Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 Christmas Menu

Tofu Turkey with vegan stuffing & vegan mushroom stir fry sauce.
I'm almost too exhausted to report about our Christmas dinner. I really over did it this year. I had to give up on a couple of dishes just to pull this one through. I had the perfect Christmas theme cake ready to make as well but there was no way I could have done it. I'll have to save that one for next year. Besides two large pumpkin pies, a gazillion cookies and a gazillion chocolates were more than enough for dessert. And yes everything was made from scratch! My dad actually thought I bought the pie crust and I was a bit insulted. I pretty much do everything from scratch these days. I even baked fresh bread that day for our big Christmas meal. Why do I commit to doing so much again? Right, I've turned into one of those crazy Pinterest Moms!

Preparations for Christmas dinner started the day before. I baked all my cookies then. Yes, more cookies! I baked batches of cookies the previous week for gifts but I had to bake more for Christmas so they would be very fresh. I was also packaging them for gifts to my family as loot bags at the Christmas dinner. Thankfully the chocolates were all done and I just had to package them. Well, sort of. I did make a few white chocolates at the last minute just to add a bit more variety and to pretty things up :) I also prepared the dough for the bread, the two dough balls for the pie crusts, and I cooked the solution to brine the turkey in. I managed to do all this as well as take a break in the afternoon to hit the Vancouver Christmas Market with my husband and son. That night we watched the Polar Express together too. It was a very productive day :)

On the day of the dinner, I pretty much slaved in the kitchen since 10:30AM, after dropping off my son at daycare. My husband was working so I was able to do everything quietly alone. There was a queue for the oven starting at about 11:30AM. Lol.





My Christmas Menu 2012

Appetizers

Artisan bread w/ balsamic vinegar & olive oil dip
Olive/artichoke paté & Mini Toast
Various chips

Drinks: juice boxes, wine

Main

12 lbs Turkey
Tofu Turkey (sort of adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Gravy
Cranberry relish

Smashed potatoes
Vegan stuffing
French Peasant Beets

Dessert

Pumpkin pies
Cookies: Pecan candied fruit shortbread, lime meltaways, New York Times Chocolate Chip
Homemade Chocolates

I made everything myself, except for the olive and artichoke paté. My husband came home early from work and made that.

It was a lot of food. It was a challenge cooking all the food because our place is so small. You have to constantly wash dishes after cooking one thing so that you can free up space and utensils to make the next thing.  Our counter space for working is really only about the size of two loose leaf papers. I'm not kidding. I find myself trying to create more counter space by cutting vegetables in the air directly over the sink or laying a cutting board over the stove top and working. It's so awful really. I find myself cursing a lot about the lack of space every time we host big gatherings. I love the cooking but I really am limited by the small space. I want the biggest room in my dream house to be the kitchen and dining area!

This is all the counter space I have:(

We were about an hour late that day for Christmas dinner. Instead of starting dinner at 5:30PM as planned, we ate at 6:30PM. My mom and brother-in-law loved my bread. My dad complimented my husband on his olive and artichoke paté. The turkey, gravy, and stuffing were all usual stuff that I make every year, except that I used vegan butter and made the stuffing all vegan. My mom also liked the cranberry relish and the beets. She is actually quite easy to please :) The nice thing about the relish is that it is served cold and can be made hours in advance. My husband liked the tofu turkey. I simply thought it had potential:) My favorites were the smashed potatoes and beets. I used organic yellow flesh potatoes, which I steamed before smashing them for the oven. The pumpkin pies were good of course. I used the recipe from Tartine this time and it wasn't much different than any of the other recipes I have tried in the past. The pumpkin filling was a bit on the paler side though.

Photo in natural light.


I was quite tired at the end of it but I did get to sit quite a long time for dinner. I probably should have taken more pictures. I made so much food, I pretty much didn't have to cook at all this week. Today was actually the last day of leftovers! Omg. We ran out of the turkey early in the week so that was good. The rest was just tofu and vegetables really. Needless to say, we're pretty sick of our Christmas menu.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

DIY Bakes and Gifts for Christmas


It has been an insane couple of weeks. I totally blame Pinterest for this one! However, it was my crazy idea to make everyone a homemade gift for Christmas this year. When I started to wrap reindeer antlers around my dad's case of beer, I knew I had gone too far. It dawned on me how truly nuts I have really become. Seriously.

German beer dressed up as reindeers for my dad.

All the baking started when I made vegan chocolate cupcakes for my husband's early Christmas potluck at work. By the way, how cool was it that I was able to consult my own blog for a recipe? :) The cupcakes weren't an instant hit but in the end, there weren't any leftovers to bring back home. Instead of eating most of them at the potluck, people were apparently eating them during their afternoon coffee break. I received only a couple of compliments and I'm not sure if people even knew they were vegan either.


