Tag Archives: My Day Job

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My Special One’s Birthday: Simple Syrup for Birthday Bourbons

April 2012

April marked another year in my special one’s life, but it also marked the start of a new chapter.  Shortly before his birthday, Jono signed his offer letter, thus accepting an important position at a company that will one day change the world!  The entire world!  It’s also the company that brought us together!  What is that company?  I leave you in suspense.  I spend 40+ hours a week talking about it, whereas, I do not spend nearly enough time talking about whiskey…

Ok…a tad more about my work… part of my job, at the mysterious company, is to make sure the movers and shakers enjoy their jobs, their spaces, represent our values, etc.  A whirlwind brought me into this atypical line of work, and though it’s not my dream job (still figuring out what my dream job is), it’s an amazing opportunity to be a part of something epic!  One of the most inspiring aspects of my day job is being surrounded by passionate, smart people who really, truly love what they are doing.  My special one loves what he is doing, and he worked really hard to get there.  He chalks a lot of his early success up to luck, but I give the credit to that big brain of his.  His foresight and dedication have served him well, and for that I offered a bourbon from the big leagues.  I also offered a silly little bottle ‘o Beam that he may stay humble, stay driven and stay crazy!

I do hope girlfriend privileges will merit a taste of that fancy jockey’s reserve, but for the birthday festivity, I stuck to my own supply.  For a sweet and peppery birthday cocktail, I infused a few extra flavors into a simple syrup.

Simple Syrup for Birthday Bourbons

1 cup water
1 cup turbinado sugar

Fresh blueberries, sliced
Pink Peppercorns
Fresh mint
A drizzle or so of pure maple syrup

Bring 2 cups of cold water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of turbinado sugar. Turn the heat to low and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely.

Remove from heat and add your infusions.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Suggested serving:  Bourbon + bitters + simple syrup (on the rocks)

Bon Anniversaire Mon Amour et Santé!

Boston Cream Pie For A Boston ParTea

August 2011

Some different (“different” being the best, non-judgmental adjective I can apply to this linguistic observation) Rs are thrown around my day job.  There are also a lot of references to Tom Brady, capes, cottages and sailboats.  Yes, there are Bostonians at my day job!  In an effort to include our wicked smahrt Boston ambassadors in the birthday festivities, I dedicated the theme of the August party to their beloved Beantown.

The birthday cake variety was an obvious choice after choosing the theme…

Note:  The grain really asserted itself in this version, so the cake was denser than the average version of this dessert, and the whole-wheat flavor was evident.  Also, should I just go ahead and call this a Boston Cream Cake, since I skipped using pie pans for the ease of springform?

Cake Directions
*Makes two 9-inch cakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9” springform pan (two if you have them.  If not, bake the cakes one at a time) and set aside.

In a large, mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

Add milk, oil, egg yolks, honey and vanilla.

Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Beat an additional 3 minutes on high speed and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Pour the egg yolk mixture over the egg white mixture and fold in.

Gently pour half the batter into the prepared pan or divide the batter amongst two pans if you have them.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched.

Invert the pan onto a wire rack. Cool completely.

If using the same pan to bake the second layer, allow the pan to cool, re-grease, add the remaining butter and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Pastry Cream Directions
*The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance.  Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat.

Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and turbinado sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain.

Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated.

Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the empty saucepan.

Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let cool slightly.

Cover with a lid. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve.

One taster said unlike most Boston Cream Pies, the chocolate ganache really took center stage on this dessert.  He added he meant that as a compliment.  I of course interpreted it as such because how could a robust chocolate flavor not be a compliment?!?  The moral being, don’t skimp on quality chocolate.  This was the first time I found Green & Black’s baking chocolate on the shelf of my local Whole Foods, and I will be returning to that little nook of the baking aisle again for this intense, rich, dark chocolate.  Since it’s not 100% cocoa, the perk is sneaking a bite of chocolate while baking.

Ganache Directions

Bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat.

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until melted.

The rest of the party potluck included libations in tea cups, seafood hor d’oeuvres, salmon spreads, seafood on the grill and New England beers.  Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to experience the real Beantown soon, but in the meantime, this party was a successful spot o’ tea.

A Simple Summer Treat: Mango Lassi Popsicles

July 2011

My lovely coworker offered to share her Indian culture with us via our stomachs, so we gathered for a bbq on a pleasant Saturday evening.  Wanting to contribute but not having the full time to really delve into Indian baking, I brought mango lassi in the form of a popsicle.

Mango Lassi Popsicles
makes ~8-12 popsicles, depending on the size of your molds

3 champagne mangos, puréed
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (2%)
1/2 cup local milk
2 Tablespoons organic agave syrup
big pinch of salt


Directions

Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Pour the blended mango mixture into the popsicle molds and freeze until solid, preferably overnight.

To unmold, run hot water around the outside of the molds for a brief time until you can easily remove the popsicles.

*In the future, I’d probably add a little more agave syrup or use a French Vanilla yogurt to pump up the flavor a bit more.  The diners were satisfied nonetheless.

This one had a little splash of some raspberry juice from a squashed container of berries.

As For the Dinner…

… it was deeeeeeeelicious!

A Belated Bastille Soiree

Juillet 2011

It was time to celebrate July birthdays at my day job, and what better way [for a Francophile party planner] to commemorate than with a French Fête in honor of Bastille Day?!?

(Click on the invitation to see the party pics)

To really motivate the potluckers’ French brainstorming, I sent an inspirational food collage prior to the party:

I may have both drooled and cried over my keyboard when assembling the above collage (click the collage to enlarge).

