Vin's sneaker cake

Vin’s sneaker cake

*Because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say “Just Do It TM” in the headline.

OK, this is a SUPER LATE post, but I figure it’s fitting since VIN IS RUNNING THE NYC MARATHON SOON!!!  This counts as carb-loading, right???  Now look at the pics….

Another year, another birthday for Vin. He started running last year for health reasons and now he’s one of those obsessed runners (meanwhile, I’m still a lazy bum that sleeps all the time as pointed out by the NYT), so the OBVIOUS cake this year was a sneaker.  To be specific, a replica of his sneaker.  The obsessed runner is very particular about his running kicks, and I wasn’t able to check out his actual shoe at home (we are physically glued to the hip when I’m not traveling and Vin is not running) so I sneakily asked Vin, “Oh heyyyy, baby… what’s the style name of your sneaker?  I think I saw it on sale and I know you wear a certain style so I wanted to make sure it was the same one…” So he told me, I looked it up, printed out enlarged pics of every angle of this shoe in black, and then hid the images under a pile of junk mail on my work bench.  (Vin NEVER looks through the stuff on my work bench; he only looks at the mounds of random shit piling up with disgust and dread and wants to throw it all out =P)

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“Did you think I’d forgotten you?”– Frank Underwood. Man, I love that show.

One single square strawberry muffin with butter.

I hadn’t baked anything in 2 months and things had just gone to shit. Busy @ work, busy with other stuff, turning into a blob… I was so stressed and had sunken to new lows, eating chocolate (namely KitKats), cookies, Starbucks pastries and fries to quell the panic and busyness, and I even succumbed to eating… dun dun DUNNNNN Entenmann’s raspberry Danish. I sh*t you not. The 50% off price tag at the supermarket pushed me over the edge. The nutritional value alone made me feel like I’m a guilty shameful druggie with a deep dark food binge secret. This was extra bad b/c Vin has been eating super healthy for the past 2 months!

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The holidays and my birthday kind of just mesh into this blob of a season that is both fun and stressful.  I’ve given up baking something for myself for my birthday (it’s quite silly b/c I probably wouldn’t eat any of it), but sometimes I just feel like I HAVE to bake something.

That something ended up being cream puffs.  And for two weekends in a row I churned out loads of cream puffs.  They’re so simple and yet so pleasing and they became my go-to item for January celebrations.  I think I kept making them mostly b/c I liked hearing ppl say, “Ooooh, these are so good!” and I liked replying, “Oh, these things?  They were SUPER easy to make.  I just whipped them up really quick,” and then getting that “….” look in response.  I guess it was like the equivalent of when chicks are like, “OMG you look fabulous? What’s your secret?” and the woman in question answers with, “Oh, nothing really.  I don’t work out and I just eat what I want,” and your expression just says “Bitch!”  hahaha  Hey man, it was for my birthday.  I’M bringing in homemade pastries for MY birthday.  I had an excuse to be a bit of a d*ck.  =)

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Anyway, the first cream puffisode (I just invented that word!) was for my family’s after-Christmas Christmas party.  We never celebrate holidays on the actual day b/c my mom’s fam is so huge and it solves the problem of who’s family we’re seeing for which holiday (seriously, our in-laws don’t know how good they have it =) and per usual, I didn’t have a lot of time to bake, so I decided to whip up cream puffs.

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Psych out.  This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Psych out. This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Oh God.  I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but the following post documents my attempt at baking low cholesterol, high protein, non-dairy and *gasp* gluten free/low carb cupcakes.  Even the thought goes entirely against my principles. (Disclosure: Due to my own health issues, I am technically not supposed to eat a lot of the sweet goodies that come out of my kitchen, but I make them anyway using flour, sugar, fat, eggs and milk, just the way my grandma bakes as a proper old school baker should.)  The only reason I’m not vomiting in my mouth as I type this is because… apparently I’m a sorceress and I did not just spend the day creating a cardboard-styrofoam hybrid in my oven. My experiment actually tasted… good.

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes. I tricked you!

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Twinkies on a sleigh

A couple weeks ago, Hostess announced it would close down operations and stop production of Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, and the plethora of subversive-sounding, “tee hee hee”-inducing, apocalypse-proof overly processed sweets.  “Zombieland” memes and jokes ensued.  Supermarkets stocks were wiped out.  Ridiculous eBay listings were posted.  Freezers were packed (though… I thought there were so many preservatives and chemicals in these things they’d last for ten years anyway).  A ton of recipes for homemade Twinkies popped up.  I was never a huge Twinkie lover, but I figured I’d give it a shot =)

Homemade Twinkie ingredients

Homemade Twinkie ingredients

Originally, I wanted to make these for Thanksgiving but I just didn’t have enough time.  I don’t have cake pan molds that are Twinkie-sized nor do I have the time or interest or zen-like calmness right now to make a couple dozen of these things out of foil.  I DO, however, have these mini loaf pans that are bigger than regulation Twinkies (about 1.5 to 2 times the size), so I planned on making extra large sweets from scratch for a dinner party with some close friends.

