Thursday, March 19, 2009

In which I attempt to impress my coworkers (10/5)

I'm not really the decorating type. I can appreciate a well-topped cake or cookie, but put a piping bag into my hands and I turn into Clumsy Clara. It may have to do with lack of practice, since I hate cleaning out decorating tips and piping bags/frosting can get pretty messy, but it mostly is because I am fairly lacking in the art gene. This is all an attempt to justify this monstrosity I brought in to work:
Ice Cream Cake

Allow me to explain.

One of my favorite bosses at work, Richard*, got transferred to another store because that's just what the company does, shifts full-timers around every few years. I made a cake to mourn his know, to another store. I don't have photos of the inside but the cake is layers of chocolate cake with cookie dough ice cream and an Italian buttercream frosting. It's cracked because I am impatient, the cake was freaking huge and I clearly do not have a sense of aesthetics. But there you have it.

*name changed to protect identity...wait. Shit.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake
adapted from Baking Bites

Note: I've made this cake several times, with various ice cream flavors. The key is making absolutely sure the ice cream layer is firm enough. The great advantage of my work is the giant walk-in freezer where I can store this guy (or any other guys) before serving time, but make sure you have enough room in your freezer! I'm not sure how I can impress upon you the horror that is a gallon of bright green mint chip soup on your counter top. It's not pretty.

Ice Cream Layer
1 gallon high-quality cookie dough ice cream

Line a 10×15-inch cake pan with plastic wrap. Lightly grease.
Soften ice cream until it is easy to scoop, then spread it into an even layer in the prepared pan.
Freeze for at least 6 hours, or until very firm. VERY FIRM.
Once it is firm, the pan can be removed and the layer can be stored in plastic wrap.

Chocolate Cake (make 2)
2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup hot water

-Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 10×15-inch cake pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Leave some paper overhanging the edges of the pan.
-In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
-In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined.
-Pour hot water (not quite boiling) over batter and stir until smooth. Pour into prepared pan.
-Bake for about 25 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
-Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then use the parchment paper to transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. That means all the way. Not even lukewarm. Do not remove parchment paper.

Repeat recipe to make a second cake.

Real Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Note: don't worry about the raw eggs here. Cooking the sugar and incorporating it into the egg whites at that temperature will effectively cook them to a safe level.

1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter, softened and cut into one inch pieces
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
5 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 vanilla bean

-In the bowl of a stand mixer, place egg whites, with cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar nearby.
-Heat 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high until sugar is dissolved. When sugar reaches 230F on a candy thermometer, turn mixer on medium high.
-When egg whites are frothy, add cream of tartar. Gradually add the 1/4 cup sugar. When egg whites begin to form soft peaks, turn the mixer down to medium low and begin to drizzle in the boiling sugar mixture (which should be at approximately 245-250F, firm ball stage).
-When all of the hot sugar is added, turn the mixer up to medium high and beat until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. Add the butter one lump at a time and continue beating until mixture is smooth and fluffy, approximately 12-20 minutes. It will look rather like ricotta cheese for a while - just keep beating!
-Once it is smooth, scrape vanilla bean and mix in the vanilla specks (or use 1-2 tsp vanilla extract).
-Keep at room temperature - do not refrigerate before it has been spread on a cake or cupcakes. If you need to refrigerate it then reheat it gently over a bain marie or double boiler until softened, but it should be OK in the open for a few days.

Makes enough to frost one 2 layer, 8, 9 or 10 inch cake.

2 cake layers
1 ice cream layer
1 recipe vanilla buttercream frosting

Place one cake layer on a large serving platter or cake board, using parchment paper to help move the cake without breaking it. Peel off parchment once cake is in place.
Top cake with ice cream layer and top ice cream layer with remaining cake layer.
Freeze for at least an hour, until firm and cold.
Meanwhile, make buttercream frosting.
Frost chilled cake with a thin layer of frosting and freeze until ready to serve. I tell you, frosting this cake is a bitch. I haven't figured out a good way to frost the ice cream layer, so the sides are not the prettiest. One day!

