Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Pie

Once upon a time, when I was rather small, my friend and I decided to make a pie for New Year's. We were probably 9 or 10 at the time and not actually able or willing to bake on our own. So we 'invented' a pie by smuggling ingredients from the kitchen. These ingredients included what you would normally use in pies: flour, sugar, and water (okay maybe not that one).

And that was it. Quite literally a paper mache pie with sugar. To the best of knowledge, this actually tasted okay but obviously it was probably terrible. We mixed it in a pie pan in her bedroom and waited for it to set by hiding it under her bed. I'm not sure what happened after that because I went home (whoooops) but my guess is it was discovered and promptly discarded.

And so kids, don't invent pies unless you're Keri Russell in Waitress. But do make resolutions.This is what I have so far but I'm not sure if they count as resolutions:

1. Find people and/or excuses to cook for whether that be bringing food to work (check), to friends (check) or finding random excuses to do some theme cooking (like the premiere of Downton Abbey, tea and scones? I think yes).

2. Take a photo a day, Instagram or not but probably Instagram. This is not some effort to gain a huge following but a reminder to find one thing photo worthy (aka: beautiful) each day. Some believe that social media and Instagram take away from living in the moment, that we become so busy updating we forget to enjoy. That might be true but if it helps me remember to appreciate the day and find something good in it, or bad, but note something about the day.

3. Trim the fat. No, this is not a health/body resolution. This is more about getting rid of things I don't use or need anymore. Old clothes I haven't worn in a year but maaaybe will come in handy. Let it go. I don't need to own a bunch of books but I have a hard time parting with them, like old friends I can revisit. Except I haven't revisited them since high school. Time to share them with others. Do I need to keep the small tv with a built-in VCR? I mean I have VHS tapes (classic) and it was free but it's not necessary as it gathers dust on the floor. This kind of excess is not needed and someone else might be able to use it more.

4. This past summer I went on a little adventure and during this adventure was presented with the opportunity to jump off a cliff into a lake. Sounds really awesome but also terrifying. I'm all for the thrill and adrenaline rush of experiences but heights are somewhat frightening. The hardest part was stepping off the edge, naturally. After that, gravity took over and I enjoyed the thrill. Taking the first step is the hardest part. So, my 2013 motto will be something along the lines of take a risk, take the plunge and let gravity (or the universe) take care of the rest. Call it a leap of faith. I should get better at that. One way or another, it will work out. It might be scary and it might take a steady countdown from friends, but in the end, it's worthwhile. I won't say Carpe Diem because I'm pretty sure that was my resolution in like 2005 but take the plunge. That may also mean jumping out an airplane....

So congratulations to us, we made it to 2013. Enjoy it, have fun with it, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Chocolate Peppermint Cake

I love the holidays. I know I'm delayed in sharing this passion since the holidays are primarily over but I've been busy actually enjoying the season (imagine that!). I have always been excited to have a holiday party but lack the popularity to justify one. Until this year (not that I have become extremely popular but I had a group of people searching for a venue) when I finally got to decorate my apartment for more than just myself. Naturally this also meant creating a fabulous dessert. It was a potluck so baby steps towards full-on production.

Blended egg whites. Who knew?
Being slightly ambitious to impress people, I chose the chocolate peppermint roll cake. That's right, I was going to roll a cake. Step 1: separate 6 eggs. No problemo. Step 2: whip egg whites until fluffy. This presents a slight problem given my lack of mixer and trust me, trying to make stiff egg whites by hand is remarkably time-consuming. Obviously this wasn't working so well so I resorted to the blender. It seems to do the same thing as a mixer, it makes the egg whites go really fast, right? Well, it does work, to some degree. Since you add them by thirds, I just kept whipping them in separate quantities.

Mmm, batter.
Once I folded in these lovely egg whites into my fluffy batter, the next step was to spread the batter on a baking sheet, 12x17. Perfect! I have that size sheet. Buuut the batter didn't quite fit the pan. Again, no problem, I can just make most of the sheet covered with batter. As I placed the tray into the oven I thought "huh, my oven is kind of small, didn't I try to fit this in here when I bought it?". The answer is 'yes', I did attempt to fit this 12x17 in there before and the reason I have never used it is because no, it doesn't fit. So I guess it's okay to bake this cake with the oven door slightly open, right? Right.
Mind the gap.
Next, while the cake was baking, I 'whipped' the peppermint stuff in the blender (again, much faster than try to whip cream into whipped cream by hand). Finally, it came time to rooooll the cake. Now, I knew this would be difficult and I just kept thinking how awesome it would be to make this giant yoddell thing. As I rolled it, I could tell I was going to slowly because it was totally going to break. And it did but I kept going and it turned out just fine, it just lacked a roll layer in the middle.
It's logs, it's logs!
The final step was to pour ganache over the whole thing. Ganache is apparently just thick hot chocolate, it's just chocolate chips and cream. Delicious. The picture has it drizzled in a beautiful manner over the cake. I just poured the whole thing on there and drowned the cake in a chocolate lake of ganache (I really like the word ganache).

