Thursday, June 24, 2010

Treat Transporter

It was a co-worker's birthday this week, and I wanted to bring her a surprise treat. Instead of being impressed with my thoughtfully-made baked good, she surprised me by taking a last minute trip out of town. Luckily my other co-workers did not need much encouragement to eat up a fellow worker's birthday gift.

To deliver a box full of goodies on a bicycle, my commute method, takes some careful forethought. If a vessel is fragile, it can be easily crushed in a backpack. Tupperware containers must fit perfectly into a handle bar bag or pannier, or they will fall out en-route or fail to be zipped in. I have been struggling with how I can get my baked cakes, tarts, and large batches of cupcakes from my home to my good friends - especially the tarts!

I have overcome the problem - the Treat Transporter:
It may look simple and rugged, but with a mounted bike rack and one of those nylon pull string bags that are given away for free at races, conferences, etc. treats can be transported with success. I rode 10 miles with a 10-inch tart strapped onto my bike, 18 whole cupcakes made it up and down Dexter, and a cherry cobbler survived the pot holes on Fairview. I am so excited I have a song I sing while transporting.

The cupcakes that were delivered without harm, were made with one of my favorite recipes my Mom would make while I was growing up. They are classic Black Bottom Cupcakes; a bittersweet chocolate cake bottom topped with a dollop of cheesecake. The softened chocolate chunks in the top make it even better. I don't know where the recipe my Mom used came from, but the chocolate cupcake base works great with other toppings besides cheesecake.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes
18 cupcakes (12 if you just make the bottoms to frost)

1 1/2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa (I used Ghiradelli baking cocoa)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 c. water
1/3 c. oil (any light flavored oil)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp vinegar (apple cider, or white wine, works well)

1 egg
1/3 c. sugar
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare muffin tins with liners for 18 cupcakes. In a mixer on medium to high speed beat the topping ingredients well. Stir in the chocolate chips and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the mixture is even. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients of the cupcake batter.  Add the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full with the batter. Top each with a heaping tablespoon of the topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the tops have set up and have almost started to turn golden.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Out in the Country

I volunteered at a benefit dinner for Cascade Harvest Coalition at Willie Green's Farm in Monroe this weekend. I had my first experience working as a server at a large, fast-paced dinner. It was a beautiful warm day in Monroe, and this was the view as we arrived.

 The dinner was held in the green-house, since they had expected rain. While the servers were setting tables, it felt like a tropical rain forest. Thankfully, for the guests, it was perfect come dinner time.
There was a "Dessert Dash" game for after dinner. Restaurants from Seattle donated desserts that guests could bid on, and then race to the buffet to grab. I had to make an emergency run to the tiny downtown Monroe to find extra treats for the game; luckily boxes of locally made truffles were found at the town's candy shop.  This salted caramel tart was the first to be taken in the mad rush of contestants.
The servers were given a platter of these double-decker bread puddings with first-of-the-season strawberries on top. The bottom layer was made with lemon verbana, and it was delicious. They were devoured after we had been on our feet for hours. 
There was even time to enjoy the warmth and a cool drink.
The night came to an end with colors that lit up the fields
It was a long night of hard work, but the beautiful country scenery and new tastes (like a salmon bahn-mi!) were a welcome change of pace from a Saturday in the city.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Mmm... half eaten buckle and nineteen-seventies style linoleum. I often forget how distinct the pattern on my kitchen floor is since I see it everyday, but when it is in a picture it surprises me. 

This buckle also surprised me with how delicious it was. I took one huge bite out of it as soon as I could. You can see the olive oil-soaked parchment paper in the bottom of the pan. The tasty, moist  bottom cake buckled up over the juicy berries and butter-oat crumb, almost enveloping the toppings (that is how the buckle earned its name). It is good at breakfast, dessert, and as an anytime treat. It also tastes especially good when topped with whipped cream your boyfriend has made by shaking cream vigorously in a mason jar lightly coated with coffee grounds. Just now, the cake proved to be the perfect bed-time snack after an evening of aquavit, Vietnamese food and conversation with a good friend. 

Currently, with the constant gloomy weather, I need reminders about why I love Seattle. Baking is one reward to being inside and cold, especially when it involves blackberries. Another method to embrace the chill is to consume fresh, flavorful, vermicelli noodles with warm tea for dinner at Green Leaf, and after head straight to The Copper Gate for liquid blankets that were created by the people who endure almost 24 hours of darkness for sometime every year. 

This buckle could be made with whatever fruit, herbs, and spices fit the season or occasion - in the sun or the rain.