Makes 1 cake. Serves about 30.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Golden Vanilla Pound Cake (9/18)

I've loved pound cake ever since my little Vietnamese grandmother kept a foil tin of the Sara Lee stuff in her fridge. It was always kind of odd seeing it there next to the beef stew and fish sauce, just behind the pickled carrots. I'd open the fridge door and hunt for it. When I finally found it I'd peel back the little metal tabs around the edges and pick up the knife left inside, cut myself a thick slice, and eat it cold.

I'd like to think my tastes have evolved since then, but I doubt it.

I made this as an afterthought the same day I made the sugar cookies and forgot to take an after photo! I left the batter covered in the fridge and baked it the next day. It was compact and sweet with a crackly sugar crust from that vanilla glaze.
Pound Cake

This is from King Arthur Flour, where I got the recipe.

Golden Vanilla Pound Cake
from King Arthur Flour

7 ounces(3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature*
7 3/4 ounces (1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

7/8 ounce (2 tablespoons) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon water

*Note: Bring eggs to room temp by leaving them, unshelled, in a bowl of lukewarm water for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" x 2 3/4" loaf pan, or a 12" x 4" x 4" tea loaf pan. To avoid overflow, be SURE to use the correct size pan! This will also work in a 9" bundt pan, which requires a shorter baking time so start checking after 55 minutes.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar, baking powder, vanilla extract, and almond extract until well combined.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; the mixture may look slightly curdled/grainy. After you've added the final egg, beat at high speed for 3 minutes. The batter will still look a little curdled, but will have gained a bit of volume.

Sprinkle in the flour gradually, with the mixer going at low speed. Mix just until combined. The batter will be smooth and thick (not pourable). Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, vanilla, and water. Stir till the mixture is syrupy. At first it'll seem very stiff, but will become "drizzlable" as you stir.

Drizzle the topping over the batter.

Set the cake on a baking sheet, for easiest handling and as a precaution against potential overflow (which shouldn't happen if you use the correct size pan). Bake it for 60 to 70 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The center should register at least 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. If you prefer a lighter crust, tent the cake with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes or so of baking.

Remove the cake from the oven, and after 15 minutes loosen the edges, and turn it out of the pan to cool on a rack.

Serve with strawberries and honey or store in refrigerator and eat by the slice, crouched in the kitchen.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Peach and Ossau-Iraty Grilled Panino (9/5)


This sandwich is freaking delicious. It's sweet and juicy from the peach, gooey and rich with cheese and has a perfect crunch from the wild arugula. I adapted it from a recipe I saw Giada make. She called for taleggio, a soft cow's milk cheese, but I had Ossau-Iraty (a firm sheep's milk cheese) on hand and I would prefer that any day. Substitute whatever dubious looking cheese you might find in the back of the drawer.

Peach and Ossau-Iraty Panino
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis's Taleggio and Pear Panini

Serves 1 (multiply as needed)

2 slices thick sourdough bread
good-quality olive oil
2 ounces Ossau-Iraty cheese or brie, sliced
1/4 of a peach, sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
pinch salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
small handful arugula or spinach

Preheat a panini machine or grill pan. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and place the bottom-half of the bread in the panini machine or pan. Toast until golden. Continue with the remaining top slice(s) of bread.

While the top slices of the bread are in the panini machine, begin forming the sandwiches. Divide the cheese among the warm bread. Cover the cheese with slices of fruit. Drizzle the fruit with honey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with a handful of arugula. Place the warmed top half of the bread over the arugula and return the competed sandwich to the panini machine for 1 to 2 minutes more to finish melting the cheese. Remove from the panini machine. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Boston: Day the Last (8/22)

And so we near the end of this epic East Coast journey! Our flight was scheduled for 6 that evening. With almost a full day ahead of us, we chose food.

We walked down Ashley's neighborhood (which was such a pleasant thing to do) to a little place called Cafenation that had shelves of fresh green tea and those tall spindly tables. I got a Caprese-style salad, which I remember being good but I definitely don't remember being worth the $10 I paid for it. It was served alongside a balsamic reduction that was a little too sweet for me.

