Friday, December 30, 2011

So this is Christmas

What I'm thankful for: I used a power tool, and I'm still standing. What, is it not Thanksgiving anymore? G and I went to his parents' for Christmas, and they're in the process of redoing their basement, labor and tools courtesy of their son-in-law, A, who works in construction. And me, who helped paint radiator covers and screw in screws with an electric screw thing, but I'm going to be humble about my amazingly important contributions. A had a bunch of loud things with scary blades in his car, and I overrode everyone's objections and used his chop saw to be BADASS. I put on my finest Christmas coat (it's Belarussian, no joke), made sure I was standing in front of a red car and green trees, dumped the chop saw on top of his table saw, and started slicing up pieces of wood. I only lost control twice! Apparently I "messed up the right way," because when something started going wrong, I let go of the saw trigger. I also stuck my hand under the blade while it was still spinning to grab a piece of wood, so there's that. And I had claw hands the next day. Within a month, though, I'm going to be a pro.

There are no pictures of my attempt later that night to chop firewood with an ax. It's a good thing G taught me to have a wide stance in case I overshot it, because I definitely overshot it and swung an ax through my legs. I was put on precision stump chopping drills after that, but my second real attempt hit my foot. I was then sent back into the house, but I still felt outdoorsy so it's all good.

My mother's response to these photos: "I see it, but don't believe it."

Also, I'm making a Dalek Christmas tree with a fake tree and clearance ornaments! Maybe tomorrow I'll find that mythical string with which to attach the wire whisks.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cream Cheese Chocolate Cupcakes

"Not your best work." - G

I got home at 10 PM a couple of nights ago, and decided I wanted to make dessert. I didn't have enough ingredients for anything besides cocoa-flavored powdered sugar, so I walked over to the grocery store and picked up eggs, cream, even peanut butter baking chips. The one ingredients I ended up not having enough of? Chocolate chips. Chocolate is the one constant in almost every dessert I like. Never again will I dismiss the importance of buying a fresh bag of chocolate chips.

Temple of Doom Cupcakes

I decided on this recipe for cream cheese chocolate chip cupcakes, because I thought forgoing frosting would make it both easier to make and easier to take to work. I halved it, because who wants 18 cupcakes lying around if it's only going to be two people eating them? Tip: when a recipe calls for ingredients like 1 egg, or 1/8 tsp salt, or 1/3 cup sugar, you better make sure you have the ability to measure half of those things before starting. I did not. The results? Kind of terrible. Edible, but barely. Neither of us even wanted to lick the bowl. They look cool, though, so I took pictures!

It's like a peanut butter rockslide/sinkhole.

The ingredients, halved:

4 oz. cream cheese
1/6 cup sugar
1/2 egg
1/16 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I only had 1/4)
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Cupcake batter
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1/6 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp vinegar (the original recipe calls for white vinegar, and I only had apple cider vinegar - not sure what the difference is)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

The culprits

1) For the filling: Beat the cream cheese. Be annoyed that you need to get 4 oz. from a partially-empty 12 oz. tub of cream cheese without a kitchen scale.
2) Add the sugar, egg, and salt. Mix well. (I used a mixer for this part.) Be annoyed again that all of these ingredients pose measuring issues. Out of over 10 measuring cups and spoons, you have only a 2/3 cup measure, and no 1/3 cup measure. Each of my cups has a halfway marker, so I would've been able to measure 1/6 of a cup of sugar easily from a 1/3 cup. Instead I roughly converted to tablespoons. And 1/16 tsp of salt? Also not available. Half an egg? That was approximate, to say the least.

Eggs, sugar, and cream cheese...
turn into eggy, sugary cream cheese.

3) Fold in the chips. Kick yourself for not getting a bag of chocolate chips, even after considering it at the store.
My insufficient amount of chocolate chips...

plus peanut butter chips...

turn into this.

4) Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix it up with a spoon. I'm still using up the cocoa powder that was left behind by J, the old roommate, and I should have sifted it first. I ended up with very small clumps that couldn't be completely exterminated after mixing.

Cocoa powder bra

5) Add in water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Watch it bubble.

Ahh, the smell of vinegar reacting with oil. Wear a mask next time.

6) Mix well. The original instructions don't specify if this step needs an electric mixer, but I used a wooden spoon.

