Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The best bread ever, Kansas style

I haven't baked brownies in two days. I think that might be a record right now! Too bad, because it will be broken on Thursday, when I bake brownies for the LJWorld newsroom.

I started my internship there today. It was fun to be back. I think it's always fun for a journalist to start reporting again after a hiatus. It was also super nice to see my friends there.

I'm staying away from the Kansan newsroom right now. Not intentionally, but because I don't need to go that far over on campus often, and it's REALLY cold outside, and I'm finding I have a ton of other stuff I need to accomplish. I have been taking some baked goods there, but it seems to be on the same night each time: Thursday. Probably because that's my easiest day in general.

So last Thursday, Stephen asked for something with blueberries. I was going to make blueberries and cream cupcakes a la Martha, but didn't feel like going through the whole process of cupcaking. So I a la Marthaed a different dessert — blueberry sour cream pound cake with lemon whipped cream. It's a good thing it made two loaves too. I didn't really like the recipe for the whipped cream, because it only used lemon zest. It was kind of weird, so I put lemon juice in as well and then it was super lemony. Went over well though. I didn't get a photo before the last piece, and since I was in the newsroom, the most obvious choice to take the photo was a photographer. So, here is the most professional photo this blog will ever have, shot and imaged by Mr. Tanner Grubbs.

Then I made brownies, but that's old news. The smoked turkey, scalloped potatoes and pasta salad that went with it weren't. Super yummy.

Monday I made monster cookies. When I worked at Capers in high school, a place that served coffee as well as baked goods, it was one of their best-selling cookies. How could it not be? Oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips and M&Ms could hardly be a losing combination. This is the recipe I use, although I leave out the raisins. Yuck. I've made them in the past, though, and they've always come out a little too crunchy for me. This time I accidentally put in too much peanut butter and they were yummy and chewy and wonderful. Plus, they had Valentine's Day M&Ms. I'm such a sucker for holiday baking items.

Like I said, today I started back at the Lawrence Journal-World. I worked there this summer in the features department, and this time I'm doing news stuff. Well I was reading an article that my good friend from the features department Sarah wrote on baking bread. Then I read the chat that came from the article. Included at the bottom were recipes for loaves. I've been mildly successful with sandwich bread, but the recipe for Kansas Sunflower Bread caught my eye. I love sunflower seeds and that kind of thing, so it just looked so yummy. Plus, I'm in Kansas. How could I resist? I like shopping at the Merc when I'm trying out a recipe like this, because buying in bulk for one batch is actually easier. Plus, this called for wheat bulgur. I'd heard of it, but figured the Merc would be the only place to find it. I went through bulk about 4 times before finally asking someone to help me find it...right in front of my eyes. Apparently you have to soak bulgur in water, so I did that and then made my first batch, only to realize my water might have been too hot for the yeast and might have killed it. So I made another batch. Guess which one rose? The first. Figures. I made sure to let it rise extra high, and now I've got a giant loaf. I just tried it, and I think it might be my favorite bread ever. Seriously. I love the crunchiness of the oats and sunflower seeds inside, and because I let it rise for so long, it's nice and fluffy. I will definitely be making it again.

Sigh. Time to get back to homework.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to school baking

Come tomorrow, it feels like school will really have started. We had classes on Thursday (and Friday, but I don't have Friday classes!), but it was really just a syllabus day. So I decided for most of the weekend that it was still winter break. Both a good and bad decision.

My classes on Thursday were POLS 600, Contemporary Feminist Political Theory and EECS: Concepts of computers or something stupid like that. I really like the politics teacher, so I'm super excited for that. The computer one, not so much. But I have to fill a spot to graduate, and that was the lucky winner. At least I'm taking it with Brianne so I won't go quite so crazy.

The wackiest thing about Thursday was that I got out of class at noon and got to go home! This may sound a bit ridiculous, but I haven't gotten to go home after classes since my first semester freshman year. Every other semester I've had to go to the newsroom after class and hang out. It was the weirdest feeling ever. So I got home....and decided to bake to fill my time. On the menu: red velvet cupcakes and Brenna brownies, as they've affectionately come to be known.

It seems I've gotten back on my cupcake kick, courtesy of Stephen asking me to. I go back and forth between loving making cupcakes, because you can be so creative, and making mostly cookies, because they take considerably less time (when you figure in the time needed to cool and ice the cupcakes). Anyway, the last time I made red velvet was for the fourth of July. I have a great relationship with red velvet; it became my favorite cake while working at Capers, a local coffee and pastry shop, in high school. And I'm a firm believer that cream cheese ice cream makes everything better. But when I made red velvet for the fourth of July, it wasn't in traditional form. It was a red velvet cookie sandwich, with the top red, the bottom blue and the cream cheese icing in the middle. The icing kind of sucked, which made me sad, but with these cupcakes, Martha knew her stuff. The cream cheese icing was perfect. In fact, it might be my favorite icing ever. The cupcakes were pretty tasty as well.

