Remember last year when I made a 3D Gingerbread Christmas Tree out of interlocking cookies so that the tree stands on it’s own? I had so much fun making it that I decided to do something for Halloween too. This time I made a tree from four pieces so that the eight branches resemble spider legs. Perched in a dish of candy it looks rather creepy.
To make this I used one batch of Gingerbread House dough from Simply Recipes that was divided into four equal pieces before chilling it. I roll it to 1/4-inch thickness and bake it until the edges are browning so that it’s as dry and strong as possible. Directions and templates are all below.
I think I have some changes to make but in the mean time I feel like I’ve figured out how to roll out gingerbread dough with as little swearing as possible. As much as I love making gingerbread for construction purposes I really dislike rolling it out. Here is my set up:
The Roll-Pat is an investment but it gives me a smooth surface to use. It grips the tabletop and keeps parchment paper from slipping. A nice, heavy and super wide rolling pin with handles also makes a huge difference, before this I only had a cylinder rolling pin but this one with handles makes the job a lot easier. I have a 15″ rolling pin and it is large enough for everything I’ve used it for so far. I have both silicone and rubber rolling pin rings (one set has 1/2 inch and the other has 5/8ths inch heights). I cannot fit the thicker rubber rings around my larger rolling pin so I switch to my narrower rolling pin if I need to use them.
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· comments  · 10-26-2012 · categories:food · halloween ·
These Trick-or-Treat cookies have a surprise inside. Each cookie either holds a treat, like mini chocolate candies, or a trick, here they are small sugar ants. Which will you get? You’ll have to break one open to find out.
How to make Trick-or-Treat cookies:
Make one or more batches of cut out cookie dough (recipe below, or use your favorite) and after chilling it take it out of the fridge to warm up so it can be rolled out. Preheat your oven to 350 and clear a shelf in your fridge or a spot in your freezer large enough to hold a cookie sheet.
Roll out one half of your dough between two sheets of parchment paper to a 1/4th inch thickness. Remove the top layer of parchment and cut out your cookies, dipping the cutter in flour to keep it from sticking. We’ll be baking the cookies on this same parchment so space them about an inch apart.
Right now you are cutting two parts of each cookies (the top and the bottom) so if you have an asymmetrical cutter be sure to flip it over and cut half of them mirror image, as shown above.
Trim the parchment away from the dough so that it’s small enough to sit on your cookie sheet and slide the parchment onto the cookie sheet. Put this in the fridge or freezer to firm up so you can pull away the excess dough.
Later we’ll baking the cookies right on this sheet so trimming the parchment means they’ll bake flat. I keep the cookies on this same parchment throughout so they don’t have a chance to lose their shape.
Once the dough has firmed up pull away the excess from around the cut out shapes. You can save the scraps for more cookies later.
Before baking chill the cookies and the cookie sheet again for about 10 minutes before putting them in the oven. (You can roll out your second layer while you’re waiting, instructions are just under the next photo.)
Bake for about 10 minutes, checking and rotating the cookie sheet half way through. After that check often and remove once the edges of the cookies are just starting to look brown and the tops look set.
Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack and let them sit for a few minutes until the cookies are cool and strong enough to slide them off the parchment and right onto the cookie rack.
Roll your second half of the dough to 1/2″ or 3/8″ thick. You’ll be cutting the middles for you cookies so only cut half as many this time, so if you cut six earlier, you only need three now. (No need to make mirror image cut outs this time.) Use smaller cutters to create a hole in the center of each shape.
Trim the parchment, slide onto a cookie sheet and chill the dough as you did for the first round. When it’s firm remove the excess dough from the outside as well as the inside of your shapes.
Again, chill these very well on the cookie sheet before baking them. Check and rotate after five minutes and keep an eye on them after that. Remove when the bottom edges begin to brown and cool carefully, as you did for the first set.
