Thursday, April 29, 2010

In-depth story equals super easy baking

Well I made it through my awful week, just barely. And I didn't set anything on fire this week! I took my test, wrote my feminist theory about Dexter (it's a really interesting way to watch the show, but I think I'll go back to just watching it for entertainment), finished the yearbook....AND most of all, finished my major project.

I was super nervous about it — would it be true to its sources? How many people would it anger? Just basically, was it written well? Best feeling ever to finish it though. There was definitely some blowback from it, because as I found, that just seems to come with a historical piece. Everyone has a different memory of the time, you know? Forty years from now, I will feel differently about my time in college than all my friends. Just a fact of life. Another criticism I heard was it didn't show the "other side," the kids who weren't involved in the activism. That wasn't the point of my story, but it is a story that could be written. Anyway, it's finished! One thing that made me really happy was people were telling me they read it the whole way through, which for a 3,000+ word historical story is a pretty big compliment. Here's the story: Tell me what you think if you get a chance to read it! There's also multimedia up now too. Pretty neat.

So since last week was so crazy, this week, after work, I've been sleeping a lot. I had to finish up the Jayhawker though, which took forever. I've been making real dinners, too! Last night was Asian beef kabobs — yummy! I used to never nap during the day, and now I do all the time, and for like 3-hour increments. My kitty likes it though; he gets to sleep in his warm spot during the day too.

I've actually baked quite a bit this week, but I don't think I actually tried anything new. I made Oreo cupcakes, like I had before. I was getting ready to pipe the frosting and couldn't find the tip I like. Turns out the garbage disposal ate it, so they're ugly :( Drew really likes them though, so he's taking care of them.

Liz's birthday was Monday, so Sunday we went to dinner at Tortas Jalisco. They have super yummy chips and salsa and margaritas. They're kind of like flour chips, which are my favorite. But of course I wanted to make dessert, so I made brownie cups with peanut butter, which is a recipe from one of the blogs I follow, Cookies and Cups. These are SUPER rich but super yummy too and not terribly hard to make. Basically you use a lot of chocolate chips and peanut butter chips and a muffin tin. They're best warm, but what kind of dessert isn't?

A few weeks ago I did a Sunday cookout with Taylor, Liz and Sonya, and Sonya mentioned dump cake. Since then I've kind of been craving it. Not sure how many people know what it is, but it's made just how it sounds. You dump into a 9x13 pan a can of pineapple chunks (not drained), a can of cherry pie filling and a can of apple pie filling (some people don't include this but I think it's the best part). You make sure the ingredients are spread out, then pour one box of yellow cake mix on top as evenly spread as possible. Then you cut up a stick of butter and cover the top with slices. Then bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes till the top is golden brown. Obviously this isn't the healthiest dessert ever (but it has fruit, which is good, right? That's what I tell myself). Doesn't look all that pretty either. But it sure is easy, and it's soooo yummy! My grandma taught me how to make it. I'm pretty sure it's one of those things that comes from being a 1950s/1960s mother and trying to cook things as simply as possible. Just like all her recipes using Jello. Funny story, I was going through her cookbooks over Christmas and actually found a cooking with Jello cookbook — complete with lemon Jello Salmon. Ewwwwww. Anyway, every once and a while I like to make it. If nothing else it reminds me of my grandma. I called her yesterday and we started talking about her coming to graduation. It's so weird to think that in November she turns 90! She's lived through the stock market crash, the Great Depression, World War II, everything. I hope when I get to her age (if I do) that I am still as healthy as she is.

Anyway, I only have one week left of normal school, then finals, then I'm done. Mom is coming down on her birthday for graduation, so I'm going to make my second ice cream cake. I'm going to need a good chocolate cake recipe, so let me know if you have one.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My most epic baking fail yet

I've been super excited to write about one of my latest baking experiences. Like, it was an epic failure. But first.

My giant project runs tomorrow. Eek! I've basically been working on it nonstop. I'm really excited about it but pretty nervous too. I kind of wish I would have kept track of how many hours I worked on it, from the reading and researching to the interviewing to the drafts to making a slideshow. I'd probably rather not know. I'll post a link on here after it runs. I'm also excited just because it will be done, and that's gonna be a great feeling. I'll be done with the class, too, so my first class finished this semester. So after tomorrow, I just will focus on my other major commitments this week. Good news is, once this week is over, I only have two tests and a paper between me and walking down the hill.

