Welcome to my Day dreams...

Thanks for stoppin' in and welcome to my Day Dreams.

I am a former educator turned PhD student and avid foodie. This blog contains my thoughts regarding all of these areas of my life. Take your time, browse around, and hopefully you'll find something you like. --Love, Katy

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Merry Durham Christmas

This Christmas was absolutely wonderful. I can't tell you how great it was to have my family here to celebrate. This was the first time that I have hosted a holiday event. All in all, I would say it was very successful and I learned a lot along the way.

Lessons Learned:
1) Plan in advance. Even if you don't feel like you have the time, do little things along the way (switching out mugs, putting up the tree, picking up stocking stuffers). Also, keep a running list of things you would like to do (if you could do all you wanted to do), so that you don't forget them and feel frustrated at the last minute.
2) Accept that you won't get everything done. I planned on making at least 2 other dishes (a pound cake and something else I can't even remember now) for this Christmas.  Didn't happen and letting them go let me spend more time with my loved ones and not being stuck in the kitchen. Really, we had plenty of food and didn't need them anyway.
3) Allow help. If people offer help-accept it. I have this weird complex where I feel like I should be able to take it all on myself. But, letting my mom help me make the food, getting my sister to make the coffee (although, I think others requested that...) and decide where some things should go, letting my boyfriend bring lunch-- it all really made things easier.
4) Remind yourself about what it's all about. It's all about being with the ones you love and remembering this over and over helps you with 1-3 and let's you spend more time with everyone.

The only thing that would have made it better would have been if my brother had been here. He had to work, so he couldn't make it. We did, however, make the most of the situation and facetimed on Christmas.  That was really special.
The second best part of the holiday was definitely the food. There was so much good stuff and I got to experiment with a few recipes. For instance, I made a cheesecake for the first time without my mother for my boyfriend.
I followed a recipe that shaved a milk and white chocolate bar on the crust before baking and then on top after it was finished cooling. I thought this technique was pretty ingenious and may try it with some other chocolates another time. I'm still waiting to taste test the final result myself, but I've heard it was good!
My mother also helped me set up the menu for our three big meals. For Christmas Eve, we had shrimp scampi with garlic bread, green beans, asparagus, and caprese salad.
For dessert, we had Alton Brown's chocolate mousse (found on the food network website).
It was delicious, but I wish I had taken it out of the refrigerator about half an hour before I planned to serve it. It's a very dark mousse, so the sweetened whipped cream definitely helped to balance the flavor. I also sprinkled a little cocoa on top.

For breakfast, we had little smokies, my sister's scrambled eggs (she makes the best), a variety of sweet breads: Stollen from the Guglhupf, banana bread, and pumpkin bread (provided by my Aunt Bea), and stewed apples.
Last, we had ham, asparagus, green beans, roasted potatoes, and a salad with pecans, pears, and pomegranate seeds with a citrus vinaigrette.
For dessert, my mom suggested fondue. This was brilliant considering we had all stuffed ourselves silly already. We had blackberries, raspberries, bananas, apples, and pineapples. Mom and I made a chocolate sauce with Grand Marnier (YUM!-Thanks, Mom) and also used a salted caramel sauce that I had made that is to die for (Recipe and pictures below).

I'm so thankful for such a wonderful time. Even though everything didn't go as planned, it didn't really matter. Just being able to spend time with everyone was all I needed!

Here's the salted caramel sauce I was talking about. SO, so good. It's definitely a keeper.  

Salted Caramel Sauce 
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 to a few pinches of sea salt

1) In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine water and sugar. Stir frequently until sugar dissolves.
2) Increase heat and boil the mixture WITHOUT stirring until the syrup is a deep amber color. Occasionally brush down the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush a just a little water. (This will take about 8 to 10 minutes).
3) As soon as you get the deep amber color, reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cream. The mixture will bubble up and make a lot of noise but don't be scared, just be careful and keep whisking until smooth. Add in a pinch of salt (or a few if you like it a little more salty, like me).
4) Allow to cool in a glass or metal container.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baby Parties!

Those babies just keep popping up everywhere, don't they? It is so fun to celebrate friends' and family's new additions and their children's milestones. What better than to celebrate with some cake???

This Fall, we had my friend Amy's baby shower here at the apartment. The theme was black and white polka dots (she's a big fan) with hints of good Ol' Carolina Blue. Going with the black and white theme, I decided to try a marble cupcake (See recipe at the bottom of the post). This is my first run with this recipe and doing marbling, in general. It took some patience but it was so worth it! The key was to alternate spoonfuls (I just used soup spoons) of the chocolate and vanilla batters in the cupcake cups. After I got them all filled, I used a knife to swirl them--but just a touch or else they would have melded together.
Here's the cupcakes before going into the oven:
And after!
So, the second obstacle was finding a buttercream that I actually liked. This has been a struggle for me in my last cake endeavors. Sometimes, I just can't get past the butter taste and it disappoints me. This one that I found seems to be a keeper though (See recipe at bottom).  One of the keys was using real vanilla bean paste instead of just real vanilla extract. It made the flavor pop and it didn't just taste like butter.
Finally, in theme with babies. I used a 50/50 gumpaste/fondant mix and chocolate molds to press these cute little animal toppers (sorry for the resolution, my camera isn't the best). In retrospect, I wish I had just gone for it and used candy melts to make these so people would have eaten them. Next time...
On the cupcake stand:
It was a great party! 

This week, we celebrated my roommate's nephew's forth birthday. This was our second attempt at cake pops and MUCH more successful! Our first was for the forth of July this summer...
Sigh... We had obviously overcooked the candy coating and overstuffed the cake balls. Not to fear, though, my roommate always pushes me into the next challenge! Her nephew's party was farm animal themed and here's our finished product. We had chicks, roosters, pigs, cows, spotted dogs, and sheep (cat/bat/sheep, but sheep none the less). We used Bakerella's directions for the animals.
So fun! The kids loved them (so did the adults). They are sweet with the mixed in icing--so I am looking forward to experimenting with some recipes.

On to the next project! With Christmas weekend coming up, there will be lots of good cookin to share! See you then!  

Marble Cupcakes:
Makes 20
  • 2 cups AP flour 
  • 3 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 1 cup vegetable oil 
  • 1 cup buttermilk 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted (always remember to invest in the good stuff-I used Ghirardelli) 
(preheat oven to 350 degrees)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt
2. In a large bowl, mix sugar, eggs, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla
3. Mix in the dry ingredients and stir until just combined
4. Remove 2 cups of the batter into a separate bowl and mix in the melted semisweet chocolate
5. Alternate batters into 20 pre-lined cupcake cups.
6. Gently swirl the batters with a knife
7. bake about 15 minutes  

Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter 
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract) or more, to taste 
  • 1 to 2 T whipping cream 
1. Beat butter and sugar on low til blended
2. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes
3. Add vanilla and whipping cream (I keep adding vanilla til I like the taste)
4. Beat for one more minute
5. Pipe onto cupcakes