Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grandma's got a fresh new look! She must stay away from the water cooler!

After yesterday's carrot cake gluttony that ended the student cake month competition things were partially of necessity a little low key today. No one signed up but fortunately the last resort vending machine had an ample selection of cookie's that could get people through their sugar fix.  For commercial cookies these are absolutely fine but maybe a little too soft for cookie aficionados.   We were thrilled to see the Grandma had a "Fresh New Look"!  Just check it out.

Today we talked about an interesting little contradiction happening in people's work lives here and elsewhere. Upon changing the water in our water cooler filled with big bottles from that place in Maine, we notices the plastic plate that the bottle top sat on was covered with a green slime.  Upon removal it was clear we had a nice crop of algae growing.  We wondered why no one had observed this earlier and thought this could be a major issue.  If you check out the following link, however, you see that indeed this was previously noted.....back in 1992!

So that nice fresh spring water we are consuming is in fact flavored with algae.  In Boston, in April, they put a "boil water" order in place for over two million people when a pipe ruptured and the back up system, though functional, possibly contained about 5% pond water from one of the older back up reservoirs.  At the same time though a large chunk of the affected population was going about their business at work drinking water contaminated with probably the same amount of goo.  I think I will go back to the water bubbler we have that uses appropriately treated muinicpal water. It seems the more you learn about bottled water and its issues the better regular tap water is looking.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Big T makes his first cake and knocks 'em for a loop!

The final entry for student cake month was destined to be interesting. A reluctant if not shy participant who had not really been taking part due to his supposed lack of interest in sweets.  He was placed on the schedule somewhat involuntarily to make sure he didn't escape his obligation.  He - supposedly - had never baked anything before which is fine because he could have bought something.  But the Big T went for it opting to create something to compete with what came before. In the process he hit one right between the goal posts.

Check out  the cake carrier.  A pre-Tupperware aluminum version the likes of which no one had ever seen before.  The packing tape to secure it was also an imaginative touch. As mentioned we were expecting something interesting but the unveiling produced gasps of disbelief.  The dude concocted a four tiered carrot cake made from scratch.  It looked freakin' awesome, albeit not the most intricately decorated cake, and made quite an impression on everyone who saw it.

Pre-Tuperware cake transport

Our first time pastry chef

Practically a wedding cake

Admiring his creation

It also made a bigger impression on everyone who ate it. It was a no holds barred recipe - that he found in an "old book" in his house -  that contained everything you expect in a good carrot cake including pineapple, coconut, chunks of walnuts, carrots, of course and that whole cup of vegetable oil that makes it oh so moist and caloric.  The classic cream cheese frosting was also spot on.  The cake was a good size and the creator assumed he would be taking a good chunk of it home but as you can see it completely disappeared.
The devouring begins

Aw shucks, I'll gladly give you my...recipe!

I guess I won't be taking any of this home!

The deed ...and the done

Our baker developed an instant following and several cacklers were so enthused that they had to have the recipe prontissimmo. They even went so far to plop pen and paper in front of him as if he would remember the recipe off the top of his head.  The response was adulatory enough that if it had been a rock concert they might have been asking for his underpants. People joked he should change careers, he should become a baker, he had something to fall back on if he failed in his chosen line of work...all this after baking one cake!!  Or did he?

Funny how there happened to be just enough various size pans to make what he did. Clearly someone had baked before...and that cake was it that was just lying around..never having been used??  It almost seems that someone in the house had done some serious pastry work in the past.  Was this really the big T's creation?  This could have been the controversy but nah, we believe him especially since he could recite enough of the recipe to convince any skeptics.  So our reticent pal who had never baked before and had previously freaked out at the prospect of singing "Happy Birthday" because he thought he would look foolish stepped right up to the plate and for the final pitch of student cake month hit one right out of the park!!  Go big T!

Since this was also awarded a five star rating we now need to schedule a bake off for the three five star winners. Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Five stars despite Martha's flaccid flan recipe

Today's student cake month entry was a twofer. Our volunteer baker came up with two fruit tarts - a peach creme tart and a fruit flan recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.  Visually spectacular and also delicious on both counts!  The creme tart was baked to perfection so that the consistency was as one expected and it was not overly sweet.  The flan was flawed!  Despite the best efforts - including a stint in the freezer  - the custard would not hold together and it got a little soupy. According to our student baker who was somewhat stressed and feeling the pressure the recipe called for flour in the custard. Flour?  This is a custard not a gravy, Martha Stewart, what are you thinking. Since it looked great and tasted great - especially with the addition of orange peel to the custard - we attribute the glitch to a deficient recipe. Two cakes, both looking and tasting fabulous brings this a five star rating much to the relief of the student. Since her colleague in the lab took the prize last year she felt the pressure to replicate the five star success. She pulled it off so the winning streak continues, Evan Walker!
A twofer!

Fabulous flan

Peachy Tart

The ambitious baker

Baked to perfection

Soupy goodness!
Tomorrow the cake master leaves for his wedding in his native Hong Kong!  Congratulations to him and his bride to be.  It turns out they are getting married in a Catholic church in Hong Kong. Cna you imagine?  Who knew they had such things?  Also since he is not a Catholic we wondered how that could happen. Apparently it can happen, he just gets characterized official as being part of "another cult."  Is that how the RCC refers to other religions as cults?  Hmm.

