Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Quiet Moment to Bake

Once upon a time, but really not all that long ago, I would come home from my 9-5 desk job in the evening and bake something for my blog or just for fun. I’d plot my baking adventure either on my train home or during those final few minutes at the office where I would watch the clock anxiously to determine the most appropriate time to scamper out the door. 

I would often purchase a few last minute ingredients on my commute back to my apartment and would eat a quick dinner before getting out my supplies and baking up a storm. I’d wrap up around 10 or 11 pm, dutifully clean my dishes, and head to bed, imagining the excitement I’d be greeted with the next day upon arriving with fresh cookies or cupcakes.

I haven’t baked after work like this for a very long time. These days, I’m working in a restaurant and generally not returning to my apartment until about 11 pm if I head straight home or later if I go out for drinks with my coworkers. By the time I walk in my front door, I’m generally both exhausted and famished after standing on my feet for hours and not eating for as much time.

These days, I don’t even like to cook a real dinner when I get home because of the extra few minutes it would require me to stand and wait if I made something even as simple as stir-fried vegetables with rice, a staple dinner at apartments past when I worked standard desk jobs. I usually opt for something like macaroni and cheese (made from a box) or soup, opened from a can and simply warmed over the stove. 

Outside of work, I'm working toward an MLA in Gastronomy and dedicating all of my "free" time to reading and writing assignments for class. Baking for fun has taken a back seat unfortunately. 

This week, I worked a shift where the pace was steady and the number of workers was excessive, so I got sent home early enough to think of baking during my brisk walk home. I knew I would be stopping into the grocery store to satisfy a craving for ice cream — winter weather makes me crave hot beverages and frozen treats equally — and decided I would also pick up the missing ingredients to make my favorite cookies for an upcoming cookie swap.

I stocked up on supplies, relaxed for a few minutes eating my Ben & Jerry’s straight from the carton, and set out my supplies. I quickly remembered something I’d long forgotten: baking at night is incredibly peaceful.

There’s no added sound from the outside world of cars driving by or people having conversations and watching TV. Roommates go to sleep, leaving the kitchen yours to reign alone. Any stress from the day quickly fades away with each methodical measuremnt and calculated stir.

These quiet moments are few and far between these days, but I’m stocking up for the winter so that I can bake whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’m hoping the next few weeks will be mellow before I start a whole slew of new adventures in mid January. Grad school, what are you doing to me?!

As an aside, if you're looking for a food-related book recommendation, I've got a few! Those photos are primarily books I've been reading for class. In the next few years, I'll be building up quite a collection.

Til next time, happy baking!

-Young Idealistic Baker

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes

When you take two great things and mix them together, it can be magical! Chocolate and pumpkin go together flawlessly for a fantastic fall cupcake and worked like a charm for a last minute Halloween treat. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dia de los Muertos

We’re all susceptible to impulse buys. Sometimes it’s a pair of shoes we really didn’t need and have nothing in our closets that will match. Other times it’s an expensive bar of gourmet chocolate, guaranteed to boost your chocolate cake to the next level or just taste super delicious as you eat it bite by bite. I recently gave into the urge to buy an overpriced novelty cookie cutter kit with four distinct cookie cutters shaped like skulls with decorate designs to stamp on the dough.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Sweet as Honey Season of Apples

Without question, fall is my favorite season. I love the crisp feel in the air. Love the fall coats and boots in their earth tone shades or bold solid colors. Love the flavors and smells of apples, pumpkin and tea. Love the holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, the only holidays I regularly anticipate with excitement and elaborate plans (costumes on Halloween and travels home for Thanksgiving).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sweet and Spicy Peach Salsa

This sweet and spicy peach salsa is notable for its gorgeous maize hue and is a perfect compliment to blue corn chips. Maize and Blue much? Here's to my favorite time of year — Michigan football season! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Classic Cheesecake with Fresh Summer Berry Coulis (a guest post)

This week, I have something a little different and very special! A guest post from the star behind Gastronomical Sovereignty! Kristy and I began chatting on email and plotted this post swap. Check out the berry sweet dessert Kristy made below and head to her blog to see the savory berry galette I made.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

HAIL to Michigan Football Season

The long anticipated and much enjoyable season where excitement runs high, hopes are occasionally crushed and shattered with a knife, and the tides can turn in any direction in just a few moments of weakness has finally arrived!


