Sunday, October 31, 2010

November Meal Plan

I like that in the cooler months my options for foods opens up.  I don't like to use the stove or oven much at all if I can help it in the summertime, so now that it is a lot cooler I have been making a lot more soups and breads and casseroles.  We did surprisingly well with actually sticking to the items on the menu this past month.  There were some things that got skipped over, or had their ingredients reinvented into a completely different dish, but that is something I expect to happen.  I think it is a successful month when I don't have to ask Hey, Babe to stop for takeout or at the store to get something quick for dinner.  Since that didn't happen at all in October we'll call it good and move along.

In the 13 months that we've been planning and shopping for our meals a month at a time, we have only had two months that we didn't buy last minute alternative meals.  The other 11 months weren't so successful, things happened and we got a lot more takeout than I'd like or a lot more runs to the store to get something easier/faster for dinner.  2 out of 13 isn't a great track record, but since even the worst of those months are better than before I started meal planning I am happy overall.  Besides, I started this monthly meal planning idea and then got pregnant.  Trying to stick with a meal plan while dealing with pregnancy craving and aversions is tough.  And then figuring out things to cook with a baby on your hip? Also tricky. 

Here is what we plan on eating for dinner this month:

Mon. Tues. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Sun.
Leftover Minestrone Soup Pancakes w/Apple Butter Taco Salad Pan Fried Tilapia, Green Beans, Rice Spaghetti & Meatballs
Southwestern Egg Rolls
Oven Fried Chicken, Creamed Spinach, Baked Potatoes Brazilian Rice and Beans Chicken Caesar Salad Chicken Chow Mein over Rice Pepperoni Pan Pizza Party Salmon Salad Sand-
Make Ahead French Toast Casserole, Sausage White Bean & Ham Soup Chicken Curry Over Rice Spanikopita Sarah's Cabbage Soup Lassagna w/ Meat Sauce Salmon Salad Sand-
Chicken Enchiladas Meatloaf, Broccoli & Carrots, Salad Chef SaladTHANKS-GIVING!! Company    General Tso's Chicken Salmon Salad Sand-
Turkey Soup Crepes

Again, breakfasts are cold cereal, oatmeal, or eggs.  Lunches are some variation of sandwich or leftovers from dinner.  It occurred to me that as the kids get older, leftovers are going to be harder to come by.  That means that I may actually need to start planning lunches as well.  Hopefully by the time that happens I will be so used to planning dinners that it will be easy to do.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Effects of Our Parenting

This morning as a I sat going through my normal routine at the computer, I came across a post that my Pastor friend Noah had written about parenting and lying.  He is addressing the effect our lack in following through on our words has regarding our children.  Specifically, when we tell them that if they don't stop such and such action, they will receive a punishment.  A punishment they never end up receiving.  He is right, this is inconsistent.  It is lying.  It is teaching our children that we do not mean what we say and they can disregard our threats, our promises, our authority.  When we do this, we are setting ourselves up to fail and struggle both now as well as later in the harder teen years.  If we can't control and guide and be affective in our parenting and discipline now with toddlers, how can we expect that they as teenagers will listen to us?  We will have taught them for years that ours is not a voice of authority.

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  I always believed and was taught that this meant specifically in regard to teaching them your beliefs and values from childhood so that they will still be embraced as adults.  I am now considering that it can be applied to all aspects of their lives.  It is our job to be teaching them to respect us, both as people and authority figures (and so we must act in ways that they can respect) but it is more than that.  We are also to be teaching them to be healthy individuals in all areas of their lives.  

When our kids are young we have the power to affect their current and future relationships with everything from ourselves, to exercise, food and nutrition, learning and studying, spouses, their children, themselves, etc.  We have the power to influence nearly every area in their lives.  My Mom always told us that she wanted us kids to take the best aspects of her and Dad individually, and leave their bad ones behind.  For our children to do this we actually have to give them good things to emulate.  While we cannot be perfect parents, we are human and therefore fallible, we need to have a positive influence on them much more often than not.