As for me, I decided to try my hand at a nutty Breton cake.  I must confess, this cake did not match all my memories of the motherland version.  I may have been guilty of slightly over mixing, but I also venture that my fatigued food processor just didn’t hack into those hazelnuts enough.  Thus, I still encourage following this recipe thanks to some really rave reviews, but really grind those hazelnuts and mix lightly.  Suggestion number deux:  this cake is quite lovely (and maybe more appropriately) served with coffee or tea.

Voila.  Bon courage!

Hazelnut Gâteau Breton

Cake Ingredients

1 ¼ cups organic, evaporated cane juice sugar
1 ¼ cup local honey
1 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
12 large egg yolks (local/free-range)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, divided
2 Tablespoons potato starch
2 large egg yolk beaten with 4 teaspoons water (for glaze)

Layer/Garnish

Fig Compote (or jam of your choice)
Whole strawberries with stems attached for garnish

Whipped Topping Ingredients

3 cups organic heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the Hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange hazelnuts on a stone baking pan and place on middle oven rack.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes until toasted and fragrant.

Allow to cool slightly.

Rub the hazelnuts together in a linen towel to remove the husks.

For the Cake

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F.

Butter and flour a 9 x 13 rectangular pan.

Combine ½ cup sugar and hazelnuts in processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty.

Combine 12 egg yolks and remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer).

Whisk in honey and then the hazelnut mixture.

Gradually whisk in the melted butter.

Combine the flour and potato starch in a separate bowl and then sift over the batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not over mix or cake may be tough).

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin).

Brush top generously with egg glaze.

Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction.

Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

*Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.

For the Whipped Topping

Chill a medium-sized bowl in the freezer.

Remove the bowl from the freezer.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla.

Use an electric mixer (unless going for forearm glory) to beat until stiff peaks form.

Chill until ready to use.

For the Assembly

Cut the cake into two layers.

Spread a thick layer of fig compote followed by whipped cream.

Add the top layer of cake.

Pipe whipped cream onto the sides and garnish the top.

Add the strawberries with stems for the final touch.

It’s not a French Fête without CREPES!

I made crepe batter, but I knew better than to attempt the batter splatter portion of the process.  I’m just not all that seasoned at spreading and flipping.  I am, however, very well versed at eating crepes.

The Crepes
Makes approximately 20 crepes

2 ½ cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour
2 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
10 eggs (local/free-range)
2-1/2 cups organic whole milk
2-1/2 cups water
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs.

Gradually add in the milk and water, whisking to combine.

Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.

Relinquish the bowl of batter to the crepe master at the griddle and then transition to this important question:  What type of crepe combination do I want (first)?

Fin.

Dear The South, I Miss You. (Chocolate Pecan Pie w/ Bourbon Whipped Cream)

June 2011

It was time to celebrate the June birthdays at my day job, and though I was pretty freshly returned from my Southern Sojourn, I was already missing the South.  Accordingly, I rather selfishly picked the theme, so I would, in the least, vicariously return to my road trip state of being.  The party did not disappoint.

(Click on the above image to see the party pictures)

I even propose that it was our best fulfilled theme so far… fried chicken, fried fish, homemade cornbread, chess pie, buttermilk biscuits, beans ‘n greens, science ice cream (not so much Southern, but we are an R&D group, so science has to creep in somewhere) and this decadent pie by yours truly…

Southern Style Chocolate Pecan Pie
with Boozy Bourbon Whipped Cream
*makes two pies (one w/o cream for the kids, one w/ cream for the adults)

Crust

Leftover and frozen from the birthday pies
Keep frozen until the filling is ready.

Filling

2 cups local, pure, maple syrup
2 cups organic, light brown sugar
*1 ½ Stonyfield chai ice cream, melted
2 Tablespoons molasses
8 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
10  large egg yolks lightly beaten (local/free-range)
3 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 bar of Ghirardelli’s chocolate (72% cacao)

*Most pecan pie recipes will call for heavy cream.  Being very short on both heavy cream and time, I looked into the freezer at an ice cream option that was admittedly a little freezer burned.  Not wanting to waste it, the little tub had sat idly in the freezer door until this new daughter of invention moment!

Bourbon Whipped Cream

2 cups organic heavy cream
4 Tablespoons bourbon (Bulleit)
½ cup organic, light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Filling

Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat the maple syrup, sugar, ice cream and molasses in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the butter and salt into the syrup mixture until combined.

Whisk in the egg yolks until they are incorporated.

Scatter the pecans evenly in the pie shell(s).

Break the chocolate bar into chunks and disperse over the pecans.

Carefully pour the filling over the pecans.

Place the pie in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Bake until the filling is set and the center jiggles slightly when the pie is shaken gently, 45-60 minutes.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool for one hour, then refrigerate until set, about 3 hours to one day.

Bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

For the Bourbon Whipped Cream

Place a large bowl in the freezer until chilled.

Remove the bowl, and add the cream, bourbon, sugar and vanilla.

Use an electric mixer on medium speed to whip the mixture until stiff peaks form.

Pipe onto one pie (the adult pie) and store additional cream for the big kids who dip into the kid-friendly pie.

Lemon Poppy Seed (& Almost Lavender) Bundt Cake

April Showers Bring May Babies…

It was time to celebrate our May babies at work!  My idea was a birthday party cake with hints of a floral flavor.

Ever since my bartender friend talked about a lavender infused vodka, I’ve been on a quest to produce a lemon-lavender dessert combination.  It has been a long while now.  I just can’t seem to get my hands on lavender when I need/want it (another sign that I should just move to the South of France?!?!).

