Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yule Logs are for eating

12/16/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

We’re not going to be home for Christmas this year, so there’s no need for me to get frantic over my usual holiday baking marathon. However, it is Christmas and I do have to abide by tradition and do some baking if I want to keep my happy home.

Paging through some Christmas cake recipes, I’ve decided to make a Bûche de Noël, which is the French name for a traditional Yule Log Cake. The names sounds exotic but they’re really just simple jelly roll sponge cakes festively decorated in the shape of a Yule log.

The selling point for me is the texture of the batter. Thanks to lots of eggs and little or no flour and fat, sponge cakes are tender, light and fluffy. The batter is delicate but not fragile so even your kids or grandkids can help in the preparation Just remember that you must have a long 10X15-inch jelly roll pan for baking, parchment paper and a clean dishtowel to roll them up in while you’re preparing the filling.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the process, here are some hints: By their very nature, sponge cakes will stick to the pan unless it is well-greased and topped with parchment paper that is also greased. If you do that, turning them out of the pan onto a powdered sugar dishtowel is a piece of cake! The cakes are immediately rolled up in the towel and allowed to cool.

Once cool, they are unrolled, spread with a filling and re-rolled. You can use a variety of fillings, ranging from jam to custard to whipped cream or butter-cream frosting. Traditionally these simple cakes are dusted with powdered sugar because of the rich filling. However, if you like to decorate, check out the first chocolate recipe below.

The last recipe is also chocolate but it is flourless. Dust it with powdered sugar and add some small twigs and berries to resemble a snowy log. Enjoy!

Frosted Bûche de Noël

4 eggs at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cake flour, sifted before measuring

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Butter a 10X15-inch jelly roll pan. Line with parchment paper and butter that as well.

In a mixer beat the eggs until they are very thick and light colored, about 7 min. Continue beating, adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each spoonful to mix in before continuing with the next. Beat in the vanilla.

Stop the mixer and remove bowl. Sift 1/2 cup cake flour on top of the batter and gently blend in with a spatula. Repeat with the final 1/2 cup flour. Stop as soon as the flour is integrated into the batter.

Pour and spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for just 10 min. Do not overbake or the cake will be too stiff to roll. Remove from oven and turn the cake out onto a clean dishtowel. While warm, roll the cake up with the dishtowel inside. Allow the cake to cool completely. While the cake is cooling prepare the frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup buttermilk

Whip the butter in your mixer until light and creamy. Sift together the sugar, cocoa and salt and add this to the butter. Beat until well mixed then add the vanilla and buttermilk. Beat until very smooth.

To assemble, unroll the cake and spread about 1/2 of the frosting evenly on the top. Carefully roll the cake back up and place on serving dish. Frost the outside of the log and using a fork, score lines in the frosting to give it a textured effect. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for several hours.

To decorate, sprinkle the cake with grated chocolate (mud), chocolate chips, maraschino cherries, a washed evergreen branch and tiny Christmas ornaments.

FYI: To make the tree more life-like, diagonal pieces of cake (cut from the ends) may be attached to the log with frosting for a cut branch look.

Flourless Bûche de Noël

6 eggs yolks
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Grease or butter a 10X15-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat 6 egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until thick and pale. Blend in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla and salt.

In another clean bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until whites form stiff peaks. Immediately fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 12-15 min. or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Dust a clean dishtowel with powdered sugar. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. Remove and discard parchment. Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool 30 min.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the whipped cream filling.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, whip cream, powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla until thick and stiff. Refrigerate until ready to fill cake.

To finish and serve the cake:
Unroll the cake and spread the filling to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake up with the filling inside. Place seam side down onto a service plate, cover and refrigerate until served. Dust with powdered sugar and slice. Serves 12

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Heartache doesn't take a holiday

12/9/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Heartache doesn’t take a holiday

Sadness and sorrow are not a popular subject in the month of December. The glitz and glamour of the season tend to mask the reality that many have serious health problems during this festive time of year while others are suffering the loss of loved ones. Heartache doesn’t take a holiday just because the calendar says it’s time to celebrate.