7) Fill 9 muffin cups halfway with the batter, then top with the cream cheese filling. The recipe says to add 2 tbsp, if you want to be exact. I just underestimated, and dumped some more in all of them at the end so they looked even,

The artistic process is quite delicate...

and requires constant editing.

8) Bake at 350ยบ for 25-30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Do NOT make my mistake and test them by sliding a toothpick into the middle to see if anything sticks. The filling takes much longer to bake, so by the time the toothpick came out clean from it, the cupcakes had been in the oven for almost 40 minutes, and the outside batter was dry and unappealing.

The filling gets all splattery.

It's pretty cool, even if it doesn't taste good.

The Leaning Tower of Cupcake

If I tried to make these again, I would make the following changes:
1) not halve the recipe, which make everything more complicated than it needed to be
2) measure everything before starting, which I should do every time I bake
3) measure what I think I have before going to the grocery store, again, which I should do any time I bake
4) sift the cocoa powder, as mentioned previously
5) use a wetter cupcake recipe, so there will be less of a disconnect in baking times between the filling and the cupcake
6) soften the chips before folding them into the cream cheese
7) go all chocolate with the chips, instead of using some peanut butter chips

Basically, I would only use part of the filling recipe, and throw out the cupcake batter part completely. I'm finding that cupcake recipes with vinegar aren't my favorite. I found another version of these from a comment on the original post that talked about making black-bottom cupcakes, and that post had much more detail about what the process should be at each step. I might use that as a guide.

Farewell, poorly-cooked cupcakes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mini S'mores Pies

"Oh yeah, that's like a chocolate bomb. That's gonna be good." - G

They were. And I made it up myself! Look at me, experimenting. I used bits of other recipes, and it was born out of a desire to use up my stores of marshmallows and graham crackers, but I'm still proud of myself.

Mini S'mores Pie

To make the crust, I halved this recipe, and to make the chocolate, I went back to the S'mores truffle recipe and three-quartered it (instructions below are already halved and three-quartered):

Mini S'mores Pies (makes 7-9)

3/4 cup finely ground cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (or use regular graham crackers and add some cinnamon) (or be lazy and use a pre-made crust, who am I, the pie crust Nazi?)
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons white sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted


1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream, approx.
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips (9 oz.) I've made these with milk and dark chocolate. Go with whatever you have or prefer, they'll be delicious either way.
40 mini marshmallows, approx.
About 2 graham crackers, some finely crushed, and some broken in medium-sized bits

1) Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until well blended. The mixture will be crumbly and it will seem like you haven't used enough butter or anything sticky, but it'll work out. I used a wooden spoon, and that was sufficient.

Mixed to the max

2) Press mixture into 7-9 muffin tin spaces. Only make 7 if you want a thicker or higher crust. I made 9, but the sides weren't thick enough and burnt a little bit. If you go with 7, you won't need as much chocolate.

3) Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 7 minutes. Let cool.


4) Melt butter in a small or medium saucepan, then whisk in the cream and bring it to a boil.

5) Place the chocolate chips in a bowl and pour the boiling butter-cream over it. Stir until all of the chocolate's melted and smooth. If there are still lumps, place the bowl over a pot of water on a low boil and stir until they're gone.

6) While the mixture is still liquidy, pour a thin layer into the graham cracker crusts, still in the muffin tin.

7) Place four or five mini marshmallows in the chocolate, and pour a thicker layer of chocolate over them so the marshmallows are covered.

Progress, from left to right.

8) Sprinkle some graham cracker crumbs over the pies and stick some larger bits on top in a charmingly haphazard fashion.

Crumb explosion in aisle 1!

9) To set the chocolate, stick in either the fridge or the freezer for at least an hour. They keep well, travel well, and taste delicious cold. In my opinion, the marshmallows taste much better right after being in the cold. They get more substantial, in a way.

I still have s'mores materials left over, so my next move is a S'mores candy bar. I need a chocolate thermometer to figure out tempering, but that's gotta be easy... If I make these mini pies again, and I will, as G has already dumped the Cinnamon S'mores Truffle in favor of these, I would use more marshmallows. I want the cross-section to show almost a complete marshmallow layer. I also want to try baking it, so that the marshmallows will melt.

