Wednesday, June 29, 2011

.from the air with love.

like a lot of things in my life these days, i approach them with a sense of urgency and with a clock acutely flashing in my brain. my niece was flying up to visit from florida and i had my arrival to the airport down to the minute. mainly, i didn't want her to walk out to a welcoming crowd of zero and secondly, i had an appointment following her retrieval and everything was timed just right.

as i briskly walked to the arrivals monitor to verify that her flight was right on schedule, maybe early even, i was shocked for some reason to see that it would be an hour late. an hour! not only would i miss my appointment, but i hadn't even brought a book with me. playing words with friends on my phone would take up about five minutes and then my time would be spent without accomplishment.

so, i got an iced green tea and found a corner to camp out in. you would have thought i'd just been told i'd be sitting there all day. it was only a little ol' hour, but at the time, i felt lost. once i settled in, sipping my tea, i started looking around me and reminiscing.

when i was a teenager, my friend and i would sometimes drive to the airport for something to do. at that time, 2001 was a year in the future and we were still able to walk aimlessly around any part of the airport. i suppose it fascinated us to people-watch beyond our local mall with so many different types of people with destinations and homecomings like we hadn't experienced in our lives.

my favorite part of the airport on those evenings and even as a passenger myself was that moment of embrace when a loved one was waiting to greet at the airline gate. through my late teenage years, i did a fair amount of traveling and i can distinctly still feel the warmth even today. i'd stand in the crowded aisle of the airplane with anticipation pulsing through me, knowing someone was waiting for me just outside the door that separates air with land. walking briskly down the corridor adjoining the plane with the airport would seemingly take forever. then, i'd spot the person there just for me and we'd lock eyes in a widest of grins.

most often, i remember my aunt in seattle waiting happily for me and we'd hug long enough to make up for the time since we'd last seen each other. all around us, similar mini-reunions were taking place and so much warmth would be in that gate's lobby that you could feel it on your skin. now, airports are a little more functional and a lot less affectionate. i miss those days.

as i waited for my own niece to arrive in baggage claim, hugs were hollow and most people seemed rushed, much like myself. then, i witnessed one of those embraces that whispered tales of either love or heartache and either way, it was beautiful. without warning, my eyes swelled with emotion. i really miss when arrivals were something more to be celebrated. maybe i need to make a better effort myself to bring back that warm fuzzy feeling for my own friends' and family's arrivals.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

.peachy keen.

with summer thick in the air, there are so many opportunities for gatherings, picnics, and barbecues. if you're looking to share a light, simple sweet treat that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, you may want to try these peach shortbread bars.

when i bite into a peach, it is like taking a hunk of sunshine with a juicy splash that comes across refreshing every time. peaches have a unique ability to be both cooling in the hot summers and warming in the cool autumns. what a practical fruit! i found the recipe i wanted to test and tweak at and here it is:

1 cup (7 ounces or 200 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (12 5/8 ounces or 359 grams) cups all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 cups and remove 2 tablespoons flour)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 227 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

Brown your butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

this particular recipe had the butter do something a little more special than its usual role of either room temperature or cold yellowness. this time, the butter was changed into something a little more demure, brown. with browning the butter, it brought out a nutty, flavorful taste to this staple ingredient in baking.

unlike more powerful players such as chocolate or peanut butter or strawberry, this delicate shortbread base boasted an understated flavor delight. since i was a little girl, shortbread cookies were often my first choice over others and it looks my palette still has a special spot for it.

the recipe asked for an 'in between' fraction of a cut for the thickness (or thinness if you will) of the peach slices and i must admit something. oh, i love fractions. now, did i precisely measure each time i made a cut? um, give me a little credit here. however, i did daydream about fractions while i absentmindedly cut the peaches into as thin slices as i could manage.

with my bottom layer pressed into place and the peaches all neatly lined up for the second layer, it was time to add the shortbread crumble topping. rather than sticking to a top version that is exactly the same as the bottom of the bar, i decided to jazz it up a little. so, i added about 1/3 cup of brown sugar and a dash more of cinnamon to make up the perfect crumble topping. with all three layers ready to bake, the waiting began.

