Monday, September 27, 2010

My first Daring Bakers' Challenge!

This has been an unusually crazy month for me. I've committed to stage managing my first show in three years, and it's proving to be a lot more work than I remembered.

That being said, it took me a while to find the time, and find the guts to attempt this recipe. I'm cool with the sugar cookies, easy enough. But, I have never proven to be a terribly gifted decorator, so this challenge was definitely a challenge for me.

This is such a great recipe to have under your belt for all those holidays that are coming up. I will definitely be pulling out the royal icing again for Santa's cookies.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Another part of the challenge was to decorate cookies with something that speaks "September" to you. I chose lobsters because we took our Labor Day vacation in Maine, and that was a big highlight for me. Lobster is not the same anywhere else, so I always try to eat lots when I'm there.

Basic Sugar Cookies


1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons All-purpose flour
1 cup superfine sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 1) Sift flour into a medium sized bowl and set aside

2) In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar and add any flavorings you might be using.

3) Add egg and beat until fully incorporated, make sure to scrape down sides of bowl as you go

4) Add the sifted flour slowly while mixing at low speed. A non-sticky dough will form.

5) Bring dough together into a ball and divide equally into 3 pieces.

6) Roll out each portion between parchment paper, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

7) Once chilled, remove parchment paper and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out your shapes with a sharp knife or cookie cutters and place them on parchment lined baking sheets. Once they're arranged, refrigerate cookies for another 30 minutes before baking so they don't lose their shape.

8) Preheat oven to 350 degrees

9) Roll out any extra dough and repeat process.

10) Bake until the cookies are golden, and just starting to turn darker around edges, about 8-15 minutes depending on size of cookies.

11) Cool on baking racks, and do not decorate until completely cool.

TIP: Bake cookies in size groups to avoid burning

Royal Icing


2 1/2-3 cups confectioner's sugar
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract, or any other flavoring you prefer

1) Beat egg whites and lemon juice until just combined, it will look frothy.
2) Sift confectioner's sugar and add to egg whites, beat on low until smooth.
3) Add any flavoring and mix in.

Royal icing starts to harden when it meets air, so keeping it covered with cling wrap while decorating is highly advised, and will help you avoid lumps.

The best way to utilize royal icing is to create an outline with a thicker consistency of the frosting, wait for the outlines to dry a few minutes, then "flood" the inside with a thinner consistency. The more sugar you add the the frosting, the thicker the consistency.

When "flooding," you apply the thinner frosting inside the outline, and spread the frosting around with a toothpick.

Using a gel or powder food coloring is best, since liquid colorings tend to thin out the frosting.

Piping bags and piping tips sized between 1 and 5 will be the most helpful when decorating.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On a health kick...but I can't give up cheese...

So Tyrone and I have decided to cut back about 75% of our meat eating habits. So far, it's been marvelous! I feel less tired, have more energy, and my general body function is up. He insanely suggested we cut out sugar too, but I gave him this look >:(. And he knew he wouldn't be able to anyway.

It's funny how different life feels when you're not eating as much animal fats. Don't get me wrong, I'm most certainly a bacon girl. But, I can at least TRY to empathize with the vegetarians and vegans out there.

Also, when we were visiting Maine, we stopped by the local farmers' market, and found this lovely brand Lakonia. The specialize in olive oil and salad dressing, and is made in Greece! The woman is Greek and started this business all by herself, and the products are just divine. She also ships nationwide, and really nice olive oil makes a great Christmas gift!

Anyway, this is one of the meals that I found for our new veggie diet, and Tyrone LOVED it! It's super easy, and really yummy.

Spinach and Cheddar Souffle
Adapted from Ina Garten
2-3 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup scalded milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 10 oz. package frozen spinach, defrosted and dried
5 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the inside of a 6-8 cup souffle dish and sprinkle evenly with parmesan (don't be afraid to put too much, this acts as a crust for the souffle).

2) Scald your milk: heat in a saucepan over high heat until tiny bubbles form around edge. It should be at 180 degrees if you want to use your thermometer. Make sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't scorch.

3) Melt the butter in a small saucepan or double boiler, making sure not to burn it. Once the butter is melted, stir in flour with a wooden spoon and cook for 2 minutes while stirring constantly.

