Good Stuff for YOU

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Orange Shortbread Petit Fours

Say what?

Back to the cooking side.

First, a definition. What is a petit four? The simplest aspect is that a petit four is a dessert that can be eaten in one or two bites. It can be a petit four sec (dry - a plain cookie), a petit four glace (iced - the image everyone has of a small cake with icing coating it all around), a fresh petit four (typically with fruit), and the new 'it thing' - petit four prestige (using new techniques and tools). It should complement the meal, echo the flavors, without necessarily utilizing the same ingredients or flavors. (Huh? If you have a raspberry vinaigrette on your salad, your petit four might have another citrus but not raspberry.) The key, for me, is the single bite - so that's what I did.

I made an orange shortbread cookie and filled it with a cream cheese orange icing. You want to see?

The little minion is there for fun. Okay, yeah, for scale.

Ready to cook? Okay - here we go!


1 cup butter, softened (BUTTER, not margarine! You need butter for the melting point.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour, sifted (All-purpose)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp. heavy cream
zest of 1 medium orange


12 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened (see note above about butter)
2 tbsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp orange extract
zest of 1 medium orange
13 1/2 oz confectioner's sugar
a/n Yellow food coloring

The zest is a key - the most potent part of the orange, with all the oils and the greatest concentration of flavor. If you don't have a microplane, do yourself a favor - go get one! They're only a few bucks.

Okay, you're going to be bouncing back and forth between the two recipes, so we're going to number the steps. The step will be followed by a (C) for cookie or (I) for icing, so you can separate the recipes later. If there is no ( ), then it's for the combined recipe.
Helpful hint: Pull your butter and cream cheese from the fridge WELL before it's time to cook.

1) Sift together salt and flour (C)
2) Add zest to sugar and mix until sugar is uniformly colored (this allows a greater spread of the orange flavor, it will be carried with the sugar). Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In 2-3 additions, stir flour into the butter mix (C)
3) Add vanilla and cream, stir until just incorporated (C)
4) Separate dough into two portions, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours. If pressed, place in freezer for 1-2 hours (do NOT allow to freeze!) (C)
5) Mix together cream cheese and zest. Once mixed, add half the sugar - mix until no lumps are present (I)
6) Mix together butter and remaining sugar - mix until no lumps are present (I) (If you are making this icing for a cake, mix as little as possible - for this use, you want it a little bit more spreadable)
7) Add butter mix to cream cheese mix and combine. Add vanilla and extract (I) (If you don't have orange extract, substitute 2 oz of orange juice [look! fresh orange juice, squeezed!] for the vanilla)
8) Preheat oven to 350 F (325F if using a convection oven) (C)
9) Remove half the dough from cooler and roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick (C) (You can also use confectioners sugar in place of flour, but make sure you sift it first. The benefit? You don't end up with patches of flour unmixed on the cookies.)
10) Cut out cookies - roughly 1" circles (C)
11) Place cookies on parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 8-10 minutes or until just golden around edges (C)
12) Allow to cool to touch (C)
13) Place icing in a piping bag (in a pinch, a gallon storage bag will work), cut a 1/4" diameter hole
14) Set half the cookies upside-down. Apply piping to center of cookie, coming to 1/8" from edge of cookie and rising 1/2". Top with remaining cookies and refrigerate 10-15 minutes (to firm up icing)

That wasn't so bad, was it? ENJOY!

As always, looking forward to your comments and pictures!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PAX East

What is PAX? What is PAX East? Why, as a matter of fact, do I care?

PAX is a gaming convention - actually, a series of them. PAX Prime, the original (Seattle); PAX East (Boston), PAX South (San Antonio, newest) and PAX Australia (guess where?) - Penny Arcade eXpo. Founded by the guys who created the Penny Arcade webcomic. It is a HUGE event, drawing tens of thousands of people to each convention. You doubt, perhaps?

That was the scene late Sunday afternoon, the END of the eXpo.



But WAIT! I hear you cry. You? GAMING?

Yeah, not really, not my scene. However, being the father of a 16-year-old, STEM-obsessed boy... Well, it's what he wanted for Christmas. And I couldn't exactly let him go along, not to his first Con. Next year, that's another story...

