Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots! ...Made of Cheesecake!

Some of my favorite things come in shot glasses (because some of my favorite things are booze). So a couple of years ago when Chili's, Applebee's, or TGIFriday's came out with dessert shooters, I foresaw untold possibilities. I'm honestly not sure which was the originator, and I'm also not sure it really matters since all three restaurants are practically identical aside from their queso recipes. But God bless the restaurant that wants to try to assist me in portion controlling my dessert when the first thing I am offered after sitting down is the 'Leaning Tower of Onion Rings' with a bottomless tortilla chip front and a fried pickle back. Did I mention the tower itself is constructed completely out of extra crispy bacon in this case? It totally is. If this isn't already a thing, it should be...because I would eat the hell out of it. I digress. What were we talking about? SHOTS! That's right. Upon eating my first dessert shooter, I was a bit saddened. When I want dessert, I don't just want alittlebit of dessert- I want alottabit of dessert, so I abandoned the shooter...why just have a thimble full of Molten Lava Cake when you can have the whole thing? But since we're both still feeling a bit heavy from eating multiple pounds of chocolate chip cookie dough fudge brownies, I opted to give the dessert shooter another chance, and I'm glad I did (as is my cholesterol level).
So I used a low ball glass and not a shot glass for amediumbit of dessert.
I'll allow you a moment to stop drooling before we get down to business. I am a lover of both cheese and cake. Putting them together is a marriage made in Heaven as far as I'm concerned. The only reason I don't make cheesecake more often is because I have yet to figure out a way to decorate cheesecake to make it an art form and not simply a form for eating with a fork. I know, things don't ALWAYS have to be a work of beauty, but just ask the nearest blonde if being pretty has ever hurt her chances at life (hint: It hasn't). Vanity thy name is cheesekate. cake. cheesecake.
I'm trying to make my photos jazzier for your viewing. Again with the perfection...
I have a wicked tasty no bake cheesecake recipe for the lazy hungry beast that resides inside of all of us. I did adapt the recipe a bit to make for a stiffer filling, so here's what you need for the shooters:
  • Two blocks cream cheese (reduced fat will work, but it will not taste as good knowing you're eating a healthy dessert)
  • One can of sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
  •  Three tablespoons of lemon juice (could be fresh, but once the cutting board comes out, the lazy beast inside of you will get angry)
  • One tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • One sleeve of graham crackers
  • Optional: Rediwhip, strawberry syrup, or canned pie filling fruit
  • Recipe makes probably about 8-12 shooters depending on the size of your glassware. 
Start by mixing together the milk and softened cream cheese. Realize the basic components of cheesecake are kinda gross. Opt against licking the beaters for now.
Blend in the vanilla and lemon, and note the miracles that extract can work.
 At this point, depending on how you're going to "decorate" your shooters, place the cheesecake filling into the freezer to start to harden up a bit for at least an hour if you plan on piping. If you're just going for the ladling layers strategy, it's fine left out.
I so enjoy a good beating. Place an entire sleeve of graham crackers into a large baggie and pummel them with your rolling pin.
...until they look like the sand that most of us wish was between our toes. Sadly, you won't be eating cheesecake shooters in Fiji, but you will still be eating cheesecake shooters, so it isn't a total crapshoot.
Now, how you go about assembling your shooters is totally up to you. I tried two methods, one with utter failure and the other with total success. We have shot glasses, but they're all boxed up behind the bar and I just wasn't down for that adventure, so I used two small stemless wine glasses and two low ball glasses to attempt my shooters. And if you want a dessert that doesn't just leave you wanting more dessert (first world problems are still pretty great), use a wine glass for these shooters, as it is the perfect amount of dessert. I'll start off by telling you the amazingly hopeful dream I had for the failure round of shooters...
No matter how you go about it, start by scooping a spoonful and a half of crumbs into your glasses.
I had dreams of making these shooters spiraled with strawberry sauce, which did work, but didn't pipe anywhere nearly as prettily as I had hoped...because I didn't heed my own advice and allow my cheesecake filling to firm up long enough. Let me be your cautionary tale. If you let it set in the freezer for an hour, you'll be able to pipe and have the filling keep form.
To get the spiral effect, throw down a few lines of strawberry sauce onto some Saran wrap, then put a few heaping spoonfuls of cheesecake filling on top of that. Tie up both ends, and then put the tube into a piping bag fitted with a 1M or 2D tip. Unroll the end of Saran wrap sticking out of the piping bag and you're set.
The spiral tie-dye effect is real, people!
Annnnd here's where things went to hell in a wine glass. As you can see, the strawberry is nice and lightly spiraled throughout the cheesecake filling (as I had envisioned), however, my cheesecake was too mushy, and the piping shape itself turned out more like brains than nice, kinky twists (why yes, the exact opposite of how I envisioned).
But cheesecake is cheesecake, so I topped these brains with Rediwhip and crushed graham crackers. Brains or not, still insanely delicious. I may have a go at this again for next Halloween. I'm never not planning some kind of party in my head. If there's a way to bring dessert into the equation, I'm all over that like...well, me all over dessert.
So the first attempt didn't work for me, but if you freeze the filling long enough, you could make a gorgeous cheesecake shooter that you will have a hard time deciding whether to frame or eat, so it's a good thing Instagram exists. The second attempt went flawlessly, thank goodness, or this would be a very sad (albeit still tasty) blog.
Once you've put down the crust, add a heaping spoonful of filling to your glass. Try not to get it on the sides so the layering is more noticeable.
Next add a thick layer of strawberry sauce. If you wanted to use pie filling, this would be a great alternative, too. I will make these with a layer of blueberry in the near future! Just waiting for another party/excuse...
Then add another layer of graham cracker crumbs. This is turning into the lasagna of desserts: Layered and FABULOUS.
Add another heaping spoonful of fulling. This is where I became immediately grateful I had a Plan B.
Finish off by topping with a decent amount of Rediwhip and sprinkle with cracker crumbs. Enjoy how beautiful Plan B turned out.
I'm told all the greats always have a Plan B. Since I'm a Type A, you can imagine how having a Plan B, C, D, E, F, etc. is right up my alley, but the frustration with having to use it (and the extraordinary amount of letters in the alphabet in this paragraph) drives the OCD in me a little crazy. At least now instead of reaching for a stiff drink in my low ball or wine glasses, I can reach for a nice helping of  strawberry cheesecake shooter. I consider this to be an exceptional alternative as eating one or two of them won't render me hungover the following morning. Thank you, ChilapplebeeFriday's, for making this dream a reality. Now pass me the Leaning Tower made of bacon, because I am positive that has to be a real thing. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Heaven in a Pan

