Wednesday, March 31, 2010

just another day in the neighborhood

if i had a dollar for everytime i heard someone say "oooh you work in a restaurant, that must be so much fun" we'd all be going out for a drink, my treat...some of my other favorites are, "oh you own a bakery, i bet that's a lot of fun" (so much fun that I no longer own it...) , "you get up at what time, i could never do that" (trust me, on my days off, neither can i) and my all time fave, "how can you stay so skinny while baking all of that?" (easy, i am not interested in eating it after i have been up to my elbows in it all day) but honestly, what could be fun about this business, really??? sure you make good money, sometimes. you meet great people, most of them are anyway. you will work hard; it is a physically strenuous job that can take a lot out of you after 25 years. yet, i can't imagine doing anything else, except winning the powerball. so today i will give you a glimpse into my life with cakes and cookies and pudding and...

first of all, i roll out of bed at 2:50am and after feeding the herd and starting the coffee, i get cleaned up and dressed. i usually drink my cup of coffee as i check the forecast and then it's time to go. i have a long drive, 17 miles each way and to me, that is a little long. after dodging suicidal skunks, kamikazee coyotes and a bunch of dumbstruck deer, i arrive at the cafe. first thing i do is inventory what is left from the day before and decide what needs to be baked first.

today, first up is a batch of pastry cream and while the milk slowly simmers towards a full boil, i mixed up a batch of peach cobbler filling. the filling was portioned into the baking cups, topped with sweet biscuit dough and into the oven it went. after the pastry cream was finished, i moved onto wafers for banana pudding.
the wafers are the trickiest things to make. some days they just do not cooperate. eggs get whipped with sugar for a long time (yes there i go again about the long whipping, just ignore it) because they will end up with more volume the longer and slower they are whipped. after i start the machine, i quickly mix up 4 chess pies and put them into the oven with the cobblers. then it is time to lug that bowl into my little space and make the cookies.

to give you some perspective on just how big the bowl is, look at the things next to it. a grater, a 2 cup measure, a set of measuring cups and spoons. it is the smaller bowl for the machine and it weighs about 16 pounds. the large bowl is so heavy that if i have to use it, i have to have someone else, larger and stronger, move it for me.

flour gets folded into the eggs and sugar to make a batter that will be piped into little dots on sheet pans. after a sprinkle of sugar, they will be baked.

i work alone in this room, it is the store room and it is also a quiet room. there aren't any ovens or other equipment in here with me and there aren't any people unless they need something. after a quick trip in, they are gone again to leave me with my thoughts. because i have such a quiet room, i hear everything around me. i can hear the hvac system run its cycles, the freezer too. the radio in the kitchen provides a background and so do the voices of the cooks and the wait staff. the activity in the dishroom is noisy and so are the guys who work in there as they talk over the machine but even so, i can still hear the biscuit baker in the next room open and close the oven doors. most of the voices i listen to in my space do not speak in english and for much of my day, neither do i.
as i pipe out the cookies, i think about my next task; banana pudding needs to be made and these cookies are an important piece of that puzzle.

the trays are all lined up and ready to go. after a short trip to the biscuit room, the cookies will go into the convection oven where they will bake up quickly.

while the cookies bake, elli and i talk. we haven't worked together for almost 2 weeks because i was on vacation and we have a lot of catching up to do. typical for a couple of women except for the broken spanglish we use to do this. actually it is more my bad spanish and her proper spanish that gets the story told. it seems strange to me when i stop and think about how much time of my day is spent not just speaking spanish, but doing so badly and still getting the point across. passing around the dictionary helps. today i learned 3 new words: chismoso(gossipy), celoso(jealous) and ambicioso(ambitious, but not in a nice way). we may not speak the same language, but we can converse and for someone who doesn't speak english, she sure catches on to what's happening around her...

the cookies are finished. i unload them from the oven and retreat to my little corner of the world.

while i was waiting for the cookies to finish, the cobblers finished baking too.

so did the chess pies

prep for tomorrow, separated eggs to make the task go quicker.

now it is time to make the pudding, banana pudding to be exact. the pastry cream has cooled down and the cookies are baked.
perfectly ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

in the pan, a little pastry cream, a layer of bananas and a layer of cookies. this dessert repeats itself until the pan is full.

cover the cookies with some more cream to seal out the air and keep the bananas from turning brown. to serve, it is scooped out and goes to the dining room in cups with a dollop of whipped cream and a cookie on top.

