Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Elaborate Pick-Me-Up

When I was younger, I intensely disliked tiramisu. I have a few theories behind this tiramisu scorn, the most reasonable being that the one time I tasted the rich Italian dessert, it was saturated in coffee and liquor. This is how it should be, of course, but those are two flavors I didn't develop a taste for until much later in life.

My anti-tiramisu feelings were so strong that I went for years without another taste, much to the chagrin of many friends and family members who were shocked to learn of my tiramisu troubles. Can you imagine? Twenty-seven years of life with only a single bite of tiramisu under my belt.

Until today.

And boy, was I missing out or what?

I'm in my second semester of culinary school, currently taking Advanced Pastry, and part of today's class was finishing our tiramisu tortes. They consisted of a thin bottom layer of chocolate cake, soaked in a Khalua simple syrup, covered with soaked pieces of ladyfingers, with the tiramisu filling spread on top. Whipped cream coated the torte, with chocolate-dipped ladyfingers lining the side, cinnamon and cocoa sprinkled on top and handmade coffee cup runouts to finish it all off.

Beautiful? You bet. Rich? Definitely. Delicious? No question.

I'm still not a huge liquor fan, but coffee I can do. So naturally coffee-flavored liquors (Khalua, Bailey's Irish Cream) aren't bad, especially when it comes to baking. I knew I wanted to buy my tiramisu when I was about halfway through decorating (it was too pretty - oh and yes, we do have to purchase what we bake). But would I like it? I wasn't sure, but I was ready to try.

Prior to today, I don't know that I gave much thought to what was in tiramisu. I just knew I about retched the first time I tried it, so it was added to the do-not-eat list. But once we were making it in class, the above realization hit me - coffee and liquor? No wonder 10-year-old Kristen wasn't a fan.

It is awesome, and I'm so glad I brought home an entire cake so I can freeze the pieces and indulge for a longer period of time. The marscapone filling was fluffy and filling. The soaked ladyfingers added a nice texture, as did the slight crunch of the chocolate-dipped variety. The slight tang of the cinnamon was a perfect complement, and the coffee cup runouts on top? Just too adorable.

And you know what?

I love tiramisu.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Planning My Garden

I love to garden.

I love creating a little plot for my plants to call home, and I love tending to these little plants, watching them grow healthy and strong and knowing it was me who got them there. I love enjoying vegetables and herbs from my own garden - cooking them, eating them and giving them away to friends.

All in all, I just feel so accomplished with a garden. It's a great feeling.

Last year, I picked up "Grow Great Grub" by Gayla Trail, although I knew I had to forgo my garden in 2010 because of my impending move and marriage. The book is chalk full of amazing information, and I couldn't wait to put this knowledge to use at my new house. (On a side note, when it looked like John and I wouldn't be able to buy a home right away and would need to rent, one of the things that bummed me out the most was knowing I wouldn't have a large garden - not that there's anything wrong with small ones!)

In Ocean City, I had a garden two years ago. It was teeny tiny, in a little bed I prepped along the side of our building. As anyone who has visited Ocean City knows, land is at a minimum, so I worked with what I had. It was probably a 2-foot wide space, and about 8 feet long. I grew plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, as well as a myriad of herbs - rosemary, garlic chives, parsley and thyme among them. I loved my little garden, and it impressed passersby, who would remark on its abundance while they walked to and from the beach (or to and from the ice cream shop up the street).

Now, with my own backyard and ample space, I'm planning much more extravagant living quarters for my veggies and herbs. The vegetable garden will be at the back corner of the yard. The herb garden is going to run alongside the back of the house.

If you want to try to grow your own seedlings, January is the time to start prepping. I am in the process of gathering containers for my little baby plants - toilet paper rolls, tins, etc. (I'm trying to stay away from plastics, although I think soda bottles are made with an okay grade.) The toilet paper rolls are great for plants that don't want to be disturbed during transplanting, like beans and sunflowers. You simply peel off all but one layer of cardboard, and pop the whole thing in the ground. Tins work fine with holes poked through for drainage. Soda bottles can be self-watered if you slice off the top and invert it into the bottom.

I'm just learning so much from Gayla!

I have to order my seeds, too. Or just buy them. I've found some awesome ones at a few websites, but I have two reservations. One, although they are cheap at a couple bucks per pack, I want a huge variety, and that still adds up. Two, what will I do with all of those seeds? You only plant one or two, and then who have about a bajillion left. I could try to store them, I imagine, but I don't exactly have a year-round "cool, dark place." So now, in an effort to avoid two much money and shipping costs, I think I may just buy some locally. It is my first go at this, after all, so perhaps it's best not to sink too much money into the whole thing.

