day 26 | It’s not a party until someone’s crying in the bathroom…

I’ve decided to blame everything that happened last Wednesday on my friend, Michele. It’s not really fair, but neither is life.

Michele is an accomplished baker and specializes in making cupcakes. Honestly, she specializes in making everything, but I’ve had her cupcakes and they are ridiculous. She pinned this Neapolitan Cupcake recipe from Cooking Classy on Pinterest.


Neopolitan CupcakesThey are so stinking cute!

If you’ll recall (or you can catch up here) I did a certain gold-and-pink thing for my faux birthday. In the tradition of elementary school, I thought I’d make these sweet cupcakes and then take them to my Thursday students, before I didn’t see them for almost two weeks. Sugar them up and give them back to their parents, you know? Moriah even offered to come over and photograph the pretty confections in a mini-birthday shoot.

That’s when it started to go bad.

See, you have to make the chocolate cake, which means combining cocoa and baking soda and pouring boiling water on it. While that cooled, I used a demonically possessed hand mixer* to cream together butter and oil and sugar before adding eggs and the cocoa mixture and some heavy cream. The batter ends up a syrupy mess, more akin to pudding that hasn’t set than cake batter.

With faith, I pressed on to the vanilla cake, which went much more like I’d expect. Using three more bowls (we’re up to 5, if you’re counting), a fluffy cake batter emerged. Now comes the part where I’d like to tell you that I deftly floated the vanilla cake on top of the chocolate soup, but there was a witness. If I lie, I have to kill Moriah which would put a strain on our relationship.

There was a lot of begging and crying as I finagled the stubborn batter onto it’s watery base.

Here’s the thing, friends. All that struggle was worth it.  Topped with a delicious strawberry frosting, the cupcakes were a revelation. So much yum!

Plus, Moriah got some gorgeous photos!

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Oh my-o, Oh me-o, Oh leftover phyllo…

On a never-ending search for healthier food options, I made a chicken pot pie this week that called for a phyllo dough topping instead of the traditional puff pastry. With no butter, potatoes, or heavy cream, it was parsnips that lent the dish it’s signature creaminess and thick, hearty texture. I’m not a girl who swaps in carrot chips for their potato cousins and swears you won’t be able to tell the difference, so believe me when I say it was pretty amazing. The only drawback, the recipe called for 8 sheets of phyllo, leaving a bunch more that can’t be refrozen and will dry out in the refrigerator if left unused for too long.

What’s a girl to do?! Make pizza, of course. Is that an actual question?

I’m sure you could top your pizza with basically anything you want, so long as it’s already fully cooked. The toppings only serve a brief stint under the broiler to warm them up. I chose sharp cheddar and apple. Why? Because that’s what I had and this was a last-minute idea. Plus, apples and cheese are an awesome combo.

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The construction is simple. Cut 4 sheets of phyllo in half width-wise to make 8 half sheets. Brush one sheet with olive oil and lay another sheet on top of it. Continue to build until all 8 sheets are stacked. Brush the top with more oil and then poke 3-5 times with a fork to prevent puffing up in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes until just golden and layer on shredded sharp cheddar cheese and thinly sliced Gala apples (use whatever kind you like, Gala’s hold up to the cooking and are the perfect sweet compliment to the cheese). Broil a minute or two until the cheese melts. Watch the edges of the dough, which are more likely to burn. Remove from oven and cut with a very sharp knife. Let the nom nom begin!

Happy Friday!

Baking is my yoga

It started with some grapes.  They showed up in my refrigerator looking all innocuous but hiding a deep dark secret.

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They were delicious.

Seriously, black grapes are my spirit animal.  Which led to me think, as I always do when really good grapes make their way into my house, ‘I should make foccacia’.  I haven’t made foccacia, or any bread really, in a while; it requires one thing I do not have – time.  It takes two days to make this stuff.  I’m sure there are faster ways to do it, but bread shouldn’t be rushed.

Bread is love, it is tangible patience.  There is something about the feel of dough as you knead it , incorporating more and more flour and pressure until the gluten develops and what was once a sticky mess becomes something soft and pliable.  There is a smell that rises as the yeast begins to wake up and eat and work.  Rampant expectation as the dough rises not once, but twice: overnight in the refrigerator and then in a warm place for an hour.  There is a particular pleasure in dimpling the surface of the dough with your fingertips just before thrusting the whole mess into a hot oven and baking it until your kitchen fills with the scent of warm olive oil and joy.  The crunch of the first bite that you steal before it’s cool enough, and therefore wise, to do so.  Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, foccacia is an exploration in taste and texture.

