Thursday, December 24, 2009
I drove back to Salina yesterday to beat the weather....that still hasn't hit Salina. It's come to Lawrence though, so I suppose leaving early was actually a good idea. Coming back, though, I'm still not so sure about. For one, I had a completely full car, including seven varieties of baked goods (yup! I said seven), all my Christmas presents for family, two blankets and a pillow, clothes, and the ever-whiny cat. Couple that with rainy/foggy weather, and it's can be an interesting 2-hour drive.
The older I get, though, the more I realize I only like part of the holidays. I love the baking, decorating and gift purchasing. I hate the actual day. Last night I went out to a bar in Salina, and throughout the course of the night there were at least 100 people from my high school there. Some were people I hadn't seen in forever and was happy about, but others were people I sort of recognized but couldn't place their names. I also found out my ex-boyfriend got engaged, which is doubly weird. We dated for four years, and for a while thought we would get married. It could have been me getting that ring last night, although I'm glad it wasn't. There are so many people getting engaged right now that I feel like I should be; after all, Drew and I have been together for as long as my ex and his girlfriend have. But I know I'm not ready for that. Not for a while.
I had nothing to do a couple days ago, and decided to go on a baking extravaganza. Last Christmas I brought cookies home that Drew's mom had made, but I wanted to bring home my own this year. I started with chocolate chunk cookies that I found in the Food Network magazine. They were one of the most labor-intensive cookies I've ever made because the dough isn't very sticky. I had to form each individual cookie, because it was more chunk (chocolate, white chocolate, M&M and cashew) than cookie. They were yummy though.
The next day was my big baking day. First it was pizzelles again to take to my grandma. I had Drew put them on the iron, and I've found he has quite a talent for it. I think I know what his job will be from now on. :)
Then it was my mom's old no-bake butterscotch cookies (essentially these minus the peanuts). We used to make them when I was little. They're super easy and only four ingredients, but get really hard to stir. You melt butterscotch chips in a pan, then add peanut butter and later marshmallows. The marshmallows make it really tough to stir, and then you add chow mein noodles. They're soooo rich but so yummy.
Then came one of my favorite recipes: peanut butter brownies. This is easily one of my favorite recipes, one I found on another baking blog. They go pretty quick too once you set people on them. They're basically brownies with chocolate and peanut butter chips in them. You bake them in muffin tins, then let them fall and fill the void with peanut butter. Top them off with chocolate and peanut butter chips and you're set! I went for the more festive vibe and did Christmas M&Ms.
I made three things I never had before as well. As you can tell, I baked for like a solid five hours. First were pineapple cookies with pineapple glaze from my Golden Book of Cookies. They are super moist from the crushed pineapple in them. Then I made biscotti a la Bobby Flay. It has blue and yellow cornmeal and pistachios. It's supposed to have Sambuca, a licorice-flavored liqueur, but I didn't have any of that and wasn't about to buy it (yuck!) so did Triple Sec instead. Last, I made chocolate-dipped pretzels. Mmmm.
Now I just need to figure out who's going to eat all this food. I'm not sure I'll be here as long as was planned.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I did make those oatmeal cream cheese butterscotch bars for the newsroom. They were kind of interesting to make. You make the crumble part of the bars by putting butterscotch chips, oats, butter, flour, cinnamon and brown sugar all in a food processor. By the time all that was in, my foot processor was full. To the max. The bars turned out yummy though, a good sweet.
Then came LNOP, our newspaper tradition. No baking required for that, but still a fun time. It was the end of the semester, and my end as editor of The Kansan. It's kind of bittersweet. It was a great time, but so stressful. I think if I'd done it any longer, I wouldn't have been any good at it any more. My best friends are from The Kansan, though, so it was definitely worth it. Next semester, the last of my senior year, will be my final one on staff and my 9th total. Wow. I'm going to be in the in-depth reporting class, which I'm pretty excited for.
