Soup Swap Party

The Fearless Cooking Club gathered yesterday today to celebrate January as National Soup Month and January 21, 2012 as National Soup Swap Day. If you want details on how to organize your own soup swap, check out my fellow blogger Soup Chick‘s website.

The Fearless Cooking Club members are more about socializing than having rules to follow, so it was a long afternoon soiree of enjoying each other’s company and partaking in different types of stews and soups. The spouses and a few additional couples were invited making a houseful of 14 people celebrating all things soup. Char and her husband  Dwayne were spectacular hosts and their home was the perfect setting for this occasion.

Our rules were that each club member made two batches of soup: one was pre-made and packed in 1-pint containers ready for freezing and sharing; the other batch was brought in a crock and ready to serve. Each member went home with four pints of soup.

I absolutely love soup, but in preparing for this cooking club adventure I realized I never had a favorite one to share. I surveyed Soup Chick’s blog and tested three recipes before deciding on which one to bring. I am known in the group for alway trying something new, hence the name as Fearless Cook. It took some research and cooking trials for me to find a recipe to share with a group of people. I tried a Spicy Ground Beef and Bean Soup with Cabbage and Spinach from Kalyn’s Kitchen that was awesome and a Apple Pie Soup from Soup Chick. I eventually chose to make African Chicken Peanut Stew. It was fabulous so I think I have found a signature soup recipe for me. It was kind of a cross between a traditional stew and a Thai type dish. I served it with rice and cilantro. It was a pretty hearty stew at that, one serving was pretty filling.

The soup choices were:

Italian Wedding Soup with sausage and kale

Walkabout Split Pea and Ham

Bruce’s Beef Stew

African Chicken Peanut Stew

Black Forest Potato Soup

As you can see it was quite a variety of soups and stews.

A soiree it was. Wine, bread, crackers, and lots of water to cleanse our palates. After all the tasting, we had coffee and light desserts to cap off the afternoon. My freezer has four kinds of soups to get my husband I and through the busy week of work. Bon appetite!

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National Soup Swap Day January 21, 2012

Join me and my fellow blogger Soup Chick in getting friends and family together and host a Soup Swap. The Fearless Cooking Club will be gathering this weekend to bring soups in containers ready to exchange and crock pots of soup to taste and share and have a dinner party. What a perfect way to gather in the cold month of January.

Cookie Exchange Countdown: Coconut Pyramids

Today is the day for the cookie exchange! I made my final cookie to bake and it was grand!  My December 3, 2011 post showed the cover of Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies (circa 2001). The top cookie on the heap is the one I chose as my challenge to bake. It reminded me of a Christmas tree. It was frustrating to figure out how to form the pyramid, but with practice, it turned out to be a fun cookie to make.

Coconut Pyramids

Makes 45 cookies

 1 ¾ C sugar

5 ¼ C unsweetened shredded desiccated coconut

7 egg whites

Pinch table salt

2 TBSP unsalted, melted butter

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 oz semisweet chocolate

½ tsp vegetable shortening

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, using your hands, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites, and salt. Add butter and extracts, and combine well. Refrigerate at least one hour.
  • Moisten palm of hands with cold water. Roll 1 TBSP of the coconut mixtures in palms, squeezing tightly together 2-3 times to form a compact ball. Place ball on a clean surface, and using a pastry or bench scraper, flatten one side at a time to form a three=sided pyramid. Keep turning the pyramid onto another side, and repeat process until all sides are even and all edges are straight.\
  • Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart, bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool completely.

  • Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted. Dip the top ½ inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate. Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet; let chocolate harden.

Sweetened coconut variation: substitute ½ C sugar, 4C sweetened angel-flake coconut, 3 large egg whites, ½ tsp almond extract and ½ tsp vanilla extract. Follow procedure above using same amounts for other ingredients. 

Dough may be made up to one week in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

Patty’s Points:

1. I made the cookies in two separate batches: sweetened and unsweetened coconut. The unsweetened coconut variation was easier to work with and to form the pyramids. I think the fine shred of the coconut made all the difference.

2. Believe it or not, with practice, making the form of the pyramid was not that difficult.  I believe it really had to do with having the right ingredients and the right tools. I never owned a pastry/bench scraper until making these cookies. What a fabulous and useful kitchen tool!

3. My husband took the first batches of cookies to his work potluck. The leftover cookies lingered on after the lunch into the department kitchen. The next day he went in to pick up his container and on the white board was written “Best Macaroons Ever!” Wow! The funny part of this was my husband wasn’t sure what a macaroon was. He did a internet search to make sure it was my cookies.  Ha ha!

I’ll be posting pictures of the cookie exchange later. As a teaser I can tell you that there were some great variation of cookies I had never seen before.  Lots of fun!

Cookie Exchange Countdown: Sarah Bernhardt Cookies

The term “Diva” was most likely first attributed to Sarah Bernhardt, a dramatic and tragic French actress who was famous in the early part of the 20th century.

