Tuesday, February 23, 2010

All These Things That I've Done

For the past several months, I've been badgering Niknak to start a blog. She's an excellent writer, she's got great stories to tell, and because we're all so busy, blogs are a great way to keep up with what friends are doing with their lives. Last week, Niknak finally launched a sweet blog, and since she has done so, I've realized how unfaithful I've been when it comes to keeping mine updated. When she told me what it was called, "My Backburner," my mind immediately resorted to a song that until the other day, I couldn't think of the title, that says, "Don'tcha put me on the back burner-er-er," by The Killers, one of my favorite bands of all time. It's called, "All These Things That I've Done." every time I hear this song, I always think about "Dreams" by The Cranberries; both songs have similar qualities, in my opinion. Anyways, don't put Niknak on the back burner, check her out.
Back to my unfaithfulness. There are so many food blogs out there, and part of me fears that rintherealworld is turning into a food blog, but let's face it, all I want to do in the winter is cook and eat. I'm waiting on a certain recipe, ahem, but I won't mention any names. All I'll say is that she commented about giving me "Natalie's Chocolate Cafe Au Lait Cake" recipe, and I'd like to try it out for cake #3 in Chocolate Cakery Shenanigans. I haven't even seen the recipe, but I love the name. When it comes to names and titles, especially of books and songs, I'm a book-by-the-cover judge. Sad, but true; at least I'll confess it.
One day last week, I was sitting in my office (obviously thinking about food in between the closing and cost statements I was working on), and a recipe idea just came to me. It was a light bulb moment for me, you know, the Aha! kind of moments in life that are absolutely blissful and seemingly few and far between. I had some tomatoes that were getting too ripe and taking up too much real estate in my limited-counter-space kitchen, so naturally I was trying to think of something to do with them. I went home after work and threw a few ingredients together, but I didn't record the proportions (I'm getting better with recording my experiments, but I'm still working on it...). I'm calling them Tomato Cakes. They're like a corn pancake with a big juicy slice of tomato in the center--I know what you're thinking, but no, it's not really a fried green tomato--and topped with a dollop of sour cream, I think my dad might be inclined to say they were what killed Elvis. I'm planning on making them later this week and I'll record measurements and share with all five of you (Because I hate to follow a vague recipe unless I'm just dying to get creative with it, turn it into a different animal and claim it as my own at a later date.).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Piece of My Heart

I made a heart-shaped red velvet cake in honor of Valentine's Day this past weekend. I love red velvet cake, but I hardly ever make it; it was cake #2 in Chocolate Cakery Shenanigans. A friend of mine tried to argue that the red velvet cake didn't count as chocolate cake, even though I made it and it was definitely a chocolate cake-granted, a mild chocolate cake, but chocolate nonetheless-so I'm including it in the list. The psychological effects of colored food are amazing to me.

Anyways, this one had four layers; I was kind of proud because I've only ever made two-layer cakes. Granted, I cut two thin cakes in half to make the 4 layers, but I just wanted an excuse to slather the tangy cream cheese frosting all over it. The cake recipe I used was my great aunt Nell's, which has always been prized as a "secret recipe," but as per my normal cake-making habit, I always add a dollop of sour cream (to keep it as moist as possible). One of my life's greatest pet peeves is dried out dessert; few things are worse than this. The cake turned out to be pretty good, though. My oven is a really old miniature one (It kind of makes me feel like Barbie. For real.), which also means that it bakes very unevenly. With that being said, one of my never ending obstacles when baking is trying not to dry out the cake edges while simultaneously trying to get the middle to actually settle. I love a moist cake, but when the edges are crispy and the center still jiggles like jello, I'd say it needs more oven-time. Someone suggested getting a baking stone to keep in the oven to keep the temperature more consistent. I think I may have to invest in one...

"Take another little piece of my heart, now baby..." (Or a big slice...):

Anyways, my red velvet cake is not the only heart I made this weekend...This is the famous Niknak (see below photo) that I always talk about. She's pretty much famous on rintherealworld. And this is her sweet Lhasa-poo (Lhasa Apso-poodle mix) dog Roxie. Niknak got Roxie when she could still fit in your hand when we lived together our last year at UVa, so I feel like I had some small part in raising her (even though I just had all the benefits of owning a pet without the maintenance). When I saw Rox for the first time, I thought she looked like a little bear cub, so I started calling her Roxiebear, and I that's what I've called her ever since. Roxiebear rocks my world, and she's the most laid back dog of all time. That's a fact. Except I like to think she gets super amped about seeing me. They came over for the day on Saturday to bake butter cookies.

Here was our workstation:

Dipped in semi-sweet chocolate:

Drizzled beauties:

One thing that we really weren't expecting to come out of a bag of Wilton Candy Melts was a grape lollipop...it makes me wonder about food factories. This was the look on Niknak's face when she opened the bag. WHAT?!?!

These sandwich cookies are imitation Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies with a hint of orange. I'm happy to say that they were very successful copycats. The "hint of orange" is a dab of pure orange extract mixed with the semi-sweet chocolate filing.

