Why we started this idea????

A passion for food, wine, friends and entertaining is a big part of our life. This is a way for us to document our experiences, passion for food & life and also share it with others.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Chicken-Chile Tamales

We've been wanting to establish an annual tamale making tradition at Christmas for some time now.

We attempted to try a few Christmases ago but we bought pre-made masa dough, it made way too many tamales and we were all pretty burned out and the tradition just never caught it's momentum.

My sister actually requested that we give it a try again this year and we decided why not. G immediately went to his 'cooking mentor' Rick Bayless for ideas. Now don't get me wrong I'm as much a Rick follower as he is but sometimes, just sometimes, his recipes are far more complicated and drawn out than we have time for. And being Christmas and all this was one of those times we just didn't need to drag it out any more than we had to.

I went back to our trusty Cuisine at Home subscription collection because I had a faint recollection of a tamale recipe that we had wanted to make. (as we've shared before we've subscribed to this cooking tool for over 12 years, it has failed us on very few recipes....the bummer is unlike Bon Appetit or Cooking Light all the recipes are not readily found online so you have to go back to the magazine. We have a mediocre method for referencing them but I'll tell you we need a better one now that we hav 12 years of issues. Finding that recipe you kind of remember seeing once is too tedious.)
Eventually I found the issue from December 2009 that had creeped into my vague memory for Tamales at home.

G made the masa dough the day before using a combo of lard, vegetable shortening,butter and homemade chicken broth. He also cooked off some chicken thighs the day before.

On Christmas morning we got up and made the chicken-chile filling with the thighs using a roasted poblano and canned fire roasted tomatoes.

We doubled the chicken-chile red sauce and reserved half to use as a topping sauce. I also decided to make a green tomatillo-cilantro sauce that I found on epicurious to give us 2 sauce options to compliment the tamales.

We took all the needed ingredients and toppings to my mom's house to be prepared by the family.

We first soaked the corn husks in warm water for about 25 minutes and then everyone got busy making tamales. (Cuisine at Home had great step by step directions and tips...all of their suggestions really helped this time.)

It all came together pretty quick this time. Actually this time we wished we had doubled the masa recipe as we could tell there were not going to be many leftovers after this dinner.

After we had them all made we put them in the pot to steam for about an hour and a half. The recipe warned to not let your water boil out from the bottom nor let the water touch the actual tamales. I truly believe this was one of our pitfalls from our first year's attempt. As it warned the water will make them dense and heavy which is what I remember from our first tamale party.

Finally it was time to eat our wonderful tamales. My mom helped set out the crema, diced avocado, cotijo cheese, cilantro and both our red & green sauces.

The tamales came out of the steamer looking pretty tasty. But opened up with a little sauce, some of each for all of us, and topped with wonderful toppings they were exceptional. Really!

Delicate, flavorful and down right delicious. G really did a fantastic job on making just the right consistency of the dough. You could really taste the difference.

We are certain this batch will keep the momentum going and tamales for the holidays will become an annual event. If you haven't made your own tamales before we recommend breaking it up into steps over at least 2 days, 3 would even be better but 2 worked for us, and definitely have a crowd together to share the work. It's kind of fun.. they most likely won't mind working for their dinner.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gingerbread Babies 2011

We have lots of holiday traditions that we look forward to every December but there is none that we look forward to more than our annual Gingerbread Baby making day with our niece & nephew. We document the fun every year in their "Gingerbread Baby Scrapbook" but this is the first year I can document it here for the whole family as well.

The tradition actually started before our niece was even born. At the time I was a first grade teacher who had a serious passion and addiction to children's literature. (Its one of the things I miss most about not being in the classroom anymore....all of the wonderful books to be read.) My sister was pregnant with Ally and I got "Ally" ,who wouldn't be born until July, Jan Brett's Gingerbread Baby book. Knowing that one day I would read that book with my soon to come niece and I couldn't wait until we could bake our own gingerbread babies together.

Since Ally was old enough to cook we've been making Gingerbread babies every year. We figured out this was our 11th year of the tradition. Of course Spencer is now part of the tradition as well. It's usually part of a sleepover on most years, and if we are lucky even a 2 niter sleepover.