I often joke that as parents, Hey, Babe and I are the dictators.  If it is true it needs to be a loving dictatorship in which we try to give our children little cause to rebel or revolt, while we are still be doing our darnedest to make wise and mature decisions regarding them and our family.  I think that in many ways parenting has to be a dictatorship, especially when our kids are young, because we cannot entrust the care and decision making of our children to persons lacking in wisdom, maturity or experience (i.e. themselves).  It cannot be an anarchy, where our instructions are disregarded as meaningless.  Which is why we need to be consistent in both our words and our actions.  We need to teach them, with love and care, that ours is the last word and not a hollow chant to be ignored.  The safety and well being of our children depends on the strength and effectiveness of us as parents.   A sobering and weighty responsibility.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Double Chocolate Cashew Cookies, week 5

I woke up this morning groggy and bleary eyed as usual and as I thought over what needed to be done, two things stood out in my mind, my dentist appointment and baking my 5th week of Christmas cookies.  Wait, that can't be right, can it?  If I have a dentist appointment today, that means I was supposed to bake cookies yesterday.  What happened to yesterday?

That is one of the challenges of being a stay at home mom of a toddler and a baby.  The days start to run together and don't really mean as much.  You no longer have Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.  You have today, tomorrow, and yesterday.  Or sometimes just now because that is as far in any direction you can think.  I can safely say that yesterday was a now sort of day.  Which is why I have these cookies in the oven as I type this at 9 o'clock on a Friday morning.

The recipe is nice and simple, and can be a one bowl sort of recipe.  You don't need to wait for butter to soften, which is great for me because I usually fail to remember to take it out in a timely matter.  You do need to let the dough rest a bit before you bake it, but that just means that you can take some time to start your clean up before you pop the first tray in the oven.  I think that these cookies would be great with any number of add ins, white chocolate chips, various nuts, peanut butter chips, etc. but for today I chose what I had on hand, namely semi sweet chocolate chips and chopped cashews. 

Growing up ours wasn't a very chocolate household, we liked it in moderation as in a chocolate chip cookie, but this isn't a cookie we'd have made.  However, Hey, Babe's family really appreciates their chocolate, as I do now, so this double chocolate piece of heaven is right up their alley.  Too bad they aren't here to taste how incredible it is still warm from the oven.  Oh well, they will have to be satisfied with the almost as good cooled version.  If any last that long.

Double Chocolate Cashew Cookies
10 tablespoons Butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
3 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped or broken cashews

Set your mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water and melt together the butter and cocoa powder. When it is mostly melted, remove it from the pot and allow it to finish melting off of the heat. Attach it to your mixer and mix in the brown sugar until it is thoroughly combined.

In a small dish, mix together the vanilla and coffee granules until they are completely dissolved before adding them to the cocoa mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

To the mixing bowl, add one of the cups of flour, the baking powder, and the salt.  Mix until it is just incorporated and scrap down the sides of the bowl before adding the second cup of flour. Mix it in and then carefully stir in the chocolate chips and cashews (or your preferred add in).

Allow dough to sit for 30 minutes or so until it thickens.  While it is resting, preheat your oven to 350°F.  Using a 2 tablespoon scoop, leave about 1 1/2 -2 inches between each ball onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges are set but the centers are still soft.  Allow the cookies to cool 10 minutes on the pan before removing them.  Leaving the cookies on the pan will allow the centers to finish cooking without overcooking the edges, thus giving the cookies a very fudgy texture.

Make sure you check out all the other goodies being baked!

Week 5 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

excerpts from Little Man

It was time to make dinner and the Little Man was all over the place, so scooping up the Storm Sprite to take her with me I asked him to clean up his blocks before dinner.  At this age when I am asking him this it is more of a distraction tactic.  He can sometimes be really good at cleaning his toys.  Sometimes.  What I really expect, especially if I am not staying to supervise, is that he will pick up a few toys and then get distracted and start playing with them.  Most of the time the few that he picked up will end up back out.  Not a very effective way to get the room cleaned up, but it does buy me some time to go to the bathroom, change the Storm Sprite's diaper or start dinner. 

With the Storm Sprite happily observing my preparations from her bouncy chair, I proceeded to pull out the random assortment of ingredients that were going to make our dinner.  The cutting board and my big knife were sitting out, ready to be used as soon as I was done washing off the vegetables.  After I turned off the water I could overhear Little Man from the family room talking to himself. 

I poked my head around the corner to better hear him and saw that he had climbed into the Storm Sprite's exersaucer and was stuck.  Which is why he was saying, "Oh no, I can't reach it.  I can't get the blocks.  Now I stuck forever." 

Breakfast Burritos

While I was talking on the phone with Mom yesterday she mentioned that she was thinking of making some sort of freezable breakfast sandwich so that my siblings who all need to be out the door early would be able to grab an easy, full, hot meal beforehand.  There is always the option of buying such a sandwich, but then you risk buying something loaded with chemicals, preservatives, way too much sodium, lesser quality ingredients, etc. and paying a premium for it.  It just so happens that I made these delicious burritos earlier this week.  I hadn't intended on posting them right away, there are other recipes in line ahead of them, but since Mom is looking for a recipe like this they get to jump the line.

