Thursday, August 14, 2008

Food: Cake or Death


I know I have been out of communication for a while. Well, I just finished my desktop publishing class. I am now well versed in the ways of InDesign and I know 5 times as much about Photoshop. My final project was a dessert cookbook with some of my favorites in it. And since I used my own photos for the book, the one I didn't have was my yellow cake and chocolate frosting so I made a cake for the last class.

Here is the cake recipe: (I don't share the icing recipe it is my secret weapon)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup of milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1cup butter (at room temperature)
1 ½ cups sugar
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside. IN a small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla extract, set aside. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and lightly separate with a fork set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter with the paddle on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Drizzle in the eggs, beating each addition until incorporated before continuing. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the milk mixture in two additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and spread it evenly. Bake until the cakes are puffed and a skewer inserted into the centers comes out clean. 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a platter.

This cake is also great for cupcakes or a layer cake it is completely versitile.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Books: The Twilight series thus far

At the beginning of the summer, I was determined to read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. My friend Pam knew about my obsession with vampires and vampire fiction and she insisted that I read these books. She made a particular point of telling me that I would enjoy the main vampire character Edward.

In July I had a four day break from Graduate school to visit my parents and I took the three existing Twilight books with me. I read them start to finish in four days with about twelve hours to spare.

Twilight itself spends a lot of time on setup. Meyer spends most of the book following Bella as she discovers the rules of the vampire mythology and exploring her surroundings. In fact Meyer spends so much time on character development, relationships, and Bella's surroundings that when the final conflict comes at the end of the book it feels rushed and like it is part of a completely different story. However, despite a few shortcomings I read through Twilight breathlessly almost skipping pages in my eagerness to find out more about the characters. The ending was adequite though it left me hungry for more.

Despite the fact that it was three o clock in the morning I immediately moved onto New Moon, and I devoured this one just as voraciously. While many of my friends were less impressed with New Moon I found it compelling and even more character driven than Twilight. Jacob's character is fully introduced in the second book and the book is the better for it. I was particularly impressed with Meyer's ability to not only convey emotion but to really make the reader feel along with Bella. Many people call Bella whiney, and I agree but in this book I was crying because she was so hurt I found myself hoping along with her and feeling her anxiety. I was particularly impressed because anyone who has been young and in love (unless you married your high school sweetheart) has that kind of pain rattling around somewhere in their scarred psyche. The pain Bella is feeling in New Moon is so real it made me wimper and cry right along with Bella. My major thought for this book was that Meyer has a real talent for bringing out the inner sixteen year old girl in all of us (even men).
Again, Meyer rushes her ending and the last 100 pages offer such emotional catharsis that I had trouble holding onto the important plot points that were presented.

I had to take a breather for a day and visit the Atlanta aquarium (a fun trip I recommend the Beluga Whales). However, after two days and 8 hours of sleep I was finally ready to tackle Eclipse. This book was one of my favorites, lacking the heart wrenching angst of New Moon, Eclipse did a wonderful job of showing a love triangle, developing the relationship between Bella and Edward and expanding our knowledge of the rest of the Cullen clan. Even Jacob got more development though most of the book I was shouting at him to just get over it and stop complaining already. Also, Eclipse seemed to break Meyer out of her pattern of rushing the ending. The plot for this one was built slowly (although most readers figured out some major points before Meyer revealed them) and developed thoughtfully. Edward and Bella are even more in love and Jacob become more bitter and snipish as the book goes on. While I enjoyed Alice in the other books she is simply delightful in Eclipse. Again I found myself disagreeing with the ending but for different reasons, the ending was not rushed and the action was easier to follow and made more sense. However, the place that Meyer chose to end the book seemed a wedding and a honeymoon too short. Ending where she did seemed cut off and left the reader hanging. Not that I wasn't hanging on her every word and wanting more when I was finished with Eclipse.

