a tease, I present the 2007 Holiday Cookie Roster:

- Chocolate Walnut Toffee (aka Brownie Cookie)
- Peanut Butter Kisses (aka PB Blossom)
- Thumbprint

- Raspberry Gelees

- Peppermint Patties (homemade!)
- Peanut Butter Munchies (aka Reeses in cookie form)

- Salted Langues de Chat

I knew immediately after viewing the Salted Langues de Chat that I would love them. Caramel + Salt + Butter = Me Drooling. Not a surprise given my recent salt on sweets kick. But the parents liking them? Ok, Dad maybe because he likes crunchy things. But Mom? Mom even declared that they were "pretty good"(a big feat in her book. She eats to live. Not lives to eat, like me. Are you sure there wasn't a mix up, doc?) and her favorite of the year.

Langues de chat are otherwise known as cat's tongues. Thank goodness I don't speak French! Enough with the animal body parts people. I don't care if it actually looks like that, name it something else. (I'll have to post more later on the so called "flies' heads that I've been eating recently. Sorry if that makes you lose your appetite; it's just minced pork and chives.) Langues de chat are a classic French cookie that is essentially a long, thin butter cookie. Gourmet played with the concept and tweaked it to add a caramel, salty flavor. We liked them so much, I think I'll be adding these to my regular list. In French, of course.

Salted Praline Langues De Chat
adapted from Gourmet magazine


For praline
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin), toasted - one small bag in the baking aisle

For cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
5 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Equipment: a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip or a big ziplock bag with the corner snipped

Make praline:
Put a large sheet of foil on a heatproof work surface.

Heat sugar in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is golden. Add toasted almonds, stirring until coated well, then carefully pour onto foil (mixture will spread) and cool completely, about 15 minutes. Peel praline off foil and chop with a large heavy knife. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Make cookies:
Preheat oven to 325°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour and table salt. Pulse almonds with sugar in a food processor until finely ground.

Beat butter and sugar mixture with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in egg whites and extracts. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches until just combined well.

Transfer batter to pastry bag, then dab some batter under corners of parchment to secure to baking sheets. Pipe 6-inch-long strips (about 1/3 inch wide) 1 1/2 inches apart in 2 slanted rows (so they will fit) on each baking sheet.

Bake until slightly puffed but still pale, 7 to 9 minutes, then sprinkle generously with praline and lightly with sea salt. Continue baking until cookies are baked through and golden-brown on edges, 7 to 11 minutes more. (Turn baking sheets if cookies are browning unevenly.) Slide parchment with cookies onto racks to cool completely (cookies will crisp as they cool).

Form and bake more cookies on cooled baking sheets lined with fresh parchment.

Cook's notes:
• We used an Ateco 804 plain tip for our cookies.
• To avoid stickiness, try to bake these cookies on a dry day.
• Praline can be made 1 week ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
• cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

On the way out of Longwood Gardens this Christmas Eve where we were dazzled by the meticulous light display, I remarked to my mom, "That's the most Christmas we've had in years."

And indeed it was. Since the accident, we've been celebrating Christmas in a more simplistic way. Before the accident, I remember Christmas being the big fancy dinner in the formal dining room (only outdone by Thanksgiving dinner each year), opening up one gift before heading off to the 11:00pm candlelight service. I always hoped that by going to the late service, we'd return late enough that the sleepiness would overtake any anticipation of presents the next morning. Before, Christmas encompassed stringing up lights, breaking out the countdown calendar and trying to guess which token ornament would be in the calendar box, picking out a tree (and picking up the fallen pine needles scattered around the house afterwards), rediscovering favorite ornaments and creating drafts and drafts of Christmas lists. Don't get me wrong, though. I think we always understood the true meaning of Christmas and we embraced being around friends and family. These memories don't stand alone; rather, they are little seasonal reminders of how much I love my friends and family.

Which is why, after the accident, the family has avoided having a "normal" Christmas because those seasonal reminders were just too much with one empty chair at the table. We stopped putting up decorations and avoided the candlelight service and Christmas carols because it just left us in tears thinking about how he used to sing at the top of his lungs, yet shyly (yes, that's possible). We tried to go somewhere (Paris one year, Barcelona the next) because breaking the routine helped distract us. But this year, we decided to venture back. And I'm glad.

This year, Mom put tiny little presents as ornaments on a "tree" for me to open on each of the last days leading up to Christmas. Granted, it wasn't a Christmas tree, but it looked festive and Christmasy. This year, we went to church. Not the candlelight service, but there were Christmas carols and they made us smile. This year, we went to Longwood Gardens with the grandparents. Not the same as driving around the neighborhood to look at lights, but hey, this was actually quite cool. This year, we had a baking marathon with seven types of cookies. This year, we tasted a little of the Christmas festivities. Not an entire meal, but enough to leave us warm and fuzzy inside and looking forward to next year.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
There is hope. And cookies and lights and Christmas carols, as frivilous as they may seem, can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

And with that, Merry Christmas all!

(You too, up there)

Note: And I'm not entirely sure why I'm writing this on a supposed food blog. Partly because I'm sharing my version of Christmas and this is what the holidays have been for me and the family. Partly because I want to document it (and Blogger doesn't come with a private post option, plus nobody reads this...yet).