Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Celebration summer: cake pops, strawberry cupcakes and pineapple pie

I've been feeling very grown up lately. There's a lot of really positive things going on that have led to that, but at the same time, I've had some harsh reminders of how quickly life changes. The nice thing is that with the bad, always comes good. And one of my latest pieces is really friggin' exciting: I'm going to be a maid of honor again! I told you a couple weeks ago that one of my best friends, Tara, got engaged, she asked me to be her maid of honor. I could NOT be more excited! She and her fiancé love each other very much, and I can't wait to see them get married. Luckily, I've got some time to prepare for it!

Most of the desserts on this post were for some sort of celebration, like Tara's wedding. Except, of course, this one. This one I just made because I'm a sucker for recipes that get tweeted, especially by a celebrity. I loved Michelle Branch as a kid, and still do. I follow her on Twitter, and she tweeted about this pineapple brown sugar pie. I love pineapple. But I will admit, this pie worried me at first. It was pretty runny when I took it out to put the crumble on top. I will also admit: I cheated on the crust. I bought it. Sue me. Anyway, it tasted great. I'm making this again. Maybe for the Fourth.

Celebration #1: Birthday cupcakes for a family member of someone at work. I've always wanted to make these strawberry cupcakes with strawberry meringue frosting from Martha Stewart. Geri at work asked me to make strawberry pink cupcakes, so I did! There are two packs of strawberries in the whole batch. Very, very tasty.

And the final celebration: birthday cake pops. My friend Nick was one of the first people I ever did a birthday sweet for. Last year I made him Fruity Pebbles cupcakes. Since last year, he has discovered cake pops and fallen in love. He requested two flavors, chocolate and yellow cake. That results in about 100 cake pops, so I took half to my new newsroom. They went over well there. And when I delivered these to Nick last night, he ate about four right away. I'd say they went over well with him, too!

(Posting this on Cupcake Tuesday!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly daring by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I can honestly say I've never had the desire to make baklava homemade. I guess Greek is just not a type of cuisine I often run across. But when challenged to make my own phyllo dough, I was definitely interested (I skipped last month's Daring Baker because it was crazy intricate and I didn't have the time).

Aunt Betty looked up a way to roll out phyllo dough on a pasta maker, which made it turn out perfectly: nice and thin. The recipe called for multiple layers of phyllo dough sandwiched around a couple layers of nuts (pistachios, walnuts and almonds, in our case) cooked in a simple syrup, then with a honey mixture drizzled over the top of it all.

It was definitely super rich, and to me tasted just an awful lot like honey. Lots of layers and stacking and lots of time. Not too difficult, though. Just time-consuming. Next time I make it, it will need to be for a picnic or something, because it's too darn messy to take to work and now I have lots of baklava left over in my fridge!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer sweets: margarita cupcakes, oatmeal scotchies and chocolate coconut no-bakes

Wedding season has started! I've got three this summer, and already another for next year. Each one this year is someone my age getting hitched, which makes me feel strangely old, even though I'm only 23.

About a week ago, my friend Haley (Jones) Williams got married. We lived in the same dorm freshman year, took classes together and went through the journalism school together, ending up at the Kansan. Her wedding was so Haley, as my friend Lauren and I put it. Haley looked unbelievable in her dress, and she walked down to a song from "Pride and Prejudice," which I LOVED. Her main color was pale yellow, which was the theme in the candy bar on the right. The cake was simple and perfect. Such a lovely day.

What is not lovely (in my mind) is this cookie, for one reason and one reason only: coconut. I HATE coconut. It is one of my least favorite foods. However, if someone requests something specific, I will usually make it. Even if it's like this no-bake chocolate coconut cookie...which burnt my finger. Apparently these were pretty good...I wouldn't know, because I didn't try them.

So, to offset my dislike of coconut, I made these oatmeal scotchies to take to work as well. I've had issues with them in the past, becoming too crunchy and thin. So I added slightly more oats and slightly more flour, and they turned out perfectly. Except for, you know, that tray I overbaked to a crisp. The others were excellent though :)

Last weekend was a yearly party a photographer at the LJ throws every year, and that photog, Richard, loves tequila. So I had to make margarita cupcakes for his party. I made a couple of edits to this recipe: 1) I subbed a tablespoon of tequila for lime juice in the cupcake batter, 2) brushed a lot more than a tablespoon of tequila over the tops, 3) added quite a bit more powdered sugar to the icing to make it pipeable and 4) topped it with coarse salt. Lemme tell you, they tasted a lot like margaritas, and they were a hit at the party. They were gone pretty darn quick, and I had a few people ask for the recipe. I will put those on my to-make-again list (and they're going on Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday and Tasty Tuesdays)!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ad astra per aspera

When people hear where a Kansan is from, they almost always ask how Dorothy is doing. Or where Toto is. One time, I was asked if we milk chickens in Kansas. If you don't know the answer to that, well, you need to back to a basic biology class. (Disclaimer: no food this entry, but some pretty pictures and the reason there is no food.)

But I love the state I'm from. Kansas is beautiful. It's hard to really see the state's beauty when many people stay in the eastern part, whether it be in Lawrence or KC or whatever. But western Kansas, for all its analogies about being flat as a pancake, is unbelievable.

My holiday every year isn't Christmas or Thanksgiving. No, it's Memorial Day (give or take a few weekends). My grandma was born in Lewis, down in southwest Kansas. My grandfather was from Belpre, a tiny town a few miles away. My great-great-grandfather is buried in Lewis. So is my great-grandfather. And my uncle. And my grandpa's brother. And my grandma's stepfather. And her parents. You get the picture.

