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Hello 2011!

Well, 2011 is officially under way!  Epiphany has passed which means the holiday season is officially over and classes reconvened yesterday.  I suppose this also means that any resolutions should be implemented immediately, no?  And so begins the guilt ridden process of remembering what you promised yourself you would accomplish.  I actually made my resolution achievable this year: learn to cook more grains and eat more fiber.  Simple and inclusive of many other goals.  We’ll see how I do…

We brought in the new year with some great friends, wine, board games, and a pizza party.  Everybody brought fun toppings and we prepared different kinds of pizzas that were quickly inhaled.  After super, we played Apples to Apples (which I am horrible at playing!) and I believe Rebecca won.

I debuted my first attempt at a cheesecake for dessert.  I had found this recipe on allrecipes.com that had great reviews with numerous recommendations for altering the ingredients for jazzy results.  Given that those same reviews were also anxiety causing (everybody had suggestions for how to keep the cheesecake from cracking), I decided to stick to the exact recipe.

I crushed the graham crackers, formed the crust, and began the process of combining the cake part of the dessert.  I was very careful not to overmix the cream cheese and gently poured the mixture into the spring-form pan.

There were two suggestions from the reviews that I employed during this step.  First, I put some water into the tea kettle and set it to boil.  Once it began to whistle, I poured the steaming water into a pyrex that I placed directly into the preheat oven.  I positioned it on the rack below where the pan would sit.  Many reviewers had suggested cooking the cheesecake by using a water bath, but I was worried that the water would leak into the cake.  Instead, I placed the steaming water below and hoped that it would create enough humidity in the oven.  The second suggestion I took was to be very thorough in buttering the sides of the pan.  Apparently (I didn’t know this) during the cooling process, the cake will pull away from the edges in a fashion that often leads to cracking.  I carefully greased the pan, poured the batter, and into the oven it went for SIX HOURS.  One hour for the cooking, and five for cooling.  I still think this might have been excessive, but it worked!  My cake came out beautiful and it did not crack!

I served it with cherry pie filling (sweetened with splenda) and the end result was wonderful.  It was smooth and not too creamy (I don’t like cheesecake too creamy) and exactly how I wanted it to taste.  For next time, I did read that one reviewer substituted the milk in the recipe for Bailey’s Irish Cream.  Doesn’t that sound delicious?  I will need to try that.

Here’s to starting out a great year with a strong recipe!  Have a wonderful beginning to 2011 friends 🙂

The Making of Friendship Bread

I don’t deny my rookie status in the kitchen.  I still play things very safe because I haven’t figured out what works and what doesn’t.  So when Rebecca showed up with a bag of mix that required “smushing” and “feeding,” I was confused.

“I need to do what?!  And it sits out?  And doesn’t go bad??”

The bag contained a mix of ingredients (I only know that there was yeast involved) and it came with beautiful instructions that Rebecca had put together.  The directions clearly stated what I needed to do on each day:

Day 1 – smush the bag / Day 2 – smush the bag / Day 3 – smush the bag / Day 4 – smush the bag

Day 5 – Feed the yeast!  (1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk)

Day 6 – smush the bag / Day 7 – smush the bag / Day 8 – smush the bag / Day 9 – smush the bag

Day 10 – Feed the yeast! (1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk) Divide the starter!

I took one look at it and thought, “I’m going to be killed eating this.”  (It wasn’t until later that my friend Deana pointed to sourdough bread as another example of this strategy in action.)

So apparently the milk that sits out for 10 days in this mix won’t kill you, who knew?  Well I didn’t!

Day 10 came and I prepared myself for battle.  That morning, Rebecca sent me an e-mail that simply said: “Seriously, 1 cup of oil and a box of pudding.  No freaking applesauce.  To hell with that hippie stuff.

Being a dutiful apprentice, I did as I was told.

As I began feeding the yeast and dividing the starter, I realized that this process was going to leave me with 3 new bags of this mix!  The point of this recipe is that you are supposed to hand them out to friends so that they can make their own friendship breads and then continue to pass out the starter bags to their friends, and so on, and so on.  The process is reminiscent of those chain letters that threatened “pass it forward, or else!,” but much tastier 🙂

After the bags had been divided and my starter had been dumped into a bowl, I added 3 eggs, 1 cup of oil, 1/2 cup of milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and mixed.  In a separate bowl, I mixed 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a box of chocolate pudding.  I slowly added the dry ingredients to the wet mix and stirred.  Lastly, I threw in a cup of chocolate chips and mixed.

By the time this was ready to go into a pan, I realized that there was a lot of batter.  So instead of splitting it into loaf pans, I pulled out my bundt pan and poured the batter in.  The pan went into a preheated oven of 350 degrees and sat for over an hour.  I had originally set the time for an hour, but it wasn’t quite done.  I’d say it was closer to 75 minutes (estimated) before the bread was ready to come out of the oven.

I was so skeptical.  I am such a fool.

