French Fries, Electrodes & Passports
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I have exciting travel news! My renewed passport arrived finally arrived. I can now flee the country at any time!! I'm planning a trip with friends to Spain, Lisbon, and Prague next summer, and I'm thinking about going to Australia in the winter. Of course, I always want to go to the Giant Panda reserve in China. Here is Pandapple, a Sanrio Hello Kitty character with my new passport.
While my arms are healing, I'm in the countdown to Duluth, Minnesota. I've been reading my booklet from the visitors bureau. Did you know that University of Minnesota, Duluth has over 11,000 students? Check out Duluth! Here is a web cam of the harbor. I have a huge layover in the Minneapolis airport before my short flight to Duluth. Unfortunately, I'll be there at 6 a.m. which is way before the Mall of America opens... And I won't be tapping my feet in the airport restrooms.
Thanks for your concern about my arms! By the way, my Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 software is really working out well with my home laptop. If you get it, you need to have a really superduper soundcard or you should get a USB microphone to replace the crappy one that comes with the software. Once I went out and got a new USB microphone, the software has worked out great.
San Diego Chocolate Corks
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Food Librarian here...speaking to the computer. Update on my wrists: Taking 600 mg of Ibru 3x day (making me eat all the time to keep things in my stomach), going to start physical therapy tomorrow, and resting my hands as much as I can. At least it is not carpal tunnel syndrome - it is more of an RSI due to overuse and strain. I bought Dragon Speech Recognition software for my home laptop but it is driving me crazy. The microphone that came with the software isn't "hearing" me 80% of the time, and I read (somewhere on the web) that I should get a new sound card or USB mic. I'm leaning toward trying a new mic because I don't have to take apart my machine...ugh...another trip to Fry's.
I went to Encinitas this weekend to visit my friend Jami and her family. Jami's mom let me copy a bunch of her favorite recipes and we made Chocolate Corks together. This delightful dessert was served at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery (the recipe was published in the LA Times several years ago).
We used dry active yeast to make these chocolate chocolate muffins. I have never used yeast in a baked dessert (but you figure that La Brea Bakery would have yeast everywhere and decided to throw it into their dessert recipe!) We put the yeast into some lukewarm water to bloom and then added some flour and let it rise. It was quite cool and a lesson in chemical reactions. When mixed with the rest of the ingredients, the texture of the dough is "stretchy" because of the yeast mixture.
Thanks Mrs. S for sharing your baking knowledge with me! Previously, Mrs. S taught me how to make kugel and Matzo ball soup. Be sure to learn from the Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas and other bakers around you - they are the best teachers and have the best recipes.
[Whew, this entry took about 4 hours with all my wrist breaks and the darn Dragon software... I'm excited to have two guest librarians (Jessica and Diane B) posting for me in the next couple weeks!]
Special Guest - Brian's Chocolate Sinkholes
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Guest blogger Brian here. The Food Librarian's poor wrists are in pain, so I offered to write something for the blog. Not just something: a chocolate-geology lesson!
As a thank you gift for being in their wedding, a couple of newlywed friends gave me a cookbook called Desserts That Have Killed Better Men Than Me. The title is its own moment of intrigue, but what hooked me was the chocolate very nearly oozing off the front cover photo. I needed that dessert. I had to make whatever gooey mess the photo depicted; it was not a question of "would I?" but of "when?"
Whether by luck or by ESP, I happened to open the book to the exact page I wanted: p. 60, the recipe for Chocolate Sinkholes. An auspicious beginning! But it took a little while until I could actually get started.
A couple of weekends ago, I went to the Food Librarian's beloved haunt Surfas because I needed custard cups (or, as they are properly called, ramekins) and wanted to buy some good chocolate for the recipe -- and didn't want to go to more than one store. Surfas also happens to be within minutes of home.
Fast-forward a week to when I finally had both the time and a cool enough apartment to make turning on my oven bearable, and it was sinkhole time.
Six ounces of Scharffen-Berger bittersweet chocolate (70 % cacao) melted together with a whole stick of butter seemed like the best possible start to a dessert.