(Gingerbread Cookies and Royal Icing)

Fall is my favorite holiday for a number of reasons, including but not limited to pumpkin-flavored everything, apple picking, fall fashion, the crisp chill in the air, and above all else - Michigan football!

(Maize and Blue Shapable Butter Cookies)

Maize and Blue treats have been a theme on this blog since the beginning. From Michigan colored cupcakes to cookies, I love supporting my favorite team through my favorite hobby.

(Maize and Blue Velvet Swirl Cupcakes)

As the season kicks off, I'd love your suggestions for Maize and Blue themed goodies! Share them with me in the comments.

Happy Baking and Forever GO BLUE!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

South African Malva Pudding and an Epic Dinner Party

Since my first bonfire side experience eating Malva pudding, the incredibly indulgent and moist South African sponge cake lathered in sweet sauce, I’ve yearned for a worthy occasion to recreate it at home. Finally, months later I found the perfect opportunity when I volunteered to make dessert for an epic dinner party with all of my favorite foodies — the team at NoshOnIt.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Panna Cotta with Peach Jelly

For my birthday last weekend, I knew most of my friends would be out of town (either because they were travelling or because so many of my friends these days live far, far away from me) so I wasn’t about to make a cake or batch of cupcakes, but I still wanted something sweet.

Last year for a joint mustache-themed birthday party with my roommate, I made amazing Old Fashioned Cupcakes spiked with enough whisky and bitters to make any Mad Men character swoon. This year, I settled for what David Lebovitz calls the perfect Panna Cotta, topped with homemade Peach Jelly and served in four half-pint mason jars.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Perfectly Imperfect Vanilla Plum Galette

It’s funny how quickly we get wrapped up in making plans for the future. We plan for vacations, we plan our careers as best we can, we plan evenings out with friends. I love planning and revel in locking in those last minute details about an event of the future, but how often does said event turn out as perfectly as planned?

Galettes are among my favorite perfectly imperfect desserts! They look rustic and beautiful, and come together fairly easily in not much time at all and with very little planning needed. The only real equipment required is a baking sheet and something to roll the piecrust with.

Did you notice I didn’t say you need a rolling pin? I lost mine when I most recently moved because it actually belonged to my roommate. For this galette and for the last batch of cookies I made with friends, I floured up a bottle of wine to substitute a traditional rolling pin. Hey, whatever works!

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Scream for Coffee Ice Cream!

On a hot day, the thought of baking makes my head woozy. In fact when it's really hot out, just standing in my kitchen is sometimes more than I can handle so I forgo all food requiring prep work in favor of that which I can just grab and eat straight from the fridge (e.g carrots and hummus, string cheese, yogurt).

This week, even fresh coffee brought more heat than I wanted, so I decided to do something a little different to get my morning caffeine fix. Cream it, freeze it, and eat it with a spoon. Coffee Ice Cream!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Scape Pesto

One of my favorite things about summer is the easy access to fresh, local produce at farmers' markets nearby. This Summer Scape Pesto is one of the spoils of my most recent visit!

From my apartment, I can fairly quickly get to three great markets on three different days of the week, which is great because then I don't have to plan my week in advance! In the last couple of weeks, I've been to the Coply Square Market, where I picked up some small potted herbs and the best strawberries ever, and the Davis Square Market, where I picked up a half pound of garlic scapes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mint Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding in Mason Jars

I've been waiting impatiently for this — the recipe that will get me to stop what I'm doing, get up and replicate it immediately. I bought a pint of strawberries at the farmers' market yesterday hoping to incorporate them into a fresh berry tart or something, but gave up when I couldn't stop eating them by the handful. Word to the wise – fresh, seasonal strawberries are divine!

I decided to keep enjoying my strawberries by the handful and look instead to find something that may compliment their sweet perfection. When I stumbled upon this Smooth Mocha Chia Seed Pudding at A Dash of Compassion, I thought, "Yep, I'm doing that. Right now." 