Along with the red velvet cupcakes, I made Martha's double chocolate brownies, which is one of my favorite things to make. I modify them a bit though and make them quadruple chocolate by adding in chocolate chips and white chocolate chips as well. They make a super chunky batter but I bake them just under the time you're supposed to and they are unbelievable. I don't mind that they're known as Brenna Brownies now. :)

So, after making 24 cupcakes and 16 brownies, I started handing them out. Some of the cupcakes went with Drew's roommate Eric to his newsroom. The rest I took to the Kansan, and they were gone really quick. But I bake for the fun, not the eating, otherwise I'd be the size of a hippo.

I made the brownies a second time this weekend, then took them to game night filled with Catchphrase and Apples to Apples. Then the next night, I felt antisocial and went for more. I made my favorite homemade pretzels, modeled after the Auntie Anne's pretzel places in the mall. They're super easy and made a really yummy (if not slightly unhealthy) dinner. You can put any kind of topping on them, but I usually do a mixture of grated Parmesan, garlic powder and this time added a pinch of cayenne.

Then, for dessert, I tried yet another Martha cupcake recipe, brown sugar pound cakes. They're pretty heavy, but I guess pound cake's supposed to be that way. Instead of doing the glaze, I decided to do cream cheese frosting again and went with her brown sugar cream cheese frosting. Also excellent. They're almost breakfast-y cupcakes.

So regular classes start tomorrow. My time will start filling up soon, but for now, guess I'll keep baking. Now I'm going to go make more brownies for just us to enjoy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter break hiatus

It's been a while since I've posted, but mostly because I haven't done a lot of baking. Weird, I know, but I was completely lazy during break. It was nice. Now, school starts tomorrow. Ugh.

I was supposed to go on a super fun trip this break to California. That would have been a very good reason not to bake or post. BUT our airline was completely unable to get us there. As in, sat on the plane an hour past departure time, was told to get off the plane, waited through two promised departure times, back on plane, waited for luggage loading, waited for deicing, taxied all the way to the runway and then taxied back to the gate for the second time, was told another repair would take 15 minutes, listened to them say they "lost" their mechanic, wasn't helped by any airline staffer, got off plane, discovered three other flights had taken off to where we were going, listed to them tell us they wouldn't take our luggage off of our current plane (with all our ski gear in it for the next day) and finally decided to cancel altogether. It was a trainwreck. We canceled our trip to Sacramento/Lake Tahoe/Napa/San Francisco. We got a refund for our trip, but it was still super disappointing. I didn't get to see my friends or go skiing or wine tasting or anything. So instead I went shopping and went to Melting Pot with Drew and his family to make things better.

That whole situation was super disappointing, but I guess that just means Spring Break will have to be better. We're planning on Vegas, which happens to be the cheapest option for the most fun. We're thinking of staying at the Mirage and flying Southwest, which doesn't seem to have the same kind of problems as other airlines do. I really want to go see the Beatles Love Cirque de Soleil again, and also maybe the new Elvis one. And I think I might go to the spa for the first time ever.

I also want to hit up some great restaurants. I know we'll go to Mesa Grill, but if you know of any others that are a must, let me know!

Last night there was a mini dinner party at my house. Dinner was made by Tim, and was a pepper-chicken-pasta-raspberry mustard concoction. It was quite good. I made Olive Garden breadsticks (and burnt the hell out of my arm while doing so), then got back on my cupcake kick. Martha Stewart helped me out. I made stout cupcakes. As in Guinness stout. They're very winter-y tasting, because they've got a whole bottle of Guinness in them, plus brown sugar, lots of molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg. On top, a Guinness glaze (with only two ingredients, beer and powdered sugar). I liked them well enough, but not really my style.

I also made cookies and cream cheesecakes, which are excellent. Oreo in the bottom, Oreo cheesecake mixture in cupcake papers. They're pretty awesome.

Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to do to get rid of all my food so often. I'm definitely wanting to get back to baking regularly. We'll see how much I can do between readings for homework. Ugh.

One fun thought before leaving: When I was back in Salina, I went through my grandma's old recipes and all her old stuff. That includes her wedding cake topper. Here it is, circa 1944:
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