once the bars had come out and cooled, i cut them into quadrilaterals (not a rhombus which was quite a debate at the dinner table). house of nerds? yes.

each bite was layered with comfort and a smidgeon of sweet summer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

.chasing away.

on playgrounds and in backyards, we ran. the games ranged from red rover to a simple version of dodgeball, but there's always been one classic. the game of chase. the rules are simple. someone is 'it' and 'it' runs.

whether there are two players or a multitude, 'it' zones in on one target person and pursues them with speed and vitality until they touch this one being chased. 'tag, you're it!' has probably been said more often than any other line in playground history.

as an adult, i can see how parents probably adored watching from patios and in after-school car pick-up lines because this game would ensure a tired child by bedtime. and in my mind's eye, i remember the sheer glee i felt when i would pass my 'it'dom to the next victim as they wildly chased the other children for their freedom.

personally, this was never my favorite game because i was never the running type, still am not. in fact, i managed to be 'it' more often than not because i was also easy to catch. 'what's that? you want me to play jump rope? ok, i'll be right there!' so, i often avoided the game of catch for more lung-friendly activities.

somehow, this game ran right out of childhood along with each passing year. as a gal who weaved in and out of the adult playing field, known as the dating scene, i know what i'm talking about here. throughout the years, i've both heard of and seen so many people get caught in the 'it' position. here's how the rules have changed.

there's usually (hopefully) only two people playing. one person is 'it' and the other is being chased. we've all heard or even said ourselves (guilty) that we want to be chased when we are first interested in someone. however, how long do we allow the game to go on before we are simply caught?

i have an opinion. if you chase someone to the point of emotionally running out of air, then your heart has no breath left. any person that makes another fight so hard for their interest really isn't worth fighting for.

if you ever find yourself in this particular game of tag, keep in mind what i am about to tell you. if you are chasing after someone, that can only mean they are running from you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

.charming chocolate cake.

to tell you the story of how she and i met may just make you jealous of how the fates line up sometimes just so right. instead, i'll fast forward three years to how it came about for me to make this sinful chocolate cake for her thirtieth birthday party. hm, maybe this little decadent number is more worthy of said jealousy than the fates are.

since my baking craze began, i've asked my nearest and dearest their favorite flavors for their birthday yummies from yours truly's kitchen. i think before i even had a chance to ask this friend, she let me know chocolate on chocolate with chocolate was where her sweet tooth called home. no problem, i thought. i'll find a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting recipe and i'll be all set.

somehow, it just wasn't that simple. there are so very many variations of chocolate cake recipes and an overabundance of possibilities. however, when i ran across this recipe for a layered chocolate cake with a surprise raspberry filling on, i knew it was the perfect match.

3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
One (10-ounce) bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1. Prepare cake: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. and grease two 10-inch cake pans, or three 8-inch cake pans. Spray pans with nonstick spray and then line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper- then spray paper too.
2. In a medium bowl combine chocolate with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
3. In a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add dry mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
4. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven 50 to 65 minutes, or until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
5. Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
6. Prepare frosting: In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Add butter pieces and whisk until smooth.
7. Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (It may be necessary to chill frosting to reach spreadable consistency).
8. Prepare filling: Puree raspberries in a food processor or blender. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with the sugar and cornstarch until mixture boils, stirring constantly. As it boils, it should quickly thicken. Let cool.
9. Assemble cake: Spread a thin layer of ganache on 1st cake layer- followed by a layer of the raspberry filling. Top with 2nd cake layer and repeat (if using a 3rd layer). If only using two cake layers, cover the top and sides with the remaining chocolate ganache frosting. Cake keeps, covered and chilled up to 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

i decided to make this cake the day before my friend's birthday party so that i'd have time to correct any disasters in case it did not turn out well. and woowee am i glad i did. there weren't exactly diasters along the way, but this was probably one of the most intricate recipes i'd attempted so far. making the cake itself was not all that intense, but had some quirky twists like melting the chocolate using a mug of hot coffee. hm, does that mean we should just go ahead and eat this cake for breakfast next time?

