Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December Daring Bakers Challenge: Inedible Houses of Joy

I was happy to see that the December Daring Bakers challenge was something I wanted to do. Last month’s challenge was to make cannolis and I am so not into cannolis. Plus, you have to deep-fry the cannoli cookies, which sounded like an excellent way to give myself more third degree burns. The month before that the challenge was French macaroons, which I did want to make but in October my immune system decided to go on vacation and my energy was spent trying not to die. Last minute I tried to make them but I completely messed up the recipe and ended up with almond hockey pucks. Mmm! Let’s blame it on my fever. So I gave up on those and went to sleep instead.

December's challenge appealed to my inner three year old. Make a gingerbread house! The only gingerbread house I can remember making is the kind in which a first grade teacher helps you glue graham crackers to a milk carton. Making a real gingerbread house is more difficult in that um, you use gingerbread instead of graham crackers and can't use empty pints of milk as a support system. Tricksy!

Blurb-o-ze-month: The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I decided to go with a gingerbread log cabin in tribute to my home state of Alaskan. Gingerbread Sarah Palin and gingerbread Russia not included.

I used the Good Housekeeping gingerbread recipe which worked really well -- all I had to do was add a little more water than called for because that sucker would not roll out. I'd recommend halving the recipe unless you're making some sort of gingerbread fortress because it makes a ton. I halved the recipe and had more than enough for one house.

The 'glue' in gingerbread houses is usually royal icing or hot caramel and I went the royal icing route. Trying to glue the house together with boiling sugar water sounded like a Fear Factor challenge and I'd like to keep the use of my hands. Make massive amounts of royal icing, you'll need it. And try not swear as much as I did while trying to glue on the roof. See why caramel would've been a bad idea?

BJ came over while I was finishing up the house and he thought I had been driven to insanity by finals. I was making a cabin? Out of gingerbread? On purpose? And then I made a snowman out of icing as a finishing touch and BJ suggested I be institutionalized. But BJ works in a restaurant in which the 'shrimp nest' in a popular item so let's save our judgment, shall we? If BJ had his way I would've made a gingerbread army base filled with gingerbread soldiers and candy cyborg zombies.

Yeah, this took forever and the gingerbread house tastes like ginger scented stale cardboard. And royal icing tastes like sweetened rocks. But I like baking and holiday decorating so why not? It was worth covering the kitchen and living room with powdered sugar and hardened icing. The cabin is currently sitting in my apartment back at school, where BJ is watering our plants while we're on vacation. I predict if he gets drunk enough he'll eat it. Or smash it. Or smash it and then eat it, it's a toss up really.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magic Mint Brownies

I’m back in Alaska for the holidays and I would like to thank my neighbor for letting me ‘borrow’ their wireless internet. Now if you could refrain from stealing my identity, dear neighbor, that would be great. I spent most of this Saturday traveling to be here which means I became very friendly with xanax and its friend ativan and don’t remember anything. Though I do remember having a dream in which Dr.Oz was actually a woman and pregnant and I was trying to convince him to come clean to the world about it. Just TRY to interpret that.

Before traveling, Joe preformed in his senior recital and I was excited because I got to bake treats for the reception. Invite me to any major life event and I’ll be like CAN I BAKE SOMETHING?? DO THEY NORMALLY HAVE BUFFETS AT FUNERALS??

Joe requested I make the chocolate chip cookies from The Sweet Life. They’re not your typical choco chip cookie: they’re super thin and taste like toffee. They’re best right out oven when they have that magical ability to be both crunchy and chewy and chocolate-y and toffee-y. But they’re also good cold, just not as magical.

I wanted to make something besides cookies as well so I browsed through my baking books and settled on chocolate mint brownies. I’d developed an intense passion for peppermint hot chocolate and living above a Starbucks was not helping the recovery process. So naturally I was attracted to the chocolate mint combination.

I grabbed this recipe from my Fine Cooking cookie magazine I bought last year and this may be the first recipe in the collection I actually really liked. Plus I got to do the swirly icing thing that I had never tried before and I'm all about pretty swirly icing. Both treats went over well at the reception, though I think some were put off by the appearance of the cookies. “I think you forgot to put love in these ones” said BJ. Of course this did not stop him from making multiple trips to the cookie tray.

The brownies went over well too, though the recipe called for ground dried mint and next time I think I’ll just use mint extract as there was a trace of leaves in some of the brownies and I don’t want anybody to think I’m sneaking them ‘special’ brownies. Besides, if I were to do that I would feed them BEFORE Joe’s recitals. Then everybody would really love German song cycles.

