28 December 2010

TWD December Rewind: 15 Minute Magic Chocolate Amaretti Torte

In case it was not obvious from my post yesterday, I didn't travel for the holidays this year.  A very small number of off days, plus a 15-hour-away family, plus emergency repairs on the Cloudmobile, plus somewhat distressing news about my graduate school situation meant that I stayed put at Thanksgiving and at Christmas.

It was mostly cold, and totally quiet, but I stayed busy this week:

I finished the two baby quilts.

I started laying out a crib duvet cover, and finished tying and attached binding to a little boy quilt.

I cranked out burp cloths and bibs.

And because I am at bottom a Selfish Seamstress, I also cut blocks to make myself a quilt for my bed:

But I did take a break from all of that to fix myself a proper dinner of sorts on Christmas.  The one nice thing about not doing Family Christmas is that you can really make yourself WHATEVER you actually want for dinner.  I'm pretty sure there has been at least one holiday when I happily had grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches for dinner.  In any case, this year there was fondue and my selection for our TWD rewind post: a lovely dessert, made by the group in April 2009 (before I joined) with an slightly unfortunate title that makes it sound like something made of Dream Whip and Ritz Crackers and Campbell's Soup. 

It does not contain any of those things.  Mind you, I'm no food snob, and I have eaten my share of processed stuff (I've already mentioned my love for Kraft Singles in certain items) and will continue to do so without complaint if you want to feed it to me.  But I usually figure if I am gonna cook I might as well cook.  This dessert actually only includes one pre-prepared item: amaretti cookies.  I had no idea what they were, but hey, I'm in central New Jersey, with an Italian bakery next door (!) and two Italian markets within 5 minutes' drive.  Finding them was not hard (it's hard to find non-Italian "ethnic" foods around here). Deciding which brand to get was hard, but finally I just went for the pretty box with the ribbon on it.  I've got simple tastes.

The "15-minute magic" portion comes from the fact that being a classic torte, this cake has very few ingredients, mostly relying on ground nuts (almonds in this case) with eggs, butter, and chocolate.  And everything is blitzed together in the food processor and then slapped in the oven.

The resulting batter was very thick and filled my 2" pan to about 1.5 inches deep.  Dorie said the cake would be "very thin," but mine wasn't.  (I wonder if I used too many cookies?  Having never seen them I just assumed the ones I used were "mini"--they were only about 2" in diameter--and used all 16 in the box.)

Once it cooled, I made the glaze.  I was a little surprised by how thin the glaze was;  I had to put it in the fridge to get it to thicken a little, and even then it wasn't the consistency I expected.  I might add less water next time, or use a different recipe.

I forgot to save a cookie to decorate with, so I added more almonds (Can never have too many!)  and gold dragees because, well, 'tis the season:

I don't usually get very excited about chocolate things, but OMG I LOVE THIS CAKE.  I don't think my processor chopped the almonds quite enough (will likely use almond flour next time) but I DO NOT CARE.  It is chewy almondy chocolatey goodness--not too sweet, not too bitter, not too fudgy, not overly iced.   A perfect easy and fast Christmas dessert that only required me to purchase one item!

I hope we will have more rewinds in the future.  I really enjoy them, especially as someone who was kind of a latecomer to the group and who now works 9-5...gives a nice chance to catch up.  

27 December 2010

TWD SNOWPOCALYPSE 2010 edition: Cardamom Crumb Cake

Today is my first snow day from work!  Yay!

scene from my window Sunday afternoon

Yesterday we were graced with a full-on blizzard.  It was very strange.  Christmas Day was sunny and not especially cold.  I was sitting on the couch as usual on Sunday afternoon, watching the Jets-Bears game and pressing fabric, when a scrolling headline caught my eye:  "The Vikings-Eagles game scheduled for 8 PM has been postponed due to weather."  What on earth could be going on over in Philly, I thought, to make them cancel an 8 PM game at 1:30?  I live only about 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia, so anything going on there weatherwise is usually happening here, too.  I turned my head to the window 2 feet away and saw the above and was like, ooooooh.  

