latvian birthday cake (or: i verbally abuse creepy people in costumes.)

22 Aug

confession time: i am terrified of people wearing costumes. halloween makes me nervous. larpers freak me out. furries send me running & screaming.

in my opinion, people in costume act differently than when they are uncostumed.  they act like they are someone else and therefore in ways they usually would not. normal social rules seem not to apply.  and if their face or eyes are covered? all bets are off and you are more than likely going to be accosted by this crazy costumed psycho.

true story.

i have facts to back this up.

last halloween i celebrated (albeit hesitantly) at a pub down the street from my apartment and encountered two guys hovering on the edges dressed as if they had just walked out of “world of warcraft: the movie.” one was dressed in a way i can only think to describe as a giant human-sized thumb wearing a sheet and chain mail. i have no idea how else to describe it. the other was wearing some sort of demon-orc hybrid complete with retractable giant wiggly tongue and severed arm prop.  the thumb kept to himself, but the demon-orc took to licking random female passers-by or making a show of licking the severed arm in a, dare i say, “erotic” fashion.  i have absolutely no doubt that under that costume was a socially-awkward, skinny, pimpled man-child who spends his days and nights making internet cash by selling his high-level video game characters. uncostumed i have serious doubts that demon-orc would have spoken to a woman not to mention lick her.

all of that being said, i don’t mind disguised objects: they aren’t sentient and therefore won’t try to attack me out of a false sense of security.

kitchen utensils that look like animals? adorable.
bookshelves that double as doors to secret rooms? both fantastic and delightfully mysterious.
a cake pretending to be a pretzel? into it.

this seems like a good time to segue into my recipe: the latvian birthday cake. i was doing an internet search for “weird cake recipes” in honor of my friend’s self-created holiday devoted entirely to cake, aptly named “cake day.” when i came across the latvian birthday cake, i knew i had to give it a whirl. who in their right mind creates a birthday cake from yeast and saffron and shapes it like a pretzel? the latvians, that’s who.  i had a hard time deciding whether this was a cake or sweet bread or a pretzel. i still don’t know. but you know what, it tastes awesome, so i don’t care. and neither should you.

latvian birthday cake from global table adventure

what you’ll need:

2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp saffron
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 tsp thin strips of lemon zest
2 tsp this strips of orange zest
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick 0f butter, softened)
5 1/2- 6 cups flour
1 cup raisins

for the topping: 1 egg for egg wash, 1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds

1. dissolve yeast in warm water with the saffron and a pinch of sugar. (appx. 5 minutes).

2. meanwhile, since butter doesn’t come pre-softened (unless you count the sort in the tub i suppose), let’s soften your butter.  i don’t actually own a microwave… sooo desperate times lead to softening your butter on top of a toaster oven…

3. mix your yeast with the rest of your ingredients (except those for the topping) in the bowl of a standing mixer.  you may not need all of your flour–just enough to form a soft dough. so for goodness sakes, don’t just throw it all in like a heathen.

4. knead your dough for about 10 minutes. you will be, appropriately, using your dough hook for this. your dough may try to escape. just a warning.

look for your dough to come away from the sides of your bowl. it will look sticky, but won’t be super sticky. make sense? no? trial and error is a great teacher, i say.

5. let rise until doubled in size (about 1.5 hours).

6. we will now be shaping the dough into a pretzel shape.  roll out the dough into about a 3 foot long log, then tuck ends like one would for, a, you guessed it, pretzel. keep the holes about fist sized as they will close up while baking. allow to rise for another 30 mins.

7. brush your beautifully proofed pretzel-shaped latvian birthday cake with a beaten egg and then generously sprinkle with sliced almonds. the egg will give your pretzel/cake/thing a nice shine. the almonds will just be tasty.

8. bake at 350 degrees f for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. see above.

this cake is most happily enjoyed while still warm and with a nice dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  jam is also quite lovely as an accompaniment.

the verdict: i don’t know if i would necessarily call this a cake, but whatever it is–i am a huge, huge fan. i literally had to take to slapping my own hand to keep myself from grabbing more.  and please note that this recipe produced a big honkin’ cake, so there was a lot of hand slapping required.  the orange with the saffron and raisins gave it a wonderful flavor that i am having a challenging time figuring out how to describe (so just trust me), and upon reminiscing on this recipe (which i confess wasn’t baked yesterday or even in the past 2 months), my roommate declared it “so yummy.”

roasted banana cupcakes (or: what to feed a zombie)

27 Apr

for the majority of my teens, sleeping was easily considered one of my top extracurricular activities. my study-abroad flatmates were actually selected based on the fact that we all filled out our questionnaires with the same sleeping preferences–go to bed early, wake up late–and during my high school days, my mother was forced to devise an elaborate (and frankly, inhumane) wake-up process that has caused lingering trauma.  (you try not suffering permanent damage after waking up every morning to someone flicking on your lights, and then with a speed usually reserved for vampires, simultaneously blasting the radio, ripping off your sheets, tickling your feet, all while bellowing your name.)