The first recipe I found years ago left me confused as to what distinguished “edible lavender” from regular lavender.  A cashier at Whole Foods told me it was the growing method- whether or not it was grown without pesticides.  In which case, shouldn’t we start saying “edible tomatoes” versus “tomatoes?”  I tossed out the “edible” qualifier and focused on stores where there would be no risk of a pesticide laden upbringing.

Still nothing.

Finally, a friend disclosed the elusive source of lavender in the dried form:  the East End Food Co-op.  Unfortunately, my time was crunched, and the co-op didn’t fit neatly into the food and party shopping errands.  Lame excuse.  I know.

Alas, I tried another trick I read in a recipe:  lavender seeds?!?!  Unfortunately, I winged the purchase, and the one packet I bought didn’t cover the quantity used in the recipe I had referenced.  My other last ditch effort was the dried lavender from a tea bag.

In the end, this was really a lemon poppy seed cake, and my quest for the lemon-lavender combination continues.  The glass-half-full side of this is that … like an explorer venturing the uncharted world, there are still lavender explorations to be had?

Lavender woes aside (or lavender optimism of a continued quest aside?), one dessert partaker referred to this as crack cake, so at least the lemon did its duty.

Let’s Face It:  Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Cake Ingredients

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
3 tablespoons of poppy seeds
1 stick organic, unsalted butter
1 cup sugar in the raw
1/2 cup local heavy whipping cream
2 lemons (zest and juice)
4 local, free-range eggs
1 organic chamomile & lavender tea bag
1 packet lavender seeds

Icing Ingredients

1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup organic powdered sugar

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a Bundt pan.

Use an electric mixer to combine the butter, sugar and zest, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time and then the lemon juice; beat for another minute.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, the tea bag contents, poppy seeds and lavender seeds.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Beat until smooth.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan, and smooth with a spatula.

Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely before inverting onto a plate.

For the Icing

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Drizzle over the cake once it has cooled completely and been inverted.

A German Chocolate Cake for “Apriltoberearthweberfest”

April 2011

There’s a German at work, and a man born on Earth Day.  Thus, with little rhyme or reason (well, Germans are an environmentally focused nation, no?), I slapped all those ideas into one new theme:  Apriltoberearthweberfest 2011 (celebrated just a bit before Earth Day for logistical reasons).  We had German beer, bratwurst, sauerkraut, schnitzel and other potluck provisions. 

For the dessert and birthday component, I added my version of a German Chocolate Cake.  I say “version” because my major tweaks were cocoa and coffee in the frosting.

German Chocolate with Pecans

Cake and Cake Stand

Little German Choc Cake

Slice and Glass Cover

German Chocolate Cake

Cake Ingredients

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
6 Tablespoons Dutch-processed 100% cocoa powder
2/3 cup boiling water
2  2/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup organic light brown sugar
2/3 cup Agave syrup
1 teaspoon salt
7 large, local, free-range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Frosting

2 24-oz cans of organic evaporated milk
7 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups organic light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped fine
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 Tablespoon instant coffee
1 Tablespoon cocoa
2 cups local, heavy whipping cream

For the Cake

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, and heat the oven to 350 degrees  F.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line a glass 9×13 pan with parchment paper.

Whisk the chocolate, cocoa and boiling water in a bowl until smooth and let cool.

Combine the flour and baking soda in a separate bowl.

With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, agave syrup and salt until combined.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture lightens in color and sticks to the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute.

Scrape down the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well to combine.

Reduce the speed to medium, and add the chocolate mixture and vanilla until incorporated.

Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of sour cream, and mix until just combined.

Divide the batter amongst the two pans.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting

Whisk the evaporated milk, cornstarch, butter, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling, about 3 minutes.  Add the instant coffee and cocoa, and mix well.  Continue to cook until the mixture is thickened, about 7 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat, and add the vanilla.

Assembly

Remove the round cake from the springform pan.  Slice it into two layers.  Add the frosting to the upper side of the base layer.  Sprinkle with the chopped pecans and coconut flakes.  Add the second layer of cake.  Frost the entire cake.  Sprinkle coconut flakes and chopped pecans.  Use larger pecan pieces for a garnish.

*Use the rectangular cake to create an alternative layer cake using only the chocolate frosting because Julia doesn’t like coconut flakes or nuts in her desserts (so she says). You probably have a Julia in your life too.

Rectangular Version

Happy Birthday Weber!

PS:  I had to leave the party a little early to look at a moped. More on that to come!

Pi(e) Day 2011

3.14.2011

Happy today foodie nerds of the world!  In the QT Pi(e) world, the day began with a quick walk to the neighborhood coffeeshop and one day host of QT Pi(e)s!

Inside my recipe box was our latest print material.  I was up late the night before cutting out the book version of the Pi(e) Day stop motion video.

By 11am, the pie plates began to look like this…

At this point, I cut off a tiny sliver just to quality control the situation.  The slice passed the taste test!

I clearly need to up the pie production to keep up with my coworkers!

Happy Pi(e) Day 2011 Everyone!

A Classy Cake for a Classy Birthday Lady

February 2011

Julia was one of the seasoned benchers at the bakery who taught me what was what in the land of doughs.  She was also in poetry school at the time.  We had plenty to talk about around the kneading table, but our worlds didn’t overlap beyond the bakery very frequently.  Fast forward, and I’m screening emails to fill another administrative position at my new day job, and I see Julia’s name appear!