Vegan chocolate cupcakes frosted like Christmas trees.

Then came the cookies I made for my son's daycare teachers.

For daycare teachers.

Also the ornament surprise cookie for my son's BFF.

Besides all the pins, I also got my inspiration from Lindt chocolates :)

Then the homemade chocolates and new batches of cookies I made for my family for our Christmas dinner.

Pecan candied fruit shortbread & NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Layer 1 of chocolate box.

Layer 2 of chocolate box.

Layer 3 (and final layer) of chocolate box.


That wasn't all either. I made gumball necklaces for my niece for part of her present! They were a bit tricky to do since the metal barbecue skewer I had was a bit on the thick side and the gumballs did not hold too well to being pierced. Slowly screwing it in wasn't much help either. I was also under time constraints so I built the necklaces rather quickly.



I don't know how the crafty people do it. I'm completely exhausted and I can barely write this post to report all of my efforts. When I start a craft project now, a gazillion things go through my head now. Will it be pretty enough on its own so I don't have to decorate? Will it taste fabulous? How will I wrap it? What colors will I need to combine? Do I have ribbons or stickers to match the treat or packaging paper? Will it take too long to make? Do I have time? Etc. Some times I go to sleep with these questions in my head. I think I may need help. Lol. Therapy for Pinterest addicts? My name is Susan and I am addicted to Pinterest and DIY projects. Oy.

More ornament surprises for the kiddies & some sugar cookies to bring to Christmas dinner #2.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Easy Homemade Artisan Bread to Impress Your Friends


Have you seen the no-knead bread circulating around on Pinterest? The one you bake inside a dutch oven? Well I made it four times now and it really is as AMAZING as it looks.

I have never made bread before. This just sounded too easy so I had no excuse not to try it out. It really does only take about 5 minutes of work. The oven does the rest :)

For my very first homemade bread, I was really impressed. I had low expectations so I was totally blown away when I saw the finished bread! It looked like one of those $10 loaves at the bakery and it tasted amazing. It was crusty on the outside but chewy and moist on the inside. Plus, it came right out of my dutch oven and it barely made any mess. It's literally no work to make, tastes out of this world, makes no mess, costs less than a $1 to make - all too good to be true! What is the catch? Well, I think the dutch oven may have something to do with it. If you don't have one, you'll need to invest in one to make this. I have only used mine for baking this bread but of course it can be used for many other things as well :)

Remember the clunky heavy cake stand I bought? Well, that wasn't the only clunky heavy thing I bought recently. Ahem. We were in Seattle not too long ago and we bought a Le Creuset square casserole stoneware . Ours is a 5 or 6 quart one. It's super heavy and again just ridiculous to store in our tiny home :( I know I really have to stop hoarding kitchen supplies! In my defense, the stoneware was a limited special for the week and was 50% off.  It was the last one and so happen to be in my favorite retro color, red. We got it for just $50 US. Le Creuset! However, it's bakeware and not one of those enamelled cast iron cookware so you can't use it to cook on the stove top. I have been eyeing those enamelled cast iron cookware for a long time now but they are so expensive. This bakeware was good enough for me :)

Many other companies like Cuisinart are coming up with their versions of the enamelled cast iron cookware and are much more affordable than Le Creuset. I don't know how they compare but I can tell you that I love our bakeware from Le Creuset. I really think a huge part of the bread's success has to do with using this bakeware.

My very 1st attempt at making bread. OMG.

Bread attempt #2.

If you already have a dutch oven, proceed with the following recipe. If you don't have one, go get one and then come back here :) I played around with the recipe and have finally gotten it down to something that works well for me. Even though I changed a thing or two each time, the resulting appearance of the bread and the texture of it was always the same.




Christmas Dinner: My 4th and best loaf so far I think.

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread
Serves 6-8
(Adapted from Frugal Living NW)

6 cups of all purpose flour
3 tbsp wheat gluten
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp active dry yeast + 2 tbsp warm water
3 cup cold water

1/4 to 1/3 cup flour for forming into a ball later

Add the yeast to the luke warm water and let it sit in a cup. Measure and combine the flour, gluten, and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold water. Stir the yeast mixture a bit and then add the yeast to the large bowl as well. Using a big fork or dough hook, just mix it all up until all the flour is incorporated. If you don't mix well, you could end up with pockets of dry flour inside the dough. That's it! Now cover with saran wrap and let it sit at room temperature for around 18 hours. I left mine to sit 24 hours once and it was fine.