I'm still hesitant to post the chocolate chip cookie recipe since it can't be found online. The brownies are on the Fine Cooking website though so check those out. I would post the recipe but the website has some good pictures demonstrating the swirly icing thing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tofurky day!

Joe and I had a low key Thanksgiving with minimal mental melt downs. I decided I did not want to have a brain aneurysm so I decided not to make pie crust. Joe decided he did want to have a brain aneurysm and made Peking duck.

This is not duck. This is cornbread.

Joe warned me that the duck carcass would be hanging out in the kitchen the day before to do it's Peking duck thing. So when I came home on Wednesday and Joe told me not to freak out about what was in the kitchen, I didn't think anything of it and expected for the duck carcass to be out on the counter. And it was. The duck was laying on the counter. With our giant fan placed in front of it. If the duck had hair, its hair would be flying in the breeze. I asked Joe why exactly was the duck placed strategically in a wind tunnel? and he told me that Peking ducks are supposed to be 'hung upside down in a windy area'. And because our landlord may not appreciate us dangling a duck carcass out the window on a string, a fan seemed like the best option. Sure.

Roasted garlic. Calorie free, obviously. For the:

... mashed potatoes!

I thought about making the pumpkin pie the night before but then I took some Xanax and went to sleep instead. Such is life. I discovered a pumpkin pie recipe that featured a shortbread crust while I was perusing the Martha Stewart website and I decided to go with that. I hate making pie crust and I don't particularly like it so this seemed perfect.

Brussel sprouts: pre-roast
And post-roast. Yum.

This pie was kind of ridiculously easy but I'm not complaining. The hardest part I had was figuring out when to take it out, since I haven't made many pumpkin pies and the filling is supposed to be jiggly when you take them out. But not too jiggly. And of course not jiggle-less. A gray area of jiggly. And I am not a Jiggle Master. A Jiggle Pro. Head Mistress of Jiggle. I am a Jiggle Apprentice and after checking the pie a few times I took it out at what I decided was an appropriate level of jiggleosity.

Clearly any silly words should not be included in any recipe I make, I just cannot stop.

Cornbread, up close and personal.

I really liked the way it came out, the shortbread crust was super easy and paired well with the filling. The shortbread crust was crunchy and not too sweet and did I mention about nine million times easier than making pie crust? Win win. Joe says he prefers regular ol' pie crust which is fine as long as he's willing to pay the mental health bills.

I was out of the kitchen pretty quickly since making pumpkin pie consists of lots of waiting. In the mean time, Joe made everything else: mashed potatoes, cornbread, brussel sprouts and gravy. I wandered in and out of the kitchen now and then to watch Joe battle the duck. The dimple-y skin from where the feathers were plucked out freaked me out the most. Perhaps because while getting something from the fridge and coming face to face with the duck I realized that is what my legs look like in winter.

I thought everything turned out really well, Joe did a lovely job. He did almost lose it while trying to carve the duck into pieces that did not look like a bear had shredded it. Minor detail though, he doesn't disassemble poultry all year round. He is now convinced he must go through some sort of poultry boot camp and make one every day for a week. I am so looking forward to it.

Here's the two recipes we used, everything else was just hodge podged together.
- Easy Pumpkin Pie with Shortbread Crust
- Skillet Cornbread

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Remix

A common question asked during the holiday season is, "I just can't seem to gain enough weight during the holidays! What can I do to pack the lbs on?" Don't worry, friends. I have the answer. And the answer is: pumpkin cheesecake.

Pumpkin flavored desserts are all winners in my book, I'm all about the spicy pumpkin baked goods. In October I began to think about what new pumpkin creation I could make. Pumpkin muffins? Check. Pumpkin cookies? Check. Pumpkin pie? Check. The unfortunate pumpkin pie that completely lacked sugar? Check. Pumpkin cheesecake? Oh hello, lover.

Cheesecake was also a good option because although Joe is not usually a sweets person, he cannot resist anything cold, sweet and creamy. I'm not sure he is physically capable of removing himself from a milkshake. Joe is similarly enamored with cheesecake and since his birthday is on Halloween, it seemed like a good thing to make.

I decided to spruce up the cheesecake a bit by making a gingersnap crust instead of the normal graham cracker crust that's in most cheesecakes. Originally I was going to make my own gingersnaps to grind for the crust and then I realized I was a crazy person and bought a bag of cookies from Whole Foods instead.