With her poetry MFA under her stylish leather belt, she was looking for more substantial work than bread slinging.  We were just about to close the application period, but posing under my boss’s name (as instructed to do in that process), the “boss” wrote Julia a very encouraging response stating how impressive her resume was, and “he” very much wanted to interview her as soon as possible.   Was she available the following day to interview?

A few weeks later on Julia’s first day, I was able to reveal the “boss’s” true identity and welcome her aboard!  Now that we spend forty plus hours per week together, we have become quite close.  Julia’s a smart girl, with a sharp wit and a lot of class, so when her boyfriend invited me to join her birthday celebration, I sought to bring a cake worthy of such a special lady!  Thanks for being such a great friend, Julia!  


The Recipe:  Strawberries & Cream Layer Cake


Cake Ingredients

1 ¼ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar in the raw
5 large, local, free-range eggs (2 whole, 3 separated) at room temperature
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) organic, unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Tablespoons organic cranberry juice concentrate
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling Ingredients

2 lbs strawberries (about 2 quarts), washed, dried and hulled
4 Tablespoons raw sugar
2 Tablespoons French Brandy
salt

Whipped Topping Ingredients

8 ounces Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
½ cup local honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups local heavy cream

Garnish Ingredients

1 package Ghirardelli’s milk chocolate chips

For the Cake

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and all but 3 Tbs of the sugar in a large mixing bowl.

Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks (reserving the whites), butter, cranberry concentrate and vanilla.  Whisk just until the batter is smooth.

With a mixer, beat the remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed in large bowl until frothy, 1-2 minutes.

Gradually add the remaining 3 Tbs sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form.

Stir 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten; add the remaining whites and gently fold them into the batter until no white streaks remain.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting on a wire rack.

For the Strawberry Filling

Halve 24 of the best looking strawberries (roughly 1 Quart) and reserve.

Set 10-12 of the whole berries aside.

Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 Tbs sugar in a medium bowl and let sit for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Strain the juice from the berries and reserve (there should be about ½ cup).

Pulse the macerated berries in a food processor until they form a chunky puree, about five 1-second pulses (there should be about 1 ½ cups).

Simmer the reserved juice and brandy in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to about 3 Tbs, 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt and toss to combine.

Set aside until the cake is cooled.

For the Whipped Topping

When the cake has cooled, beat the cream cheese and honey with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the vanilla and beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Gradually add the heavy cream at low speed in a slow steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2-2 ½ minutes more, scraping down the bowl as needed.

For the Garnish

While the cake cools, heat the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.

Dip the remaining whole strawberries into the chocolate and set on a piece of wax paper to cool and harden.

For the Final Touches

Use a long, serrated knife to cut the cake in half.  Place the bottom cake layer on a plate.

Add a layer of whipped topping followed by a layer of strawberry sauce.

Add more cream, followed by the other layer of cake.

Coat the entire cake with the whipped topping.  Place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to cool.

Remove from the freezer and add the chocolate-covered strawberries.

Drizzle with remaining strawberry sauce, and pipe any leftover cream as a garnish.

Transport to the lovely home of a lovely friend to celebrate her birthday.

Nial told me I’m not allowed to make them anything this delicious again, as he fears he might make eating cake for breakfast a regular habit.

Masquerade [Bocce] Ball: A Celebration of February Birthdays

February 2011

First I sent this invite to the company…

Then I had to send this email due to a scheduling issue:

Dear All,

Once upon a time, there was a wee Wiley boy named Teddy who loved to play bocce all day and dream about it all night, when it was too dark for him to play.  He would hang his little ruddy head at that dusky hour when his mother would call him for supper and put an end to his neighborhood bocce tournaments.  On the other side of the globe, a very innovative and mad scientist shared a similar nighttime sadness, so she toiled and toiled until the momentous day when she combined the favorite lawn-sport past time with the way of the future- LEDs!  It was the dawn of a new era in bocce ball.  Meanwhile, little Ted had grown up, added a titles to his name and led a troupe of crazy thinkers in a world changing battery operation.  He also scheduled a flight home from Houston on Thursday, February 24th.  However, his love of bocce never changed.

New plan:  Masquerade Bocce Ball to take place on Friday, February 25th

This pushes the birthday extravaganza closer to Julia’s day of naissance.  She might make the connection that this date makes the party more Juliacentric.  Other February birthdays hold strong!  This is still for all of you!

See you on the turf where there are still bits of croquet to discover!

Then I baked a February birthdays cake, and I put on my bocce [masked] game face!

Soooo… someone whose name rhymes with…well, whose name is mine didn’t quite hack the pond challenge.  Not once but twice.

Luckily, there was a retrieval plan.  From the point of recovery, the game only became more interesting.

Meanwhile, in the warmer areas of the festivities, there were chips, salsa and a special serenade.

After fierce competition outside and a truly all-terrain round of bocce, it was time for the dessert celebration.

Who was going to blow out the candles?  All of the birthday kids, of course!

There were a few other February birthdays who had to leave early, so these three had a bigger candle burden to bear.

As it turns out, all those birthday cards poked into the cake were a little bit of a fire hazard.

However, the birthday kids were quick to save the day.

All that birthday fun was just too emotional for some.  Mask tears.

The Recipe:  February Birthdays Cheesecake



Last thoughts:  A glow-in-the-dark bocce ball has three settings:  solid, blinking and strobe.  Amazing!


Dear Day Job, Will You Be Mine?

