Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh how I wish

I wish I could have found time for the Daring Bakers this month... Dolores hosted along with Alex and Jenny and asked us to make Shuna Fish Lydon's Caramel Cake. I would have loved to make this but I was just asked to make too many darn pies this month! I even asked if I could substitute with this cake but was begged instead to do pies... Well as I mentioned, at least one of those pies paid off in a major way. So I suppose this caramel cake will have to be given a whirl another time.

Hey that's not Caramel Cake!
Nope it's not, it's the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake I made last month

Another wrinkle in my plan to participate in the Daring Bakers this month was a whole lot of travel. Past and future. You all know I went to Carmel last weekend. I just returned home about an hour ago from celebrating Thanksgiving with family in the Central Valley of California. And the mother of all travels is coming up next week: Africa!

Since I have no pictures of either a caramel
cake or Africa you get more chocolate cake

Preparing to go to Africa is much more work than say, preparing to go to Europe. You don't just buy tickets and book a hotel...

To go to Africa:
  • You must be sure you have enough pages in your passport depending on the countries you're visiting
  • You must have travel visas (also depending on the countries you're visiting)
  • You must have appropriate clothing and shoes depending on the religion of the cities you'll be touring
  • You must have water purification systems if you worry about finding bottled water
  • You must have prescriptions for Malarone and Cipro just in case
  • You must have cases of bug repellent
  • You must be vaccinated for Yellow Fever, Typhoid and Hepatitis A & B
  • You must be up to date on your Polio booster
  • You might even want to purchase and travel with a mosquito net
And let's just say that I didn't have most of those things crossed off my list until today!! So it's taken up a ridiculous amount of time in my month - including an entire 10 hours spent in San Francisco at the Passport Agency, our travel agents', and a rush visa service. We've leaving on Friday morning for almost 3 weeks. I am looking forward to the trip but not looking forward to 30 hours of travel. At least this time I'll have company. The last time I traveled that far away (India) I was all by my lonesome, going for business.

When bored with just plain frosting - play!

I'll be home a couple days before Christmas so I'll truly miss most of my absolute favorite time of year. So please everyone enjoy and live it up for me! Go to Christmas parties and listen to Christmas music. Put on your scarves and hats and gloves and go caroling. Drink eggnog and spiced cider. Sit by your Christmas tree with only the lights of the tree glowing. Donate money or time to a charity. Bake cookies and fudge. Put thought and time into a gift for a loved one.

All it needs is a big glass of cold milk

I can't promise I'll be blogging again before we leave. There's still so much to be done and so little time in which to do it. But I will be blogging on our travels. So stay tuned!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fortunately I did in fact find a little time to blog before leaving the country! Just had to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope whatever your plans today, you find a moment to be thankful. Whether you're thankful for family. Or for friends. Or for health. Or for wealth. Or even just for being alive. Give thanks. We can always find something for which to be thankful.

I'm thankful for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Last week we had a baking contest at work. My organization of ~150 was asked to participate by baking a dessert and bringing it to a meeting where folks could sample and vote for their favorite. Of course not all 150 baked. There were about 20 entries and 2 of them were mine. I made my Peach Raspberry Pie and ('tis the season) a Pumpkin Chiffon.

Adding pumpkin to a brown sugar, spice, egg and
milk mixture then straining for smoothness

Pumpkin Chiffon is sort of a cross between regular pumpkin and pumpkin mousse. And SOOOOOO good. It's a recipe my mom found some 30 years ago and everyone just loves. The filling isn't baked and it's "lightened" with stiff whipped egg whites and sugar. This is our recipe minus the rum and with a regular blind baked pie crust instead.

Most of you know how I love to decorate with pie crust - it makes it so pretty!

The pie is absolutely delicious and has sort of become a mainstay at our large Thanksgiving gatherings where a good majority of my ~100 family members gather (my mom was 1 of 12 kids!) This one was made last night for our dessert table tonight. I recently linked to this picture/entry but I'm gonna do it again. Take a look at our Thanksgiving dessert table.

Getting ready to fold the whites in and then folding!

Oh yah and remember that baking contest? Guess who came in First?! Yours truly!! And while I truly wasn't doing it for the competition or even to win, (I honestly love to bake and watch people smile as they bite into the goodies) I walked away with a $120 gift card to Sur la Table! OOoohhh Christmas come early.

Pour and chill

A safe and truly happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dog days in Carmel

It's been a busy, busy couple weeks. And it's just all about to get busier. On top of many things going on daily, I was out of town this past weekend with a good friend and our doggies. We headed south to Carmel; the most dog friendly city in the US if not the world!
Lucca and Kohl and their May-December relationship

Lucca's not ready to go to bed yet, while Kohl is

Tracey has been a super great friend since we were 3 years old and met in our preschool class. She is now a professional dog trainer and manages a small chain of doggie daycares in the area. Let's just say, we would not have brought Lucca into our (now seemingly dog crazy) lives if it weren't for the council of Tracey. Not only did she explain how we could make it work with full time jobs and a small home, she has also been Lucca's #1 helper. She's taken her to puppy socials when we're out of town and kept her overnight when we were away. She advises me on products and food and training techniques. She lets me know if I'm doing right or wrong with her and is completely and totally the emergency contact on Lucca's doggie daycare profile. It's hard to thank someone when they do such a big thing for you. Though it comes naturally to Tracey (advising people on their dogs), it is still a HUGE help to me and for that I am so grateful.

