2013 Winter

Winter 2013 by Lisa Guillot

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For our Winter gathering, we brought together participants from the first three salons for a sparkle-filled affair. Our goal was to foster the connections made and celebrate a fabulous first year of Forth.

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Pear, Shallot + Squash Soup by Kelly Allison

Leave it to Saveur to develop something so simple, yet so perfect. The ingredients are few, but the flavor complexity knows no bounds. You'll just have to try it for yourself to see what I mean. pear squash soup ingredients

Pear, Shallot + Squash Soup

You can find the full recipe here: Saveur

 

 

Pear Squash Soup ingredients

Served warm, it is a delicious meal. Hearty, nurturing, seasonal goodness. But the sophistication of flavors means it can double as a fancy appetizer. Serve room temperature in elegant shot glasses, with a scant dollop of creme fraîche and topped with a sprig of thyme (which I incidentally forgot to pack--perhaps not as pretty, but darn, just as good).

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enjoy!

 

 

Balloons + Fringe = Love. A tutorial by Kelly Allison

I have been in love with the great and mighty Geronimo! Balloon ever since Jihan Zencirli's amazing creations started gracing blogland and flooding my Pinterest feed. The simplicity of her designs are brilliant. The execution is perfection. Like peanut butter + chocolate, balloons and fringe are a match made in heaven. jumbo round balloonWhen dreaming up decor for the Forth Chicago winter salon / cocktail party, we three were all drawn to the same theme: we dreamed of sparkle, we wanted shimmer, we needed fun. Julie mentioned fringe, and I immediately envisioned a roomful of giant, festively adorned balloons. It was time to teach myself the ways of the master balloonist herself.

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Inevitably, the logistics of building, filling, and transporting 30 3-foot balloons was beyond measure, so I had to settle for what I could create in a handful of hours and transport in the back of my semi-spacious car. Five seemed doable and still statement creating. So I got right to work.

There are loads of tutuorials online for these delightful decorations, but here's one more to throw into the mix.

suppliesWhat you'll need

To begin, lay a stack of tissue paper (packs typically come with 10 - 20 sheets) atop your cutting mat, and trim the stack to your desired fringe length. I like multiple fringe lengths, so I cut my paper to 18", 10" and 6" sections.

Using a steady hand & your trusty ruler, make 1/2″ cuts with a ruler and craft knife through all layers, stopping about 1″ short of the edge. To avoid tearing the tissue, cut in short, repetitive strokes starting at the bottom of the sheet. Once your knife meets the mat, move up the strip and repeat. Change your blades as needed—tissue tearing easily usually indicates a dull blade.

When the whole stack of tissue is cut, rotate sheet & carefully roll tissue tightly from bottom to top, making sure the fringe does not become tangled as you roll. Pinch & twist the bundle 1" from the top. Using your gold or silver cord, tie a knot at the pinch, and wrap the cord around several times to secure the bundle. Leave enough cord to attach your fringe to the balloon string. Repeat with additional tissue colors. The mylar strands can either be tied into their own fringe bundles, or can be incorporated into your tissue bundles. The choice is yours!

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Take your balloons to the nearest party store to be inflated. Replace their curling ribbon with sturdy twine or cord to match your color scheme (this will be your tether cord). Use the same, or complimentary, cord for creating your fringed look, and attach to the balloon (your fringe cord).

Starting at the top, attach fringe bundles by tying the bundle's cord in a tight & secure knot around the fringe cord. Continue every 6" to 10", or to your taste & design, alternating fringe colors as you go. If you want the balloon to stay in place, tie the tether cord to a small weight, and let the fringe cord pool on the ground to hide the weight. Omit the weight if you prefer the floaty look.

How much fringe per balloon? This question is entirely dependent on the size of your balloon, and how much helium you put inside of it. I used 20 - 30" balloons, and inadvertently over-fringed them, so they barely floated above the floor (which can work in a photobooth). Much fringe was removed and used as decor elsewhere.

