Cakethulhu!

CakethulhuI don’t often serve cake for just regular dinner parties, so I had a lot of fun preparing this for a small gathering of friends.

This is a three layer, seven inch red velvet (dark purple velvet, technically, because I can’t ever leave well enough alone).

I kind of love the versatility of the plain, round decorating tip. Since my friends and I are a bunch of off-beat geeks, I pulled out tentacles using a larger, round tip with purple striping to evoke Cthulhu.

 

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Deep Fried Broccoli – Shockingly Good

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OK, so maybe this is where the “eight crazy nights” part makes sense. How could something be quick, easy, simple and taste awesome?

As I was experimenting with deep frying things, I made a discovery that rocked my little world: I tossed in some frozen broccoli. After 30-60 seconds, it was all lightly-crisped deliciousness. I didn’t even feel the need to salt it.

Pictures and words cannot describe how yummy this was.

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Pictures and words cannot describe how yummy this was.

 

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A Shortcake in Winter

I’m getting the Valentine’s bug here and have been taking the opportunity to indulge in all things heart-shaped and red. I wasn’t going to do a strawberry shortcake, but the spouse asked for it, and he almost never asks for anything.

I mean, strawberry shortcake is great; a firm, delightful confirmation of Summer’s arrival. But this is January, in the northern hemisphere, so it’s also a dream that’s been put to bed for another five months.

The spouse doesn’t share my sensitivity to or awareness of (not sure which) seasonal eating, so I decided to take it as a challenge: how do you keep true to the strawberry shortcake experience while working with sub-optimal options?

The berries were the only thing that needed a different approach, since shortcake and heavy cream don’t seem to be affected so much by the seasons. From my perspective, the berries, optimally, are just crushed fresh and allowed to macerate just a little with some sugar tossed in.

The two likeliest options I saw were in the produce and freezer departments. I’ll admit to being a snob about the strawberries in the produce department in January – I really don’t think they’d be as flavorful as I wanted – so I settled on frozen berries.

WinterStrwShortcakeWhile  I would normally go raw, the idea of raw/thawed frozen berries seemed unpleasant, so I elected to cook them a little on the stove with some sugar and a little bit of corn starch. I didn’t cook it nearly as long as I would for a sauce. I pretty much cooked it just until the strawberries started to break down and the color and consistency became more uniform.

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Cheddar BBQ Pockets

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Lately, I’ve been hugely nomming on the flavor combination of cheddar cheese an barbeque sauce. Since I had both on hand, I just had to extend my won ton wrapper research.

ChedBBQWT1These were dazzlingly easy to throw together and make a nice surprise for game day or comfort noshies.

In my zeal, I was probably sloppier with sealing the edges than I ought to have been, but even the ones that leaked out had that great flavor combination.

 

Golden pillows of cheesy, crisp perfection…

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Fun with Won Ton Wrappers

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OK, this Hanukah I challenged myself to park the deep fat fryer on my counter and produce *something* fried every day for a week. Much to everyone’s disappointment, donuts/sufganiyot never materialized (that was before my weak aspirations regarding yeasted things were reinvigorated recently), but I did make some interesting discoveries along the way.

The biggest player here was the wonton wrapper – I even cut it into strips and fried them on their own as an accompaniment. Apart from Hanukah, these would also be awesome game day treats!

They also helped me with a novel solution to a food waste issue in my house.

Salmon Rangoon

I’ll come clean: I don’t like salmon*. I feel like I should, but I just can’t unless there are lots of spices and it’s the only option. The spouse, however, loves it and often prefers the salmon cream cheese when we have bagels at home. There is always a surplus of the stuff after brunch, and I’ve been at a loss as to what to do with it.

Until I tried out won ton wrappers, that is.

Shellfish allergies and our modest level of household kashrut keep delightful things like crab rangoon off the spouse’s plate, but I figured, why not salmon rangoon?

A while ago, I saw a Cake Boss episode where they were making a massive amount of mini cannolis and they had a great technique for prepping the blank, raw shells for rapid rolling and assembly. Although I had a few hundred less to make than they did, I’m still lazy and so this approach has been helpful to me a number of times.

