So, I’ve been slacking a bit on this whole blog thing, but I have a really good reason: last October I started pastry school! I am currently enrolled in a six month program at Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, and it is amazing. I’m having so much fun and learning all sorts of new tricks. There are days when I get frustrated with my abilities, or lack there of, but most days it’s a blast. I can’t wait to go to class each day and see what I’m going to learn. I don’t really have a lot of free time to write posts most days, so I’ve been saving up pictures of all of my finished products to share with you now. Enjoy!
Zombie Apocalypse! …and a fruit salad September 13, 2011
Okay, so I know that the Zombocalypse has nothing to do with baking, or cooking at all for that matter considering zombies prefer their human flesh raw, but I figured my loyal blog readers (Hi, Mom!) wouldn’t mind if I deviated from my usual blogging theme to give you some great news. My boyfriend has been working very diligently for the past few months to write a book, and it officially became alive today! We’re super excited and can’t wait for everyone to read it.
G has always been a writer; he majored in English (not the teaching aspects of it, just English) in college and even has a master in the same. His family and I have been privileged to read bits and pieces of his work over the years, and may of us (especially his brother) have been trying to convince him that he should publish his work. It took me sending him this article about Amanda Hocking and her adventure in self publishing in the form of eBooks, to convince him that, not only could he publish his work, but that people would read it. Especially since his book would be much better than her unedited, cliche young adult novels. I’m not being judgmental here, I downloaded and read two of the books from her Trylle trilogy and they are full of grammatical mistakes and contradictions, but I have to admit that her characterizations are good and the story is of a popular theme. She knows her audience and how to reach them despite her lack of proper editing skills and original ideas. G figured that if this untrained girl could earn millions from her self-published eBooks, he might as well give it a try, and he did in the form of Zombies Ate My Film Fest, a novel set right here in Austin, Texas at one of our favorite film festivals, Fantastic Fest.
I was one of the lucky few to get to read an advanced copy of the novel to help him edit it, and I have to say that it is damn good. The story is clever, funny, and has the right amount of action mixed with just a small hint of a love story. His zombies are like none other I have seen before (and I have read a lot of zombie books), and the nerdy-ness of the protagonist makes him completely loveable, despite his cowardly faults. I think fans of Fantastic Fest will love all of the references to the festival, it’s creators, and those who attend, but non-Fantastic Fest-ers will still find the story an entertaining and enjoyable read.
So, please visit G’s website and download the book; it will only cost you 99 cents! If you don’t have an eBook device, don’t worry: you can install the Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer from Lulu before you download the novel.
***Further Update: The Austin Post online wrote a front page article about the book! Read it here.***
Now for all of you who stuck around long enough to read my advertising ploy, here’s a recipe for a Fruit Salad that I made this last 4th of July, but never managed to post:
My grandfather used to grow watermelon on his farm and, since we spent every 4th of July at his house (it was also his birthday), there were always plenty to go around. My brothers, cousins, and I would sit on picnic tables and eat large wedges of the super ripe fruit still warm from the sun and have contests to see who could spit the seeds farther. I never won, but would always participate because Grandpa told me that if I swallowed any seeds, I would grow a watermelon in my belly. (Imagine my surprise the first time I saw a pregnant lady!) Because of these memories, my 4th of July always includes watermelon. This year it came in the form of a fruit salad.
Here’s what you need:
1 large package of grapes
juice and zest of two limes
Here’s what you do:
This really isn’t much of a recipe: you simply cut up all of your fruit (I left my grapes whole), mix it together with the zest and juice of two limes, and refrigerate until everything is nice and cold.
The hardest part about this salad is cutting up the pineapple, but I have a method that works every time.
1. Cut off the top and bottom of the pinapple
2. Stand the pineapple on the now flat bottom and slice down the sides with a serrated knife to remove the skin
3. Cut the pineapple in half and then fourths
4. Lay the fourths, cut side down, on the cutting board and cut in towards the center at an angle to remove the core
5. Cube the pineapple flesh into bite sized pieces
Strawberry-Lemon Tart and a Birthday Celebration July 17, 2011
Today is a very special and exciting day: my boyfriend’s little sister is turning 24, and she loves to celebrate! Now, I know that everyone loves their birthday, but JW really loves her birthday, and that makes the anticipation of the day so much more exciting. Thanks to her boyfriend’s careful planning, the celebrations started last night with a Master Pancake show and will come to an end on Sunday in the form of seeing the last Harry Potter. Between the bookends of two great viewing experiences there are a multitude of activities and surprises. One of which is this Strawberry-Lemon Tart and I have no doubt that she will love it, after all, her favorite flavor of dessert is lemon.
