Sin City

March 10, 2009

In one week, I will be IN Las Vegas! I am so excited!! We have two shows booked, Penn & Teller and Cirque du Soleil’s “O.” We have reservations at Nobu. We’ll wander the strip, do some gambling, and drink all day. We’ll visit the old downtown and maybe see a burlesque show.

We’ll also be enjoying this weather:
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Instead of this weather:
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Originally we thought we’d spend a weekend in Chicago. And I felt a twinge of jealousy when Sandy & Jeff told us they’re going to New York City around the same time. But looking at all these forcasts, I have no doubts that we made the best choice!

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No Excuses

March 6, 2009

So there’s no point in trying to make up for lost time here. I haven’t had a real post in close to three months. That’s crazy. I miss my blog. I haven’t been as good at uploading pictures and whiny entries with no pictures are pretty booooring.

Okay, let’s recap a little bit:
I totally went off the South Beach way of life over the holidays. Like WAAAAYYYY off. Like, gained back a lot of weight. It was not happy, but all the delicious food I ate was happy. And all the wonderful baking that I did was really pretty awesome. But now I’m back on the wagon. I’ve been pretty good the last couple of weeks, even though I’ve been sick a lot. It’s hard to find the energy to eat healthy when you’re sick. But I’ve managed, and I’m getting close to the weight I was when I fell off the wagon. Once I get back to that weight (180-ish) I will be really happy and vow to make it much closer to my goal weight by the time Christmas comes this year.

Baking: My enemy and my love.
I love baking. I can’t get over it. I love trying out new recipes. I love when something comes out more perfect than anything you can buy in a store. I love the way it makes my house smell. I love everything about it. Except for the fact that I want to eat ALL OF IT. Not just in a “quality control” way before I send it off to coworkers. As in, I would like to put a cake in front of me and eat it for each meal of each day.

And so, on that cake note, I took a cake decorating class! It’s the Wilton Course, offered at Michael’s. This was Course 1. It was pretty cool! I’ve been wanting to learn about actual decorating and how to make certain designs. I had a really nice instructor and got to take it with my friend and her mom. We had a great time and we still actually learned some stuff.

The first class was easy. The teacher told us about the stuff we’d learn and gave us tips on cakes and icing. She showed us some basic stuff that we’d be learning in class 2. We had to bring a cake that was frosted for Class 2, the next week. An excuse to try out a new cake recipe? Yes please!! I will post my recipes soon.

We started by learning some basic maneuvers with a pastry bag. The Wilton method is very structured and the teacher did a good job of making it interesting. She did cheat a little bit by showing us the whole rose the first day. I was so happy with this. The Wilton book says you are supposed to learn a little bit each class, and then put it all together at the final class. I think that’s dumb. This way we got three classes (and three weeks) to practice the rose before the final cake.

I feel like my roses at my first class were the best. My frosting was a little stiff, and I overcompensated at the next classes, where it was a little thin.

One of my first roses:

At the end of class, we got time to decorate our cakes using the techniques we learned that day.

I used the zig-zag border, roses, writing, and stars.

For the second class, we could bring cupcakes instead of a cake. I opted to do that, so I could practice all the techniques, without the final product looking too crazy.

We learned more shapes and how to use more tips and worked more on our roses. We learned grapes!

And we practiced our roses some more.

We also learned shell borders and drop flowers. I tried to use all our techniques on my cupcakes. They looked bright and vibrant:

For our final class, I actually considered using a box mix because of time. But I decided to stress myself out and try out Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake. It was beautiful and delicious and made my kitchen smell amazing. And, including frosting and my variation to the filling, used 4.5 sticks of butter. Like I said, amazing.

This was my first time making a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and I had zero problems! I was kind of surprised, but I’m not going to question it. It is my new favorite frosting.

Ready for class:

We learned leaves and sweet peas and vines and got a long time to decorate our final cakes in class. My frosting wasn’t perfect for roses, again, but I managed quite well.

