Christmas trees and death by chocolate

18 Dec

Some of the things I love most about Christmas are the family traditions.

Ever since I can remember, my family has waited until after my brother’s birthday to get our tree – so that his birthday will feel like a birthday and not Christmas.

Yesterday, my family went out to get our Christmas tree.

We’ve gone to the same place for about 10 years now.

We always see the perfect tree within the first five minutes.  We always leave that tree thinking there will be better ones further up the hill.  That tree is usually the best one we see all day.

We have to walk around for at least half an hour.

Someone has to cry.  Usually that someone is me, although we’ve broken that tradition for the past four or five years.

My mother has to take pictures of the tree being cut down, and a couple of holdouts of me and her.  And her and my brother.  And her and me and my brother.

My dad always cuts down the tree.

My brother always helps him carry it down to the car and tie it on.

Afterwards, we always have hot chocolate and coffee in the crazy-tacky gift shop that sells ornaments and salt and pepper shakers and lots of fudge.

This year, I won.  My family finally liked a tree that I picked out, and now it’s sitting in our living room.

While my dad and brother brought the tree in and set it up on the stand, I baked these.

Chocolate ganache cakes for my brother’s birthday.

These cakes are death by chocolate.  But honestly, if you’re going to die, isn’t that the way to go?

CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prep your cupcake tins.  combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet.  Mix just until combined.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  I baked mine in little 3 or 4 inch pans (this recipe made 6, each one feeds about 2 people).

GANACHE

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 c. milk + 1/2 c. creamer
  • 2 tbsp. margarine
Heat the milk and creamer in a sauce pan until it boils.  Turn off the heat and add the chocolate.  Let it sit and don’t touch it for a minute or two.  Then stir until it’s nice and smooth.  Add the margarine and stir until it’s all melted. (side note:  other amazing things you can do with ganache – stick it in the fridge until it’s completely set, then whip it up in your stand mixer and you can frost cakes with it, pipe with it; or just eat it with a spoon, that works too)

 

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 c. margarine
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • enough milk to bring the mixture to the right consistency

Cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder a cup at a time.  Add the vanilla and milk.

To assemble your cakes,  flip them over and carve out part of the top.  Pipe some frosting into the cavities and smooth over the tops with a spatula.  Then, pour the ganache over the cakes and wait for it to set.  After the ganache has set, you can pipe designs on top of it with the buttercream if you so desire.

Apple Bundt Cake

5 Dec

This post will be short, sweet, and to the point.  Just like the cake I made for you.

I’ve been a terrible blogger the past few weeks.  Sorry about that.  But now that it’s dead week, and I have finals to study for, papers to write, and pots to glaze, I’ve decided to start up again.  So here you go, eat your heart out, and to all my fellow students, may you not perish in the fiery inferno that is dead week.

APPLE BUNDT CAKE (adapted from this recipe)

  • 4 medium apples, shredded (I shredded 3 and finely chopped 1 just to get larger chunks of apple in the cake)
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1c. applesauce
  • 4 tbsp. ground flax seeds + 12 tbsp. water, mixed
  • 1/2 c. non-dairy milk (I used coconut)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In another bowl, combine the apples, applesauce, flax mixture, sugar, vanilla, and milk.  Add to the flour mixture and stir just until combined.  Pour into the bundt pan and bake for about 1 hour, until it passes the toothpick test.  Once cool, dust with some powdered sugar.

Humble Pie

18 Nov

I feel like pie is a dessert that doesn’t get enough credit.

People love it.

People eat it.

No one bakes it.

Why?

Because making the crust scares the s**t out of them.

Here’s the thing.

You don’t need a food processor.

You don’t need a special recipe.

You don’t need super-specific measurements.

You don’t need to freak out about over-mixing your dough.

You’re ingredients don’t even need to be cold.

Here’s my story.

I have a recipe for the ‘perfect pie crust.’

I tried it today.

I (almost) totally fudged it.

People tell you to put all of your ingredients (even the flour and sugar) in the freezer for about 20 minutes before you start your crust.

My margarine was fridge-temperature.  My shortening sat in the fridge for about an hour.

