Category Archives: Sweets

A Very Homemade Christmas

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In keeping with the homemade theme that began with the From Scratch Cookout, the hubs and I decided to go all Martha Stewart on this Christmas… without the glitter and lace. Simply put, we had four families to gift – 2 sets of parents, and 2 sets of sisters & brother-in-laws and with a hectic (and already pricey) November & December at play, this was not going to be the holiday to get fancy, but rather, to get cooking! So here’s our three step process to creating an entirely Homemade Christmas.

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STEP 1: Fa-La-La-La-La… Stop Procrastinating!

Yeah, we discovered the hard way that a Homemade Christmas is not a one-day shopping deal, but rather, a roughly 6 week affair with your kitchen, and fridge, and a shelf or two of a closet. So when you are deciding on the gifting specifics, think long and hard about what things you can actually accomplish. Try to plan it out as follows:

  • Long Projects – think ferments/pickles, beers/ciders, or any other endeavor that requires nature to take it’s time with the process. Start these early, or skip them entirely!
  • Mid Projects – think pretty things that might require painting, assembling, or very special packaging. Since we did all edible goods, this one wasn’t an issue.
  • Short Projects – do not mistake this for meaning “easy” or “short”. Most of our homemade items were “quick” projects that still took the majority of an afternoon or weekend day – these are the items that you cook/bake a few days out and don’t need lengthy prep or lactofermentation to be successful.

If you pick only one or two Longs, one or two Mids, and a handful of Shorts, you should have a great mix of projects that won’t have you up at 2am on Christmas Eve.

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STEP 2: Set the “Menu” & Get Cooking/Prepping

As I mentioned, we went with all edible homemade stuff – mainly because I have a husband with some pretty awesome cooking ability. Our menu looked like this:

  • Hot Giardiniera, Pickled Corn Relish & Saurkraut with Caraway – Long Projects, since we were doing a long ferment to keep all those good probiotics. We started these about 6 weeks out and jarred them (open-air) on a shelf in a closet to allow the bubbling to do its thing. Before packaging, we refrigerated to stop the fermentation process and avoid any bottle breakage.
  • Vanilla Bean Scented Sugar – another Long Project, mainly because the white sugar and spliced vanilla beans have to be an a large container together for quite some time to absorb all that vanilla-ey goodness. We used a plastic quart container and just shook the contents every few days to keep the sugar from sticking.
  • Bacon Slab & Hickory Smoked Salt – both Short Projects, but also convenient since they are accomplished simultaneously. While the bacon prep can take some time (so start early), the actually “cooking” day can doubly as your Smoked Salt day, since the smoking is already taking place – two birds with one very tasty bacon slab.
  • Hibiscus Ginger Soda Syrup – one of my favorites! A super Short Project that is totally unexpected by even the most from scratch gurus. The premise is to make any simple syrup concoction that could be easily added to club syrup to make an awesome – and healthier – soda drink. We chose hibiscus because we still had some dried flowers from our trip to North Africa and ginger, well, simply because it sounded good with hibiscus. Heat in water, add sugar, reduce, cool, and bam. Done.
  • Orange Bourbon Marmalade – this was initially going to be a pear or berry jam, but turns out, oranges are way cheaper in December. This is another long-ish Short Project that you can “spice up” with all kinds of nice add-ins, we went with Bourbon. 🙂
  • Granola with Nuts & Berries – a wonderfully Short Project, I had no idea how easy it was to make Granola! We added dried raisins, cranberries, and sliced almonds, but you could obviously to whatever the heck you wanted with this amazing stuff!
  • Mustard & Ketchup – probably not the norm for most, but our niece/nephew love their “dips”. These are Short Projects, but you’ll need a full afternoon/day for both. And unless you have an absolute ketchup lover, my personal opinion is to skip the hassle!

A few non-edibles that we are considering for future gifts that continue with the mason-jar, farm kitchenesque theme (and here’s a Pinterest Collection to get the wheel spinning):

  • Scented soap in mason jar pumps
  • Welded mason jar mugs with homemade brew/cider
  • Scented candles in mason jar glasses
  • Tinted or painted mason jar vases
  • Mason jar snow globes – for the kids – love that idea!
  • So. Many. Mason. Jars.

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STEP 3: …And Top It With A Bow …or ribbon, or cloth, or something.

The great thing about homemade gifts? The wrapping can be homemade [read as: inexpensive] too! We purchased 30 jar labels, a fine-point Sharpie, and Holiday ribbon tape (about $11 total) and then cut up some old pillow cases and used other odd bits around the house to do the rest. We didn’t really have a plan, other than to label each item (make sure to label – they have no idea what you made!) and to add a little something that made it look festive. But trust us, the hard work is already done, so don’t stress about it! (And if you have to ship, like the family package below, then skip the extras, since you’ll want to squeeze everything you can into a pre-pay box – no frills!) Then into a basked it all goes – these baskets are likely the ones that you received gift goodies in from a previous holiday season – and voila!

And did I mention… you should *definitely* eat all the extra! Yum!!

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Brunch

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As I’ve described it before, and will describe it again here:

Brunch is a competitive sport in Portland.

Sure, it’s funny – but it’s also frighteningly serious. Like make-plans-a-week-in-advance-and-create-the-facebook-event-for-all-your-friends-and-then-stand-in-line-at-10:00am-for-2.5-hours serious – yeah, true story. If Portlandia hasn’t done an episode on it, it obviously needs to be done (sorry, I’m behind on my oh-too-true Portlandia viewing)! Why such seriousness about the morning luncheon? Here’s my own set of hypotheses:

  1. Food in Portland is good – damn good – and sometimes you just need a damn good breakfast in the morning.
  2. Adult Beverages in Portland are also good – way too damn good – and brunch is virtually necessary the next morning.
  3. Standing outside in line in drizzly gray weather just for some pancakes makes you so much more of a real Portlander.
  4. Mimosas.
  5. We’re all retired at 25, right? What else do we have to do in the mornings??

