One cinnamon-lemon roll with lemon-cream cheese glaze and lemon zest

We had friends visiting this weekend and I had planned on making a nice breakfast and baking lemon rolls for them to wake up to on Sunday morning.  They ended up just staying for the day on Saturday b/c of a high-maintenance pet back @ the apartment… boo.  But I still wanted to make the lemon rolls anyway.  So I did.

Freshly baked cinnamon-lemon rolls

Making rolls isn’t so much complicated as it is time-consuming.  It mostly consists of waiting for the dough to rise.  I grated and juiced three lemons by hand (LOVE the scent… so fresh and so clean, clean!) and then made dough.  The recipe I used didn’t call for cinnamon, but I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t have a cinnamon-less cinnamon roll.  So I snuck in a tablespoon to go along with the nutmeg.  While the dough rose, I started prepping for dinner… which isn’t baking related @ all but I was really, really excited about it so I had to share.  Plus, it ties in with the cinnamon and citrus theme anyway.  =)

Being that it was a rainy, dreary, completely blah Sunday, it was perfect weather for soup.  Not just any soup, but Vietnamese pho ♥  We had some oxtail in the freezer and I was craving this and waiting for the right time to make it, and I had the perfect opportunity being stuck inside with the crappy waterworks outside and 8 hours @ home on my hands.  This is the equivalent of an Italian grandmother spending all day making the perfect sauce; I needed all day to get the meat super tender and the broth flavor JUST right.  I started braising the oxtail around noon and worked on prepping the soup and getting the lemon rolls together @ the same time.  As the dough was rising the first time, I got my seasonings together for pho: seasoning packet, paste, fish sauce, roasted onion and ginger, star anise, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cloves, sugar, chiles, and cinnamon sticks to go w/the theme of the day (the citrus will come later).  I just let all this simmer in the biggest pot in the house so I’d be able to save the extra broth for when I’d have my next hankering for Viet food… which will probably be for dinner tonight  haha

I went back to the dough and patted it out to fill it with the lemon-sugar mixture, roll it up, and laid them out in a Pyrex dish.  I was tempted to add more cinnamon and anise flavoring to the rolls, but I was worried it might be too much.  Maybe the smell of the soup was permeating my brain and I wanted everything to have the same taste.  haha  I had to let the cut up dough sit and rise AGAIN, so after sealing plastic wrap over the Pyrex, I sampled the broth in the metal tub on the stove.  *sigh*  The flavor definitely reminded me of home.  I added some beef balls (Asian meatballs, not the Rocky Mountain oysters variety) and prepped the rest of the fixin’s for the soup: lime, onion slices, scallions, and jalapenos for more heat and greenery and took out some hoisin sauce and Sri racha.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have fresh cilantro, Thai basil, or bean sprouts.  Enough said about the limited selection here in my ‘hood; I made do with what was available (and the special ingredients smuggled over by my mom and my sister) and it was pretty damn good.  My mom bought me a pack of broad pho noodles and I boiled them al dente so it wouldn’t get too mushy in the soup.  The oxtail fell off the bone; it was just so flavorful and tender.  And after Vin and I had two bowls each, I had enough leftover broth and meat to fill five plastic quart containers.  This means I’ll be happy with awesome dinners for the rest of this week!

Oxtail and beef ball pho... yum!

While the rolls were baking in the oven, I made a glaze topping out of cream cheese, sugar, and lemon juice. I really like it; it’s not too sweet, the citrus provides a nice amount of tartness, and it’s really creamy.  The baking was the only minor glitch in my day, and even then the unexpected surprise didn’t turn out to be so bad.  Knowing how hot the oven (or what Vin referred to as “the mutant”) gets, I cut down the suggested baking time by a substantial amount and reduced the oven temp by 25 degrees after about 10-15 minutes.  Good thing I made adjustments b/c I pretty much had to take them out of the oven when I checked on them because I didn’t want them to be overdone.  After the rolls cooled a bit, I spread the glaze on and sprinkled the remaining lemon zest.  The edges were a teeny bit drier than I’d prefer and I wish it was a little gooey-er in the center of the roll, but it still tasted really good.  I just had one for lunch today and it was perfect after zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Vin had one for breakfast @ work.  I gave one to a co-worker b/c it was his birthday.  And there is STILL a huge tray leftover.  Into the fridge it went…

Fully glazed and zested lemon rolls

There are times when my fridge and I go head to head and see who will come out on top b/c only so much can fit in there.  Between all the soup components and broth containers, the lemon rolls, tons of beer I’m not able to drink, other leftovers, and the rest of the food, it was pretty packed.  But I think I inherited my dad’s packrat skills and was able to fit everything comfortably in there.  I win again, fridge… you have no chance.  =)

(I had technical issues with my hard drive so this post is a week late.  As they say on Spartacus, “Apologies!”)

