Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cupcake challenge week 4: Champagne cupcakes

It seems a little silly writing about New Year's when I just put up my Christmas tree. This week, when I got home from Salina, I put up my multicolored tree. It's pretty ridiculous, actually. Kelly will tell you so. But hey, I like bright colors, so I suppose my tree should match.

My tree is one of my Christmas traditions I've built for myself. I've found it necessary to start making my own traditions up, because it's pretty tough to keep holiday traditions alive when your parents divorce and move away. So my tree is it. Some of the tradition is through the ornaments. I've got Santas my aunt painted for me, and porcelain versions of the Seven Dwarfs (yes, my parents started me early on the whole Disney thing). There's a collection of cloth ornaments a dear family friend made for me, one each year when I was growing up. There's the super gaudy old ornament with sequins and fringe, and I couldn't even tell you its origins. Mixed in with all the old stuff is the new, though. I've got the colored globe ornaments, but also my 2008 National Championship ornament, next to my Bolt ornament I got last year. There's lots of sparkle too. And a fair number of animal ornaments too.

My other two favorite traditions I've also made plans for. First, I watch White Christmas. A lot. If you let me, I'll force you to watch it too. But also, every year I go see the Nutcracker ballet in Kansas City. It's something I used to do with my mom, then later with various boyfriends throughout the years. I know this show by heart; the songs, the choreography, the costumes (the Dance of the Flowers is my favorite). This year, I'm pretty excited because I just bought tickets to see it with my friend Lauren, who used to dance in the show. I know she will love it just as much as me, and we'll get to do our Christmas tradition together.

Anyway, New Year's Eve is still a little far away to really plan for. I've got to get through the winter holidays first. But for this week's challenge, I had to make a New Year's-themed cupcake. I know champagne is a little cliche, but I hope all of my friends from the Kansan will appreciate what I made this cupcake with: a nice $5 bottle of Andre. Yup. Definitely some sentimental value there, some memorable Wednesday nights at the ends of semesters. I couldn't resist.

So I used this champagne cupcake recipe, which called for whipping the egg whites instead of adding eggs straight in, making the cupcakes a bit lighter than normal. The strawberry Andre gave them just a hint of flavor, but the icing is what really made these cupcakes. It might be in my top three icings ever. It was just a basic buttercream, but with the Andre added, and it almost seemed to have a fizzy flavor. Not possible, but I stand by what I say :)

I'm posting these cupcakes over at the New Year's challenge. I'd really appreciate if you'd go vote for my chocolate peppermint cupcake (number 4) to help me win last week's challenge. Thanks!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' challenge: Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Okay, I won't lie, I don't really get crostata. Not that it's hard, but what makes it different from a normal pie or tart. Apparently it's Italian, especially the pasta frolla, which is the crust. It's pretty simple, so that was nice. Just throw some ingredients in the food processor, knead it a bit and you're done. You're supposed to make it in a tart pan, but I don't have one, so I used a pie pan.

Aunt Betty and I made this earlier this month, the same time as the pecan pie cupcakes and buckeyes. We didn't have a solid plan for a filling, but she had some cherry preserves she'd made earlier in September from their cherry trees out back. It turned out to be the perfect filling! Some of the other bakers did some crazier fillings, like a roasted beetroot and chilli chocolate crostata with a charred carrot lattice, or some savory options. I don't think I'm that adventurous with desserts.

But now it's time to start thinking of Christmas-themed desserts. I'm hoping the December challenge will fit that role. I definitely have to make pizzelles, something I make every year. My Aunt Mary K's mom Mildred makes them every year, and I miss them so much I've started making them. I might even transform them into a Christmas cannoli. On top of that, I'm starting Christmas decorating and movie-watching. Count for "White Christmas" (my Christmas movie of choice): 3. And it's not even December!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A successful surprise 90th party, complete with cake and cupcakes

Operation Surprise 90th Birthday Party: complete success!

This Saturday, after working 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (on four hours of sleep!) I hopped in a car full of cupcakes, a cake, my clothes and my cat and headed to the Brookville Hotel in Abilene for a surprise party for my grandma. She turned 90 last week, and a whole bunch of family gathered at the restaurant, where she and my grandpa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when I was 6. This time it was my family, my uncle's family and a multitude of my dad's cousins there to celebrate.