It's seemed like college has gone by so quickly, but I guess when I look back on my freshman and years, things were so different. There's been a different group of Kansan friends every year, most of whom I still talk to and love to see. I used to go to Manhattan all the time for the ex, and now I love spending all my time in Lawrence. I've traveled a whole lot to some new places, seen Elvis' mirrored-room and NYC for the first time, and hope to visit some more. I've taken a whole bunch of completely meaningless classes, a few interesting ones and just a couple really important ones. Right now, though, graduation seems SO far away.

I'm excited to see everyone coming for graduation, though. My mom's coming from Michigan (and gets here on her birthday!), I might have another few aunts or uncles coming, then Dad, Cathie and Grandma. It's going to be a great weekend, especially because I got it off from work! First weekend off since I started.

Anyway, about the food. For Valentine's Day, my mom got me a Martha Stewart Living magazine subscription, and on this issues first pages are rhubarb recipes. It's not something I'd ever really liked until just recently, but it's SO good in desserts. This was a recipe for rhubarb upside-down cake. Rhubarb is just coming into season, so we got it at the Merc. And then started my most epic baking fail ever.

The cake is assembled as such: rhubarb sliced thinly and soaked in sugar in the bottom of the pan, then a sour cream-orange pound cake on top, then a crumb mixture on top of that. When you turn it over the rhubarb's on top, obviously. Anyway, I read the recipe really carefully, except for the part about the pan. Normal cake pans are one inch deep, and this one needed a two inch one. I didn't feel like going out and getting one by the time I saw that, so I decided a springform pan would work. False. Rhubarb is kind of the texture of celery, but when you soak it in sugar and start baking it, it gets a lot softer and starts to make its own syrup. Some of that syrup started leaking out of the springform onto the bottom of the oven, which was pretty gross. So I put a baking pan underneath and wrapped the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil to try to stop it from leaking. The cake bakes for an hour, but about half an hour in I just decided to give up. It's a good thing I decided to then, because when I opened the oven door, the cake had some pretty awesome flames coming off it. Yup, that's right, I set a cake on fire. Took it out of the oven and they were like a foot tall. I guess if I'm going to fail, it might as well be with fire, right? Unfortunately, I wasn't in the mindset to take a picture for the blog, so you'll just have to imagine. So the next day, I tried again, with a normal pan. It turned out awesome and tasted great. It's not quite as red as the magazine's picture, but the rhubarb isn't that color yet. Too early. Also, it's the most interesting flavor if you haven't tried it. I think it's nature's Sweet Tart, especially with desserts. It's poisonous when raw though, FYI.

After this epic failure/redemption, I didn't have much time to bake, but I felt like making snack mix later in the week and went back to an old faithful recipe from a family friend. It makes a giant amount (check out the picture!) and takes forever, but is totally worth it. Eventually I should just give in and make my snack mix entirely with Chex. No matter what percentage of my snack mix is Chex, I always end up eating it all first and am left with a mish mosh of Cheerios and crumbs. Anyway, this takes two hours, stirring it every 15 minutes. It's totally worth it though. And I can actually post the recipe! Check it out at the bottom of the post.

Then a couple days ago my mind was so overloaded with stress I just took a break and made red velvet cupcakes for the LJ newsroom. Still a favorite and super pretty. It always freaks me out a bit when, at the end of mixing the cupcakes, you mix together baking soda and vinegar and put the fizzy mixture in. Whatever it does, it makes it yummy.

Tonight I hang out at the newsroom to work on my project, so I'm making cupcakes for that. And the number of things I'm baking for graduation is growing: ice cream cake for my mom's birthday, cupcakes for our cookout, cupcakes or cake for another lunch...I'm sure more will be added. And I'll love it :)

Anyway, here's the Chex mix recipe, courtesy of Marilyn Livingood.

2 lbs. mixed nuts
1 Tbl. seasoned salt
1 box wheat squares
2 c. salad oil
1 box rice squares
2 Tbl. Worcestershire sauce
1 box Cheerios
1 Tbl. garlic salt
1 package pretzel sticks
(I usually add a box of corn Chex too)

Mix all ingredients in a LARGE pan (two disposable turkey roasters work well). Bake in a 200˚ oven for 2 hours. Stir every 15 minutes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Back to the basics: cookies

Okay, I admit it. I've been slacking a bit. For good reason though.

