Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, New You, More Champagne

"No matter what anyone says, suicide takes guts. It's for heroes and martyrs, truly vainglorious men. Archie was none of these. He was a man whose significance in the Greater Scheme of Things could be figured along familiar ratios:
Pebble : Beach
Raindrop : Ocean
Needle : Haystack"

"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith is one of my favorite books and happens to start and end on or around New Year's Eve. It opens on New Year's Day, 1975. Like most of us, the main character Archie Jones is completely in his feelings that day, thinking about his life, which was recently torn apart in a bad divorce. Archie Jones is sitting in his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon, waiting for the exhaust fumes to fill the car and end his life. He is saved when the owner of a butcher shop comes out and asks Archie to stop blocking his delivery area. Having failed to successfully kill himself, he ends up at a party still going from the night before and ends up meeting his next wife, Clara--a beautiful Jamaican woman half his age.

The novel then skips ahead to follow two North London families--Archie, Clara and their daughter Irie, and the family of Archie's World War II buddy Samad Iqbal. Told from varying points of view, the book explores cultural identity, history, religion, crumbling marriages, arranged marriages--the list goes on. There are plenty of surprises and lots of heartbreak. Reading it, you grow up with Irie and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Magid, and you watch as the adults navigate religious, financial and marital issues.

None of that sounds funny, but somehow I found myself laughing at their awkward conversations and hilarious life failures. But at the same time I felt for Irie as she develops a crush and tries to fit in at school and I felt for Archie as he tries to avoid another disastrous New Year's Day. By the end we're left thinking about how far Archie has come since the opening scene, and if all other 'doomed' or 'unchangeable' people can achieve the same.

In celebration of New Year's Eve, the resolutions we're all making and that fresh hopeful feeling of being able to start over, I made champagne cupcakes and champagne icing! Simple and delicious.

You can actually just take regular cake mix and add champagne to the batter, but I'm a fan of homemade everything, so I took the longer route. Plus the sour cream really brings out the flavor. Plus, these are pretty simple to make.

White Teeth: 5 stars
Champagne cupcakes: 5 stars

“Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”

“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”

“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”

“Where I come from," said Archie, "a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her." "Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean," said Samad tersely, "that it is a good idea.”


1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp champagne*

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
4-5 tbsp champagne*

*Note: Normally when making boozy cupcakes, I say add however much booze you can stand. But for these cupcakes, it's really better to follow the recipe.

1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.
2. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and champagne. Mix until smooth.
3. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.
4. Cool for 1-2 minutes in the pan, then remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.

1. Combine butter and shortening. Mix until smooth.
2. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
3. Mix in champagne.
4. Add remaining powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
5. Add A LITTLE more champagne, if needed, until desired consistency is reached.

Happy baking and HAPPY NEW YEAR'S EVE!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Post 3: A Classic

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Doesn't that picture make you wish you had smell-o-vision? I just wanted to quickly share one more delicious holiday treat that I find myself making around this time of year: monkey bread. It's basically sugar biscuits, butter and cinnamon and I swear, it deserves it's own holiday!

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cans (16.3 oz each) Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers refrigerated biscuits
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Heat oven to 350°F and grease pan.
2. In a plastic food bag, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon.
3. Separate dough into biscuits, then cut each into quarters. Shake in bag to coat and arrange in pan.
4. Mix brown sugar and melted butter; pour over biscuit pieces.
5. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until golden brown and no longer doughy in center.
6. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto serving plate!

I'll be back for another post of New Year's Eve!

Happy baking, everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Post 2: Visions of Plum

You know when something could've gone so wrong--maybe even had been going wrong all day--but then you turn it around at the last minute? That's what yesterday was and that's what these cookies are, too.

I'd been planning to cook something sweet and Christmasy to take to work for a while, and of course I procrastinated until the hectic day before Christmas Eve. My feet hurt from heels at work, Wal-Mart was insanely crowded and to top it off, it was 75 degrees on Christmas Eve eve. BUT! My sweet friend Jennifer swooped in with an amazing delivery just in time to brighten the day.