this being said, my decision to attend culinary school for a baking and pastry arts degree came as rather shocking news to those who were acquainted with my sleeping patterns. the ungodly hours of baking professionals are no secret. the school  recruiter asked me, as did almost everyone else i told, “are you an early-riser?” after a good laugh and recounting of my mother’s antics (see above), we determined that seeing as how there are few jobs that will lend to a sleep schedule to my liking, save mattress-tester or professional sleep-study subject, waking up at 4 a.m. doesn’t seem that much worse than 7 a.m.  (ok, it is… but i was trying to gain admittance.)

fast-forward four incredibly intense months of schooling on top of my 9 to 5 job, and you will find that it had been a very, very long time since i had truly engaged in my most favorite of pastimes.  essentially, i spent those 16 weeks as a member of the living dead.  my body was covered in bruises from bumping half-unconsciously into walls and filing cabinets, my stomach lining had a gaping hole from the vast quantities of coffee i had ingested, and i seemed to have developed permanent circles under my eyes to the point where i felt confident that if i joined a football team, i would not have had to bother with blacking out my cheeks.  there were moments when i worried that the overzealous might consider picking up one of the many “how to survive a zombie apocalypse” books flooding the shelves in order to protect themselves when i ambled by.  please note that moaning “brainzzz” is only funny to others when they aren’t half-sure you might be serious.

during these long months of sleep deprivation, i had often felt that i deserved luxuries that i normally (when fully functioning) wouldn’t allow myself.  (the starbucks barista who now refers to me as “her friend” can vouch for me on this one.)  therefore, i felt no moral compunction and needed very little self-convincing when i decided that these cupcakes were quite clearly more of an icing-topped muffin than an actual cupcake…breakfast, definitely not dessert…calorie-free as opposed to adding new dimension to my growing backside…the addition of bananas was all the justification that i needed.

this recipe comes from martha stewart’s cupcake cookbook and produces a cupcake so mind-blowingly delicious that i made some pretty inappropriate sounds when inhaling them.  because it calls for cake flour and there is more sifting than seems sane, the end product will be super fluffy and moist (and i am serious when i say moan-inducing…though you should be careful about this if people are already concerned you might be a member of the undead as you may just be reinforcing their convictions). the cupcake is then paired with a honey-cinnamon frosting that is truly sensational.

roasted banana cupcakes from martha stewart’s cupcakes

what you’ll need (for the cake):
3 ripe bananas (plus 1 or 2 more for garnish should you feel fancy)
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. preheat oven to 400 degrees f and line standard muffin tins with paper liners. place 3 whole unpeeled bananas on a baking sheet and roast for 15 mins.

2. while these are roasting, sift together cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. (cake flour has a high starch content, so make sure you don’t skip the sifting. i know, i know, but it will be worth it.)

3. remove your now blackened, roasted bananas from the oven and let them cool before peeling. unless you enjoy burning your fingers or need to build up heat tolerance, in which case, knock yourself out. reduce the oven temp to 350.

4. cream the butter and sugar on med-high speed until it is pale and fluffy. add the three egg yolks, one at a time, beating until each is fully incorporated. scrape down the sides as necessary.

add the peeled, roasted bananas and try not to gag. yeh, i think we can all agree on what this reminds us of…  alright, that being said, ahem, beat to combine.

4. add the flour mixture and sour cream, alternating back and forth. you will do three flour batches, alternating with two sour cream batches. beat until just combined after each addition. if you beat too long, your cake will lose its fluff. beat in vanilla.

5. in a separate bowl, whip your egg whites to soft peaks with a mixer on medium speed.

fold in 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten. this basically means that you will sacrifice some of your whites so that your dense batter won’t snuff it all out. gently fold in the remaining whites in two batches.

6. divide the batter evenly among the lined cups. they should be about 3/4 full. bake for about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. make sure you rotate your tins once half way through. once baked, transfer the tins to a wire rack to cool.

the cupcakes can be stored in air-tight containers at room temp up to 3 days, or frozen up to 2 months.

now for the honey-cinnamon frosting:

what you’ll need:
2.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1. on med speed, beat all ingredients until smooth.

2. wipe off your brow, whew, that was tough.

use immediately or refrigerate up to 5 days in an air-tight container. if you refrigerate, make sure you bring it back to room temp and beat it smooth before using.

they can also conveniently be made baby tiny size as a nice post-brain snack.

cool whip cake (or: how to make the most out of baking in a heatwave)

3 Sep

this post is a bit overdue seeing as how it is now september, which means that new england goes into cardiac weather arrest and instantly turns chilly, but if your apartment is like mine, and cross-breeze is rather non-existent… this is still pretty relevant.

one of the (many) things that shocked me about moving to the north was the lack of air conditioning.  summer in the south may have seen significantly higher temperatures, but i was essentially just going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned school. in the north, i go from a sticky, hot house to a sticky, hot subway to …well, at this point, generally an air-conditioned office building, so hallelujah.   but back in that un-air-conditioned apartment where the mere act of walking into a new room causes sweat to stream down my legs, baking is pretty much out of the question.

