Friday, June 22, 2012

"NightLock" Blueberry Pie



            One more Hunger Games inspired recipe for you. I made a “Nightlock” Berry Pie, perfect for the summer season, and future DVD release parties. It’s my version of a traditional blueberry pie. I use some unusual spices, and slightly less sugar than most recipes to showcase the fruit. I promise this one isn’t really poisonous. Visually what makes this pie special is the freehand drawn and cut Mockingjay skull with a crossed bone-and-arrow I used as topping.
To make the stencil I used a simple ballpoint pen on a piece of cardstock, which I then cut out with scissors. The only tricky part is I used a toothpick to draw the eye sockets and nostril cavities in the dough itself.

I made this in celebration of a co-worker who was unfortunately transferred to another store. Since he was leaving us after a stellar 10 years, I jokingly told him he was dead to us. Not true at all, John is actually the founder and generous host of our little book club. He’s read The Hunger Games, so he was in on the joke. The real message of this pie is: “Thank you for being an awesome manager, and an awesome human being”.

Pie Crust:
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal
1 cup cold butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
8-10 tsp vodka
2 ice cubes

1.     In a large bowl stir together: flour, almond meal, salt, and cinnamon.
2.     Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients.
3.     Using a fork or pastry blender work the butter into the dry ingredients until everything resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also use a food processor.
4.     Pour the vodka over the ice cubes to chill.
5.     Add the vodka one tsp at a time just until the dough comes together.
6.     Remove one third of the dough, and place it in the fridge.
7.     Roll the remaining two-thirds of the dough between two sheets of wax paper into a large enough round to fill a 9” pie plate.
8.     Line your pie plate with the freshly rolled dough, trim the excess and flute the edges. Poke the bottom of the crust with a fork a few times. Refrigerate immediately for one hour prior to making the filling.
9.     Take the remaining 1/3 of dough from the fridge. Between two sheets of wax paper, roll out to roughly ¼” thick, large enough to encompass the entire stencil.
10. Remove only the top layer of wax paper. Lay the stencil flat on the surface of the dough; cut out your design with a sharp knife. Refrigerate until the pie is otherwise completely assembled.

Filling:
1.5 pounds fresh blueberries (about 4½-5 cups)
3 ½ Tbsp tapioca starch (can sub corn starch) 
Zest of one lemon
¼ cup lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1.     In a large bowl, with your hands gently toss the washed blueberries in the tapioca starch.
2.     Add cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and ginger to the fruit and gently toss until everything is evenly coated.
3.     Add the lemon zest, juice, and the sugar. Again toss until everything is evenly coated. Careful not to squish the fruit as much as possible.
4.     Immediately pour the filling into the prepared and chilled piecrust.
5.     Cube the butter and scatter the cubes all over the top of the filling.
6.     Preheat the oven to 375°.
7.     When the pie is filled, retrieve your cut-stenciled topping. Flip the topping and wax paper over right on the center of the pie. Peel away the wax paper. This is much easier than trying to move the fragile pieces any other way.

8.     Tent the pie with aluminum foil, bake at 375° for 40 minutes.
9.     After 40 minutes remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kwan-Su Cupcakes



            “Kwan-su Dudes!” If you understand this movie reference not only are you awesome, but probably very much enjoyed the early 90’s. Born in 1988, I certainly had an entertaining 90’s childhood. Surf Ninjas is a b-list, family friendly, action- comedy from 1993.
Two teenaged-surfer brothers named Johnny and Adam (Ernie Reyes Jr., Nicholas Cowan) were living a normal, laid-back life in the sun-soaked city of Los Angeles when the brothers discover they’re actually the long-lost princes of the South Pacific Island of Pa-Tu-San. But all is not surfing and ruling paradise: Pa-Tu-San is under the control of warlord Colonel Chi (Leslie Neilson). To save their adoptive father, and free their homeland from tyranny, Johnny and Adam must now transform into ninja warriors. With the help of a one-eyed black belt (Ernie Reyes Sr.), Johnny’s obnoxious best friend (Rob Schneider, with ORANGE hair), a cop (Tone Loc), and a few friends, Johnny and Adam will discover the meaning of destiny, duty, honor, and ultimately Kwan-Su.