Gingersnap Pumpkin Cheesecake


  • 1 bag gingersnap cookies (I used a 12 oz bag) -- you'll want around 2 cups of cookie crumbs
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 14 ounce can pumpkin pulp
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt


Preheat oven 375 degrees F. Grind the gingersnaps in a food processor until they reach a fine crumb. Add melted butter and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Press the crust mixture into the bottom and springform pan. Now, make the filling. In a mixer bowl combine cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Add eggs and yolks all at once, beating on low speed just until combined. Add spices and mix until incorporated. Fold in the cream and the pumpkin pulp.Pour into the crust lined pan. Place in a shallow baking pan in oven and fill baking pan with hot water to reach about half way up the spring form pan. Bake for about 55 minutes or until the center appears nearly set when shaken. Turn heat off and leave cheesecake in the cooler oven for 30 mins. Cool out of oven for an additional 30 minutes. Chill for 4 hours before serving.

I thought this came out really well and it even won me a little fall baking contest. Loved the gingersnap crust though the butter in the crust could be decreased a bit. Sacrilege, I know. Joe plowed through most of it in no time by using hunks of cheesecake essentially as a meal replacement. If only such a diet existed. The all cheesecake diet? Count me in.

So this would be a nice twist on your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It would also make a good addition to your thighs. Or we can pretend its healthy because it is full of such nutritious things like vegetables (pumpkin), dairy (um, heavy cream and cream cheese) and protein (eggs). A well rounded meal!

Joe and I are having a small Thanksgiving of just the two of us so we'll just have a little feast of fall veggies, mashed potatoes and meat/meat-like products. I think Joe is going to attempt to roast a duck and I'm having my petite faux turkey roast. I've been vegetarian for nearly six years and one of the only times I encounter problems are at large Thanksgiving dinners where inevitably someone offers me turkey and I decline, telling them I'm a vegetarian. To which they say, "Oh, okay. I'll just give you a small piece then." What? I'm a vegetarian, not a oh-as-long-as-its-a-small-piece-tarian.

It does remind me of another fond memory of my German exchange trip. Before leaving, all the students wrote letters to our future host families in our broken toddler-level German and I threw in 'Ich bin Vegetarisch!' as a heads up. We arrived in Germany after traveling nine million hours on an airplane, which was somewhat like attending a flying drunken German party. Sleep deprived and smelling of stale German cigarettes, we were touted to a welcoming barbecue. I met my dear German host parents who immediately wanted to feed me and offered me a variety of meats. I explained to them I was vegetarian and the following conversation ensued, "Ah yes, I see, I see... But you eat chickens, yes? No? Of course, of course... But surely you eat sausage. Bratwurst, ja? Nein? Of course not. What about...." and I eventually told them I would eat fish, which seemed to calm them a bit. I don't normally eat fish or seafood at all but I was jet lagged and wanted to placate my host parents. Of course the local newspaper took picture of the BBQ and I appeared on the front page of the news, appearing slightly ill and holding a large platter of steaming meat products that I was bullied into holding. That's one down side of being 5'0: you're always stuck dead center in photographs, displaying something weird if needed. Like a tray of bratwurst while surrounded by smiling Germans.

Another time I saw a German restaurant had a vegetarian sandwich option so I tried to order it. And the German workers were like WHAT! SURELY YOU ARE MISTAKEN AND WANT IT WAS MEAT, JA?? NO MEAT? CAN... NOT... COMPUTE. BRAIN... EXPLODING.

I'm not sure how my German impression turned into a version of Terminator. Let's just go with it.

I'm sure I'll post something from Thanksgiving later this week, I'm just planning on doing a pumpkin pie. I may not survive though, every time I try to make pie crust I almost murder somebody. But I'm determined to conquer pie crust so I keep making it and come close to having a stroke each time. Every time I attempt it Joe is like, "Can I help you with anything, baby?" and I'm like, "WHY ARE YOU IN HERE?? GET OUT!! EVERYTHING IS FINE!! NO, I AM NOT - sob - CRYING!!"

I'm sure it will be a calm and relaxing Thanksgiving. Enjoy your holiday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Muffin Party Memories

So I've continued my muffin obsession with several new batches of different muffins. The most recent ones are by far my favorite because they have the elusive ability to be moist, delicious and healthy. Pinch me!