but because 3 months of not baking makes me sad (not to mention makes for a shitty blog…not that i actually updated at all in that time anyways…), i have tried to come up with ways to use the extra heat from the oven to my advantage.  this is what I have so far:

  1. double your kitchen as a bikram hot yoga studio.
  2. attempt to bake cookies on your window sill as a reinvention of the car window cookie baking trick.
  3. use it to soften the seals on envelopes in order to open all of your roommates mail without them knowing it.
  4. grab a towel and some cedar planks and imagine you are in a sweat lodge.
  5. abduct some young children and create a literal sweat shop (ok, i admit that this one is weak).

if none of those options appeal to you, you can always try this recipe which actually involves no baking at all and for this reason, happens to be one of my favorites for the summer.  basically, you are just layering milk-soaked chocolate chip cookies and cool whip to get a light and refreshing trifle.

i originally got this recipe from a good friend when we vacationed on hilton head island after my freshman year of college.  just imagine four not-entirely-sober 19-year-olds (sorry, mom) running around sun-burnt in their underwear (sorry, dad) being complete idiots and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how that trip looked.  this simple treat was about all we were capable of producing at the time, other than lime wedges for tequila shots (clearly).  it will take you minutes to put together, and you won’t even break a sweat (ba dum cha)!

kiki momma’s cool whip cake

what you’ll need:
2-3 cartons of cool whip (cold, but not frozen!)
1 carton of pre-made chocolate chip cookies (go with crunchy cookies as they soak up the milk nicely)

please note that i use all reduced fat and skim milk. that’s because i’m watching my figure you see… mmhmm…

1. dunk each cookie for about 10 seconds in the milk. layer on bottom of bowl.

2. layer cool whip on top of soaked cookies.

3. repeat. and repeat. and repeat. and repeat til you can repeat no mo.

4. here is where it is a matter of taste… i prefer this frozen, so i generally refrigerate it for a while so that the cookies have time to get mooshy, and then i throw it in the freezer.  if you want it to be more like a trifle, just refrigerate.

as you can see, this recipe should really only be tackled by those who are very confident in the kitchen. it is very difficult to make this.

another bonus of this cake? it also happens to be ridiculously easy to take to parties. ridiculous, i say.

mini apple pies (or: how to defy a 10-year-old girl)

24 Jun

notwithstanding the moral high ground i can take for visiting them,  there is something simply wonderful about the farmer’s market. tables piled high with vegetables, greens flowing out of baskets, men in dirty pants hawking their wares: i love it.  that is until i spot the turnips. turnips ruin everything. turnips bring up my latent 5th grade ptsd and remind me of the bitter taste of mean girl rejection. a taste that coincidentally happens to coincide with their actual taste…

for the majority of my adolescence, i was a total pushover. my mother still reminds me with shame of how one little girl conned me into coloring my entire deck with markers or how another girl convinced me to shout details about male anatomy (erm, specifically that my father was a male with said anatomy) in the center of my neighbor’s yard while standing on top of a fire hydrant like friggin’ Moses on his mountain top. honest-to-god, i would do pretty much anything you told me to do.

somehow i managed to develop a backbone once the 5th grade rolled around, which is lucky because if i hadn’t, my turnip issues would be more than an awkward eyes squinched “i remember you” type of encounter at the farmer’s market.  my bff had just replaced me with a new bff, as is the way with 10-year-old girls, and the three of us found ourselves one day attempting to color and sticker bookmarks together with limited success.  once it became clear that this game had lost its entertainment value, the two girls decided it was time to create a new club to which i had to prove my loyalty through a series of gross trials. the one that haunts me to this day involved a turnip.  essentially the girls dug the turnip up out of the garden and held its dirty root-y body up to me for my immediate consumption.  this doesn’t seem that horrific, but to a germaphobic kid who would only eat chicken fingers and mashed potatoes? this was a nightmare. you might have been able to convince me to shout things i barely comprehended in public places, but i drew the line at eating dirty vegetables.  they offered to soak it in coke to help it slide down. yeh, like that would make it better… around that point i panicked and sped off to the girl’s house where i made a furious call demanding my mother pick me up immediately. after a very awkward 30 minutes of waiting for her to stuff my little brother into a car so she could collect me, the girls declared that i could join the club on a probationary basis.  taking the high road, i …um… alright, fine,  i shrieked that i hated their stupid, stinkin’ club! nobody makes me eat turnips!

this incredibly lengthy story is all to say: somehow i manage to survive the near-turnip encounters and return to the farmer’s market each week to find other less acid-reflux inducing foods.  a recent trip left me with several bulging bags and pockets of apples with which to bake a pie.  i wanted to jazz up my go-to apple pie recipe by experimenting with crust flavors, but ended up getting bored of it half-way through the project… so instead i just made them adorably small in a muffin tin.  this recipe is simple and classic and very tasty.

what you’ll need:

pie dough

1.5 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt (for this we use our imagination to visualize)
8 tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 tbsp ice water

for the method, click here. two changes: disregard the bit about sugar, and instead of rolling the dough out immediately, you will need to refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes. this gives the dough time to relax, which will make it easier to roll out. we do this because of gluten strands and crap like that.* it also helps if you pat the ball you have formed into a disc before ceran-wrapping and refrigerating.

now for the innards:

adapted from betty crocker’s scrumptious apple pie recipe

1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
5 cups finely diced tart apples (about 5 mediums) i like to use half granny smith and half red.
2 tbsp butter

1. in a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  stir in the apples until everything is well mixed.