While your cookie pieces are cooling mix up some glue from one cup of powdered sugar and four tablespoons of milk (as per the recipe below). Put this into a sandwich sized zip bag and clip a teeny tiny corner off.
Lay your cookies out so the bottom piece has the flattest side up, the middle and tops will have the flattest side down. When constructed the top and the bottom of your cookies will show the pretty side that was up while they were baking and they’ll look nice and tidy. If you have asymmetrical cookies here be sure all the bits will match when they are sandwiched.
Glue the middle part of your cookie to the bottom.
Fill the cookies with your trick or your treat. Be random, no cheating! Don’t overfill them and check to make sure the top of your cookie will fit on with no trouble. It’s much easier to do this not before more sugar glue is introduced.
I made four different shapes: pumpkins, ghosts, tombstones and coffins (my favorite).
A detail shot to show the middle layer of cookie is a bit thicker than the top and bottom layers.
Glue the top on, decorate if you’d like, and you’re done! Now, serve these and see how much fun people have breaking them open.
Important: Make sure anything you might put inside these cookies is edible, you don’t want somebody accidentally swallowing something like a plastic spider (which I really, really wanted to hide inside these).
These cookies were inspired by the Pinata Cookies made over at She Knows, which are genius. Since I didn’t need mine to be striped I used a cut out sugar cookie recipe instead and created a thicker middle layer. I did try to cut the cookies out when the dough comes out of the oven and is still warm, the technique that is in the She Knows recipe, but found it created an edge that was too crumbly.
I used a set of seven Halloween cookie cutters made by Wilton for the cookies you see here. I cannot seem to find the same set online, it came packaged in a coffin shaped box and it’s probably already 50% off at Joann. The middles of my cookies were cut out using my Ateco 12-piece round cutters, which I love and find myself using often.
I find rolling dough to be tedious so I invested in a Roll-Pat (that page shows it as Roul-Pat but mine says Roll-Pat on it). It’s similar to a Silpat but oversized and the bottom layer grips your counter top. This is lovely because I prefer to roll dough between two layers of parchment and this keeps the parchment from slipping on my counter top. Love it, especially as what I think of as gingerbread construction season arrives.
There are so many options for what tricks you can hide inside, here I used some black cake decorations made by Wilton, they are complete edible but don’t taste like much. I also considered some small flat sour gummy candies, salted licorice coins, various cake decorations (skull and crossbones!) and Pop Rocks. For the treats the only things could find that are small enough are mini M&Ms or (my favorite) Valrhona Perles Craquant. Sadly I found that Reeses Pieces or candy corn wouldn’t fit inside, I tried. A friend mentioned that mini-candy corn might exist in the world and if I’d managed to find some I definitely would have used that as well.
I’m also considering seeing if I can make the coffin cookies tall enough to fill with some sugar skeleton pieces I found. I’d also include the Valrhona Perles Craquant as graveyard dirt. And small gummi worms if I can find some.
Click more for the recipe. [Read more →]
· comments  · 10-18-2012 · categories:food · halloween ·
· comments  · 10-8-2012 · categories:food · links ·
||This post is in partnership with smartwater. smartwater, simplicity is delicious. Click here to learn more.
Earlier this year I bought a whipped cream maker and promptly used it to make a lazy girl’s Ramos Gin Fizz. During my research I found that a whipped cream maker has more uses for booze, it can fast infuse spirits in seconds by using the pressure inside the canister to push flavors into the liquor. So cool.
I’ve previously made grapefruit and tarragon infused vodka and love it so much I’ve wanted to introduce it to anybody that showed the smallest interest but it takes six days and I cannot tell the future. So I decided to test a few infusions and do a side by side tasting of the slow and fast versions to see how they compared.
I made slow and fast versions of Cucumber Jalapeño Tequila, Pineapple Ginger Rum and Grapefruit Tarragon Vodka. For the slow infusions I put the ingredients in a jar stored in the fridge for six days, taking a second to swirl the ingredients once a day then I strained them through a fine mesh strainer.