Tracey's Great Dane, Kohl while being big and sweet and beautiful, is now nine and a half years old and slowing down. I knew giving her a trip with him somewhere would be a gift she'd never forget. And since it's been perhaps 13 years since she and I last went away together, it seemed like the perfect plan.

Just where do Bay Area folk take a vacation with their dogs? CARMEL
At the Cypress Inn you can have Afternoon Tea while your dog
sleeps at your side (can you see her munching her bone?)

All the restaurants made the dogs feel welcome

Carmel - while being perfectly gorgeous and quaint and charming and fantastic for non-dog people, is all that and more for we dog-crazy folk. Dogs are allowed in every store where many welcome them with water and cookies. There are ~20 hotels and ~40 restaurants that doggies can enjoy with their owners. Plus, they're allowed to run on the beach leash-free!
With Carmel being a short 1-2 hours drive (depending on where you are in the Bay Area) you get a LOT of San Francisco Bay Area folks down there each weekend. We stayed at a B&B called the Carmel Wayfarer Inn which was very quaint and cozy and a pleasant walk from the main part of town. Light breakfasts in the morning and wine & cheese in the evening topped off the accommodations splendidly.

Carmel Wayfarer Inn courtyard

Anyone who visits San Francisco should of course get their fill of San Francisco before leaving... but if you have extra days I'd highly recommend Carmel for a couple. Oh and let's not forget Napa too. Have I ever mentioned how much I love where I live??
During breakfast time

Happy Thanksgiving to all! We're leaving for a few weeks of vacation next week and I hope to blog while gone but just in case I don't get around to it before we go.... the next time you hear from me I just might be in...


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hurray for brûlée!

*yuk* *yuk* - okay that was a pretty corny title, I admit. I sat here rhyming brûlée for 2 minutes before giving up on witty and just settling for lame. Be thankful you didn't get "Brûlée without delay" or something having to do with Malay[sia]...
Nummy, nummy...

Crème brûlée is soooo easy to make and fast to boot. I can whip up a batch in an hour - with most of the time spent waiting for the oven timer to beep (remember the days when it'd ring?)

I swear, this can only lead to something good

Often times I make crème brûlée when I have a bunch of leftover egg yolks (like after making macarons). There's always of course, custard or ice cream or pastry cream or cheesecake to make too. But none of those is quite as simple as crème brûlée.
THIS is a water bath. I cook all my custards in water baths
(bread pudding, cheesecake etc.) It cooks the eggs more gently.
Fill almost to the top, but don't get water in the dishes!!

I always have everything on hand and if I have special things (like the pint of egg-nog currently hanging out in my fridge) then it makes it even better. This particular night was the same night I made the ribs for Connie and then macarons for um - midnight snack. It was plain ole crème brûlée with a little heavy cream and a little non-fat milk. I basically use whatever dairy I have around (I usually *gasp* have heavy cream around - such is the life of a cook!) Half and half works. Fat-free half and half works. Whole milk works. I recently found out that egg-nog works . I haven't tried it with straight up fat free milk, but I could imagine it wouldn't be too shabby and I'm always willing to give food a little leeway when it won't derail my girlish figure. What do you mean "what girlish figure?" (That is now twice in recent posts that I've had a conversation with my own blog.)

Armed -------------------- Usually dangerous

I can't say I've ever tried brûléeing without a torch but supposedly you can do it in the broiler. Just sprinkle a thin (THIN - you don't want to have to set your table with chisels!) layer of sugar on the top of the custard and put it close to the heat source - I'd guess mere inches away. Try it with one first to see if it works since it should go pretty quickly if so.
You know what else is great - these stay in the fridge for a few days with absolutely no problems. Maybe even more than a few days.... Imagine the look on friends' faces when they stop by to borrow your 'Sex and the City' DVD and you go "hey want some crème brûlée?" That's what it's all about.

Crème Brûlée
2 cups half & half
5 yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1 T vanilla extract

1/8 t salt

Heat half & half in a heavy saucepan over med-high heat until bubbles form around the edge. Put aside. Whisk yolks, sugar, vanilla, salt in a large pourable cup. Pour cream slowly into yolks as you whisk constantly. Pour into dishes. Makes ~4-6oz dishes. Bake 325
° for 35-40 minutes in water bath.

Put in fridge until ready to serve - at least allow to cool all the way through. Sprinkle with ~1 t sugar and torch.

*Note the rim of the ramekin will be quite hot - warn your guests or let it sit a couple minutes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Little Lucca grows up

Today signifies an important puppy milestone - Lucca is getting spayed. She'll be 6 months old on Wednesday and that means - it's time. We found ourselves petting her belly a lot this morning. Just knowing things will be "different" when we get her back tonight. But of course this is for the best. There are many super good reasons to spay a dog - many of which have nothing to do with preventing puppies!
"I'm starting to look more and more like an adult doggie"

"Dad's Stanford gear is just irresistible!"