February 2011

I’ve never been one to be depressed about Valentine’s Day.  In my world, it’s a theme party revolving around my favorite color and dark chocolate and creative gift giving.  I wanted to have a craft hour at work in which we would make mailboxes to put by our desks.  Just as in the days of elementary school, we would distribute Valentines to everybody.  Thinking that not everyone would share my weird zeal for a commercial holiday, I decided to tone down my fervor and bring in a chocolatey treat instead.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Like Reeses but better for you!

Ingredients

6 cups high quality, dark chocolate
1 cup organic creamy peanut butter
1 cup local honey
1/4 cup organic honey bunny graham crackers, crushed*
1 teaspoon sea salt

*Whole graham crackers will do, but bunny grahams were all I could find.   I recommend Annie’s Honey Bunny Grahams anyway because the number one ingredient is organic, whole-grain, wheat flour.

Directions

Line a muffin pan with 24 paper liners. Set aside.

Melt 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate in a double boiler.  Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the stove and turn off the heat.

Using the back of a spoon or a pastry brush, paint a layer of melted chocolate onto the bottoms and sides of the paper liners.  Set aside the remaining melted chocolate.

Put the muffin pan in the refrigerator for 20 minutes while you make the peanut-butter filling.

Combine the peanut butter, crushed graham crackers, honey and salt in a food processor.

Return the chocolate to the top of the double boiler. Turn the heat to medium-high.  Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of chocolate and melt.

Remove the muffin pan from the refrigerator. Put a spoonful of the peanut butter mixture into each chocolate-lined, cupcake paper.

Using a spoon, dollop the top of each peanut butter mixture mound with a generous portion of chocolate.

Use the back of a teaspoon to smooth out the tops.

Place the muffin pan in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator, pack into a carrying case, walk to work and serve to friendly faces.

Better than a BFF necklace!

Mai Tai Cocktail Cookies

February 2011

This is what I had planned on happening…

… so Julia and I baked accordingly.

Mai Tai Cocktail Cookies

Cookie Ingredients

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 pound good-quality dark chocolate1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups organic light brown sugar
2 large, local, free-range eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest from 1 organic orange

Whipped Topping Ingredients

1 miniature bottle of Captain Morgan Rum
1 miniature bottle of Bacardi Rum
1 Pint local heavy whipping cream
Fresh squeeze juice from 1 lime
Fresh squeezed juice from 1 orange
Organic powdered sugar to taste

For the Cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Melt 4 ounces coarsely chopped chocolate with the butter in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; let cool slightly.

Put chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs, vanilla and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until combined.

Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chunks.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a large spoon, drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake until cookies are flat and surfaces crack, about 15 minutes (cookies should be soft).

Let cool on parchment on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

For Whipped Topping

Use a mixer to beat all the ingredients together until stiff peaks form.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Place a dollop of whipped topping on the cookies of those old enough and willing to partake in a boozy afternoon treat.  Garnish with a natural maraschino cherry.

As exhibited, I had planned for the company to go on a bowling outing and thus baked thematically.  However, the plethora of league bowlers, the added obstacle of some adult intramural bowling group and the lack of any direct communication from the bowling facility foiled my plans.

We still had really stylish ties and so many mai tai cookies.

In an effort to mitigate the afternoon’s disappointment, Julia and I loaded a tray with cookies and walked around the office asking the hardworking folks if they wanted a cocktail cookie.  One of these days we’ll have the chance to bowl.  I’ll have to plan a new outfit, but I have just the right dress in mind.

Speaking of ridiculous outfits, I wore this ensemble on headshots day at work!  My working self was immortalized on the org chart as a very Western version of me.

Just in time for the new CEO!

Mind you, I was the one shooting all of the headshots except mine for obvious reasons.  I saw this coming, but I was true to my mai tai cause through and through.

Sometimes You Eat The Bar; Sometimes You Eat the Cupcake

January 2011

The first time I saw The Big Lebowski was during a winter break from college.  My mom interrupted my viewing, caught a bit of a more mild scene by Lebowski standards, and the dialogue ensued as follows:

Mom:  (in disgust) What are you watching?
Me:  (nonchalantly) A movie.
Mom:  (still disgusted) Where did you get it?
Me:  (still watching the movie) At the library.
Mom:  (even more appalled now) They have movies like this at the library?
Me:  (even more matter of fact) Yes.
Mom:  (head shaking while unfortunately coming to grips with her daughter’s age and volition) Well, I wouldn’t waste my time.
Me:  (firmly grasping age and volition)  Well, I guess I’ll continue to waste my time here.

However, it was far from a waste of time.  At the end of that movie, I understood the world anew.  That’s why my college boyfriend hated The Eagles.   That’s the deal with white Russians, so on and so forth.  It was life changing to say the least, and it has been an unofficial routine viewing since then.

Watching the film throughout the years, I also saw my own evolution (digression?).  The first time when my mom interrupted me, I could understand why, from her very innocent and conservative perspective, she thought the movie was so “vulgar.”  Several viewings later, all the obscenities faded into the background until Sam Elliot ordered a Sioux City Sarsaparilla and said, “I like your style, Dude.  There’s just one thing, Dude.  Do you have to use so many cuss words?”

Perhaps my own vocabulary had changed a tad in the interim.  Part of that change had to do with the choice words and phrases emerging from the lexicon of my day job.  As it turns out, scientists, engineers and especially business developers are quite “colorful” people!  They’re a real HR nightmare!  Surprisingly, one of the cleaner mouths of the crew had strong ties to the Dude unbeknownst to him.  It was high time to rectify the situation, so I set up a little viewing as follows…

Good day fine sirs and ladies!
You all know Bill Meanor, or as he is known around here, “Billiam T.*”
*You many not know what the T stands for, but no one does, so don’t worry about it.

