30 June 2008

The Great Cake Disaster/Trainwreck/What Was I Thinking?

There was a plan. A plan to make a cake. And it didn’t turn out so well.

Recently I’ve got into cake decorating. I’m pretty crap at it but now have lots of toys and such with which to do it. I ended up with two sets of cake pans, one with pans of 14, 12, 10, and 8 inch diameters and another with 8, 6, 4, and 2 inch diameters. For a while now I’ve been wanting to make a cake using all of them (well, only one of the 8 inchers) and I used Moglie’s birthday as a perfect excuse.

The plan was to start a week before the party, bake and freeze the cakes, make gum paste flowers, and get everything ready to assemble the day before. Well that got scrapped when I got shipped off to Serbia again and barely made it back to DC in time for the party. I took the Friday off, decided to ditch the 14 inch cake, and go with just 6 tiers instead of 7. The plan started well. Moglie shopped earlier in the week to get all the supplies I needed so I got up early on Friday and went right to work. Actually I started Thursday night and made orange curd which turned out…tasting more like stewed eggs than oranges and wasn’t really curdy…um; it was kind of gross. I also made orange peels Thursday night and set them out to dry so we could dip them in chocolate the next day.

On Friday I mixed two batches of batter which filled all 6 of my pans and got everything baked. The entire house smelled like chocolate cake and it was ridiculously hot since the oven was on all day long. After the baking I started to run out of counter space on which to cool them.

During the cooling phase I mixed up the ganache (of which I made way too much) and the frosting. My friend Giselle came over Friday afternoon and took charge of all the orange peel dipping. Everything was going so well. And then I had to go and try to assemble the bloody thing. I mean, in retrospect, what was I thinking? Why on earth would I want to actually assemble them? My plan was brilliant-except that fatal flaw.

I was not so ambitious or stupid to try to slice the 12 inch cake in half so that I just covered in ganache. I was sure though that I could handle the 10 inch. The slicing in half went well and I covered the bottom with ganache and then with frosting. The problem came when I attempted to put the top back on. Problem the first, the top layer broke into several pieces during the flip. Problem the second, it was so hot that neither the ganache nor the frosting had set up (the refrigerator was so full of food there was no room for the cake to cool) so as soon as I managed to get the now three piece top on, the ganache and frosting started oozing out the sides and all the top layer pieces started sliding off. Problem the third, I decided to keep going. So, repeat problems the first and second.

By about 11:30 that evening, the bottom three tiers (the 12, 10, and 8) had been sliced, ganached, frosted, and stacked on top of each other with dowels and cake boards holding up everything. And since the 8 inch layer reacted in exactly the same manner as the 10 inch…there was a lot of oozing and sliding and squealing. I was squealing, not the cake. Just in case you were wondering. Moglie thought that perhaps using extra dowels would help hold the broken sliding pieces to the cake, so we did that. Then Grizz was brilliant and suggested that long dowels stuck into the bottom tier would help hold everything together. Moglie also cleared out some space in the deep freezer in which The Monstrosity managed to fit.

The next morning dawned and silly me had hope that the rest of the cake construction would go well. Silly, silly, sad me. After much consultation and discussion, I decided to keep The Monstrosity in the freezer and tackle the top 3 tiers on their own. These would be sliced, ganached, frosted, and assembled on a cake board which would then be placed on top of the bottom tiers. By the time the 6 and 4 inchers were done, we’d prepared enough food that I could put those in the fridge. Then I tried to gently separate the 2 inch from its pan. That didn’t go so well. In fact the small cakelette seemed to explode out of the pan so now I was down to a 5 tier.

I mixed another batch of frosting hoping to use it to cover the mess of a cake I had and make it more presentable. One of the major flaws in my interest in cake decorating is my inability to nicely frost anything. So I set Moglie and a friend of ours with that task while I covered my eyes. After the frosting in the adding of the final two tiers and yet more frosting…we quickly added candles and chocolate covered candied orange peels and rushed the cake (which dude, weighed a freaking ton) out the door to sing Happy Birthday.

(The brown tubes are the orange peels. Yes I know what they look like but they're chocolate!!)

I think this is the second saddest and most pathetic cake I’ve ever made. Strangely enough the one that one that takes the cake, if you’ll pardon the pun, for most pathetic was also for one of Moglie’s birthdays. I do believe I get points for sheer size and level of difficulty.

