December 31, 2010

The Year That Was - 2010

For New Year's, we'll be eating black-eyed peas and cabbage, playing our shell game where you draw your fortune for the year, and making wishes on the flying wish paper. I'm on an unbelievable hot streak of getting what I wish for.

This year was wonderful, and I feel very blessed.

Here's my year in cities again. Looking at 2007, 2008, and 2009, I think this list may be my best yet. I traveled through 16 states and visited these cities in 2010:

Salt Lake City, UT
Provo, UT
San Antonio, TX
Windsor, CO
Estes Park, CO
Washington, DC
Canon City, CO
Loveland, CO
Denver, CO
Seattle, WA
(okay, these next 7 were on a cruise ship)
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Ketchikan, AK
Juneau, AK
Skagway, AK
Glacier Bay, AK
College Fjord, AK
Seward, AK
Anchorage, AK
Austin, TX
Portland, ME
Dover, NH
Sharon, VT
Wilmington, VT
Hartford, CT
New Haven, CT
Newport, RI
Cambridge, MA
Boston, MA

Honorable mention to Memphis, Tennessee, whose airport I flew through 6 times. It's unbelievably lame that I haven't blogged about my Alaskan cruise, especially considering that it was the best vacation ever. I need to get on that.

Please leave a comment with your year in cities (Even if you already did it on Facebook, you have to do it again.).

December 23, 2010

The First Fifth Annual Festivus

The annual holiday party at my house is a Festivus party. Some years I even throw a couple of Festivus parties. I held my first ever Festivus party the year I moved into my house. I don't remember now what prompted me to organize that first party, but I really started something - something that gets weirder every year.

The first 5th annual Festivus started with the weird invite
Festivus 2010
for which I drew my inspiration from a truly ugly website, that of Lubbock Power & Light.

On the menu:

Festivus Food
  • Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. Reference to The Jimmy where George starts speaking in third person.
  • Atomic Subs. Sub sandwich with Black Forest Ham and Turkey, Gruyère Cheese, and mustard/raspberry jam spread, toasted. Reference to The Strike where Elaine gives her Atomic Sub punch card to Denim Vest.
Festivus Food
Festivus Food
  • Éclairs. Reference to The Gymnast where George crosses the line between man and bum and eats an éclair out of the trash.
Festivus Food
  • Snickers. Reference to The Pledge Drive where Mr. Pitt starts a trend by eating his Snickers bar with a knife and fork.
Festivus Food
  • Pretzels. Reference to The Alternate Side where Kramer has a line in a Woody Allen film, "These pretzels are making me thirsty!"
  • Eggnog and other snacks.

After the foodage, we got the Festivus Pole out of the crawlspace and had airing of grievances and feats of strength. I tried long and hard to think of the most harmless, ridiculous grievance I could air, so I told Ian that I didn't like how he makes fun of the way I cut cakes (which is totally Wilton approved, by the way!), but it was still awkward. Feats of strength are usually board games, and we played Telestrations, which was very fun!

Re: the food, this was my first attempt at éclairs. I used this recipe for the pâte à choux (my pastry cream and chocolate glaze recipes were pretty similar to the ones on that page, too). The first step in making the pastry is to bring the water, butter, and sugar to a rolling boil on the stove. Of course, I was trying to do too many things at once, and I accidentally bumped the pan of water, butter, and sugar, and spilled it all over the floor. That made quite an oil slick on my floor before the party. Nice! Improving my piping method would prettify my éclairs, but I was pleased with how they turned out.


The second 5th annual Festivus party was a fondue party. Since I can think of no fondue-related Seinfeld jokes besides the double dip, I'll leave it at that and sign out with a Festivus greeting from Jerry Stiller:

December 10, 2010


This has been quite a year of traveling for me, visiting a few cities in Texas, Utah, Colorado, Washington, DC, Seattle, Canada, Alaska, and around Boston and New England. And while I've never been to Memphis, I've flown through the Memphis airport six times this year, courtesy of Delta Airlines.