It was impressive, though. HUGE, well-planned displays, spreading across the floor of the BCEC (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, just a few blocks away from the Children's Museum in South Boston).

Let me back up a minute. The saga begins last year when my son first mentions, Hey, Dad, how about going with me to PAX East next year? Sure, sure, I say, having NO CLUE what I'm getting myself into. At least monthly he reminds me, until October. Then it becomes, Okay Dad, you need to keep track of when the passes go on sale, they sell out quickly. Sure, sure. Quickly. Right. (See, my experience has been with DragonCon, where the passes for the following year go on sale as the current Con is ending, and are available all year long, right up to the beginning of the NEXT Con.) But quickly is what he meant - it seemed that the three-day passes (the best bargain, Friday-Saturday-Sunday for $90) sold out for 2014 in TEN MINUTES.


Now I start taking it a little more seriously. I start following on Twitter, check in every so often - but the final alert comes from him. DAD THE PASSES ARE ON SALE NOW! he texts. Fortune smiled on him, as I was home and right by the computer. It was a few minutes after three on a November afternoon. I type in my information, place my order for two three-day passes, and...


WHAT?! (I find out later, they sold out in SIX minutes!)

I think quickly and immediately purchase single-day passes for Saturday and Sunday, figuring that missing Friday, while unfortunate, is probably all for the best. I won't miss work or college (yes, back in school - but that's another post), he won't miss school.


So now the waiting begins again. PAX, apparently, sends all of the passes out a couple weeks before the event. Lo and behold, late February and I get a stiff, thick envelope, and the passes are enclosed.


Friday of the event, pick him up after school, bring him back to my home, feed him and get to bed early. Prompt start the next day! Yeah, prompt. Up before dawn, out of the house before sunup, but we get down to Boston about 10:30 (panels begin at 10, but there weren't any we wanted to go to). Find a parking spot that does NOT cost an arm and a leg a block away from the BCEC, and walk get in a queue. We head down the block on the right side of the sidewalk, a stream of conventioners flowing down the LEFT side back TOWARD the BCEC. We end up walking to Melcher St, about 3/4 mile, I estimate, before reaching the end and turning around to walk back.

Okay, exercise done.

We get in and - the building just swallows up the crowd. Oh, it's THERE, but it's not oppressive. Even down on the floor, it's not bad. He poses for a picture with a couple cosplayers for his favorite game, SMITE (kind of a war-of-the-gods game; actually, it sounds pretty cool).

Then we get out and wander. It was a couple hours before the first panel, so we took advantage of the time to explore. The displays were keyed toward gamers, channeling them into live game-play, electronic and table games both, letting them have a chance to play alpha and beta versions (as well as on-the-market products) - think of CES for gamers.

The first panel he wanted to go to was, no surprise, with the creators and current developers of SMITE. It was actually an interesting panel, touching on history, current product, and future developments. Now, I have to explain a bit here: SMITE is a PC game, but they are going live onto the Xbox One platform in April, and that got a bunch of questions.

Next up was a panel about designing and marketing your own tabletop game - and these games that the panelists discussed ranged from full-on board games and RPGs to a game which is played from a single business-card sized 'rulebook'. The panelists were both encouraging and realistic about the creation, developing, and marketing process, giving the audience hope and tempering expectations at the same time.

We left, after the second panel. One thing that made this trip possible was the presence of my brother, just outside Boston, and his willingness to put us up for the night, saving us the hotel costs. YAY. Dinner, however, I let my son splurge a bit. Another early night, since it was Daylight Saving Weekend and it was REALLY not the weekend I needed to lose sleep! Oh well. Back to the eXpo.

Not as lucky parking on Sunday - dropped him off in front so he could get in and scope things out. One of the draws of PAX is that the con gives out swag bags, as well as the vendors. The issue, though, is that EVERYONE wants the swag bags. So he bailed on waiting in line - his estimate was 5,000 people waiting. Meanwhile, back in the car - I ended up 1 1/4 miles away, in a remote shuttle lot. Parked in a puddle, caught the shuttle, then took a look at the 'monster' line. Didn't look so bad, so I jumped in. My son is texting me, wondering where I was, because the panel was getting ready to head in, and I explain that the line was MOVING. Grab a swag bag - and am sorely disappointed. Minimal stuff, or at least compared to what I was led to expect. Oh well. C'est la vie (in perfect freaking French).