Now many people argue that Bella is a bad role model. And frankly, she's no Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But, to all of those people, I ask you " Do any of you remember being a 16 year old girl?" I know I was whiney, pathetic and insecure when I was sixteen, can any of you really look back and say any different? Sixteen year old girls can really relate to this character and the concept of waiting until you are in love or married to have sex is certainly one that could use to be offered to girls more often. Bella is a pain and she whines but we all love her and relate to her anyway. (at least in the first three books, Breaking Dawn to be discussed in a later post).

I highly recommend these books to teenagers and adults alike and I also recommend them to anyone who has caught the Buffy bug and wants more vampires ( Don't worry I have other recommendations for you that will come along later, just start with these for now)


Twilight : B+ New Moon: A- Eclipse: A-

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movies: Hellboy II The Golden Army

Before seeing this movie I endeavored to avoid spoilers, reviews, and even ratings of the movie only indulging myself in the awesome ads that my friends sent my way. So it was with high expectation and a clean slate that I walked in to see this movie on Saturday July 12th.

The movie starts off feeling like you are going to get a reprisal of the fabulous, funny cult hit that was the original Hellboy dropping you into an already established world and cast of characters makes the reader feel like they are in for another roller coaster ride of weirdness with some funny along the way. Above all else this movie was gorgeous, Guillermo Del Torro definitely has a talent for making the fantastic beautiful, haunting, and disturbing.

However, while I love Ron Pearlman and would not have missed this movie for the world and while I recommend that people see it because of the visual stimulation, I was disappointed by the plot and general writing of the movie. In a summer of spectacular new properties ( Iron Man and Wall-E) and some really promising sequels (the eagerly awaited Dark Knight), Hellboy stands out in its attempt to make something wonderful on all fronts and succeeding only on one.

There are many wonderful plot ideas presented in this movie, so many in fact that there isn't enough time to properly introduce or resolve any of them. Also, while the first movie felt like it captured the essence of the comic and translated it to the screen this one feels almost campy in its humor and relation to the comic book and often just uses the fantastical elements that make this series so intriguing as an excuse for more visual affects.

Overall while this was a beautiful movie I don't think that it stands up to the legacy of the first movie and the comic. So while I hope that there is another movie, so that the franchise can be saved, I also hope that Mr. Del Torro gets a better screenwriter and flushes out his plot better before creating his visual affects.

Grade: C+

Friday, June 27, 2008

Movies: Wall-E ... GO SEE IT

So my husband and I went on a date to see Wall-E tonight. Yes we are adults, no we don't have any children. Yes we like Disney. I have wanted to see this movie ever since I saw the silly little robot put a bra on his head in one of the trailers. When the first showing we tried to see was sold out we almost went to see Hulk or Wanted but my husband was insistent and so we bought the tickets for the later show and went home to make dinner.

Back for our second trip we found a crowded but not completely full theater and settled down to watch the movie.

I have to say I love Pixar. Not just because I love their movies but because no one else puts shorts at the beginning of their movies. The new short is called Presto. And all I have to say is whatever you do... give the bunny his carrot. I laughed out loud several times this cute short really sets the tone for the magnificent movie that it proceeds.

Wall-E was Magnificent!! It was quite possibly the cutest movie I have ever seen. Particularly for a movie where the main characters don't really speak. In fact, the first forty minutes are almost dialogue free. I thought this was going to bug me, but it didn't! The intricate array of beeps and noises that the robots in this film make are adorable and infectious I found myself wanting to squeak on my way out of the theater. It does such a good job of creating character depth with no talking that you find yourself empathizing with a cockroach! I was tearing up throughout most of this movie because it was so consistently cute and touching. Wall-E is beautiful, heartwarming, and simply adorable. I can't sing its praises highly enough. It was well worth the two visits to the theater.

I recommend this movie to everyone. If you have kids take them to see this as soon as you can. You will come out feeling great and your kids will be in love with robots forever. If you don't have kids it doesn't matter, this movie will put you in a great mood, I promise. In fact as we were leaving the theater my husband and I were talking about using it as a mood enhancer when we buy the movie.