This is easily one of my favorite places in the world to eat, even better when filled with family. Dad had told Grandma that it was just them and my stepmom Cathie going to dinner. She walked into the room and saw a table full of about 2o family members and was shocked, then immediately asked how Dad got us all together. He' just sneaky, I guess :)

After dinner, everyone drove back to Salina to my dad's house. There we ate the treats I'd made in the days before. I made two kinds of cupcakes: red velvet (at Dad's request) and screwdriver cupcakes, which is Grandma's favorite alcoholic drink.

The red velvet was simple, my favorite Martha Stewart recipe. They always end up light and fluffy and wonderful. The cream cheese frosting is excellent as well.

The screwdriver cupcakes weren't too shabby either. I got the recipe from Booze Cakes, which I got a few months ago. It called for coconut in the cupcake, but I'm anti-coconut, so I left it out. The cupcake ended up tasting like Trix to me. The frosting recipe, on the other hand, was a disaster. Just goes to show that I should just follow the recipe I know works and flavor it accordingly. It basically gave me orange-vodka flavored soup. Yech. I also candied orange peels to go on top.

Together, they looked pretty snazzy, I think. :)

Then was the birthday cake. I made a couple layers of square cake from my favorite yellow cake recipe. I froze it overnight and then decorated it super late the night before the party. I frosted it with buttercream and then did my first experiment with fondant, the bow. The night before, I rolled it out and dyed it (and my fingers too!) and then cut it into strips, which I formed into loops and let set. After frosting the cake, I attached the loops to make a bow, then frosted down by the cake board, and voila! My first attempt at a decorated cake! I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. And I'm going to count it as completing one of my baking goals. It's not a cake totally covered in fondant, but it's on there, so I think it works.

Grandma was too. It was incredible to have everyone in town. That picture is four of my dad's cousins with my grandma. They live all over Kansas and Oklahoma and came down for this one day! It's also pretty incredible that Grandma is 90 and still doing well.

So I've spent the weekend being lazy with Grandma, eating my favorite Salina food and watching old movies. Pretty sure none of them we've watched were made after 1954 (The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, White Christmas and Singin' in the Rain). It's been a super relaxing break, and having my kitty cat here with me has been entertaining as well. He's currently complaining that I've shut him in the TV room with us.

Ultimately, the best thing I got from this weekend: I am very lucky to still have my wonderful Grandma around. I was also very lucky to see so many family members this weekend (that's my uncle on the left; he lives in Illinois and I don't see him often). So for my Thanksgiving break, I am thankful for all that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cupcake challenge week 3: Chocolate peppermint cupcakes

Okay, I admit it. I watched yet another Pixar movie after work. This time, it was "Ratatouille." It's funny, the more I watch Food Network, the more of the stuff I recognized on the movie. A recipe with veal stomach, sweet breads and geoduck (pronounced gooey duck)? Sounds gross. Have you ever seen what a geoduck is? Yuck. Some time I want to try making the ratatouille dish in this movie though.

That was totally off-topic, though. My boss said today he was just waiting for a snowstorm to come. I'm just waiting for that sort of weather to roll in; Kansas never disappoints. We've got some cold rain coming today, but no snow. I hate driving in bad weather like that, especially because the roads get so slick. But I do want to try out my new snow boots!

That kind of weather is perfect for these chocolate peppermint cupcakes, which I made for this week's cupcake challenge on Hoosier Homemade. The theme was a Christmas cupcake, which yes, I know, it's a bit early for. But hey, it works. I kind of combined a few recipes on these, making my favorite devil's food cupcakes and baking a mini York peppermint patty inside. I made normal buttercream and flavored it with peppermint extract (while creating a full-on cloud of powdered sugar because I was in a hurry). Topped them with some crushed candy cane, and they were pretty tasty. I will have to make them again when it gets colder, and then pair them with a nice mug of hot chocolate. Mmmmmm.

I'm posting these to the Christmas cupcake challenge at Hoosier Homemade. If you could, I'd appreciate if you voted for my entry into last week's challenge, the pecan pie cupcakes for Thanksgiving (number 9 here).

Also, in other exciting news, I was asked by the folks over at JHill Design to write a guest post for their blog. About Kansas. I had to come up with 10 things I loved about Kansas, and I actually surprised myself. A lot of what I love is traveling out west and seeing the charm of the farmland and small towns. But, of course, I love Allen Fieldhouse too. Couldn't resist putting some KU love in there. Rock chalk! Anyway, it was fun to write, and I hope it introduced some people to some new sights in Kansas. I'd love if you read it and let me know what you thought!