AN ADORABLE CAT PRINT APRON!!! I'm already obsessed with it! We Facetime'd as I opened it and as I told her, this apron kicked my little striped apron's ass--just like that.

Jennifer is a long lost college friend of mine. We worked on the school newspaper together for years which meant lots of late stressful production nights spent laughing hysterically at things that weren't even funny--we had just lost it from being up until 3 a.m. Then we both graduated and ended up in completely different corners of the country. She got married, moved to Washington and landed a boss position with Xbox and I came to Savannah to get my M.F.A. It had been so long since we'd spoken to one another, so we decided to continue Facetime-ing while I baked and she cooked a fancy Christmas dinner for her and her hubby. She told me about her life, what she'd gotten her family members for Christmas, and what she was cooking. We laughed about my horrid dough rolling skills and the questionable temperature of her ham. And just like that, my day went from humdrum to perfect.

By the way, you should definitely check out Jennifer's blog, The Golden Days. She writes about adventures in her new town, her family, her writing process and other delightful musings. I also plan to update this post with pictures from her Christmas dinner--so be sure to check back later!

Now, let's get to what I was baking:
Sugar cookie bowls filled with red plum jam and cheesecake filling! These cookies were a challenge for a few reasons. One, the first time I tried to make cup shaped cookies, the dough fell apart after only 3 minutes in the over. More on that in the recipe. Two, you'll notice the recipe calls for strawberry jam, not plum. I guess the rage from having to navigate a buggy through a crowded aisle, temporarily relieved me from the ability to read. I didn't realize it until I'd gotten home though, so red plum it was. Three, my mixer is a JOKE so I had to stir my cheesecake filling by hand. Not only does it take FOREVER to combine squares of cream cheese and sour cream until "mixed well" when stirring by hand, but at the end of the day, your cheesecake filling will probably still be a little lumpy.

But I'm happy say I stuck it out through two batches of cookies and ended up more than happy with the results! The cookies ended up being delicious and all my time was worth it--just like that.

Cookie dough ingredients:
14.1 ounces all purpose flour
4.4 ounces confectioners’ sugar
7 ounces butter
1 egg
pinch of salt

Cheesecake filling ingredients:
3.5 ounces sour cream
7 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3.5 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 tbs lemon juice
strawberry jam

1. Mix together all cookie dough ingredients to form a ball.
2. Roll the ball out between two baking papers.
3. Cut out circles and drape one circle over each bowl cavity of pan, pressing to form smooth surface. (This method did NOT work for me. My cookies started coming apart after just 3 minutes in the oven! Instead, I placed my circles inside of the cupcake cavities, just like you with cupcakes. It made for a smaller opening in which to place the filling, but at least they were cups!)
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and let them cool.
5. Prepare cheese filling. Mix sweetened condensed milk, sour cream and cream cheese until combined.
6. Add lemon juice and mix well.
7. Place 1 teaspoon strawberry jam on every cookie bowl, then fill with cheese cream.
8. Keep in the fridge until set (I left mine over night, but it should only take about 4 hours).

Happy baking, everybody!

PS-Look forward to another quick Christmas favorite early tomorrow morning!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Post 1: Adventures in Cheesecake

As promised, I'm delivering you with another recipe during my holiday break from reading and baking. Things have been hectic--buying and wrapping presents, decorating my little apartment and of course, baking something delicious for every Christmas get-together. For last night's party, I decided to make these super quick no-bake cheesecake Santa hats.

8 oz. Cream Cheese softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 package of Cheesecake Pudding
1 package of chocolate dessert cups
12 strawberries
white sparkling sugar sprinkles (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients except the chocolate cups and strawberries. Beat well on high until the Cheesecake Cream is light and fluffy.
2. Put the mixture into a piping bag and fill each chocolate cup up and over slightly around the rim.
3. Place a strawberry with the top cut off on top of the Cheesecake Cream layer and press down slightly. Put a little Cheesecake Cream at the top for the top of the hat.
4. Sprinkle with some white sugar sprinkles if you like!

These are the little chocolate dessert cups I used, which contrary to popular belief (or at least my belief) are NOT found in the refrigerated section of Wal-mart, but instead in the regular baking aisle, next to the chocolate chips.

Happy Baking!