Friday, September 19, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
So, with Carrie coincidentally in town to help out with my next attempt, I next opted for a jar of fire roasted red peppers, also packed in brine (not necessarily the brand depicted here, but something similar).
I was delighted to find that the jar contained several whole, peeled bell peppers (I was prepared for pieces); soon after removing and draining the peppers, however, Carrie and I realized that filling these peppers whole and intact would result in an alarmingly large quantity of goat cheese per pepper - much more than any mouth would want to take on. (Just think of what a ripe bell pepper looks like, and imagine the interior capacity - quite a mouthful!) Instead, I ended up halving each of the roasted peppers lengthwise.
The pepper strips were a bit messier looking and messier to eat than the tidily self-contained peppadews, but in general we were happy. I would say if you're looking for more goat cheese flavor than pepper flavor, this is your best option so far.
Friday, September 12, 2008
But having your teenage years serve as fodder for VH1 is nothing compared to watching them turned into American history for the preteen-and-under set. For my sister, this milestone came last fall when her younger daughter saved up and bought herself the newest “historic” American Girl doll: Julie, a young girl growing up during the bygone days of the 1970’s. Leave it to the folks at Mattel to unearth rainbow patches and Jiffy Pop as essential artifacts of American history. In fairness, I can see that our nation is young enough that you quickly run out of relevant eras to commemorate – it may not be too long before they introduce “Madison, Girl of the New Millenium” complete with iPhone, Crocs – er, sorry, Rainbows – and Jonas Brothers cd.
At any rate, my Mom had a lot of fun whipping up a bunch of clothes to augment Julie’s peasant-blouse-and-bellbottoms wardrobe: tie-dye top, loud print dresses, and cranberry velvet ensemble worthy of Laurie Partridge, to name just a few. Another project she had in mind but didn’t get done in time for Christmas was a metal lunchbox similar to the accessory set you can buy from American Girl . We tried to get this done in time for Christmas, but as often happens that time of year, other things took priority. I ended up taking it home with me, promising to send it to my niece (“Julie”?) ASAP, and giving her full permission to nag me until I delivered. (A crucial measure given my notoriously poor performance in actually finishing projects such as this.)
In fact poor “Julie” (and Julie) didn’t get her lunchbox until this summer – many stupid things factoring into the delay – but I believe she was pleased with the results.
Although I’ve tried my hand at many things, I am certainly no metalworker. Thus, to make this box I of course needed to find a small-sized metal lunchbox to cover. Often you can find these filled with candy at Target-like places, especially around Christmastime, but we had trouble this (last) year. In the end we found the perfect size mini-lunchbox, not in a store, but in one of my sisters’ minivans: a used but perfectly acceptable specimen about 4” x 2 5/8”, with the Tootsie Pop logo on both sides and around the edge.
Julie’s lunchbox features a 70’s-ish flower graphic – cute, but to me, not as uniquely true to the era. In my memory at least (and admittedly, my lunchbox-carrying days were in the 80’s, not the 70’s) lunchboxes were all about branding: TV shows, movies, and toys. My sister had Annie, I still have my old Dark Crystal, and one of us had Strawberry Shortcake at some point. I remember people with the Dukes of Hazzard, Cabbage Patch Kids, GI Joe, etc.. No doubt many would have gone straight for Scooby Doo to evoke the 70’s, but for our family the quintessential TV brand of the era will always be The Brady Bunch.
Now as it happens I have a bit of experience in the area of recovering metal lunchboxes. Several years back, in the spirit of many things Christopher Guest , I gave my brother a Mitch&Mickey full-size lunchbox that has never to my knowledge carried a peanut butter sandwich but has intrigued one or two people over the years it’s sat in his office. For the Mitch&Mickey box I just formatted scanned images into two rectangles the size of each face of the box, printed them onto sticky-back paper, trimmed, and attached. I made smaller “stickers” to cover odd existing designs along the box edges, then gave the whole thing a couple coats of clear acrylic spray to both protect and add a nice sheen. (This final step is a bit dicey if you’re using an inkjet printer, as the ink can run if you’re not careful.)
The process for the Brady Box was essentially the same, although I had a bit of trouble at first finding high-resolution Brady images online, particularly the classic blue nine-square grid which I had envisioned as one face of the box. In the end I found a few helpful sites, the best of these probably being the Brady Bunch Shrine, and also scanned some of the images from the episode guide that accompanies The Brady Bunch – The Complete Series which I just happen to have on dvd. Then I just messed around with the images in Photoshop and InDesign, formatting them to the dimensions of the box.
Whereas for Mitch&Mickey I could use smaller stickers to cover the edges of the lunchbox, the scale of the Brady Box was too tiny for that. I opted instead to completely paint over the edges of the Tootsie Pop box with enamel paint (like you use for model cars). The stuff’s a bit of a pain to use – very goopy – and careful as I was it was virtually impossible to avoid getting it where you didn’t want it, but two coats of the stuff did a good job of covering the Tootsie graphics. As with Mitch&Mickey, I gave the whole thing several spray coats of clear acrylic protection.
Julie’s official lunchbox comes complete with an actual (albeit inedible) lunch, including sandwich, chips, thermos, and Hostess-style cupcake. Although I’ve made my fair share of FIMO/Sculpey items in the past, for this project I opted for a more basic, and in many ways easier modeling option for the food: salt dough.