2. preheat your oven to 425F, and extract your pie dough from the fridge.

3. spritz some muffin tins with pam. this may not actually be necessary, but there’s a time and a place for eating trapped baked goods directly from the tin with a spoon… and this wasn’t one of those times. so i erred on the side of caution.

4. roll out your dough until it is about a 12 inch round, probably about an 1/8th of an inch thick. cut out rounds to use as your pie bottoms. i used a glass cup for this as you can see.  this will be enough dough for 6 mini pies, so 6 tops and 6 bottoms.

5. place bottoms in pan and fill with apple mixture. add a little bit of butter on top (though i am pretty sure i forgot this step). then top with another dough round and smoosh** the two pieces of dough together.  cut an air hole in the top to let steam escape while baking.

you may notice at the end of this that you have more than enough apple mixture leftover to make another entire pie… yup.  this is because i was too lazy to cut it down to the appropriate size/try to figure out what 1/8th of a teaspoon reduced by 3 would be.  i realize in retrospect that i could have just winged it, but i was feeling very intense about exact measurements when i was making this.  just go buy some pilsbury pie dough and make another pie… pretend you made the whole thing from scratch and call it a day.  or… eat the mixture with a spoon and tell yourself you are being healthy by getting your fruit serving for the day.

6. place in the oven. bake until it’s done.  the recipe says 40-50, but that is for a 9-inch pie… so it will be less than that.  just keep an eye on it.  if it’s black, it’s done….***

if you're a slob like me, they'll look somethin' like this when done.

* i admit that i wrote that so you would think i am smart.
** technical baking term
*** actual advice received in culinary school.

baby tiny chocolate chip cookies (or: my love/hate affair with snow)

1 Feb

as a kid, you never expect that the things that are so life-shatteringly important to you at the time  will one day no longer matter. my ambition to marry prince william and become a princess for instance.  and for another, my constant and obsessive desire for snow. living in boston has gradually ruined snow for me …while prince william gradually aging ruined that little love affair for me… but more seriously, in my youth, snow represented the pinnacle of happiness. throughout december, i would perform elaborate snow dances involving a number of props and rhythmic chants. i was so committed that i would practice for snow by “sledding” down wet grass on a broken down cardboard box.  never in my life did i think the joy of snow would leave me. i mean, hell, i spent over half my life desperately beseeching nature for just a glimmer of it.

but as the old proverb says, when it rains it pours, and for boston, so it seems, when it snows it blizzards. 7 and a half years of freezing snot, brown 6-month-old snow refusing to melt, and hours of shoveling out my car just to have a plow re-trap it moments later… the magic has been decidedly snuffed out.

despite my whining and complaining, i can’t deny that in the first few hours when the world is still white and untouched, the childhood joy comes flooding back.  (probably a result of some serious mental blocking from the previous year’s traumas.)  and should work call a snow day? heavenly… you know, until the shoveling begins and all. but i’ll be glossing over that little factor when i text a multitude of photos to my brother in georgia (who only knows the joys of snow that melts after a day and is therefore not jaded like myself) so he is properly harassed and sent into a fit of depression.

…and then proceed to frolic until i’m numb. clearly. this particular snow day necessitated a lot of frolicking…once my roommates and i had played till our collective heart’s content, by which i mean, we could no longer feel most of our limbs, it was decided that nothing could perfect this day like a plate of cookies and a steaming mug of hot chocolate…because we are adorable and slightly cliche that way.  plus, unlike prince william and snow, chocolate chip cookies are never in danger of going out of style.

mini chocolate chip cookies: (a la ww)

what you’ll need:
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar, dark-variety
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt
1 large egg white
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda (not pictured…woops)
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips, about 1/2 cup

1. preheat oven to 375ºf.

2. in a medium bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar. add vanilla, salt, and an egg white. mix thoroughly to combine.

3. in a small bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda. mix in with the bowl of wet ingredients. add chocolate chips to the batter, and stir to distribute evenly.

around this point, you may notice that there is practically no dough whatsoever. i would have been surprised if it made 5 cookies, not to mention the serving size of 48.  looks like i had neglected to realize that by “mini,” they meant “practically invisible to the naked eye.”

i figured i should do some to-scale illustrations to really drive the point home.  what we have here is a recommended dough blob size that ends up being bigger than a nickel, yet smaller than a johnny cupcakes pin.

4. if you have recovered from the shock, proceed to drop 48 half-teaspoons of dough onto a large nonstick baking sheet leaving a small amount of space between each cookie. as you can see, i whipped out the big guns, aka toothpicks, to get these suckers out. more shocking than even the initial shock is that i managed to get 56 cookies from this. (guh!?)

