Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sugar Skulls & Day of The Dead

Day of The Dead or Día de los Muertos

I am sure you have heard of this special day celebrated by many throughout Mexico as well as other parts of Central America. Día de los Muertos is a day, or rather an evening, where the souls of the deceased are remembered. For many families in Mexico, this day is one of the most important holidays of the year. Here in the United States, it seems that remembering our loved ones, often involves a trip to the graveyard. In Mexico, for those who celebrate this day, it also involves a trip to the graveyard, but also much more.

On one night of the year, where the veil is supposedly the thinnest between the spirit world and our world, the souls of the deceased are allowed to "visit" earth again and enjoy some of their favorite things. You may happen to be remembering your deceased father who loved taking walks, loved  his wife dearly and adored drinking Coca-Cola. You might set up an ofrenda/altar of offerings in your home, outside your home on the patio or other area.  You would probably set up a photo of him taking a walk in nature and even put out a bottle of Coke out, complete with a straw. You may even have a photo of  your beautiful mother or some other remembrance of her. These were the things that completed the image of your father, these were things he loved... and this is how you would honor him. Leaving the photo out of your mother would allow your father's spirit to visit with your mother, he could possibly take a sip of his favorite drink and even take pause to admire the beauty, sweets and treats laid out for him. Many in Mexico spend much of their money to create these lavish altars/ofrendas. It is important to remember those who have past and bring forward the things in life that they appreciated.

Around the markets during the month of October, one would find candies in the shape of skeletons/esqueletos, sugar skulls/calaveras de azúcar, tiny little sugar coffins, pan de muertos, papel picado and an assortment of specialty items made just for this Holiday. In my home, we take great pride in creating Sugar Skulls. It is a really beautiful art form which involves mixing sugar, water and meringue powder to create these wonderful skulls that are then decorated  with royal icing.

papel picado
This is more of a photo essay on the "How To Make A Sugar Skull" rather than a written step by step document. It was such a beautiful process this year that involved my family and friends. If you have any creative itch at all, I encourage you to create these next year and put them out on your ofrenda, honoring those you love that are no longer with you. Enjoy the photos! Today is my birthday so this post is even more fun! Happy Birthday to all you Halloween Babies out there....Big love from Me! xoxo Megan

Cut out cardboard into 6"x8" rectangles
Ingredients you will need
Sugar waiting to be mixed
Papel Picado
Sugar mixed with Meringue Powder and Water... feels like wet sand
Your Skull Mold
Filling the Mold
Packing in the Sugar
Scraping off excess
Cleaning off extra sugar
Ready for flipping
Place Cardboard on mold
Ready, Set, Flip!
Carefully take off mold
Sugar Skull Factory
Skull Crazy!

T-Rex feeling the Sugar Itch
Molded sugar decorations for the skulls
Gel paste for coloring the royal icing
Tips for frosting
And the decorating begins..
My son hard at work
My daughter hard at work
Kiddos making their second skull
Sugar roses
Royal Frosting Bonanza
Feeling the creative urge
Mums the word

The skulls... drying.. The final project!

My Halloween Birthday Walk.. Heading to the woods for some healing!
xoxo Loads of Foodie Love -Megan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Orange Cardamom Madeleines - The Feel Good Cookie!

Mmmmuah! Buttery delicious with the exotic taste of cardamom and orange!
Sometimes there are things in life that we do... just because they make us feel good. We all have a bit or a bunch of that "feel good" DNA coursing through our veins..oh wait.. maybe that is just my addictive personality. Either way, feeling good feels good. I love the high of having everything work our perfectly in a day or somehow feeling one step ahead of myself rather than one step behind. I love having the phone ring and knowing it is my sister before I even glance at the caller ID. Life can feel oh soo good. Right? Cuddling with my kids feels good....kissing my husband on the soft curve of his neck feels good, breathing in  the cool autumn air feels good, eating an orange cardamom madeleine feels really good. Sometimes we bake something so wonderful, we eat them all up, at once. That is what happened today. All gone. Sorry, no leftovers... not one.

