The Mistake

What happens when you take a bowl full of raspberries, a big drizzle of honey, and some greek yogurt and mix them together?

You should get some delicious popsicles, if you know what you’re doing. Which apparently–some days–I don’t.

I was super stoked about making these popsicles. I even talked about it over on Facebook. I decided to make raspberry and honey with greek yogurt when we got to the P-patch and saw the berry bonanza going on in my plot, and remembered the jar of deliciously floral honey we picked up in Manson when we were visiting Lake Chelan a few weeks ago.

I don’t really know what went wrong. They had all the makings of what should have been a killer batch of delicious popsicles.

Then I added some liqueur to them, which I think is where it all went downhill. Even the heady scent of good vanilla couldn’t save the day.

Usually adding a bit of booze to things is a win. With these babies though, it turned the texture to weird creamy with bits of straight up ice lodged throughout. Between the ice and the seeds in the whole berries, they were too much crunch and not enough creamy goodness. And to make matters worse, the liqueur had a weird flavor when it froze–supposedly raspberry but more like rotten grape juice.

I know, this is really making your mouth water. I bet you wish I would give you the recipe to make these tempting delights.

But, lesson learned. I mean, I did it for you, friends. I made these popsicles so you wouldn’t have to, and now we all know what happens when you mix these things together and freeze them.

Sometimes, you have to just take the things that come to you. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of lemons. I guess that’s why I made lemonade. It’s been a lot of hit and miss these past few weeks and I’m happy to say that I have been doing my best to move on. I’m getting back on the bandwagon of deliciousness, with recipes forthcoming that a girl can be proud of.

I might still be battling the chickens to stay in their designated area. I might still be neglecting the p-patch only to show up and find that someone has stolen all of the best artichokes off of my plants. I might even continue to pretend that the weeds aren’t getting as tall as Lilli, but at least I will be taking the time to enjoy the rest of summer while it still lasts.

And with any luck, I’ll be making more popsicles. Like these ones. Or maybe these.

Or maybe, these. Hopefully they will redeem me from the circle of hell reserved for people who mess up that easiest of summer treats, the popsicle. I made these ones after realizing I still had a quarter of a watermelon in the fridge that I didn’t want to eat in it’s current form.

They are a snap to make and are highly refreshing. Not as picnic friendly as whole watermelon, but are perfect for a night on the porch with friends.

Watermelon Margarita Popsicles
makes about sixteen (16) 1/4 cup popsicles

about 4-5 cups watermelon chunks–seeds removed
1/4 cup good tequila
1/4 cup simple syrup, chilled
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

Puree the watermelon. You’ll need 3 1/2 cups of juice for this recipe, which you should get from 4-5 cups of solid watermelon, but if you need more juice, puree more melon until you have enough juice. If you happen to get more than 3 1/2 cups, just save it for something else. Non-frozen watermelon margaritas perhaps.

Add the syrup, lime juice and tequila and give it a good stir. Carefully pour juice into your popsicle mold, cover and add the sticks. Freeze until solid then run a thin stream of warm water over to remore. Store frozen popsicles in a zipper bag and freeze the remaining mixture. Before serving sprinkle a tiny pinch of crunchy sea salt over one side of the popsicle for a true margarita experience.

The Hunger

During Passover it was hard to find a good snack. Normally if I’m looking for a good satisfying mid-day snack I will eat a handful of tortilla or pita chips dipped in hummus, a bowl of fresh popped corn with garlic salt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. But all of those things–corn, peanuts, garbanzo beans, rice, and leavened wheat–are forbidden by Ashkenazic tradition during Passover.

We ate a lot of eggs and fruit and cheese, which is OK for a little while but can get old pretty fast when you can’t mix it up a bit. And there’s always matzah roca, which is a good sweet bite when you need to satisfy that sort of craving–but you can’t eat too much of that without feeling some good old fashioned Jewish guilt.

So what’s a girl in training to do?

Eat nuts.

Handfuls of them raw in yogurt, almond butter spread over matzah with a drizzle of honey, or nuts like these:

Words like salty and sweet don’t really do these mixed nuts justice, because even though they are those things, that’s not enough. There are more layers of flavor to them than there are layers of matzah in matzah lasagna.