To make fast infusions you put your spirit and flavorings into your whipped cream maker. Put the lid on and charge it with your gas canister. Swirl (don’t shake) the canister for 30 seconds then let it rest for 30 seconds. Carefully, discharge the gas by leaving the canister upright (you want to keep the liquids inside) and slowly pulling the trigger, make sure to point the nozzle away from anything important like delicate stemware or your face. Then remove the lid and pour the ingredients through a fine mesh strainer. Why the swirling and resting for 30 second increments? I’m not sure but Cooking Issues and a few other sources recommend that so I go with it.
Results? My tasting panel (um, myself and Scott) took careful notes. The slow infused gin had more tarragon and more bitterness from the grapefruit peel. The slow infused tequila carried lots of green notes from the cucumber that the fast infusion didn’t show. The slow infused rum showed a little more pineapple, but the fast infusion had a much stronger ginger note. I’m not sure if the fast infusion is better at getting ginger flavor out or if the ginger I used was better, but it was such a clear difference that I might try again to see how it compares.
The winners were the slow infusions, at least for now. I’ll just have to learn to plan ahead if I want people to try Salted Tarragon Greyhounds. (You should make some, I’ll wait.) I think that the recipes could be adjusted to create better results for fast infusions, but I’m wondering if there are some things that just cannot be rushed. Clearly I’ll need to do a lot more research. It’ll be tough to sip so many variations on infused liquor but, for you, I’ll be tipsy any time.
While we were at it I did a fast infusion recipe that I saw demonstrated at the Northwest Distillery and Cocktail Festival by Jay Kuehner. He talked through his recipe so here is the best I could do from my notes from the night. He made enough for six cocktails:
Smokey infused whiskey
1x lapsang souchong tea
3 vanilla beans
I made a smaller amount and used about 1/4th of a 750 ml bottle of whiskey, one vanilla bean split and cut into a few shorter segments and two pinches of loose tea. I strained the result and then poured it through a coffee filter to also get the the vanilla beans and smaller specks of tea. The tea imparted a nice smokey flavor into the whiskey and though the vanilla wasn’t too apparent in the flavor it imparted a lovely vanilla nose. It vastly improved my unfortunate choice of whiskey (which shall go unnamed).
Have a favorite infusion recipe? Please share it, I have jars and fridge space that need filling.
· comments  · 09-27-2012 · categories:food ·
10 Tricks to Make the Lazy Cook’s Food Taste Better | The GastroGnome. Salting the lettuce in a salad before adding dressing and other things? I have never heard of this.
The Seattle Dog: An Oral History – Seattle Weekly.
Fresh Hop Beers are Here: Where to Get Your Fresh Hop Fix This Year, Seattle Beer News. I will actually be in town for a few of these events, yes!
Campfire Cook | Living Blogs | Martha Stewart. Making damper, “a simple bread that Australian bushmen made when they spent nights out under the stars.” I want to make this sometime soon!
Hand-blended organic teas, delivered monthly | Bird’s Eye Tea. A little birdie told me that Maria from Curio Confections has been baking small bites to include with the monthly tea shipments. I adore everything Maria makes!
The Pizza Lab: The Baking Steel Delivers | Slice Pizza Blog. We have a new winner in the “what to use to cook pizza at home” wars and it is available to us because of Kickstarter, neat.
· comments  · 09-25-2012 · categories:food · links ·
I recently got to visit Tom Douglas’ Palace Kitchen restaurant to learn how they smoke tomatoes. It was pretty rad. I went home and made my own. And guess what? My tomatoes? Not so smokey. Let’s blame the underpowered two-burner grill. Or me not really committing to setting wood chips on fire. Or my tiny foil containers.
I’ll be trying again. Smoked tomatoes, I will conquer you.