Not being editor, though, is going to give me a lot of time to bake. I've done a bit during break. The classic pudding cake, which is my dad's favorite dessert. It's such a baffling recipe. You put the solid ingredients in the bottom of the pan and pour water over them, and somehow the top becomes a solid cake and the bottom becomes hot fudge-like. I remember making it when I was little for all my dad's birthdays. It's perfect with vanilla ice cream.
Then Friday, my friend cooked pumpkin enchiladas and I made quadruple chocolate brownies. Yup, that's right, four chocolates. I make this Martha Stewart recipe, which includes melted chocolate chips and cocoa powder. Then I stir in whole semi-sweet chips and white chocolate chips. They were like two inches thick and SO good.
I've had some pretty good desserts out lately too. Some friends and I went to Angler's, a local seafood place. They have some pretty awesome infused rums: pineapple and peaches and pears. But they also had key lime creme brulee. It makes me want to try that dessert, but I need the hardware for it first. It's on my list.
Last night, I went with the same friends to Yardhouse in Kansas City, which has a ridiculous amount of beers on tap. There, I had a lemon souffle. Pretty good. Never made one of those either, so that's on my list too.
I'm excited for next semester because I'm going to have a lot more time to cook and bake. I better add going to the gym to that list or I'm going to gain like 50 pounds. But I will definitely keep taking baked goods into the newsroom, and probably more than I did this semester. I'll take requests!
It's almost time to head to Salina for Christmas day. I think I'll take some pizelles. And my cat.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
So Friday I started to bake. A lot. I had a few days to make up, after all, so I started making some favorites. Lemon bars (for Drew and Co.), pumpkin bread (for Stephen and Co.) and pizzelles. I had press club later, and then people came over for games, so I had enough people over that I could bake that much. We played Catchphrase for three hours. You could tell we were playing with journalism kids. For "Who's who": "Blank blank at KU!" and another, describing one that was a gerund. It was super fun though.
The lemon bars are the old faithful recipe from Martha Stewart that is just perfect, but how it works hardly makes sense. The crust is really strange, as in, you grate butter into your dry ingredients, push it into a pan, freeze it and then bake it. They sure end up yummy, though. The crust is half the bar, but it doesn't taste that way. This is easily one of my favorite things to make.
Then there's the pumpkin bread, a two-loaf recipe. I found the recipe on foodnetwork.com, and it ends up tasting great, but there's one huge problem. The recipe says bake it for 30 to 40 minutes, and it definitely takes 50 minutes to an hour. Can't these people count? The pumpkin loaves made an exit when Stephen returned after Catchphrase with three hungry lacrosse friends. Neither Drew nor I like pumpkin bread, but everyone else seems to, so Stephen took the loaves.
The last recipe is of pizzelles (see the Wikipedia article). They're Italian cookies that almost taste like a waffle cone and are super thin with designs on them. You have to have a special iron (like a waffle iron) to make them, which I have. These have kind of a family history with me. My not-really-grandma Mildred, who is my aunt-through-marriage's mother, makes them every Christmas and sends them to my grandma in an old ice cream container. I steal a few each time, and finally I just asked my aunt for the recipe. It's incredibly simple and only has six ingredients: margarine, eggs (a whole bunch of them!), sugar, flour, baking powder and flavoring. I usually make vanilla, but Mildred makes anise-flavored. The annoying part about these cookies is they make forever to make. The iron only has a spot for two cookies at a time, and it's a pretty huge recipe.
The cookies were a hit though, and I'm thinking of making lemon-flavored ones for the first time tonight. It's strange; I had two papers due Friday and now have almost nothing till finals. It's winding down and I'm finding I have free time. It's definitely a foreign feeling. So last night I watched a musical last night I'd never seen: Meet Me in St. Louis. I absolutely LOVE musicals. My mom is an organist/choir director/carillonneur, and my dad played in KU's marching band, so music is pretty much how I grew up. Music Man, Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, etc. Meet Me in St. Louis was a Judy Garland one, and I'd forgotten how unbelievable her voice was. A good movie all around. My other new discovery: the Boomerang channel and Cartoon Network. They play the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Cartoon Network is bringing back Looney Tunes. I'm DVR-ing it.
