ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Digress

Wow, what a month, huh?  It was the longest month, it was the shortest month.  I also do really think we had our best times and worst times of 2012 this December.  Luckily, the worse part was earlier, when we were juggling a whole lotta stress and work; the best was the last week, when we all just took time to chill out, hang out, and be.  Together.  Obviously the blogs didn't get much action, but that's life.  Now I have lots to blog about.

I just checked my VGP 2012 photo folder and there are like 30 recipes I never got around to posting.  I will.  Plus some really awesome awesomeness I made over winter break.  In the meantime, I've made some other really good food that's not traditional VGP material, but I want to share.  Sorry no piccies of my own, just links.  But the pics on the links are really great, so go there.

Sometime this month, I started craving scrambled eggs.  But not my own scrambled eggs; no one wants to eat those.  Rubbery gray-yellow blobs with burnt edges - no thank you!  We've taken eggs OFF our breakfast chart, except the occasional hard-boiled, because I have one of these, so I don't mess them up.  But other than that, I'm not very good at eggs.

I really wanted some good ones - creamy, well-seasoned, not over-cooked.  I didn't know when I could get out to a good diner for some.  Then a few nights ago, I decided, I can do this.  The internet is a wealth of knowledge and crazy foodies - there must be instructions on making proper scrambled eggs.  I didn't have to go far.  Thank you, theKitchn.  Absolutely amazing, and just what I was craving.  I'll (hopefully) never overcook my eggs again.  I even had chives!  It was a great meal for one.
Photo from theKitchn
 Now let's talk about Christmas Eve.  We hosted, and including us, the headcount came to sixteen - eight adults and eight children.  I would say dessert was the worst part, and even that was pretty good, so it was a lovely successful dinner, thanks to my brother Dave's helping hand when we got in the weeds.  Here's what we had:

Creamy Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Cups
Cranberry Curd and Cream Cheese on Baguette
Cranberry Juice with Ginger Ale

Pomegranate Salad with Honey-Cinnamon Vinaigrette

Main Course
Roast Stuffed Pork Loin with Port Sauce (it looked just like the picture!)
Roasted Cauliflower with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan (so good and easy - definitely doing this side dish for Dinner Swap sometime!)
Citrus Green Beans with Pine Nuts (also delicious)

Salted Caramel Cheesecakes 
Hot chocolate stir sticks (recipe coming)
(ice cream for the kids)

The cheesecakes were OK, I just had some trouble getting them neatly out of the muffin tin, so they were messy looking.  The caramel sauce from the recipe didn't turn out well, so I rummaged in the fridge - and it may not surprise you I had at least three kinds of caramel in there - and made a sauce from Smucker's caramel sauce, Nestle dulce de leche, and Fat Toad Farm Vanilla Bean Goat's Milk Caramel.  It was breathtaking.
Salted Caramel Cheesecakes Recipe
Photo from

I guess that's all for now.  My New Year's resolution is to keep baking and posting whenever I feel like it.

I'm into lofty goals like that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dessert Club: International

 This is the big one, folks.  I throw exactly one holiday party a year, and it's our November/December Dessert Club.  I look forward to it like crazy.  It's how I kick off my holiday season. 

This year we decided to forego our usual "holiday cookies" theme and go back to one of our all-time favorites: International.  How can you go wrong?  We had six countries represented in nine dishes, and they were die. for.

Chocolate-Cherry Brioche (mine)

Naan-e Berenji (Persian Rice Cookies)

 Triple Layer Berry and Brown Sugar Pavlova  
(so delicious and melt-in-your-mouthy)

Tres Leches Cake

Poppy Seed Cake

Nougat Montelimar

Jamaican-Spiced Upside Down Cake (also mine)

Strawberry Savarin

...and while it was not a requirement to make a holiday dish per se, it is only fitting that our winner of the evening was this...

Bûche de Noël  
 It was beyond amazing, and I'm not even talking about how perfect it looked, from the log-swirled ganache to the meringue mushrooms.  It had an orange marscapone filling inside the most perfect chocolate sponge.  It completely deserved to win on every level.  I got the recipe; I'm trying to decide whether to attempt it myself for Christmas this year.  I certainly wouldn't mind eating it again!

At our holiday party, we also do a gift exchange.  Last year it was kitchen gadgets.  This year it was cool ingredients.  And, you guessed it, what you get is what you have to use for January - that's the theme.  Everything was fabulous, but I think some will be easier to use than others.  We did the exchange white-elephant-style, so there was stealing.  I think the most stolen item was vanilla bean paste, followed closely by coconut sugar.  I ended up with those chocolate bars down front, no complaining from me!  But the most coveted item was definitely toasted hazelnut flour, and it was also the last gift opened, so no one could steal it.  Talk about lucky!

And before everyone left, I handed out their favors - our 2012 Dessert Club ornament.  This is our third Christmas of Dessert Club, and I love hanging our three DC ornaments on our tree.  Look at all that whipped cream!  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Apple-Cranberry Pie

 No clever prose for this one, my dears.  This one was requested for Thanksgiving, and while I'm skimming it by the hair of my chinny chin chin, I hope you will still be able to make it.  Because cranberries and apples, always excellent.  And this comes from last year's pie night winner, and she seriously knows pies.

