Monthly Archives: February 2009

A Little Cake Trivia Before the Ides of March

What’s *really* the difference between yellow cake and vanilla cake? An interesting question, no?

I have a friend whose birthday is coming up — she was born on the Ides of March, believe it or not — and her favorite birthday cake is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. So…she posed the above question and I turned to the Googles.

According to the Joy of Baking, the difference is egg yolks and whole eggs. Citing the Cake Bible! Which is totally part of my baking library now.

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Filed under birthdays, cake, chocolate

Mary, Rhoda, the Girls & Oscar

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Thank you for being a friend.

These words were slated to ring out repeatedly in my apartment this weekend during a Mary Tyler Moore/Golden Girls pre-Oscar marathon. We ended up taking a rain check, but had planned to order Italian food (Sicilian food?), eat cheesecake and drink rosé (seems like something the Girls would have liked as well as a wine Mary and Rhoda must have enjoyed?).

My oenophile friend who works at a wine store in Alphabet City (which isn’t really called that anymore, is it?) recommended the 2007 Forchir Pinot Grigio Rosadis. What’s more, she said there are plenty rose-tinted bad boys under $20. So! We won’t have to resort to a box after all when the time comes…

But when I started thinking about cheesecake, I realized I have plenty of cheesecake recipes — cappuccino cheesecake; lemon cheesecake; pumpkin cheesecake; peppermint cheesecake…even raspberry cheesecake brownies — but I don’t think I have one for a good ol’ classic New York-style cheesecake. A quick search on Epicurious turns up a recipe from Lindy’s that looks pretty good: New York cheesecake. 5 packages of cream cheese is a little intimidating though. And I’m afraid it will be too tall for any of my springform pans. The square pan seems like *maybe* it’s a little bigger? But, still…I wonder if Lindy’s has larger-than-life pans for *its* cakes?

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Filed under brownies, cheesecake, wine

Meat Blogging, Mickey Rourke & a Journalism-Teaching Doppelganger

So…as I’m sure my faithful readers are aware, I’m still a freelancer…which is really just a fancy way of saying I’m a deadbeat who is not sure how I’ll pay my rent each month. So far, I’ve gotten lucky…but I am particularly nervous about April. I have a check coming in at the end of February…and then? It’s the same “Will I be able to pay my bills?”-game I’ve been playing since August. It’s enough to give a girl gray hair and an ulcer.

But I digress. An opportunity has come up for me to write for a meat blog — unpaid, as these things tend to be — and yet I still hold out hope that perhaps *this* will be the project that gets me the attention of someone with hiring powers, etc., etc. and then I will forever thank this person for inadvertently becoming the missing link (!) in my tediously long job quest.

A bit about the blog: it’s a parody of PETA called MEATA (“Men Eat All Things Animal”) and I can blog about “all things meat.” My MEATA connection said he is positioning himself as a “bacon specialist.” So…it could be an opportunity for me to flex my writing muscles in new and exciting ways. I’m not sure what meat I’d pick (if I had to) and I was worried a little that the vegans would be upset and I would never blog for HuffPo again…but then the editor — in a Glinda-the- Good-Witch moment (“you’ve had the power all along”) — said that I have log-in deets and can use them anytime. So. Huffington Post readers, your wait is almost over.

MEATA, however, I’m still pondering. My mom just made her own pastrami, so that’s obviously a possibility. And the winning recipe at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off had turkey in it, so it’s also an option.

My favorite kind of blogging is me cooking/baking and writing about the experience. As I said to my MEATA connection, the punchlines generally write themselves that way. So this whole post is really to tell you not to worry about me — I have options. I’m going to be fine.

