Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TWD - Perfect Party Cake

This week's TWD is the Perfect Party Cake, picked by Carol of Mix, Mix . . . Stir, Stir. The picture of this cake in the book is striking, but I have always been a little afraid of it because it looks so complicated and perfect. I made the cake part (a half recipe) on Saturday but we had to be out of town from early Sunday morning until late Monday night. The cake making was so simple that this is the only picture I could think to take:

Fast forward to tonight. The cake was in the freezer and then defrosted overnight in the fridge. Even after being frozen and defrosted, this cake was so easy to work with. I felt like I could handle it without being overly concerned about breaking or crumbling.

Now, on to the buttercream. Following advice from the TWD website and Dorie herself, I let everything come to room temperature before starting:

Mmmmmm . . . egg whites and sugar. Here's an action shot:

Here's the dog pretending not to be very interested in what's going on just out of nose-reach:

See? I'm a good dog (who, by the way, has been out of dog treats for weeks and barely complained about it.)

I sliced the cake, and then ran into my first snag. The fruit filling. I had some raspberry preserves in the fridge but they had seeds. So I attempted to strain them. It didn't work. So, I heated them up a little and strained them. Too runny. So, I added some ligonberry preserves. Still runny. So, I decided to just use the strawberry preserves I had, large chunks of fruit be damned.

After this experience, I began to wonder why it is that I have three different kinds of red fruit preserves sitting in the back of my fridge. Well . . . no worries. They are all gone now.

Here's the cake with just frosting:

And with coconut and the dog trying to look casual:

And here is the first slice:

Very, very good flavor. I followed the recipe exactly (except for the preserves issue) and would be interested in trying other flavors together. But unless I'm feeding 20 people, I'm still going to make just half a recipe. This cake is rich!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWD - Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise

Andrea in the Kitchen picked this week's TWD recipe and it was a doozey!

Oh, the hours! I am unlikely to make this recipe again based simply on the fact that it took more than 24 hours to complete. Of course, part of that time was driving around to four different stores on Sunday morning to find unsweetened coconut, which I never found. I decided that because most dacquoises are made with nuts, I would simply just use all almonds and no coconut in the meringue part.

Other than being so time-consuming and requiring three hours of the oven running on a day with 90% humidity and 90 degrees, this was a fun recipe. I actually reversed the order in which I made the parts, making the pineapple first, then the ganache, and lastly the meringue.

The Pineapple.

Here in Illinois, we must have much smaller pineapples, because there was no way the pineapple I got was going to make three layers of 24 sections of pineapple. This looks like a lot of pineapple, but really it wasn’t enough:
It was really fun to broil the pineapple, but my oven is so old that the broiler is on the bottom and really uneven when cooking. So, I found myself laying on the floor watching the back pieces so they wouldn’t burn:In the end, it was a win-win situation since I didn’t burn the pineapple and I found a few child/dog/cat toys under the oven.

The Ganache.

This was the simplest part of the whole thing. It also just shows that the simplest things are often the best tasting - such as 14 ounces of white chocolate whisked with three cups of heavy cream. You just can’t screw that up.
I took a picture of the chocolate squares individually divided in the bowl because I thought it looked cool. Then I re-read the recipe and took it all out to chop it . . . finely.

The cream went into the chocolate and the whole thing went into the refrigerator. Really, the only reason it didn’t go straight down my throat was because I had to get in the shower so we could go to an afternoon baseball game.

Intermission: The Baseball Game.

We had tickets to the 2 pm Peoria Chiefs’ game, which normally would be great. However, as I mentioned above, it was like a swamp outside. Right before we arrived at the ballpark, it rained and not in a get-rid-of-the-humidity way. I had the forethought to bring a rag to wipe off our seats.

What I did not have the forethought to bring was sunscreen or an umbrella - both of which were needed during the game. So, let’s review: it was 90 degrees, it was raining off and on, there was no breeze, everything was wet first from rain, then from sweat. It was super sunny and I was beginning to fry like a popper. After the end of the fourth inning, I gave up and we watched the rest of the game from the concourse which is in the shade. Even so, I got a pretty nice sunburn.

