The Sacrificial Lamb

October 31, 2008

I am a bit of a scaredy cat. When I say scaredy cat, what I actually mean is, I am terrified of anything remotely frightening. Witches, ghosts, zombies, vampires, the dark, the list goes on and on; I have many irrational fears that come into their glory on Halloween.

These almost paralyzing fears made for quite the time trick or treating. Once, I actually threw fruit from my Carmen Miranda costume, at what I thought was a threatening Axe murder, turns out he was our neighbor. Our very friendly, until being beamed with an apple, neighbor.

So the combination of my fear and my desire for chocolate resulted in the complete exploitation of my sister. She was younger, smaller and sometimes cuter sometimes. She made the perfect sacrificial lamb. When we would come across a scary house, which I defined as almost every house that was decorated, I would send my sister in. She would bravely walk to the door, handling every ghost or goblin that came her way and ring that doorbell. I would then swoop in and get my candy along side her, free from the terror that she faced.

So my sister, this post and all of its Halloween goodness is for you. For the years of taking care of your big sister, helping her collect as much loot as you, and most importantly, keeping her from running away in terror, screaming and crying infront of her neighborhood crush. I owe you one.

These Halloween pops are a version of Bakerella’s Cupcake pops. But all decorated for Halloween.

Cupcake Pops and Cupcake Bites
(Video Instructions from the Martha Stewart Show)

1 13X9 baked cake (from a box cake mix or from scratch … any flavor) I used Chocolate

1 can cream cheese frosting (or about 2 cups equivalent from scratch) I used Vanilla
1 flower shaped cookie cutter (1.25″ wide X .75″ tall) Not needed for Halloween pops
1 package chocolate bark
I used 1 package white melts and one orange melts
1 package pink candy melts or white chocolate bark
bowls for dipping
wax paper
aluminum foil
lollipop sticks
sprinkles, m&ms or something similar for top of cupcake
small plastic treat bags and ribbon to package the Cupcake Pops
candy cups and truffle boxes to individually package the Cupcake Bites
styrofoam block

    1. Bake a cake from a mix or from scratch and cool completely.
    2. Crumble cake into a fine consistency into a large bowl.TIP: If the texture is too coarse, you can run it through a food processor.
    3. Add can of cream cheese frosting or homemade frosting and blend together using the back of a large spoon. Blend thoroughly.
    4. Roll mixture into 1.25″ – 1.5″ size balls and lay on wax paper covered cookie sheet. You may want to periodically rinse and dry your hands off in between. This is where you would make your ghost, mummy, and pumpkin shapes.

      Ghost Shapes Awaiting Their Chocolate Bath

    5. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for several hours.TIP: You can speed this up by placing in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
    6. Remove. Begin to shape into cupcakes using a small flower-shaped cookie cutter. (see below) Take the chilled ball and roll it into more of an oval and then slide into cookie cutter. Push it into cutter until about half fills the cutter and the rest sticks out of the top in the shape of a mound. Then push the shaped cupcake carefully out of the cookie cutter from the bottom. Set right side up on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. Continue with remaining balls.
    7. Once shaped, cover and return to freezer. (5-10 minutes)TIP: You can leave them covered in the refrigerator overnight if you want to do the dipping on the following day.
    8. While cupcake shapes are chilling, begin to heat up your chocolate bark.
    9. Brown chocolate bark for the bottoms. Pink or white chocolate for the tops.
    10. Follow the instructions on the package for melting. Most recommend heating for 30 second intervals at a time and stirring in between. You can also do the double boiler method
    11. When you are ready to dip, remove from freezer and set up another wax paper covered cookie sheet.
    12. Take the cupcake shaped mixture and dip bottoms into the melted chocolate – just to the point where the mounded shape starts. Remove from chocolate, turn upside down and wiggle so that the excess starts to slide down slightly. Then lay on the wax paper upside down. If you want them to be lollipops, then go ahead and insert the lollipop sticks while the chocolate is still wet. Continue with rest of the cupcakes. You can also leave some without the sticks. They’re just as cute as Cupcake Bites. TIP: Dip end of your lollipop stick in the melted chocolate before inserting into chocolate bottoms. Not sure if this helps a lot, but it couldn’t hurt.DON’T – get water in the chocolate. Make sure your hands are completely dry. Water will cause the chocolate to separate and mess up all your hard work.