In true Young Idealistic Fashion, what started as an attempt to replicate quickly developed into a somewhat frantic and overly excited improvisation session. Or pure creative genius. Let's call it that!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Homemade Giggles (like Snickers, but Funnier)

Since I started baking, I’m always seeking out bigger and crazier ways to challenge myself in the kitchen. I’ve participated in both an online and in-person competitions, gone a little topping crazy and stacked cookies on frosting on cupcakes to create the ultimate snickerdoodle experience, and I’ve taken my fear of homemade candy on full force to make a batch of caramels that I’ve since remade several times. 

When the light bulb suddenly went off and I realized I could make my own favorite candy bars from scratch (hello peanut butter cups and Snickers) I jumped on it the first chance I had — right now!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Strawberry Sriracha Margaritas for Summer

On a beautiful spring day in Boston, two days into my much anticipated stint of “funemployment,” I could think of nothing better to do than enjoy a Strawberry Sriracha Margarita with friends before heading to Fenway for a Red Sox game!

Since this “funemployment” business is news to most of you, let me back up a bit and update you. This past Friday marked my last day of work with ConnectedLiving, the social impact company where I was working primarily in marketing, but also occasionally in grant proposal writing, curriculum development and ultimately filling in wherever needed. I’ve learned so much in my time there and met some of the most incredible people, but now the timing is right to move on to some new endeavors and focus on shaping my career in a new direction.

I’m taking most of the month of May off to travel, which is why I’m calling myself “funemployed.” Come Friday, I’m off to South Africa for a safari adventure with my family. When I return, I’ll have just enough time to pack and move apartments before starting my next adventure at Boston’s Museum of Science in June, where I will be working in fundraising and development. All of these exciting changes have filled up most of my time in the last few months so I’m looking forward to a summer of more stability and of course, more time for baking!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How to Make Inspiration Come to You

Where do you find inspiration?

Sometimes I stare blindly into space for hours and no good ideas turn up.

Other times, prose starts pouring out of my head as I'm walking out of the subway station and I find myself scrambling to jot down notes on my phone as I walk across the cross walk… (I didn’t actually do this, Mom. Just – well, I stopped myself before I walked into oncoming traffic)

Turns out, you can’t stunt creative thought any more than you can force it. It shows up when it wants, and stays as long as it feels like staying and not a moment more. (Inset comparison to crazy relative here.)

While you can’t command or control creativity, you can train yourself to be ready for it. Always keep a pen and piece of paper on you, or since it’s the 21st century, never go anywhere without your smart phone. Seriously though, were you even considering it?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Final Four Maize and Blue Swirled Cupcakes

About a year and a half ago, I made Maize and Blue Swirled Cupcakes to celebrate the start of the Michigan football season. Now, I’ve done it again, switching up the recipe a bit and in celebration of a far more momentous event — the Michigan men’s basketball team is in Atlanta, GA for the Final Four!

I’ve been struggling to find the right words to express my excitement all week because I haven’t been a fan for very long. Without question, basketball has taken a back seat to my love of Michigan football and I’ve only tuned in to the bigger games and watched recapped of other games. I’m your quintessential fair-weather fan in that I hardly followed this season before Michigan secured their spot in the Sweet 16.

However, last week’s game against Kansas drew me in. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Matzo Granola to Get You Through Passover

When you're keeping kosher for Passover, most of us hit a point during the holiday when we just think, "No!" "No, I can not eat one more piece of matzo! I miss bread, and pasta, and cereal, and granola!"

Matzo is a Passover staple and a sad, tasteless substitute for bread when you're avoiding all things leavened to observe the holiday. Over the course of Passover, I'll eat matzo with peanut butter, matzo with jam, matzo with peanut butter AND jam... Sometimes I'll make matzo brei and scramble broken pieces of matzo with eggs... Sometimes I make matzo pizza by slathering it with tomato sauce and cheese and then microwaving it until the cheese melts.

