Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm still on island time.

Physically, I'm just about all caught up.  My circadian clock is back on Eastern Standard Time and my cold, lifeless feet are finally adjusting to the 50 degree drop.

Mentally, on the other hand...


Yeah.  

I'm sorry for being all absent-y the past couple of weeks.  I promise to get back on track after the holiday (and hangover) has passed.

Have a safe and happy New Year's!  Oh, and if you're going out to celebrate and your area has a Sober Ride program, be a peach and program that number into your phone, mmkay?

Next week:  the Garden Isle, TBSTTW's one year anniversary and a pretty sweet giveaway.  See you guys in 2011.  Exes and ohs and stuff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Vacation.


With this bonus check, I'm putting in a swimming pool!  And if there's enough left over, I'm gonna fly you all down here to help us dedicate it. 

I can't swim, Clark.

Today is my mom's last day of work.  For, like...ever.  Today is also the last time she'll ever have to make that chilly, slippery walk from the McPherson Square metro stop to her office building which makes me, her constantly and overly concerned daughter, happy.

To kick off her retirement, my parents, 3 sisters, 3 bros-in-law, 1 niece, 4 nephews and I are going to have our own Griswold Family Christmas in Kauai.  While I'm going to miss the crap out of Berry White (new job = no time off), I think with enough sun and mai tais, I'll manage (M3.)

That being said, it'll be a ghost town around here until I get back.  Feel free to stop by anytime and putz around - my site is your site.  The key is hidden in the fake giant slug near the crepe myrtle tree and there's plenty of beer in the fridge.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food gifts rule.

They do.

Money a little snug?  Give cookies.
Want to something a little more personal?  Give cookies.
Last minute shopper?  Give cookies.  Slacker.

I know, you already have a ton of bookmarked, printed and dogeared recipes to rifle through this holiday season.  But if you have room for one more in your gift-making spree, here are some of my "make again" favorites that were saved from a violent Fargo-style death by shredder.















And my heart, my love, my everything:


 
My favorite for the 2nd year in a row, after it knocked raspberry thumbprints out of the top spot for Dankest Christmas Cookie.

Happy baking.  Happy gift-giving.  Happy holidays.  Just happy everything, man.

P.S.  I've made public jokes at its expense but if I received a Shake Weight in my stocking, I would be overjoyed.  I would shake the shit out of that thing.  Maybe even cancel my gym membership.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sugared Cinema: The Holiday (2006)


 Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend.  You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
 

You're so right.  You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!  Arthur, I've been going to a therapist for three years and she's never explained anything to me that well.  That was brilliant.  Brutal, but brilliant. 

Yes, I did it.  I jumped from one holiday sap story to another the very next week.  'Tis the season to get sentimental over feel-good movies, right?  That and I have a Titanic-sized girl crush on Kate Winslet.

If you're a "judge by the cover" film watcher, I'd understand if The Holiday didn't earn an automatic spot on your Must See list.  But if you've already seen it, then you know that Jack Black breaks out of his comedic comfort zone and is actually pretty charming. And that Jude Law almost makes you believe that he's not the jerko that he is IRL (or so I hear.)

(We already know that Cameron Diaz plays the cute card well because she's tall, thin and has good hair.)

There's a particularly sweet scene involving hot chocolate, two adorable little ladies and Mr. Napkinhead.


Every time I see it, I crave hot chocolate.  And every time I crave it, I'm usually out of powdered cocoa packets.  It never fails and at the same time is a huge fail.  Think about that one.

In a no-holds-barred attempt at quashing my chocolate-y urges (ew?), I wanted to seek out the richest, most guilt-ridden hot chocolate recipe on the planet.  And I found it in the Max Brenner cookbook, Chocolate: A Love Story

Wannabe French Hot Chocolate
Recipe by Max Brenner

Here's what you'll need:

1 Tablespoon cornstarch, sifted
1 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips

Oh and hey - the batteries in my hot shoe flash peaced out early in the evening so these pics are...well, you'll see.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and about 1/4 cup of the milk until the cornstarch dissolves.  Whisk in the sugar and the egg yolk.