Candied orange peels:
Slice peels of three medium sized oranges
Bring water to boil in medium-to-large sauce pan
Drop in peels, boil one minute
Drain and rum cold water over peels
Combine 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water. Heat in sauce pan until sugar dissolves and mixture just begins to boil.
Add orange peels and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove peels and lay to dry on parchment paper

1 8 oz pk of cream cheese
1 stick butter
cream together
slowly add 16 oz powdered sugar
to flavor orange I zested 2 oranges and added 2 Tbls Gran Marnier

Slowly heat in heavy sauce pan 1 cup heavy whipping cream with 1 TBL butter, 3 TBL orange zest and 2 TBL Gran Marnier.
When bubbles form along the rim, remove from heat and stir in 8 oz chopped dark or bittersweet chocolate until smooth. Cool to room temp

Cake (recipe from Epicurious):
13/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
13/4 cups boiling water
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
one 8-ounce container sour cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 sticks (1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350° F. and line 2 buttered 7- by 2-inch round cake pans and 2 buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Put cocoa powder in a bowl and whisk in boiling water in a stream until smooth. Stir in chopped chocolate and let stand 5 minutes. Stir mixture until smooth and chocolate is melted and cool mixture. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla.

Into a bowl sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. In large bowl of a standing electric mixer beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down side of bowl. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating until batter is combined well.

Pour 2 cups batter into each 7-inch pan and smooth tops. Divide remaining batter between 9-inch pans (about 33/4 cups each) and smooth tops. In middle and lower thirds of oven arrange one 9-inch layer and one 7-inch layer on each rack, putting 7-inch layers in front part of oven. Bake 7-inch layers 25 to 30 minutes and 9-inch layers 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto racks. Peel off paper and cool cakes completely. Cake layers may be made 2 days ahead and kept at cool room temperature, wrapped well in plastic wrap, or 2 weeks ahead and frozen, wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil. Defrost cake layers (without unwrapping) at room temperature.

26 June 2008

Thursday Thirteen #1

This is my first installment of the Thursday Thirteen. I hope to make this a weekly event of 13 travel , food, or adventure-related lists. This week, I'm listing my 13 favorite sites that usually only ever make the travel guide "B" list. I think they're deserving of "A" list status! Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
  1. Glockenspiel, Munich - At the Marianplatz dating back to 1908. This quaint attraction chimes at 11am every day.
  2. Topkapı Palace, Istanbul - Palace of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853. This amazingly beautiful architectural gem gives a picture of what royal life would have been like for the Sultan and his family. There are gilded rooms for harems, pools, and amazing views. Truly a must see!
  3. Cloud Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica - I went ziplining through the ceiling of the cloud forest (re: Rainforest) here in 2005. It's a totally amazing and freeing experience. But don't be like me and get going so fast you can't stop and end up slamming shins first into a tree hundreds of feet into the air.
  4. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Russia - the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the world. It's also the place where the Bolshevik's seized power in 1917 from Russia's provisional government. The level of artistry here is breathtaking, parquet floors and the most intricate mosaic work I've ever seen. The Hermitage Museum, also known as the Winter Palace, was built in 1754 and was home to the Russian tsars from Catherine the Great until Nicholas II abdicated. Here you will also find treasured artworks not only of Europe and the west, but also pre-historic artifacts, antiquities, and Asian artworks spanning centuries.
  5. Valle de la luna, Bolivia - Amazing rock formations just outside of La Paz. With the backdrop of a royal blue sky, this moon-like terraformation is breath taking!
  6. Panecillo, Quito Ecuador - I flew over this coming in to Quito a couple of years ago. She is a giant figure of Mary crowned with stars, and is probably one of my favorite renderings of the Holy Mother.
  7. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA - Street performers, jazz music, outstanding food, and nightlife that never stops!
  8. Oistins Bay Fish Fry, Barbados - this is a can't miss in the caribbean! For the best fish you've ever tasted with all the Bajan fixins to go with it, you must go here. The party lasts all night after everybody's done eating, and there's plenty of dancing and rum punch to keep you satisfied!
  9. Peterhof, St. Petersburg Russia - Peter the Great's summer palace with glorious gilded fountains. The fountains you see are not the originals however, as the true fountain structures were stolen by the Nazis during the 900 days siege of St. Petersburg during WWII. In any case, the reproductions are stunning!
  10. Reichsparteitagsgelände, Nuremburg - This area include a German reproduction of the Colosseum (Kongresshalle), the Great road (Große Straße) where the bricks all measure exactly 2 Prussian Goose steps, the Zeppelinfeld and Grandstand, where the propaganda film Triumph des Wills was filmed, and where the government placed the exhibition of Faszination und Gewalt that now resides in the documentation center.
  11. Stocherkahnfahren, Tuebingen Germany - One of only 3 European cities where gondolas are still used, this is a must experience event in this South German city. Make sure that you get a gondolier who sings, and if you're lucky, he might even let you steer the boat!
  12. Calle le las brujas, La Paz Bolivia - This is quite the experience shopping here. You can get mummified llama fetuses alongside amazing Amara cloth creations and herbal remedies. Be sure to haggle for the best price!
  13. Virginia Wine Festival, Leesburg VA - the one time a year where all Virginia Vintners sell their wine in one place! For $10, you get all you can taste wine and discounted prices on all of the wine you buy. There's plenty of music, sunshine, and food to go around, and it's a great way to spend an afternoon on goregous Virginia fall days. Be sure to stop by my favorite, Tarara Winery as your first (and last!) stops.

