Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Well, there was supposed to be a baking post....

Hey readers,

An accident left what was supposed to be the centerpiece of my kitchen witchery post upside down on the floor instead of in the oven where it was supposed to go. So this week has kind of been a bust in the updating department, which I'm sorry for.

I'll endeavor to put together a few smaller baking projects this weekend so if my main projects take any more dives to the floor I have a few backups ready to go.

Until later!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Homemade Marshmallows Without Egg Whites

Last month I tried making marshmallows for the first time based of off Alton Brown's recipe here: I have only one major obstacle with this recipe, and that is that I do not own or have easy access to a stand mixer.  Challenge 1.5 being that my cheap and little electric hand mixer is on its last legs and this recipe calls for constant use of a beater for 12 to 15 minutes.  Despite this, the recipe turns out some absolutely scrumptious puffs of sugary goodness that are popular even my syrup and sugar avoiding friends and family.

The first time I made these marshmallows I forgot to leave out the vanilla extract until near the end, and added it to the sugar/water/corn syrup mixture before heating it up to 240*F.  This last time I added the vanilla extra about 1 minute to the end of the whipping stage.  Frankly, I couldn't taste the difference and the texture of each batch was the same so.... yeah. Not sure what to say on that. Also, since don't have cooking spray to non-stick the bottom of the molds or pan, I use a light coating of coconut oil. I also love the subtle taste it adds to the finishing product.

This time around I had plastic and silicone candy molds to work with, though I am still without a handy stand mixer.  Instead of using a 9 x 12 baking pan, I gave my candy molds a light brushing of coconut oil, then coated them in colored sanding sugar before a sprinkling the corn starch/icing sugar mixture in them as well. For my flower molds I added yellow chocolate balls.  All of these fine things (candy molds, sanding sugar, tiny decorative chocolates) came from a local baking boutique, but I'm sure they can be found online if not at the grocery store. 

After filling my molds I had leftover unset marshmallow cream, so quickly prepped a pie tin as instructed in the recipe and spread the rest in that. Once set (I leave it overnight - or about 12 hours) I dipped snowflake shaped cookie cutters in coconut oil then the corn starch/icing sugar mixture and cut out the marshmallows from the pie plate.  It was less easy removing the marshmallows from the candy molds, but they held their shape okay despite a bit of stretching and compressing. I dipped the candy mold marshmallows in more sanding sugar that had been mixed with the corn starch/icing sugar mixture (I didn't really want them to look like Peeps, I just wanted a hint of fun color).
Result: AWESOME. Though I think next batch I'm going to see how far I can experiment from the recipe in terms of flavoring - perhaps even infuse it with some marsh mallow root tea to see how close I can get to a more "traditional" marshmallow. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Character Scene: The Nameless One

The Nameless One is an original character I created a few years ago or so during NaNoWriMo, and right now probably one of my favorites to work with.  The following scene is, if my memory serves me, the first scene I ever wrote with this character in her current iteration, and the basis from which her story unfolds.  Then Nameless One also makes an appearance in my upcoming novel Pirates of Otherland, amongst an ensemble of other interesting beings in the wold of Otherland.

"What's your name?"


He huffed and rolled his eyes. "You're real name."

She looked over her reading glasses at him and quirked an eyebrow, then pointed a finger at where he was resting booted feet on what had probably been a clean table. "Off."

He rolled his eyes again and made an exaggerated show of sitting in his chair properly.

"You get to clean that." She went back to reading the book in her hands, red curls hiding the side of her face like a curtain.

He shrugged.

"The Shop opens in ten minutes," she smirked. "I'd get on that if I were you."

Clay stood and hopped over the only empty portion of the cluttered counter and grabbed a rag before sauntering around to wipe down the table he realized was now covered in the mud that had caked his boots.

"Are you keeping the red today?" Clay asked, his combat uniform looking completely out of place in the homey tea shop as he wiped down furniture like a busboy. He pretended not to notice as her fingers combed wistfully through the ends of her hair and instead grabbed a broom to do a quick sweep of the floor.

"No." She did not elaborate and closed her book without marking her place. He was always amazed at how she could pick up a book and turn directly to where she had left off, no matter how long it had been or how large a tomb it was. 

The clock chimed the opening hour.  Clay carefully replaced the table and chair to where it had been before he had come in and put away the cleaning supplies. When he came back into the front her long red curls were gone, in their place a black and spiked pixie cut that looked just as striking on her as the flaming mane.  Her casual trousers and short sleeved green blouse had been replaced with a tight brown and black suit that gave her all the appearance of a Doberman, complete with boots that almost matched his.

She was scanning the shop with a critical eye and nearly missed the sad look that briefly passed over his face before being replaced with a insincere grin.

