Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! That's right, ice cream! Doesn't it make for a lovely garnish? I think so too. I like to copy the garnishes that Martha uses in the pictures in the cookbook and for these flourless chocolate cupcakes, ice cream was that garnish. I can get on board with that.

I won't say there were a lot of different steps to these cupcakes, there were only about 3, but each one was a different process that required dirtying another dish, which made for a lot of cleanup that I didn't so much enjoy. But, some good things require more work. While there were several steps, none of them were difficult. Melting the butter and chocolate was easy. That's never where I worry or get hung up that I might be messing something up. It's whipping the egg whites that concerns me and this time around was no different.

I used my stand mixer to handle the egg whites because it's much more efficient and I can do other things while they're whipping, like tend to the melting butter and chocolate for instance. I let the egg whites whip until I thought they were the right consistency, truthfully, I never know. I just do what I think is right and hope for the best. This time around I don't think I did it right because of how the cupcakes turned out. I'm not sure if I over-whipped the egg whites, or didn't whip them enough, but when the cupcakes were done the centers never really collapsed like they looked in Martha's pictures, they just kind of caved in. I suppose it could have also been the baking time (25 total minutes with a turn halfway through), maybe they needed to bake longer, or maybe I didn't bake them long enough. I don't plan on making them again anytime soon (it's almost time to start Christmas baking), but if I do I'll try to do some investigative work and see if they turn out any differently the second time around.

Although they didn't look like Martha's pictures, they did taste delicious! Especially with the ice cream. She knows a good garnish. The texture was very light and smooth. It kind of reminded me of a mousse. The texture was less cakey than a souffle and the center was set so it wasn't like a lava cake. In short they were tasty, and I ate more of them than I originally intended. It's a good thing I ran out of ice cream (my hubby helped with that) or I would have eaten even more. When I'm not pressuring myself by shedding for a wedding I let myself get away with a lot more bad eating. It's time to right this ship, though I'm not sure doing it before the holidays is a good idea.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pistachio-Raspberry Tea Cakes

We are rapidly approaching the end of the simple and sweet section of the cookbook. I couldn't believe it myself until I looked ahead a few pages and saw that I only have 2 to go after these pistachio-raspberry tea cakes. It's exciting to finish a section, I feel like I'm really making progress and accomplishing something. No, it's certainly nothing as noble as curing a disease or saving the environment, but a goal is a goal... at least I have one.

I will confess that I wasn't excited about making these cupcakes. As mentioned several times before I'm not a big fan of pistachios and I don't hate raspberries, but I don't love them either. I prefer them in a pureed or syrup form. Like a garnish on a dessert, or perhaps in yogurt. I also figured that not many people would be interested in eating them, including myself, so they would be hard to get rid of.

The first thing I did to start making these cupcakes was to shell (I couldn't find pistachios that had already been shelled) and chop the pistachios. I had bought a small container of pistachios that I thought would be enough for the recipe, which was a little over a cup. I got about 3/4 cup of shelled pistachios. Not enough. I thought I might have an already opened bag of pistachios in the cupboard from a recent attempt at healthy snacking (I just can't do pistachios, I really tried, I swear) but I searched through the cupboard and couldn't find it. However a day later when I was back in that same cupboard looking for something else I found them... on the bottom shelf, right in front of my face. Clearly a future as a detective is not in the cards for me. Since I couldn't find anymore pistachios in the cupboard when I looked for them the first time I decided that I would just cut the recipe in half. Something I've thought of doing before when I had a recipe I wasn't excited about, but this was the first time I actually did it. I had enough pistachios to give me a 1/2 cup for the recipe and enough left over to use for the garnish. It would also be less work and I would have less to eat/get rid of. Everybody wins.

Happy with my decision to cut the recipe in half I proceeded. This recipe was the first I've used that calls for everything to be put together in a food processor. I almost didn't use it since I was afraid that it wouldn't work and blend everything well enough. But, part of this process is trying something new so I forged ahead. I ground the pistachios with the sugar and salt. I did a couple doses since after the first one there were still a couple of larger pieces of pistachio left. I wanted everything to be as fine as possible. I followed the same process for the remaining ingredients and turned out getting a normal looking batter. Though once everything was combined I did use a spoon to make sure everything was really combined since some of the liquid was at the bottom of the food processor and not completely mixed. Truthfully I think cutting the recipe in half was a stroke of luck (and maybe brilliance) since I'm not sure making a full batch would have fit in my food processor.

