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Archive for December, 2009

snowflakes & we saw santa!

This is a little late, but we hope you had a merry holiday with your loved ones. We are so thankful that we were able to have a joyful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with both our families. It was a very good holiday for us.

Although Christmas is over, I am not ready to let it go just yet.
Here are some more images from Holiday 2009.

Paper snowflakes hanging from our Christmas tree. They were cut from pages of magazines.

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More snowflakes adorned our wrapped presents.

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A neighborhood Santaland that J encountered on one of his walks with Sara…

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…with a giant live pine tree dazzling the entire block, enormous presents, ferris wheels, stuffed animals, trains running on tracks,

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ornaments bigger than the size of your head,

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and Santa! He was passing out candy canes and giving kids advice on how to be good.

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When we visited a week before Christmas, we overheard Santa saying that he would be there every night until Christmas Eve. What a generous way to spread the holiday cheer!

And finally, photos of Sara unwrapping her present (we wrapped one of her usual raw hides and tied it with a ribbon). She was really excited about her gift.

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When the holidays come too early by showing up in the stores immediately after Halloween, you can say that we become Grinches, snarling at the loud decorations and getting more and more annoyed by the second at the mechanical Santa Claus doing his belly jiggle dance. But we have fully embraced the holidays now that they’re here. J and I like to sit in front of the small Christmas tree we picked up from a neighborhood tree lot and watch its glowing lights every night before we go to bed. While we sit there, we cut out paper tree decorations and listen to the holiday music playing on the radio — songs that we’ve heard and sung along to year after year. Now, we belt along in our loudest singing voices together (without disturbing our neighbor, of course). Somehow, this being our very first Christmas together makes this season all the more special to us.

We have been working on our Christmas tree decorations for more than a week now. The first thing we did was buy a short string of lights, but that happened to cover only a third of our tree. Severe underestimation. We exchanged the strand for a longer one, and all was well. Then we created a paper chain garland, which required a lot of cutting and taping, and at least several days. Now that the garland is finished, we are cutting out paper snowflakes for our ornaments. More pictures to come soon!

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For the past few nights, our tree-decorating madness has been accompanied by this madly delicious and moist pumpkin cake. This cake contains crushed pineapple and coconut flakes, which do wonders to subtly flavor the cake and give it texture. And the spices and pumpkin are perfect for the season. I left out the currants because I didn’t have any at home, but it still turned out wonderfully. Instead of the suggested cream cheese frosting, I used a batch of leftover cream cheese frosting I had sitting in the freezer. (Cream cheese frosting freezes extremely well, in case you were wondering.)

Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Epicurious | November 2009
by Diane Morgan
The New Thanksgiving Table

Cake
Butter for coating cake pans, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin purée
1 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple (do not drain)
1/3 cup dried currants

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons canned unsweetened pumpkin purée
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch sides. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Sprinkle the pans with flour, tap the pans to evenly distribute the flour, and then shake off the excess flour. Set aside.

To make the cake, in a large bowl, sift together the 2 cups flour, the granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil, and vanilla. In another medium bowl, combine the pumpkin purée, coconut, crushed pineapple, and currants.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the pumpkin mixture and stir just until combined. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks and let cool in the pans for 15 minutes. Run a table knife around the edge of the pans to loosen the cakes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and peel off the parchment paper. Let cool completely before frosting the cakes.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed for about 3 minutes until smooth. Add the butter and beat for about 2 minutes until combined. Add the pumpkin purée and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat for about 3 minutes until fluffy.

Place 1 cake layer on a cake plate or platter. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the frosting over the top of the first cake layer. Spread the frosting right to the edge of the top without frosting the sides of the cake. Carefully place the second cake on top, lining up the edges. Spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake without frosting the sides. Swirl the frosting to decorate the top. Refrigerate the cake to set the frosting. Remove from the refrigerator 30 to 40 minutes before serving.

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a bowl of comfort

We can’t complain too much about the weather in San Francisco, but it has gotten noticeably chillier over the past two weeks. Any outing requires us to bundle up in thick sweaters, coats, and mittens in preparation for the nippy air. On days like these, all J and I want after coming in from the cold is a steaming mug of mulled cider or hot chocolate, or even better — a big bowl of soup — to warm our insides.