This year they arrived on the evening of 20th (G&I's last day of school), we grilled some Christmas tree shaped pizza's for dinner.

Just for a little additional festivity.

The next morning after a walk up to get their favorite cinnamon rolls at Met Market we came back and got started.

This year I decided we'd use the Betty Crocker Gingerbread recipe because some years we've made better versions than others and I truly couldn't remember if this recipe was one of the hits or not. They were both a bit nervous to see that this version didn't include eggs and used vegetable shortening instead of butter. Spencer being the self appointed resident egg cracker was of course disappointed there was no need for his skill in this one.
And then Ally had to share that vegetable shortening is actually animal fat not just vegetable shortening which lent to some interesting conversation.

Traditionally while the dough is chilling we read the book and have some cocoa. Actually in the past it was I who read the book to them but the past few years they read it to me. We added another Jan Brett Gingerbread Friends book to the tradition a few Christmases ago so now we actually read both. Her illustrations never cease to hold our interest in the story. They are pretty amazing. (Now that they are age 13 & 9 and it seems bickering is part of everything they do we ended up having to do rock paper scissors for who would read which book, who would read first.....Auntie T had a bit of a headache this year.)

After an hour the dough was ready to be rolled and cut and we were ready for some hands on work. There is less bickering to be heard when they are busy.

We searched the web for some decorating ideas this year and found some cute Shrek "themed" Gingy versions we thought we'd give a try.

Fun was had with laughter and a bit of additional bickers here and there but overall it was the tradition we all love.

We were all pleasantly happy with the taste of our babies this year even without the eggs & butter. They made for a plump & chewy cookie.

I always remind them this something I still expect them to come do with me in high school, college, 25 and even with their own children.

It's time well spent with "the babies" we love and it's not the holidays until it happens around here.

Betty Crocker's Gingerbread Cookies
cup packed brown sugar
cup shortening
1 1/2
cups dark molasses
cup cold water
cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
teaspoons baking soda
teaspoons ground ginger
teaspoon ground allspice
teaspoon ground cinnamon
teaspoon ground cloves
teaspoon salt
Frosting and Decorations
cups powdered sugar
teaspoon vanilla
to 5 tablespoons half-and-half
Food colors, if desired
Raisins or chocolate chips, if desired
In large bowl, beat brown sugar, shortening, molasses and water with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon, until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  • 2 Heat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheet lightly with shortening or spray with cooking spray. On floured surface, roll dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut with floured gingerbread cutter or other shaped cutter. On cookie sheet, place cutouts about 2 inches apart.

  • 3 Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

  • 4 In medium bowl, mix powdered sugar, vanilla and half-and-half until frosting is smooth and spreadable. Add food colors as desired. Frost cookies; decorate with raisins, chocolate chips and candies

  • Assorted candies, if desired


    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Supper Club: Sushi Night

    We love to host Supper Club in June because it's usually nice enough to be out on the patio and our house is the smallest of all the couples and being outside allows for more space. We also love to host Supper Club in December because it's Christmas and it's festive.
    When we do get the opportunity to host in December we try our best to go away from the typical holiday themes. We really try to choose themes that push us to try something new or a new technique, just something different than a regular dinner party that we might host.

    We love to go out for sushi, on occasion buy it pre-made at our local Metropolitan Market but we have never attempted to make it ourselves. I had been throwing around the idea of choosing to do sushi the next time we hosted supper club for awhile. I bounced it off a few other couples in October and November and finally decided to just go for it. No one amongst the group would consider themselves sushi experts, some were pretty new to sushi , especially raw fish. This seemed like a theme we needed to do.

    We researched for weeks how to best pull this off. I spent a lot of time researching sushi "how to's. The Pioneer Woman had some great stuff: here and My Sushi Daddy (here) had a great tutorial on how to best roll the rolls.

    We went out and found some of the supplies we didn't have including sushi mats, nori (dried seaweed sheets) and japanese mayo to make the spicy sauce.