I came across the Surf Ninjas DVD on Amazon (you can rent it from Netflix too) while ordering a sleep sack for a trip I’m taking to Europe this summer. I threw it into my cart in order to qualify for free shipping. Not to say I wouldn’t have bought it anyway; purchasing the movie was one of the better decisions I made that day. It arrived just in time for my 24th birthday last week. So why not translate it into my birthday cake?
Because of this movie, I thought the lyrics to the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann” were actually “Ba-Baram” until I was 16! Yeah… That was an embarrassing moment.
I made a tropical fruit cake, with mangos, banana, lime, and coconut; covered with coconut butter cream-tie-dye frosting and topped off with a Kwan-Su patch to resemble the head bands worn by rebels in the film. This cupcake tastes like nostalgia- the funny kind.

CAKE:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½  tsp baking soda
1 ¼ cup sugar
¾ cup melted coconut oil
2 limes (for zest only)
1 small, ripe banana
1 cup tangerine juice (can substitute orange juice)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup chopped mango

1.     Mango should be cut into ¼” cubes, set aside.
2.     Sift together: flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
3.     Add the sugar to the other dry ingredients. Mix.
4.     Add the lime zest.
5.     Add the melted coconut oil. Combine everything until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
6.     Mash the banana. Add to the dry ingredients/coconut oil.
7.     Add the eggs one at a time. Beat after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape sides down as needed.
8.     With the mixer on, add the tangerine juice slowly.
9.     Once everything is fully incorporated fold the mango into the batter.
10. Preheat oven to 350
11. Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake for 18-20 minutes. Makes 24 cupcakes.


COCONUT BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) softened, unsalted butter
½ cup coconut cream*
5 cups of powdered sugar
1 lemon, for zest only
1/8 tsp coconut flavor oil or ¾ tsp coconut extract (this is optional, only add for a more intense flavor)

1. Cream the butter until smooth, absolutely no lumps allowed.
2. Add the coconut cream. Beat with the butter until smooth. As the fat solids in the coconut cream attach to the fats in the butter coconut water will begin to separate. Stop beating the mixture when there is about 2 Tbsp of liquid in the bottom of the mixing bowl.
3. Add the lemon zest and the coconut extract/flavoring oil.
4. With the mixer on, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Beat until smooth.

*How to get coconut cream. I initially discovered coconut cream from a customer at my work: she uses coconut cream to make vegan whipped cream. As seen here. Essentially this process separates the fat solids in coconut milk from the coconut water.
1. Buy full fat (at least 13g fat per serving) coconut milk.
2. DO NOT SHAKE, or FLIP OVER the can at any time after purchase.
3. Refrigerate the can of coconut milk overnight.
4. Open the can just before use. Scoop out the top layer of super-thick white cream without disturbing the clear liquids beneath.

For the “tie-dyed” frosting I have to thank Pintrest for linking me to this image/instructional. To create a tie-dye effect in the frosting you need a CLEAN or new paintbrush and gel food coloring in any color you desire. Simply pour small dollops of food coloring on a plate. Using the paintbrush, literally paint the inside of your piping bag in a vertically-striped pattern; it doesn’t matter in which order, how wide or narrow. Feel free to experiment! I used red, yellow, orange, and purple to match the colors in the Surf Ninjas’ headbands. For the best effect I would recommend any sized star tip.

MEDALLIONS:
¾ cup yellow candy melts
¼ cup black candy melts
1 round “peppermint patty” size/style candy mold
2 parchment paper cones

1.     Make both paper cones prior to melting candy.
2.     Melt the black candy according to package directions. I prefer the microwave method. Stir between 30- second intervals at 50% power until smooth.
3.     Transfer the candy into a paper cone, cut the tip to create the smallest possible hole. The smaller the hole, the better control you’ll have.
4.     Draw the “double dragon” from the patch onto the bottom of the mold. No one will care if they’re not perfect. Drawing with chocolate is hard! Just look at mine!

5.     Immediately repeat step 2 with the yellow candy.
6.     Fill the second paper cone with the melted yellow candy.
7.     Cut the end off. The bigger the hole, the less control you have, so do what feels comfortable.
8.     Fill the remaining space over the black candy with yellow.
9.     Let set. Setting at room temperature varies based on the room temperature and humidity, mine set in 25 minutes. You can use the fridge; it’ll set in about 10 minutes.
10. When the candy has set, simply pop the medallions out of their molds by flexing the edges and place on top of your frosting cupcakes!