Vin’s brother hit a milestone birthday and I knew I HAD to make something better than last year’s cakeAt the same time, I was crrrraaaazyyy busy with work and other events so I needed to make something with impact, but nothing TOO complicated.  Vin emailed me this really cool shot of a clean white and vibrant rainbow cake and I knew I had to make it.  I know it’s totally ripping off someone else’s idea, but it just looks awesome.  I had to save this for a special occasion, and FT’s birthday was perfect for it.

Rainbow Pac man... I should have cleaned off the cake crumbs and wiped up the frosting smears before this was taken =/

I made a crapload of basic white cake batter then divided it into 6 containers.  (I think I’ve come up with the perfect white vanilla cake recipe.  Extra steps make it time consuming as hell, but it’s so worth it!)  Then I added food coloring to each plastic container (ROY G.  BV–no indigo in this cake) and mixed in the color by hand.  I only have two 8″ round cake pans so I couldn’t prep all the pans at once.  I wanted Red to be the base layer of the rainbow cake, so I made this layer a little thicker so it could support the rest of the cake.  Assembly was easy: cake layer, white frosting layer, cake layer, white frosting layer… wash, rinse, repeat till out of cake layers.  Then I dirty iced it, let it sit in the fridge overnight, and then put the final crisp white frosting layer on the next morning.

My pails of "paint"

From the outside, this looks like a clean, simple, plain @ss white cake.  I mean, I feel like I did a REALLY nice job making the edges perfect and smooth.  BUT, that can’t be an all boring white vanilla cake b/c 1) it’s a milestone birthday; 2) FT’s a really creative and artsy guy and would probably consider this cake “blah”; and 3) everyone expects more from me @ this point in the game.  I can’t blame them; I would be pissed @ myself too if I presented a mediocre, bland-looking cake right now.  AND, I’d also be pissed if I gave boring birthday presents.  I LOVE picking out the right gifts for people, and knowing his love for Alice in Wonderland, I got FT a set of tumblers with John Tenniel illustrations… in January.  haha  When FT was about to blow out the candles, everyone asked what kind of cake it was, and I said, “You’ll just have to wait till it’s cut,” and someone even asked if the cake was going to ooze blood or explode.  haha  Maybe next time.  But still, everyone was pretty surprised.  I was looming over FT while he cut the cake to make sure the layers looked OK; I’m so technical about this that’s all I care about.  Everyone else was like, “Ooohh it’s so colorful!  It’s so summery!” and in my head I was thinking, “yeah that’s nice… I need to check to make sure everything is clean and even or I’ll be mad @ myself.”  haha  I didn’t eat any (I had a bite of one of the extra cupcakes to make sure it was ok) and was told that this was “the most amazing tasting and looking cake we’ve ever had.”  Awww, shucks.  =)

After the candles have been blown out, it's just a plain white cake... OR IS IT???

My co-worker (expert mochi reviewer) also asked me to make a small birthday cake for her husband, so I used some of the extra batter to make a psychedelic little cake with yellow filling.  (Side note: her birthday is coming up later this month and I will make her something for that, too.)  AND, it was also my friend J’s birthday (SO many August birthdays!) and she had requested, “All I want is one cupcake from you!” and so I made some trippy rainbow cupcakes with the last of the batter.  In return, she showed me off to her office mates and booked me for birthday cakes for her family.  What a good friend.  haha

Left: A mini filled birthday cake; Right: Half a dozen birthday cupcakes

I have to say, this rainbow layer cake is perfect for recent NYS news (gay marriage!), kids’ parties, anyone who loves color, or any all around fun person that deserves a cool surprise in cake form.  Actually, this would be pretty cool for weddings, too.  It’s got the clean white look on the outside and the beautiful splashes of color inside, and it would be AMAZING in multiple tier form!  Any takers on a rainbow wedding cake?  I just want to have a reason to make it and see how awesome it would look as a massive multi-tiered cake!

Rainbow cupcakes before icing

Happy birthday, FT!

I promised my mixer and oven some time off this week since they were worked to the point of slave labor during most of July (my poor oven… it seriously needs a cleaning).  But I felt like I still had to make SOMETHING and ended up using the stove and microwave instead.