This tart was created by combining a few of my favorite recipes: the crust is from one of my favorite blogs Dessert First and the lemon curd is an Ina Garden recipe. I covered the top in a fruit glaze to keep the strawberries fresh and give everything a nice sheen. I have to say that I am really happy with how it turned out.
Happy 24th birthday, JW!
Thanks for being the little sister I never had, but always wanted. You are truly an amazing person and I am grateful to have you in my life.
Jam, Jam, and more Jam March 25, 2011
Jam is something I always have in my pantry. It’s so very versatile. I particularly love to use it to dress up cookies. I’ve made jam before, but have never canned it, so this was a learning experience for me. I spent tons of time searching the internet for the proper procedure and realized, after searching many sites, that it was really not that complicated. You just have to make sure that everything is sterilized, place hot jam in hot jars, and be sure to boil them for the recommended amount of time. You can make your own jams in any flavors you want, but I chose: Strawberry Balsamic, Lemon Curd, Mango Cinnamon, and Blueberry Lime. Now, I know that Lemon Curd isn’t a jam, but I just love it so much that I had to make it. I used Ina Garden’s recipe for the Lemon Curd and doubled the amounts. This Set of Four Jams is up for bid on March 30th over at The Tomato Tart, so be sure to stop by and bid; there will be four sets available, so your chances of getting one will be pretty good. Because they have been canned, they will last up to a year, but I expect they will be long gone before then. Except for the Lemon Curd, they are egg and dairy free.
Here’s what you need:
6 cups fruit (fresh or frozen)
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar depending on the sweetness of your fruit
4 Tbls cornstarch
2 Tbls spices or seasonings (cinnamon, lime zest and juice, or balsamic vinegar)
Here’s what you do:
First wash the jelly jars. The websites recommended using a dishwasher to sterilize the jars and to keep them warm on the dry setting. Next, prepare the lids by placing them in simmering water and fill your canning pot with enough water to cover your jars by 1 to 2 inches and bring it to a simmer, so it will be hot when you are ready to boil the jars. Also prepare your canning equipment: a canning funnel, lid lifter, and jar lifter. (I bought a kit)
Place the jam ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until they begin to boil, about 12-14 minutes. Boil the jam for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the jam is thick.
Once the jam is thickened, you need to blend it using an immersion blender (if using a regular blender, be careful because the jam is very hot) and return it to the stove to stay warm.
Time to fill your jars! Remove hot jars from the dishwasher (I worked with two at a time) and place near stove. Using canning funnel, fill jars with hot jam. Be sure to leave head space at the top of the jars and make sure that there aren’t any air bubbles. Using the lid lifter, retrieve lids from simmering water and place onto jars. Seal with a metal ring.
Once you have enough jars to fill your canning pot, start placing the jars in the pot using the jar lifter. Increase the stove to high heat to bring the water to a boil. Once the water boils, cover and boil the jam jars for about 10 minutes.
Remove the boiled jam jars from the canning pot using jar lifter and place on wire rack to cool in a non-drafty place. Leave jars to sit for 24 hours without tilting or moving them.
Any jars that do not seal properly need to be refrigerated and used first. The sealed jars will last up to a year.
Bake Sale for Japan: Vegan Banana Bread March 21, 2011
As I stated in my last post, I’m participating in an online bake sale to benefit earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. Sabrina, from The Tomato Tart, is the organizer of this amazing and generous idea and she has brought together a very talented group of bakers that are donating their time, supplies, finished products, and shipping costs to this cause. The silent auction will be taking place on her site on March 30th, so be sure to stop by and bid! If you’re interested in participating, email her at email@example.com. If you would like to know more about the bake sale, visit her website for details or check out this article from SF Weekly.
I have started preparing my example goodies, and I’m super excited about sharing them with you! First on the list is Whole Wheat Vegan Banana Bread. I know what you are thinking: “whole wheat? vegan? Sounds too healthy to taste like anything other than cardboard.” Well, you’re wrong. It’s amazing! This particular banana bread is based on Ezra Pound Cake’s Banana Foster Bread, which is by all means delicious and surprisingly low in fat for a dessert, but I wanted to make it even healthier due to a movement in our house to eat better, so whole wheat and vegan it is. The first time I made this bread I fell in love with it. I now feel the need to make it about once a week. Sometimes I even make two and store one in the freezer in case I’m having a banana bread emergency and just need to eat some…right now. It is amazing hot, cold, even frozen (yes, I admit I have eaten banana bread right out of the freezer. I have no self control.) If I’m feeling really naughty, I spread it with some Irish butter or even some cream cheese, however that negates the Vegan and healthy aspects of this bread, but it’s oh so good.