14 June 2008

Let's Go Local!

What is that? You might ask...baby lavender? Baby rosemary? Nope. Both of those are actually wrong. This morning I went to the farmer's market near my house. I found lots of WONDERFUL things to look at, smell, and taste. The above photo is of a dwarf plant that I discovered and just HAD to bring home. I'll tell you more about it below.

I don't have to work at the theatre until later tonight. So I feel like I have an entire day to myself where I otherwise might not. I got up at a decent hour this morning, and headed over to the farmers market in Silver Spring, MD. It's not a big market, with only about 10 vendors, but I would still consider it to be a good local market; at least I don't have to go all he way down to the Eastern Market area of the city.

I started out with just browsing, wandering through the vendors just to see who is offering what, and for what price. One of the first things I noticed were all of the fresh salads and strawberries. Not that I didn't already know, but perhaps I'd just never really noticed since I live pretty removed from "the land." But the first harvest of the spring brings more than just strawberries . There are also various lettuces, kale, spring onions, sugar snap peas, and more. The market was awash in shades of red, orange, yellow, and green this morning. There were vendors with freshly cut and potted HHHHerbs (cause there's an H in it!) and flowers of every color, as well as baby squashes (with flowers!) everywhere. And to top it all off, I even got to join in with a one man band (a guy playing a Bass, tamborine, and harmonica all at the same time) while he sang I've been working on the railroad and Dinah blow your horn. I felt like a kid again! Below are my pictures, why don't you take a tour with me of the sights and sounds of the Silver Spring market?

Even though there's a salmonella scare in the US because of tomatoes, not all tomatoes are tainted. Tomatoes from Virginia have been cleared. And these heirloom tomatoes look delicious!

That first picture? Well this is the zoomed out version. If you guessed that the aforementioned photo was dwarf curry, you'd be right! After rubbing this plant and having visions of various curried meats and vegetables stewing in my kitchen, I just had to bring one of these home!

And finally, I thought I'd share a quick clip of the guy who didn't mind that I was singing children's songs along with him:

13 June 2008

Where's Noah When You Need Him?

Or Sean Connery or James Mason for that matter? Long-eared animals anyone?

Coming out of a meeting yesterday I was happy to note that what had sounded from inside like a torrential downpour had passed. It was wet and puddly...but no longer actively raining. I grabbed a mochaccino from my favorite Coffee dram and happily walked back to the office. At about 6:30 I was having Internet problems so I decided to pack it in and use the Internet in my apartment. As I left the office I saw that it had started to drizzle and was again glad that I had packed an umbrella. By the time I went down the one flight to the lobby, the drizzle had morphed into a Biblical flood the likes of which I hadn't seen, well, since about two weeks ago in DC actually...

I decided to risk the walk because my only other choice was to go back to the office and stare at the walls. Within a block, my white pants were soaked from hem to upper thigh and were plastered coldly to my legs. Small favor, I suppose, that I'm so pale so not much flesh tone showed through! The streets I crossed were completely flooded with several inches of racing, dirty water and not even my long legs could span the distance. So into the new rivers splashed my cute gold ballet slippers. I got so wet that I actually had to stop three times to take off my shoes and tip out the water!