"Good morning, Gunslinger."  The Gunslinger smiled at him, a soft and understanding smile that did not match the deadly competence of her current appearance.

"I doubt my particular skill sets will be utilized fully today."  Clay's pained expression softened in response. So she wasn't going into battle, which meant the Gunslinger was needed more for her effect than her abilities.

He approached her slowly, understanding that the Gunslinger would always need to be treated with caution. She let him run his fingers run down her arms until they danced in her palms, and he let his lips rest against her forehead for only a moment before he stepped back to look in her eyes. Her expression was unfathomable. Clay went to leave but turned to face her at the door.

"One of these days I'm going to find out your name," he gave her a wicked grin and an irreverent salute before kicking the door open.

"What makes you think I even have one?" She murmured quietly. Clay was fairly certain he was not meant to hear her words so he left without pausing.  Even if she didn't believe it, he knew she had a name buried deep underneath the fathomless layers identities and titles and 'skill sets.'  He just hoped he was around when she found out what it was, that she would allow him to be a part of that particular adventure.  It would be more than a mercenary like him would ever deserve.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Puff Pastry and Orange Curd Pull-Aparts

Even after making two loaves of delicious braided bread stuffed with my homemade spiced orange curd last week, I still had about a pint left of the orange curd that desperately needed to be used. So I went back to my pantry to see what I could dig up for a little kitchen experimentation.  Turns out I had: a box of cream cheese, an orange, a little bit of  honey goat cheese that I really needed to use up, a bit of honey greek yogurt left at the bottom of a container, a box of frozen puffed pastry (2 rolls) that had been in my freezer for at least a month, and some rough chopped pecans, lightly toasted.

Inspired a by last week's filling, and the memory of a puffed pastry pull apart pizza, I came up with the following recipe:

Cream together:
1 8oz box of cream cheese
3 TBSP honey goat cheese
3/4 cup honey greek yogurt
zest of 1 orange
3 TBSP flour
3 TBSP granulated sugar.

 Set aside while puffed pastry defrosts (about 2 hours at room temperature).

I screwed up the thawing of the puffed pastry.  For one, I left it about 5 minutes over two hours and it was placed too close to the stove. This made the pastry really difficult to work with (as you can probably see by the pictures.

Preheat oven to 400 *F.

2 rolls (1 box) thawed out puffed pastry
3/4 rough chopped pecans, lightly toasted
1 cup of orange curd
Slices from 1 orange

 Carefully roll out puffed pastry, one sheet on top of the other and cut into equal circles. Keep leftover pastry dough for patching. Separate the circles and layer most of the cream cheese mixture, orange curd, and pecans.

Add the second circle of pastry dough over the top and, leaving an uncut circle in the center, radiate slices as if cutting a pizza.  You can see from the picture that I had to patch up some breaks in the pastry dough.  Take each section and double twist.

Now at this point I should have chilled the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. I didn't, but I should have.

I had some extra dough and some extra cream cheese filling so I made something of a floral design with the dough in the center, put the rest of the cream cheese mixture on top, and arranged the orange pieces like so:
I had no eggs to make an egg wash, so I brushed the top with a little bit of coconut oil and drizzled it with honey.

Bake until the pastry is a darker golden brown, approximately 20 - 30 minutes. 

Even as the bread was baking I realized two things: the puff pastry was not nearly chilled enough when it went into the oven, and there was too much moisture and too much filling for it to bake properly. So my first suggestion is to CHILL THE DOUGH prior to putting in the oven and do not let it get too warm at any point during the preparation time. Second, I should have probably halved the amount of cream cheese filling I put in.

Because of the problems above, the center of pastry was underdone. However, flavor-wise it was good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Flash Fiction: The Auction House

“Next up we have this authentic, 11th Century scythe, oak handle with occult engravings.  We start the bidding $14,000.00…”

The microphone echo of the auctioneer’s voice was cut off as the door to the main room slammed shut.  Tanya looked over her glasses to where her boss had been standing to find that he was already sweeping across the lobby towards the exit.  His expression, as always, was shrouded by dark cloth, but the tense hunch of his covered shoulders belied his unease.  Tanya sighed.  It was going to be a long day.

“Sir!” she called after him, clutching her clipboard in one hand as she jogged to catch up.  She slowed when she heard the indecipherable muttering coming from him.  “Sir, at least we have the location, and there weren’t any unscheduled casualties this time.”  He continued his muffled grumbling and Tanya was hard pressed not to sigh again.  Being ‘encouraging’ and ‘upbeat’ was not part her job description.