It later became part of the best batter ever as the chocolate mixture was cooled to room temperature and combined with eggs, vanilla, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. It sounds like your ordinary everyday baking ingredients: chocolate, eggs, flour, etc., but it was a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. (In fact, with some cream whipped in with the mixture it might well have become an amazing mousse.) It never hurts to use high-quality chocolate, either. Despite the sincere temptation to pour it all down my gullet, the batter (or enough of it) did make it into the ramekins, so it was soon headed for the oven.
But first, the key to the recipe: I had to place the filled ramekins in a baking dish, and then fill the dish with enough cold water to come up to about 1/3 the height of the sides of the ramekins. This is *the* essential step, as the water keeps the batter at the center of the cups liquefied instead of becoming cake-ified.
After 35 minutes at 325 F, the sinkholes achieved the necessary solidity on top. Just enough structure to belie a smoldering pit of molten chocolate awaiting unwitting victims. Mwahahaha.
Thanks to my thorough testing of the batter (yes, "testing," that's the ticket) I wasn't worried about flavor, but I did think the tops looked a little plain so I sprinkled on some powdered sugar.
Describing the taste would be like spoiling the end of a good movie, so I'll let the pictures do the talking. I will only say that they are far more dense and filling than they look.
Some notes: As a direct consequence of the water bath step, this dessert must be served immediately for maximum effect. The tops easily fissure and are likely to cave in as the cups start to cool, producing the sinkhole. While that's the name of the dessert, I'd like to think the idea is for the eater to open, or "fall into," the sinkhole with his spoon, rather than being presented with a dessert that would look like the chef screwed up. Although, the author suggests serving a scoop of ice cream in the sinkhole. So, if physics gets the better of you, the ice cream contingency seems like a worthwhile plan B. A couple of my sinkholes collapsed, but I didn't have any ice cream handy, and wanted to test a few things, so I didn't try it myself.
As I discovered in further tests, you cannot keep the sinkholes warm in the oven because the inner batter will eventually lose moisture and turn into a gooey cake (this is also why you should be very careful not to overcook the sinkholes). Equally, chilling the sinkholes in the fridge for any length of time is not only likely to cause cave-ins, but it seems to turn the whole product into a cakey, super-dense, very rich custard. Eating it cold isn't the worst option, but that's not the point of this recipe. I believe the point is the presentation, the chocolate geology lesson.
Still, you will probably waste your time if you make this recipe with something less than very fine chocolate. When you first melt that Scharffen-Berger (or Valhrona) the aroma will assure you that you've made a wise choice in splurging for the expensive stuff.
To sum up: make the sinkholes for a dinner party - during the dinner party - and serve right away.
Not sure what the copyright rules for recipes are, but someone has a copy of the recipe available online here.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
My hands and wrists are in pain. Made this on Friday. Posting now (in between doses of ibuprofen and icing my hands). It is an apple cake from my mom's old recipe book. It's not that pretty here, but it is tasty. I'll post the recipe later.
Encyclopedia of Cupcakes
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I planned to try the Boston Cream Pie again, but I had to make cupcakes to test my new, totally cute 24-count cupcake carrier! It is great! Strangely, when you carry it around, it feels like you have a cat carrier and you feel pulled to go to the vet. The only problem is the bottom tray is an actual cupcake pan. It would be easier to use if the holes were a bit more shallow - so I placed some cardboard in each pocket.
I was so tired after a whirlwind weekend and Monday night step class, that I succumb to the easy, familiar, and reliable - the Pillsbury cake mix. (Every kitchen should have some in the cupboard!) I made the cupcakes last night. However, this morning I did make my own chocolate ganache frosting. I think I have the ganache down!
This weekend consisted of volunteering at KCRW for the pledge drive (I met KajonCermak, the traffic announcer who cracks me up when she describes the traffic on the 405 as "Pack a Snack"), visiting a friend for some stuffed eggplant-turned-hot dog dinner (Love ya, Racheal!), gelato with Dave who is about to leave for France to run a marathon (how cool is that?!?!), and going with Brian to see Bourne III [opens to music] (aka "The Bourne Blair Witch Project"). Whew! Thus, no energy to make cupcakes from scratch.