Monday, November 15, 2010

In anticipation of family, friends and Shark Attacks

Have I talked before about how much I love Disney movies? And how I'm essentially a 5-year-old in a 23-year-old's body? Well, maybe not quite. But there's something charming and reassuring about Disney movies, especially after a hard day, or week, or whatever. I've been really down lately, for various reasons. I didn't bake for almost a week last week, which has to be a record. Luckily, I've had friends visit from far out of town lately, so that helped a bit. But I got home from work last night, and just felt like Disney. I put in Wall-E, one I haven't seen in a while. I forgot how charming this movie is. Wall-E hums along to "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from "Hello, Dolly!" The song "La Vie en Rose" plays while he's cleaning up Earth — a song that is prominent in one of my all-time favorite movies, "Sabrina," with Audrey Hepburn (who is just classic and wonderful in every way too, and my love for her is illustrated by her movie posters in my room). Even "Don't Worry, Be Happy," plays in Wall-E's home. It's a little hard to be frustrated when such wonderful songs play during a cartoon movie about the demise of the world. Seriously. Now, I just have to make it a few more days of work, and it's off to some wonderful time with my grandma. I honestly cannot wait.

Well, anyway, last weekend, two of my very best friends from college came into town on the weekend of the KU-Colorado football game. I worked with Erin and Jodi my freshman and sophomore years at our college newspaper, and they were honestly two of the most fun people on staff. They were both older and graduated and moved states away, but they came back for the weekend (Erin is on my left and Jodi is on my right). It was so wonderful to have them back, especially for a game where we scored 35 points in the fourth quarter! That's some of the most entertaining I've seen in person for a while.

A tradition of ours was going to The Sandbar, my favorite local bar. The Sandbar's signature drink is something called a Shark Attack, a sort of blue tropical concoction that comes with a shark filled with grenadine that you pour into the glass and it looks like blood. Well, it's been an idea I've had for a while, but I decided to make shark attack cupcakes. I made a lemon cupcake recipe I like, mixing in a bit of curacao. I also tried to reduce down some, but let it go for too long. Know what happens when you cook it for too long? It turns hard, sort of candy-ish. And it burns when you touch it. Ask me how I know... Anyway, when they were done, I poked holes in the cupcakes with skewers and brushed more curacao over the top. Then, for the icing, I had to get some grenadine in, so I made swiss meringue buttercream and mixed greadine in (last time I made grenadine frosting it was for cherry limeade cupcakes with my normal buttercream, and it was WAY too heavy). Put a shark from Bake it Pretty on top, and it's done! My friends loved them, and so did the people at the bar, who I took them to. Debbi, who writes the blog for the bar, wrote about the cupcakes, twice! Makes me happy :)

Later that week, I needed some quality Aunt Betty time. While there, we made pecan pie cupcakes, my Daring Bakers submission for this month and buckeyes. Now, I'd never heard of buckeyes before they showed up in my blog roll from Smitten Kitchen. Being a peanut butter-lover, I HAD to try them. Apparently these are popular in Ohio, you know, the buckeyes being Ohio State's mascot and all. And a friend at work from Michigan knew what they were too. They were super easy and super tasty, although a bit rich. Not bad when you have just one (or five) though.

Then a few days ago I ran across this recipe for chocolate cookies with M&Ms. Sometimes, I just prefer a simple recipe like this. For these, my friend Liz was in town from Dallas (we didn't take any pictures, boo). It was great to see her, because I hadn't since we graduated. She and Kelly and I saw Morning Glory (a must-see for any journalism geek like myself), went shopping, and later we went out. Good times. Anyway, these cookies were great, and very brownie-like. We had to stop at the store to get M&Ms, and I asked if it was too early to use Christmas M&Ms. Some dude laughed at me...and I bought them anyway. So I'm guilty of early use of Christmas candy, whatever.

So, like I said, only a few days until my grandma's party. Actually, tomorrow is her actual birthday. And then I will have a movie marathon with family. I can't wait. It's been far too long.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cupcake challenge week 2: Pecan pie cupcakes

Today was a gloomy day. Sort of a gloomy day to cap off a gloomy week. It was rainy, and chilly, and I stepped in a puddle so my shoes AND socks got soaked. Boo.

