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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gingerbread Lane 2016

It's not perfect, but it's mine. 
For three years, now, I've been called upon for my skills, here in lovely Kansas City, to construct a colossal confection of ginger and bread for the sake of charity. Holiday seasons are upon us and that means - you guessed it - giving to those less fortunate than you!

June 11th of this year my small bakery, Pistachio Bakehouse,  donated $600 of baked goods to No Kid Hungry as a part of a colossal undertaking to raise $100,000 collectively for the cause of ending childhood hunger in America. My dear friend, Charles Feruzza (formerly) of The Pitch, penned the details here. I was really proud to be a part of such an amazing event, even if my hands got tired from twisting about 200 soft pretzels! You can check out the full album here.

In addition to childhood food insecurity, one charity that's a favorite of mine is the CCVI, or Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, who - since 1952 - have served over 10,000 young children who are blind or visually impaired. The charity raises money to help keep the school running, and they look to the chefs of Kansas City to do so.

The Garney Mansion, 2014
I started out back in 2014 with recreating the Historic Garney Mansion, which had belonged to the Garneys, the family which owned/managed the restaurant I was the Executive Pastry Chef of, that had also tragically burned down earlier that year in March. I was so fortunate to have had the support of the family, who graciously and generously loaned me the blueprints to the original house, but also flat-out bought my gingerbread creation for the sake of the charity. I'll forever be grateful to them.

"Steve", 2015
Last year, I created a sort of Alpine A-Frame(named Steve) which was admittedly less complex, and therefore tragically less stable, mostly because of it's simple design and the fact that it was sitting under the hotter lights during its stay at Webster House, where the houses were on display. As the family that bought my house went out the door, the roof caved in. I came in as soon as I could, repairing what was possible, but alas, alack... I ended up buying a few plastic dinosaurs and putting pieces of roof and whatnot in their tiny plastic mouths in hopes that the people would have a sense of humor about it. (You know, because dinosaurs destroyed and ate their house. Get it? Funny, right? I'll see myself out.)

You can view this, in person, at Webster House! Vote for me for People's Choice!
This year, I added in my semi-newly acquired skills of pulled and poured sugar to the party and created the Winter Retreat house, complete with palladian windows and sugar columns and a lovely colored stone walkway to the lake, where you can enjoy a spot of ice skating.

This is a work-in-progress shot, but I sure do love the way the light comes in! 
I'll be the first to admit that the columns were not easy or quick. I'll also let you know that they burned the dickens out of my hand when I accidentally poured some of the 320 degree sugar syrup on myself. Yeah. 2nd degree burns. I'm typing this with a huge burn blister on my hand right now, because I'm a trooper. So. Consider that your PSA: be careful with hot sugar.

The walls were glued together with homemade marshmallow, and the colored stones and columns were glued together with super stiff royal icing. Do you like the rock path? You can get the chocolate rocks at It's Sugar! on the Plaza, right here in Kansas City. They're addictive, though, let me tell you... It did take some time to do, but anything worth doing is worth doing right, especially for charity. I will say this, though: I can't pipe with a severely burned hand. All of the piping done for the rocks was piped with my left hand, so it took twice the amount of work. Anybody that ends up buying my gingerbread house for the charity can rest knowing that I put some hard work into it, dag nabbit.

I won't bore you to death with all of the details on how to make this gingerbread house, but here's my favorite recipe on how to make your own building gingerbread dough.

Gingerbread House

  • 8 oz shortening
  • 7 oz sugar
  • 0.6 oz baking powder
  • 0.3 oz baking soda
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 8 fl oz molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 38 oz AP flour

This is a basic cookie method; simply cream the fat together with the sugars, add the eggs one at a time, and add in the dry ingredients in 3 additions. Chill the dough while your oven is heating up, and prepare your pattern. For precision, roll out in large sheets, cut your pieces, bake halfway through, then cut AGAIN to trim off the excess! This is how you get razor-sharp edges on your corners, perfectly pristine lines on your walls, etc.