Pour a little over 1/2 of the milk into a saucepan set over low heat.  Bring it to a simmer.

Whisk some of the warm milk into the egg mixture to temper it then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.  

Continue to whisk for a few minutes or until the mixture comes to a full boil (it should thicken by this point, almost like a thin custard.)  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Strain the custard through a mesh sieve set over a heatproof bowl.

Bring the remaining milk to a boil (I used the same saucepan.)  While it heats up, pour the chocolate over the custard.


Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and let it sit and soften for a moment.  Now you can stir.

Divide between 2-3 mugs or pour into one humongous reindeer mug.  Top with whipped cream, cinnamon, marshmallows, anything you like.


This hot chocolate is no joke.  The custard base gives it a rich, almost soup-like consistency and it's toothachingly chocolate-y, which I'm alllll about.  Feel free to cut down on some of the sugar or use bittersweet chocolate instead.  But please, for the love of Rose DeWitt Bukater, don't let the season go by without making this.

Mr. Napkinhead agrees.


Ahhhhh.


Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They tried to make me go to rehab.

When I first started getting into cake decorating, I was a slave to the Wilton aisle at the craft store.  On my lunch break or after work, I'd drive over to the store (strapped with a 40% off coupon that I Googled and printed off the internet) and start loading up.  My arm would shovel full shelves-worth of piping tips and gel colorings into my basket.  I was like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, sans terrible crewneck sweatshirt + polo shirt combo.

Eventually, I was stocked with most of the essentials and I pretty much nipped the habit.  I cut my visits down from every other day to about once every other week.  I recently hit up Michael's for the first time in a long time.  I wanted to browse the holiday items and replenish a few things but was staying away from any and all impulse buys.

Then I saw these.


And Duff's "Hey lady.  Buy my stuff." expression.
And I relapsed.

(I would part with many treasures/appendages to work for Charm City Cakes.  That bakery's ipod must have the best playlist ever.)

Anyway, texture tiles!  Each pack comes with two patterns.  I bought the wood grain and brick.


And they're super easy to use.

Plop some fondant on top of the sheet, roll it out and peel it off.


The wood pattern:


I mixed brown gel coloring with a little vodka and used a small brush to paint the wood to give it that fresh, Murphy's Oil polish look.

Great if you're making:

a rustic dollcabin
a Biblical ark
a pirate ship
a replica of the "Whip It" set

I loooove the brick pattern.  Fun way to channel your inner Banksy.


Also great if you're making:

an old firehouse
 your elementary school
a fondant interpretation of a famous Commodores' song

Hypothetically speaking, if I were a baking enthusiast in your family, I know I would want these in my stocking.  Yessiree man.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Love Actually (2003)

  
What's that?
It's a cinnamon stick, sir.

Actually, I really can't wait.

Oh, you won't regret it, sir.

Wanna bet?

'Tis but the work of a moment.  There we go.  Almost finished.
Almost finished?  What else can there be?  Are you gonna dip it in yogurt?  Cover it with chocolate buttons? 

 
Because you didn't see that one coming.  A quote from the Rick-Man. 

I had always heard good things about Love Actually but I, being the overly picky rom-com viewer that I am, didn't get around to watching it until last Christmas.  My mom bought the soundtrack when it first came out (Sunday Morning is her jam) and would play it when she was cleaning the home that her 23 year-old grown ass daughter still occupied at the time.  Looking at the tracklist, I didn't realize then that it had a few Christmas covers.  In fact, I never once associated the film with the holidays.  Of course, all of that has changed.  From now on, you'll find Love Actually at the top of my queue every December until Netflix becomes obsolete or I buy the dvd, whatever comes first.

Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?


Natalie, apparently.

The first time I heard Prime Minister Hugh Grant mention chocolate biscuits, my salivary glands went ballistic.  I didn't know what these "chocolate biscuits" were but I immediately knew that I needed them in my life/belly.  A quick visit to Wikipedia informed me that biscuits (or digestives, as they're commonly known as) are "a semi-sweet biscuit popular in the United Kingdom."

And they look like this:


And a chocolate biscuit is simply a digestive with chocolate on one side:


It just got better and better.