I was looking at my calendar and was really excited to see that I had nothing due next week. Super exciting, right? But moving on to the next week, it pretty much looks like the week from hell. My project runs (eek!), I have to send the Jayhawker (double eek!), I have a test in my lower level politics class and then a paper/presentation combo for my harder politics class. Um, crazy. I will be a hermit all week. On the good side of things, my project is nearing its edited completion. I just need to chop about 800 words off of it. Ha! I have a whole bunch of siders as well. Basically, it will be a behemoth. It will be super satisfying once it runs. I will totally post a link to it too.

It's really hard for me to believe that I graduate in five weeks. College has flown by, although right now it couldn't end fast enough. I'm really sick of homework and school when I'd rather be doing journalism stuff. I'm sure I'll miss school after I've been out of it for a while. Who knows, maybe I'll go back! Anyway, I'm excited for graduation weekend. My mom will be coming from Michigan and my dad and stepmom will be coming from Salina, with Grandma in tow! She turns 90 this year — can you believe it?! She used to live in Baldwin City right near Lawrence, but since we took her to Salina she hasn't been back to the area. So she hasn't seen me as a college student in Lawrence. I'm just happy she can come. I made my own graduation invitation because it was cheaper and prettier than those normal white ones. I'm glad I got that done before my big rush of stuff. Anyway, if I didn't send you one and you want to come to graduation, you're more than welcome :) I'm going to make KU cupcakes to celebrate, complete with red and blue polka-dotted cupcake papers and red and blue sprinkles I got from Bake It Pretty and then some KU pennant cupcake toppers. Red and blue frosting too, of course. If you have any flavor suggestions I'd love to hear them! I think I'll do some basic white and chocolate, and probably red velvet because it's my favorite, but maybe something else too. Hmmm.

Also, I got to see Mary this week! I haven't seen her in a couple months, and so we went to lunch at Free State with Kelly and Tara, then wandered around downtown, then visited the newsroom. Later was dinner at India Palace with Mark Dent (in town from Dallas!) and later she and Kelly watched Chuck while I attempted homework. I'm told I MUST watch the show. It's first on my list for post-graduation free time.

Speaking of free time, I've had very little, but I've still tried to bake a bit. Last weekend on Easter, Taylor, Liz, Sonya and I did a cookout. Chicken kabobs were yummy, as was the salad. I made basic chocolate chip M&M cookies, per Taylor's request. I don't often make simple cookies like that anymore, and I'd forgotten how tasty the dough and finished cookies are. And they were Easter M&Ms, so that counts as celebrating, right?

I made Rice Krispie eggs last week, and then found this great recipe on TasteSpotting (I really shouldn't check sites like this and foodgawker very often, because my recipe list piles up and I don't have time right now to make them all! Oh well). Anyway, it was a really yummy twist on Rice Krispie treats: Golden Graham treats. Basically the same thing but with chocolate drizzled on top and chocolate candies, for which I used Easter M&Ms again (they're kind of hard to resist, the M logo is made into a sheep or bunny or duck or chick!). It's basically a version of a s'more and super easy to make.

So then I took a bit of time to work on my project. I've kind of been scrambling to finish the draft completely, so on Wednesday, after skipping both classes, I just got up and wrote. It was the first time I was in my groove, which was really nice. For celebration's purposes, I went out to the Sandbar since I can't really go out on weekends right now and was tired of sitting at home. It was a nice night, with me, Liz, Sonya and Taylor again, but the male-to-female ratio was like 80-20. Kind of interesting. So when I got home from that at 12:30, it seemed like a good idea to make more cookies, this time Smitten Kitchen's peanut butter cookies again but with only Reeses Pieces stirred in. I think this is my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe, and the dough is super yummy. I took these to the newsroom, which is still the best way to get rid of food.

So we'll see how much I bake this week. Probably not a whole lot. I got my new Martha Stewart magazine in the mail yesterday (my Valentine's Day gift from Mom!), and it has this recipe in it that I really want to try: rhubarb upside-down cake. I'm a big fan of rhubarb. When you cook it with sugar it's like nature's Sweet Tart. And it's a super pretty color. I did some hunting, and I guess rhubarb isn't in season until May, so I guess I'll have to wait. Boo. Luckily, though, the Farmers' Market opened this morning, so when I get off from work on a Friday in May I'll just go over there and get it right at opening! It's actually quite convenient. There's no way I'd be up otherwise.

