Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The elephant in the room, aka the hair in the food

There are some people whose food I avoid because of the one consistent ingredient: hair.

Oh come on, you know someone like that. Every time they cook you have to politely decline, saying, "Oh, no, I just ate. Thanks though!" or, "Ooooh I wish I could, but I'm on a diet!" Or perhaps you avoid the person altogether when you notice they've brought in a delicious-looking tray of brownies -- that is, delicious if it weren't for the hair lurking inside.

Sometimes, though, you don't realize somebody is one of the hairy folk, and you eat their food. As you're chewing, you get that unmistakable feeling in your mouth. Oh god. A hair. You have several options at this point:
  1. Swallow (and don't let the disgust show on your face)
  2. Turn your head away as if to look for something and then subtly pull the hair from your mouth
  3. Pull it out very obviously right in front of the cook
Option 1 is just gross. So, moving on...

Usually I go with option 2, but then you may be forced to look at the hair and analyze what kind it is. Long silky head hair? Small bit of beard stubble? Dog hair (short or long)? I suppose it could also come from the cook's nether regions, but I don't even want to know how that would come about...

And anyway, let's be honest -- the cook probably knows exactly what you're doing. No matter how subtle you try to be, it's sort of obvious when you stick your fingers in you mouth, then pull them out and examine the saliva/food/hair mixture on them. Everybody knows what's going on, but you quickly wipe your hand on your pants and pretend nothing happened so as not to offend the cook. Why?

Option 3, I think, is greatly underused. Why should we spare the cook's feelings when she did not spare us from munching on her (or her dog's, or her husband's, or her 2-year-old son's) not-so-delectable hair? I say next time you just pull it out, look the cook right in the eyes, and say, "Gross. I just ate hair. Please cook under more sanitary conditions or do not offer me any more food. Thank you."

If only.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Red Velvet, take two

Martha Stewart knows how to create a damn good cupcake. I found this Red Velvet Cupcake recipe on her website, and they are soooo fluffy (I think because of the cake flour. Side question: should cake flour smell weird? I'd never used it before, and I googled it and found that it is chlorinated [sounds healthy, right?], so maybe that's why it smells weird? If it should smell neutral like good ol' all purpose flour, let me know so I can get rid of the stuff I have!)

Anyway, the cupcakes are moist and fluffy, but they are not red. But I don't think they're really supposed to be, because the ones pictured in the cookbook aren't either. From now on when I make red velvet anything, I'm leaving out the food dye. It never works anyway. Plus, I added a few drops of really strong Americolor dye to just a little bit of batter to see if I could actually get red cupcakes, and they tasted AWFUL. Very bitter (I always assumed food dye was flavorless. I was wrong). Here's a link to the recipe.

I didn't use her cream cheese frosting recipe though, because I don't like it with so much cream cheese. I used slightly different amounts than are typical to get a stiffer, sweeter frosting.

Less Cream-Cheesy Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. regular cream cheese
1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into about 6 pieces
1 t. vanilla (imitation or pure)
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  1. Beat together cream cheese and butter until well-combined and fluffy
  2. Mix in vanilla
  3. Mix in powdered sugar in 2-3 batches (so as not to end up covered in powdered sugar by the end)
I just spread the frosting on, but it might have been thick enough to pipe, especially if I'd stuck it in the fridge for 5 or 10 minutes. I used more sugar and less cream cheese than other recipes, and I think the proportions work out better, though if you prefer it tangy add more cream cheese.

Here is my not-at-all-red batter

I used red liners, hoping they would give the illusion of red cake. Didn't really work, but still.

And here are the somewhat red and freakishly pointy experimental cupcakes from the end:

I really don't know why it looks like that. I'm so paranoid about food dye right now that I am blaming it. Apparently it served as a growth hormone for my cupcakes. Creepy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The taste of summer

Alright, so I gave in.

But I made it longer than 24 hours without baking, so that's something, right? And I have [almost] one full paragraph of my paper (all I need is a thesis...).