I think I've mentioned that I'm also somewhat addicted to apples. I eat one just about every day. And for the record: an apple a day DOES NOT keep the doctor away, as I keep getting sick. Is someone poisoning my apples? Quit it. Anyway, apples are not my most favorite fruit but they are pretty reliableon the delicious scale. My very favorite, pears, hate me and go from rock hard to rotting when I turn my head. Oranges are a close second and besides the fact that they make my tummy die with their acidity, picking oranges is kind of dicey and a dry orange is the worst thing ever. Apples are pretty much delicious all the time. And since going without fruit is not an option for me, apples are usually around.

Recently Joe and I bought our standard big batch of local apples that would last me about 30 minutes or possibly week if I had self control. Unfortunately this was a rare batch of bad apples. Occasionally local apples can be a bit mealy and these guys had no delicious apple friends to forgive the presence of their mealy neighbors. So I decided to make apple muffins to put the apples out of their misery. Or out of my misery. That does not make sense but let us pretend it does, shall we?

And have I mentioned I LOVE THESE like a loving bear, as Joe and I would say in our horribly cheesy love language. Joe and I should really should be socialized like puppies because we don't function well outside of the safety of our apartment. I remember one time we were at the BMW dealership waiting for Joe's car to be fixed and I was holding a bunch of stuff and dropped one of them. Instead of responding like a normal human being, I pointed at it and squeaked, "Aaaaaiiiiee!" at Joe until he picked it up for me. I really did not think this was abnormal until Joe told me I can't do that sort of thing in public. Oh.

Healthy Apple Cinnamon Muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 heaping tablespoons apple sauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 apples - peeled, cored and chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease six muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
  2. Stir together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. In a separate bowl mix together egg, oil, applesauce and vanilla. All apples to dry ingredients and mix until apples are coated. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling to the top of the cup.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Easy peasy and delicious... smishious?

In other news I've recently begun pulling my old journal entries off the web and into a word document. I kept online journals throughout middle school and high school and I've been meaning to get a hard copy of my entries to have around in future. My middle school entries are just tragic and do not deserve to see the light of day but there are some good parts and tons of memories that I would have otherwise forgotten. The Muffin Story I thought was suitable for this entry.

Background: In high school I went on a student exchange trip to Germany and hilarity ensued. Here is one journal entry from the trip:

"On our last day in Korchenbroich, all the German students and American exchange students had a muffin baking party. I have no idea why, perhaps it's some strange parting tradition in Germany. Anyways, it was good times. The German students had to write down ten actions in English they didn't already know, like "to whisk" or "to pour". Andrew and Alex convinced some Germans that one action was "to secretly taste". They also convinced a few others that along with preheating overs, there was also "post heating and the recovery phase".

Then Andrew forgot the word "batter" and was really troubled by the notion of "muffin dough". "This isn't muffin DOUGH... this is muffin... okay, what the hell is it?"

Finally, hot Michael was practicing his English and when he bit into a muffin, he yelled, "This is SENSATIONAL!" and I laughed and said, "Dude, nobody actually says 'sensational' in the US. Unless you're a interior decorator or something."

How could I not save these heartwarming memories?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Birthday Blogging and Family Stories

It's birthday blog time! Happy birthday, mom!

My present will be late so here's a sneak preview of part of your gift and a blog entry to tide you over.

First off: the baked goods. I love fall flavored baked goods a lot. As in cinnamon and spice flavored, not leaf flavored. When trying to decide what to send my mom, I decided to bake some ginger spice cookies. I didn't have the required amount of ginger so I added some more spices to make up for it. See how clever I am? I just add 'spice' to the name to disguise the fact that I can't plan ahead.

They were yummy though and the first ginger cookie I've made that has the proper ginger cookie crackles on top. Which I failed to capture in my photos. Fail.

So expect a package of these guys in the mail soon, mama. Along with some other surprises that I hope you'll like as well.

And now. I think its only appropriate to share family stories on my mom's birthday. Which is unfortunate to the pride of the rest of my family. But it must be done.

When my older sister Mia was born, apparently she won Most Perfect Baby in the Universe award (typical older sister move) and my parents thought, "Geez, babies are great. Let's have some more!" And then with my birth things went terribly wrong and when that was over and done with my personality was somewhat akin to, "Woman who birthed me, what is this terrible place? You will be punished for bringing me to this cruel world. And who is that bearded man? I don't like the looks of him. And also: wah."

The next few years I clung to my mom like a spider monkey and had an emotional breakdown each time she tried to pry me off to indulge in such selfish things as feeding herself. There are few pictures of me as baby and in the ones that exist I am on verge of tears, reaching out to the camera because my mom had dared to be six inches away from me. I was the infant Queen and mother was my servant. My dad likes to tell a story in which Mia and I were going out to go somewhere and the family was in a hurry so my dad tied my shoes. I burst into tears because MOM DIDN'T DO IT.