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Yup, it’s that simple, at least as far as I can tell. So… if you’re going to be visiting Portland, or if you already live here and your New Year’s Resolution involved spending more time standing in lines in order to be rewarded with breakfast (he he!), here’s the places – according to all things and all people Portlandey (and myself) – that you must give a try:

  1. Screen Door – Known for its traditional southern-style cuisine, this place is *the* spot for the oh-so-over-the-top Chicken & Waffle and Praline Crusted Bacon dishes (both pictured above). But having such well-known claims to fame means long – and I mean long – lines. So bring a snack!
  2. Tasty n’ Sons – Local, sustainable, creative, with a side of 90’s hip hop to round out the North Portland experience. From what we’ve heard, *everything* here is good! And since they serve brunch 7 days a week, play hookie and avoid the wait!
  3. Broder Cafe – Don’t expect to understand at least half of the menu with it’s thoroughly Scandinavian flare, but you’ll definitely recognize their token square egg dishes served hot in the skillet alongside danish pancake “rolls”. Skål!!
  4. Mother’s Bistro – For many who live on the eastside (like us), Mother’s Bistro is one of the few reasons to go downtown on a weekend. This place takes  its moto – “It’s all about the love” – serious when it come to their traditional, American comfort-food fare.
  5. Olympic Provisions –  MEAT! MORE MEAT! With the most enormous and super yummy portions of breakfast favorites with the best pork and beef possible. So if you order the short rib, remember that I [happily] warned you!

Team Brunch! Team Brunch! Go – Queue – Eat!!

That’s right, get in there with your competitive spirit and make a game out of it – it is for us!!

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Chocolate Passion Fruit Pre-Spring Savior Cupcakes

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So there comes a time in every Portland year where the grey and the rain and the communal lack of Vitamin D causes a city-wide lull, a pre-spring coma if you will, and there is really only one guaranteed cure (other than sunshine)… chocolate. There is something about those wonderful elixer properties of cocoa that feels like a dry hug with an extra little kick of caffeine to push you through the summer months. And… to get ready for the summer month, why not include a bit of fruity goodness throughout? Aside from simply Yummy, I call these beauties…

Chocolate Passion Fruit Pre-Spring Savior Cupcakes

Chocolate Cake:

Go really chocolatey, of course, and boxes also simplifies life a lot…

1 box Duncan Hines Classic Devil’s Food Cake (why not go really chocolatey, right?)

Passionfruit Curd Filling:

1 cup Passion Fruit Puree

2/3 cup Granulated Sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon Powdered Gelatin

3 sticks Unsalted (Sweet Cream) Butter – must be cold

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Whipped Cream Frosting:

2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream

6 tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar

1 teaspoon Powdered Gelatin

A few dashes of Passion Fruit Puree (more passion fruit!)

Suggested Toppings:

Nothing is necessary – it’s just that damn good. Ha! But if you must, you could always do some powdered sugar or sugar crystals for a bit of extra sweetness.

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Instructions:

For the cake, it doesn’t get much easier: combine the Cake Mix, oil & egg as the box indicates and cook at 350F for no more than 20 minutes (chocolate this dark is easy to overbake!).

While the cupcakes bake, let’s get into something a bit more complicated – CURD. A dessert creation so inaptly named, in my opinion, to disguise it from it’s ultimate greatness! Curd can be a bit finicky, so I used a trusted recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar, here goes:

  1. Blend Passion Fruit Puree and Granulated Sugar in a blender on medium until sugar is entirely dissolved.. Add the eggs and blend on low until the mixture is bright orange-yellow and very smooth.
  2. Add the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over very low heat while whisking regularly (so as not to cook the eggs). Meanwhile, clean the blender completely.
  3. Meanwhile: “bloom” the gelatin by evenly sprinkling the Powdered Gelatin over 2 tablespoons of cool water – let sit for 4 minutes. Clean the blender completely so that you can use it once again. And cut your 3 sticks of very cold (just out of the fridge) Unsalted Butter into equal-sized cubes.
  4. The heated mixture will begin to thicken. Once it begins to boil, remove it from the stove and transfer it to the blender immediately. Add the bloomed gelatin, butter, and salt and blend (carefully covered with a towel, as the mixture is very hot now) until the mixture is thick, shiny and extremely smooth.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

For the frosting, we will use another gelatin-based technique for creating a sturdy frosting, but don’t worry – this recipe is much more simple. Grab your KitchenAid and add 2 3/4 cup Heavy Whipping Cream and begin whipping on low speed. Slowly add up to 4 tablespoons of the Confectioner’s Sugar and a dash or two of Passion Fruit Puree. While this blends, bloom your gelatin in the same manner as above and let sit for the required 4 minutes. Use the remaining 1/4 cup Heavy Whipping Cream and microwave on high for 30 seconds to heat. Add this to the bloomed gelatin and whisk gelatin consistency is incorporated into the cream. Place in the fridge for 5 minutes to cool, then add to the whipped mixture. Continue whipping until soft, sturdy peaks arise in the mixture. This frosting (unlike most whipped cream frostings) will remain stabalized at room-temperature for several hours.

Once the cupcakes are cooled, use a small cookie cutter or apple corer to remove the centers of the cupcakes (about 2/3 deep), retaining the cupcake “holes”. Using a piping bag, fill each cupcake with the Passion Fruit Curd, and re-top with the very top halves of your saved cupcake holes. Pipe creatively with the Whipped Cream Frosting and serve with a big cup of coffee …Enjoy!!

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