Sunday, June 29, 2008

Midnight sky

We tossed a blanket and laid on the cool green grass gazing up into the heavens where the brightest of stars winked at us. My friend Jager and I were enjoying another warm Texas night in the middle of little historic downtown Denton. In the background, the song of a nearby guitar softly sung to us and just the whisper of conversations could be heard, painting mellow sounds fitting for the serene night. Walking couples strolled into close coffee shops and bars that made the perfect square, as the old courthouse stood behind, stubbornly still with the lighted clock tower shining it's smile at the scene it misses in the dead of winter. Full trees hung over us, whithered with age but done up in white lights, glittering as the cool breeze passed over. I laughed at the thought of silly old women, dressed in their best, ready to dance but too astounded to find themselves in a college town to move. The wind took more liberty as I let it gently play with my hair as we talked about life, our future, who we are. It was one of those conversations, you know the kind where you feel like the world is a book and you're still in chapter 3, page 22 and all you want to do is skip to the last page to see if it's turns out good. I tend to have those conversations with Jager, my deep thinker friend. As our serious talk turns to content silence, pondering the echoes of the words we spoke, I try not to escape into tomorrow but grasp the now, appreciating what I have and been given.... especially the clear midnight sky.

Dark Midnight Brownies
I found this recipe from one of my absolute favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. If you've never seen it, seriously go check it out. Just like her site, the recipe didn't fail me and it turned out to be a rich fudge-like brownie. The only thing is they came out kind of thin. I love a tall decadent brownie so the next time I make these I might make them in a smaller pan to get that perfect ready to bite into look. Also I didn't actually have enough chocolate so I used some dark cocoa powder to substitute. If you want to, instead of 6 oz. chocolate use 4 oz. plus 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder. And if you can't tell I didn't put any nuts in mine.

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2¼ cups (15¾ ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or, ahem, in the freezer until your resistance gets the better of you.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fondant Flowers

What would you do with a ball of fondant and bak-klene.?I don't know about you but I would make flowers! Course I didn't really have a choice in the matter considering I was at my job and someone paid for me to make particular flowers for their cake but regardless it made me a pretty happy decorator. Here's how I did it....obviously the first step is to roll out the fondant, not too thin but not too thick making sure you have plenty of bak-klene to keep from sticking. That's right bak-klene and not scrubbing bubbles. Yes, *sigh*, I once mistook a can of bak-klene for a can of scrubbing bubbles and couldn't figure out why the fondant was foaming instead of rolling out. It took several tries, a few decorators, and a couple hours later to figure out the link. But in defense they look very similar and did I mention a few other decorators?

Pass the classic Amelia Badelia moment that I tend to have, fondant is really quite easy to roll out. And with the help of our master decorator David to give me some guidance and tools, the flowers are pretty easy too. First off I should tell you what type of flowers I was making; the lovely cherry blossoms that are so in trend right now. Usually we use gumpaste for those but because of the price tag the client opted for fondant, not quite as realistic but still impressive. With small and medium flower cut outs simply press into the fondant for the perfect little flowers. Then using the nifty little green tool above you take the flower in your hand, use the ball side of the tool, and give it a spin in your hand to make it curl up for a lifelike appearance.

Take your delicate little flowers and place them in a bowl or shallow dish filled with powered sugar.
This is actually a two day process because now they need to dry and I mean really good because next you get to paint them!

This is actually my favorite part as I like to reminisce about my days as an art student. Starting with the lightest color, gently paint the dry flowers almost to the tip. Let that dry and add the second color, only painting halfway now to still show off the lighter color.

