Shine it!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The not-good-cold chocolate chip cookies with my McD's Happy Meal Hello Kitty toys...ate way too many happy meals lately...

Whew! What a weekend!

On Thursday and Friday I took the cardio-boxing and step class at my YMCA. Both classes are taught by the same instructor and she plays hip-hop gospel music - remember me pumping my arms up and down to "Praise him!"? This week, besides totally kicking my butt so that I was completely sore all weekend, she says during our cool-down stretching:

Feet apart, keep your back straight, and slowly touch the floor...
Pretend there is a flashlight on your butt and shine it to the sky!
Shine it!


Oh yeah! This little light of mine, I'm going let it shine!

After class, I shined my light on making some knock off Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting. I got the Mrs. Field's pseudo recipe from the Los Angeles Times S.O.S. section. The main deal is that you blend oats and flour into a powder for the dry goods. You also grate some chocolate so you'll have little flecks of chocolate in the every bite. However, this is one of those starts-great-ends-bad stories.

I used my new Silpat non-stick surface for my 1/2 sheet pan (which I so love). I think the Silpat made the bottoms of the cookies a little darker than the parchment paper cookies, but both worked fine. I do love the parchment (cut into perfect rectangles that fit on the 1/2 sheet pan) that I picked up at Surfas restaurant supply.

When they came out of the oven, they were so pretty and smelled great. I ate one and they were delicious. However, when I tried them on Saturday at the start of the completely awesome Simpsons Movie, they were bad. These cookies are definitely only good warm! Oh well, at least I ate two of them while they were hot.

On Saturday morning, I made Baking Illustrated's Yellow Cupcakes with Simple Chocolate Frosting recipe (page 345). I made the frosting before for the Sound of Music Sing-a-Long. However, this time I didn't whip the ganache and just let it cool down in the fridge. It made for a nice dense frosting that was way chocolately. Also ate one of the these during the completely awesome and hilarious and wonderful Simpsons Movie. (Really, go see it!)

(This has nothing to do with baking but it was almost surreal. My friend's cat was sick and we took him into the emergency vet on Saturday night. Dude, that place was hopping! We met a chihuahua named J-Lo and a few other cats and dogs (including one with little blue bows - sorry, that is always a bit disturbing). Anyway, when we were leaving around 11 pm, we saw a dog walking out with a cast on his leg. A full-on, hard cast with blue wrapping. After a long night of worrying, we just busted up laughing. I wonder if he had a bad skateboarding accident and if the other dogs are going to sign on it...)

Today, I went to Empress Pavilion for some dim sum with my friend Julie. Then, we went to Hipcooks in Lincoln Heights (near Chinatown) for a Knife Skills class. It totally rocked! Sharp knives can save your life and your cooking. Not a hyperbole, but a fact! :) I have a new wish list for knives. I'm looking forward to the Persian Immersion class next weekend!

Tonight, I tried to make a Boston Cream Pie from Baking Illustrated (page 357). I made the pastry cream first and then tried the sponge cake. Things started out fine (oh, you know where this is going...) and I used my new Magic Line 9x2 cake pans with Even-Bake strips for the sponge cake. By the way, here is how the little strips attach to the outside of the cake pan (yes, Miss D, the outside of the pan :)

After they came out of the pan, the instructions say to pop them out onto a plate and then reinvert onto a rack. Sounds simple, no? Well, when I tried to go from the plate to the rack, it totally fell apart because the cake stuck to the plate. Cake particles seemed to fill the kitchen. D'oh!

I ran out of eggs (this cake takes 5 eggs and the pastry cream takes 5 eggs) so I gave up. I'm just going to watch some trashy TV (Have you seen Confessions of a Match-Maker? [link opens to music] One word - The Best!) and stretch my completely sore muscles. Yeah, you know it. I'm going to shine it.
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Angels Oatmeal Cookies

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yesterday, I made Alton Brown’s Oatmeal Cookies from his book: I'm Just Here for More Food: food x mixing + heat = baking. I made 1/2 the batch because his original recipe calls for 5 sticks of butter! And even that is too much butter for me.

I made these for the Anaheim Angels (of ANAHEIM – no where near Los Angeles, Mr. Arte Moreno!) game. I took my dad to the first game of the Angels vs Oakland A’s series. It was a sell-out and we got smoked (12-6). I bought the tickets from the Angels Exchange (highly recommended for all events – you can purchase tickets held by season ticket holders and the service charges are, I believe, less than buying regular tickets) and we ended up in the Club section. The seats were pretty good and they had a waitress for the area! It is the area where the high-end corporate suites are located. Even the bathroom is nicer with some colorful mosaic tile. We stayed until the very last out…but most of the fans didn’t. Here is my view (with my sneakers) in the 8th inning. Okay, back to cooking…

I made half of them with raisin and half with dried cranberries. Did you know… when you bake the cranberries, they come out looking exactly look like raisins!? Anyway, people at work liked them and they were yummy during the 7th inning stretch.