· comments  · 09-20-2012 · categories:food ·
My friend (and old conference roommate) Gayla Trail has published a delightful book called Drinking In The Summer Garden which is available in both paperback and e-book format. If you’re in the midst of gathering what has grown in your garden, or if you are like me and a little clueless on where to start, this book will be incredibly helpful. It is full of recipes for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, infusions and syrups and a spread of both sweet and savory foods. You can take a peek at some pages over here.
Gayla’s site You Grow Girl keeps up with her gardening and she’s published three books that make even me think gardening and container gardening is something I might be able to handle: You Grow Girl, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food From Small Spaces and Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces. She’s pretty awesome.
· comments  · 09-6-2012 · categories:books · food ·
· comments  · 09-5-2012 · categories:food · links ·
Earlier this summer I was having dinner at Bravehorse Tavern with Scott and the tomatoes that came with my salad were smoked, it was a delightful surprise. (Though, I suppose they were described as smoked on the menu but I am not known for paying attention, especially when there is a beer menu to peruse.) I put the picture above on Twitter and talked about the delicious smoked tomatoes and, yipee!, the Tom Douglas company (@palace_kitchen) invited me to come see how to make them in the kitchens at Palace Kitchen. I gathered up Maggi and my camera and visited on an early afternoon during dinner prep.
First you make a small cut in the skin of your tomatoes. Say hello to Dezi, hi Dezi!
Lower the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes then plunge them into ice water. The skins should wrinkle and be easy to peel off.
Serve some rose! Also know that instead of cherry tomatoes you can cut some good meaty tomatoes into cubes.
The Tom Douglas kitchen have a large smoker that was currently the home to a dozen pork loins, so they showed us how to layer a pan of peeled tomatoes over a pan full of wood that has gotten a good head start. Cover it all so the smoke gets trapped inside.
They use, if I remember correctly, applewood. Here is a charred applewood stick that smelled amazing.
They also showed off using a torch to get wood chips going. Flames! I think Herschell was showing off just a bit here.
Our tomatoes were served on top of chilled melon soup and it was amazing. I honestly miss it.
A peek at the back wall of the kitchen, say hello to Kiss!
Thank you so much Herschell and Dezi for showing us how to smoke tomatoes, and especially for letting us peek inside the kitchens during preparations for the day.
Next I’ll show you the tomatoes we smoked at home. Did it work out? The suspense is killing you.
· comments  · 09-3-2012 · categories:food ·
I did a very poor job of capturing these. Probably because my order of focus when we are grilling is:
- Cold drink!
But I wanted to let you know about these because they are pretty cool.
To make them you put a skewer through the length of a hot dog (if you are prone to immature humor there is plenty of room for pain jokes here, clearly), then slice a long spiral through the hot dog cutting all the way down to the skewer. Grill it, remove from the skewer, stretch it out a bit and, ta da!, the hot dog is long enough to fit a bun. Also you might find that ketchup stays inside the bun as you’re eating. Chow has a quick video tip on making these: Why you should spiral cut your hot dog for grilling. They take the skewer out before grilling which actually makes way more sense than the way I’ve been doing it. Oops.
· comments  · 08-30-2012 · categories:food ·
Mighty Thirst: Shots in ‘Cots | Mighty Girl. I wonder if you could do something similar with tomatoes and ice cold habanero infused vodka?
Once Upon a Pedestal: Polka Dot Cake from Bake Pop Pan. Adorable! A great use for the cake sphere pans.
The Amazing Incredible Broccoli Surprise Sauce « Tea & Cookies.
How can I make my homemade frappes less watery? And more like Starbuck’s frappes? What’s their secret?! | Ask MetaFilter. The answers include a few great tips and an almost recipe for the frappe.
Where to Enjoy Eating This Summer – The Stranger. I shall strive to eat at all of these places, a huge number of them are in my part of town so I have no excuse.
Wet cherries in Washington state are dried by helicopter. Wow. At Edible Geography.
New Beer: Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 | Serious Eats: Drinks. A beer I hope to find here in Seattle. And soon.
banamak.org – Sometimes mamma knows best – Four alliums and a zucchini frittata – kuku kadu. I love zucchini and have recently come to regret not having the sort of yard that grows them. Zucchini 4 evar.