Honestly, this is such a simple thing to make.  Most people who swear that they can't cook are still able to scramble themselves an egg and heat up some breakfast meat to go with it.  That pretty much sums up the recipe.  Well, I suppose it is a bit more complicated than that, but not by a heck of a lot.  What I liked about this recipe was that it is very versatile, you can swap around each of the components to cater to your preference or to just change it up so that they don't get boring.  What Hey, Babe liked about these was that they tasted soo good he felt like he was making a meal out of snack food.  I think that's supposed to be a good thing.  I think that they are better with the tortilla a little bit crispy, it almost tastes like a buttery pastry crust once they crisp up.

These are actually supposed to be Freezer Breakfast Burritos, and I have two of them sitting in my freezer now.  I can't vouch for them just yet, we are planning on eating them as a quick breakfast before we do our monthly grocery trip really early on Sunday morning.  Once we've tried them I'll head back here and update to let you know how it works out.

Breakfast Burritos
1 tablespoon Butter
1/2 lb. favorite breakfast meat: bacon, pork roll, ham, Canadian bacon, sausage etc. (I used bacon)
Favorite Veggies:  diced peppers, diced onions, sliced mushrooms, broccoli, etc. (I used peppers and onions)
6 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup chunky salsa
1 cups Favorite Cheese: Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Colby, American, etc. (I used Cheddar)
12 10"whole wheat flour tortillas

In large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add your choice of breakfast meat, cooking until completely done.  Carefully remove only the meat (not the oil) to cutting board and chop into bite sized pieces.

Adjust the levels of grease in the pan, if there is not enough add some butter/oil, if there is too much drain a little off.  To the hot pan add your choice of vegetables.  Or not.  Some people don't like vegetables in their eggs (or really ever), so that is totally up to you.  I like my onions well cooked, so I added them right away and cooked them til they were nice and softened.  However, I do not like mushy peppers, so I didn't add them at all here.  Mushrooms would need to be added now also.  Cook your assortment of veggies until they are done to your specifications.  Remove cooked veggies from pan to a plate.  Or don't.  If you leave them in they won't be as pretty, but you won't dirty another dish.  (I left mine in.)

In a large bowl, beat eggs and milk together, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Add eggs to hot pan (again, adjusting oil first), stirring frequently until scrambled and set. Add cooked meat, veggies, and salsa to egg mixture.

Warm tortillas as directed on package.  You want them soft enough so that they don't tear when you are rolling them up. Place about 1/2 cup egg mixture onto each tortilla (just divided up the pan into even portions equal to how many tortillas I had) and sprinkle with some cheese.  Fold in the ends of each tortilla and roll up, making burritos.

At this point you can go one of two ways.  You can place them all on parchment paper lined cookie sheets and freeze until solid. Then wrap individually and package in zip-lock freezer bags.  Or you can put them all in a baking pan and bake them at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until hot.  I did both.

When you're ready to eat the frozen ones, unwrap the burritos, wrap loosely in microwave safe paper towel and heat in the microwave on high power for 1-3 minutes until hot and cheese is melted.  Or for those of us who do not use microwaves (me) you can also thaw burritos in the refrigerator overnight and either place them in a baking dish or wrap them individually in foil and bake.  Apparently, the thawed burritos can also be deep fried for 3-5 minutes until golden brown and crisp.  It sounds good but I don't usually deep fry things so I probably won't try it.  Let me know if you do.

edited to update:
We've tried the ones that I froze and they were excellent!  I prefer the burrito to get a little crisp, so next time I won't bother with defrosting it before I put it in the toaster oven (unwrapped so it gets crispy!) for about 15-20 minutes, by then the insides will have defrosted and heated up.  I plan on making a huge batch of these to freeze this weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My First Daring Bakers Challenge

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I had to laugh when I first read the challenge.  You see, around five years ago I attempted to make my own doughnuts and failed miserably.  They were awful, soggy, greasy, doughy, bland, you name it, they were bad.  I ended up throwing the whole mess away and decided I'd never again try to make them at home.  It was too much of a hassle and was not worth the effort.  So then it would figure that my Daring Bakers debut would be the one thing I never wanted to make again.  What better challenge then my biggest flop?

