This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.

They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

"SO, what is a French Yule Log and how is it different from a Buche de Noel that most people are familiar with?

In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type that most people are familiar with as Buche de Noel, or, what is more commonly purchased, which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe."

This challenge was supposed to be done as a log, but I did not have the pan and so I did mine as a round cake. The picture above, though, illustrates all the different elements that were required in this cake. I chose to make mine with a vanilla mousse to cut down on the chocolate overload and I made the dacquoise layer with coconut, which I am really glad about because it really gave it extra umph.

I took the cake to my BFF's. They were having a combo birthday for her father (70) and brother-in-law (40), thus the 'Happy Birthday'. It was also my first time playing with gold leaf. Since I wasn't too happy with the gold leaf I kinda wished I had left it off. But people commented on the extra touch. The chocolate cookies I used to ring the outside were some wafer cookies that I had received from a gift exchange. Because my sides were uneven they seemed the perfect solution to tidy up the whole cake and embellish it at the same time.

Here I show you my coconut dacquoise layer which is made with almond flour and egg whites. It's like a meringue.

This is the praline feuillette. Basically you bake a gavotte which is a crispy, flaky pastry. You crush this up. Then I grated up some of my leftover hazelnut praline from a few months ago. Take both these and mix them with melted chocolate and then press into a wafer.

Here you can see the interior of my dessert.

The good and the bad of this recipe? First, I don't think I will make it again. It wasn't hard overall, but it still took two days with all the different elements. Plus, I wasn't all that impressed with it. It was just OK. I chose a vanilla mousse to cut down on the chocolate, but the recipe given to us was really thick and clumpy and not my idea of 'mousse'. My praline feuillete was too thick and difficult to cut through. I had never used gelatin before and the instructions in the recipes were very unclear on just how much water to use to soften it. And I would just make a ganache as the final icing instead of the icing recipes that were given to us.

Still, everyone oo'ed and ahh'ed over it when it came out and were excited to try it. Compliments were nice enough as well, but it boils down to how did I feel about it... Just OK.
Poor Dean. He gets all excited to show me something and then when I eat it I'm unimpressed and I deflate his sails. I need to work on that. When he took me to his home town in Michigan a few years ago he was excited for me to have a Coney Dog at a local chain and it turned out to be a chili dog - and I don't do chili dogs. Then we went across to Canada to have a "puffio", which seemed just to be a deep fried calzone. Although, in that case, THE restaurant was closed and so we had to settle for a competitor's and it might just not have been as good as the real thing.

So Dean wanted to make his grandma's Christmas cookies, which he called butter balls. He excitedly called up his mom and got the recipe. I looked at it and said, "oh, Mexican wedding cookies". NNNOOOOOO!!! I told him and showed him on the internet Mexican wedding cookies and Russian teacakes, which are basically the same thing. I finally told him that his grandma's recipe was different in that she included honey.

So here is the recipe for grandma's butter balls.

2 c flour
2 c chopped walnuts or pecans
1 c butter
2 t vanilla
1/4 c honey
1/2 t salt
powdered sugar

Cream the butter. Add honey, salt, vanilla, and flour. Mix thoroughly. Add in nuts and fully incorporate.

Scoop small amounts of dough with a melon baller and roll in your hands to form balls. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 30-40 mins.

Remove from oven and roll balls in powdered sugar once while hot and then again when cooled. (I used a sugar shaker to shake for the second coating.)

Makes about four dozen.

I stumbled across this recipe for making homemade poppycock. Some people know it as caramel corn, or the brand names of Crunch n Munch or Moose Munch. I popped the popcorn in the microwave in my Pampered Chef Batter Bowl with lid. Then I mixed it with peanuts and homemade caramel. You can put whatever kind of nuts you like. The recipe is not hard, just messy trying to mix it in a pan that's large enough. Because of the mess factor I'm not sure I will make it again. Taste-wise, though, it's great.


2 1/2 cups unpopped popcorn
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
1 cup peanuts
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. In a 4-quart pan, add 1 tablespoon of the oil , and heat over high heat. When oil is hot, add 1/2 cup of popping corn. Keep pan moving constantly. When corn stops popping, remove from heat. Spread freshly popped corn on a large shallow sheet pan. Put it in a very slow oven, 250 degrees F (120 degrees C), to keep warm and crisp. Place popped corn in oven to keep warm. Repeat until all corn has been popped, for a total of 5 quarts popped corn.