I eventually became somewhat more emotionally stable. I think. At least I don't have a panic attack when my mom doesn't tie my shoes. But this may only because I now only wear slip on shoes. I also warmed up to The Goofy Bearded One, aka my father.

Since the holidays are approaching, I thought I would also describe the infamous Blankensop sister Christmas video, which scarily portrays the differences between me and my sister. Since Mia is extroversion personified and I am the emotionally repressed introvert, watching any old home video of us interacting is bound to be hilarious.To give you an idea of the differences between my sister and I, here's a scene from a random family video: Toddler Sophie is curled up in a rocking chair, quietly flipping through a picture book. My mom is filming me and I'm bashfully answering her questions. Mia enters the room, looks at my mom filming me. She then storms up to the rocking chair, shoves me out of the chair and says to the camera, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MOMMY? HEY, LOOK AT THIS BOOK!! DO YOU WANT ME TO TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK?!"

The Christmas video is a similar experience. Cue video from the early 90's. Mia and I are sitting in the kitchen on Christmas morning. She's maybe eight and I'm about four. I am on the left, smiling shyly at the camera with my giant brown Romanian Orphan eyes. Mia is on the right, sitting on the edge of her seat and appears to have just consumed copious amounts of cocaine. Throughout the entire video she is grinning like a mad loon, talking nonstop and gesturing violently. I'm surprised her hands didn't 'accidentally' go out of control and hit me in the face.

It is also imperative to know that Mia had a speech impediment when she was younger. She sounded like a tiny pixie-like version like Elmer Fudd throughout most of elementary school. She could not manage R's so, like her cartoon cousin, rabbit became wabbit, rascally became wascally etc. With speech therapy she eventually was able to overcome this but it was a particularly hilarious era in Mia's life. Or should I say... hiwawious? In the video I also can't pronounce R's because I'm a baby, cut me a break.

The entire video goes something like this:
Mom: So girls, are you excited for Christmas?
Me: Wight.
Mom: Sophie, what's that present behind you?
Me: It's-
Me: Wight.

This continues for about ten more minutes. I'm pretty sure the only time I say something other than 'wight' is when Mia attempts to snatch my blankie out of my hands and I say, "Don't touch my bwankie, it's vewy special..." Meanwhile, Mia continues to talk at light speed and at one point spontaneously bursts into song. Luckily she now does improv so she has an outlet for her crazy. The crazy still seeps through some but it is mostly contained.

And yet Mia still insists that I am the weird one because I may or may not have had an onion peel collection as a child. For the record, this is also a lie.

Aren't you proud of your children? What's that you say? What about Piers? What little brother? Just kidding, I have hilarious stories about my brother Piers as well. All in good time, all in good time.

Happy birthday again!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adventures in Nowhereland

Alright, alright,I suck. I was in a baking and blogging rut and that was even before I got the Virus of Death and couldn't move for a week. I've only recently gotten back into it so forgive me.

First off, I found some long lost photos of stuff I baked about nine million years ago so I thought I would post that stuff first.

This is stuff from when Joe and I visited my dad last summer. My dad lives in Nowheresville, Alaska. On top of a hill. Half an hour from anything. Of course, the closest establishments are a couple bars because Alaskans cannot physically be 50 feet away from alcohol at any time without having a stroke. Whenever I visit we end up cooking, baking and watching ancient B-list horror movies and occasionally we slink into town to replenish supplies.

In between movies, I made thumbprint cookies filled with apricot jam and pecan caramel clusters. Joy of Baking succeeds again, these were lovely.

We usually stay in a cabin my grandparents used to live in, which is quaint and mildly creepy. My dad's old room give me major heebie jeebies, which I discovered when I was younger and my dad kindly let me sleep in his old room while he slept on the couch upstairs. The room is the basement, below ground, and is completely devoid of heat and light. I had vivid, horrible nightmares for two nights straight when normally I can't remember my dreams at all. After the second night I told my dad, "That room is creepy, I couldn't sleep and had nightmares all night." to which he casually replied, "Yeah, that room is kind of haunted." THANKS DAD.

The room still freaks me out but luckily I ensnared a man to share the room with me and I figure the monsters will eat Joe first as he's bigger. Though I do have more meat on my bones. SHUT UP BRAIN.

You try to sleep in a room that in plastered in this wallpaper:

(shrill violins) REEEE!



