Thursday, August 26, 2010

Michigan and lake baking (2 of 8 goals met)

It’s been a fairly long week, well, couple weeks. I’ve had a major life change, which has taken most of my time lately. Not that I haven’t been baking, but I haven’t had time to write. Today I’m coming home from Michigan, where I was visiting my mother a couple days. On the upside (I guess), work has been picking up. It was slow all last week, until Saturday night, when all the crime that was waiting to happen, happened. Oh, and other big news, I made it onto Foodgawker and Tastespotting for the first time EVER a couple weeks ago! I came home and my hits had jumped by the hundreds, and I thought Google Analytics was wrong. Nope, it wasn’t, and I was super duper excited! Now, to keep getting pictures up there.

Before all this stuff happened, though, I visited my dad and stepmom out on the lake. He got an awesome new boat and it was a good couple of days away. My friend Sarah gave me some vegan recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World to try, so I decided that for the lake, s’mores cupcakes would work out. This was my second venture into vegan cupcake-making, the first being for Sarah’s birthday. This was definitely a little bit more difficult. One of the main sweeteners in the cake was molasses, and frankly, I dislike that strong a flavor. More graham cracker crumbs and that was fixed. Vegan buttercream was also an experiment (especially when the vegan shortening misspelled carefully as “carefulyl”). Ultimately, though, they were tasty, and a great addition at camp.

Last week, I had an intense baking/dinner session with Aunt Betty. Three desserts in about three hours, plus meeting a new kitty cat — definitely a highlight! The first was a tray of cheesecake brownies, a request from my friend Jon at work (I love requests — they keep things interesting!). This will be one of the first desserts I didn’t get a picture of because they were gone so quickly at work. They were super easy and from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. Maybe I’ll make them again this week. Also on the list was a recipe I heard one morning — or afternoon, however you look at it — when I woke up. Sometimes I leave the Food Network on while I sleep, and Sunny Anderson’s show was on. She had a recipe for apple pound cake, and it looked super tasty. The picture is what apple pound cake looks like after the newsroom has had some :)

The third item was my first stab at macarons, my second try at a baking goal. Aunt Betty and I used actual almonds ground up in a food processor, and we left them sort of chunky. Apparently you have to be careful not to process them too much or you’ll get almond butter. Anyway, French macarons are these almond-based cookies that are basically a meringue, so it’s too humid almost every day in Kansas, except for this one. These were eaten immediately, and oh-so-good.

Now, in Michigan, I tried making them with almond flour, pre-ground and much finer. I don’t think I’ll try making them again any time soon — a bag was $12.50! Anyway, I’m not sure I have the whole egg-white-whipping thing down, so it might be a while before I make lemon meringue pie. Here, I made two varieties — vanilla with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream, and chocolate with either maple Swiss meringue buttercream or vanilla buttercream. They’re super yummy, but I’m not sure they’re worth all the effort. At least until I get better at them.

I also wanted to make cupcakes while in Michigan, so I made cookies and cream cupcakes I’ve had my eye on. There’s half an Oreo (with cream) in the bottom, plus a super heavy vanilla batter with coarsely chopped Oreos mixed in. Cream cheese icing and the other Oreo half on top, and we’ve got ourselves a tasty cupcake. Let’s just say, Mom’s got a fridge-full of desserts.

So now, I just need something to look forward to. I’m one of those people who needs a long-term goal, even if that’s my birthday (which is a month and a week away!). I actually will get to go out on a Saturday night – woo hoo! I hope to enjoy some shark attacks (like in this photo from my last bday, with one of my best friends Erin). Beyond that, it’s time to figure out some new things to look forward to.

Macarons on Foodista

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Happy birthday Julia! (And 1 of 8 goals met)

Students are coming back to town. It's easy to tell. I went to dinner a couple nights ago at Free State with a friend, and I swear, half the place was students and their parents. A few nights ago there was a fire on Tennessee Street (a stronghold for student housing) and students just mulled around waiting to see what was going on. It's the school year! Woo hoo! Except it's not for me. No reading assignments that were written by boring academics only to get excited when one — just one — was written by someone with some flare. No cramming for essay tests on theory, no answering my own questions for a class because a teacher refuses to answer them for me. None of that. Yippee!