Kwan-Su Dudes! They love this word. It must mean free beer or something.” – said 11 year-old Prince Adam.
I think it means awesome birthday cupcakes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Killer Burger


One of my favorite humorous anecdotes from Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, is her constant internal dialogue about food. Camping for three months, surviving on jerky, water, and dried fruits will corner you into some seriously unsatisfied cravings. Not any lemonade will do, only Snapple lemonade can quench your thirst. A simple cheeseburger at a cheap diner becomes an orgasmic experience.

Thinking about burgers, only one came to mind as the ultimate burger craving: the Peanut-Butter-Pickle-Bacon Burger from Killer Burger. I know it sounds weird. It’s a concoction only a hormonal pregnant woman, or someone smoking some serious green would come up with, but trust me. If this burger sounds disgusting to you, it’s only because you haven’t eaten one yet. It’s killer.
The light smear of mayo, combined with the super-creamy peanut butter sauce creates a messy masterpiece. The pickles aren’t briny but add a similar light salty flavor with the peanut butter with just the right amount of crunch. What doesn’t get better with two strips of crispy bacon? With a 1/3 pound all beef-patty, everything is stacked on a perfect burger bun. All that goodness needs a sturdy base. The buns are super-soft, but more importantly do not fall apart as you’re eating. Be warned, you will still need a few napkins for this one.
I heard about Killer Burger from a childhood friend of mine. One of the best suggestions she ever made; the selection at Killer Burgers range from a classic single burger to a blue cheeseburger, a super spicy Jose Mendoza burger, a barnyard burger (topped with ham and an egg), or the PBPB. All burgers come standard with bacon, an excellent start to any menu. Even the veggie burger will come with bacon for you hypocrites out there!
Killed it.
Killer Burger has three locations: Sellwood, Hollywood, and Bingen, WA. Right now Killer Burger is offering a happy hour special on PBPB Burgers, $4.95 for a burger and fries between 2-5, M-F. The restaurant seating is a little limited at the Hollywood location at: 4644 NE Sandy Blvd (47th and Sandy). I would recommend planning on getting a burger to go, or go on a sunny day and enjoy a seat outside at one of the sidewalk picnic tables.


Wild


            
            A self-indulgent memoir about a naive 26-year-old woman and her brutal trek across California and Oregon, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is a harshly honest portrait of grief.
            At the tender age of 22, Strayed’s world is turned upside down, when her mother is suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Her mother dies shortly thereafter. Caring for ailing parents is a burden most would expect to share with one’s siblings. Strayed’s sister and brother were MIA for most of their mother’s last months. Haunted by the loss of the family matriarch, Strayed attempts to glue her family back together without success.
            What would anyone do when your blood relatives slip through your fingers? What happens when the family you were given disappears? Strayed chooses to destroy the only family she had left, the one she built. Over four years of grieving the loss of her mother, Strayed single-handedly ruins her marriage (through indifference and multiple extra-martial affairs) and begins a courtship with heroin.
            At the end of her downward spiral, pouting in the stalemate that has become her life, Strayed makes a drastic decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for three months; 1,000 miles of rough terrain from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon border.

*Stop here to avoid spoilers

            I have a very personal connection to the material in Wild. I have had more than one relative die of lung cancer (both from hereditary forms and as a result of smoking). Reading the first few chapters of this book was difficult for me. I made it over the hump when Strayed began describing the dissolution of her marriage. The tone describing the nature of how her affairs began felt utterly insensitive. Strayed’s language was as if she were still trying to justify it to herself ten years after the fact, even though she was explaining how she justified her actions at 24.
            My issues with the book stems from the fact I am about to turn 24 years old. Maybe it wasn’t my mother, but I understand loss. I have seen both the sudden, and protracted decline and eventual deaths of family affected by cancer. I’m slightly uncomfortable admitting it in print, but I can relate to Strayed’s experiences with an abusive father (details of which I guess I’ll have to save for a memoir of my own) resulting in her emotional detachment from men.
            The difference is, I did not marry young, as many of my friends did. I did not cling to the ideals of marriage, and subsequently betray the realities of the union. I will not be running into the woods on a whim for months at a time by myself. Maybe I’m still naïve enough to believe I’m not as naïve as Strayed was at my age.
            The differences are the point. These are the reasons Wild works, because I can sympathize with her loss, but didn’t understand her methods of not dealing with it. Simply because of one universal truth: everyone grieves differently.
            As much as I disliked Cheryl, as a character, and pooh-poohed her misinformed preparations, judgment, planning, and decision making skills, never once did I not want her to succeed in her mission up the west coast, or in her desire to heal. You’ll read this book and wonder if you could accomplish what Strayed did. Not many could, mentally, physically, or emotionally. After finishing, I’m seriously considering if I could or would even attempt just the Oregon section of the trail. Strayed inspired me. Whether or not I actually go doesn’t matter. Confronting your issues, letting them beat you down and making the choice to beat them back does matter.
            Strayed will make you laugh. Strayed will make you cry. She’ll manipulate you into sympathizing for her and detest her just the same. Her ability to wave her freakish flag of personal faults so nonchalantly not only makes her writing brave, but beautiful. As a woman, she clearly communicates, that when you accept your mistakes as simple facts, that despite your faults- it’s more than ok to continue living.            

