Friday, March 30, 2012

An Update

Looks like the Apartment Gods have not smiled upon us. After losing two perfect apartments for the same dumb reasons and not seeing any others that matched the location/utilities/price range we were hoping for, we have given up our search. My roommate is going to move in with her sister, and I am going to continue to live with my parents. Unless I want to live with random Craigslist strangers, there really isn't anyone else I can look with.

I'm pretty upset and stressed, since I was so looking forward to having my own kitchen, but I am taking this as a sign that I need to save my money and make my cross-country move sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Moving to California has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I need to take the steps to make it happen. It won't be for a while still, but it's more likely it will happen if I can establish a solid savings and try to get some freelance work to boost my resume while continuing to gain job experience at my current job (which I love). It's a terrifying idea--moving thousands of miles away from everything I've ever known--but also an exciting one. In fact, with the money I was going to put towards the apartment, I'm already halfway to my goal of what I want to save before I move. I think I can actually do this, if I am patient and work hard and plan it out.

I'm disappointed that I won't be getting my own place right now, but in the long run I know this is a good thing.

So, friends in Western Massachusetts, I will need to borrow your kitchens for a little longer. I promise anything I make that ends up on this blog, you can eat as payment for me messing up your kitchen. I thank you in advance for your help :)

And Los Angeles/California friends: keep me in the loop for when you or people you know are looking for roommates ;)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baking Day With Friends Results in Fantastic Pretzels

A few weekends ago, my friends called me saying they would like to have a baking day. Of course, I was in. My friend John always had a knack for baked goods--in high school he would bake us each a cake for our birthdays. My favorite John Baking story was when he constructed a buckeye duck sculpture for his girlfriend out of peanutbutter and chocolate, only to discover the morning he was going to bring it to school that his grandfather had bitten the head off.

John's dog, Beckett, is always hopeful something will
fall onto the floor.
The baking day had some successes, and some disasters, but we definitely had fun. While I was busy making my first attempt at a tart (one of the successes!) John and my friend Emma were hard at work making soft pretzels.

Pretzels are not my favorite snack food by a long shot--I pick them out of my Chex Mix--and I only tolerate Auntie Annie's or Pretzel Time when I need quick sustenance at the mall between shopping binges. I fully expected to only kind of like these things--boy, how wrong I was!

Mmm...butter for dunking.

These pretzels are crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and so so good. Mall pretzels got nothin' on these beauties. We made 12 and they lasted all of one hour. Dunked in butter (we didn't have mustard worthy enough), they were the perfect snack after a long day of baking.

I tend to avoid baking bread products because I assume it always takes forever, but aside from needing an hour for the dough to rise, this was definitely not a time consuming project. And worth it. Definitely.

Home Made Soft Pretzels
(From the Somewhat Annoying Yet Obviously Genius Alton Brown Recipe)

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water (or enough to fill a large pot)
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Kosher Salt

-Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (we used a food processor) and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment (or just the regular food processor blade), mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

-Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

-Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

-In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

-Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chocolate Orange Tart and Apartment Searching Woes

So anyone who's been reading this regularly knows that I am beyond excited to be moving into my own apartment. My own place, my own kitchen, my own cat! Ahh. So exciting. However, two days ago that all came crashing down as my roommate lost her cosigner (the last person she could have asked to help) and in turn we lost our seemingly perfect apartment that we had been all set to move into in exactly a week. I was absolutely devastated and commemorated the occasion by drinking too much wine and wailing to my friends about it.

The next morning my head was dizzy and I was still pretty depressed about the situation as a whole. Craigslist had turned up no options, and I was getting upset that we would never find a place in our price range. Then a friend asked me if we'd tried another complex, owned by a different management company. We had actually toured this complex before, and absolutely loved it, but had decided to go with this other complex that was slightly cheaper. I figured, what the hell? And called the apartment complex. I explained our situation, and how the outlandish income requirements of their competitor company had required us to have a co-signer when we couldn't find one--seriously, that place requires EACH leasee make three times the rent in income each month, WTF?--and that we loved the complex and were ready to move in ASAP.

They had an opening.

We didn't need a co-signer.

The price was steep, but just within our limit.

I put a deposit on it over the phone and faxed my info. My roommate did the same.

