Monday, October 31, 2011

Mother Knows Best (And So Does Martha)

Happy Halloween everyone! This weekend, I was fortunate in that I got out of CT for the great storm of snow-tober. So I am currently sitting at home in Jersey, grateful that I don't have class on Mondays because I'm 99% sure I have no power at my house in CT and that would pretty much suck. Because baking doesn't really work when there's no power. I was also very fortunate in that, despite the fact that over half the town is powerless, we made it through the storm unscathed. However, with all the downed trees, it basically looks like a bomb went off in my town. That's enough on the current events, let's get to baking, right?

So, after attending an exciting (read: I'm just grateful we won) Giants game, my mom and I decided it would be a lovely day for baking something. I perused the plethora of cookbooks we have at our house and found pretty much no books relevant to baking. However, we do have Mah-tha. Entertaining by Martha Stewart is one of the most precious books I have ever read. The pictures in the book are so dated 80s and the attention to detail is just excessive at times. Like a recipe for "tea eggs" that involves cracking hard boiled eggs and soaking them in a solution for many hours just so that when you serve them with the shell peeled, there are dark shatter lines on the whites of the eggs. That said, maybe one day I'll read the section on "How to Set Your Table" and get my little white gloves from Martha. Oh, and a slight aside for anyone who doesn't know: Martha Stewart is from my hometown, a fact she rarely owns up to. I'm not really sure why we so excitedly claim her, given her past, but we're kinda low on reputable celebrities from my town so I guess we take what we can get.

The recipe we decided on (because Martha seems obsessed with tartlets and we didn't feel like making tartlets) is for Iced Sugar Cookies. Ok, now I know what you're going to say. How many sugar cookies are you going to make for this blog? Well, I'm gonna make them till I get them right, dammit. Thus far, I've made 2 different recipes for sugar cookies and neither one tasted all that good. They looked precious but I want yummy sugar cookies. And if anyone will have the answer, Martha will.

Accompanying this recipe is a story about how Martha used to throw cookie decorating parties for her daughter's friends around Christmas so that they could bring home sugar cookies to hang on their trees. Don't know about you but those cookies never would've made it to my tree. I would have just eaten them like any normal child. There's also a picture of child decorated cookies (or at least I assume child decorated because otherwise Martha really needs to work on using a pastry bag) and a picture of a very large, terrifying, cat-shaped cookie. Last year for Thanksgiving, my family bought a pack of 50 holiday cookie cutters in order to get one turkey shaped cookie cutter so my mom and I were like, Yay, Halloween shaped cookies! Decision made, we began.

The first direction was to, of course, sift together the dry ingredients. As I'm walking to go get a bowl, my mom says "Oh no, we're so not doing that." My mom has a lot more experience with baking than I do but I trust her so I deviated from the directions and took the cheater's way out. Next was creaming the butter and sugar. Oh KitchenAid mixer, how I have missed you. You work so much better than my MixMaster. (Santa, are you listening?) Anyway, butter and sugar sufficiently creamed, we had to add the wet ingredients. You know, the egg, the vanilla, the...brandy? Oh Martha, you clever girl. This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of brandy! To put that in perspective, it also only calls for 1/2 TEAspoon of vanilla. Methinks I found where the flavor is coming from!

Next we had to add the dry ingredients. This is where my mom got clever. The dry ingredients were 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking powder. She measured half a cup of flour and poured it into the full cup measure. Then she tossed the salt and baking powder in that and stirred it all up. Then she put another half a cup of flour on top of that and deemed that mixed dry ingredients. I see her point, we did save ourselves time in cleaning dirty bowls. So gradually adding that mixture, and then the last cup of flour, we had a lovely, delicious smelling sugar cookie dough. Then we tossed it into the fridge to chill while we ate dinner.

::yummy yummy dinner::

Now, we just had to roll out the cookies, cut out fun shapes, and bake. Martha suggests rolling the cookies to about 1/8 inch thick. Those are really thin cookies. We had trouble getting our cookie shapes off the floured table. Oh, I forgot to mention! You know those holiday cookie cutters we have? Yeah, there's one turkey and 49 Christmas ones. So instead of Halloween cookies, we have stars, teddy bears, wreaths (which I think could be made to look like really fluffy cats), hearts, and candy canes (which my boyfriend decided were the penis cookies. I'm not sure why, but this led to many many many penis jokes from my mom and myself). So anywho, the cookies were supposed to bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees but I think Martha needs to check her cook time because that first batch was a batch of crispy critters. Most of the second batch flat out burned. After that, we rolled the cookies a little thicker and only baked them for about 7 minutes. The final result was slightly undercooked cookies but that worked just fine for us because boy, were they yummy. I had 3, my mom had 3, my boyfriend had about 8 and they were enjoyed by all. I'm tellin' ya, it's the first sugar cookie in a long time that hasn't made me say "Meh." In fact, we were supposed to decorate the cookies with icing but we made the executive decision that icing would ruin these already perfect cookies. So, for future reference, I'll cut them a little bit thicker, and cook them for slightly less time but overall, I am excited to make these cookies again sometime. Or at least add some brandy to whatever sugar cookie I bake next. Here's our cookies for your viewing pleasure:

