Friday, March 26, 2010

Notes on a Fancy Italian Dessert

Many years of my life were spent without knowing the awesomeness of tiramisu. Actually, many years were spent disliking the way coffee tasted, even though I loved the way it smelled. So it would follow that once I discovered that I actually could, indeed, enjoy coffee (thank you, Starbucks, for adding sugar and cream and flavorings)...I discovered the fabulousity of  tiramisu. By the way, I tend to make up words. I get it from my mom. Embrace it. It extends one's vocabulary exceedingly well!

So, tiramisu. It's delightful. And difficult to make, I'm just gonna be very honest here. But Jeremy and I love it. I have wonderful memories tied to this dessert...when Jeremy proposed to me (about two years ago exactly) he cooked a wonderful dinner of chicken spaghetti with tossed salad. And for dessert we had tiramisu that he had picked up from the Carriage House Antique Mall Cafe' in Jackson. We'd eaten it there several times and enjoyed it immensely. (By the way, I taught Jeremy how to enjoy coffee. Many, many times he had turned down his parents' offers of coffee over the years - it's their favorite beverage. But they drink it black. And we cannot. Oh, we cannot.)

Tiramisu is fancy - it's perfectly special. It reminds me of getting proposed to, which is always a nice memory. =) Jeremy's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and we had a family birthday party for him at our house a few days later. I am HUGE fan of The Pioneer Woman and had previously filed away her recipe for tiramisu in hopes of making it for a special occasion. Her recipe title is Tiramisu - You Can Do It. Yes, You Can. YES, YOU CAN. Jeremy's birthday proved to be the perfect special occasion to try it. =) Wait, "Do or do not; there is no try." I think Yoda and The Pioneer Woman would get along.

Now, since we live in small town of six thousand-something, a couple of the ingredients were a tad trying to track down. First: mascarpone cheese...a wonderful Italian cheese, sort of like our cream cheese, but not enough like it to be interchanged. (I have since looked at the Kroger in neighboring Jackson, but no mascarpone cheese there either.) I did find it at the Publix in Chattanooga. I had high hopes for also finding the ladyfinger cookies there, too, but no such luck!

So I made the ladyfingers. Well, let me rephrase that. I made some ladyfingers from Ladyfingers. I wasn't crazy about them. They were kinda fun to make - I used a gallon-sized ziplock bag with a snipped-off corner to pipe them on the parchment covered cookie sheet.

But something didn't seem right. If I made them again I would add a pinch of salt and some vanilla, I think. They were bland. And so I waffled back and forth about actually using them in my tiramisu. After all, here's how much the mascarpone cheese cost me...and I had to buy TWO of them.

In my infinite wisdom (or fear of ruining an expensive and time-consuming dessert) I decided to have another try. I absolutely loved The Pioneer Woman's Strawberry Shortcake Cake and have made the spongecake recipe itself several different times since - in regular and miniature cupcakes, not just cake. It has a fabulous flavor. And not bland at all! So I decided to try piping it in ladyfinger shapes. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of this, I gotta say.

But here's what happened once they were cooked...

I had to laugh when I turned the oven light on. Oh, well, it's a layered dessert. Who is gonna know, right??

You see them making fun of the true ladyfingers in the background? They totally were taunting them.

Next I had to make the custardy stuff, which had to chill and then be mixed with the mascarpone cheese and sweetened whipped cream. I do not own a double boiler, so I made do with a makeshift one, as was suggested by the Pioneer Woman herself.

The recipe calls for Marsala wine, which I did not include in my version. I think I actually cooked the custard stuff too long or on too high a temp maybe. It didn't exactly look like hers, especially after it was chilled. But it all ended up alright. She warns her readers not to whip the concoction to death...that a few lumps were normal. But for mine to be incorporated into the mascarpone cheese and the whipped cream (which I kind of ruined the integrity of) I had to whip it. Oh, well, it tasted super fabulous. I made some very strong coffee to drizzle over the ladyfinger layer and added a little almond extract along with the vanilla extract - in substitution for more Marsala wine.

As I layered the dessert, I got distracted. Don't get distracted. This is what happens when you get distracted...

