Friday, August 31, 2012

Kitchen Adventures; Basil Salted Caramel

I was dreaming about making a caramel sauce for one of my cakes when it occurred to me that I had never made caramel and maybe I should give it a try. 

It was so so so much easier than I thought it would be, so I figured I could provide you some instructions. If y'all want, now everyone can make their own caramel. Easy peasy. 

Things you may or may not have in your house but will need to make caramel:

* candy thermometer
* larger saucepan than you think
* wooden spoon or fancy high temp spatula
* wax paper
* patience

Caramel components:

2 c. sugar
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. corn syrup
1 c. evaporated milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 c. butter (2 sticks)
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Put everything except the vanilla in your slightly larger than normal saucepan and melt it all together...and stir. 

and stir some more...

When it gets to about 200 degrees F, incorporate some yoga into your stirring. I did Tree Pose. You've been standing there stirring for a while, your right leg and then left leg could use a break. :)

This will help your legs, balance, and peace of mind because this is taking a lot longer than you thought it would.

Watch the thermometer, when it gets to 250, remove the caramel mixture from the heat and add your banilla.  The caramel will be thick and gooey and bubbly, and you will want to stick your fingers in it and eat it straight from the pan... please don't do that. That sh*t is twohundredandfifty degrees!

Your fingers won't like it, I promise.

Once the vanilla is all evenly mixed in, pour it into a big greased pan and let it hang out for a while to set.

It needs to cool before you can salt it, so you might want to keep yourself entertained with something other than caramel watching for about an hour.

I went for a jog. I was already in my yoga clothes anyway. ;)

When you come back, heavily sprinkle the salt of your choice and then put it in the fridge for a while. During this time you can eat dinner or make ice cream or both, which I did.

Once its cooled - and by cooled, I mean cold - cut it up into squares, use an offset spatula to peal them out, and wrap them up individually in wax paper to share...or keep for yourself in one-bite portions. :)

Now please take some of these off my hands. I can't eat them all.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kitchen Adventures; Fig Nectarine & Marscapone Tart

Like I said, I am obsessed with mini desserts right now. It works well. Hubs and I are only two people after all. I don't need to make an entire giant dessert so that we can spend a week eating it, or worse, eat it all in one night and spend the next 5 days over-exercising to feel better about it.

A little while back, I was inspired by Joy the Baker's Fig Apricot & Marscapone Tart. She makes this GIANT tart in a 9-inch pan... ok, now that I'm thinking about it, that's not THAT big, but she scared me by calling for 8-12 figs in her recipe. So, true to form, I cut her recipe into quarters and picked up 4 figs from my mom's tree on my way home from work. I didn't have any apricots, but I did have nectarines. Those would work, right? ...YES!

My MIL got me these cute little tartlet pans as a shower present last year. They're amazing. I don't have a lot of reasons to use tiny tart pans, but I am finding them and it is magical. The weekend she gave them to me, I made us each our own tiny cheesecake. Awesome.

Ohyeah, so Joy the Baker's recipe uses corn meal in the tart crust. I am so jealous that I hadn't thought of this before. I love cornbread, so why wouldn't I also love incorporating its main ingredient into pie crust? Duh.

Kind of sad thing - my fridge froze the marscapone post just-for-fun tiramisu, which I never blogged about but probably should have. Maybe I will make some more so I can eat it blog about it.

Thawing it out was no big, but once cheese freezes, it does this weird curdling thing. It's not ruined, but its not as pretty and it doesn't have the lovely smooth texture that you want. You can kind of see above how its kind of grainy.

NO MATTER. I sharpened a tiny knife and sliced up ONE fig for these two tartlets. I thought I might need two, but I needed ONE; one fig. Good thing I didn't get more.

Figs are weird looking. I grew up in a family of fig lovers. Folks who carried them around and chomped into them like squishy apples. I thought their tentacle-like insides were going to eat my face. I steered clear. Grown up Alyssa still thinks they look like alien sea monsters, but they're delicious, so I eat them anyway... on occasion... usually reduced with sugar and rolled up into a pinwheel cookie.