We had the option of making either a yeast doughnut or a cake doughnut, and I actually chose to do both.  I thought that way I would get a very clear idea of which type, if either, were worth ever making again.  I am glad I gave doughnuts another try because these were awesome!  It started off a little shaky but in the end I am glad I persevered.

I started with the recipe for Alton Brown's yeast doughnuts.  Figuring that Hey, Babe and I didn't need 20 something doughnuts and munchkins all for ourselves (twice that amount if I tried two kinds) I cut the recipe in half.  It wasn't until I had finished combining everything that I realized I went terribly wrong in my math somewhere.  Instead of the pourable soft sticky dough that I was expecting, I had a hard, dry lump.  This was not an auspicious beginning for my second-chance doughnut making.

Rather than attempt to fix the dough, or proceed with an incorrect dough and therefore bias my results, I set it aside and started again.  (I ended up letting that dough rise overnight and baking it the next morning to see what would happen.  It tasted like a crumbly sweetbread and was delicious with some homemade apple butter).  This time I wasn't going to bother halving the recipe, instead I just called to see if any of my family was interested in coming over for dessert.  I was sure that some of them would be more than happy to come and help.  I was right.

After that everything proceeded without a hitch.  They finished cooking and were melt in your mouth good, after dipping them in a chocolate icing they were better than any doughnut I've ever bought.  I dipped most of  them in the chocolate icing, but I did save a few to shake in a bag with powdered sugar.  They were both incredible, but the ones with chocolate glaze seemed to be everyone's favorite.  Thanks Lori, for ruining me for life.  I don't think I'll ever be able to buy a doughnut again.

For that first attempt, I didn't really make any modifications to the given recipe.  I left out the spice called for because I knew I was going to dip it in a chocolate icing, and I increased the sugar a bit as someone in the threads discussing the recipe had recommended, but for the most part I stuck to the recipe.  For my second attempt I was going to do some major tweaking.  I waited until game night with my brothers had come up, so that I wouldn't shot myself in the foot again with faulty math.  Then I pulled out my mixing bowls and got my little sous chef on his stool and started making my version of Chocolate Cake Doughnuts using Nancy Silverton's Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts as my base.  

I am for real in trouble now, because these were hands down the absolute best chocolate munchkins I've ever had.  Better than the best bought munchkins I've ever tasted and without the slight chemical aftertaste that you sometimes end up with.  Please pardon the not so appealing photographs, they are quite deceptive.  I am okay with the trade off between their incredible taste and their un-photogenic nature (and yes, it is the munchkins' fault, never the photographers ;-).  On top of the incredible flavor, they were so easy to make (that's why I'm in trouble, these are all too easy to make more of).  I opted not to attempt rolling out the very sticky batter I mixed up and instead took a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop and used it to plop them right into the hot oil.  Next time I'll use a 1 tablespoon scoop because they puffed up quite large and a few of them weren't quite cooked through in the center.  I almost regret waiting until we had people to help polish them off to make them because they were good.  

Thank you Lori for this awesome challenge, both recipes I tried were keepers and I will definitely have to make doughnuts again.  So much for swearing off them, I guess this teaches me to try something more than once before I back away from it forever.  I can't wait to find out what next months challenge is!  

Here are the recipes with my modifications:

Alton Brown's Yeast Doughnuts
For Doughnuts:
1 1/2 cup Milk (360 ml)
1/3 cup Butter (80 ml / 70 gm / 2.5 oz)
4 1/2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (2 pkgs / 22.5 ml / 14 gm / 1/2 oz)
1/3 cup Warm Water (80 ml (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C))
2 Large Eggs beaten
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar (120 ml / 110 gm / 4 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoon Table Salt (7.5 ml / 9 gm / 1/3 oz)
1 tsp Nutmeg grated (optional, I left this out)
4 2/3 cup All Purpose Flour (1,120 ml / 650 gm / 23 oz) + extra for dusting surface
Canola Oil- DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you need around 3 inches of oil

For Chocolate Glaze:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup Milk
1 Tablespoon Corn Syrup
2 teaspoon Vanilla
4 oz Bittersweet Chocolate chopped
2 cup powdered sugar

For the Doughnuts:
1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. (Make sure the shortening is melted so that it incorporates well into the batter.)

2. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. It should get foamy. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

4. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (if you have one), combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.

5. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well.

6. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes (for me this only took about two minutes). If you do not have a dough hook/stand mixer – knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky.

7. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

8. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch (9 mm)thick. (Make sure the surface really is well-floured otherwise your doughnuts will stick to the counter).

9. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) doughnut cutter or pastry ring or drinking glass and using a 7/8-inch (22 mm) ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

10. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 °F/185°C.

11. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side or until golden brown (my doughnuts only took about 30 seconds on each side at this temperature).

12. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

For Chocolate Glaze:
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla over medium heat until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate, whisking until melted and combined. Carefully stir in the powdered sugar and then whisk until there are no lumps. Keep glaze warm over a bowl of boiled water or on your lowest setting on the burner. Stir occasionally to prevent it from setting up as you are using it.

Yield: 20 to 25 doughnuts & 20 to 25 doughnut holes, depending on size

Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts
For Doughnuts:
1/4 cup Sour Cream (60 ml / 60 gm / 2 oz)
2 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour + extra for dusting surface
3/4 cup Cocoa Powder
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar (180 ml / 170 gm / 6 oz)
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda (2.5 ml / 3 gm / .1 oz)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder (5 ml / 6 gm / .2 oz)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 1/8 teaspoon Active Dry Yeast (5.6 ml / 3.5 gm / .125 oz)
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoon Buttermilk (210 ml / 225 gm / 7 3/4 oz)
1 Egg, Large
2 Egg Yolk Large
1 Tablespoon Pure Vanilla Extract (15 ml)

For Vanilla Glaze:
3 cups Powdered Sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup Milk

1. In a small stainless-steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, heat the sour cream until just warm.

2. Heat the oil to 375°F/190°C.

3. Over a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg; make a large well in the center. Place the yeast in the well; pour the sour cream over it. Allow it to soften (if using packed fresh yeast), about 1 minute.

4. Pour the buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla extract into the well. Using one hand, gradually draw in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be fairly smooth before you draw in more flour. Mix until it is completely incorporated. The dough will be very sticky. Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour.

5. Sift an even layer of flour onto a work surface. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of flour. You don’t want the doughnuts sticking to your counter. Scrape dough out of bowl onto the surface; sift another layer of flour over dough. Working quickly, pat dough into an even 1/2-inch (12.5 mm) thickness. Dip cutter in flour and, cutting as closely together as possible, cut out the doughnuts and holes. Place holes and doughnuts on a floured surface. Working quickly, gather scraps of dough together, pat into 1/2-inch (12.5 mm) thickness, and cut out remaining doughnuts and holes.
(alternatively, do as I did and use a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop to drop dough carefully into preheated oil, this dough is sticky and I don't know how well it rolls out after being converted into this chocolate version.)

6. Drop three to four doughnuts at a time into the hot oil. Once they turn golden brown, turn them and cook the other side. Cooking times may vary, but with my oil at 375 °F/190°C, I found they only took about 20 to 30 seconds per side.

7. Once cooked, place on a baking sheet covered with paper towels to drain.

For Glaze:
While munchkins are cooling, mix together all the glaze ingredients very well until completely smooth. When munchkins have cooled, dip each one completely into the glaze and allow to cool on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. I found that my glaze was a tad bit runny so I dipped some of them twice. Next time I will reduce the milk to make a slightly thicker glaze. Or, skip the glaze and just lightly dust the munckins with powdered sugar.

Yield: About 15 doughnuts & 15 doughnut holes, depending on size

Doughnut Recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton

By the way, this is what the mathematically challenged recipe turned out: 

Not quite the fluffy doughnut I was going for.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Excerpts from Little Man

My brother Chris was was over visiting and bemoaned how early he had gotten up and how he was tired.  Upon learning that Little Man had gotten up at the same time voluntarily and moreover does so on a regular basis, he turned to Little Man sitting next to him on the couch and told him, "You have issues."
"Yeah," Little Man agreed, then glancing down at his feet continued, "two shoes."


Little Man was coming down the hall as Hey, Babe stood around the corner.  Thinking to scare Little Man, Hey, Babe quickly thrust the Storm Sprite out from around the corner in front of Little Man.  Without even a hint of a flinch Little Man greets his sister and keeps going.  Meanwhile the Storm Sprite is flailing, gasping, and blinking in surprise and alarm before she burst into tears.  Backfire.


Getting up off of the floor I tell Little Man, who is still siting with his Megablocks, "I'll be right back, I have to go turn on the oven so it can preheat for dinner."  As I head for the kitchen I notice he has jumped up and is running off in the other direction.  After quickly setting the oven temperature and cracking open the kitchen window to combat the otherwise inevitable false alarm our smoke detector gives off when I cook anything at a temover 375°F, I turn back to see what trouble he ran to cause and see that he is coming back from the bathroom. 

