Monday, July 29, 2013

Living Social Doughnuts

Remember that cupcake baking class I took through Living Social? Remember how AWESOME it was? Well, I went and did it again this time with doughnuts.

Unlike cupcakes, where I would say I possess some skill, I have absolutely zero experience with doughnuts. I always figured they were outside the realm of possibility for me because they involve frying. I'm such a klutz that me + burning hot oil never really seemed like a great combination. But guess what? It's easier than I expected! Especially when you have someone pre-make the dough and have all your ingredients laid out for you.

Joining me this time at Living Social's 918 F Street kitchen was my Mom, Aunt Kim (who could practically open her own bakery), and my friend Kristin. Running the class was Christine Schaefer, the pastry chef at District Doughnut, which is opening up a storefront in the DC area very soon. As I mentioned, the dough was all prepared for us, so we were tasked with rolling it out, frying the doughnuts, and mixing the glazes and toppings. Of course, decorating the doughnuts was the best part!

We made three types of doughnuts: cinnamon and sugar, original glazed, and Boston cream. The Boston cream were definitely the highlight, after all they are covered with chocolate ganache. We started out by rolling out the dough and cutting the doughnuts with biscuit cutters. There weren't enough small round cutters for everyone, so our doughnuts didn't actually have holes. Turns out the holes help prevent air from filling the middle of the doughnuts and making them flip over while frying, but we didn't have any big problems. We also ended up with way more than a dozen doughnuts each--turns out we had enough dough for about 2 dozen each.

After cutting out the doughnuts from the dough, we put them on trays and they were taken away to rise for a bit. We then had to make the custard to fill the Boston cream doughnuts. I'd never made custard before, but it turns out it's really easy. It's really just boiling milk added to egg yolks. You then then mix it for a while until it thickens and all comes together. After finishing the custard, we made the ganache. Chocolate ganache is also SUPER easy and amazingly delicious. Typically you mix bittersweet chocolate with boiling heavy cream, but we used semi-sweet chocolate to top our doughnuts.

After making the custard, ganache (and the glaze which is just powdered sugar and milk), it was time to fry the doughnuts! The most important thing about the frying is to make sure you keep the oil at the correct temperature. This meant constantly checking it with a thermometer and adjusting the burner controls. You place the doughnuts in the oil and fry for about a minute on each side. They end up golden brown with a crispy outside and white line around the middle (this is the sign of a good fry).

We set the doughnuts aside and let them drip off some oil and cool off and then it was time to decorate them! The cinnamon and sugar were super easy--just roll them in the cinnamon and sugar mix and there you go. Glazed was very much the same, you just roll the fried doughnuts around in the glaze and set them aside to let the glaze harden. The Boston cream were the most fun. First we put holes in the sides of the doughnut and then piped custard into the middle. Then we rolled the tops of the doughnuts into the ganache.

And then all that remained was to indulge in the doughnuts! I probably ate more than I should have--at least one of each and some extras along the way. I mean we had some ganache left over, so we had to find some use for it, right? The use was for it to get into my tummy as soon as possible. And the doughnuts were delicious, if I do say so myself.

Piping the custard into the doughnuts. 

Our finished doughnuts!

Inside the Boston cream doughnut.

Kristin tucks into a still wet glazed doughnut.

We merry band of bakers!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cooking Light Mini Turkey Meatloaves

Mini things are cute. In fact, I'm pretty sure that mini versions of something are one of Rules of Cute. Which means this meal is not only delicious and easy, it's also adorable.

Well, as adorable as a pile of meat can be.

And when I say it's easy, I mean it's SUPER easy. Can you throw a pile of ingredients into a bowl? Can you use a scoop to put it in a muffin tin? Then you can make this recipe. Sure, it also calls for browning some onion first, but honestly you could probably skip that step (as long as you like your onion a little crunchy).

Seriously, just throw all the shit into a bowl. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I'm talking about Cooking Light's mini turkey meat loaves. I came across this recipe while perusing a cookbook owned by a friend. These little meatloaves are packed with protein and flavor and at 142 calories a pop, you can double your portion size to feel extra full without the guilt.

A couple alterations I made to the recipe: I used Italian seasoning breadcrumbs instead of the regular bland kind (you'll find that they pack a lot more of a delicious flavor punch). I also used dried parsley instead of fresh; unless you have a herb garden it's not worth the trouble or expense. Finally, I skipped the step where you brush the top of the loaves with the ketchup mixture; I just dumped the ketchup and hot sauce into the bowl and mixed it all up with the meat and other ingredients.