By the way, I heard from Pam of "Pam Jam" fame. I bought her family a special canning funnel that I saw on a cooking show once. She used it for her most recent batch of Pam Jam and said it saved a bunch of time. If only they had it for the last 30 years of canning... :)

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Grapefruit Gone Bad

Sunday, July 22, 2007

This was supposed to be the beautiful cake featured in Gale Gand's Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs book. It is the Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake. Grapefruit rind is in the white cake and it is finished off with a cream cheese frosting. Sections of grapefruit are in the layer and atop the cake. At work, we recently had a reference question involving the Brown Derby, and when I saw this recipe and photo in the book, I thought I would give it a try.

Everything started out great! I went to Sur la Table and picked up some even-bake strips. These are awesome! Although my finished cake sucked, these worked so well! You soak them in water and then strap them onto the outside of the cake pan. The name is even-bake strips, and well, they do just that! My cake, as you can see, is nice and even and doesn't have that unsightly dome in the center. Wow. Baking supplies rock!

Then I sectioned my organic pink grapefruit. I tried a couple slices and it was tasty. However, when all assembled with the cream cheese frosting, it was a combo of bitter, sweet, cream cheese and soft cake (although the layers were darn even). Mr. Trashcan comes back to visit!

I think I need to go to the Brown Derby at Disneyworld and try it to see what I'm doing wrong!

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The CCC: Chocolate Crackle Cookie

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I tried Martha Stewart's Chocolate Crackle Cookie today. I made the dough in the morning before work and then baked the cookies this evening. I'm bringing them (along with lettuce) to my work potluck...we are having a taco bar!

This cookie has yummy bittersweet chocolate (8 ounces!) and Dutch-processed cocoa in the dough.

Each ball of dough is rolled in powdered sugar before hitting the oven. You really need to cover them up. I tested a couple by only putting on a light coat and those are going on a mini-vacation with Mr. Trashcan. By the way, I discovered that my little digital camera has a "macro" setting. One of these days I'm going to get a real big camera and take a class. Yeah, need to put that on my list...

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Jelly Roll Over

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Today I tried to make two recipes from Baking Illustrated: Raspberry Jelly Roll and Free-Form Summer Fruit Tartlets

It was a very lazy weekend. DVDs, catching up on reality television (LPBW, Top Chef, and too much Food TV), multiple naps, and a little baking.

First, the Raspberry Jelly Roll (page 369). You need to make a genoise or sponge cake...which involves beating 6 eggs over simmering water til warm and then letting the KitchenAid mixer go to town. Yes, nothing like whipping eggs while holding the instant read thermometer in this egg batter - sorry no photo of that one!

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, you invert it onto a kitchen towel that has been doused with powdered sugar. There was a serious error in choosing my raspberry jam. I thought I had some good raspberry jam from Whole Foods, but I was out. So that left my janky Ralphs...and some not so good raspberry jam.

Fresh raspberries were also thrown into the roll. I'm going to try the jelly roll again - perhaps with a different filling like lemon curd or nutella. By the way, the genoise had a familiar smell and taste. I couldn't place it until I thought way back to my childhood.

It's sorta like Twinkies - only with fresh ingredients and vanilla!

Next up was my first attempt at any type of pie crust. I used the Free-Form Tart recipe from Baking Illustrated (page 219). This recipe calls for a small amount of cornmeal. I used the food processor and I ended up mixing it a lot longer than their "5 one-second pulses" because it wasn't coming together like they described. I rolled out the dough on my nifty Tupperwave pie making plastic sheet thing that had circles under it so you know how large to roll out the dough.

I used fruit I picked up at the Farmer's Market, added some sugar and dots of butter, and free-formed the crust.

The result? Um. Well, perhaps I should have left my lovely fruit raw. Or, I shouldn't have started with the crust and tried a cobbler instead. Because the warm fruit (sans the crust) was quite tasty. Really, how could you go wrong with wonderful fruit, sugar and butter?!

The crust was tough and not flaky and almost chewy. Oh well, I'll try again next week.

By the way, I'm reading "American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads" by Pascale Le Draoulec. She's a journalist who traveled from SF to NYC and tried to find good pie along the way. Cute book so far...and it even has recipes. I'm half-way through and she has never made a pie. She fears the crust too. Who knows, that might end up happening to me too!
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Kwik-E-Mart

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On 7-11, I went to 7-11! My friend Brian and I went to the West Los Angeles 7-Eleven that has been converted into a grand Kwik-E-Mart. It was awesome and totally worth all the traffic on the 405!