With an immediate crunch and a lingering heat, these are pretty much the perfect snack. The orange zest adds a brightness that isn’t easily brought by other ingredients, and the cardamom adds a floral zing. The chipotle knocks on the door and says “HI!” at just the moment, when you’re thinking you might need a way to get off the phone with the sweetness. And of course, salt. All good toasted nuts have salt.

Even though we ate a big bag of them during Passover, I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch to go with us on the train to Vancouver, where we are right now. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy here this week, and even chillier than the city we left behind, so a good homemade snack was essential to keep up our spirits on this Not-So-Tropical vacation. Along with the bottle of wine no self-respecting international train traveller leaves behind, they make the perfect travelling snack. They’ll cure pretty much any hunger pangs, and be easy to carry around to boot.

Stovetop Toasted Orange Spice Nuts
makes 12 1/4 cup servings

1 cup each raw Cashews, Almonds, and Walnuts, or any nut you like.
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
Zest and juice from one orange
1/2 tsp Ground Chipotle pepper
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a good, heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron is the best) melt the butter. Add the nuts and sugar, stirring to coat, then add the other ingredients. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts have turned a rich golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated from the caramel. You want it to be thick but still a little bit sticky–it should take about 15-20 minutes. Turn the nuts out on the sheet pan and allow to cool, stirring every few minutes, all the way through. Once the caramel is no longer sticky or flexible at all, they’re cool enough to store in an airtight container for several days.

Little Things

On Wednesday I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise.

OK, well to fair I woke up about an hour before the sun even did and then after lying in bed with a cuddly kid and a cuddly cat and a cuddly husband for a while I got out of bed to see that there was a gorgeous sunrise afoot.

So while Joe showered I got Lilli and I up and dressed lickety-split and out we headed into the freezing morning to greet the day as a day should be greeted…with a lot of mirth and a tiny bit of cursing about how damn cold it is.

Since we were already out there, we let the chickens out in the beautiful pre-dawn light, which was probably the highlight of Lilli’s day because she loves to be outside and she loves those chickens. Then we came in and made some breakfast and went about out business, which included a trip down to Cash and Carry to buy a humongous bag of sesame seeds for $5 because I had a plan.

A few weeks ago we were shopping in Pike Place Market and we stopped in to browse at Cost Plus (World Market) where they always have things I didn’t know I needed. This time was no exception, as waiting for me at the checkout counter–the land of impulse buys–was a barrel with little packages of Loucks Sesame Snaps,  one of my all time favorite impulse buys. (Which I have since found out that almost nobody I know has ever even heard of them. What?)

These were different though. These ones had chocolate striped delicately across the top. Yum. Why did I not know about this before?!

I restrained myself and only bought one package because sesame candy is something I’ve been meaning to try my hand at making for a while. I knew they would be easy enough to replicate at home should the combination be what I expected it to be. In other words, perfect. Which they totally were.

I made them with a dark chocolate like the ones I bought, and they are probably not going to last very long here in our house. Joe even said that they were quote “Good for a sesame candy, if you don’t like sesame.” Which he doesn’t. (Then we went on a date!)

Those little things made my Wednesday, just like getting to see the sun in it’s full cycle with Lilli did. They made it even sunnier and brighter and more productive and fun that it would have been on it’s own. And more tasty. Which was so good because Tuesday was a one way ticket to Lame-Town. Anyway these little candies will get you on the tracks to Awesome-Town if you decide to make them, especially if you follow up your snappy snack with another trip to the park, this time to view the sunset.

Toasted Sesame Snaps with Chocolate Drizzle

2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz dark, milk or white chocolate, your choice. Either chip form or in small pieces

Toast the sesame seeds by baking on a clean baking sheet in a 350ºF oven for 20 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes or so.

In heavy saucepan, stir together sugar, water, honey and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook without stirring. Brush down the sides of pan with pastry brush dipped in cold water, about every 5 minutes. The mixture will cook until medium amber in color and a candy thermometer reaches 310ºF, about 15 to 20 minutes. But just in case you need to know, I accidentally cooked mine to like almost 350ºF and it still turned out pretty good. Of course, I happen to like almost burnt stuff, so you know, just a warning.

Stir in the sesame seeds and salt. Immediately pour onto greased baking sheet, spreading with greased spatula. Mine didn’t quite fill my standard 1/2 sheet size pan. Using greased knife, score into 3″ squares, and then score each square diagonally in half.