So every year, my dad, grandma and I take a weekend trip down to the area to plant flowers at their graves. We also make a stop at my uncle's (mom's side) farm, to visit them and their animals and plant flowers at my maternal grandparents' graves and also my cousin's little girl's. It's hours and hours of driving for a weekend, but it's worth it.

We load up a vehicle with about 20 different flower arrangements, a shovel, a giant drum of water (it's hard to find down there) and a hose. Then we get my 90-year-old grandmother in the car and go, always early in the morning.

It's a very nostalgic trip. We go see the fencepost my great-grandfather put in the ground decades ago (above). We see the farm where my grandpa worked the land. We see my great-grandmother's gorgeous house in town. We go see "Lover's Lane," a road where shelter belts (rows of trees) were planted on either side and formed a canopy.

We also see what is happening to rural Kansas. People are leaving. Things are getting old. Farmsteads are being abandoned as farmers sell their land. Young people don't really stick around. And honestly, if I were from there, I couldn't say I would stay either. But it's a place I still love to visit.

Most of all, it's a time to remember. For me, it's mostly about my grandpa, who has now been gone for 13 years. It's also about knowing my grandmother won't be around all that much longer. She could live another 10 years, but at 90, it's something I need to come to terms with. It's about realizing this is the first year my Grandma Hofmeister is out there, and that she's finally next to my grandpa. And it's about appreciating what I have, and knowing that some people are taken away from us at far too young an age.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's a wonderfully happy day for me. I get to spend hours of uninterrupted time with my dad and grandma, and they're both happy too. I don't think I could ask for much more.

Except to visit Stripe, my uncle's donkey!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chocolatey goodness: Peanut butter chocolate pie, chocolate-pistachio cookies and chocolate cake pops

Getting a new job made me feel really grown up. I bought a couch a couple weeks ago; so did that. A brand new couch! But a few things have happened in the last couple weeks that I really feel are make me feel like an adult. First, one of my best friends, Tara, got engaged. I wasn't surprised about it, but instead super excited (ask Kelly, I squealed). Tara's fiance makes her happy, and that makes me happy. The other big thing actually hasn't happened yet. It's my first friend having a baby! Sarah, who I had a baby shower for, is due to have baby David in a week! I can't believe my friends have progressed to the age where they're planning families, but it's upon me. I'm still a ways away from that stage myself, but I'm so very happy for them all!

Speaking of being happy for friends, this is Guy, my friend Nick's brother. See how happy he is? That's because for Guy's birthday, Nick had me make him chocolate cake pops. The boys at that house LOVE cake pops. I'm pretty sure they ration them so they don't eat them too fast and get sick. Either way, I like knowing they love what they're eating.

My third pie I've made from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts is this chocolate peanut butter pie. I love me some peanut butter, but man was this puppy rich. I loved the crust, which you make with brown sugar rather than normal sugar. It helped offset the peanut butter a bit...except maybe it shouldn't be offset at all? Either way, it was tasty.

I know these look kind of weird, but honestly, they're one of the best cookies I've had. They're pistachio chocolate, so a great salty-sweet flavor. They end up looking like a truffle, I think. They're actually piped rounds sandwiched around a chocolate filling, then covered in chocolate. They take a lot of work, but for pistachio lovers, they're totally worth it!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Meringues and a birthday: Meringue cookies, meringue candied almonds and tiramisu cupcakes

Last summer I remember how mild severe weather seemed. In Kansas, you can always expect some rockin' thunderstorms and a few tornadoes in the spring. Well, we are definitely getting paid back for it this year. I know everyone's heard about the tornadoes in Joplin, which are just a huge tragedy. We had tornado warnings around here about that time, which freaked me out a little bit, but they went south. The mark of a true Kansan: watching the storm coming (the lightning was cool!).

But the tornado experience I got this year I've never had before was having to go into shelter at work. I was in downtown KC when our publisher made us go down to the parking garage. Later, the whole building was told via loudspeaker to take shelter. There were multiple funnel clouds around and a couple actually touched down in the metro area. We were downstairs for more than an hour, and the long-time employees didn't remember that ever happening before. Naturally, it happens to me in my first week!

In my never-ending quest to find food I can munch on at work (so I don't spend a million dollars at the food quart), one of the options I came up with were these candied almonds. I've made something similar to them before, but this new recipe used meringue, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. Too bad it's a pain in the ass to make in rainy weather, which we seem to have an interminable supply of lately. Anyway, these almonds are super tasty and easy to make. Will probably do again.

Meringue No. 2 for this week: meringue kisses. I've also made a variation of these before, a peppermint sandwich version for Christmastime. I really like how cute the little cookies are, and I pipe them, which I like doing too. These are all three different flavors: the orange ones are orange creme, the green are lime and the pink are tutti fruiti. The basking recipe is from Joy of Cooking. To be honest, the only decent ones were the orange creme, which I want to make again. The other two tasted like cough syrup. Lesson learned: stick with sweeter flavors and less citrus with meringues.

Most of my friends know they all get a free pass — for your birthday I will bake you whatever you please (so if you didn't know this, here's your warning!). Last weekend was my friend Brianne's birthday. Back when my friends and I had the time (and the same days off) to do dinner parties, she requested a tiramisu cake. So it was only fitting that for her birthday I make her these tiramisu cupcakes. I've also made these before, but I remember them being significantly more difficult. Guess I wasn't as experienced then. Even Joe, who's anti-coffee flavor, ate at least part of one. Paired with some sake bombs, these were a fun birthday treat! (P.S. - Posting them on Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday!)
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