Critical Reception:
The iced pumpkin cookies were pretty much a big hit. As I mentioned, my officemate loved them so I left a few in the office for her to enjoy and brought the rest to colloquium. My advisor took one look at them, asked what kind they were and when I said pumpkin, he responded with "Ugh, why would you make those?" My answer: because I had leftover pumpkin. So, if nothing else, my advisor and I share a hatred of pumpkin cookies. I will admit they smell good though. The rest of the cookies disappeared in the hour that colloquium took place so it seems they're being eaten by people not attending colloquium. Naughty stat students. Oh, and my mom also agreed that the cookies are awesome so if you like pumpkin, I guess I'd recommend the iced pumpkin cookies on Disclaimer: what follows is a very long Disney Moment. It's not my fault. Fantasia is long. Feel free to skip it and/or come back to it on another day.

A Disney Moment: Fantasia
My God, Fantasia is long. I actually watched Fantasia a few years back in college at the tail end of a happy movie night (I think I may have fallen asleep before the last segment) so my memory of it was still pretty recent. Pretty recent but obviously not good as I thought Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the first segment. Anywho, I kinda spaced out during the first segment since this was the third Disney film in a row I watched that day (yes, more or less back to back to back) plus it’s kinda boring anyway. I just remember swirling colors and lights and stuff. As I’m sitting here writing this, I can’t quite remember what segment comes next. I actually have to really think about it. Oh yeah, Nutcracker Suite. I love the Nutcracker and I always associate it with the actual ballet rather than the fairies and dancing mushrooms so I didn’t much pay attention to this one either. Next was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice which is an obvious classic and I have no complaints with. However, at this point I started thinking about how many segments were left. We still had to get through Rite of Spring (i.e. dinosaurs), Pastoral Symphony (i.e. Greek stuff), the dancing hippos and ostriches, AND the terrifying segment and it had already been a good chunk of time. I was determined to get through it though.

That I think is the problem with Fantasia. There’s no real sense of being in the film as a whole. You can get into the segments just fine (for most of them) but watching Fantasia as a whole sort of feels like a chore. Anyway, I’ve always kinda liked the evolution of life segment, partially because I like Rite of Spring for its sheer crazyness, the dinosaurs always reminded me of Land Before Time (seriously, they look exactly the same!), and because I thought it was funny when the dinosaurs got stuck in the tar and fell down. That’s all on that. Oh! I forgot the “Intermission” segment where there’s just a line that vibrates differently with each instrument. I’m really not sure how I feel about that part. Probably just that it’s forgettable. The Greek mythology segment got a bit fun in my family as we tried to name all of the mythological creatures. There was some debate over whether or not Pegasus was a proper name of a winged horse or if it referred to all winged horses and there was also a debate about what the Greek god of wine was (I said Dionysus and was right. Thank you four years of Latin and freshman mythology notebook.) Now that I’m thinking of it though, does anyone else find it weird that the whole time, they’re pretty clearly in Greece but they use Bacchus for the god of wine, which is the Roman name for the god? Or am I just a dork? Yeah, probably the latter.

Sorry this post is so long already but the movie is long so blame Walt Disney, not me. The Dance of the Hours segment was fun as always and I had a ballet geekout trying to decide if the lead hippo was really going up en pointe or if she had flat shoes. I also always forget that there are evil alligators in that which is a nice surprise every time I watch because apparently I have the memory of a goldfish. Finally we come to the last segment. This is the reason that I always hated Fantasia. The last segment scares the living daylights out of me. I mean, what the hell? There’s flying skeletons and demons and nudity and fire and loud noises and graveyards and it’s terrifying. It creeped me out as a 24 year old watching this for at least the 5th time. It makes me so uncomfortable that I am actually grateful for the Ave Maria segment once it rolls around. Though, upon this viewing, I decided that I really hate that the beginning of the song is done without the soloist. It just sounds awkward. The harmonies are nice behind the soloist but without the soloist, it just sounds disjointed and random and not pretty.