Oh, and I doubled the recipe to get three meals out of it. But you could easily make up to a dozen of these suckers if you are feeding a crowd.

Mmmm....turkey balls. 

Cooking Light's Mini Turkey Meatloaves


Cooking spray
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces ground turkey breast
1 large egg white
3 tablespoons ketchup, divided
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)


Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Combine onion, breadcrumbs, and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) in a large bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons ketchup. Spoon about 1/2 cup meat mixture into each of 3 muffin cups coated with cooking spray; place muffin tin on a baking sheet.

Combine remaining 1 tablespoon ketchup and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl. Brush ketchup mixture over meat loaf tops. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°.

If you double the recipe, you also bake the mixture into one eight by four-inch loaf. Bake time may increase to about 45 to 50 minutes; use a thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 165°.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Maui, Day 2: The Hana Highway

After our helicopter trip on The Big Island, our ship headed back to Maui for another day! Instead of booking an excursion through the cruise line, we decided to rent a car for the day and drive along the famous and scenic Hana Highway. We were also hoping to go hiking and see some waterfalls.

I think waterfalls are awesome. It's just kind of a thing with me.

Time for fun facts! "The Hāna Highway is a 68-mile long stretch of Hawaii State Routes 36 and 360. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the highway is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. There are approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from just east of Kahului to Hāna, virtually all of it through lush, tropical rainforest. At the end of the Hāna Highway (actually past Hāna in a clockwise direction around eastern Maui) is the ʻOheʻo Gulch, also known as the "Seven Sacred Pools". This series of waterfalls and pools is located inside the Haleakala National Park."

I have wanted to see the Seven Sacred Pools ever since I first saw the movie IQ (starring Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, and Walter Matthau). I am sure you know it; it's about Albert Einstein trying to fix up his genius niece with a local mechanic. It's a really fun romantic comedy, and there is a scene where Meg Ryan is talking about the Seven Sacred Pools at a dinner party and shocking the mathematics professors by talking about how the water is so aerated it feels like a giant tongue is licking you.

Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools are located at the very end of the Hana Highway, and we didn't have enough time to drive all the way there, hike around, and make it back to the ship in time for our departure. So that's going to have to wait for next time. But we still had an amazing day full of sunshine, rainforests, waterfalls, and beaches.

We had the benefit of Chris and Kent's previous visit to Maui to help guide us on our way; and they knew of a farm that allowed hiking up to its three (!!) scenic waterfalls. So we drove about an hour from the port in our shiny rental car and hit the trail! As promised there were three waterfalls, each distinct in its own way and each trail had its own challenges. Some had us balancing along former canals...while to get to another we had to pick our way across rocks in a stream. Another had a really steep incline/decline--it's a good thing there were lots of trees trunks and branches to grab on to!

 Waterfall #1

Waterfall #2

Waterfall #3 (and a swimming hole).

After our hike, we hit the road to cruise the Hana Highway. It was completely twisty and turny, and around each bend was another stunning vista. Palm trees, bamboo forests, cliffs, beaches, and amazing views of the was all there. Chris knew of a secluded black sand beach that we visited and it felt like we were the only people in the world. Well, until the pickup truck pulled up and some more tourists joined us. Maybe it wasn't as secret a beach as we thought. In any event, just driving along the road was a pleasure. 

And next time I am going to make it to the Seven Sacred Pools!

Monique and Kent at the top of the trail!

Baby pineapples...interesting fact, pineapples are not a fruit, they are a flower. That's why they don't have seeds!

The black sand beach. Ah, paradise. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites

A friend of mine (hi, Lisa!), posted a picture and recipe on Facebook the other day of a grain-free, gluten-free, but absolutely YUMMY looking chocolate chip cookie alternative.

I was curious. And hungry.

The recipe uses no flour, no eggs, no oil...but it does use a can of chickpeas and a bunch of chocolate chips. Along with honey, peanut butter, baking powder, vanilla....and that's it! I plugged the recipe into my calorie counter, and it was a bit over 100 calories. Not bad, especially when compared to a normal chocolate chip cookie (which has about 150 calories), but I figured I could do better. Specifically, by using the peanut butter substitute, PB2, which cuts about 85% of the calories from traditional peanut butter.

I made a couple of other tweaks as well. I used half regular PB2 and half chocolate PB2, to try to get some more chocolatey flavor. I also used half chocolate chips and half peanut butter chips...mostly because I have an opened bag of peanut butter chips in the freezer and need to use them up.

And they turned out REALLY yummy.