On the flip side, I had the day off. I got to bake all day. I went shopping for new clothes. I have a friend coming into town this weekend I haven't seen in months. And I bought stuff for future baking. Sounds like I like baking, eh? And, to capitalize on the gloominess of the day, I am currently curled up in sweats and goofy socks drinking wine and watching Finding Nemo. Yup, that's my life. So exciting.

In a little more than a week, I will be at my grandma's house curled up in sweats and goofy socks and watching some other silly movie. That's what I love about holidays. I get to see my family and hang out and not work for a few days. There's the food, yes, but it's really about the time I get to spend with them. Oh, and that interminable drive home where my cat yowls the whole way because he's ticked I put him in the car. I can't WAIT for that.

This week's cupcake challenge for Hoosier Homemade was to make a Thanksgiving cupcake. I'll admit, I'm not much for decorating cupcakes all cutesy; I don't think I have the patience. I prefer to make neat flavors and experiment. So I made pecan pie cupcakes. Okay, another confession. I'm not a pumpkin pie fan. Or pumpkin anything, really. I can handle like one slice of pumpkin pie per holiday season. I much prefer pecan. Or not pie at all. I know, it's blasphemous.

Anyway, this recipe on TasteBook was the best I could find that wasn't muffin-y. Basically it was a brown sugar cake with a pecan pie filling sort of swirled in, and topped with whipped cream. I was skeptical it would work, but they rose beautifully and tasted better than actual pecan pie, I thought. So maybe I will make them for family Thanksgiving instead of pie. I friggin hate making pastry, anyway.

So I'm adding these to the cupcake challenge at Hoosier Homemade.

And since it's just before midnight, here's my late night Veteran's Day tribute. Both my grandpas as I knew them were older men who were loving and wonderful, Grandpa Hawley buying me treats of Necco wafers and tickling my feet. Grandpa Hofmeister would sit in his chair, hardly ever talking but always taking a photo of me before I left his house.

Long before I came along, though, they were soldiers. Grandpa Hofmeister, my mom's dad, was about 30 when he was drafted and served under General Patton in France and Germany. He always had a love for cameras, and actually took pictures of soldiers and burnt buildings and all sorts of things while serving. This is one of those pictures, probably in Germany, right near the end of the war.

And Grandpa Hawley was a trainer in the Army Air Corps, since it wasn't the Air Force yet. He was lucky enough to never get shipped overseas, but he was darn close many times. He flew some pretty amazing planes, too, like the Memphis Belle and a bomber called Strawberry Bitch.

But beyond them, I also have a veteran in my family who is much closer in age to me, my cousin Jon. He served in Iraq soon after the U.S. went in, and I remember writing letters back and forth with him, anxiously waiting for any news (always hoping for good). I still have those letters. Luckily, he did come back, and I get to see him regularly. Sometimes, these things work out well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A very special birthday preparation

Alright. So this isn't a post about stuff I've baked. Instead, it's about stuff I'm going to bake. I'm pretty excited for it. That cupcake liner and wrapper above here? I'm using those, plus (maybe?) my fist time with fondant on a cake in the next couple weeks. What for, you ask?

That pretty lady. That happens to be my grandma, a few years ago, mind you. In less than a week, she turns 90. I can't believe that she's hitting that birthday, but I'm hoping she still has many more. She's lived through Dust Bowl Kansas, WWII, a 50+ year marriage, three children and many years of life.

She's been the best grandma anyone could ask for, and has been there for me through some pretty rough times in my life. She's done the same for many other family members. So for her, for her birthday, we're getting together for a surprise party. Luckily, my grandma doesn't have internet, so I'm in no danger of her stumbling across this blog post online.

My family will be gathering at the Brookville Hotel, which is where she and my grandpa had their 50th wedding anniversary, although it's now in Abilene. I'm sad Grandpa can't be there too. Many of my dad's cousins will be there, and my cousins, and my uncle, and everyone who loves Grandma most. I'm going to make cupcakes and a cake, hopefully an elegant one. I haven't picked out flavors yet, but I'm thinking classic yellow and chocolate cakes. I might have to do a couple test runs. It's the least I can do for a gift!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cupcake challenge week 1: Egg nog cupcakes

Christmas stuff is out in the stores. Well, granted, Hobby Lobby has had Christmas stuff out since, what, July? I don't get it. I like decorating and all that, but we've hardly hit freezing temperatures yet here in Kansas! It's totally out of the ordinary, too. I'm just waiting for that freak ice storm (knock on wood).