While the snaps cool, melt about 4 oz of chocolate–either over a double boiler or in the microwave in 30 second intervals (Stir between each 30 seconds. It’s the lazy way to go…which is why I did it that way.) When it’s melted all the way use a fork to drizzle lines over the whole sheet of snaps. It’s OK if they’re not completely cool when you do the chocolate.

Let cool completely, and making sure the chocolate is completely set (pop it in the freezer for a bit if it’s not and you’re impatient like me), break along the score lines into triangles.

Like other hard candies, these will get sticky in very humid weather, but in a super air tight container they should keep for at least a week.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.

Good News

You know how when the sun comes out in the middle of winter it’s like you’ve never seen it before? Even if it was out the day before? (But especially if like here in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs?) 

You know also, how when you actually get to go outside and let your totally bundled up self absorb some of that sunlight it makes you feel really warm and happy and want to skip around in a meadow somewhere.

Yeah me neither. Not at all.

Recently I made muffins that pretty much served to encapsulate that breath of sun in a slightly sweetened fluffy goodness. They had apricots. Lots and lots of them. Frozen at the peak of summer but then folded into a muffin batter hearty enough to sustain you on even the coldest winter day.

The bad news about these muffins is that you probably don’t have several gallon sized freezer bags full of apricots with which to make them over and over, like I have. The good news about them is that you really could use just about any type of fruit in them. They could have frozen berries, or peeled and chopped apples or pears, or even frozen peaches.

Oh, I thought of some more good news about these muffins. They are pretty healthy, since they’re whole wheat and oat and have a whole mess of protein rich ingredients alongside that pile of fruit.  They are a great breakfast or snack for this time of year, when most people are trying to eat a little bit lighter. Even more good news is that they are great slathered in butter, in case eating light isn’t a priority.

Sun is Shining Good News Muffins
makes 12 regular sized little cups of joy

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup bran flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use greek, it’s tangy!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen berries or chopped fruit, loosely measured

Preheat your oven to 500°F. This will make the muffins rise up a lot and have a nice domed top. Don’t worry, you’re going to turn it down when you actually put the muffins in. 

Beat the liquid ingredients together until well combined, then add the bran flakes and stir till they’re mixed in all the way. Let it sit while you whisk together the dry ingredients and prepare your muffin tin. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the flax, in a large bowl. Then add the fruit and nuts and stir around to coat all the pieces in flour. This helps to keep them all from sinking to the bottom when the muffins bake.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and combine just until you don’t see any large streaks of flour left. It’s ok if the batter doesn’t look completely smooth.

Fill the cups of your tin about three-quarters full, maybe a little more. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.

Those Neglected Things

December can be rough. It can be busy and lonely and hectic and joyful and forgetful and cold and dark and rainy and bright and sunny and ecstatic all at the same time. Without even trying.

It’s this way for me, at least.

I got into the swing of things and was all full of holiday cheer for the most part, but it meant that some things fell by the wayside. There were posts I started to write that never went anywhere. Pictures I took for posts that will probably never even get started, and post ideas that never got pictures.

There was also the small matter of relicensing my small business, Infamous Pastries. I was *supposed* to do this before the deadline of December 31, or else have to pay an extra fee for doing it late. When I remembered that I still hadn’t done this last night just as I was falling asleep, I wept. The tears were tears of both sadness and relief. 

I’m going to be honest here when I say that I don’t think I am cut out to run a business as a self-starter. I am an incredibly hard working person, and I could run a business probably without many hitches if I’d been going down that path for a while with the same job. But I am not an entrepreneur, it turns out. 

I love what I do. I’m a pastry pro at heart. I love the chemistry, I love flavor, and I love pushing the limits of both. I do pretty good with trial and error. I work incredibly well under pressure and even though I generally dislike working with the public at large I seem to be pretty good at it when it comes to helping brides choose wedding cake flavors, etc. I’m bossy enough to get people to do what they need to do, and nice enough that they still like me later. I love to eat and to share that sweet little something with others. I love baking.

I am also an artist. I have been painting and creating art since I was very small, and I even went to art school for a brief time. Turns out, art school didn’t suit me very well (too commercial for me, ironically) so I came home and found a way to create and express that I never really connected to being creative and expressive before. Through food. I went to pastry school and I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat.  I love the 3 dimensional aspect of a cake as sculpture, and I love to get the flavors just right, layered they way paint is layered on a canvas. 

