Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Asparagus: Not Just for Roasting

Today a friend called in need of a favor. I helped him out and in return, he bought me some asparagus. I have plans to make Simply Recipe's Asparagus with Lime and Mint, but I didn't want that tonight for some reason.

Tonight I wanted eggs.

So here's what I did. I started by cutting three pieces of asparagus to manageable lengths. And, by the way, I lurve chopping vegetables. (I know. Veg = good. Fruit = bad. I don't get it either.)

Anyway, I threw those into a bit of hot EVOO in a small skillet. This being my first experience cooking asparagus, I poked and prodded at the green monsters until I decided they were appropriately tender.

Once I was satisfied with the browning tenderness of the asparagus, I turned the heat down to medium and added two eggs, prepared in my usual scramble way (salt, pepper, splash of milk, lightly beaten). While the eggs set a little, I tore up a slice-o-cheese product and dropped it in. I cannot tell you in words how magical this makes scrambled eggs.

After a very quick but slow scramble, I dumped the whole bazzoo into a bowl, took one final poorly lit picture, and chowed down.

It was... fantastic.

I highly recommend it. Like, right now. Go!

Oh, wait! Before you go, I want to know how you prepare asparagus. I'm going to try the lime + mint thing, but I don't think I'll make up a whole bunch that way. What else should I do with these spears of vegetable goodness?

Strawberry-on-Strawberry Mini Cupcakes

I'm changing my name. I really am.

From now on, you can call me Amanda, the Clumsy Baker.

I guess I've just gotten too big for my cupcaking britches. Earlier this week I dropped a bowl of batter. When it came time to make the Strawberry-on-Strawberry cupcakes, I... well... you'll read soon enough.

In the world of first year composition, we are constantly talking about getting students to write for actual audiences. It's one thing to write an essay about American entertainment culture to a teacher who knows just a bit about it, but it's another thing entirely to write that same paper to specialists in the field or to you know... your mom. When the audience is real and will read the paper, the writing is both easier and more difficult.

But you probably just thought you were reading about cupcakes, so I'll get back to it.

I had an audience for the Strawberry-on-Strawberry cupcakes. I was contributing a set of cupcakes to a local women's shelter fundraising Silent Auction and Dessert Party. I had a deadline of Saturday at 4:30, and I had to feed 20-30 people with my cupcakes.

My audience made me nervous. And excited.

To start, I had to finely chop a bunch of strawberries. I don't care to chop fruit. I can't explain it, but I don't really care for fruit chopping or the resulting finger staining.

But I handled it. And when I was done chopping, I threw the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and voila! batter.

However... since I'm too big for my cupcaking britches, I started to doubt The Cake Mix Doctor's recipe sense. (I know, right?!) But I didn't like the liquidity of the batter. Luckily, I left it alone.

And it was fine. Better than fine, actually! This cake was absolutely amazing. It was smooth and I'd even say velvety. The strawberry pieces were fantastic surprises to happen upon in the tiny unassuming cake. The crumb was the stuff of dreams; it might even be the most perfectly textured cake I've met yet.

Cake done, I returned to strawberry chopping.


Then I moved right on to messing up the icing. I didn't take any pictures of the icing making process, but that's probably for the best. All you need to know is that you shouldn't do it the way I did. :)

I made the icing according to the Cake Mix Doctor's recipe but instead of reading ahead, I started changing things on my own. Turns out the icing is a spread and set icing and not, I repeat NOT, I piping icing.

I tried to make it a piping icing by adding just a little bit more powdered sugar. Like two cups more. Who knows that I was thinking.

Look at how cute they are with their flat icing! They're adorable! They don't need piped icing.

But they do need a strawberry garnish. Oy vey, more fruit meets the cutting board.

Now, I had not though of myself as a fancy shmancy cupcaker until I saw sixty cupcakes all lined up with fresh fruit all in a row. It felt very Helena circa Season 4.

Anyway, here is a bite-section. Not because this is a particularly spectacular shot of the cupcake or my hand for that matter, but because the post seems awkwardly truncated without it.

And now, I'm going to give you the recipe as I should have used it and not as I did. Classic do as I say not as I do situation.

Pretty in Pink Strawberry Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor.

1 pkg plain white cake mix
1 pkg strawberry gelatin
1 c finely chopped fresh strawberries
3/4 c milk
3/4 c vegetable oil
4 large eggs
(There is a lot of wet in this batter, no?)

Blend all ingredients 30 seconds at low speed and 2 minutes at medium. Scoop batter into cupcake liners, filling them 3/4 full. (The Cake Dr. says you can expect 22 to 24 cupcakes. I made minis so I got about 80. You know me!)

Bake in 350F oven for 20 - 25 minutes for regular cupcakes. (Minis took about 12 for me.)