the first and only other time i attempted to make a three-tiered cake was my very first baking adventure. if you've been a follower of my little baking journey here, you may remember that i lost one of my three layers and ended up with a two story strawberry cake. this time, my mind was set on getting all three layers loose after the baking process and a little baking spray and parchment liners really did the trick.

after the actual cake parts were all baked and set to cool, i got to work on the ganache frosting. say it with me, ganache...isn't that fun? then again, i took a lot of french when i was younger. even, if you say it quick enough and with my new found tennessee twang, it can sound like g'awwsh.

because when i quickly glanced at the ingredients list and read cornstarch incorrectly, i missed picking it up at the grocery store. so, there my cake sat in pieces while i had to put things to a halt and run back to the store. actually, i did literally run in and out. wonder if that exercise cancels the chocolate cake that was coming my way the next day. let's just pretend that four minute dash did, please.

once i got back home and got the raspberry filling on the stovetop, i once again realized i missed something on the recipe. i'd need a really fine strainer to get all the seeds out of the raspberries so that the cake was enjoyable to eat and wouldn't need to be served with a side of dental floss. now, it was late by this point, i had work in the morning and i wasn't running (or walking) to any other stores so i started searching around the kitchen until i came across my strainer.

although it had a super small circular area of mesh to work with, it would have to do. about thirty agonizing, spatula-pushing minutes later, i had enough seed-free filling to make this happen. now listen, if this were some other occasion, i most definitely would not have been this set on making a perfect cake. however, the birthday girl gave me an instant friendship those years ago that i'll always treasure in a brand new town. she deserved a spectacular cake.

with all the components finally cooled and ready to assemble, i built the chocolate beauty. i lathered on the creamy inner and outer layers with the ease of a painter at the easel. it just felt so right and the finished product looked luscious. to top it off, i had assembled a little celebratory banner from fabric, ribbon and twine.

there was only one problem. i couldn't taste it! usually, when i make cupcakes, bars, cookies or even cake, i taste it before anyone else does. mostly, this is to ease my mind and check that i am presenting my goodies with pride and sometimes a little tweaking. but here i stood looking at a finished cake with absolutely no way to taste-test it without cutting into it. and so, i waited until the party with everyone else.

as my birthday girl's husband tied a napkin around her as a blindfold, i pulled the cake out and held my breath. after cutting everyone their piece, i bit in to a symphony of my table of friends' mms and ooohs. i closed my eyes for just a second and could taste the hard work put into this cake. but what was even sweeter than the the rich chocolate offset by a slight raspberry hint was and will always be my friendship with the newest member of our 30s club.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

.my kinda funny.

last summer, i visited my home state of florida to get some wedding details in order. while i was there, of course i snuck in visits with family and friends and restaurants i'd been missing. fine. and malls, all in the name of the wedding of course.

one night on that trip, my hpff and i began talking about the upcoming bachelorette and bachelor parties for my now-husband and myself. like many brides these days, i just hoped the bachelor party wouldn't be the sequel to the movie, the hangover. then again, there were so many movies out there about men getting themselves into precarious situations that this bride-to-be had more scenes running through her head than she cared to with a bachelor party on the horizon. after talking all this out with my friend, we got on the subject of male-dominated comedies.

girls can be funny too! why were there no movies with an all-star cast of laugh-out-loud ladies who left all the audience doubled over with tears in their eyes? right then and there, we figured we'd have to be the ones to make this happen and so we began plotting. first and foremost, we got our list of actresses lined up before we even began the screenplay. i could tell you who they were, but then i'd be divulging top secret information. (plus, i've already forgotten who some of them were.)

from there, we went over a few personal scenes the two of us had experienced that would obviously be funny to the rest of the world that would definitely make it to our screenplay. so all that was left to do was to sit down to write it, present it to some big film studios and sit back to watch the laughs flow in. it is that easy right? see, we were going to get to that part, um, soon, yes soon!

