Life Lessons From Baklava

Living with a chronic sweet tooth can simply only be soothed by trying every new dessert in sight. I never thought this would lead me to a new obsession with baklava, or finding out my grandpa made baklava every Christmas eve for years after trying it in Greece, but nothing tops the life lessons I learned when making baklava itself with my dad.

1. Sometimes you can actually have too much butterdsc_0049

I’m the first one to jump off the healthy eating train, but if there was one thing I would
change about my final baklava product it would be how much butter i slathered on there.

2. Everything can be fixed.

Next time i’ll use my butter more sparingly; The phyllo dough can be re-arrranged; Toss those almost back in the food processor. Nothing is permanent, in the kitchen anyway.

3. It’s the simple things in life

Square baklava is nice, but the simple act of cutting them diagonally is the perfect touch.

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4. Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

My newest cliché motto that is so essential to putting together baklava at a decent pace. Simultaneously keeping the dough moist and laying it with the butter is so much easier with a two person team.

5. Don’t Rush

I always insist on using convection bake instead of regular bake, which we thought cut off 20 minutes of the cooking time. Turns out, it could’ve used a few more minutes. The baklava holds for several days, letting the dough soak up both the butter and syrup, so you can easily set aside 15 minutes a day for the next week to enjoy this.

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6. The biggest surprise is in the syrup

While what led me to this masterpiece of a recipe was a combination of family and friends, the simple syrup made it worth it. It was a small detail but the finishing piece and essential element.

7. Sometimes you have to just let the food speak for itself

Not matter how much I described this dessert to my little brother, he didn’t seem to grasp the beauty of baklava until he tasted it for himself. He was speechless himself after that. The sound of nothing but forks hitting plates might be one of my favorites.

Constantly eating,

Casey

Peep my other eats on Instagram! @penneformythoughts

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Tried & True: Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies

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Finally back at it again with the #FoodieFridays! Food has been such a big part of my life lately but not in a way that I could write about it on my blog until now. Thanks to my lack of warm weather plans, I took to the kitchen during my few days back at home this past week.

I wanted to make something different, but not too timeIMG_0908.jpg
consuming. Cookies seemed like a good way to go, but I wanted something more than my basic chocolate chip cookies. This led me to deciding to make yet another Pinterest find, Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies from Betsylife. Luckily for all of us and my family, I was very happy with how they turned out.

Highlights:

  • Dark chocolate is really underrated and I used to consider caramel overrated, but the combination is perfect. These cookies specifically have a great ratio so that you’re never stuck with a caramel-less bite.
  • These cookies still manage to not be over chocolate-y, so you can shovel down more than a few without immediate guilt or that death-by-chocolate kind of feeling.

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Tips:

  • IMG_0848.jpgUse the full 9 oz bag of Toll House DelightFulls. It seemed like too much so I did not initially add all of them, but after doing my first batch I added the rest of the bag to the dough I had left and it really added to the rest of the cookies
  • Be cautious but generous with the salt. I personally do not like a lot of salt with caramel, but I was a little too cautious with these cookies.
  • Judging these cookies in the oven was tough because they start out dark anyway, so I personally just trusted my gut. They do not spread very much, but you will start to see them almost crack open a bit like a load of bread when they’re done.

My family found the appearance of these cookies in relation to how appetizing they are debatable, but we all loved them for their taste. Heated up and mixed with vanilla ice cream is an extra special treat!

Let me know if you try this recipe! Also, does anyone have any tips for how to come up with my own recipes? I can’t just talk about other people’s creations forever!

Crazy for Caramel,

Casey

Why and How I Photograph Food

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I have a confession to make: I took a picture of a majority of the meals I ate over winter break. It was not because I happened to have my phone out, but rather I was proud of how good the meal looked. I think a colorful and well presented meal is a good tell of how well it is going to taste and sometimes even how healthy it is. You probably won’t see a lot of my dining hall meals on Instagram because they just are not worth my time (or even tastebuds recently), but I do not see any shame in whipping out your phone to capture meals worth remembering–which is my foodie case is most of them.

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Do It For the Insta?

I don’t take pictures just to post. Even before I really got into social media and blogging, I was taking picture of my food. Now I’ll admit it’s nice when it turns out to be Instagram worthy, but at the end of the day I am happy with all of my food pictures.

Memories May Be BeautifulIMG_0128.JPG

I am all for some good old nostalgia. Pictures of food,  like any pictures, can remind you of both the deliciousness of the meal and the event around it. This stands for life in general as far as photography, so food is just another part of it that people sometimes neglect. Remembering my eighteenth birthday as special is easy, but seeing the picture of my colossal cake brings back specific memories of my family laughing at its unanticipated size.

Rewarding

On the occasional days that I eat a healthy meal, I find it rewarding to capture it. It helps me to remember to eat healthy when I look back, and it makes the whole idea of eating healthy more appealing when the food is so beautiful!