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I went on a baking binge last weekend (note: this was the weekend before Halloween; keep reading to see the dramatic turn of events as to why this post is super late).  I haven’t really made anything in a month and really wanted to do SOMETHING, but I had too many ideas.  The frazzled and flustered conversation went something like this in my head: Should I do something with apples? But I did that last time…  Oh, but I’m craving bananas and fruit… what about muffins and bread?  Do I REALLY want to deal with finding the bread pan?  But I want something with fall spices… Hmm, butternut squash?  No, it’s just because I was craving butternut squash soup… I don’t really feel like making it…  what about, what about… PUMPKIN?  Oh yes, Vin suggested I do something with pumpkin…

A beautiful pumpkin and cream cheese whoopie pie with caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese filling and chopped pecans

And that settled the decision.

Vin and I went to the supermarket so I could buy baking ingredients (eggs, milk, cream cheese, whipping cream… perishable things like that) and the rest of the town was there stocking up on batteries and water and bread and snacks for their storm sustenance.  We had heard that this hurricane was coming but figured it would just be this blue balling storm like Irene was for us.  Plus, we already have a stockpile of non-perishable/no heat required food items and tons of beverages in our basement that I accumulate anyway for non-storm use, so we figured we’d be fine, expecting we’d lose power for a day or two, tops.  (dun dun DUNNNN…)

Barenaked cakes; Left: pumpkin cinnamon vanilla cakes, Right: pumpkin and cream cheese mini cupcakes

So we went on our way as people were freaking out and driving like maniacs (all caution goes out the door @ the sign of a storm and riot mode takes over… geesh!) and I finally decided to make 2 pumpkin items: the equivalent of a Boston cream pie but with PUMPKIN… and pumpkin and cream cheese whoopie pies.

Halloween plates. The spider and the bat look so sad… they’re the cutest ones!

I made a vanilla cake batter with pumpkin puree and cinnamon and baked a couple small fillable cakes.  There was extra batter so I baked a tray of mini cupcake wrappers.  While these cakes cooled, I stood over the stove to make pumpkin spiced pudding (to substitute as the vanilla cream filling) and a brown sugar and cinnamon caramel glaze (instead of the chocolate ganache topping).  I had these Halloween themed plates (I won a pumpkin carving contest a couple years ago after spending almost 5 hours making the Death Star and these were my prize) and little mummy and witch figures and thought, “Hey, why not make this Halloween-y?”  Uhh, the assembly wasn’t as pretty as I had hoped, but it tasted delicious.  I whipped up some orange frosting for the mini cupcakes and sprinkled some crunchy toffee pieces on them.

 

My pumpkin-y take on a Boston cream pie. It ain’t that pretty, but it sure is tasty! Cake: pumpkin + cinnamon + vanilla; Filling: pumpkin spice pudding; Frosting: caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese; Glaze: cinnamon brown sugar caramel

For the whoopie pies, I added pumpkin puree to a light angel food cake batter and scooped it out onto this whoopie pie pan Vin got me last Christmas.   I added a sweetened cream cheese zigzag topping and popped the tray in the oven and then piped the extra batter and extra cream cheese into mini cupcake wrappers.  For the filling, I whipped up a pumpkin-cream cheese-caramel frosting and it went perfectly with the cake.  I was worried it would be too sweet, but the cake part balanced it out, and I smashed up pecans to add to the pies.  They looked pretty awesome, in my humble opinion  =)  I topped the minis with the extra frosting and crushed pecans.  This experimental combination tasted REALLY good.