Mmmm. Pies.

So delicious.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moving: The Aftermath

For once it's not me who moved. G's previous roommate, J, returned to the city and moved his belongings down to his new apartment.

What He Took
The giant TV in the second TV room (Technically he took this only as far as the curb, where I'm certain someone snatched it up within minutes. Queens sidewalks: faster and easier than the free section of craigslist.)
The bed in the second bedroom (Now simply "the room")
All of his other stuff that he didn't already take, like books, clothing, computer, guitars etc.

Bye-bye, giant TV that looks much smaller in this picture

What He Left Behind
A cummerbund and bowtie (No idea why. They're currently floating, figuratively, around the kitchen.)
Jar full of money (His words, when G pointed it out: "have at it")

Some lucky delivery boy is in for a lot of pennies

Kitchen supplies (He'll get a new set of everything from the next kitchen he works in)
Weird food (Marmite on dried seafood, anyone?)
One guitar (It has a good head and neck, so G's going to build a new body for it. I may help paint it. Can't wait.)
Some orphaned books
Storage space
A giant hole in our collective wallet where a thousand dollars will have been (To turn "the room" back into "the second bedroom.")

What a giant hole looks like

What Will Be Done
Replace the bed (sob)
Return the forgotten items to their owner
Move the flat screen into the living room
Move the bigger living room TV into the small room (G attempted this switch yesterday and discovered everything would need to be rewired, since the big TV is old and unable to support a cable box hookup. This will be done eventually.)
Move the couch to the opposite wall so it doesn't block the doors anymore
Dump the small living room TV (This will also be done eventually.)
Either dump the chair or use it as a reupholstery and spray-painting test subject
Move stuff into the newly un-crowded closet and storage space
Buy a new camera to replace my hand-me-down camera that is now dirty and smudged from being covered in truffle chocolate. Oops. This has nothing to do with J moving out, but looking at these streaky pictures renewed the urgency of the task. I could get this one professionally cleaned instead, but it was old and not that great anyway.

What Has Been Done
Weird food has been tossed
Moved some stuff out of the kitchen

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cinnamon S'mores Truffles

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear anything you just said, I was focusing on the truffle."

This is how many were left today.
I had a recipe for S'mores truffles already, but Chrome gave me a malware warning when I went back to the website, so I went looking for another version and landed on this one. AMAZING. I've been pushing these on everyone I know/meet. The recipe says it makes 24, and I made 47 with the same ingredients, so don't get too hung up on a specific number. No matter how many you make, they will be gone quickly.

This is how many I made. Plus one that mysteriously went missing.
I made them Friday afternoon. Friday night, G and I ate a lot of them, maybe 2/3 of a plate. Saturday morning, G went to work, and I sent out a distress email to some friends to help me eat the rest. Home all day with a fridge full of truffles? Prognosis (of me not eating all of them): Negative. My old roommates and their new roommate came by and loved them, G's visiting friend and his girlfriend came by and loved them, G loved another, I loved some more of them, and I ended up sick to my stomach. WARNING: Don't eat more than two or three of these within a few hours. Definitely don't spend all day at home eating them. They're extremely rich. You need willpower. Willpower or an iron stomach. G voted these his favorite so far, and he looooved those mudslide balls.

OK, it's baking time. You need this stuff:

12 oz. chocolate, 1/2 cup heavy cream, approx. 50 mini-marshmallows, 6-7 graham cracker sheets, 2 tbsp butter, 1 pan, 1 whisk.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. I went with the gigantic and only pan we had, and I would strongly suggest sticking with something smaller. Less chocolate will be wasted in the end since there's a smaller surface area for the remnants to stick to. Whisk in the cream and bring it to a boil.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the chocolate chips until everything's melted. I want to try this with baker's chocolate instead of chocolate chips next time - that might help the chocolate be more moldable and less melt-all-over-your-hands-able.

Oh, the smells.
Don't eat this yet. Or do. What do I care.
Chill the saucepan in the fridge for an hour or so, until the chocolate is solid and roll-able. This is another reason why a smaller saucepan would be helpful. We lost an entire shelf in the fridge, and I had this monster sitting there for a week. It's a long story. TIP: don't worry about keeping it in there too long. A couple of minutes out of the fridge and the chocolate will be fine and melt-y. If you have it in there a while, remember to keep it covered so it doesn't desiccate. (Bonus tip courtesy of G, who kindly covered my chocolate for me).