Something about the cornmeal and the marscapone and the fruit combination makes this tart completely amazing. It's savory, which is baffling - despite adding a ton of honey to the cheese mixture and all that sweet fruit on top. I would truly love to eat one of these tartlets for breakfast. Too bad there aren't any left.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kitchen Adventures; Lemon Blueberry Muffins

I might be a little obsessed with single serving desserts these days. See mini chocolate PB cake, lime raspberry muffins, and something yummy I'll be posting about soon.

This weekend I made muffins... again. And I used With Style & Grace's recipe... again. BUT I actually followed her recipe and made Lemon Blueberry muffins. They were supposed to be Lemon Ricotta Blueberry muffins, but I (somehow) forgot the ricotta.

And then I decided to throw some coconut on top, which makes them look lovely, but really added nothing in terms of flavor. *sad*

This post is short and sweet. I made muffins. Enjoy some pretty pictures of them.

 These are all gone now too. ;)

Nom nom nom. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Welcome Home Cake

I've been on a serious baking kick lately. Cakes, breads, tarts, muffins, you name it, I want to taste it.

Last Friday when Tim was flying home from his business trip, I brilliantly decided to bake him a cake... because I missed him and I'm wonderful.

After a short brainstorm, I decided on chocolate peanut butter. I hadn't made this flavor combo in a while, so it was about time.

When I was 8 or 9, my BFF and I were on a camping trip at Malibu Creek State Park when I was first introduced to the deadly combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I had had prepackaged peanut butter cups before, but never combined chocolate and peanut butter myself. We had snuck junk food into our packs and hid away in our tent to share contraband. I had brought tiny chocolate nutcrackers or someother leftover from who knows what, and she had stashed away a tiny jar of peanut butter. After that day I was forever changed - no more prepackaged pb cups for me! I had had the magic of real chocolate and real peanut butter together and there was no going back! Ok, that's not entirely true, but for dramatic effect, let's just say it is.

I used my FAVORITE chocolate cake recipe and divided it by 4.

In my (relatively) recent baking adventures I learned that coffee makes chocolate chocolatier.  Why is chocolatier not a word? Really, who hasn't used it in a sentence before in their life? WHO?

A lot of recipes I've found call for instant espresso, but recent invention has made this easier for us! Thank you Starbucks and all those who followed in their footsteps for VIA packets. For my tiny cake, I used one packet. When making a whole recipe, I'll usually use two or three - depending on how coffeey I want it. :)

For pretty and even stacking, you need to cut the tops off of each cake.

That means I get to snack when I bake, and chocolate cake is always a welcome snack.

When I made the peanut butter buttercream, it was too warm out. The frosting was ooey gooey so I had to throw it in the freezer for a bit before putting it on the cake. Kind of annoying since I'm impatient.

But once it was cool enough, I frosted the cake, put it back in the fridge for a bit and then busted out a tub of chocolate frosting I had. It was gross. My sister won it in the gift game at last year's family Christmas gathering and it was still "good"- to give you an idea of all the chemical crap they put in there - but for my decorating purposes, it worked perfectly.

Then I wanted to do something on the sides...

Oh hey, so, there's an actually recipe for the peanut butter buttercream, but to me it reads like this:
Some softened butter
A little more peanut butter than butter
Slowly mix in powdered sugar until you like the consistency.

So that's what you get too. ;)

For the cake, I'll help you out a little more,(because Kim asked for the recipe and I thought 'why not just post it?') but please bare in mind that when I divide a recipe by 4,  if it says 1 1/4 cup of something I quite literally and use a 1/4 cup as my "cup" and then estimate what one quarter of it is for the 1/4 cup. It's a very "exact" science.

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 stick of butter
1/3 c. sugar
3/4 of a 1/4 cup of cocoa powder (make sense? - you can also do an 1/8 c. plus half an 1/8th c. I'm here to confuse you.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1/3 c. milk
1 packet of Starbucks VIA or similar instant coffee/espresso

Preheat oven to 350

Grease two 4" round cake pans, line the bottom with parchment, grease again. Set aside. Don't have 4" round cake pans? Use the smallest pan you got. :)

In bowl (1) combine four, baking powder, and cocoa powder. Mix until blended evenly.

Combine softened butter and sugar in bowl (2). You really want to make sure the butter is soft (but not melted) so they blend together to become a sort of sugar/butter cream. Feel free to use any kind of electric mixer, but since this recipe is so small, a stand-mixer is major overkill. You'll only end up mixing 1/3rd of the batter, have to mix it by hand anyway, and then you'll have lugged that huge thing out for no reason. ;)

Add the egg, gently beat in.