Lauren chose some apple raisin affair. I ate the red onions and walnuts for her, because I'm a good friend.

Then we split this thing, because we're awesome. Who could turn down a Nutella strawberry crepe?

I can't remember what else we did today, again because I am awesome. So here is a picture of the mushroom soup I got at Au Bon Pain at Logan International:

And with some sweet farewells, we were off!

This is so ripe for Twilight Zone parody. I only wish I were as cool as William F. Shatner.

Los Angeles! How I missed you!

I really did. The first thing we did when we got in the car was pull into In-N-Out. Swoon! Sorry Boston, you can't beat that. But I'll be back, damnit! You'll never escape me! Evil lahahahaugh

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Friday, March 6, 2009

New York: taxis, toilets, Trader Joe's (8/20-8/21)

Ashley went back to work the day after Kim left and we three ladies were left wondering what to do. Well, I hadn't stayed idle. I bought three bus tickets to New York, and the next morning we boarded a Megabus at 8:30. About four hours later, we reached our destination: Manhattan!

I can't tell you how unsettling it is to think about the sun setting in a direction opposite that of the nearest ocean.
manhattan sunset by lily(by Lily)

We went from Penn Station to Bryant Park to meet my sister's friend (and first love, aww) Carlos, who works nearby and generously offered to house us.
bryant park by lily(by Lily)

But first things first.

That is some mozzarella panino thing from Tom Colicchio's 'Wich Craft. Lily got what she calls the best tuna sandwich she's ever had, and Lauren got something similarly delicious.

Later we went to Carlos's imposing building and took a cab with him to his apartment. This is part of his fancy lobby.
carlos lobby by lily(by Lily)

His apartment was pretty high up.

The view:

View of the viewers:
new york by lauren(by Lauren)

And just around the corner, the East River.
east river by lily(by Lily)

Teeny New York kitchen. (s^ @ u, Smitten Kitchen) The refrigerator was broken.

The bathroom. I'm only showing you this because that bathroom plays a part later.

And because we hadn't done enough sitting that day, we immediately sat down and watched TV. Ah, New York.

See, Carlos works some big important-person job. He popped out to take us to his apartment, give me a key and a quick tour, then left to go back to work. We chatted on the way over, and he told me about how he'd been frazzled that day: he woke up late, then somehow managed to break the curtain rod in the shower and have the toilet overflow at the same time. "Don't worry, though," he promised. "Someone from the building came and fixed the toilet."

Reassured, we sat down and made ourselves comfortable. I pulled out some maps I found there and started studying the subway system. I had a few destinations I wanted to hit, and I didn't want to spend my time on the street unfolding big maps. I familiarized myself as well as I could with our route and we prepared to head out.

"Oh, hold on," Lauren said. "I should pee."

So we grabbed our jackets and sat in the living room. Then we heard a scream.

"THE TOILET!" Lauren shrieked. "It's overflowing!"

Lily and I rushed to the bathroom. It wasn't pretty. Remember in "Look Who's Talking Too" when Mr. Toilet Man, voiced by Mel Brooks, wants Mikey to gimme all your pee-pee and he's spitting all over the place?

It was kind of like that.

Did I also mention Carlos had said, "I need to go grocery shopping. I'm all out of paper towels"? 'Cause he did.

So there we are, panicking, as the water steadily approaches the lip of the doorway. I ran to the kitchen, found a plastic serving spoon and thrust it in Lauren's hand. It was like a triage. "Stop the hemorrhaging!" I yelled. "Stick the spoon under the float!" She waded across, so to speak, and jammed the utensil into the toilet tank as I pointed and shouted instructions. Sirens blared, babies were crying. The water stopped running.

We called Carlos, who called the lobby, who arranged for someone to go repair the toilet again. It turns out that person didn't show up and Carlos ended up mopping everything up when he came home from work that night! What a sweetheart. He didn't even mention it until I asked.

The only thing we could do after that was go shoe shopping.