The Meringue.

I have to admit - the meringue almost didn’t happen. I was burnt and exhausted. But I also had the house to myself after dinner, which is perfect for challenging baking situations that require the oven to be on for three hours and copious amounts of swearing.

The first step was drawing the 12 x 6 patterns on parchment paper. Apparently, I got rid of my 12 inch ruler when I left 8th grade, so I struggled to find something to use as a pattern. And this is what I decided on:
Yes . . . it’s a license plate. It is the license plate from my first car. And yes . . . it has been washed. And why was this more easily accessible than say . . . a tape measure in my house? Well, that’s just how I roll. And I forgot I had a tape measure.

Anyway, here are my stiff peaks:
Huh-huh. Someone is going to make an off color comment about that, I just know it.

And here are the meringues pre-cooked:
The amount of meringue batter (is that the right word?) seemed excessive, but that’s better than sparse, I guess. They baked just fine, although they were only in the oven for about two and a half hours instead of three. I left them in the oven overnight to cool (because the two and a half hour mark was 11 pm and I was tiiiiired.) I was worried they would get too much humidity in the house overnight, even with the air conditioning, but they were fine.

The Final Product:

The biggest trick was finding a rectangular shaped serving/storage dish on Monday morning before work. I finally found one that was about two inches too narrow, but I used it anyway. Only now as I am writing this has it occurred to me that one could very well make this into circular meringues, which would be much easier to present.

Before work I whipped the ganache and toasted the coconut. (Does everything sound kinky today or is it me?) The meringues came off the paper perfectly (although next time, perhaps I won’t use a pencil and will put the pattern with the drawn part down on the baking sheet. Eh . . . what’s a little lead in your dessert? It balances out all of that lead paint I licked off the windowsills when I was a kid.)

Because my meringues were a little too big for the plate, I had to sprinkle the coconut on the top rather than on the sides:
The meringues were also darker than pictured, mostly because I used all almonds instead of coconut, I'm assuming.
The Review.

Too sweet!! I have quite a sweet tooth and this dessert was JUST TOO SWEET. And there is so much of it! My plan when starting this TWD thing was that either my boyfriend or I would take the leftovers to our respective offices so we don't end up each weighing 400 pounds. You know a dessert really didn't work when neither one of us really wanted to take the leftovers to work and I didn't want to eat it for breakfast. Just looking at it in the fridge made my teeth hurt.

If I ever make this again (the flavors were quite good - just need some tweaking with the finished product), I would make small rounds of meringue so I could make multiple individual dacquoises. They would be a very impressive end to a summer dinner party. But small servings are the key.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Look Me in the Face and Tell Me That

I believe you can judge a society by the way it treats it’s weakest members. Foster children are, in many ways, the weakest members of our society. They are taken from the only home they know through no fault of their own. They are brought at a moment’s notice to a strange home and a strange family. And foster families take in these children, who most often come to them with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and tear-stained faces. Foster parents take them in, protect them and love them, and take very little in return.

And now you are asking us to take even less and deal with even more. The effect of these budget choices mean foster parents like me will be unwilling or simply unable to take as many foster children, if any at all. These choices you are making are sending the message that foster children and foster families are not worth the compensation we receive for one of the most challenging situations any family will ever face. These choices convey the message that foster children are not as important as your children. These choices may be a quick fix to a very difficult financial situation, but the return you can expect to see will last for generations. Generations of families and children will be shown by these cuts that they are worth little to nothing.

If you are inclined to support or vote for these cuts, I invite you to come to my house and look me in the face and tell me you don’t care what happens to me or my children. Look me in the face and tell me why the weakest members of our society always must carry the heaviest burden.

