Thursday, September 29, 2011

Apple pie four ways

I've been lucky enough to see two of my favorite TV personalities live in the last week. It's super cool to see people you watch on TV every week who are, in my case, incredibly personable in real life. First up: Donald Glover. If you haven't watched Community, go watch it, right now. This is a preview of Troy (Donald) and his BFF Abed, including Troy and Abed in the Morning. Anyway, Donald came to  KU, and I went to see him with my friend Jon, who started me on the show. He was hysterical, and his standup act was incredible. And he came back to do an encore, which he said he'd never done before. That was the coolest, because he answered questions from the crowd, did the biblioteca rap and even told us he'd ask if he could wear a KU shirt on the show. He's my new favorite person.

And then on Monday, I saw Bobby Flay! He is easily my favorite celebrity chef. I've been to both his Mesa Grill restaurant in Vegas and Bar Americain in NYC, twice at each. And they're both amazing. Flay came to speak about his new Bar Americain cookbook, which has some pretty awesome-looking recipes in it (I plan to make his red velvet cake for my birthday this weekend!). He was also incredibly personable, which great. He talked about how he was a high school dropout, but still succeeded in the culinary world. He told some great stories, like how his wife, who is known for her role as a ADA in Law & Order: SVU, wakes up at least three days a week craving chicken. And how he learned so much in Jonathan Waxman's kitchen in one of his early jobs. I can't wait for more episodes of Throwdown with Bobby Flay to come on! 

So for some reason, I had a huge desire to make apple pies this month. It started with this one. Apples are in season, but I've always sucked at crusts. I've made a few with Aunt Betty, but they always ended up less-than-round and falling apart. So I decided to challenge myself and make a basic Joy of Cooking apple pie, with Kelly's assistance. I made and rolled out the crust and used an apple cookie cutter, and actually got it round and flaky! Apparently all that practice helped. It was awesome. So I'm no longer afraid of pie. Which meant Aunt Betty and I decided to make three more.

This was the first of three pies I made with Aunt Betty last weekend on our most recent baking extravaganza. The original plan was to only do two, but hey, why not three? This is a cheddar-crusted apple pie courtesy of Martha, which I've always wanted to make. I'd never eaten cheddar with apple pie till Cathie, who always paired the two. They're actually a really great combo — the salty of the cheddar offsets the sweet of the apples. So in the crust, it's a perfect match. The cutout top was made with this awesome crust cutter I just got.

The second pie of the day, and third overall, was an apple crumb pie, another Martha recipe I've always wanted to make from her Baking Handbook I got for graduation. It's got an almond crumb crust and a whole bunch of apples underneath. You slice the apples so they look pretty, like you can see in the photo at the top. Interestingly enough, this sliced the nicest of all the pies. Definitely a different take on a classic.

The last pie we decided to make on a whim: apple cider pie. We used Louisburg Apple Cider, the local favorite from the mill I visited a couple weeks ago. This filling was actually my favorite, I think because the cider gave it a really tart, pronounced apple flavor. Pair this filling with the cheddar crust, and I think I'd have the perfect apple pie. I'm definitely trying it soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' challenge: Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Man, just look at those layers. I am going to go ahead and say this is a once-in-thirty-years sort of recipe, similar to the puff pastry Aunt Betty and I made more than a year ago. It's for remarkably similar reasons, too: You have to roll out, then fold, then roll out, then fold, then chill dough over and over again. That's how you get those pretty layers. But everything's worth trying once, and they were pretty good with some nice melty butter and stew that Aunt Betty made. So I'm glad they were the challenge this month.