It snowed hard all day and night.  No work today--which is more than fine, because I REALLY wanted another day, and anyway I couldn't get out if I wanted to:

 (that's my little Cloudmobile on the far left, and again, that was yesterday.  It's deeper now.)

So I decided to go ahead and make last week's TWD, which I had been putting off all week:  Dorie's Cardamom Crumb Cake, selected by Jill of the appropriately named Jill's Blog.

Now why had I been putting it off?  I like crumb cakes, especially if made by me.  And I haven't made one in a long while.  And this one sounded interesting:  cardamom, coffee, and orange all together.  But...the recipe sounded awfully fussy and suspiciously time-consuming for a crumb cake.  I think of crumb cake as the sugary version of quickbread--something very fast to throw together when you have company coming over or something.  This generally follows the quick-mix routine, but it requires a little bit of prep work (butter at room temp, grating orange zest, making and cooling coffee, melting and cooling butter, smooshing zest into sugar), which honestly is often a little more than I can handle when I wake up in the morning and my body is like GRRRRAAAARRR FOOOOD NOOOOWWWW AAAAAAAARGH.  I can skip dinners with no problem, but breakfast is non-negotiable.

My Household Supervisor is even more noisy and insistent than my own stomach in the mornings, which also blocks my morning cooking capabilities.

But today I was up late and decided to go on and give it a whirl.  First thing I noticed is that I am nearly out of white sugar and I have no oranges.  So with the thought that brown sugar generally makes anything better, and tangerines are pretty close to oranges, I subbed with abandon.  Don't judge me.  I'm snowed in.  Applaud my pioneer spirit!

making streusel

Once I had all the fussy bits done, it was quick to mix together. 

mixing batter

And wonder of wonders, it actually baked in 30 minutes' time:

All in all, I think it took me about two hours to do.

The cake is...interesting.  I had a warm piece and it was nice and moist and the streusel was perfectly crunchy.  Despite containing a full cup of sugar and a stick and a half of butter, it's not super sweet or greasy.  There are a lot of flavors, though, and though I am no expert they did seem to be doing battle for supremacy:  the tangerine, the coffee, the brown sugar, the cardamom.  (That's the order in which they seemed to be winning.)  I wonder if it will be different when cold;  I wonder if it would have been different with more innocuous white sugar or orange zest.  I think I like it, but I'm gonna have to think about whether it's a repeater...

30 November 2010

TWD: Rewinding Madness (My Favorite Pecan Pie and Devilish Shortcakes)

Hello y'all!

For the November 23 rewind, I made My Favorite Pecan Pie for a Thanksgiving dinner.  I think it was a hit.  I'll post about it when I find my camera cord, but in the meantime you can revisit my original triumph and surprise here:  My Favorite Pecan Pie

And this week we have Devilish Shortcakes, selected by Tania at Love Big, Bake Often.  Well guess what!  For once I'm ahead of the curve.  I made these in Charleston earlier this summer.  Devilish Shortcakes

I also plan to make these again this week...am blanking on a suitable filling though.  Perhaps some tangerines or oranges?

I thoroughly enjoyed my four day weekend.  I mean, you know, I didn't, like, have any cute little redheaded babies on Thanksgiving or anything (I'm looking at you, M!)  but it was cool or whatever.  We were let go early on Wednesday.  I woke up Wednesday morning looking forward to that like it was Christmas and I was expecting Santa.  I got to go home when there was still sun!  Amazing. 

Aside from Thanksgiving day--which was spent making the pie and then driving out to Bon Jovi's hometown for dinner (not with the Bon Jovis, though) I spent the whole weekend puttering about the house working on a new dress, which is coming together nicely.  It's my first time working with knit fabric and I may never sew with woven fabric again.  I had planned to crank out three or four dresses this weekend, but I am slowly coming around to the idea that a properly crafted dress takes some time to do and that it really, really helps for me to stop before I get tired and crankypants and then start making stupid mistakes and/or drinking.  I also pieced and sandwiched a second baby quilt this week, too.  It was a pretty good sewing week.  Not a bad baking week either.  I hope all of you had a lovely holiday.  