Anyway, the pedicures from last week were wonderful, and it was awesome to see Matt and Sarah. The demolition derby was super fun as well. I can't explain what it is I love about the derby — the crashing cars, the people-watching, the sheer amount of work these people put into the cars — no matter what it is, it's fun. It also ruins a new pedicure. Oh well. I met some really nice drivers and had a lot of fun writing the story, too. Before the derby, I made cupcakes for the next day when my Aunt Phyllis was in town. She doesn't live here, but she and my Aunt Betty were roadtripping to see my mom, so we all had dinner. I went with plain old (but super yummy) yellow-cupcakes-turned-funfetti with blue sprinkles (to match the wrappers). On top, plain old buttercream with silver shimmery sprinkles. Simple recipes but oh-so-yummy.

Then last week, as I was rolling through my blog roll, I saw a recipe for cherry limeade bars, kind of like lemon bars. It's pretty hard to beat cherry limeade during the summer...especially a summer like this one. We're supposed to hit 102 today (!), except we also hit 102 yesterday. Actually, this is our sixth day in August above 100 degrees (I know this because I wrote the story about it today). But isn't that ridiculous?! C'mon, Kansas. Anyway, these bars were super easy and colorful, definitely a fun dessert.

And then, as I was continuing through that blogroll, I saw an article about Julia Child. I have "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," something I couldn't resist buying after seeing "Julie and Julia." I've been itching to make bouef bourguignon, but once again, it's a little hot. That, and I have to figure out how to get around the fact that I don't eat bacon, and it starts with a big, juicy chunk of it. Anyway, turns out August 15 would have been Julia's 98th birthday. What better reason to make something else I've been wanting to try — her chocolate almond cake? So I did. I don't even like chocolate cake, but I had to try it. This, or something like it, is what Julie Powell's husband eats with his hands in the movie. And really, it was that good. It was very intricate, and for someone who often doesn't read the directions closely, this could have been a problem. This cake involved whipping egg whites and crushing almonds (you have to do this with sugar or it will be lumpy — who knew?) and folding stuff into batter and making a chocolate icing out of only chocolate, rum and butter. But in the end, it was worth it. The cake was divine — it was light, not dense at all, and just plain yummy. I will make it again, for sure.

And then I decided to tackle one of my eight goals. Yes, already. But once I set the goals, I wanted to try marshmallows right away. And my first revelation is that gelatin is nasty. Beyond that, though, it was simply cooking together sugar, corn syrup, water and a pinch of salt to a certain temperature and then letting my KitchenAid beat the hell out of it. Then add vanilla and let set. Out came square marshmallows! This Joy of Cooking recipe didn't elaborate on flavors you can make, but I'm thinking peppermint for later on when it gets cold and they can go in hot chocolate. Tonight, though, they're going to be used for s'mores. I'm off to the lake to relax, read "Eat Pray Love" and hang out on a boat. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Oh, and one last glamor shot of my kitty, because I couldn't resist.

Marshmallow on Foodista

Monday, August 9, 2010

My baking goal: eight new desserts by the end of 2010

This will be my first semester not in school since...well, since I was in kindergarten. Needless to say, it's going to be weird, just as it has been for probably everyone before me. I have no doubt, though, that I will not miss the homework. Especially after last semester, which almost killed me. Nope, I have a personal goal of continuing to read nonfiction throughout my life, but the key is to find well-written nonfiction. It's difficult. But I digress. The real issue I think I'm going to have is not having long term projects to work on. I'm better when I know where I'm headed and what I need to do.