Use the 1/4 cup of flour or more to flour your hands and the dough so that you can work it into a rough ball. Wrapped this entirely with parchment paper and then wrap over with a clean kitchen towel. Let this sit for around 2 hours so it can double in size.

Preheat oven to 425 F with your dutch oven inside. When the temperature is reached, remove the dutch oven and carefully dump the dough inside. This is definitely tricky. The dough will likely stick all over the parchment paper but try your best to put all of it in the dish. Bake covered for 40-45 minutes. Then remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes. Broil for another 2 minutes, if you need to brown the top a bit. Take out the bread and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the bread and let it cool further on a cooling rack.

Bread dipped in olive oil & balsamic vinegar makes a great appetizer!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Homemade Chocolates for Gifting


I keep thinking that this is the first time I have ever made chocolates but I have actually made truffles before. I made them a couple of times and rolled them in cocoa powder or crushed roasted nuts. I suppose that counts, even though that was years ago. What I'm about to present are actually my first chocolates using chocolate coating and chocolate molds.

When I was in France this past Spring, I bought chocolate molds. I was much more of a foodie going to France this time around compared to last time, which was two years ago. Then, I came back to Canada and bought more chocolate molds. Lol. I have now accumulated all these chocolate molds and decided the other day that it is now or never. What better time to use them than Christmas, right? Except that I am actually super busy doing other bakes and cooking for the holiday :(

Truffle coated Amedei chocolates with gold sprinkles.

Lindt milk chocolates with roasted pecans.

I may regret the time I lost the past couple of days but the chocolates are done. Phew! Now I can concentrate on the Christmas menu and plan for that. I have a few more batches of cookies to bake and lots of dough to prepare but that is all part of the Christmas menu. I'm hosting Christmas dinner for my whole family on the 24th. As usual, I will be cooking and baking everything myself. If this is going to run smoothly I have to start planning now!

I started making chocolates yesterday. It wasn't an all day thing but there is a lot of waiting time so I started it yesterday. I also did a few other crafts and baking in preparation for next week. I'm gifting some of the chocolates I'm making as well as cookies and other crafts. Don't ask me why I commit to so many projects when I'm always pressed for time. Lol. My Christmas menu only has about 12 things to make too. Don't ask :)

This past Spring when we went to France, we also spent a week in Tuscany. We drove into the so-called chocolate valley and found the Amedei chocolate factory. I was sort of star-struck by the place since they were known to be the best chocolates in the world. When we left, I hoarded a huge bag of chocolates. Talk about splurging. My mother-in-law's one huge purchase from Tuscany was this fancy leather purse. Mine was Amedei chocolates.

I finally got to use my Amedei baking chocolates yesterday. I was a bit apprehensive to use them because I was new to chocolate making and I didn't want to ruin Amedei chocolates. Instead of winging it like I normally do, I actually spend a night watching YouTube videos on making chocolates. I know this is serious stuff! I learned about tempering and I saw how professionals coated their truffles with liquid chocolate. I even found the names of a few chocolate making supplies I will need to add to my shopping list later. Ahem.




Truffles in molds for freezing.

Patience. If you want to make your own chocolates, you need to have patience. It's not particularly hard but it does take time. For my first attempt, I went with straight forward recipes. I made plain truffles using the recipe from my Tartine book, except that I omitted the corn syrup and reduced the butter. I had plans to do tea infused chocolates too but there is no way I have time for that now! The chocolates are pretty much pure Amedei since there is no added sugar and no flavoring. Just heavy cream and butter to make them into soft truffles.

Tempering.




Yes, it was messy!

I bought this cute Christmas mold which I just had to use as well. The problem is that I only had one of them so there was a lot of re-using involved. For the mold I used Lindt milk chocolates and roasted pecans and hazelnuts. Simple chocolates just slowly melted into cute forms :) I actually wanted Lindt white chocolates but ended up buying the wrong bars. Don't you just hate that?! The picture of white milk being poured out on the wrapping always throws me off! This wasn't the first time that happened either. Ugh.

Frozen truffles. Pretty, right?


My finished chocolates don't look half bad. I actually expected them to be uglier. But I was secretly hoping they would be perfect, if that makes sense. I have unrealistic high expectations of myself that I cannot control sometimes :( Then again I'm a User Experience Designer and I can spot flaws in everything. Seriously. There are certainly a few things I could improve on so next time my chocolates should turn out better :)

Have you made chocolates before? How was your experience and was it worth your time? Honestly, if I wasn't gifting these chocolates I probably wouldn't care so much about their appearance. But the whole experience was adventurous and fun :)
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