In the meantime, I finally saw one of the Oscar-nominated movies — The Wrestler. In real life, I think Mickey Rourke looks kind of like Dale Maharidge, one of my favorite professors at Columbia’s J-School. Thankfully, though, The Ram did not look like Dale in the film…

And for those of you confused as to why I would bring up Mr. Rourke and his journalism-teaching doppelganger in a post about blogging and meat, I will enlighten you. There was a line in the film from the pervy store manager when The Ram was considering a job at the deli counter: “There will be lots of hot, horny housewives begging you for your meat.”

(And now I think of all the people who will Google terms in that quote, looking for Web sites of an entirely different kind and will perhaps see the name “Tasty Lacy” for a moment and think they’re on to something good.)

PS: I finally learned how to say “charcuterie.”

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Filed under entrees, vegan

Simply Manischewitz!

Last week was a busy week!

First it was Kelly Ripa and Electrolux and their Red Hot Red front-load washers and virtual cupcake campaign

Then it was arc90 and a podcast…

And finally Friday was the Third Annual Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off at the Marriott Marquis (which is also where the New York Financial Writers Association holds its Financial Follies each year…so I couldn’t *not* think of the year I got stuck in the elevator and then rode a pedicab 40-some-odd blocks). I was on hand to see Amy Siegel of Clifton, NJ take home the big prize for her Marvelous Mediterranean Falafel Sliders.

I thought it was kind of amusing that the first reaction my friends had was “Are you cooking?” when I said I was going.

My other favorite part: I had a giant nametag that said I was a blogger and a woman came up to me and asked if it’s a Jewish blog…and then she explained she’s from the National Jewish Outreach Program and that she’s going around and asking people to say “Shabbat Shalom” and she asked if I’d do it. So…I had a quick little panic in my head and thought, “Should I tell her I’m not Jewish??” but then she told me about going to a rodeo and asking all the cowboys to say it…which I assume she told me to put my mind at ease? So…she turned on her camera and I said it and she recorded me. (I forgot they have a Chicken Soup Challenge, too!)

Now I have falafel mix to try out Siegel’s recipe…and will report back (here…or possibly elsewhere?) about my findings!

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I said I wasn’t going to lose my head…

Valentine’s Day is obviously a big baking holiday (I made cupcakes for PRNewser…but could only carry 16, so I didn’t cause much of a stir at the I-Heart party.), so that’s how I am justifying including this here. It’s sooo…2 years ago? 3 years ago?…but it was part of a Valentine’s Day with one of my favorite people (who loved to hate this movie), so…walk with me down Memory Lane, will you?

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The Curious Case of the Spinach Dip…and Pi(e) Day 2.0

So…Friday I curled my hair and the social media world freaked out a little and then I technically crashed a birthday party.

At said party, there was a variety of snack foods…including spinach dip that tasted *exactly* like French onion soup (holla at my cousin Kirstin!). I was at a table with a tattooed gentleman from Florida who had previously run into the place, yelling, “I just saw My Bloody Valentine in 3-D and it was awesome!”

As we sat there making small talk, I said, “My goodness! This tastes exactly like French onion soup!”

He tried it, agreed, and said, “Maybe it’s the cheese.”

I gently suggested it probably *wasn’t* as cheese tends to have more of a universal taste…but my best guess was it was onions and/or spices. Then along came a lady who said she thought it was Lipton onion soup mix. Mystery solved? I thought about conducting an experiment this weekend…but, alas, time flew by…and dip and French onion soup seemed kind of dangerous to have on hand anyway.

This birthday venue — Choice Kitchen & Cocktails — *also* happens to be the place where I believe I will be hosting a pre-Pi(e) Day party on March 13 (March 14 is 3.14 — get it?). So…mark your calendars!

Choice is perhaps a little further away (for most) than Greenwich Village Bistro, but there’s a lot more room and there’s a private bar and a fireplace and a giant TV where I could have a pie photo slideshow and include fun pie facts…and who knows what!

I get the feeling this Pi(e) Day will have a much different feel than last time. And then that’s it until at least July 22 (22/7), so…all aboard!

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Filed under birthdays, Food Network, holidays, parties, pie

Things I Learned at the Meat Counter Today

I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t actually cook with meat all that often. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I make a lot of pasta. Or I secretly hate protein.

In any event, when I *do*, I am always paranoid I’m going to make myself sick by not cooking it long enough, so I end up cooking it too long and it burns a little…which I guess isn’t that big of a deal as I am only feeding myself and I don’t have a vent, so I have to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm whenever I use the stove anyway. It may inconvenience the lady upstairs who has to smell my noxious fumes…but if it truly bothers her, she’s never complained about it.

All this is to say that I had to seek out pork loin today for this — Pork and Pozole Burritos — which is a rare errand. And so imagine my dismay when I got to the meat counter at the borderline crummy Met Foods near me and discovered that all they had were TEN POUND SLABS. That’s right — pork loin was only available in ten pound increments. And, for the record, that’s TWENTY TIMES the amount I needed.

I ended up going with a boneless option that came in a one-pound package…but as I stood there, staring at my options, I was shocked when I noticed boxes of Armour Star Lard in the meat case (I use that link because he seems like a curious guy…and so happy with his coupons!).

I don’t use lard in my pie crusts — I opt for shortening…but Armour Star piqued my interest because…way back when I was working at Good Housekeeping, I had to go through back issues from the 1960s once to photocopy a column called “Every Day is Mother’s Day.” It wasn’t all that exciting and/or interesting…but! I was fascinated by the ads. They were really funny…(or depressing, I guess…depending how you looked at it). They SO clearly played on women’s insecurities…which I suppose they still do today…but it was different then. Less subtle?

There were a few ads that I enjoyed in particular (I think you all know how I feel about Miss Fluffy Rice) and so I photocopied them and framed a couple that now hang in my kitchen.

One of the photocopies? You guessed it: Armour Star Lard…which asked: Whey are the most tender, flaky pie crusts you ever tasted made by someone else?

A: It’s because they use Armour Star Lard.

Who would have ever thought that paranoid crust-makers could *still* procure Armour Star in modern-day Brooklyn?

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Adventures in Marbling

I have a friend in Detroit who couldn’t make it to Pie Day, so I told her I would bake her whatever she wanted when she was in NY — for one night only! — to celebrate her birthday.

Her response? “I’ve always been a sucker for pecan pie! And turtle pie. And peanut butter pie. Heath bar pie. Vanilla pie. OK, I think I may just be making up pies now…”

So…since she didn’t have one extra special favorite and seemed to like pecans, I decided to go with turtle cheesecake.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the day OF the big birthday bash that I read the directions in full and realized the cake is supposed to refrigerate overnight. Which I totally should have known! Cheesecake needs some time to chill and settle. But, alas, I had no choice but to make do.

I also tried to marble the cake…for what could possibly be the first time ever. And yet it was really hard to tell that there was any chocolate in there at all. It wasn’t a beautiful marble. It was more like, “Oh, hey, maybe there’s something in there?” I guess perhaps more chocolate would have been useful. But a girl only has so many blocks of semisweet chocolate on hand.

As per usual, ol’ L-Squared put WAY too much filling in the pan and it exploded up and cracked. When it cooled it settled down a bit, but there was still a big X in the middle.

I left it in the fridge for a bit — to give it as much cooling time as possible! — and then decided it would be easier to just pour the dulce de luche on top rather than try to drizzle it and make a pretty pattern. (My pastry bags could have come in handy here, but I had just used them to write on brownies, so I felt like I got adequate Pastry Bag Time last week.) So…I poured caramel all over it and tossed some pecans around and was basically ready to boogie.

Even though it was perhaps a little too warm or gooey, it got a really good reception! I guess it’s hard to go wrong when you use four blocks of cream cheese, chocolate, dulce de leche and nuts. And apparently I didn’t. So. One last time: Happy Birthday, Jaclyn!

