Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birthday Tart

So its been a while. A lot going on in life...I haven't exactly been motivated to write. Baking....I've done....Writing...Notsomuch. Lots of re-organization happening at work. Lots of re-organization of life. People leaving and people being brought in from other departments. Sometimes my job makes me feel like I'm losing touch with the real world because I'm so wrapped up in whats going on in Corporate America. Ah wonder I'm single. Haha.
Two weekends ago, I got together with my family to celebrate all of the summertime birthdays, that we had yet to get together for Sister, Sister-in-law, Dad, Niece, and Step-Mom...all wrapped into one Sunday.
Now I'm not going to lie....with all of this work upheaval going on, I was exhausted by Saturday, when I knew I was to make something for the Sunday party. Usually, with family, I bring something gluten-free, due to a gluten allergy by a few family members. I then found out that part of dessert had been taken care I had to decide on something else. That Saturday happened to be my Step-Mother's birthday, so I decided my present would be something I had baked.
Earlier in the week, (and I can't believe I didn't mention this RIGHT off the bat) she helped me pick out my new CAMERA! WOOHOO! No more crappy pictures!! ( long as I practice and learn how to take a decent food picture) haha
We had gone to a store in RI and then went to our favorite RI place for Sushi. Haruki's in Cranston is AMAZING. One of the topics of conversation was dessert (who DOESN'T want to talk about THAT?!?!) She mentioned that lemon curd was one of her favorite things ever.
That statement stayed in my mind when I was figuring out what to make on Saturday. After a bit of research, I found an interesting recipe for and Olive Oil Lemon Curd Tart. Now you may be thinking EW. Olive Oil? In a dessert? Gross....BUT you are wrong. Regular, extra virgin, store brand is great for dressings and cooking. The best kind for THIS application, is fruity, lovely, small batch and in this case, French, added the most delicious flavor to not only the tart crust, but the lemon curd as well.
The tart shell was very easy to put together....toasted pecans (or any nut really), flour, sugar, butter and a few tablespoons of that delicious olive oil.
Hmmm. I may have been distracted when toasting the nuts. Lets try that again.
Muuuuch better.
Oh no wait...that doesn't belong in the ingredient pics! It DID influence the awesomeness of the tart though!
Making a tart crust is easy HOWEVER, weighting the crust with beans or in my case, pie weights, is essential. Otherwise your crust puffs up and looks funky. (Funky is the technical baking term)
Om Nom. I had a hard time not breaking off some tasty edges.
I will admit...the Lemon Curd part was slightly disconcerting. All you hear are horror stories of separated curd with chunks of scrambled egg from improper cooking. I guess I should have been a little more self confident about my skills. haha. That curd was THE most amazing thing I have ever tasted. Well...maybe not. But it was high up on the list. Adding a bit of butter and the olive oil at the end just gave it such a rich silky quality...this recipe will be a repeat.

The next morning I covered it carefully in fruit and brought it to the family party. Another successful recipe!

Somehow I think that work is only going to get worse before it gets better...but such is life. My blog and new found love of learning how to take a decent picture will keep me going. Another post coming soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Retirement Cake...Better Late Than Never!

I am a bad, bad Blogger. There is absolutely no excuse for me not posting! Especially when I have a few things to post!! Let's start where I left off.
Right before the work-stoppage in early August I had one of the reps in my Home Store retire. He packed up, sold his home in NH, and moved out West to Colorado, nearer to his daughter and grand kids. Super nice man....always made coming to work fun! I will definitely miss our "Political" banter. THIS man also loved my baking. (Hmmm....note to self...find man who loves your baking) Anyway...EVERY time I was in my store I'd hear..."Did you bring us something good?" or "When do we get Cinnamon Rolls again?" Always feels good to be wanted, even if its just for my baking. Haha. We knew he was retiring in the beginning of August so I started a conversation about food one day and HAPPENED to weasel in a question about everyone's favorite cake flavor. I couldn't think of a better retirement present. I decided to use an "Ina" recipe for Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting, as my Rep had expressed his LOVE for chocolate/chocolate cake. "I like the cake part BETTER", he said to me. I'm sorry. WHAT? Doesn't EVERYONE love the FROSTING part of the cake??? I just had this discussion with someone last night about frosting being the best part. I knew I needed a good, solid, moist cake recipe with a lighter fluffier frosting...not too sweet. Ina's frosting with instant coffee seemed about right.
I brought it in for my Rep's last day. PERFECTION! It was MOIST and fluffy. Perfectly done (If I do say so myself) The frosting was SUPER rich but not heavy. Definitely a keeper.
Here is a slightly cooled, unfrosted, layer. Now I have been making cakes for most of my life. That was always MY task when it came to family birthdays, growing up. Always from a box though. With this recipe, a whole cup of HOT coffee is added to the batter before baking. The coffee really enhances the chocolate flavor of the cake itself. Adding this at the end made me a bit nervous. I thought that for the first time, while baking, I'd really done something wrong...not added enough flour....etc. The hot coffee made it SO thin. I thought there was NO way these would come out looking like normal cakes...but as you can see...they did.