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Sketchbook Project in PDX




I am a contributing artist to The Sketchbook Project for 2012. A team effort between the Art House Co-Op and the Brooklyn Art Library, The Sketchbook Project is an annual art community project and tour. The concept is simple. Artists from around the world sign up with the Art House Co-Op to participate by creating a sketchbook. The artist receives a blank sketchbook to fill with any creative idea they please, according to a provided theme or otherwise. When finished, the artist returns the sketchbook via mail, to the Art House Co-Op, whose many wonderful staff members archive these sketchbooks into the Art House Library collection. The thousands of completed and returned sketchbooks then go on an international tour including destinations such as: London, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon.
Just look at all those sketchbooks! Literally thousands.

The 2012 tour has been underway since late March, but is spending Mother’s Day weekend in Portland. In addition to indulging in a little shawarma this afternoon, four friends and myself wandered down to The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel in SW Portland to view sketchbooks from around the world. An experience you’ll want to have for yourself, I promise.
One of the wonderful things about The Sketchbook Project is not only are the contributions international, but also, open to the public. After reading multiple books this afternoon, it became abundantly clear just how expansive the range of themes and skills actually is. There are sketchbooks created by classrooms of children, professional painters, printers, graphic designers, and those like me, someone in the middle.
My friend, Krisha Frodsham and I signed up at the same time, worked through our books verbally together, without actually showing each other our work. Today was our big reveal. I finally saw her hard work; she saw mine. Making the book was initially intimidating, but a fun exercise in creativity. I would highly recommend it to anyone with artistic interests. Sign ups for the 2013 edition of The Sketchbook Project are already underway!
Credit: Krisha Frodsham
Credit: Krisha Frodsham

Credit: Randi Morris. Inspired by Geek Love

Credit: Randi Morris. 

If you choose not to make a sketchbook yourself, everything turned in is worth venturing out to view. The tour events are free to the public. For a full list of tour dates and locations visit The Art House Co-Op website.
             I would love to have posted pictures of some of the sketchbooks I saw today, but I thought without the permission of the artists that would be inappropriate. You’ll just have to go see for yourself! The Portland event lasts for just one more day, tomorrow, Sunday, May 13, 2012 from 1-5 pm. The event is hosted by The Cleaners, at the Ace Hotel 1022 SW Stark Street, Portland, OR 97205.

Shawarma, Tastes Like The Weekend


            I saw The Avengers opening day, at the cozy St. John’s Theater in north Portland. We watched the film in 2D for the bargain price of 5 dollars.  The film was superb, completely meeting every expectation. It was better than the hype. Almost as good as my Captain America Cookies. So yesterday, I took my younger brother to see the movie. Along with a friend, we decided to invest a little more in our experience, seeing the film for the second time, in IMAX 3D.
Holy jewelry heist Batman- it was worth every penny!
The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to come July. There are reasons the plan for Avengers 2 has already been made public. If you stayed to watch the credits at the end of The Avengers, you’ll already know who the villain will be in the sequel.
Amused to say the least, we left the theater craving shawarma. If you were foolish enough to leave the theater before the end of all the credits you missed out on two bonus scenes. In the second scene (spoiler alert) our heroic team indulges in the Middle Eastern cuisine mentioned at the conclusion of the battle scene.
If you don’t know what shawarma is, don’t feel bad; I didn’t totally understand either before. I always assumed it was just a sandwich. Shawarma actaully refers to the style in which meat is cooked. Shawarma is marinated lamb, beef, chicken, or a mixture of meats, stacked onto a vertical spit and slowly roasted. Meat is shaved off and can be served on its own with sides and condiments, but is traditionally also served in pita bread as a sandwich.
Living in Portland, the city of roses and food carts we have many Middle Eastern stops dotted around our urban space. Gyros are a popular choice, easily available fast food, and tasty to boot. Nicholas Restaurant on SE Grand is one of my favorite Middle Eastern places in the city, especially for a sit-down meal. But, I’m a down-home, street food loving kind of girl too.
This weekend we’ve had stellar weather in Portland. Thus far, 2 days of no rain, 80+-degree weather and endless sunshine; with at least 5 more days to go. In May this is unheard of. This afternoon I spent my sunshine-filled hours reading a book at Waterfront Park, near Saturday Market, and appeased my shawarma craving. You know you want one. The weekend is far from over. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Captain America Cookies