Step-by-step pumpkin-cream cheese whoopie pies

So I finished my baking and decorating on Saturday, and then spent all day Sunday making a vat of pho in preparation of the hurricane.  We didn’t expect much to happen… maybe power would be out for a day, but we were without power for more than 5 days and the wind was super strong.  Luckily, Vin’s parents had a generator and his mom had prepared a TON of food, so we spent some time there eating properly cold food and having microwave-heated meals.  I also brought some of the beef pho and extra cupcakes and cakes to share, and we pretty much just ate and slept and ate all week until the lights came back on.  We bought some Twix and Almond Snickers for trick-or-treaters, but we didn’t get that many kids stop by.  Halloween was just a bummer this year…  We were cleaning up our busted fence and watching for costumed kids coming for candy @ the same time.  =/

A variety of pumpkin flavored mini cupcakes! Left: light pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes with caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese frosting and pecans, Middle: minus the pecans, Right: pumpkin cinnamon vanilla minis with vanilla frosting and toffee sprinkles

When I came into work the following Tuesday, people shared their war stories and some of the tales were heart wrenching.  I mean, we didn’t have electricity for a week and our fence was destroyed and there was some damage to the roof, but that was nothing in comparison to what so many other people lost.  And it was one of those situations where I just listened and all I could do was say, “Oh my God… I’m so sorry…  Oh my God…” over and over.  As soon as we got power, Vin and I turned on the lights in the basement and sorted out warm clothes and coats and extra non-perishables we could donate.  As soon as the supermarkets were restocked with fresh food, I wanted to restock our fridge with the basics and bake something for coworkers that lost so much more.  I quickly made some mini blueberry muffins for a couple coworkers and packaged them properly in pink boxes with signature ribbon and Cake Dealer labels.  Admittedly, they weren’t my best offering, but I just wanted to give something to try to cheer them up.  When I gave the care packages to a friend that had to flee from her apartment in Coney Island and another coworker that lost her house and car in Long Beach, I got appreciative smiles and huge hugs… the best thank yous ever.

These are my “I’m glad you’re safe” blueberry mini muffins

**This post was delayed because I just had to add one more pic of apple turnovers I made for another coworker that has been displaced due to Sandy.  The first day I came back to work, I emailed him and asked how he and his family fared because of the storm and if he could give me an update on his part of a project we were working on.  He didn’t answer all day, and finally I get a response saying he didn’t forget about it and would get back on the work ASAP but he was tied up with a few things since his entire ground floor apartment was destroyed.  Guess who immediately felt like an @sshole for nagging about the progress of this not-so-dire quarterly project?  So this guy has been in and out of the office for the past week and every time I had a chance to bake something, he was out.  I asked if the dude would be in tomorrow and he said yes, so I scrambled to Stop n Shop after dinner and got some ingredients together and basically made apple turnovers in speed mode.  I peeled, cored, and cubed 4 Granny Smiths in record time, and cooked them in Jack Daniels (come on now… booze makes things better!), sugar, butter, and spices (Vin’s apple turnover moment of the day: while the cooked apples were cooling, I took a break to watch Top Chef with him and he goes, “Why does the house smell so good?”  This, after he had seen me cutting up and cooking the apples =) , and rolled out some puff pastry.  After a sloppy wash of egg and sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon, I popped the filled turnovers in the oven for 15 minutes.  In my haste, I forgot to put slashes on top so some of the pastries started splitting on the sides (… oooops) but they still came out well.  I boxed them up and will bring them into work… hopefully my coworker and his wife will like the apple-y efforts to cheer them up a bit =)

Granny Smith apple turnovers on speed

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My carefully packaged care… packages =)

Vin’s pic of my apple turnovers

It’s starting to feel a little crisp in the mornings, which means fall is here!  This season makes me think of apples and cinnamon, and I had a hankering for baking something with apples.  Not only do I love anything with apple pie filling, baking apples makes the house smell so good!  And it totally reminds me of my dad; I remember going grocery shopping with my mom and picking up packages of Entenmann’s fruit danishes and turnovers for my dad to bring to work for his lunches.  He ate these things for years… every time I see the triangular puffs I think of my dad  =)  I never was a huge fan of store-bought apple turnovers b/c the ratio of the filling to puff pastry was always like… 1:4 and there was too much sugar in the filling and on the top.  I decided to give these chaussons aux pommes (“apple slippers”) a shot for a quick Sunday morning baking session, making sure the filling to pastry ratio was closer to 1:2  haha

Prepping some of the ingredients

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I bought a bushel of Macintosh apples… too bad we didn’t have time to go apple picking!  Sorting through the produce selection @ Stop ‘n Shop doesn’t count =(   I honestly don’t know what kind of apples are recommended for these fruit pastries and just kind of winged it.  I liked the tartness of the Macintosh apples and figured it would balance out the sugar, so why the hell not?  After peeling and chopping the apples, I cooked them in butter and added sugar (both brown and white), cinnamon, vanilla, and a splash of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey b/c the bottle has been sitting around for a while and it’s not like I’m going to pound shots of it, so I reasoned that the alcohol would burn off and I could still use the booze AND eat this.  This smelled SOOOO good, and it tasted a bit tangy and just sweet enough and I could have easily eaten this plain without the pastry shell  =P

Filling the turnovers with apples

While the filling cooled a bit I cut up the rolled out pastry dough I had chilling in the fridge.  I love that this stuff can be made well in advance and frozen for later spontaneous baking use.  I scooped out the filling onto six pastry rectangles, then cut quick slashes on the other halves of the pastry for the top pieces of the turnovers so the pastry could expand in the oven without breaking or splitting the egg-sealed seams. I whipped a quick egg wash to hold the pocket o’ pommes together, sprinkled some sugar and cinnamon on top, and popped them in the oven.