Apple-Cranberry Pie (print recipe)
8 oz. (2 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 c orange juice
1 c plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c water
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 1/2 lbs Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored,and sliced 1/4 in thick
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1. Bring cranberries, orange juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp salt to boil in medium saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally and pressing berries against side of pot, until berries have completely broken down and juices have thickened to jam-like consistency, about 10-12 minutes. Off heat, stir in water and let cool to room temp., about 30 min. Can be stored in refrigerator up to 2 days.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 1/4 tsp cinnamon, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and cornstarch together in large bowl. Add apples and toss to combine. Cover and microwave, stirring with rubber spatula every 3 minutes, until apples are just starting to turn translucent around edges and liquid is thick and glossy, 10-14 min. Let cool to room temp., about 30 minutes. Can be stored in fridge up to 2 days.

3. While fillings cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll 1 disk of dough into 12 in. circle on lightly floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto 9-in. pie plate, letting excess dough hang over edge. Leave any dough that overhangs in place. Wrap dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes. Roll other disk of dough into 12-in. circle on lightly floured counter, then transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 min.

4. Spread cooled cranberry mixture into even layer in dough-lined pie plate. Place apple mixture on top of cranberries, mounding in center. Loosely roll remaining dough round around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto filling. Trim overhang to 1/2 in beyond lip of pie plate. Pinch edges of top and bottom crusts firmly together. Cut four 2-in. slits in top of dough. Brush surface with egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake until crust is light golden brown, about 25 min. Reduce oven temp. to 375, rotate baking sheet and continue baking until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, 25-30 min. Let pie cool on wire rack until filling has set, about 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temp.

Recipe from the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Salted Almond Praline Tart

 Here's the creation that WON "Pies & Tarts" night at Dessert Club, which is no small feat.  But it was pretty awesome.  I think the Salted Almond Praline, that went on as a garnish, and was both addictive and super easy to make, was the kicker that pushed it over the edge.  Stunning with creamy almond-scented filling, fresh raspberries, and spicy-salty crust and praline, I humbly admit it did stand out. 

Better Homes and Gardens teamed up with the Almond Board of California for a "Crowd-Pleasing Almond Dishes" contest, and you guessed it, this was one of the winners.  So now it's a two-time award winner.  So you should make it this week.  And maybe every week after.  Definitely for your next recipe contest.  Yum.
Salted Almond Praline Tart (print recipe)
Makes 12 servings

Almond Crust:
2 1/2 cups broken cinnamon graham crackers (or cinnamon Teddy Grahams)
1 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter

Almond Tart Filling:
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 1/2 oz. white baking chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 egg and 1 egg yolk

Salted Almond Praline:
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sugar
2 T melted butter
1 T water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt

Whipped cream
Fresh raspberries

1.  Preheat oven to 325F.  Prepare crust:  In food processor, combine grahams, almonds, and sugar.  Cover; process until finely ground.  Add butter.  Pulse to combine.  Press into bottom and sides of 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom.  Chill 15 minutes.  Place on foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned; cool.

2.  Prepare filling: In saucepan combine 8 oz. cream cheese and white chocolate.  Stir over low heat until melted.  In bowl beat remaining cream cheese on medium to high for 30 seconds.  Beat in sugar until smooth.  Beat in melted mixture until combined.  Beat in sour cream and extract until combined.  Beat in egg and yolk until combined Pour into crust.

3.  Bake in 325F oven 35 minutes or until center is nearly set when gently shaken.  Cool on rack 30 minutes. Loosen crust from side of pan, but do not remove.  Chill at least 2 hours. 

4.  Make Salted Almond Praline: Heat oven to 325F.  Line a baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.  In bowl combine 1 cup sliced almonds, the sugar, melted butter, water, cinnamon and salt.  Spread evenly in pan.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool completely on rack.  Break into pieces.

5.  Remove tart from pan.  Top with whipped cream, Salted Almond Praline, and raspberries.  Serve.
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, July 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crustless Cranberry Pie (a.k.a. "Cranberry Awesomeness")

I'm deeply sorry I don't have a "slice" picture for this pie.  It came a little later than the others, and I forgot to "slice-and-shoot" before we gobbled it all up.  But this was one of my favorites of the night.  I asked her, "What's this called, Cranberry Awesomeness?"  She said she liked that and wouldn't tell me the real name.

Which led to a DC discussion of how I say "awesome" way too much, and even my iPhone signature says, "Sent from Awesomeland."  While it is anything but true, it conveys what I want it to.  Then someone said that she recently said, "awesome" in a conversation and got called out on it, and told "awesome" is dated and not on conversational trend anymore.  To which I reply, whatevs.  It's a classic that has not gone the way of rad or gnarly, but risen in the colloquial ranks to rub shoulders with the likes of cool.  To which my brother, who lived in England for three years, said, when a Brit wants to sound American, they always say, "Awesome!"  Which proves my point.  I think.