Round latex balloons can be purchased in a variety of sizes from 17" diameter to 96" (yikes!!). When considering your size, keep in mind a few things: How will you get these puppies, once filled, to your final destination? If an indoor location, how wide are the doors you'll need to fit through? How much do you want to spend on the helium? (Most party supply stores will fill your balloons for you, charging based on total helium used. I found that a 24" balloon was around $1.75 to fill, while a 36" was $8.00+)

photobooth balloonsThe balloons at the Forth party were intended for use in a photobooth, so I wanted them to hover between 3 - 6 feet. At their desired height, each held around 10 fringe bundles. The balloons that Jihan sells through BHLDN appear to come equipped with around 18 bundles of fringe, and by the photo it looks like a fully inflated 36" balloon should hover around 6'. My suggestion is to either test a balloon prior to finalizing your fringe count, or fringe on site until your balloons float at their desired height.

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We the three Forth gals wish you good luck, and great fun!

 

A Savory Winter Flat Bread + A Lesson in Persimmons by Kelly Allison

I've grown more than a little addicted to the phyllo flat bread concept through these Forth gatherings. It is relatively easy to prepare, lovely to look at, and always such a delight to the palate. The phyllo, with its delicate flake, is the perfect canvas to showcase the seasons best and brightest. It's hard to think of preparing a savory menu without this staple inclusion. persimmon flat bread

When planning the menus for our seasonal salons, we are always inspired to play with flavor pairings, but without overlapping ingredients or reusing themes from previous seasons. So creating a flatbread for the winter festivities was a bit of a challenge. Root vegetables are the obvious choice, but carrots were taken, we'd already done a tart with beets, and potatoes seem too provincial for a holiday cocktail party. There was an option for savory fruits, but pumpkin was a feature at the autumn salon, and other menu items had their dibs on pear. What's a girl to do?

Why, the mighty persimmon comes to mind!

fuyu persimmon

persimmon

On that note, did you know there are two very different types of persimmons? The fuyu, rounded and bright orange when ripe, is a delight in all forms--eat it out of hand just like a pear, when the flesh is a touch softer than firm. Roasted it's a lovely addition to a pilaf or canapé. Bake it into cakes and breads for a subtly sweet flavor. With the fuyu's delicate flavor, you can't go wrong.

The hachiya persimmon, however, well that is a different animal. The hachiya, elongated and deep orange to red, is nearly inedible from its bitterness until it has been allowed to ripen to a nearly liquified pulp. It is very rarely eaten raw, and is best for adding to baked good. I've read that you can remove the bitterness by freezing the fruit for 24 hours, but that attempting to roast the fruit will only enhance the intensity. Duly noted.

Let me just say that 11pm on the night before the fruit is meant to be served is not the ideal time to realize this difference. Knowing what you're getting before heading into this recipe will save you much time, money and lost sleep.

persimmon flatbread

PHYLLO FLAT BREAD TOPPED WITH ROASTED FUYU PERSIMMON, CRISPY SAGE, AND POMEGRANITE

  • 1   package thick (country style) phyllo dough
  • 5   ripe fuyu persimmons, cored, and sliced into quarter-rounds (no peeling necessary)
  • large handful of sage leaves, washed & stems trimmed
  • 1   pomegranate, seeds reserved
  • 2   Tbs. high quality butter (Plugra or the like)
  • 3   Tbs. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1   small log of soft goat cheese
  • 8   oz ricotta
  • 1   egg
  • generous handful of parsley, chopped fine

Melt butter over medium heat in heavy skillet until fragrant & beginning to brown. Add olive oil to prevent butter from burning. Add sage leaves and cook until crispy, 2 - 3 minutes. remove sage leaves to a paper towel with slotted spoon, and cool.