I had some ice water.

Everything else was room temperature.

I even kneaded the dough until it turned into a nice, cohesive ball, even though they tell you to just smush it until it comes together.

My crust was perfect.  Flaky.  Buttery.  Crispy.

Yum.

PIE CRUST (makes enough for one double-crust pie, or two single-crust pies)

  • 3 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. chilled margarine
  • 1/4 c. vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp. sugar (the recipe calls for 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. sugar, but I just did 1 tsp. and it was fine)
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. ice water

To start, it helps if your margarine and shortening are cut up into cubes.  Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.  Cut in the margarine and butter with a pastry blender.  Slowly add in the water.  Note:  you won’t need all of the water, just enough to bring the dough together.  As soon as the dough starts to clump, smush it together, even knead it a little so that it doesn’t crumble when you roll it out.  Stick the dough in the fridge for a while.  The recipe says it needs to be in the fridge for at least an hour, I just stuck it in there while I got the filling put together.

APPLE PIE FILLING

  • 5 or 6 apples (I used granny smith)
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar (I did 1/4 c. white sugar, 1/4 c. brown sugar because I ran out of the white sugar)
  • 2 tbsp. AP flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. margarine, cut up

Slice your apples into 1/2 inch slices (the recipe says 1/4 inch slices, but mine all but fell apart after baking for 75 minutes).  Toss with the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Pour into your pie crust, then dot the apples with pieces of margarine.  Then, either by folding the top crust or rolling it onto your rolling pin, put the top crust on your pie.

Now, this is where we practice humility.  This is where we learn that perfection isn’t everything.  Do you hear this?  This is coming from me, little miss perfectionist, OCD, whatever you want to call me.  My crust was far from perfect.  But!  It still tasted great.

Bake your pie in a 350°F oven for 60 – 80 minutes (mine ended up taking about 75 minutes to get the crust browned).

Cool in a windowsill and serve it up with ice cream, whipped cream, or all by itself.

Fall favorites

13 Nov

Did you know that there’s a difference between autumn and fall?

Here’s what my cousin Kelly says:

Autumn is when the last days of summer turn into beautiful crispness that invites you to put on boots and some layers. The trees start their transformation into fiery fabulousness and apple cider starts to warm the soul. There is a feeling of excitement in the air for the new season and a breath of fresh air.

Fall is when the leaves start falling from their now cold branches. The air is no longer a crisp excitement but a constant chill that requires jackets and adds extra blankets to the bed. The smell is not of apples, cinnamon, and pumpkins but dirt, crunchy leaves, and acorns.The energy in the air is no longer about the season and more about the quickly approaching holidays.

What’s your favorite thing about fall?

Pumpkin patches?

Apple pie?

Changing leaves?

Thanksgiving?

Sweaters and scarves?

Boots?

Mittens?

Drinking hot chocolate and knitting?

There you go.  Now we’re talking.

HOT CHOCOLATE MIX

  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered soy milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
Mix all ingredients until well incorporated.  Boil some water – I found that about 2 tablespoons of mix to 1 cup water works well, but it’s up to you.  If you’re one of those people, who, as a child added an extra packet of hot chocolate mix just so you could get those delicious lumps of chocolate in your mug, then go ahead and add some extra.  I’m not here to judge.
Side note:  This recipe works perfectly to layer up in jars and give as gifts, with personalized tags.  ♥

Stuff in jars…

13 Nov

This past week has been something of an emotional roller coaster.

I don’t like roller coasters.

They scare the poops out of me.

Why?

I don’t like not being in control.

I like to know what’s coming.

I like being organized.

I like weeks with minimal negative surprises and maximal calm, cool, and collected Amy.

This week was not that week.

This week has consisted of altogether too many mini-crises, too many mega-crises, too many nights crying myself to sleep, too many naps taken for the wrong reasons, too much time spent in the fetal position, and way too many carbs.

But now the crises have been un-crisised, my body has finally un-curled itself, and the fall leaves are freakin’ beautiful.

So let’s make some fall comfort food.  BUT!  Not so many carbs, okay?

Let’s make some one-crust pot pies.