The cake was a success and I definitely had some leftover. Chocolate for dinner? I think yes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Joy the Baker IN PERSON

Last weekend was a milestone in my life: I met a celebrity. Joy the Baker (also called Joy Wilson, her actual name) was signing books in Boston at a holiday market. Roadtrip! I already own her cookbook so I loaded it into my purse with my traveling gnome (it's actually a Yoda figurine) and camera and friend and set off! We had tickets for a particular time and there were lots of other vendors there but our primary focus was meeting Joy.

It's a good thing we got there when we did because there was already a line around the room to meet her. We soon realized this was because she was taking the time to talk to everyone and take photos with them which was just so nice and fantastic. It was a little awkward standing near all the other vendors, obviously focused on Joy but we did go back and look around, I promise!

The line only continued to grow and it seemed the room was at capacity because they weren't letting anyone else down into the room (warehouse style). Literally as the person in front of us walked away, one of the people running the market came over to Joy. It was torture wondering if they would take her away but they couldn't do that! We were next! It's like going to see Santa but so much better and you can't take away my Christmas miracle. And then, she was right in front of us and we were making small talk and we told her how we made Single Lady Pancakes that morning in honor of coming to visit her. My friend and I realized that I would be the rambling one and she would be the quiet one as we waited in line and we were pretty spot on. So we got her to sign our books and she took a fantastic photo with Yoda and then with us and it was wonderful!

Mission accomplished, now I can feel slightly less creepy for thinking of her as a friend of mine whenever I listen to her podcast and think "we should be friends, we'd totally get along" because now I've met her so technically now she knows who I am. But as I said before, there were a whole lotta people there so it might take some reminding.

At any rate, there was a lot of Joy baking and general baking that happened after that encounter. Which brings us to the actual baking part of this post. Orange Cranberry bread (and for the record, as a tall person who doesn't fit into boutique itty bitty sizes, I enjoyed this post for more than the recipe portion).

Normally I'm not a fan of nuts in bread, it's just not the right consistency. I don't like to chew that much plus I'm not a huge fan of pecans (pecan't, if you will). But she's an expert so I guess I can trust her recipe in its entirety. I particularly enjoy the part where my nails matched the cranberries, don't mock my OCD.
Cranberry nails and cranberry--cranberries
Breads are definitely delicious and I love making them for sharing with people because it's not too sweet that people complain and you can have it as a snack or for breakfast. So versatile. Since this recipe makes two loaves, I sent one to my grandparents because it's a nice personal gift and I know my grandfather is a fan of pecan pies (and he reads this blog, hiiiii!). And then the other one was for me!

Ready for mixing!
 It has taken me awhile to eat the whole thing but I endured. The combination of orange and cranberry was quite delicious. I'm not really sure what the point of parchment paper is, I've never really used it before in my life until a couple months ago. I usually just spray non-stick but someone suggested that the parchment paper keeps any extra tastes from being added. This bread also made me a convert for pecans, they are actually kind of yummy and I snacked on the extras.

Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies

'Tis the season for cookie swaps! Even though these are for different groups of people, I still thought it necessary to make a couple kinds of cookies. Any excuse to test a cookie recipe when they are guaranteed to not come home with me.

For the first cookie swap, I selected Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies (compliments of JTB, what a shock). Since I had a friend visiting and a day off, we decided to bake up a storm and do a test run of the cookies. These are essentially ginger snaps that are chewy and with chocolate chips in them. So this requires molasses, delicious, sticky, dark molasses--which comes in nice tall jars when the recipe calls for only 1/4 cup.

Being a great team, said friend and I divided and conquered the ingredients. For once you can play with the dough on purpose and roll them in sugar. Literally got sugar everywhere because they don't always roll, they sometimes more push the sugar around and off the plate.

The recipe says they are done when large cracks appear on the cookies and they looked perfect! And tasted delicious. They didn't make as many cookies as we thought, probably because we made the dough balls larger than required. Of course this meant we might as well eat them all and I could just create a new batch of smaller cookies for the cookie swap. I was going to dominate with my geniously copied cookie recipe that combines holiday cookie with classic chocolate chips.