This house took 4 batches of my gingerbread dough to make the entire thing complete!
Royal Icing
yields about a pound

  • 12 oz powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites

Sift the sugar and set aside. Place the egg white and lemon juice in the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Add about half the sugar and begin whisking on  medium low until incorporated. Increase the speed and check consistency. Add sugar as needed to correct it!

With this basic dough in hand, you can create any gingerbread house you set your mind to. There are about a billion gingerbread house patterns found on Pinterest, and you - yes, you - can create this, because if I can do it, anybody can.

If you'd like to help the CCVI and donate to the charity, come to Webster House at 1644 Wyandotte Street in Kansas City, MO during normal business hours and find us! You can walk around, visit the shop, and donate to the charity by bidding on the house or voting for People's Choice! Check it out from November 30th until December 3rd...but I can tell you that my own house is sitting there, in the Children's room, right now!

Tune in tomorrow on KCTV 5 in Kansas City to see me on the news, talking all about it!

Happy cooking and happy eating - oh, and a VERY Happy Holiday Season!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sweet Potato Tart with Honey Marshmallow

So Thanksgiving-y, you can hear your drunk Uncle in the background...

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. Even though some Pagans/Wiccans celebrate Mabon as their Thanksgiving, that's not going to stop me from celebrating it with the rest of America on the last Thursday of November. 

Thanksgiving is, for me, the quintessential American holiday, where Americns welcomed with open arms the starving, undocumented European refugees and showed them how to survive self-sufficiently on their land. Because of the generous aid of first Americans, the poor, disease-ridden Europeans would have likely starved to death, unable to survive the harsh winter. Why, Benjamin Franklin himself said that the American turkey should be our national bird, and not the American bald eagle. 

wait what?
I know, right?

(Disclaimer: I know that's not a bald eagle. But my boyfriend took that photo of a very distressed-looking bird and I've been dying to use it somewhere.)

Before we delve further, here are some fun facts about sweet potatoes:
  • Sweet potatoes are the official vegetable for North Carolina(yeah, that's a thing)
  • Sweet potatoes are high in fiber(when eaten with the skin on), potassium, Vitamins E, B6 & C, Beta Carotene, and iron
  • Sweet potatoes are found all over Asia
  • Sweet potatoes were grown in Peru as early as 750 BCE
  • First American President George Washington grew sweet potatoes at his farm in Mount Vernon, VA
  • Sweet potatoes can be stored for up to 10 months if left in a cool and dry place
  • Over 260 billion pounds of sweet potatoes are produced globally every year, making it one of the most important crops in the world
Now that we've gotten a bit of fun stuff out of the way, let's get to the recipe!

Sweet Potato Tart
yields 1 11" tart or 2 8" pies

Pie Crust
  • 10.5 oz AP flour(you can also use your favorite GF flour blend)
  • 8 oz(2 sticks) butter, cold, cubed(this works fine with coconut oil, too)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • Apple cider vinegar, A/N
  • 1 lb(16 oz) sweet potato puree(canned is fine in a pinch)
  • 4 oz coconut milk
  • 7 oz brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 5 or 6 shakes of ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper**
Honey Marshmallow
  • 1 Tbsp(2 packages) unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 cups water, divided
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 1/2 cup local honey
  • 1/4 cup organic corn syrup(yes, it's a thing)
  • 1 pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350, and prepare an 11" tart pan with pan spray. You can use store-bought crust, of course, as well as a store-bought graham cracker crust(pictured above). Both taste great, and I'd frankly rather have you eat pie that's freshly made than no pie at all!

