Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sweet Spring Break

I know I promised more posts with the new year, but it seems my promises mean little these days. Plus, I've been cooking and baking less and less. I do have a few past experiments to share, but they will have to wait because the photos are on my other camera. Alas, I want to share my recent spring break trip.

I spent a week in LA at the Getty Research Institute. Now, this may sound boring at first, however, it was tons of fun! It was my first visit to the Getty and I was able to spend seven days in their library using all of their amazing resources. Mostly, I worked in the Special Collections Reading Room consulting an archive of photographs and excavations reports and early drawings about Pompeii and other Vesuvian towns. This was really interesting, but also sometimes mind-numbing because of the daunting task involved with reading someone's handwriting and personal notes from sixty years ago. Above, you can see the awesome view I had every morning on my way to the library and back home.

Besides sitting in the freezing cold reading room, I didn't do much except museum hop (it is really exhausting reading all day). I visited both Getty museum (the Center and the Villa) and the LACMA, which are all day-long excursions in themselves. I also spent a lot of time in my car, driving around, sitting in traffic, getting lost, etc. All in all, it was an excellent trip except now I am exhausted and wish I could have another spring break...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New year, new posts (hopefully…)

Looking at the date of my last post (umm…August) I am sad to say that I have not been very good about posting and updating this blog. Unfortunately, this has sort of been the least of my priorities this semester with everything else going on. Plus, I haven't really been cooking or baking. at all. In fact, Aaron has been doing almost all of the cooking for our normal meals. On a rare occasion I will grace the kitchen with my presence, but otherwise my duties are pretty much relegated to boiling pasta, pouring cereal or reheating leftovers. I don't know what the deal is, but I just do not want to cook anymore. Or bake. I have made a few things (obviously, I'm not that mean of a partner), but nothing really fantastic or worth writing about. I've baked a few rounds of cupcakes for various birthdays and some cakes as well, but I haven't done any major projects. Hopefully this new year will change that. We will see.

In other news, i did manage to get a lot of other things accomplished in the last year. I got married, visited two new countries (Spain and Morocco), saw tons of friends I haven't seen since college, and ate an entire princess cake in three days. At school I finished coursework for my PhD, passed my PhD exams, had my dissertation proposal accepted and started working on my research and writing. Right now, in fact, I'm in Italy doing research on the paintings that I study. I also starting working part-time at a great organization at UVA with some really interesting undergraduate students.  I've started running (gasp!), something I actually hate, but I've always felt it is something I should do. I'm sure there is more, but those are the big ones I can think of right now. So, despite my lack of baking and cooking I am pretty happy with what I have done this year.

I will leave you with this picture of Joe. It is slightly belated since it is from Christmas, but it shows him in his favorite new thing, his sweatshirt. He loves it and gets angry when we take it off of him. He even loves to wear the hood. He is so weird.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Leslie

I've decided that in order to up the appeal of my baked goods I am going to start naming them after people, it seems to work for clothing companies so why can't it work for me? Case in point, this bag that I love from J. Crew. So, instead of "chocolate cupcakes" or "world's most decadent brownies" I'm going to start calling things: the Elizabeth, the Aaron, the Libby, the John, etc. I guess that is how you will know you are important, if you get a baked good named after you....(well, I can only bake so many things so don't get too offended).

This inaugural cupcake is named after Leslie, my friend, who has a particular fascination with caramel and especially caramel flavored cupcakes. She recently purchased an expensive caramel cupcake from a local vendor and as she ate it I thought she might die of pleasure. Like literally pass out and expire on the floor where we were sitting. I decided I should try to replicate those flavors. This is a hodge-podge recipe--the cake is a vegan vanilla cake based on the "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" recipe and the icing is a Swiss meringue buttercream with homemade caramel mixed in. I think I came close here, but it needs a bit of improvement--I ran out of caramel in this round so next time I will make extra and swirl some on top of each cupcake for maximum impact.

Notes: I doubled both the caramel and icing recipe in order to pipe the icing on the cupcakes. As noted above, I ran out of caramel so I would recommend at least tripling the recipe. I also sprinkled just a tiny bit of sea salt on each cupcake (a little bit goes a long way).

Vanilla Vegan Cupcake
Adapted from Post Punk Kitchen

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

1 cup soy milk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ c. all purpose flour
2 T. cornstarch
¾ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1/3 c. canola oil
¾ cup ugar
1 ½ t. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare your muffins tins. Whisk the almond milk and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside to curdle. Sift together the dry ingredients—flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt—into a large bowl.

Beat the almond milk, oil, sugar and vanilla together in a larger bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet mixture in two additions, mixing until no lumps remains.  Pour into the prepared cupcake pans, filling until 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Crispywaffle

**This recipe calls for making your own caramel—if that is something you really do not want to do, you can buy caramel, but making caramel is not that difficult and I think worth it!**

½ c. sugar
2 T water
¼ c. heavy cream
pinch salt

3 egg whites
¼ c. granulated sugar
1/8 t. cream of tartar
2 stick of butter at room temperature (I use unsalted b/c I think the added salt makes it salty enough, but this is up to you)

Making the Caramel:

Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat the mixture on low heat, swirling and stirring until the sugar has pretty much dissolved. Do not let it boil. Once it has dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is boiling, cover it and set a timer for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, uncover the mixture and continue to swirl/stir until it becomes a dark amber color (I actually used my whisk at some point). Be careful to watch the mixture because it will burn quickly once it gets to the dark amber point. As soon as it is the right color, remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk until it is smooth. Set aside your caramel at this point to make your buttercream.