Another thing I'd do if I ever made these again (in 30 years) is make more than one batch. With the entire process of multiple rests of the dough and multiple risings, it's 12 hours. And it makes 12 croissants. One croissant per hour. Sheesh! But I'm definitely glad I've officially made these, especially because they're officially the second Julia Child recipe I've cooked, after her chocolate almond cake (which I've made twice!). I'm hoping to up that number this winter, probably starting with her classic boeuf bourguignon, or maybe an orange almond version of that cake. Yummmm.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Fall flavors: Ginger molasses cupcakes, salted caramel brownies and monster cookies

Last weekend, what was going to be a lazy Friday night turned into something way, way cooler. I'd spent my week writing coverage of the opening of Kansas City's new fancy schmancy Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, it's way cool. As the kid of a professional musician, I grew up listening to classical music, going to the ballet and learning composers' styles. For work, I'd gotten to do a tour of the place as well as talk to the companies that will be using it regularly. But 20 minutes before work ended Friday, my boss gave me the chance of a lifetime: a ticket to the grand opening. Lemme tell you, I was WAY out of my element at my first black tie affair, but it was very fun to people watch and see all those fabulous gowns. Inside the theater was just as fabulous, though. Broadway, opera, name it, they did it. I'm so happy I went, and I've already got tickets to a few things at the center. I'm so excited it's open!

A number of my friends right now are transitioning from old jobs to new, and this brownie was for my friend Joe, who was my counterpart on the beloved overnight shift. It was his "real boy" party, as in he now has hours of a normal person and we can all see him outside of vampire hours. So exciting! These were salted caramel brownies, surprisingly enough from Cooking Light Magazine. That makes them healthy, right?

I've made a lot more cookies lately than I normally do. I guess I think they're boring sometimes, but other times they're just perfect and hit the spot. My love for monster cookies came from a high school job in a coffee shop/bakery. This recipe is courtesy of Paula Deen, full of peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips and M&Ms but absent of raisins (yuck!). They spread out a lot, and I was really disappointed with them when they came out of the oven. But I left them out overnight, and they were perfect the next day. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose.

On my trip to the Louisburg Cider Mill last weekend, I found some awesome Halloween stuff the mill was selling, including these awesome fall leaf sprinkles. Yes, I sometimes choose what cupcakes I bake on the sprinkles I buy. So I decided I definitely needed a fall-flavored cupcake, and went with a recipe from Martha I'd never tried before: ginger molasses cupcakes. Forget that Kansas/Missouri decided to ratchet the temperature back up to the 80s after some nice days in the 50s and 60s. But the cupcakes brought back fall for sure and had a great bite to them. Instead of topping them with whipped cream like the recipe calls for, I went with basic vanilla swiss meringue buttercream, which I thought would nicely offset the spicy, and it did. I almost thought I ruined the icing because it was super runny, but I just beat the crap out of it, and then it was fine. I like desserts that work out that way!!

(Posting to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall field trip: Louisburg Cider Mill

It's fall. Well, officially, it's fall tomorrow. But we've already had fall weather around, with nice crisp days in the 50s and 60s. Naturally, the high today is in the 80s. Welcome to Kansas.

But this weekend, me and my friends Kelly, Brianne and Lauren decided to go with the fall mentality and visit Louisburg Cider Mill in Louisburg, KS. Famous for its apple cider doughnuts and, of course, apple cider.

They've got this sweet doughnut-making machine that even flips them. I want one! Or maybe not. Somehow I think that would be bad.

The doughnuts are amazing, though, and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Apparently the day-old doughnuts are pretty popular. I tried making apple cider doughnuts last year, but they definitely weren't this pretty.

Kelly is the only one I managed to force to take a picture with her doughnut. Doesn't she look happy?

Check out those apples. Unfortunately, all the machinery for making the cider wasn't running, because we were there on a Sunday. But it was still neat to see.

My friend Sarah wrote a story about the mill for my old paper and Apparently they have a cider fest coming up. Probably worth the trip there again. After the festival, stop by Miss B's Cafe in Louisburg, where we went for brunch. They had the best cinnamon rolls ever (and I don't even like cinnamon rolls!) and great food for really cheap. My breakfast plate was a grand total of $4.34.