My final cake:

I used roses, leaves, shells, sweet peas and vines. Here’s a good shot with the sides:

And a close up of my roses (and leaves). Not perfect, but I understand the theory:

And my luscious layers. Instead of just layering it with buttercream and raspberry jam, I made a lemon curd, and folded that into some of the buttercream to put between the cake layers.

While only 6 of my cupcakes got consumed at work, over half of this cake was devoured, so I think this is a winning recipe!

I can’t wait to start Course Two, though it will have to wait until April. I’d be missing a class due to Las Vegas (OMGINTENDAYS!!!!) so I had to skip out on March.

I love this stuff! I feel more determined than ever to some how, some way, some time, make a little money on the side from my baking adventures. If only to offset the cost of ingredients! In the meantime, I’m cutting back my baking. I’m going to try to bake only for certain occasions, and not JUST because I saw a super awesome recipe that I NEEEEEED to make right this moment. That should help my wallet and my waistline. Which is good, because just thinking about that last cake made me gain some weight.

Vegas Baby!

January 5, 2009

OMG!

I haven’t written in so long!

And I don’t have time now!

But I have to share this!

We’re going to Las Vegas for David’s birthday!

I bought plane tickets yesterday!

AHHHH EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

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More Love

December 15, 2008

My birthday weekend was pretty awesome. I’ll write more when I get the pictures up, which will probably be a long time since I’m still working at 7am and have rehearsals for my show, that opens on WEDNESDAY!! I took off work on Friday, but I hope to go skiing. That would be so much fun.

Anyway, a quick story about my work Christmas party on Friday night. They do a raffle. There were some reeeeally nice prizes, like a weekend in Chicago or a $500 Midwest Airlines certificate. I didn’t win those, though I would have liked it. I can’t really complain though, because my name was drawn and I did win something. It’s sitting here at my desk with me.

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OMGZZZZ!!!! I own a Wii and a Kitchen Aid mixer? How will I ever manage my time? I am about to become housebound and really fat. Oh wait, I can buy a Wii Fit!

Love

December 12, 2008

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So I Say It’s My Birthday

December 11, 2008

Because it is.

I’ve been so busy that I’ve hardly found time to get excited about it. Normally I’m bouncing off the walls because all I can think is, OMG BIRTHDAY!!!!

December came on so fast, and it made me realize that now November is over and I missed the birthdays of one of my BFFs and my cousin’s baby. Sigh, I suck.

I think I keep forgetting it’s my birthday. So I’m going to keep reminding myself. Because of all the days in the year, I should feel special and happy today. But dragging myself out of bed and into work at 7am is not ideal. Fortunately I get to leave at 11 and go to lunch at an as-of-yet undisclosed location with my dad. It’ll be somewhere downtown, so it’s got to be good. Then he’s taking me shopping at that East Towne Women’s Resale shop in the Third Ward. I love that place. They have such awesome stuff. Usually their best stuff is pretty small, but if I can’t find some beautiful clothes, I know I can find some kind of cool, vintage-y accessory. And if not, my dad says I just get the cash. 😉

I made cupcakes last night to take to rehearsal tonight. Vanilla brown butter. YUM. I was in a rush, and my eggs may have curdled a bit. I tried one, and it still tastes good, but I was pissed. I just wanted to bake one yummy thing, and I didn’t even have time. I’m going to whip up a chocolate buttercream at my mom’s house this afternoon. Hopefully after today I won’t have to rely on her mixer anymore!

I did get a pair of silicone presents from David this morning. Haha, I just wanted to say it like that. I got a Sil-Pin silicone rolling pin and a Sil-Pat baking mat! The rolling pin is pink! I’m super grateful for the Sil-Pat, because there are a couple recipes that I’m looking at that specifically call for it’s use. And while I could probably get away with some combination of parchment paper and tin foil, this will be so much easier. Do you have any idea how much parchment paper I’ve gone through in the past couple months? It’s a little obscene.

So, I’m 24. It’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying that, because it was just a couple months ago that I couldn’t remember if I was 22 or 23. I know 24 is still pretty young, but I am of course plagued with how far along I “should be” in life. I mean, I could be about 1/3 done with my life right now! Okay, that’s just scary and might make me puke or cry.