I honestly didn't think anything in the world could be more divine than eggless cookie dough. I could (and have...and will) eat it by the spoonful when I make cookie dough truffles. As a kid, I would sit down with a small shovel and go to town on a bucket of premade cookie dough (may or may not have been eggless- we weren't wusses, us children in the 90s). Chocolate chip cookie dough is clearly the superior ice cream flavor over the rest; it just allows all others to exist as it is a gentle, omnipotent ice cream. Also, cookie dough bites may actually be a frontrunner in the changing tide for world peace. However, it turns out when you place a giant layer of eggless cookie dough on top of a giant fudge brownie, you can actually hear angels singing with each bite. Heavenly.
Halllllllllelujah! Hallelujah, hallleeeelllujaaaahhh!
I know, the photo above is probably NSFW as it is most definitely food porn. If the United States of America ever decides on an official food to represent both its power and lust for more (read: nice way of saying gluttony), I'm fairly certain the cookie dough fudge brownie would be a top contender. Move over double cheeseburger, you've met your match. Actually, maybe I should be marketing these at America's cornerstone favorite fast food join, McDonald's. A treat this indulgent and this easy to make is right up their greasy alley. I made both the fudge brownie and eggless cookie dough from scratch for this recipe, and it really is quite simple. The hardest part is not eating all your dough before putting it on the brownie, so patience and/or a mouth guard are key. Let's get down to delicious business, shall we?
Fair warning, never eat Baker's chocolate squares...they're deceptively sweet-looking, when in all actuality are quite bitter. My spirit food!
I found this brownie recipe here, and made some changes to speed up the process and make things insanely simple...you're welcome. Add that to my list of straight up 'Merican traits: corner cutting. So here's what you need:
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ounces unsweetened Hershey's cocoa (It says Hershey's on it, so you'd think this would be sweet, too, but don't even go there.)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet Baker's chocolate (Do. Not. Eat. Unless you wondered what your bitter beer face looks like.)
  • 10 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
Aside from the chocolates, you probably already have everything you need for these brownies. They could stand alone without the cookie dough and probably be the best brownies I've ever eaten, and I'm not just saying that because I made them myself (really!!). Cue the crappy photo montage!
To make slicing the bars easier later, as they are hella thick so this is easier to do outside of the pan, line an 8x8 pan with nonstick foil. Preheat your oven to 325.
While the oven is getting nice and toasty, cut up your butter into manageable chunks and break apart the Baker's bar into sections. Dump the cocoa powder in a microwave safe, medium-sized bowl. Throw the butter and Baker's chocolate on top of this, and nuke for 30 seconds on high power. Stir, and nuke for another 30 seconds, and then your chocolate base should be nicely blended together without any scorching or burning. Burning chocolate should be a cardinal sin.
So, so smooth. But still deceptively bitter, so don't be fooled by its enticing appearance. Just like a mermaid trying to lure sailor's to their death, unsweetened chocolate probably can kill you. Maybe. Perhaps.
While your chocolate is cooling just a touch, mix together the dry ingredients. Creating a flour mess on the counter is optional (mandatory in my clumsy case, as seen here).
Now, to create an even bigger clean up, take your chocolate from it's current bowl and put it in your stand mixing bowl. Or you could use a hand mixer to keep the dish disaster in line. I just so enjoy wasting water, so I opted for my stand mixer. Mix this chocolate with the sugar and vanilla. Blend until smooth (and safe to finally eat, thank God).