There can be no keener revelation of society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. - Nelson Mandela

Shame on you. Shame on all of you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD - It’s All Peaches and Cream . . . and Honey

I love making homemade ice cream. When I was a kid (OK - until about four years ago), my father’s side of the family had the Fourth of July tradition of making homemade ice cream in a wooden box ice cream maker my great-grandfather made in 1903. It was a wooden box with a metal round insert, crank, and wooden paddles. After my mother made the custard and poured it into the metal container, my father and grandfather would take turns pouring ice and salt around the cylinder and cranking it to mix the custard into ice cream.

They had to take turns because, if you stopped turning, the ice would freeze and the ice cream wouldn’t be finished appropriately. When it got really stiff, my brother and I had to sit on top of the box so they could turn the crank. I remember it taking forever until they couldn’t turn it anymore.

We always did this in the early afternoon on the Fourth. Then my grandmother would put it into the freezer until after dinner. To us, it was like waiting to open presents at Christmas. We each got such a small portion but it was like heaven to eat. Right after eating ice cream, we would walk to the end of the road in my grandparents’ small town in Northern Minnesota to watch the fireworks over the train tracks.

My own ice cream making experience yesterday was very different. First, it was June 15, not July 4. Second, I have an electric ice cream maker so no ice, salt, small children, or sore arms were necessary. Third, my family only ever made vanilla ice cream and my grandfather would have had a fit if we even thought about putting fancy-smancy things in it like peaches or honey or vodka.

Yes, that’s right . . . vodka. I read on the TWD website that the chunks of peaches froze too hard if they were just let be, but if you soaked them in some alcohol, it was better. Well, after surveying all of the possible alcohol choices, I decided vodka was probably the most appropriate alcohol in my cupboard and luckily, I only had about a tablespoon and a half left:

Oh, and I used nectarines instead of peaches. I sort of did this on purpose because I almost always prefer nectarines to peaches because of the skin. And yes, I know we weren’t using the skin and peaches are easier to pit, but I’m a creature of habit and I just grabbed them in the store. That and I had been very discombobulated by hearing a lounge-singer version of "I Want to Be Sedated" on satellite radio just before entering the store. It sounded as if Barry Manilow, John Denver, and Karen Carpenter got together and had a love child. A love child that was slightly . . . off.

Anyway, no one knew the difference (and by "no one" I mean the cooking gods and my boyfriend) and they cooked up in the honey just fine:
The custard was yummy, yummy, yummy. The essentials of any good ice cream:

Some people have commented that the honey was overpowering in this recipe, but I didn’t really think it was. I thought it was well-balanced with the cream and peaches.

After cooling, it went into my electric ice cream maker - a far cry from my grandparents' wooden box and hand cranking. And then the vodka-peach chunks went in:

I didn’t take an end result picture because we wanted to eat it before it was completely set in the freezer, but maybe I will tonight.

Oh, and to finish the story . . . my parents still have the antique ice cream maker, sort of. They still have all the parts, but five years ago, the paddle met with an unfortunate accident. Since it was made a long time ago by hand, the metal pieces were soldered together, probably with lead. To avoid rust, my mother always dried the metal pieces in a warm oven. Unfortunately, she left them in the oven too long that year and melted the solder, thus killing a family tradition. Oh well, she probably saved the younger generation from certain lead poisoning.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Drive from Peoria to Normal Train Station.

Train to Chicago.

Taxi cab to downtown Chicago hotel.

Brunch at the American Girl Store in Water Tower Place.

Shopping to break the bank at the American Girl Store.

Taxi cab to Shedd Aquarium to see new Oceanarium.

Beluga whale show, dolphin show, Sponge Bob 4D movie, holding a starfish as big as your head.

Picnic on the lakefront with a view of the marina, Lake Michigan, Grant Park, and the Chicago Skyline.

Taxi cab to Michigan Avenue,

Playing on park playground next to Water Tower Place.

Having nails "buffed" by (probably very bored) make-up counter girl.

Dinner at famous pizza place.