Preheat oven to 350º. Mix together ricotta, parsley, and egg in a small bowl. Line a large baking tray with parchment, and unroll the phyllo dough onto a flat surface. Carefully place one sheet of phyllo on the parchment and brush with olive oil, repeat with a second layer. Top phyllo with a layer of ricotta & parsley. Repeat  with 2 layers of phyllo & one layer of cheese until all phyllo is used. Keep a damp towel over the unused phyllo stack to prevent tearing.

Brush the top layer of phyllo with olive oil & top with the persimmon wedges and sage leaves. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until phyllo is golden brown and the persimmon is soft. Crumble goat cheese atop the flat bread & sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Remove the parchment & flat bread to a cutting board & cut diagonally into diamond pieces. Can be served warm, or at room temperature.

 

enjoy!

 

 

the mighty macaron by Kelly Allison

oh, the macaron. so sweet, so subtle, so elusive.

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I have heard that mastering the macaron is beyond aspirational. A task that requires adept skill, precision beyond imagination, and the patience of a saint. There is no room for error when attempting to create the perfect cookie--a perfectly smooth outer shell as thin as glass, a light and chewy center with delicate sweetness, a cute little foot proving you've done your homework, and a delicious ganache to reward you for your efforts.

So naturally, I needed to try my hand at creating these little wonders.

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After more than one trial, much travail, and many failed batches, I have learned this simple truth: IT IS HARD TO MAKE MACARONS. Or rather, it is hard to make macarons that are both pretty, and delicious. Underwhip your egg whites, and they don't set. Whip the whites too dry, and the cookie has no chew. Too little time in the oven and they're too soft to handle. Too long under the heat and they harden to a crisp merengue, losing all grace.

With that said, I share with you the recipe I pieced together from many different sources, along with whatever wisdom I've gained in going through this process. And if you decide to try your hand at creating this culinary delight, I wish you good luck!

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Vanilla or Chocolate Cardamom Macarons with Honey Ginger Ganache

what you will need: 1.1/4 cup confectioner's sugar 3/4 cup almond meal Seeds from two cardamom pods, pulverized using a mortar & pestle or spice grinder 3 egg whites (AT ROOM TEMPERATURE) 1 pinch salt 1/4 cup super fine sugar 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 2 tbs cocoa powder, or a squeeze of gel paste food coloring in your color of choice Food processor, parchment paper, pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, or you can cheat and buy this handy-dandy kit.

macarons

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Combine confectioner's sugar, almond meal & cardamom seeds in your food processor and run until well processed. Sieve mixture twice. Yes, twice.

If you're unable to find superfine sugar, pulse regular granulated sugar in a clean food processor until it's superfine.

Carefully separate your egg whites into a bone dry bowl. Any moisture, or even the tiniest hint of fat from the yolk will prevent your whites from whipping to stiff peak, so be extra careful. Place egg whites into a standing mixture fitted with a wire whisk, and mix on medium speed until you reach soft peak stage. Reduce to slow speed, add salt, and slowly add the superfine sugar until combined.

Whip on high speed until you reach stiff peak stage. Don't overbeat, or your macarons will be crunchy. Don't underbeat, or they won't set up.

soft peak egg whites

stiff peak egg whites

Add half of the twice-sieved sugar/almond mixture, and gently fold in from the top to the bottom. Add vanilla & food coloring (or cocoa), and remaining sugar/almond mixture and gently stir until well combined. Be careful not to over mix.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silpat. Fill your pastry bag with the mixture, and pipe equal-sized circles (about 1" diameter) onto the parchment. If you really want consistent size, use a stencil to draw circles on the underside of your parchment as a guide.

Decorate tops before baking with sparkling sugars, or confectioner's glitter.

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Tap the baking tray on the counter to release any air, and let the cookies stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 300˚ and bake individual trays in the center of the oven for 22 - 25 minutes. Let cool before removing from parchment. If cookies stick, spray a bit of water under the parchment, and place the cookies on top of the mist--the steam will help the cookies release. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Fill with chocolate ganache or an artisan jam. For a little flavor fun, I added local honey & finely chopped candied ginger to the ganache. Experiment!