Regardless, I mean to bestow my highest praises on this cake-ish pie when I call it awesome.  Awesomeness.  I envision having it for a light breakfast Thanksgiving morning, snacking on it with a bit of milk or herbal tea while the heavy cooking gets underway.  Or as a dessert the same day, with a dab of cream, letting the tart berries burst on your palate surrounded by sweet almond-scented crumbs.  I've just done such a good job describing it, I might have to go make me some right now.

Crustless Cranberry Pie (a.k.a. "Cranberry Awesomeness") (print recipe)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 9 inch pie pan.

2.  Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir in the cranberries and the walnuts, and toss to coat. Stir in the butter, beaten eggs, and almond extract. If you are using frozen cranberries, the mixture will be very thick. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

3.  Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Recipe from

1 year ago:  Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 years ago:  Mini Frittatas
3 years ago:  500 Kinds of Popcorn

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Banana-Caramel Coconut Creme Pie

 This pie was Dave's contribution to Pies & Tarts night.  He's a big Cook's Illustrated fan, so almost anything he makes is time-consuming, multi-step intensive, and very, very delicious.  This was no exception, as you can tell even from the title.  Bananas, coconut, and caramel altogether = a truly spectacular idea.

Banana-Caramel Coconut Creme Pie (print recipe)

Graham-Cracker Crust:
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
5 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 Tbs sugar

Caramel Layer:
3 Tbs water
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbs heavy cream
pinch salt
2 Tbs unsalted butter

2 slightly underripe bananas

Coconut Filling:
1 (14oz) can coconut milk (they make a point of saying to avoid 'light' coconut milk)
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 tsp salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1.5 tsp vanilla extract

Whipped Topping:
1.5 cups heavy cream, chilled
1.5 Tbs sugar
.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs unsweetened shredded coconut; toasted until golden brown

1.  Make the crust:   Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325. Process graham cracker pieces in blender or food processor to fine, even crumbs; about 30 seconds. Sprinkle melted butter and sugar over crumbs and pulse to incorporate; about 5 pulses. Sprinkle mixture into 9-inch pie plate. Using bottom of measuring cup, press crumbs into even layer on bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake at 325 for 13-18 minutes until crust is fragrant and beginning to brown. Allow to cool.

2.  Make the Caramel: Add 3 Tbs water to small saucepan, then pour in 1/2 cup sugar. Gently stir sugar with clean spatula to wet thoroughly. Bring to boil and cook until sugar mixture turns dark amber, 5 to 8 minutes, swirling pan occasionally once sugar begins to color. Off heat, add 3 Tbs heavy cream (caramel will bubble vigorously) and pinch salt; whisk to combine. Whisk in 2Tbs unsalted butter. Pour caramel into crust, tilting pi plate to coat evenly; set aside to cool.

3.  Banana Layer: Once the caramel is cool, peel 2 slightly underripe bananas and slice crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Arrange slices in a single layer on top of the caramel. 

4.  Coconut Filling: Bring coconut milk, whole milk, 1/3 cup sugar, shredded coconut, and salt to simmer in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally.  As milk mixture begins to simmer, whisk egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk 1 cup of simmering coconut mixture into yolk mixture to temper, then slowly whisk tempered yolk mixture back into remaining coconut milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until mixture is thickened and a few bubbles burst on the surface; about 30 seconds. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla. Let mixture cool until just warm, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Pour warm filling on top of bananas. Lay sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface (to avoid 'film' forming) and refrigerate until pie is chilled and set; about 4 hours. 

5.  Whipped Topping: Before serving, using stand mixer with whisk, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla together on medium-low speed until frothy; about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and continue to whip until soft peaks form; 1 to 3 minutes. Spread whipped cream attractively over top of pie and garnish with toasted coconut. 

6.  Devour.

Recipe from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook p. 726

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dessert Club - Pies and Tarts

We interrupt the regularly programmed queue of Herbs & Spices recipes because Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  And you need to know about Pies and Tarts night!  Seriously, last year's was so good, I wondered how we could do another.  But yeah, we did.  And it was amazing.  And we outdid ourselves.  Like we always do.  And my brother came.  Like he does, once a year, for Pie Night.  (There he is, in the back, eating part of my lineup.)

FYI, this post is gonna have a lot of pictures.  I starred some of my favorites, but honestly, there wasn't a bad one in the spread.

Sweet Potato Pie

Cranberry-Apple Pie

Brown Butter Tart with Raspberries and White Chocolate

Spiced Blackberry Custard Pie

Peanut Butter-Apple Pie

Dreamy High Chiffon Pumpkin Pie

*Banana-Caramel Coconut Creme Pie

*Lemon-Lavender Pie (mine)

*Chocolate Caramel Hazelnut Tart

*Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry

*Cranberry Awesomeness

...and the winner of the very own...

Salted Almond Praline Tart

Thank you, thank you, thank you very much!  What a night!  The winner won this and this for future pie-making endeavors.

I will work to get you some of these recipes by Pie Weekend; in the meantime, what are you making for Thanksgiving dessert?  It's just so hard to choose!

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