So one way I will fix that is giving myself baking goals. I figure writing about said goals will help me keep to them. So here are eight (well, seven solid ones and an eighth iffy one) goals for me to achieve by the end of the year. December 31. Not too tough, right? Well, I hope not. Some of these things are affected by weather (macarons and humidity don't get along well, so those will be set aside for a bit until Kansas decides to calm down weather-wise). But I'm hopeful.

1. Macarons — The French version, not the American, which is full of (nasty nasty) coconut. They're delicate cookies that are piped and then sandwiched around a filling. I've tried them at Dean and Deluca, and they were pretty tasty. They have a crunchy exterior but the inside of the cookie is soft. I think they'll take a bit of work, and some experimentation with flavor. I'm not big on fruit+chocolate in dessert (this macaron was raspberry with chocolate filling). I think these will be accomplished with the help of Aunt Betty. Edit: Goal met in August. Click here to see the macarons I made.

2. Jayhawk cake pops — I've been practicing cake pops lately just to get a feel for them, but I think I want to make some that look like Jayhawks for football tailgating soon. I hope to base them off of these Sesame Street Big Bird ones...but this will take some practice. I'd just like to know I can decorate these to look like something rather than a sphere covered in sprinkles.

3. Fondant-covered cake — Which leads me here. My cake experience in the last year has mostly been with the ice cream variety, but all that Ace of Cakes I watch (and Food Network Challenge, and etc., and you get the idea) makes me want to try out this smooth finish for cakes. I know it's a lot harder than people make it look, so this might take some practice. I would like to make this a goal for football tailgating too. Maybe a Jayhawk head? Or maybe an easier shape, like a football. Whatever. There are some amazing cake decorators out there though, so I have quite a bit of places to pull tips from. Edit: Okay, I didn't cover a cake completely, but I made a bow out of fondant for my grandma's 90th birthday cake. I plan to work with it more, but for now, this is it. Click here to see the cake.

4. Maple leaf candies — My stepmom is from Canada, and in my multiple visits up north, got hooked on maple leaf candies like these. This stuff is addictive, probably because it's pretty much just sugar. What's not to like? I tried making these once in high school and failed miserably, so now, with my well-stocked kitchen and slightly increased knowledge, I want to try making them again. Especially because one maple leaf at the store costs $4. Sheesh! Edit: Goal met in October. It was technically maple fudge, and not leaf-shaped, but it tasted the same. I think it counts. Click here to see it.

5. Marshmallows — Yup, homemade marshmallows! Another candy-like item I want to try, specifically after seeing this Etsy site Mia Mallows. Mango marshmallows, lime marshmallows, pineapple, peppermint, peanut butter, etc. I think I will start with plain ones like Alton Brown makes in this recipe. This might wait till later on when it starts getting cold so I can put them in my grandma's homemade hot chocolate. Mmmm. Edit: Goal met in August. Click here to see my first homemade marshmallows.

6. Buche de Noel — Another holiday item, basically a giant swiss roll made to look like a log. I actually had it in my high school French class because it's another traditional French dessert, like macarons. I've been wanting to make a roll-up cake for a while, so a holiday one seems like a good goal to have. Edit: Goal met in December. Click here for my Christmas Buche de Noel.

7. Doughnuts — When I visited Mary in New York last year, I got a doughnut cutter. I have yet to use it. I think that's a little ridiculous, so doughnuts of some sort (likely cake, and possibly these devil's food ones) are on the list. Edit: Goal met in September...twice. Click here for my chocolate glazed doughnuts and here for my apple cider ones.

8. Frosted sugar cookies (my partial goal) — Okay, frosted cookies seem pretty basic, right? The kind I'm talking are iced with royal icing and decorated impeccably, a skill I'm not sure I can master in a few months. So I'm setting a goal to try royal icing and start experimenting, and improve. Take a look at some of these amazing cookies others have made (and I hope I can someday make): margaritas, princesses, beer and hot dogs, popcorn, animal crackers and many many more. So you can see why this is long term rather than instantaneous, yes? Edit: Goal met in September for my first Daring Bakers' Challenge. Click here for my fall-themed cookies.