Or, you know, bread is bread.

2014-09-15 12.29.09I topped mine very simply with sea salt and pressed grapes into the dimples on half of it before baking.  They add a delicious sweetness to the salty and umami flavors.  But the bread is just as good without the fruit.  Really, there are a thousand ways you could top it.  Garlic oil and rosemary, thinly sliced caramelized onions, a thin tomato sauce, the list goes on and on. Slice it and serve with butter, dip in oil infused with herbs, or make a delicious sandwich, if you can keep yourself from just standing over the bread board with a sharp knife in one hand, slicing off just one more little piece until the thing is half gone.

I’ve often espoused the relative therapeutic qualities of baking, but bread has to be among the most soothing.  This is a season of stress in my life.  Not only mine, quite a number of the people in my social circle seem to be falling apart.  Sickness and injury, personal heartache and disappointment, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  With Christmas just a few months away, it’s certainly going to get worse before it gets better.  I don’t have any wise words to offer.  I can’t teach the world to sing in perfect harmony or anything, but if you’d like, you can come over for some homemade bread, and for a minute or two, maybe everything will be okay.

Happy Monday!

The Problem with Snow days…

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Don’t get me wrong, I love a snow day as much as the next person, maybe more.  But come on already, enough is enough.

The problem really comes down to what I call the Snow Day Paradox.  On the one hand, I have a whole day to get things done that I normally wouldn’t have time for.  On the other hand, all I really want to do is bake.  That’s right, friends, when the snow outside is howlin’, I have visions of sugarplums, or cupcakes, or fruit pie dancing through my head.

The other issue is that I’m trying to be healthier and the dessert binge that follows a day of baking is no dieters dream.  Plus then there are dishes.  My kingdom for a husband who does dishes!!

*Ahem*

Instead of giving in to the misery that can accompany the SDP, I took to the interwebs for a guilt-free, or at least guilt-light, recipe.  That’s when the trouble started.  While there are TONS of recipes out there for healthy desserts, most of them begin with “1 box of (insert flavor here) cake mix”.  I’m not opposed to the proliferation of boxed cake mixes, I’m really not.  I think that boxed mixes help out people who don’t have time or expertise enough to make a cake from scratch (though it honestly doesn’t take a lot of either) or for making certain kinds of flavored cakes (alcohol based cakes do better with a mix, because they stay more stable), but when I want to bake, I want to BAKE.  A box just won’t cut it.

Enter this amazing Red Velvet Cupcake recipe from Gina at SkinnyTaste.com.  The recipe is simple, but not exactly easy, and you should be sure that you’ve read through all the instructions ahead of time (Hint: you should end up with 3 bowls for the batter).

All in all, it was a smashing success of baking and lounging and cuddling with Stuart and not much productive was done.

Stay safe and warm!

You Know What? Fine!

So, I’ve started a new job.  Not just now, a couple weeks ago.  One of the perks of having this job is that I have coworkers.  These are generally lovely people and they have this great tradition of eating lunch together every day at noon.  For someone who has been working by herself for 2 years and never had lunch with anyone, this is kind of a big deal.

At lunch, we talk about all kinds of things, and one day last week we were talking about cake.  I mentioned that I had made this super amazing chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.

And I have.

And it’s soooooooo good.

However, this was not the first thing that I told them I’d made before, and one of the girls exclaimed, “You say you can make all kinds of things, but I’ve never seen them!”

So I made the cake this weekend, and brought it in today.

It was awesome.

Happy Monday!

Who You Callin’ A Meringue?

Meringues fascinate me.  Whip together egg whites and sugar and something to stabilize the whole mess until it’s fluffy and stiff and then bake it and it becomes a light, sweet, sponge of air and deliciousness.  Now, I full intend to make a gorgeous meringue dessert from Ina Garten, but my first foray into the meringue world was something a little…simpler?

Or so I thought.

