Saturday, December 26, 2009

Geodesic Gingerbread

The December 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers' everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandanavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

As I have said before, I like to cook and sometimes I like to bake, but my strength is not with the artistic skills necessary for things like beautifully decorated cakes and cookies. And that goes double for gingerbread houses! On top of my reluctance to do a project like this was the additional problem of still-recovering hands (which made rolling dough difficult), the tail end of a flu/cold which really sapped my energy and a very sore ankle which affected my ability to stand for any length of time. Woe is I!

After feeling sorry for myself and posting a note on Daring Bakers that I probably would not be able to participate, my darling daughter, Elisabeth, came to the rescue. She devoted a whole day to assembling a gingerbread house - not just any house, but a geodesic dome, which took architectural skills, physics knowledge, incredible patience, and enough good humor to survive and overcome all the problems and obstacles. And the icing on the cake (literally) was that she and her boyfriend, Sean, spent Christmas afternoon decorating the creation, complete with satellite dish, outhouse, Christmas lights around the front door, decorated trees, fences, snowmen and other little details.

The template for the dome was basically a triangle, but Elisabeth also made some trees, so she made a template for 3-D trees, as well.

Here are some of the many, many (50-60) triangles she needed to make the dome.

The dome was a challenge because it could not have any permanent internal supports. She tried several differents methods of construction: just building it with skewers to support the dome - FAIL; building inside a bowl, with the plan being to "unmold" it when it was solid - FAIL; and, the final solution, build it over an upside down bowl and let it get really, really hard before removing the bowl.

Once the structure was done, we set it aside for several days, made sure we had lots of candy to decorate, and waited for Christmas for the final stage.

This is it! The details are hard to see because there is so much going on, but there are some snowmen in plain sight, a tree with a star in the background, and lots of candy embellishments. My favorite additions were the little string of lights around the front door and the satellite dish on the roof. Both were made from Tootsie Roll miniatures, as was this little creature: Doofus, Elisabeth's cat, ready to pounce.

And here are the artists, celebrating their success. Note the particularly cute adornment on Elisabeth's head - a gift from Santa. A little hard to see, but goes well with her HO, HO, HO t-shirt.

So my Christmas blessing this year was clearly Elisabeth and Sean helping me take on a challenge that threatened to overwhelm me. It was probably more fun watching them than doing it myself. Family can be really great, can't it?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's to all!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Feeling a Little Crusty

After all that turkey, what better dinner to enjoy than salmon? And thanks to the December Daring Cook challenge, that's just what we had.

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking ( Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online (

I haven't been cooking much for the past month. We were gone half of November and then I had my little mishap and had to have help even to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table, so our day-t0-day meals have been purchased or defrosted rather than prepared with fresh ingredients. It was a relief to really cook again.

This challenge was surprisingly easy. The pastry is an all-butter short pastry, which is rich and meltingly good. The salmon I used was Alaskan coho. While the original challenge called for a watercress, argula and spinach topping for the salmon, I changed that because Bob's kidneys don't like spinach and I don't like watching Bob writhe in pain!

I used mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts and marscapone. I sauteed the mushrooms in butter and olive oil, cooked off all the liquid, added some sherry, salt and lots of black pepper. I toasted the chopped hazelnuts in a dry saute pan and then mixed the nuts and the mushrooms together with the marscapone. A little thyme, a little more pepper and we were good to go! I spread the mushroom mixture over the top of the salmon filet, wrapped the whole thing in pastry and baked it for about 30 minutes.

The flavors all worked really well together. The buttery pastry was balanced by the meaty mushroom/nut mixture and the salmon worked well with everything. We ate well that night!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Try to Remember....November

A whole month just flew by with very little cooking by yours truly. Bob and I spent 10 days sailing down the Danube being fed by professional chefs and the most work I did was to pour my Sprite in my glass as I rested in the lounge each afternoon, writing in the travel journal and recording our adventures. The food on the boat was splendid and since we walked many, many steps each day, didn't feel too indulgent. I skipped most of the wine (so virtuous!), but did have a beer or two on dry land.

I planned to do the Daring Baker challenge, cannoli, when I got home but managed to fall and sprain both hands/wrists, especially the left, which meant I could do virtually nothing. Missing out on the cannoli was bad enough, but I was also too impaired to do much Thanksgiving prep work, which was a major concern. Fortunately, not only did Elisabeth come down to take me to the doctor, she came early on Wednesday and worked like a little demon all afternoon and evening, doing all the prep work and even making some of the final dishes. And then on Thursday, the Morris-Briehl's came early and Sarah and my God-daughter Emma pitched in and everything was good! Bob handled the bird duties (both the whole roasted bird and the deep-fried breast), Elisabeth and Emma decorated the table, my mother took on ironing the table cloths and setting the table and I did nothing much but pretend to be in charge.

Two new dishes this year that were particularly special to me: An apple tart which Emma and Elisabeth made on Thursday afternoon and cranberry sorbet which Bob made on the weekend. Both were delicious and added a special dimension to our meal, which included my mother's blackberry pie (always delicious) and Sarah's pumpkin (good for dessert and breakfast, too).

My hands are healing and I'm doing a little cooking now. If all goes well, I'll have something to post for the December Daring Cooks Challenge and the December Daring Bakers Challenge. Something to look forward to!