Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake Pops

I've joined a club.


I'm not one to join clubs, not since I was a kid, really, but this one seemed fun. It's called Daring Bakers, and you can view a list of all the bakers and their sites here. I generally don't join clubs and volunteer for stuff because I always feel like I'm not going to be able to hold up my end of the deal. And so it almost was this time.


I suddenly realized that the day I thought I was going to post was three days later than I was supposed to post. Luckily, after some last minute baking, everything came together. And I had a dinner party to go to, so I had a place to bring the treats!


The recipe is one of the messier I've tried. The aforementioned treats are Cheesecake Pops, from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. The recipe, in my mind, is of three parts. The first part is the making and baking of a cheesecake. (I thought for sure I'd have a massive overflow here!)


Anyway, I've never made a cheesecake before, so I was looking forward to this challenge. As it turns out, cheesecake is not particularly difficult to make. It's a bit of a challenge to decide when the cheesecake is appropriately baked, though.
So I baked this cheesecake, and then chilled it overnight. And then came part two of the recipe, which I have designated the cranky section. Ohh, was I cranky. The recipe recommends that you scoop out balls of cheesecake from the pan and then set the balls on the baking pan, insert the sticks, and freeze.
I could absolutely not scoop spheres of cheesecake. I could scoop, but not spheres. I tried rolling the cheesecake into spheres, like play-doh, but no luck; I ended up with gloves of cheesecake on my hands and tiny chunks of lumpy cheesecake on my pan.
Not a safe procedure with little kids running around doing bad things I needed my hands to put a stop to.
Noticing the crankiness level building, I quickly decided to switch to cutting cubes of cheesecake from the pan. Much neater, although there was a large amount of scrap cheesecake left. Easily eaten by various family members and passers-by, but still, I definitely think I missed some key step since my pops aren't spherical. Here's the pre-freeze pops:
Rather ugly, huh?

Stage three of the recipe calls for melting chocolate and dipping the cheesecake. Easy peasy and fun. I added crisco to the chocolate, as directed, which I've never done before. I didn't really notice a difference in taste or texture. Chocolate definitely helps make things look better: the pops weren't failures after all. I drizzled some chocolate on the scraps as well, and called them cheesecake bars.

Then I bundled up the pops for the party. Yum! Definitely a recipe to use again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Growing Things

Here's what's growing around here, finally.











Even the Lucky Bamboo is sprouting.

And the light coming through the windows is SPRING light. Similar to summer light, my favorite.

Now all I need is the dappled shade from leaves.



Well, sometimes one must acknowledge one's failures. The sun sank beneath the tree line just as I started shooting. Plus about six other things that are wrong with this picture. But it's the sun, setting LATE!

Yay.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Family Food

Last night was "Lebanese Dinner" at my sister's house. (We're a bit Lebanese, if you're wondering how we picked this cuisine.) It was so fun! I, of course, took no photos, because I was too busy cooking. And eating. And eating and eating.


I brought the dessert, a simple, rustic cookie called Gahk. (Not gak, which I just googled, and is slang for street methamphetamine.) My cousin gave me her "Sithou's recipe" (Sithou means grandmother) and they're made of flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, raisins, milk, vanilla and margarine. (I think at some point they must have been altered, since my family came from the mountains of Lebanon, and I'm pretty sure margarine was not naturally-occurring there)...but anyway, they're easy. The recipe makes about 5 dozen. The cookies themselves are made by rolling small handfuls of dough into snakes and then creating rings. They look like donuts. They're probably just as healthy, too. But so good with a glass of ice cold milk!


One sister prepared the main dish, Fthoia (that's our pronunciation, but other Lebanese people have commented on our accent in the past.) Fthoia are dough triangles filled with ground meat; historically lamb, now often beef, cooked with chopped onions and pie nuts (snubel). Also historically deep fried, but we baked them for our arteries' sake.


Both the Gahk and the Fthoya really should be put together while sitting around the table with friends or family, gossiping and chatting, and made in large batches.


My other sister brought hummus and tabbouleh and Syrian bread, and my parents brought laham b'anadora, which is lamb and onion in tomato sauce. And we had a salad of tomato, onion, and mint. So good.

