Daring Bakers: Yule be impressed

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. Take a jump over to either of their sites for the original recipe. But be warned. It is looooooooooong.

This log is very different from the Yule Log we made last December, but no less a show-stopper in appearance.

And unlike last year, I did not make this several times. Actually, I have only just finished making it today, and my piece is sitting at the table while I write this post.

Rather than write a long and detailed post about the various components of this cake, I'll let some of my pictures do most of the talking for me.

I had to make my own praline, having not thought to buy some. This is almond praline.

(I should add that I did not even bat an eyelash at the idea of making a praline, which goes to show how far I've come when it comes to hot sugar.)

Assembly station. I'm still working on the best place for light and pictures in my kitchen. This is my baking corner, but does not seem to be great for light.

I decided to make two mini's instead of one large. I think I should have smoothed down the mousse on this - or followed the instructions and banged the tins on the counter a few times. You are about to see why....

Hmmm how to cover up those lovely sides. One batch of icing is not going to be enough.

Ah, left over praline!

Leftover ganache and praline crisp insert! You have saved me from ugly logs. Sorta.

I had enough cake for a top and a bottom, so my layers, from the bottom up, are:

Dacquoise biscuit - simply almond.
White chocolate ganache, which looks like caramel and tastes pretty close to it.
Vanilla mousse, with very obvious vanilla beans in it.
Milk chocolate praline crisp - almond praline and cereal.
More mousse.
Vanilla creme brulee, again, lots of vanilla beans there.
More mousse.
Another layer of Dacquoise.
Milk chocolate icing. A double batch actually.

Yes, it is impressive to look at.

I'm getting this in right under the wire. Lots of things delayed me, including the flu on Christmas day, but am pleased to say that I did not miss this month's challenge.

Now I really, really hope we do something a little less time consuming and sweet next month.

Thanks to Hilda and Marion for hosting this month. And ongoing thanks to Lis and Ivonne for being our leaders and letting us be their followers.

Sunburst Lemon Bars: Breakfast fruit bars?

I was fortunate to come across some Meyer lemons when doing my pre-Christmas grocery shopping. They were just quietly sitting next to the regular lemons, which I was getting to make lemon squares. Faced with the choice between regular, tart lemons, and sweet Meyer lemons, there really was no choice to be made.

These bars have not lasted long, but instead have been eaten for breakfast and "I need some fruit" moments by my husband.

Sunburst Lemon Bars
from Pillsbury The Complete Book of Baking

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup icing sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons)
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Heat oven to 350F.

In large bowl, combine all the crust ingredients together until crumbly. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 pan (line the pan with foil for easier removal - I learned this the hard way.) Bake for 20-30 minutes or until light golden brown.

When the crust is golden, combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl, except the lemon juice and zest, if using. Blend well. Stir in the juice and zest. Pour over the warm crust.

Put back in the oven and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the 1 cup icing sugar and just enough lemon juice to get a nice spreading consistency for the icing. Mix until very smooth, then add the zest, if using. Spread over the cooled squares. Cut into squares.

Makes about 36 bars.

Have a safe and Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas Eve and the children are in bed, finally.

Important advice for everyone out there - do not wait until Christmas Eve day to do your baking! Even if you have everything else done, this is not good planning!

This is what I spent today doing. My baking. I had to, or we'd have had nothing to put out for Santa tonight. Not even a box of Oreos. I probably could have found him some chocolates. I do have left over cake. But Santa deserves baked goods that were made just for him. Left over cake won't cut it.

From left, around, are Gooey Coconut Dream Bars (from Phe/om/enon Holly,) Meyer Lemon Squares (recipe later), Raisin Oatmeal Cookies (Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, minus the pecans), and Spicy Ginger Cookies (from The Canadian Baker, not my usual recipe since I would have had to look for mine.)

In addition to these items, I also "threw together" our Chritmas Eve dinner, a broth fondue with fresh veggies, a bit of this and a bit of that. The children loved being able to pick at what they wanted to eat, but spent a good chunk of dinner running back to my laptop, conveniently found on the kitchen counter, so they could see just where in the world Santa was right then! (And for the record, at 10:17 pm, he was in San Juan, Puerto Rico.)