I filled the liners (which had to be sprayed with cooking spray first, something I've never had to do before) 3/4 full. This gave me 6 cupcakes... perfect! I was so excited to only have 6 cupcakes. I baked the cupcakes for 28 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. They may have turned out a little browner than I normally like. But they were by no means too done or burnt. They also looked quite beautiful. The colors were really nice. I can't say the same for the taste.

The batter was pretty good, but I really didn't enjoy the end product. I'm not sure if it was the combination of the pistachios and the raspberries, perhaps it was the consistency. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something wasn't quite right. I only ended up eating the portion of the cupcake that I took apart to take the photos. I even tried to go back a few days later when I was craving something sweet to give them another try and I only took a bite. They just weren't for me. I ended up throwing them away. I knew there was no way Bobby was going to eat them, fruit and nuts together, the cupcakes didn't stand a chance with him. I didn't think anyone at work would be interested in them either, especially since they were a couple days old at that point. I only like to provide baked goods when they're as fresh as possible. If I don't want to eat them, I can't expect other people to be interested.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Skunked (Pupper le Pew)

This is Rollins. Our 2-year-old Yellow Lab. He is very handsome, and he knows it.
This is a skunk. Not mine and certainly not handsome.
A couple weeks ago on a mild September evening after the sun had set, these 2 met. And because of that chance meeting we have the story of the night Rollins was sprayed by a skunk.

It was roughly 9pm, give or take a few minutes. I was in the kitchen and my husband (Bobby) was in the bedroom. Rollins was also in the bedroom and started growling and barking out the window. He does this on occasion and whenever we look out the window we never see anything, and never quite know what he's barking at.

(Please note the image below is not even remotely to scale or at all accurate in terms of what our house actually looks like, but it gives you an idea of where things are.)
We decided to let him out, so Bobby put his collar on him and Rollins sprinted out the back door clearly keen on getting whatever creature was lurking in the darkness. I had tried to ask Bobby to check around the side of the house (where the skunk is on the drawing above) to make sure there wasn't anything there before Rollins went out. It's hard to see around the side of the house, especially at night and I was worried about him chasing whatever creature was there into the street. But Rollins was not to be stopped, he was on a mission.

Since Rollins literally took off off the deck I ran outside as well to make sure he wasn't going to run into the street. When he's chasing something, he has no concept of where he is. He is a retriever after all. Because it was dark I couldn't see what was on the side of the house. But by all the barking and growling Rollins was doing it was clear that he had found something. Bobby was in the yard going after Rollins to get him to come back onto the deck. Rollins is actually a pretty well behaved dog and listens most of the time, so back to the deck he came and stood with me while Bobby assessed the situation.

I asked him if he could see anything and he said, "I think it was a skunk." And instantly I'm thinking, "Oh, (expletive), I hope he didn't get sprayed." He was standing right next to me and I didn't smell a thing, I thought we were in the clear. Then I bent down and took a whiff. Yep, it was a skunk, and Rollins got sprayed. Skunk 1, Rollins 0. It was late, it was dark, everything was closed, what do we do? Google of course. Google always has the answer.

I stood on the deck with Rollins to keep the smell out of the house while Bobby Googled on his phone and ran down the options. I remember tomato juice being a remedy when I was a kid. I knew we didn't have any tomato juice so I was hoping there were other options. There were. We decided based on what we had on hand that giving him a bath with his own shampoo was the best option.

Before bathing him we checked his eyes and ears and they appeared to be fine. Apparently skunk spray is actually an oil, and it can burn the eyes and cause blindness. Rollins was good. Google also said to wipe down the sprayed animal, Rollins in this case, with paper towels to try to get some of the oil off before it soaked into his skin. We did that and then into the tub he went.