Have you flown Delta Airlines and tried those Biscoff Cookies they serve as an in-flight snack? They're crispy ginger cookies and they're delicious. I just learned that you can purchase a Biscoff spread, "Europe's alternative to peanut butter," which is made using crushed Biscoff cookies. I read that the spread was good here and here, and of course you can't buy it in Lubbock, so I ordered four jars to start with, intending to give some away at Christmas. I shared some with the family last time they came over for dinner. They liked it so much, that this week I ordered four more jars because I needed more stocking stuffers. I'm hooked on it, too.

Biscoff cookies are from Belgium, where they're known as Speculaas, and they are typically imprinted with a design, as shown here by Martha Stewart. In France, they're called Speculoos, and I tried Dorie's Around My French Table Speculoos recipe tonight. After binging on Biscoff spread for a few days, I was looking forward to tasting Dorie's version of the cookie.

Making the dough was easy. I followed the recipe closely except for using a little more ginger than called for. The dough was rather hard to work with after I rolled it out. I tried different rolling it out to different thicknesses but found I liked the very thin cookies best. Of course, the thin dough was the hardest to cut and transfer to a baking sheet without cracks or prints finding their way into the dough. I tried to get extra fancy and use a speculaas mold rolling pin to imprint shapes on some of the dough, which didn't work so well.


The designs were barely visible after the cookies baked, but they were still pretty good-looking. I guess my rolling pin technique needs some work. As far as taste, I expected them to have a stronger ginger flavor. Next time I will double the ginger, and maybe add some pepper or cayenne, to go for a spicier rather than sweeter cookie.


And speaking of sweets, these cookies are delicious when sandwiched around a layer of another European spread, Nutella.

December 3, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

As much as I consider myself a cake baker and dessert maker, you know what one of my most requested recipes is? Spiced nuts. Seriously, right?!?

I've copied or emailed my recipe to my mom a few times. My sister called and asked for it just before Thanksgiving. The nuts disappear quickly at parties and are always welcome as a hostess gift. And get this, my teenage brother asked for spiced pecans for his Christmas present from me... more than once even! Now that's saying something!

For my recipe, I always use pecans, our family's favorite nut, tossed in egg whites and then a combination of salt, sugar, cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Heavy on the cayenne because we're good Texans.

I don't feel boastful if I say that I've become somewhat expert in the field. I've learned that you should roast the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Waxed paper will be a total disaster, and even a Silpat doesn't seem to work as well. Watch the timer and the baking process carefully. The nuts can go from underdone to perfect to burned in a matter of a minute. Let the pecans cool thoroughly before you touch or eat them. The spice coating needs a few moments out of the oven to get nice and set.

I tried a new recipe today from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table for Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts (p. 18). Her base recipe calls for your favorite nut - almonds, cashews, pistachios, or pecans (the latter being the least French of the lot) - or a mix of several. They're spiced with sugar, chili powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne. The spices are interchangeable, too, and she suggests getting creative by using Chinese five-spice powder, curry, cardamom, or herbs.

I thought Dorie's recipe looked very similar to my tried and true one, so I opted to spice it up (har har) by using almonds instead of pecans and some of her alternative spice suggestions. Since I had some Chinese five-spice powder in my cupboard just aching to be used, I pulled it out for this recipe. It took only a few minutes to mix the nuts with the spices and get them in the oven.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

They came out beautifully. I could certainly taste the anise and fennel from the five-spice powder, which tasted like a mild black licorice and reminded me of the little after-dinner Mukhwas you see at Indian restaurants. The almonds weren't too sweet or salty. I think the only change I'd make for next time is to use a full teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of only a heavy pinch. I'm a good Texan, after all.

Be prepared to make multiple batches. You'll want to snack on some and have enough left over to share them with friends, and they're highly addictive.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts