armadillas


Sanguistas

For the past couple days, a friend and I have been exchanging emails in search of the perfect chocolate frosting. She’s gone and made a birthday cake for one of her friends and the request was simple: chocolatechocolatechocolate! Of course, I’m not the biggest chocolate fan, but I understood her needs. We wanted a real recipe, something worth presenting for a birthday! Not one of those wimpy recipes claiming to be the best only to be the most flavorless thing you’ve ever tasted. No ma’am! My first thoughts were maybe something along the lines of a ganache, but considering the size of her cake, well, that would require a lot of frosting and a bit of money. So now there’s naught to do but choose a nice fudgy frosting. I’m sure it’ll work out fine and the chocolate lover will be most happy with the results, which will have consisted of international efforts!

All this talk of frosting has put me in the mood to bake a cake. I’ve never been much of a sweets person, but here lately I seem to be craving them all the time. Maybe craving is an exaggeration, but I usually get around to making something sweet once a week when once upon a time I made something maybe once a year (ahem my own birthday cake, which is quite divine!). I blame all the boys. In this house, we usually have some sort of weekend gathering, typically involving a bonfire surrounded by a lot of menfolk. One day, I decided to make them cookies. Then I made them brownies. Then I made- well, you get the picture. Anyway, I’ve created some sort of monster. They want sweets…and I want to make them! There’s just no controlling this new found urge. Sometimes it’s best just to give in.

Anyway, I went to a little dinner get together last night with my friends and I decided on a whim to provide dessert. For probably the past month I’ve been making a lot of chocolate things (huh?) and was itching for a change. That’s when I stumbled across a bag of pistachios in the cabinet.

Mmm pistachios! I am a recent lover of pistachios. A few years ago a friend’s grandmother made us watergate salad (oh yum!) and I was intrigued. A year later I tried some pistachio ice cream in Costa Rica and I was hooked. Finally, I had a little taste of the tiny green nut itself in a grocery store and I knew there was no going back. What a marvelous little fellow. Great snack! So addicting. Before you know it, the whole bag is gone…be warned!

I do, however, have a confession to make. I cheated. I did not make my cake from scratch. I bought a box and dumped the contents into a bowl then added a few extra tid bits. The cake was good, don’t get me wrong. It was gone by this morning. But in my opinion it was a little on the sweet side so next time I am most definitely doing it start to finish myself so I can make adjustments. But the recipe is a keeper so I thought I’d share as is. It’s a nice summer treat!

Ingredients:

The Cake

  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • 1 package pistachio instant pudding
  • 1 cup water (or lemon-lime soda)

The Honey Frosting

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbs lime/lemon juice
  • 2 tbs honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of milk

Talk about easy! Take all your cake ingredients and put them in a bowl

Find your mixer and put it to work!

If you want, add some green food coloring (I didn’t have any)

Goodness gracious, this is going to take less then 5 minutes! Take a pan of your choosing and batter up (hehehe get it? Eh, maybe not). I chose to make a bundt cake, but I’d bet money these would make great cupcakes! Always a crowd pleaser

Gah! Go preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once day you’ll remember to do this ahead of time. Hmph! Now for the frosting, which we are going to do ahead of time so as to let it set up a bit in the fridge. Cream together softened butter and honey. I may have been generous with my honey

Slowly mix in sugar and milk. Now, some people don’t like to find “odd” textures in their food. For the most part, I am not one of those people. That’s why I added both powdered and granulated sugar to my icing. But if you doubt me (and someone did just before they ate two slices), skip the granulated sugar and double the powdered sugar to two cups. No problema

Finally, mix in the rest of the ingredients. I love the tang that cream cheese brings to an icing. Since I didn’t have any cream cheese, I used citrus juice to create a similar flavor. It’s a nice, unexpected surprise. When your all done, put the icing in the fridge. Do you say icing or frosting? Is there actually a difference…

The cake is done. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before flipping it. If you remembered to grease your pan, this will be a cinch!

Ta-da! It’s like magic. What a beauty! Just admire that golden color

If you’re nervous your friends won’t like your new frosting experiment, serve it on the side. Ooh, how fancy!

To make it fancier, sprinkle chopped pistachios on top

To make it even more fancy, spread the nuts in shell around your cake like a professional! It’s all in the details. Guess they liked it

Hope you do, too! Next time, I”m going to try two packages of pistachio pudding. Just to see how it affects the flavor.

