Monday, August 31, 2009

Everything's Peachy

This past weekend I flew down to Atlanta to meet up with my friends from grad school -- Jackie and Andrea. Andrea had invited us down for her baby shower. Jackie and I couldn't resist an excuse for a KU girls reunion. So, Friday night Jackie flew in from Texas and I flew in from St. Louis. Andrea and her husband, Andy, picked us up at the airport and took us to a restaurant called The Break Pad. It was an old gas station converted into an eatery. The food was really good, and I liked the fact that the outside looked out over the train tracks, on which a few trains passed by as we ate. I like the sound of trains. Upon arrival to their house I met these two:


That night we talked for a while, and then called it a night (it was late and we were tired).

The next morning, Andrea had a Girl Scouts event to run, so Jackie and I slept in. Then, I got to work on Andrea's present:

A diaper cake! I was able to pack a 66-pack of diapers in my suitcase along with all of the other tools needed to create the cake. I think Andrea liked it. I think it turned out really cute.

Then Andy took Jackie and me out for breakfast at a place called The Flying Biscuit. It was a delicious breakfast spot, with lovely homemade warm biscuits. I got eggs, chicken sausage, cheesy grits (which I ended up really liking), potatoes, an oatmeal pancake with peaches, and a biscuit that comes with cranberry butter. Of course, it was way too much food, but I did a pretty good job eating the majority of the food. I saved the biscuit and part of the pancake.

After breakfast, Andrea returned from her Girl Scout adventure, and we all went to the Botanical Gardens. I LOVED the orchid house!

Can you spot the dove in the orchid?

Jackie in the palm fronds
Can you spot the lizard?
The girls at the Botanical Gardens
An interesting gate at the gardens
I like that you can see the city skyline from their Botanical Gardens.

That evening we went to a fancy tapas restaurant called Holeman and Finch Public House.

Jackie's watermelon salad with lime creme fraiche
Andrea's squash blossoms stuffed with pimento cheese and tempura battered

Jackie's sirloin

Andy's rabbit livers?!?!?!

Elena's Johnny cakes

My carbonara with pancetta
The group - Elena

Afterwards, we ended up at Cafe Intermezzo where they had literally close to 1000 drinks to choose from as well as a huge desserts case. I love that Andrea and Andy are such foodies too!

Jackie and her spiked coffee drink

Andy with his sloe gin
Andrea caught off guard, apparently :)
Desserts (my pumpkin-chocolate cake!)

Then, Andy stopped at the grocery store to buy a couple bottles of champagne which we drank while doing this for two hours:

Rock Band on the Wii!! I am convinced I need this now too!

The next day was Andrea's shower. Andy made the girls breakfast before he left to play golf. After eating, Andrea, Jackie, and I went for pedicures!! This was my first ever pedicure, and I think I will be addicted now!

The shower was a great success! Andrea and Andy even got their crib!!

After the shower we all ordered pizza and hung out and Andrea's house until our (severely delayed planes) were ready for us!

Awesome weekend!

Tomorrow I have a TET (tubal embryo transfer) test being done, where they will measure the distance they need to go in to place the embryo once it is ready. They said it shouldn't be any worse than a pap smear -- we shall see!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New cookies and a new path

I am still making lots of cookies and bars in order to take photos for the cookbook I am giving my mother-in-law. This week I made "spoon cookies":

and Nanaimo bars:

These are both delicious cookies. I believe they are both from Food Network's Christmas Cookie countdown 2007? My favorite part about making the spoon cookies is the smell of brown butter. I decided that that is my favorite baking smell of all time (and that's a strong statement for a baker).

In other news: we are starting on a new fertility path. After some further testing last week, my Reproductive Endocrinologist found a problem with one of my tubes, which could explain why the injections didn't work last time (the eggs I developed were on the same side as the bad tube). So, not only do I have PCOS, a possible pituitary tumor causing hyperprolactemia, but now I have a bum tube as well. The odds are not in my favor for conceiving naturally. So . . . we have decided to take the uber expensive route of in vitro fertilization (IVF). I think I will need a place to talk about the procedures and all that I have to endure through this arduous process. Therefore, this blog has been retitled yet again: Sweet Melissa: Baking Brownies and Babies. Waddya think? Just trying to make light of a really difficult situation. :/

Daring Bakers -- Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I enjoyed making the Dobos Torte. I am sad that I didn't experience an authentic Dobos Torte when we were in Prague last Summer, however, I am only now learning of its existence. One of my favorite parts about this recipe was learning a new method for a delicious buttercream that does not use shortening. I'll have to play with this recipe using flavors other than chocolate (much to my husband's dismay).