I will be donating two loaves of this amazing Vegan Banana Bread to the online bake sale. Drop by on the 30th and bid, so you too can fall in love with its banana-y goodness!
Here’s what you need:
(makes two 9 x 5 loaves)
3 cups mashed bananas (about 6)
2 cups brown sugar, divided
1/2 cup dark rum
2/3 cup vegan yogurt such as Whole Soy
4 Tbls ground flax seed plus 6 Tbls water (this is the egg substitute)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbls brown sugar for sprinkling
Here’s what you do:
In a large skillet, combine bananas, rum, and 1 cup brown sugar. Cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
While this is cooling, combine the 4 Tbls flax seed with 6 Tbls water in a small bowl and whisk until the mixture thickens. It should be the same consistency as beaten eggs.
In a large mixing bowl, combine banana mixture, 1 cup brown sugar, vegan yogurt, and egg substitute. Beat with a mixer on medium speed until combined.
Combine the dry ingredients (minus the 2 Tbls brown sugar) in a medium bowl and add to the banana mixture. Mix until just combined.
Pour batter into two sprayed 9 x 5 inch loaf pans and sprinkle with the 2 Tbls brown sugar. This gives the top a nice sheen and a little crunch. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Strawberry Balsamic Pie and a Pi Day Contest March 15, 2011
Pi, as we all know, is 3.14 and since yesterday was 3/14 that made it “Pi Day”. I recently learned about the Serious Eats Pi Day Baking Contest and decided it was right up my alley. After all, it’s just one more excuse to bake. So, to celebrate Pi Day, I made this Strawberry Balsamic Pie and am entering it in the contest. This is the first contest I have ever entered, and I am super excited about it! Wouldn’t it be great if I won? (hint, hint) You can vote for me starting March 20 (the day the contest closes for entries), if you would like to make my dreams come true…
This pie is amazing, by the way. I love strawberries and balsamic vinegar; they are a perfect combination. The balsamic gives the sweet, slightly tart strawberries a rounder flavor. This pie filling also makes a great jam!
**Update: Unfortunately, I did not win any prizes in the Pi Day Contest, but I had tons of fun making this pie and it tasted so good that we devoured it in just two days. Thanks to everyone for voting!**
Here’s what you need:
6 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (2 cups reserved)
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
2 Tbls balsamic vinegar
roll-out pie crust, or homemade pie crust
Here’s what you do:
To make the filling, combine all of the ingredients (minus 2 cups reserved strawberries) in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat 12-14 minutes until it thickens and begins to boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer mixture to a glass bowl and cool completely. (At this point you could use an immersion blender to turn this into jam, if you didn’t want to make a pie.) Stir in reserved strawberries. This gives the pie better texture since the cooked strawberries get broken down by all that stirring. Use all of your restraint at this point to not lick the spatula. This filling is like molten lava and will seriously burn you!
Prepare pie plate by lining with one pie crust. Fill crust with slightly cooled filling and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. If the edges of the crust start to get too dark, cover with aluminum foil or a pie shield.
To make the pi top, cut out pi symbols from the remaining pie dough using a template. I found a pi symbol that I liked online, printed it out, traced it onto cardboard, and cut out the symbols using and exacto knife. This was a bit time consuming, but totally worth it. Line the pi symbols up on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar, and bake 400 degrees for 6 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, arrange the pi symbols in a decorative pattern on top of the baked pie. You could use this same method for any design that you would like. (Think: leaves in the fall, flowers in spring, the possibilities are endless.)
Strawberry Upside Down Cake March 9, 2011
I realized yesterday that I completely missed the anniversary of this blog (I forget birthdays, too). A year ago February 25 I wrote, and re-wrote, and edited, and obsessed over my first post discussing my obsession with baking. Five people read that first post, now more than fifty check each new post and I even have some subscribers. I’m amazed by that. Quite honestly, I’m surprised that I have stuck with it. I’m not always a completer; I start tons of projects that I never finish. I think that is part of why I love baking. Baking is something that I can see through to the end. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something each time I take a cake, cookies, or pie out of the oven and that makes me happy.
