Friday, December 30, 2011

A Recipe for Lori - and You!

Well over a year ago I promised my friend, Lori, a recipe for a wonderful appetizer - Brie Onion Tartlets. I even told her I would write a blog entry with the recipe and get it to her "soon."But I kept pushing the blog entry to the back burner and never wrote the blog or shared the recipe with Lori. Sorry!

Guess what? I'm going to make things right and post the recipe now. And even though I'm late in posting, the timing is actually perfect for any of you who might need to make a great appetizer for a New Year's party!
Brie Onion Tartlets
I discovered this recipe in the Taste section of the Star Tribune in 2003 and have made it many times since. The recipe is called "Honey-Glazed Onion and Brie Tarts but I've always referred to the little tarts as "Brie-Onion Tartlets." I'm not sure how I ended up changing the name. It's probably just because it's easier to say "Brie-Onion Tartlets" than "Honey-Glazed Onion and Brie Tarts."

Here are my notes on the recipe:

•I almost always skip the parsley. The tarts are still great without it.
•I find that I have enough of the onion mixture to fill 30 mini-phyllo cups instead of the 15 the recipe calls for. Be sure to pick up an extra box or two of mini-phyllo cups in case you have extra onions, too.
•The tarts are best served right out of the oven but I've also served them at room temperature and they still taste great.
•Browning the onions is time consuming and the tarts are somewhat bothersome to assemble but they are still relatively easy to prepare - and well worth the effort!
Onions, brie and mini-phyllo shells - everything needed to assemble the Brie Onion Tartlets
Interested in making these yummy little tarts? Click here for the link to the recipe on the Star Tribune's website.

And while you are on the internet, check out Lori's custom jewelry website, Simply Yours Creations, or her wonderful blog, We Bloom Where Planted. Lori is an inspiring athlete, blogger and artist I met through 30 Days of Biking. I'm constantly amazed at what an impact 30 Days of Biking made on my life - not just fact that I set a goal to bike every day for 30 days and and did it (four times now!) but because through 30 Days of Biking I met so many wonderful people - like Lori!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Vacation Traditions

We had a wonderful Christmas with family and are now enjoying some time off from work and school. We're all kicking back and reading, playing games, eating too much and, since we're having unseasonably warm weather, have been on a few long walks with Rocket the Dog.

Today we plan to do some work in the hangar finishing up our shop and I hope to finish a photo book that I started ages ago. But more than anything I'd like to curl up with a good book (Rose got me The Last Wife of Henry VII for Christmas from Northfield Middle School's wonderful Tattered Pages shop) or take a nap. It is vacation, after all, so reading and naps are a must!