"Did you just go turn on the bathroom fan?" I ask him, hearing it running in the distance and knowing the answer to my question.

"Yeah, Mommy's cooking, huh?"

Apparently our super sensitive smoke detectors do not speak highly of my cooking abilities.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lemon Coconut Cake

Sugar High Friday has long been a favorite food blogging event of mine.  If you haven't heard of it, it was an event started by Jennifer of Domestic Goddess.  I always enjoy seeing everyone's variations on the given theme.  The recipes are so tempting and I have found myself bookmarking a ton of them.  When I saw that Allison of Zucchero Dolce had selected layer cakes as this months sugar high, I was excited.  It was no problem in my mind that there was no real world event calling for a layer cake of any kind, I wasn't going to miss my opportunity to participate for the first time.

Normally when I make a cake it is for a birthday.  For such events I choose something that falls within the parameters of the guest of honor's preference.  If they have no special request or if there is no guest of honor, then I just pick something that I feel will appeal to the largest portion of the attendees, taking into consideration such things as known aversions, seasonal flavors, etc.  While this is no hardship, a good cake is a good cake, I am sometimes itching to try something that wouldn't necessarily appeal to my typical audience or to just experiment with a flavor combination.  This was the perfect opportunity to pick whatever happened to appeal to me at the moment.

As I searched through my layer cake recipes there were only two requirements, the first was that it be a cake I felt like eating, the second requirement was that I needed to have all the ingredients.  I wasn't about to pack two kids in the store to pick up stray ingredients for a just-because cake.  Seeing that I did not want to make a cake that only I will eat, after selecting a few cakes that fit the bill I asked Hey, Babe which of them he'd like to try.  He selected a recipe for Coconut-Lime Cake.

Anyone catch that? Lime? Not the lemon given in the title?  Yeah, the lime that I thought I had was apparently an ex-lime.  Easy enough to sub in lemon zest instead, (all citrus fruits are interchangeable, right?).  So much for making sure I had all the ingredients.  My kitchen was rather chilly kitchen so I had to beat the butter-sugar mixture much longer than the recipe stated before it became fluffy, but other than those two changes, I stuck to the original recipe, aren't you proud of me?

The cake was delicious, nice and moist and lemony, but the frosting, oh yes, the frosting.  That is where I was most pleased with my efforts.  Recently, and from two separate sources, I have come across a recipe for making a flour based frosting.  Both sources praised the results of such a frosting.  Being intrigued, I decided to swap out the called for 7 Minute Frosting and try the flour based frosting.  Argh! Another deviation from the recipe!  Still, I wanted to see how it compared to my Swiss Meringue Buttercream which is my current favorite, so yes, I made another change.

Flavor-wise it would be a tough call to decide which method tastes better.  They are both awesome so I'm not going to split hairs over it.  Instead I'll just point out some pros and cons about this one.  While this frosting is super easy to make it does take time to cool completely between the first and second part of the recipe.  In fact, you should actually start the frosting before the cake to save time just waiting for it to cool.  It whips up very light and fluffy, but it does spread on smooth, hence the very rustic and homey look to this cake.  If you don't want to fuss with temperatures and egg whites, and don't need a smooth polished appearance, this frosting fits the bill.  It is creamy, and buttery and not overly sweet, and don't worry, no one would ever guess that flour was the secret ingredient.  I will be using this method quite often, I am sure.  I especially see it on future batches of cupcakes, where the spread of the frosting is not usually so demanding.

All in all, a wonderful success for a spur of the moment, just-because cake.  Please be sure to check out Allison's round up of all the other submissions for this months Sugar High Friday on the 30th, and thank you Allison for this months theme!

Lemon (or Lime!) Coconut Cake
adapted from Williams Sonoma
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups milk
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 Tbs. finely chopped lemon zest (or lime)
4 eggs
1 recipe Boiled Milk Frosting (or your favorite vanilla frosting)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (optional, for decorating)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans; tap out excess flour.  Bring all ingredients to room temperature.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a separate bowl, stir together the milk and vanilla; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the paddle to whip the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar and lime zest and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture.  You should both begin as well as end with the flour. Beat each addition just until incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. To make sure I didn't over beat the batter, I stirred in the last addition of flour by hand, just until it was incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, spreading the batter evenly.  I weighed mine because I'm obsessive, but you can just eye it.  Instead of trying to spread the batter out with a spatula, I carefully gave each cake pan a quick spin to use centrifugal force to even out the batter.  The bonus to doing it this way is that it actually spreads the batter slightly higher around the edges than in the center which can help make your cake bake up more evenly.  Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto the rack and let cool completely.

