Monday, December 20, 2010

Oranges for Christmas

Every Christmas, since I've been living on my own, I've picked a very rigid color theme to decorate my tree and home. At first, my family snickered at me because I couldn't have anything but the Designated Color/Theme wrapping paper under my tree. And I don't know WHY I started doing this. Probably because I'm a control freak. But start I did. The first year was relatively easy: silver and gold. The second year, I had this magnificent idea: turquoise and lime green! My mom balked at me and my enthusiasm deflated and I settled on red, white and silver. I will never go against my instinct again; I regretted it the whole time and the next season, all the stores had those turquoise and green decorations! But the draw to it had passed. If only I'd followed my gut! ARGH.

The year after, 2007, was my Houston Oiler's colors, red and light blue. It was lovely! Then 2008 was inspired by the Pottery Barn garden theme so it was all naturals and greens and golds! I think that one was my favorite because there were birds and butterflies and adorableness. Of course, with all that natural greenery, I went the opposite in 2009 and was all winter: blues and silvers and whites and snow. And that was okay but nothing that I was crazy about.

This year, like every year I'm crazy about a theme, I see one thing and cling to it and make my entire theme around it. This year, it was a wreath from Williams-Sonoma: simple evergreen with dried oranges and pinecones. Orange and chocolate. It hooked me immediately. And the thing is, I don't even really like oranges in general. But they're such a wonderful Christmas tradition that I never even knew about. My theme evolved to winter fruits, oranges and cranberries, so there's splashes of red color mixed in!

First, I made dried orange slices for Christmas ornaments and, dude! They came out WAY better than I could've hoped for! So vibrant and natural and purdy! And EASY. I also made a clove orange pomander (as seen above) that came out lovely! Probably my favorite thing this season so far!


1. Preheat oven to 250. Slice oranges 1/4" thick. Dip in mixture of half fresh lemon juice, half water. Place on wire rack set above rimmed cookie sheet. (Or you can place slices directly on your oven rack as some instructions say, but I was afraid of juices dripping in my oven.)

2. Let dry out at 250 for 1 hour, turning slices over every 30 minutes for even drying. Lower oven temperature to 225 and dry for another 2 hours, again, turning every 30 minutes.

3. Take out of oven and let cool to room temperature. I did not even store the dried slices in an air-tight container because I was afraid moisture would build up in it; I WANT them dry and preserved! So I hung them right away and it's been two weeks! So far, so good!

Then I started looking for orange or orange/chocolate recipes. I found a few and, long story short (too late), none have blown my skirt up. I made Cranberry Orange Muffins from Williams-Sonoma that were thoroughly disappointing with fresh cranberries. They were unbearably tart and the recipe called for too many! Then there was an orange-flavored chocolate ganache tart. Mreh. Too simplistic and nothing amazing. I'm waiting for that awesome dessert to wow me and this year, I'm just not feeling it.

I did, however, catch these cookies on Paula Deen's cookie exchange episode. They've been quite finicky for me so I say, watch carefully: since they're chocolate, there's no way of judging their doneness by how dark they are! So the first batch, I followed the Food Network recipe of 10 minutes bake time and they came out as goopy messes. The second batch I went about 13-15 minutes and they were sturdy and had a nice soft chewiness in the center. Perfect! The THIRD batch, I let go for about 15-17 minutes and wow they came out completely crunchy and hard. ARGH. Curse you, brown colored cookies!

So know your oven and make a few batches to find out how you want your cookies. I think it also made a difference in the shape: the first batch, I rolled into balls as I saw the woman do on the show. The second, which came out perfect, I left as round discs and just pat the rough edges down before sugar dusting. That gave them the nice edges and chewy center!

Overall, these are a very chocolatey and delish cookie! They're keepers!

Source: Christy Hyer

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
White Sanding sugar, for garnish

1. In a large bowl, add the butter and sugar and cream together with mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the creamed mixture and mix until combined. In a medium bowl, mix the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until incorporated.

2. Roll the dough into 2 logs that are about 2-inches high and 1-foot long. Wrap them in waxed paper and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Once thoroughly chilled, slice the cookies into 1/2-inch thick rounds and cover with sanding sugar. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove to a wire rack to cool.