I couldn't really do anything but laugh at the situation and so giggled hoarsely all the way, stopping now and then to give a hacking cough as my stubborn bronchitis alerted me that it doesn't like for me to laugh.

I got to my apartment and squished across the floor to the bathroom where I stripped and dropped everything into the shower. Then I put on some nice, dry clothes and fired up my computer only to find...no Internet. Sigh. I do hope my shoes recover.

09 June 2008

Grocery Shopping in Belgrade

I'm back in my favorite Serbia. Yay. For part of this trip I'm staying in an apartment rather than a hotel so I've been doing some grocery shopping. It's actually been really nice not having to go out for dinner every single night.

I had today, what was possibly the most interesting grocery cart. I bought:

10 really, really big brown eggs
1 loaf of still warm, crunchy and soft bread
5 packets of Jacob's 3 in 1 instant coffee
6 Sweet candy bars
2 boxes of marzipan
1 box of honey flavored Turkish Delight
1 small bag of paprika flavored crackers
1 tub of Nirvana pranlines and creme ice cream

Doesn't matter that the eggs and bread were dinner, the ice cream dessert (and probably also breakfast) and everything else was for gifts...it was one heck of an odd shopping cart.

Oh, and on the walk "home" I saw the biggest freaking snail I've ever seen. It was easily 3 inches long and the shell was the size of a 50 cent piece.

05 June 2008

A Quinoa Breakfast Fit for the Gods

After a trip to South America's altiplano in 2006, I discovered the versatility of quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). 5,000 years ago, this grain was considered the "Gold of the Incas," who believed that the kullku bird delivered it to them from the gods to give them strength, endurance, and psychic abilities. Remember, during the height of the Inca empire, runners would often cover 150 miles in 24 hours to deliver news. The terrain of this region is extremely rugged and most of the land is 12,000 feet above sea level. With such thin air, and needing to perform great feats of endurance the Incas looked to quinoa to sustain them. The Incas also looked to quinoa to heal them, as it is known as the "medicine for soul calling." This supergrain was once used to treat any number of illnesses: such as urinary tract problems, tuberculosis, appendicitis, liver problems, altitude sickness, motion sickness, and even broken bones.

While the story of how the Incas actually got the quinoa is somewhat mythological, with the resurgence of quinoa in the North American diet, the nutritional benefits of this whole food are scientifically proven. Quinoa is known as a superfood. It is considered to be a leafy grain like buckwheat or amaranth, and is highly nutritious, able to supply the body with everything it needs from complex carbs, to fat, protein, amino acid, fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals. More specifically, this supergrain is rich in manganase and magnesium, and is good for treating and preventing migraines headaches because it relaxes the blood vessels; riboflavin (B2)which helps the body to regenerate tissues and heal effectively; copper that helps protect the body's cells against free radicals; and finally, this grain is actually a highly effective protein, as it contains all nine amino acids. Quinoa is a perfect choice for vegetarians and vegans to ensure that their diets are rich in vitamins and protein.

So now you're probably wondering, "what do I do with it?" "How do I cook it?" Frankly, it's quite easy. Basically you start with two parts water for one part quinoa, and cook. You can flavor it however you like, eating it for breakfast with fruit, or as a side dish at dinner with savory accompaniment like spinach and feta cheese.

This morning, I wasn't feeling well. After the massive storms that we had in DC last night, we were left with a brisk and refreshing morning. The Midwesterner in me immediately wants to turn to a hearty breakfast, one that as my dad always said, "sticks to your ribs." My first thought was my usual Old Fashioned oatmeal. I usually prepare this with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, brown sugar, and blueberries (Andrea prefers the same, but with raspberries instead) which turns the oatmeal a nice shade of purple (if you like raspberries, be prepared to eat magenta breakfast!). But this morning, I'm not in the mood for oatmeal. Finding a bag of quinoa in the cupboard, I ran with it. Here's my recipe:

3/4 c Quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c Soy milk
1 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 T honey
1/2 banana
pinch kosher salt

After you've rinsed and drained your quinoa in a strainer. Add it to the soy milk, and turn the heat on med-high. Add your cinnamon, nutmeg, and pinch of salt. Once it reaches a full boil, turn the heat down to low and cover it, making sure you leave some room for steam to escape. Let the quinoa cook for 10-15 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Set it aside away from the heat for a few minutes while you slice your banana.

Spoon the cooked quinoa into your bowl and top with banana, honey, and more cinnamon.