          This may be the nerdiest weekend ahead until Comic-Con. Tomorrow is May 4th also known to uber-nerds everywhere as Star Wars Day. Yes, dear non-nerds, it’s a real holiday. May the fourth be with you. If that wasn’t enough to make your geek-senses tingle, Saturday is not just Cinco de Mayo. The first Saturday in May is also free comic book day! Speaking of comic books, May 4, 2012 is also the release date of one of the most anticipated comic-book to film adaptations of the summer; The Avengers.
            I cannot tell you how excited I am to see The Avengers tomorrow. But, I can show you. I’m not big on movie theater snacks, I don’t drink soda and popcorn just makes me want to floss. I decided I’d make a little something to sneak into the theater for my friends and myself. These are basic sugar cookies with a little lemon added, sculpted into the form of Captain America’s shield.
            I was sure to include many photos, because after listing all the steps, reading them felt slightly overwhelming. They weren't as easy as other things I’ve made, but are well worth the effort.
            I hope as much can be said about the movie. 




5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cup sugar
1 lemon
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
Red and blue food coloring

1.     Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
2.     Leave the butter on the counter for an hour before beginning. Cube the butter. With an electric or standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until just combined.
3.     Zest the lemon and add it to the butter/sugar.
4.     Juice the lemon, and add that to the butter/sugar. This is about ¼ cup lemon juice.
5.     Add the eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar/lemon.
6.     Add the vanilla.
7.     With the mixer on, add your flour mixture to the wet ingredients about a cup at a time.
8.     Mix until the dough resembles a lumpy, breadcrumb texture; but when you pick up a small chunk you could roll it into smooth ball and the dough would retain its shape.
9.     Divide the dough in half. Place one half in the refrigerator.

This is where the construction becomes a little complicated…

10. Divide the remaining half batch of dough into three equal parts.
11. Set one part aside (this will become the white star in the center).
12.  Take a second third of the dough and color it blue. I recommend using gel concentrated food coloring. Knead the coloring in with your hands. Set the blue ball aside.
13. Be sure to wash your hands and wipe your work surface to eliminate traces of blue food coloring before moving on.
14. Take the third dough ball and color it red. Set the red ball aside.
15. Again, wash your hands and work surface to avoid spreading red food coloring where you don’t want it.

16. Return to the white ball. Divide this into 7 equal parts. It’s all right if they’re not exactly equal, but the closer the better.

17. Roll 5 mini white balls into 8” lengths.
18.  Take the 5, 8” lengths and form them into triangles by pinching the sides together, you’re creating a pointed edge all the way down the length. Flip the length onto its side and pinch the next edge.

19. Take 1 of the remaining 2 white mini balls. Roll the ball out into an 8” length. This is your center.


20. Place each of your 5 triangle-formed lengths and place them around the perimeter of your center length. Refrigerate your newly made star.

21. Next, separate the blue ball into 6 equal parts.
22. Take 5 of the mini blue balls and repeat steps 17 + 18.

23. Place the blue, triangular lengths around the perimeter of the star, inverted, between the star’s points. Push down as well as out when placing the blue strips. Your objective is to both maintain the shape of the star, but to also fully enclose it.

24. Roll out the last mini blue ball into a thin sheet. Use this as a filler to cover any white around the edges of the cookie tube.

25.  Red is next. Roll out the entire red dough ball into a ¼” thick, rectangular sheet large enough to cover the entire cookie tube.
26. Wrap the red dough around the outside of the cookie tube. Trim the excess, and hold on to it.
27. Retrieve the remaining half batch of dough from the fridge.
28.  Take a third of the dough from the fridge and add it to the remaining mini white dough ball.