4) Turn off burner, whisk in hot milk, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.

5) Turn burner back on to low heat, and cook for about 1 minute whisking constantly. The mixture should get smooth and thick.

6) Turn off burner again, and whisk in egg yolks one at a time. Stir in cheddar, parmesan, and spinach and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

7) In a separate bowl, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Using the whisk attachment on a mixer, beat on low speed for 1 minute, medium speed for 1 minute, then high speed until they create firm, glossy peaks.

8) Whisk 1/4 of the egg white mixture into cheese mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the egg whites with a rubber spatula.

9) Pour into the prepared souffle dish and smooth the top. Draw a large circle on top with spatula to help the souffle rise evenly, and place in the oven. Turn oven down to 375 degrees immediately upon placement and bake for 30-35 minutes until puffed and brown. Don't peek in oven while this is baking or it will affect the rising of the souffle. Serve immediately.

I just ate this with a lovely tossed salad and my Lakonia dressing. Life is good. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I am a Maine girl after all...

So, just to keep up with what this blog was originally intended  for (even if it did turn into a food blog), I TOTALLY ate lobster this summer. Lots of it. I really want some of it right now, actually.

As you know, Tyrone and I traveled to Maine for two seperate weeks. One on his family's farm up north, and one at my family's house in the south by the beach. Both vacations were completely different, and both incredible. I can honestly say I feel ready for this crazy fall schedule I have now entered, and feel O.K. that my next day off is in a month (sort of).

If you don't recall The List, read about it there! That means I completed

14. Eat a whole Maine lobster...each!

15. AND a lobster roll!

Now, for those who don't know, the best place in Maine to get lobster is Bayley's Lobster Pound. It's in Scarborough, ME., right off the ocean. Everything is fresh daily, and they'll even cook those suckers for you  if you're not partial to boiling them yourselves.

Though we definitely were not able to get near to completing the list, we covered all the seasonal stuff. Tyrone and I have decided to continue pursuing this list of ours, who knows, maybe we can finish before the new year. Maybe?

This lobster was cooked and eaten at Tyrone's family's farm in Maine. We even had fresh picked corn with it!

And this is a lovely, lovely lobster roll from Bayley's. I know we didn't get much of our list done, but look at that beach! Look at that lobster roll! Look at that lovely man! Or...his hands anyway. Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away. Or made me run or ride a bike.

(We also ate shrimp rolls right after the lobster rolls. Shhh.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


So at the beginning of September, Tyrone and I went to Maine for a much needed vacation, and also for my Dad's birthday.

This post is late to say Happy Birthday, but I am so happy I was able to take the time to be there in person this year. My Dad is THE smartest person I know, and never fails to shock me at his infinite knowledge, and also his modesty. And the fact that if and when he reads this, he will laugh at me calling him infinitely knowledgeable.

He is also incredibly positive. I always remember very specifically when he would drive me to school, and it would be raining, he would say "What a beautiful day!" Now, as a kid, I thought he was being crazy. It's raining?! How could it possibly be a beautiful day? Silly Dad.
What a gift that is! To be able to look at the world everyday and say, "What a beautiful day!" This is a lesson I am still learning all the time, and that lots of people never learn.

This has been a rough year financially, so I wasn't able to buy my Dad a nice gift. I decided to make him something extra special in place of a traditional birthday cake.

I know you can't read it, but that says HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD using....

 Ferraro Rocher Cupcakes! These are basically cupcakes that recreate the Ferraro Rocher candies in cupcake form. I would suggest using a high quality cocoa powder such as Valrhona. It is a bit pricey, but makes a HUGE difference. I know you can also get it at Whole Foods, if you have one near you.

Ferraro Rocher cupcakes
adapted from The Cupcake Project
makes 24 regular cupcakes/ 12 large

1/2 cup boiling water
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon hazelnut extract (I couldn't find this ANYWHERE, so order it online!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
10 tablespoons dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour cupcake pans, or use the paper liners.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk boiling water into cocoa until smooth and whisk in milk, vanilla and hazelnut extracts. Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, beat together butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

4) In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt and add to egg mixture in batches, alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mix. Make sure to fully incorporate each addition, and stop to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

5)Fill each wrapper about halfway. These cupcakes rise a lot. This makes just enough batter, so be careful. Bake for about 18 minutes, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Once cupcakes are baked and cooled, make the filling and topping!