You might also know Bill’s favorite drink is a White Russian.

But do you know Bill has nooooo idea who THE DUDE is?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!

Soooooo….

This Thursday, January 27th, 2011

White Russians +  …

On the big screen!

5pm until the end of the film or the end of the Kahlua.  Be there as Bill sees a legend on screen for the first time. It will be a magical moment- like watching a baby’s first steps!  Wear your oversize sweaters, ratty ol’ bathrobes or spandex bowling uniform.  This one is not for the kids, but if your SigFig wants to join, by all means!

So it was written, and so it came to be…

WHITE RUSSIAN CUPCAKES
Yield:  18 cupcakes

Cake Ingredients

3 tbsp. (1 1/2 oz.) kahlua
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) vodka
½ cup (3 oz.) white chocolate chunks
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¾ cup organic, unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup organic evaporated cane juice sugar
3 lg. local, free-range eggs
3/4 cup local buttermilk

Cocktail Topping Ingredients

2 cups local, heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup Kahlua
2 teaspoons vodka

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line cupcake pans.

Combine kahlua, vodka and chocolate in a heat safe bowl over a saucepan of water.  Simmer the water and stir the chocolate until melted and well combined.

Cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, combine flour with baking soda and baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Blend in kahlua-chocolate mixture.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three increments, starting and stopping with the flour.

Divide batter into the cupcake pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pans 10 minutes.  Turn out onto wire racks. Cool completely.

For the White Russian Whipped Topping

Beat the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar until thickened. Gradually beat in kahlua and vodka, beating until stiff.

Put a dollop of the boozy whipped topping on each cupcake.  Reserve some cupcakes for those who abstain from drinking or the young because …

WARNING:  These cupcakes are boozy!  The whipped topping is 100% cocktail!

Garnish with an organic maraschino cherry- same flavor, none of the nasty stuff.  Add a Lebowski rug and serve to dudes and dudettes with Caucasian cocktails in hand!

*If prepared ahead, refrigerate the ice cupcakes, removing 30 minutes before serving to capture full flavor.

Snowquet 2011: A [Birthday] Party

January 2011

The highly anticipated Snowquet 2011 finally arrived with a sharing of food, fun and games.

The Peach Schnapps was for the facilities engineer.  His drinking side is very in touch with his feminine side by all stereotypes and cliches.

The troops stood at attention.

The fancies waited to be filled.

The vintage game and this cocktail recipe inspired!

I have mentioned my roots, the kind of roots that formed deep in the land, far from any natural bodies of water.  Though I have branched into the wide world, my roots have mostly pulled me from the slimier and more complicated bounty of the sea to land harvests.  I’m what you might call a seafood virgin waiting for true love, and by “love,” I mean a trip to New England with a connoisseur to tell me what to crack, what to eat, what to butter, what to toss.

However, the bossman poured me a glass of champagne, prepared a mussel and said, “Happy Birthday, friend!”  Baby’s first mussel down the spout!  The more aquatically rooted of the group critiqued the balsamic and seasoning as too overpowering, so it seems I still have much more to experience in the mussel realm.

When a materials scientist and an engineer make ice cream, they use science!

(and liquid nitrogen)

One of the cutest kids I know!

What a splendid way to celebrate my January naissance, and this was only the beginning!

I Almost Forgot… How Could I Forget?

December 2010

With Brazil on the brain, I almost forgot to mention my send off:  my work holiday party!  My great bosses held the second ever holiday party on December 4th, so I would be able to attend before packing my backpack and boarding a plane.  Luckily for them (and me), the earlier date also meant I was able to do a lot of the party planning!  It was a geeked out party with a super finale.  We all had a very memorable time (well, all of us except “Justie,” who is still piecing a lot of that night back together again with our help)!

There was delicious food catered by Coca Cafe and plenty of drinks.

There was a magnetic force to stir, not shake, the cocktails which required measurements to be made and remade and remade many times.

So much science!

There were even more good times with work friends.

There were babies, wives, husbands, beaus and belles…all the “SigFigs!”

Then there was the entertainment portion of the evening which included a math competition.  It’s true.  Math can be entertaining!

There was a lego frenzy:  two Erics strategically pitted against each other.

There was a rivalry that met on Gingerbread Lane, and a record was broken.

There were a few holiday winners, but only one was truly dressed for the occasion and rewarded accordingly with bling.

Then there was a long awaited and well appreciated super hero!  He may not have been the hero we deserved, but he was the hero we needed!

Lastly, there was cake!

Chocolate, Chocohazelnut Holiday Party Cake

Cake Ingredients

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ½  cups pure cane sugar
2 teaspoons water at room temperature
4 teaspoons instant espresso
6 large, local, free-range eggs, at room temperature
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup unsifted, unsweetened natural cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 cup Agave syrup
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Whipped Topping Ingredients

1 Quart Organic Heavy Whipping Cream, chilled
1 jar organic chocolate hazelnut butter
Cocoa powder for dusting

For the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lightly coat the pan with melted butter or oil and fit with parchment paper to extend up both long sides of the pan.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high heat until light-almost white- in color, 4-5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

In a small bowl, stir together the water and espresso powder until smooth.  Crack the eggs into the bowl and beat to blend.

With the mixer on medium, add the egg mixture, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to fully incorporate before adding the next.  About halfway through mixing, scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

Dry Ingredients:  Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Wet Ingredients:  In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk and Agave syrup.