Add 1/3 flour/cocoa mixture, mix in evenly
Add 1/2 of your milk, mix in evenly
Add a second 1/3rd of the flour/cocoa mixture (aka half of what is remaining), mix in evenly
Add the rest of the milk and the vanilla, mix in evenly
Mix in the rest of the flour/cocoa mixture
AND FINALLY, add the instant coffee packet, mix in evenly.

Pour half the batter into each of your 4" pans and put them in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean. These will bake faster than normal cake because they are smaller. Hooda thunk?
You can also use one small cake pan. Careful not to fill it too high or the batter will rise and spill out all over your oven - speaking from personal experience.

Allow them to cool. They should pop out of the pans pretty easily - that's why you did the grease & parchment routine. Trim the tops so they're flat and lovely. Put some peanut butter buttercream on top of one and stack the other on that. Then cover the whole thing with that stuff. :)

Write a note to your hubby in strange leftover icing and then put it in the fridge for a little while. Or don't. Scarf it down right there. It's small... right? It's not like you're eating a whole cake by yourself.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kitchen Adventures; Coconut Mango Fro-Yo

Monday I was playing around on twitter when this happened...

I think my brain exploded temporarily. All I could think about for the rest of the day was Coconut Mango Frozen Yogurt and making it as soon as I got home.

Of course the evening got away from me with exercise, movie watching, and amazing macaroni & cheese. I even went to the store after my workout and picked up all the ingredients I knew I didn't have; mango, coconut milk, coconut water.

Fro-yo was not meant to happen on Monday, but I had plans with a friend on Tuesday, so I thought we could try to make it together. :) Yay! turns out, I know nothing about ice cream makers or the fact that mine doesn't magically freeze itself - you have to store it in the freezer for a MINIMUM of 15 hours before you try and use it. So, I got home on Tuesday, read the instructions, and was sad.

To make up for not being able to make fro-yo for myself, I made fro-yo for my pup. Here's what you need: Blender, yogurt, peanut butter, banana, tiny plastic cups, and plastic wrap to cover the cups when you freeze them. Go!

Freezer was rearranged to make room for the ice cream maker and fro-yo plans were moved to Wednesday when I was having another girlfriend over (have to keep company around when hubby's gone) and I invited girlfriend #1 back over since she and I shared excitement over Tuesday night fro-yo that never happened.

I left the Kitchenaid mixer out. It's heavy and I didn't want to move it two extra times. ;)

I didn't follow the instructions from Food&Wine exactly. I'm bad about that, but I did take this lovely picture of some of the ingredients the way fancy food bloggers too.

I feel so fancy.

Mangos were chopped and pureed...

...and I might have eaten a few of pieces, but I only bought one mango. Note to self: buy more mangos

Sugar was mixed with coconut water and made into syrup while puree was mixed with NF greek yogurt, lemon juice, and coconut milk...

Coconut sugar syrup was cooled and mixed, then poured into the ice cream maker. The recipe doesn't call for an ice cream maker. I just wanted to use it because I thought it would be faster. And it was...

...but I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of my ice cream maker. This was the first time I used it. You have to freeze it for at least 15 hours and then you only have a half hour to make your ice cream. So, this was about 20 minutes into froyo making...

And then is it started to melt. I thought it would stay frozen longer, but I was wrong. I ended up having to transfer it to a bowl and put it in the freezer while we watched Bridget Jones's Diary. Then in the last 10 minutes we grabbed the froyo from the freezer. It was still pretty liquidy, but we sprinkled on some strawberries and toasted coconut. It tasted like magic.

I refroze the rest of the yogurt overnight and came back to make a prettier dessert on Thursday.

Ahhhhh, much better.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Too Much Free Time; I Miss My Husband

*written on Wednesday, 8/15

Every marriage is different. Every couple has a different dynamic that works for them. Some couples are around each other all the time, others have more time apart, and others barely see each other during their waking hours.
My husband is my best friend. Duh. He makes me laugh the most and he makes me feel beautiful and intelligent. We try to spend as much time as possible together without spending every waking moment together.
We both have full time 9-5(ish) gigs, and we both like to workout about an hour 6 days a week - sometimes 5, sometimes 7, we see how we feel ;)

So that leaves the weekend and a few hours each evening. Then there's the usual evenings-worth of stuff to to do - make dinner, clean up dinner, run the laundry, fold the laundry, take out the trash, etc. When you think about it, that doesn't leave much time to just hang out. I shudder to think what will happen if/when we have kids.