And there's more orange and chocolateness to come! HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYONE!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zombies! ...scare me

I was asked to make something for the office Halloween party and when instructed to make it "gory" and "gross", I had to abandon the adorable pumpkin truffles I was imagining making. I came across this zombie cake by Dessert By Candy last year and looooooved the way it looked! And, also loving a challenge, I decided it was perfect for my needs.

I knew I wouldn't make that intense of a cake for a casual office party - the recipe she uses seems more of a one-layer, dense, flourless cake. Instead, I fell back on my favorite chocolate, the Beatty's Chocolate Cake Ina Garten put out a while ago. I use it for everything, I swear; it's delicious! Then, because this was supposed to be gory, I made my OTHER favorite chocolate accompaniment, raspberry filling! Like BLOOD! Get it??

That left the decoration which was really my focus from the beginning. The fingers are made of marzipan, which I've never worked with before. As I opened the box to find an air-tight tube, I got a little nervous to find the stuff hard as a brick. I should've done more research but I threw the log (unwrapped) in the microwave and heated it slowly until it was more pliable. It started to dry out immediately and I had to work VERY fast to get anything resembling a shape from it. In the end, I wasn't 100% happy with the results (because they didn't look like Dessert by Candy's) but everyone said it worked because the hand was a dead zombie so all the cracks were fine! (And the nails are almond slices, attached with extra ganache.)

Ultimately, the whole thing was a hit! Happy belated Halloween! (And get ready for pumpkin coming your way!)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Green Eating (Mostly)

I'd like to explain that I've had a slight culinary 180 in the last few months but I'm not sure I can explain it fully myself. I had a crisis of conscience and, simply put, I won't be cooking meat anymore. Or eating it.

Now, this has actually produced a surge in my cooking since I won't run by a McDonald's for dinner anymore. My new eating habits require planning and forethought, which is one of my favorite things about cooking! The finding new recipes and making plans!

I have baked but only a little - the bran muffins I made last year, some with banana and walnut and some with pumpkin (instead of applesauce). They've been my go-to breakfast for the past couple weeks.

Mostly, though, I've been cooking. I made a spinach and mushroom veggie lasagna that combined two recipes - one vegan and one by Gia De Laurentis - that did neither justice, I'm afraid. It was a lot of ingredients and work and in the end, it came out bland. With some salt, it was decent, though.

I've been experimenting with roasting veggies and using my new rice cooker and trying to figure out tofu. It's a learning process and nothing memorable enough to blog about.

Until this, I suppose. I was looking for spinach recipes because I kind of looooooove spinach. I found this pasta from Ina Garten and it has good fats (olive oil) and veggies (spinach/peas) and I used ~fortified pasta for extra fiber/vitamins. I'm not completely sold on "fortified" products when everything says whole wheat (rice/pasta/flour) is best so just go with that. But it just tasted so yummy and was on sale. I think next time I'll just go with whole wheat but this fortified business was worth a try.

This would be a great potluck dish too!

Source: Ina Garten

3/4 pound fusilli pasta
3/4 pound bow tie pasta (I used rotini because I just love the shape)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 cups pesto, packaged
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is al dente. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pignolis, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, AMERICA.

YES, I am a week late for the 4th of July festivities. But, no, these cookies were not late. I made these two weeks ago in anticipation of a week-long vacation from which I just returned. So I have a good excuse and it's better late than never!

Quick story on how these patriotic treats came to be. See, I'm a big football/soccer fan and have been since I got into it a few years back in London. It was great rooting for the Three Lions (England's national team) but once I got back to the States, it had to be Team USA all the way! (Especially since we were such underdogs and needed support.) So this World Cup, I went all out and, what do you know: America flags, shirts, beads, etc all pop up in stores, right in time for our big games (and July 4th, but whatever).

My 5 year old niece saw me with all this America bling. A few days went by and we were visiting at my mom's house where she proceeded to bring me a set of patriotic cookie cutters that she bought at the store. I said, "What's this?" and she replied, "They're for YOU ... to make cookies. For ME." Oooohhkay! So I kinda had to at that point. I mean, it was sort of an order.

But truth be told, I love doing this stuff. It's not that much work and the final product coming out cute is worth every minute!