The texture of these is interesting, I am calling them "dough balls" because they didn't set as much as a cookie and had a kind of creamy texture, probably due to the chickpeas. They were definitely cooked all the way through (I actually cooked them almost twice as long as called for), and I loved how soft they were. They didn't fall apart or anything and were browned on the outside. But if you prefer a crunchy cookie treat, you might want to try something else.

One more note, I used one of those "air" baking sheets, which is probably why they took so long to bake. In my experience these types of baking sheets take way longer than traditional rimmed dark baking sheets, so make sure you check on your dough bites after 10 minutes! I would also recommend eating these warm, either fresh from the oven or warmed in the microwave. When the chocolate is melty...mmmm.

As far as I can tell, the recipe originated from the baking blog, Texanerin. Here's my (modified) recipe with the nutritional info!

Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites

Prep Time: 8 min
Cook Time: 17 min
Yield: 17 dough bites

1¼ cups canned chickpeas, well-rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel (1 15.5 oz. can)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup PB2 (I used half regular, half chocolate)
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I replaced some of the chocolate chips with some peanut butter chips)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Combine all the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips, in a food processor and process until very smooth. Make sure to scrape the sides and the top to get the little chunks of chickpeas and process again until they're combined.

Stir in the chocolate chips. Using a cookie scoop or wet hands, form into 1½" balls. Place onto a piece of parchment paper. If you want them to look more like normal cookies, press down slightly on the balls. They don't do much rising. Bake for about 17 minutes (10-15 if using a traditional cookie sheet).

Calories: 77 per dough bite (based on 17 servings per recipe)
Fat = 2 g
Protein = 3 g
Sugar = 8 g

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The How Novel Bookclub, 1984 Part 1

Welcome to the first post of the Maggie Cats bookclub: How Novel! Today we are "discussing" Part I of George Orwell's classic novel, 1984. Oh, and I say discussing, because let's be honest. This is a totally one-sided conversation. AND YOU WILL LISTEN TO EVERYTHING I SAY. Heh.

But first, context! I personally feel that context is super important when reading works of classic literature. It's not just what's inside the pages of the 100 Best Novels that makes them so seminal, but where (and how!) they fit into our Western literary canon.

1984 was originally published in 1949. According to SparkNotes (always reliable) Orwell was exposed to a controlling environment from an early age when he attended a prestigious English board school. "Because of his background—he famously described his family as “lower-upper-middle class”—he never quite fit in, and felt oppressed and outraged by the dictatorial control that the schools he attended exercised over their students’ lives." Later, when working as a writer, he traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War and
"witnessed firsthand the nightmarish atrocities committed by fascist political regimes." So basically Orwell formulated the idea that totalitarianism = bad throughout his own personal life experience.

Along with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published in 1932), Orwell's 1984 is the gold-standard of fiction set in a fascist dystopian future. This is now a sci-fi/fantasy staple in literature, movies, tv, and comics, and 1984 is basically the blue print for totalitarian world-building. To put it in a modern context, without 1984 there would be no Hunger Games.

Before getting into the meat of Part I, let's review the basic plot up to this point (from Penguin Books):
As the book opens, Winston Smith, the protagonist, is entering his dismal apartment in London. The opening paragraphs convey the depressing tone of the book with a description of the squalid living conditions. The world is divided into three superpowers: Eastasia, Eurasia, and Winston’s homeland, Oceania. Each superpower is always at war with at least one of the others. The perpetual wartime conditions provide a convenient way for the government of Oceania to keep its citizens repressed. Supplies for party members are always scarce and surveillance is a perfected art. In private rebellion against the government, Winston, an Outer Party member, starts keeping a diary. This small, forbidden step begins his life as an enemy of the party he serves. He purchases the diary on one of his forays into the proletarian section. Outside the antique shop where he bought the diary he later encounters a young woman who he has observed watching him for the last few days at his office. Knowing he is not supposed to be there and suspecting she is a spy, he quickly avoids her.
And now for the discussion (yay!): to paraphrase Chandler Bing, could Part I be any more depressing? It was difficult to avoid the trap of thinking that the first 50 or so pages of 1984 is a retread of a story I have already read. As I mentioned above, the whole dystopian future thing is everywhere in our society's pop culture, and that is what makes the context of the novel so important. Because 1984 is the standard against which all the others are measured. So while it seems like a bit of a slog to get through Winston Smith's musings about the squalor of London, the absolute control the Party exercises over people' lives, and the bone-crushing monotony of his work, it's a vital slog.