Well, it's off to work on that pile of responsibilities I have!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cupcake fever

Now that I've started working nights, I have daytime free during the week. I used to intern on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and now I have all that time. On Monday, I used it to take a three-hour nap (I've also found that my sleep schedule is officially screwed up). It's nice to be home in the afternoon though and have that block of time for homework, sleep or whatever, especially with the gorgeous weather we've started having!

My sleep schedule is totally screwed up now, though. Basically I'll be awake during the day for four days per week and awake at nights for three, but I've discovered that it's making me sleep considerably more. Like yesterday, when I was going to do a whole lot of homework. I got seven hours of sleep at night, went to class, and then came home to take a quick nap...which turned into another three-hour nap. Throughout the day I took like three more naps, something I've never needed to do. Maybe my body is catching up on the last four years when I've repeatedly deprived myself of sleep. Or something like that.

In between homework and naps, I've been baking cupcakes. Sometimes I get on cupcake kicks; right now I really like making tasty icing for them. I made cupcakes twice so far this week, and just keep adding to the kinds I want to make. I've been making half recipes in case they aren't tasty, but so far, they've been successful.

First, I made margarita cupcakes. You might remember that I made margarita cheesecake once, but I thought that I'd take a shot at the cupcake category. I looked all over the Interwebs for a recipe, and found basically two options: one using cake mix and one that was vegan. Since starting baking, I've almost completely stopped using cake mix. If I can make it from scratch, why not? So that option was out. So I went with the vegan recipe, from Baking Bites, which uses soy milk and all that. Then I started making the icing recipe on that site — and didn't like it. So instead I made basic buttercream and added lime juice and tequila. Altogether, these were super tasty! I put a lime gummy on top, and the tequila added a little bite. My only complaint was that they stuck to the cupcake liners pretty badly, which probably has something to do with the vegan part. Or, I just screwed up. Either is totally possible. Point is, they were yummy.

Next I went with the classics — rice krispie treats, Easter-style. I'm not big into Easter, although Cadbury creme eggs are wonderful. But I'd been craving rice krispie treats for a while, so I decided to make eggs, which I'd seen on a commercial. Yes, product placement does work with me sometimes. It had been a long time since I'd made them, so it was rather nostalgic. I made the treats, then Drew measured them out into 1/4 cup portions and I shaped them into egg shapes. I had to butter my hands to do it. SO gross. Then dip them in a chocolate/shortening mixture (which wasn't as thick as I would have liked) and roll in sprinkles. It was a pretty easy springtime dessert. And newsroom folk liked it too.

So then I made cupcakes again. I got this book, 500 Cupcakes, a couple weeks ago. The book has base recipes and then three or so variations for each one, so I'm assuming that adds up to 500 recipes. Pretty pictures too, and a pictures-of-what-I'm-making-in-my-cookbook kind of girl. So there was a recipe in there for cookies and cream cupcakes. The batter was cookie-like in consistency, so I was a little worried about how they'd turn out, but they ended up being just a denser cupcake, which makes sense I guess. Basically it's a white cupcake with Oreo pieces mixed in. For the icing, they had a buttercream that you sprinkled chopped Oreos on top of, but I wanted it to be more cookies and cream-y. So I put some Oreos in the food processor and took them down to crumb size and mixed it into the icing. It was so tasty — kind of like what an icing version of cookies and cream ice cream would be. It was great flavor too. Put half an Oreo on top, and then I was done! I'll definitely be making those again.

I have one more cupcake I'd like to make before Easter, the Cadbury eggs cupcakes from the blog Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. Those eggs aren't cheap though, so I'll have to think about it.

There are a lot of people coming into town this weekend, but I'm not sure I'll get to see them all. Mark will be here, and Mary from NYC, and Drew's brother. I'm super excited to see Mary, who I haven't seen in a few months (which is a loooong time considering we used to spend every waking hour together in the newsroom). Not sure I'll get to see the other two, because I start my job on my own tonight! Well, I did a shift by myself Sunday, but not overnight. We'll see how it goes. Fingers crossed!

Now I'm off to study for my impending computer science test. Ugh.
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