I was slicing up a container of strawberries that I bought yesterday, and I got a serious craving for strawberry shortcake. We used to have it every father's day at my grandparent's house because my great-grandfather LOVED strawberry shortcake. As soon as I realized I had all the ingredients, that was the end of the baking ban.

So for the biscuits, I just using Bisquick. It has a recipe for strawberry shortcake right on the box, so you can find the amounts there if you want to make these. But basically, you just need Bisquick, milk, and sugar.

I didn't measure anything for the strawberry part. I sliced up strawberries earlier, so I just mashed up some with a fork until they were juicy but there were still identifiable pieces of strawberry. Add a spoonful of sugar, and they're all set.

Then it was time for the whipped cream. If you know anything about my past experience with whipped cream, you'll know I had little hope of it working this time.
Upside: It whipped enough that I actually got whipped cream from heavy cream
Downside: My arm feels like it might fall off

After my failed attempts with an electric mixer, I decided to do it the old-fashioned way and use a whisk and a little muscle. It worked, which tells me that I am more powerful than an electric mixer (or that there is something wrong with my mixer). However, I honestly believe that my arm will be sore tomorrow, which is quite sad and indicates to me that I need to lift weights more often (which should be easy considering that I never lift weights).

Strawberry shortcake is almost as good as I remember it, but there's something about it when my grandmother makes it that I just can't imitate. She has the magic touch I guess.

Now back to the paper =(

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Banned from baking

In an attempt to make myself write my English paper, I am forbidding myself to bake until it is submitted. I'm hoping this will motivate me.

You may wonder, "How will you enforce this Aubrey? What's to stop you from baking?"

And the answer is...well...absolutely nothing. There is nothing to stop me from baking, so I probably will. But this is a nice idea, isn't it?

(By the way, the picture in this post is from my unsuccessful root beer float cupcakes. Looks more like carrot cake, right? I didn't want you to get bored from not having pictures to look at =)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to tell if pesto is moldy

The title of this post is misleading. You see, I am not really offering you advice on how to tell if pesto is moldy. Rather, I'd like you to tell me.

I made pesto like a month ago (that's right, I made something that I did not add massive quantities of sugar to), and shoved the leftovers into the back of the fridge. Now I've pulled it out to eat, but I can't really tell if it's moldy because pesto sort of looks like mold anyway. Hmm. If I'm sick tomorrow, that'll be why.

Still on the baking agenda:
  • Red[der] Velvet Cupcakes (believe it or not, the header of the blog is a picture of red velvet cupcakes. Clearly, they are not red. Oops.)
  • Chocolate cupcakes from scratch. I was planning to use a nice reliable boxed mix for the wedding, but then I felt like that would be lazy.
  • While I'm at it, I'd better find some decent from-scratch yellow cake
  • Chocolate frosting for the wedding cupcakes (I shouldn't just rely on the recipe for chocolate butter frosting that I always turn to)
  • Banana Nutella Cupcakes, which somebody in my fiction class brought last night. Holy shit.
I'm going to turn to my new Martha Stewart cupcake cookbook for many of these. Martha Stewart probably makes some awesome cupcakes (when she's not in jail, that is. I know, sorry, cheap joke).

Jesus, I'm going to have a eat a lot of cupcakes in the next month before the wedding (oh my god. It's in a month.).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to basics

I promised to bring cupcakes to my last fiction class (and last class ever I hope!), and got kind of worried about that promise after last week's chocolate-mint fiasco. Plus there was my attempt at root beer float cupcakes on Friday (I realize this is the first you've heard of these cupcakes. That's because I had such problems with them [such as not tasting like root beer in the slightest and not being frosted with the intended whipped cream, which once again failed to whip into more than a viscous liquid] that they weren't even worthy of being blogged about. Sad) that left me seriously doubting my baking abilities.

So for my class, I decided to take the easy way out and go with some nice standard yellow cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla frosting. Not only that, but I used a box of yellow cake mix instead of making them from scratch because I have yet to find a yellow cake recipe that I like (though now that I've bought vanilla extract I'll probably have a bit more luck. If you have a worthwhile recipe for yellow or white cake, email it to me please!).