Taxi cab to Union Station.

Train back to Normal.

Drive back to Peoria, arrive at 11:20 pm.

Me: What was your favorite part of Chicago?

Daughter: The PARK!!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I am eligible to take part in Illinois's Safe Driver Sticker Renewal Program. Or so says the notice I got from the Secretary of State's Office. I guess this means that instead of going to the driver's license place, I get to simply pay online and get a sticker to put on my old license.

But wait.

There are several restrictions and I am not eligible if any of several statements pertain to me. For example, I am not eligible if my driver's license has been revoked, or being held by court in lieu of bail, or if I have any condition that might cause a temporary loss of consciousness. In addition, you do not qualify if:

"Your legal name or gender has changed or you have lost your driver's license."

Perhaps it's just me, but the change of legal name or losing a license shouldn't be grouped in the same category as a gender change. That's kinda a biggie . . . so much so that it might just need it's own category.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Potential Tartlet Ruin by Modern Technology

I've decided to join the Tuesdays with Dorie people, following in my good friends', KPOW and SS, footsteps. I actually purchased the book several weeks ago and have been following the recipes "behind the scenes" to see if I could handle it. I love it - I have always loved cooking and baking but I am not as skilled at baking, so this gives me a chance to practice.

When I saw the recipe for this week, I was both excited and a teensy-bit disappointed. Seriously? A recipe with four ingredients, one of which was pre-fab pastry dough? Well, hell's bells . . . I could that. Heck! Even my three year old could do that. Famous last words . . . .

I went to the store with the best of intentions. The note provided in the book said that Pepperidge Farm puff pastry was perfectly serviceable, but all-butter dough would be better. So, I went to the store in town that always has the best chance of having higher-quality or harder-to-find ingredients. I was a little disappointed to see that the store only had the Pepperidge Farm brand, but thought I could live through it. (After all - it was still puff pastry dough - one of the best things on Earth. Ever.)

However, what I hadn't planned for was simultaneously grocery shopping and having a text message conversation with my boyfriend. So, I admit, I was a little distracted when I grabbed a package of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry without really reading the box.

Fast forward to last night. After dinner (and before the new episode of Intervention*), I headed to the kitchen to whip up these Parisian Apple Tartlets and for the first time took a good look at the package. Crap. This particular puff pastry was obviously meant to be cooked then stuffed, not stuffed then cooked. Plus, they were tiny - about three inches across:

Hmm. I may have stumbled upon my first TWD failure, and I hadn't even really begun.

But, I rallied. Convinced it would be really hard to screw up pre-fab puff pastry, sugar, butter, and apples, I peeled and "chunked" my apple. Unfortunately, the chunks were bigger than the pastry. So, then I sliced the apple and arranged it on the sil-pat.

I foresaw disaster. There was no way for the pastry to puff when the entire hexagon was covered with apple without causing the apple and sugar to fall off. But, I rallied. Again. I decided I needed an apple/sugar/butter containment system that would allow the pastry to puff around the apple while providing support for the apple. Searching through my cabinets, I stumbled upon mini tartlet pans. Who knew?

They certainly looked pretty precooked.

In the end, I think the only thing I really saved was cleaning off the sil-pat because the butter/sugar mixture burned along the bottom and the pastry didn't puff as well as it should have.

As I served the tartlets to my boyfriend, I said, "Please note the beautiful one-of-a-kind black lace sugar doily on the bottom. And the artfully arranged black crumbs on the plate. That's very special. You don't see that technique everyday. Appreciate it."

All that being said, they tasted very good (even the burnt parts) and were just the right size for a snack.

Next week should be better, right? I mean, it's just ice cream . . . how could I screw that up?**

*Is it wrong to eat French Pastry while watching an intervention of two really creepy twin anorexics? Turns out . . . I don't have a good answer for that question.

**I think this may become the theme of my TWD experiences - "How Could I Screw That Up? Well, Let Me Show You the Ways . . . ."