Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgivings - 11/22/2007

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! One result of having divorced parents is that I have to celebrate all of the holidays twice (good for presents, bad for the waistline). In previous years, I have enjoyed two full Thanksgiving dinners separated by about an hour, but this year was a little different. My mom was shooting for a non-traditional Thanksgiving brunch this year. Last night we put together a sweet potato bake, almond-banana bread, sausage bread, waldorf salad, and a Texas sheet cake. This morning, we assembled a mulled cider, sausage-stuffed mushrooms and pina colada pancakes (version 2 for those keeping count).

Pina Colada Pancakes

This time around, I put shredded coconut and coconut milk into the pancake batter. The "syrup" is made from pineapple preserves that were heated to make them more liquidy. For further topping, I put a dollop of whipped cream and some toasted coconut. Next time, I will thin out the pineapple preserves with some water, but these turned out delicious anyways. Worth noting is that I used a gluten-free pancake mix because my mom has a gluten allergy. Usually, these mixes come out rather gritty, but I could not tell the difference with these.

After brunch, I had a 3 hour reprieve until Thanksgiving dinner. At dinner, we had the usual delicious fare: turkey, gravy, potatoes, sweet potato pudding, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate bread pudding (made with croissants for extra buttery fatness), and my contribution: carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

My stepmom and I are big fans of carrot cake, so I thought this would be a nice treat. In the cake and between the layers are also chunks of pineapple for an added twist. On top are candied carrot ribbons made by simmering the carrot in a simple syrup. Special thanks to my mom for helping me asseble this monstocity. I hope everyone else had a wonderful and belt-busting holiday as I did.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fakesgiving - 11/17/2007

My roommates and I have our own version of Thanksgiving every year that we call Fakesgiving. In years past, we have large numbers of friends participate in a potluck while we provide the location and some staple foods. This year was less than spectacular, but I am proud of what I made for the occasion. First of all, it took me three years to do it, but I made a great gravy using some of the turkey drippings. Previously, I tried adding flour to the drippings as they heated and a couple of other tricks, all resulting in a gravy that quickly turned to Jell-O. The big change this year is I actually took some time to think, "How do you make gravy?" The answer is you use a roux. I was definitely proud of my accomplishment, no matter if it seems small.

Apple Pie

I attempted to make my first home-made apple pie with a lattice top. I got the pie dough recipe from my mom, though I do not think I did it quite right. The dough set up, but it was not easily workable and fell apart rather quickly. But it still held the apples well, so I cannot complain. I made the pie with granny smith apples instead of the romas the recipe recommended. This resulted in a fine balance between sweetness and tartness that I enjoyed thoroughly. Next time, I want to get the dough right and make the pie a little more goopy, if you know what I mean.

Nutella Cheesecake

This is the dessert I am more proud of: chocolate hazelnut (Nutella) cheesecake bites. I was struck by the idea to make a Nutella cheesecake the other day, so I put this together. It has an oreo crust (my friend always bemoans the fact that I throw away the cream centers) and a cheesecake recipe with a large helping of Nutella mixed in. Surprisingly, the cheesecake tasted more like cream cheese than Nutella, so I went through with my idea to make a Nutella topping as well. I heated some of the chocolatey stuff with a little bit of milk to make it more pliable. After adding this on top, I thought the bites looked a bit plain. To remedy this, I went to Fresh Market (the best grocery store ever as long as you do not need non-food items) and picked up some hazelnuts (filberts). I lightly toasted the nuts, crushed them with a rolling pin and sprinkled them on top. These do taste as good as they look with a nice crunch from the hazelnuts. If I don't stop baking soon, I'm going to weigh 300 pounds by my 25th birthday.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

FOB Cake - 11/10/2007

Today is my roommate, Val's, birthday and one of her favorite bands is Fall Out Boy (FOB). I decided to make a simple cake to pander to her tastes. The bassist has a tattoo that has become one of the icons for the band (I believe, I may be wrong). My roommate has a window cling version of it on her car, so I thought it would be perfect. Here is a picture of a fan's version of the tattoo:


I made a two layer sheet cake to serve as my canvas. The bottom layer is chocolate and the top layer is vanilla. In between and on top is cream cheese frosting (yes, I cheated and used store-bought frosting but I had difficulties with the frosting that I made). I did have to do some emergency trimming since I did not get the top layer centered on the bottom layer, but no one noticed. To make the insignia, I used black frosting with a fine decorating tip.