I tried a new sugar cookie recipe because I'm always on the prowl for the perfect sugar cookie. These came out nice and soft, held their shape perfectly and were hard to mess up (even after re-rolling). They never browned but did get crisp (though light) if I rolled thin enough. Keep them at a respectable thickness and they'll be nice and soft!

Also, the icing is from those tubes of Wilton "frosting" you buy in the stores. I struggled with the thought of royal icing and in the end, just made do with what I had. Turns out, that sweet frosting is really good on cookies. Think of those Lofthouse soft sugar cookies you get in the store. Mmm. But I piped on the lines and just spread the rest with a knife! It's all about adapting with what you have!

Source: Williams-Sonoma

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 piece vanilla bean, about 2 inches long, or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds into the butter mixture. If using vanilla extract, add it now. Mix well.

In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the flour mixture directly onto the butter mixture. Reduce the speed to low and beat until well mixed.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (The dough can be prepared up to 3 days ahead.) Let it soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Prepare 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a dough disk 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Gather up and reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough disks

Bake until the cookies are golden on the edges, about 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely. Decorate the cookies as desired with colored sugars and decorating pens. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes 24 to 30 cookies, depending on cutter size.

And, P.S. I AM heartbroken by our results at the World Cup. But it doesn't lessen my love for our national team and players. They're still awesome and I love them!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rainbows Pride and Love!

Happy Pride Month, peeps! I love rainbows and I love equality. Pride Month is right up my alley! In the interest of full disclosure, I saw this recipe on All Recipes as a "clown cake" and went, 'OOOoo, pretty rainbows!' And then I saw Yahoo's sweet Pride color bar and a light bulb went off. HEY, I can kill two birds with one stone: challenge of a new recipe and support my gay friends and family!

First thing's first, I used a box cake and went by it's specifications. The All Recipes one has it's own that I didn't think was necessary based on the fact that it was just food coloring basically. Second thing, and I can't stress this enough, USE TWO BOX MIXES. I used one and somehow made 12 cupcakes out of a box that insisted it would make 24... Like the other 12 got lost in a black hole somewhere. Gone for eternity... And doubling the recipe will just plain make handling the six separate colors easier.

Okay, so they look like a psychedelic trip from the outside which, when I first saw, got me a little heartbroken because I wanted beautiful layers. Then I bit into one:

HURRAH! I evened out some of the first layers with toothpick to the edges but after the first three, I knew it would come out fine when it started to cook down.

Adapted from All Recipes, submitted by lovestohost

2 boxes white cake mix
egg whites
purple food coloring gel
blue food coloring gel
green food coloring gel
yellow food coloring gel
orange food coloring gel
red food coloring gel

1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Prepare cupcake pans with liners or by greasing.

2. Use egg white option of cake box directions. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until frothy, about 1 minute. Add the cake mix, water, and canola oil; continue beating for 2 minutes on medium speed.

3. Divide the cake batter into six separate ziplock plastic bags. Use a toothpick to scoop a dab of food coloring into each bag. Seal and mix inside bag; add more food coloring, if necessary, to reach the desired shade. Repeat with the remaining colors and bags of batter.

4. Cut corner of bags and pipe 1/6 of the first color in the bottom of all liners. Repeat with the next colors (rainbow going purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red) until cups are 2/3 full.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes clean, about 18-20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Top with your favorite icing (mine is vanilla buttercream)!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, No One!

I've been in search of an awesome ice cream flavor because it's summer. Summer = ice cream, always. But over the last few years, I've made all my favorites: cinnamon, pistachio, coffee, coconut, German chocolate, bacon. I kid! The bacon wasn't just a favorite; it was THE favorite. kidding. So while I could make variations of these favorites, I kinda wanted something new. Well. This sounded awesome and while I never order cake batter ice cream at Cold Stone, it always seemed really good.

This is one of those ice creams that tastes like CREAM. Maybe that's the thing with homemade that I'm not used to. Some people like it. I'm on the fence... But it has actual cake mix in it so it's fine frozen but, man, don't let it melt because it becomes this mutant blob of non-solid, non-liquid goop. Not that you would let it melt but still. It's a weird concoction.

It's REALLY strong, though, and hard to eat much of. That's okay; this recipe doesn't make much. It's nice to have something novel to make/try but I don't think I'll be making it again.