Layer the last coat with dots of bright pink and vola! A cherry blossom. Glue onto your decorated cake or make them just because you can and your done. Look, your cake grew flowers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Show off your Asian side

Asian food perplexes me. With all the different oils, powders, sauces, and unique vegetables it can be a little intimidating especially if your a college student and not quite sure if you'll ever use sesame oil or chili paste again. Therefore I don't make too many Asian dishes even though their flavors are explosive with carefully balanced sweet and sour tastes. Not too mention their healthy aspect. But every once in a while I reach down and take a little bit of courage just to venture out into the unknown world and make.... stir fry. Okay yes, maybe a little lame compared to making Haam Daan Ja Yoke Beng (which translated means ground pork cake with salty egg and I probably wouldn't make it anyway) but hey I grew up in San Antonio, Tx with little to no Asian influences. And be impressed, I made up this dish on my own, no recipe. Risky? Perhaps. Could have been better? I think not! (Actually yeah, I'm just being defensive.)

I mean it was really good but anything can be worked on to make better so after thinking about it here's what I did with some revisions.

Fresh Veggie Stir Fry with Quinoa

2 cups Quinoa
4 cups water (or chicken broth)

3 broccoli heads
2 red bell pepper
1 bok choy

3 carrots
Oil (I used canola but don't be afraid to use sesame or peanut oil)
1-2 Tbsp. fresh minced ginger root
3 gloves of garlic
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. water
Squeeze or two of honey

Cook quinoa like you would for rice. Take a sauce pan and put both the quinoa and water together, bring water to a boil, put a lid on and turn the heat down to low. Let simmer for approx. 20 minutes or until all water has evaporated.

Meanwhile chop broccoli, red pepper, and bok choy into bite size pieces. Peel and cut carrots into match like strips. Heat 1-2 Tbsp. of oil into wok or any skillet pan on high. Finely mince ginger root and garlic to your liking and adding to hot pan but be careful not to burn garlic, 1-2 minutes. Throw and take out vegetables in batches to cook evenly and fast. While veggies cook, mix red pepper flake, soy sauce, cornstarch, water, and honey together. Once all the vegetables are mostly cooked, throw them all together in the pan and pour sauce over. Let cook for another few minutes but once again don't over cook. They should be tender but still have their natural crunch. By this time quinoa should be cooked.

Plate by scooping quinoa into bowls and ladling hot ginger scented vegetables on top.

See that wasn't so bad. :) Oh and add chicken if you feel like it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eat the Rainbow

Red, yellow, green, red, blue blue blue
Red, purple, green, yellow, orange, red red
Red, yellow, green, red, blue blue blue
Red, purple, green, yellow, orange, red red

Blend them up and what do you get?
Ceries, chartous, and aqua
Mauve, beige, and ultra marine, and every color in between
Hazo ka li ka no cha lum bum

Color has it's harmony and just like I have said
Red, yellow, green, red, blue blue blue
Red, purple, green, yellow, orange, red red

Who hear remembers that song? The one that Disney made back in, oh... the 1960's? As a kid I loved that song, listening to it over and over again and I even got to the point where I could sing every word, impressive if you've ever heard it. I loved how it seemed frenzied and crazed and the challenge to sing every word. But my favorite part of it was the explosion of colors my imagination created and just like the song suggests, the harmony of it all.

Being someone who studies nutrition and diet, it's not uncommon for me to be asked how I do it, what I make, what I buy. And I tell them (and you) what my professors tell me, eat the rainbow. Even metaphorically is sounds delicious. And in the culinary world it really isn't hard to do. I mean, if you want an explosion of colors just look to your nearest grocery store. Actually the grocery store isn't near to me at all but it's well worth the drive for produce like that. So what's on my color wheel this week? Red peppers, strawberries, carrots, peaches and nectarines, banana, ginger, honey, mustard, chicken, lettuce, green onions, bok choy, broccoli, cantaloupe, yogurt, sourdough bread, soup, soymilk, avocados, plums, and grapes. All the colors and flavors to keep my body happy and harmonious. Now the question is what to make? Blend them up and what to you get? Hmmm I'm thinking stir fry.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I guess I'm always surprised to hear people say they don't know what polenta is. Polenta is the Italian version of mashed potatoes. Made essentially of cornmeal and water it's easy to play around with it to make it your own. A dab of butter, cup of milk, maybe some Parmesan, salt, pepper, thrown in your favorite herbs, whatever you have or want. It takes ten to fifteen minutes and you can even have it in two forms. I like mine to be soft and creamy, with a pudding like texture so it sticks to your spoon and melts in your mouth. But you can also make it firm by adding less water and in the end cut fun shapes like triangles and squares to fry or bake.