16 November 2010

TWD: Not-Just-For-Thanksgiving-Cranberry Shortbread Cake and other stuff

found here

Today was a weird little milestone in my adult life.  This morning was the first time in probably 10 years or so that I woke up, realized I was sick, and had to really think about whether or not to go in to work.  Ah corporate life.  In graduate school and on fellowship, this would probably be a day that I'd give up the ghost and stay in bed in the hopes of nipping cooties in the bud before I am full-blown sick, rather than stretching it out until I am convinced I am surely perishing from the grippe.  Oh, if I was teaching, I'd probably drag in and entertain the kidlets for the hour or whatever, but I'd hightail it back to bed after, and none of them would be allowed anywhere near me with their Teenage Supergerms.  (I'm convinced my immune system is infinitely heartier due to six years of teaching undergraduates.)

I was automatically running through all the pros and cons in my head at 6:45 am, doing all sorts of calculations factoring in my number of sick days left, the number of vacation days I'll have, the likelihood of traveling for Christmas, current approximate level of illness and likelihood that a day of rest is best used today, my upcoming trip to Paris, likelihood of annoying my manager or having something important happen while I am out, level of hassle involved in going all the way downstairs to get the laptop and email that I will be out, possibility that I get ill again in the six weeks before the year is up.  All this in the span of about five minutes.

I got some Dayquil and went in, cooties and all, and spent the day sequestered in my office.  You know those early days in a potentially bad cold when you are pretty much totally functional but you can almost feel and smell the cloud of germs around you?  So you feel more like a threat to others than to yourself?  It was one of those days.  I felt guilty speaking to anyone--poor hapless unsuspecting coworkers, they are only being friendly and collegial and I am probably dooming them and their families to infection at every breathy "hello."

So now I am home, with every intention of getting to bed early tonight to make up a tiny bit for the rest I didn't really get today.  Today's TWD  recipe is a cranberry lime galette.  After last week's Cranberry Shortbread Cake I think I need a cranberry break.  I'm cranberried out.  Matter of fact, I need a fruit-dessert-break.  So I am reaching back to week before last and making the Peanutty Blondies instead.

The Cranberry Shortbread Cake, however, was spectacular.  I wish I had photos of the process, but it was ridiculously easy to do: I made a lovely cranberry-orange jam and then whipped up a soft shortbread, rolled the dough out into two discs and sandwiched them in a springform pan with the jam.  I didn't know what to expect but it was deelish, especially the first night, slightly warm with milk.  I LOVE SHORTBREAD.  OMG.

The shortbread, predictably, got softer and soggier as the week wore on, but it was still quite tasty. I like the cranberries, but I have to figure out a way to make it that involves some other kind of filling that you can bake. 

My sewing projects are both moving forward and languishing at the same time.  Since I pretty much never have an entire day to work, I have become one of those sewers who starts stuff but doesn't finish;  maddeningly, I get almost finished, the thing is completely constructed except for a few finishing bits, and then am ready to move to another thing.  (huh.  this sounds like another languishing project...)  Right now I have a 1950s corduroy jumper dress which needs a hook-and-eye sewn in;  an ivory wool cape in need of buttons, buttonholes and hemming;  a skirt suit whose skirt is fully done and jacket just needs facings and hemming (I have even hemmed the sleeves).  I've also started quilting and have a baby quilt that needs binding;  a big boy quilt in need of tying and binding (I can't decide what color to bind it in) another baby quilt that needs piecing;  fabric for a quilt for myself that has not been started.  And a ton of patterns and fabric for more clothes, including a winter coat.  Really, a ton.  I had to buy a chest of drawers to hold them and they aren't all in there.  

I'm still very excited to sew, but I think much of the slowness is that I feel like I am kind of stalling out right now;  I don't see that I am making a whole lot of progress on the learning curve at this point and the things I think I need to be working on skill-wise, I don't have anyone to teach me and I am freaked out to try on my own for fear of ruining some otherwise well-done garment that I've spent hours constructing.  Most classes at fabric stores and sew n vacs focus on things I already know how to do now.  I can easily make a pair of pajama pants;  I can make a basic skirt;  I can make buttonholes manually or install a zipper without much fuss.  I'd like lessons in handsewing, or fitting clothes, or altering patterns in ways other than grading (moving between sizes when cutting out fabric).  Anyone got a grandma in central New Jersey they can spare?