The finished products:

And as if the holiday isn't whimsical enough, I felt the urge to make a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch for myself on Valentine's Day. It's the little things in life...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What If We Went to Italy

It was an absolute blizzard in Charlottesvegas this past weekend. My mind left to its own devices in snowy, cold, winter weather obviously resorts to the preparation and eating of food, and lots of it. So H. and I decided to make gnocchi (Italian for "dumplings") for ourselves and whoever else wanted an escape to Italy amidst the seemingly never ending snow (that is, if they wanted to brave the roads). Sadly enough, only one of H.'s roomies could join us. I'd never even eaten gnocchi before, but we decided to make it from scratch, and it turned out to be really delicious (to me, at least). So we made it from a recipe in one of my Martha Stewart Bible-sized cookbooks, which had very nice, methodical directions for making gnocchi each step of the way, complete with pictures. So really, last Friday's feat couldn't have been accomplished without Niknak and her great ideas-big shout out to Niknak! We made spinach potato gnocchi and ate it with a creamy vodka sauce. Here's a glimpse of the preparation:
H. successfully made the potatoes look like they'd been through a ricer, a kitchen gadget that neither one of us own nor plan on owning in the near future. It started getting really thick and gooey and doughy once the flour was being added, so it may have been smart to use the sweet KitchenAid mixer and dough hook that sat in the corner rolling its eyes at us. However, we made ourselves feel better by repetitively stating how authentic the experience was because H. mixed the dough (which took forever) and I kneaded it for a couple of minutes to get the gluten working. That's some really authentic Italian hard work right there.
Then H. rolled the dough out and cut it into the little one-inch thick dumplings...
I took a fork and made them magically turn into cute little gnocchi! You roll one side over a fork and press in on the opposite side with your thumb so that there's a pocket on the gnoccho that will hold sauce. Very clever idea, props to the inventor(s) of gnocchi as well as MS for her good directions!
I had a big chunk of time to perfect the technique of gnocchi-crafting (or whatever it's called); there was another panful besides this one.
We laughed because we spent so much time making the gnocchi only to eat it with canned sauce, but it was still delicious. You just cook them in boiling water for a little over 2 minutes; when they rise to the top of the boiling water, you leave them in for another 15 seconds to give them that fluffy, "elegant" texture, according to MS. Because it would be the end of the world if gnocchi were "inelegant." Because we made so much, we froze the majority of it. So, a freezer bag and two minutes later will yield fresh gnocchi anytime for the next couple of weeks I'm sure, as there were copious amounts of it.
And then there were spicy molten lava cakes to go around afterward...these are becoming a go-to dessert for me to make...again, thanks be given to Niknak for the recipe! And they pair quite nicely with whatever red wine you use in the recipe...I think it was a Shiraz this time around.
Next on the pasta-making agenda will be some sort of meat-filled ravioli. Maybe we should gobble all the gnocchi up before undertaking another project of this sort (or split the recipe perhaps). I highly recommend a little excursion to Italy such as this one. It was a fun project, it tasted delicious, it was made with minimal amounts of moolah, and it was topped off by a snowball pitching contest.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tea and Sympathy

I saw these yumyum-looking cookies, chocolate Early Grey sandwich cookies with white chocolate filling, a few months ago and I thought 3 things, 1. I love chocolate. 2. I love Earl Grey tea and 3. I love fillings/icings/frostings, and then my mind conjured up all the lovely desserts that I love to consume.
I had several goals for these cookies, and maybe I set my expectations too high, but let's just say that the goals were not satisfied. I should preface why the goals were not completed with the following statement: I have been feeling very experimental in the kitchen and a wee bit too adventurous, so needless to say, these cookies were a humbling experience. I took the MacGuyver approach to these cookies: I had all the necessary ingredients to make them, but I kind of made up the recipe using elements from a bunch of different ones. Bad Idea. I even bought a cute duck shaped cookie cutter for the occasion (I don't even like ducks, but the cuteness of this cookie cutter overcame me.). I wanted the cookies to be a crunchy shortbread, not chewy, and I wanted the white chocolate filling to be creamy and fluffy, but I also wanted it to harden a little bit in between the cookies. The cookie dough was a disaster. I couldn't even use the cookie cutter because it was so gooey. The cookies tasted fine, they actually had a pretty nice flavor. I loved the integration of the chocolate and bergamot (from the Earl Grey). I think my disheartened mood had to do with my little duckie cookie cutter ultimately getting excluded from the project. A quick word on the filling. I was really amped about the filling because I thought it would blend well with the cookies and be absolutely delicious. However, I did not use a double boiler to melt the white chocolate. Bad Idea. I scalded the chocolate, it separated from the butter and it was a hot mess. I didn't have enough white chocolate to try to remake it (and I was snowed in), so I got aggravated and was overcome with disappointment. The chocolate Earl Grey sandwich cookies with white chocolate filling defeated me on Saturday night. The only encouraging thing about this story is that they tasted better the next day, go figure. On Monday night, I wanted to prove to myself that I could make other cookies without botching them up. Well, I made chocolate chocolate chip cookies (I'd venture to call chocolate an obsession...), and now I'm running out my ears in cookies. Luckily everybody at my office likes my confections enough to humor me; hopefully they'll gobble them all up! Chocolate Cakery Shenanigans Update: The latest cakes I have made in the past week are some spicy molten chocolate cakes (recipe compliments of Niknak); they are delectable. I bought some little red ramekins to bake them in, and when you cut into them, chocolate lava runs out of them. They are seriously fancy restaurant quality, just because of the lava. Perfect with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar and a little scoop of vanilla ice cream. MMMMMmm.