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Little Cream Cheese Blobs, Airy Cherry Filling, Brownie-on-Brownie Action & Amateur Photography

After a brief post-Pie Day baking hiatus, I got back into it with a vengeance last week.

I have a friend who does PR for a prominent provider of baked-good mixes and she needed help with photos, so I whipped up some Valentine’s Day-themed recipes and tried my hand at amateur photography.

This, of course, meant stocking up on cake mix…and when I was at the store, I was holding the basket down by my side and a little girl — who was maybe 3 or 4? — walked by and saw all the cake stuff at about eye level and said, “WOW!”

I didn’t get to the baking until Friday morning though…leaving it right up to the deadline. (Funny how that always seems to happen, right?)

First on the list was red velvet cupcakes. And I have say they were tasty, indeed…but it was a little disconcerting because the mix looked like any other chocolate mix until I added water and then — BOOM! — RED! (The first time I heard of red velvet cake was in Steel Magnolias with the armadillo groom’s cake…and even though the quality is bad here, I love this scene with Shirley MacLaine and and Tom Skerritt.)

It also required making a cream cheese mixture that I initially thought I’d have to swirl into each individual cupcake…but when I read the directions again, it said to just dollop it on top. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen (and I only have two muffin tins and didn’t have time to bake batch after batch after batch, so I made the 16 cupcakes that I had pretty darn huge to use up all the batter in one go…and then thought I had really screwed things up by dolloping cream cheese on top and that they’d overflow and set fire in my oven. Or something.). But…I was happy to discover that the little cream cheese blobs instead sunk down into the middle of the cupcakes…and even though they were a tad big (a friend came over on Saturday en route to a birthday party and I offered her one and she looked at it and said, “I can’t eat THAT! It’s HUGE!”), I think they were pretty. (It was *really* hard to photograph though because my apartment is dark — funny that I didn’t think of that when I volunteered to bake them…and my friend suggested a white background, so I had to fashion a little mini studio on top of my kitchen cart and then monkey around with a lamp and different camera settings).

Next up were some brownie clouds that required an airy cherry filling. I’m not a big fan of maraschino cherries, so suggestions are welcome on how to use up the rest of the jar as I really only needed three (and some juice). (Bonus points if you can pull in Jim Beam because I still have a bottle of that, too.) I also had to add food coloring to a tub of vanilla frosting…and now have a tub of pink *and* a tub of chocolate frosting (which sorta makes me think of Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. [I also have a cat. Sigh.]).

I also wasn’t sure whether to make the brownies cakey or chewy…in the end, I went for cakey because it seemed like having more to work with would be better than less…but, in the end I’m sure if it made much difference.

I admit these cherry clouds were pretty (once I got the tops to stop sliding around because I used too much filling), but this recipe yields one intense baked good. It’s brownie-on-brownie. *With* creamy goop *and* frosting. I readily admit I am a pig. And yet I think this one would be too much for even me.

The last Valentine’s Day treat was similar — heart-shaped brownies cut from a pan — but this time it was a single layer *and* I got to showcase my cake decorating skills. I stuck to the phrases offered in the press release — Love, XOXO, I Love You and Hugs — and because I am stupid and weird I got all embarrassed on the train when folks peeked over and read them (I covered a Pyrex dish with clingwrap, so there they were, wide out in the open…because I think I lost my precious Pyrex lid on Pie Day!) as well as at the Super Bowl party where they spent their final hours. I felt kind of silly bringing them…but sure as heck didn’t know what else to do with them…and, like I’ve said before, I live alone and I’m freelancing, so I have no coworkers/roommate/boy wonder to eat them all.

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Filed under brownies, cherries, chocolate, cupcake, red velvet

I Lost a Super Bowl Bake-Off on a Technicality.

The technicality being, apparently, that I am a weirdo.

I’ll explain…

I know I’m not vanilla. I could, in fact, be the most neurotic person ever. People call me crazy from time to time (and sometimes there’s just enough venom behind it that it actually hurts my feelings a little). Bottom line — I’m eccentric. I get it. Countless people wrote me after Pie Day to tell me just that.