actually, before we had the chance to launch our all girls attack on funny, someone beat us to the punch. if you've yet to see the movie, bridesmaids, please change whatever plans you have and immediately drive to your local theatre. if you don't like your funny a little on the crass side, scratch that and proceed with your original agenda. but if you do, you're going to love love love this movie. a lot of people assumed a cast full of females meant the audience should be as well. oh come on! just because there are mainly girls in the movie does not mean that it is a chick flick. it is a comedy, for everybody. i've already seen it twice and would so go see it again and i never ever do that. (except for the first sex and the city movie and that's a whole different write-up)

.my favorite scene in the movie, just rings so true for me.

so, until my hpff and i put out our super-funny movie that you're all surely waiting for now, go see this one. it's both funny strange and funny ha ha. can't beat that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

.happy dogfather's day.

sure, it's father's day. there are so many men out there who are either wonderful fathers to us or to our children or who serve in such a capacity to be worthy of the well wishes on this day. while i am hundreds of miles away from my own loving father, it makes it a little difficult to celebrate him today in person. because we are not parents, i can't really wish my own husband a happy father's day, but our fur babies sure can.

and what better way to wish a great guy a great dogfather's day than with a yummy breakfast! because our little guys can't exactly cook or even 'help mommy stir,' i was stuck doing it all by myself. below you'll find a homemade pancake recipe that will make for a happy morning any ol' time.

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a dash of salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3 tablespoons melted butter
optional flavorings such as fruit, chocolate, nuts

this recipe yields 8 pancakes. in a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. using a whisk, mix in the buttermilk, vanilla and egg until well combined and smooth. stir in the melted butter.
heat non-stick skillet or griddle over medium to medium high heat. using a 1/4 measuring cup, pour pancake batter onto hot griddle. if you are adding any extra flavors, place it in the batter after it is on the griddle. when pancake is golden brown, flip with a spatula to cook other side.

when my husband and i first started dating, i was doing my very best to train a little dog who had a mind all his own and a couple extra personalities too. my mochaccino was the light of my life and to most people, a mean little shitzu who they'd rather avoid (probably wisely). however, my new boyfriend saw that in order to win my heart he had to win the little furry guy's. he was great about taking him on walks, working with him on tricks that even the paid professionals couldn't get him to do and earning his trust.

it was somewhere during this time of watching the two of them bonding that i felt myself falling in love. fast-forward a couple of years and an engagement later and we ended up with our really hyper, so sweet second dog, poptart. watching my guy take care of him was like falling in love all over again. although we don't have children of our own right now, we do have our pets to love and to really make us feel like a family.

so, this is why i wanted to celebrate dogfather's day with something as sweet as him. when deciding on what yummies to add to the p'cakes, i came across blueberries in our fridge and milk chocolate chips in our pantry. since variety is known as the spice of life, i decided to use both of these flavors, just not combined.

being that i could only fit a few pancakes on the griddle at a time, i wished to avoid letting the first batches turn cool. so, i turned on our countertop convection oven to 250 degrees for the pancakes to hang out in until all were made and ready to eat. you could easily do this in your regular oven as well. when it was time to serve the dogfather, he had a plate stacked with scrumptious blueberry scattered pancakes and decadent chocolate ones too. best yet, they were all so warm that butter melted easily on top.

i assume that being told they were better than ihops is quite a compliment. who needs the international house when i've got the domestic house of pancakes?

happy father's day all!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

.nerd is the word.

when i refer to my current fellowship position as working at the nerd camp, i truly say that with the fondest of sentiments. the only reason that i don't own a shirt that says 'i heart nerds' is because that would just seem too self absorbed. this year, my team is facilitating the building of underwater remote operated vehicles that entails drilling, cutting pipe, soldering with a crazy hot iron and a medley of other parts to engineer and construct.