Anyway, Fantasia has some good moments and some bad ones, and while I’m not against the idea of taking famous works of music and making them more appealing to the public by adding animation, it is Just. Too. Long. So I rank it about a 4 out of 5 (reminding you that I’m only ordering the films in groups of fives or so). Last thought: I’ve always gotten a tiny thrill when Mickey comes out after Sorcerer’s Apprentice to congratulate Stokowski. It’s the best part of the film. Oh, and since this post is already too long, let me add this last last thought: Since the credits typically come before the film in these early films, my sister and I have actually been reading the credits. We even have our favorite animators that worked on the early films and we always look for their names in the credits now. We also used it as an excuse for why some segments of Fantasia weren’t as good. “Oh, well, Cy Young wasn’t working on that one so that’s why it sucked!” or “Eric Larson was supervising that one, that’s why it was so good!” We’re also big fans of Vladimir Tytla who, in case you were wondering, was the animation supervisor for Night on Bald Mountain. Even if it’s terrifying, it’s still an amazing piece of animation. In fact, maybe the horror is what makes it so amazing. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Get Rid of Extra Pumpkin Without Really Trying

Welcome back friends! Today we solve the problem of me having half a can of pureed pumpkin left in my fridge. I don't have any real need for pumpkin in my life so the solution is more pumpkin cookies! And before you say, "But you just did that!" allow me to rationalize my decision. First off, I wasn't involved in every part of baking the pumpkin cookies last time. So, I denied you opportunities to laugh at my ineptitude. Secondly, this is totally a different recipe! This one is for ICED pumpkin cookies! So that makes it totally different. Obviously. And thirdly, I just felt like it. So there.

As I mentioned, this recipe is for Iced Pumpkin Cookies. This recipe is brought to you by and has some sufficiently vague directions for your entertainment. It's also kinda two recipes in one because I had to make the pumpkin cookies and then I had to make the glaze for the "iced" part. Uh oh. Who remembers the last time I had to make a glaze? To remind you, I ended up with an overly thin glaze that ROLLED off my brownie cups. So I think that this is a sufficient enough challenge for a week when I have a probability exam.

The first step was to combine the dry ingredients which I missed the opportunity to do last time. Uh, yeah, that was easy. Not much to report there. Next step was to cream the butter and sugar. Uh oh. I appear to be out of salted butter. Who runs out of butter? And there's no way I'm going out for butter so unsalted butter it is. Technically, the recipe didn't specify salted vs. unsalted but when I made a similar recipe previously, it specified salted. Hope they turn out ok. Next, I mixed in the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla. Other recipes I've followed are specific about the order that things are added in, particularly for wet ingredients, but this just seemed like a free for all of "Toss it all in! It'll be fine!" I'm already suspicious of recipes that aren't coming from cookbooks and this really isn't helping the cause.

Mix in dry ingredients. Check. "Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly." Well, I tried. But the dough was pretty sticky so I ended up with slightly flattened, slightly spikey looking cookies that weren't the perfect hemisphere cookies displayed in the picture. No big deal though. Now bake cookies. Between baking batches of cookies, I spent my time trying to memorize probability proofs for my midterm tomorrow. Miserable as that was, at least my kitchen smells like sugar and spice and everything nice.

And now for the glaze. I was really really dreading this after last time. However, I followed the directions precisely, and when I was done I got a way more solid looking glaze than last time. I was told to "add milk as needed to achieve drizzling consistency" and am not entirely sure what that means but I did have to add a tiny bit of milk so that I didn't have gloppy drizzling. I was also told to drizzle the glaze with a fork. This...worked. I'm just as surprised as you are. This recipe was 100% smooth and flawless in execution. Sorry to disappoint all of you who enjoy reading about kitchen disasters but either I'm getting better at baking or this recipe was absurdly easy. I even got advanced with my drizzling technique:

Aren't they pretty? I tossed them in the fridge for a couple minutes to solidify the glaze before bring them to colloquium but other than that, flawless pumpkin cookies. Oh, also, I tasted one but I really don't like pumpkin cookies so I'm no judge of how good they are. I only really tasted it so I could say that I tasted it. I thought they were gross but my officemate just said they're delicious so I'm gonna go with what she said. Success!

Critical Reception:
I don't really have much to add about the baked goods from last time. My mom had some of the cranberry crisp and liked it (though she suggested that if I ever make it again to cut the sugar in half, which I totally agree with) and I brought the Fall shaped pumpkin cookies into my office and people have been slowly chipping away at them so I guess people like them. Or they're starving. I'm going to bring them to colloquium to let them be finished off today so maybe I'll have more to add after today. Sorry for being so boring today, but it has been just an uneventful week for baking. I'll try something really crazy next time, k?

A Disney Moment: Pinocchio
Ever since I was pretty young, I remember really hating Pinocchio. I found the “I Got No Strings” segment annoying and overly catchy and the whole thing was lacking in common sense to me. Then again, I was a good kid who was never once swayed away from going to school by a traveling marionette show. However, viewing the movie as an adult, I must say, it was a lot more appealing than I remember. There were still some pretty obvious problems including that Jiminy was not a terribly effective conscience and that the timeline of the story makes zero sense. I mean, how long was Pinocchio on Pleasure Island? It seems like the whole thing happens in about 24 hours but Geppetto manages to get himself (and his two pets) swallowed by a whale, leaving his cottage for spiders to take over with cobwebs in that time. I just don’t quite get it. On the other hand, the artwork of it is sheer beauty. I really took note of how detailed every little thing was in the film. I also thought that some of the camera angles (so to speak) were really interesting. The angles really jump around and the one that stuck out in my mind was when Pinocchio is skipping away with the two anthropomorphized animals that sell him to Stromboli. It wasn’t a shot from above exactly, nor was it on the plane of where the characters were. It was more like at a 45 degree angle to the action. It’s hard to explain. But it was cool enough for me to take note of it.