Tijuana

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Of hearts and stomachs

The other day I decided I wanted to open up a bakery. Of course, this is not the first time I got such a whim up my butt and it certainly will not be the last time. I constantly waver between pursuing a career in food or a career in academia (along with careers in writing or nutrition or agriculture). This idea of a bakery was triggered by two things. The first is a book I’m currently reading, The Baker’s Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. I find it very easy to get caught up in a character’s life, to escape into fiction for a couple hours. Before you know it, I’m romanticizing driving to work late in the night, setting a playlist on my iPod long after most people have gone to bed, and digging my fingers into flour until the wee hours of the morning. I suppose the book spurred on my early morning decision to type become a baker into my search bar. That’s how I discovered bloombakeshop.com, with its quaint and simple design. After reading the owner’s story of how she left the pharmaceutical world for a world of dough and entrepreneurship, I immediately wanted to jump on the band wagon. I’m pretty sure the tantalizing pictures of whoopie pies under her menu page helped with this sudden inspiration.

With origins in the Amish/German communities of the American north east, whoopie pies are traditionally made with a chocolate cookie cake and vanilla cream filling. We all know how I feel about chocolate, so I wanted to make a pumpkin whoopie pie with a -get this- lemon cream filling. It may sound like a strange combination to some (cough cough), but you’d be surprised what flavors can fuse together. Like Chinese and Mexican. Don’t knock it!


Unfortunately, the only store within walking distance (got to get my exercise somehow!) did not carry pumpkin puree, so I had to change my game plan. On my way home, walking up and down the streets for a little added cardio, a recipe began to form in my head. Why not make a tiramisu whoopie pie? With a hint of lemon! That way there’s coffee, there’s chocolate, there’s lemon, and there’s vanilla. Everyone is happy!

So I set about doing a little research, comparing recipes I found online and in cookbooks, and eventually came up with a pretty satisfactory recipe of my own. You know, as a child I wasn’t really much of a whoopie pie sort of person. It goes back to the not caring a lot for chocolate thing. But now as an adult inclined to spend a good chunk of my time in the kitchen, I have the freedom to experiment and these little babies have been calling my name going on a week now. Fortunately, it only takes one to satisfy the craving. Otherwise I’d probably be the size of a hippo! Remember, the great thing about baking is sharing! Send your goods over to a neighbor. Maybe you even have a cute, single neighbor. You find the heart through the stomach folks! Now, my whoopies are more cakey and less cookie-like. Just so you know.

Psst…feel free to ignore my chicken scratch. We do not live in an era of penmanship. My grandmother is quite ashamed

Ingredients:

Batter

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup instant espresso
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter milk

Orange Creme

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 oz cream cheese or mascarpone, softened
  • 4 tbs butter, softened too
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1 tsp rum/Marsala (optional)

Quick tip! If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (which, who does?), it’s super easy to make. Put a tbs of lemon juice or vinegar into you measuring cup. Fill the rest with your milk. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Your milk will begin to look chunky- don’t panic!

Preheat over to 350 degrees. I always forget to do this step first. It really does save time to remember. We’re going to make the batter first. In a large bowl, cream together your butter and sugar

Once that’s done, crack in your egg and add the vanilla. Mmm I still have some homemade vanilla leftover from someone’s Nana…but I’m running low!

It won’t kill any of us to take a little taste. We’re lookin’ for a nice creamy consistency. Hey! It kinda looks like peanut butter. Eh, or smooth almond butter

In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Mix mix mix!

By now, your milk will be nice and curdled. Not being  a professional, I don’t know if that’s really what happened between our milk and lemon juice. I’m just guessing. Definitely looks more like a divorce than a marriage, though! In an alternating fashion, pour milk and flour mixture into the batter

Look at the chunks!

Time for more tasting! I won’t tell if you don’t… Dollop batter onto a greased (or nonstick) cookie sheet with an ice cream scoop. Mine isn’t the clickedy kind. That would be most helpful in my kitchen

Bake your dollops for 10-12 minutes. Repeat until all your batter has disappeared! Let cookies/cakes/whateveryouwannacallthem cool on counter

In the meantime, we can make the orange cream filling! Originally, I was going to make a plain and simple vanilla filling. Then I got the urge to add some lemon. Addict, remember? But then I discovered some orange extract chillin’ in my spice cabinet and decided what the heck! So, take your softened cheese and butter and give them a nice little whirl with your mixer/beater in a bowl

Go ahead and add the vanilla and orange. If you have orange zest, that would be fantastic! At this point, you can go ahead and mix in your rum. All I had on hand was whiskey and wine, neither of which I felt would make a good contribution to my orange cream. No alcohol for us today. Finally, mix in your powdered sugar. Do this a little at a time if you don’t want it to suddenly cloud up into the air and get all over you