Let cool before frosting with...

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting from the Cake Mix Doctor

1 pkg (8 oz.) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temp.
4 tbsp butter, at room temp.
3 to 3 + 1/2 c confectioner's sugar
1/2 c mashed, drained fresh strawberries (I hope to never have to "drain" strawberries ever again.)

Blend cream cheese and butter for thirty seconds. Add 3 c sugar and strawberries and blend on low until incorporated. Increase speed to medium for 1 minute or until fluffy.

Dollop on cupcakes and then spread around with spatula. Place frosted cupcakes in the fridge for 20 minutes to allow icing to set.

(At this point, I added the sliced strawberries and dropped the suckers off.The next time I serve these, I will place the strawberries immediately before serving so they won't drip on the icing. Yet another thing I didn't think about before I did it. :) Oops!)

Well, my own flubs aside, these Strawberry-on-Strawberry cupcakes were absolutely fantastic. And I don't think anyone had any idea that the icing was twice as sweet as it should have been. Ha!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Good News & Bad News

Good News: Our team won bar trivia tonight. The Queue Continuum nearly paid off our tab with the winnings!

(Side Note: Extra points to anyone who can figure out the reference in our team name.)

Bad News: As I feared would happen, my laptop card reader will not acknowledge the MicroSD that I bought for my phone. Seems it will be a bit longer before Amanda goes mobile.

But we still won bar trivia! And when it was all said and done, a nice lightly accented British man came over to our table and said, "Well done, ladies. You've beaten us by one point." K-Dog's brother took umbrage; the ladies thought it was funny.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lemon Curd Cupcakes

You may have recognized the batter on my floor as The Cake Mix Doctor's Lemon Curd cupcake batter. And shame on you if you didn't. Do better next time.

I love the Cake Mix Doctor's Cupcake book. Her recipes start with cake mixes, and for that reason, they are painfully easy to throw together whenever the cupcake mood strikes. OR... whenever cupcakes are demanded but the mood is not striking. :)

This past Thursday was the last reading I hosted for the English Grad Student Association. I don't know when I started making cupcakes for the readings... but I didn't feel like I could let the thing end without one last batch.

The Lemon Curd cupcakes only required me to pick up these three things at the grocery store,

so they won out for Thursday's event.

Can you tell that I very much want to be on a beach?

Sigh. "She said instead of actually doing it." (-quote gakked from one of the readings)

These pictures were taken when I was enjoying the batter making process of the first recipe. Once I dumped the batter and had to go back to the grocery store and start all over, I might have stopped taking pictures. That's understandable, right?

I thought so.

Here are the finished cupcakes.

The cake (the Doctor's recipe) was nice, basic, and lightly lemony.

Usually the Doctor's cakes don't taste anything like a boxed mix, but these actually stuck pretty close the boxed mix crumb and texture. Good, for sure, but not as velvety as I was expecting from the Doctor. For that kind of smoothness, stay tuned for the Strawberry-on-Strawberry cupcakes I'll be posting soon.

As for the icing, I dropped the ball on that. I didn't have time to mess around with cupcakes on Thursday and as I said earlier, the mood was not striking. So when I was at the grocery store, I picked up a tub of lemon icing.

Well... I've spoiled my tasters and they did not love the "stickyness" of the Pillsbury lemon icing. I agree. It wasn't fantastic. But it was a hell of a lot easier on me and my dish-washing hands.

So if you want to bake along at home, here is the Cake Mix Doctor's recipe for Mini Lemon Curd Cupcakes.

1 pkg plain lemon cake mix
1 and 1/3 c water
1/3 c lemon curd
1/3 c vegetable oil
3 lg eggs

Preheat oven to 350F. Place all ingredients in large mixing bowl and blend 30 seconds at low speed and another 2 minutes at medium.

Fill liners 2/3 of the way full (the Doctor says 2tbsp, but I couldn't get that much in my little cuppies.)

Bake cupcakes until they are golden, springy, and/or leave a few crumbs on a tester. The Cake Doctor says 15-20 minutes. In my oven, they were perfect at 12.

The Cake Doctor says you can expect about 48 minis from this recipe. True to form, I got 72. Luckily, my roommate was quite taken with the lemon cuties and together she and I ate the few that didn't fit on my platter.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to step away from the kitchen and do something academic before the weekend is over.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shopping List and Other Bits

This past week could be described in many ways. Hectic, horrifying, and hellish are my current favorite descriptors.


This weekend I have a lot of baking lined up. I'm making three batches of cupcakes overall, and you'll get to watch me do it! (Well... you might not get the posts until later, but you'll get them.) I'm donating a batch to a local women's shelter fundraiser on Saturday, providing a batch for a grad student meeting on Sunday, and using a batch as my booktalk 'handout' in class on Monday.