WontonSetupYou lay them out overlapping with only the edges you want to stick together exposed and then you can coat them in egg, water or whatever you need to in one swoop of the pastry brush (or finger, we don’t judge). After that, you’ll be filling or rolling your final pieces like a well-oiled machine.

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Voila!

Rosemary Cream Cheese Bites

I’m working on turning an enclosed porch into a modest, indoor herb garden, so in December I picked up one of those pretty rosemary plants trimmed to look like a Christmas tree. It looked festive. I killed it pretty quickly. But before I did, I got to have a little fun with what remained of the viable herb on it.

While I don’t like salmon, I didn’t want to miss out on the yummy rangoony goodness, so I came up with an alternate for myself: plain cream cheese with a sprinkling of cut-up rosemary. Roughly one blade? leaf? spike? (what do you call those things?) per won ton seemed to give a nice flavor without overpowering.

I made these a different shape – no way I was going to risk confusing the two flavors. I had some good results speeding up production by lying several in a grid pattern to wet down the edges more quickly.

And the taste was pretty magnificent. I think I’ll try again at keeping a rosemary plant.

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*Except in sushi
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Kitchen Hacks for Winter

We live in an old house. It’s lovely. It’s charming.  …and it can be soul-crushingly cold in the Winter.

I may be unfairly biased, since my first Winter here coincided with the first trimester of pregnancy with my second child. I remember a desperate, lost feeling as I’d read instructions calling for ingredients at room temperature, followed by despairing sobs* as I looked up how “room temperature” was defined and realized it would be months before my house could attain such a goal.

My attitude has improved tremendously since then. A new Winter has arrived along with new ideas to continue baking without completely changing my house and/or tripling my heating costs.

For one thing, I’ve become a master at gently, cautiously, watchfully using the microwave to coax the usual suspects like, eggs and butter, to relative warmth in five second increments. A few minutes in hot tap water can also be very helpful for eggs.

There are other situations, though, that require more creativity.

Modeling Chocolate

HeatLampIf you’ve worked with modeling chocolate, you’ve probably developed an appreciation for how touchy it can be about temperature. While you absolutely don’t want to overheat it, working in too cold a space makes the stuff miserably difficult.

A few years ago, I bought an extra heat lamp for the chickens that I never wound up using. I stashed it in the pantry, thinking it might be useful for experimenting with sugar work. I got great results from clamping the lamp over my work surface while rolling out the chocolate and smoothing it over the cakes I was making.  I just had to be sure to not leave it sitting directly under the lamp for too long.

Proofing Bread

I am not lucky enough to have a proofing feature or drawer in my oven. Of course, my old house had an oven with a warming drawer, but we left before I renewed my efforts to try to become a minimally competent bread maker. In that respect, this approach I just started using would probably be useful for me in any season.

Enter the heating pad… I’ve been putting it under my pans while proofing my bread under  towel and getting a much better response than before.

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I’m enjoying my new resilience in coping with the season and looking forward to more than just bleakly enduring Winter this year while putting serious baking largely on hold.

*Yup; I actually cried at this. The aforementioned first trimester may have been a factor.
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Día de los Muertos Cake

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I got the opportunity to experiment with covering a cake with modeling chocolate again. Some friends of ours were throwing a Día de los Muertos-themed party. With our hosts planning to dress as a sugar skull bridal party, it seemed natural to make a Day of the Dead wedding cake.

The design included a génoise sponge cake with Mexican chocolate ganache between the levels in both tiers. Each tier was crumb-coated in a European vanilla buttercream. I coated the top tier in milk chocolate and the lower tier in semi-sweet,

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Under the red glow of the heat lamp

Since colder weather had set in, I needed some auxiliary warmth to keep the modeling chocolate pliable enough, so I hooked up a heat lamp to work under.

DiaMuertos_AssmbldI fiddled a bit with the end finish. It was all dusky and matte since I rolled the modeling chocolate out in confectioner’s sugar. At some point,  I wanted something glossier and more slick-looking, so I buffed the cake with vegetable oil.

I remain unsure as to which way I prefer it, but I did notice that the confectioner’s sugar on the darkest chocolate created a very natural blackboard look; a good technique to stash away for the future.

 

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