Sunday, March 25, 2012

In the Kitchen with Friends

Although I do love getting up early on a Saturday morning and making pancakes or baking muffins or biscuits in a quiet kitchen by myself, some of my fondest memories over the last few years have been in the kitchen with friends. In college, I have found cooking or baking with friends to be a bonding experience that is always very fun and relaxing! Besides, it is totally a justifiable study break since everyone has to eat. Yet there is something that bonds people through making something, just as stirring together raw ingredients like eggs, milk, flour, and sugar and then baking them transforms these staples into delicious baked goods. Here are just a few recent experiences this semester, with hopefully many more to come over the years.

Hot Chocolate

Near the beginning of the semester my friend Alexandra and I made hot chocolate. Me, a proclaimed hot chocolate lover, had lived my whole life drinking the powdered Swiss Miss kind 99% of the time. However, this definitely does not compare to hot chocolate after I had the real thing, especially coupled with the experience of making it myself.


However, even though the results were stellar, it was a very simple process. We put some good quality dark chocolate chips in our mugs and then warmed up milk (this is not the time to use skim!) mixed with a little bit of vanilla extract and sugar. Then, we poured the hot milk over the chocolate chips and stirred. The hot chocolate was never totally homogenous but that made it even more beautiful. The texture was thicker than most hot chocolates that I have tried but not overly rich, I easily finished mine while we were watching the documentary about bottled water (for class, although I would admittedly watch it just for fun too). We both had so much fun and I think it was at this time that we decided we absolutely must go back to Asheville to try French Broad Chocolate Lounge’s “liquid truffles” (similar to the European sipping chocolate).

Check out the recipe here!

Blondies and Blueberry Pound Cake


It had been one of those weeks where I had a million things to do, it had been my birthday and I was going home for Saturday night (which meant that nothing productive would be done) so I had literally worked Friday. I am talking one spot on the Eco-House couch, switching between different books, my laptop, and notes. It was seriously a marathon. So I really needed something to look forward to that Friday night and this baking time with friends was just the thing. Some of my friends that came didn’t know each other very well but the conversation flowed easily nonetheless. We talked about things we had baked before and lots of other random subjects. Our work was rewarded with very rich, gooey and hot blondies studded with melty chocolate chips. You could definitely taste the butter, but the good thing about the richness is that you can cut the bars smaller and make the pan of blondies last even longer. The blueberry pound cake was delicious too! I was skeptical about using out-of-season blueberries, but it turned out like a delicious hybrid between a blueberry quick bread and pound cake. I took a loaf of this home to share with my family and it was a real hit. Afterwards I even made granola with two of my friends, although I kind of led them astray. I am generally hopeless without a recipe! (Way too much honey and salt!)


Other Fun Times

Making and eating a whole box of pancakes (from the mix) with friends from InterVarsity, baking with friends last year for Valentine’s Day (and almost burning down Duke kitchen), impromptu baking with Kaitlyn, making cottage cheese and baking sweet potato bread with Claire (simultaneously), and cooking community dinner with my roommate, Rebecca.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Give Me Some “Momo”!

I am actually pretty sure that the name Momo’s, a funky pizza joint perfectly suited for the college town of Tallahassee, Florida, did originate in this way, but I just took some creative license and was trying to think of a not boring title. Thursday night my herpetology class was staying in Tallahassee as part of a tour through the Southeast of herpetological laboratories and sites. It was someone’s birthday so we went out for a very fun night that started with pizza. Momo’s motto, which is on their sign and boxes is “Slices As Big As Your Head”. Our group was ravenous by the time that 7:00 rolled around and we piled in the car to go eat. But, I can safely say that it wasn’t just our hunger or the atmosphere that made this pizza so good!


One of the first things that you see when you walk into Momo’s is their pizza boxes high on the wall. There is a box for a slice of pizza that is huge and you think, “Well, there is no way that one slice would fill up that whole box”. Then, you see that the pizza boxes start at medium and increase up to an extra large. This is when you think, “In their dreams. There is no way that the XL pizza is actually that big. A pizza can’t be the size of the table. Pshh!” But, then you see guys behind the counter skillfully throwing and spinning stretchy, round pieces of dough that could possibly create a pizza the size of the XL pizza box. When the menu says that it can feed 8 to 10 people, which is quite a feat for a pizza that is only $23.50, this is no exaggeration.

Our group split a cheese pizza. Although I would never order a cheese pizza on my own, (I really like specialty pizzas with fun toppings like pesto, goat cheese, caramelized onions, etc.) I do like cheese pizza. Some people in our group also got a medium meat lover's pizza, which was easily the size of a chain pizza shop’s large, because they denounced cheese as too boring.


When our pizza came out, it was huge. The XL is supposedly 50 inches in diameter. If this is true, then I am only 14.5 inches taller than our pizza was wide. This blows my mind! The pizza came with silver serving plates (which are probably the size of a medium pizza anywhere else) for us to eat on and the slices hung off of the plates. The dough was extra thin. The sauce was plentiful and sweet. I scraped some off of my slices because I am not a huge sauce fan. The cheese was very good though and the bottom crust was cooked just right so that there were little charred bubbles. Although hard to eat (they gave everyone a knife and fork), it was really good! Everyone in our group started with two slices but some people were brave enough to go for three. I basically finished my two, wished that I had room in my stomach and the metabolism for a third, and left room for Cold Stone afterwards. I always have room for dessert!