Skinny Tie

My awesome whipped cream machine (ignore the shopping list temporarily penned on my wrist)

I bought this Tovolo Easy Prep Quick Hand Mixer and had been meaning to use it.  It’s this awesome little mechanical contraption that whips fresh cream or egg whites or aioli by hand; no need to take out the hand mixer and bowls… this thing will whip perfect light, airy fluffy deliciousness in less than a minute.  AND it’s dishwasher safe!  If you can’t tell, I absolutely love this thing.  If I had my own TV show I’d totally endorse it.  An entire episode could be about meringue or macarons and I’d do both the mind-blowing yolk separating trick and crank out perfectly whipped egg whites in no time.  In this case, I whipped fresh whipped cream.  It was perfect: not too much powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla, 30 seconds of hand cranking, and done!

Apple turnovers fresh from the oven

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The smell of baked apples and cinnamon was starting to get pretty powerful so I checked the oven.  The pastries looked just the right shade of golden brown so I took them out and arranged them on a bamboo cutting board to cool a bit.   And then Vin came into the kitchen…

Vin: Wow, those look good!  Did you just heat them or did you make them?

Me [slightly furrowing my brows and blinking]: …What?

Vin: Were these ready made and you just put them in the oven or did you–

Me: I MADE them.

Really???  I wanted to say, “Impostor!  Vin would never ask me such a rhetorical and silly question!  Who are you and what have you done to my husband?”  But then Vin says, “Baby, they look PERFECT!”  =)

A plated turnover with whipped cream canelles

I was really pleased with myself.  I plated one of the turnovers and put two canelles of whipped cream on top, then sprinkled a dusting of cinnamon and ground sugar over the dish.   The outside puffed to just the right height, and it was flaky, crisp and featherlight, and there was a distinct faint “crunch” noise each time the side of my fork pushed through the delicate layers.  The apple filling did not overflow and spill out and burn onto the pastry, indicating that I did a good job of sealing the turnovers, and I personally think the amount of filling was just right.  It wasn’t a thin layer, but each forkful came with a bit of baked apple pieces, instead of biting into a mouthful of just pastry (I’m talking to you, Entenmann’s!).  The still chilled fresh whipped cream had a hint of sweetness that just melded with the tartness of the apples.  I was worried that everything would be  a little too sweet since there was sugar in the filling, on top of the pastry, and in the cream, but it was just right.  (By the way, how’s THAT for a food review?  We just caught up on Top Chef: Masters and the final episode was all about how food writers/critics were trying to one up each other in creatively describing how “sensual” and “unctuous” the dishes were.  God. It was like, give me a break… who did you **** to get such an awesome job at such a young age and you’re clearly a pretentious, self-entitled d*ck?  Sometimes I wish a lifetime of SPAM on some people.  hahaha)

Spectacularly amazing apple turnovers

Update: I’m questioning Vin’s sanity again.  This is what happened when he ate a turnover later…

Vin: These are really good! Did you buy apples to make this?

Me: … What?

Vin: Did you buy apples and make the filling or is this like… from a can?

Me [incredulously blinking]: Baby!  I made it!  Everything! That’s why I was looking for the peeler, to peel the apples and then chop them up and I cooked them… hahaha

Vin: Oh!  It’s REALLY good!  I figured you made it… I don’t know why I even thought you used canned filling…  I just didn’t know we had apples.

Me [still blinking and trying to hide a smile]: … You’re silly.