I forgot to drizzle coffee on the second layer and had to scrape up the creamy layer to correct my mistake. Yeesh.

I was nervous about how it would turn out...and tired. When I set the dish in the fridge that afternoon, I thought to myself, "This may be a once-in-a-lifetime recipe." I waited to see how the overall taste was - and feedback from the fam - before I decided this for sure.

The verdict? It was a winner. Everyone loooved it. Even our two-year-old friend! She wanted seconds. =)

And my mom, who doesn't like coffee. I have to say, I didn't pour too much coffee over the layers because I didn't want it to be too terribly strong. Next time, I would do a little more. That's right...I said "next time." I would make this again. Now that I have my notes and know how things should go. =) I think the first ladyfinger recipe would be satisfactory, with my additions of salt and vanilla. Just gotta find some mascarpone cheese...preferably on sale.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Husband, the Rocket Man

I haven't told you much yet about my husband, other than he's my very own Jim Halpert (from The Office) or that he pokes fun at me for listening to Ingrid Michaelson or the way I pronounce hydrangea. =) So I'll tell you more: the guy is FUNNY. I do so adore funny people...always have. And I always knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that whoever I ended up marrying would capture my heart with his sense of humor (among other important things, of course - like having a strong faith and standing up for what he believes in). Jeremy can do all kinds of voices and impersonations. I'm telling you, he can sound like my grandaddy with just one word - "Well..." Oh, man, it sounds JUST like him! I wish you could hear it. And I pretend to be mad when he does impersonations of me...especially because it's the exact same voice he does for our quite precocious four-year-old friend Ella...but I can't be upset when I'm laughing. It can't be done!

He plays the guitar. And I'm crazy about that. Truly. If I have iTunes open on my computer (Avett Brothers, anyone?) while I'm cooking or getting ready or whatever - and then he starts practicing the guitar in the back room, I simply must turn the music off so I can hear him better. Well, I mean, competing harmonies do drive me beserk, but as much as I enjoy the music I download, I enjoy hearing him even more. =)

He's a nice guy. I love that. I'm so thankful that he's friendly and quite amiable. (I'll blog about how much I read Jane Austen later...) I've noticed that when I meet his co-workers or people from his past (that sounds so dramatic and I mean it not that way), they almost always say, "I'm so sorry" or "How can you put up with him?" - but always with a grin. And then they'll usually follow up by saying, "You got a good one." Don't I know it! Nice AND funny. I'm telling ya, those two doesn't often converge in one person.

You may be wondering where the title of this post comes in...


Well, awhile back I made a list. A list of the qualities I was looking for in a husband. I had read that the exercise of mentally being aware of what you are (and just as importantly, are NOT) looking for in a mate would help a person choose wisely.

Oh, dear, what a long list. I was insistent that my future husband be funny, be able to sing (and maybe play an instrument), be nice, have a great family, do mission work, be able to be the head of a Christian home, be intelligent. And so much more. I remember sharing that list with my parents. I knew they thought it was a good list...but they also couldn't help laughing. My mother even said, "And where are you going to find this paragon of virtue?" True story.

But I found him! My paragon of virtue. And I laugh at all those who thought I was too picky. ;)

What? You still don't understand the title of this blog post??

Here it is. Also on that list was something about being creative. Artistic without being too much so. Knowing how to fix things. At this point I believe I can say that my dad inspired many of the items on this list. My dad, the studious intellectual who can talk like a farmer when the situation calls for it. Who can fix anything. And who laughs genuinely and often, many times at his own jokes. He was going to be an engineer and ended up being a preacher. And ironically, the one impersonation that Jeremy cannot seem to conquer (and wants to so badly!) is the one of my father. (In fact, many of my father's college students have tried to do impressions of him. No offense, but I've never heard any of them that worked for me. Jeremy and I can't figure out why his laugh and voice are so difficult to imitate.)

The answer wasn't in that paragraph either. I'm terribly sorry I'm so long-winded tonight! Fewer pictures, more words in this post.