Tanya inserted her Bluetooth and glanced at the shrouded figure beside her.  “I can have the Riders ready for an extraction mission in less than 10 minutes.”  Suddenly, Death stopped and held up a gloved hand in his patent pending ‘Stop, I need to ponder this’ pose while his other hand idly tapped unseen lips.  Tanya began mentally counting down from 6.  By the time she reached ‘wait for it 3’ his raised hand was beginning to lower, and the instant she reached ‘wait for it 1’ her boss gave a very distinct nod.

“Good,” he said.  His voice was quiet and soft, completely at odds with his unnaturally tall, thick build, and mysterious dress.  “Very good.  Inform them that we’re having a team meeting in my office when they get back.  This is the third time this month some of my personal items have shown up here, and we must to get to the bottom of this right away.”

Death turned away, muttering.  Tanya was pretty sure she heard him say something about 'idiots,' ‘atrocious carbon-dating techniques,’ and 'recognizing true craftsmanship,' but that was neither here nor there. Her boss walked towards a place in the parking lot that shimmered in a way reminiscent of heat waves from a fire, and vanished.  Tanya tapped her Bluetooth and began mentally preparing notes for the rest of the day’s meetings.

“Connie?” There was a pause and she huffed a little.  “Fine, whatever, Conquest.  The object has been located.  I’m sending you the coordinates now.  Prepare the team for an extraction, code 0-2-7 SCY.”  There was another pause and she nodded. “Affirmative.  That works fine.  Oh and Connie? The boss is in a mood.  Team meeting scheduled for after the debriefing.”  Tanya clicked off her headset and made a few notes on her clipboard.  After a quick glance around, she followed her boss into the heat shimmers and disappeared.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Orange Curd Braided Bread

For the holidays I do a lot of baking, canning, and cooking.  This year I tried my hand at spiced orange curd, and while it turned out pretty good, I had more left over than I knew what to do with before it went bad. I also have about 20 pounds of flour left over that I desperately want to bake through, if for no other reason than to make more space in my pantry.

So I went in search of something I could make with both flour and curd and I found this recipe for braided lemon bread:  It seemed easy enough to adjust for my purposes.

I substituted homemade spiced orange curd for the lemon curd, orange juice for lemon juice in the cream cheese filling, and honey greek yogurt for plain regular yogurt in the dough. I also ended up leaving the dough to rise for 2.5 hours instead of 90 minutes for the first rise because I mistimed a few things and had to run off to a dance class. Still, it seemed to work out just fine.

Result: I need practice braiding bread but, taste wise it was Super Tasty

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Circus Tents, Enthusiasm, and Being "Authentic"

An aerialist friend of mine, who I'll call E. for privacy's sake, recently came to me with an idea: a tent to go over her outdoor rig so that she could leave her silks and lyra up without having to worry about weather damage. Well, in all fairness, it very well could have been less an idea for a real project and more wishful musings on her part, but I've never let that stop me before. As is my way, I jumped on it. Within 15 minutes I had Plans.  There would be stripes and stitching, multi-fabric layers, and a specially made entrance to allow for air circulation. 

We've worked on the design since then, and trust me, if we can get it off the ground (I mean that literally), I'll be more than happy to share pictures.

While I'm sure there is something that can be said on the fact that I perhaps shoved my way into another person's project - though she seems as enthusiastic about it as I do so I don't think my involvement is in any way unwelcome - the moment that really sticks out for me in all this was a comment E. made to me during that first conversation.

"You're so unapologetically enthusiastic.  You allow yourself to get excited about things and show it."  Okay, so that's not a direct quote, but what she said was something to that effect.

E. and I talked about being publicly enthusiastic, about what it meant to be openly and unashamedly excited, even when what you're geeking out over is, well, a bit geeky or weird. That was about a month ago.  Then something strange, for me, happened.  People I've known for years starting commenting on how happy they were that I'm still "odd" "strange" and (my personal favorite) "peculiar" despite my recent foray in the military.  These observations, I think, stem from a decision I made after I completed my active duty contract that I was going to see what it was like to be my "authentic self" (I use quotes because I didn't actually use that term - that came from my mentor, B.).

So I ask the question, what does that mean - to be your "authentic self"?  It can't just be about allowing oneself to be publicly excited about building a circus tent, or having a very particular method of cooking stew, or using my real name on the internet (which is no small thing). I'm kind of hoping I'll find an answer to that question over the course of the next year, perhaps in part with this blog, or that I'll at least make a dent in finding what it means for me.

So.... here are some things to look forward to if you stick around:
  • My adventures in kitchen witching
  • Pictures of my hat collection
  • Pictures of my cat (because of course!)
  • Projects (like the circus tent)
  • Ramblings on my journey as an aspiring aerialist
  • Ramblings on my novel I'm working on getting published
  • My stories from the road
  • Whatever else I happen to feel like posting, which could be a lot of random...