Last time we went to visit my dad, I went to go take a bath when I spied an enormous spider hanging out in the tub. I promptly turned around and told Joe to dispose of it before I cried and like obedient monster bait, he flushed it down the drain. After I took my bath and was drying off, I told my dad that a mutant enormo-spider had been living in his bathroom and he said, "Oh, that little guy? Yeah, I let him chill out in there and just move him when I need to take a shower." And I was like um yes, that's totally normal and then I found Joe and whispered in a panic, "Joe, I think we just killed my dad's pet spider!" But because mutant enormo-spider is apparently also a indestructible spider robot, it crawled out of the drain unscathed and I didn't have to break it to my dad that I had killed his roommate to take a bubble bath.

Anyway. I also made spice pecan brittle. It was supposed to turn out as candied pecans but it um, didn't. Even though, I wanted to marry it, I love sweet pecan candy.

I didn't love the recipe I based this on, I actually had to remelt the batch to get it to the right consistency. But it worked out alright in the end.

So that's what I did while trying to survive the haunted basement. I think there's a reason all these horror films are coming out based in Alaska. No daylight in winter? Everlasting daylight in summer? Cabin in the middle of nowhere? Small room with wallpaper that was designed under the influence of acid? I should just write the screenplay now and make millions.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Apricot pits: delicious?

I think I've professed my love for anything almond flavored before. Except almonds. I don't really like plain almonds. But any almond flavored dessert is automatically a shoo-in with me. WHAT?

Also what is up with the phrase a shoo-in? What does that even mean? Does it have to do with shoes? Who knows.

But there is a semi-reasonable explanation for this. Amaretto and almond extract gets that almond-y flavor from apricot pits. Yes, APRICOT PITS. So it's not really that I like almonds or even apricots but the shriveled up, cyanide-packed apricot pit. I don't like to think about it too much though, it kind of gives me the heebie jeebies.

So naturally one of my favorite cookies is amaretti, which is traditionally made with- TAKE A WILD GUESS- apricot pits. For those of us who don't live on an apricot grove or don't know how to use apricot pits with accidentally poisoning friends and family, amaretti is made with actual almonds.

Joe requested I make another batch of amaretti for his opera party. Joe is majoring in music, which means he sings a lot of opera and tricked me when I met him at a rock concert. He likes to watch operas a lot and I um, don't so he's been inviting other music majors over to watch operas with him. Or maybe they don't know they're going to watch an opera but we lure them in with food and they're trapped for three hours watching The Magic Flute. SUCKERS.

These pictures are actually old from another time I made amaretti with a slightly different recipe. I liked that recipe a little more than this one but of course I don't have it, I used a recipe out of my dad's cookbook. But this recipe is pretty similar from I could remember and they tasted delicious. And if you have ground almonds laying around (who doesn't?! Oh, you don't? I see...) this takes just a couple minutes to whip up. As Brian used to say: easy peasy lemon squeasy.

Alright, now I must get my beauty sleep so I can be nice and refreshed tomorrow morning to give a million more flu shots. Ta!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Muffin Life

Alright, here's some less impressive goodies that I've baked up recently. Lately I've been muffin crazed so I may have to rename my blog The Muffin Life, which sounds a whole lot less glamorous and sounds a little bit like a strange double entendre. I think I'll stick with The Cupcake Life.

My recent strategy has been to make a big batch of muffins, freeze them, and thaw and eat them throughout the week. Usually I just pop one out of the freezer, put in a ziplock and tote it in my purse until I need a snack a few hours later. By that time the muffin is thawed and soft, perfecto! So if you ever see me in a grocery store, digging in my bag for my ziplock muffin, you will know I am not totally insane.

My first batch was bran muffins. I actually really like bran muffins, is that weird? Brian called them poo muffins, probably because his diet of beer and candy had no fiber. But they are good! I especially like that they go well with raisins, one of my favorite things. My chinchilla also loves raisins so we were obviously meant for each other. Because we both like raisins, I'm constantly suggesting other things Ellie would like because her mom likes them, like popcorn or cereal. And then Joe tells me that I cannot feed a chinchilla a bowl of raisin bran crunch and I get sad.

Anyways, what? Muffins? I made these weeks ago and now I can't remember what recipe I used but I think I used this one. I am so useful.

Bran Muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
  2. Mix together wheat bran and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Beat together oil, egg, sugar and vanilla and add to buttermilk/bran mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended. Fold in raisins and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!