Someone gave me this recipe. It was a cookie of the month recipe from some glorious food magazine no doubt.  I seem to recall it was my sweet friends Jamie, Jackie and Sally who gifted me with this recipe.  If not them, it could have been one of my stealthy attempts at "waiting room recipe thievery". I am sure I am not the only one who has committed this crime. This is the crime where you ever so quietly rip out some amazing recipe from the unsuspecting magazine. I always think no one around me is looking....(have you seen me?) 

This dreamy little recipe has been on my "to-do" list for quite some time, possibly two years. Why so long you ask? You see, there are little delicacies in the world of baking and cooking. There are those "must have" items that you put off buying because your children need socks and underwear. Priority = socks and unders for the kids,  not the cute little seashell shaped Madeleine pans? Socks and underwear usually win..... until yesterday!

Ahhh yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away because I splurged and purchased two lovely Madeleine pans. I could finally create the cookie I had been dreaming about for years! Was it the special cake shape I craved or the orange cardamom flavor combination, or  possibly the memories of the summer of my 16th year where I ate Magdalenas every day on the warm and sunny Costa Brava in Spain? Who knows... but I promise you this, one taste of these orange glazed goddesses' and you will be feeling so good your children will ask you..."Mother, why are you being so nice to me?"!

I Feel Good... very good....even the thought of these cookies ignites some inner thrill inside me.  My husband  has some competition on his hands! I have an orange cardamom mistress! These cookies/cakes were absolutely delicious. My expectations were exceeded, if not blown away.

Mmmmmm, all day I dream about orange-cardamom madeleines....!

Orange Cardamom Madeleines

Ingredients for the Batter:

6 TBS butter (unsalted, preferably Organic Valley)
1 TBS honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Orange Glaze:
Zest of 1/2 and orange
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 TBS freshly squeeze orange juice

1) Butter molds of the madeleine pan. Oven to 325. Melt butter in small sauce pan, add in vanilla, cardamom, and honey. Let cool 10 minutes. 
2) Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
3) Stir eggs and sugar in a medium bowl. Add in flowr misture until combined. Add butter and spice mixture, stir until combined and lumps are removed. Cover with plasitc wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
4) Spoon batter into  madeleine pan, filling each mold just half way. It is easy to want to fill the entire mold, but they will be more delicate and light if you let the batter fill the mold while baking. Bake just until the edges are golden about 7-8 minutes. Let cool a bit and then put onto rack to cool completely.
5) Zest the orange, and place zest, juice and sugar in a small pan. Turn burner on low until sugar is dissolved and immediately coat the Madeleines with the glaze. Use a pastry brush and be generous. Let set for about 15 minutes... if you can wait that long. Eat right away or store for a late night snack!

Madeleines, Magdalenas , Madelines.... you name it.. they are delicious!

Loads of Madeleine love! xoxo Megan ♥♥♥

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pear Pomegranate Butter

Harrow Delight Pears

Three wonderful things happened to me today.

♥ My husband woke up early with me and we went on a brisk morning walk and had tea at the coffee house.
♥♥ I bought a new tube of lipstick.... and I feel like a new woman. (This should really be in first place) Ahh the little things in life!
♥♥♥ Market was good to me. Pears were all around. I made Pear Butter.

A Pearfect Match - ( I know.... I am totally cheesy)
The sweet folks at POM Wonderful contacted me about a month ago and asked if I would like to receive a case of Pomegranate Juice..... I of course, said yes. I would have been an idiot to say no. So a big Thank You to Ryan from Pom Wonderful Headquarters for sending me the juice!  Thank you for noticing my blog and hooking me up with one of my favorite beverages..... for free! It was delicious.... all of it, and today I  sadly used the very last bottle. I had just one little bottle left. Hmm... I could have easily chugged it down or thrown it into a  smoothie. However,  as I was preparing my pears I decided to pour the juice into the pear butter mixture. Of course, I was hoping that my pear butter would then take on a beautiful shade of pink.... that did not happen. (sad) However, the Pom Juice did add some tart zing and a hint of flavor.... I was glad I added it. 