The Finished Product!

As a little change up of my own, I let the melted chocolate for the frosting get just a LITTLE cool, so it was dispersed throughout the rest of the ingredients BUT left a bunch of little chocolate chunks throughout. A good texture addition to the very creamy, buttery frosting.
Now...when it comes to decorating cakes...fine handiwork has NEVER been my forte. My goal as a baker is to at least practice better decorating skills. My hand/eye coordination has never been the best. Handwriting may have been the only thing I've ever failed in school. Ask me to draw something? I'll have to write a blurb to DESCRIBE the picture, so the common man can discern what he's looking at...clearly this has carried over to my neatness when frosting something. HAHA
We were so sad to see my Rep go...however the celebration cake made the day that much better!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Slackey McSlackerson

Holy Moly. I'm a slacker. Well...not REALLY...but I do feel that way. The last few weeks of my life have been NUTSO. From the union work-stoppage, to getting back into the gym, and driving all over hell and creation, I have neglected this blog. It hurts my heart.
Last week, while reviewing this week's schedule, I decided to take a couple of glorious days off, before I went bonkers. (Well more so than I already am) I headed up to NH where my family stays for a week every year. This was the PERFECT opportunity to make something yummy. It was also my parent's wedding anniversary and my Dad's Birthday this past weekend, so I knew I had to bring up something yummy.
I may have mentioned this before, but my Dad is a sweet fiend....which he has passed onto me. I had to make something extra good. After thinking for a bit, I decided I wanted coconut macaroons. Not sure where the idea came from, it sort of just popped into my head. I researched a few recipes online and in dessert books and settled on one, that I modified a bit. I wanted it to taste like an Almond Joy candy bar. My mouth just watered thinking about it. Simple simple ingredients, but boy did it come out sooooo well (if I do say so myself) They were a HUGE hit.
I started off by toasting the coconut. (The smell was HEAVENLY)
Now I'm no dope when it comes to egg whites. Its one of the only things on the planet I can't consume much of...NOPE no omelets, or souffles, etc etc....However, I do know what to do with them. Room temp egg whites puff up the best, so after toasting the coconut, I made my meringue and folded in the rest of the ingredients, including chopped almonds, a vanilla bean and some sugar.
And after.

I scooped (God I love my spring loaded scooper) and baked these babies at a low low temp for the better part of an hour. At this point it was probably around 1030 at night. I knew I wasn't getting up EXTRA early before my trek to NH to finish them off, so I melted some semi-sweet in a double boiler and Voila!

They were so good. Just enough sweetness. The outsides were meringue-y and crunchy, with a soft coconut center. Pretty impressive for a quick thrown together treat. Oh and did I mention I had consumed a couple of glasses of wine before I made these babies? Yup. Even red wine influenced, they were delicious. Go Me.
I had a wonderful time up in NH....and thank goodness I took a day or two off before this never ending work-stoppage started, where I'm currently putting in over 70hrs a week. No wonder I've been slacking on the blogs! No time!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Late Night with Cherry Stained Hands