Let’s see, what else? Pinocchio’s still an idiot but being a newly made boy I guess that’s forgivable. Oh! How the hell was Jiminy breathing underwater for so long? It was literally aggravating me as I watched. I was ok with Pinocchio underwater because he’s made of wood (and even had the foresight to sink himself down with a rock because wood floats. Kudos for that one, Pinocch.) but poor Jiminy would have drowned several times over during their search for Monstro. Also, I’m pretty sure this is the movie that taught my sister the “but why?” response and I may never forgive Pinocchio for that. The bottom line though for me was that I’ll remember it as one of the most beautifully drawn films I have ever seen. I rank this one about even with Snow White (maybe slightly higher) and is still a classic. Plus, I respect any children’s film that uses the word “jackass” so freely and then uses the power of animation to turn it into a pun. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall Baking with Friends!

Welcome back! So sorry for the excessive delay in posting but don't worry, there has still been baking happening! As a matter of fact, this post will be a double dose of baking! As in there were two projects being baked SIMULTANEOUSLY. Wow. And lest you think that I have that much skill, let me assure you, I had help. Two of my good friends from college came to visit last weekend and on Saturday we had a slight baking and cooking frenzy. So to all those people who think I live a lonely existence with nothing but baked goods to keep me company...nah, I can't make that leap. But I had company this weekend! Yay!

Not knowing if my friends want to be referred to by name, I shall henceforth refer to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2. Those names are more giggle worthy anyway. In a celebration of Fall, we all went apple picking on Saturday morning. We were going to go to the Merrow Corn Maze as well but alas, they're closed this season. Stupid not wanting the soil to erode and ruining my fun. Anyway, in anticipation of the many apples we'd be able to pick we knew we'd obviously have to bake something with apples. Thing 1 had a lovely family recipe for Cranberry Crisp with Autumn Fruit so we decided that would be appropriate for our Fall excursion. After consulting the recipe, we decided to also pick up a couple pears at the apple picking place for the recipe.

After picking some apples we went into the store/stand/whatever place to pay for our apples (and pears) and we browsed around the shop for a bit. Behold! There we found packs of three cookie cutters each. One such pack had a leaf shaped cookie cutter and a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter. After great debate over whether that pack was superior to the pack with a turkey and a maple leaf, Thing 1 decided to get the pumpkin cookie cutter which (obviously) meant we would have to make some pumpkin shaped pumpkin cookies as well. Once we arrived at home, we googled a recipe (because apparently none of my cookbooks like pumpkin cookies) and found one for Pumpkin Spiced Cutout Cookies. Since we already had our hearts set on the Cranberry Crisp, we decided to just make both, in addition to the dinner we were already planning. I'm still surprised we had enough bowls and tools for everything we cooked.

Let the baking/cooking commence!

I'm going to try to post chronologically because everything was kinda getting cooked/baked simultaneously and it was a bit confusing. So to start out, Thing 1 and Thing 2 began with chopping some veggies for our dinner. We decided on grilled cheese with white cheddar cheese, browned (but not quite carmelized) onions, green peppers and tomato. I'm not familiar with cooking any of that stuff, being less diverse with my tastes so I started in on the baking. First order of business was to peel a bunch of apples and the pears that we got. And, wonder of wonders, I had a peeler! Who knew? So with a happy music playlist we were chopping, slicing, and peeling happily in my kitchen. Doesn't that make for a lovely picture? The apple and pear peeling went pretty well for me. I didn't even slice any of my nails with the peeler (a common Thanksgiving potato-peeling hazard) so the next step was to chop 1.5 cups of cranberries. For those of you not familiar with cranberries, they're kinda tiny. So I'm not entirely sure how I was supposed to chop them (Thing 1 suggested not chopping them at all but I will not deviate from the recipe!) but I just sliced them in half and deemed them chopped. This took a pretty significant amount of time. By now, the stuff for the grilled cheeses was just about done cooking so it was almost dinner time. I decided to just finish the first step of the recipe and add the sugar, flour, and cinnamon to the fruit. Now, Thing 1 has made this recipe before so when she asked if I had added the 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, that should have been a good tip off that she was right and I was wrong. Instead I said, "No, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons!" In my defense, I had just read the recipe and the wording was confusing. The directions say to add 2 tablespoons of the flour and cinnamon. I don't know why I took that to mean 2 tablespoons of cinnamon without checking the ingredient list but there you have it. So, we had extra cinnamon-y cranberry crisp and Thing 1, I apologize for thinking you were wrong. Silly me.