    13. Dry completely. (15-20 minutes)
    14. Once dry, dip the tops of the cupcakes in the pink or white chocolate. You may need to move it around a little to cover all the exposed areas.
      TIP: Let the pink chocolate sit for a few minutes after heating to thicken. This will help it from dripping down the sides of the cupcake.
    15. Remove from the pink/white chocolate and turn right side up. You may need to hold and rotate it if there is any excess so that it doesn’t drip down too far.
      TIP: You can use a toothpick to help cover any areas the melted chocolate didn’t cover.
    16. For the Cupcake Bites – just turn right side up and rest on the wax paper. Then go ahead and put a m&m on the top and add sprinkles while wet.
    17. For the lollipops, Continue holding and place an m&m on the top and add sprinkles. Let them dry in a styrofoam block that you have already poked holes into.
    18. When completely dry, cover the lollipops with small plastic treat bags and tie with a ribbon.
    19. For the Cupcake Bites, place in a candy cup and package in small candy truffle boxes to present individually.

    Makes about 50.
    You can store these in an airtight container and they will last for several days. You can also store in the refrigerator if you would like them cold.

Wrapped up for Work

All Packaged and Dressed for Work

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My Culinary Arch Nemesis

October 28, 2008

There are many possible pitfalls for the cynical chef. Imminent disaster awaits around every corner. Infact you may not believe this but, I have an arch nemesis in the kitchen. His goal is to destroy any of my attempts to send culinary goodness out of the kitchen. He is deliberate and cunning. I picture him creating battle plans and studying our kitchen blue prints when I am not home. 

His name is Spike.  

Please do not be fooled by his soft and cuddly exterior and his ever so cute way of lounging. That is part of his plan. He will attempt to lull you into a false sense of security so you do not foresee his attacks. 

But, I promise you they are coming. Since Spike came into our lives 4 months ago, culinary chaos has become commonplace. Some of his more brilliant attacks include climbing into a bowl of butter cream frosting, pushing a container of brown sugar off the counter, infiltrating the refrigerator to sample its bounty, and causing a domino effect of events resulting in the cracking of my Dutch oven which left a dent in my kitchen floor.

And when the food is to his liking, he enters into stealth mode hoping to catch a tasty morsel. That is what happened last night. I lost a salmon cake in our battle of wits last night. One of those poor, golden and tasty little cakes became Spike’s latest victim. I am not even sure how it happened. Spike was sleeping in the windowsill. The cakes were taking a rest on a paper towel while I finished the rice. When I turned around, it was all over.

Yes, that little operative is good at his job. Especially since he cuddled up in my arms and started to purr after dessert, and all was forgotten; that is until dinner tonight.

 

Recipe was found at The Way the Cookie Crumbles. A blog that I am very much in love with. 🙂

 

This Salmon Cakes are amazing. Everyone loves them including Spike.

Pan-Fried Fresh Salmon Cakes (from Cooks Illustrated January 2000)

CI note: A big wedge of lemon is the simplest accompaniment to salmon cakes, but if you decide to go with dipping sauce, make it before preparing the cakes so the sauce flavors have time to meld. If possible, use panko (Japanese bread crumbs).   

