Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Solstice Ramblings

It's officially here, yay summer! Fresh fruit and veggies galore, eating on patios, and long days of sunshine. Ahhh :)

I have 10 followers now, thanks friends!

Somehow I made the most delicious peanut butter cookies ever last week and failed to take pictures or blog about them. That's okay though because it wouldn't really be fair - you can find the exact, perfect recipe in my other favorite high altitude baking book "Pie in the Sky."

I have also been working on what I think I shall call, Berry Sweet Cornmeal Muffins. No Mary Mullins bread yet either.

New blog label: Good Looks!
Entry number one, Offshoots Cafe at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Aren't these cute?!

I'm out for the next four weekends. Hopefully I'll have time to bake something. I'm thinking strawberry pie would be perfect for the 4th...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Baked Good Everyone Loves

Jenni's Cheesecake Brownies

You can never go wrong with brownies, everyone likes them! But you can go wrong when making them at altitude. Some of the worst baked goods ever made were attempted in my Frisco kitchen at 9042 feet. The boxed version I had perfected in Fort Collins didn’t even work. Every brand I tried came out goopey in the middle or crunchy on the sides. Then my room mate Sal got me the wonderful, totally old school, “The New High Altitude Cookbook.” After several test runs I developed what is now my standard, go to brownie recipe.

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup dark cocoa
2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs, well beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
9x13 baking pan
medium sauce pan
small mixing bowl
1, 8 ounce package fat free cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 TBS flour
¼ tsp vanilla extract
medium mixing bowl

1. Grease and flour baking pan (I cheat and use a spray mixture you can now find in the baking asile of most grocery stores). Set aside.
2. In sauce pan over medium heat, melt shortening and cocoa together until smooth.

3. Add sugar and milk. Bring to a boil then remove from heat.
4. In mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.
5. Slowly add flour mixture to chocolate mixture, stirring until smooth.

6. Add well beaten eggs and vanilla. Beat until well blended.
7. Pour into prepared pan.
8. Turn on oven to 350 degrees.
9. In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth.
10. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth and well blended.
11. Add eggs. Beat until smooth and well blended.
12. Add flour. Beat until JUST blended.
13. Spread cheese mixture as evenly as possible over chocolate mixture.

14. Using a fork, swirl fork back and forth length wise and width wise, a couple times each, through the pan. I think fully incorporating the cheesecake mixture into the chocolate mixture, a bit more than similar standard brownie recipes suggest, yields more consistent and fully set brownies at altitude.

15. Bake for 45 minutes.
NOTE: Sticking a toothpick or cake tester in the middle of brownies isn’t the best method for testing doneness. With this recipe, I know 45 minutes works perfectly. With others, keep an eye on the edges and remove from the oven just after the brownies start to pull away from the sides of the pan.
16. Two minutes after removing from oven, insert a metal spatula between the brownies and all sides of the pan using a straight up and down motion. If they are extra moist, sliding the spatula may create rough edges by pulling small crumbs away.
17. Move to wire rack to cool completely.

18. Ooo, those pesky odd numbers – share with friends ;)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Memories and a Challenge

Soon after writing blog entry number one, fond baking memories flooded back into my mind and caused an instant desire to revisit each one. I spent hours on the phone, emailing, and going through every photo I could find to make sure everything I was remembering was correct.

My very first baking memory involves my Mom's chocolate chip cookies. She made them in a standing, mustard colored mixer on the faux marble counter in the house I grew up in. We lived outside of town in "the country" where my Dad meticulously cared for an enormous garden that provided more than enough fresh produce four our family of four. Whenever there was extra sweet corn, zucchini, or pumpkins, my sister and I would set out with our wooden Radio Flyer wagon and give them all away to our neighbors. Did your family grow their own food, can their own vegetables, and bake their own bread? Mine did. It has been said I did not consume store bought bread until the age of five... BACK to the cookies! My Mom always let my sister and I help. This early memory involves me sitting on the counter watching the bowl spin round and round and MOST importantly, sticking my fingers in to sneak tastes of delicious batter ;) I was probably around this size.

My second memory is of my Grandma Mullins who lived on a farm in south central Illinois for the majority of her 98 year life. The following, vivid memory is one I do not believe I'll ever forget. When thinking of her, this is exactly how I see her, no matter the actual time of the full memory I'm recalling. She is at the kitchen counter, left of the stove, in the house at the farm. She is wearing a long old apron and her hair is short or pulled back. I can see loose strands floating free in the sunlight that bathes her, coming from the south window over the sink. She is making her famous homemade bread. I loved visiting my Grandma Mullins because she was a tall (like me), strong and smart woman who always had a smile on her face. She was exactly what a grandmother should be. On this occasion I got to visit her all by myself and assist with the large batch of bread she was baking. I remember kneading the dough and poking holes in the top with a fork. EVERY single time I go down to the farm, I gorge on Mary Mullins's homemade bread. My Aunt Marilyn continues this legacy with a modernized, healthier version. This bread recipe is my challenge for the summer!

It took a long time for me to realize and appreciate how much I value the childhood and life I've been given. I was again inspired to blog about these memories this week, as a cold front and unusual period of rain left Colorado green and steamy. Smelling the damp grass and seeing moisture hang in low lying fields took me right back to my Gilberts and Butler oases. Learning to plant and nurture, bake and share, cherish the people I love and ground myself every day are some of the values my family has passed down to me. What simple pleasures are you thankful for?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chocolate Ecstasy

I’m a slacker. I haven’t blogged in what, a month?! I have good reasons; it has been one Crazy month. Yes, that’s Crazy with a capital C. But this blog isn't about all of that stuff, it's about baking!

A few weeks ago I went to Vegas for one of my bestie’s vow renewal ceremony and friend extravaganza. One night, as I strolled through the MGM with nothing to do because it was 2am and WAY past my bedtime but I was somehow not even close to being tired, I decided I needed a treat. No, I deserved a treat! So I went to the first eatery that appeared open and took a look at the menu. Dessert item number one at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill was a dark chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream and crème anglaise. I walked over to the bar, ordered as I was sitting down, and then asked for a wine recommendation. The wonderful bartender educated me on two things:
1. A soufflé is baked in a "cylinder-type" dish (I think he meant to say round but what he should have said was ramekin) at a higher temperature and only for about 10 minutes.
2. Crème anglaise is pretty much melted ice cream – same ingredients, just not frozen.
The soufflé at Wolfgang’s was maybe the best or second best dessert I have EVER had. It was so warm and decadent that I slowly licked each spoonful completely clean and let each bite stay on my tongue just a second longer so that the simple bliss of eating an incredible baked good could last as long as possible.

People watching in Vegas at 2am is incredibly entertaining. I watched the bartenders completely ignore the dudes who called them by their first names and acted like they were best friends. Two girls had to be escorted to their rooms because they couldn’t walk straight and another almost fell asleep in her chair after trying several times, unsuccessfully, to take a bite of her pizza, dripping with melted cheese. I also talked to the most handsome man I have encountered in quite some time :)

So, incase you are in Vegas and craving dessert, I HIGHly recommend the Wolfgang Puck place in the MGM. Maybe you can order the soufflé and take a beter picture for me because this is all I got!