Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First Round...

first round of wedding cake

...done! Let me tell you, I was incredibly proud of myself, and quite defensive of this square of cake. My husband wanted to dig right in, and I wanted to scream, "Noooo!" You know how it is - you spend so much time on this project, you hate to see it cut to pieces and devoured in seconds. But I couldn't stop him, he's just too cute.

The verdict? Overall, it was extremely good. The lemon curd was a total hit. The buttercream icing was just right - light and buttery, and it went on like a dream. The cake was a teeny bit dense (which I actually prefer, but maybe it's too dense for a wedding cake?). I used the white cake recipe from Joy of Cooking. So I think I need to test out other recipes to see how they perform. Any suggestions? According to my husband, it needed more lemon curd filling, so next time I'll bump that up to 1-1/2 times the amount I used last night.

Round two...coming soon!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lemon Curd

lemons
{source}

So, I finally dug in this weekend and began practicing the wedding cake. I did my research, found the recipes that I wanted to try, bought the right pans, and got to work. A few hours later, I had two very lovely square cake layers, and an amazing lemon curd. Since I haven't made the icing yet (swiss buttercream icing, from here), I plan on assembling the whole thing tonight. Beware, my coworkers. You will be my first taste-testers tomorrow. I apologize in advance for sabotaging any sort of diet you had going.

But guys, here's the thing. What I was most leary of was making the lemon curd, which, looking back, was completely silly. Lemon curd is so easy! Trust me. It came together in, oh, maybe 5 minutes. The flavors all mingle and mix, and before you know it you have a glorious bowl of lemony, creamy goodness.

Lemon Curd
From Joy of Cooking

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, diced

Whisk together the first three ingredients in a medium stainless saucepan until light in color. Add the lemon juice and butter. Cook, whisking, over medium heat until the butter is melted. Whisk constantly until the mixture is thickened and simmers gently for a few seconds. Using a spatula, scrape the filling into a medium-mesh sieve set over a bowl and strain the filling into the bowl. Stir in the vanilla.

Let cool, cover, and refrigerate to thicken. This keeps, refrigerated, for about a week.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sugar Cookies

sparkles

So I’ve just agreed to bake a wedding cake. I’ve been given the go-ahead (and the money!) to start, and what do I do? I decide to make cookies last night. In my defense, I’m not meeting with the bride-to-be until this weekend, so there’s not much I can do until I know exactly what sort of flavors she wants, final sizes, etc. So it made complete sense to just relax last night and make something simple and sweet that we could have with a glass of milk before bed.

The dough came together easily, even with the chilling time involved. A bit of the batter may have found its way into my mouth, and honestly? I was rather underwhelmed with the taste. They tasted like…any old sugar cookie. Where was the flavor of that Bailey’s Irish Cream? I was expecting something a little more exciting. And when they came out of the oven, I still wasn’t too impressed (although I was excited about the silver sanding sugar that I rolled them in…those cookies were sparkly!).

BUT! Once they cooled, I discovered that they had developed the most lovely crispy exterior, while the inside was super soft and moist. So if you’re looking for a solid, buttery, lovely sugar cookie, here you have it.

--------------------------------------------------------

Crispy Soft Sugar Cookies
Yield: 28-30 cookies

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
¾ - 1 tsp salt (original recipe called for ½ tsp, but I always think cookies are better with more salt)

1/2C white sugar
1/2C dark brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 egg
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 tsp bailey's irish cream

Makes around 28-30 cookies.

1. Preheat to 375, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Melt butter in the microwave until melted (alternatively you could do this in a saucepan on the stove, which would give you a more browned-butter flavor). Whisk in the sugars. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

4. Once butter-sugar mixture is cooled, add egg, vanilla and bailey's, and whisk thoroughly. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated, then chill until firm (I stuck mine in the fridge for 15 minutes or so).

5. Roll dough into 1 to 1-1/2” sized balls, roll them in decorative sugar (if desired), and place them 2” apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. These will spread quite a bit, so give them room!

6. Bake for about 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking time. Remove from oven when edges are a light golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grilled Romaine

simply salads

I don’t know about you, but my weekend was fantabulous. The weather here in Memphis was absolutely wonderful (but anything is wonderful when compared to the single digits we’ve had recently). I walked to yoga class on Saturday, the house got cleaned to Janis Joplin’s Pearl, and we topped the warmish weekend off by having flat iron steak and a grilled romaine salad. Some muffins were baked during the weekend, along with some cookies I made last Friday that are still hanging around the kitchen, but those just seem insignificant when compared to our steak and salad.

Can I tell you about this salad? Grilled romaine salad with homemade green goddess dressing, mandarin oranges, and toasted almonds. There. I said it. With my husband’s teriyaki-marinated flat iron steak, it was amazing. We cook quite a lot, and there are only a handful of meals that I store in my memory as “I want to repeat this ASAP”. And this is one of them. I wanted to take a picture, but I wanted to eat it more, so sorry! No pic.

I used the book Simply Salads for the salad recipe (including the homemade dressing). The author, Jennifer Chandler, just happens to also be a Memphian, and by some sheer twist of luck (for us!) ended up giving a lunch presentation in tandem with a furniture manufacturer at our office about a year ago. We all received a signed copy of her book as a parting gift. It features about 100 recipes for salad, including meat, seafood, vegetable, and fruit-based salad, and is a wonderful inspiration for when the weather gets warmer (soon, I hope!), and all you want is a cool, refreshing salad. I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Only this

yele

Please go donate to the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. If you can't decide to donate or not, watch this video. It may just change your mind.