We took the scenic route to the store, courtesy of my loopy GPS on my phone, which told me to enter onto a highway where there was no ramp. I guess it expected my car to be able to jump up to a bridge, sprout wings or something a la Back to the Future DeLorean.

It was a great day trip, and totally worth the drive, whether from Kansas City or Lawrence. Especially if you take the scenic route :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My favorite flavors: Rhubarb crumble bars, maple creme brulee and peanut butter cup cookies

The more blog posts I write, the more I realize I watch a lot of movies. And TV, but that happens in spurts. My latest TV obsession? Community. Seriously, if you haven't seen it, watch it now. Over the weekend, I watched the entire 25-episode first season in about 30 hours. The episodes are only 21 minutes or so, so that makes it a little less bad. The show is hysterical, and the second season just came out on DVD, so I wanted to rewatch the first. Also, Donald Glover, who plays Troy in the show, is coming to KU in a couple weeks and I've got tickets to go see him with my friend Jon. So that merits watching the whole season and being a lazy bum, right? I'm going with yes.

Trader Joe's came to town a couple months ago; I actually covered it for work. The last time I was there, I found these little tiny peanut butter cups, and I love my peanut butter. So I made some plain ol' cookies, brown sugar only, with the cups in it. I had to use them, you see, or I would have kept snacking on them!

I visited Grandma a couple weekends ago. We watched seven movies in three days, I believe. Lots of Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. After all, she's 90 and is familiar with those movies, and I have some sort of love affair with old, innocent movies. I also try to bake something for her every time I go, even if she hasn't seen some of the desserts before. This time I went with maple creme brulee. In the process, I managed to shatter a glass bowl of hers. Go me! But the brulee ended up excellent. It's a Joy of Cooking recipe.

Oh hi, my name is Brenna, and I love rhubarb. But it's kind of an abusive relationship on my end. I am so happy to see it when it comes out in May-ish, but then after a few token desserts, I drop it. Like that. And don't appreciate it for the summer months it's around. I saw rhubarb in the store the other day and knew I had to make at least one more dessert before it was all gone again, so I made Martha Stewart's rhubarb crumb bars. I will definitely make these again — next year, when the rhubarb comes out again. Pretty soon it's out of season!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

To Michigan and Mom: Chocolate cream pie, chocolate meringue kisses and raspberry lemonade cupcakes

I swear, I'm bad luck on a plane. Or more like, in the terminal waiting for a plane. I went to Michigan to visit Mom this weekend...and ended up being in Wisconsin overnight with a hotel voucher that didn't work. A fan was broken in my plane from KC, and I'm pretty sure more than half our plane missed their connections. If I'd stayed in KC and flown out the next morning, I would have left the airport at 5:45 a.m. I don't know if this is well-known (it is to all my friends), but that time only exists to me if I'm still up from the night before. So Milwaukee it was. To their credit, Frontier was very, very helpful. The woman helping us, Cat, was incredibly chill. Go Cat! Anyway, around 11, I got to the hotel and spent the evening at the bar with my fellow travelers.

This is Lacey. She greeted me when I finally got to Grand Rapids. So did my childhood cat Ziggy and Mom's newer cat, Salem. During the weekend, we went shopping to my favorite food specialty stores up there, went to New Holland Brewpub and had a taster flight of beer (Ichabod Pumpkin Ale was my favorite!) and went to my favorite restaurant there, Graydon's Crossing, which is a combo of colonial English and Indian food and one massive beer list. All in all, a fun trip.

A few fun facts about my mom: she loves chocolate, she sucks at technology and she isn't a baker. So when I visit, she likes me to bake so she can have some and share some with her friends too. First on the list was chocolate cream pie, which I'd made once before at Aunt Betty's. It's from Martha Stewart's new Pies and Tarts book, and it actually holds its shape really well, courtesy of a lot of cornstarch and gelatin. Oh, and it's got lots of chocolate.