Blackberry- Sage Buckle

1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 c. olive oil
1 c. buttermilk
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. blackberry jam 
2 Tbsp. sage chopped
zest of one small lemon
 1- 1 1/2 c. fresh blackberries

Crumble Topping:
1/4 c. oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. almond meal
4 Tbsp butter at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper in the bottom. In a small bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, and almond meal - crumble the butter in until nice, even, clumps have formed. In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients. In another small bowl mix sugar, olive oil, egg, vanilla, buttermilk, and lemon zest. Fold the wet into the dry ingredients until just combined. Soften the blackberry jam in the microwave, or stove-top, with 1 Tbsp. of the chopped sage for 30 sec. Fold the jam into the batter to make a ribbon. Pour the batter into the cake pan. Dot the top with the blackberries until most of the surface is covered. Sprinkle the crumble topping on evenly, and scatter the rest of the chopped sage.  Bake for 40-50 min. until the top is browned and the middle is just set.
Cool on a rack.

Long weekend, long story

The long weekend had me as busy as the weather. I started out on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, dodging surprise bursts of rain. I took a trip to a vast cavern of sailing and marine relics with my parents, where my Dad was tempted to buy a captains wheel. I also had to get myself ready for a trip to the other side of the mountains for a big, dirty, and loud music festival - aptly named 'Sasquatch'.

Spending days and nights at the Gorge ampitheatre requires some careful planning. Once you arrive and set up camp,  edibles and sundries (new vocab word of the weekend!) are few and costly. The whole event puts you out in the elements; actively listening to music all day and the rowdy antics of fellow campers all night. 

The trip began with a late night drive, through blurry forests, horror-movie roads, and eerie ominous rivers. 

Even at one in the morning when we set up our tent, the sprawling field of make-shift dwellings was still full of activity. Friends were lost, fireworks were going off, and dozens of scattered conversations all blended into one massive sound.

As soon as the sun came up, a kale-filled bun was happily devoured by my camping buddy. The rest of the day went by in a blur, there was music from noon until mid-night.

During Caribou's early show, I had a little filled bun. 

Highlights of the day: discovering the unique Tune-Yards, watching the bass player for The xx intensely swoop around on stage, dancing to the infectious sounds of LCD Sound System, and getting sleepy to the lights and lulling of Massive Attack. 

By the end, the ground was pretty dirty. 

To get through the trip, a bag of home-made granola bars and filled buns were shared between us. They were most definitely tastier than anything that the Gorge was serving, and were so nutrient dense you didn't want much else. Except for some cornbread maybe. 

The buns were delicious, and I have already started thinking of other filling mixes. The granola bars were chewy, thick, and not too sweet. They are also great if your cupboard of bulk-item-baggies needs some clearing. 

Thick Granola Bars
Adapted from here
2 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. oat flour (I processed my oats until fine)
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 c. almond butter
8 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown rice syrup
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 Tbsp water
3 1/2 c. delicious additions (1/2 c. chopped walnuts, 1/2 c. chopped almonds, 1/2 c.chopped pecans, 1/4 c. millet puffs, 1/2 c. dried currents, 1/4 c. dried cranberries, 1/2 c. shredded unsweetened coconut, 1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 12 inch baking dish, and put a layer of parchment paper in the bottom, butter the top of this. In a large bowl mix all of the dry ingredients, including your delicious additions. In another bowl blend together the melted butter, almond butter, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, and water. Pour this over the dry ingredients and toss until everything is evenly coated. Press the mix into the baking dish and put in the oven for 30- 40 min. I let mine just begin to brown on the top - anymore than that and they will be too crunchy. Let cool on a rack in the pan, then cut into squares.

Filled Buns

2 tsp dry active yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar
3/4 c. lukewarm buttermilk
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter at room temperature
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all purpose flour

1-2 medium chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic
4-5 c. of roughly chopped leafy greens (I used kale and cabbage)
1/2 c. shredded sharp chedder
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp smoked paprika
3 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp melted butter
sesame seeds
smoked salt

First, begin the dough. Combine the yeast, water, and sugar and let set for 15 min to bubble and dissolve. Add the buttermilk, baking soda, salt, and stir. Stir in the whole wheat flour. Add just enough of the all-purpose flour to form a dough - I used about 3/4 c. Put the dough onto a floured surface and knead until very smooth and stretchy. Put into a lightly oiled bowl and let double in size (on a cold day, mine took 1 1/2 hours). During the rise, make the filling. In a medium frying pan over medium heat 3 Tbsp butter. Add the carrots and garlic. Saute until the carrots are beginning to soften. Add the leafy greens, paprika, and season to taste. Cook until the greens have lost most of their volume. Set aside to cool. Add the shredded cheese, and refrigerate if you still have time on your dough's rise. Just before your dough is done rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, if you have a baking stone preheat this as well. After the rise, remove the dough from the bowl and cut into 12 equal pieces, round each one into a ball.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough piece into a circle about 5 inches in diameter. Place a scant 1/4 cup of the filling in the middle of the dough. Gather the edges, and pinch together in a swirl. Place the bun seam side down onto a baking sheet with parchment paper. Repeat for other buns. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds and smoked salt. Bake either on a sheet, or stone, for 15-20 min. until the outside is lightly browned. Cool on a rack.