The panel was a reading from a play called SALVAGE, presented by the Flux Theatre Ensemble. It was an interesting reading - it's set in the near future, after some sort of apocalypse, and focuses on the activities of a team of salvage experts and revelations about their personal lives. They read the first three or four scenes, and it was FASCINATING. For more information about the play - which will be playing in NYC in April of 2015 - you can click above or HERE.

Our final panel was, personally, the most disappointing. It was described as 'Pushing Boundaries: Science Fiction in Role Playing Games', and that was intriguing. What role would SF play in RPG, and how can you play with the idea? At least, that's what I THOUGHT they'd talk about. Instead, it was an hour on how to avoid 'ism's - from the panel blurb, 'how do we continue to move beyond the colonialism, racism, and sexism the genre carries with it?'


Now, while I will freely admit that SF reflects the period in which it was written, , GOOD SF tends to explore different aspects of life no matter the era. That's why Foundation and The Martian Chronicles and Stranger In A Strange Land are classics despite their age and are still in print. BAD SF is not going to get read; it will fade into obscurity. As a writer - or a game designer - I don't need a panel of self-described experts telling me what not to do.


One more hour-long roaming of the floor, and we were done.

Why PAX? If you're a gamer, you owe it to yourself to at least take in a single day - Prime, East, South, or Australia. Just remember, if you want to do a full weekend, you have to hit it early. If you want just a couple days, or just one, then you have a few days more, but they sell out within two weeks.

Link to PAX HERE (or any of the other 'PAX' references).

And a couple more pictures:


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How About Some Tuna?

Tuna is good for you.

That's something we've all been told, and you know what? They're right. It is a low-fat source of protein and it can carry just about any flavor you want to impart. You can cook it from raw to just barely cooked to well-done and still have a consistent product. You can go Asian, make a mock steak, cook it and crumble it on a salad...

Or turn it into a BLT.

That's right - how about a Tuna BLT?

Hang in there, let me run through it before you scream into the night!

This recipe serves four. Or maybe two, if you're REALLY hungry!


8 slices of bacon (thick-sliced peppered bacon is good for this)
2 tbsp. EVOO (or an oil of your choice; EVOO carries a good flavor)
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
S & P to taste
1 cup loosely packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. brown sugar (loose pack)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 6-8oz 3/4-inch thick tuna steaks
1 tbsp. grill seasoning
4 large slices of peasant bread (needs to be coarse, ciabatta rolls work beautifully)
8 red-leaf lettuce leaves (or romaine or boston or...choose your lettuce)

(There's an alternate recipe for this, and I'll list it at the bottom.)

1) Preheat your oven to 375. On a slotted broiler pan, bake the bacon until crisp. (Mmmmm, bacon) This will take 15-20 minutes. And if you are smart, you'll add a few extra slices for nibbling.

2) In a small saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. EVOO over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 7 minutes (smaller the dice the faster the cook). Season with S&P. Stir in 1/2 cup water, sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until thick, 7 to 8 minutes.

3) Season the tuna with grill seasoning. (Here's a hint, if you don't have grill seasoning - just do S&P. I have some smoked black salt, which worked really well, imparted some of that smoky grilled taste.) In a large skillet, heat the remaining EVOO over medium heat. Add the tuna and cook for 2 minutes each side for medium rare.

4) Toast the bread. Build with the lettuce, then tuna, bacon, and tomato jam. Now, enjoy!

Okay, so you know me well enough, I can't leave good enough alone (and, like you, I don't always have EVERYTHING that my recipes call for on hand, so I do plenty of substituting. Instead of step 2 above, and those ingredients, try this:
1 cup FRESH tomatoes
3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. balsamic
2 tbsp. Worcestershire
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 cup water
Add all these into a MEDIUM saucepan, bring it up to a boil, keep it there for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to simmer for another five minutes.

I've got a photo here; it's not of the one we made, because, well, we ate them before we had a chance to think about photographing them. But, it gives you an idea.

I hope you enjoy it - and as always, you have questions, shoot me a line!