Then, naturally, I had some leftover egg whites, so I had to use them, right? In come the chocolate meringue kisses. I've never made chocolate ones before, but I have done some other flavored ones. These honestly tasted like hot chocolate to me, and they were divine. And more chocolate for mom.

And I didn't want to do just chocolate and of course had to make cupcakes, so I did raspberry lemonade ones. It's starting to get fall-like outside, so I'm trying to get in my last summery desserts. This is a lemon cupcake soaked with a raspberry lemonade syrup with raspberry lemonade icing. On top I put a fresh raspberry and a candied lemon peel. Apparently Mom's coworkers liked them.

It was a nice weekend, although cut short because of the darn airplane. Well, here's to hoping my next trip goes better. I'm officially less than a month from visiting Keane in Salt Lake City. Woo hoo!

(Posting to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

For lovers of chocolate

See all those candies? Yup. Tequila lime chocolates. P√Ęte de fruit. Passion fruit caramels. Did I mention I got to check all this out for my job?

Part of what I do at the Kansas City Business Journal is restaurant and retail reporting. I've started working on a series of chefs as entrepreneurs. First, I wrote about Kansas City chef Michael Smith, who has fine dining restaurant Michael Smith and tapas restaurant Extra Virgin.

Second in the series, though, was so perfect for the blog I had to share it with you. Those chocolates? They're Christopher Elbow's. He's got a chocolate shop here in KC, one in San Fran, and two ice cream shops here. And not only did I get to talk to him for my story, but I got to go back into his production area and watch them airbrush molds, create candy shells with tempered chocolate, mix all-fresh fillings and see the finished products. So, if you're interested, here's the story (there's a video of some of the candy-making there!). If only the candies I made a couple weeks ago looked as nice as his!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eat a cupcake, you shall

I still remember the first time I watched Star Wars. My dad introduced me to it when I was in third grade. I remember him pulling out the VHS with Darth Vader's face on it. And I remember really, really not wanting to watch it. For what reason, I dunno, but Dad was really into it, so I watched. And loved it. Pretty soon after, we watched the second and third, because that's all there was (no Jar Jar Binks yet).

Dad introduced me to a lot of movies I still love. The Indiana Jones movies were a couple — I say two because I only count Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. Temple of Doom is stupid and annoying. Animal House is another. But Star Wars is where it all started. And I've always loved the movies since then.

No, the Empire Strikes Back is not my favorite, as it seems to be for everyone else. I understand that it moves along the plot more than the others, and Luke finds out about Darth Vader and all that, but whatever. Nothing happens. He stands on his head in a swamp. My favorite is Return of the Jedi. I imagine it has something to do with the Ewoks.

Speaking of Ewoks, in George Lucas' latest redux of the movies on Blu-Ray, apparently he makes Ewoks blink. Is that not creepy to anyone else? And he makes Vader yell "Noooooo" again, this time when throwing the Emperor down that shaft thingy at the end. I don't know why Lucas won't just leave the movies alone and let fans enjoy them as they originally were.

So Williams-Sonoma jumped on the Star Wars bandwagon a while ago. So when I saw these Rebel Alliance cupcake liners, I knew I had to get them (they have the empire's side too, but dammit, I wanted the good guys!). I've been saving them; for what I don't know. But last night seemed like a good time to use them.

Meet my baking assistant, Chewy. He's much more effective as decor, and the apron is much more effective on me so I don't get powdered sugar on myself (I got that at Williams-Sonoma the same day as I got the liners too).

So for these cupcakes, all I wanted was a light-colored cake so you could see the wrappers, which have "Star Wars" around the sides and these on the bottoms. I went with my favorite yellow cake recipe and fudge frosting, both from Smitten Kitchen. And voila! Star Wars cupcakes. Now, eat a cupcake you shall!

(Posting on Cupcake Tuesday)
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