Here we pause to eat a delicious dinner. Yum. Thank you Things 1 and 2 for cooking me dinner in my own home.

Following our incredibly filling meal, we set to work on finishing up the Cranberry Crisp and starting on the pumpkin cookies. While I finished stirring up the fruit and sugar mixture, Thing 2 got to work on the crumb mixture to sprinkle over the fruit mixture. This involved rolled oats, brown sugar, and flour and then cutting butter into that mixture with a pastry fork, I mean, regular fork because I don't have a pastry fork. Oh, and nuts too. I almost forgot about the nuts. I can't really say much on this process because I was in no way involved in it. Which was probably good for me but bad for you, dear readers, because I bet you would've loved reading about me cutting butter into that mixture. While this was going on, Thing 1 was mixing together the dry ingredients for the pumpkin cookies. All of a sudden there were beautiful smells of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc. It was happy.

I transferred the fruit to the baking dish (which Thing 1 had graciously greased for me) and while I was waiting for the crumbly topping to go on top, I got to work on the wet ingredients for the cookies. I'm tellin ya, we were a well-oiled machine in the kitchen. Everybody was doing something. So I used my trusty mixer to cream the butter, add some (dark!) brown sugar, some sugar, an egg, vanilla, and of course, pumpkin. Thing 1 had finished her task by then and measured out the pumpkin for me, which included actually opening the can. Given my experiences with can openers, I felt very fortunate to have had help with the challenging tasks. The last step to preparing the dough for these cookies was to combine the spice mixture from earlier. Now you get some interesting directions, folks! I was supposed to swap out the wire whisk for the flat beater. Hahaha. Silly. Oh wait, but it has directions for if you had been using a hand mixer: You might want to mix the ingredients by hand with a wooden spoon. Well sure. Apparently I don't want to overmix at this stage. So fine, I got out a wooden spoon and mixed in the ingredients a third at a time. It wasn't so bad until the last third when the dough got pretty heavy and hard to mix. I eventually got it though. Mission accomplished. Now I just had to split the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic to chill in the fridge for about half an hour. At this point, the Cranberry Crisp was in the oven and we were left with nothing to do for half an hour.

Scrabble time!

After a rousing and challenging game of Scrabble (I should note, I bought Scrabble for $1.00 at a yard sale. Allow me to bask in that triumph for a moment.) we took the crisp out of the oven to cool and got to work rolling out the cookie dough to make delightful Fall shaped cookies. The dough gets really sticky once it starts to get even a little warm, which I learned the first time I rolled out the dough because I a) didn't use quite enough flour and b) didn't roll quite quickly enough. Lesson learned though: Thing 1 rolled the dough out the rest of the time and she's a pro. Sadly, I didn't have any cute Fall colored sprinkles or anything to put on the cookies but we did find sugar "in the raw" in my cabinet which was cute to decorate some of the cookies with. We all pitched in with cutting out the cookies so we had adorable leaf shaped and pumpkin shaped cookies baking in several batches. During this time, I learned of the magic of parchment paper and how it allows you to not make a mess on your baking pan while baking. There was a moment of hesitation and debate with the parchment paper over whether or not it would catch on fire if it was hanging over the edge of the pan but we solved that by just trimming the ends of the parchment paper. Yay! Then we had to actually bake them and put the remaining dough back in the fridge. While they baked, we deviated from Scrabble and played a lovely game of Yahtzee. Halfway through Yahtzee (which, by the way, was invented on a yacht, hence the name), we paused to make another batch of cookies. After the game, we tasted our lovely Cranberry Crisp pictured below:

It was very yummy but very sweet and as I was still full from dinner, I didn't eat a whole lot of it. There won't be a critical reception section on the Cranberry Crisp because it's one of those things that's kinda messy and I really didn't want to bring it anywhere but the counter of my kitchen. Suffice it to say that the Things and I enjoyed it and I sent a good chunk of it back home with them to share with other people who hopefully also enjoyed it.

And now some cookies:

The cookies were also good. We described them as "a hearty cookie" because they are certainly hearty, if not a bit heavy. I'm not crazy about pumpkin cookies myself so I had a small taste and it was good but not something I want to eat an entire cookie of. These cookies will definitely end up being shared with the stat dept though. They're currently sitting in my office so my office now smells of pumpkin, nutmeg, and delicious. Thanks again to the guest stars of this blog post and for bringing me back up after my miserable brownie cups from the previous week.

Critical Reception:
Oh yeah, speaking of those brownie cups... I still maintain that they weren't good. I brought them in to the tutoring center on the day of my midterm to share with people. Ok, fine, it's more like I just dumped them there and went to take my test. I had one person tell me that they were good but it's possible that she was just being nice. However, maybe I just think that because that's what I would say in that situation. Then again, maybe I'm being overly critical of the brownie cups. I mean, they weren't terrific but it was far from the worst thing I've ever tasted in my life. Maybe my bar is just too high. Indecision! So, the jury is still out on the brownie cups because I don't know what anyone else thought...when I got back after my exam, the bag of brownie cups had mysteriously disappeared! I guess I should take that as a good sign?