With the mixer running on the lowest speed, alternate adding 1/3 of the dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Scrape down the bowl and mix by hand if necessary.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer to a rack and allow to cool completely before removing the parchment.

For the Whipped Topping

Use a hand mixer to blend the whipping cream and hazelnut spread on medium-high until peaks begin to form.

Assembly

Cut the cake in half.  Cover one layer of the cake with the whipped topping.

Add the second layer.  Ice the sides and top generously with the whipped topping.

Dust with cocoa powder to garnish.

Transport to work holiday party and enjoy after an evening of antics!

That’s the bottom of the jar folks, and the end of this holiday tale.

Grattis På Födelsedagen

November 2010

Ideally, when you spend at least forty hours a week with someone, you become good friends.  You develop phrases and eye rolls that mean nothing to the outside world but seal a special bond between the two of you.  Such is the case with “Justie Justig Justenson,” as exhibited by the fact that Justie Justig Justenson is not even his real name beyond the workplace walls.

Aside from sharing an office space, we share an appreciation for the bling that barely fits on Lil P-Nut’s baby-fat wrists and for the way “välkommen tillbaka, Blomquist” sounds.  We started “learning” Swedish one afternoon with great hopes of a secret communication system that is also quite entertaining to roll off the tongue.  We didn’t make it very far in the linguistic challenge.  For Justin’s special day, the best I could muster (and by “muster,” I mean translate via Google) was Grattis På Födelsedagen Justie!

In discussing my new-to-me cappuccino machine, I mentioned how I once asked an interviewee if he could make designs in steamed milk based on the barista section of his resume.  His confirmation had a big hand in his hiring (but his personality was the bigger persuasion)!  That interviewee was Justie!  I thought his birthday cake deserved an accent of coffee.  The bossman told me it was the best thing I’ve made so far!

Coffee Cream Cake

Cream/Icing Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
3 large, free-range, egg yolks
1/3 cup pure cane sugar
Pinch salt
6 teaspoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons cold, Amish butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee

Cake Ingredients

1 ¾ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup pure cane sugar
12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened but still cool, cut into pieces
3 large, free-range eggs
¾ cup milk
½ cup Agave syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Pastry Cream/Icing

Whisk the yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 15 seconds.

Bring 1 ½ cups of the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Add the instant coffee.

When the cream reaches a full simmer, remove the saucepan from heat and whisk in the egg yolk mixture.  Return to medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.

Remove the mixture from heat.  Add the butter and vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate.

After the cream has cooled and thickened slightly, add another ½ cup of heavy cream.  Use a hand mixer to beat the mixture until light peaks form.  Set aside in a cooler place (ie:  my entire apartment in the winter).

For the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a rectangular, glass, baking pan (8”x11”) and line with unbleached wax paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter and combine until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Using a mixer to blend, add the eggs, one at a time and mix until well combined, scraping the bowl with a spatula.

Add the milk, agave syrup and vanilla and increase the speed of the mixer.  Mix until light, fluffy and no lumps remain, about 3 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Allow to cool.

Final Touches

Remove the cake from the pan.  Cut the cake in half.  Remove the wax paper and transfer one half of the cake to a plate.

Add a layer of the pastry cream/icing.

Add the second layer of cake.

Cover the sides and top of the layered cake with the rest of the pastry cream/icing.

Sing the song, slice, serve, eat, enjoy!

PS:  Those beautiful wood grains were the work of the carpenter.  Reclaimed lumber from a gutted home in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh were born again as a beautiful conference room table top.

Not Thanksgiving (Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake)

November 2010

We have a shared document at work called “The Inflammatory Proclamations of John G.”  It is a collection of quotes mostly originating from lunch time conversations with a huge twitter potential (we’re not there yet).  Here are a few of my favorites so far…

“Reading books inhibits the imagination.”

John: “She has two and a half kids.”
Laura: “Is one still being born?”
John: “No, one’s adopted.”

“You should spank your child daily for the things you don’t know they did but they know they did wrong.”

Before he comes across as completely backward, I submit that the inflammatory proclamations are more about the fun of arguing, and he knows we will argue against blindly spanking your child on a daily basis or referring to an adopted child as a “half.”  At his core, he is extremely intelligent and one of the most sincere people I know, as exhibited by a small gesture with a lasting impact.  After a particularly gray mood of mine, I was surprised to see a large and fragrant, white flower with a note which said, “Smile,  you look so much happier when you do.”  For that reason, I enjoy the proclamations, find entertainment in the debates and count John G. amongst the friends.

At the beginning of November, John started dropping “hints” about what he wanted for his birthday, “what kind of cake are you going to make me?  I really like cheesecake.”  The “hints” proceeded to debate the different schools of cheesecake thought that exist in the world and John’s place in those schools of thought.  I can’t recall his many criteria, but I gave it a whirl and a cranapple swirl, and after his first bite, John gave a nod of approval, which is saying A LOT in the very opinionated and resolute world of John.

Note:  the cranberries used in this cheesecake should in no way be confused with Thanksgiving.  John’s birthday is close to the holiday, but it is NOT THANKSGIVING!  Nor should it be blanketed under the same celebration, so this cake was all about the birthday.

The John G. Birthday Cheesecake

Cranberry Sauce Swirl

1 pint of fresh cranberries
3 organic green apples
½ cup brandy
Apple Cider
Juice of 1 orange (same orange that is used for zesting)
½ Tablespoon ground ginger

*This will make enough cranberry sauce for some extra helpings.  Ideal for a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for two.