Makes eight 2½- by ¾-inch cakes

1¼ pounds salmon fillet
1 slice white sandwich bread, such as Pepperidge Farm, crusts removed and white part chopped very fine (about 5 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup grated onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
¾ teaspoon table salt
1½ tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¾ cup fine, unflavored dried bread crumbs, preferably panko

1. Locate and remove any pin bones from salmon flesh. Using sharp knife, cut flesh off skin, then discard skin. Chop salmon flesh into ¼- to 1/3-inch pieces and mix with chopped bread, mayonnaise, onion, parsley, salt, and lemon juice in medium bowl. Scoop a generous ¼-cup portion salmon mixture from bowl and use hands to form into a patty measuring roughly 2½-inches in diameter and ¾-inch thick; place on parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining salmon mixture until you have 8 patties. Place patties in freezer until surface moisture has evaporated, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, spread flour in pie plate or shallow baking dish. Beat eggs with 1½ teaspoons vegetable oil and 1½ teaspoons water in second pie plate or shallow baking dish, and spread bread crumbs in a third. Dip chilled salmon patties in flour to cover; shake off excess. Transfer to beaten egg and, using slotted spatula, turn to coat; let excess drip off. Transfer to bread crumbs; shake pan to coat patties completely. Return now-breaded patties to baking sheet.

3. Heat remaining ½ cup vegetable oil in large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 3 minutes; add salmon patties and cook until medium golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip cakes over and continue cooking until medium golden brown on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil on surface, if desired, about 30 seconds, and then serve immediately, with one of the sauces that follow, if you like.

 

Tips-  I add one teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning and 1 teaspoon of pepper to the salmon cake mixture. I will also use my food processor to help with the cubing of the salmon. I will use it to buzz the bread and empty, then the onions and empty, then I cut the salmon into big chunks and pulse it a couple times. It works out perfectly.

Be careful! He might be coming for you next

Be careful! He might be coming for you next

 

 

I promise you I make more than just cakes. In fact, I am sure in the next few days there will be a dinner entry. But, (I feel safe admitting this here) I love dessert. I do; if you could be friends with inanimate objects, I would be skipping down the yellow brick road with a Chocolate Chip Cookie, laying on the beach with some Ice Cream sandwiches, and going on a nice romantic picnic with a Turtle Cheesecake.

 

However, society is not very accepting of this, so I think I will stick with the husband and leave the desserts for eating not socialize with. But, if I could pick a dessert for a best friend, it would be this cake. Moist chocolate cake layers filled with peanut butter cream cheese icing and topped with a chocolate peanut butter ganache. It was absolute perfection and the perfect culinary present for my best friend’s 30 birthday.

But I warn you, you may think you can handle a large belly filling piece, you cannot. You may think you can do without the glass of milk or the cup of coffee, please do not even try it; you need it to make it through. Just eat and enjoy the amazing chocolate peanut butter coma that follows.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes

This cake is INTENSE. Serve it in the thinnest slices possible, and keep a glass of milk handy.

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16 (the book says, I say a heck of a lot more)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanut brittle (I skipped this)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. (Deb note: These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this, trust me.)

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. (Deb note 1: Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Deb note 2: Once the cake is fully frosting, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.)

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top with chopped peanut brittle.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In the top of d double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Crumb Coat

Crumb Coat

I followed Deb’s recipe and notes to a tee and also left out the peanut brittle. The freezing and crumb coat helped immensely. I also like the cake rest in the refrigerator between cycles. Between finishing the peanut butter frosting and the chocolate ganache, the cake sit in the fridge for 35 minutes. It was perfect. Word of caution: Let the chocolate ganache to most of the work dripping down on its own. Patience is a virtue that I don’t possess and tried to help it along. I would have liked a better drip effect.   

 

Every year on my sister’s birthday, I attempt to show her that big sisters are the greatest people in the world.  Since I was little there have been special events that have marked my sister’s special day. I will concede that the quality of surprise has improved from my “Birthday Haircuts” of elementary years.

For her 21st, she was proposed to by Shrek with a Irish Calladagh ring I ordered straight from Ireland. I was quite surprised that Shrek was so willing but even more surprised that my sister seemed to be contemplating a “Yes” response.

This year she was 24 and wanted to celebrate with a party and a cake. The only perquisite  was that all the food including the cake came from my capable hands in the kitchen. Oh and it had to be “girly”. I was attempted for a short moment to exact my revenge with a Hannah Montana cake but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Instead I settled on a 3 layer chocolate peanut butter cake with Swiss butter cream icing and chocolate butterflies. The technique for the butterflies came from the book Hello Cupcake and unfortunately, I do not have pictures of the process. I was too busy controlling the sprinkling techniques of my beautiful cousin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The peanut butter parts of the cake were a little dry but I attribute that to the layers living in my freezer for a couple of days.