26 October 2010

TWD: All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie

aka The Day I Learned Where "Easy As Pie" came from

Today's pie was also brought to you by basic supermarket crust.  Totally inferior, but one does what she must.  I don't generally like fruit pie anyway, so why spend the time?  I could be spending that time piecing baby quilts:

Having surrendered to not making crust, I put the pie together after work.  I used a mix of Granny Smith, McIntosh and Golden Delicious apples.  Apples are EVERYWHERE around here!  It was super easy--peeling and chopping the apples was really the most strenuous thing.  I found some granular tapioca at my local grocery store, so I used that.

Dumped in crust, covered and tossed in oven.  The pie cooked in the minimum time.

However--my industrial crust machinations need some work.

And I forgot to line the crust with graham crackers. 

The taste is pretty good, for what it is.  I like the addition of the lemon zest to keep the pie from being overly sugary.   I don't know if I'd choose to make it again, but that has nothing to do with the pie and everything to do with me.  Still working to teach myself to like cooked fruit desserts.

Emily chose this very seasonally appropriate pie.  Thanks!

18 October 2010

TWD: Caramel Not Pumpkin Pie

I'm still alive.

To mark one month in my new city I decided to pretend for a moment as though I am settled.  My apartment hates me;  I'm still living out of boxes;  I've suddenly got a new nephew AND niece (who, I'm told, have requested an entire wardrobe of quilts and booties and bibs and hats and so on), I'm being put on a big project at work, I'm supposed to bake and bring four dozen cupcakes to work Wednesday morning and in general you name it, I'm probably ignoring it.  But I'm trying to get better about doing stuff, as my "I just moooooved" excuse window is closing fast, so I decided to buckle down and do TWD this week.  Well, sorta.

1.  I totally cheated on the crust.  I know, I know, Dorie's pie crust is very simple and super good--but somehow I just knew that if I waited to make a pie crust...well, I'd still be waitin'.  It's been so long since I did a regular 8-5 + commute that I underestimated how little energy I would have when I make it home. (Seriously, I'm mostly living on apples these days.) So the crust is frozen and not a fancy bougie brand either.

2.  I cheated on the main ingredient.  I think I've blogged here before about not understanding Fall Pumpkin Mania.  I've yet to have a pumpkin anything that didn't smell much better than it tastes.  So like a good native Southerner I just *happened* to have sweet potatoes in the cabinet, and of course I like sweet potatoes a great deal.

So since I didn't have to fiddle with a crust, I was able to throw the pie together easily after work while I worked on sewing a new winter cape.  Multitasking. 

It was really easy to make the caramel and I smashed up the potatoes and everything by hand.  I realized that I spazzed and caramelized ALL the sugar instead of half, but that would be good, right?  I mean, sweet potatoes--this would be plenty sweet already, right?  I poured the filling in the partially baked industrial crust and hoped for the best, thinking "gee this looks like a chocolate pie!"

It baked, and baked, and baked.  I left it in the oven 10 minutes extra and it was still jiggly but I needed to go to bed.  So I took it out, and it turned out to be fine.  It still looked like chocolate!

I tried a piece and um, yeah.

Why does my pie taste like chocolate? It totally has the consistency of a sweet potato pie--a rather buttery one--but tastes EXACTLY like a bittersweet chocolate pie.  I don't know what to think of it.  It's too much for my brain to take.  I am thinking I should have 1) not made the sub and/or been more careful about my sugar addition.  So it's a fail for me, but I suspect it's the baker, not the recipe.  I hope everyone else had better results!  Thank you Janell for choosing it!

27 September 2010

TWD: Hiatus continues

Due to the continued flagrant incompetence of my relocation consultants, there shall be no TWD for me today.  Hopefully things will turn for the better later in the week.

Right now?  I am so angry I have given myself a sick headache.

I'm going to bed.

06 September 2010

TWD August Recap and Excuses, Excuses

Hi y'all.

