My good friend, Allen, sent me a heartwarming email recently. This summer, he will be volunteering at Camp Footprints, a camp first founded in 1992 that serves kids with developmental disabilities. It's a cause especially close to Allen's heart as his uncle passed away from complications with severe developmental disabilities. So in memory of his uncle, Allen signed up to be a camp counselor and plans to raise a total of $800 to sponsor 2 kids to go to Camp Footprints.
Because of current rough economic times, it's not easy to ask others to donate when many struggle to make ends meet—I am currently in that boat. However, I want to give in my own way, and the best way I know is to cook.
For Foodbuzz's April edition of 24,24,24, I was propitiously chosen as one of the lucky bloggers to host a dinner. However, instead of a traditional sit-down meal, I took the opportunity to engineer a day of baking: a Bake-a-Thon (and following bake sale) where all the proceeds go to the benefit of Camp Footprints. Hosted at Allen's apartment, I recruited a small squadron of friends, 4 very capable bodies to bake and package camp-inspired goodies such as:
1. Samoas Rice Krispies
2. S'more Sandwiches
3. Choco Mint Brownies
4. Trail Mix Cookies
At noon sharp, my friends and I assembled at my friend's apartment and began setting up the different stations for maximum efficiency. A cookie-cooling station was first on the list—we created a make-shift bench using my friend Lucky's beer pong table (which was dubbed the cookie pong table for the day). We also transformed the dining room table into the mixing table and the kitchen into a baking machine.
Then, Allen and Lucky broke off to the cutting area to trim out all the labels for the baked goodies. Inspired by vintage candy wrappers, I had designed one-of-a-kind packaging for each of the different items—it was seriously one of the most enjoyable design projects I've had to date!
First off, Samoas Rice Krispies. Yulree, my friend with the serious mixing-arm, was our master mixer. Paying homage to my favorite Girl Scout Cookies, I recreated the classic by adding butterscotch chips and coconut flakes within the marshmallow cereal mix. And to top it off, a drizzle of semi-sweet chocolate.
Pretty soon, the kitchen smelled of caramel and marshmallows—it was glorious. Since the recipe makes one 9 x 13 inch pan, we made 4 batches to make a total of 24 big treats.
Next off, S'more Sandwiches. While I love a good s'more, the time it takes to create one s'more makes it more of a every-once-in-a-while treat, so here I attempted to make them more portable, cleaner, and with less preparation time required.
An involved operation, my friends Pauline and Lucky set off to split the graham crackers, assemble the layers and toast them in the microwave to cement the sandwiches together. All 100 of the them. We found that adding a layer of honey-chunky PB works wonders on the taste and the mechanics of further cementing the treats together.
As the pair was working their assembly-line, churning s'mores out like clockwork, Yulree and I learned the finer arts of tempering chocolate. First stumbling onto Mark Bittman's video a few days back, I learned that dipping chocolate is quite the art-form—when done correctly, you get a nice glossy layer of the good stuff. However, if you do it wrong, you'd get a streaky, dull mess.
Heeding Bittman's warning and advice, we dutifully melted a few handfuls of chocolate bits till the temperature reached 115 degrees. Then removing the mixture from the heat, we "seeded" the choco-lava with more chocolate so the temperature fell to 91 degrees. Because the golden period for dipping chocolate is from 91-88 degrees, we conjured up superhuman speed to dip as many sandwiches as possible. It was a messy, albeit delicious affair.
5 o'clock and at the half-way mark! Now, we switched gears again to create the Choco-Mint Brownies. Due to time constraints, my friends and I decided upon using boxed mixes. We settled on the double-fudge brownies for moistness and prepared the batter as usual… with the exception of adding a box of chopped Andes Mints (laughing diabolically) before baking. If that wasn't enough, we also painted the tops with even more dark chocolate and sprinkled additional Andes pieces on top after cooling for more chocolatey impact.
Two hours later, with our energies almost drained, it was time for dinner! On the menu was Watermelon Aqua Frescas and Bacon-wrapped hot dogs—a little camp-inspired treat for Allen to get him ready for camp. We made the aqua fresca by blending an entire watermelon (including seeds for flavor), simple syrup, the zest of one orange and its juice together with water. Served simply with ice (or for an adult's version, add a shot of rum), nothing is more refreshing.
For the hot dogs, we wrapped bacon around beef franks (bun-length ones are the best), then pan-fried them till smoky and crispy—which was surprisingly harder than it looks because the rebellious bacon prefer to unravel themselves from the franks. It made me appreciate well-made ones on the street so much more. To accompany the dogs, we toasted buns in the oven, sautéed onions with tricolored bell peppers and made caper-garlic aoili from scratch.
Refreshed and stuffed, we shuffled back to the kitchen for the final item, the Trail Mix Cookie. I found a wonderful recipe from Betty Crocker and thought to share it with all of you. Of course, I'm not one to color within the lines, so I made a few minor adjustments (in parentheses).
Trail Mix Cookies by Betty Crocker
Makes 60 cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup PB (I used honey chunky PB for flavor and crunch)
1 cup butter at room temp
1/2 cup shortening
2 tsp vanilla (vanilla bean paste adds little flecks of beans, fancy!)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups oats (I like old-fashioned ones for the texture)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups M&Ms
1 cup peanuts (I prefer lightly salted toasted peanuts for that salty-sweet balance)
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Beat sugars, peanut butter, butter, shortening, vanilla and eggs in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda thoroughly. Stir in candies, peanuts and raisins.
2. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet; flatten slightly with fork.
3. Bake 9 to 10 minutes (I baked mine for 12) or until light brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.
120 cookies later at midnight, we were finally finished! 12 hours of baking—we are true marathoners. To cap the night off, those of us who hadn't yet overdosed on sugar celebrated with freshly made ice cream sandwiches and once once we all switched gears to put Allen's apartment back together.
With our cache of baked goods, our goal is to sell them all (Today at the LA Yelp Elite Event, kudos to Allen for spearheading this!) to be able to sponsor one child to camp.
Thank you to my friends for giving day of your time to embark on a sugar-filled adventure with me. It was a crazy day, especially during the home stretch as we were falling from our sugar highs, but we pulled through and came out victorious!
Until the next time.
* Images courtesy of Lucky.