I've also signed up for something called the Daring Baker challenge, a monthly challenge where bloggers around the country make the exact same recipe of some really difficult/obscure dessert and see how they all end up. I'm not approved yet, though, so hopefully I can actually do it!

So those are my baking goals. I have a couple other minor things in there I want to do, like some vegan baking, but that is what I'm trying next week :) So hopefully this keeps me busy, at least for a while!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Two pops + two cupcakes = three desserts

I'm in the middle of a three-day weekend, which was definitely needed. The good news is I can finally drive myself places, so that's nice. It's the weekend of seeing people I haven't seen in forever. I had lunch with my friend Anne yesterday, who has been busy with school for a while. Friends are in town from Colorado, who we haven't seen in months. And then my aunt comes through town on her way up to see my mom. It's nice to see everyone, because it's been sort of strange finishing school. I'm sure this is how everyone who stays in their college town feels. Everyone I spent a lot of time with has moved away, save a few who I'm very grateful are still around. I know it's just a part of growing up, and now it's time to make new friends and try hard to stay in touch with old ones. But it's still strange. So here's to keeping in touch with people. I definitely intend to.

I went for a second go at cake pops this week. They are easily one of the most fun desserts to eat. I mean, come on, who doesn't love cake+frosting+candy+sprinkles in a bite-sized dessert? I have an ultimate football season goal though. I want to take these Sesame Street Big Bird cake pops by Bakerella and edit them into Jayhawks for tailgating. Doable? I have no idea. But I'm going to try. First, though, I had to make manageable plain pops, so that was my goal this time. I'm getting better at dipping them, which definitely takes a technique. I made these smaller than my last ones, which were larger than bite-size and incredibly hard to manage. I'm definitely getting better. We'll see if I get to Jayhawk-level, though.

I took a little break from baking through the beginning of the week, mostly because I was pretty much sleeping any time I wasn't at work. But then I decided to make another cereal-style cupcake. This time? Honeycomb. I didn't eat it regularly as a kid, but I got it the other day at the store, and it's soooo tasty! I thought it would be great to try. I made a honey cupcake featured in Martha's Cupcake book (which I got spiral bound this decision EVER). Then some cream cheese icing on top, flavored with a tiny bit of honey, and one honeycomb on top. The cakes were REALLY honey-y, so I'm glad I didn't use honey buttercream on top too. I brought them to work on election night, which is apparently a night full of treats. It was fun though, and strange to walk into a newsroom full of people. It will be interesting when it's not the primaries anymore and the real deal.

A couple nights ago Drew and I went to four different grocery stores to find ingredients for these cupcakes I saw on the Confessions of a Cookbook Queen blog: bomb pop cupcakes. How great an idea is that? Definitely perfect for these 100-degree days. Anyway, the recipe called for cherry and raspberry extracts, which were not easy to find. A trip to Target, Wal-Mart (they have a surprisingly large supply of extracts), Dillons and Hy-Vee later, I had my ingredients and was ready to go. I used my favorite lemon cupcake recipe, edited with a little lime juice and lime zest like the bomb pop recipe said to do. When they're done, the recipe said to pour a mix of raspberry Jello powder and boiling water over the top, so you end up with a sort of lemon-lime-raspberry cupcakes. Then, for the frosting, you do three different flavors, just like normal Bomb Pops. The blue was raspberry, the white was lime (flavored with lime juice) and the red was cherry. A popsicle stick on top and they're done!

I made these cupcakes for Matt and Sarah getting here from Colorado. They were good friends on the Kansan and we don't see them hardly ever. Today, Sarah and I are getting pedicures — it's my first one! I can't wait. And then, I go from being a super girly girl to in, I'm covering the demolition derby. I cannot even articulate how excited I am about this! The demo derby is one of my favorite things to go to during the summer. You skip the whole racing cars part and just see the crashes. I'm going to put a new spin on the story, I hope. We'll see how it turns out!
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