(In retrospect, maybe the last minute baking was a good idea - I didn't make nearly as much as I might have otherwise, if I'd been doing so well in advance and freezing as I went.)

Dinner was followed by a walk around the block, to see the lights. Unusual that we needed umbrellas and snow jackets to do so, though. Rain is melting the snow, but also making things very slippery around here. So if you are driving, be careful!

Before getting the boys off to bed, we had to assemble our tray for Santa and the reindeer. We break with some traditions, providing the reindeer with apples instead of carrots, and normally we leave him chocolate milk, something he rarely gets. This year, with the cold and the rain, we decided to leave him hot chocolate milk instead, kept warm in a thermos, with a mug nearby. The children chose what to leave him for cookies (the ones they themselves had just been sampling.)

The kitchen is cleaned, the dishwasher is running, the Christmas lights are on. I think it is time to curl up and enjoy a few minutes of quiet before the chaos that is Christmas morning comes.

May you and your family have a wonderful day, filled with love and happiness. And a good cookie or two.

Back in the swing, but starting simple

The pile of boxes is getting smaller, at least in the kitchen area. And a month of take-out and frozen foods has made us all long to get back to home cooking. Even though there is more clean up involved in that.

Having a grill in my kitchen is great so far, even though it tends to set off the smoke detector at odd times.

Homemade hamburgers are superior to the take-out kind, and cost a fraction to make. For my children, the downside is no surprise toy with the burger.

Simple Burgers

1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
scant 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, just enough to help the mixture bind

Mix everything, gently, together in a bowl. Do not squish the meat.

Preheat grill to medium high heat.

Form meat into 6 equal portions, gently rounding the portions into a patty that is a touch thinner in the middle than on the edge.

Grill, turning as necessary, until the burgers are cooked through, but not dry, approximately 10-15 minutes.

Serve on toasted buns with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.

The new kitchen!

What a weekend!

I don't ever want to move again.

Alot of cleaning, boxes, and more cleaning, but we got here, finally.

Fancy stemware present and accounted for, my boys and I, all three, husband included, toasted our first night in our new home with some de-alcoholized bubbly. Pink bubbly. Then we set up air mattresses and sleeping bags and camped out for the night.

Did you know that every house has noises? And when you aren't familiar with those noises, everyone of them is very loud. Especially at 2 am. And 5 am.

This is my new kitchen, pre cleaning, pre influx of boxes and furniture, and devoid of real dishes and food. Unless chocolate counts, in which case, I had lots of food.

Don't you love my pretty pointsetta on my island? That was part of our first housewarming gift, from our agent.

For a quick tour: the window is over the sink, a large sink with a little vegetable sink as part of it. There are lights underneath all the counters, which run around the room. On the island, right behind the plant, is my cooktop, a Jenn-air which has two induction burners and then the other side converts. Included in my gadgets is a griddle, a grill, some coil burners, a deepfryer and a rotissary. On the other side of the island, oposite the window, is the wall oven, again a Jenn-air, with a convection setting. It sits beside the fridge, which was absent at the time this was taken but has since been installed, hooked up to the water line and filled with stuff. Above the oven sits an alcove for a microwave, and above that, a cabinet built specfically to hold baking pans, with racks to hold them up.

I have alot of counter space and cabinet space, which has quickly been filled up with the contents of 73 boxes, at least. In addition to this, though, I have a little bonus room near my kitchen:

The previous owners use this as a sound booth for his music, and built in the shelves. I saw it and thought, "PANTRY!!!" I've since done some grocery shopping and unpacked boxes that had pantry items in it, so it isn't so bared and empty anymore.

This house has required alot of cleaning, even before anything came through the door. I had some help from family, but also had some help from a great Daring Baker, BC, who in addition to scrubbing out my stove and all its parts (isn't she amazing to do that for me!?!) brought me a cooler full of goodies to eat. Some store bought goodies were topped off with even better homemade goodies, such as a glutten free cake (you were right, I could not tell it was glutten free), an apple compote to go with the cake, and a jar full of salsa, which was inhaled by everyone around, it was so good!