If you are ever in Tallahassee, try this hole in the wall and if you are with a large group of people, please get the XL!

Monday, March 5, 2012

All About Cake, Birthday Cake

Last weekend, along with the excitement of getting engaged, I also had a much awaited birthday dinner with my family. It was a great meal that I got to help my mother cook and it felt really good to be home. It was also nice to have great conversation and linger over the delicious spread. First of all, let me preface this post by saying that I really love birthdays! There have been years that between birthday parties with friends (always elaborate, ranging from sleepovers to boy-girl get-togethers with food planned weeks in advance, party favors, and sometimes arts and crafts) and celebrating with family, I have celebrated my birthday for two or three weeks. These celebrations usually involve several different cakes and many of my favorite meals. DSCN0811

Two layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. (Only when decorating this cake did I feel kind of pathetic for making my own birthday cake. The decorating was a first and last time thing.)

I think that my love of cake also adds to why I love birthdays so much. For probably the last five years (although I am not sure about one of those years in high school), I have baked my own birthday cake. This does not mean that my mom wouldn’t have made me a cake or gotten me one from a bakery of my choosing, I just have come to really enjoy deciding what to make and then baking and icing it. But, baking my own cake does not mean that I made the cakes single-handedly, my mother was there whenever I needed her and my dad washed numerous dishes. My mom literally went to at least five different grocery stores one year looking for Rainbow Chip cake mix. This elusive cake mix made by Betty Crocker is much harder to find that its icing counterpart. And, if you were to try to tell me that it’s the “same thing” as the Pillsbury or Duncan Hines version, I will tell you that it most definitely is not. It has a distinct and better taste than those other imitators, also the different colored sprinkle-like things baked in the cake and in the icing are round chips, not plain Jane sprinkles. Somehow these colorful discs make the icing so good that my sister and I would literally fight to eat it from the can and I always apply it very liberally to the actual cake. Year by year, I have become more adventurous and I would like to think that I have learned some things along the way. This year I made my own from scratch, which although I have made plenty of cakes from scratch, hadn’t yet attempted for my birthday. Although I am very interested in eating local, sustainably grown food and not much processed food, Rainbow Chip will always have a very special place in my heart.


Left: My somewhat deformed Rainbow Chip cake being lit by my mother; Right: Another cake from last year which was a surprise from two of my best friends, Jennie and JiSoo. It was a four-flavor cake from Harris-Teeter: carrot, chocolate, red velvet, and yellow cake.

Last year, my sister gave me a big cupcake cake mold for Christmas, like I am sure you have seen on TV. I was so excited to get it. I wanted to make one of the elaborate masterpieces that is featured in the recipe/instruction book that comes with the mold. However, I knew that you couldn’t really make anything cool with Rainbow Chip icing, so out went that idea. But, I still wanted to use the mold and just make it look like what it was, a giant cupcake covered in icing. I read the directions, or so I thought. To my dismay, the cake turned out looking not so much like a giant cupcake but more like the lopsided top part of the Mad Hatter’s hat (from Alice and Wonderland). I am not sure if I didn’t put correct proportions of cake batter in the top and bottom or what, but it did not have a perfectly spiraled top, instead we had to saw off part of the top and bottom so that the two pieces would fit. It still tasted as delicious as always. Still, I haven’t been adventurous enough to try this again.


I had to include this picture, partially because it is kind of funny. As you can see I am beaming and Jerry looks really happy as well. But, I was told to place my hand on the table in such an opportune spot, that was not of my own prerogative.

This year, for my 20th birthday I wanted to use a recipe that I had seen on a food blog (since I am sort of obsessed with them). I turned to one of my favorites, Willow Bird Baking. I made the Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake. I substituted some of the vegan ingredients for non-vegan ones, partly because you cannot find many of these in Lexington and because I like my dairy. It worked out perfectly with these substitutions and was just the right size, an 8 x8, so that my family wasn’t eating it for a week. Actually the cake was so good that about four hours after the happy birthday song and the blowing out of the candles, Jerry and I finished the remaining half of the cake. We totally lost all control. Yes, it was that good. I have a special weakness for cream cheese frosting and this one worked perfectly with the flavors of the cake. Also, it added a luxuriousness and slight tanginess. The cake itself baked up golden brown and the tart cranberries gave the cake vibrancy, both in color and in flavor (it was the star of the show). However, the orange zest and toasted pecans (subtly different in flavor from the untoasted ones) really added to the cranberries and the vanilla extract. I added gold sprinkles on top of the cake because I thought they complimented the icing and made it more festive.


This year’s cake, Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake. Top: This is my cake before I blew out the candles. My mom randomly decided that five candles was a good number to put on my cake for my 20th birthday. Everyone said, “just blow them out already” while I was taking this picture but I think it was worth it; Bottom: A piece of the cake, you can see that the texture is just right and the cranberries are so beautiful, especially with the icing and sprinkles.


This is the beautiful cake that my sister decorated in her foods class. She used all of my favorite colors and told me about all of the fancy piping techniques that totally surpass my knowledge like coral and stars. I really loved this one. Too pretty to cut!


Allyson (my sister) and me with the cake she decorated for me.


“All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much."

-George Harrison