Taste Test: Is There Good Pinot Noir Under $15? | Serious Eats: Drinks. No Oregon Pinots were in the list, are they all over the $15 price tag? There are also great suggestions in the comments.
Whole Bean Vanilla Cookies Recipe – 101 Cookbooks.
· comments  · 08-6-2012 · categories:food · links ·
Somehow I hadn’t tried mezcal until last week. Happily the two of us have been introduced and I think a long friendship will bloom.
Earlier in the month LUPEC Seattle announced the upcoming event would be all about mezcal and a few days later I found myself looking through the menu at Canon here in Seattle (a must visit, fyi). They happened to have a mezcal cocktail that also include a shaken egg white, which is something I’d just been playing around with making the Ramos Gin Fizz. What emerged was a gorgeous drink that had a smokey and almost spicy foam and oh-my-gosh-people it was delightful. I don’t have a picture of this cocktail because it was too dark. Comfortably dark though, a good sort of dark. I’ll be back there often, I live dangerously close.
Above is shown the mezcal drink I had at Mezcaleria Oaxaca while learning all about the spirit with LUPEC. That charred stick is, I think, a smoked bit of agave. It added enough smoke so that every time I took a sip I got a good amount of smokey scent. It was fantastic. They also offer mezcal flights and, no surprise, I prefer the smokier ones.
That thing about the worm? We learned it’s mostly a legend and is only included in the cheap bottles because tourists expect it to be there. Whew.
· comments  · 08-3-2012 · categories:drink · food ·
||This post is in partnership with smartwater. smartwater, simplicity is delicious. Click here to learn more.
The first time I had a Ramos Gin Fizz I was at the Velvet Tango Room in Cleveland, a bar that takes great care and pride in preparing classic drinks very well. The drink was served in tall glass with a long spoon and had a surprisingly delicious citrus scented foam. I remember the foamy part taking up more than half of the glass and the action of pulling it up out of the glass with the spoon was thoroughly enjoyable. We attempted to recreate this drink at home using a cocktail shaker. We shook it for a very long time, trading off when one of us got tired, until we got that hard-to-describe ropey feeling. All we could produce was a liquid drink with a foam top that could be described as limp. It was still delicious but the novelty was missing.
Fast forward a few years and I was looking into what else could be created with my whipped cream maker. I was looking through recipes for mousses, fast infusions and foams when I came across the hint that some modern bartenders use a whipped cream maker to make a Ramos Gin Fizz. I had to try this for myself.
The classic cocktail shaker versus the whipped cream maker, which has lately been put to a bunch of newfangled uses in innovative kitchens.
Tip: if you’re using a cocktail shaker take the spring out of a Hawthorne strainer and put it into the cocktail shaker, it will help create the small bubbles that you’re going for.
And the winner is:
The whipped cream maker did an outstanding job of recreating the foamy drink I remember. It was so easy it felt like cheating. It came out without any liquid part to the drink but as it sat the bubbles popped and a liquid layer appeared at the bottom. The cocktail shaker, despite my best efforts, only managed to produce a drink with a small layer of wet foam that was not nearly as stiff and lovely. I had three goes at shaking the drink, clocking in at 7:30, 10:15 and 10:30 respectively. I would have given it another try but my left elbow protested. The bartenders at the Velvet Tango Room must have mighty arms. For the sake of rushing it to the camera as quickly as possible I didn’t add seltzer water to either of the glasses pictured above, but I do enjoy it being included.
Ramos Gin Fizz in a whipped cream maker
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 egg white
1 ounce heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water (I used A. Monteux, it comes in a little blue bottle)
about 2 ounces of seltzer
Put your serving glass and the bottle of your whipped cream maker (I have an iSi 1 pint version) into the freezer to chill while you measure out your other ingredients. Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 30 seconds to mix and get everything nice and cold. Strain the liquids into your whipped cream maker and charge it according to the manufacturer’s directions. Shake the whipped cream maker about five times, then dispense into your glass. Note: Be careful and stop before all the liquid is dispensed, the last little bit might splatter in all directions. Add a little seltzer to the glass and serve with a spoon.