It’s been a long year: I lost my teaching job (thanks, Kansas), had major surgery, moved to a new state, am still looking for a new job, and am contemplating a new career path. But it has also been a great year: I moved to a great city with the man I love, I get to live with him and his amazing sister and her adorable dog, I got to miss Snowpocalypse 2011, I got to meet my friends’ two gorgeous babies H. and E., and (despite still getting carded for buying rated R movies) I turned 30. All in all, I think it has been a rather successful year.
To celebrate my successful blogging year, yesterday I made Strawberry Upside Down Cake. Now, I know most of you have probably had a pineapple upside down cake (my mother makes a great one), but I bet you are not familiar with using other fruit. Neither was I until a local movie theater added it to their menu. I haven’t gotten the chance to try theirs yet, but the description made my mouth water resulting in my decision to recreate it. So, I gathered my ingredients, turned on some Mumford & Sons (because I started listening to them about this time last year), and began to experiment while singing along and dancing around my kitchen as the dog looked at me like I was crazy. However, all of this craziness led to a wonderful vanilla-scented cake with a hint of lime covered with slightly tart strawberries enveloped in a sweet, brown sugar glaze. It’s amazing.
Here’s what you need:
for the top
1 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
6 Tbls butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbls lime juice
1 Tbls water
zest of one lime
for the cake
12 Tbls butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest of 2 limes
1/4 cup lime juice (from about 3 limes)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp slat
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbls vanilla
3 extra large eggs or 3 large eggs plus one egg yolk
Here’s what you do:
Line two greased 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Arrange the hulled and halved strawberries in the bottom of both pans. Remember that this will end up being the top of the cakes, so make them pretty.
In a sauce pan, melt 6 Tbls butter add brown sugar, 1 Tbls lime juice, water, and zest of one lime. Stir until fully incorporated. Pour over prepared strawberries.
In a large bowl, cream 12 Tbls butter, sugar, the zest of two limes, and 1/4 cup lime juice until light and fluffy.
In another bowl, combine dry ingredients and set aside.
In a two cup liquid measuring cup, combine milk, vanilla, and eggs.
Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately into the creamed mixture beginning and ending with the dry.
Divide the cake batter evenly between the two pans. Make sure to completely seal in the topping mixture already in the pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown and a cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean.
Let cool in pans for five minutes, then turn out onto serving tray removing the parchment paper from the tops. Serve warm.
Because everyone loves a truffle… February 14, 2011
…and because it’s Valentine’s Day; I give you truffles cups. I’ve been making truffles for Valentine’s Day for about eight years, now, and each year they have changed and evolved. I used to make the traditional truffle, you know, dark chocolate ganache rolled into truffle-sized balls and covered in cocoa powder. While those are lovely and delicious, they are also messy to make and eat. So, I decided that I needed to find a better way to make the truffles I loved. About five years ago I tried making truffles in cute, little heart-shaped molds. They were gorgeous to look at, but took way too much time. Finally, two years ago I had an epiphany: truffle cups! Yes, truffle cups: mini muffin liners filled with chocolate-y goodness! Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? They are easy to make, easy to eat, individually portioned, and most importantly, easy to fill with things. Things like peanut butter, or bits of caramel, or raspberries…mmm…raspberries. This year I made four different types of truffle cups: my standard Myan truffle (milk and semisweet chocolate flavored with cinnamon and cayenne), milk chocolate with sea salt, chocolate peanut butter (equal parts peanut butter and powdered sugar are a delectable little ball in the center), and White Chocolate Raspberry. No matter which you choose to make, the process is the same and you won’t be able to eat just one.
Here’s what you need:
1 package white chocolate chips
half and half, about a 1/4 cup or so
24 mini muffin liners
Here’s what you do:
Place a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water to make a double-boiler. In the bowl place the white chocolate and a splash of half and half. Mix to combine. Melt the chocolate over low heat. While waiting for the chocolate to melt, line a mini muffin tin with 24 liners. Then, in each liner place one raspberry with the stem side down.
Once your chocolate is melted, slowly add more half and half. About a tablespoon at a time, until you reach a thick but velvety consistency. You want to be able to easily stir it, but when it falls back in ribbons, you want them to remain on the surface before settling back into the ganache. This will be about 1/4 cup of half and half, but it depends on what type of chocolate you use.
Using two teaspoons, scoop the white chocolate ganache over the raspberries, just covering them. As the ganache settles, the top of the raspberries will peak through just slightly.
Place completed truffle cups in the refrigerator until they are set, about an hour or so.