Chocolate Hazelnut Filling (Nutella can also be used)

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons hazelnut extract

1) Bring heavy cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate chips and whisk to melt them. Add extract. Mix with a hand mixer until fluffy.

2) Cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake. Once the filling has cooled, fill each cupcake with 1-2 teaspoons of filling, replacing tops.

Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache topping

1/2 cup heavy cream
8oz good semisweet chocolate chunks
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (you can leave this out, it just makes the topping glisten more like candy)
2 teaspoons hazelnut extract
1 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted

Bring heavy cream to a boil, and pour over chocolate chunks to melt. Whisk in corn syrup and extract. Add ground hazelnuts to ganache, and spread on top of cupcakes.

Once this is done, decorate as you wish. I used gold sprinkles and gold icing for the lettering.


Friday, September 10, 2010


This was the name of a shirt I once owned, and wore proudly as a curvy girl.

But, truly, I would really like to feed them.

I work at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and we are the host of Fashion Week this year, and for many years to come. This has resulted in headaches and irritation on my departments part, since our number  seems to be listed as 411 for most of NY.

I do enjoy fashion, and the artistry behind it. But, I can't help but cringe at every model who walks down a runway with popsicle stick legs. As one of my favorite bloggers, Joy the Baker, put it: what woman's thighs DON'T rub together?!

I can't help but wonder if these woman never had mommies who made them birthday cakes, and cookies when they were sad, or taught them how to make breakfast.

Anyway, if I ever have the chance, I would make them a Peach Brown Betty and give them a scoop of vanilla icecream to go along with it. A delicious, buttery dessert that's perfect for a rainy summer night.

Peach Brown Betty
adapted from Joy the Baker
about 8 servings (or 6, if you're us)

2 heapings cups of peaches, pitted and sliced
7 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
3/4 cup salted butter, cold
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Mise en place, which means to prep everything or put "everything in place." So, preheat oven to 375 degrees, pit and slice peaches and set aside, cube all wheat bread, coat 9 or 10-inch pie pan with butter (make sure you do the whole thing).

2. Add 1/3 of the brown sugar to the bottom of the buttered pan. Cover with 1/3 of the sliced peaches, then 1/3 of the cubed bread. Take 1/3 of the cold butter, slice it, and place on top of bread. Repeat this twice more, ending with butter. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of water, to moisten.

3. Cover the pie dish with foil, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil, and bake for another 5 minutes uncovered to "crisp" it.

4. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes, or until room temperature, then dig in! I always serve this on top of a scoop of vanilla icecream.

NOTE: If you want to get really fancy about it, you can make your own brown sugar. Take one cup granulated sugar, and one tablespoon molasses, and mix mix mix with a fork until there are no clumps left. It's a little time consuming, but really handy if you don't want to run to the store! I really like this method because I make the amount I need, and don't have to worry about my brown sugar hardening on me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cornmeal Molasses Pancakes

I really love big breakfasts. I always feel better when I start my day with biscuits, pancakes, breakfast name it. New York looks like a much friendlier place when my tummy is happy. These babies, coupled with some scrambled eggs and a fruit salad, are a definite day-starter, and would also be great for those occasional brunch parties.

Cornmeal Molasses Pancakes
adapted from Joy the Baker
makes about 16 pancakes

1 large egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon molasses ( I use Grandma's molasses)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal


1. Melt your butter in a small saucepan or double boiler, and cool slightly.

2. Whisk together egg, buttermilk, molasses, vanilla extract, and melted butter in a small bowl.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder (I also whisked to ensure it's all mixed).

4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine until just mixed. Don't worry if the batter is a bit lumpy, that's normal.

5. Drop two small spoonfuls of batter onto a hot, greased skillet.

6. When you see the edges are turning brown and there are bubbles on top, flip that pancake.

Pancakes are also a bit time consuming since you can only do one or two at a time, so I always keep a plate warm in the oven to place the finished pancakes until everything is ready. About 200 degrees is great.

We ate this with Maine's maple syrup, but they were also great with just butter. Love the crunch of the cornmeal!