Maybe Vin’s overtired or just not thinking correctly; he’s been holed up @ the computer editing photos for days and went drinking with friends last night.  Maybe that attributed to his temporary memory loss and why he just happened to forget what I’ve been doing in my spare time for the past 2.5 years.  But I appreciate the compliment on my baking, baby <3

Shutterfly 50 Free Prints

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Last weekend, I just was craving a little bit of PB&J and PB and chocolate.  I’m not one to just stick my finger in a jar of peanut butter and eat it plain; I just wanted a tiny taste of it.  Preferably with a classic food pairing and a glass of non-dairy milk.  haha

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Vin is a big PB guy so I just decided to make PB print cookies:  PB cookie dough with either a pointer finger or thumb print, and then filled the impression with either grape jelly or this dangerously amazing Jif Mocha Cappuccino Hazelnut spread.  I’m not supposed to be eating any of the above, but I really wanted a little, itsy, bitsy bit…  and my reasoning was that Vin would like it, too, and I could bring them into work to share with friends.  =P

They came out so cute and tasty looking that I ended up eating 2 of each (oops).  Hey man, they were fresh from the oven and perfectly soft and chewy.  I gave Vin a few and packaged the rest in the fridge, estimating that I made about 36+ cookies.

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I brought a small container of cookies to work to give my friend Diane.  It just so happened that on that day, I had just picked up molds of my teeth.  I had impressions taken a week before to get custom trays of my chompers for nighttime teeth grinding and gnashing purposes; the dentist was going to toss the molds so I asked if I could take them  =D  I displayed the molds on my desk and told D to come up and check them out, and she and I happened to have this silly idea to make a little movie of my “teeth” terrorizing and chomping down on a cookie.  D had fortuitously saved one last cookie, so our little project was definitely meant to be.

Given where we work we had access to a lot of video cameras and editing equipment, but given my position, using them for our goofy project would be a terrible idea.  haha  We decided that we would just take photos with my smartphone and use my little desk lamp to provide staged lighting (gotta love fluorescent office lights).  This was done during our lunch break and took all of 10 minutes; we both staged the props, I took the photos and D did the lighting.  She also strategically ate the cookie so the bite marks and crumbs were perfect.  ‘Twas was hilarious genius, it was.

Me: We’re like weird 5-year-olds with this idea.

D: No, we’re like normal 5-year-olds!

Me: This is true.

=)

That night I went home and put it together in MS Paint.  (This may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve been using MS Paint for ALL the beautiful baking related collages on this site.  *gasp*)  Et voila… our perfectly shot, beautifully edited, thoroughly developed, emotionally driven story with high tech special effects entitled “The Plight of the Cookie”:

The teeth and the cookie

 

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I completely forgot about posting this.  I made a TON of cream puffs for Thanksgiving over 2 weeks ago.  I guess it was glossed over since it’s been crazy @ work and the photos are forgettable and this wasn’t a big deal; I’ve made these before.  Ain’t nothin’ special.

I was on a puff-making spree the morning of Vin’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner and made hundreds of little puffs.  I just kept going and going and all my racks were overfilling and I lost count after 250.  I made this many with the intention of bringing some for the T house dessert, then bringing them for my family’s post-turkey dinner on Saturday, and then doling out the rest to coworkers.

Pistachio puffs

I made pistachio filling for the T house puffs.  No, pistachio filling is not naturally green; a bit of food coloring gives it that lovely processed pastel shade.  And there were bits of nuts in there, too.  I also made chocolate filling and vanilla filling, but as usual, Vin likes to get to his parents’ house early so I didn’t have time to change tips and refill pastry bags to do multiple flavors.  I REALLY wanted to construct a tower of puffs (croquembouche), but there definitely wasn’t any time for that.  Meh.

TONS o' puffs

I brought about 60-70 puffs to the T house and brought along my nice cake stands to assemble them, but I was preoccupied with our new little niece for a few hours. She was so cute and peaceful sleeping on me that I didn’t want to move and wake her up to arrange cream puffs and hold her @ the same time, so Vin’s mom set them all up on one platter.  There were extra puffs so Mom T froze them.  (I was told she took them out to eat 2 weeks after Thanksgiving and they held up well and were still good.)

For my parent’s house, I packaged the dry, baked puffs in a bag and didn’t fill them till we got to the house.  I didn’t want the puffs to be soggy.  And it was a much more relaxed setting so I just sat down @ the dining table and took my time filling the assortment of pistaschio, chocolate, and vanilla while my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and my dad eyeballed the process and commented on the “messy ones that needed to be eaten right away.”  hahaha  It was a nice sampling dish… I think I made about 80 for my mom’s family feast and they were all gone by the time we left.

plate o' puffs - chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio

And I REALLY wanted to bring some for my coworkers and teammates since we were finishing up a big group project and this would have been a nice treat, but I just didn’t have time to make more filling before then.  So frustrating.  Now I have another 150+ empty, frozen puffs in my freezer, so maybe I can make a small caramel croquembouche tower for later.  In addition to the awesomely fun idea I have in mind for the Christmas…  stay tuned…