Making the Buttercream:

Stir together the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the bowl of an electric mixer (or, if you do not have an electric mixer use a larger stainless steel bowl that you can use for a double boiler). Set this bowl on top of a large pan of water that is simmering (essentially you are creating a double boiler here). Whisk the mixture constantly until it reaches a temperature of 140 degrees, you will know it is reaching that temperature when the mixture get really foamy and white.

Remove the bowl and put it in your stand mixer, beating on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until it holds a glossy, marshmallow-like peak. Put this meringue into a separate bowl.

In the stand mixer, beat half of the butter and 1/3 of your meringue mixture. Continue adding the remaining meringue one dollop at a time. Your mixture may look curdled as you add the meringue, but don’t worry! Add the butter one tablespoon at a time and the mixture will smooth out. Once your mixture is smooth, add the caramel.

Frost your cupcakes and, if desired, drizzle with caramel and sprinkle with sea salt.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homemade Cereal

This blog post is all about my favorite meal (no, not dessert): breakfast. I could eat breakfast all day.  I love diners that serve eggs and pancakes all day, I consistently eat quiche or frittata or similar items for dinner during the week. But, for normal breakfast I normally have cereal because I'm in a rush. Plus, eating eggs or pancakes for breakfast every day can become a little much. My favorites are Kashi or good old-fashioned Cheerios, but I also indulge in a good granola sometimes. I am fairly picky about my granolas, though, too sweet, too bland, too many nuts, so it is difficult to find one that I can eat time and time again. This granola solved that problem.

I found this recipe on Orangette (which if you haven't read, you must start). Or, you could check out Molly's book A Homemade Life or her occasional columns in Bon Appetit magazine. In other words, read what she writes somewhere because not only does she have great recipes, but also great writing.

Back to granola. This recipe is perfect: not too sweet, not too nutty, not too soft, perfect amount of crunch and clusters and best of all--endlessly adaptable to suit your needs. This time around, I followed the recipe almost exactly (with one substitution), but I think next time I will make some more additions/subtractions. For this batch, I substituted maple syrup (Grade A) for the brown rice syrup because I couldn't find it on my trip to the grocery store and didn't feel like making a zillion stops. The substitution is 3/4 cup + 2 T/1 cup brown rice syrup. Next time, I think I will cut down on the amount of nuts and also add some dried fruit (cranberries, raisins) after cooking. Otherwise, I like it the way it is.


Dry Ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2-3 cups raw almonds or raw pecans halves (or less if you like)
1 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds
¾ c sesame seeds
¾ cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. salt

Wet Ingredients:
¾ c. unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 c. brown rice syrup (or ¼ c. maple syrup + approx. 2 t.)
¼ c. honey
2 T. veg. oil

Preheat oven to 300 F and put two silpats on two cookie sheets (or use parchment).

Mix together all of the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix together all of the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the mixture over the cookie sheets. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Every ten minutes, stir the mix and rotate your sheets so that the granola is evenly cooked. This granola should be stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Peach Pie

Alright people, if you have ever read my blog (which not many of you have) you should know that I hate pie. Like, really hate. Now, this is strong language coming from someone who basically substitutes dessert for every meal. Breakfast: brownies. Lunch: ice cream. Dinner: brownies AND ice cream. Total win. And that is on the days that I run out of cake. But, give me a piece of pie and I will gladly skip out on dessert altogether. Now, there are several small exceptions to this rule, for example, I will indulge in a small piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and, on occasion, I enjoy my Aunt Judy's chocolate pie. Otherwise, I'm pretty much against the idea of pie, I'm not sure why. (One recent theory that I came up with while explaining my dislike to Aaron is that I hate the gooey fruit stuff in pie--why does the fruit have to have that weird texture?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Special Cupcakes

A few Mondays ago we attended a wedding (actually we participated in the wedding). More exciting than that, at least if you ask me, was the dessert that followed the wedding: CAKE and CUPCAKES and CANNOLI and FRENCH MACARONS. In other words, DELICIOUS!

Let me tell you, I had been looking forward to these particular desserts for weeks--no, months--no actually a year and a half. And, they did not disappoint. I really only ate the cake, but I ate enough of the cake to make up for not eating everything else (so much, that it would be too incredibly embarrassing for me to admit how much on this blog---oh,okay, almost the entire top layer...eeek, don't judge me). The cake is a princess cake and if you've never had such a cake then you should probably find the closest bakery that makes such a thing and order one ASAP. Otherwise, you should probably come to Charlottesville--it may be the only worthwhile reason to come here. Basically, its a white cake with Bavarian cream filling topped with a layer of marzipan. I guess it sounds just 'okay' but it is amazing.

The cupcakes, are lemon/lemon and peanut-butter cup aaaannnd I made them! Since I like to bake I thought it was only fitting that I contribute some cupcakes to this dessert display. In addition, it gave me something relaxing to do. These you can't buy, you just have to wait for me to make them for you :)

All in all, I think it was a successful day (and I'm only showing you dessert!).

Note: These photos are by the talented Jeff Greenough

Monday, July 4, 2011

Elizabeth's Birthday (Round Three)!!!

My friend Elizabeth had a birthday this week, and if possible, I try to make my friends cake or some other dessert for their birthday. You can see Elizabeth's past birthday celebrations here and here when she picked chocolate cake and strawberry shortcake, respectively.

It just so happens that Elizabeth is also departing for a five-month long journey around Europe to do research for her dissertation so this was an extra-special birthday. She was planning to just buy an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins!!! The horror! So I told her, I would make an ice cream cake--I have been meaning to make a chocolate version since my last strawberry and cream version two years ago--and this seemed like a great opportunity. She picked chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream, which as you can imagine is a great combination. I topped the whole thing off with a sweetened whipped cream-yum!

It turns out, the cake is actually too tall to fit in my cake carrier, so it got a little smooshed when I put it in. It still tasted great, but the icing was a little damaged...