I have a great fondness for this medium. High on my roster of happiest memories are the nights we would pull out our homemade salt dough ornaments each Christmas along with our salt dough Nativity set. (My own contributions to both of these were minimal and somewhat embarrassing; I was probably about 5 when we made them.)
Salt dough is a very easy-to-make and easy-to-use dough that you typically mold, bake, and paint. (I suppose you could tint it into individual colors if you wanted.) Anyway, salt dough really deserves its own post, but here are the basics: 2 parts flour to 1 part salt to ½ part water (approximately – actually, start with that much water but be prepared to add half as much again). This forms a Play-Doh like dough that’s easier to mold than Sculpey and of course far cheaper. If you want, you can add wallpaper paste for elasticity (I don’t do this) or a little oil to make it less sticky. Because of the salt, the finished texture is a bit courser than Sculpey, but the results are pretty satisfactory. In fact, for food (especially bread) the texture is almost desirable. After molding, set your items on a cookie sheet and bake for several hours at a very low temp (about as low as you can set the oven) until hard.
My salt-dough apple attempts kept cracking (possibly adding the wallpaper paste would’ve fixed that), but I eventually got something satisfactory. I made the sandwich in separate components – lettuce, cheese, ham, bread – so they would be easier to paint, and ultimately assembled it with GOOP glue (you want something goopy to make up for unevenness). I even lucked into finding a tiny ziploc bag the perfect size to hold Julie's ham sandwich. (Wikipedia says Ziploc bags were originally test marketed in 1968, so nothing anachronistic here.)
My cupcake was the most fun; it felt like cheating to just paint the swirly icing on, so I formed my own, carefully, with the salt dough, and glued it onto the cupcake after painting. I used craft acrylic paint for everything and, as with the lunchbox, gave everything a good coat of clear acrylic to protect it.
Julie’s lunchbox comes with a cute little thermos, but I had no luck finding anything good to convert into a mini thermos. Chapsticks are too tall and thin, medicine bottles, even small ones, are too big and often have raised writing on the caps. The only other good options are made from glass, which seems inappropriate for what after all is supposed to be a toy. In the end my food took up so much space inside the lunchbox there wasn’t room for a thermos anyway, so I decided that “Julie”’s Julie probably buys milk from the cafeteria.
Assuming they even had pasteurized milk way back in the 1970’s...
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
It's tangy and sweet, but mostly sweet. Everyone is always so impressed with a triple layer cake. It's so easy to do though.
A coworker of mine requested a citrus-y cake and I forgot to download a recipe before going home for the weekend. Luckily, I had made this cake earlier in the year and had the recipe at home. It's pretty time consuming, but completely worth the effort.
The cake recipe comes from Better Homes & Gardens website (one of my personal favorites) and even has pictures! Woo!
Here's my suggestion on order of making the three parts of the cake:
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons water
- 6 beaten egg yolks
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, cut up
1. In a medium saucepan stir together sugar and cornstarch. Stir in lemon peel, lemon juice, and water. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
2. Stir half of the lemon mixture into the egg yolks. Return egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add butter pieces, stirring until melted. Cover surface of the curd with plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour or for up to 48 hours. Store covered in refrigerator up to 1 week or transfer to a freezer container and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator before serving. Makes 2 cups (sixteen 2-tablespoon servings).
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 4 eggs
- 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
- 1/2 recipe Lemon Curd (see Recipe Above) or 1 cup purchased lemon curd
- 1 recipe Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe below)
- Lemon peel curls (optional)
1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour three 9 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pans. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, lemon peel, and lemon juice; beat until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add flour mixture and buttermilk or sour milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Pour into prepared pans.
3. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans. Cool thoroughly on wire racks.
4. To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half of the Lemon Curd. Top with second layer; spread with the remaining Lemon Curd. Top with third layer. Frost top and sides with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish with lemon peel curls. Makes 12 servings.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 16 ounce box Domino 10x sifted powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
Directions:In a medium mixing bowl combine cream cheese, butter and lemon juice; beat with electric mixer on low to medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well until reaching a spreading consistency. Stir in the lemon peel.
To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half of the Lemon Curd. Top with second layer; spread with the remaining Lemon Curd. Top with third layer. Frost top and sides with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish with lemon peel curls. Makes 12 servings.
Here are my personal recommendations/suggestions:
You will need about 4 -5 lemons for the lemon peels because by the time you use your nifty lemon zester (my fave tool...oh crap! I literally just now remembered that I bought a microplane and never used it!) and chop the lemon peels, they get a lot smaller. Make sure to chop them as it will be very zesty!
Make your lemon curd first and refrigerate it for a good bit (more than one hour). It sets up VERY nicely over an hour.
When putting your lemon curd on the cake, first put some frosting in a decorator's bag (you don't need a tip) and cut a small hole in the end. Pipe frosting around the bottom layer of the cake and then put your lemon curd on. The frosting will contain the lemon curd and make sure it doesn't ooze over the edge, into your frosting sides. Do the same for the middle layer.
Lemon curls are pretty on top. Leave one lemon for decorating the top. It's pretty.
Note: The picture above is from the first time I baked the cake. I forgot to take a picture this week!