Now dump in your dry ingredients and mix well. Then add in your eggs (I cracked mine into the empty bowl left by my dry mix and whipped, but you could just individually add the eggs into the mix. I just really like pretending to be an omelet chef).

Now you're ready to shove your pan into your immaculately clean oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes.

The brownies are done when you look at them and have the Pavlovian response of instantaneous mouth watering, or when you insert a toothpick and it comes out crummy, but not dripping. These are meant to be moist, so you don't want to overcook and dry them out. I cooked mine for 32 minutes.
I mean, you really could call it quits here and still have a perfect platform for cookie dough ice cream (Blue Bell, of course), but making the cookie dough is even easier than making the brownies, so instead of quitting halfway through, be a true American (you know, from before the "participation ribbon" days), and make the damn dough. Put your brownies in the freezer for about an hour and a half to let them cool and set. They will be easier to work with when you apply the dough this way.
Nestle mini chocolate chips are safe to eat from the bag, FYI.
Here's what you need for the dough:
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (or nuked) to room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • Cue the next crappy photo montage!
Cream together the butter, vanilla, salt, and both sugars until delicious.
Then add in the flour, and mix until incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl here (free sample!), and then add in the milk.
Finally, mix in a glorious cup of non-sheisty, un-tricky, delicious milk chocolate chips.
And proceed to put in the mouth guard before you eat the entire bowl.
This is my go-to dough recipe. You could probably freeze this recipe and just keep on hand for when the cookie craving strikes. This is what the Cookie Monster should do instead of just talking about cookies all the time. Self-enabling. The American way. Now remove your brownies from the freezer once totally cooled, you know, before you eat all the cookie dough. Take a decent-sized chunk of dough, and flatten it out in your palms a bit before pressing on to the brownie.
Like so! Magical, really.

Continue to flatten and press the dough firmly onto the brownie until covered completely. If you have some dough leftover, you could either save it to eat later or find any thin places on your cookie layer and beef them up, if you will.
Then use your palms to flatten things out so it looks pretty and smooth, because this is extremely important to me.

Finish off by removing the foil/brownies from the pan and sprinkling more chocolate chips on top, and then press them into the dough layer a bit so they don't just fall off and create a mess for small children or dogs to clean up.
Once you've done this, you can either put the magical, Heavenly creation into the freezer for 30 minutes if you're like, super duper jonesing for a sugar rush, or place into the fridge for a couple hours. Surprisingly, I went for option two since I still needed to make and eat a dinner that consisted of more than just chocolate. Being an adult is no fun.
You were worth the wait.
When you're ready, take these sweet little deities out and cut into squares. You can see how fudgy the brownie is, and it's deliciousness is complemented completely by the eggless cookie dough. Its a match made in Food Heaven (hence the chorus of angels I mentioned earlier). Sadly, I can only eat these one at a time because they are so sweet I may go into a coma if I eat two or more. Would it be worth it? Yes, I think it would. But then I wouldn't be around to come up with other delectable desserts and witticism for you each week. That might make the angels cry, and we simply can't have that. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Minions are a Girl's Best Friend

