Thursday, November 5, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

It's finally gotten a little cooler here, and I've had a long standing craving for macaroni and cheese. Now, I was raised on the boxed stuff; I have nothing against the generic brand that comes out neon orange. But I was really in the mood for homemade, barbecue restaurant style macaroni and cheese.

Of course, I didn't have any macaroni. I had whole wheat rotini. Close enough, if you ask me.

I should have researched recipes and tips before I made it (you might be able to see where this is going already). I had my friend Betty Crocker, and that seemed good enough for a quick dinner on a weeknight.

I mixed in some spinach (it's embarrassing how few vegetables we eat!) and added parmesan cheese on top. Looks good, right? When has baked pasta ever gone wrong?

It was OK. I probably wouldn't make it again. Maybe it's the type of cheese, maybe too much flour and too little butter, or skim milk rather than cream, but it seemed grainy. Guess I'll leave the homemade macaroni and cheese to the professionals.

Rainbow Cakes II

Here's another funny story. See? Full of them.

A couple of weeks ago I started a new job. I was in a rotation program at work, and "graduated" a little early into my permanent job. That makes three jobs in one calendar year. Whew. There are a lot of pros and cons to a rotation program, but mostly I'd liken it to being on Quantum Leap. You go somewhere, do good, and go. Well, hopefully. I like to think I did good.

This permanent job was a long time coming, because I'm finally at a site close to home. I don't have to get on the highway to go to work. And I can carpool. But I was still kind of sad, because all of my really cool friends are now 25 miles away.

For my last day at the site, I thought I'd make a cake. The rainbow cupcakes came out so well, and I had everything out, I thought I'd try a cake out. But not just a plain, round or rectangular and boring cake. Can you tell I love my fluted pan?

Here's the funny part. I got everything all set, put the pan in the oven, set the timer for an hour, and watched the Biggest Loser. Spent the hour alternating between horrified and teary. Anyway, the timer goes off, I open the oven and ... it was liquidy. See, once you set the oven, you're supposed to press start. Oy.

It didn't rise. At all. But oddly enough, the layers formed arches! Like a rainbow! Completely unintentional and I will bet I can't recreate it. But I'll probably try (and turn the oven on this time).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anniversary Cake

Seven months ago, I got married. It was truly and honestly the happiest day. I don't even have words for the kind of happy it was.

For our six month anniversary, I wanted to do something special. Now, the top tier of our wedding cake is still foil-plastic-foil-plastic-foil-plastic-foil wrapped in our freezer. It even took a secret trip to the freezer at work so it would survive the move. Yes, I'm aware most bakeries will give you an anniversary cake to spare you freezer burned cake, but ours doesn't. Oh well. I'd still order a cake from there.

We had a rather simple wedding cake. And I can make cakes too, you know.

In searching for canned pumpkin, I noticed that you can buy canned dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is simply condensed milk that's been cooked on the stove for a while, but who really has time for that? A can is much easier. Thus, the idea was born to recreate our wedding cake.

When we went to the tasting, the bakery asked if I wanted a white or chocolate cake. Apparently "Yes!" is a completely appropriate answer to this question, because each layer was half white and half chocolate. The awesomeness of this bakery knows no bounds, my friends.

I used my from-scratch recipe, which didn't fail me for the almond cupcakes, but sure did for this cake. Apparently you can't just dump some cocoa powder in and call it chocolate cake. Actually, the cake came out more dense and dry, like bread. Sad. But, a big thick layer of dulce de leche and some frosting sure does help.

So, the cake wasn't great, and it ended up I was still with the flu, but at least we had a good dinner!

Brides take note: while every detail of your wedding is of the utmost, critical importance before the event, it simply will not matter later. I know I left off the ribbon, although I probably had some around. And cleaning out the cake topper was a pain in the butt after the wedding, so I wasn't about to go searching through boxes to get it. But, here's a picture of our wedding cake:

So, despite not losing those extra pounds, or forgetting the rings, or a hangover, (all things that did not go wrong at my wedding, but you know) you're still married.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rainbow Cakes

Here's a funny story. I'm full of them lately. Funny how most things I make are the collision of two wholly unrelated events that one day, due to stars and planets unexpectedly aligning, suddenly make perfect sense together.

Event #1: Months ago, the internet collectively gasped upon seeing this beautiful rainbow cake. Well, the part of the internet I read, anyway. We oohed. We ahhed. I promptly did not think about it until almost a year later, because apparently that's how long it takes me to process things.

Event #2: Funny thing. Just before my friend's birthday, for which I had made our special pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, I got sick. I've been living pretty high-throttle lately, so it's not that surprising. Anyway, I had the box sitting on my desk at work but was not there to deliver it, and by the time I did get back they just weren't fresh. Also some of the oil had leeched out into the paper box, causing my coworkers some concern. Anyway.

I used my from-scratch cake recipe, that so far has only failed me when I tried to deviate from it. This time I didn't, but the butter wasn't soft enough. Not really a big deal, but it made the batter kind of lumpy. But, it was important to under-mix it, since there would be significant mixing later.

I have exactly six of these pretty amber ramekins. There are six colors in the traditional rainbow. Coincidence?

The most daunting part of this cake is evenly distributing the batter not once, but twice. It came out to be about two generous soup spoons plus a little extra. If you're looking for an exact recipe ... you have come to the wrong place. Ultimately you end up with this:

Kind of reminds me of those watercolor paint kits from grade school.

Dropping the batter into 12 muffin cups was, by far, the hardest step. Although I wouldn't say it was particularly hard. By the time I got to yellow I was doing pretty well - it took about a regular table spoon's worth of batter to make it through (and the last one I used a spatula to scrape the ramekin, so I think I measured pretty well). I even rotated which muffin cup I started with. I am not obsessive at all.

I checked them at the 30 minute mark, and they were still really bubbly, so I set them for another 15. Ten minutes would have been better (total cook time, according to my oven, 40 minutes). It took me a long time to distribute the batter, though, so I wasn't very confident that the colors hadn't bled together at the bottom.

Obviously everything came out just fine. They make a huge visual impact, which is really cool. Imagine bringing these to your kid's school bake sale. You'd be the coolest mom (or dad) ever.