Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Please Sir, I Want S'more(s)!

Welcome back! To put this in perspective for you, I baked this dessert for a 4th of July barbecue. Yeah. I've been a blogging slacker. What else is new, right? So, my aunt requested a sweet dessert for the barbecue and I got her to narrow that down to chocolatey sweet (as opposed to fruity sweet) so that was my jumping point for choosing a dessert. After perusing my grandmother's cookbooks (because this adventure all takes place down the shore) I finally found it: Chocolate S'mores cake! How good does that sound? I can tell you're drooling already. Oh, I should also mention that this recipe comes from the Food and Wine Annual Cookbook 2009.

Step 1 was to gather all my ingredients and supplies. I cannot express enough how hard it is cooking in someone else's kitchen. I swear, if I had been in my kitchen, this recipe would've been about 1000x easier. Forget matters like figuring out where the teaspoon measures are kept. No, I'm talking about needing to go out and buy 8 inch square baking pans and a candy thermometer and basic staples like flour and sugar. Let's just say that shopping for the ingredients (on the 4th of July, no less) took a bit longer than expected.

But fine, all materials gathered, I was ready to go. The first thing to do was basically make a chocolate cake. This part was uneventful. There was a slight moment of horror when we discovered that the vegetable oil was being kept in an olive oil container (which made us seriously question what oil we had been cooking with earlier in the week) but we got it sorted out and I'm fairly sure we used the correct oil in the cake.

While the cake was baking, my mom and I set about completing two different tasks. She first thoroughly cleaned the not-so-oft used KitchenAid mixer and then set about removing seeds from a vanilla bean. This requires some explanation. And when I say "explanation" I mean "reason that I was misled by the recipe." The list of ingredients states "1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped." Think about that with me. Doesn't that sound like you want the 1/2 bean sans seeds? It certainly did to me. So my mom was scraping out and discarding the seeds. When I perused the actual text of the recipe though, it referred to combining egg whites and the vanilla seeds. Oops. And when I say "oops" I actually mean "that was really poorly written and was a pain in the ass." Anyone disagree with that assessment? Anyone?

Ok, so while all that was going on, I was in the middle of a sticky situation. First I had to combine gelatin and water in a small bowl and let it sit. No problem there. Then I had to boil corn syrup and sugar together and cook until it was precisely 250 degrees. So I was staring at a candy thermometer for a while. I heated it perfectly and then took it off the heat as directed. I conversed with my mom over the vanilla bean incident and then noticed the gelatin that was still sitting on the counter not doing anything. Hmm. Something about that didn't seem right to me. My mom started beating the egg whites and vanilla seeds to form stiff peaks while I reread the recipe to figure out where the gelatin was supposed to go. Ah, apparently immediately after taking the corn syrup off the heat, I was supposed to mix in the gelatin. Whoops. Easily rectified though. I just reheated the corn syrup to the proper temperature and added the gelatin.

Now things get really ugly. We had to pour in the corn syrup/gelatin mixture while the mixer was still beating. This requires extremely good aim with an extremely sticky substance. We do not have extremely good aim. This stuff got all over the top of the beater, the sides of the bowl, the counter...it was bad. It was also so sticky that spatulas didn't really help with removing it from the pot. It was a very long process trying to get as much of this stuff into the egg whites as possible. By the way, in case anyone was wondering, I was better at pouring than my mom. Just saying.

Eventually we got things to cooperate. By now the cakes were cool and we spread our marshmallow mixture over the cakes. Then we had to toast the marshmallow with the broiler of the oven. Fortunately for me (and for the smoke alarms of the house), I have the marshmallow toasting job every Thanksgiving when we make our sweet potatoes so I'm a pro at not lighting the food on fire. (Yes, it can and does happen quite easily.) I browned the top of the marshmallows lightly (they probably could've gone longer but they were starting to smoke so I declared them done) and then set about the final steps of the assembly process.

We were directed to "insert the [broken] graham crackers into the marshmallow." Sadly, there is no picture of this dessert in the cookbook so we just used our imaginations to interpret what that meant. My mom artistically placed the graham crackers while I melted bittersweet chocolate for some chocolate drizzle. I drizzled like a professional chocolate drizzler (if that were a thing) and we ended up with some pretty awesome looking cakes!