We took the subway and ended up in Union Square, where Lily bought some shoes. After that we stumbled upon Max Brenner's, a restaurant devoted to chocolate. Need I say more?

Lily's white chocolate shake. The glasses had a cute Alice in Wonderland tag design.

The restaurant was really dark, so we had to rely on taste and feel for most of the meal. That's OK. Under those sprinkles is molten gold. The edible kind. Served with chocolate-covered crunchy things and caramel sauce, also edible.

Dessert waffles! Swoon. With toffeed bananas, vanilla ice cream and a freaking beaker of warm milk chocolate. That crap was so thick we could barely pour it. We clearly needed the extra chocolate, though.

So demolished.

Later we took the subway to Washington Square Park in search of falafel. We found it at Mamoun's: a teeny cash-only affair teeming with hungry locals. The standard is a falafel-filled pita with fresh tomatoes and hummus. It was fabulous. I got the spinach pie.

We finally went back down to lower Manhattan and stumbled into Carlos's apartment near midnight. He came out to ask us how our day had gone, then went into his room to continue working. To continue working! The three of us unfolded the couch and I made them watch "Thirteen Ghosts" (sorry, I meant "Thir13en"). I'm not going to lie, I don't hate that movie. The lawyer gets cut in half, for pete's sake! (Hot dog, not hamburger.) Like in that Tales From the Crypt, only back/front and not left/right. Anyone?

The next day we went in search of some form of food and found it near the apartment, a place called Imperial Pizza. I got some pesto tomato thing.

Look at that grease! That's how you know it's good.

And of course, this wouldn't have been complete without a trip to Trader Joe's. This time I have justification! Two reasons: Lauren's former boss had recently transferred there, so she wanted to go visit him, and Carlos had said he needed groceries, so I wanted to pick some up as a thank-you for letting us stay with him.

When we went there Lauren saw her old boss Jason right away and introduced us. We also met some other full-timers, including a guy who knew some of my coworkers because they all came from a San Francisco store.

The Manhattan store was crazy, needless to say. Some crew members' only tasks were to mark where the lines started for the registers. The store has won Store of the Year for about 3 years now, but the only reason is sales--kind of unfair. They should offer a Nicest Store of the Year Award, at least.

When I asked Tony, the SF full-timer, where the bathroom was he led us inside to the crew members' bathroom. We walked in on three girls gossiping, who stopped dead when they saw three normally-dressed strangers standing there. A quick explanation sufficed, and after we left the bathroom Tony gave us a tour of the back room. Everything is upstairs--meaning milk boxes and all floor pulls need to be brought down a level, every time! What a nightmare. They have to break down pallets right on 14th St., because there isn't enough space anywhere else!

So I waited in that line with supplies I'd noted Carlos needed (including plenty of paper towels) and then we popped in to the wine store to buy him a bottle, which by law in New York has to be separate from the groceries, I guess. The beer was in the main store, and we noticed it was really expensive. Jason explained that it was due to the high alcohol taxes in the state, which really limited the selection NY Trader Joe's offer.

The Manhattan store also delivers! For a fee, of course, and only within a certain radius. We carried our groceries back to Carlos's, left them on the coffee table with a thank you card and his apartment key, and took our things to Penn Station.

Later that night we arrived back in Boston, much to the relief of Lily and Lauren. Throughout the trip they compared New York to Boston pretty unfavorably, but I really enjoyed the city and wanted to spend more time there. The two are so different: New York is just so busy. Boston is more communal. Also there were no toilet incidents in Boston. That may have played a part.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The One Where They Eat All Day (8/19)

We did something completely new and exciting today.


Wait, that's not right.


That shot pretty much illustrates how the day started. Meanwhile, the only thing I have written down in my expense journal for the day is food from four--that's right--different eating establishments, books from a used bookstore, and a $23.60 bill from a vintage pen store where I bought an Italian seal of a "C", some green wax and the best erasable pen I've ever used (all currently gathering dust on my bookshelf). Oh, and the expense journal is how I keep track of what we do. Other people write in diaries or sketch things. Mine says what type of payment I used and my balance for the day. I am so interesting.