virginia, one of the waitresses, comes through the back and announces loudly, "i smell chocolate!" fresh from the oven is a pan of brownies. they will be cut up into squares tomorrow when they are cold, wrapped in plastic and sold up front.

speaking of the front, my showcase is in need of a refill so i must make some whipped cream. a half gallon of cream goes into the big bowl on the machine with some vanilla and sugar. slathered on top of some pies and piped on others, these will be displayed up front to tantalize all that pass by the case on their way in or out.

little lines of chocolate drizzle strung across the fudge pie, the last one to be decorated. off to the showcase we go...

all in a day's work. the rack is full of things that will be served for dessert. time to head out to the garden and dig in the dirt.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

mmm, strawberries...

you know that spring has sprung when you see strawberries on sale in the grocery store. this is especially true around easter. i have moved on from cakes to cupcakes this week and first up is strawberry. strawberry cake is a traditional offering in the south. many birthday and wedding cakes are flavored with strawberry but not many use the real deal-fresh strawberry puree. this recipe does! i gathered up my scoops, my favorite tool for making muffins, cookies and cupcakes, and started scooping out the batter.

if you go to the grocery store, you can find the little paper cups in a couple sizes and sometimes in different colors or foil. i wanted the little mini cup liners and all they had were decorated with swirls in green. for the two other sizes, standard muffin and giant, i used plain white paper.

out of the oven and on the rack to cool, these will get dressed with a strawberry buttercream. another wonderful recipe that uses fresh strawberry puree. it is so easy to make and it tastes so much better when compared to the sludge sold in the plastic tubs in the baking aisle.

a nice long whipping time allows lots of air to be incorporated and makes the frosting nice and light. (i'm ignoring the snickers, what you do on your time is your business-me, i prefer to beat the hell out of a bowl of frosting...)

by using a piping bag, the frosting job is a quick and easy one that anyone can do-yes even you with a little practice.

lots of pretty little cupcakes in different sizes all from one bowl of batter and one batch of frosting.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

playin hooky again

took the morning off to go outside, imagine that. we went on a guided wildflower walk in warner park on the mossy ridge trail. click here for the photos

Friday, March 26, 2010

seeing red

working with food color is not a favorite task of mine. inevitably i end up getting it all over my hands-even with gloves, don't ask how. so it shouldn't be a surprise that i was never a big fan of the southern classic, red velvet cake. why would anyone want to flavor a cake with food color? then i found myself staring at the name of that cake on my to do list. (insert a long groan here) here comes another cakewreck. my kitchen will be showing the stains of my efforts for weeks. honestly, it has never appealed to me because the recipe is either made with shortening or oil, has hardly enough cocoa powder to make a difference and contains enough artificial color to paint an elephant. does it have to be this way? not if i am the person controlling this fantasy...

and so it starts

seeing red all over

forgot the gloves, big surprise

red cake with a hint of cocoa

southern belle, all dressed and ready for the party

too dark for good photos, redneck cake dome keeps it moist and safe for the night

probably why the health department frowns on pets in the kitchen. honestly, this cat has a cake magnet-ginger mooch, dessert detective.

daylight is better for photos

and i did not eat that cake slice...i only tasted it, just a couple of bites...put down the plate and step away from the table!!! after a few minor substitutions and additions, i am no longer afraid of the cake and i will eat it, this recipe anyway.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

and today's clues are...

our neighbors know better than to ask. they just quietly watch and wonder until we realize that we have an audience and begin explaining ourselves. one fall day, we discovered that our persimmon tree had a load of ripe fruit on it. there were lots of them on the ground but we could see all of the little fruits hanging on the branches and we wanted them...onto the ground went a large sheet and out of the tool box came a mallet. darry began hammering the trunk of the tree and as the fruit fell onto the sheet, i collected it in a bucket. it was a strange sight. i will admit if i was the one watching, i would wonder what was going on. but it wasn't me watching, it was my neighbor and he was rather concerned. it seems that he thought darry was using that mallet on me, on my head specifically. from his vantage point it looked that way and when he came over to check on me, we all had a good laugh.

a southern baking book would not be complete without at least one good recipe for a persimmon dessert. since pie and pudding seemed so obvious, i decided to combine it with a few of my favorite things; caramel, pecans and warm cake.