Five days into Passover, with half a box of matzo left, I don't even want to look at it! So, I crushed up five of my remaining pieces of matzo and mixed them up into this sweet and delicious Coconut Mango Matzo Granola!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vegan Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed Muffins... Say That 5 Times Fast

As spring sort of almost approaches Boston, my baking is jumping the gun. I'm ready for spring! Fresh berries and lemon remind me of spring, and the Blue and Maize color scheme of these Vegan Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed Muffins plays a double role in supporting my Michigan Wolverines this March Madness!

Although I moved back up north so I would have four season — and I really do like and appreciate all four seasons — I'm over this winter. We've had enough snow, I've ruined and thrown out enough pairs of winter-worn boots, and I'm eager to pull my cute spring dresses out of the depths of my very shallow closet. Let's hear it for spring!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Mint Leprechaun — Mint Cheesecake Cupcakes

A Limerick:

There once was a Young Idealistic Baker
Who was a fantastic cupcake maker
She'd whip up some treats
And once baked with beets
This girl was a true diet breaker

It's not a St. Patty's Day theme per say, but I wanted to very quickly try my hand at some Irish Limerick making this morning before wandering around Boston with my visiting friends and showing them my city.

Before we head out, I couldn't resist sharing the cupcakes we're snacking on this week. I'm calling these Mint Cheesecake Cupcakes the Minty Leprechauns.

Happy St. Patty's Weekend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grapefruit Cake for Breakfast

I will tell anyone who will listen that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I’ll eat eggs or cereal all day long, but the concept of breakfast cake baffles me just a bit. Cake for breakfast? Yes, please. But does it count as breakfast food? 

During the most recent Boston white-out (snow storm that closed down my office for all of one day), I baked what can only be described as a breakfast cake… Or a tea cake… Or an everyday cake. I’m fuzzy on the qualifications of each.

This Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake says breakfast to me because it incorporates a very healthy breakfast-friendly fruit, uses olive oil as the only fat, and uses whole-wheat flour. Delicious AND healthy-ish!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Blogging

Before I started blogging, I started obsessively following food blogs. I would discover a blog I liked and read every post in reverse order for hours. Then I’d bookmark where I was (archive page 32 or something absurd like that) and return to it after taking a quick dinner break. Whenever I liked something about a specific post, I’d research the blogger in full and read all about him/her until I was satisfied that I had a good sense of the person behind the blog. If at the end of this rigorous vetting process I was impressed, I’d add the blog to my short list of subscriptions. 

The list is longer now — I’ve cut back my vetting process a bit for timing reasons. Namely, I don’t have enough of it. A few interesting recipes, nice photos and decent prose will earn you a spot. 

In recent months, I’ve spent my focus on recipes. I obsessively find and bookmark recipes to try out and make note of where they came from so that I can credit the source at a later date if and when I test it out. When I find a recipe I like, I catalogue it and keep looking for other recipes. I’ll bookmark like this for hours, filling up my Evernote App so that I can refer to recipes on my way home from work. Pick out a recipe on the train, jot down the ingredients I’ll need to buy, and start baking as soon as I get home. This works best in theory, just so you know. 

In recent weeks, I’ve remembered something important about blogging and why I got into this in the first place. It’s not just about sharing great recipes, baking tips and beautiful food photography. Food blogging ultimately is about the blogger. It is about an individual daring to share what he or she loves and has slaved over for however many hours or days with the world, inviting criticism, praise, or crickets if no one is reading. It’s about a labor of love. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Let them Eat Cake: The Final Installment

Did you ever think that a person in possession of an assortment of fresh baked and beautifully frosted cupcakes could feel saddened by it?

Until today, neither did I.

This morning marked the final installment of my Baking Basics class at Cambridge Culinary School and the topic of the day was Cake. I’m currently feeling excited that I learned something new and that I have plenty of delicious goods to show for it, but also a bit melancholy that the series ended. I quite liked having a standing Saturday morning baking date with a professional chef instructor, a culinary student and a dishwasher so I never had to worry too much about clean up. (As a class, we went through TONS of dishes!)

We selected from a collection of cake recipes and had free range to pair with any frosting recipe or variation… I challenged myself to whip up an Italian Meringue Buttercream that I flavored with citrus zest to top my White Wine Cupcakes brushed with Triple Sec. Sound good? Sound a little familiar?