Somewhere along the way in my never-ending quest for world domination, I realized things would be a lot easier if I had others to do my bidding for me. If these creatures happened to be small, Twinkie-shaped beings with a rudimentary understanding of the English language, so be it. Sadly, the minions I wanted to help me usher in total control don't really exist...so as my birthday present to myself, I created my very own...
Look guys, its Kevin! Okay, so when the first Despicable Me movie came out a few years ago, I fell in love with these tiny, adorable, and mostly harmless minions. I think we can all agree they're the only reason any of us went to see Despicable Me 2, and why we're all ready for it to hurry up and be summer so the minion flick will come out in theaters. A few weeks ago as I pondered what in the world to make for my birthday cake, a minion was the natural winner. I know none of you are remotely surprised I made my own birthday cake...its what I do. If any of you are related or married to another Type A-er, you understand my alacrity for creating my own cake. I promise I didn't light my own candles. Even I admit that's taking it too far. But I was happy to start 2015 off with the most important cake of all...mine. Muahahaha. Ahem. Sorry, world domination is just my bread and butter. Let me show you how to create your very own minion! But it can't be Kevin..he's my minion. You can make Steve or Carl. Don't look at me like that- the minions do have names ya know.
It has been too long, cake.
Start off by making a 9x13 cake in any flavor you'd like. Personally, I've been having strawberry birthday cake since I was probably about 13. On my list of favorite cakes, strawberry is head and shoulders above the rest- even blue velvet or triple chocolate. The love is real, and it is deep. If you're truly an aspiring evil genius, make a red velvet cake so when you're carving up your minion, his insides run red like the blood of your enemies. Or something like that. Does anyone know when Game of Thrones comes back on? I need to quell this thirst for destruction.
I do so love it when there are scraps.
Once your cake is completely cooled, take a sharp knife and round the top of your cake. I cut off just about an inch from the top of the cake and the sides. I used the scrap piece to cut along the other side of the cake so things were even. I find it is easiest to shape a cake when the cake is COLD. This will also help when you put on....
Dammit Spongebob, not now.
The crumb coat! I made a lemon frosting for this cake, following the usual recipe for white frosting (cup of Crisco, 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla, 1/2 tsp of lemon extract, 4 cups powdered sugar, 4 tbsp milk) and adding in the lemon extract to make it lemon frosting (der...). This amount of frosting will frost the whole cake, but here's how it breaks down:
  • Take about one large spatula full of frosting while it is still white, and set aside in a small container and keep covered
  • Take about a cup of frosting while it is still white, and set aside in a medium container. Dye this portion of frosting blue for the minion's coveralls; keep covered.
  • With the remaining frosting, dye it all yellow. Use this frosting to crumb coat the ENTIRE cake, as cutting off the sides will cause major crumbage if you don't; keep the rest covered so it doesn't get hard to spread while you wait for your crumb coat to set.
We came back from our Caribbean cruise to 10 inches of snow and a garage that has a real feel of negative 12. So my garage freezer hasn't kicked on in days, and that is my go-to place for storing all my extra desserts and letting crumb coats stick quickly. Needless to say, I had a moment of panic, yelling, and immediate sadness when I realized that all my belongings had to have thawed out over the past week. Bye bye, other skull cake from Dia de los Muertos, homemade cupcakes from Derek's return from deployment, and delicious Digiorno...I always knew you weren't delivery. So in my case, I had to clear space in the house fridge to allow my crumb coat to set for 30 minutes. If fate doesn't hate you and you have freezer space, 15 minutes will do. As the crumb coat works it's magic, it is time to assemble that adorable goggled eye all minions possess.
Real talk: I had to hide these cookies from myself so I wouldn't eat them all.
 To start, assemble the actual eye. You need a large, circular platform to do this. I find giant cookies are an excellent large, circular platform. Get a flavor you like, but Pepperidge Farm cookies are the perfect size. You will also need a grand total of three Hershey's kisses for the minion, just one for the eye.
Looking at this, if they make giant Oreos, that would suffice...but I really love those Pepperidge Farm cookies.
Take that plain white frosting you set aside earlier and spread it on the giant cookie. DO NOT EAT. You don't want a blind minion, do you? You want about a half inch worth of thickness on the cookie. Get it as smooth as possible with a small spatula, and put it in the fridge. You can do the paper towel trick with this once it has set to smooth it all out. On to the goggles!
You need Tootsie Rolls and either silver sanding sugar or silver color mist.
Tootsie Rolls...the world's least favorite candy for a reason. However, they work for what you need them for here, but I will probably have the remaining bag of Tootsies hanging out in my pantry for the next fifteen years, or God willing if we move, leave them behind for the next family to find in the world's cruelest joke. You need four or five rolls to make the goggles. I melted mine for ten seconds so they were malleable. 
Press all of your rolls together, and crack a crude joke involving toilet humor or Mr. Hanky from Southpark.
Then roll them out to form a long, skinny rope. I just rolled them between my palms.