Lately, he's been traveling a lot for work. Two days here, four there, a day trip here. He works in education technology, so with school starting, he's been super busy. This time he's been gone since before the sun came up on Sunday.

Right now this is my favorite picture from our wedding. I look at it and I see us.

I've always considered myself to be a pretty independent person - I think it's a middle child thing - but here I am, four days into hub's 2nd work trip in a two week span and I just flat out miss him. Yeah, I miss his hugs and smile and all the things he says that make me snort at the ridiculousness, but I also miss the TV always being on. I miss the sound of sports news guys in the other room while I wash the dishes. I miss the yelling and cursing at the television, and I miss the way the floor thuds when he walks up to the kitchen to get a pop.

I also can't believe I just said 'pop', but I'm leaving it there.

Having him gone for so long makes me feel like I take him for granted when he's home.

So, today is Wednesday. Wednesday wednesday wednesday. Nothing like Sunday sunday sunday.
Friday friday friday will be one month until our very first anniversary of husband-wife-dom.

We're going on a mini-break. Isn't that what Bridget Jones called a weekend away in her Diary?

When we're on our mini-break, we will take more pictures like this...

And then we will eat one year old cake and I will tell him that now I think I could make a better rum cake... and it will have more pecans and more joyful custard, and he will agree.

We will kiss and it will be better than now because he will not be away.

*Wedding photos by Eight20 Photography 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kitchen Adventures; Five Cheese Mac

Husband has had to travel a lot for work lately. He usually cooks. He is responsible for making the most delicious things in our house. I was recently told by a friend that we should host dinner parties so that others can come over and share in our his glorious food inventions.

I am a dessert person. I bake... but he has even managed to tinker into my realm with the most amazing cinnamon rolls.

With him gone, I am responsible for feeding myself. This is good and bad. A typical weeknight slightly lazy Alyssa means I have chicken and veggie stirfry again - no rice because who needs those extra carbs in LA, or I would rather have dessert.  A lot lazy Alyssa means I scrounge around for something I can microwave - frozen burritos or eggrolls, or those awesome teriyaki chicken bowls they have at Costco - not the most amazing thing ever, but more food groups are represented than in a frozen burrito.

So, when I'm only a little lazy, I eat really healthy, but when I'm a lot lazy or not lazy at all, I tend to make less awesome for my body food choices.

This week with hubs out of town, I A)had a lot of free time and B)needed to cook for myself.

So Monday night I made Five Cheese Macaroni...

First let me just say roux's scare me. I've made them before, but I am always always apprehensive. How much butter do I need? When do I add the flour? How do you know if there is too much flour? How come my roux doesn't look like Alton Brown's?

After staring at the instructions for roux making for far too long, I just dove in. It worked out. I just made a simple nothing special roux, added milk and spices and then threw in a ton of cheese. I didn't really think about the flavor combos before I shredded my cheese. I just went for it.

Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar
White Cheddar
Honey Goat Gouda
and a sprinkling of Iberico.

Oh, and I totally forgot to buy milk when I was at the store right before I made this, so I used up what I had and then added about a half a cup of Vanilla Almond Milk. I had no idea if it would work. Almond milk sometimes has a sorta slimey consistency. That's the best way I can think to describe it. Plus it was vanilla flavored, so this was a total shot in the dark.

And I used shell pasta... because who wants elbow mac when you can have shells. Seriously, now.

I also took an amazing video of the cheese bubbling and popping when I took it out of the over. Not gonna post it because that takes to much time/energy, but it was so yummy looking. 

I made a whole batch of mac. Was this a good idea? Probably not. I ate about 1/6th of the pan for dinner that night and continued to have mac n cheese throughout the week - lunch the next day, dinner the day after that. I almost ate some for breakfast but thought better of it.

I did not ruin it by adding the almond milk. I can't even tell the difference.