But artists are notoriously bad self-starters and have for the most part terrible PR skills. That’s why there are so many artists who make no money doing what they love. And I guess I am doomed to fall into that category for now.

Reflecting back on 2011, it was like December on crack. It was every possible emotion and then some. I started a business and decided subconsciously to let it flounder when I found a way to express myself that matched my lifestyle better and came more naturally (blogging). I watched a baby grow into a little girl and grow even larger in my heart as a result. I fell even more in love with Joe, while still feeling like I was somehow growing apart from him because of the things going on in our lives. 

I hope I haven’t neglected too many other important things this past year that were important, because I had a lot of other things to do. Go for walks in the rain with a toddler, make pies for people I love and laugh out loud at silly things. 

I know that there is one thing for sure I didn’t and then did neglect: these marshmallows. When they were in the house we kept nibbling them before I could even give any away, and I had to hide the rest to stop us from finishing them all up. I finally gave some away, then I forgot about them because there were cookies and tarts and cakes. There are a few still hiding in the back of a cupboard somewhere. 

They are simple to make if you have the right tools and you can add pretty much any flavoring you want, so long as you don’t add too much liquid. I had a girlfriend over to make them and we made three batches, all different flavors. We had a blast, and she was glad to do it with me because “I got her through” chemistry class, or so she claims, and wasn’t sure she would have been able to do it without me. They’re easy to make, but I did give her a lot of info that she wouldn’t have learned just making them out of the book. Don’t be frightened of candy making–it’s not even as hard as just plain living.
Basic Marshmallows
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg (best textbook I ever bought)
Makes one 9×12 pan, about 3/4″ thick, or spread into a high sided sheet pan for thinner mallows

You kinda need a candy thermometer for this recipe. It’s not a big deal, I promise. 

Cornstarch or powdered sugar
3 Tbsp (18g) unflavored gelatin powder
1 cup cold water, divided
1 lb granulated sugar
2 ounces light corn syrup
4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
optional flavorings

Prepare the pan you will put the finished marshmallows in by lining it with parchment paper and dusting lightly with either the cornstarch or the powdered sugar. 

Sprinkle the gelatin in a wide bottomed metal or glass bowl and pour 1/2 cup cold water over it. Stir it with a chopstick to make sure all the gelatin gets moistened, and set aside to soften. Once it’s all softened, put it over a pan of simmering water so that it gets warm and leave it there until you need it at the end. You need it to return to the liquid state of water, but you don’t want it to be too hot.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whip attachment.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1/2 cup of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. This is where the thermometer comes in handy. You are going to boil the sugar to 245ºF. But wait! Once it reaches about 230ºF, you should turn the mixer on high and start your egg whites. They need to be whipped to stiff peaks. Watch closely because the sugar will get very hot very fast starting now. When it reaches 245ºF, turn off the heat and lower the mixer speed to about medium. Very slowly and in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl (not over the whip or the syrup will fly out!) very carefully pour the sugar syrup. Once the egg whites start to look pretty glossy and there is a lot of steam rising out of the bowl, you can pour a little faster but do not just dump it in there or it will not be pretty. (Just take my word for it.) After you’ve got all the syrup in there, and with the mixer still mixing, pour in the gelatin, making sure to scrape out all the last bits of it with a spatula. Mix it for a second and then turn the mixer back to high speed. Let it whip until it’s got a nice fluffy texture and smells amazing. 

Add a little (tsp or so) vanilla or other extract now if you want and whip for a second longer. You can also fold in crushed just about anything, like we did with candy canes in one batch and Daim candies in another. About 1/2-3/4 cup per batch should do you right.

Pour it out into the prepared pan, spread with an offset spatula or the back of a clean spoon and sift more powdered whatever you chose over the top. Let set completely before cutting out of the pan. With a knife dipped in hot water, slice cleanly around the edges of the pan. Invert it onto a cutting board or other clean surface, and cut into desired sizes. You should dip your knife and wipe it on a clean cloth each time you make a new cut, for the best results.

* I made a chai version here, and to do that I steeped 2 chai tea bags in one cup of boiling water and then let it cool before using it in the marshmallows. At the end I added about 1/2 tsp of allspice and 1 tsp of ginger. It was awesome, and they are really amazing in homemade chai lattes. Just saying.