The next time I tried to make these, I was multi-tasking and creating a gingerbread house for a competition, very serious business. We did not make the gingerbread, we bought it in a kit but we were very ambitious in our gingerbread treehouse quest which required the use of edible materials only (ie: no glue). Anyways, I created the dough and found it much stickier than the last time so I thought "maybe the recipe has a tip for dealing with the sticky dough".

As I ran through the ingredients and instructions I realized my mistake: the recipe called for 1.5 sticks of butter and I only used 1. Danger, Will Robinson. Butter is not like a minor spice that you can pretend you forgot on purpose, butter is butter! It's EXTREMELY important! Stupid gingerbread house diverting my attention. Now I will have terrible butter-less cookies for a cookie exchange at work where I have built up my reputation as a baker through months of endless treats. Don't panic, don't panic, you still have the remaining dough. Only 10 cookies are in the oven so I can just add the butter to the mixture. Slightly less than the half stick but crisis averted!

Surprisingly the first 10 cookies looked perfect, they looked as they should, puffy with large crack on the top. The following rounds did not look right at all. They looked like dark chocolate chip cookies, spread out more. I of course repeatedly tested the cookies to see if they tasted any different but inevitably cooked all of them longer than I should have.

I guess I'll never know if people found them terrible because at the swap, it was like a pack of vultures just going from box to box grabbing and stuffing in a bag. I realized that this was a strategy. Kids and spouses want cookies and these women work all day. By participating in a cookie swap, they can make one round of cookies and get 8 varieties back. Apparently you can freeze cookies (which is what they do) and bam! Cookies for Christmas Eve. Genius. 

Moral of the story: Don't multi-task and bake, kids. 

On the bright side, our gingerbread house took second place (we lost by 4 votes). It is literally held together by Twizzler strands and I greatly enjoyed eating the roof afterwards.
The epic gingerbread creation.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sweet Potato Spinach Mac and Cheese

What do you do when there's a buy one get one sale? You buy two, correct! Does this apply to things like spinach? Absolutely. The only problem is I'm no Popeye, I don't eat spinach that quickly and then it goes bad and it's a waste of free spinach.

So in an effort to find alternative uses for spinach beyond salad, I discovered spinach mac and cheese. Sorry, sweet potato spinach mac and cheese, with the ingredients listed in the order of their prevalence.

Mountain of iron!
Previously when I've attempted to mash sweet potatoes, I get impatient and try to mash them prematurely which results in chunks of sweet potato, no big deal. But this is mac and cheese we're talking about, it has to be right. So at one point, I had the pasta boiling and the peeled and cubed sweet potatoes boiling and then this pan of onions and spinach simmering. And of course my eyes are burning because these are onions we're talking about, here.

It all looks so delicious and colorful! I'm told you should have a very colorful dinner platter to be healthy and this is definitely following that rule. And to make it even better, you get to mash things together and they taste delicious. Since this is healthy, there is only half a cup of cheese so the orange color of this dish is really the sweet potato. This definitely doesn't replace true cheesy mac and cheese but it is nice to eat pasta guilt free (oh yeah, it's whole wheat pasta).

So many pots, so little space. And so colorful!
As I dig into my delicious pile of pasta, I realize that it wasn't that cheesy and was somewhat bland. Which is when I realized I forgot to add the nutmeg to the sweet potatoes. Don't do that, nutmeg is a very strong spice and therefore important if it's included in a recipe. I've taken to adding nutmeg to a variety of vegetables because I have all this nutmeg for eggnog and I would like to actually use the spices I buy. Never fear! You can just add the nutmeg on top, as a last resort. Definitely follow directions, I'm having trouble with that lately. So far everything has turned out but I have a feeling at an inopportune moment, this will backfire. Like when I have to bake a birthday cake or bring something to a party or a cookie swap (spoiler alert: that happened). 
8 oz. whole wheat fusilli, penne, macaroni elbows or other small pasta shape
1 large or two medium sweet potato(es), peeled and diced
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp reduced fat (2%) sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk (low-fat or nonfat)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste


  • Cook pasta while also boiling sweet potato until tender. Mash the sweet potato and set aside (also drain the pasta when it's done, these should be in separate bowls)
  • Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Stir the milk into mashed sweet potato, then add the spinach mixture. Stir to combind.
  • Add 1/2 cup of cheese and stir more. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
  • Add pasta and stir well.
  • The part I didn't do: transfer to large baking dish (needs to be oven-proof) and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes until top is lightly browne.d

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


In honor of the last repeating day for a hundred years, I am creating a 12 post. And for an added twist, it's not about food *gasp*!