This torte was so incredibly rich. I made 3 tiny tortes and had trouble eating 1/4 of a tiny torte. The buttercream is so smooth and rich. The cake portion is just a sponge cake, so it isn't incredibly rich, but does have a nice subtle flavor. I used a pastry brush to soak the cake with Amaretto -- mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

  • a 7” cardboard round
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you'll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.


I (Angela) am quite happy to store this cake at room temperature under a glass dome, but your mileage may vary. If you do decide to chill it, then I would advise also using a glass dome if you have done. I should also note that the cake will cut more cleanly when chilled.


Shape: The traditional shape of a Dobos Torta is a circular cake, but you can vary the shape and size if you want. Sherry Yard in Desserts By The Yard makes a skyscraper Dobos by cutting a full-size cake into four wedges and stacking them to create a tall, sail-shaped cake. Mini Dobos would be very cute, and you could perch a little disc of caramel on top.

Flavour: While we both love the dark chocolate buttercream and this is traditional, we think it would be fun to see what fun buttercreams you all come up with! So, go wild! Or, you could brush each layer with a flavoured syrup if you just want a hint of a second flavour. Cointreau syrup would be divine!

Nuts: These are optional for decoration, so no worries if you're allergic to them. If you don't like hazelnuts, then substitute for another variety that you like.

Egg concerns

The cooking process for the buttercream will produce lightly cooked eggs. If you fall into a vulnerable health group then you may wish to use an egg-less buttercream.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend recap

We had a nice weekend. Friday night Chris and I went to Cafe Mochi on South Grand for sushi (which I am finally getting into). I was going to drag him along with me to see The Time Traveler's Wife, because I read the book and LOVED it, but I heard BAD reviews. So, I decided to wait for it to come out on DVD. Katie had her television debut on Channel 4's Great Day St. Louis Friday! It was awesome! Head over to her website and buy her lovely, creative, earth-friendly jewelry!

Saturday Chris and I went to Soulard Market and got a TON of produce for less than $15!!! We got a bunch of bananas for $1, a HUGE bag of cherries for $2 (usually $7 at the grocery store!!!), carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, ginger, sugar snap peas, asparagus, green tomatoes, and red tomato.

Then Katie, Shawnee, and I headed out to the thrift stores. I found this Pampered Chef gadget that you can bake bread in and it molds it into the shape of the tube, you can also use it as a cookie or bread/meat/cheese cutter, or as an ice cream mold. I also found some cute stoneware plates for food pics! Katie and Shawnee found some clothes and other miscellaneous. Then we went for some FroYo hands in the aiiiiiiiiiir! After that Katie and I headed to Chimis! while Shawnee met up with another friend down the street at El Burrito Loco.

We got seated under the lovely fake palm trees and the glowy rainbow lighting! We each got a jumbo margarita (and restrained ourselves from the monster sized margaritas) and split some steak fajitas and the complementary chips and salsa.

Afterwards, we headed to my house where Katie gave me a jewelry-making lesson! To be continued . . . I need a lot more practice. Katie's a really good teacher, very patient.

Today we were supposed to go peach-picking, but just like our strawberry ordeal, we were a day too late and there is no more peach picking this year! DANG IT! So, we went to Crepes in the City with Chris' parents instead. Then we all headed over to the new grocery store in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Now, this might not sound ground breaking to most big-city dwellers, however, in St. Louis, this is GREAT news for the city development. The store is called Culinaria, but is owned by the local grocery chain: Schnucks. It was really nice! Then we took Chris' parents to the City Garden (which I posted about previously).