2. Cook and stir peanuts in 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Fold peanuts into popped corn.

3. Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a heavy 2 quart saucepan. Place over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil to the firm ball stage, 248 degrees F (118 degrees C), about 5 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Syrup will foam. Take popped corn from oven and pour hot caramel mixture over it in a fine stream. Stir to mix well. Return to oven for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool and serve, or store. Store in an airtight container and set in a cool place.
Taylor's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I was lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at the new Taylor's Kitchen (associated with Taylor's Market on Freeport). This new eatery is not open to the public until mid-January. They are open for private parties over the holidays. Therefore, keep in mind that this review of the food/service is for banquet service and not for restaurant service. I will provide an update for that in the new year after they open.

Unfortunately the picture I took of the bar area came out really blurry. This picture shows to the right where the kitchen and serving area are. If I rotated left and looked straight on I would have faced the bar. The location looks lovely. They spared no expense to make the place comfortable and stylish. You can see the nice wicker chairs. We had banquet tables, so I am sure the future setup will be completely different. Along the streetside windows are eating counters and bar stools, so it appears there will be some light bites or quick and easy items. The bar is a lovely, dark wood wall unit. So far it is only stocked with wine, so I don't know if they are keeping to wine vs. full bar. They kept the stone tiles and the brickwalls and so it can get loud when all conversations are going.

We started with the bread and, as I've said before, it is an important first impression item. But being Taylor's, did you really have to worry? No. It was super crunchy crusted french bread and so good. We ended up making a joke that you could tell who ate the most by the pile of crumbs in front of us. I won. Along that line, can we doubt the quality of any of the ingredients that Taylor's will be using when they have such a fine reputation for their butcher counter and grocery? NOT!

Our luncheon had a choice of pasta, chicken, or pork. No one at my table had the pasta. As this was a banquet, their timing had been off. But you can't hold it against them, especially since they are new. They did have plenty of staff to wait on us. The pastas had come first and then there was a couple of minutes before the next entree. This is always so awkward at banquets because who wants to eat cold food waiting on everyone else. Luckily these days most people just let you go ahead.

My pork was the next out. The pork had an herb sauce, roasted potatoes, and the broccolini. I liked that everything was nice and hot, although the pork was a little overdone. Shortly after came the chicken. I asked if it had a Southwestern seasoning since it had the corn salsa on top. My tablemates said it was more of soy/teriyaki flavor. They said the chicken was done well - not over or undercooked.

My dessert cravings were completely satisfied with the generous portion of the amaretto cream cake they served. Yum! And it was doubly nice because it was something different than I've had anywhere else. Basically similar to tiramisu, but without the expresso. This made me happy because I don't do coffee.

I will leave this piece with some fun - the bathroom sink. In fact, I'm thinking I'll have to start taking pictures of interesting bathrooms and start a new webpage. We all know that Mason's would be included and I'd also throw in Fuzio's sink as well. Anyway, we were all impressed in the fun sink you see below.

I look forward to Taylor's opening next year. I'm sure it will be excellent!

Recently SacEats gave a negative review of Bella Bru. I'm thinking he went to the one in Carmichael, based on where he lives. I'm writing today to say I've had two great recent experiences at both the Carmichael and the El Dorado Hills locations.

I will admit that I'll just be commenting on food because I wasn't paying too close attention to the service. After all, I've always considered BB as a coffee shop more than anything else. I've never expected more than basic taking down an order and dropping it off.

Bella Bru Cafe on Urbanspoon

The day after Thanksgiving I ended up at the EDH BB for brunch. I ordered the quiche which I believe had ham and asparagus in it and a side of fruit. It arrived piping hot and was fabulous. I wish I could make a quiche like it. I still haven't figured out the secret to making quiche really light and fluffy instead of kinda curdly. (My roomie says I need to add sour cream to my egg mixture next time.) Anyway, it was good. My friend ordered the french toast and it was a huge helping with strawberries.

Bella Bru Cafe on Urbanspoon

Yesterday was my birthday and my BFF had invited me over for dinner because I share the day with her husband. She had the fun day of her plumbing backing up, so out to dinner we went - to BB.

I had been with her for lunch before and we had a great pepperoni pizza. In fact, I remember being impressed with the quality of the pizza because I had really low expectations.

I was expecting the same menu from lunch at dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a nice assortment of dishes, from crab cakes and pork sliders to duck and fig pizza. My BFF ordered the pork ragu pasta. It reminded me of dishes I had when I was in Florence, Italy. Rustic with the shredded pork shoulder tossed with a tomatoey sauce. I was very happy with my duck breast over risotto. The duck was perfectly cooked and the risotto was de-lish. Super creamy/cheesy. This was all drizzled with a bit of balsamic reduction.