O.K., back to my list: being creative, artistic, fixing things. When Jeremy and I were dating, I knew he hit those things on my list when he told me the story of fixing a fake crime scene at his parents' house when he found a dead mouse in their garage. Made miniature yellow police tape and fake cat footprints. There might have been a chalk outline, too...I can't remember for sure. =) So I guess I wasn't too terribly surprised when Jeremy started building a rocket a few weeks ago. He and our brother-in-law Kevin had strapped rocket engines to styrofoam planes the last time we visited Chattanooga...but it hadn't ended up so well. The plane flew up - and then blasted back toward those of us watching. I'm not gonna lie - it was scary. But funny. The boys screamed like little school girls.

This rocket was completely different. There was the main cardboard tube - and fins (is that the right terminology?) And the parachute. Which he proceeded to test by running in his sock feet down our loooong hardwood-lined hallway. I did hear an "Ooof" when he ran into the closet at the end of the hallway. (And immediately updated my Facebook status.) The little cap that opened to let the parachute out was a plastic Easter egg half. He worked so hard on it. And loved every minute of it.

When we went to Chattanooga recently he and brother-in-law Kevin had to test it out. Kevin had gotten a fancy silver rocket and he launched it first. It went really high. (I am horrible with guesstimating just how high.) And then came Jeremy's turn. We all held our breath. I held our camera. He launched it and I think I jumped up and down - mainly because it went straight into the air and didn't double back to plow us down. =) Jeremy's mom took this awesome picture of a later launch.

And then we held our breath again...would the parachute work? The rocket reached its highest height and then started dropping back down. Yikes...oh! There it was! It totally worked! It drifted back down to the ground.

I was very proud. And I thought, "My dad has GOT to see this." =)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still cold...but there are daffodils!

Oh, how happy this makes me! When it snowed a few weeks ago, I was doing an outdoor inspection...mostly of snowy things...but jumped up and down when I saw the first sproutings of these. My favorite flower. Welllll, I might say that about several flowers - I adore zinnias, peonies, sunflowers, oh and dahlias. Ah, dahlias! Sigh. But all those don't just volunteer to come up in my yard without a little prodding first. Daffodils do.

It was grey and overcast and blah outside yesterday. Not at all springlike. I wish I could tell you that I did not regret my decision to go jacket-less when I went on my daffodil hunt, but that was not the case. I shivered. More than once. But there were daffodils to track down! I must be strong!

I think I just started calling them by their correct name a few years ago. Maybe two. All growing up I called them what my mother and grandmother called them - buttercups. And in my heart, that's what they still are called. But I don't want anyone to think I don't know my botany terms, so...daffodil. That's a happy name, too, so I'm alright with it. Now, my husband pokes fun at how I pronounce hydrangea. It's kinda like "hide-range-uh." (Thanks, Mama.) Apparently, the correct pronunciation is more along the lines of "hide-ran-juh." Oh, please. Really?? Sounds so stuffy. And don't you see the actual word "range" within the word? If I spelled it correctly? Anyway, I digress...back to daffodils!

Don't you just love the variations of daffodils, too? God is quite the designer and I love to remember that. There are the classic ones - all tall and bright yellow.

Or bright yellow and white. Perfect.

The ones with shorter, extra ruffledy petals in the middle. All dressed up...and I'll give them a place to go. Inside a vase, to brighten up any room in my house. (That's right, ruffledy. Sound it out.)

The ones with bright orange petals in the middle. These have, alas, not bloomed in my yard yet. I miiight admit that they're my favorite of the daffodils...possibly because the orange is the EXACT color of the inside of a Cadbury Creme egg. Sorry no picture for this one. Maybe later...

Then there are the all-white ones. These are a tad boring for me. Sorry. Also not blooming yet in my yard.

And then, finally, there are the teensy ones. Petite. You must put them in a little vase. And though I did just that, there are no pictures of them on here because my camera said, "Card full. No more!" and slapped my hand. You should have seen the look of shock on my face. Oh, well. I took too many pictures of the first flowers, so here's some more of them for you to enjoy...