Anyway, we'll see how much I decide to bake this week. I think it will be a fair amount, because I have a lot of free time at night this week. Another consideration of something to make: oatmeal cream cheese butterscotch bars.
Monday, November 30, 2009
I've been doing a fair amount of baking lately and have found some really great recipes, and some that are really flawed too.
I felt like venturing into making cheesecake last weekend, but didn't want a plain recipe. It was Martha to the rescue, though, with a margarita cheesecake recipe. I don't think I've made a cheesecake in the last 10 years, but I used to bake them with my mom. I was a little rusty, so I followed the recipe to a T. The pretzel crust was especially intriguing, and the water bath was confusing to me. It didn't make sense to me that a springform pan, which isn't all one piece, wouldn't leak when put in a pan of water. Well, I was right, and Martha was wrong. So after making a whole cheesecake, I made another. I edited the crust recipe (if you ever make this, use WAY more butter; I put in a whole stick, twice what she said). I also didn't use a water bath, which made it brown uneven and crack. So I improvised and made a lime sour cream topping, and voila! My first cheesecake in a while. Drew, Stephen and Bryan approved, and we ate it along with Canada geese (it actually tasted like steak) while watching/ignoring the KU-Texas football game.
Then came the loaf of bread. The last time I made/attempted bread, it was super dense. Kneading is confusing to me, because the dough always seemed to be sticky. So I went to Aunt Betty's house to make bread. We made everything and just hung out while letting the dough rise. I've been so busy with classes lately I haven't seen her in a while, but the end product was excellent. She lent me her pasta maker too, so that's my next project.
Thanksgiving meant some excellent desserts as well. Holidays tend to be hard for me, considering I don't exactly have a cohesive family any more. I went to Drew's house on Thanksgiving for the second year in a row, which means entering into a family with three boys (one was away), both parents, grandparents, four cousins and an aunt and uncle. It's a huge departure from any of my family, one side of which is seven people total including myself, the other of which never gets together in a large group. It's a great family, and I love being around them, but it's still a little weird. Sometimes I wish I could fast forward to a time when I have my own family and my own traditions that can't be dictated by others and I don't feel guilty about. There were some pretty great desserts though. Cream pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and even during dinner carrot souffle. Sounds gross, but it was great.
Last night was my most recent baking episode with chocolate chip M&M cookies. Pretty simple, but Taylor requested them.
Not sure what I plan on baking next. I saw a recipe for egg nog cookies, and boy do I love my egg nog. I have no idea when I'll be able to make them though. Two weeks left of school, and they're both completely booked!
And finally, with some Christmas cheer, Melvin the happy Santa cat (and by happy, I mean super pissed off at me).
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
This was supposed to be my slow week. Only one assignment due, and basic math at that. So I planned baking for Sunday. During the day I drove back to Salina to surprise my Grandma, who turned 89 (!) on Monday. She's a pretty great lady. There aren't many people left in the world who can say they grew up during the Great Depression with a widowed mother who baked to support her kids. Grandma graduated from college in 1942 and was married in 1944, so she's totally from a different time period. Married for more than 50 years until my grandfather died. Endured the death of one of her children. Born in far western Kansas. It's a little baffling to me when I think of how many years she's seen. I'm her youngest grandchild, and she was there for me when my parents split. If there's one thing grandparents are good for, it's backing up everything you say and think.
Anyway, I spent a bunch of time with Grandma in high school, but since coming to college I see her very little. I hadn't seen her since July when a friend from high school died. I'm not going back for Thanksgiving, and after a hard couple of weeks, I really needed some Grandma time. So I drove the 2ish hours Sunday morning to surprise her with balloons, Brookville chicken and some quality birthday time.
I was going to bake when I got home, but was really tired. So Monday night, I embarked on an experiment of pomegranate velvet cupcakes with pomegranate cream cheese frosting (in honor of national pomegranate month). It was the weirdest batter ever...all fluffy and stuff. Until I realized that I hadn't added the final ingredient of heavy cream...after filling about 16 cupcake papers. The cream cheese frosting might be my favorite frosting ever. Cream cheese, butter, pomegranate juice (reduced to syrup) and LOTS of powdered sugar. Tart but sweet. So so good.