    We finally narrowed it down to several different rolls. We had each couple bring a protein and another needed ingredient.
    G & T's favorite sushi ingredient; Sashimi Grade Ahi Tuna

    When everyone had arrived we started with appetizers; edamame, gyoza and these very beautiful Zucchini "sushi" rolls (all veggie here.)

    After enjoying some appetizers and some warm sake that Shannon & Robin brought to share we then all watched the Sushi Daddy tutorial on how to roll. We all agreed watching this helped SO MUCH! None of the couples including us had ever made sushi before.

    Next we divided the recipes and ingredients amongst the couples and we all got busy.

    Derek & Lisa made the Sweet Chicken Chili Maki Roll made with shredded chicken and sweet chile sauce.

    Kris & Jeff took on the Dunwell rolls made with tempura shrimp.

    Shannon & Robin made the American style California roll made with imitation crab and mango.

    G & I took on the Crazy Tuna roll and some spicy tuna rolls (our favorite to order at any sushi restaurant.)

    We were actually all pretty surprised that it was easier to roll successfully than we expected it to be.

    Everyone just kind of went for it and it worked.

    Earlier in the day we had prepared some tasty sauces to accompany our creations: spicy sauce (Japanese mayo & sriracha a supper club favorite evidently), Ginger Sauce, Hot Garlic Chile Sauce and Ponzu sauce. We served the sauces along with the usually expected pickled ginger, soy sauce, wasabi and roasted sesame seeds.

    The spread was pretty impressive.

    We had a great time enjoying our labors.

    We were all a bit surprised how filling our meal was.
    After some more sake, wine and our fill of sushi we had a very simple dessert of dessert sushi.

    Yep, those are rice krispy treats with Swedish fish and fruit rolls. Which actually was pretty perfect as we were all pretty stuffed so just a little fun sweet treat was plenty to cap off the night.

    It was a fun hands on supper club. Everyone was a great sport given every little counter spot in our 1940 kitchen was pretty much put to use with all of us making our rolls and all of the ingredients needed.

    It was a great night and has become a holiday favorite to spend time with this great group of folks who have become so dear to us.

    We are all pretty sure we feel confident enough to make sushi on our own again!

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    GCC: Sugar Cookies

    This weekend I decided to get "Gutsy" and challenge myself to make some fancy Christmas cookies for our December Gutsy Cooks Club theme. Now my aversion to baking in general may actually come from many years of failed attempts at making fancy Christmas cookies. I've found them to be messy, needing too much stuff: ingredients, tools, etc...and I plain ole' have never had the patience to pull them off.

    We love sugar cookies around here. And I definitely have made tons of batches of them. But for the most part we're talking 1 colored icing, nothing fancy at all, maybe a quick sugar sprinkle. That's it.

    But I was inspired by these beautiful cookies I saw here. I figured it was worth a try to get fancy again. I expanded my Tier 3 cookie decorating vocabulary with; piping & flooding, I went and purchased the gel colors, a variety of pastry tips and a Santa head cutter. The funny thing is although I make sugar cookies every year over the years I just decided to throw Santa out. I could never figure out how to give him a face without it looking like a 3 year old had made him. So I just gave up. Until now.

    I read up on "the best royal icing recipes" and browsed tons of photos online of Santa cookies. Finally I was ready to conquer my fear and just go for it.

    I learned time is really what makes a difference when getting fancy with your cookies. So I set aside time. I made the cookies Saturday morning. Allowed them to cool all day.

    I then later that night piped as much of all white parts of the cookies to dry over night. I also did the Santa faces with eyes.

    In Cuisine At Home Cookies I found a recipe for decorating that suggested because making royal icing as vibrant as you want it is essentially impossible to brush a cookie with warmed corn starch and then sprinkle the area with color sugar sparkles (definitely a new technique for this fancy cookie novice)...this suggestion was worthy of giving a try.

    5 hours later I was fairly happy with my result (Yes, 5 hours later. Thank goodness G was on the mountain as this project consumed every working space of our 1940 kitchen.)