Here's to lots more of these lovelies in the next few weeks!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Frosting Roses

First of all, a note about the fact that I'm changing up the blog. I've posted a grand total of THREE times in the last year. Just never got into it...but life has changed since then. And now I have more time to write. And I want to write. And I have different (and more fun) things to write cupcakes. =) 

I changed the title, too. Though I, too, have pet peeves, I really have problems with people whose blogs are continuous complaints. I'd rather focus on positive things...and some of those positive things are literally sweet (like cupcakes)...hence, the new name. 

Alrighty then. I've been talking up the cupcakes, but really, I want to share something else first. I was going through some old emails the other day. Emails I'd gotten, emails I'd sent in return. This was before the days of Facebook, so I emailed quite a lot - especially since my best friend had moved to Paraguay to work as a missionary. For five YEARS. I was an unmarried twenty-something...and I've gotta admit that many of those emails to/from my good friend had to do with dating and boys and all the angst those topics involve. And I'm not even a dramatic person! Yeesh. To fully jump back inside my mind during those years was quite the experience. To see how I've changed...and how in some ways I'm exactly the same. And I was thoroughly amused by these old emails; I laughed out loud so much while reading over them. I'm going to share one of them now - not one of the dating ones, mind you. You won't find that here! Unless I severely edit one for the blog sometime. As my mother always told me, "You don't have to tell everything you know." 

Back to the email for today: this one was written about a cake decorating class I had been taking at the local Hobby Lobby. See, there's the cupcake tie-in. Kinda. ;) Oh, and the notes in italics are ones I've added for clarification for the purposes of this blog.

   Hey, as I was writing the subject line (something like "Nothing Much Here") and felt it really was the truth, it occured to me that I forgot to tell you about my very last cake decorating class this past Monday. Well, you know the problems I have been having with all that stuff and that I was sick to death of it all. Since I didn't have much planned for this past weekend when I got back home from purchasing my CD (John Mayer's Room for Squares - the day after it came out. CDs...huh. When was the last time I bought a CD?!) and relaxing at Davis-Kidd, I dragged out everything pertaining to the making of frosting and got to practicing. I brought my Bose CD player into the kitchen and put John Mayer on "repeat" and just buckled down to perfect the rose. 
The class is always so rushed and I had finally realized that I had to practice between times or I would never get it right during class. What a concept, I know...Anyway, I worked and worked and fussed and fussed and seriously contemplated taking up cursing, just for the day. (Disclaimer: No, not really. If you knew me, you would know how comical this is.) You know I don't have a bad temper, but I finally decided that cake decorating was not going to help me get to heaven....and that it might even hinder me. So I would get really ticked every once and awhile. I would grumble and growl and then finally throw the offending "rose" that had taken the strange form of a mushroom onto the counter - it had a satisfying splat - and then stomp off to read the funnies and let John soothe my soul. Amazingly enough, it worked. Then I would take it up again, but still not ever completely "getting it." 
I gave up for the evening, but started up again the next afternoon and then again after the gospel meeting that night. My dad even tried to help me out, (this was the phase of life between college graduation and first job/apartment, so I was living at home) but finally in an unexpected turn of events I made a rose that actually looked like a rose instead of a really flat cabbage. There was great rejoicing in my kitchen that night! I made another one, just to ensure it wasn't a fluke. Nope, no fluke. After all the hours I had spent, I had finally done it. It was all a piece of cake (pun intended) after that. The next night in class I whipped out rose after rose and put them in a bouquet on the top of my two layer wild cherry cake with cream cheese frosting. I even did a nice leaf border around the bottom of each of the layers (it is important at this point in envisioning this cake to know that the top layer was slightly smaller than the bottom one). I felt competent when I was done. Wow, I'm actually sighing with relief and pride even now as I'm writing this. Words can really make you relive the moment. I guess that's why I like them so much. 
   I'll end the story with saying it was almost painful to watch the people at work cut into it. They all really enjoyed it, which appeased me, as I had been tempted to shellac it and place it on a pedestal in my room at home. Well, I hope you are having a great day! I'm thinking about you!
Love always,
(I'll have to dig out the picture of that cake sometime...but that was in the days before I had a digital camera. Boy, things have changed! I'll leave you with a picture of my friend Ashley, on right, and me, well, on the left. We were tea partying that day - this was after she moved back from Paraguay. Yea!)