Happy New Year!

Since I’m on my own for New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d make myself a fancier dinner than usual – no grilled cheese sandwich or frozen pasta on this night! So I made Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts and Oven-Roasted Vegetables from my new Barefoot Contessa cookbook (I adore her, but I usually can’t quite justify them because they’re pretty pricey and there’s just enough meat that it doesn’t seem worth the cost since I won’t be able to use about a quarter of it – but I’d bought it as an Xmas present for a friend of mine and when it turned out she’d already gotten it as a present, I decided to just keep it for myself). So good! And easy – but slightly more time-consuming than I was expecting…

I couldn’t find fennel at the market, so I used brussels sprouts instead and left out the asparagus altogether because I just wasn’t in the mood. But oh, so, tasty!

I’m off to have a bit of champagne and try and do some writing when the new year comes, since they say that what you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing for the next year and I definitely want to get back to my writing in 2009. Speaking of which, I think I’m the last one to go, right? Hope it’s off to a good start for the rest of you – I’ll be there in a couple of hours!

ETA: No, Janis, you’re the last one to go, right? I got confused about my time zones there for a bit! Anyway, here’s to a happy new year, everybody!

Meh.

So, I’ve always known that my main weak spot when it came to my baking projects was my decorating skills. After my boring yule log and this disaster, I think it’s time to stop putting off the inevitable and sign myself up for a cake decorating class.

My dad put together a little paper model of the Sydney opera house that he found here (lots of other cool models there, too!). Using that, we made little templates for the pieces which I used to bake them. For the curved pieces, I placed the hot-from-the-oven cookies on a baking form (of some kind) that my mom had to get them to curve. Unfortunately, this also meant I could only do two at a time, so it was a bit time-consuming…

Then it was time to construct:

That wasn’t too much of a problem – my constructing skills are far superior to my decorating skills. This lack of skills led to this:

But now that I know how to do curves and provided I get my ass in gear and actually do take those cake decorating classes, I’m thinking next year…

or

or even

(and a parenthetical photograph – while I was searching for a photo of a VW Beetle, I found what is perhaps the most awesome thing EVAR – I WILL have one when I get married:

A Beetle limo?! Pure awesome, my friends.)

December Daring Bakers Challenge!

And WHAT a challenge it was! This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

This is probaby not what you’re thinking of when you think of a yule log (some sort of log-shaped cake with marzipan mushrooms [which the Daring Bakers did last year]) – this is a proper Buche de Noel – a frozen layered dessert!

Six layers, to be precise – dacquoise, creme brulee, vanilla mousse, white chocolate feuillete, white chocolate ganache, and white chocolate icing. Whew! Quite a handful, especially in light of all the other holiday baking I’ve been attempting, but somehow I managed to get it done just in the nick of time.

I forgot to place it in the fridge for a while before attempting to slice it and, as could be expected, the almond bark that I’d used over the white chocolate icing (because it didn’t end up coating as well as could be hoped) pretty much shattered, hence the missing picture of a slice. But my layers actually turned out pretty well, I think.

Two questions, though, for any other Daring Bakers who happen to be wandering by:

  1. I don’t think I understood why the first step of the ganache had us make a caramel – my ganache insert ended up being pretty much just caramel with no hint of the white chocolate. It’s quite nice, but just not what I was expecting.
  2. I always thought you weren’t supposed to boil cream (or else it would curdle), so I didn’t even though the instructions repeatedly had us bring it to a boil. Have I just been laboring under an urban myth all these years and it really is okay to boil cream?

Click on the Daring Bakers logo to see all the other (more beautifully decorated, I’m sure) Yule Logs!

A Christmas feast!

This holiday season has been more stressful than normal, I think – my parents were in a car accident on Saturday (they’re fine, but the car has a bit of damage) and then yesterday, my dad slipped and fell down our front steps as he was taking Beardo out for a walk (again, he’s fine, just a bit stiff and sore). But we still managed to have our fancy Christmas Eve dinner – the catch was that my mom didn’t have the day off, so not only was I left to make an eight-course meal by myself, I didn’t have a sous chef (Mom) or dishwasher (Dad) to help me (for most of the time, anyway)!

Here’s what I came up with:

R-L, that’s: Cheese Puffs; Figs with Goat Cheese, Almonds, and Honey (the recipe calls for fresh figs, but we could only find dried);  Miniature Parmesan Baskets with Herbed Goat Cheese Mousse; Herbed Phyllo Purses with Brie Cheese and Mushrooms (mine ended up being more like parcels than purses…also, the mushrooms totally overpowered the brie, so I would up the ratio of brie to mushrooms the next time); Bulgur, Celery, and Pomegranate Salad (it’s a bit of a pain picking the seeds out, but it’s worth it – they’re so pretty, like little jewels, and very refreshing to eat since they sort of burst in your mouth); Shrimp Bisque; Grapefruit and Mint Sorbet (super-easy and SUPER-YUMMY – I think this may have been the favorite); Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Souffle (not as difficult as I expected, but how do you keep them from falling as soon as you take them out of the oven?) and Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise; a Poinsetta cocktail; Sweet Potato Creme Brulee (not bad, but not as good as the Raspberry Creme Brulee from Thanksgiving – it’s the texture of the sweet potato layer that’s a bit off-putting – turns out Emeril has a recipe and he’s never let me down before so I’d try it again using his); and a Cranberry-Ginger Upside-Down Cake (I think it has far too much ginger though my parents both liked it – I would at least halve the amount of ginger in the future).

I still don’t know how people do coursed dinner parties while mingling and wearing pearls and heels – we usually get dressed up (even though it’s just the three of us), but this year, I decided we could skip that because I was going to have to be finishing things while we were eating and I didn’t want to get any greasy fingerprints on my nice clothes. So apart from about a half-hour break while the souffle’s were put in to bake and I finished up the shrimp bisque, we ate while the next course was baking.

I am exhausted, but everything turned out well! Tomorrow we begin tackling the gingerbread house

A holiday rant!

Listening to all the Christmas music being played on the radio has made me realise that I much prefer the darker Christmas songs – O Come, O Come Emmanuel; The Angel Gabriel; and In the Bleak Midwinter which brings me to my rant. 

Nobody does the right version of In the Bleak Midwinter anymore! By ‘right,’ I mean, the arrangement by Holst, not the tacky version by…well, I don’t know, but I’m sure he’s tacky, too.

This is the wrong version as sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge:

And because no one does the right version anymore, here is the first verse of it by the Choir of Anne’s Living Room, Illinois:

Happy holidays to everybody!

Oh, the horror! The horror!

Let me tell  you a story about the scariest thing in my apartment. Brace yourselves – it’s this:

I can hear you now ‘Well, Anne, that’s just a towel rack, an innocent towel rack. How could it possibly be scary?’ HERE’S HOW:

IT’S INSIDE THE SHOWER!

I don’t know what purpose it could possibly have there other than to be cowardly and hit me on the back of the head when I lean over to get my shampoo or to bang into my elbows when I’m using said shampoo, but, and I don’t care that it (along with a myriad of other items) is installed into the very tile of the wall, it has to go!

There are more than a few unfathomable design choices in this apartment, presumably made by the previous tenant (I know, I know, someone will inevitably say the same thing about me somewhere down the line) – it’s not so much that she made those choice that bothers me so much as the fact that I cannot, for the life of me, discern the logic behind any of them! And most of them reside in that very small bathroom.

Don’t worry, there will be a dissertation on the chaos that is the floor tile soon to come.