I made a few alterations to them to make them extra mega healthy but I think they would've been fine as is as well. I think Ellie would like them, don't tell Joe.

These added fire to my muffin craze and I made pumpkin muffins next so stay tuned for those. I'm also hoping to get to work on this month's Daring Bakers challenge which I'm really excited for this time around!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Birthday Butterflies

I'm not a big birthday party person, I'm usually content with a small family dinner or something similar. On the other hand, I was excited to bake something awesome for myself. A few people asked if Joe was going to make me cake and that honestly hadn't occurred to me, perhaps because one time Joe me pancakes that were curdled, undercooked and filled with kiwi slices.

He's gotten much better at baking since but I just enjoy doing it. I also found out around the same time that my pilates teacher was putting on a benefit for her dance company the day of my birthday. I decided to make something for her benefit that I could also use as my birthday dessert.

Joe gave me Hello, Cupcake! for Christmas last year and while I've flipped through it many times, I never had an occasion to make any of the cupcakes. A benefit and my birthday seemed like it warranted some special cupcakes so I looked through it again and decided on butterfly cupcakes. Basically, you pipe chocolate into the shape of a butterfly onto parchment paper and let them harden. Except its really hard and takes 900 hours.

I knew the butterflies would take forever so I started making them about a week before I baked the cupcakes. I traced butterfly outlines onto parchment paper, filled pipping bags with chocolate and then traced my outlines. Then I used colored chocolate to fill in the outline and used a chopstick to pull the outline into the wing for a swirly design.

I actually found this quite enjoyable and relaxing but I am odd that way. I spent quite a few nights happily pipping butterflies on the living room table. And I may or may not have been half nude and watching Project Runway at the time. Completely normal behavior.

Two days before my birthday, I made vanilla bean buttercream, which is pretty much the best thing you will ever put in your mouth. Joe came up with the ingenious idea of buying vanilla beans off of and now we have loads of vanilla beans that I put in everything.

The day before I baked chocolate cupcakes. I've been searching for a good go to chocolate cake recipe and this one was pretty close. I thought it could be a tad more moist but baking them a little less might solve that. They would also be better with fancy cocoa powder, I just used Hershey's. AKA cocoa powder for college students.

My birthday cupcake with 22 on the wings. I'm very clever that way.

The morning of my birthday, I whipped up the buttercream and frosted and decorated the cupcakes. Then I loaded them onto a cookie sheet and prayed that I wouldn't drop them. I may have murdered somebody if that had happened. Transporting was also difficult because it was still hot at that time so my poor chocolate butterflies began to wilt a bit in the car. I eventually settled on blasting the air conditioner and sacrificing bodily heat for the butterflies.

Everybody loved them but thought I was nuts for making chocolate butterflies. Can't win them all!

And because I am that crazy, I would make them again but maybe out of something more stable than chocolate. Like steel.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Puff pastry? FML.

When September's Daring Baker's challenge was revealed, my heart stopped. I starred at it for awhile. Then I texted Joe:
Me: Aaarrrgh! This month's challenge: puff pastry.
Joe: That blows.

Puff pastry is one thing I've always said is not worth making and it truly never occurred to me to attempt it. I had looked at the process and laughed. I work with puff pastry, oh I don't know, NEVER. I don't really like it. I'm not a big fan of crispy, buttery things. Potato chips? No. Pie crust? No. Puff pastry? You get the idea. I almost decided not to do the challenge... but I then I did. I'm a strange creature.

Blurb'o the month:

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge has been chosen by Steph of a whisk and a spoon. Steph chose Vols-au-Vent, which we are pretty sure in French means, “After one bite we could die and go to heaven!”

The process was not as bad as I thought. Hard? Not really. Time consuming? Um yeah. Then again, I made the recipe in one day and it could be easily split up throughout a couple days.

I think my croissant making class also helped, since at least somewhere in the back of my reptile mind the phrase 'butter package' made sense to me.

I saw this picture three weeks after I took it said, "Wow, there's so much butter in puff pastry that it looks like a slab of butter!" and then I realized: this IS a slab of butter. I beat this out with a rolling pin before folding it into the dough.

Like so.

Apparently I got tired of coating my camera in butter and flour because the next picture I took is this one, hours after the last photo.


I filled my little puff pastry baskets with vanilla bean pastry cream and blueberries and served them at my weekly Top Chef party. Which isn't really a party at all, it mostly consists of my boyfriend, my best friend and me watching Top Chef and eating. I wasn't a fan of the recipe I used for the pastry cream and had to alter it a lot to make the texture smooth and not starchy. However, Katie declared her undying love for it and was about ready to bathe in it so I guess it was a success.