Sangria Cupcakes Two Ya’ll…

(Don’t know exactly where that came from, but my inner Paula Deen is beaming right now!)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Lesson in Breadmaking

After a two week hiatus — snow and holiday weekends can really cramp my baking style — my Baking Basics class resumed Saturday with Bread 101 (at least that's what I'm calling it).

Compared to the last two classes, this one on bread has been my favorite. The fact that this week we took home a little bit of everyone's creation as opposed to just our own definitely contributed. I walked out of class with a huge tote bag stuffed with about 15 loaves of nine kinds of breads. The spoils ranged from foccaccia to sticky buns, and included four full loaves of Potato Challah that I made myself!

Now I've been a huge fan of Challah for my entire life and I've made it mostly from scratch on a couple of different occasions, but I've never before seen it or known it to be made with potatoes and potato water. At Cambridge Culinary School, where I've been taking this baking basics series of classes, Potato Challah was introduced as the norm, and I just had to test it out. Spoiler alert: It's delicious!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gone Goldfishing

Long after I polished off the last of these phenomenal Homemade Goldfish, I struggled to find exactly the words I wanted to introduce the post. 

The concept of fishing is so often used to symbolize a variety of actions. You could be fishing for men (plenty of fish in the sea, honey!) or compliments. You could be actively pursuing options. You could be searching for knowledge. 

The prerequisite for all of these potential acts (as symbolized by fishing) all come down to the same thing: lack of satisfaction with what you currently have. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blizzard Baking

Despite the functional TV and an all-day marathon of Sex and the City, there's still something cozy and old-fashioned about being snowed in, making banana pancakes and pretending it's the weekend.

Actually not pretending anything - it really is the weekend! I've just been listening to Jack Johnson and am unable to shake the lyrics from my head.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Spy A Beautiful Pie

Week 2 of my culinary course covered all things Pie! We talked about the science behind making pie crust, the differences between pie dough and other kinds of dough, the different types of pans and tools that can be used in pie making as well as the difference between American pies and European tarts.... and then we baked!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cream Puff Swans at Culinary School

I've been quiet for a few weeks because a fairly miserable cold prevented me from baking — I thought it wouldn't be kind to pawn germ-filled treats off on my friends and co-workers.  I do have one treat up my sleeves to share soon, but first I want to let you know about my fantastic baking lesson today.

I've signed up for a four-course recreational baking series at Cambridge Culinary School and this morning was lesson 1: Pâte a Choux.

Pâte a Choux is the soft sticky dough that puffs up magically in the oven to create the base for both cream puffs and eclairs. From 9:30am through about 1pm, I learned how to create this dough, a phenomenal pastry cream filling, and the real kicker: Cream Puff Swans!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Eve Choco-tini Cupcakes

Chocolate Martini Cupcakes! Or, as I've been describing them: Choco-tini Cupcakes! sinfully spiked and delicious!

I've just got to say... if this is an indication of how the year 2013 turns out, it's off to a great start!

In preparation for New Year's Eve, I quickly found makeshift solutions to THREE different minor roadblocks to pull off these fabulous vodka-spiked chocolate cupcakes with enough time leftover to get showered and changed before my friend's party. 
  1. HOMEMADE Chocolate Vodka — obviously, this is the most exciting! Just melt chocolate in a double broiler, mix in vodka and strain out any large bits of chocolate. BAM – Chocolate Liqueur!
  2. Cake Flour — put 2 tablespoons of corn starch into a one-cup measuring cup and fill the rest with all-purpose flour... Then sift it up and good to go! (Why might this be important? Cake flour can yield a lighter, fluffier cake)
  3. Fine grain sugar — I have this organic vegan-friendly sugar that I would love more if only the individual grains were finer (sugar grain size affects how the sugar dissolves in the oven, which can affect the final product quite a bit). I ground up the sugar for about 30 seconds before adding it to the mix. Problem solved!
As 2013 kicks off, I get very excited about these types of makeshift solutions because they ultimately help solve the biggest problem I face in the kitchen: 

How can I create awesome, fancy and delicious treats on a budget? Specialty items get expensive and I love the idea of making these items myself!