So I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Part I is all about the set-up. We need to "set the stage" if you will and establish that Winston is never alone. There is always a telescreen or microphone watching and listening, and the past is as malleable as the present. Because that's what Winston's job is in the regime--he works at the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth (insert irony here) and changes the past. "The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, rectify."

In our modern times, we would call this falsification or lies, but it's actually more insidious. As Winston notes, " was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another...Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version." In the world of Oceania, there is no truth. People cannot even cling to the righteous anger that can come from being wronged, because nobody even knows that they are wronged. The Party is always right, and there is nothing (not even any past record) that you can point to as proof of anything else.

One of the things that struck me while reading Part I, is that it's clear Orwell loves language. From the very first page, the scene is set with the sentence, "the hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats." I don't know about you, but that certainly paints a picture for me of the kind of world we are inhabiting. The Party also uses language as a tool, or should I say bludgeon, of control. They encourage the use of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, which "cuts the language down to the bone." One of Winston's co-workers who helps develop the Newspeak dictionary waxes poetic about Newspeak and how they essentially destroy thousands of words in an effort to "narrow the range of thought." "In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it." How can you rebel when the word rebel does not exist?

There's so much more to talk about here, especially just the specific mechanisms of the Party's control, but it's hard to articulate rather than just saying, "oh, oh! This thing here! This is cool! And horrible!" Which makes Winston's act of defiance--the keeping of a diary where he not only thinks but  actually records statements against the Party and Big Brother, all the more shocking. There's no specific law against keeping a diary, but the Thought Police will find you and they will vaporize you. Not just kill. Vaporize. Every trace of your existence is removed, just like you were nothing more than a scrap of paper that is sent down the chute to the furnace.

When we end Part I, Winston is convinced that he is being followed by a member of the Thought Police. He is also convinced that they will come for him in the night...and not because they know about the diary or how he hungers for information about the world before the Party. But because he was walking in the proletariat area of town and went into an antique shop. That's it. Is he going to be vaporized? Is the young woman he sees following him really a member of the Thought Police?? My guess is she is actually a member of the Underground and a follower of Goldstein, Big Brother's arch nemesis. Viva la revolution!

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Cupcake MAGIC

Earlier this week, my friend Chris and I took advantage of a Living Social deal and attended a cupcake making class hosted by the founder of Cake Love, Warren Brown.

Come to me, my pretties....

I fancy myself an experienced baker, but I'm always looking to try new recipes and learn some tricks and tips. Especially with cupcakes, which are basically one of the most perfect food items ever invented. It's cake that fits in your hand. What's not to love?

Now I know what you are thinking. "But Maggie, I thought you were on a diet? What are you doing making and eating cupcakes." Here's what I think about that. You can't deprive yourself forever. You have to let yourself indulge every now and again or you will go crazy. Also life is not worth living without cupcakes. Oh, and I did a double workout that day so shut your cupcake hole.

Chris and I arrived at Living Social's building on 918 F Street for the class at 6:30. Turns out they have a pretty sweet kitchen set-up in there, and our baking station was all ready for our arrival with our ingredients for the first recipe (lemon cupcakes--yum!). Warren introduced himself, gave us some background about Cake Love (he quit being a lawyer back in 2000 to follow his dream of opening a bakery which is now celebrating it's 10 year anniversary) . He then did a demo of the recipe, explaining all the steps and providing some interesting information about why we do certain things in a certain order when baking. In his words, "baking is science and art." The science is how the ingredients combine, and the art comes from the baker himself.

And then it was our turn to make the cupcakes! I have to confess, it was WAY easier baking when someone has laid out all the ingredients for you in pre-measured amounts and is waiting to whisk away your dirty dishes and clean them for you. It was like baking on a tv show with assistants to do our every bidding.

As for the results....well, I can't lie. I was skeptical. Like I said, I consider myself an experienced baker. So I wasn't convinced working from the Cake Love recipe was going to make a difference. But holy moly you guys--these lemon cupcakes were possibly the best cupcakes I have ever tasted (I have a particularly strong memory of a Georgetown Cupcake chocolate peppermint cupcake one holiday season). But I am now a convert--this lemon cupcake recipe is amazing! I went ahead and put all the recipes we were provided at the end of the post.

While the lemon cupcakes were baking, it was time to turn to the frosting! Again, I was skeptical. I tend to rely on store frosting since it just seems too time consuming to make my own. And when I heard we were making buttercream I was even more unsure. I tend to go more for the light whipped frostings, and buttercream can be too heavy and too sweet for my tastes.

I was so wrong.