In short, I'm looking forward to some culinary therapy.

So here's my grocery list for tomorrow:

1 Pear
White Cake Mix
1 pkg. Strawberry Gelatin
6 c. Confectioner's Sugar
Cider Vinegar
1/4 c. Heavy Cream
2 boxes of Unsalted Butter
12 oz. Cream Cheese

Not too bad, right?

Any guesses as to what kind of cupcakes I'm going to be whipping up?

(Also, could you tell that the DB post has been waiting in the wings since mid-Spring Break? Well... if you couldn't, know now that I did NOT make a crazy complicated lasagne on the same day that I dropped a full bowl of batter on the floor, burned grilled cheese, and cemented risotto to the pot.)

My First Daring Bakers' Challenge: Lasagne

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Since this was my first Daring Bakers Challenge, I was more than a little bit nervous. But... I handled it!

Our challenge stipulated that we make spinach noodles, some type of ragu, and a bechamel for this lasagne. I followed the recipes for spinach noodles and bechamel given by the hosts, but I used a vegetarian ragu that I found here.

Alright, I'll proceed in the order that I actually made the bits.

First I made Kali Tal's vegetable ragu and went from this

to this

in a matter of minutes. To be more specific, it was about 120 minutes.

And just to be mysterious, the ragu recipe demands Olive Oil and butter that it does not make use of. Be aware.

The ragu went into the freezer for a few days since I had to put off the lasagne baking until I had people to share it with.

Next up was the spinach pasta. I experimented with a basic egg pasta, but that did not prepare me for the chaos of spinach pasta making. After I completed the whole make-a-well-and-mix-the-egg-and-spinach deal, I ended up with what looked like chopped spinach ready for the fryer. I couldn't pull the stuff together and it quickly became clear that no measure of kneading would remedy this. So, I created another well in the floury spinach and added another egg.

See the cornflake-like floured spinach around the well there? Thankfully, the extra egg did its thing and I finally got a ball of dough worth kneading. I was only able to incorporate half of the spinach/flour mixture into the one egg, so I did two rounds of that egg/well rescue.

I wrapped the two balls of dough in plastic and let them rest for a little over an hour while I had lunch.

Because of my practice run with the egg pasta, I knew the stretching and thinning was going to be demanding. However, I think that I can now go back to regular egg pasta and stretch and thin that stuff like a pro. Spinach pasta is prettier, but those pieces of spinach produced a couple of holes in the dough. I just left them.

I need to figure out a better way to dry my pasta. This reminds me of Charlie's mom's laundry.

Maybe I should have slipped a golden ticket into the lasagne...

Next time.

Alright, so my first panic was over the spinach pasta, the second panic was over the bechamel. My first bechamel was... floury milk. There was no thickening and it didn't look like there would be thickening anytime soon.

My second bechamel (warmed milk this time and Pussy Cat Dolls playing for inspiration) was an overwhelming success. Everything looked just like the YouTube videos and I was feeling very on top of the world.

So...ragu ready, pasta rolled, bechamel done, guests set to arrive in a couple of hours, I assembled the troops. See them all patiently waiting for water to boil?

I didn't take pictures for the next forty minutes or so because I was frantically moving from noodles that had to boil for three and half minutes each in batches of five and then dried, to the lasagne that I was building on the right side of the stove. Here's a lasagne process pic:

(See the heft of the top noodle there? Not what I was going for.)

And here she is all ready for the oven party.

I chose this picture because you can very easily see that my noodles are not as thin or as flat as I would like them. Some other daring bakers were talking about having 12 layers. 12! That would have been fantastic. However, I think I had maybe 6. Or 7. I'm not sure though. That was my biggest gripe with the lasagne: the thick noodles. Oh well!

She came out of the oven a beaut. My guests were pleased and I was pleased that they were pleased.

I think I weirded them out with my continual photographing, but they must be used to my quirks by this point.

Everyone at the table had seconds except me (couldn't get past those dang noodles), and we all decided to call the lasagne a success.


First Daring Bakers challenge done with only two small periods of panic.

Oh, and the best part about having a dinner party featuring the lasagne, I was able to gift the leftovers to my friends and I am now blissfully lasagne free!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

OMG Disaster.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Seriously. I'm asking.

On the upside, I now know how to lift a whole recipe of cake batter from the floor, and you can benefit from my experience.

Take the offending cake mix box (yes... it happens... get over it!), tear it up, and use the cardboard as makeshift Rachael Ray-esque food movers.

May you never need this advice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fear Conquering 101: Brussel Sprouts

Now, I don't like to delve into my dusty past, but I'm going to do it right now.

Just work with me.