29. Roll the new white dough ball into a ¼” thick, rectangular sheet large enough to cover the entire outside of the cookie tube.
Don't worry if the edges aren't perfect.

30. Wrap the white sheet around the cookie tube.
31.  Take the remaining dough from the fridge. Combine it with any trimmings of red dough you may have and color the entire thing red.

32. Roll out the new red ball into a ¼” thick, rectangular sheet, large enough to cover the outside of the cookie tube.
33. Wrap the red sheet around the cookie tube.

34. Roll the cookie tube back and forth to ensure the whole thing is well rounded.
35. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
36. Preheat oven to 350.


37. Slice the cookie tube just like any tubular-store-bought cookie dough, in ¼-1/2” slices.
38. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.
39. Cool on a wire rack.

Yields 25-30 cookies.
Finished!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Candied Bacon Cake


            While enjoying one my cupcakes a few weeks back, a co-worker of mine named Andrew says to me: “You’re gonna make some guy really fat someday”.
To which I reply: “Probably”.
Truth is, happiness does make you fat. Someday I’ll make someone euphoric.


            In honor of Andrew, and two more co-workers of ours, who all share April 11th birthdays, I made something particularly decadent for them. I made a candied bacon cake. Can you think of a better diabetes-inducing-heart-attack-producing indulgence? No. It’s a three-layer maple and brown sugar cake, topped with maple vanilla frosting and filled/covered with homemade candied bacon. Thank me later, because you should try one for yourself ASAP.  Candied Bacon tastes a lot like love.
            This one is a bit time consuming, considering you have to cook the candied bacon (which can take up to two hours) before making the cake. Consider making the bacon a day in advance and store in the fridge until you’re ready to decorate. You can also cheat using a vanilla box cake recipe (just add ¼ tsp cinnamon, and 1 1/2 tsp maple flavor to the mix when adding the oil) and canned vanilla frosting (adding 1 tsp maple flavor to the can, mix well).

CANDIED BACON:
1 ½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 lb (16 strips) ¼ inch cut applewood-smoked* bacon
Two 12”x17”, lipped baking sheets. Or just two lipped baking sheets the same size.

*You can really use your personal favorite bacon. I recommend applewood smoked for the sweet meat flavor it already packs. I also recommend buying nitrate/nitrite free bacon.

1.     Carefully line one 12”x17” lipped baking sheet with tin foil.
2.     Cover the bottom of the cookie sheet with a single layer of parchment paper. Trust me on the double lining- if sugar leaks onto your pan and cooks or burns, it is a Martha-Faulkner-ing B*tch to clean up.
3.     Preheat the oven to 350°
4.     Mix the brown sugars in a large bowl.
5.     Carefully coat each strip of bacon with sugar. You may have a tablespoon or more leftover, reserve your leftover sugar. Lay the bacon in a single layer on the cookie sheet. I could only fit 8 strips at a time on mine- I ended up baking twice.
6.     Cover the bacon with another sheet of parchment paper.
7.     Place the second baking sheet on top of the sheet with the bacon in it, over the parchment paper. This helps the bacon cook flat, as well as prevent the sugar from burning before the meat is fully cooked.
8.     Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
9.     At 25 minutes pull your top baking sheet and the top sheet of parchment paper off. Carefully drain the fat out of the pan without dumping the bacon. Flip the bacon over. If you had any reserve sugar, sprinkle it on. 
10. Recover with the same parchment paper and second baking sheet. Return to the oven for 20 minutes.
11. After 20 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper. Immediately return the now open-face bacon to the oven for final crisping.
12. Cook roughly 5 more minutes. DO NOT WALK AWAY. Without that top layer the bacon can go from perfect to burnt in 10 seconds! Believe me. Things can turn just that fast.
13. Let bacon cool on a plate. Refrigerate until you’re ready to decorate the cake.

MAPLE BROWN SUGAR CAKE:

3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple flavor
Butter and flour to prepare the cake pans

1.     Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
2.     Add the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk dry ingredients well.
3.     Using an electric or standing mixer on medium speed, add the wet ingredients one at a time in the following order: oil, eggs, milk, vanilla and maple, until everything is just combined. Do not over mix- as soon as all the lumps disappear you are ready to go.
4.     Coat three, 8” round cake pans with butter, then sprinkle the pans lightly with flour to create your stick-free surface. Discard excess flour. Pour batter equally between the three cake pans (about half-full).
5.     Bake at 325° for 30 min.
6.     Cool on a wire rack.