Source: All Recipes, by Ekho

1 cup milk
1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup white cake mix, sifted

Whisk together milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, cream, and cake mix in a saucepan until well blended. Cook over medium-low heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees F (70 degrees C), stirring frequently. Remove from heat and place in the refrigerator or freezer until liquid is cold.

Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions until it reaches "soft-serve" consistency. Transfer ice cream to a one- or two-quart lidded plastic container; cover surface with plastic wrap and seal. For best results, ice cream should ripen in the freezer for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pies for your hands!

If y'all don't know by now, I'm here to tell you: I LOVE STRAWBERRIES. And I have some kind of physical compulsion to buy them when they're so beautiful and fresh in the store. So I get home and have a couple containers of strawberries and say, 'Now what?'

This time, the 'what' was hand pies. I'm in constant search of an awesome pie crust and I think my search may be over. I found the strawberry hand pie recipe from Good Things Catered but their dough recipe called for buttermilk which I did not have. So I found one from Epicurious and holy cow. It came out damn near perfect. Flaky and buttery! I don't even care about the filling as long as the crust is good!! To be honest, it's my favorite part of pie. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it would've been perfect! I can't wait to make it in a whole sized pie and see if it comes out as good.

The recipe from Good Things Catered calls for 3 cups of strawberries and that was a little too much for the pie dough that I had. I cut that by a cup but kept the sugar content because my strawberries were actually a tad tart. I wish I would've tasted before I baked; I would have added more sugar. So TASTE YOUR BERRIES and then judge how much sweetness needs to be added. Mine needed a bit more.

But overall, this was a smashing success, mostly because I CONQUERED PIE CRUST. And they're so darn cute! Lookit the widdle hand pies!

Adapted from: Epicurious (Original recipe for full pies here.)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat-free)

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Freeze cubed butter and shortening until frozen; 15-30 minutes. Combine flour and salt in food processor to mix. Add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle 5-7 tablespoons of ice water over mixture while lightly pulsing until just incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough. (Personal note: I usually process until it forms a ball and this time, I decided not to. I used 6 tablespoons of water and the mixture did not pull together. Instead, it was clumpy but when I pressed with my fingers, it held. There were dots of butter visible in dough.)

Turn dough out onto a powdered sugar-dusted work surface and form together. Cut pie dough in half and form into two disks. Wrap both portions in plastic wrap and freeze. Pastry dough can be chilled up to 2 days ahead.


2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (or cubed; make small pieces)

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment.

In medium bowl, combine strawberries, granulated sugar and lemon juice and set aside.

Let frozen pie dough disk defrost, 30 minutes to an hour. Dough should be very cold and hard to roll out. Roll onto a powered sugar-dusted work surface to about 1/8 in thickness, moving and turning over constantly to avoid sticking. Using round pastry cutter (or trace knife around small plate), cut out about 5-6 inch rounds.

Place round onto baking sheet and place about 2-3 Tbsp strawberry mixture into center.

Using pastry brush dipped in a small amount of egg, brush the edge of half of the round. Fold dry edge onto egg brushed half, forming semicircle shape, and press edges together to seal with the tines of a fork.

Brush the top of the pie with egg mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Use a small knife to make a 1 inch slit in the top of the pie for steam to escape. Repeat with remaining pastry dough.

Place in oven and bake until tops are beginning to turn golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 7-10 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer Strawberry Season!

YOU GUISE. Seriously, you guys. SRSLY. I LOVE strawberries. Like, I would marry them if I could. They're perfection. And it's STRAWBERRY SEASON OMG.

Now, my mom made one of the best cakes I've ever had for my birthday and do you know what I did? I left my camera at home. And it was GORGEOUS. She made this Almond Chiffon Cake with mixed berries beautifully piled on top (it looked just like that pic) and it was DELISH. I'm really disappointed that I forgot my camera but it was a crazy-awesome birthday and I got caught up.