Oh Friday. The day before Saturday. Most weeks Fridays really have no meaning to me. Since I was thirteen and working, Saturdays were a required work day...People would say "Oh! It's Friday! Aren't you excited for the weekend?" I'd roll my eyes (I'm good at that) and smile. "Eh. Saturdays don't mean a ton to me. I work in Retail." Having a different day off during the week is GOOD, but not as nice as the ability to sleep in on a Weekend with the rest of the world.
THIS weekend, however, is different. I SOMEHOW managed to have a rare Saturday to myself. No solid plans...I can't remember the last time I've been able to say that. I might just stay in comfy clothes all a little cleaning...walk the Pooch...who knows?
Last night I decided would be my baking night. Both roommates gone until late...whole place to myself sounded so nice. I had found a recipe that I wanted to try earlier in the week...super simple as far as ingredients go...a nice sour cream based pastry...filled with fresh summer fruit. The original recipe had the pastries as individual fruit "handkerchiefs", but I decided to make the dough into one good sized Fruit Crostata. Yum.
On the way home, I stopped at my local Trader Joe's. GOD I love that place. Great new things to try all the time, plus nice, high quality stuff. I had to find a good fruit for the crostata filling. The plums looked I got those and a bag of ripe red cherries. Perfection!
Now normally when I bake, as we've seen, I throw on some music to set the mood. Last night however, I needed silence. Lots of spacious room with no sound to keep my focused on my pastry and my own thoughts about life lately. Nothing better than baking out problems.
I started out by cutting the fruit and mixing it with a bit of lemon juice. Nothing better than fresh summer fruit.
I was a little nervous about the dough. The original recipe called for it to be mixed in the food processor. Now I own one. I love it, BUT it really wasn't up to this job. Not the smallest size but not the biggest either. Putting 2 cups of flour and 2 sticks of butter PLUS sour cream and other things would NOT have fit. I would have ended up with flour and butter all over cherry cabinet doors. Perhaps the Dog as well. Haha. Instead...I went the old fashioned way. Hands. Someday when I'm rich and famous I will own a giant food processor AND a dough cutter, but I'm sure still want to cut butter with my fingers. Last was primitive. And I loved every minute.
There is nothing like cutting butter into flour with bare hands. Not going to deny it. Definitely a frustration releaser. A relaxer of sorts.
Dough Ball!!

While the dough firmed up in the fridge (very sticky and soft) I relaxed on the couch with the Dog, all while eyeing my growing pile of laundry that I had been ignoring all week. I'll get to it when I get to it. Can't we invent something that does laundry automatically? Jeesh!
Dough came out of the fridge and was rolled out on a VERY well floured parchment. This stuff, even chilled was stickier than any dough I'd seen...massive amounts of flour were used and spread on the floor. Sugar added to the fruit and a little egg wash and more sugar on the dough....GOOD TO BAKE.
After about 25 minutes in the Oven.
I so wanted to cut into this right when it came out of the oven. It was 11pm and my bed was calling, yet I just wanted a little taste. I DID, however wait, and brought it into work today. (The ladies loved it) The crust was very flaky and buttery. Yum yum yum. This is, to me, one of my best projects yet. I might have to start bringing this to family functions. My step-mom LOVES cherries. I know this would be good with whatever other fruit is in season at the time. Its definitely a cool alternative to a regular pie. Maybe someday I'll make the individual "handkerchiefs" like the recipe called for. I like my addition of the cherries.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recycled Recipes and Ebola. Tasty? You Betcha!

This past week's project was a bit hard to decide upon. Again. Hmmm. Gotta UP the creative thinking. After re-reading my last post I realized that that phrase sounds hauntingly familiar. I had an EXTRA tough week at work, covering for my boss who was away on vacation. We always plan and prepare for the worst, but SOMETHING always happens that we didn't think of. Someone in another state decides to get Ebola and be out indefinitely or an Executive decides that the week everyone is on vacation is the BEST time to do a surprise visit. Greaaaaaaaat. I can't even tell you how many times I felt like burying my head back under my bedsheets at 6am and calling it quits. God Bless my Boss for being on vacation. She really needed some time off. It was just one of those weeks--I know we all have them. Because of my foggy head, I had a hard time coming up with something I had the energy to create....Everything I have stored in my brain to make, came slowly dripping out in a mush pile. One day it was an idea to make an artisian-style bread, with sun-dried tomatoes and kalmata olives. Another fleeting thought was "Ooooh! Profiteroles! With ice-cream!" NOT exactly easy to tote to a store for my co-workers to sample. I had a dream early on in the week that I was supposed to make an apple pie but I kept burning it in the toaster oven. A. I will EVENTUALLY make a pie..(or even minis...those are cuter and more fun...hehe) and B. Why the Heck would I be using my TOASTER oven to bake a pie?? I have a nice giant gas oven! Clearly my brain wasn't functioning.
A few months ago I had gotten a request from someone I work with, to make cinnamon rolls. Up until this point I had never attempted a yeast based dough or even considered that. So...that first time...I cheated. Yep. Out and out used a celebrity chef recipe for Cinnamon rolls that used....*gasp*...frozen dough. I was slightly ashamed. My co-workers seemed to love them, but somehow I knew I could do better.
This past week I decided to try them out, from scratch. I prepped a yummy cream cheese frosting the night before. Super Easy. Super Tasty. I also prepped my dough that night. I was pleased that it rose the way it was supposed to. Smelled SO good. I stuck it in the fridge overnight and pulled it out at around 4 am so it would be nice and room temp for the rolls. Cinnamon, sugar, and butter...then let the rolls proof for another hour before I baked them off. I was a bit sad that both of my roommates were away/already at work that day. The smell that they would have woken up to was incredible. (Sorry Ladies!)