The thing I love about this cold season is all the warm things that come with it: snuggling in blankets (with kitties, of course!), fireplaces, homemade hot chocolate — seriously, my grandma's hot chocolate mix is the best ever, no competition. And certain foods sound better, too. Potato soup, stew, heavy chocolatey desserts. And then there's the egg nog. It came out on the shelves last week. I immediately bought a carton, of course. I used to hate the stuff, but now it's one of my favorite holiday treats. I'll probably try making it homemade this year.

But of course I had to make the cupcake version. You know me. It wasn't entirely selfish, though. I'm taking part in a cupcake challenge, hosted over at Hoosier Homemade. Kelly is helping me out. It's a four-week thing: favorite fall flavor, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Those are coming up next, but this week is favorite fall flavor. Maple is right up there, but I've made a gazillion maple desserts lately, so egg nog it was!

These cupcakes were made from a recipe over at Annie's Eats, another favorite blog. There's bourbon in them, which was pretty overpowering when I smelled the batter, but not when I tried it. I edited the icing a bit to make it more egg nog-y and thicker as well. Altogether, an excellent fall cupcake.

So I'm adding these to the cupcake challenge at Hoosier Homemade. Now, I'm off to go vote! It's my first time actually voting in my precinct and not using an absentee ballot. I feel so grown up!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Double maple, the last week of Halloween baking and 5 of 8 goals met

Okay. I admit it. I'm not a fan of Halloween. Well, not quite, but I don't go quite as all-out as everyone else does. I mean, I do on the baking end (obviously). But I didn't even go out for Halloween this weekend. I think it has something to do with how my mom made all my costumes, so store-bought ones don't really measure up. Here I am as an Indian (I look so serious!).

I've been quite the variety of Disney leading ladies, including Ariel, Jasmine and Esmerelda (from the Hunchback). Dorothy was another, and a witch...and I'm sure my mom can document the rest of the years with pictures. But I'm not a fan of going to the store and buying one, and I'm not really creative enough to come up with my own cheap option. So this Halloween I celebrated by watching the first half of Rocky Horror Picture Show (really, all I care about is the Time Warp). And by baking. Of course.

I think I mentioned once already how maple is one of my absolute favorite flavors. After this week, I might be mapled out, which I thought I'd never say. But first, I tried maple creme brulee from Joy of Cooking. It was my first creme brulee, but it's basically a custard, which I'd made before for an ice cream base. This is one of the only desserts ever that I didn't share — it was that good, once I figured out how to work my kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar.

I actually spent a lot of time thumbing through my Joy of Cooking last week. I tend to go in cycles, baking from online recipes, then switching to cookbooks. I thought I hadn't given this one enough love lately. I felt in a cookie mood later that week, and ended up making the chocolate oatmeal bars. Very chocolatey.

Then came a baking day at Aunt Betty's, which we all know means hours of baking for some different desserts. First, we made a Boston Creme Pie (also from Joy of Cooking) for my friend Tim's birthday. Never mind that his birthday was a couple weeks ago, I said I'd make him one, so we did. It's surprisingly simple; two layers of yellow cake with a creme in between and a chocolate on top. He so kindly modeled it for me :)

Then, another maple dessert. And another Joy of Cooking recipe. Maple fudge. It ended up being less fudgy and more candy-y, a lot like those maple leaf candies. So I'm counting it as a completed goal, because it really had the same texture. It was really good, but it's pretty much like eating solid sugar. I will need to wait a while to make it again.

Then Aunt Betty and I made my Uncle David's birthday cake, a Black Forest torte.(totally go look at this recipe; it's worth it to all you journalists just for the epic spelling error in the third paragraph of preparation). It's basically a bunch of cinnamon cookie-type things (they reminded me of churros), whipped cream in the middle and cherries, pecans and chocolate on top. The cream softens the cookies and it makes for an excellent 12 (yes 12!) layer cake. I didn't do too much on this, just helped form the cookies.

Then, the official Halloween cupcakes. I got these black cat cupcake toppers and cupcake liners a while ago from Bake It Pretty and was saving them. I made plain ol' yellow cake with sprinkles for funfetti and plain ol' orange frosting. I had to take a picture of them with my black kitty, who proceeded to lick two of the cupcakes, which were then thrown away. Silly kitty. Oh well, at least he's cute! Also, I've posted these over at Mommy's Kitchen with a bunch of other tasty Halloween desserts.

Maple Fudge on Foodista
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