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Et voilá!

Neither perfect, nor embarrassing. And not bad for a first (er 10th) attempt.

 

 

 

Four Fabulous Treats, One Fabulous Source by Julie Schumacher

I've said it at least 101 times but the recipes Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks shares are so spot on delightful that I regularly scoot on over there whenever I need something that is juuust right (plus she's a photographer and a traveler, I do think we'd be great pals).To compliment the pomegranate bark and spiced apple caramels, I went with three favorites and a new adventure in baking: saffron.

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Saffron vanilla cookies

A last minute find in my continuing obsession with savory elements infused in sweet. The flavor is really unexpected. Well, it's not unexpected if you know saffron well but it is still surprising to taste something so earthy and still very much a cookie.

I balked at first because, holy dang, saffron can be expensive as can vanilla beans. But Trader Joe's has reasonable enough vanilla beans and adorably cute corked jars of saffron that I then used for gifts. Winner! Plus you get to use a mortar & pestle. PLUS they are just the most divine hue. And they're great to freeze for future use. They bake large, which makes them seem even more decadent.

The instructions are long, but don't let the length of the recipe scare you, these were surprisingly easy to make, though you do need a candy thermometer.

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Another savory surprise anytime I make it is Heidi's Rosemary Olive Oil Bread with Dark Chocolate.

I make it in two regular loaf pans. This is constant delight for fall and winter...rich and decadent but not overly sweet. (Pretty please ignore the travel dent...the tupperware of cranberries got too cozy in the car ride.) I love decorating that round wooden cutting board with big springs of rosemary.

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Ginger Cupcake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

My tips:

  • I follow Heidi's recommendation and don't use crystallized ginger in the frosting. I like it to be super smooth and lovely.
  • Cutting crystallized ginger is a bear. I've read that keeping your chef's knife sprinkled with sugar can keep it from getting gloopy. I beg my husband to chop it as he doesn't seem to get infuriated like I do. So, sugar or spouse. You pick.
  • Make them just a dash more decadent by using extra crystallized ginger for a sculptural finish.

cranberriesSparkling Cranberries

These have been a go-to for holiday parties for me for a couple years. So easy, so sparkly. And eating them is this incredible head-on collision of sugar and tart. Yum! My only recommendation is to buy more cranberries than you need. Because you are eating them individually (and not baked in something that may forgive some sins) you want to sort and sort aggressively, getting rid of any that you wouldn't want to eat yourself.

Enjoy y'all! Any of these are worthwhile efforts for a holiday event.

Kelly's macaron post will be up on Thursday....I know you're excited!

Winter Treats by Julie Schumacher

I so wish I could take credit for the gorgeous, glittery macarons. Those were all Kelly and she'll be following up with a post later this week. In the meantime, here are the first two sweet recipes from me. One was one of the easiest recipes ever. The other? Not so much. 20131210_forth-48

I love, love peppermint bark at the holidays but it didn't seem sophisticated enough and we were focusing on winter sparkle, not holiday ho ho ho. I also wanted to contribute some sweets that were gluten free. I came across this recipe from the New York Times for pomegranate bark which includes some sea salt and crystallized ginger. So pretty!

Some notes:

I doubled the recipe easily I use this method to de-seed a pomegranate I used leftover Maldon sea salt from the citrus salts

caramel

Spiced Apple Cider Caramels from Food & Wine This recipe almost killed me. My moderate heat was too moderate and it took almost 3 hours to reduce down. They turned out phenomenally awesome, even if (or maybe because?) I accidentally doubled the cinnamon. Also, know that cutting these was a total bear. Maybe waiting till they were less chilled would've been easier.

A note:

  • If you don't have allspice, try equal parts clove, part nutmeg, cinnamon or equal parts clove + nutmeg and cinnamon

Tomorrow will be four more desserts, all from one fabulous online resource.