Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ice Cream -- YES, ICE CREAM

There are a lot of things I can do that at first seem nearly impossible. I can touch my nose with my tongue. I still know all of the words to "Baby Got Back." My high kick is off the charts. (These are all essentially party tricks and please note that math or science is not mentioned here.)

I never thought I would be able to easily make ice cream, without an ice cream maker, without any effort.

I almost wish I didn't know, because while the options are now endless in the kitchen, they will be even more limited in the Old Navy dressing room. I'm playing with fire. Er, ice. I ONLY EAT ICE CREAM NOW. 

Ice cream has always been an influential part of my life. A constant friend and reliable companion. A lot has changed, but ice cream is always there. I'm fully comfortable anthropomorphizing dessert in this way, but thank you for checking in.

I inherited this love from my dad, Larry, who is a big time ice cream aficionado. One of his superpowers is knowing the location of every small-town Dairy Queen in Minnesota -- and whether or not it's a brazier. This was especially useful for traveling basketball tournaments and road trips to the cabin. A cookie dough blizzard was always within reach. Ice cream was not a rare treat in my household, it was a daily staple. This could be good, this could ultimately be bad -- cool it with the judgement, okay? Every night before my bed, my sister and I would get a "bedtime treat," which was almost always a bowl of Schwan's ice cream. When we were old enough to "dish ourselves up," we did, with the portion control of children. My sister and I grew up eating a shit-ton of ice cream every night before immediately going to bed. Every single night. I'd like to think this prepared my stomach for a life of nighttime eating and thus, sugar-before-bed has no effect on me -- except weight gain, but basically, I sleep soundly regardless of what I'm eating or drinking. Like a fat, happy, lil baby.

People who think ice cream should only be enjoyed in the summertime are living in their own personal dark age.

I don't even have a story about ice cream because ice cream is part of every story.

It has been heating up in LA -- specifically in my house, and it's not just because my roommates are both in love. It's physically stifling in our house after 1pm every single day, and even when it cools down outside, our house traps all of the heat in the world inside it and none of us stop sweating, ever. At this point, ice cream is not a treat but a necessity. And so when I woke up the other morning and was met by dreaded sunshine streaming through my window, I was determined to find relief. And when I found an incredibly easy, three ingredient ice cream recipe that only required an electric mixer, I had a purpose. And, guys -- I really went to town.

I decided to make chocolate, strawberry, chocolate-almond, and cookies & cream. I forced myself to stop there. In the future, I plan on trying mint chocolate chip, classic vanilla, MAYBE EVEN COOKIE DOUGH GOOD LORD THERE'S NO STOPPING ME. I don't like how much this process makes me feel like Joffrey from Game of Thrones. If I am poisoned, it better be with ice cream. Oops, spoiler.

Ice Cream!

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

For chocolate, add 3/4 cup chocolate syrup
For strawberry, add 2 cups frozen strawberries
For cookies & cream, crush and add about 8 Oreo cookies 
For chocolate-almond, add 3/4 cup chocolate syrup and 1 tablespoon almond extract. I added 2 tablespoons and... whoops, too much!

You're going to need a standing mixer or a handheld electric mixer for this. I don't care how strong you are you. I don't care what your arms look like. This is bigger than you.
Pour the heavy whipping cream and condensed milk in a large bowl/standing mixer bowl and start mixing on low. 
If you're adding chocolate or frozen strawberries or something that can be pulverized, add it as well. 
(DON'T ADD COOKIES NOW. You won't like what happens by the end, trust me. Add cookies when you're met with soft peaks.)
Once the mixture starts to thicken and you aren't at risk for spraying dairy all over the place, turn it up.
Continue mixing for about 8 minutes, with the speed #turntup.
When you have stiff peaks, you're good to go. At this point, it's whipped cream, so go ahead and eat some.

Stiff peaks are also what I look for in men

Freeze in a freezer-safe container for 4-6 hours. At 4 hours, you'll have soft serve. 

I don't know, guys. This is my favorite thing I've made. If I there was a world where I could make ice cream for my friends every day, and do exclusively that, I think I would. Oh, and also nap and watch OG Teen Mom while it's in the freezer. What a life. 

Happy baking!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GUEST BLOG: Cake Pops (for Dummies)

The following is a special guestipe written by none other than my little sister, Annie! She's a teacher, a sweetie, and a cake pop master. In fact, you've probably read about her on this site. So now, read FROM her -- and learn about cake pops (and how I was obviously the best big sister in the world).


Growing up, Emily and I were quite the sister duo. We were the best (or worst?) when it came to bickering back and forth about trivial things that really did not matter at all in the long run. Everywhere we went -- from trips to Target, Sunday mornings at Perkins restaurant, or family vacations, we were the loudest and most embarrassing siblings in the general vicinity. Though we irritated our parents and each other quite a bit, we had some fascinating and quite humorous stories come from our childhood.

Me and my baby. Emily and someone else's baby.