So, fingers crossed for us! If all goes according to plan, we can move in April 6th into a gorgeous apartment in a lovely complex close-ish to my work with a pool and fitness center and no animal restrictions! It would be SO NICE for the stress of this entire situation to just be over and for me to be able to relax. I'm trying not to get too excited, because I was so upset before when the place was ripped from our grasp. But if it's meant to be, hopefully it will happen.

I've had this orange tart bookmarked ever since seeing it on Delicious Dishings. It seemed like the perfect recipe to attempt as my first tart, and though it didn't come out as perfect and pretty as the original blogger's, it was mighty tasty. I love citrusy desserts, and this one tasted fresh but rich with the chocolate ganache topping.

Much thanks to my friend John for use of his lovely kitchen in this endeavor, and his mother for not murdering us for messing up her nice clean kitchen for the millionth time. We had a baking day where John, Emma and I all baked for the better part of the afternoon. The sloppy oreos of my previous post were a product of that day, as were homemade pretzels which I'll discuss in a future post. I love that I have friends who also love to cook and bake :) Last night we made homemade ravioli (at 11pm no less!) with homemade spicy sauce and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera!

Chocolate Orange Ricotta Tart
(Recipe Adapted only slightly from Delicious Dishings)
Not really an "ingredients" picture as per usual, moreso an example
of the kind of mess we make in John's kitchen...
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest from one orange (I used 2 because my zesting abilities are seriously lacking and I was afraid I wouldn't have enough)
  • Zest from one lemon
  • Reserved juices from orange
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pound ricotta (comes out to one small container or half of a large container of store-bought ricotta)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

-Combine flour, granulated sugar, half of orange and lemon zest, baking powder, and salt in food processor. Pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until crumbly. Add eggs and process until dough begins to come together.

-Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface, and knead briefly. Divide dough in half, pat one-half into a disk, and wrap in plastic and freeze for another use (or, if you're like me, leave it on the counter and forget about it entirely until the next day. Oops!). Take remaining dough and roll out into 12-inch round.

The dough tastes amazing just on its own!

-If you are so talented, roll dough around rolling pan and unroll over 10 1/2-inch tart pan. Press dough gently into bottom and up sides of pan. If you are not so talented and your dough falls apart like mine did, just carefully press dough into the tart pan and try to be as uniform in thickness as possible. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prick tart all over. Bake until edges are just beginning to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to rack and let cool.

-Combine ricotta, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, remaining orange and lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons heavy cream in bowl, and stir with rubber spatula until combined. Add orange juice until it is flavored to your liking. I used about half of my juice. Spread mixture in tart shell. 

-Bake until filling is set, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack, and let cool to room temperature. 

-In large measuring cup, combine chocolate and cocoa powder. Heat remaining 1 cup cream in small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles form around edges. Pour hot cream over chocolate, let sit 1 minute, then whisk until smooth.

*My chocolate did not melt sufficiently and I had lots of little chunks of semisweet chocolate morsels. Though the end result was still a little lumpy, I picked out the biggest chunks and microwaved them in 20 second intervals until smooth and added them back to the ganache mixture.

-Spread ganache mixture over ricotta filling, starting at center and stopping just short of crust. Tap lightly on countertop to smooth the top. Refrigerate tart at least 2 hours.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some things are just better left to the professionals... Oreos.

I cannot take credit for these beauties, they are the result of a baking day where I put all my focus on making a chocolate orange ricotta tart (recipe to come!) while my friends focused on soft pretzels and these... things...

They weren't terrible, they kind of tasted like really dry whoopie pies. They very nearly almost tasted kind of like Oreos too. I'd like to re-try making this and lending a bit more help to the situation. We shall see!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day! -- Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

So. I didn't want to do what I did last year with Cinco De Mayo, and be way behind on the holiday baking and have to do it all in one night. So this time around, after weeks of bookmarking multiple contenders for my St. Patrick's Day Post recipe... I did exactly the same thing. Oops.