It is said that the foam should be sturdy enough to hold a straw straight up. Will it?
· comments  · 07-26-2012 · categories:drink · food ·
When Scott and I moved to Seattle and it’s rather spartan state run liquor stores we found ourselves telling our friends about this magical liquor store that California had. It was the size of a small grocery store, it was well lit and cheerful and sold food, glassware and everything you might need. It was called BevMo and we missed it. Earlier this year liquor sales laws in Washington state changed moving liquor into grocery stores and non-state run retail. So when BevMo invited me on a tour of their new stores in Washington state, Tacoma and Silverdale, I had to admit I was curious. This is what I learned.
We started with some side by side wine comparisons and I really enjoyed the picks by Paul Gregrutt. The Maison Bleue “Au Contraire” 2011 Chardonnay and Abeja Cabernet, both Washington wineries I’d never tried before, were the standouts for me.
This is something exciting and new, the Washington BevMo stores have growler filling stations. The current offerings are Mac & Jack’s African Amber, Georgetown Brewery’s Manny’s Pale Ale, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Schooner Exact 3-Grid IPA, Widmer Raspberry Imperial Russian Stout, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA, Harmon Brewing Expedition Amber and Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Imperial IPA.
The stores carry local favorites as well. I spied Cougar Gold cheese and Triple-X Root Beer on the shelves.
I was so happy to see Sun Liquor among the offerings. I love their gin. If you’re making martinis the Hedge Trimmer goes well with olives while the Gun Club deserves a twist. I highly recommend a visit to one of their locations, these people make some awfully nice cocktails.
And for those of us who like to be a bit fancy, they had all three kinds of Lillet and a wide selection of bitters. I have only recently tried Lillet and I was an instant convert. It’s true love folks.
John Ueding from Click Distributing introduced us to some his favorite Washington spirits. The Rose Geranium Liqueur from Bravo Spirits was enchanting. Also, the Woodinville Whiskey Company tasting rooms are only a bike ride away, a bike ride I will be taking very soon.
We ended with some beer tastings. I love a big hoppy beer and here are the ones that I fell for.
Silver City Brewery Saint Florian. Saint Florian is the Patron Saint of Firefighters and a portion of the profits go to a Washington State Council of Firefighters benevolent fund. This had a lively and big aroma.
Pike Brewing’s Space Needle Golden Anniversary 2012 Vintage IPA had a citrus aroma that left me sniffing my beer a bit more than might have been completely acceptable in polite company. Pike won a contest to brew this for the Seattle Space Needle’s 50th anniversary this year but I was told that the beer might stay around longer than just this year but if you find yourself near one grab it just in case.
Hale’s Aftermath Imperial IPA is a limited release that also had a huge hoppy aroma. The Hale’s brews seem to be evolving lately and even though I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore I think I’ll be traveling back for a visit. Just Beer has more notes on the beers we tried on the trip.
We came home on the Ferry while the sun was setting, so nice. Thanks to BevMo for a really nice day, I learned a bunch and found a few new favorite things.
· comments  · 07-12-2012 · categories:drink · seattle ·
This, my friends, is a 3-foot long package of spaghetti. Because when I find something like that in a store I don’t leave it there. Our day will be spent with family and friends who are visiting and friends who are already here, I have limeaid and cheese toasts ready and waiting. But July 5th will be devoted to cooking up excessively long spaghetti. Because America is all about excess. Or something like that. Actually the spaghetti is very festive looking in a Big Looming Firework In Your Dining Room sort of way. I hope you have a great day and manage to stay cool!
· comments  · 07-4-2012 · categories:food · holidays ·