5. bake cookies until golden around edges (about 4 to 6 minutes). cool on a wire rack.

beware: these baby tinies are highly addictive. when i normally could contain myself to one regular sized cookie (alright, fine, 3…but i’m just making sure they are safe), i found myself popping these bad boys like it was job.  20 mini cookies later…and my distended stomach was rather un-mini.

pumpkin feta muffins (or: the perils of hype)

7 Jan

hype is the absolute worst. nothing can ever live up to it and you are almost always bound to be left disappointed in its wake.  in an effort to battle the inevitable letdown, i always try to downplay and oftentimes downright demean that which i am most excited about.

unfortunately there are always those things that manage to slip through the cracks of my tightly run degradation determined ship. like new years eve. with the possible exception of this year in which i exerted considerable effort, every nye i expect the world to shatter from the sheer epic force of that night. i put so much pressure on myself to make the previous year go out with such a glorious bang that the night is almost always exceptionally lame and i end up spending the entire next day melodramatically dressed entirely in black determined to manifest my depression over the futility of it all.

first dates can also be an exercise in over-hype.  one night i met a guy in a bar (let’s call him shlomo) and under the influence of booze and fashion-shielding beer goggles (his ensemble was shockingly similar to that of mario lopez circa 2007) i gave him my number. two months of texting and scheduling conflicts later, shlomo and i finally manage to meet up.  i couldn’t remember what he looked like and was fairly certain i wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line up, but it was pretty thrilling to finally reach this point. thanks to my lovely, and oh so-endearing girl brain, i had managed to really build this up. but two months of anticipation can do that to a girl.  naturally, the date was a total bust.  its unfortunate that he wasn’t mario lopez as then we might have had something in common, namely our love for 80s muscle tees and picking on dustin diamond.

per usual, despite my attempts to be super chill, when i first saw these muffins on 101 cookbooks, i was absolutely beside myself.  just ask my officemate, he can attest.  i was waxing romantic and salivating simultaneously. i thought that these would be god’s gift to muffins. one day i would lure men into my lair like a siren with these muffins. i would move mountains with these muffins. (when i wax romantic, i really was romantic.)

so when preparing a menu for my exciting annual maryland trip with my hlm, these were clearly on the list. highlighted and underlined. much to my dismay, they were just…alright. palatable for sure, but not the taste equivalent of heaven on earth like i had anticipated. so when and if you make these, i suggest you don’t preface the occasion with visions of yourself riding astride a silk-covered elephant as a muffin-bearing goddess like myself. try tempering your expectations with some dramatic “meh”s and “ho-hum”s.

and with that thought in mind… feta pumpkin muffins:

what you’ll need:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups pumpkin
salt and pepper
1 large handful of baby spinach, chopped
2 tbs chopped parsley
3 tbs sunflower seed kernels
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup cubed feta
2 tsp whole-grain mustard
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine-grain sea salt

1. preheat oven to 405 f with rack in the top third. grease a 12-hole muffin pan with the butter and set aside.

(public service announcement: do not drink and cube.)

2. cube pumpkin. after much consternation and knife stickage (despite aggressive “high-YA”-ing), i opted to slice wedges out of the pumpkin and cube after roasting. either way, sprinkle olive oil and some salt and pepper over the squash. toss well and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet/roasting pan and bake for 15 – 25 minutes or until cooked through entirely. allow it to cool.

3. transfer 2/3 of the squash to a large mixing bowl along with the spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, parmesan, 2/3 of the feta, and all of the mustard. gently fold together.

4. in a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. add to the squash mixture.

5. next, sift the flour and baking powder onto the squash mixture.  top with the tsp of salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper. fold together just until the batter comes together, being careful not to over mix.

6. fill each muffin tin hole about 3/4 full and then top each with a bit of the remaining squash and feta. bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. let cool for a couple minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

makes 12 muffins.

despite my (once again) melodramatic grumblings about hype (it is still too close to the first to shake it entirely), these muffins were good. i just prefer a lot more jazz to my baked goods…. and for that matter salt to my savory. if you are more into blander stuff, you will be into these.  they have a kick every once in awhile when you bite into the feta without being over the top.  i also suggest you warm them up a bit before eating.

cinnamon apple chips (or: a lesson on fall)

13 Nov

i love the fall. so much so that we’re lucky it isn’t a tangible, living thing as i’d most likely snuggle it right to death.  fall means colorful leaves fluttering in the wind, winter squash looking strange and oddly shaped, pumpkins ripe for the carving, apples ready to be picked and baked, hair that doesn’t quadruple in size the moment i walk outside. just color and loveliness all around.

though the falls in the north differ considerably from the falls of my youth (50/60 degrees as opposed to 70, sweaters rather than a long sleeve t, indoor pumpkin carving instead of outdoor pumpkin carving), i’ve managed to adapt (though not without considerable bitching and moaning).