Grade: A+++ Kittens Kittens Bunnies Hug Hug Hug (Trust me you'll understand when you see it)

Movies: Kung Fu Panda Haiku

Alright, I wasn't going to write about Kung Fu Panda because while I liked it there wasn't really much to reccomend it or say against it. So, here is my Kung Fu Panda Hiku which sums up pretty much everything you need to know about the movie:

Black Bear Makes You Smile

The Kung Fu Smells Delicious

Jakie Chan Is Monkey.

Grade: B-

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Food: Fajitas

A couple of years ago when we got a grill, tired of the fare offered by local Mexican restaurants, I sought a Fajita recipe. At the time I didn't have all of the ingredients in the recipe so I made up my own and it became one of the easier weeknight meals at my household as well as a great way to feel multiple people.
Without further adieu, here's the recipe
the Juice of 1/2 of a lime
grated zest of 1 lime
4 cloves garlic (2 crushed, 2 minced)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 large yellow onion halved and cut into slivers
1 red bell pepper and one yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 in strips
1 tsp dried oregano
6 flour tortillas
2 jalapeno chilies seeded and cut into thin rings
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
sour cream
1. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, lime zest, chili powder, onion powder, crushed garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer the marinade to a Ziploc bag and add your chicken breasts. Swish them around a little and then refrigerate them to marinate for 1-3 hours (don't let them sit longer than this since the citrus in the marinade does bad things to chicken if left too long)
2. Once your chicken is marinated, heat up your grill and cut up your vegetables. Throw the chicken on the grill. Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large frying pan over medium heat, give the olive oil a couple of minutes to heat up and then add the onions and peppers (jalapenos optional). Cook, stirring often until the onions are translucent and very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the oregano and cook until fragrant about 2 minutes (you'll know, it smells wonderful). Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside with tinfoil over the pan to keep the heat in.
3. Turn your oven onto 200 degrees and stick in your tortillas to warm up.
4. Once your chicken has cooked, cut it into thin strips and place in a serving bowl or platter. do the same with the vegetables and any accouterments you decide to add to the table.
Voila, Dinner! And so tasty too. The chicken in this recipe can also be used for a taco salad with a lime, vinaigrette dressing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Food: Puff Pastry Improvisation

Last weekend my friend Pam and I decided that we wanted to make something different for dinner last Saturday and when we asked our friends for suggestions their only instruction was something creamy. As a result we ended up making steaks with a delicious creamy asparagus tart on the side. An interesting twist occurred when it came to dessert, as you may know, Puff pastry comes with two sheets in the box.

So, I decided to experiment with the other sheet for dessert. I stole a chocolate truffle tart filling from Gourmet and poured that into the puff pastry shell once I had stacked the sides and then after baking I covered the whole affair with fresh raspberries. The wonderfully rich almost puddinglike filling combined with the light pastry and the sweet/tart berries created an amazing dessert that had people mmming through each bite. This was really easy to make and is also really an attractive dessert you can whip up in a hurry for a small dinner party.

Chocolate Truffle and Raspberry Tart (as adapted from Gourmet)
1/2 lb fine-quality bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 sheet of puff pastry
1/4 stick of butter Melted

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Lay out the puff pastry on a greased cookie sheet and cut 2 1/2 inch strips from each side of the pastry. Stack these strips on top of one another on each side using a pastry brush to apply melted butter underneath each strip to help them stick together.
- Bake the puff pastry for 7 minutes, remove and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
- Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler, stirring until smooth, then remove from heat and cool 5 minutes.
- Whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl. Once it is cooled whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined well.
- Pour the chocolate mixture into the slightly baked tart shell and bake at 350 for 25 minutes, until the filling is slightly puffed but trembles slightly when the cookie sheet is shaken gently.

NOTE: This amount of filling ended up being too much. I removed about ½ to ¾ of a cup of the filling and baked it separately in a ramekin.