This bread was phenomenal.  It wasn’t light or fluffy, but it’s not meant to be.  It was dense with flavor and texture, and both Ian and I had seconds before the cake had even had time to cool off completely!  The awesome thing about this recipe is that the possibilities are endless.  Instead of chocolate pudding, you can add lemon, or butterscotch or something else!  You can substitute the chocolate chips for nuts, or dried fruits, or diced apples.  You can really get creative with the starter.  The variations seemed too advanced for me initially, so I stuck closely to Rebecca’s instructions.  Next time, I think I may dip my toe in that creative pool and see what happens.

Feature Friday: An evening with Rebecca

The Cast

The top right photo is of the beautiful hostess (Rebecca) and yours truly.  Immediately to the right of that photo you will see our supervisor, Julian.  To his right, you will see a picture of Clementine (she kept an eye on us from her perch in the dresser).  The final picture in the first row is a shot of a guilty Aaron licking the last of the chocolate from the pan.

Mel starts out the second row with a smirk of amusement (exactly 2 seconds after this photo was taken we both dove into that delicious bowl of popcorn).  Next up is our hostess enjoying the last spoonful of her peanut butter cup.  And lastly, we have Aaron, Rebbecca, and Mel showing off an amazing recipe from the Joy of Jello cookbook.  (Yes, you read that right.)  Did you see the picture that I posted of one of its recipes?  It’s awesome/awful!

Dinner

Rebecca is part of a CSA that delivers fresh fish and seafood to her each week.  This week, she invited us over to grill the fish, cook up the clams, and to introduce me to a few new desserts.

There were several different types of fish that she put on the grill, and I’m afraid I do not know what any of them were.  As the fish cooked up, Rebecca threw some cut up potatoes into the oven to bake and then prepared the clams.  The clams were ready before everything else, so they became our appetizers as we hung out in the kitchen sipping on our tasty wine.

Once the fish were flaky and cooked through, we each loaded up our plates and sat down to feast.  My plate was overflowing with yummy goodness!

The lineup included fish, potatoes, roasted cauliflower and zucchini, and kimchi (from my recent trip to Grand Asia).  I know that I ate at least two different types of fish, and both were phenomenal.  The entire meal (company included) was amazing.

But wait!

There’s more!

As if we hadn’t stuffed ourselves silly with fish and veggies… there were two desserts that were next on the menu.

Dessert 1 – Bacon, Cashew, and Cranberry Popcorn

If you’re like Rebecca, you hear the description of the popcorn and go “YUM!!!”  If you’re like me, you hear it and go “huh?”  And this is precisely why I think she’s so amazing: she isn’t afraid to try different combinations and wing the recipes.  She’s learned what will work and what won’t, and if it doesn’t turn out – who cares?  This particular treat was introduced by her mom and has been all the rave since Rebecca’s first batch.

I can’t begin to tell you how mind blowingly delicious this turned out.  Mel and I could not stop grabbing handfuls of the stuff!

Dessert 2 – Peanut Butter Cups

Ok.  Here’s where I make you gasp… I don’t like peanut butter.  Weird, right?  Yes, I know.  I hear that a lot.  You have to cut me some slack though, because it’s not something I grew up with.  The taste and texture freak me out!  I do give it to the dog in her kong, does that count?

Mel had requested that Rebecca make her famous peanut butter cups.  After super (as we munched on the popcorn), we got to work on these bad boys.  The chocolate was melted and then painted inside of cupcake cups before being placed in the fridge to cool.  Aaron then got to work on breaking up the graham crackers as Mel spooned out the peanut butter.  Once the mix was ready, it was distributed into the cupcake cups.  The last step was to cover the mix with a thick layer of chocolate before putting them back in the fridge for a bit.

Voila!  Once those puppies were cool, we had a homemade peanut butter cup!  How cool is that?  I can’t personally vouch for the final product, but I did hear a lot of “mmmmmmmmmmm”s from around the table.

 

There you have it!  My awesome evening at Rebecca’s with Mel and Aaron!  I learned how to know when fish on the grill is ready.  I learned how to make the most kick butt popcorn I have ever had.  And I learned how to make homemade peanut butter cups.  Full evening, don’t you think?

Thank you so much for having me over Rebecca!

Edible Art

I can’t tell you how bummed I am about our most recent visit to Edible Art.  Ian’s parents were coming to visit us to celebrate his birthday so in preparation, we put in an order with the same bakery that did our wedding cake.  The wedding cake, by the way, was awesome and left guests raving about it long after the last slice had been devoured.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Ian’s birthday cake…

I don’t know what happened!  Maybe the baker was rushing and not paying attention?  The pound cake was undercooked and dense.  It was… the kind of rookie mistake I expect when I’m baking.  One bite was all I could handle between the sweetness of the amaretto icing and the dense and damp almond cake.  I was embarrassed to admit that this was the same place that had done our cake and bummed by how bad it turned out.

Given some of the other bakeries we are discovering around town, I wouldn’t recommend Edible Art now.  Maybe it was just a fluke, but I don’t think I’d risk serving bad cake again.


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