Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A major cooking blunder

I don't know what's wrong with me today. For some reason, I keep managing to not clearly read instructions that are right in front of my face. First, it was at work, which only caused slight embarrassment. But then... I completely botched one of the items I was going to give as gifts this year.

Last year, I'd wanted to make marshmallows and couldn't find the time for it, amidst all the other food-making I was doing. This year, I really wanted to give it a try. I didn't manage to fit in into the twelve-hour cooking marathon this past weekend, so I thought I'd try it tonight after work, while the Anthropologist was out playing poker and I had the apartment to myself.

I put some gelatin in a bowl with water to soften. The next instruction went on to say, "Add sugar, corn syrup..." etc. etc. So I put those things into the bowl, too. Only when it was too late did I notice the end of the sentence: "... to a heavy saucepan." I was supposed to boil the sugar syrup separately, then add it to the gelatin. A whole batch of marshmallows ruined — which means four packs of gelatin, three cups of sugar, and a cup and a quarter of corn syrup wasted, down the drain (literally).

I contemplated running out to Safeway, even though it was nearly 9:30pm already, but decided against it. Homemade marshmallows were just not meant to be. Again.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Birthday cake

It's the Anthropologist's birthday tomorrow, and he's turning the big 3-0. To mark the beginning of a new decade, he has chosen not a fancy dinner or a romantic meal at home — but a pizza buffet that he's been wanting to go to for weeks. This buffet only occurs on Monday and Wednesday nights, and conveniently, his birthday happens to fall on a Wednesday this year. And who am I to complain? I like pizza, and I like not having to spend a whole lot of money on his birthday dinner!

Still, I wanted to do something a little more celebratory for him, so I decided to make him a cake. After being together for over three years, I just recently (as in, last week) learned that the Anthropologist loves blueberries. I thought about making these beautiful cupcakes from a recipe I'd torn out of Bon Appetit a couple years back, with blueberries in the cake and a maple sugar frosting. But when I thought about it — and how much work that was — and how I was going to be getting home late the night before his birthday... it didn't sound like a good option.

So I decided to make him a blueberry cheesecake instead. And rather than doing something over the top and fancy involving springform pans and water baths, I chose the easiest, simplest cheesecake recipe I had: Desperate for Cheesecake, from Cooking for the Clueless, one of my first and most well-used cookbooks. After a post-work discussion group over dinner, I stopped in at Trader Joe's , then went straight home to throw together a graham cracker crust, cheesecake filling, and blueberry swirl. I had walked in the door at 9pm and had the cheesecake in the oven by 9:45. After a little refrigeration (and a note to a certain someone not to eat it!), the cake will be ready for a few candles and a round of "Happy Birthday to You" tomorrow night.

If only every birthday was this simple.

Desperate for Cheesecake with blueberry swirl
(adapted from Cooking for the Clueless by Evelyn Raab)

1-1/3 c graham cracker crumbs (about 10 Trader Joe's graham crackers, crushed)
1/4 c sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted

2 pkgs cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs with sugar and butter. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan.

In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs and mix until smooth. Pour into crust.* Bake for 40 minutes (it helps if you put the pan on a cookie sheet for easier removal) — the center will still be soft. Cool and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

*To add a blueberry swirl, put 1 c of thawed blueberries (or fresh, I suppose, but where are going to get fresh blueberries at this time of year?) into a food processor and process until smooth. Add dollops of blueberry puree on top of the cheesecake filling. Use a knife (or in my case, a chopstick) to cut through the cheesecake to create a marbled effect.