Oh boy! I think that was my favorite  part. Of course, another taste test is in order. We got this under control. No bad flavors are going to sneak into this kitchen! Put the filling into the fridge for a spell to help give it some extra body

Almost done! Now that the cookies are cool and the creme is stiff, time to assemble. We’re going to make use of our Ziplocs again. Make a piping bag and swirl the filling onto half of the cookies

Then top it off with the rest of the cookies. Ahhh! We now have a nice little cake sandwich aka a whoopie pie (black moon, gob, big fat oreo, etc)

Enjoy! And don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors. I’m dying to make one with a mint creme! Or perhaps a vanilla cookie with a berry creme for summer. Possibilities. They never get old.

Tijuana



If you could only see the beast you made of me

Those are the opening lines to a song I’m listening to right now. If you’ve never heard of Florence + The Machine, I highly recommend that you check ’em out. A friend of mine introduced me to this indie band a couple years ago and ever since I have kept their songs close at ear on my iPod. Aside from enjoying the music itself, I find the lyrics to be very powerful.  Howl is one of my favorite songs because the lyrics seem so primeval to me. When I listen to it, I feel like I’m hearing an ancient story, a tale of ritual and sacrifice, of longing, lust, and betrayal. Maybe that’s not what they were aiming for. I’m a folklore enthusiast so perhaps my interpretation is a little off, but hey- that’s the beauty of art in all it’s forms.

If you could only see the beast you made of me. Beastly. I feel like that at times. In fact, just last week I was quite disagreeable. I was grumpy, irritable, and down right unpleasant. I blame the moon. She hung plump in the night sky, full as a belly, and wooed me into a state of irrationality. Fortunately, the moon has waned and I’ve returned to my usual amiable self. Thanks to last night’s date-dinner, I’m in a rather loving mood. Do you know what goes well with that sort of mood? Chocolate (said in a throaty acento venezolano)

As a show of my appreciation for that oh-so-yummy lasagna, when I got up this morning I decided to try and make Candice Kumai’s Pretty Delicious Peanut Butter Cups. When I say pretty delicious, I do mean delicioso. For once, I did not alter the recipe, though I have some pretty groovy ideas for next time. Like using dark chocolate. Truth be told, I’ve never been much into chocolate. I always chose vanilla from those giant Neapolitan tubs of ice cream my great grandma kept in her freezer. But I do recognize the lovely qualities that chocolate possesses and every girl needs a chunk of darkness every once in awhile. So, next time I will use deep dark decadent chocolate instead. I might even test out crunchy peanut butter. But in the meantime, recipe courtesy Candice Kumai.

Ingredients:

  • Chocolate chips
  • Peanut butter
  • Rice crispy cereal
  • Butter
  • powdered sugar

Easy peasy!

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, about 12 ounces. You could do this in the microwave I suppose, but that takes the fun out of using a double boiler. As you can see, mine is very fancy. Seriously, all you need is a pot of boiling water and a bowl that fits on top

Before you know it your chocolate chips will go from this:

To this. So silky and smooth!

Now the fun, messy part. Paint your cupcake tins! I bought mini ones. Some things are better in miniature

I forgot I had smaller paint brushes and tried painting the tins with a considerably large silicone brush. Eventually, I gave up and used a spoon instead. Whatever gets the job done! Am I right or am I right?

Once you have all your tins painted, line them in a muffin pan and go stick them in the fridge for 10 minutes. This is a good time to have a slice of leftover lasagna before you make the filling. Yum. Oh yeah, and there will be leftover chocolate. We need that for later!

Okay, now for the filling. Take your peanut butter (I used almost 1 1/2 cups) and your butter (1 tbs) and put it in a pot over medium heat. Let cook down, stirring, until nice and sleek.

Add rice cereal (about 1 cup) and powdered sugar (1/4-1/3 cup). Mix it all up! Remove from heat

You chocolate painted cupcake tins should be ready by this point. Take them out of the fridge and spoon filling into each cup, about a teaspoon or so (I think I put some emphasis on the so part). You can always go back and add more once all your cups have some of the filling in them

Finally, we are going to take all that leftover chocolate and pipe it over the filling. I don’t have any pipping bags, so I just use ziplocs. Very easy to do

My piping isn’t all that pretty…but I was running out of chocolate! I had to make it last. Good thing I didn’t snack on those chips before I melted them down

All done! Put your finished product back in the fridge for about 30 minutes and serve. These would make a lovely gift for someone I’m sure. Or just a perfect treat for yourself. In my case, it’s a very big thank you!

Très mignon!

Tijuana