First and most importantly, by spaying a dog before they come into heat the first time - you reduce the chance of breast cancer 80%. EIGHTY PERCENT! Cancer in dogs can be very common. So if you aren't a professional breeder and don't have acres of land and lots of breed knowledge - there's your biggest reason right there. Spay your dog by the time they're 6 months old [before they come into heat for the first time ~8-10 months.]
"Do I look nerdy like Dad?"

"Arrrrr - Happy Halloween! (I really didn't mind -
they only left it on a few minutes)"

Spaying a female puppy also reduces their chance of uterine infections. (Gosh, I never thought I'd write the word "uterine" in this rather tame, domesticated blog of mine.)
"I might look more like a grown-up but I'm SO NOT"

There are less serious, less medical reasons to get your dog spayed too. Like her ability to go to doggie daycare and to play at the dog park without fear of umm.... "attention" during a particular time of year. A responsible doggie daycare should not even allow "un-altered" dogs to come play.
"This is an okay bed while Mom & Dad work in the kitchen"

"Uh oh - I'm not allowed up here and Dad's not as strict as Mom,
but do I hear Mom coming??"

"Me? Aggressive?"

Not that Lucca is aggressive in the least, but spaying can also bring aggression levels down and result in a calmer disposition.
"Baths suck"

"Baths suck a lot"

There are many other good reasons - and there's a full list for males too that I just didn't touch on since my baby's a little girl.

"I {heart} my humans"

Take good, responsible care of your doggies!! They live to love you.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A good ribbing

I LOVES me some good ribs. As long as there's plenty of napkins and bibs around.
Ribs - drenched in my family's homemade sauce and falling off the bone

Hmm that reminds me of a funny [stupid] story: when Deb and I were in high school, her favorite restaurant was Tony Romas - for the ribs. OH the Carolina Honeys we used to eat... I took her there for her birthday dinner our Jr. year (we thought we were SO mature going to a restaurant by ourselves with new drivers licenses burning holes in our pockets.) After dinner we went to a HS basketball game and wore. our. bibs. They were clean, cuz I don't even think we wore them at dinner. But we thought we were HILARIOUS. We did a lot of silly [stupid] things like that thinking we were cool and funny when in fact we were just lame. Yes, I used the past tense - why would you ask that?

~5 pounds of ribs ----- my dry rub mixture ----- 1 rubbed, 1 not

Ribs are actually super easy to make at home. I never really realized just how easy until I did a little research. But oh-so-easy they are. I make a dry rub out of roughly the following quantities of ingredients:

~1.5 cups brown sugar
~2 T kosher salt
~2 T paprika
~1 T ground cumin
~1 T chili powder
~1 T cayenne pepper
~1 T black pepper

That's enough for 2 slabs of ribs. The only item that might stand out there to anyone is the cumin. But I think it adds another level to the ribs that gives it depth.

A couple cans of Coke ------------ Pepsi would work too ------------ Cover tight with foil

You don't even need a BBQ - although if you want the smokey grilled flavor, then of course a BBQ is in order. But I've been making these in the oven the past month. Slather on your favorite barbecue sauce and no one will know they didn't sit on the grill for hours! Believe me they really won't - they'll be too busy devouring them.

After 1.5 hours they're already super tender --- Drench them in sauce and you're ready to cut

I made these ribs for dinner on Wednesday night. Connie came over to watch me make French macarons. Actually I take that back. She came over last week to watch me make French macarons. And I'm so rusty at it (it's been a couple months at least) that I totally messed them up. Those who make macarons know... you do one thing wrong and they FAIL with a big fat F. So we did a redo. This time they worked. WHEW!
Ribs, roasted asparagus and garlic bread - THAT'S dinner

If you've got a favorite BBQ sauce - use that. We have a "secret" family sauce that I don't give out 'cuz it's honestly good enough to bottle and I may just do that someday. But pick a fav off the shelf or use your own family favorite. It's really a fail-proof way to make ribs that fall off the bone. Err wait, meat that falls off the ribs? You know what I'm getting at...

5 words: Mmm, mmm, mmmm, mm, mmm

Easy "BBQ" Ribs
~5 pounds of ribs (should feed a double date)
2 cans of Coke or Pepsi (water's fine too, or beer, or apple juice)

Rub the slabs with your dry rub of choice (or mine). Put them in a roasting pan and fill the bottom with the Coke or Pepsi. Cover tightly with tin foil. Bake at 350° for 1.5 hours. Take the foil off (be careful of the steam!), drain as much of the liquid out as you can and return to the oven for 30 minutes at 250°. ** If your BBQ sauce is cold, cover the ribs with it about 20-25 minutes into the last half hour before they're done otherwise top the ribs with it after they come out. Cut the individual ribs and chow down!

*Oh and for my Muslim friends (ahem Bassel) - beef ribs should work too!
**If you want to finish them on the BBQ, instead of putting them back in the oven for 30 minutes, put them on a med-low fire grill for the same time. Basically to dry them out. Then continue with the sauce.