And I’m fine with it…for the most part. I don’t want to *be* vanilla. I don’t want to blend in with the crowd and be just like everybody else. I’m glad there are things that make me unique. But…at the same time, I don’t want to be a circus sideshow act. I don’t want people to think that I’m actually, legitimately should-be-institutionalized CRAZY (even though on my last birthday I declared that this was going to be the year that I try not to care so much about what other people think).

Also? I worry a lot. This was especially true on Pie Day. I wanted things to go well. I wanted everyone to have a good time. But sometimes I can be…a little manic. And even my closest friends only have so much patience. Sooo…somewhere along the line on Pie Day, I drifted from (endearingly?) neurotic to downright annoying and friends suggested I get a drink. When I was still high-strung after one, they told me to get another. And so on.

And…there were some people I simply wasn’t expecting to see at Pie Day. So when two of them showed up — we’ll call them Man A and Man B — I was thrilled to see them. I was *also* feeling no pain at that point…and perhaps greeted them more enthusiastically than was necessary. But…no harm, no foul? Better too enthusiastic than not enough?

It also happens that Man A used to bake pies. And so this was a point of conversation…and two Super Bowls ago, I had a get-together at my apartment and a friend was from Chicago and a big Bears fan and liked to bake, so she and I had a bake-off for the game that year — she baked a pie for the Bears and I did one for the Colts. Hers was blue and orange and vegan (Very festive! And healthy!), but creamy blue *and* appetizing is hard to pull off…

So…surely I referenced this victory in the course of conversation when I got to talking to Man A about *another* Super Bowl Bake-Off *this* year. And, you know, most of the time I exhibit a heck of a lot of restraint…but, like I said, no pain was felt by the end of Pie Day…and so some trash talk flowed freely…and at one point, I allegedly told Man A that I was going to “bake a pie that would make (him) rue the day (he) was born.”

Unbeknownst to me, however, Man B was listening and texting a mutual friend — Man C? — about the stupid things I was saying.  And, you know, there was no malice behind it or anything like that…but when Man C told me about it — laughing heartily, mind you — I couldn’t help but feel a little stupid and embarrassed. I wanted things to go so well on Pie Day and for people to leave thinking good things about pies and baking and — yes, I admit it — ME. Instead — admittedly, my own fault — three gentleman ended up laughing after the fact because I had too much to drink and wasn’t able to restrain the crazy. So when Man C later refused to apologize to Man A for me, I wrote A myself and said I was sorry and conceded the contest.

However, if I *was* going to bake a pie for the Cardinals…here’s my thought process:

Obviously you have to go with either the color or the bird. (The direction — as in, cardinal sign — could be clever…but would require more thought than I actually put in as I was already the loser and the bake-off was never really going to happen anyway.)

If it’s the color, I suppose you could always do red velvet cake…but that’s technically a cop-out. Or perhaps you could invent red velvet pie?

Or…you could go with a red fruit — Strawberries? Rhubarb? Both? — and give it an additional AZ spin by cutting out cacti from the extra dough to decorate the top. (Which sort of reminds me of the time I went out of my way to find a figure of a runner to decorate a cake for a stupid, stupid man who was getting ready for a marathon and I had to buy a whole set of soccer players just to get one that looked like he was running.)

Or…with the bird theme, my first thought was that nursery rhyme — 4 and 20 blackbirds, baked in a pie…When the pie was opened /the birds began to sing. /Wasn’t that a dainty dish /to set before the king? — and it turns out there is *actually* a Cajun recipe for blackbird pie…with blackbirds. Luckily, however, there’s also a birdless blackbird pie recipe. So…I’m thinking that’s the one I probably would have made.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Here’s hoping the Cardinals pull off an upset…although the Giants came through last year…and back-to-back underdog victories may be too much to ask for…?

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