I'm delinquent.  Forgive me.  I didn't do this week's TWD assignment, nor Pies with That, and I haven't been posting for a bit.  There has been a lot of thumb-twiddling, sewing of garments, gnashing of teeth, and a lot of rushing around here at Chez OC.  I have a new job in a new industry in a new state and am in the middle of a very long and drawn out (to me anyway) while simultaneously hyperkinetic and frantic corporate-sponsored relocation four hours away, the panicky past couple of weeks special courtesy of an oh so helpful relocation consultant who doesn't seem capable of getting it together in general, much less doing things and contacting people on time.  I kinda thought the point of having a relocation consultant was to make new employees' long distance moves easier and less stressful, but apparently that's what I get for thinking.  Pah.

Usually my sister comes with me when I am moving to a new place, which distracts me some from my anxiety, but this time she is all "blahblah school blahblahblah clinicals blahblahblahblah work" so I'm totally on my own this time.  The movers are going to pack my stuff tomorrow at the crack of dawn-- "We'll be there between 7 and 8 am!!"  chirped the dispatcher, and I'm like "deeearrr Looooord WHHHHYYY, no one EVER needs to be in my space before 8 am"--, and somehow this is more frightening and anxiety inducing than doing it myself.  And I HATE packing. I've never had the moving company pack my stuff before, and while I have no desire to do it myself, I also have little idea of what to expect beyond the advice everyone gives to sequester anything you don't want packed even if you think it's obvious that it does not go.  They won't come to move the things till Wednesday.  It will be very odd, I think, to be in my apartment, the one I've been settled in all year, with EVERYTHING in boxes for two days, and then on Thursday be in a new one in yet another new state (at this rate I don't know that I'll ever get back to Tennessee) with next to nothing for I don't know how many more.  I'm not a fan of uncertainty about my stuff.

Anyway, I did have a few words for August's TWD selections, 'cause I did do them.  

1) Oatmeal Breakfast Bread

This was kind of fun to make, as it allowed me to clear the cabinets some.  It was fast to mix, but baking and cooling were a bit cumbersome for a "breakfast" bread.  I didn't really like the end result, however--probably because instead of unsweetened applesauce I used sweetened apple butter, and neglected to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe.  D'oh!  Bleah.  I nearly went into a diabetic coma.  User error sent it to the trash immediately.

2) Custardy Peach Tart
It was bitter hard not to make this one.  I actually made it last summer as I was trying to work my way up to making pies.  I do recall that it was one of my favorite things from the book ever--so easy and so delicious and it kept pretty well, too!  Alas, my need to clear the cabinets meant that I had no peaches in the house or much in the way of ingredients for crust or custard.  It's been some lean times 'round here folks, as I've been waiting to move.  Sadness!  It's not living when you can't make a tart just 'cause.  It just ain't.

3)Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

This week I was like "hang it all--I'm sick of waiting,"  and got myself some chocolate and made these.  I don't pass up too many opportunities for shortbread, people.  I made the recipe just as specified and they are so simple and so good.  I am eating the last of them now.

So that's where I am.  Not very exciting, but there you have it.  I hope that I can get settled in The City That Makes (what exactly?) very soon so I can get back to posting regularly! Now if you'll excuse me I am off to a three hour nap so I can then get up in the middle of the night and freak out about feeling not ready for the packers--whoooosahhhh.

10 August 2010

TWD: Chewy Chunky Blondies and Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream

I still am here and I still am baking:

and sewing, too

sometimes AT THE SAME TIME:

 (note box o' cupcakes at top left)

though in a rather slapdash, haphazard fashion.  Let the record show that I did indeed make the TWD blondies from two weeks ago, and all I have to say about those is YES PLEASE.

I felt sort of extravagant making them when I still had 2/3 of a very good cake in the fridge, but I made them anyway and said banana cake was neglected and forgotten.  It still takes up space forlorn and neglected in my fridge. 

I did not make last week's gingered carrot cookies, because 1) ew, and 2) wut? and 3) come on--it was my birthday that week!  I made vanilla buttermilk cupcakes instead.  Much more appropriate.

I just made this week's selection, a chocolate ganache ice cream.  I am finishing up a yellow plum sorbet I made for my birthday, so I kind of rode the fence. I like ice cream, don't get me wrong, but I have a Very Bad Habit of forgetting that I have any about the house, and never eating it.  I just don't ever really crave the stuff.  This ice cream was kinda fussy, too.  But I think I like it. 