VANILLA MAPLE FROSTING:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted, softened butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple flavor
2 Tbsp milk

1.     Beat together butter, vanilla, and maple.
2.     Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time.
3.     Add the milk. Mix until smooth.

ASSEMBLY:

1.     Cut 6 strips of bacon into 1 inch square pieces. Set aside. These are for decorating the outside of the cake.
2.     Cut the other 10 strips of bacon into the smallest possible pieces you can. The smaller the better*. Set aside. These are for the inside of the cake.
3.     Trim the tops of your cakes to ensure they will sit level.
4.     Place your first layer of cake on your plate or platter of choice. It’ll stay in place if you smear a quarter-sized dollop of frosting underneath the cake on the plate itself.
5.     Generously frost the top of the first cake.
6.     Sprinkle 1/2 of the tiny bacon pieces onto the frosting.
7.     Top with the second layer of cake.
8.     Repeat steps 5 and 6.
9.     Cover with third layer of cake.
10. Frost the entire thing with a thin crumb coat.
11. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
12. Frost another layer with the rest of the frosting. Reserve about 2 Tbsp of frosting for a center rosette if you’d prefer (as pictured).
13.  Use the larger bacon pieces to cover the outside of the cake.


*I stress the smallness of these pieces, because when I made this cake I cut all the bacon into 1” pieces. You can’t cut through the candied bacon pieces while cutting the cake. When I cut into the cake, trying to make very thin slices, without the sharpest of knives, the knife caught on the largest pieces of bacon, which subsequently tore through the super moist, soft cake. Notice the excess of crumbs on my platter. Some of the cake slices did not turn out pretty at all. Luckily it all tasted the same- as in crazy delicious!

See ya’ll at the cardiologist! Maybe we should go on a gym date!




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Peeta's Cheese Buns


            Katniss Everdeen never seemed like the type of woman who’d be overjoyed to receive a bouquet of flowers from a male suitor. In Catching Fire, Katniss describes Peeta regularly bringing her cheesy buns he’d made in his family’s bakery. I equated this to the gesture of bringing a girl a box of chocolates.
            After winning the Hunger Games, starvation is no longer an issue; both Peeta and Katniss are enjoying new homes and wealth. I imagined these cheesy buns to be extravagant compared to their former financial situations- a luxury to say the least. These buns are made to reflect that. They’re made with: all white flour (definitively not tesserae grain), refined white sugar, butter, and LOTS of cheese. For the cheese I would recommend medium cheddar. I used half medium cheddar, half Dubliner cheddar.


PEETA’S CHEESE BUNS

4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1 cup room-temperature buttermilk
½ cup + 1 tsp sugar
2 ½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ water
½ stick+ 2 Tbsp butter
2 eggs
½ tsp salt
1lb of your favorite cheese(s)

1.     Warm the water to 110 degrees, about 10 seconds in the microwave.
2.     Place your yeast and 1 tsp sugar in the warmed water, stir well, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Yeast is ready when it’s foamy.
3.     In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar and salt.
4.     Melt the ½ stick of butter.
5.     Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Stir.
6.     Add the eggs one at a time. Mix well.
7.     Add the activated yeast. Add the buttermilk slowly as you stir. Stir with a spoon until the batter pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forming a ball in the center.
8.     Place the dough on a generously floured, flat surface. Knead the dough for 6-10 minutes.
9.     Take the kneaded dough and make a tight ball, place the ball in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl and allow bread to rise for 1 ½ hours. Flip the dough over once at the halfway point.
10. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball.
11. Place newly formed dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place them between 1-2 inches apart. It’s ok if the buns touch while baking- the closer they are squished together the taller they grow. Cover and let rise 15 minutes while the oven preheats.
12. Preheat your oven to 350°.
13. Brush the tops of your buns with melted unsalted butter. Bake for 25 minutes.
14. While those bake, shred your cheese.
15. Remove the buns from the oven. Coat them mile-high with the cheese.
16. Return the buns to the oven and bake for 10-12 more minutes.

If a man brought me a dozen of these, I might fall for him too. If you’ve seen the movie, ladies, I know you’re dying to get your hands on Peeta’s buns. Enjoy them!