Here's the gahk recipe:


Sithou's Gahk, courtesy of cousin Kerri


5-6 C flour

5 sticks margarine at room temp (my cousin recommended Blue Bonnet)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 C sugar plus extra

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

0.25 C milk

1 C raisins


Blend all of the ingredients except the flour.

Once blended, add the flour, a little bit at a time, until the dough doesn't stick to your hands--then it's perfect.

Roll a small amount of dough into a snake shape, then shape into a ring, pressing the edges together.

Dip in the extra sugar to coat all over.

Bake at 300 for 20-25min, or until just about to brown on the bottom.


My Notes:

With this last batch, I used more like 6.5 C flour, I think atmospheric conditions might have some effect on the recipe.

I like more raisins-1.5-2C.

Use about, I don't know, maybe a quarter cup of dough per cookie.

The snakes should be approximately 0.75 inch in diameter, and should make a circle approximately four inches in diameter.

These cookies are a bit dry, hence the deliciousness with a cup of cold milk--so be careful not to over bake. The tops do not brown, so watch the bottoms.

My cookies took more like 30 minutes, but my oven is not particularly reliable.

If you try them, let me know what you think!



Oh, and here's a picture. I read the blog and realized that you probably have no idea what I am talking about!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Just Another Reason to Run

I can't remember the last time this happened to me: I was completely misunderstood. Not misheard. More like misinterpreted. And so now I have another reason to run. As in on the treadmill, not for office.
I went out to the front of the office and invited a client who was waiting to come back into the office. Usually, I am not the one who does this--I meet them once they're in the back. So the woman says to me, "Oh, I didn't expect to see you out here!" and I graciously replied, "I thought I'd cut down on the wait." To which she replied,"Yeah, it's good to get exercise when you can, to keep an eye on your weight."
Yah.
So either she was being polite and was just going along with me, or she thought I needed to get more exercise. Because of my weight.
Anyway, as she left my office, I said, "Would you mind bringing this paper to the desk?" and she replied, "Sure, I don't mind a little exercise."
Hmm.
Well that was the funniest conversation I had today. I tell you that as I am sitting on the couch watching the Red Sox and eating Ghirardelli 60%cacao baking chips out of the bag. Yum.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Seedlings

I just updated my blog to do list and I'm embarrassed to say I took one item out and added three. Not much getting done on that there list.
Sisters (and I mean that literally,) you may want to skip the next couple of paragraphs. It's about (gasp) plants. Number four sister--plants growing in my HOUSE! Look away.

Anyway, for those of you who aren't nauseated by the thought of plants growing in your house, I planted some veggie and herb seeds in one of the sunnier windows of the house. I've got chives sprouting, and wax beans, tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. No eggplant or tomatillos or hot peppers yet. I'm going to try some spinach too, outside. But growing leafy vegetables kind of grosses me out. I always think there are going to be bugs hiding in the leaves. Must be something from childhood. But I'll try spinach, and sugar peas, and maybe some lettuce. (gross.) Oh, and I just remembered, I bought some rhubarb corms or whatever they are. Ooh, and carrots of many colors, too.

I have too many seeds. I bet I won't be able to manage the upkeep of all those plants. One year I grew popcorn and I never even harvested the corn, I was so lazy by the end of the summer. Or maybe I was having morning sickness. Whatever. I wouldn't go out in the backyard. Another year, I became afraid to enter my garden because of the creepy squash beetles that overwhelmed my summer squash. They were MEAN looking. So no squash. Oh, and I once had a standoff with a humongous praying mantis, and of course the praying mantis won. HUMONGOUS! That was the end of that year's gardening.

I'm working on some more permanent fruit plantings ideas, too--I've got some little baby peach trees coming from my godfather, and I've cleaned up the strawberry patch, and I'm going to plant some blueberry bushes, too--but there's not much sun in the yard right now. Well, there is right now, because the trees are leafless, but soon the shade will return. Someday we'll take down a few trees.

And now stuff is starting to bloom outside. I worked today ( oh, what a long, stressful day.) so I had no sunlight to photograph things, but I will soon!

Monday, April 07, 2008

What's Next?

I've been making To-Do lists off and on all day today, and yesterday as well. It's because I've finally had a moment to sit still since the party is done, and I feel like for the past week I've dropped everything else to focus on birthdays and birthday parties. So now I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I mean, I do have some idea...like I know I have dance class tuition to pay, since I got a little email from the dance school reminding me that I didn't pay last month...emails are helpful like that, right?