A few days ago my brother mentioned that he had never had fried green tomatoes before and was interested to try them. . . so I invited him over for dinner! We made fried green tomatoes from this recipe and put them on chibatta bread with some bacon, mayo, and lettuce for the best fried green tomato BLTs.

We watched The Soloist while we ate. It was a pretty good movie, but pretty slow. My brother and I both fell asleep at one point. Now it's blogging time and then off to do a little pre week organization before bed. My goal is to get up early early tomorrow and work out before work!

Random, long, overdue

Here is a lunch that I felt blog-worthy. I had roasted some veggies (onions, bell peppers, zucchini, squash) under the broiler to put on a sandwich along with some Sabra's Supremely Spicy Hummus to take with us on our trip. What trip, you may ask? My family, Chris' family, and the two of us went to the Lake of the Ozarks a week ago to chillax and hang out in a friend of a friend's condo. Unfortunately, the condo was occupied Friday night until Saturday around 5, so we had to come up with something fun to do with 5 dogs as we mosied our way over to the Lake. So, we decided to take the dogs to Meramec Spring State Park for a swim and a picnic. Strangely enough, non of our water-breed dogs like the water. The only one who, very surprisingly, got into the whole swimming thing was Ollie. We were such proud parents of our doggy paddlin' poodle. After that, the dogs were exhausted so we had our picnic and then made the drive the rest of the way to the condo. We did the typical Lake of the Ozarks things: dinner, mini golf, saltwater taffy, skee ball, board games with the lake as the backdrop . . .

Oh yeah, anyway, now that my tangent is over . . . these wraps are from Aldi, and they are great! They are only $1.99 for a pack of 6 or 8. The amount of fiber they pack into one 90-calorie wrap is pretty impressive! I would definitely recommend these.

Close up of nutritional info.

Update on "crazy dancing lady": We saw her again when we went to the last evening of jazz at the Botanical Gardens. Shawnee just had to have a picture taken with her, and this was the result.

A few nights ago I made this recipe for fish tostadas. They were DELICIOUS! I will for sure be making these again. We had my brother over for dinner, and he even liked them! He's a very picky (fast food eating) eater. The recipe says that 2 tostadas is a serving size, but each of us only ate 1 and were sufficiently full.

Last Christmas I started making a cookie/holiday cookbook on for my mother-in-law who loves to cook/bake. She and I make a shit load of cookies every Christmas together. Of course, typical me fashion I never completed the cookbook (I still have scarf in the works for her from a couple Christmases ago). Anyway, this time I am going to make sure that she gets this cookbook. It is pretty much finished, but I wanted to get some more photos of recipes contained in the book. So, that requires a lot of cookie-baking! I made three from the cookbook in one night:

butter mints

"Burt's Aunt Willie's" (recipe possibly from Sesame Street Magazine from when I was a little girl, my mom used to make them ALL the time).

And my personal favorite, lime crescents, which are supposed to have lime zest in the powdered sugar coating, but I ran out of zest. :(

Thursday night was Catty Kitchen night . . . at MY house this time! I made a trip to Randall's Wine and Spirits, which is this large warehouse of any wine/beer/liquor your heart could desire. I bought a bottle of Magic Hat #9, which Chris and I had tried in Queens and in Boston.

I also got a bottle of reisling, which ended up being mediocre in my opinion, even though it had a rating of 90+.

Finally, a creme brulee stout!! Holy Cow! (pun intended) This was amazing, but so hard to drink very much of. It was so sweet, and so true to its flavor -- very vanilla, creme brulee-y.

Faith brought this delicious zucchini "pie" called Kolokithopita, that she made from a recipe from this blog. I though it was delicious. The other girls thought it needed less fresh mint. I also made some jalapeno popper dip from a recipe from the same blog. And Katie brought a yummy salad! We had plenty to eat, as usual.

Here they all are (minus me) chowing down, which is what we all do very well! Octavia is showing just how much we ate that night by demonstrating her amazing ability to protrude her belly many many inches farther out than it really goes!

The next day it was time for me to do something I hadn't done in MONTHS! . . . work . . . yes folks, it's back to school/work time. Just like my mom always did growing up, I had Chris take a picture of me on my "first day back to school." I really hope this year is better than last year!