For assembly:
Using a rubber spatula, fold into 2 cups of frosting the 1 cup of coconut just until incorporated.  Place one cake layer, top side down, on a serving plate. Using an icing spatula or a knife, spread half of the frosting mixed with coconut evenly on top. Place a second layer, top side down, on the first layer and spread the remainder of the coconut frosting evenly on top. Place the remaining layer, top side down, on the second layer. Spread the reserved plain frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Press the remaining coconut onto the top and sides if desired. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes before serving to set the frosting.

Yields: 12 Servings

Boiled Milk Frosting
Adapted From Cooks Country and The Pioneer Woman

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk (whole milk will make it richer than low fat milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
24 tablespoons unsalted butter softened (3 sticks), cut into 24 pieces

1. Mix together sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt into a medium saucepan. Be sure to mix it well to prevent lumpy frosting.  Slowly pour in milk, whisking quickly until very smooth (again, you don't want lumps).  Over a medium flame whisk constantly until mixture boils and is very thick, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape mixture into a clean bowl and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.  (Here is where you should start making your cake)

2. Using a stand mixer (a hand mixer was not recommended as they said this mixture would be too thick) whisk cooled milk mixture together with vanilla on low speed until combined. Begin adding butter 1 piece at a time, and beat until they are all incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase your speed to medium-high and whip until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Let it sit at room temperature until stiff, about 1 hour.

This frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 week. When you are ready to use it, let it stand at room temperature about 2 hours or until softened.  Re whip it on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. 

for chocolate frosting, add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. 
for coffee frosting, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder to the dry ingredients.
for cream cheese frosting (oh goodness!) replace 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter with 8 oz of softened cream cheese (and then eat it all with a spoon because, hello, this is cream cheese heaven!)

Makes about 4 cups (enough for two 9-inch cake layers)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies, Week 4

So far for each of these weeks of Christmas cookies, I have been minding my own business and baking my cookies and then when I go to sit down to write up the recipe it all of a sudden hits me that we only have a few weeks until Christmas! Woohoo!  

Sometimes you want a rich, indulgent, full dessert of a cookie and sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you’d rather just have a mildly sweet treat to snack on without feeling too guilty.  These cookies are good for that second time.  Loaded with healthy goodness from the pumpkin, oats, walnuts and chocolate chips (hey, they have antioxidants!), these cookies lean towards the healthier side of the cookie platter and still satisfy a sweet tooth.  

I like the idea of having a less decadent holiday treat to offer on my cookie platter so that guests (or myself!) who may have ordinarily passed on dessert can enjoy a little something without the guilt.  I also like that I can let Little Man have one without worrying about a sugar buzz keeping him up until dawn. . 

And since they have oatmeal in them, that means that you can have these cookies for breakfast, right? 

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup sugar (next time I will use brown sugar)
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups rolled oats
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips 
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside

3. In a separate bowl, beat softened butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in egg and pumpkin.

4. To the creamed butter mixture stir in the flour until just combined. Stir in oats, nuts, and chocolate chips.

5. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. These cookies won't spread much so wet your hand (to prevent the dough from sticking to it) and gently press your palm down on each cookie to flatten. This will help them to cook more evenly.

6. Bake 15-18 minutes or until done. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Be sure to check out what everyone else is serving up!  
Week 4 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baked Chicken Parmesan

When I was scanning through dinner possibilities on BigOven last month, I came across this recipe for Lighter Chicken Parmesan.  Chicken Parm is one of Hey, Babe's favorite meals (the other being General Tso's Chicken) and I hadn't made it in a while.  One of the reasons is because it takes so many dishes because of the breading process, but since we have a dishwasher that is no longer an issue.  The other reason is because I can't guarantee that I will have the use of my hands at dinner time so I try to choose things that can be made earlier in the day and either kept hot or reheated, or are something I can make with one hand holding a cranky baby.


As I scanned over the instructions I noticed that one of the reasons this was lighter was because it was breaded and baked instead of being fried.  To me that meant I could assemble the whole thing while the kiddos napped and have it ready to pop into a preheated oven at the right time (one handed if necessary).  It worked wonderfully.  Personally I prefer my Chicken Parm fried, calories and all, but this is not a bad substitute. 