When asked about a bachelor party it turns out there was one held which is appropriate because with all the strip clubs in Providence you can't really not have a bachelor party. It was lame with only three people in attendance and a rather tame club was chosen. I guess he will have to wait to experience pole dancing or legs and eggs.

It turns out the organizer of the bachelor party was a grad student who had been part of a disgraced lab that had to retract papers and was booted out of town. The PI landed a position at another university far removed from here indicating they believe in redemption or they were desperate for faculty members.  Hopefully it wasn't this bitter lab experience that drove this grad student to become an expert on strip clubs.

Homemade goodies again

After a brief commercialization of cake time - two store bought cakes, we are back with a homemade item for today's submission to student cake month.  Cake time is also coffee time and what always works is some version of a coffee cake. This was referred to as an apple coffee cake with crumble topping i.e. an apple streusel cake (Apfelstreuselkuchen) or a reasonable facsimile thereof.  Our student baker did a great job.  Not at all dry as coffee cakes can be and the apples were strewn throughout instead of just placed on the top.  The crumble topping had moistened so it wasn't very crumbly anymore but since it adds that extra sweetness on the top there was no effect on the end result or the taste.  Our student baker had also provided some home baked chocolate and strawberry scones for earlier in the day. A special consideration on her part.  This was a four star effort for the cake and for the extra goodies an added half star!

Apple coffee cake with crumble topping

The uncrumbled crumble top!

Apples throughout instead of just a layer

A wide range of topics were included in the conversation. The subject of Hong Kong came up for two reasons. First it was felt that Cantonese cooking Hong Kong style produced some of the best food in the world.  And second, our friend Vicki was wishing to go there. This expanded the discussion to include all sorts of things about what you can get or could do in Hong Kong. You can't gamble - you have to go to Macau for that. You don't have a lot of room to spare if you are evacuated from a building because of a fire. You can buy all sorts of things including cheap electronics that are not available elsewhere and you can get a complete set of golf clubs for $59.00!  Just don't expect too much for those clubs.

We also learned that dear Vicki is going to Costa Rica and was wondering what to do while she was there. Since she hails from Costa Rica that seemed a little odd.  It was suggested she consider surfing as we know someone who is going there for that reason.  We also couldn't resist asking the question a la Cartman in the South Park rain forest episode if Cost Rica "smelled like ass"!  Vicki was adamant and understandably defensive in insisting that it did not "smell like ass."  However as an alternative, having just attended the DDW in New Orleans she was happy to inform that the Big Easy "smelled like ass."  Another cake hour attendee who had also attended the DDW was quick to concur that indeed down there it "smelled like ass." Apparently it must! Maybe it was appropriate then that a digestive disease conference was taking place there. Was that the reason it "smelled like ass?" Who knows but something to keep in mind when planning your Mardi Gras vacation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back to Basics

Friday's featured cake represented a back to basics.  The student picked this up at a local store and at first blush it looks like it's going to be another chocolaty delight, doesn't it?  Shaved chocolate decoration on the sides - or were they chocolate crunchies?  Strips of dark chocolate on the top and a nice white frosting for contrast with those chocolate cake layers. 

Well too bad that they were vanilla cake layers and only two to boot. Hence we are back to kind of a basic two tiered format cake with standard frosting that doubled for filling and the most basic of flavors.  All the creativity went onto the outside of this cake not sub-frosting. It was underwhelming from the taste standpoint but as always was a great sugar pick me up for the end of the day.  Three stars goes out to today's student cake month participant even though he was probably snookered by the outside of the cake that indicated something more than what turned up inside!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Raspberry and Hot Pink Coconut Cake

This is different.  We thought we had tried most everything from Gregg's but in walks today's student cake donor with something we had not seen before.  This is a raspberry coconut cake consisting of four yellow cake layers with raspberry filling and coconut decoration around the top and the sides. To try to keep with the color scheme part of the shaved coconut was dyed hot pink presumably with whatever number food coloring hot pink would be. (Red number U238?)

Like all cakes from Gregg's this was a good size and was very fresh. The layers of cake were very moist, the raspberry filling was tasty, and the frosting was sweet, probably shortening based, but was not overwhelming.  The cake was listing a little to one side making it look a little deflated. That did not take away from the enjoyment, however, because once you cut it up who cares what it looks like. Well actually once we cut this into slices, the collective plated did make for an interesting picture continuing our occasional series of cake photo art.  Our cake pal got a four star rating for this cake. You usually can't go wrong with Gregg's and there was plenty to go around.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The cupcake trend is not dead...just ask a vegan

Clearly the trend is not dead judging by the fact that today's sixth contribution to Student Cake Month was -  more cupcakes!  And those comments about the gloppy frosting on the top - well take that with a grain of salt.  These are carrot cake cupcakes with the traditional cream cheese frosting.  They were very good and made from scratch by today's student contributor.  The recipe appeared to be the traditional one with the typical spice type cake loaded with nuts. The frosting was not overwhelming and tasted as it should. The big surprise was that they were vegan!  A vegan baked good that actually tasted good!  The cream cheese in the frosting was made from soy.
A good spread for the day

Colorful treats

The cupcakes continue

Who suspected it was vegan!

