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Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Skull Cookies

Dia de los Muertos is a big deal where I live in South Texas, really close to Mexico.  I really wasn't very familiar with it and, prior to living here, thought of it as a part of Halloween.  It is not!  Here's a link to a National Geographic article that describes the celebration, which is held on November 1st and November 2nd.

I remember first learning more about it in a Rick Riordan book I read from his Tres Navarre series.  As a native Texan, I loved the familiar locations and events and the description of traditions like Day of the Dead.  Rick Riordan is now so famous for his young adult literature that many people don't know about his adult mystery series.  It starts with Big Red Tequila and the whole series is worth reading!  As usual, I digress.

A friend asked me several months ago if I would make some sugar skull cookies as a decorative addition to her dessert table...at her wedding...on Day of the Dead.  She just wanted a small nod to the date.  I had never done them before so I was somewhat nervous...but agreed, thinking I would have plenty of time to learn!

So, I studied a 2013 tutorial from Marlyn at Montreal Confections and actually watched it several times to get the concept sort of embedded in my head.  I also made a Pinterest board of make-up ideas for the holiday - thinking I could "cookie" them.  I also started making royal icing transfer roses for use on the cookies, as well as some fondant/white sculpting chocolate sea shell molds (my personal nod to our coastal location).  Those items may be made well in advance and stored in tightly sealed containers.


I also purchased some cookie cutters of various shapes and sizes and some stencils from The Cookie Countess to try out.

I planned out all of my steps and ended up using the complete basic layout method from Marlyn's tutorial...but wanted the nose and eyes to be black with depth to show some dimension.  I used the one piece of the 3-layer stencil to mark the eyes and nose for consistency (since I don't own a KopyKake projector...aka a KK).  So, using my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie dough, rolled at 3/8" thickness and the most basic and small skull cutter I had obtained which was about 3 1/2 inches in length, I got started by marking (with food color marker) and painting the eyes and nose sockets with thinned black royal icing.  Then I outlined everything in black outline consistency icing, using a template from Marlyn to get the jaw line standardized (just printed and cut that section, used a food marker to locate it on the cookie) and after crusting, filled first the jaw section with white RI, and then the top section.  After letting dry completely, I used Marlyn's technique with dry brushing lustre dust... my preferred color was bronze, although I tried rose and red as well.

After that, I wanted the cookies to be unique - two dozen needed so I made 28 to ensure adequate supply in case of breakage (or snackage).  I wanted to use the royal icing transfer roses (I'm not great at those yet, but Sweet Ambs has a great tutorial in her shop)  in the eyes but realized I hadn't made enough so made some small black drop flowers with a colored dragee in the middle out of leftover icing.  They worked really well! Perfect fit in the eye socket!


Several of the cookies used Marlyn's technique of "watercolor" with food markers instead of paint.  It did give great control and I was much more comfortable knocking out many of the cookies with that technique - others I just piped and did curliques (also technique learned from Amber's tutorial shop).  I still have trouble mirroring swirlies, but the more I did, the better they got.  I had so much fun looking at each cookie as a new piece of art.  I'm not overly fond of knocking out a lot of cookies that are supposed to look the same, so the freedom to make a couple of dozen unique cookies was much more appealing to me!

I'll end this with some encouragement for you to check out Marlyn and Amber's tutorials.  They are awesome.  The rest will just be show and tell of most of the cookies - I don't think I photographed each one...but this gives you a good flavor of my nod to Dia de los Muertos!  Partying with the spirits of your relatives who have crossed over feels like a good thing to me.  I am embracing it this year!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


(Mr. Flip Flop's favorite of the bunch)








Jessica sent me a Facebook post of the picture from their Day of the Dead Wedding Cookie Table... now I wish I'd packaged them a little nicer, I could have put some ribbon on them or something...I was more worried about them being intact and fresh, so I just heat sealed.  Oh well, they still look nice and decorative.  Hope they tasted good too!  Congratulations to Jessica and Michael!!!