As far as the taste goes, that's a bit of a story. You know what doesn't go well with chocolate s'mores cake? White wine. In fact, the combination is straight up disgusting. The problem I had was that when it came time to serve the cake, I was only halfway through a glass of really yummy white wine and I didn't want to put it down. DO NOT MIX WHITE WINE AND CHOCOLATE CAKE! This is your warning people. Red wine, good. White wine, BAD. So anyway, I think that influenced my opinion of the cake a bit. I thought it was a bit too sweet and the chocolate cake part was kinda meh. Everyone else liked it a lot though so it could've been my scrambled taste buds. Overall though, I'd call this a success. Even if it was a huge pain to bake.

A Disney Moment: Lion King

Ok, I feel like I don't even need to review this movie. I didn't even take any notes after watching it. It's clearly 1/5 in this group. It's just generally a great film. I get chills from just the opening notes of "Circle of Life." The music is all genius. It has one of the best villain songs (though I'll still argue that Ursula's is the best) and it's got a range of emotion that's lacking from a lot of the movies. Disney is obviously cruel for the whole Mufasa thing but it really is a poignant moment. The comedy bits work, the evil is scary, and the conclusion is satisfying. Not a single complaint. Is this film the best of the best? Maybe. The plan as it stands is to watch my top 5 movies in a crazy marathon once the mission is complete to assess what the true "best" Disney film is. For now though, let's just say it's in my top 5.

Friday, July 6, 2012

You See, Perry the Platypus...

Welcome people! I'm on vacation (which is today's excuse for the lack of blogging) but I have two baking adventures to regale you with from the past week. Ready? Let's go.

The first adventure you may judge me for. You see, while at the supermarket, picking up groceries for my California relatives who were coming to visit, my sister made an awesome discovery. She started "Ooooh!"-ing and pointing at the section with the Pillsbury place and bake cookies. You know, those holiday themed ones with ghosts or fireworks or shamrocks or school buses (yes, they do have school buses for September). I was quite confused because, while we do make these fairly often, I didn't think the firework ones were very special. Then she looked at me like I was an idiot and pointed out the holy grail of place and bake cookies: Perry the Platypus cookies.

Firstly, am I safe in assuming that people know what place and bake cookies are? If not, they are exactly what they sound like: pre-cut, preheat the oven, place on a pan, bake, and done. Of course, I make them best. No, seriously! My family has a knack for forgetting about them and destroying our pans with circles of burnt cookie. More importantly though, some of you may not be familiar with Perry the Platypus. Perry is from the Disney tv show Phineas and Ferb. I don't care how old you are, go watch this show because it is clever and has more adult humor than kid humor. And the kids in the show have a pet platypus named Perry. Perry is also a secret agent who fights the evil (sort of) Dr. Doofenshmirtz. This probably sounds crazy but Perry is the shit. And that's all I'll say about that so that I don't end up waxing poetic about the show. But go watch it. It's on Netflix instant.

So, before you judge me for not really baking (since place and bake cookies are in no way really baking) let me just say this: I'm on vacation. And sometimes, you need a place and bake cookie. And look how freaking cute they are!

Totally awesome, right? Oh, and they changed the recipe for these cookies! Now they are made with whole wheat flour which may not sound like a big deal but they taste so so much better than they used to (and they were already pretty good to begin with). Case and point: the package had 24 cookies. With 5 people eating the cookies, they were gone in, I kid you not, less than 7 minutes. Really good cookies. And then we all felt sick.

Hmm, I was going to talk about both my baking adventures in this post but now I'm thinking that the sun is shining and the beach is warm and I'll just blog about the other one later. (Read: tomorrow.) So in the meantime, I'll leave you with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRCT30pDtVE

A Disney Moment: Aladdin

We're finally onto a new group of five movies! It took a while, I know. So now we're at Aladdin. Aladdin was one of my favorites growing up, mostly because of the Genie and Jafar was a pretty solid villain. Sadly, I didn't enjoy it as much on a rewatch as I hoped. The whole beginning was really jumpy (which had to do with late changes in the plot but that's not my problem) and I felt like there were way too many comic relief characters. Seriously, we had Iago, Abu, Raja, and the sultan. You really only need two comic characters at most. They're typically pretty flat characters and can be a bit unnecessary. Honestly, I think one of the more complex characters was the flying carpet. I really respect how they got that much characterization out of a non-speaking carpet.

The best parts were definitely the parts with the Genie. I love his songs, his jokes, and especially the flow of his dialogue. He's pretty terrific. Overall, this movie scored a 3/5. It was fine but it didn't exactly knock my socks off. That said, I can still basically recite the movie from start to finish. I'm serious. My sister yells at me for doing it during the movie.