The party was really fun. The kids all had a blast. There is still chocolate on the walls, if that gives you an inkling as to what the party was like.


So here are the cakes I obsessed about for the week:

That one's Princess Ariel, a Disney lady, made from a Wilton Pan. I don't like frosting this way. It kills my hands. Plus I always think the eyes look a little creepy.



And this is the fondant cake. It's the mickey mouse clubhouse. The big black sphere is Styrofoam covered in fondant. The rest is fondant and cake. The cake under the red part was cooked in a Pyrex bowl and took twice as long as expected to cook; we almost missed dance class! (the one I do pay for on time.) And the cake was not a big enough dome, so I had to add a cupcake to the top and fill the rest of the area on top with buttercream. I thought I'd get up on Saturday and the cake would have somehow deflated; I'm no architect, but this structure was definitely not sound.

And this is what we had to eat:


Well, we started, of course, with appetizers, including:
bruschetta with tomato, mozzarella and basil
my sister's taco dip/salad which is always a crowd-pleaser;
the usual veggie and fruit trays (the veggie tray was virtually untouched)
oh, and chips and dip, of course.
Then,
cake and ice cream.
then,
porterhouse steak, grilled. (it was delicious. Delicious!)
potato salad, courtesy of Mom
macaroni salad
Caesar salad (yeah, it came out of a bag, just being honest and all. But it was good.)
Prosciutto-wrapped steamed asparagus
then dessert:
cranberry-lemon coffee cake, made by another of my talented sisters, completely gone by sundown Sunday; a Williams Sonoma recipe.
lemon meringue pie, and I would post a picture but I was too tired at 1am when it was finished and looked beautiful and by the next morning it looked totally deformed, with a shrunken meringue perched on top of the lemon, which appeared to be weeping...but honestly it tasted great. no, seriously, it was good, I had a piece. What didn't I have a piece of, you know.
chocolate dipped strawberries. fantastic. But unfortunately, the source of the chocolate on the walls. And probably other places I haven't cleaned yet, too.
snickerdoodles
brownies. it's a great, simple recipe, should you be looking for a brownie recipe from scratch.
Oh, and here's one of our guests, Miss Sylvia, I'm told she's called. My husband brought her home.
She's an espresso maker. She was quite a hit at the party. With the adults, of course. Although with the way some of the kids were acting, I can't guarantee that they weren't also drinking that poison. I myself only drink coffee for the chocolate that's mixed into it.
So, back to normal life. I guess I'll have to start the drapes now.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

T-minus fifteen hours and counting...

Well, it's not 3am yet, but we're closing in on 1am and going strong...I've got two cakes made and decorated, I've got a lemon meringue pie made, and I have brownies in the oven. What's left to do? Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! Dipping strawberries; making snickerdoodles, and setup. I still think it's doable. Back to business now!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I spent April first in a hyper alert state because my coworker is a known prankster and I knew I was high on the list...but nothing ever happened. I spent April second working, exhausted after using so much energy not being the butt of a joke. Today, I worked with four pounds of confectioners sugar, fistfuls (no, I'm serious) of Crisco, three pounds of mini marshmallows, a microwave, and a mixer. Can you guess what I was doing?
I was making fondant. I found this great recipe about a year ago and I've had really good luck with it! It is super easy to make, although it's totally and completely messy. The site is here, if you're interested.
I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed now because I have a the kids' birthday party in a couple of days, and I'm not quite as ready as I want to be: the house is a mess, the cakes are not made, and I don't really know what's on the menu. There are about 2o adults and 10 kids coming for cake and dinner. And I've got these two birthday cakes to make: one with fondant for decoration, one with good old icing and piping.
My newest philosophy (I just came up with this) is that I should take it easy, and everything will get done. Right. I can say that now, because I'm really tired, sitting on the couch lounging and watching a Lost rerun, but tomorrow when it's 3am and I'm cleaning the dining room, I'll be sure to write a quick entry documenting my mood and state of mind...
I'm off to bed. That's part of the philosophy. Early to bed and sleep as late as you can get away with, then stay up until the work's done, and be a zombie at the party. It'll work, right?

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