Rollins loves the water. He's a big fan of the pool and loves the hose, but he hates being in the bathtub. I wish I had taken a picture of how pitiful he looked while standing in the tub soaking wet. He was not a happy camper. We (Bobby) ended up giving him 2 consecutive baths with his regular dog shampoo and it did the trick. However, there was no remedy for the skunk smell that permeated the house. The smell was everywhere. Because the bedroom windows were open, and the incident occurred outside the bedroom windows, the smell had worked its way into the house. It was awful. We turned on all the fans, lit all the candles we had and opened all the windows. In the morning it was much better.

As for Rollins, he didn't smell the next day, but if he gets wet, even now that it's a couple weeks later, you can still smell a little bit of the skunk on him. But only if you're close to him. We read on Google that the smell can stay on animals that have been sprayed up to 2 years, so the sooner the situation is address the better. Since he was wearing his collar when he was sprayed that also stunk of skunk. We left it outside on the deck for a few days and airing it out completely got rid of the skunk smell. The towels we used to dry him off, and the clothes we were wearing while we bathed him were all also rid of the skunk smell after they had been washed.

We haven't seen the skunk since, but then again, I never saw it to begin with. I will say, I now do a quick check of the yard before I let him out at night, just to make sure I can't see, or smell anything. And now, when Rollins barks out into the darkness at what I think is nothing, I do a quick scan to see if there's anything there. Just in case.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is back! Did you miss it? I like when a cheesecake recipe comes up because it's usually pretty easy, it tastes good and the cheesecakes usually make for pretty pictures. Which, I would have to say is the case with these cookies and cream cheesecakes (no recipe on Martha's site, sorry). Aren't they pretty?

I usually bake at least once a week for two reasons. One, to make sure I stay on track with this blog (except when I'm getting married and honeymooning of course), and two, because I like to bring in baked treats to work on Sunday morning, whether it's what I'm making from Martha's cookbook or something else just for fun. It's like therapy for me and I honestly look forward to it. Unless I'm tired and don't feel like dealing with the mess. Some day I will have a person to wash all my dirty dishes.

This week, I was excited to make these cheesecakes because I knew they would be pretty when they were done, and I also knew that people at work would like them (who doesn't like Oreos and cheesecake?) so I wouldn't have a bunch left over. I don't like to let things go to waste when I've paid for the ingredients, but I also don't want to eat 10 cheesecakes by myself. Just because I already fit in my wedding dress doesn't mean I can just let it all go.

Let's get down to business. This recipe was very straight forward. I didn't even need to mixing bowls! I had to buy a few things that I didn't have on hand. Oreo cookies being one of them. But, in a nice turn of events they were on sale and I also had a coupon. I'm also aspiring to be a couponer. I've got a long way to go. The morning of the day I was planning to bake I set the cream cheese and eggs out before I headed to work so they would be room temperature and ready when I got home. The only real "prep" work I had left was chopping up the Oreo cookies that were going into the batter, and that didn't take long. Neither did making the batter.

The recipe said to fill the liners almost to the top and that I would get 30 cheesecakes when all was said and done. I only have 2 cupcake pans and normally I would stop after filling up 2 pans because usually there isn't much batter left. After I had filled 24 liners I still had quite a bit of batter left, too much that I wasn't willing to throw it away. The only problem was after the cheesecakes were baked (22 total minutes with a turn halfway through) they were supposed to cool completely and then remain in the cupcake pans and cool in the fridge at least 4 hours. With only 2 cupcake pans that meant that a batch was going to be without a pan to cool in (I ended up with 36 total cheesecakes). Thinking on my feet I grabbed the top rack of my cupcake carrier and put the first batch of cheesecakes in that and put them in the fridge. Not as good as a cupcake pan, but better than nothing. When all of the cheesecakes were done they went in the fridge overnight, and I took them to work the next morning.

I didn't try a cheesecake until after I had taken them to work and gotten home that afternoon. Cheesecake for breakfast is a little much, even for me. I thought they were delicious. So smooth, light and creamy. Since they were so easy to make and delicious, I would definitely make them again. But, I have a lot of cupcakes left to make before I repeat any recipes. It could take years... seriously.