Yes, this posting has nothing to do with baking - but it does involve fried dough, so that is close enough in my book.
I bought a Squishee, a 4 pack of donuts, and one box of KrustyO's (limit one per person - they were kept behind the counter and were flying out the door!) The whole store was crowded and everyone had their cameras out. They were selling cookies, clocks, beer can openers, pizza cutters, cups and everything else Simpsons. Yes, this 7-11 was making a killing. They had one guy whose only job seemed to be constantly refilling the THREE cases of pink donuts! And there was another guy working the Squishee machine - it was a full-service Squishee moment for me.

They painted the outside of the store yellow. Security was posted outside with a "nightclub rope" for crowd control! After getting my fill of liquid sugar, we went over to Tito's Tacos [link opens to music] for some more fried food. Yum. Serious yum.

This 7-Eleven store is Kwik-E-Mart for the month of July. It's on the corner of Venice & Sepulveda in West LA. D'oh! Go!
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Blackout Cake

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I made the Brooklyn Blackout Cake from Gale Gand's butter sugar flour eggs book (page 110). This is a very pretty book with lovely photos, and she has a show on the Food Network. She tried to create a cake found at a now-defunct Ebinger's chain of bakeries in Brooklyn. I thought it looked like King's Hawaiian's Dobash cake so I wanted to make it!

I used a lot (2 1/4 cups) of my Dutch-processed cocoa for the cake and custard. You cook two 9-inch cakes and then half both of them to make 4 layers. You use three layers in the cake and food process the 4th layer to make the crumbs. I overcooked my cakes as the edges were a little too brown. My friend, Helen is a baker and she told me to get some cake even-bake strips to wrap around the edges of the pan for, well, even-baking! I'll go get those this weekend. I ended up shaving off the edges and then my cake got a bit lopsided. Next time, I need to do a "dry run" with all three layers before frosting it! Learning something new everyday...

The custard could be improved. The taste was chocolately, but the texture was off. The instructions don't say to sieve it, but I think that would have helped...although it was so thick I don't know if it would have gone through the sieve. Anyway, I'll try to work on that for the next time.

P.S. Guess where I'm going on 7/11? The Kwik-E-Mart! I'm going to the West LA 7-11 store that has been changed to the Simpson's Kwik-E-Mart. Photos to come!

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Lemon Bars - Draft #2

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Here is the attempt at Lemon Bars, Draft #2. This time I tried Cook's Illustrated recipe that calls for a cooked lemon curd topping.

Whatever.

I don't have any photos of the process because it was like being in my crazy gospel step aerobics class at the YMCA (she plays hip-hop gospel music...there is truly no exercise more interesting than raising your arms up and down to the words, "Praise Him!!" or cardio-boxing to "Victory with Jesus!") This recipe had so much to do in so little time.

Make crust in food processor! Don't overmix! Don't undermix! Zest the hell out of lemons! Squeeze lemons! Stir 7 whole eggs plus 2 yolks (not for the low cholesterol crowd!) and a bunch of sugar, butter and lemon juice over medium-high heat in a non-reactive saucepan! Stir constantly and just when you think it won't thicken, it suddenly thickens! Pull off heat! Dump into awaiting sieve over another bowl I'll have to wash later! Press contents through sieve! Grab crust out of hot oven and place hot lemon curd on top! Put back into oven! Cook until the middle 3 inches giggle. Come on, Mr. Kimball and you crazy chefs at Cook's Illustrated...am I really supposed to monitor the middle 3 inch square of my 9 inch pan?!

No soup for you!

Whatever. I think the crust sucked. The lemon curd was okay. Very opaque. Of course, like Draft #1, the powdered sugar just melted away... Next, I'm going to try Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) recipe. Please help me Ina. I beg you.

P.S. I watched 30 minutes of Michael Moore's SiCKO on Friday night. And then guess what happened? I got sick during Sicko. Yes, I can manufacture irony.

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Jury Duty Oatmeal Cookies

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Today, July 5, 2007, I spoke to my mom. She was called for jury duty and, on day four of jury selection, it was her turn in the jury box. Mom is a naturalized citizen and this is her first time getting this far in jury duty (last time she spent the day watching Montel in the jury room and "dining" in the cafeteria).