I need to really better my camera skills but these are RIGHT out of the oven.
Love the caramel that melts on the bottom of the rolls.
Right before I left for work I slathered on the cream cheese frosting. Nummers.

Even though I was tired, these little babies turned out pretty well. SO much tastier and moister (is that a word?) than the ones with the frozen dough. (Duh)
This week WILL be markedly different. I've already decided what to make, using inspiration from another blogger that I have found in my travels.
Time to power through another long week. Lets hope no one gets decapitated or stranded on a desert island, so I don't have to finagle the schedule for staff coverage. :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Neil Young and Muffin Tins

Here we are folks. Blog post number 2!!!!! I had sort of a tough time deciding this week, what to make for my first "official" baking post. There are so many ideas floating in this head of mine, it was hard to pin one down. Bread? (After all that IS in the blog name!) Something complicated, like puff pastry??? Or easy like rugelach? Funnily enough, some of my preliminary readers decided for me. "Chocolate Peanut butter cheesecake?" (Mentioned in the first post) "I want THAT!" Okay okay. I pinned down last night (Thursday) to do my project. This week has been one of the longest in history (all 27ish years) that I can recall. No one was happy with me. Everyone needed something different. Complain and bitch and change and whine. Seriously. By Thursday night I felt like if one more person wanted me to fix something I was going to lose it. Who was a cranky Chicky this week? Yep! This girl.
I came home to a BLISSFULLY empty apartment. Just Me, My Dog, and Baking. BTE. (Best Time EVER...Learn it. I'll use that abbreviation a LOT) Now don't get me wrong...I'm lucky when it comes to roommates. A. We're all Katies...and that's just cool in itself... and B. We all get along so its not a chore living with two other Chickies. Sometimes, however, just coming home and being alone to crank up the music while you work is just what a girl needs after a frustrating week!
I have a sort of routine when baking. I'm pretty organized- All ingredients out on the counter, with measuring spoons, and cups and bowls etc. If I use it, it goes back in its proper place. Cleaning up is just SO much easier that way. I am NOT however, one to follow directions to a tee. Now with baking, most measurements need to be exact. Your Chocolate Chip Cookies will be runny if you use 4 sticks of butter with 2 cups of flour vs 2 sticks. This clearly isn't an issue for me...I pretty much stick to the rules....BUT when it comes to flavorings and additions...I like to play around with that in recipes...but that's a whole other story. Most of the flavors in this dessert came together after careful experimentation. Who doesn't like Peanut butter and chocolate??
Because I like to take my time I am NOT one to set the oven to the right temp right away. ALL that does is cause pressure to hurry the heck up and mix and chop and measure blah blah. PRESSURE! Oh MY GOD the OVEN IS ALREADY AT TEMP! I need to get these in! I'm wasting Gas!!! AAAAK! Nah. I'll set the temp when I'm good and ready.
Making a cheesecake does take quite a few steps...making MINIS...well add a good amount of time to that and that's how long it takes. Haha. Time and concentration was exactly what I needed last night....while making the crust and carefully flattening it into the muffin tins I was listening to Edith Piaf...beautiful haunting French vocals..(If you haven't seen La Vie En Rose I HIGHLY recommend that movie. It's about Piaf's life.) However beautiful and haunting that music became very depressing, very quickly. On to Lady Gaga! Yeah! Mixing cream cheese and eggs! Dancing! (My Dog all the while looking at me as if I'd gone insane) Once the filling was complete (AND I could finally be comfortable pre-heating the oven) I needed a music change. Onto a Norah Jones/Beatles/Neil Young mix. (Odd combo, I know). Sometimes my music needs to be mixed. I ever so carefully measured my filling (cream cheese, p.b. chocolate chips, eggs, vanilla etc) into the cups and popped those babies in the oven. Now with a big, normal sized cheesecake (9 or 10") you cook it for about an hour or so, and until the middle is JUST a bit soft. Small ones take sooo much less time...these are PERFECT at around 15 minutes total. Trust me...I learned this by trial and error. Quite a few times I had to stick em back in the oven over the years. Better a runny mess to cook more, than overdone. Yuck.
By the time I was done and ready to photograph, so much stress had been mixed and baked away. I could see it being smashed up in the sink's garbage disposal with the egg shells....baked into tiny creamy morsels of peanut butter cheesecake goodness. Ahhhh...THIS is what I live for every week. Putting my energy into something that MATTERS to me. Something that ultimately makes people smile. I am still unsure of the overall format of this blog, I do not yet know if I will be posting recipes. It really depends on you, who are reading this. Want a recipe??? Leave a comment. :)