A Disney Moment: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
And now your Disney moment. The first film in the Disney animated classic canon is, of course, Snow White. A timeless film from 1933 that I have not seen in at least 10 years I'd say. I was first struck by the fact that the animation is just lovely. There's just such charm to it. And the wobbly quality of the old VHS really helps. Aside: this film watching project was delayed for several weeks because somehow my family's copy of Snow White has been lost to time. On the bright side, once I got back to CT I went to the Goodwill store and found an old VHS copy for $1.00. Cheaper than renting from Redbox, folks. I highly recommend getting a VCR for 5 bucks and then frequenting your neighborhood thrift store or Goodwill store or yard sales looking for movies because it's way cheap and there's a lot of selection. Aside over.

Early in watching this movie with my mom and my sister, my mom made the comment that Snow White is a simple girl. She meant that in the non-complimentary sense. However, if you view the movie through that lens, everything makes a lot more sense. Particularly when I was getting so annoyed that every single freakin dwarf warns Snow White against strangers and then she lets the witch in anyway (except Dopey. Because he's mute.) Other thoughts include: how rude Snow White is to just instantly ditch the dwarfs who kept vigil at her coffin for the prince who she's met once before, why is the prince's castle in a cloud?, Snow White's voice is still absurdly high pitched and fake sounding, and this movie is still pretty terrifying. Between the running through the woods scene and the witch brewing the apple and the transformation potion (and the creepy skeleton in her basement, who I half believe is the huntsman who failed to kill Snow White), and finally, the two vultures circling overhead being just enough to imply that the witch is surely dead, it's a pretty scary movie. Overall, still a classic and out of the first 5 Disney films, I rank it about a 2 or a 3.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can I Call in a Substitute?

Well hello, loyal readers! There has been a delay in baking activity lately and I would love to say that it was because I was working hard academically but actually, it's because I went home for the weekend and watched a lot of movies instead. More on that in a bit. So, as I've been up since 5 am and didn't want to go to the store, I again picked a recipe that only used ingredients I have in my house. Or so I thought. Tonight's adventure is Mini Brownie Cups from the Bake Sale cookbook (the pictures really do heavily influence the decision) and it also includes a recipe for a Mocha Glaze. I've been wanting to do something besides cookies so I was leaning towards cupcakes. These aren't exactly cupcakes and are more like brownies in mini muffin cups but it'll do.

Lucky for me, the last time I went shopping for cooking tools, they had mini muffin pans on sale for like $2.99. Obviously I couldn't pass such a good deal up. So I have a mini muffin pan and I have mini muffin paper cups that my mommy got me and they have polka dots and stripes and they're cute. Looks like I'm all set! Oh wait. The first ingredient here is 1/4 cup "light corn oil spread". Hmm. I guess I didn't read the original recipe quite carefully enough when I decided that I had everything to make these. The reason I know I don't have light corn oil spread is because I don't know what that is. Google to the rescue! Sort of. And yes, I googled "What is light corn oil spread?" After actually going through several web pages, I found out that it's basically margarine. Which I don't have. I then spent like, 20 minutes searching online for a light corn oil spread substitute. I found one person on one web page that was like "whatever, just use butter". That didn't give me a lot of confidence so I pulled out the good ol' Joy of Cooking and looked in the "Know Your Ingredients" section. Didn't find anything so I flipped through about a hundred pages in the baking section of the cookbook. Nothing. So I gave up and substituted butter and if these taste like crap, that'll be why.

Since I'm making mini brownie cups, I finally got to use the small bowl of my mixer. I was pretty excited about that because I'm sick of cleaning the big bowl. If someone wants to offer to come over and clean all of my bowls after I bake, I'd happily accept. The first thing to do was "in a saucepan over low heat, melt corn oil spread". Hahaha. Well, I'm already substituting butter, so I'll just substitute a stove and a saucepan with a bowl and a microwave, k? Beautiful. So I melted half a stick of butter. I've been melting butter since I was old enough to make popcorn by myself so I'm an old pro at it. Next, I had to beat two egg whites and one egg. I actually really enjoy separating egg whites from the yolks. Some people need tools to accomplish this (yes, they do sell an egg separating tool that looks kinda like a spiral funnel) but I separate the old-fashioned way, passing the yolk from one half of the egg shell to the other until all the whites have separated out, just like my daddy taught me. I smoothly separated the eggs and beat until "foamy" as the recipe directed. Then I beat in some sugar and mixed in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

Mixing in the flour and other dry stuff was kinda funny. When I started the mixer, a small cloud of powdery ingredients flew up out of the mixer. Yay! It wasn't too terrible though and then the problem was fully solved once the ingredients got a little blended. Then I mixed in the corn oil spread butter and voila! All done! Pretty easy recipe really. All that was left was to fill the muffin cups 2/3 full with the batter. The batter was a little thick and kinda sticky so it didn't like being transferred to the muffin cups. As a result, my hands were once again covered in chocolate (well, cocoa batter but still). Also, I'm a bad judge of volume so for me to decide where 2/3 full is in a mini muffin cup is completely absurd. I did the best I could though.