I’ve been PMS-y all week which has put me into an awful emotional state. I’ve cried a lot, over nothing at all. And yet I feel like I need to cry some more! I can’t wait to have those birth control hormones coursing through me once again. </end random rant>

So as much as today sucks for having to work, even 4 hours, I am full of anticipation for tonight and this weekend. My mom is making me dinner and cake (CAKE!!!!!!!!!!!) and tomorrow I get to dress up for my work Christmas party, and then meet friends for martinis. And on Saturday David and I will FINALLY get our Christmas tree and do some decorating. And I get to have dinner at Cubanitas and drink all the mojitos I want.

I’m glad I wrote this. Now I’m feeling all happy happy joy joy. YAY BIRTHDAYS!

PS. A happy birthday shout-out to my favorite people to share a birthday with me, Jeff and Greg. Is it a little strange that David, and his sister Sandy, are both with people who were born on December 11th? As if this time of year wasn’t crazy enough. Also, I’m sorry to all who have to come up with birthday and Christmas gifts in such rapid succession.

Calling My Name

December 8, 2008

After baking all afternoon on Saturday, I was a little burned out on Sunday. I had planned on MORE baking, but just couldn’t bring myself to do dishes and gather ingredients and head over to my mom’s house to use her mixer. So I didn’t.

But today is a new day and even though I’m at work, I hear these calling my name from my kitchen.


(PS. Isn’t my oven and kitchen floor HOTT?)

Those would be 50 pound bags of flour and sugar. Sandy bought them from Costco for us to split. I have already made quite the dent in the flour.

That’s a lot of flour. And I love it. If only I had enough butter to last the rest of the month. Next time butter is on sale at Pick N Save, I honestly might buy about 20 pounds of it. I’ve gone through 5 or 6 pounds in two months!

I am enjoying baking SO MUCH. If I’m lucky, I will have my very own stand mixer this week. And come January I will actually have free time! Which means more goodies. Especially in the form of cupcakes, my second true love.

756 servings? Is that all?

Sweet Cheese Puffs

December 7, 2008

When I first saw the name of the recipe, I kind of turned up my nose. Sweet cheese? I thought of the cheddar spread that comes in a tub. Plus sugar. But then I read it, and of course, it’s cream cheese, which is very delicious in sweet applications. And the description sounded dreamy- “like cheesecake wrapped in rich flaky pastry.” Ok, I’m sold! You should be too. It’s not the fastest recipe, but it’s not hard at all.

I thought I might have overworked the pastry, which is made with butter and sour cream, but it was beautifully flaky and tender. Oh, and delicious! If I can make these, so can you.

I made these again this weekend for a Christmas party. I set them on the table and they were attacked. I took off my coat and got a drink, and then I got a marriage proposal. They’re that good. Sorry Sandy, I didn’t mean to steal your wife.

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You start by cutting chilled butter into flour and salt. Sour cream is added and you eventually work the mixture into a dough, and divide it into three equal pieces. Plan this step ahead, because it will need to chill. I find it easiest to make this dough one day ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

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Then comes the filling. I was super excited to use my new zester for the first time. It worked so nicely I could have zested lemons all day. Some lemon zest and vanilla go into a food processor with cream cheese, sugar, and an egg.
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The result smells (and tastes) so good that part of you might want to eat it straight out of the bowl. But trust me! It gets even better.
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The pastry squares are rolled out very thinly and then trimmed into mini squares.
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You’re almost there! The filling is scooped in and folded into a “beggars purse” type of shape.
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Opposite corners are brought together and just lightly pinched to stay shut. These will partially blossom open in the oven, and it will be fantastic to look at and eat.
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After another short chill, they go into the oven and your kitchen will start to smell incredible. After 20-30 minutes, and they take on a lovely golden color, you can remove them and try to wait until they cool to pop one in your mouth. Good luck.

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Pastry Ingredients:
2 cups (280 grams) unsifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (5 ounces) sour cream (I used full fat)

1. Put the flour and salt into a large bowl, stir to combine. Scatter the butter slices over the flour and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture consists of particles that vary in size from small peas to bread crumbs.

