The Gleeful Gourmand: December 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Treats!

Every year I search for something new to bake for family and friends during the Christmas season. With all the glossy, beautiful magazines that stuff my mailbox, each take on holiday treats looks better than the next. Whittling it down to something I know my family will enjoy, and will be easy (hello, it is HARD to bake and also concentrate at the same time when you have twin toddlers!) is not always an easy task. The choice is usually made when I mentally say to myself, "Oh yeah, I could do that and not lose my mind."

This year I decided to stick with a standard from last year: Peppermint Meringues, and take on a new recipe: Crunch Bars. These crunch bars are really versatile, and SO delicious. Highly addictive, the cookie base is just crunchy enough without being too hard, while the salt added to the melted chocolate on top gives it a subtle complexity of flavor. Adding your favorite toppings adds to the fun. This would be a good recipe to do with your kids, and have them come up with their own toppings.
Mmmm...lots of chopped Ghiradelli chocolate.

For my first try, I put coconut on top. The recipe recommends toasted coconut, but I didn't have the time, and I've also been known to toast coconut by way of completely burning it to bits on more than one occasion. I like the idea of doing something like crushed candy canes, and maybe even popcorn.

A couple of notes, though. When the recipe says the dough for the cookie base will be wet and sticky, it really means it. It also says you should work the dough into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. What happens when you work with wet and sticky stuff with your fingers? Yeah, it gets all gobbed up. I'm not sure using another tool would be much better, but I was a little frustrated trying to spread it out with my fingertips. The more gobbed up with dough they got, the harder it was to make it conform to the bottom.
The finished Crunch Bar before slicing.

Also, when it says that you should let the completed Crunch Bar cool for 2 hours until the chocolate sets, that's really crucial. Of course it still tastes great, but the texture of a mostly cooled bar while the chocolate is still a little liquid, versus when it's completely set is different enough that I think it matters. If you plan to give these as a gift, I would recommend absolutely waiting until it's completely set. That way they won't fall apart when you put them in a gift bag or package.

Lastly, I know it recommends "fine sea salt" and also "Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)". Bon Appétit is going crazy for Maldon sea salt right now apparently, but here's my secret: I used Kosher salt and it turned out great. So don't sweat it if that's what you have on hand. Conversely, for the chocolate – and I know I say this all the time – don't skimp on quality. When they call for semisweet chocolate, splurge and buy the best you can. And be sure not to use chocolate chips: The chips have stabilizers in them that will prevent them from melting the way you need them to.
Pairing the Crunch Bars with the Peppermint Meringues makes a nice presentation.

Enjoy, and happy baking! Here's the link to the recipe again, in case you missed it up top: Crunch Bars

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Menu For The End Of The World

When I was about 13 years old I began sleepwalking and talking in my sleep on occasion. But it wasn’t until I entered High School that I started doing it frequently. One of the things I dreamed about most often was the world coming to an end. Every night it was the same dream: I would be lying in bed and the radio would be on. An announcer would come on, interrupting the music, and declaring that, “This is it. This is the end of the world.” In my dream it would almost always be storming outside. In real life, while I was still asleep, I would get up and walk to my parent’s room, opening their door and start crying, telling them that the world was ending.

My poor parents. I can’t even imagine how frustrated and worried they must have been that their daughter did this almost every night. It would usually take a firm, “Jenna, wake up! Go back to bed right now!” from my mother to get me to snap out of it.

So why the end of the world? I think it largely had to do with my fears. What’s not to fear about life ending in a cataclysmic event where there’s sure to be lots of pain and suffering? Whenever I would see something on television about it, it was enough to send me into a full panic. It also had to do with this overwhelming sorrow, fear, and disappointment that the world would end without me having experienced it at all. I remember praying to God to just let me grow up, travel, experience things, find a husband and have children before ending the world. That didn’t seem like too much to ask Him, did it?

Now that I am grown up, have a husband and children, have traveled extensively, and have a much better understanding and appreciation for my relationship with God, I can see how ridiculous my prayers were. Of course, I think God understands a silly teenage girl’s outlook on the world and realizes that it’s largely immaturity at play for her to make such demands on Him.
Here's a preview: This makes the list. Yes, frozen rolls.

These days, despite the Mayan calendar countdown and all the chatter that goes with it, I feel a lot better about impending doom.

Honestly! I really do! If the world were truly to end on the 21st of this month (which I don’t really think it will), I am okay with that. My relationship with God has changed so much, and it changed not only my heart, but also my outlook. It goes much deeper than “well, I know where I’m going in the end.” If the world is going to end, then it’s my belief that God willed it so. And if He willed it, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. So why spend this life worrying about when it will end, and how it will end? While you’re busy worrying, actual life is passing you by. I know this because I am a world-class worrier. I am a champion at worrying. And worrying has gotten me absolutely nowhere.

If I knew the world was going to end, would I be disappointed? Sure I would be! I’ve loved my time here on Earth. But my life was always going to be a blip anyway. It was always one grain of sand on a vast beach. But that’s not so bad – I happen to love the beach. I would be sad to miss watching my kids grow into adults. I would be sad that I never got to go to culinary school (something I hope to do someday), and that my book never got published. But none of those things are so important as how I honored God, and how I used and gave away all the love He instilled in me.

If we’re hurtling towards THE END, then I want to hurtle towards it with a smile on my face, laughter on my lips, my arms around my family, and an expectancy of a fulfilled promise in my heart. Not a quaking heart full of fear and sorrow for things missed out on.

And also, I would want to hurtle towards it with a plate full of good food. How could I not? One of my most supreme joys on Earth has been making food, eating food, reading about food, and, of course, writing about food. But what does one make to usher in the end of the world? Do you make every single favorite food for everyone you love? Do you book reservations at your favorite restaurant (why would they even be open??)? I know I wouldn't want to spend too much time making the dinner. I feel I'd be missing out on a lot of other important stuff at the end. So making every single favorite food we've ever loved is out. I also wouldn't want to over-stuff myself. I hate that feeling. Is that the last feeling I want to have before it all ends? After thinking for several days on these questions, I finally settled on this menu:

My Spaghetti: Because our whole family loves it. It’s easy and comforting. What more could you want for the end of the world than easy and comforting?
Parker House Rolls by Sister Schubert: Because these rolls are so ridiculously good, even though they’re of the frozen variety.
A Glass of Cline Cashmere Wine: There’s no way I’m spending the last night on Earth without a glass of wine in my hand!
Pumpkin Pie: Because it’s my husband’s most favorite food in the world, next to Hardywood Park’s Bourbon Cru beer, which I would also have on hand. He deserves a pumpkin pie at the end of the world.
Beatty’s Chocolate Cake: Because I adore this cake, and so does my son. There are lots of desserts I love, but it’s really hard to beat this one.

It’s (maybe) the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…and stuffed.

What's on your menu for the end of the world?