One thing I will always remember is our biannual road trips to Chicago to visit our grandparents. I think anyone with siblings will remember just how miserable it is to sit in a car with your family for eight hours or so at a time. Though our trips were not quite up to par with the Griswold family vacations, they sure seemed insanely similar at the time. Fighting over music choice, pushing each other out of our personal space in the boxy Oldsmobile van, unknown smells, vague complaining and not enough breaks for Culver's (and their bathrooms) to satisfy everyone. Eight hours can seem like a lifetime when you are a young child, but there were always positive bonding moments bound to happen during our time in the car. For example, I vividly remember Emily pulling out a crusty breadstick from an Italian restaurant in Chicago (probably not as good as Olive Garden) from the seat pocket and singing "Bread Boyyyyy!!!!!" in a low heroic voice and it became the theme song to our ride home. This was a song to go along with our family sing-alongs to Kathy Mattea, which was about the only music we could all agree on besides the cassette tape where cows (yes, cows) would sing their own renditions to Christmas carols. This "Cow Christmas" tape had gone missing and its whereabouts are still unknown to this day.

One time, we were on our way to go camping and I had a creepily huge doll with long blonde hair along for the drive in between Emily and me. I vividly remember Emily teaching me how to braid her hair and it's memories like those that you hold on to. On this same trip, we decided to make use of our awesome new car top carrier, which was apparently not attached correctly (give Larry a break, it was brand new technology). Well, we were driving on the highway, probably going pretty slow in the right lane when it flew off with a funny noise that I still remember.

These are only a few of my childhood road trip memories, but between our casual car break-downs and my demands to visit every souvenir shop we saw, they also made a difference in our lives. With that, here is how I make cake pops.

You can make cake pops with any of your favorite boxed cake or you can make it with cake from scratch. I made these ones with three different boxed cake mixes: Duncan Hines' Red Velvet, Betty Crocker's Chocolate & Pillsbury's Funfetti -- though you can use whatever kind you'd like!

Cake Pops (for Dummies)
1 box of cake mix of your choosing (makes 19-25 pops)
Eggs/oil/water (follow box directions)
1 container of cream cheese frosting per batch (I used Betty Crocker)
1 can of Crisco's shortening
2 bags of Wilton's Candy Melts of your color choice, which can be found at Michael's craft store

1 pack of white long cake box sticks, also found at Michael's
strip of styrofoam or something sturdy with holes
...refrigerator and rest of kitchen

Follow the directions on the boxes and bake your cakes of choice in any size pan you wish. Each cake mix will make about 19-25 pops depending on how big you make them.
Once you bake your cake and let it cool for 5-10 minutes, make sure your hands are clean and empty the cake in a large mixing bowl. Break it up into pieces using a knife and put the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes. Once cooled in fridge, take out and break up even more with your hands so that the whole cake is basically crumbs. Take the cream cheese frosting and scoop about two to three tablespoons into the bowl and mix in with your hands as much as you can (this gets messy and doesn't mix well but don't worry).

On a plate or pan or other flat surface, begin making balls with your hands out of the cake. This takes practice and may frustrate you. The frosting will help hold these balls together. Put them on the flat surface until all or most of the cake is gone. Make sure balls aren't falling apart and are pretty compact. Put balls in freezer (or fridge) for 10 minutes.

While they are in the freezer or fridge, bring three cups or so of water to a boil in a regular pot. Place a med-large metal mixing bowl over the boiling water and turn the burner to low. Scoop 2-3 tablespoons of Crisco's shortening into the bowl and let melt fully (it will be clear). When melted, add half a bag of Wilton's candy melts and stir the entire time, into the shortening, until melted completely together.

Candy melts!

Dipping procedure #1: Take the cake balls out of the fridge and make sure they are all pretty much compact. Dip each stick into the melted candy about an inch and place into each cake ball (also about an inch). This acts as glue. This is also the easy part. To make the candy dry quicker, I put them back in the fridge, still on the plate like before, only this time they have sticks sticking up. :)

Thank goodness for Wilton's.

Dipping procedure #2: After about another 5-10 minutes, add the rest of the candy melts and turn the burner up a tad. If necessary, I'd also add more shortening. You kind of have to play it by ear. You don't want the melt too thick because it will cause the cake to fall right off the stick. The shortening acts as a thinner and keeps it from burning.

Pour the entire contents of the candy melts into a tall but narrow cup. I used a very tall coffee mug.
Get ready & brace yourself, this is the difficult part. Don't get discouraged if a few of your pops take one for the team, especially if this is your first time making cake pops.

Carefully take each cake pop and dip them into the cup until you reach about an inch past the pop itself (onto the stick). Turn it sideways and tap stick with your finger to get the excess candy melt off of the pop.
Stick it upright in styrofoam or something with holes in it to let it dry. On to the next one! Do this until you have completed all of the pops. Run out of candy melt? Or something disastrous happens? That is why you have an extra bag, just in case. If you want to add sprinkles, do it before it dries! Don't worry if you make a mess, it's hard to avoid with these.

