Monday, August 31, 2009

Baking and New Beginnings

what would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything?

vincent van gogh

Inspirational quote + a tie to my beloved discipline of art? Double whammy.

Alison, queen of giving good advice, throwing surprise parties, making Excel spreadsheets, choosing greeting cards, and other valuable skills, imparted these words via a killer Hallmark as I was packing up and leaving my first "grown-up" job two weeks ago. I didn't expect to cry, but...

A truly wonderful opportunity with a medical device company came my way, and I had to take it, leaving behind my good friends at the PR agency. (Or, as Alison says, not really leaving... just turning work friends into friend-friends.)

I showed my appreciation for all that I had learned during my years at the agency through one of my love languages, giving. Baking, to be exact, three days out of my last five in the office. Only thing is, it was one of my crazier weeks, what with school, leaving a job, preparing to travel out of town to start a new job the next Monday, going away happy hours and the like. So I committed a cardinal baking sin (for baking snobs like me, who, like Ina Garten, insist on using only good ingredients... "good olive oil," "good cocoa powder," "good vanilla" -- you get the picture): I used mixes. For every. single. baked good.

And they were really just as good as the from-scratch stuff that takes three times as long. (gasp)

* Sorry the format of the recipes isn't pretty. Blogger's formatting capes are, let's say, limited.
** All food photos are from my phone. The photos above are from Brad's "new job" present to me, a nice, new digital SLR. :)
*** Final caveat, I promise. I've been computerless and Photoshop-less for 2.5 weeks, but soon I promise you whimsical photo montages. Soon, friends.

Day 1: Mini Banana Muffin Cakes

Here's the thing about these muffin cakes (muffiny cupcakes). I sort of winged it. I adapted a recipe I picked up a long time ago that I break out whenever I have overripe bananas, and the freezer already has a loaf of banana bread. So here is generally what I did.

Muffin cakes:
1 pkg yellow cake mix
3 overripe bananas
1 cu. sour cream (reduced fat is fine)
1-1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 to 1 t. cinnamon, depending on your preference
1/4 t. nutmeg

Cream cheese frosting:
2 8 oz. pkg cream cheese (I use 1/3-less fat)
1 stick (1/2 cu.) butter
2 cu. confectioners' sugar
1 - 2 t. vanilla extract (depending on your preference... I tend toward more vanilla)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare cake mix according to package directions (sub out the oil for applesauce if you want). Stir in mashed bananas, sour cream, baking soda, and spices. Spoon 1 T. of mixture into greased mini-muffin tins. (It makes a ton of mini muffins, but you could make regular muffins or even a cake if you wanted. You just have to adjust the baking times.)Bake for eight minutes or until they are puffed and just barely golden on top. Wait for them to cool completely before frosting.

To prepare frosting, beat together cream cheese and butter. Mix in the confectioners' sugar by hand (unless you want it all over your kitchen), and once it is mostly incorporated, turn the beater back on until it's a light texture, maybe 3-5 minutes. Right when you think it's ready, add the vanilla extract.

I used a Wilton cake decorator to make pretty blobs of frosting on top of the cooled cakes. I followed this template for the cupcake flags, found via How About Orange.

Day 2: Buttery Garlic Cheese Biscuits

You may recognize this recipe from a chain seafood restaurant.

4 cu. Bisquick
6 oz. Cheddar cheese, shredded (I like sharp Cheddar)
1-1/3 cu. water
1 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. onion powder
1/4 t. dried parsley
1/8 t. Old Bay Seasoning (check the spice section or the seafood section of your grocery store)
... Plus a little flour.

Butter mixture:
1/2 cu. melted butter
2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. onion powder
1/4 t. dried parsley
1/4 t. Old Bay Seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine the baking mix, cheese, water and spices. Mix until dough is firm but sticky.
On a lightly floured surface (I use a cutting board), spread dough out to about 1/2-inch thickness. Flour the top of the dough a little bit too.
Use a biscuit cutter (I use the end of a champagne flute) to cut out rounds of dough. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.
Combine the melted butter and spices/herbs. Brush over baked biscuits immediately upon removing from oven.

I served them with brown sugar baked ham, horseradish mayo (prepared horseradish + mayo) and Dijon mustard for mini sandwiches (I was into "mini" that week, it appears).

Day 3: Toffee Nut Brownie Bites AND Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars

Toffee Nut Brownie Bites

These really could not be easier (Thanks, Virginia and Destiny, for the recipe!). I won't even bother typing it out in recipe format, because it's just this simple.

Take a box of plain brownie mix. No fancy stuff. I used Duncan Hines original mix. Prepare according to package directions. Pour half of the batter into pan lined inside with aluminum foil (size and preparation whatever is prescribed by the box). Layer toffee and almond Symphony bars over the top of that layer. Pour the rest of the batter over the top, covering the bars. Bake according to package directions. When COMPLETELY cooled (you really have to wait or the Symphony layer gets messy), pop the aluminum foil out of the pan, brownies and all. On a flat surface, cut into squares or tiny rounds (again, I used a champagne flute and froze the leftover scraps for a future ice cream recipe).

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars

Technically I didn't use a mix, but I did use a prepared item, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. So deliciously bad for you. I think these would be delicious with a layer of fruit... fresh strawberries or blueberry preserves. Mmm.

2 8 oz. cans Crescent Rolls
2 8 oz. packages cream cheese
1 cu. white sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cu. butter, melted
1/4 cu. sugar
1 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 in. pan.
Press one can of the crescent rolls into the bottom of the prepared pan.
In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar, cinnamon and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spread over the crescent layer.
Unroll the second can of crescent rolls and lay them on top of the cream cheese layer.
Pour the melted butter over the entire pan. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top is crisp and golden.
Cool on a counter, then chill overnight.
Cut into triangles (first cut into squares, then cut those diagonally).

Look for more bloggy updates from me soon. I'm resolving in my new routine to build in healthy habits, like exercising, reading regularly and BLOGGING. I have lots of ideas for posts, so stick with me. :)