I found a recipe for chocolate biscuits on the blog, The Obsessive Gardener.  This girl was relentless in her quest for the perfect digestive and I bow to her thoroughness.  In fact, that's how I'm going to address her, should we ever meet in person or cyberspace.  Her Thoroughness.  Because these turned out PERFECT.

Chocolate Biscuits (or Digestives)
Recipe from The Obsessive Gardener
Makes a little over a dozen biscuits

Here's what you'll need:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat bran*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons butter, diced
1 Tablespoon Crisco
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons half and half
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

*I couldn't find wheat bran.  So I pulverized 1/4 cup of rolled oats to smithereens and used that instead.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Mix well.

Add the brown sugar and mix it well again.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter and Crisco until the crumbs are pea-sized.


Add the vanilla extract and half and half.  If you don't keep half and half stocked in the fridge, a combo of milk and heavy cream works, too.

Use the pastry blender to fully work the liquids into the dough.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap it snugly with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

On parchment paper or a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness.  If your dough starts to crack, don't sweat it.  Just use your hands to patch it up and re-roll.

Use a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out your biscuits.


Transfer to your cookie sheet and prick with a fork.  Slide them in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden.  These biscuits are supposed to be crispy so if you're usually tempted to take your cookies out early to maintain some chewiness, fight the urge.

Let them cool on a rack while you melt the chocolate chips.


Slather chocolate on one side of the cooled biscuits.


Crunchy, oat-y, mildly sweet and topped with a layer of chocolate.  A simple, delicious treat.


Go on, Prime Minister.  Show us your Pointer Sisters dance while we destroy these chocolate biscuits.


Have a great weekend, you saucy minxes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I need a (festive) drink.

Or want, rather.  I want a (festive) drink.  "Need" implies that I'm stressed, which is so not the case, at least not at the moment.  I'm actually quite stoked (brah) for a number of reasons.

  • Thanksgiving weekend positively ruled.  And I hope yours did, too.
  • In 19 days, my pudgy brew belly will be sprawled out on a beach towel in Kauai.
  • Approximately 35% of my gift list is complete.
  • The Carpenters Christmas Portrait album.
  • Seasonal beer.
  • Seasonal beer.
  • Seasonal beer.

When a really, really good beer is available only once a year, it's a pretty big deal when that beer makes its annual arrival.  But when it's released only once in a lifetime?  That takes a whole new level of planning, especially when it comes to issues of storage space, consumption and your willingness to share with others.

The Bruery created a series called The 12 Beers of Christmas.  Every year, for 12 years, a new beer is brewed for the corresponding gift given in the song.  They kicked off the series in 2008 with Partridge in a Pear Tree.  In 2009, it was 2 Turtle Doves, brewed with cocoa nibs, pecans and caramel malts (mmm...turtle candies.)

For the 2010 holiday season, my true lush gave to me:


Holy sweet tidings.


Those Bruery folks can brew no wrong.
(Har?  Fine, no har.)


But seriously, this stuff is fantastic.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to sample the first two in the series, not by choice but by lack of distribution in this area.  Therefore, I plan on securing the nine remaining gifts and cellaring them in a safe, dark place until 12 Drummers Drumming is released in 2019.  That, my friends, is going to be a very merry Christmas.

Looking for a cool gift idea for the ale lover in your life?  Here you go.  Start with a bottle 3 French Hens and, chances are, he or she will most likely covet the entire collection going forward.  That takes care of one person on your list for the next 9 years.  Beats giving a one year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



I'm taking a post break so that I focus on making this ridiculous pumpkin tart (thanks Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon!) and spending time with my crazy awesome Brady Bunch family.

Have a happy, relaxing, warm, chaotic, blissful, memorable, elasticized-waistbanded Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I (2010)


It all ends here.

As Harry Potter Week draws to a close, I just wanted to thank you guys for politely putting up with my fanaticism (smiling through clenched teeth, I'm sure) but most of all, for taking the time to comment and enter the giveaway!  I really enjoyed reading all of your movie-going quirks and techniques...who knew snack smuggling was such a common thing?  If anyone figures out a way to sneak in beer (oh hai Mia and Kristin) without it getting warm or losing its fizz, find me.