On this, a day of reflection (in case the world ends in 10 days and since this won't happen again until 1-1-2101) I give you the top 12 lessons I have learned from movies. These are not in any particular order, I thought of the first few pretty quickly as I reflected and then it started to be "what movie have I seen a bunch of times and whyyyy".
  1. Under the Tuscan Sun- Sometimes you get exactly what you wish for but not in the way you expected ("I want someone to cook for, I want there to be a family in this house, I want a wedding", all came true).
  2. Love Actually- Love is actually all around us. And it can be brutal, torturous and rewarding. It's important to be realistic but keep the fantasy in mind, just in cases.
  3. The Holiday- You have to be the leading lady of your own life, not the best friend.
  4. Twister- It's not after you, sometimes bad things happen and you have to let it go. 
  5. Tangled- Follow your dreams. I think that's the meaning of all Disney movies but this one is particularly awesome. And a frying pan is not just for cooking.
  6. Harry Potter- True friends will stick with you, even if you're an emo punk for 2-3 books. They will see you through and respect your decisions while simultaneously making you laugh. Trust that bond.
  7. The Patriot- We are so lucky that we live in the present and not on a warfront. Suuuuuper fortunate. Some things are more important than what you want or believe, like family. But threaten that family and woah child, watch out. 
  8. Meet the Robinsons- Keep moving forward. 
  9. Pride and Prejudice- Boys are stupid. Sometimes they're mean to you because they like you (but "He's Just Not That Into You" says we can't believe that, plus it's super annoying). All in all, if you make a mistake, own up to it and speak your heart. Sometimes it's not too late.
  10. Julie and Julia- Bon appetit! But seriously, just start cookin'.
  11. Hook- Think happy thoughts! It seems appealing to stay a kid and never grow up but everyone has to grow up eventually. That doesn't mean you have to be a jerk or a self-obsessed adult.
  12. 10 Things I Hate About You- Never underestimate the power of a grand gesture. 
I'm sure my colors are showing, my movie tastes indicate I'm a hopeless romantic. Oh what am I to do in this pessimistic mind of mine with such a romantic inclination? Ah well, maybe I will reflect on that on 01-01-2101 instead.

I promise I will return to lots of cooking/baking posts soon. So much cooking, so little time to blog. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Parker House Rolls

You know how when you take Pillsbury biscuits or crescent rolls right out of the oven they're all warm and flaky and buttered with deliciousness? Well as much fun as busting those tubes open is (seriously, am I the only one who finds it fascinating that you have to like slam the tube on the counter to break the pressure?), I thought the only thing better would be home made baked flaky buttery deliciousness. My dad would make bread in a bread maker and I love playing with dough so thought making rolls would be awesome.

Squishy dough

 To justify making bread, I thought "oh, I'll freeze half of them and they're rolls so I can make pulled pork sandwiches next time I make pulled pork" etc. etc. I followed the directions, including the part where it says to let the yeast foam and to throw it out if it doesn't foam. Well, you know what they say "watched yeast never foams" (or they do now!). So while waiting for the yeast to prove it's aliiiiive, I mixed the other ingredients. Note to self: next time, make sure the yeast is alive before mixing other stuff. Yeast packet 1: doesn't seem to be alive so I throw it away and we go with yeast packet number 2: to prevent myself from watching it, I did the dishes, I cleaned the kitchen and voila! Foam! Which was good because I only had one more packet to test.
That looks foamy, right?
After mixing things together, I got to play with dough, hurray! It really is quite fun. And so I let the ball of dough 'rise' or at least I left it alone so it could rise. It did not appear to double in size as it was meant to. Nevertheless, the show must go on so I soldiered on and divided the dough into lovely roll shapes and left it alone to double yet again. Alas, it again did not appear to double in size. Obviously the foaming yeast was a false promise.

Kneading-- not just for kitties
And still, the show goes on! Maybe the bamf oven will work some magic and make the rolls rise into buttery deliciousness. This was sadly not the case, they did not rise. But they did taste buttery and delicious so kind of like biscuits but not even close to Pillsbury biscuits. With a little butter, some microwave action or nutella, they still taste satisfactory.
Mmmm that doesn't look larger
But these biscuity-like creatures will not suffice for pulled pork sandwiches. Plus, I now have a giant bag of bread flour because after careful googling I discovered you can't really circumvent the need for bread flour like you can for self-rising flour because it's about gluten content. I guess that means I'll have to try to make more bread or bread-like things to use that bag (baked good ingredients should not go to waste).
They hath not risen. But I did test a couple...
I live to bake bread another day.