See, I didn't take my schedule into account. Or the fact that I was leaving the state to visit a friend for the weekend and wouldn't be around my laptop to post or cook at all. I realized this... yesterday. So after FINALLY viewing the apartment I will be moving into in two weeks (small kitchen, but I'll take it!) I rushed to the liquor store and got the necessary goodies. As I left the store the cashier called after me "Enjoy your Car Bombs!" to which I whipped around and replied,

"I'm making cupcakes."

I was up until 11 o'clock last night baking cupcakes.

It was SO worth it though. The Guinness (not my favorite beer by a long shot) adds depth and flavor to these without making them taste... well, beery... and the filling is a creamy ganache spiked with Bailey's and Jameson, and the frosting is a sweet and delicious Bailey's buttercream. Really fantastic.

I'm pleased with how these pictures came out too. Natural lighting really makes a big difference, huh?

Did I mention that exactly a year ago today I was in Burbank, California, dressed as a leprechaun for the Jay Leno Show as they tried to break the world record for most leprechauns in a single room. I'll find the picture later, as I don't have time now, but yeah, you can clearly see my face in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records. Sadly next year I won't be in it, since the record has already been beat by a group in Ireland--rightly so, I think.

Why am I not living there now? Some day, California, some day...

These are from We Are Not Martha, and, I know, I should use recipes from more blogs than just them and Can You Stay for Dinner? (both two of my very favorites and somewhat of the inspiration for this blog) but I have been saving this recipe for a year, waiting for the perfect moment to use it. And, as I cored out the Guinness chocolate stout out of each cupcake, I realized that I already know what I'll do next year, if not sooner:

Irish. Car bomb. CAKE POPS.

I'm a genius. I know, I know.

I will update with the actual recipe later, and with my little alterations from the original, as I'm on my way out. But really you should just go to We Are Not Martha, because it's pretty much the exact same recipe. Go, make boozy cupcakes, be merry. Drink copious amounts of green beer.

But don't, really, green beer is nasty.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

(here are two pics from when I traveled to Ireland... difficult to find any sans ex boyfriends, so they're not the best pics, oh well!)
At the Giant's Causeway in 2007

In Dublin in 2010, next to a famous statue whose name is escaping me at the moment 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crowd Pleasing Taco Dip

The play has come to an end, and I totally don't know what to do with all this free time. Some more cooking has actually snuck its way in though, so that's good!

Also, we had a little play reunion in the form of one of our castmate's 30th birthday. It was a great time with much booze and pictures and silly banter with everyone who was in the play with us or the local theater community in general. Also Christina's adorable dog, Baxter. I hope we get to do these gatherings regularly!

In other news, I got another tattoo. This one I've been waiting four years for--it's a design my friend put together based on my mom's tattoo and a random butterfly picture I'd had since I was 12. I finally got it permanently attached to my body :) It's gorgeous and I love it!

At another bridal show, haha
And in other, other news, just two weeks until I can start moving into my apartment! Beyond excited! And the unseasonably warm weather in the coming week is even more reason to be happy. Spring is coming, yay!

This taco dip is my stepfather's recipe (he wanted to make sure if I was blogging about it he was given due credit). Along with his meatloaf and strawberry pie, it's one of my favorite things he makes and is his most requested item for parties. I brought it to the birthday party on Friday and it was a big hit. I tend to use low fat ingredients just to be on the safe side, and it turns out just as delicious. The jalapenos are my own addition, since when my family makes it they avoid anything with peppers of any sort.

This dip is fairly inexpensive to make, and seriously delicious. The perfect party addition, and no baking required!

The Best Taco Dip
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 container sour cream
  • 1/4 cup mayo (optional, but my stepdad says it's his secret step that makes it extra good)
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning (with a dash of cumin, red pepper, and chile powder to taste if desired)
  • 1 small tin sliced black olives
  • 1 small tin sliced jalapenos
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1 stalk scallions, sliced (not pictured)
  • 1 package shredded Mexican cheese

-Spread refried beans onto a shallow pan. Mix sour cream, mayo, and taco seasoning together and spread over refried beans.

-Sprinkle cheese over sour cream mixture, and top with remaining ingredients.

-Serve cold with tortilla chips.

It's that simple, and so delicious! Guacamole would be a great addition as well, but since I like to make a second batch to keep in the fridge I leave it out so that it doesn't brown and reduce shelf life. It will keep for at least four days otherwise.