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What I keep in Mind:

  • Lighting: Dark, romantic lighting may set the mood for date night, but that chocolate cake might just look like mud. I’m not personally a fan of flash, so check your settings.
  • Editing: Don’t over edit your food, whether you’re posting it or not. Food isn’t necessarily all natural anymore with rainbow bagels and ice cream sandwiches, but the photos shouldn’t make them look cartoon-ish.
  • The Surroundings: Depending on your intentions, the setting is everything! *Queue brunch pictures*
  • Take some pictures, then put you’re phone away! I’ve always wanted to play that game where everyone’s phones go in the middle and the first person to grab theirs has to pay. I am obviously for capturing memories, but enough is enough sometimes.

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Now I feel like I need to have this post printed out with me whenever I feel like people are staring at me when I take pictures of my food, which is even more necessary now that I write for Spoon University.

Do it for the Food!

Tweet and tag me in  your food pictures! 

Constantly Capturing,

Casey

 

Donut Skip Breakfast. I Mean It.

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Instead of suffering through biology or chemistry, I’m taking Nutrition for a science class. I am definitely excited to learn more about proper diets and what I am putting into my body. My teacher is Jamaican, so she says that she grew up being told to eat like a king for breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner. The problem that Americans have is that we do the opposite.

I have never been able to understand why or how people skip breakfast. When I eat breakfast, my stomach is growling two hours later so really even just a small breakfast doesn’t work. I think my nutrition teacher, as well as most people around the world, have the right idea with eating more in the beginning of the day.

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What You’re Missing Out On When You Skip Breakfast:

  • IMG_9312.jpgFUEL: Technically the most important part of the most important meal of the day. All of the iron and protein taken in from eggs and bagels give you energy, but the best part is that you have the whole day to burn it off.
  • A GOOD TIME: Making Breakfast is fun. You don’t even have to wake up early; that’s what brunch is for. Whether it’s banana pancakes on a rainy day or scrambling those eggs to a beat, enjoy the time for yourself or who you’re with!
  • Photo-Ops: Breakfast food is very photogenic. Enough said there.
  • MORE DESSERT: Let’s face it, most typical breakfast foods are practically desserts–which is probably why I love breakfast and brunch so much. You can go really healthy with eggs and oatmeal, but even super healthy fruits are sweet. Occasionally Treat Yo’ Self and  take it up a notch with waffles or coffee cake. Your sweet tooth will be thankful and maybe even satisfied for the whole day–unless your sweet tooth is out of control like mine. This goes back  to the fuel and having the whole day to burn off that Captain Crunch covered donut or cinnamon streusel french toast (that’s what that beauty below is).  

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I do not always eat sweets for breakfast, I actually usually only do as a treat, but when I do I could not be happier. Waking up to sugary treats is always ideal. I am currently on the hunt for a good sit-down breakfast or brunch place near my campus, but my dining hall scrambled eggs do the job. 

Even if you aren’t big on sweets, I hope I have convinced you to make some time for breakfast. They aren’t kidding when they say it’s the most important meal of the day!

Shout outs in the same order as their photos to Fractured Prune (OCNJ), SunRise Cafe (OCNJ), my own kitchen, and Benelux Cafe (Milwaukee, WI) for my beautiful examples!

What’s everyone’s favorite breakfast food? Let me know!

Brunch or Die Crew,

Casey

 

 

 

Years In The Making: Tried & True Birthday Cake

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Cake was like my first true love. I’ve baked on and off for years, but when I started making cakes from scratch something really clicked. The decorating is still a challenge to me, but I love creating the more important part of the inside. Cake usually signifies an important event, whether it be a birthday or sporting victory, and I love being a part of that to this day. I eventually made some cakes for family events and friends’ parties. After all of that I have perfected my chocolate cake, but I struggled until just recently to get a perfect vanilla cake.

IMG_9686.jpgMy face completely lit up when my dining hall had vanilla cake today, and it was surprisingly moist and delicious. This reminded me of the last thing I baked before I left home–a vanilla cake with chocolate icing.

I make the cake with a recipe from BuzzFeed, of all places. I could spend hours watching those several-second Tasty and BuzzFeed videos, but I finally took the time to makes one of the recipes that I had seen.

Props for BuzzFeed:

  • This cake is actually moist. All the recipes I have tried, including the almighty Cake Boss’s, turned out dry. IMG_9720.jpgThis recipe does not need a single extra oil or egg yolk; it is perfect the way it is.
  • The recipe was easy to follow. No difficult techniques or requirements for leaving the cake to set in order for it to get the right shape.
  • This cake is HUGE. It is supposed to be three layers, but even just separating it in two was huge.
  • The flavor reminds me of a boxed mix, which I do not consider a bad thing, but that does lead me to my one critic: Instead of 2 teaspoons of vanilla, try about 1 tablespoon instead. I have not done this myself, but the cake was missing the true vanilla flavor when I made it. That extra 1 1/2 tablespoon would probably do the trick.