But back to this:

That was the human equivalent of half-full red party cups and sticky floors that we found the next morning. The night before, which consisted of wings and video games, evidently became such a rager Ashley's bed got some serious action. The man you see with his back turned so modestly toward the ladies is Ashley's friend Chris, who will be visiting LA for the first time when Ashley brings him here next week! To quote Kitty,


I actually don't think there was a rager. (I say think because most nights I was in Ashley's room reading Dracula.) We just don't have enough places to sleep. Most of the trip was the girls rotating between Ashley's bed (wooooooo) and the futon in the living room.

Here's a glimpse at the mild disaster area that is four girls' clothing for a weeklong trip. On my bags are "Atonement," one of the DVDs I got from Brighton Video earlier, and a postcard of the JFK inauguration from the visit to Brookline. Hanging out of Lauren's case is a hand-carved pipe she bought for our other friend Chris from the Redcoat Encampment. Also bras.

Here's where my memory gets fuzzy. I think today Ashley had work, so she left early that morning and we met up with her later when she got off work. The T is so navigable that we were not at all worried about being on our own. Lily and I decided to let our three sleeping beauties stay in their compromising position (God, I'm so glad I took that photo. It's so awkward!) and headed downtown by ourselves.

At one point I wandered into this shady looking building that was food-court-in-Big Trouble in Little China-esque and found a long line of businessmen leading to a very unglamorous storefront under a "Falafel King" sign. Following my stomach, I got in line and was promptly handed a warm, crisp falafel dipped in a bit of hummus. Sold.

When Lauren and Kim finally woke up, they headed with Chris and Nick to join us and Ashley. Kim had her things with her because this was her last day! She could only get away for a week.

One last meal together. Everyone got Lambert's again. I stuck with fruit and a Gatorade (don't hate). You may notice Lily is French-braiding Kim's hair. She started a total French braid fad while we were there! She must have done everyone's hair a dozen times.
kim's last day by lauren(by Lauren)

Case in point: our day at Harvard, when Lauren successfully French braided (Lily's) hair for the first time. Clearly we were utilizing our vacation time to the fullest.
french braid

We parted from the boys and the five of us boarded the train for the airport forlornly.

We stayed with her at the airport a bit, reflecting on her trip. It was a really interesting experience, because before that point Kim and I hadn't really spent too much time with each other. We've been friends since about 3rd and 4th grade, but being cross-country was a really random and fun way to get to know her. And then she was off!

We consoled ourselves with ice cream. And because we were so very sad, it couldn't be just any ice cream. Ashley took us to a place in her neighborhood called 3 Scoops. Funny story, I sometimes (ahem) talk without thinking, so when I walked into the store the aloof teenager behind the counter looked up briefly from his book and mumbled a greeting. Well, as I had been wont to do, I blabbered, "HAY HAY HAY" in my best Peter Griffin impersonation. The stark contrast between his unenthusiastic reaction to our arrival and my very enthusiastic reaction to the ice cream might not have been that big a deal were it not for my friends, who all tumbled in when it happened and looked on in silence for anything from the guy.

Nothing. The only response I got was from Lily, who took my arm and whispered, concerned, "did you just say 'hey hey hey' to that kid?" Nobody understands me!

Lily got mint chocolate chip. You know it's legit when it's not green.

I got cookies and cream. It was...I can't...describe it. Note how the cup seems bathed in an ethereal glow. That was a good way to imagine its taste.

I ask you, where in LA can I get ice cream like this? Please tell me!! It was dense and creamy, studded generously with soft, chocolatey pieces of Oreo and flecked with cookie dust. I totally would have gotten three scoops if I could have handled it. I wish I had.

Anyway. The day ended with... I don't know if I can bring myself to type it.

We got Wings again. Lily and I were so jazzed from last night's venture that we ordered from there for the second night in a row. If you had eaten there you'd understand, I swear it!

Seriously so sweet and soft. Not at all dry, which is what usually turns me off of cornbread.

So ends day 7!

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