I think that next time I will toast my panko quite a bit less.  See the first picture above is what it looked like before I toasted it, and the second is after.  This was too dark for a crumb that was going to be going into the oven and getting more toasted.  The time given in the recipe was way to long and I was distracted so I wasn't watching carefully or I may have noticed it getting a bit dark.  I also think that since I am not going for lighter but rather more convenient, I will add a bit more oil (or maybe even butter for more flavor) to the panko.  I think that part of the reason this wasn't as good as the real deal was because the breading was drier than the regular fried version, these two tweaks would help solve that problem.  Who knows, maybe changing those two things will make it even better!  Well, probably not better, how can you beat fried foods?  But it might help make it a closer second.

Baked Chicken Parmesan
1 1/2 cups panko (or regular bread crumbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter (or more)
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup flour 
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 eggs
3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and halved
2 cups tomato sauce warmed 
3 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil 

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 475°F. Combine the panko and oil in a medium pan and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until golden. Spread the toasted crumbs in a bowl and let cool; when cool add the Parmesan.

2. In a second bowl mix the flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper together. In the last bowl beat the eggs.

3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top (I found that the one from my toasted oven fits very well). Pat the chicken dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the chicken in flour and shake off the excess.  Dip the coated chicken into the egg whites and the place into the bread crumbs.  Press firmly on the bread crumbs to make sure they stick. Lay each piece of chicken on the rack as you finish it until they are all completed.

4. Spray the tops of the chicken with vegetable oil spray. This is where I stopped and set the tray into the fridge until it was time to start dinner.  When ready to proceed, place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

5. Remove the chicken from the oven. Measure 2 tablespoons of sauce onto the center of each cutlet and top each piece with mozzarella. Return the pan to the oven until the cheese has melted, 5 minutes or so.  Serve with cooked spaghetti and sauce and extra parmesan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Can you have too many recipes?

I have a lot of recipes.  More than I will ever be able to make.  Probably.  It isn't really that I have tons of cookbooks.  I have 24 or so actual bound books, which may seem like a ton to some people and to others may be a pittance.  However, that really isn't where I keep the bulk of my recipes.  My computer (sneaky little thing) is my real cookbook.  The program I spoke of before, the one Little Man attempted to sabotage, is where I give a home to thousands of recipes.  Thousands.   And I am constantly adding more.  Every time I open up my blog reader, another appealing recipe catches my eye and I paste it into my recipe database.

The reason I will probably never be able to make them all is that most of them fall under the dessert or snack category.  Oh, I believe I could probably cook through all of the savory, main dish type of recipes.  I could probably cook a new dish every night for the next three years without repetition and get through at least all the ones on my computer.  But while you eat dinner every night of the week, there are a limit to how many sweets and treats you eat in a week.  Especially since I don't like Little Man to have to much sugar and Hey, Babe claims he isn't much of a dessert person (I sometimes wonder at the truth of that claim as pieces of cake and cookies disappear).  That leaves most of the eating of those aforementioned baked goods up to yours truly.  While I may be thrilled to eat them, I know my body would rebel.  A steady diet of to much sugary fattening foods is unhealthy. 

This is why I collect recipes.  Reading about them and other people's experiences making them is almost as good as being able to try them myself.  Almost.  I know that I will probably never be able to make them all (hey, you never know!) but I like having them.  Collecting recipes is one of my hobbies.  I hoard them, and I'm always looking for more.  As far as collectibles go, recipes don't really take up much room (especially the ones on my computer) and there is the potential at any given time for me to use one. 

This blog is helping me to realize that potential.  Since starting it up a little over a month ago, I have already made 20 or more new recipes.  That's about 4 new recipes a week.  Not all of them are on here yet, some of them are part of the Daring Baker's challenge and so will be revealed on the 27th, others I just haven't finished a write up on, and one of them I am wondering if I should even post it, since it was a recipe I will probably not make again (not even to tweak it). 
I checked and I have now made a bit more than 12% of the recipes in my main dish recipe file. Perhaps I actually will be able to work my way through all of them in the next three years.  You never know unless you try!  I am really enjoying this new outlet for my recipe collecting hobby.  It makes me more inclined to schedule in new recipes for our monthly menu.  Knowing that I have posted my intent to make something in particular will make me more likely to follow through since someone may return looking to see the results. 

I only foresee two problems with trying to cook through all of the main dishes in my recipe hoard.  The first is Hey, Babe wanting to eat something I have already made again because it was soo good (although, is that really a problem?).  The second will be my inability to stop collecting more recipes for my database.  You all keep making so many delicious things that I want to try.  My only hope is to cook faster than I collect.
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