When I was quite young, my mother was inspired by who-knows-what-or-whom to introduce her family to brussel sprouts. I believe that her brilliant sprout preparation involved boiling them. Or steaming, but I don't think she had gotten the steamer at that point. Anyway... whatever she did to them rendered them grass-like and completely unappealing.

Well... at this tender age, I enjoyed very many vegetables. This brussel sprout, however, did not go over well. I had quite a fair amount of trouble swallowing the brussel sprout and there was some crying and mild amount of hysteria. Not my finest hour.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided that this was the first time that she would enforce the 'eat all your vegetables or you can't leave the table' rule that I had heard rumor of from my little friends.

Add in the cackling presence of my brother, sister, and both parents and this brief introduction to the brussel sprout turns into something reminiscent of a harrowing scene from A Christmas Story. And, yes, I am a little bit unimpressed that this story still gets my family rollin'.

You know what folks? The joke's on you because this week I roasted brussel sprouts a la The Post Punk Kitchen and I ate all of them. Happily. They were wicked good. I've conquered my fear of the almighty brussel sprout and now I need to pass on the goodness.

Mom: I love you, but your brussel sprouts suck. I dare you to roast them. Be honest, you didn't like them the first time either.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cupcake Drop

I promised some very special people some very special prizes for suffering through my Zebra Cake video post.

Well, feast your eyes on this.

While I was responding to student papers today, I burned some cupcake baking soundtracks and now Cassie, Kira, Evan, and The Empress all have reason to check their mailboxes this week.

(I showed you Evan's CD because (as always) I like to highlight my own failures. I made each of the CDs look different because life is too short to have mixes look the same-ish. I only made one special edition mirror-image CD because I learned a couple of weeks ago that some people just don't respond well to my mirror-image writing. I love it. But I can understand that not everyone does. So... I decided Evan would luck out since he already reads my mirror-image Canadian Lit notes rather well. When it came time to add all the personalized messages to the CDs, I completely forgot about my mirror-image goal and wrote Evan's message left to right. Of course. See the website though? I even drew the cupcake backwards. Ugh. Oh well.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thrifty Successes

I went thrifting a couple cities (ha! just work with me here) over to find a purple paisley tie that Evan rejected yesterday.

I found it. And this Marshall tartan.

I also found a couple of t-shirts I can wear to the gym. Here is the best of the two:

Who knows. But I love it.

I also feel extremely blessed to have found the ugliest tshirt in the world.

*Drumroll please*

It's so true.

And before you get too excited, there is a spectacular back too.

I know, I know. I am a very lucky girl.

Now please notice how properly self-reflective the shirt really is.

In all fairness, "Simple" and "Stylish" were the first two words that came to mind when I saw this electric orange beauty which is, according to the inner tag, dry clean recommended.


My roommate and I have some ideas about how this extraordinary creature came to be, but I'd like to hear more possibilities. How do you think this shirt happened? What message is it trying to send us? How did it end up in the Brewer Goodwill?

Oh, and before you get all excited, I'm submitting it to English Fail as soon as I publish this post. :)

Update: They posted it. It's now a documented English Fail. See link above.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Roasted Celery

I have an affinity for buying the giant bundles of celery at IGA. They are considerably cheaper than the smaller big brand packages, and I fall for their cute local-ness every time.

That means that I often have a lot of celery in the fridge. I've been trying to think creatively about that celery, but today I really got to business. What I wanted was roasted broccoli, but what I had was celery.

I thought about just having some celery and hummus, but I hate hate hate the celery strings.

See? Unacceptable.

Instead of trying to figure out a dozen recipes that require a little bit of celery each, I decided to mainstage the celery and roast it. Why should broccoli have all the fun? I found a recipe at Astray Recipes, but it is one of those recipes that is posted just below an add for yellow teeth cures, so... I'll just tell you what to do and you can avoid that upsettingly toothy image.

Chop the celery to manageable pieces. If there are pieces that don't look enthused about the roasting, feel free to pitch them. There are plenty of stalks that would love to have a chance like this.

Toss the stalks with a little bit of olive oil and put them in a 375 oven for 30 minutes.

After one minute in the oven, realize you should add some garlic. Sprinkle chopped garlic in a really haphazard way and put it all back in. Like you mean it this time.

Watch the sun set while the celery roasts and lament the lack of sunlight available for remaining blog pics.

Towards the end of the 30 minutes, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme and enough breadcrumbs to look good. When the timer dings, remove celery, sprinkle with mixture and put those celeries back in for another 10 minutes.

When the timer dings again, shriek with delight. Remove dish from oven. Happily stand over it for a minute while clutching your hands together (one oven mitt still on). This step may seem superfluous, but you won't understand how good it is until you try it.


(I awkwardly plated mine on top of some leftover meatballs and whole grain linguini.)

And enjoy.

Feel good about the fact that you are eating celery without concurrently (and accidentally) flossing.