Like a bowl of this potato and leek soup. This soup is hearty and smooth without being heavy, and will have you warm and toasty in no time at all.

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I loosely used this recipe and followed a reviewer’s suggestions to add fried bacon pieces and bacon fat to the recipe.

Potato and Leek Soup
adapted from Gourmet | March 1992
Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
Yield: Makes about 4 cups, serving 2 generously

a couple strips of bacon, chopped into 3/4″ pieces
white and pale green parts of 2 large leeks, split lengthwise, washed well, and chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound boiling potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

First, fry bacon pieces to a crisp, and then set them aside. Using only about a third or half of the rendered bacon fat (discarding the rest) plus a pat of butter, saute the leeks with salt and pepper until they are soft, tender, and golden around the edges. Add chicken stock, water and cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for about twenty minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Using a blender, carefully puree the soup (in batches, if necessary). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and if needed, thin out soup by mixing in more stock or water and reheating. Ladle soup in bowls and top with chopped parsley and fried bacon bits. Serve with crusty bread.

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It is December 1st, and we are still working on leftovers. It’s been delicious (we’ve also had turkey soup and turkey melts), but I think it is now time to stop.

Here are just a few photos of our Thanksgiving dishes. We made roast turkey with herbs and shiitake mushroom gravy, cornbread stuffing, roasted butternut squash & purple sweet potatoes with sage, braised brussels sprouts with lemon and thyme (a favorite of mine), brown rice with black barley & radish seeds (a mix from TJ’s) with crimini mushrooms, and fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest. I was so excited to eat that I forgot to take a picture of our table when we sat down to dinner.

Turkey, three quarters of the way through. It turned a richer, deeper brown after all the basting towards the end. (Yes, that is my foot in the picture.)

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Stuffing.

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Cranberry sauce.

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And there was dessert. Butterscotch budino (pudding).

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The weekend before Thanksgiving, we were in Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding. J planned ahead and got us a dinner reservation at Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza. While the pizza was delicious, I was turning cartwheels over the butterscotch budino that we had ordered for dessert. Luckily for me, after a quick internet key word search upon our return home, I was able to find the recipe for Mozza’s butterscotch budino. I then turned some more cartwheels and instantly decided that this year, butterscotch pudding would take the place of pumpkin pie as Thanksgiving dessert.

With multiple components, the recipe (thank you, NY Times!) is a bit involved, but the pudding, caramel, and creme fraiche topping can all be made ahead of time. You may choose to scale down if you have a smaller party, but trust me, I wouldn’t. These are leftovers that you would love to have again and again.

Butterscotch Budino With Caramel Sauce (10 servings)
Adapted from Dahlia Narvaez of Pizzeria Mozza; Time: 1 hour, plus 3 hours’ chilling

FOR THE BUDINO

3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/8 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum (I used 2+ tablespoons, and it was just right)

FOR THE SAUCE AND TOPPING

3/4 cup heavy cream
Scrapings from 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons fleur de sel (I pounded coarse sea salt into fine flakes using a small plastic sandwich bag and a rolling pin)
3/4 cup crème fraîche.

1. For the budino, combine cream and milk in bowl or pitcher, set aside. Whisk egg, egg yolks and cornstarch in medium bowl, set aside.
2. Combine brown sugar, kosher salt and 1/2 cup water in pot. Place over medium-high heat and let sit until edges start to brown. Tilt pot as needed to even the browning until caramelized, nutty and deep brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture, mixture will steam and caramel will seize. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Whisk a cup at a time into egg mixture until half is incorporated. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk egg mixture back into pot until custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.
4. Whisk in butter and rum. Pass through a fine mesh strainer and divide among 10 6-ounce ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours or up to 3 days.
5. For sauce, combine 1/2 cup of cream and the vanilla in medium saucepan. Heat until simmering. Add butter and remove from heat; set aside.
6. In large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine corn syrup, sugar and enough water (3 to 4 tablespoons) to make a wet, sandy mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling pan for even cooking, until mixture is medium amber, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream mixture; set aside and let cool. (May be refrigerated and reheated before serving.)
7. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a large bowl until it begins to thicken. Add crème fraîche and whisk until thick and fluffy. To serve, spoon a tablespoon of warm caramel sauce over each budino. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon fleur de sel, and add a dollop of cream topping.

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