Pre Crust and Filling. I love the White on Stainless.
Peanutty, Chocolatey, Crust Goodness
A flat glass (Or in my case a metal shaker) makes that crust flat and picture perfect.
Hmmm...Might be time for a nice, new spatula??
Right out of the oven....Can I eat it NOW?
A meh Picture. But you get the idea. YUM
Pretty little side view. Someone's roommate was waiting PATIENTLY on the side of this shot for a taste!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Overview to Start Us Out

This blog, off the bat, has a few purposes. First of all...I need to get further in touch with my creative side. I know that may sound a bit hokey and "new-age", however, I have found that as I get older, my brain starts to shut down and rebel if I'm not finding something to do that I enjoy. I see so many people that I know in Social Media, who are starting side projects; whether it's local theatre, photography, food, or music, everyone has started to branch out and put energy into things that make them happy. Daily life can certainly suck the living Bejeezus out of me (and I know I'm NOT alone in that feeling). This journey is about starting to do something I hope to be able to do for the rest of my life.
Now enough of the serious stuff. ANYONE who knows me KNOWS I consider myself a Foodie. I will surely use and over-use that word in the coming postings on this blog. I don't consider myself one of those food people who will constantly combat your opinions, or talk for hours on the blah blah blah impact of the blah blah blah people on the bean sprouts at the local organic grocer. Nah. All set. I have been known to speak at length about coffee, and how darn good it is...but that's about it. You'll never hear me unnecessarily spouting about crap that I know nothing about, just to sound smaht. (That's smart for you Non- New England Folks)
I am the chick who takes an issue of Bon Appetit to bed and reads all of the recipes before I sleep. I may also have a copy of Larousse Gastronomique in my bedside bookshelf, for the times when I need to unwind. There's nothing better than thumbing through that MASSIVE book and discovering new culinary terms. For a long time I thought about going to culinary school. After high school I decided to get a free education at a local college. (Clearly those two years of Acting took me very FAR. Not.) After having a few different jobs (one which GREATLY influenced my adoration and obsession with coffee), I wound up where I am now; in a seemingly giant swirling cyclone of Corporate America, in which the harder you fight to get on solid ground, the more the moving monster pulls you up into it's winds. Now please. Don't get me wrong. I will forever be grateful for the experiences I am having and have had with this company. I have worked my tush off, and make a pretty good salary for someone who hasn't finished college. But, I'm going nowhere. And fast. I also know that I am not the only person on this planet who feels this way. The other purpose of this blog is maybe to inspire you, whomever reads this gibberish, to go out and make yourself happy and fulfilled. Maybe not today or tomorrow or even this year...but SOMETIME to make sure that you inject some sort of self-happiness into your every day life....just that little bit can do big things.
I plan (PLAN being the operative word) to do something food related, specifically BAKING something, at least every week. I will then be adding to this blog, with pictures and descriptions and anecdotes, when my projects are complete. Why Baking, you ask? More to come on the whys and hows etc in later postings.
THIS week...well....I fudged. I may not have actually BAKED something...I mean....I used the OVEN! That counts, right? Nah...notsomuch. Not in my book anyway. Baking to me, is like a therapy session with out the high price tag. I know as soon as I start creating something, that any worry or stress or concerns get momentarily put to the side, and I can be free...(well, at least until the timer goes off. Ha ha)
Last Saturday for Father's Day, I made a mini version of my "Famous" Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cheesecake. This, I will have to make soon, again in mini size, and follow with a post. (Should've taken pictures) This week, was my aforementioned notsomuch baking experience. Yesterday at work I started thinking about dinner. I decided to buy the ingredients for some Pulled Pork Nachos (yeah yeah I know...NOT super healthy) for myself and one of my roommates. Pulled Pork (Whole Foods has a GREAT no preservative version), cheese, black beans, and TONS of veggies to top it with. I already had the Low-Fat Sour Cream and Guacamole in the Fridge at home. It was TASTY! Not baking Per-Se, but a damn good end to a long work day.

See? Even used a festive plate!!
Next posting, I PROMISE will be something more Pastry or Bread like. Can't wait to start this project!