First, we had to make a chocolate ganache.  Easy enough except I only had 2 ounces of chocolate on hand so I ran out and got a bar of Lindt.  This didn't give me 6 ounces;  it gave me 5.5.  Terrified of jacking up the ganache (it wasn't until later that I realized it wasn't a true 1:1 ganache anyways)  I cut the recipe by 1/4.  My cream had a "Sell by!" date of July 11, but considering that there is also a recipe for sour cream ice cream in the book, too, and considering that I TOTALLY did not feel like going out for more, I went with it.  It tasted fine.

Then I made the "custard,"  which I remembered this time is very thin, and mixed it in with the ganache and put it to chill overnight.

This morning, I fired up Ol'Red and got ready to pour in the custard.  Except there wasn't going to be any pouring.

There could be spooning, and scraping, and cursing, and coaxing, but no pouring.  The custard was really thick.  Like the spoon stood up in it thick.  I somehow got it all in and let it go for about 18 minutes.  I espied a package of almonds sitting limply in a corner looking delinquent, so I put them to work and dumped them in, because everything is better with almonds in it. 

I have the hardest time getting my ice cream to freeze evenly in my Cuisinart.  The mix on the walls and bottom freezes very hard, but in this case little happened to the bulk of the recipe, which was in the center.  Anyone figured out a workaround for this?  I just gave up when it seemed lighter and colder and put it in a container for freezing.

I tried some later in the afternoon.  It is very smooth and very rich and velvety, like frozen chocolate mousse.  I like it!  It's a little much for every day, but I wouldn't mind making it for company.

*notice*  I am trying my darnedest to stay on schedule but posting might be come a bit intermittent over the next few weeks, 'cuz I am moving.  As I so often do.

Thanks this week go to Katrina at Baking and Boys for picking the recipe!  Good choice, good lady.

19 July 2010

TWD: Lots of Ways Banana Cake


I was hesitant to make this one.  Banana cake?  Meh.  I figured it'd be another loaf or bundt cake that I'd try, generally like, but never finish eating.  It would take time away from my sewing!  Besides, the sewing was making me realize I hadn't actually done a decorated cake in a good while.  The last seriously decorated cake I did was a full year ago:

I wondered if I was going to lose all the skills I spent so much time building.  As much fun as TWD is, we rarely make anything decoratable.  Perhaps I'd make a cake for my upcoming birthday?...But I felt guilty, as I always do when I contemplate skipping a recipe.

So I read the recipe.  What is this?  A layer cake?  With any icing that I want?!  Oh now, that's different!  I can decorate this cake!  Finally!  Let's do this!

I made the cake pretty much according to the recipe.  I did run out of light brown sugar, so I added about 1/4 c of dark brown.  I also didn't want to open a can of coconut milk for a measly 1/2 cup, so I used whole milk instead.  Finally, I used my old standby method to prep the pans: grease sides (and I do mean grease;  I keep a small can of Crisco for just this purpose) and flour them, and line the bottom with parchment.

I was surprised that it took nearly 45 minutes to bake two 9 inch layers.  I was also surprised by how dark they were.  I was a little afraid they'd taste burned!

(I didn't get any pics--the camera battery decided to die on me.  Le Sigh.)  

Once the layers were done, on to decorating.  I had a big bowl 'o buttercream in the freezer, made when we did some egg yolk-heavy something or other a while back.  I took the design of the cake from the Whimsical Bakehouse cookbook, one of my very favorites, and made the color palette a little lighter than theirs.  I piped out chocolate fireflies and moons and iced the cake in blue and green, piping on a green grassy border when I was done.  I was pretty happy with it in the end.  FUN!  Can we do another one soon?  Please oh please? Thank you bunches, Kimberly, for picking this one!

As far as the actual taste of the cake:  it's not bad.  Inoffensive.  It reminds me of an okay carrot cake, but with banana instead.  I mixed some of the buttercream with chopped pineapple and coconut for the filling (I like pina coladas, sue me)  and I like the addition.  I'm on my second piece now.  The first was too cold but this one is nice and room temperature-y.  I think I'm gonna have to think a bit about whether I like it enough to do again...


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