I just made standard vanilla buttercream (butter + powdered sugar + vanilla + milk) and dyed it pink with the new food dye I bought. I got it at a cake-decorating store instead of the grocery store, so it worked really well with very little dye. The brand is AmeriColor (never heard of it before, but the lady who owned the store said it was the best, even better than Wilton, and she was very intense about cake-decorating so I'll take her word for it) and the color is fuchsia. I also got royal blue and egg yellow and had good luck with those on my cupcakes that did not resemble a root beer float in the slightest.

For the chocolate frosting, I used my favorite recipe (and by favorite I mean the only one I've ever used) from my 1969 Betty Crocker cookbook.

Chocolate Butter Frosting
fills and frosts two 8 or 9" layers
(or about a dozen cupcakes if piped on)

1/3 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate (cooled)
2 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 t. vanilla
about 2 T. milk
  1. mix butter and cooled chocolate
  2. mix in powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla
  3. beat until fluffy

Really easy and really good. Make sure you use it as soon as you're done beating it because as the chocolate hardens the frosting gets dry and it's hard to spread (or breaks apart as you're piping it as it did for me).

I used the Ateco #829 for the chocolate frosting and the Wilton 1M for the vanilla. I've changed my mind now and I like the Wilton one better, so I'll definitely use that for my wedding cupcakes (to come in just over a month!).

I have two questions for all of you out there:
  1. If you have a good, flavorful yellow cake recipe, can you give it to me?
  2. How do I make whipped cream that actually gets stiff??? I tried not adding the powdered sugar and vanilla until I'd already beat it some. Didn't work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My first (and probably not final) failed attempt at cake decorating

I learned several things today:
  1. Cupcakes are easier to decorate than cakes
  2. It is possible for a cake to look unappetizing
  3. When this is the case, it's best just to close your eyes and take a bite
  4. Cake-decorating classes might be worth the money
I set out to make a 2-layer 6-inch cake so I could practice decorating it. You see, the plan up until about 15 minutes ago was to put a small cake at the top of the wedding cupcake stand so Nick and I could do all that traditional cake cutting stuff. But after today, I'm thinking I'll stick with cupcakes.

Unlike most baking sessions, this one started off well and ended with...well, you've seen it. I began with the recipe for Wacky Cake. There was the perfect amount of batter for two 6" cakes, which I baked for somewhere from 28-31 minutes. Good so far.

Then came the frosting, and that was what killed it. The frosting always saves my cupcakes, which are often quite ugly underneath all the butter and powdered sugar. But this time, it just did not work. So the problems were:

  1. I made mint frosting, so I dyed it green. Ugly.
  2. I was planning to use one batch of frosting to frost and fill the whole thing and then use what was left for piping designs on. I wanted it thick so it would hold its shape when I was piping it, but it was too thick just for frosting and I could not get it smoothed out.
  3. I apparently do not have a steady hand with a pastry bag.

In case you can't tell from the picture at the beginning of the post, the top of the cake reads, "Sorry I'm Ugly." Yeah, that's right. It's so ugly it had to apologize. Thanks cake. Its one redeeming quality at this stage in its likely short life is that it looks like PacMan.

Fortunately I now have an entire cake to eat because it's too ugly to bring to anyone. Unfortunately, even I don't really want it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Interested in food?

Then you should also be interested in hunger. Go to

Sunday, May 2, 2010

They do exist!

I have found Happy Hippos!

When I was on my lunch break the other day, I stumbled upon a little gourmet marketplace downtown. As I was paying, I spotted them: Happy Hippos (chocolate instead of hazelnut, but I can adjust). And behind me, MORE KINDER CANDY. Woooooooooooooooooo.

Then I bought a box without asking how much they were. By the time I found out they were $6, I felt too awkward to say I didn't want them. Oops. Anyway, I can't believe that all this time there has been Kinder candy within 15 minutes of me and I didn't know. I'll have to stock up before graduation!