Prepare the crust by combining the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add in your fat of choice(be it butter OR coconut oil) and turn on to stir. The benefit of doing it this way instead of by hand is that the mixture will not be heated up from your body heat. Once the fat has been nicely combined with the flour mixture, add in your egg. If it does not all come together in a (reasonably) solid ball, add just a few drops of apple cider vinegar at a time to allow it to mold together. Tip the pastry onto the marble slab (or countertop if you're not drowning in privilege like I am over here) and wrap it in plastic then refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

To create the filling, I always make it fresh. Just take a big-ass sweet potato and pierced it a few times with a knife. Let it cook in that 350 degree oven until ridiculously soft and tender in the middle, which is about an hour if you have big ones like I do. Once it's soft and easily pierced all the way through with a fork or knife, remove from the oven and immediately wrap in tin foil. Let it hang out for another 30 minutes or overnight, if you like. Simply harvest the puree by scooping it out with a spoon or peeling the skin away...your choice!

Take your sweet potato puree and pop it into the bowl of your now clean standing mixer with the paddle attachment and beat in the sugar and spices for about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated, then add the milk and salt. Blend until fully combined and set aside. 

My favorite way of doing pie dough is using parchment paper and panspray. It's no-mess and you won't risk screwing with your dough by adding in too much flour! Simply take two sheets of parchment paper and liberally lubricate. Pop your pie dough in the middle of the bottom sheet, liberally spray the dough, and top with the second sheet. Roll out the dough between the sheets until it's nicely flat and round. Measure the dough by popping your tart tin on top and rolling until it's about an inch around on all sides. Simply peel off the top layer and pop on your tart tin, upside-down, then flip to right-side-up. Now peel away the parchment and boom! Your tart tin is lined!

Fill your lined tart tin and bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for about 30 minutes. Why do we want the bottom rack? To make sure that the bottom crust bakes, of course! Nobody likes a soggy bottom, so let's make sure that gets nice and cooked...shall we? Your custard pie is baked through when you insert a cake tester/toothpick into the tart and it comes out clean!

Evacuate the tart and allow it to cool while you prepare the marshmallow.

This recipe is a modified version of "Puff the Magic Mallow" via Alton Brown's legendary Good Eats. The full episode is on YouTube! 

If you want to just follow the written instructions without all of the science and puppets, though, keep reading...

Combine half of your cold water with the honey, corn syrup, and granulated sugar in a saucepot and cover. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and then remove the top. Pop in your candy thermometer and allow the mixture to cook. I've got one of those super-nifty probe thermometers that has a little alarm to go off when the item I'm temping goes off at the desired temperature, and let me tell you - it's fantastic. I set my thermometer to 240 degrees F, because that's the soft ball stage of candy making, and that's what I want. 

In the very clean bowl of my standing mixer fitted with a very clean whisk attachment, I pop in the remainder of my cold water. I take my tablespoon of gelatin and sprinkle it over the top gently. I don't want it to be lumpy, so this is the part where you just take your time and let it soak. Once everything's been sprinkled, I let it sit until I hear my alarm go off for the magic 240 degrees F!

Once your syrup is up to temperature, carefully bring the pot over to the standing mixer and plop in about a third of the syrup, carefully. Turn on the standing mixer to stir in the syrup, and drizzle in the hot syrup in a thin stream. When all of your syrup is incorporated, turn the whisk on to medium-high for 1 minute, and then turn it to full speed and whip until glossy white and lukewarm, which should take about 10 minutes.

Spray the ever-living bejeezus out of a spatula and tip the marshmallow mixture onto the warm tart. You can also put it in a piping bag and make some neat designs, but that's up to you. Put as much or as little marshmallow on top as you like, and pop any remaining marshmallow into a sheet pan, dusted with equal parts cornstarch and powdered sugar. Dust more on top and set aside.

Leave the marshmallow to set for a few hours, and do the same with the tart so you can safely and cleanly cut it. You can store the set marshmallows in plastic bags for up to one month in the cupboard, but I doubt they'll last that long. As for your tart, you can toast the marshmallow using a torch or under the broiler before serving your guests, if you like! Let's make America great again with awesome pie. What do you say? Are you with me?!

Of course you are.