To balance out my meal a bit, I sauteed some broccoli and baby zucchini.

I washed it down with some Hoegaarden and sat down to watch Gross Point Blank, which I realized I had never seen all the way through before. It's a great movie, FYI. So much awesome.

John Cusack was wonderful in the 90's.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Baking Adventures; Lime Ricotta Raspberry Muffins

I have a mini just-for-fun cake business. Sometimes - like many folks do - I just like to bake things - try new flavors and come up with something delicious that I have zero intention of selling to anyone.

This was inspired by With Style & Grace's recipe for Gluten-free Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Muffins. I saw this recipe and wanted to eat them. I told my husband, "I WANT TO MAKE THESE MUFFINS...only, ya know, with regular flour" ;)  And he said to me, "why don't you use raspberries instead since they're your favorite? and lime, because that would go great with raspberries."


He knows this already, but the man is a genius. He's more of a lime person than I am, but I can definitely appreciate the subtle flavor difference between the lemon and lime when you turn these two citrus fruits into baked goods.

I didn't have quite enough ricotta or lime zest, but I'm not so much into measuring. I just threw it all into some bowls and got to mixing.

I always think of taking pictures of the process, but then I never go get my camera. My hands are sticky or I am too involved in what I'm doing, whatever.

Instead, I took pictures to quell my impatience while they baked...

You can see that I forgot to top with sugar before I baked them. Oh well. They didn't really need it. It just would have added a nice little crunch.

I tried to add some sugar after. I crossed my fingers that because the muffins were still super hot, it might melt the sugar a little. No such luck.

There was more impatient waiting to follow.

Don't my countertops look pretty underneath the muffins. This makes me so happy. *sigh*

Once they cooled, which felt like an eternity because I wanted to try one before they were even out of the oven, I dug in.

The raspberries I put in were GIANT, so I had a hard time getting 3 berries in there, but I am so very glad I did because the berries make this - the tangyness of the raspberries plus the subtle citrus of the lime muffins work so well together. I could eat these things all day. They are so yummy.

After I ate a bunch of these, I was inspired to create a slightly healthier option. So, I will definitely have to get to work on blending in some cardboard components to create something healthy and delicious - flax or whole wheat or sum'n.
Plus side: these muffins are made with olive oil instead of butter, but there is cheese in there, so its a bit of a give and take.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Yoga Teacher Training - Want some makeups?

Wow, I can't believe it's August already. I think it's time to do a little update on becoming a yogi.

First of all, this is happening, like, for realsies.

A couple weeks ago, I sat down with my husband and really talked about it - where the programs were, how much they cost, when they start, how long they run, would I be happier/more fulfilled in life, how our lives would change when/if I went through with it - and we decided F*CK IT. We have the money. It's not going to be easy to say goodbye to, but I know it will be worth it, and I know I'm sick of waiting around for people to order enough cake and makeup to pay for it.

I already know I'm good at talking in front of a group of people. I did it competitively for four years. I should be able to talk pretty while walking around folks and guiding them through asanas. ;)

I've been contacting yoga studios to find the right fit. I love yogis. They're such wonderful, warm, genuine people. They make me want to take my training at all of them. Every single person I've talked to has been so helpful and so excited that I contacted them.
Unfortunately, a lot of it is coming down to when and where the programs are - Fall in the valley versus Winter in Santa Monica? Fall in the Valley wins.

I posted a few months ago about yoga and putting cake and mark. sales towards teacher training.
Here's the thing about that. I feel like an a-hole constantly self-promoting about that. I did it for a while. I felt like an annoying a-hole, so I stopped. I still, technically, sell mark., but it's turned too much into just buying stuff for myself, when I should be saving that money and putting towards getting into a career that will make me happy. The point here is that I've decided to sell off my overstock - trying to recoup some of my losses and not take such a financial hit when I go ahead and do YTT anyway.
I made up a whole list of everything and I'll be selling it for super cheap. I don't really want to put the whole thing up on my blog, so let me know if you're interested in some cheap mark. products and I'd love to email it to you.

To sum up, I love yoga. I am so excited that this is actually happening and the best choice is to proceed. Please help a girl out. No pressure. ;)

On a totally random sidenote: how come all bloggers are also professional photographers? All my photos look like garbage compared to some of the other stuff out there.