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I did not personally try to make the icing, because let’s be honest 12 oz. of bittersweet chocolate can get expensive, but Duncan Hines chocolate icing did the trick! I decorated with some white icing and UD colored sprinkles because I knew I couldn’t mess it up. I actually think it turned out pretty cute!

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I have only made this recipe once, but my whole family was just so pleased with the results that I wanted to share! This cake would definitely make a perfect birthday cake, or you could make it on a boring, cold winter day like I did!

I would love to hear about and see your results if you make this! Tweet me @caseyirwin97

Your not-quite-cake-boss-but-cake-manager,

Casey

 

 

Bananas for Bananas: Tried & True Banana Bread

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It’s been a crazy week for me, so nothing better than ending it would a scrumptious #FoodieFriday 

Today is the first day in six that I have not eaten banana bread. Even as I drove halfway across the country the country with my dad, I brought three small pieces with me to snack on. I practically bleed mushed banana at this point, so it is probably best for my health that I ran out.IMG_9657.jpg

The banana bread that I was eating was not from a bakery, but my own making. Banana bread is one of the first things I think to make when I come home to visit my family, especially when there always happens to be neglected, overly-ripe bananas laying around.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.59.42 PM.pngI would like to say I adapted the recipe to make it my own, but really it is just a Food Network recipe that I tweaked a little. The funny thing about baking in that the littlest tweaks can make the biggest difference in the final product, eventually even making a difference in your day as you enjoy the product.

My Tweaks:

  • The recipe is called “Banana Muffins with Mascarpone Cream Frosting”, but the only thing to that I keep from the title is the “Banana” part–so no muffins and no frosting. Keep it easy with a 9 x 13 bread pan and butter the pieces for an extra treat.
  • Making the bread means cooking it longer to about 40 mins. Getting the middle cooked usually means a darker exterior, but I personally love the barely-there crunch and color that the extra heat gives it.
  • The 4 ripe banana it calls for does a decent job at making the bread moist, but go for 5 if you can swing it! It takes the moist-ness of the bread to a new delicious level. I sometimes find using only 4 dry, being so used to the 5.
  • If you’re making the bread for a crowd, considering mashing the bananas a little extra. The only complaints i’ve had with this bread was from those who don’t enjoy the banana bits, but some people prefer those.

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So the recipe is basically perfect… I almost wish it hadn’t been so I could tell you more tweaks, but the given spices are so perfect with the banana flavor!

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 5.24.08 PM.pngBanana bread can be enjoyed any time of the day with just about anything–As a side with eggs, with a smear of butter on the side of a cup of tea, or my brothers even like it mixed in with vanilla ice cream.

I would recommend to any baker and eater!

Anyone else basically addicted to banana bread? Has anyone tried this recipe with the frosting? I have always kind of ignored the frosting, but I am curious how it tastes!

Constant Carb Consumer and Alliteration Admirer,

Casey

The Key to Success[ful cookies]

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After watching a full season of The Great British Bake Off in one day, I find myself reconsidering my whole life and wanting to return to my baker dreams that I had just a few years ago. While I hope to get over this feeling soon, unless it might just lead me to bigger and better things (…food PR…), I know I need to appreciate being able to bake anything I can get my hands on.

No matter how intricate or beautiful the latest food trend is, nothing quite beats a classic chocolate chip cookie. The first thing I baked by myself were chocolate chip cookies, and I have luckily come a long way from the mess that those came out to be. For years I had classic tasting cookies, but their pancake shape was not quite right. Now, thanks to a  recipe my mom got from a friend [hence the random name], I know the not-so-secret key to the most picturesque, delicious chocolate cookies that I could ask for.

Darci’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients: IMG_7002.jpg

2 Sticks of Butter

1 Package of (4 1/2 cups servings of) Instant Vanilla Pudding (🔑)

1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

1⁄4 Cup White Sugar

3⁄4 Cup Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

2 1⁄4 Cups of Flour

1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

Chocolate Chips to Taste

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Process:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit (convection bake).
  • Combine butter and white sugar (in a stand mixing bowl is easiest); Add brown sugar and pudding mix; Beat for about 2 minutes; Add eggs and vanilla; Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda (Optional: Save about a cup of flour and mix with the chocolate chips in a separate bowl).
  • Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
  • Mix the chip/flour mixture in with the dough. The dough gets fairly thick at this point, but that is normal.
  • Form balls of dough by hand or with an ice cream scoop. The dough keeps it shape pretty well when baked, so keep that in mind when choosing size.
  • Bake until the cookies are brown around the edges (I always go by color), about 13-18 minutes.

These always satisfy my sweet tooth and hankering to bake, and I never have an excuse not to make these cookies whenever my dad begs me to–even if he just wants to eat the dough. They’re just so easy on the eyes and hands. I wish I had a batch of these with me right now!

I would love to see any of your results! Are there any other classic cookies or baked goods I should master next?

Your Cookie Connoisseur,

Casey