Without further ado, the winner of the $25 Fandango Movie Gift Card giveaway is:


RANDOM.ORG

Here are your random numbers:
7
Timestamp: 2010-11-19 12:04:11 EST 


Congratulations Jami!  Send me your email address at threebakingsheets [at] yahoo [dot] com.

For the last HP-related recipe, I was feeling inspired by Fred and George Weasley, who are known for always injecting some humor into an otherwise dreary situation.  Dark times are ahead...might as well go out with a bang, right?

Exploding Bonbons
Recipe from About.com


Here's what you'll need:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips
4 ounces heavy cream
5 packets of Pop Rocks
12 ounces chocolate candy coating (for dipping)

Pour the chocolate into a medium heat-safe bowl.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the cream to a simmer.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute.  Whisk the chocolate and cream until smooth.


Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the ganache chill in the fridge for 3 hours while you watch Half-Blood Prince to recap.

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Scoop small amounts of ganache into your hand and roll into 3/4-inch balls.  The chocolate needs some coercing when you're trying to make them round.  Really get into it.  Don't be afraid to make that truffle your bitch.


After you've rolled them all out, pour 4 packages of Pop Rocks onto a shallow plate.  I found these Candy Cane flavored Pop Rocks at Michael's but you can use any flavor you want.


Roll the balls in the Pop Rocks and return to the baking sheet.


 Slide the pan of truffles into the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you prepare the dipping chocolate.  If you can't fit them in the freezer, the fridge is fine, too.

In a small bowl, melt the chocolate candy coating according to the directions on the package.

Take the truffles out of the fridge.  One by one, dip them in the melted chocolate, making sure they're fully covered.  Use a fork to lift them out, tapping the side of the bowl to take off any excess chocolate.  Place them on the baking sheet and sprinkle some of the Pop Rocks from the remaining package on top as a cute garnish.


Educational Decree Number Sixty-Seven:  Exploding bon-bons are no longer permitted to explode. Hand in immediately to Ministry disposal unit.
  
Umbridge can bite me.


Alright, go on.  Go and enjoy your weekends, everyone.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter Week: Treacle Tart


They chose the one nearest a gold-colored cauldron that was emitting one of the most seductive scents Harry had ever inhaled: somehow it reminded him simultaneously of treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow.

Now would be a good time for one of those "Woooooo!" clips they play on Saved By the Bell when one of the cast members gets some lip action.

Alright, alright...settle down.  We need to focus on what's really important here:  the fact that the first thing that comes to Harry's mind when he gets a whiff of Amortentia (the strongest love potion in the world) is a baked good.

And this is why he is the Chosen One.  Well, one of the reasons why.


Treacle Tart
Recipe from Evelyn on Food.com

Here's what you'll need:

pie crust pastry for a 9" tart
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup golden syrup*
2 Tablespoons lemon juice 
whipped cream, for garnish

If you're not familiar with the stuff, golden syrup is a sweetener made from syrups that remain after sugar is removed from the refining process (thanks Wiki.)  It's popular in the UK and the most well-known brand is Lyle's.  


 If you can't find it in your local grocery stores, you can order it online.  Or, if you're fortunate enough to live in the vicinity of a World Market, you can score some there.  They have an awesome imported foods section.  And throw pillow section.  And rug section.  And glassware section.  And...


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out your pastry and press into a tart pan.  Trim off any of the excess dough.  You'll want to use it for the top of your tart.

In a small bowl, combine the oats, lemon zest and ginger.


Sprinkle half of the oat mixture over the pastry.  Pour the golden syrup on top.


Drizzle the lemon juice over the syrup then sprinkle the remaining oat mixture on top.

Roll out those dough scraps from earlier and cut them in strips to make a lattice top.  To think this technique used to look impossible when I was a kid.  It's all an illusion!


Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Oops.  Sides are a bit high.


Treacle tart is a simple, comforting dessert that takes very few ingredients to make (assuming you use pre-made pie crust pastry like I did) but it's also very, very sweet.  Just a heads up.  Whipped cream really helps cut down on some of that sugariness.


Love potion.  With a crust.