I thought about captioning this photo with: Desserts are like wounds. The best kinds are the ones the ooze. And that's what happens to your mind after working in a hospital for four years.

I made half the recipe of puff pastry and baked about 1/4 of the dough I prepared. I had a few baskets left over after Top Chef night but neither Joe or I ate them and I ended up throwing them away. The rest of the pastry sits in my freezer and I'm sure Joe will do something with it someday. But I just don't care enough about puff pastry to make it again. I'm glad I made it though, it made me feel like a baking superstar! Which I am, obviously.

Excuse me, somebody hasn't had their slice of humble pie today. Humble puff pastry? Har. I won't post the recipes used because this post is already about nine years long.

As usual, I look forward to next month's challenge, though I hope it's something I like a little more!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I've gone crackers for crackers!

Thanks for the baking suggestions, I will definitely take some of your guys suggestions in the next couple months! In the meantime, before I got any suggestions, I asked Joe what I should make. And he wanted (wait for it, wait for it!) crackers. Again.

So I did a little digging to find a yummy cracker recipe and eventually came upon Ina Garten's recipe for Parmesan black pepper crackers. We usually have a big ol' hunk of Parmesan in our fridge and the idea was Joe approved so I settled on those.

These, like other cracker recipes I've tried, were pretty easy. Except for the part when I was half way done mixing when I asked Joe were the flour was and he says, "Oh, we're out of flour." Are you kidding me? Just a minor detail, we just don't have the most essential ingredient. Not worth mentioning. I go a little nuts when I'm baking, you see, don't upset me in the middle of baking or I will be forced to take out your eyes.

Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers by Ina Garten


  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until creamy. Add the Parmesan, flour, salt, thyme and pepper and combine.

Dump the dough on a lightly floured board and roll into a 13-inch long log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the log crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a sheet pan and bake for 22 minutes.


But then we went shopping and all was better and Joe got to keep his eyes. What was I saying? Oh yes, the recipe was easy. The only thing was the mixture was super crumbly, even after I added a little more water to the dough. The log was next to impossible to cut without falling apart everywhere. However, once I let it warm up it was much easier to handle.

Yes, I made a few heart shaped one because I am just that corny.

These were more like savory shortbread than crackers but they were still quite tasty. They would be really good for party snacks/appetizers whatever. I think Joe likes less buttery crackers but he still gobbled them up in no time.

Next time: birthday goodies!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Real food time: roasted veggies!

So I do cook real food on occasion. And the ingredients don't even consist of only flour, sugar and butter! I saw on the news today that a bear broke into a house and ate a container of brown sugar, a box of Cocopuffs and a quart of ice cream before crawling out a window. And I was all, "Me and that bear would get along just fine." I'll capture him, feed him baked goods and we'll live in harmony. I'll name him Norman.

Anyway, I rarely post my savory dishes since what I cook is pretty slap dash and made up. However, I was bored the other day and this is a pretty standard dish of mine so here you go. Roasted veggies.

Before roasting

I've become pretty obsessed with roasting things. It's A) Super easy. You slice things up, crank up the oven and leave it in the oven until it looks done or you get impatient and B) nine times out of ten, its super delicious. I do this most often with vegetable but fruits can also be tasty. Baked apples, anyone? I eat those a lot. I was making one over the summer and my brother asked, "What's that? Can I have one?" and I replied, "A baked apple, of course. We are obviously not related. I'll make you one if you take a shower." The joys of living with a teenage boy.

I usually just pull out whatever we happen to have around and this time it was onion, squash, mushrooms and carrots. The biggest thing I've learned about roasting veggies is to cut them into similar sized chunks so that they all cook at the same pace. Otherwise you'll have burnt mushrooms and raw squash and we are aiming for edible here.

After roasting

So 1) cut veggies into roughly the same sizes. 2) Transfer veggies to a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil, mostly for easy clean up factor because I'm lazy. 4) season the veggies. I spray the veggies with cooking spray to get a nice even coating that way. Then I sprinkle on salt, pepper and cayenne. 5) Pop into a hot oven (I usually go 400 for most veggie mixes) and bake until the veggies are soft and nicely browned. Again, this varies for different veggie mixes but at least 20 minutes for most batches.

Ta da! You can finish them off with a little fresh herbs (I used parsley here) or grated cheese, whatever you like.

Okay, baking suggestion time. What should I make next? All Joe wants is crackers.