I brought the cupcakes into the newsroom at about noon. Not even kidding, they were all gone in about 15 minutes. All 24 or so.
Then yesterday I was going to go bake bread with my aunt. I experimented with bread for the first time a couple months ago and only partially succeeded. Tasted like bread but wasn't light and airy. Too dense because I don't think I kneaded it right, and she was going to teach me how. Then there was breaking news, and all that went down the drain.
So tonight I took it easy and made dinner (chili and a celery and water chestnut skillet) and oatmeal scotchies, a classic. I used to make them with Mom all the time, but these turned out really well.
I'm thinking about baking a pie for Thanksgiving at Drew's. His grandma makes a mean apple pie, but I'm thinking I might go ahead and bring some of my desserts too :)
Sunday, November 8, 2009
So that meant no baking for me, until this weekend. Even though I was sick of being at home, I took the weekend easy and decided yesterday to make dinner and dessert. Dinner was a la Bobby Flay, and dessert was pie.
I love the holiday season. Not necessarily the holidays themselves — that's what divorced parents and being an only child will do to you. But I love decorating, baking, and getting the perfect presents for people. I even love wrapping the presents, although I can't put ribbons on them if they're going under the tree. Melvin will eat them.
I've decided November is early enough for holiday baking, which I guess makes sense, considering another holiday is Thanksgiving. I bought the latest issue of Real Simple for my plane ride home from Austin last week, and inside were four pie recipes. Bourbon orange pecan, chocolate fudge, maple pumpkin and crumble apple.
Pies aren't really my thing. I tend to stick to cookies or cupcakes; they seem easier to me. Plus they're a lot easier to feed to large numbers of people, which is how my treats are served — to the newsroom. But I figured, why not, I'll make a pie. I'm not a fan of pumpkin, so that one was out. Didn't want to make the whipped cream for the chocolate fudge pie, so that was out too. Drew doesn't like apple, and I wanted him to try it, so pecan it was.
Except we didn't have bourbon. Wild Turkey left over from an LNOP and a turkey through the window, Scotch from a present to Drew, Jack Daniels from a wedding and Crown from that same wedding. I promise, we aren't alcoholics. We just have lots of small amounts of liquor because we get tired of one and get new bottles often. Anyway, no bourbon. So it was vanilla instead.
Besides burning myself on the pan, the pie was a success. The photographers sure went for it. I'm going to have to work on pies and get them better, and make my own crust next time. Seriously, though, stores are advertising for Christmas presents already, so I guess I have plenty of holiday prep time to perfect pies. And get presents. And wrap presents. And do secret Santa (ahem — Secret Snowflake). And make stuffing. And see the Nutcracker, the one Christmas tradition I have left. And watch White Christmas.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Last weekend, though, a friend and I hosted a big pre-Halloween party, and there was lots of cooking and baking involved. So much, in fact, that a few friends and I had a marathon session of about six hours of Halloween fun.
The laundry list of things to do: Make awesomely dorky costumes, a.k.a. t-shirts of Adobe icons, carve pumpkins, roast pumpkin seeds, make and decorate monster cupcakes, make suckers and make Chex mix.
Considering we didn’t start this stuff until 10:30 p.m., we didn’t have enough time to finish everything for the next day. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good time. The Chex mix is my favorite, a recipe using ranch dressing mix, and everybody loved it. While I made it, my friend Kelly mixed up the cupcakes and baked them. Everyone else was cutting out letters for icons, hollowing out pumpkins and just hanging out. Then they decorated the cupcakes a la Martha Stewart.
Side note – I love Martha Stewart cookbooks. I have her Cookies book and Cupcakes book. Her lemon bars are to die for, as are her triple chocolate brownies, streusel cupcakes and almost everything I’ve made. She’s failed me twice: maple icing and meringue butter cream icing. The maple icing was more of a glaze, and the butter cream was really buttery. A couple more dashes of sugar, though, and the problem was fixed. Then came the decorating: Pull-n-peel Twizzlers, Dots, M&Ms, marshmallows, chocolate chips, candy corn and a multitude of other candies transformed normal cupcakes into semi-scary monsters. Believe me, it's hard to make cupcakes looks scary.