Regardless of any concerns and worries I have (Will my plants grow? Will they bear fruit and veggies? Will I horribly fail?!), I can't wait to get started. I have this fantasy of turning into an awesome gardener like Gayla, one who really knows her stuff and turns her property into an amazing haven for plants of all kinds.

For the moment, though, I'll just work on collecting some more toilet paper rolls.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Snowed in again today!

Well, that's not technically true. I could have gone out if I wanted to. But who wants to drive around on dangerous roads if they can just stay home and bake bread?

I'd been meaning to bake some Italian bread all week, but since I had some extra time on my hands today I decided to bake the Italian bread and something else. That something else turned out to be wonderfully delicious cinnamon raisin bread, a credit both to Annie's Eats and to Martha Stewart, where Annie originally snagged the recipe.

Like any yeast bread, this cinnamon raisin bread was a time-consuming affair, although it had little hands-on time. Mostly, I was just waiting around for it to rise...and rise again...and rise a third time. I think because of how cold it was today, and the fact that I stupidly forgot to take my flour out of the freezer, the bread took quite a while to rise the first go 'round. However, once it doubled in size, it was an amazing dough and finished up much more quickly.

Have you ever handled a live, wonderful bread dough? If you haven't, you're going to think I'm strange by saying this. If you have, you'll totally understand... because this dough was just awesome. It was sooo full of life and supple and smooth. Really great to work with - and so easy!

I only had a couple minor problems. One, my filling came out way more fluid than Annie's did on her post. Her directions said to "sprinkle" it over the rolled out dough. I had to slather mine on. This made it a bit of a challenge to roll up, and in the oven the syrup bubbled over the sides. (Don't worry - I put down foil so it didn't devastate the oven.) Next time, I will probably use one tablespoon of water instead of two.

The second problem (if you can even call it that) is, I don't know if it's because I stretched the dough (I tried not to), but it kind of exploded a bit in the oven. So the loaf itself came out a bit wonky-looking , but I don't think it looks so bad.

Especially when it tastes. so. darn. good.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Wonderful Engagement...

...between two wonderful people!

Breakfast and board games on Christmas Eve morning turned into a proposal for my dear friend, Jess! And naturally, with such a great guy as Matt doing the asking, she said yes. When I received the news via a (very) excited text message, my first thought was somewhere within the realm of "Ohmigosh! Engagement! Jess and Matt! Ohmigosh!" (Which, I believe, was kind of what I uttered to my mother-in-law, who I was sitting with.)

My second thought was, "I should bake them something!"

That something turned into engagement cupcakes - a natural choice for me, as I love baking cupcakes and don't care how many people tell me they're too trendy. They are trendy because they are adorable, delicious and endless in possibility! And for the record, I'm a longtime lover of cupcakes, before the trend took over the baking world.

So, back to those engagement cupcakes! I wanted them to have the essence of an engagement ring, all sparkly shiny, but I didn't want to decorate with anything inedible, as is my mantra. I started by melting some white chocolate and piping out "Congratulations Jess & Matt" in script, along with a dozen or so little rings. After it hardened, I used silver luster dust to give the chocolate an iridescent shine. The cupcakes themselves are the Best Birthday Cupcakes from "Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. The icing is my standby simple buttercream. I coated the bottom of the icing in metallic sprinkles before standing up the rings and words. After the icing firmed up a bit, I used more luster dust to add an overall shine.

Jess and Matt loved them, but honestly I don't think the pictures do them justice. You really can't get the whole sparkly shiny thing that was going on. Just trust me that the luster dust on the icing actually shined, very unlike it appears in these photos.

Jess and I met freshman year of college at Arcadia University, living one floor apart in our dorm. We lived together for the next three years, and now we can call ourselves neighbors (sort of), as we only live about 10 minutes away. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding last August, and to make her engagement even more exciting (for me), she asked me to be a bridesmaid, too!

And in case you couldn't tell, I'm pretty excited about it all.

Happy Engagement, Jess and Matt!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Seeing as I don't need a fresh start (really, I took care of that about five months ago), I didn't make any resolutions this year. Typically, my resolutions are of the "eat healthier, exercise more" variety, anyway, and at this point in my life that's more of an ongoing hope than anything else.

However, I do always make some wishes in the new year.

I wish for peace and happiness all around, and health and good fortune among all my loved ones. I wish for a productive, fruitful and wonderful coming year. And I wish for a little luck in life, too, because while I am always hardworking, a little luck can never hurt.

In 2010 I married the most wonderful guy. I moved into my first house. I started culinary school. And of course in between all of these huge things, there were endless wonderful little moments and events that shaped the year, too. It was a great year - not without any hardships, of course, but overall it was a blast.

Here's to hoping that 2011 brings just as many crazy adventures and creates just as many amazing memories!