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Friday, October 3, 2014

Sausage, Beans, and Rice

Entering Colorado from New Mexico on our way to an evening
concert in La Veta, CO


Well, once again, I disappeared for a month.  One of the reasons was a nice vacation in New Mexico and Colorado (just one day there).  I took the occasional (or hundred) photos but only a few involved food photos.

We had eclectic dining during our trip!

We ate our first meal in Albuquerque at a great little restaurant in the historical part of Albuquerque.  It was cool and dry and the food was delicious.  If you ever are in that area, stop in at the Church Street Cafe...try to sit on the back patio...it's awesome and peaceful and....I just sighed in delight!
Stacked enchiladas on the left with a fried egg on top
and a combo plate on the right with tamale, enchilada, and chili rellenos with green and red sauce.

Our second meal was at a tiny brewery in Taos...incredible grilled chicken tacos with homemade taco shells and hibiscus tea.  Live music and hummingbirds darting about.  It was heaven.  Dark and no photos.  It was relaxing time.

The majority of our meals were eaten around campfires, around outdoor grills, and a couple of times, breakfast in Red River was at a cool little spot down from our motel...Shotgun Willies.  Nothin' fancy but it will fill you right up!  Other than a lunch in Angel Fire, a lunch enroute to Colorado at some intersection somewhere, and another lunch in Trinidad - it was all outside dining!

We vacationed with friends and they had their camper.  They invited us to join them 3 out of our 5 nights there and, really, is there anything that doesn't taste good outdoors?  Especially with old friends and a stream running next to you...or a river running hundreds of feet below you!?!
Red River, NM - by the campground

Wayyyyy down in the bottom of the canyon - The Rio Grande.
(we get our drinking water from the Rio Grande at the south end of it all)

This brings me to the pot of beans, sausage, and rice I am cooking while sitting in air conditioned comfort - in respite from the steamy outdoor temps of the lower Texas Gulf Coast!  It may be October but it was 80 degrees when I woke up this morning and I heard we were supposed to have a cool front blow in tonight...so I decided to make a bean soup (well, not really a soup at the end of it all).  Even if the temperature drops a mere 10 degrees, everyone here grabs a sweater and puts on a pot of something hot.  You have to go for the gusto whenever you can.  It will be a cool 87 degrees tomorrow afternoon.  Really, that's a cool front down here!

Our friend, Pat, cooked two big pots of the most delicious 15 bean soup with ham and onion and other secret seasonings...all over a wood fire...on the rim of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  That is one remote place!  Quiet, peaceful, and no cell phone service.  YES!
Pot of Beans on the canyon rim
Photo by John Hook

At dusk, the guitar came out, bottles of beer and tequila (and water for me to ensure I did not get altitude sickness) resulted in our singin' 'til our throats were sore.  Awesome memories.

Campfire at sunset - remote and beautiful

Me and Mr. Flip Flop - rarely photographed - our annual selfie!

Awesome friends Pat and Mike



So, in honor of that memory, dinner tonight has been soaking or cooking since 9:00 this morning.  Here's what I did....no wood fire nor cast iron pot included.


SAUSAGE, BEANS, AND RICE

Ingredients:

Hurst's HamBeens 15 Bean Soup (in the dried beans section of the store)
1 pound ring sausage, sliced (used smoked beef sausage)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small can Red Gold tomatoes and chilies - mild (or Rotel)
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 or 2 bags Steamable Brown Rice (each bag serves four - in the freezer section)

Meal in a Pot!

Method:

In a stock pot, soak beans per package instructions.  Discard soaking water and add 3 quarts water to bean pot.  Add sausage pieces.  Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook uncovered for 2 1/2 hours.  Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper, and bring up to boil again and allow to low boil for about 30 to 45 additional minutes.  Microwave the rice 50% of the recommended time, and add to mixture.  Stir and allow to come up to boil again.  Lower heat and stir frequently as rice thickens up the soup to the consistency you like.  We like it thick so we used two bags of rice.

Serve with cornbread or tostado chips or warm tortillas.  Muy bueno!!!

15-bean mix, sausage, and rice make for a hearty bowl of goodness!

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