The suckers were a disaster. My candy thermometer didn’t go high enough and I’d never made suckers before so I didn’t know how to pour them. I also didn’t put in enough flavoring, because the recipe called for eight drops of flavoring and my flavor bottle poured. Oh well, I have to start somewhere with these things.
The party and its food were a huge success. We had a huge variety of costumes, including Lady Gaga, Twitter, Facebook, a Frenchwoman, a cow and lots of KU athletes. The food went quickly. About 48 cupcakes were reduced to four, the snack mix was gone but the suckers untouched. I don’t blame them.
No baking this weekend, courtesy of the National College Media Convention in Austin, Texas. Never been here, but so far I’m a fan of the weather and sixth street. Perhaps next week I’ll have some time for fall baking.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Apparently "Brenna Brownies" are something to get excited for. When I bake, I tend to make at least two things at once, so on the menu were Mexican brownies and cheesecake brownies. There was some Twitter talk about them, so I knew I had to make them good.
The Mexican brownies were suggested by my friend Stephen, who I'm convinced puts some sort of spice in every food he eats. I saw this recipe for brownies that included cayenne pepper and cinnamon and knew he'd like them. I think he ate half the pan.
I'm also a huge fan of cheesecake, so cheesecake brownies seemed like the natural progression. Orange swirls, of course, for Halloween. These taught me a valuable lesson — never, EVER, let my boyfriend Drew near my baking. He saw the orange swirls and assumed that those brownies were cream cheese-cayenne brownies. As in, mixing in cayenne pepper in cream cheese and just swirling it right in. Yeah, I thought it was pretty darn gross too.
So I brought both pans in to the newsroom this morning, and when the copy editing class came down the hall, they made a beeline for them. I'd say they were a success.
I got to talk about my weird baking obsession tonight at dinner as well. I was invited to dinner with a journalist and the dinner table talk got to cooking. One of my political science teachers, the one who invited me, talked about how his father was a classically trained French cook, so now he did all the cooking. I suppose my baking comes through the family too, if that's possible. My grandma, who was born in 1920, grew up in Dust Bowl Kansas. Her father died of cancer around the Great Depression, and so her mom got them through the depression by baking for her small town in western Kansas. I've got some of those recipes but I haven't tried any yet — I have to decipher the handwriting first!
But before I try any of those recipes, I plan on making some awesome Halloween cupcakes. Witches, monsters and black cats of course!
Monday, October 19, 2009
I'm kind of obsessive about watching the Food Network. Iron Chef America, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Ace of Cakes, everything. So when I go to NYC, I want to eat at the restaurants of these people I see.
We've eaten at Mesa Grill by Bobby Flay in Las Vegas, but in New York we ate at Bar Americain, his other restaurant. Drew got a burger and I got chicken pot pie with a sweet potato puff pastry. For dessert, I got an apple tart with maple ice cream. Maple is one of my favorite flavors, so it was pretty amazing. I'm going to try to make the tart sometime, but it's going to take quite a bit of practice to make it look that nice and cut those apples so thin!
Then we went to Mario Batali's Lupa, where I had squash pasta with a butter sauce. I'm pretty sure the people sitting next to us were part of the mob; the guy had a deep New Jersey accent and while he had a wedding ring, she definitely didn't. And he was calling her honey.
We also had breakfast at the Creperie, a place featured on Throwdown. It's fascinating watching them make them; if I tried to make a pastry that thin it would break every time. Mine was raspberry white chocolate, Drew got s'mores and Mary got spinach artichoke.
But my favorite of the trip was Magnolia Bakery, full of awesome cupcakes. Red velvet, devil's food cake, pumpkin maple, so many choices! They also had cheesecakes, including red velvet and key lime, cookies and cakes. I think I might be able to spend every day there. The cupcakes each had like two inches of frosting and were unbelievably tasty. I' d like to figure out how to make cupcakes that well someday.