To continue on the OMG FRESH BERRIES kick, I picked up some strawberries this weekend and got right to using them! The first is this
strawberry tart which, okay, tarts? They are TIME CONSUMING. You prepare the ingredients by laying some out to come to room temp (or freezing butter for the dough), then you assemble the dough and put that back in the freezer once it's in the pan. Make the pastry cream (which I'm getting better at with practice) then throw that in the fridge for a couple more hours. You bake the tart crust and set that out to cool. Once that's cool and then the cream is properly chilled, you can finally prep the strawberries and assemble everything! It took most of Saturday.

But it was TOTALLY worth it. I love fruit tarts. It was a hit with the family too! Success all around! I should make more tarts...


Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. If dough does not come together, add 1-2 Tbsp of cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you can pinch dough together.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

2. To roll or press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

If you want to roll the dough, chill it for about 2 hours before rolling (unless you've used frozen butter and the dough comes out of the processor firm and cold, in which case you can roll it immediately). I find it easiest to roll this dough out between two sheets of plastic film – make sure to peel away the film frequently, so it doesn't get rolled into the dough.

If you want to use the press-in method, you can work with the dough as soon as it's processed. Just press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don't press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.


2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth (don't let the eggs and sugar stand together for too long or else the sugar will cook the eggs *so I've heard*).

When the milk is ready, slowly drizzle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. The mixture must come just to the boiling point (slow bubbles, not boiling vigorously, or you will curdle the eggs, yuk). Remove from heat and immediately pour through a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into 1 tbsp pieces and whisk into pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time until smooth.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming and put in the refrigerator to cool for 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Assemble tart inside pan to prevent crust breaking. Cover with desired fruit! (For a glossy coat, microwave about 1/4 cup apricot (or raspberry or strawberry) jam for 30 seconds or until liquid enough to brush over fruit.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pig Cake!

Every year I make my mom's birthday cake at the beginning of April and she makes mine at the end. We're both pretty easy to make happy - I like anything pink or with berries and she likes chocolate. This year, she felt like something different and she produced a recipe she'd cut out of the Houston Post over 20 years ago (1987 omg!). It was a cake she'd had at a potluck and *remembered* liking it a lot but couldn't exactly remember why. So she gave the recipe to me and said Make it so!

Personally, I'm a little offended by ~cake mixes. Mostly because sometimes cake mixes are just plain better than homemade. They're so soft and effortlessly fluffy... It's not FAIR. It's cheating! However. This recipe called for a mix which made it super easy to make.

It was also super easy to EAT. They say it's called "Pig Pickin' " because you make a pig of yourself. I will support this claim. We all went back for seconds. I'll keep this cake in rotation, no problem. Mmmm!

Adapted from: Ann Valentine

1 package yellow cake mix with pudding
1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges, UNDRAINED
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, UNDRAINED
1 9-ounce carton frozen whipped topping thawed
1 (3.75-ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix

Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans. Line bottoms with waxed paper; grease again; set aside. Combine cake mix, mandarin oranges, eggs and oil; beat 2 minutes at highest speed of electric mixer. Reduce speed to low; beat 1 minute. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes; remove layers from pans, let cool completely.

Combine remaining 3 ingredients; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer; let stand 5 minutes in refrigerator or until mixture is of spreading consistency. Spread pineapple mixture between layers and on top of cake - you may frost sides if desired. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Irish Cream tastes like Irish Cream

I've done better at baking, I HAVE. See this cake?? I made it almost two weeks ago as a tester for a work potluck! It was BEFORE St. Patty's, I promise. I just never got around to posting. It's been a busy few weeks.

So in my search for Irish and/or St. Patty's themed food, I came across an insanely high rated Irish Cream cake at All Recipes. Sounded promising. I made it with minor adjustments (an angel food pan instead of Bundt so the top was flat and could be dressed prettier) and dug in with high hopes. Yeah, it tasted like alcohol. Okay, not ENTIRELY. Actually, the second day, the alcohol in the glaze and cake was much more subtle and the cake had absorbed most of the glaze to make it nice and moist. But there was still Irish cream in it. I don't know what I was expecting; it's an IRISH CREAM CAKE. Now, I enjoy my liquor as much as the next gal but there's just something about mixing certain desserts and alcohol. I didn't love it. But those I tested it on thought it was quite nice. So maybe I'm a harsh critic.

If you like a little bite to a moist cake, this one will hit the spot.