2. Stir in the sour cream with a fork. The pastry will seem very dry because sour cream is thick and doesn’t disperse easily. Keep stirring until combined, then use your hands to manipulate the dough into a ball.

3. Divide the pastry dough into three equal pieces. Shape each into a 5-inch square, about 5/8 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 4 hours.

Cream Cheese Filling
Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

This filling is pretty easy. Process all the filling ingredients in a food processor until smooth. You may have to scrape down the sides once or twice.

Assembly:
1. Remove one pastry square from refrigerator. Set aside for 10 minutes before rolling it. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle less than 1/8 inch thick. With a ruler and pastry wheel (I used a tape measure and pizza cutter) trim the ragged edges; then measure and cut the pastry into 3 inch squares.

2. Lay the pastry squares across the top of ungreased 12-cup miniature muffin pans, centering each square over one cup. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of filling on each square; then bring opposite corners to the center, and press lightly to seal. This process will also ease the pastry into each cup. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll and shape the remaining pastry squares in the same fashion.

3. Adjust rack to lower third of oven; preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

4. Bake two to three pans at a time for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until pastries are light brown. Remove pan from oven to a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove pastries from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

DECORATION: Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving at room temperature.

If not serving the same day baked, stack undecorated pastries in an airtight sturdy plastic container and freeze up to 2 weeks. To serve, reheat to freshen in a 325 degree F oven for about 7 to 12 minutes, or until warm. Cool slightly, then sprinkle with the powdered sugar.

From Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker

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Oh Dear Blog

December 5, 2008

I haven’t forgotten about you. But apparently it has been so long that wordpress has changed its format yet again. It is not for lack of material to share, but lack of time.

I have some incredible recipes to share. Even some that can’t be found on the internets! I could talk about Thanksgiving or the fantastic weekend that followed. I could talk about the play that I’m in or about how tough work is.

If only there was time.

This month my weekdays will go like this:
5:45: Wake up
6:30: Leave the house
7:00: Start work
4:00: Leave work
5:00: Make dinner
6:00: Leave for rehearsal
9:30: Get home and collapse into bed and try to fall asleep immediately

Weekends will be full of shows or parties, which are fun, but I could barely find time to celebrate my own birthday. Woe is me.

I did get paid today and my paycheck included a bit of overtime, so that was nice.

I’m glad that gas has lowered in price because coffee just became an almost daily necessity.

Hopefully I can find some time to upload pictures and share my yummy holiday recipes so far. Because they were delicious.

In the meantime… 6 DAYS UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!!

TRY IT

November 20, 2008

David and I have been having stressful, rotten times at work lately. Yesterday his bad day outweighed mine, and so I took care of stuff and let him chill. I was productive and washed a ton of dirty dishes that had taken over our kitchen, and then I baked, which was so relaxing to me, even though it took a while. I’ll post more details if I remember to take pictures of the final product, but TRY THIS.

I wanted to try out this Vodka Pie Crust from Cooks Illustrated, but I didn’t want to make a whole pie. So I combined the crust with the recipe for the apple pocket pies. Pie crust seems kind of advanced and scary to me, but trust me, this was SO EASY. I had heard this crust could be kind of sticky, so I was worried when mine was on the dry and crumbly side. And when I rolled it out, I saw some huge chunks of butter that I didn’t see on Smitten’s blog entry, because I have a crappy pastry cutter. But I went with it, and hoped for the best. O.M.G. AWESOME! I don’t know if I can choose a favorite between this crust or the pastry from the original pocket-pie recipe, but I think this one was definitely flakier. It totally melts in your mouth. O.M.G.

I am thinking about making an apple pie to take to Thanksgiving, but I’ve been hesitant because my mom makes awesome pie crust (she totally goes for it and uses lard) and I sometimes wonder why I should try to perfect the already-perfected. So I tried this crust just to see which crust I would use if I made a whole pie. I was hoping for a clear winner, but I don’t know!!

I think I would like this vodka crust better for a whole pie, but the other crust is good for the mini pies? I don’t know! Maybe I’ll just have to make both again and have a side-by-side taste test. Any testing volunteers?