Monday, November 30, 2009

Two weeks of baking

I know, it's been a while since I've posted. I'm going on a month of being sick...except it's not the same sickness. It's morphed like 3 times now, resurging last night when I remembered how I used to sleep with a humidifier. I definitely needed one last night.

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

The month of November: Pomegranates and an 89th birthday

I've had a break from baking for a while. It's been crazy busy, mainly because I'm STILL sort of sick. Ugh. The cold weather brought a relapse. But have no fear, my baking came back this week.

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

Pecan pie and the beginning of the holidays

Sorry for the hiatus. I managed to come down with the flu for the whole last week, which was no fun. From falling asleep Monday night to waking up Thursday morning, I slept 38 hours. Sheesh!

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.
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