Source: All Recipes, by Sue Haser

1 cup chopped pecans
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Irish cream liqueur
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch angel food (or bundt) pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over bottom of pan.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup oil and 1 cup Irish cream liqueur. Beat for 5 minutes at high speed. Pour batter over nuts in pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto the serving dish. Prick top and sides of cake; I used a chopstick for larger holes. Spoon glaze over top and brush onto sides of cake. Allow to absorb glaze repeat until all glaze is used up.

To make the glaze: In a saucepan, combine butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup Irish cream. If it looks curdled, whisk quickly until glaze becomes smooth.

Sprinkle extra chopped pecans on top for decorative dressing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Making Coffee ~Irish

Okay, not REALLY. I mean, I could've added some whiskey to my coffee but, ew. Whiskey's not my scene. Not that this Bailey's Irish Cream coffee IS, but I had to try it, at least once. I envisioned something a little sweeter, I suppose (and added some sugar to it anyway). Alas, alcohol still tastes like alcohol in coffee. Now, I like coffee and I like drinking but, to me, the two shouldn't mix. It's just weird. I'm very picky about my coffee. ~Flavors in it (aside from the occasional mocha) just get in the way. I'll take my Americano, thank you very much.

But, for those wondering, this was simply a straight cup of fresh brew with Bailey's Irish Cream substituted for cream and a teaspoon of sugar. And whipped cream on top. To those of you who enjoy a kick to your coffee, I say, Go crazy!

March is rolling along nicely, isn't it? :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soft Sugar Cooks

OKAY, well, there's my green; my March obligation is fulfilled! I KID. I'm planning more, trust.

I like to bake junk to thank people for being awesome to me. Or just to give because I like them. Or if it's a day ending in Y. I like giving bakery to people, okay? So a friend loaned me a TV series on DVD some time LAST YEAR. It got shuffled around in my house and shelved and I never got around to it. I pine for my loaned out DVDs sometimes so I had to make her a thank you for putting up with my forgetfulness. You can't really go wrong with straight-forward sugar cookies.

I planned to make a recipe another friend gave me. Naturally, I misplaced it (hey, like the DVD!), so I started rifling around in my saved recipes. This one caught my eye, even though it's from All Recipes, because it proclaims it's a "State Fair Blue Ribbon winner". WELL. I'm intrigued.

I love soft cookies in general so I was on board for this. They never browned up so I worried a little as I watched them in the oven but the called for 12+ minutes past with nary an edge browning. Turns out, they were perfect: lightly crispy on the outside and soft/chewy near the middle. I passed them out and everyone loved them! I later warmed them up a little in the microwave at half power for 30 seconds and woo wee. WARM COOKIES ARE TEH BEST. With a glass of milk, these are kind of perfect!

Submitted by Laura Stearns, All

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the creamed mixture until dough comes together. Roll dough into walnut sized balls and roll the balls in sugar. Place them on an unprepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Flatten lightly with bottom of glass.

Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until bottom is light brown. Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

February and chocolate, CHECK

AH HA. I caught you, last day of February! Take THAT, procrastination!

These are just a few mini cupcakes I made in a hurry for Valentine's. They're a box mix. I know. I bring shame on my family. HOWEVER the buttercream icing is real! It's my favorite [because it's so terrible for you]. And they were serious good. Two quick bites of delish. :)


1 cup Crisco Shortening
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
2 tbsps heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted (measure then sift)

In your mixer bowl, beat the shortening until it's smooth, add the butter and beat together until smooth and light and fluffy. Add smaller amount of the heavy cream indicated in the recipe and the vanilla and mix well.

Add half the powdered sugar and mix for 5 minutes on low-med speed. Add remaining sugar and mix well. Add more cream or powdered sugar if necessary to adjust the consistency

Add coloring as desired.

I'm making a resolution here and now: MARCH is going to be my baking month. I always tell myself I'm going to make calendar-appropriate recipes like Irish soda bread and green stuff but I never do. Well, I'm putting the pressure on myself right now. SOMETHING GREEN IS GOING TO BE HAPPENING IN MARCH. Or at least have the spirit of Irish-ness.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chocolate and failure

You know, when I started this blog, it was not to be Niki's Baking Triumphs or anything. It was meant to chronicle the ups and downs, the successes and failures, of my baking adventures. I guess I lost sight of that, only wanting to publish my wins and sweep the failures under the rug. I got the impression that people reading might be taking my posts as an endorsement of the recipes I attempted instead of reading through and discovering I found it lacking or ho-hum.