    My result definitely was not in any way a comparison to the inspiration cookies that got me started but they were a significant improvement over any sugar cookie that I had made in the past.

    They had a crispy cookie and a cute outside.

    I knew they were an improvement over years past when G came in and said, "Holy S_  _ _, can I eat them?" Yeah, that's how "unfancy" my before cookies used to be.

    But to be honest they previous ones tasted just as good, these were just a bit prettier.

    At our house nothing says "The Holidays are Here" like a sugar cookie. And this definitely is not the most "gutsy" an at home cook can get. But for someone who avoids baking as much as I do, making a conscious attempt to "get fancy" was about as fancy & gutsy as I get in the baking genre.

    That's one of the many reasons I love the holidays. It's the season and the reason to "gussy or gutsy" it up a bit.


    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Christmas Decorating Requires a Hearty Breakfast

    The thing that we most love about the holidays are the traditions that we've created to celebrate them.

    We've got quite a few traditions related to Christmas. Obviously decorating is one of them. I love to decorate the house for Christmas. It's like a non-food related "comfort food" for me.

    I love just putting all the special treasures here and there that remind us of the season with each opening of the wine glass cabinet or the linen closet.

    It seems each little treasure that only gets the opportunity to come up from the basement for three short weeks brings back some special memory or someone who gave it to us.
    One of my favorite treasures, given to me by Ally & Spencer. We make Gingerbread babies together EVERY year.

    For the most part I tease G that he's pretty bah-hum-bug about the holidays (but honestly that has more to do with the over shopping I usually do for the holidays really.) But he does love our Christmas tree tradition.

    Each year we go to a "u-cut" tree farm, search and search for that perfect tree to cut down. The past 5 years we've been going down to Olympia for our tree to Tom's U-Cut farm.  This year we did it a bit differently than the usual. Since we were going that way for dinner we decided to go pick out our tree before going to the dinner party. It was a foggy kind of late afternoon. We actually needed to hustle a bit as dark was setting in fast.

    At first it's always a bit overwhelming, so many trees, "How do you pick?"
    After walking in circles several times we usually narrow it down. Truthfully it usually happens a bit like this. I find one I like, we mark it with a colored ribbon just in case I find another one I like.
    G= "Okay are you SURE this is the one?"
    We walk around, do the same for a few more trees.

    And then we can't find our way back to the ones we've marked. It's an effective system (Not!)
    But somehow we always narrow it down to THE ONE. This year it was this one, with the crooked top but very symmetrical shape. I like symmetry.

    The next morning after a bit of our favorite breakfast,

    Abeja inspired Smoked Salmon Hash with Horseradish Cream,
    (recipe  linked here)

    and a fresh Cutie Squeezed mimosa we started our traditional tree trimming process.

    G snipped a few branches here and there before we started the usual cumbersome "getting it in the stand" process. This year the battle was quick luckily.

    We got it in the house and placed in our traditional spot.

    Next is the light experience, personally my least favorite part of the whole ordeal.

    This year I just bit the bullet and bought all new lights to avoid the hassle of trying to figure why 1/3 of the strand wasn't working half of the time. 6 strands seemed like more than enough for our 7 foot tree but of course we were one strand short of filling the entire tree with the new lights. But I was determined to not have to go to the store again and make it work.  

    Finally it was time to do the part I do love; putting on all the decorations. On our honeymoon we started the tradition of picking up an ornament from every vacation we take as a souvenir to remind us the trip.
    Glacier 2001
    11 years later it's our favorite part of the Christmas tree; looking at the ornaments and remembering our 1 year anniversary at Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, Washington.
    Lake Tahoe 2003
    Orcas Island 2005

    let's just say if we don't stop buying them in Cabo our tree is going to be pretty Mexico heavy!
    A newer edition from Robert Mondavi Vineyards, Napa, California 2011
    But the only one G really cares about where it gets placed on the tree is his Scotty Pippen ornament I bought him for our first Christmas in 1998.

    He demands front row placement for that one.

    Yep, we love Christmas traditions big & small and we can't wait to enjoy them all this season!

    Enjoy the season.