Peanut Butter Cake– Adapted from AllRecipes.com  
 

 

INGREDIENTS

·     1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

·     1/2 cup butter, softened

·     4 eggs

·     1 (18.25 ounce) package butter cake mix

·     2/3 cup water  

DIRECTIONS

1.    Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.

2.    Combine 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/2 cup butter or margarine. Cream until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at time, mixing well after each one. Add cake mix alternately with the water. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.

3.    Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 25 minutes or until cake tests done. Allow cakes to cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Cake was adapted from Annie’s Eats. I used the cake recipe from her Reese’s Peanut Butter Cake. Unlike the peanut butter cake, the chocolate cake stood up very well to freezing and was delicious.

Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour                                             
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional)

Directions:
For the cake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter two 9×2” round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.  Place the pans on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy.  Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until thoroughly blended into the butter.  Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the vanilla.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2 (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients).  Mix each addition only until it is blended into the batter.  Scrape down the bowl and add the melted chocolate, if using, folding it in with a spatula.  Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 26-30 minutes or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans.  Transfer to wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners.  Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

 The recipe for the Swiss Butter Cream from Smitten Kitchen can be found here.

Butterflies
Supplies Needed:
Wax paper
Plastic baggies
Dark cocoa candy melts
Colored candy melts (whatever color you would like the wings to be)
Toothpicks
White nonpareils

Draw your butterfly wing template on a piece of paper.  Place on a metal baking sheet. Cut out squares of wax paper large enough to fit pairs of wings, and some smaller ones for antennae. 

Place about 1/2 cup of dark cocoa candy melts in a plastic bag, and 1/2 cup of colored candy melts in another plastic bag.  Microwave in 10 second intervals, unsealed, massaging the candy melts in between, until the candy is completely melted and no lumps remain.  Press out the excess air in the bag and seal.  Push the mixture down to one corner of the bag and snip off a very small corner.  Trace the outline of the wing template with the dark cocoa melted candy.  (Do one wing at a time, outline and colored filling, otherwise it will be too set to swirl by the time you have outlined two wings.)

Use the bag of colored candy melts to fill in the outline.  Be generous, so that it will spread all the way to the sides.  

Rap the baking sheet against your work surface a few times until the filling and outline spread together. 

Use a toothpick to swirl the edges and the filling together slightly.

Sprinkle the top and bottom of each wing with a few white nonpareils.  

The melted candy will begin to cool and harden as you work.  If it becomes to stiff to work with, microwave for 10 more seconds until melted again.  (This step is very important – if you think you might need to reheat the candy, definitely do it.  You will save yourself a lot of messed up wings by keeping the candy melted.)

Repeat this process with more candy melts until you have enough sets of wings for all your cupcakes. Let set completely.  

 

 

 My sister loved her cake. Let’s just hope there isn’t a cartoon character involved for her 25th. 🙂
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome…

October 24, 2008

I call myself the Cynical Chef because I am forever doubting my culinary abilities. I am sure you can sympathize with the feeling.  I have no logical reason to doubt my culinary prowess but no matter how many compliments I receive or how quickly the items leave the plate, I am always waiting for that culinary shoe to drop. Waiting for the phone call where someone is complaining that you gave them food poisoning or the dinner party with no guests because everyone had to wash their hair. Fortunately, I have not experienced any of these things and “knock on wood” do not think I ever will; but when you combine my ability to burn my fingers on just about anything with my neurotic sense of worry, the result is a cynical chef.

.It is positively draining, pouring myself into this hobby wrought with so much potential for disappointment but I love it.  And I will continue too even with all the imminent possibilities of failure. So I invite you to enjoy reading my journey while I venture into the great culinary abyss as I look for my black hole.  Thankfully it hasn’t come yet but when it does I promise to blog about it….