All I can say about my BB food experience is, what was I thinking? They are more than just a coffee shop.
Scott's Seafood on the River on Urbanspoon

I went with my friend to the newest Sacramento Scott's Seafood. This one opened in February 2008 in the Rivage Hotel along the Sacramento river. I had been dying to see this new location.

When you arrive I would highly recommend the valet parking. I always prefer to park myself, but when we went in search of the parking lot we realized that, unless you get a lucky one of the few front spots, the primary lot is far away. Not fun on a cold, foggy winter night. We turned around and got valeted. Then we found out it was free anyway.

The hotel is on the left and, just as a quick note, is an individually owned hotel and not affiliated with any chain. The restaurant is to the right. It is lovely. The bar area is spacious. Off to the left is a lot of lounge seating with small tables and a couple of flatscreens on the wall. In the center is the bar which has a large horseshoe seating area. The whole establishment is long which gives plenty of window seats overlooking the river. There appeared to be a nice patio outside too, but it was too dark to see much.

One of my favorite things about Scotts restaurants is that they have great service. I always find the staff to be very friendly in a genuine kind of way. You know what I mean, when you come across people who are superficially friendly.

When I notified our server we were early she said she could seat us immediately if we didn't need a window. Since it was dark we opted to sit anywhere. We'll come back for the view in the summer.

We were told the specials which included Alaskan King Crab Legs. My friend almost got those until we asked the question - what is market price? It was $115! Hiccup! We steered away from those quick enough.

My friend had the crab bisque, which I've had before. Good, spicy, flavorful. I opted for the Oysters Rockefeller. I am not a raw oyster person but I do love cooked ones. Rockefellers are topped with a puree of spinach, celery, onion and seasonings and then cheese. These were very nice, but I thought it was sparse on spinach and too heavy on minced celery. The celery was all that I was tasting.

I would mention that they also have an appetizer called the Seafood Explosion. It is a pyramid of plates with a combination of prawns, crab, and raw and cooked oysters. A nearby table got one and it looked great. It was about $35. I think if you go with a friend for a light dinner you can share it and a bowl of soup or a salad and be quite content.

For my entree I had selected the jerk mahi mahi with coconut prawns. The dish came attractively plated. I loved this dish! The fish had a light spice jerk crusted on it and was perfectly cooked. It was topped with half an avocado and mango salsa. I found the avocado to be unnecessary I tried a bite with it to see if it added anything to the experience and I felt that it was really a distraction. The jerk seasoning and the sweetness of the mango salsa was all you needed for a delicious blending of flavors and textures in your mouth. The coconut prawns were served over a plantain sauce. They were large and crunchy. I would have liked a bit more of the plantain sauce. The fried plantain you see above is just for decoration. It was much too thick and hard to eat.

My friend had the Grilled Petrale Sole Dore with Lemon Butter Sauce. The fish was dipped in an egg wash before it was grilled so that it would have a nice, crisp coating. It was light and fluffy. It came with a side of perfectly cooked green beans and carrots. I found it satisfactory but my friend was very pleased, and that's what counted.

The dessert menu was pretty basic: cheesecake, a chocolate cake, an apple crisp, sorbets, and creme brulee. We opted for the creme brulee, which was well done but nothing exceptional.

I will be curious to see how well this location and the connected hotel will do. They are in a very separate location, although certainly lovely. Scott's certainly never has failed me for service and food, so hopefully it will find success with this new site.

I know. Thanksgiving was last week. But I didn't have any pumpkin pie! I went to my ex in-laws and their pumpkin pie isn't the same because they make it lactose free - with orange juice. I was requested to make it since we didn't get any and I had been wanting to try out the recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

I love Cook's Illustrated and Good Eats because they get into the science of cooking and why this works better than that, etc. Cooks will make hundreds of versions of a recipe until they get what they consider to be the perfect recipe. The current issue had a recipe for pumpkin pie. Because it is a copyright issue, I can only steer you to it.

Their version has distinct differences. First, they throw in a can of candied yams along with the can of pumpkin puree. Second, they cook the spices and the pumpkin/yam mixture on the stovetop in order to enhance the spices and reduce the moisture content. Lastly, they cook at 400 degrees and then reduce to 300 so that the custardy filling will not curdle.

I really like it and recommend it. It's not that much extra work compared to a regular recipe. I didn't even bother with one step where you are supposed to push the pumpkin mixture through a sieve to get rid of lumps. Anyway, grab the current issue before it leaves store shelves so that you can make it for Christmas.