i’ll never forget my first fall in new england as a confused little 18-year-old.  it was early october and i remember feeling so cold that i thought i would die. i piled on all of my winter accessories, tied on my hiking boots (which bizarrely enough had been all the rage at my high school… most likely a result of all that treacherous linoleum we were forced to traverse every day), and proceeded to weep tears of terror (which i also seem to remember froze on my face). j, who lived down the hall from me, looked me over with such pity and informed me that we had barely hit fall and that soon i would be so cold even my teeth would freeze. i wasn’t entirely sure how one’s teeth froze, but i knew i did not want to find out.  unfortunately, i was already the weird girl on my hall who spent a bit too much time watching taped tv shows while slurping down ramen noodles, so walking around in 60 degree weather wearing long johns and a scarf around my face really didn’t help my already floundering reputation.

these days i do my best to cut back on the early-onset winter wear and try to acclimate myself slowly to the increasing chill through a number of outdoor activities, my favorite being apple picking. not only is it ridiculously fun leaping in the air to try and pick out-of-reach apples, but it is also so much more rewarding to bake appley things knowing i yanked them out of the tree myself (and by yanked, i mean carefully twisted it off using both hands… ahem, apologizes cider hill farm).

every year i have the best of intentions when it comes to post-picking baking, annnd i almost always totally wimp out.  this year was no exception. rather than some deluxe, glamorous pie like i may have promised certain persons (eep), i opted for apple chips. the boiling process can be somewhat time consuming, but overall there is not much effort required.  you can happily prepare these and sip spiked cider simultaneously. though, because there are sharp knives involved, i would suggest waiting to realllly get started on that side of things until after the apples have been sliced…

cinnamon apple chips

what you’ll need:
2 cups unsweetened apple juice (i used 1 cup cider/1 cup water)
1 cinnamon stick
2 red delicious apples (or in my case, whichever sort you happened to have   haphazardly picked)

1. in a large skillet or pot (preferably something wide), combine the apple juice and cinnamon stick. bring to a low boil.

…meanwhile… if you happened to use apple cider, you might find a little sticker like the one above. unfortunately, i discovered this AFTER drinking the majority of the container… i’m not actually a child, or elderly, or suffer from a weakened immune system, but this did wonders for my already wildly out-of-control hypochondria nonetheless.

2. with a sharp knife (and i emphasize sharp as it will make your life so much easier… assuming you aren’t hopped up on the cider and chop off a finger), slice off half an inch from the top and bottom of the apples and discard.

3. slice into very thin rings (about 1/8th of an inch thick). note that the thinner your slices are, the crispier and more chip-like they will turn out. the thicker ones will stay slightly chewy and be more like dried fruit.

4. drop apple slices into the boiling juice and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the slices appear translucent and lightly golden. if your slices are on the thick side, then this will take a bit longer.

5. with a slotted spatula, remove the apple slices and pat them dry. arrange on a cooling rack, making sure that none overlap.

6. bake at 250 degrees f for 30-40 minutes. the apple slices should be lightly browned and almost dry to the touch. let the chips cool on the racks completely before storing in an airtight container.  enjoy!

goat cheese scallion biscuits (or: i win most gullible of the year)

26 Aug

i’ve always been a bit too trusting.  for instance, as an innocent little second grader, i trusted that by closing the door to the bathroom this meant i was assured privacy as i went about my business.  poor, naive kelley. one particularly traumatic day, it took not 10 seconds after i dropped my pants for a boy, whose name i still mutter in anger to this day, to walk in on me. so there i am, mid-pee, stirrup-pants around my ankles, with the door wide-open as he-whose-name-i’m-bizarrely-protecting openly stared with a bug-eyed look something akin to rodney dangerfield’s. of course, compounding my humiliation was the fact that this was an in-classroom bathroom and my entire class was sitting right outside preparing for storytime. not once have i peed comfortably in public since that fateful day.

when i was 12, i trusted that my friend’s parents weren’t lying when they told me that cigars didn’t contain tobacco and were completely safe to smoke. (they were in the process of “quitting” and didn’t appreciate my friend and i pointing out that they didn’t seem to be doing a particularly stellar job at it.)  fast forward 12 years when i am at a bachelor party (yeh, you read that right) and taking my faux-manliness pretty damn seriously, if i say so myself, and decide to get in on the cigar action. because why the hell not? i’m in mantown.  and it’s not like there is any tobacco in there that can give me lung cancer and kill me, right?  (don’t worry tho, like bill, i never inhaled.) a couple weeks later, i was out to dinner with a friend describing my mancapades and trying to sound much cooler than i actually am.  it was at the point in the story when i was saying something along the lines of “yeh, i was pretty hot shit smoking that cigar in a savannah back alley, but there’s no tobacco in those things, so no bigs,”  that he started laughing in my face.  being a seasoned smoker himself, he felt compelled to correct my misconception.  annnd i’ve never felt like such a friggin’ tool.  what’s that on the ceiling? gullible? oh yeh, hilarious.

so now, here i am in 2010, and you would think i would have learned from my past mistakes. you would think that i would be older and wiser. you would think that i would have hardened into an untrusting lump of you-know-what. but no, once again i fell prey to my ingrained need to trust. as i read through one of the recipes i inherited from a baking course i took in the spring, i trusted that by being an official, paid-for program, the recipes would be correct.  alas, no such luck. please witness, exhibit a:

1.5 cups of liquid to 2 cups flour seemed a bit like overkill, but who am i to question my superiors? surely they are infinitely older and wiser… and capable of correcting typos. but several choice curses later, some rather soggy hands, and a couple dumps of flour, i made a complete failure of trying to correct this mistake. i ended up scraping the first batch (after making a friend suffer through a taste test), and made another go with different liquid measurements.  below is what you should actually do…you can trust me…maybe.

goat cheese scallion biscuits:

what you’ll need:
2 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
6 oz. goat cheese
4 tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup (maybe a bit more) light cream
1/2 bunch scallions, cleaned and chopped
1/4 tsp black pepper

1. combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. cut in the goat cheese and scallions. if you are having trouble with a pastry cutter (please cut eyes to the right), try using two knives.

2.add cream and knead lightly, just enough to mix everything together. don’t overwork the dough or else your biscuits will get tough…which is great for overly trusting personalities (ahem), but not biscuits. this also happens to be the step that destroyed my first go at this recipe.  i attempted to compensate for the overabundance of liquid by adding more flour and a bit of baking powder all willy-nilly-like. the result was an absurdly floury biscuit. not delectable.  round 2, i added 1/2 cup of cream to see how it looked, realized i needed a smidge more, grabbed the extra cream from the fridge, and then discovered it was frozen solid. so…that was awesome. instead i added a pinch of milk.

3. turn out the dough onto a floured work surface (i tend to go for the kitchen counter, which for some reason always makes me laugh. probably because i am imagining my mother’s look of horror). press dough out into an even layer 3/4-inch high.


4. using a floured biscuit cutter 2-inches in diameter, cut out biscuits and place on a buttered baking sheet.  (i actually just now realized it was supposed to be a floured biscuit cutter…thaaat would have helped.  i’m not sure if you notice above, but my first round was an utter disaster.)

5. bake biscuits at 400 degrees f for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

…and here’s hoping you had better luck then me.

biscuit ruiner of the year

pecan-cappuccino biscotti (or: a love song to that which i hate)

28 Jul

something about biscotti just rubs me the wrong way. could it be its rock hardness or its impossible to chewness?  or perhaps the fact that every time i crunch down on one i feel like a beaver gnawing on a hunk of sweet flavored wood?  one day i will crack a tooth–i just know it.  i will bite down, hoping upon hope that this time it will be different, this time the rock will give way to cookie, but instead a large “craccck” will sound and my tooth will split in two. i will raise my fist in consternation, adapting my best angry grandpa face, and shake with a fury generally reserved for delinquent children running through flower beds and dogs pooping in yards.  my voice will magically age 60 years as i warble out a string of choice curses.

apart from my fear of a toothless future, biscotti just annoys me on principle. because as we all know, it is perfectly appropriate, and might i add the american way, to hate that which we dont understand.  biscotti, i hate you, because i dont understand you.  and im okay with that.  but no, really, why were you created?

now, dont get all biscotti-activist on me.  dont try to tell me it is lovely for dunking or is great for sharpening your teeth.  biscotti is not the only victim to fall prey to my irrational distaste.  it has plenty of company.  for instance, weve got:

1. ketchup: it coagulates, it splurts out with aggression, it attaches to your flesh and then you smell like it for the rest of your life.

2. the pet name “baby”: shudder. a thousand times shudder. apologies (sort of, not really) to those of you who fall in this category… but it feels way too humbert humbert.  yeh, i said it.

3. going to restaurants between 3-5 pm:  there is no one else there, wait staff stare at you and wonder why you had to interrupt their break (maybe that was just me?), and it is just a weird timeframe to publicly eat.

now that i have described my feelings to such an extent, you might be wondering why on earth i would have baked and therefore subjected myself to the displeasure of a rock in cookie-disguise.  this is because i am convinced that i can train myself to like anything with enough mental fortitude– the exceptions of course being the 3 things listed above, and anyone who suggests that david blaine is better than david copperfield.  also, i happened to have all of the ingredients in my pantry at the time, and i am all about convenience…so, ya know, there’s that.

pecan-cappuccino biscotti
from weight watchers: mix it, match it

what you’ll need:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsps instant espresso powder
2 tsps cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees f. line a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray.

2. sift flour, cocoa, espresso, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. (here it is perfectly appropriate to sing that shake, shake, shake senora song from beetlejuice.)

3. whisk together the sugar, egg, and vanilla in another bowl.

4. add this to the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms. fold in pecans.

5. gather the dough with lightly floured hands and transfer to a lightly floured surface. roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter and 8 inches long. transfer your newly created log to the baking sheet and flatten gently until it is about 3/4 inch high. bake until firm to the touch, 20-25 mins.

4. transfer the log to a cutting board and cool for about 5 mins. with a serrated knife, cut into 12 1/4-inch slices. arrange these slices on the baking sheet.

5. reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees f. bake the biscotti for 10 mins, then turn over and bake until dried and slightly crisp (about 10 mins longer). transfer to a rack and cool completely. the biscotti will continue to dry out as they cool.

for those calorie counting, 1 biscotti is 94 cal or 2 ww points.

if you are looking for an adult chew toy, you can’t go wrong with this biscotti. i imagine if one actually liked biscotti, these would be quite enjoyable. the espresso really does give it a nice flavor.  they are on the small side however, which shocked me a bit since the photo in the cookbook made them appear giant… but honestly, the lengthy gnawing makes it take longer to eat anyways so they seem pretty large.  i can’t deny that i do appreciate food that tricks me into thinking i am getting more bang for my buck.

black midnight cake (or: how many times can i use the word romantic in one post?)

25 Jun

as soon as i saw this recipe, i knew i had to make it. the worn clipping was tucked in my mom’s recipe book, neatly typed out via typewriter, and trimmed down to a perfect little 3×5. the antiquated look, the name–black midnight cake–immediately my head was flooded with images of hot, sticky southern nights…unnaturally still waters reflecting the distant moon and stars… a pair of young lovers meeting in secret with only the cicadas and fireflies to bear witness to their indiscretions…  something about “black midnight” makes me feel overly romantic bordering on the nonsensical.  then again, i’ve always leaned toward hopeless romantic.

growing up, my mother always told me that “all is fair in love and war–right up until the altar.” i blame this advice for some of my more dramatic fantasies…and realities. my mom similarly fell prey to the idealism of love conquering all, and in this vein pursued my father with a reckless air of “oh, what the hell.” they met at a wedding, exchanged addresses (oh the days before the internet & cell phones), and once my mom returned home some 1,000 miles away, she decided based on the wisdom of the aforementioned saying that it couldn’t hurt to send a letter. and thus began the long-distance, hand-written courtship of my parents.  my heart breaks from the over-exertion of abundant sighing. if this is my reaction just from thinking about letters, imagine my brain high on black midnight cake!

modern-day romance seems so much less sigh-inducing in comparison to the days of yore. there are too many online dating sites and methods of communication. texting, emailing, iming, facebook messaging, facebook wall-posting– it makes my head spin. sure, the email might be the letter of the 21st century, but there is still something so much more romantic and idealistic about the act of putting pen to paper. i met a guy at a bar once who gave me his full name and network so i could later find him on facebook… yikes. i mean, i didn’t expect some quill-to-parchment action here, let’s be realistic, but honestly, a phone number exchange would have sufficed. curses 21st century!

but back to the black midnight cake. to my utter disappointment, it ended up being a bit like modern-day romance– a little meh. the title overpowered my overly romantic mind and belied the fact that it was preeeetty much just a chocolate cake. a tasty chocolate cake, but just a chocolate cake all the same.  i was expecting the flavors to be making sweet, sweet love on my tongue.  instead they politely introduced themselves to my taste buds, hung out for a second, and then moved on.  a nice memory… but forgettable.

but despite all of this, I shall attempt to harness the magic the name first conjured… i’ll just light a few candles, dim the lights, slice up a bit of this cake, and perhaps check the computer to see which men the online algorithms have conjured up.  ah, modern-day romance… i guess you’ve got to take what you can get.

black midnight cake:

what you’ll need:
2/3 cup shortening
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour (sifted)
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla

1. beat the shortening, sugar, and eggs for 5 min at high speed. (also, how absolutely amazing is this mixer?  for starters, i don’t have to hold it other than for the initial helping hand to get it to start spinning. for seconds, i don’t have to hold it. for thirds… i don’t have to hold it.  did i mention i don’t have to hold it?)

2. sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking  soda, and salt. (when i can’t find a sifter…like in my parents house… mooooom… i find that a mesh/small-holed (?) strainer works better than nothing. eventhough it may seem unnecesary to sift, it really does make the cake a lot fluffier and therefore lovelier.)

3. mix dry ingredients  and then a combination of water and vanilla in alternately with the sugar/shortening mixture.

4. pour into 2 9-inch layer pans or 1 13×9-inch oblong pan (greased and floured).

5. bake at 350 degrees for 35 mins if layers, 40 to 45 if oblong.

milk chocolate icing: (if you like a lot of icing like me, i would suggest doubling the recipe. i stuck to it as written, but felt like there just wasn’t enough.)

what you’ll need:
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup cocoa
3 cups confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. melt together the shortening and cocoa.

2. stir in confectioner’s sugar, hot scalded milk, and vanilla. make sure to make a giant mess, esp if you are in your mother’s kitchen and she is anal retentive about keeping everything impeccably clean.

3. place the pan in ice water, and beat until a spreadable consistency  (about 3 to 5 mins).

according to the recipe creator another option is to add a few drops of peppermint flavoring.

now, i did not have a flat cake stand on hand for icing the cake so we tried to minimize the mayhem by putting wax paper under the cake, which we later slid out from under it. this definitely helped keep the pretty cake stand clean, though it made icing the cake a smidge tricksy. also notice that i did not slice off the tops to make the cake flat… this is because i am lazy. but, i guess we could pretend that i was going for a rustic feel?

(this would probably be more dramatic if photographed during a black midnight.)