(ps, is this cute?  the whole putting words on pictures thing?  I feel like every other blogger in the world is doing this…)

POT PIES

  • 1 large yam or sweet potato
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 can green peas
  • about 1 c. broccoli
  • 1 c. soy curls, if you want some meatiness
  • 1 package Pepperidge Farms puff pastry
  • a couple tablespoons margarine
  • about 3 c. vegetable stock
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Chop all the veggies to about the same size – I did mine a little smaller because I was baking the pot pies in little jars.  Heat oil in a large pan and cook the yam for a few minutes, until just barely cooked, adding in the onions and carrots at the very end.  Put all the veggies in a bowl, and start the gravy base in the pan.
Melt three or four tablespoons of margarine and about that same amount of flour in a pan, whisking until smooth.  Then add in the stock and whisk until it’s thickened and smooth.  Add the veggies back in and toss to coat.
Spoon the mixture into 1 cup (1/2 pint) jars.  Cut circles out of the pastry with a cookie cutter or glass to fit inside of the jars, and put the circles on top of the veggie mixture.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the puff pastry is cooked through.

November and chick peas

4 Nov

November.  Also known as No-school-vember, no-shave-November.

November brings up some awesome memories for me.

Crunchy leaves.

Rainy days and hot chocolate.

Going to my grandparents’ house in Florida for Thanksgiving and eating key lime pie.

That layer of fuzz I get on my legs because pants and tights allow me to skip shaving.

Pumpkin pie.

Driving home from college after two days of snow.

Wearing your pj’s inside out hoping for snow.  Even though it’s November.  And in the Pacific Northwest, it rains in November.

Tons of days off of school due to holidays and parent teacher conferences.

Surprisingly, spinach and chick peas don’t really give me warm fuzzies when I think about November.

Or didn’t.

Now, this is one of my favorite recipes.

Probably because my mom made it for me first.

LEMON PAN-FRIED CHICK PEAS

  • 1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 cans chick peas
  • 1 8 oz. bag of spinach (any kind of greens would work, though)
  • 1 small lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about a half a box of spinach linguine
Get some water going for pasta, and cook the pasta to your liking. Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, until translucent and yummy-smelling.  Add the chick peas and saute for about 10 minutes, until they’re nice and browned.  Stir in the spinach, the zest of the lemon, half of the lemon, juiced, salt and pepper.

Pumpkin Bread

27 Oct

My boss recently turned me onto a wonderful online resource.  It’s called Pinterest.

They put a little button in your bookmarks bar so that whenever you see something fun on the interwebs you can pin it onto one of your cyber-boards.

You can also waste a gagillion hours looking through what other people have pinned.

How do I know?

Because I’ve done it.

I’ve been hooked on this thing for the past few weeks, and due to my endless browsing I can tell you what’s in style.

Pay attention, this is important.

Cake pops are in style.

Yellow and  gray are freaking everywhere:  on people, in rooms, on giraffes in baby shower invites.  Everywhere.

Stuff made from paint samples are totally hip.  Like lamps and bookmarks and name tags.  I don’t get it either.

S’mores everything is the next big fad.  S’mores cakes, s’mores cupcakes, s’mores cookies, s’mores cheesecake, s’mores Halloween costumes.  For the record,  I think s’mores are nasty.

Chalkboard paint and flowers made out of old t-shirts are most definitely in style.

Dressing your baby up like a piece of candy corn is cute, apparently…

Pumpkin bread isn’t in style yet.

But it will be after this.

PUMPKIN BREAD (based on the recipe in the NYT cookbook – that’s how you know it’s good)

  • 1 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. no sugar added applesauce
  • 3 c. pumpkin
  • 1 c. craisins (and/or 1 c. walnuts if that’s more your cup of tea)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 4 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. wheat germ
  • 3/4 – 1 c. soy milk
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine the sugars, applesauce, pumpkin, salt, cinnamon, cloves,  craisins, and baking soda in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Pour into loaf pans and/or muffin tins and bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until done (muffins bake for about 30 minutes).
Makes 3 loaves or 2 loaves and 12 muffins