Enter: Chocolate Meringue Pie

You can find the recipe that I used here, but basically, once again, I learned that simple, does not always mean easy.  First, you make a pie crust and chill it for an hour, fit it to a pie pan and prick the bottom with a fork.  Then you blind bake it for a few minutes to set.  Meanwhile you make what is essentially homemade chocolate pudding and let that cool for just a minute before you put it in the crust.  While that’s cooling down you make the meringue.  The method for the meringue is not one that I’ve seen before, but it was quite impressive.  Then, top the pie with the meringue and bake it a bit longer, until the meringue is cooked and set.  The recipe dares you to eat it soon after, but unless you want a gooey HOT chocolate mess on your hands, I’d let it cool completely before serving.  Trust me on this one.

Here is the result:

Pretty, no?

Happy Wednesday!

Never Cook a Chicken in the Microwave…and other lessons

Today is Saturday, and like so many others, each weekend I desperately cling to the idea that I’ll do something creative, or at the very least productive.  This is usually preempted by my desire to sleep half the day away.  This morning, however, my body decided to rouse me at a more socially acceptable hour (with the help of my dog, who wanted desperately to go out) and what follows is a random series of events that ended in pie.  Sound good?

After weeks of begging I finally acquiesced and went target shooting with my dad.  It’s really important to him that we do these kinds of things together.  It’s really important to me that I get to shoot things.  Win-win. Then, off the hardware store to help my mom pick out paint for her kitchen.  And dining room.  And living room.  And foyer.  There will be photos documenting the transformation, worry not.

I’ve spoken briefly about my love affair with Pampered Chef products.  This love has been exponentially increased recently because I just had a Pampered Chef party and got all sorts of brilliant goodies.  The best of the best of them is the Deep Covered Baker, which I call the “Magic Pot” because it is, well, magic.  I kind of thought it was before, but now I’m convinced.  One of the things that the Pampered Chef people swear that this dish can do is cook chicken in the microwave.

*Pause for Reaction*

I know, right?!  You are all shaking your heads in disbelief and screaming at the screen, “SIMONE! PLEASE SAY YOU DIDN’T COOK A CHICKEN IN THE MICROWAVE!!!!”

I most certainly did.  And it was AWESOME.

I took a whole fryer and after discarding all the icky parts, washing and drying and lubing it up with some Canola Oil, a couple cloves of garlic, salt, thyme, and paprika, threw it in the Magic Pot.  20 minutes later a perfect, beautiful AMAZING chicken stared up at me.  I kid you not. I can’t even talk about it.

Anyway, I tell you all that to say this, I made pie.  Now, I’m an experienced pie baker, so it wasn’t like I was trying to make a pie for the first time or anything.  This isn’t that story.  I recently acquired a cup-pie pan, so this is that story.  A cup pie pan is exactly what is sounds like; a pan in which you can make 4 individual sized pies.  It’s a revelation.  I got mine from Sur La Table but I’m sure other companies make them.  It’s basically the same as trying to make a whole pie, only you do it four times.

Now any experienced pie maker will tell you that there is only so much control you have over your crust.  The rest is left up to God and the universe, but mostly the relative humidity of your kitchen.  Try as you might, there are some days when a pie just does not want to be made.  This was one of those days, but for you, I fought back.  Ready?

CHERRY CUP PIES!

For the CRUST

Here’s What You’ll Need

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

2 Tb. Butter (Chilled)

2/3 C. Shortening (Chilled)

1 tsp. Salt

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Sift together the flour and salt.  Add half the shortening and half of the butter.  Use a pastry cutter (IF you have one.  Don’t worry about it.  Two knives will do the same job. You can even use your fingers. Just be quick, you don’t want the butter to melt) to cut the butter in until the butter is pea-sized.  It should look like this:

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Fancy.  Now add the rest of the shortening and butter and keep working it until it looks like cornmeal.  That won’t make sense until you see it.  Then you’ll go, “Ah…okay.” Trust me.

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Like this!

Okay.  Then sprinkle on up to 4 Tb. of water and fluff it with a fork until a dough starts to emerge. Turn it out on a lightly floured surface and knead a couple times to bring it together.  Divide the dough in half and put the other half back in a bowl, covered in a damp cloth, and throw it in the fridge.  Working quickly, roll out the dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut 4 rounds it it. Most pans come with a tool for this very purpose.  Drop the crusts into the pan and fill with your favorite pie filling (I used Cherry Pie Filling right out of the can).  Repeat with the top crusts and crimp the edges together to seal.  Mine looked like this:

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Bake at 450F for 5 minutes and the drop to 350F for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Mine seemed to really resist getting brown, so after about 30 minutes, I hit them with the broiler for just a couple more.  Cool until just warm before serving.

Have a great weekend!