The buttercream recipe we used is a cooked meringue, which basically means you whip egg whites into stiff peaks, add some boiling sugar (which "cooks" the meringue) and then a ton of butter. The whipped egg whites keep the frosting super light and frothy, and the sugar and butter just make it everything delicious. The recipe itself is a bit time consuming since you need to whisk the egg white for a quite a while. And I wouldn't say it's easy--despite the few steps, things need to happen at very specific times for the it to come out correctly. But this is where the science and art come together!

Whip it good!

Now that is a lot of frosting. We made one batch for everyone at our table--which means enough to frost 8 dozen cupcakes. 

Due to the time limitations of the class, we didn't have time to whip the frosting until it had completely cooled. So we cheated a bit by pouring it into huge bowls and popping it in the refrigerator. Then it was time to turn to the chocolate cupcakes! Could they possibly compare to the lemon ones??

The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes is very simple; Warren Brown's baking philosophy is to use natural simple ingredients without any preservatives or shortcuts. And the chocolate cupcakes were total winners--very different from the lemon cupcakes, which had more of a dense texture, the chocolate ones were light and fluffy with an amazing deep chocolatey taste. The coco powder that we used was a higher percentage of coco than your typical powder which I think made a big difference. Warren Brown also recommended switching to using a food scale to measure your dry ingredients (you'll notice that the recipes below often refer to ounces rather than cups). Apparently, this makes for a more exact combination of ingredients.

All in all, the cupcake class was a complete and utter success. Though it was a bit expensive ($39), it was a super fun 3 hours, and we walked home with one dozen cupcakes and two large containers of frosting. Cupcakes like these go for over $3 a pop, so when you think about it like that, we got a good deal with the the fun and instruction added to the mix.

No whisk, bowl, or spatula was left unlicked that day.

Lemon Cupcakes
Yield: One Dozen Cupcakes

1/2 oz. Vegetable shortening (or palm kernal oil)
3 oz. Unsalted butter
10.5 oz. Super fine granulated sugar
1 Lemon (zest and segments)
1 Large egg
2 Small egg yolks
6.25 oz. All-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Cake flour
1/8 teaspoon Baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Salt
4 oz. Sour cream
2 tablespoons Whole milk
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Dark rum
1 tablespoon Canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Zest lemon and segment the fruit and combine with all wet ingredients.
3. Cream butter and sugar in the mixer on low speed.
4. Add eggs, a few at a time, until fully combined.
5. Scrape bowl.
6. On low speed, add the dry and wet ingredients alternatively.
7. Turn off the mixer and scrape bowl.
8. Mix on speed 2 for 60 seconds to thoroughly combined all ingredients.
9. Spray cupcake tins with nonstick spray and fill liners.
10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cooked Meringue Buttercream

Yield: enough for 12 cupcakes

5 eggs (large)
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) extra-fine granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Set out the ingredients and equipment. Separate the eggs and place the whites in the bowl of the standing mixer fitted with a wire whip attachment. Reserve the yolks for another use.

Measure 1 cup of the sugar into a heavy-bottomed 1-quart saucepan with 1/4 cup water. Gently stir to combine; I use the candy thermometer for this. Leave the candy thermometer in the saucepan, numbers facing down to balance the thermometer.

Measure the 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl and set aside. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and set aside in a medium bowl.

Begin making the sugar syrup. Place the saucepan with the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Partially cover with a lid to capture the evaporating water -- this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals separating from the syrup.

Begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peak in a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment set to high speed. When the whites are at stiff peak you have a meringue. Keep the mixer running and pour the 1/4 cup of sugar into the meringue. Raise the heat to bring the syrup to 245 degrees if it is not there already.

When the syrup is at 245 degrees, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue. When pouring, keep your eye on the bowl. Aim for the space between the mixer bowl and the revolving wire whip. To maintain the same rate of pouring, pour slowly and raise the saucepan from your shoulder. Twisting at the wrist or elbow tends to throw off my aim.

After 1 to 2 minutes reduce the speed to medium for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the meringue is cooled. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to high for one to two minutes to fully combine the butter with the meringue.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Yield: One dozen cupcakes

3 oz. Butter
7 oz. Sugar
2 Eggs
3.5 oz. All-purpose flour
1 oz. Coco powder
3/4 teaspoon Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Milk
2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1. Combine all the wet ingredients together.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients together.
3. Cream butter and sugar.
4. Add eggs.
5. Alternatively add dry and wet ingredients into mixture.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Me, Chris, and Mr. Warren Brown!