while working at a soldering station a couple of days ago, one of my fellow fellows asked me an interesting question. it went something like this, 'when you were a child, would you have ever pictured yourself doing things like this?' the navy guy that was assisting us kind of chuckled and said he was wondering the same thing. i should be offended, right??

ok, in their defense, i had on a dress, dangly earrings, and full make-up. but does all of that negate my ability to work a power tool? absolutely not. for those of you pumping your fists in the air and chanting your feminist mantras in anticipation to my response to his question, please go ahead and stop reading. to be completely honest, i answered completely honestly. 'no, not really, i was always surrounded by barbies and dolls.' they both kind of laughed about how that seemed more fitting of their apparent image of me.


before i had time to really process, i smiled politely and then got quickly distracted by the swarms of middle school children itching to get their little hands on the smoldering hot soldering irons. as i was tossing and turning trying to fall asleep that night though, the conversation popped back up in my head. with more time to toss the conversation around, i started feeling a little perturbed. i know there were no ill intentions in the comment, but gosh darn it, just because i wear make-up doesn't mean i am incapable of wearing a tool belt too.

from now on, before pigeon holing people based on their appearances, i shall try to remember what this doll baby-lovin' girl is capable of. anything.

p.s. sidenote: i do own a shirt that says 'i heart algebra' and i'm seriously considering a pocket protector/fanny pack combo contraption.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

.make a meal of these, it's in the name.

when i was in college, i worked in a couple of different bookstores and never really found myself lingering in the cookbook aisles. if i wanted to get lost between the maze of tall shelves away from a needy customer or even needier store manager, you would have found me somewhere in fiction and literature. then, there were days that the travel section lured me in with its promises of unmade memories. but not once did i ever relate to all those people who bought into the 'joy of baking.' it seemed like a labor of love, but i always loved eating someone else's treats without the labor. (even if that someone was little debbie)

now, i totally understand why the book was titled using the word joy instead of ending up the 'labor of baking.' there is something so gratifying to me about taking all these mismatched kitchen ingredients and turning them into something that gives people's taste buds a little ditty to dance to.

as far as dancing buds went, the time had come for me to give my very own husband's favorite cookie a turn around the floor. so, i set out to make his number one pick- oatmeal cookies. traditionally, oatmeal cookies pride themselves in the raisiny surprises popping up in each bite. however, over the years, people have packed these wholesome cookies with more than just raisins. when i asked my main squeeze how he preferred his, i shouldn't have been surprised when he chose the original basic raisin variety. i found this recipe below from martha stewart.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together oats, flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture; mix until just combined. Mix in raisins.
Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly.
Bake until golden and just set, about 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks using a spatula; let cool completely.
Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

this was my first time working with oats and they were thankfully quite cooperative. they mix easily with both dry and wet components without being so dainty that i couldn't really dig in. the recipe boasted a hearty 5 dozen. before you worry that i had all intentions of really fattening my husband up, please know my plan was to take most of them to my summer job to share with everyone.

after making a whole, whole bunch of batter, it was time to plop in the one and a half cups of raisins. but i don't always play by the rules. instead, i set half of the batter aside in a separate bowl and only put raisins in that. while i love my husband and respect his wishes, i also have a strong will that is sometimes hard to ignore. and this time, that will was pulling me towards walnuts and chocolate chips. let's have a little fun with the oatmeal, right?

i ended up stretching the batter into six dozen cookies and had quite the one-woman-assembly line going of baking, resting on the sheet, transferring to cooling wrack, transferring to plate and starting over again. luckily, i had two cookie sheets working in tandem and that saved me a whole bunch of time.

once all was said and baked, the oatmeal raisin cookies rested on the crispier side of things and the walnut chocolate chips had a more chewy, thick consistency. with my handled carrying case all packed full of cookies, i shared both flavors with everyone working at my institute. i even gave my personal team little nicknamed baggies with one of each flavor tucked inside to ensure they got the best of both worlds. now as far as my husband, he got about a dozen and a half all for himself, without one little ounce of complaint.