The supposed yield for this recipe was 24 mini brownie cups. I made 34. Whatever. During the baking time for the first batch, I mixed together the dry ingredients for the Mocha Glaze. Allow me to explain. As if mini brownies in polka dotted paper cups weren't cute enough, I am supposed to drizzle Mocha Glaze over these brownies in an adorable fashion. My intuition says that this will be more difficult than it looks. Regardless, I decided to wait to make the glaze until after all the brownies were baked to give them adequate time to cool. Fun fact: after the first batch of brownie cups were done, I had to transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling (and to free up the pan for the 2nd batch) and I was almost really stupid. My hand was about 8/9 of the distance to the pan before I realized that I shouldn't stick my hand on a hot pan to remove hot brownie cups. I may be more tired than I thought. Possibly instead of just substitute ingredients I could've used a substitute baker. Regardless, after staring at the hot pan like an idiot for approximately a full minute and rejecting several absurd methods of removing the brownie cups, I decided on just using a fork to fish them out. It worked and I didn't burn myself. I have a pretty low bar for success tonight.

And now the glaze. Umm, WTF Mr. Mocha Glaze? Mocha glaze was a huge disappointment. All it is is cocoa, powdered sugar, hot water, instant coffee and vanilla. How hard could that be? And I swear I didn't screw this up. I triple checked the recipe. Anyway, the glaze turned out a lot thinner than I expected. Then I was supposed to "drizzle" the glaze decoratively on the mini brownie cups. In the picture it looks more like piped icing than the gloppy mess I ended up with. I wasn't really sure of the best drizzle method but I just used a spoon because it was so thin to begin with. I kid you not, the glaze ROLLED OFF the brownies. Rolled off. I don't even know what else to say about it. It was like raindrops rolling down a window pane and I was powerless to stop it. So, instead of the cute drizzle stripes I was planning, they're more like ugly drizzle splotches that just rolled to the edge and then soaked into the brownies. Hmm. I swear I didn't make a mistake in the recipe. What a mess. Blah. Here's what they look like in the end:

As far as taste goes, they're terrible. The brownies are extremely dense, the mocha glaze is bitter, and it's a lot of awful in one place. I'm really tempted to throw them all out. Maybe I'll bring them to school Thursday with a note that says "Eat At Your Own Risk" and then run and hide. Nightmare. Sorry folks, I guess this was the first dramatic baking fail.

Critical Reception:
The pinwheel icebox cookies were a hit. I thought they were only ok but people liked them. The colloquium speaker even deemed them "outstanding" which I think is an exaggeration (especially since he's Italian and is probably used to way better cookies) but it was a nice compliment either way. All 40 cookies were gone within an hour which was good for me because I didn't really want them. Yayness!

A Disney Moment:
This is the latest feature of my blog which is completely irrelevant to baking or statistics. In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Disney World ::cough (in May) cough:: I decided to watch all of the Disney animated features in order. Why, you ask? Because I felt like it. And there's no better reason than that. Now, I'm no movie critic but I'll share my insights into these films which will sometimes not extend beyond "I don't like this one and I don't feel I need to provide a reason". This past weekend I watched the first five Disney animated feature films with my sister (Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi) and I am stalled on the next six because I don't have them yet. This post has gotten somewhat long though (plus I'm depressed about the fail brownies) so I'll wait to talk about Snow White until next time. I'll leave you with this thought though: it is a beautifully nostalgic feeling to see the old Walt Disney Classics logo and the bright red FBI warning on the old VHS copies of classic Disney films.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Are My Hands Always Covered in Chocolate?

Greetings! This week has been a lazy week (plus my homework started to get the better of me) so this adventure was restricted to whatever ingredients I already had at my house. There were a few possibilities in my usual go to cookbooks but I started idly flipping through Joy of Cooking while watching Glee last night. I came across the section on icebox cookies and was intrigued. Icebox (or refrigerator) cookies are similar to the watermelon slice cookies I made previously in that the dough has to be rolled into a log and chilled for several hours. However, the recipe for vanilla icebox cookies seemed boring. Fortunately for me (and probably for you, dear readers), there was a picture next to the recipe for Pinwheel Icebox Cookies. If you couldn't tell by now, I'm a sucker for anything that is accompanied by a cute picture and two-tone cookies with a spiral pattern seems right up my alley.