Another must during our winter vacation is our annual (usually post-Christmas) trip to downtown Minneapolis via the light-rail train. In the last few years we've made it a tradition to eat at Brit's Pub - a British Pub & Eating Establishment that features, you guessed it, British fare like Bangers and Mash, Cornish Pasty, Cock-a-Leekie Soup and Sausage Rolls. We love Brit's. In the summer months you can even sit outside up on the roof next to the Lawn Bowling green.
Owen and his Cornish Pasty with peas and Ryan with his Brit's Kings Wings
We take great care to order something fun when we go to Brit's. We started with an order of Scotch Eggs. Rose ended up with a mini-pizza from the kids' menu (very non-British but one of my kids always gets the pizza). Ryan ordered Brit's Kings Wings and Owen the Cornish Pasty. I ordered the Sausage Rolls. Brit's Sausage Rolls used to be my favorite but Brit's changed up the recipe to a breaded and deep fried roll instead of a little sausages rolled up in a flaky pastry. I don't think I'll order them again. The breaded rolls just aren't good enough to suit me. That said, we still enjoyed our meals and the Brit's experience. And, as usual, I ordered a side of Branston Pickle with my meal - a pickle relish that looks rather strange but, I think, tastes great! A trip to Brit's, in my mind, isn't complete without a pot of tea and a side of Branston Pickle.
Rose and her mini-pizza. Me and my Sausage Rolls with HP Sauce, Branston Pickle & Honey Mustard
Our trips downtown used to include a trip to Macy's to see their 8th floor auditorium Christmas display. The animated display has been a tradition at Macy's (then Dayton's) since 1963. I remember going to the display when I was a little girl. We didn't go every year but the memories I have of the times I went to Dayton's with my Mom and big brother are some of my favorites.  When Owen and I had kids we decided to make the 8th floor Christmas display an annual tradition for our family. And, other than the year the display was Harry Potter and the lines were too long, we've made a trip downtown to see the display since 1999 when Rose was a baby.
Rose & Ryan in 2007 at the 8th Floor Christmas Display - The Nutcracker was the theme that year.
That is, a trip to Macy's used to be our annual tradition. Macy's has done the same display the last four years - A Day in the Life of an Elf. We saw the Elf display in 2008. It was delightful. The kids loved it. But when we went in 2009 the display was once again A Day in the Life of An Elf. Granted, if my kids were tiny they wouldn't have remembered that they were seeing the same thing as the year before. But even at ages 7 and 10, they knew the display was the same.  And, even though it was still a treat to see the characters and fun to walk past each scene, we were all a little disappointed to see the same display.
Rose and Ryan checking out The Day in the Life of an An Elf in 2008
Guess what Macy's had for a display in 2010? Yep. Same thing. The Day in the Life of An Elf. And the same Elf display in 2011 (Read an interesting blog entry - "DeBlog: Macy's is Doing The Same Xmas Display AGAIN?"). So we skipped the display this year and last year. Hmmm, we skipped the display which also means we didn't spend any money shopping at Macy's...seems like a poor move on Macy's part. Having a new display each year keeps people coming year after year. Not having a new display sure kept us away and it sounds like we're not the only ones skipping Macy's this Christmas. There's even a Boycott Macy's Facebook page.

Come on Macy's - if you won't do a new display every year at least rotate in another display or two. We'd love to make the 8th Floor Auditorium Christmas Display part of our family tradition again.

Well then...In the time we could have been shopping at Macy's we visited a lot of other shops instead. We made two trips to Barnes & Noble and had a blast looking at books and Rose did some Nook research. We went to Target to look at TVs and Electronics. We visited shops in the IDS Building and Gaviidea Commons. We even found a lovely little shop that sold French Macarons - Cocoa & Fig - so we HAD to stop for a treat. I had a Salted Caramel French Macaron. Rose had a peanut butter cake pop and Ryan had a peanut butter cookie sandwich. They were all yummy!

Speaking of treats - I'm going to share a great appetizer recipe with you in the next day or two.

As for right now? Working in the hangar has slipped to the bottom of my to do list. I think it's time to read a book. Or take that nap. I wonder if I can manage to do both...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mad About Macarons!

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a macaron cookbook, Mad About Macarons! Make Macarons like the French, through a comment posted on my Macaron Madness blog. Turns out the author of the book, Jill Colonna, stumbled upon my blog and posted a comment. Jill is originally from Scotland but now lives in France and is a serious fan of macarons -  a "macaronivore," she says. And I think Jill may be my first blog comment poster from France. Cool!

I decided to order Colonna's book which was recently released in the US and Canada. I called Jerry at my local book shop, Monkey See Monkey Read, to see if he could get the book for me. He said "yes" and ordered it right away.
The book arrived within a week and last Thursday I picked it up. At quick glance I could see the book itself was a treat with many beautiful pictures of macarons.