Cold, mold-y chocolate. Moldy in a good way.
While you're waiting for the chocolate to look like this, break out some cinnamon graham crackers. Obviously you can use whatever kind of graham cracker you want, or buy the crumbs pre-crushed, whatever you feel like. I like cinnamon. I went with 7 sheets, and it ended up being almost exactly 1 cup of crumbs. I ended up with a lot left over, so it might depend on how heavily you crumb up your final balls. Stick the sheets in a plastic bag, and mash 'em up with a rolling pin. Or crush them with your bare hands and reenact your favorite beer can-crushing or strangulation movie scene. Then move the crumbs into a small bowl or Tupperware container.

Moldy in the fake-bad way.
Please excuse the Mold Monster on the plastic bag. My lunch keeps getting stolen at work, so when a coworker was browsing the MoMA store and saw these thief-deterrent bags with fake mold on them, she bought them for me.

More like a Measuring Monster, am I right? Measusaurus.
Poke your cooling chocolate. Does it smush at all? Leave it in for longer. If it's stiff, take it out. Now comes the PIA part. The original recipe contains these directions: "roll into 24 balls, stuffing a mini marshmallow into the center of each." Seems easy enough. Gloss over-able. But I started to do it, and I realized that I don't know how to roll a mini-marshmallow into the center of a ball. I can roll chocolate into a ball, and I can place mini-marshmallows next to those balls of chocolate, but that's it. Am I supposed to cut a hole in the chocolate and stuff the marshmallow inside? No. Let's take a look at some of the mess this caused before I show my solutions:

I licked one finger clean before I realized this should be recorded as a warning/enticement/reminder to try different chocolate. I didn't take a picture every successive time I needed to wash off my hands, but it got much worse than this. For future attempts, I'm going to make sure I carve out all of my chocolate first so I don't have to keep washing my hands to get more pieces.

I looked like this for an hour before realizing it.
What worked for me was to cut out slices with a spoon and wrap them around the marshmallows, mushing the chocolate together at the joints. This gets messy, so it's best to keep the pieces large in order to minimize the mess. Easier to cut off the extras than try to join many small pieces.

My first slice. Way too small.
Bigger is better.
This thickness is pretty good.
Even thinner shavings like this are great.
Wrap a chocolate strip around the marshmallow, and stick two smaller pieces on each end.

 Smooth down the edges.

This was my most perfectly formed truffle, and it used double, thin layers.

If you end up with a couple that have bald spots, don't worry about it. You can hide that once they've hardened a bit. I did worry about it, and I ended up in the bizarre situation of trying to wipe melted chocolate off of my fingers and onto the melted truffle chocolate. This made the situation worse, always. I gave up and popped them in the fridge, and I smoothed some chocolate over the patches when there was less risk of causing structural damage. This is also a good time to make them more spherical, if that worries you. Do not try that on the first go-round, when everything's melting and making a mess.

Balding. It's hard to see, but it's there.
Another successful Hair Club for Truffles member.
 Double truffle!

Once you've used up all the chocolate, stick the truffles in the fridge to harden up a little. Take them out, roll them in the crumbs, and put them back in the fridge to finish solidifying. My kitchen was hot, and this process was time-consuming, which made me paranoid about melting. I was constantly moving completed balls into the fridge, but my hands were chocolate-y. My left foot got a unique workout that day.

You're done! If you get impatient, you can do what I did:

Spoon S'mores Truffle
It's a pale imitation of the real thing, which is SO GOOD. The printable version of the recipe is here.

 I tried making a graham cracker cabin for the remaining truffle to live in, with a graham cracker bed and marshmallow pillow. Melted marshmallow joint-work, of course. Not my best idea.

On October 14th, I'm donating baked goods to a work fundraiser for breast cancer research. If I can figure out a way to transport a ton of these truffles on the subway without them melting or getting crushed, I'm throwing out the pink cupcakes idea. I'm totally winning this fundraiser.

For the future: I want to try adding cinnamon and graham cracker bits to the chocolate.

Next project: Thin Mint Truffles.