Pear Love

Pear Pomegranate Butter

Around 4-6 pounds of fresh pears
1/2 cup maple syrup
1, 8 oz. of Pom wonderful Pomegranate Juice (add more if you like)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon


Quarter and core your pears. Put into a heavy bottomed pot. Add pomegranate juice, cinnamon and maple syrup. Let boil covered until pears are soft. Run the pears through a food mill. Place pears mixture back into the pan and simmer, lid off, for about 20-30 minutes until you have your preferred consistency. Depending on how juicy your pears are, you may end up having to add more liquid or let simmer for a longer period of time if you have too much liquid. Ladle your butter into prepared jars and place into the refrigerator. The butter will last 2 weeks in the refrigerator. 

Since I am a canning virgin.....shhhh, please, I don't want the secret out, I simple ladled the pear butter mixture into jars. I had the hot water bath all ready, I even sterilized the jars and the lids, but for some reason, I chickened out. Maybe next time!

The maple sweetness will make this a wonderful fruit spread to spoon over pancakes. I however have my mind set on spooning this on pork tenderloin. Yummmmm!

Loads of foodie love! Megan xoxo ♥♥♥

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars With a Pecan Crust

And now... back to your regularly scheduled program! Delicious Fall Treats!

Fall has arrived. It is official. I spent the day yesterday raking leaves... in 80 degree weather. (ahh...sigh of delight) It was a delightful Monday. Since I no longer work on Mondays, I was able to be out in the sun, soaking up some solar rays before the cool dark days of winter surround us all. Time to return inward, back to our cozy fires, warm stews and wool blankets. Time to break out my knitting from last year, my must-read list and mugfuls of hot apple cider. Magic is afoot. As our days shorten, the mist hovers ever so gently above the ponds and streams. Frost creeps and coats millions of blades of grass with it's white crisp covering. The leaves cackle and crackle and those busy,busy squirrels scamper to and fro, stealthily trying to hide their stash.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Since I am a Halloween Baby, pumpkins have also been on my mind. (I have told  all my students, past and present that I am a real live witch, as only witches are born on Halloween. I also used to keep a lovely broom over my kitchen door. It was easy to convince my childrens young friends that I indeed used it to fly.)  Ah yes... the trick in trick or treat... I believe that is what my mother said the day I was born. Must have been a hard labor, poor thing. But then again, giving birth is never easy.

In preparation for my week of work, kids, cooking and "child refereeing," I decided upon pumpkin chocolate cheesecake bars. They will be a welcome addition on our table all week long. Let us see how long they last!

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars - Based off of Martha Stewart's, Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars and Ghiradelli Marbled Cheesecake Bars

Ingredients for Crust
1 stick of softened butter (unsalted)
1 cup pecans
1 cup flour
14/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 325. Chop pecans in the food processor until you have a nice nut meal. Add in butter, sugar, salt and flour. Pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly and press into a 9x9 inch (ungreased) pan. Bake for about 14-15 minutes until slightly golden brown. You will start to smell it. Take out of oven, and let cool on rack. Turn oven up to 350.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Filling

Ingredients for Filling
2 packages of softened cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 can pure solid-pack pumpkin
3 TBS. flour
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
4 oz. semi sweet Chocolate

In a small, heavy bottomed pan, melt chocolate. Let stand. In stand mixer, blend cream cheese until very smooth. Add sugar, pumpkin puree. Mix until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl with each addition. Add in flour, and salt. Mix again. Remove 1 cup of the cheesecake mixture and mix into the melted chocolate. Mix well. Pour pumpkin mixture into the prepared crust. Spoon chocolate mixture in large dollops on the top of the pumpkin mixture. Take a knife and swirl throughout the cake until you have a lovely marbled design. Bake for about 45 minutes, until cheesecake is set but jiggles slightly. Let cool for several hours, chill overnight and serve.

Loads of foodie love! xoxo Megan ♥♥♥