Overall, it was an awesome trip with some really tasty food. I want to go back some time to do some more sightseeing and definitely some more scouting for desserts. It just makes me want to bake, but that comes tomorrow.
Monday, October 12, 2009
This weekend one of my best friends got married. She's been dating this same guy as long as I've known her, and they're great together. It was an awesome celebration, lots of Kansan folk there. The Kansan folk I don't get to see very often — the ones who graduated a year or two ago and are now scattered across the country. Last time I saw them was the last wedding. Now all three Matt-and-Sarah couples are married.
So today, after an unsuccessful two-hour search for a missing car key, Drew and I headed home from small-town northeastern Kansas.
In three days, I leave town again, but for much more glamorous NYC. It will be my first time (suggestions are welcome as to what I should do!). Tuesday night I work so tonight or tomorrow was my only option to fill my baking fix. My new Kitchenaid mixer has been beckoning to me and begging for use, so I thought I'd take a stab at its cookbook that came along with it.
Dinner tonight — tangy BBQ meatballs and rice. Homemade pasta (like from the dough and everything!) tomorrow. In between: Ghirardelli chocolate cookies.
I'm not really a chocolate person. It's super weird, I know, especially because my mom is a chocolate addict. My grandpa, though, didn't like it either, so I chalk it up to genetics. But I'm a sucker for a good brownie or double chocolate cookie. This recipe called for Ghirardelli dark chocolate as the base, then semisweet chips and walnuts. I am not a sucker for walnuts or any kind of nuts in my cookies. So I substituted white chocolate chips. Who wouldn't like that?
It drives me nuts when recipes aren't written well. Not unclear directions, per say, but just the wrong directions. It said 375˚ for 12 to 14 minutes. The first batch burned, but that was my fault. The second batch was fine, but I took them out way early. The third batch approached 12 minutes and they were burnt.
You would think people who write recipes would test them. There's nothing wrong with the oven; other recipes have worked out fine. Half of these cookies worked out fine. But I didn't want half a recipe of cookies.
Either way, I got my baking fix in, and now I know not to use this recipe again. The dinner recipe worked fine, and I hope the pasta recipe for tomorrow is fine too. I'm sure once I get home from NYC I will have lots of things I will want to mimic in recipes. But for tomorrow, the un-burnt half of my cookies will be snatched up by all my current Kansan friends.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
So I bake.
It's a weird obsession that seemed to start only this semester, or rather this summer. I've always liked to make cookies — Mom and I regularly made oatmeal scotchies, chocolate chip cookies, whatever. And by we made, I mean she told me what ingredients to get out of the pantry.
This summer I worked with a couple people who liked to bake. We would talk about cookies or cupcakes we were making that weekend. Then came Fourth of July, and Dad asked me to bring a dessert. I couldn't decide, so I brought four. Yup, that's right, four. I made somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 individual servings: snickerdoodle cupcakes, red velvet red, white and blue cookie sandwiches, chocolate peanut butter brownies and red, white and blue cupcakes.
And then I was hooked.
Now, my newsroom regularly gets fed with snacks. The most recent was a batch of snickerdoodles a la Martha Stewart. That woman knows her recipes. My photo editor Weston had been begging for some snickerdoodles, so I made some (he said they could have been softer — I beg to differ).
Also on the menu? Key lime bars, also courtesy of Martha. I've made them once before, but that time I only had a hand mixer, and five minutes of whisking with one of those is not the most fun I've ever had. My 22nd birthday (and my wonderful grandma!) brought me a brand new shiny white Kitchenaid mixer, my new best friend. This time, I got to just set the mixer to speed 10 and walk away, and voila! key lime bars. Well, not exactly, but let's just say it was a heck of a lot easier.
That was my baking of the week. I know I haven't explained myself or my strange obsession, but at least it's an obsession that everyone can enjoy.
So here's the plan. I come home and I'm either stressed or bored, and I bake. And then I'll write about it, and what happened to make me want to be in the kitchen.