Everyday I am excited to get the mail.  I don’t even have to be expecting anything special.  There is just something about the daily surprise of what could be waiting for me.  So imagine my delight when I do receive something extra fun like a package!  Yes it’s like opening a Christmas present every time.  I am so easy to please and entertain!  Knowing my enthusiasm for mail, you can see why I was so excited to join a group that sends each other great packages of food-related gifts in the mail every month.  I could hardly stand it.

Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean has organized this wonderful way for foodies to find each other and share their favorite food products!  If you would like to get in on the Foodie Penpal action, it’s not too late to participate for December Foodie Penpals.  At the end of this post I will tell you how you can sign up to receive your very own package.

But first, let me share with you what I received from Hannah!  She is from Vermont so I guessed that I would receive some yummy maple treats and Hannah did not disappoint!

 look at these adorable little maple candies!

and these great herb blends; I used the dill herb mix on my salmon last night and it was great

maple sugar pepperspice ingredients:  pure granulated maple sugar, black pepper, onion, parsley and garlic-I can hardly wait to try this!

plus this cornbread pancake and muffin mix, a maple cookbook, two of her favorite recipes and a necklace she made!

If you would like to see what I sent to my Foodie Penpal head on over and check out Brittany’s stash!

And if you want give and receive your own foodie penpal gifts, here is what you need to know:

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal! 
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. *US Residents only please at this time- hopefully we can expand soon!*

If you’re interested in participating for December, please send  an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:
-Your full name
-Your email address
-Your blog name/address
-Your twitter handle (if applicable)

She will need to hear from you by December 4th as pairings will be emailed on December 5th!

What would you include in a box to a foodie penpal?

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Summer cocktails: Peach Sangria and Raspberry Mojitos Recipes
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I like to be challenged, but the challenges I enjoy the most are the ones I choose to take on and can be in control of.  Obviously, I cannot always be in control as things are thrown at us without a warning everyday.  We faces challenges in work and in relationships.  We face creative challenges where we need to determine a solution for a problem.

But I love a challenge in the kitchen.  I consider myself to be a decent cook and baker and usually I am satisfied with making something predictable with which I am fairly certain what the end result will be.  This is not why I joined the Daring Kitchen‘s Daring Bakers Challenges.  I joined this group to discover delicacies and ingredients that I have never purchased or used before.  I joined this group so that I would be pushed beyond my baking comfort into frustration, possibly some tears and hopefully some triumphs.

The Daring Bakers is a group of individuals who are challenged with a new recipe each month and then they post about the month’s challenge on the same day.  I am anxious to see how much my experience varied from others’ experiences.

My first challenge was to create a Sans Rival cake.  This cake originated in France but is most commonly known as a popular dessert in the Philippines.  The cake is a dacquoise which is a cake made of layers of some type of nut meringue, in this case cashew and then smeared with a decadent French buttercream.

What I learned by completing this challenge:

-separating (this many) eggs into yolks and whites can make you want to scream

-meringues should not be feared, they are not so scary afterall

-just because something contains 15 eggs and 2 1/2 sticks of butter does not mean it will necessarily taste rich

-I need cake decorating lessons, I can’t decorate a cake to save my life


Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

What is your latest baking challenge that you faced?

Sans Rival

by Mercedes Porter

Ingredients

    For the cake

    • 10 large egg whites, room temp
    • 1 cup (8 oz) white granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
    • ¼ cup (2/3 oz) Dutch processed cocoa (optional and not traditional)
    • 2 cups (8½ oz) chopped, toasted cashews

    For the frosting

    • 5 large egg yolks, room temperature
    • 1 cup (8 oz) white granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1¼ cup (2½ sticks) (10 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • Optional Flavorings: 2 oz (55 gm) unsweetened chocolate, melted

    Instructions

    For the cake

    Preheat oven to moderate 325°

    Line 2-4 round cake pan bottoms (of the same size) with parchment paper and butter and flour the sides really well.

    In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium until foamy (2 mins.). Sprinkle with cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat now at high speed until stiff shiny peaks form. (about 7-10 mins.)

    Fold in nuts, reserving enough to use for decoration.

    Divide meringue into four equal parts. Spread into pans, evenly to edges. If doing batches, use fresh parchment paper and cooled pans for each batch.

    Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the meringue from the baking pans while still hot; allow to cool slightly. Peel off the parchment paper while it is still warm, it is difficult to remove sometimes when they have completely cooled.

    For the frosting

    Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until the yolks have doubled in volume and are a lemon yellow.

    Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and cook over medium heat, stirring the sides down only until all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup reaches 235°F/112°C (or thread stage).

    With the mixer on high, very slowly pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl, until all has been added. Be careful as the very hot syrup could burn you if it splashes from the beaters. Continue beating on high until the mixture is ROOM TEMPERATURE (about 15 mins). Still on high, beat in the soft, room temperature butter a tablespoon at a time. Add flavoring (melted chocolate) after you beat in the butter. Refrigerate the buttercream for at least an hour, and whip it smooth just before you use it.

    Assembly

    Set bottom meringue on cake board or plate with a dab of buttercream to hold it in place. Spread a thin layer of buttercream and then place another meringue on top. Repeat with a thin layer of buttercream, meringue, thin layer of buttercream, meringue, and finally buttercream the top and sides. Decorate with reserved nuts.

    Refrigerate until ready to serve. It is easier to cut cold. May freeze.

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    (Recipe from Catherine of Munchie Musings)

    beat egg whites until foamy

    sprinkle with cream of tartar, sugar and cocoa powder and beat until stiff, shiny peaks form

    fold in finely ground cashews

    divide meringue into 4 equal parts and spread into pans

    bake

    for the buttercream, beat egg yolks until doubled in volume and lemon yellow

    prepare sugar/water syrup

    pour syrup into bowl with beaten egg yolks, then beat on high until mixture is room temperature

    add butter and melted chocolate

    refrigerate buttercream for an hour and then frost the cake

    decorate cake with remaining cashews

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    I know, I know.  You do not need one more thing to do or make before Thanksgiving.