Crust
7 whole organic graham crackers
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts, divided
2 tablespoons organic light brown sugar
5 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
a touch of local honey
½  cup Agave syrup
2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
1 organic orange, zested

Cheesecake

2 (8-ounce) packages organic cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package of organic Neufchatel cheese
½  cup pure cane sugar
4 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½  teaspoon salt
½  cup organic heavy cream

Garnish

Shaved white chocolate

What To Do, What To Do

For the Cranberry-Applesauce

Prepare the fruit:  Clean the fruit.  Peel, core and chop the green apples.  Slice the cranberries in half.

Add the apples and cranberries to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add enough apple cider to cover half the volume of the fruit.  Add enough water to fully cover the fruit.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Simmer the fruit over medium-low heat.  As the mixture starts to thicken, mix in the fresh-squeezed orange juice, brandy and ground ginger.

When the mixture reaches a sauce consistency (with chunks remaining), remove from heat and set it aside to cool.

Once cool, blend the sauce in a food processor until smooth.  Set aside.

Crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the graham crackers, ¾ cup of the walnuts and brown sugar in a food processor and process until finely ground.

Add the melted butter, almond extract, a few squeezes of honey and then process until the mixture just comes together.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan with olive oil cooking spray.

Pat the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan, and bake until lightly golden brown and just set, about 8 minutes.

Remove to a baking rack and let cool completely.

Cake

Combine 1/4 cup of the pure cane sugar and the orange zest in a food processor and process until combined.

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand fixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the orange sugar, agave syrup and pure cane sugar.  Beat again until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time and mix until just incorporated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the salt and heavy cream and mix until just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Scoop dollops of cranberry-applesauce in a circle around the cake.  Use a chopstick or knife to swirl the sauce into the batter.

Pour hot tap water into the roasting pan and place on the bottom rack of the oven.  Place the cake pan on the middle oven rack.

Bake until the sides of the cake are slightly puffed and set and the center still jiggles, about 55 minutes.

Turn off the oven, but leave the cake inside the oven to cool for two hours.

Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours until chilled through.

Top with the cranberry-apple sauce, sprinkle with the remaining toasted walnuts and garnish with white chocolate shavings [apologies that the chocolate has a grated Parmesan look, but I swear it was all chocolate].

Walk the cake to work, and wish the birthday boy a very happy day!

Most of us at work are true dorks, geeks and nerds at heart.  One of John’s more geeked out characteristics is his devotion to Superman.  To this day, he will argue whether or not Superman could take so-and-so in a fight.  With a little Photoshop magic, I turned John into the Man of Steel for his big 3-1 celebration.  Meanwhile, our lovely chemical engineer turned carbon into a special “cake” for John.

Work hard!  Play hard!


Bygone Birthdays

October 2010

When I brought my own birthday cake to work and cakes for subsequent celebrations, I had crowned myself the birthday chair or social chair or whatever title meant I celebrated coworkers’ birthdays.  If anyone else had hired me for the position I had created, they would have fired me by summertime.  I had dropped the cake in a big way!

The main reason I dropped the cake was my move from a “no rent” special into a “handyman” special.  My first birthday cake excuses stemmed from the stress of having to move when I hadn’t been planning on moving.  The following weeks of excuses stemmed from packing my life into boxes, over relying on the carpenter to help me transport those boxes along with large furniture and appliances (thank you! thank you! thank you!) and then putting all that packed up life aside in an effort to “handyman” my new apartment.

If I wasn’t chipping away paint, I was applying new paint.  I surprised myself with my ability to come home from work, don a bandanna, put on some music and paint until I could no longer see clearly.  At that time, the kitchen was filled with more paint brushes than useful baking tools, and I really longed for the day when I could come home and bake a cake instead of shop-vac a floor.  As timing would have it, my return to baking happened somewhere in between shop-vaccing and my final dream kitchen.  The continuation of The QT Pi(e) Project put baking deadlines in my world, and it was time to scrounge up the pie pans and tools.

Yet, I still managed to miss birthday commemorations.  It wasn’t until October that I pulled my act together and returned to my rightful throne with a big ol’ helping of humble pie… or in this case, pumpkin cheesecake!  Please forgive me, belated birthdays!

I made an extra pie because one of my best friends in the world was coming to visit around the same time, and she deserved a special treat for meeting our other best girl and me in the steel town.

Crust Ingredients
Makes one springform pan for bygone birthdays and one 9” pie pan for a deserving friend.

20 organic honey graham crackers
6 Tbs olive oil
6 Tbs pure maple syrup
2 Tbs vanilla

Filling Ingredients

6 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, very soft
1 cups pure cane sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 Tbs nutmeg
1 Tbs ginger
2 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 large local, free-range eggs, at room temperature

For the Crust

Using a food processor, grind crackers to fine crumbs.

Add oil and maple syrup and pulse until combined.

Press crumbs into oiled pans.

Bake until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes.  Set aside.

For the Filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center.

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar and maple syrup on low speed until smooth; mix in flour (do not overmix).

Add pumpkin puree, spices, vanilla, and salt; mix just until smooth.

Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next.

Pour filling into the prepared crusts, and gently smooth top.

Pour maple syrup into the center of each and swirl with a knife to create a surface design.

Transfer to oven and reduce oven heat to 300 degrees.  Bake 45 minutes.

Turn off oven and let cheesecake stay in the oven for 2 hours more (without opening).

Remove from oven; cool completely.

Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.

Garnish with pecans.