I would be lying if I said I hadn't baked since those little pumpkin pies, way back in October. I've baked plenty. The holidays always bring out the excitement in me so I made my annual peanut butter blossoms, sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and a bread pudding for my dad visiting. So baking was going on, I simply didn't have the time (or natural lighting of daylight to take pictures thanks to living in this eternal night wasteland called Alaska; DEAR MIDNIGHT SUN SUMMER, WHERE ARE YOU). But I digress. There's been baking but no posting. Which brings me to now.

I got another idea in my head that I couldn't shake. A pie. A chocolate pie. And Julie & Julia was no help; just as Keri Russell's pie maker in Waitress whipped up a dark chocolate pie, so too did Amy Adams in that flick and both immediately inspired me to want one of my own. But this idea was very specific; it was of a dense but soft, almost cheesecake-consistency but not. Something you could cut into but would melt in your mouth with a not too overpowering taste. Almost a flourless chocolate cake but not so strong. Anyway, I went on the hunt.

The first chocolate pie I found was a "grandma's" recipe so I thought, hey, that might work. I don't understand why they're not just called chocolate PUDDING pie because that's what they are. Or is that assumed? I don't know; I've never had someone else's chocolate pie. I imagined something dark and rich and solid and that certainly wasn't. Also, the crust called for oil as the fat and after reading The Best Recipe book, it explains that oil makes for a hard crust because it holds no water that can evaporate during the cooking process and release air that makes crusts usually pocketed and flaky. Yeah, I'm never using oil in pie crust again.

The next I tried was from a friend from work who I often discuss cooking techniques with. She has a wealth of experience and she's an awesome source of help. She gave me a Fudge Pie recipe and I thought, Ooo, that sounds promising! Thick like fudge! I made it and it wasn't quite as thick as fudge. My version was definitely thicker than the pudding pie and it tasted lovely but it was still pretty soft (more like a soft cheese consistency) and not exactly what I was searching for.

Then I started rifling through my mom's old newspaper cut-out recipes and booklets. I found a Fudge Brownie Pie in an old Eagle Brand recipe booklet and figured a thicker, brownie consistency might be just what I'm looking for. Yeah, no. It tasted like a brownie in a completely unnecessary pie crust. Disappointment continued.

Upon talking it over more with my mom, I began to realize I was really in search of one thing: a silk pie. And not a FRENCH silk pie because those seemed to be more airy and light and with whipped cream and such. But a silk pie like the kind we used to get all the time from one business that pulled up stakes and moved out of town: the Alaska Silk Pie Company. Yeah, they're not in Alaska anymore and they charge around $40 to send about a 6" pie here. But their pies are
heavenly. That can't be denied.

So I went looking for silk pie recipes. The thing about silk pies is they're not baked and raw eggs are used. On their cooking channel special, the creator of the Alaska silk pies said she used 'pasteurized eggs'. Well, the only thing we could come up with was Egg Beaters. (I've since discovered techniques for home pasteurizing that are intriguing...) I found a seemingly simple French Silk pie recipe I figured I could weigh down with less beating and went to using Egg Beaters. It curdled up on me about 2/3 of the way through. I freaked out and called Mom for advice. She said throw it in the blender and that did the trick perfectly: it went back to a nice, smooth consistency. It called for refrigeration but when I uncoiled the spring form pan, it barely held together and it was, unfortunately a true French Silk filling; it was meant for a pie crust and meant to be soft. The other thing that bothers me a little is the fact that Egg Beaters is mostly egg whites which have a higher water content than whole eggs. Did that have something to do with the consistency? Perhaps.

So here I am. Four failures in and nothing to show for the quest. My mom caved and ordered an Alaska silk pie just to have a reminder and it was just as good as we remember. I'm afraid I'm going to have to try again because it was just so lovely.

As for posting, I will attempt to keep up here too; even when my kitchen is a den of failure. This blog is to chronicle ALL my adventures. Especially the losses so I won't make the same mistakes. NEVER FORGET.