Once your rope is formed, take your eyeball out of the fridge so you can see how big of a circle you need to form, and then press those ends together when you've got your sizing correct..don't forget to put the eye back in the fridge!
Then spray with the color mist! This stuff really doesn't smell edible, but let's face it, I'm sure Tootsie Pops without edible color mist will still give you cancer.
If you want to use sanding sugar instead, you need to get the circle damp and roll in the sugar. But what a waste of sanding sugar!! 
I see all!! Including your thumb...
Set aside the goggle to dry, and remove the eye from the fridge again. Smooth it out using the paper towel trick, and put an upside down Kiss into the frosting so you have a pupil. Now that your crumb coat is dry, get that cake back out!
Using the small spatula, carve a line into the bottom of the cake where you will separate the minion from his coveralls.
 The hardest part of this cake is making sure you keep the yellow and blue frostings away from each other because even in the second movie, the minions did not turn green. So take your yellow frosting and use a large spatula to slather on the minion's...skin? Use a small spatula to cover the sides. Try to smooth as best you can before moving on to frost the coveralls. I just used a small spatula to frost the coveralls so I could ensure I wouldn't get blue everywhere (just on myself).
As you can see, I didn't make things incredibly smooth because I was worried about the evil color wheel blending my primary colors together to create a lame secondary color.
But no worries! As you can see above, this is precisely what the paper towel trick is for!! Smooth like buttah.
Once you've frosted your entire minion, put it in the fridge or freezer again for a decent amount of time. I gave it the equivalent of lunch and half an episode of Grey's Anatomy..it was the one where Denny dies, so I got lost in a box of Kleenex and wasn't watching the clock. Then take out your cake and smooth it out using the paper towel trick; add your eyeball and your goggles any time after this. You will have some blue and yellow unevenness after smoothing, but don't worry, I will show you how to fix that with some piping.
I could totally eat a tub of this with my giant cookies and be content for days.
Fit a piping bag with a large round tip..I used a #6. Then mix about a quarter of a cup of chocolate decorator frosting and some black dye. I know that lemon frosting and chocolate frosting do not mix, but to get a decent black coloring, you need a darker frosting. 
A minion without a mouth is slightly terrifying.
Take your piping bag and just draw a line to separate the minion from his coveralls. Add two Kisses as buttons to up the ante on the "awww" factor. 
Kevin, you give great side eye.
Then draw an outline for the strap of the goggles. Go back in and fill with the black frosting. You could probably get away with using the can frosting that comes in black with a few decorator tips for this part to make it a bit easier. Just smooth everything out with a small spatula when you're done. 
It's so cute, I'm gonna die!
Then I added the trademark minion smirk and outlined the coveralls for a finishing touch. Again, a can of the frosting with the right included tip would probably work fine, but I prefer working with a piping bag because it makes me feel more official. Now you're ready to name your minion and realize you've created something that's almost too adorable to eat. Almost.
I mean, just *LOOK* at Kevin. The candles made it even better!

And then Derek set him on fire.
And I gleefully reveled in my stretchy cake pants that I was about to get some dessert.
Kevin was really tasty. The only problem was I don't have a cake safe big enough for him, so he's sitting--now bottomless mind you--in the fridge with a piece of foil covering his missing coveralls as to hide either his shame or our carnage. Or both. But I had an absolutely wonderful birthday full of well wishes from friends, amazing food and fun with my husband, and lively conversations with family while I made my minion just to destroy him later. The downfall of being an evil baking genius, I suppose. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!