I've found Lamb cornmeal at most grocery stores and I like it for the mere fact that it's Texan made. A big advocate of local foods to support local farmers and reduce ecological footprint I try to be conscientious about the products I buy, even if it is a few cents more. And it's always worked beautifully for me.

Polenta with Tomato Sauce and Poached Egg

1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
3 cups polenta (cornmeal)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (preferably freshly grated)
1/2 cup milk
2 TB. butter
Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tsp thyme (or any herb)

Any favorite bottled tomato sauce

2 large eggs (at room temp.)

Bring water to a boil and add salt. Gradually whisk in cornmeal and reduce heat to low, stirring often until mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add cheese,milk, butter, herbs, and pepper. Stir until all has melted and transfer to bowl.

While the polenta is cooking simmer tomato sauce on low to reheat.

Poach eggs by using a sauce pan with at least 3 inches deep of water and add a splash of vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Crack eggs into a small shallow dish such as a ramekin and slowly lower into the pot. Don't touch and let sit for at least 3 minutes, give or take a minutes depending on how you like your eggs. Take out with a slotted spoon and let drain for a second.

Pour polenta into serving bowls, spoon warm tomato sauce over, and place your elegent egg on top.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Anybody else thinks this is funny? Come on now, come on. Just look at it! Not only did they have to tell the front person what the occasion was but the frontling actually wrote it down, as if it would change how we decorated it. *Sigh* The things I see at work, at least it makes for good entertainment. And I need to remember that as I find myself looking down into yet another hour filled work week. You see right now is our "season". The part of the year that is perfectly timed with must have spring weddings and graduation from not only colleges but all DFW high schools. In other words being chained to the store.

So why do it? I don't know, we ask ourselves that everyday. No actually there are good reasons. Like some of the best people I have ever met. And because I like what I do, it brings a slice of joy in people's lives (pun intended). I have yet to post a cake picture but here's one for just a bride to go along side her wedding cake. A little bit better than a 9" elopement cake.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Birthday days

Lately I've been blessed with the best of friends, something I've missed most of my life. Seriously I thank God for giving them to me. So when a birthday comes around I can't think of a better way to show them how much I love them than make a birthday treat. Besides it's another excuse to bake. :) Because I love food so much and even more what makes people happy I tend to pick up and remember what their likes and dislikes are. Austin hates chocolate but oddly enough will devour brownies. I make extra batches of granola just for Nancy and have yet to produce a much begged for cheesecake (to the point of offering money). My mom has a special place in her heart for carrot cake with nuts, coconut, and pineapple but my sister is disgusted by even the thought of any of those in her cake. This mental list of tastes for the special people in my life is always being updated for my amusement but mainly because it's a way of showing that I care what makes them happy.

Back to birthdays... I love them. Growing up birthdays were a big deal and too often they become faded, like a brand new shirt washed too many times. It gets old or people think but I like to believe that every birthday is like you're turning one and to try to treat it that way. Show the ones you love that you're overjoyed they are in your life not by just picking up something at a random store at the last second but to appreciate their uniqueness. I obviously do this by cooking. This is when I pull out my bag of tricks from my mental list. This year I played the apple card and brought out an apple pie to celebrate my friend Bobbie Ann Mann (yay BAM!) Get her and the boys going and they make me laugh till I cry (good to get through the late nights but bad because we stop being productive).

Every time I bake I like to do my research and I wish I could remember where exactly I got the recipe from. I tend to surf and read, even after that I add my own touches but hardly ever write it down. Her birthday was back in the beginning of April so now I really have no idea how I did this but in the future I'll try to better about that for all of those who might actually want to make something I made. But for now I just have a pretty picture.