Oh, and she also brought me a very important, but necessary ingredient, to this months Daring Baker challenge - and no I'm not going to tell you what it is!

Our first night in the house, we stood around the island and ate roasted chicken from the grocery store, with wedge fries and salad. Our second night, surrounded by boxes, things everywhere, I managed to find enough dishes and pots to make dinner. Unsurprising to anyone who knows our family, it was pasta, whole wheat spaghetti with a meat sauce (made up from equal parts ground beef and hot Italian sausage meat, sauted onions, canned tomatoes and crushed tomatoes) and a whole wheat baguette (part of our present from BC.) I didn't find the Parmessan cheese, but did find the cheddar and a box grater.

Unpacking and organizing is coming along way too slowly for my liking, but like any sensible Mom, Cook and Baker, I started with the kitchen. With a bit more time, and alot more hard work, I hope to be able to get back to baking very soon, and provide alot more pictures of my new kitchen.

When you are a kid, one of the bonuses to moving is the boxes you get to play with after. Especially if your mother orders an appliance and salvages the box for you.

It's almost time

Moving day.

After all this time preparing, we are ready to go. Wish I could say the same for the weather.

Mother Nature has a nasty sense of humor - just look what she brought us!

No matter, we will get this done.

My pantry is down to a bit of cereal, some popcorn and the peanut butter. My freezer has ice pops in it, and not much more of anything else. There hasn't been much cooking done around here lately, unless you count big pots of cream of wheat in the morning for breakfast (now gone, I am eating the last of it this morning.)

Ever notice how the less time you have, the busier to you are?

Monday had my boys eating the last of the bacon from the freezer for dinner, with eggs and toast, while I was out with my co-workers for a little end of year celebration. Our program is done for the year, we go back in January. Reason to celebrate?

Relaxed among the ladies, I tried something new and different. I ordered a drink. One with alcohol in it. I know, shocking. And I drank the entire thing. Even more shocking. (For those of you who do like to have the occasional drink, don't take offense - I tend to not like the taste of most alcohol, a big factor to why I don't drink, not a moral decision or anything.) I even took a picture on my cell phone, my Absolute Cosmo.

Can anyone tell me - it is supposed to be raspberry vodka in a Cosmopolitan? It seemed a little out of place to me, and while the drink was tasty, I think I'd have preferred being able to taste
the cranberry and not have it overwhelmed by the raspberry flavoring.

Oh, and the buffet at the Rideau Carleton Race Track is not bad, especially for $9.99 on a Monday night, but their desserts and dessert attendant are sorely lacking.

Last night the snow storm blew through. A perfect night to stay safe at home. Which we didn't do. We had to be out doing some final paperwork for the house, and I had been itching to try a new restaurant that just happened to be very near by, the Grand Central New York Deli. I had read about it awhile ago on a Ron Eade's Omnivore's Ottawa, a writer for the Ottawa citizen who maintains a blog about the food scene in Ottawa, and he had updated on Sunday that the Deli was finally going to open on Monday.

Woohoo! Smoked meat piled high for me! Not just any smoked meat, but a dry-rubbed smoked meat that was flavorful, moist, but not greasy or fall apart. On bread make from a local bakery. With coleslaw made on site that was creamy and flavorful and oh so good. I had mine with the sweet potato fries and ate every single one of those fries, the only fries I have eaten in years.

I should have taken a picture, even though it would be another terrible one on my cell phone, of the cheesecake they serve. Go look at Ron's site, see what I mean about the cheesecake. The four of us shared a piece and it was plenty for us!

Next time we try the deep fried pickles.

Today was another busy day, a pot luck lunch with all the play leaders that work in my program. No homemade goodies from me, but at least I was able to attend and contribute something (crackers, cheese, dips and veggies for those curious.) And I came home with a box full of chocolates.

Now to figure out what to feed my children for dinner tonight, using my fancy china. Isn't it lovely?

With luck in the paperwork, at this time tomorrow I will be standing in my new kitchen, ready to scrub every surface before I bring out my dishes and start figuring out how I want to arrange things.

And if I never move again, it will probably be too soon!

Hugs and kisses everyone - talk to you soon from the new house!