I was going to post about cookies that I made last night, and how I have decided to take on the wedding cake project...but now all of that just seems really trivial.

So donate, help in any way you can, and be thankful for everything you have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Can I do it?

cake
{source}

See that cake? Think I can make it (or something similar) for a February 27 wedding? Should I do it? Am I COMPLETELY CRAZY?

I’ve been approached by a coworker and asked if I’d be interested in making this cake for his nephew’s wedding. He knows how much I bake (my colleagues simultaneously curse and praise me when I bring in treats that I’ve baked the night before) so he thought I’d be interested. And I AM interested. But am I being completely naïve to think that I can pull this off? Baking a regular old cake is one thing…doing a wedding cake to feed 40 people is, I think, an entirely different matter.

I may start practicing this weekend. I’ll update here on any successes, failures, or breakdowns that I may have. I’m inspired by Deb at Smitten Kitchen, who did this very same thing (and has some excellent wedding cake expertise
here).

Anyone else done this before? Any tips? Advice? Nay-sayers?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Classic Bread Pudding

baguettes
{source}

I finally saw Julie and Julia over the holiday break. I really enjoyed it, if only for the idea behind it; I thought some of the writing wasn’t all that great. However, I did truly love the scene where she had a heart-wrenching day at work, and she came home and told her husband why she loves to bake: because it’s just truly satisfying – no, comforting - to know that when you put x amount of flour with y amount of butter and sugar, you always get z. Of course, I know I’m not quoting that exactly right, and I'm probably not even getting the scene entirely right, but you get the point. It's all about making sense out of chaos, even if it's in your own kitchen. After a long day at work, where the projects that I work on are not really at all under my control, it's just so lovely to come home and make something that is all my own, where I'm in complete command of the whole shebang.

And you know what else is satisfying? Being able to come across a recipe, saying to yourself, “Ooh, I’d like to make that right now,” and then realizing that you really can make that right now because you just happen to have all of the ingredients on hand. Magic, I tell you!

This bread pudding and me, we were meant to be. I just happened to have some almost-stale baguettes left over from
this place, and the angels sang.
-----------------------------
Bread Pudding
from Joy of Cooking

Butter for greasing the baking dish
12 to 16 ounces white bread, stale but not hard, crusts removed, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup raisins (optional)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole or low-fat milk

Whipped cream, milk, or heavy or light cream

1. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Spread the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish. If using the raisins, scatter them over the top.
2. Thoroughly whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk in the milk. Pour this mixture over the bread and let stand for 30 minutes, periodically pressing the bread down with a spatula to help it absorb the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Bake in a water bath for 55-60 minutes, or until puffed and firm in the center. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold with the whipped cream, milk, or cream.
4. The pudding can be made several days ahead. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. To reheat, bake for 15 minutes in a 325°F oven. (a microwave will also do in a pinch, if you just need to heat up a small square for yourself after dinner...like I do (oh, heaven!), since my husband doesn't like bread pudding).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wedding Inspired

As this spunky gal put it here, I'm sort of over wedding blogs. Or talk of anything wedding, really. It's been almost 10 months since we said our I Do's, and I haven't looked back since. I haven't even made our wedding album yet. I quite enjoy being married, and I don't miss the wedding planning/decision making/pressure one bit. I still have quite a bit of wedding blogs on my reader, but I usually ignore them. It just doesn't really interested me anymore.

But every now and then I see something wedding-related that I just have to post because it's just so beautiful. First, I came across this pendant today. Wow.


wedding light
{curve pendant by shine labs}

And then I saw Elizabeth's Dye's latest collections. Double wow.

cover_front_1
{photo property of Elizabeth Dye}

0010
{photo property of Elizabeth Dye}...look at the bottom of that dress! Gorgeous.

I absolutely loved my wedding dress, but if I had to do it all over again, one of these would surely be my inspiration.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

NYE Recap

You know what really gets you motivated to unpack, clean, organize, and just prepare your new house only two weeks after moving in? Hosting a dinner party on New Year's Eve for six, that's what!

dining room
{our dining room, ready for the party!}

russell wright et. al.
{my grandmother's Russell Wright set, plus our silver goblets...and remember these?)

me being proud of our appetizer table.  my guests thinking I'm weird for taking a picture.
{appetizers, my favorite part of any meal}

What was on the menu? For starters we had a great cheese plate (smoked Gouda! Camambert with mushrooms!) that Christy brought, along with her infamous deviled eggs and red peppers. I also made feta salsa, rosemary cashews, and put out a simple vegetable platter.

For dinner? A light berry, walnut, and goat cheese salad (thanks, Colby!), polenta with leeks and mushrooms on the side, and rib roast as the main event. Before everyone arrived, I took a very European stroll down the street to our neighborhood coffeeshop/bakery and came back with two crusty baguettes to accompany the meal. And for dessert? Bittersweet chocolate pear cake.

How was your New Year's Eve?

P.S. I'm posting my pictures, unadulterated from here on out (no filters, no feeble attempt at lightening them in photoshop), until I can either a) figure out how to work my camera so none of that is really necessary, or b) I realize my camera is just cruddy and that I need to buy a new one. Camera pros: what's wrong? I shot these on the manual setting, no flash, high shutter speed (is that right?) since I figured it was best with the natural light coming in the window (not the last shot, of course). I put the macro setting on for the closeup. But blah! So grainy and just yucky looking. Wanna help me out? I'm starting to think I need to take a class.