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pickled Green Tomatoes

I've had the privilege to become a homeowner within the last couple of years, and as such I've gained a small allotment of land as a backyard. On this five-thousand square feet of my own personal kingdom, I'm the caretaker of three glorious trees: a silver maple, a Chinese elm, and a sycamore. These trees, while beautiful, cause a lot of shade...but that didn't stop me from growing a garden.

I've posted garden-related blogs and 'what to do with produce' type blogs before. Gardening is an integral part of my life and is a huge contributor to my diet. I was so happy to be  able to have one that I could maintain for years and years without having to move and start over from scratch, so you'd better believe I started an asparagus patch! But more on that later... Meet Gloria!

Gloria, the Heirloom Tomato Plant that just won't quit

Gloria was a seedling that I found sprouting in the asparagus patch that I'd transferred from my old house. She was sprouting in late September, likely thinking that it was springtime! I felt bad for the poor thing, so I brought her inside to grow over winter.

Instead of dying, I planted her in the garden that next spring and she grew, and grew, and grew into a 7' x 8' x 4' giant of a tomato bush, producing more tomatoes that year than necessary, I can assure you. I mean, it was pretty obscene.

I mean, look at this nonsense!

I mean, look at that nonsense! Just look at how big she was when we pulled her out!

And Howl, of course, had to get into the action for some kisses...

To explain: tomato plants are tropical and last only two years in X conditions. I didn't want to just let her die horribly and slowly in the frost, so I figured I'd be kind and yank her out on Samhain, the last harvest holiday. We laid her out and she was taller than me! But not before harvesting the last of her green tomatoes...

I harvested quite a few tomatoes from her before I pulled her out to make room for my winter crops, and most of them were green. I had a few that were turning orange, so I left them out for a salad or a marinara. The rest, however? All destined for the pickle jar...

Pickling is one of those cherished traditions shared by grandmothers and hipsters across the nation. I love that we're adopting it as a trend because it's not only thrifty(good news for us Millenials) but it's satisfying to have a tactile validation of what you did, which is save something that would have otherwise been wasted. Here's my basic pickle recipe, for your using pleasure:

Basic Pickle Brine

  • 1 cup white vinegar(5% acidity)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
To create the brine, all you have to do is combine all of the ingredients and boil them together in a saucepot. When the mixture has come to a boil, turn off the flame and pour the hot brine over your soon-to-be pickles. Now, here's how you make the tomatoes...

My tomatoes were extremely plentiful, so I packed them as tightly as I could into seven pint jars quite nicely. I put the tinier ones in whole, but I cut the larger ones in half so I could fit more and make sure everything pickles the same way. A basic rule of cooking is that everything needs to be generally the same size when doing preparations like this.

As far as spices and other flavors, this is the stage that you add it. For these pickles, I put in, per jar:

  • A single peeled coin of ginger
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 allspice berries
You can change these around by adding any spices you like. To make a more Asian-inspired pickle, for example, try, per jar:

  • 1/2 tsp schezuan peppercorn
  • 2 ginger coins
  • 1/4 tsp orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
Either way, put your choice spices in the bottom of the jars before you add in your produce, so that way they won't all float to the top when you add the brine. Pack your jars as tightly as possible, while still leaving some head room to breathe...this means that the threads on the jar's lip should be free of liquid and that little half-inch from the top is where you stop filling.

Process your jars accordingly. If you're using the old-fashioned boiling method, like I do, I let them boil for 15 minutes straight, evacuate, and then allow to hang out overnight on the nice wood butcher's block, undisturbed. Pressure canning takes 12 minutes, but please be careful when operating a pressure cooker, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Once your jars are dry, your seals are assuredly tight, and everything looks hunky-dory, label your jars. You can use a dry-erase marker on the top of the lid or print out labels for yourself. I've go these great labels that I use for my apple butter, and you can find the template on most word processing programs if you buy the printer paper at an electronics store...or, of course, online. Even if you simply hand write your label and tie it around the jar's top, make sure you have the date on it. These will hang out just fine for up to six months on your shelf...but please refrigerate once you've opened them.

Happy canning, happy cooking, and happy eating!