For the loyal readers who religiously check this blog for my next great adventure (or who I bully into reading), you'll probably remember that I had a few complaints with my last Joy of Cooking cookie recipe. Most importantly, the cookies were way too bland. Anxious to avoid this disappointment, I compared the two recipes before beginning (because as far as I can tell, icebox cookies are still basically sugar cookies). The recipe for Vanilla Icebox Cookies calls for more butter, more sugar, and more vanilla so I interpret that to mean more flavor. Plus, the second color that is spiraled into the dough is colored by the presence of chocolate. Win. Let's bake!

Step 1: Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Wait, really? Whisk that together? It can't possibly be necessary for me to dirty a whisk just to blend three dry ingredients. So, instead I used the knife that had been used to level the flour in the measuring cup. Yup, stirred stuff with a knife. And you know what? It worked just fine, thank you very much. Sadly, my ability to dismiss stupid directions did not continue through this entire recipe. You'll see.

Step 2: Beat unsalted butter (softened) and sugar. Last time I did this, I don't think that I softened the butter enough and that's why I got the lumpy, crumbly dough. This time, I made sure the butter was soft and successfully got fluffy butter/sugar. Step 3: Add the rest of the ingredients and then stir in Step 1's flour mixture.

Step 4 is where things got interesting. Herein lies the pinwheel part of the recipe. I had to divide the dough in half (that part was easy!) then I had to knead 2 oz of melted semisweet chocolate into half of the dough. Remember how I said I wasn't going to melt chocolate in the microwave anymore? I lied. Since I was only melting two of the little squares of baking chocolate, I figured the microwave could handle it. And it did! It was super exciting that I didn't end up with burnt chocolate. Now that I had melted chocolate, I just had to knead it into half the dough. Uh, knead it? Like with my hands? I've kneaded dough plenty of times before but not with melted chocolate. Now, I don't know what in the world I was thinking when I decided it would be a good idea to follow these directions. A better idea probably would have been to use a spoon, or a mixer, or ANYTHING BUT MY HANDS. However, I'm an idiot so I started to knead half the chocolate into the dough. It made a freakin mess. The chocolate stuck to my hands, the dough stuck to my hands, the chocolate and dough stuck to the wax paper I was kneading on, and it wasn't really blending at all. About 30 seconds into this disaster, I thought to myself "I probably should've coated my hands in flour so it was less sticky" but hindsight is 20/20, now isn't it? I tried everything I could think of to blend the chocolate into this dough including (but not limited to) pulling the dough apart and putting it back together many times, tossing the ball of dough from one hand to the other, and throwing the ball of dough onto the wax paper dramatically. I don't think that last one helped blend chocolate but it made me feel better. Finally, I managed to get a fairly even shade of brown in my ball of dough. Yay! And then I realized that I had only used half the chocolate so far. Awesome. So I coated my hands in flour to diminish the stickiness. It did not help. At all. Stupid Joy of Cooking.

After the frustration of the chocolate, during which time I had to work extremely hard to get all the chocolate off of my hands, I had to roll the 2 balls of dough into rectangles 11 inches long. That was a bit challenging as well as I rolled the dough a bit too thin and got a big hole in the middle of the dough. Sigh. Eventually, through a great deal of effort and cursing, I managed to get two reasonable rectangle shapes. Then I had to put the chocolate rectangle on top of the plain rectangle so I could roll them up together. Given my previous difficulty, I was correct in assuming that I could not accurately place one rectangle on top of the other. Stupid stupid Joy of Cooking. Eventually I had pretty much layered the two doughs and just had to roll them up. The picture shows two disembodied hands picking up the wax paper on one end to magically roll the dough perfectly. HAHAHA. This would've been easier if the dough hadn't been so thin that it stuck to the wax paper. After peeling the dough off the wax paper and filling in the holes, I wrapped the dough up and stuck the damn thing in the fridge overnight.

The morning brought fewer malicious feelings toward these cookies, although I did have a nightmare where the cookies didn't pinwheel properly and were just a white and black mess. The final step was just to cut and bake the cookies. I was supposed to cut the log into 3/16 inch thick slices. That's less than a quarter inch which seems really thin to me. However, I followed the directions and kinda burnt the first batch. The later batches were cut thicker. Oh hey! Apparently I WAS supposed to grease the cookie sheet! Whoops. Oh well, the cookies came out ok. They have more flavor to them than the last JoC cookies but I don't know, maybe I'm just not wild about sugar cookies. And they didn't come out as cute as I hoped. They kinda were flattened and didn't get as many spirals as I wanted. However, you be the judge:

Overall, not the best, not the worst, but probably the most irritating. Oh well, I'm sure they'll be gone at colloquium within less than half an hour.

Critical Reception:
The Chocolate Insanity cookies were amazing. I literally don't care what anyone else thought about them because I thought they were so good. However, I sent some to a friend far away, and I brought some to another friend far away, and I brought some to my sister and her roommate and they seemed pretty much loved by all. The leftover cookies are also in my office. Or at least they were the last time I was there and they may very well be gone by now. They were really yummy. I'd definitely make those cookies again. Maybe I'll make them around Christmas time. Hmm. Now I want one of those cookies...