Mockingjay

          The dramatic conclusion to The Hunger Games Trilogy does not disappoint. District 12 has been destroyed; a thick layer of rubble, ash, and decaying bodies are left in its place. The Capitol has captured Peeta. The war has begun.
The few survivors (including Katniss, her mother, sister, and best friend Gale) of District 12 have become refugees, taken in by District 13. The stories are true- District 13 was not decimated in the first uprising as previously believed. The small community has been living literally underground since the Dark Days, 75 years earlier, free from capitol control. Slowly District 13 has regained its strength through strict, regimented practices fulfilling only the basic needs for survival.
Surprised by the militaristic nature of District 13 as well as their intended plan to use Katniss as propaganda against the government, Katniss very reluctantly becomes a symbol of hope for the cause, the Mockingjay. Thirsty for revenge against President Snow, and well acquainted with violence, Katniss joins the fight. But what exactly is she fighting for?
Is this a political grab for the President of District 13? Is Katniss aiding in a shift from one militaristic dictatorship to another, or will she help build a republic? How will the war end? Where will that leave Katniss: will she even survive to make her choice between Gale and Peeta?    
            Mockingjay transports the readers from the proverbial arena and throws Katniss into an adult world where alliances and loyalties are as much manipulative, but twenty-times as deadly as her former child-on-child murder set-up. Katniss will have to learn to trust herself when the world around her is anything but trustworthy. She'll have to decided for herself what is real and was is not real. The pawn has an imperative role in the game of War.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

District 4 Bread


Who didn’t fall in love with Finnick while reading Catching Fire? I'm hoping Ryan Gosling plays him in the movie... what lady doesn't love him too? While reading I also became fixated on Collin’s description of District 4 bread. If you haven't read the second book, the bread is described as fish-shaped. Faintly green in color, the bread is littered with seaweed, which gives the bread a signature salty flavor reminiscent of the ocean. Why? District 4 is said to be mostly coastline- its main export fish. I would have never thought to pair seaweed with anything other than something like fish or rice. Never thought to put it into bread. I had to try.

District 4 Bread (Seaweed rolls)

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1 oz of dried seaweed sheets*
 1 3/4 cups water (warm)
3 tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup + 1 tsp sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp melted butter

1.     Heat the water in the microwave to roughly 110. This is about 20 seconds in the microwave. When you insert your fingertip into the water it should feel warm than your body, like comfortable bath water- but NOT hot. Add your yeast to the water. Sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar into the yeast and stir well. Set aside for 10 minutes
2.     In a large bowl combine your wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar and salt.
3.     Take your sheets of dried seaweed and crumble over the flour. You want nice small pieces so that the seaweed not only distributes evenly, but also rehydrates a little during the baking process. Mix thoroughly.
4.     Add the oil to the dry ingredients
5.     Add the water/yeast to dry ingredients.
6.     Mix everything together until the dough forms a ball in the center of the bowl, pulling away from the sides.
7.     Place your dough on a generously floured, flat surface. Knead for 6-10 minutes.
8.     Form dough into a tight ball then place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl. Dough needs to rise for 11/2-2 hours. For the best results flip the dough over in its bowl and gently pat the top down every 30 minutes.
9.     When the dough has finished rising divide it into 8 equal parts.
10. Roll the 8 parts into balls and then shape into fish. One trick to maintaining the shape once the bread is baked is to over exaggerate the fish’s features. Make the tail/fins/body a little longer and skinnier than you would like the finished product to look like- the shape swells as the dough bakes.
unbaked

baked

11. Place the fish on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the fish and let them rise for 15 more minutes while the oven preheats.
12. Preheat the oven to 325.
13. Brush the tops of the fishes with melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes.

* I used two packages of Trader Joe’s Seaweed Snacks (.8 oz total weight) and they worked perfectly! But if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, try the Asian section of your local grocery store or an Asian specialty grocer and use the seaweed sheets made for rolling sushi.


            These came out way better than I expected. After the fish came out of the oven I couldn’t stop playing with them. They were so cute! I was so excited with how well the shape came out! Flavor-wise I was worried this bread would come out overly salty- but they were really well balanced. Of course you’re not going to like them if you’re not into seaweed at all. The texture was soft and fluffy. They made wonderful toast, with just a little salted butter on them. They would make great tuna-salad sandwiches.