I couldn't wait to really delve into the book so after dinner I brewed a pot of tea in my Paris tea pot (it has a picture of the Eiffel tower on it), sat down on the couch with my tea and a couple of chocolate orange macarons and read Mad About Macarons! cover to cover.  The book is wonderful! There are 37 macaron recipes (including a nut-free recipe for those with nut allergies) with such fun flavor combinations as "Whiskey MacCoffee" and "Thai Green Curry" in addition to the more standard Vanilla, Almond and Chocolate. In addition, Colonna suggests tea and wine pairings for each recipe, comments on presentation and packaging and has a few recipes for your leftover egg yolks.
No surprise - I decided I had to try one of Jill's recipes but with macaron making you can't do things quickly. First off, Colonna suggests "aging" your egg whites for four to five days in the fridge. So I cracked and separated my eggs and put them in the fridge.

In the meantime I had some work to do to prepare for my first Mad About Macarons! recipe.

Since the recipes in the book are all in grams (precise measurements are a must) I headed to The Measuring Cup, my local cooking store, and bought a digital scale. I also headed to Penzey's Spices  in hopes of finding Bitter Almond Extract, one of the ingredients for the almond macaron recipe I wanted to try. I couldn't find bitter almond so I decided that I would try the recipe with regular almond extract.

There are a few other things in the Mad About Macarons! cookbook that are a challenge to find here. Custard powder is one, though I happened to have some Bird's Custard tucked away in my cupboard. My local grocery store and co-op don't carry custard powder but Byerly's does. I have yet to find Vanilla powder though the people at Penzey's suggested I might find it at a craft store that sells cake decorating supplies. (note added 12/12/11 - I discovered that The  Measuring Cup and Byerly's both carry Vanilla Powder - expensive stuff but worth it!) Jill suggests using "a flexible plastic patisserie scraper" for preparing the macarons - I didn't find one at The Measuring Cup so will keep looking.

Also there are several things that I had to double check to make sure I knew what they were. The basic macaron recipe calls for eggs, ground almonds, caster sugar and icing sugar - here caster sugar is granulated sugar and icing sugar is powdered sugar. Some recipes call for "full milk" which is the same as whole milk yet another recipe calls for whole milk and not full milk. Not sure what to make of that. One recipe calls for "single cream" and I still have to figure out what that is. There are other little things that puzzle me in the cookbook but I'm sure I'll figure them out as I go along.

Finally, on Sunday night with my ingredients figured out, my scale ready and my eggs aged (or almost - I couldn't wait and only aged them for three days!) I started making Almond Macarons (Macarons aux Amandes - Colonna includes the French names for each recipe. I love it!).

I decided to make the shells turquoise blue simply because I've been wanting to make blue macarons.
Guess what? My shells baked up perfectly! I was so excited. Then I made the custard-based almond filling.
Making a custard-based filling wasn't as easy as I would have liked it to be. I followed the directions but still ended up with lumpy custard sauce. So I sieved the custard - I've always wanted to say that I sieved something. It sounds far more glamourous than "I squished the custard through a strainer to get the lumps out."

In the end, I was a little worried about the custard filling tasting too custardy. I almost gave up and made a buttercream instead. But I filled all of my beautiful blue shells with the almond custard and tucked them away in the fridge. Then I  waited - according to Colonna macarons need to sit for 24 hours before eating "as this lets the filling infuse into the shell."

Once again I struggled to wait for the entire length of time I was supposed to but I got close! I tried my first Blue Almond French Macaron on Monday afternoon and all I can say is WOW! It was better than good - it was wonderful. So I tried another. And another. And shared a bunch with a couple of friends. I was hooked on French Macarons before but now I really am!
And guess what? Tonight I'm cracking a few more eggs to get them started on their aging process so I can try another Mad About Macarons! recipe.

I'm thinking I will make Dark Chocolate Macarons (Macarons au Chocolat Noir) next. Or Chocolate and Lapsang Souchong Macarons (though I think I will substitute Earl Grey tea for the Lapsang Souchong). Or maybe Tutti-Frutti Macarons (Macarons aux Fruits Rouges).

Ah - so many macaron recipes to try and so many little bites of heaven to share with my family and friends. Life is good indeed!