I had about a dozen leftover red velvet cupcakes from last weekend’s bake-a-thon.  These were the f*ck-ups; they were a tray of red velvet gone wrong and was slightly overbaked in my inferno oven.  They didn’t taste bad; they were just a little dry but I would have been mortified to give them out to anyone b/c they weren’t absolutely perfect.  Plus, a week had gone by and they were starting to take up prime real estate in the fridge.  I also had 2 boxes of strawberries I bought last week that were about to turn, so it was getting to the use ’em or lose ’em stage.  However, being Asian, I felt guilty letting good food go to waste (thanks, mom!  =P)  so I gave myself a “Chopped”-like challenge with a subconscious spherical theme in mind.  What to do with very ripe strawberries and stale red velvet cupcakes…

Strawberry-rose mochi with red velvet cake balls. Yes, I know the plating attempt is cheesy. haha Vin's photography just made it look nice =)

The cupcakes were an easy save: cake balls.  They were actually a pretty ideal consistency for crumbling into… um, crumbs, and I just mashed it with some leftover cream cheese frosting.  I got a dozen little balls out of this and dipped half of them in melted Hershey’s milk chocolate and the other half in the never-ending supply I have of green candy coating.  I think I got the hang of making cake balls now that I figured out what tools work best and I’m pretty deft with the whole dunk/swirl/gently-yet-quickly-get-dipped-ball-off-stick-to-dry-on-tray-with-minimal-touching thing.  It took muuuuuuch less time than my first time w/the balls and I’m sure I’ll be a ball-dipping machine come fall for those wedding orders.  (TWSS!)  And there you have your basic reconstructed cake –> cake balls.

Now for the strawberries, there were so many options.  At first, I was thinking of making strawberry shortcake but then I’d have to bake the buttermilk biscuits and that would go against my “no baking” rule.  So I looked through my flour and spice collection and saw a box of rice flour I bought a while back from this Korean grocery store in LI.  (It’s a b*tch to get to though, and even then I still have to ask my sister to smuggle me some goods from Manhattan’s Chinatown b/c this place doesn’t have much in terms of Viet ingredients).  I’ve been meaning to make mochi, so I decided it would be good to try to test out strawberry mochi.  I chopped up 2 pints of strawberries into 1/4″ pieces and made a fresh compote for the filling.  I don’t know why, but I felt like throwing in some vanilla, rum, and rose water in the compote and now the whole house smells like roses.  I mixed in some drained liquid from the cooked compote to enhance the strawberry flavor in the mochi dough.  It was sooo sticky.  I kept coating my hands and the roller with powder so it wouldn’t stick to everything, and that probably changed the whole consistency.  This was definitely an experiment.  I mean, it IS pretty unconventional and non-traditional b/c I didn’t use red bean or green tea filling, but hey, what the hell, you can’t die from eating it and personally I thought it tasted good.

I had Vin try a test mochi ball while he was editing pics from a photo job.  Here’s how the exchange went down:

Me: Hey baby, you want to try a bite of the mochi?

Vin [eyeballs the pink ball in my hand like I just stuck an alien fetus in his face]: Uh… sure. [He takes a smaller bite than I thought he would.] …Interesting.

Me [I cock my head and raise my left eyebrow–it’s a reflex, I can’t help it–and blink @ him for a couple seconds]: You’ve HAD mochi before, right?

Vin: Uhhhh oh look, I was about to spell “Greene Ave” incorrectly for this caption…

[I blink @ him again, then quickly turn my heel and walk out of the room.]

Vin [calling out after me]: Yeah, I’ve had it before!  It tastes gummy… like edible gum… that you can eat…  [His voice trails off in the distance as I’m already back in the kitchen, sulking.]

PPPfffffttt.  Sorry, baby, but that was weak.  That was like, giving your wife the wrong answer when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”… which, I can honestly say, I’ve never tricked Vin with that question with the intent of entrapment.  haha   Whatever, I’m just teasing…  he’s the best and most supportive taste tester ever <3  But I admit, “…interesting” was not what I wanted to hear. 

I decided to take a couple mochi balls into work to get better feedback.   It sounds like food snobbery, but well… some of my co-workers are Japanese and I’ll believe their critique over Vin’s on this one.  haha  I brought in a couple to one of the Admins and she was instantly impressed by their appearance (phew!).  I should probably disclose that she loves strawberries so maybe her opinion may be a LITTLE biased, but my co-worker was honest.  She said that my “homework was to make the mochi dough a little stickier”, but other than that they were “really good!”, she liked the flavor combination, and she said they looked really nice considering I don’t have a mochi machine (I wasn’t aware these things existed  haha)  Yay!  It wasn’t a terrible review @ all!

I’m pleased now and can go merrily back to baking.  This weekend is Vin’s brother’s birthday and the plan is to make something really special.  Stay tuned…