Andre bakes his way through Martha Stewart’s Cookie book  has an excellent history of the Sarah Bernhardt cookie. Apparently while Sarah was touring in Amsterdam, she tasted this cookie and the bakeshop owner named it after her. It was also a secret code during WWII as the cookies looked like radio dials. If someone asked for the cookie in a bake shop they identified themselves with the resistance.

The cookie exchange is five days away!! I have two more cookies to try before deciding which one to take. Like Sarah herself these cookies are divine but take some some finesse to perfect. The flavor combination of almond paste with chocolate makes me swoon. I had to try it at least once.

I stayed with the Martha Stewart Holiday cookie recipe theme. There are three parts: the cookie, the filling and the coating.

The cookie: I used a piping bag to form the cookies on the cookie sheet to bake. After they cooled I popped them into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer.

The filling: The filling has to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight. I used a piping bag to put the filling atop the cookies. Then they are popped back into the freezer to stay firm before applying the coating.

The coating: I balanced the cookie with filling atop a serving fork and poured the coating atop using a ladle. I then put them on a rack where the coating could drip off the cookie to a wax paper sheet below.

Patty’s Points:

1) Lots of steps that takes time and planning and a freezer to accommodate.

2)  Oh my gosh!! Messy!!! The coating was disastrous. I think it would have been better to place the cookies on a rack with wax paper below so that  I wouldn’t have to handle the cookies at all during the pouring of the coating.

3) Yummy! As I anticipated, the combination of almond and chocolate is melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.

4) I wrapped the cookies individually and placed back in the freezer to keep formed. I am afraid that once they come out of the freezer, they will melt easily.

As Sarah herself said, “He who is incapable of feeling strong passions, of being shaken by anger, of living in every sense of the word, will never be a good actor . . .”

Oh Sarah, you are Divine!

One more cookie to go!

Fried Green Tomatoes

We had a hail storm in July that hit our garden, wiping out the cucumbers and bruising the rest of the garden plants. That storm delayed the fruits of our garden so we were so surprised at the mother lode of tomatoes, albeit unripened tomatoes. I have never made fried green tomatoes, so this opportunity could not be passed without giving it a freshman try.

I am not from the South where these are a common staple. The movie from 1991 Fried Green Tomatoes comes to mind, which was on the CMT channel last night. My favorite line in the movie is when Kathy Bates rams the vehicle of two young girls who steal her parking spot at the Piggly Wiggly: “We’re younger and faster” the girls taunt and KB’s character replies “I’m older and have more insurance” I’ll have to sit down and watch it from beginning to end again.

After scouring a few cookbooks I found a recipe in the Mount Vernon (yes George Washington’s estate) cookbook cooked in bacon drippings, but then I went to the internet and found Paula Deen’s Fried Green Tomatoes with Vidalia Onion recipe. The YouTube video of Paula making this dish was a good tutorial as well. Usually this dish is made in July or early August with the first of the fruits on the vine. With the second snow storm of the seasoning whirling outside, this was a flashback to the feeling of summer.

I altered Paula’s recipe by adding a cornmeal dusting. So the breading went in this order: buttermilk, seasoned flour, buttermilk, then cornmeal.

I have such a fear of frying so I put the oil in a deep pot so if the oil splattered it would be far away from me and my skin. It didn’t take very long to crisp up, like 2 minutes each side.

The fried green tomatoes were good enough alone. The Vidalia onion relish was a little too much for me, sorry Paula 😦

Oktoberfest 2011- Homemade Soft Pretzels


The Fearless Cooking Club’s Adventure into Oktoberfest ends with the pretzel: soft, homemade, chewy and great with mustard and beer!

This author had the privilege to meet Alton Brown at a book signing several weeks ago and this recipe came from his new book Good Eats 3. He spoke to a crowd of 250 people for thirty minutes and signed books and posed for pictures for two hours. Very gracious!

My family loves soft pretzels so they were excited to see these roll out. I was intimidated because the recipe in the book didn’t give me the full picture of putting it together. So I watched the Good Eats Pretzel Logic Yeasts on YouTube. It helped quite a bit to visualize the entire process. The sock puppets posing as fungi were LOL entertaining as well.

After two batches of pretzels the keys points of the trial and error process were as follows:

1) Rolling the pretzels took some practice. The book and video indicated to wear gloves on an oiled surface. That didn’t work for me. I oiled the dough after the rising process but rolled it on a dry cutting board.

2) The dough was divided into eight parts. Each portion of dough was rolled from the inside outward to 24 inches in length.

3)  The pretzels were formed into a “U” shape, then folded over like arms crossing.

4) The pretzel dough was boiled for 30 seconds in a water and baking soda bath. The mixture provided a positive ion ph base, coating the dough to enable the browning process when baked.

5) Scooped from the water and back onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, they were brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with a coarse salt.  Baked to a golden brown for 16 minutes at 450 degrees.

I also made homemade mustard to go with the pretzels. The homemade mustard is in the Part 2 of Good Eats Pretzel Logic Yeasts episode.

The Fearless Cooking Club met today to eat the bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzels and homemade mustard. It is hard to believe that this was a seven week process of food preparation!  On my next entry I will post that celebration and report on the sauerkraut, sausage tasting and member updates. Cheers to the end of Oktoberfest!