By the way, did I tell you I'm heading to Duluth, Minnesota in September to visit my friend Sunshine and her family? Yes, Duluth rocks! Don't believe me? Did you know that Duluth has 23 city parks, sculpture gardens and rose gardens? Or is located at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, halfway between Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Canadian border? I'm looking forward to heading midwest, and will be filling you in on amazing Duluth facts!
Ina's Really Dense Chocolate Cupcakes
Friday, August 10, 2007
I asked my co-worker on Thursday...what should I bake? Her answer was simple. Chocolate.
I found this recipe on the Food Network site: Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes.
I just love Ina's show. I think life would be so much more enjoyable if we all had jazzy background music following us around town. And good lighting.
This recipe is very unique - it calls for a whole can of Hershey's chocolate syrup in the batter!
I made the cupcakes last night and the frosting early this morning (note the time on my little clock). The cupcakes didn't rise very much even though I filled the cups very full (at least 3/4). I made more than the "serving size" of 12 because I had so much batter left. Only later did I discover by reading the "reviews/user comments" that these cupcakes don't rise much. Note to self: Read the comments.
You are supposed to dip the cupcakes in the ganache. But since the cupcakes didn't rise much, there wasn't much of a cupcake top to dip. So I dipped half of them and then chilled the frosting. I did a quick ice bath and then let it sit in the fridge to harden up a bit. The cupcake itself is very dense. No baking soda or powder is in the mix. It is more like a half-brownie, half-cake little guy.
Alton Brown's Peanut Butter Cookies
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Last night, after my cake disaster, I made the dough for Alton Brown's Peanut Butter Cookies (page 196). This morning, I woke up and baked off a couple dozen. Alton Brown wants you to make a whole lotta cookies. This recipe yields 6 dozen...way too many. I made 1/2 the batch and that worked out fine. I used almost the whole canister of chunky peanut butter from Trader Joe's! Very peanut buttery!
I would definitely make these again. They will go into the good file. :)
Peach Upside-Down (and Empty) Cake
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Tonight, I tried to make the Fresh Fruit Upside-Down Cake from Baking Illustrated (page 332). Oh, sooo close...
This recipe calls for cooking some butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan to create a light caramel. That goes into a 9 x 3 pan and then the fresh fruit is placed on top. I used white and yellow peaches. (I went to Surfas this weekend to pick up the special 9 x 3 pan - most pans are 9 x 2).
The cake batter is created by mixing butter, flour, sugar, egg yolks and a bit of cornmeal. You also beat egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the mix. Now, I know I have praised my new digital scale and other new toys, but I sometimes forget to mention my very close and special friend, the KitchenAid mixer. It simply rocks! It beats, whips, blends, kneads, and (if you have the right attachment) can make sausage! It is as reliable as Cal Ripkin, Jr. and as nice as Tony Gwynn (shout out to the latest very worthy inductees to Cooperstown), and not a mean, s*t*e*r*i*o*d filled so-called home run record holder.
Okay, the cake goes into the oven. I wait 60 minutes! The cake rises and I totally understand the need for the taller 9 x 3 pan. I took it out of the oven, waited two minutes and then flipped the cake onto a plate.
Later, I cut into it and pulled out a slice. Oh, the horror. The middle wasn't cooked! It was mushy. I was more annoyed than sad. So I took drastic steps...here's my new cake.
Dude, I Have Streusel!
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Very, very early this morning, I made the Sour Cream Coffee Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible (page 90). You make this in a 9" springform pan. I put in the optional layer of granny smith apples. I think that made this moist cake extra yummy. I didn't use the nuts (my co-worker is allergic) and it was still tasty. Whew! My streusel stayed around this time!
Okay, to another food related topic. Topic: Me & Me Eating Too Much Food. I got the scale this morning and I have a new baking ratio: 2 or 3 visits to the gym: 1 baked good.
Encyclopedia of Amazon Gift Certificates!
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Well, guess who won $50!?!?!
Sweet. I'm going to spend it all on baking stuff. I'm thinking of getting the 24 cupcake holder. What do you think? I'm probably going to get my own copy of Baking Illustrated too. (Although I have checked it out so many times from the library I'm giving it major circulation points.) I'm also thinking about some cake decorating tips for when I finally get around to that...
Back to browsing on Amazon! :)