It was a criminal trial, and Mom was asked to describe any brushes with the law. Recently, her catalytic converter was stolen off her car during a PTA volunteer appreciation breakfast (as Mom said in the courtroom, "That free breakfast cost me $118!") In addition, Mom was mugged in front of her church on Christmas day a few years ago. Yes, she was heading back to church to enjoy some punch and cookies when a guy jumps out of a car, grabs her purse, and runs back to a waiting car. Luckily, my mom shops at Ross and the straps on her cheap purse broke off. Okay - that is just a plain victim-of-crime story. Good enough to get you kicked off the jury? Probably not. But you're not my mom!

I arrived at the church that Christmas day just when my mom started giving her police report. After describing the facts, my mom proclaims (as she repeated in court), "He must have really needed the money if he is stealing on Christmas Day!"

Shockingly, she was booted off that jury!

I tried Cook's Illustrated Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, sans the raisins. I used my new real nutmeg and microplane thingy to grate some fresh nutmeg - it's damn fragrant stuff!

They were supposed to make huge cookies, but when I used 2 tablespoons of dough, this is what I got. Hum, perhaps they are using heaping tablespoons or I just, yet again, have no clue on this baking thing.

Well, these cookies sucked. One reviewer described them as "close to wallpaper gum." Ugh. Strike one on these Oatmeal cookies.
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Lemon Bars - Draft #1

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lemon Bars are one of my favorite things to get in coffee shops and at dessert bars. As you know, I just love the lemon. A nice lemon bar is a happy blend of shortbread cookie and a citrus pop of flavor. The powdered sugar topping is like a touch of sweet snow and makes it very elegant...ahhh, a good dessert can make the world a little happier. My dad has a lemon tree so I wanted to use some in this dessert.

I tried Double Lemon Bars from epicurious.com. The reader comments suggested using a 9x9 pan instead of the 13 x 9 pan for thicker cookies. Here I'm cutting in the butter with my new Sur La Table pastry cutter (yes, this hobby is getting expensive but worth it! :)

And here is the resulting pastry crust that I pressed into the pan. On top, I mixed together a bunch of lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs and sugar.

The result? They definitely aren't my favorite. People at work seem to like them and thought they were very lemony. But when I sifted the powder sugar on top of the square, all of it melted into the lemon topping within minutes! And that just ain't the elegant I was looking to get!

Next up - I'm going to try Cook's Illustrated version of the lemon bar with a lemon curd topping.

P.S. So tired. Went back to the gym after a very long 2 week hiatus. Step aerobics is an awesome way to burn off lemon bars, I think.
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Tea with Jam and Bread

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Some of my favorite things:

1. Raindrops on...nothing (it never rains in Los Angeles)
2. Learning to bake
3. Driving on the 110 carpool lane at dusk and seeing the tops of the palm trees
4. Farmer's Market in Hollywood & Torrance (pupusas, kettle corn, Corn Maiden tamales, mango nectarines from Ken's Produce, watermelon lemonade, Ha's Apple's smiling face, beautiful flowers and rainbow beets)
5. Hollywood Bowl's Sound of Music Sing-a-Long

Finally...after years of missing it and a most unfortunate incident last year, I went to the Sing-a-Long! (Oh, last year was quite a disappointment! It was the musical production of the original R&H edition - we heard Max (Yes, Uncle Max) sing a very unfortunate song with the Baroness (hiss!) As friend said, "There was a reason that song was cut from the movie...")

I stuck large Lipton tea bags and paper cut outs of bread and jam on my hat to become "Tea with Jam and Bread!" (Note that I used my Pam Jam as inspiration for my costume). My friends wore brown paper packages tied up with string.


The winner of the costume contest had the best costume ever. A poor kid had to hold up very long pole with a crescent shape moon. He was wearing a full body costume of a hand. He was "how to do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" The costumes are amazing. Here is a group of "Schnitzel with Noodles." (If you want to join in next year, let me know so we can start planning some sort of costume for the group! :)

The best part was probably the poor Austrian film crew. They were interviewing people in line for the costume contest. What must be going through their minds? Yes, I'm reporting from Los Angeles...in a state where our countryman-turned bodybuilder-turned actor is now the Governor and 18,000 people get together, dress up and sing-a-long to movie that we Austrians don't watch (nor sing Edelweiss!) Gotta love it!

When you sing Edelweiss, cameras and fake flowers came out in one big, sold-out crowd group exercise (including, of course, the sway you do when singing Edelweiss with the hottie Captain Van Trapp).

After a long week, I also got in some baking retail therapy and went to Surfas in Culver City. This was my first trip to this fun restaurant supply house. I picked up lots of parchment paper, including 8" and 9" rounds for my cakes, 1/2 sheet pans, deluxe timer that displays seconds (helpful when I need to beat something for 30 seconds...), and tart tins. Now all I have to do is bake a bunch of tarts!
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