Four and a half star pastry chef of the day

We were sure as heck surprised and it made several of us rethink our opinions of the vegan life style (not really.)  Our last vegan treat, which was tofu based brownies, was rather awful so we were happy to see that not everything in the vegan category is hopeless.  Kudos for opening our minds and mouths to vegan goodies. This rating was four and a half stars!

Also in addition to the vegan delights our friend Josh made amends by bringing in two more cheesecakes after being so stingy last week when he brought in one for thirty people.  With the cupcakes and the two cheesecake pies there was plenty to go around today!

The question of the day relates to the vegan diet and that it involves no animal products.  The indiscreet query was asked - "If you are eating vegetables or fruits that were fertilized with animal manure (poop was the word used) are they truly vegan?"  Food for thought but only a vegan knows for sure

Classic carrot cake
At last, plenty of Josh's cheesecake
Just about gone!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We're on a roll...

Pecan rolls to be exact!  Sticky buns, pecan rolls, cinnamon them what you want but they are a classic and a homemade batch appeared today as our fifth entry for student cake month.  There is a slight qualification to the homemade label - we did learn that frozen dough was purchased and used so they were not made from scratch. According to the student cake month rating guidelines that prevents a five star rating but does not detract from the quality of the product or the earnestness of the effort. It's just the rules!

Our baker did a very good job. The more you enjoy sweet treats the more you learn that sweeter is not always better. Considering that you understand with pecan rolls that the dough which is barely sweetened counteracts the sugary cinammon pecan swirl that is the feature of these rolls.  The final result is a balanced confection that is just sweet enough.  These were also enjoyed by the gang and were given a four star rating, although it was felt they could have been baked a bit longer to get that golden brown hue you expect.

It's a good thing they were well received. Our baker was practically having an apoplexy over the whole experience. (The pressures of student cake month can be intense.) In the end she needn't have worried as her work was suitably appreciated and she got all the credit that was due.  We also admired the colorful plates that were used. It made the overhead picture almost seem like a work of art!

Monday, July 19, 2010

At last ...cupcakes worth considering

It may be true that the reappearance of cupcakes as a trendy treat started with Sex and the City. It may also be true that cupcake shops are propping up the New York City economy according to this link:

But truth be told most of what we have seen are little cakes with an oversize dollop of some ridiculously sweet or lardy frosting on the top. Some of them look good but that glob on top can be hard to take. So there have been no great fans of cupcakes to be found here.  Until today, that is!  The fourth entry for student cake month may have changed a few minds or at least presented the world with an alternative to the aforementioned over-frosted versions. 

These were Nutella cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting topped with a fresh raspberry. They looked great and the presentation was impressive. Who knew they made cupcake carriers.  The two tiered carrier loaded with the mini- cakes was quite a sight.  Best of all they tasted great!  The chocolate ganache proves that you can do more with less and you didn't feel like your arteries were hardening as you ate them (though they probably were.)  These little babies got a great response and were awarded a five star rating - the first so far in the tradition of student cake month!  Kudos to Brighid who we found out likes to bake and has agreed to another slot at the end of the month. She may give Grandma Miller a run for her money!

Friday, July 16, 2010

This is not an episode of the Golden Girls.

Nor is it "Student CHEESECAKE Month".  We just would like to clarify that.  We do like a nice cheesecake now and then but we are into variety. Today came the third student cake month contribution - cheesecake again - and was not a homemade effort. The cake came from Whole Foods and was actually decorated very well. It had the usual graham cracker base crust and was a normal vanilla version cheesecake. On top however were strawberries mixed with whipped cream florets in somewhat of a checkerboard fashion. It was rather pretty. Unfortunately due to a camera glitch the pictures all got deleted so we have nothing to show.  This received a 3 and a half star rating from those enjoying it.

It has been a pretty hot day and a special treat was included. A watermelon had been contributed and been in the refrigerator. It was served up nice and cold as an added treat and proved to be very refreshing given how hot it has been!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grandma Miller comes to town and wows 'em!

Today was the day that we finally got to enjoy the presence and company of Grandma Miller - with her daughter and granddaughter!  Grandma Miller has inadvertently been feeding us for the last couple of years since her granddaughter began her PhD work here.  Little did she know that by loading up said granddaughter with food she would develop such a fan base of aficionados of her baked goods. Grandma Miller did not disappoint and she went for broke. That oven must have been busy for several days because she showed up with all her special delights including zucchini bread, banana bread, chocolate chip cookies and her cake version of shoo fly pie. This is a nice adaptation of the recipe and the result is a lot lighter than the normal pie.

Anyway, it was standing room only for this special guest and in the process I'm sure she developed even more admirers.  Everyone was excited to be photographed with her! We are indeed thrilled that she made the journey and hopefully she will follow up with her promise to return around Thanksgiving with some of her specialties from that season. We can't wait! We heart you, Grandma Miller!