FOB Cake

While at Michael's, my friend, Kelly, found some Superman cake decorations, so we added them to the cake for extra pandering.

FOB Cake + Superman

Overall, I am quite happy with how the cake turned out. Val was pleasently surprised, though I did not get to see it since she accidentilly stumbled across it while I was at the store. Surprisingly, the cakes turned out very moist and densely packed. I am very happy with my cake baking skills recently because the majority of my cakes are turning out very moist, almost too moist to do anything with without the chance that they will fall apart.

Pumpkin Cakes - 11/10/2007

I wish I could claim that this was my idea, but I made it from a recipe magazine. All of the cooking magazines are all about holiday recipes and confections right now, and I've probably bought about 10 of them so far. Everyone I know should expect to gain some weight and/or become insulin resistant over the holidays.

Pumpkin Cakes

Pumpkin Cakes with Leaves

The first photo is how I initially finished the cakes. I made pumpkin spice cakes in mini bundt molds and trimmed off the excess tops. Then, I put two of the cakes on top of each other to make the overall shape. After spreading on some orange cream cheese frosting, I stuck a honey wheat pretzel twist through the center for the stem. After finishing the initial recipe, I took a tip from Sandra Lee (crazy Aunt Sandy) and made some fondant leaves, as showin the second picture. This recipe could easily be adapted to be apples instead of pumpkins...maybe an idea for next fall.

Cream Cheese Puffs - 11/8/2007

One of my friends said he wanted to give me periodic challenges of making a dish featuring a particular ingredient. This past week he said it should be cream cheese. Initially I thought, wtf can you do with cream cheese other than cheesecake? I pondered over this for a few days and I came up with these:

Cream Cheese Puffs

The puffs are profiteroles filled with a cream cheese that was whipped with strawberry jam. On top is a raspberry coulis with a hint of lime juice. I love the combination of strawberry and lime, so I decided to use it here. I had some functional difficulties with my piping abilities, so not all of the puffs had a large amount of filling, but they came out pretty good.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Flanders Cocoa - 11/8/2007

If anyone saw The Simpson's Movie, then they probably saw Ned Flanders prepare a cup of cocoa for Bart that was quite over the top. Here is a poor quality picture:

Simpsons Movie

I decided to recreate this to the best of my ability. A couple of roommates lent a helping hand, so I must thank them for that.

Flanders Cocoa

Obviously, most of the mug contains cocoa (warm milk plus hot cocoa powder). Then there is a foundation of whipped cream. Into this layer is stuck a vanilla wafer cookie on the end of which resides a marshmallow toasted with my kitchen torch. Cover the entire thing with chocolate shavings et voila! This real-life version is not as pretty looking as the cartoon (especially since physics does not allow the wafer to stand on end in real life), but I think it looks good.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pistachio Sundae Shots - 11/6/2007

A few restaurants in town (Chili's, TGI Fridays, and their analogues) have started serving shot glass desserts, which are pretty much normal desserts layered in a shot glass. After trying some that were less than spectacular, I decided to design my own.

Pistachio Sundae Shots

The bottom layer is Ben & Jerry's Pistachio Pistachio ice cream which I let soften to be able to put it in the glass. I refroze the ice cream and added a layer of chocolate syrup. I again froze the cups, though apparently chocolate syrup does not freeze completely. The next layer is pistachio pudding (Jello). A dollop of whipped cream, drizzled chocolate sauce and chopped pistachios add the finishing touch. The hardest part of this dessert is keeping the glass clean as you add each layer. Otherwise, it will end up a mess. This is one of about eight ideas I have, so expect more to come.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Apothecary Jars - 10/31/2007

On my way into lab today, I saw a large pile sitting next to the elevator bearing the sign "Free Stuff." Among all of the unwanted lab equipment, I found some cool-looking Erlenmeyer flasks that I claimed for my own. Then I saw a awesome set of ground-glass jars. I immediately grabbed the box of eight jars and fled. Here is a picture of the jars:

Apothecary Jars

I call them my apothecary jars, mostly because it sounds cool and "apothecary" is more marketable than "chemistry." I washed them with bleach and ran them through the dishwasher to make sure there were no chemicals or anything else left in the jars when I wanted to fill them.

Apothecary Jars 2

In these jars (from left to right), I put cinnamon candy, whole allspice and curry powder. I also have one on my desk with my paper clips in it. I'm not sure what I will do with the others right now, but they would be great for gifts, candies, spices, oils, and pretty much anything else. I know I'm a nerd because I'm so excited about these jars...but look at them! They are so great! ;-P