    But what if that thing is super easy, not labor intensive, involves minimal cleanup and will have your Thanksgiving dinner guests remembering how fabulous you are long after the tryptophan has worn off?  What if you had an adorable, bow-adorned jar of this Apple Butter sitting at each guest’s place setting for them to take away with their turkey coma?

    I bet you would be the talk of the ‘hood, the toast of the town, the host(ess) with the most(est)!!  And I am telling you the truth (as usual):  this will not interfere with your other mealtime responsibilities because it cooks itself in the crock pot!  You can just set your pot, let it go and come back to warm, comforting, velvety apple butter!  Oh, and it gets bonus points for making your home smell exquisite which will get everyone excited about all of the other fall treats you have in store for them.

    Some apple butter facts and tips:

    -Apple butter as well as other fruit butters actually contain no butter at all and are actually quite healthy

    -When making this Crock Pot Apple Butter, please spray your crock pot insert with nonstick cooking spray to make for easy breezy clean up

    -How to serve apple butter:  on toast, english muffins, bagels (you get my drift), out of a spoon, on meat, in yogurt, or my favorite way:  over vanilla ice cream with walnuts and oatmeal sprinkled on top!  I know I have an amazing way of making a somewhat healthy snack naughty, don’t I?

    Powered by Recipage
    (recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction)
    combine all other ingredients

    add to crock pot and stir to combine

    cook on low for 8 hours then blend until smooth

    pour into jars and enjoy!

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    My Thanksgiving plans are somewhat up in the air right now due to the poor health of my grandfather.  If grandpa stays with us a few more weeks, then it will be a celebration with the in-laws.  However, if he is relieved from his suffering in the next few days, my husband and I will be heading home to be with my family under less than ideal circumstances.  Since my holiday meal plans are uncertain, I would like to share some wonderful tips, ideas and recipes from some fabulous fellow bloggers and vendors.

    Is it your first time making the turkey this year?  I’m sure you want yours to look as gorgeous as perfectly golden bird from Simple Bites.  The post that accompanies this mouthwatering photo will give you day-by-day, step-by-step instructions for roasting the perfect turkey and even how to make gravy.

    (source)

    I love turkey but like many of you, I also go crazy for all of the wonderful sides!  Do these Parmesan Mashed Potatoes that Lacey whipped up not make you drool?  I would love the saltiness from that cheese and they just look so fluffy and light!

    (source)

    Don’t forget the brussels sprouts!  Are you a lover or do you need more convincing?  If you are on the fence, this brussels sprouts dish from A Cozy Kitchen might convert you!  Subtle sweetness from maple sugar and slight tang from balsamic vinegar.  Yes please.

    (source)

    Naturally Marla over at Family Fresh Cooking has got us covered for a healthier way to enjoy our sweet potatoes.  In this recipe, she incorporates coconut milk, cinnamon and maple syrup and suggests creative toppings for your mashed sweet potatoes such as coconut flakes, dried figs and nuts.  You know I love to use recipes simply as guides and them make them my own, and Marla allows you to adapt this recipe using the ingredients that you prefer.

     

    (source)

    No we have got to add a little salt to our sweet and one of my favorite salty sides is stuffing!  I don’t want sausage.  I don’t want oysters.  I want it straight up traditional just the way that Michelle that Brown Eyed Baker does it.  Her Classic Bread Stuffing Recipe has all you need:  bread, onions, sage and parsley.  What can I say?  I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to stuffing!

    (source)

    And finally, you know what my top priority is:  dessert.  Cheesecake is a dessert that I would choose last in most cases.   There is one exception the I know of and that is this Marshmallow-Sour Cream Topped Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust found on Epicurious.   I had it for the first time when I was in Guatemala on a mission trip over Thanksgiving week and it was love at first bite.  The gingersnap crust is enough to make me swoon and the cheesecake itself is lighter than most traditional cheesecakes which is why I believe it is the exception to my lack of enthusiasm about cheesecakes.

    (source)

    Then there is this Caramel Apple Pie that I made last year for Thanksgiving.  You incorporate some of the caramel into the the apple filling and then also drizzle the remaining caramel over each piece as you serve it.  It takes a little more effort than your average apple pie, but the results are so worth it.

     (source:  Williams-Sonoma)

    There will inevitably be some Pumpkin Cookies lying around the house for post-food coma snacking.

    And if you are looking for an easy fall cocktail to serve make some ginger simple syrup and combine it with some apple vodka and ginger ale for a festive and easy to sip on drink.

    I wish you all safe travels and quality time with friends and family over this next week.  I am thankful for your readership and support.  

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    By now you probably know how much I love soup.  One of my favorite soups that my mom made growing up is Cream of Mushroom.  This soup can be made quickly and usually without an extra trip to the grocery store.  I love that it is creamy and satisfying and yet there is no heavy cream or whole milk!

    The meatiness of the mushrooms is even enough to keep those carnivores happy.  To me, the flavor of this soup is as comforting as chicken noodle, but more sophisticated due to the richness that the half-and-half and sherry add.  With the ingredients listed in this recipe, the portion is perfect for feeding two.  I recommend serving it with warm, soft bread.

    Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored byKitchenAidRed Star Yeast and Le Creuset

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    sautée onions and celery until tender, then add mushrooms

    add chicken stock and sherry

    whisk flour, chicken stock and half-and-half

    whisk this thickener into the soup until combined then add remaining ingredients

    serve with warm, soft bread

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