Listening to the news, I wince when the latest casualty count of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are announced. I am enraged at stories of cruelty to men, women or children. I am concerned about the homeless population. I tear up when I hear tales of animal cruelty. I worry about the future of humanity. And when the newscast is over, I go back to my nice, normal, middle-class lifestyle.

But these newscasts are about real people. And the escalation of violence in our country means that when vile, awful things happen, life is never the same for any of us. There’s a new normal. A new reality — Bad things happen to good people.

It dumbfounds me that there are so many multiple murders. Family members are killing generations of family members. Individuals are shooting up their office staff. I keep wondering ‘why?’ When did this start happening? Has it always been this way and we just never noticed? Is it possible to stop this madness?

The recent Fort Hood Massacre stunned the country. Initial reports said that Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, calmly gunned down and killed 13 soldiers, injuring dozens more. Unbelievable. An officer killing his comrades? The killer was brought down before it was a complete bloodbath. But there’s a new normal at Fort Hood.

On hearing this, my first thought was fearful: “Is this another 9/11?”

My next thought was outrage: “What kind of a monster would do this to his comrades?”

My final thought was “How are the families going to cope?”

For every person killed at the hands of another, hundreds of people are affected. Wives, husbands and children are robbed of a spouse or parent. Extended family, friends and neighbors lose a companion. For all those involved, there’s a certain loss of innocence that can never be reclaimed.

The recent senseless, execution-style shooting of four Lakewood, Wash. police officers sent shock waves across the country. Another monster on a mission walked up to a table in a coffee shop and blew away four police officers. By default, his act affected hundreds of other lives. Immediate families were devastated and entire communities are in mourning. Christmas will be tough this year.

These large-scale tragedies make headlines nationally but locally we have similar struggles on a smaller scale. Some folks are fighting for their lives due to illness; some are winning the battle but some will lose. Individuals are victims of homicide. Again, these families must cope with heartache this holiday season.

Just before Thanksgiving Retta and Jim Cunningham lost their son Tom. He was shot and killed, on a city street in Hayward, CA, as his daughter watched. They were on an outing to get ice cream. Another senseless killing.

Aislinn Blackstone, daughter of Len and Deb Blackstone, celebrated her 31st birthday at Riverbend Hospital last weekend. She has been there for nearly two months, struggling to stay alive. Her battle began with a case of the flu. H1N1 or Swine Flu. The usual symptoms of exhaustion, fever, and cough escalated to pneumonia, blood clots and plummeting oxygen levels.

Eventually, this not-so-ordinary illness became sinister, as she developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS — a life threatening lung condition. Unable to breathe on her own, she was put on a ventilator. Her family was told to prepare for the worst. An email was sent out to pray and she survived the 72-hour crisis. Today, she is still hospitalized but winning the battle.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all know the story of Job as related in the Old Testament Bible. He’s the guy that bad things happened to in spite of his impeccable relationship with God. In the course of one day this godly, wealthy man lost everything he had due to wind and fire; raiding and murderous thugs and painful boils: His ten children, servants, animals and his health — were all gone (later to be restored).

Bad things do happen to good people. Eventually, we all hit a rough patch and have to hold on for dear life. This has been one of those years for many people all across this land. Frankly, many families would just as soon skip Christmas that year.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner after the death of his son at the age of 14 from a rare, incurable genetic disease. In the book Rabbi Kushner seeks to answer the question: “Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?”

Most people will tell you that it is faith in God that gets them through the painful days and sleepless nights. By faith, they believe that their prayers will be answered. By faith they trust that if their prayers are not answered it is because there is a better plan.

It is by faith that we endure times of grief but it is with hope that we look forward to the time when heartache takes a forever holiday and that every day is Christmas morning. Shalom, everyone.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

"Simply Soup"

12/2/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

“Simply Soup”

We eat a lot of soup at our house. In fact, it’s a family joke that on two out of five nights, our dinner menu will be just soup, green salad and rolls. The reason is simple. Soup is both satisfying to prepare and eat; plus, there are always leftovers for another meal. A combination of herbs, broth, vegetables and meat (optional) simmered on the stovetop or in the crockpot, means you’ve always got dinner.

