Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gingerbread House

I've been wanting to make a gingerbread house for years, but I'm always so busy around the holidays, it just hasn't happened...until now! This year I planned ahead and did it bit by bit. One day I made the dough. Another day I rolled & baked it. Another day I assembled the basic house. The next day I shingled the roof. You get the idea. Little by little it came together and eventually I had myself an actual, bonafide gingerbread house.

But I can't take all the credit because I used a template from a book called Gingerbread for All Seasons by Teresa Layman. It's an amazing book full of gorgeous gingerbread houses (for all kinds of occasions) with instructions and a template for making each one. I used the template for the "Nantucket Cottage" and then made mine more wintery (the original one was set in spring).

At first I thought it would be so nice to live in this house. But between the shotty roof work, no running water, and the fact that none of the doors actually open...I decided not so much. Besides, I don't think I can get that small, no matter how many rice cakes I eat. 

I might not be back until some time around the new year, so Happy Holidays to you all!

arranging templates on rolled dough
dough cut outs
baked pieces
assembling the house with royal icing
putting the roof on
basic house and bench assembled

I didn't remember to take photos of every single step. In case
you're curious, the chimney is made by dying some dough red
with food coloring and then scoring the dough before baking
to make the brick pattern. Then you rub white royal icing in
the cracks to make it look like bricks.
putting shingles on the roof (wheat chex)
roof done
I used necco wafers to make the stones for the walkway.
I spread icing around the house and then sprinkled it with a
little unsweetened shredded coconut to make it look like snow.

I also sprinkled the "snow" with a little edible disco dust from the
baking store to give it a little sparkle - like real, freshly fallen snow.
I sprinkled the roof with confectioners sugar to look like more snow.
I piped green royal icing on ice cream cones to make the trees.
finishing touches added: lantern (gumdrop and black royal icing), wood
pile (pretzels), icicles, wreath and trees (sprinkled with confectioners sugar).
closeup look

I don't know what I was thinking when I piped
that wreath - it should have a hole in the middle.
I didn't do much in the back. I had planned on making
a snowman, but I didn't have enough time. But I did make
a hole back there because I had a brilliant plan to light up
the house using glow sticks (glow bracelets, actually).
As you can see, it only managed to light up one window.
Plus it turns out I only had blue and green glow
bracelets. So really, it was a pretty bad plan.
These are the gingerbread and royal icing recipes from the book.
I wouldn't make this gingerbread for cookies to snack on
(I have a feeling this recipe was created for its sturdiness, not its
tastiness). It's basically edible dry wall. Ideal for construction.

I contacted the author of Gingerbread for all Seasons, Teresa Layman,
and asked her if I could post the actual templates on my blog for my readers to use. She responded right away and said yes (love her!). But I couldn't figure out a way to keep the sizes accurate. So if you're interested in the templates, just send me an email (to the address on the bottom of the about me page of my blog) and I'll email a pdf to you. Thank you Teresa! (I hope I'm not being presumptuous calling you by your first name...I feel we have a real gingerbread connection now.)

My daughter made a gingerbread house too.
Hers has way more excitement & pizzazz. If mine is
Nantucket, hers is Vegas (or maybe Candyland).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Matzo Ball Soup

This is really another "favorite things" post because the secret to my matzo ball soup is Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix. I've tried (twice) to make matzo balls from scratch and I must be doing something wrong because they always turn out to be sinkers, instead of floaters. I guess that's okay if you like your matzo balls dense and chewy, but I prefer light and fluffy, so I keep coming back to the mix. And it makes great matzo balls, so I'm inclined to stick with it. I do think it's crucial to make your broth from scratch though. And I like to cook the matzo balls directly in the broth, instead of water. I love how they soak up all that chickeny goodness.

Yield: 10 servings (approx. 20 matzo balls)

Chicken Stock:
1 whole chicken (about 6 lbs.), cut into 8 pieces
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped (plus 5 more for serving in soup, if desired)
2 medium onions, unpeeled, trimmed and halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1 handful of parsley, with or without stems (about 3/4 cup)
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped
zest peeled from 1/2 lemon (not grated)
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 quarts cold water

Matzo Balls:
1 box Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix (use both packets)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Chicken Stock:
1.      Bring all ingredients to a boil in a large, heavy stock pot. Skim froth. Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, for 3 hours.
2.      Pour broth through a fine-mesh sieve (or cheesecloth) into a large bowl and discard solids. Cool stock completely, uncovered. Once cool, chill (covered), in the refrigerator.
3.      Skim off the fat (once chilled, it rises to the top and is easy to scoop off). This is schmaltz (the Yiddish word for chicken fat).

Matzo Balls:
1.      Follow the instructions on the back of the matzo ball mix box (use both packets, 4 eggs and 1/4 cup oil). But instead of water, bring chicken stock to a boil. Be sure not to salt your chicken stock before you cook your matzo balls (otherwise they’ll soak up a lot of salt and get too salty). Continue to follow the instructions for forming and cooking the matzo balls.

1.      If you like your soup with carrots, peel them and chop into 2-inch pieces. Add to the hot broth and cook until tender (about 8 minutes).
2.      Season broth with salt and pepper to taste (DO NOT season the broth before cooking the matzo balls or they will be too salty).  Ladle soup and matzo balls into bowls; serve hot.
Belle & Evans organic chicken
chicken cut up and in the pot
everything else added
stock cooking (I let it go all day)

I forgot to take photos of straining the stock, but obviously
I did. Once cooled, I put the stock in 1-quart containers
and chilled overnight so the fat would rise to the top.
scooping off the schmaltz (chicken fat)
You can save the schmaltz in the refrigerator or freezer and use for cooking.
You can see this rich, delicious stock is kind of gelatinous when
cold. It will melt and become liquidy again when you heat it up.
matzo ball mix box
cooking instructions on the back
cracking an egg
adding oil

I tried adding schmaltz once instead, but when you're already
cooking the matzo balls in chicken stock, it's overkill.
adding the matzo meal mixture
formed into a ball
I often make mine two or three times
bigger and they still come out great.
boiling chicken stock
matzo balls cooking
cooked matzo ball
matzo ball cross section comforting

Not too bad, but I would like to successfully
make fluffy matzo balls from scratch one day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan

I love cauliflower plainly roasted with just olive oil and salt. But it is nice to mix it up a little sometimes. And simply adding garlic, lemon and parmesan is a really nice way to brighten it up. Throw a few chopped chives on top for color and you're done. I go through phases where I'm drawn to long, involved recipes and can't wait to see the outcome. But I'm in more of a back-to-basics mood this week. Hey, life can't all be cake pops and homemade marshmallows (well it can, but you'd probably sleep a lot and have really bad skin).

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

5 to 6 cups cauliflower florets, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (from 1 medium head)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sliced garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
chopped chives, for garnish

1.      Preheat oven to 450º F.
2.      Place the cauliflower florets in a roasting pan or large sauté pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the cauliflower, and season with garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper; toss to coat.
3.      Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until cauliflower has brown spots and is cooked through. Stir every 5 minutes to ensure even roasting.
4.      Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the parmesan. Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately while still warm.

from Emeril Lagasse
cauliflower florets
squeezing lemon juice over
sliced garlic
freshly grated parmesan