There you have it! Your first time may not be so pretty but by the second time, you'll be a cake pop pro, I promise.

Happy baking!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Berry Buttermilk Bundt

Uh-oh, summer is weird and I'm in an in-between. I was just home for the Twin Cities Improv Festival, and I'm going back in a few weeks for the Minnesota Fringe. "See you soon!" I earnestly said to all of my friends in Minneapolis, meaning it, remembering that I shouldn't get homesick because I'd be back in a hot minute. Time slipped away in June and I reassured myself that the things that didn't happen then would happen soon -- late-night happy hour at Chino Latino with Taj, Noodles with Tara, a night at the cabin. All of that is great. But now that I'm back in LA and playing catch-up here, I feel like I can't do all of my business before I leave again. I'm writing things and recording my podcast (plug!) and getting drinks with friends and performing -- extra careful to not push anything in my calendar to my Minnesota time. I'm very tired. All I really want to do is watch BBC's Great War Diaries on Netflix and eat tacos. If a friend wants to come over and do that, perfect. I can also do it alone. Wouldn't be the first time. Even trips to Target have felt laborious and that SHOULDN'T HAPPEN.

When I do go home in a few weeks, it will not be a vacation. It will be incredibly fun and friend-filled and exciting, but I will not sleep and I will get sick. I'll drink too much beer. The Minnesota Fringe is like a weird theater camp for adults. Almost all of my friends make shows -- we craft intricate schedules to see them all and spend every night at the same bar celebrating. I adore those 10 days in August, even if I'm exhausted at the end.

I wrote a play called "The Mrs." It's sort of about polygamy and my dear friend Sam is directing and some of my favorite people are in it. It's a lucky dream to write something, hand it off and then see the finished product -- when everyone else did the hard work of putting it together. All I had to do was write it a few months ago, which I did -- often in my bed and usually without pants.

I'm also in a really excellent show conceived and produced by Tom Reed and Anna Weggel-Reed called "Couple Fight." They asked some of their favorite couples to script out the worst, real-life fight they've had, and I get to be involved even though I'm single -- they asked me and my BFF Maureen. We have had one real fight and it involves Pictionary and turns out those wounds are still fresh, because it was no picnic to write. We're fine. Everything's fine. :)

So, in a few weeks, I go back to Minnesota for all of that extra delightful craziness. But in the meantime, I have got to find my center. HELLO, CENTER, WHERE ARE YOU?

Bundt cakes ground me. They're a refreshing go-to when life gets crazy and I can't even think about the layers of my schedule, let alone the layers of a cake. Just mix it all together and pour it in. Bake for an hour and you're done. The flip? Okay, the flip can be stressful, as we all know. But when you nail it? I don't know if there's a better feeling. Rarely have I experienced a clean bundt flip that ISN'T accompanied by an actual cheer, even if I'm alone. Especially if I'm alone. I have to believe it's exactly how an Olympic gymnast feels when they nail a complicated floor routine. Basically, I'm a gymnast.

I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to join a book club here in LA. I haven't been this excited about social inclusion since I got to attend my first boy/girl birthday party in the St. Louis Park Rec Center community room (YES there was dancing and NO I didn't grind with anyone, but it was just so nice to be there, ya know?). I wasn't going to show up to book club meeting #1 empty-handed like some kind of animal, so this bundt seemed like the way to go. Get ready. This puppy's seasonal as shit.

Berry Buttermilk Bundt


2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries

Glaze (optional)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
juice of 1 lemon 
1 tablespoon very soft butter 

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease the hell out of your bundt pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, and set aside.
With your standing mixer (or... hands), cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest, until extra fluffy. You'll know when to stop. You'll think, wow, didn't realize these ingredients could become "fluffy," yet here we are.
Add the eggs one at a time, gently mixing between additions.
Beat in vanilla.
Add about 1/3 of your dry ingredients, then half of the buttermilk, and so on, until it's allll in one bowl.
Let's not overmix, okay?
In your now-empty medium bowl, toss the berries with about 2 tablespoons of flour, until well-coated.
Gently add the berries to your batter, carefully mixing until evenly distributed. If the berries become destroyed by your spatula, and that's the WORST thing that happens in your day, things aren't so bad.
Plop the batter evenly into your bundt pan.

Utilizing my new star-shaped bundt from Nordicware!

Bake for about 55-60 minutes. Use the toothpick test to determine if it's done -- I checked at 50 and it was still a reallll wet mess, but by 55, it was coming out clean. So, once you get close, check often.
Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before inverting onto a plate. 
Take the opportunity for personal reflection and judgement, depending on whether or not you are granted a clean release. 
Cool completely.

Stuck the landing. USA!

If you're into the idea of a citrus-y glaze that may or may not look inappropriate when drizzled:
Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and sofffffft butter in a bowl.
Drizzle away.

This is another cake that could be socially appropriate to eat for breakfast. The berries make it tart and refreshing, and the buttermilk base creates a smooth and moist situation. Moist situation. Deal with THAT.

Happy baking!