warm caramel glaze with a generous helping of pecan pieces will form the glaze and the top the cake as it is unmolded.

since my supply of persimmon puree was a little thin, i decided to test recipes with sweet potatoes and only use the persimmon puree for the final test. the top is sweet potato and the bottom is persimmon puree.

josie was thoroughly unimpressed with the whole thing and she wasn't too crazy about today's musical selections either.

twitch was taking notes for me

the finished cake, warm from the oven and unmolded onto a large plate

a little kitty porn...ginger loves to roll over and show her belly

Monday, March 22, 2010

all lined up

and today's wreckage is brought to you seems that no matter how hard i try, i manage to wreck the kitchen. we have had a busy week because of beekeeping classes. no, you read that correctly, beekeeping classes. in a few weeks, there will be a hive of bees outside in the garden. we are excited and a little nervous. with all that going on, i still found time to get 5 recipes finished. a very rainy sunday made it easy, no chance i would be out in the garden. instead, i was working away in our small kitchen while darry paced around and reminded me that he would have to make dinner soon. around here, the cooks are lined up like planes coming in for a landing. as soon as one clears the counter, another slides in and continues with the wreckage.
so this is a tale of his and hers wreckage...
my floury mess, lots of little cups and spoons and a sifter as well as ingredients galore.

his pile includes trays and plates and pots and pans. the result, a tasty dinner of fried chicken-yes fried, we have temporarily lifted the moratorium on fried foods but only because this dish didn't require a vat of hot oil.

on to the tea breads. i always throw overripe bananas into the freezer. they are good to bake with and they make great smoothies. seems that i forgot about this batch. they were extra frosty.

they didn't look much better out of the peels, kinda like innards...

first batch of little breads

final batch of tea breads. from left to right-date walnut, banana nut and pumpkin chocolate chip with a lovely brown sugar ribbon running through it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

nevermind waldo, where's the baker...

not only can she bake, she can make messes too! big big messes and in no time flat...

honestly, i know where everything is. no really, i do...i think i do.

somebody find those elves and fast...

and in the midst of all of this confusion, i am trying not to step on the cat. she has this idea that if she is cute and cuddly(something she isn't most of the time) i will stop what i am doing and feed her, 10 times a day...

you can't possibly be talking about me, sweet lu, i would never play you like that. don't believe a word those little eyes are trying to convey. lucy, or twitch whichever name you like, is a pro at making herself look innocent when she is hungry.

somehow while all of that was going on; cat dancing, kitchen wrecking, and a major clean up, gladys sang on. "oh i heard it through the grapevine"...sorry otis, take a seat ccr, nobody sings it better than gladys knight and the pips. in the end, a beautiful coconut cake with 7 minute frosting emerged from the rubble...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

missing in action

actually, i'm not missing. i'm right here at the computer, typing away as you read this. with chapter two completed, the testing part of it anyway, i am now formatting the recipes so i can send them to susan. she will edit them and then we will go over them line by line correcting any mistakes in them and rewriting them as needed. sounds like fun doesn't it? in between my gardening and bee keeping classes, i will get to work on the next chapter.

as i format my notes into coherent recipes, it is increasingly obvious that i am a scatterbrained ditz on occasion. i make so many notes on my recipe sheets that sometimes, they are hard to follow. more than once i have discovered that i have multiple copies of the same recipe, each slightly different and just different enough to confuse me and nothing is marked "final version". luckily, i am capable of deciphering the notes and what i send to susan looks nothing like what i have tucked into my binder.

now what shall it be, more cakes, cupcakes or ??? decisions, decisions...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

now for the fun part

sorry, no photos today. why you ask, i'll tell you why. i didn't bake anything today. nope, not a thing. the cakes for chapter two have all been baked, they've been eaten too. now comes the fun part-formatting them and editing them...

what was that sound? that thunk, it was so loud. oh that. it was my head hitting the keyboard. after a long and stressful week, sitting and typing is not something i can do today. i'm heading out to the demo garden with my fellow master gardeners where we will pull weeds and plot beds for this year's garden. and tomorrow, i will do it again but i will also spend a few hours with the beekeepers as my husband and i get ready to add bees to our own garden. after a short break to do all of the typing/editing it is on to chapter 3. rock on you crazy diamond...

Friday, March 12, 2010

oscar knows best

the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it...

it is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done...

oscar wilde knew what he was talking about.

never try to take a warm sponge cake out of its pan...