One of the great things about soup is that you can use leftovers from the refrigerator and no one will know. If you’re tired of eating the last bits of turkey, put it in a pot with broth and noodles. Delicious! Leftover roast beef goes great in a basic vegetable soup or even chili con carne. The combinations are endless.

At lunchtime I often break my ‘homemade’ rule and open a can of tomato or chicken noodle soup to go with my sandwich. But dinner is different. At dinnertime, the only soup worth eating is homemade soup that I’ve made myself. Have you ever taken a close look at the ingredients in canned soup? Ugh. At least I know that the ingredients in my soups are quality.

Today’s group of recipes covers a broad spectrum of soups from ethnic to chowders. The corn chowder recipe is so simple you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of it before. And if you love the taste and texture of mushrooms, now is the time to indulge in a mixed-variety mushroom soup.

In honor of Hanukkah coming up on December 12, our first recipe is “Jewish Penicillin,” a Matzo Ball soup. The recipe calls for a small chicken but if I am going to cook a chicken, I cook a large chicken and make two meals out of one bird. Chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy one night; soup the next. That also gives the fat time to congeal on top of the broth and be removed. And don’t forget, if you have leftover turkey, it will be as tasty as chicken.

As for its ‘penicillin’ or healing powers, the jury is still out on that question. Its healing properties seem to come from its vapor and aroma. That leads doctors to hypothesize that the hot savory broth opens nasal passes and soothes the throat. However, clear soups of all kinds also provide nourishment and hydration while helping to stimulate the appetite. In other words, it’s all good. Enjoy!

Author unknown

1 small whole chicken, about 2 lbs.
1 bay leaf
Garlic powder, about 1 tsp.
Onion powder, about 1 tsp.
Paprika, about 1 tsp.
Soup greens, a handful
Chicken bouillon or salt and pepper to taste
2 lg. carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 lg. onion, chopped (reserve 1 tbsp. for Matzo balls)

Put chicken in large (6 quart) stockpot; cover with water. Bring to boil. Now, with large spoon, skim off the fatty froth as it rises to the top. Reduce heat to simmer for about an hour. Add seasonings to taste, and vegetables. Simmer about another 20 minutes. Meantime, prepare matzo balls, as follows:

Matzo Balls - makes 8:
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat (or butter)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soup stock
1/2 c. matzo meal
Pinch baking soda

In small (1 quart) saucepot brown the onion in fat. Mix in eggs, stock, then matzo meal and pinch soda. Set in refrigerator to chill, about 15 minutes.
Remove chicken from soup. Take the meat off the bones and return to the soup. Now raise the heat to a hard boil and add the matzo meal. Wet your hands with cold water and roll a heaping tablespoon of mix between your palms into 1-inch balls and drop into broth. In another 30-40 minutes, the soup is ready. Guaranteed to cure the common cold!

Wild Mushroom Soup
Swanson Broth recipe

2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 pounds white mushrooms, cut into quarters
1/2 pound assorted wild mushrooms, sliced ( Portobello, shiitake, oyster or crimini)
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup crème fraiche

Heat the butter in a 4-quart saucepot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrot and celery and cook 10 min. or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the broth and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook 1 hour. Stir in the dill.

Pour one-half of the mushroom mixture into an electric blender container or food processor work bowl. Cover and blend until smooth. Repeat with the remaining mushroom mixture. Return to the pot and stir in the crème fraiche. Serves 6-8

Note: Sour cream is an acceptable substitute for crème fraiche.

Potato Bacon Corn Chowder
Idahoan Potatoes

1 cup bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
2/3 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2-3/4 cup mashed potato flakes
1 teaspoon butter

In large pot, sauté bacon on medium to high heat. Cook until almost done; drain.

Combine bacon, onion, celery and garlic in pot and sauté on medium-high heat until vegetables are translucent. Add chicken broth. Cook for an additional 3 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add milk and cream. Redue heat to medium. Reduce soup, stirring occationally, 1-=15 minutes.

Add corn, salt and pepper. When soup is bubbling lightly, slowly add the potato flakes, stirring constantly. When flakes are incorporated, take soup off heat. Add butter and stir until dissolved. Serves 2-3

Note: Recipe may be doubled.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.