Monday, July 9, 2012

The Adventures of Isaac #2

"In Which Isaac Watches a Scary Movie"
(only not really)

"He needs to watch out!  There's a bad guy hiding behind that wall!"

"Why is he still getting closer?  Doesn't he know???"

"So close!!!  One more step and he's a goner!"

"I can't watch, Aunt Becky!!!  I just know he's going down!"

[suspensful silence]

"AaaaaUUUGGHHH my eyeballs!!!!"


Oh wait, here are a few more pictures.

Bye for now! :)

The Adventures of Isaac #1

"In Which Isaac Get's His Fingernails Cut"
(only not for real)

"My momma really needs to cut my fingernails, haha!" 

"Wait... She's not planning to use that thing, is she?"

"She is!!!"


"She's going to use that... that WEAPON to cut my fingernails!!!" 

5 minutes later...

"Remember that one time I got my fingernails cut?"

"It was so crazy!!!"

"You thought I was scared, didn't you?!"

"Okay, maybe just a little."


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

I'll be honest.  This cake isn't new to the internet.  But it sure is delicious!  I first made it for my sister's birthday on January first, and then I made it again when I found out we were having company for my birthday the very next evening!  It's just that good. :)

I don't remember the particulars but I'm sure I've made it a few times since then, not including this past Monday, when I made it for a small, late, but lovely celebration of Tabitha's birthday.  It was a sister night, mainly, although there were some roommates and, briefly, her husband involved.  We first had cake and ice-cream, because we were all starving and the pizza still had to be gotten, and then we had pizza.  Yummy. :)

And we watched "North and South," which I quite enjoyed.  In the past you wouldn't find me watching, reading, or in any way enjoying any kind of historical drama... But I can't say I had any complaints about this one, except that it was four hours long.  But you know, that gives you the opportunity to really get to know the characters.  In fact, I think I'm going to read the book, when I get the chance to go to the library.

Anyhow... the cake!  The recipe I found for it was accompanied by a delicious chocolate frosting, but my sister wanted a cream cheese frosting, so I fudged it a little so it was something in between.  And then I covered it with miniature chocolate chips.  It took half a bag!  But overall, it wasn't the worst looking cake I've ever made, and regarding taste... Well, you simply can't go wrong with this recipe!  I've added Andes pieces and hot fudge, which was delicious, and I imagine that you can do anything with it that you'd possibly need to do with a delicious chocolate cake.

Without further ado, I give you the Best Chocolate Cake (in the World) aka Black Magic Cake.  (That entire title was the name under which I found it.)

Black Magic Cake
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
2 c sugar
3/4 c cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 c strong black coffee, cooled
1 c buttermilk (1 T white vinegar with enough skim milk to make 1 c, let set for 5 minutes)
1/2 c vegetable oil (canola oil)
1 t vanilla extract
In a mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium for 2 minutes (my hand mixer and the one I'd borrowed from a friend both broke, so I mixed it by hand) to make a runny batter.  Pour into two 9-inch round cake pans- greased and with wax paper cut to fit the bottom.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  Release on layer onto a cardboard cake round, and top with frosting (or hot fudge and Andes).  Release second layer onto the first and frost.  Decorate as desired.

Chocolate Frosting
1/2 c margarine, softened (for cream cheese-ish frosting, I used 1/4 c margarine and 4 oz of neufchatel)
2 oz melted unsweetened chocolate, cooled
3 c powdered sugar (I used more for the cream cheese-ish frosting)
3 T milk (skim)
2 t vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients and mix; spread on cake.  (you may want to 'cream' the margarine first... or just throw it all in a blender or food processor)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Best Cinnamon Rolls!!! (with Vanilla Bean Icing!)

So, on Wednesday, I got up at 5:50 am (I meant to get up at 5:30) and made some super fluffy somewhat healthyish amazingly awesome and delicious cinnamon rolls with vanilla bean icing.

Not to brag.  It's just an awesome recipe.

...I also made some fruit salad and coffee and stuff, but the main thing here is the cinnamon rolls.  I left while they were on their second proof at about 7:30, with instructions for my little sister to put them in the oven because I had to go pick up some friends.

And, like the last time I tried to pick up those friends, I took the wrong road and had to take this other way and blah blah blah, because guess what?  I get lost ALL THE TIME!!!  I kind of hate that about myself.  I even have a GPS that a very kind friend gave me when they heard about my getting lost because their vehicles have built in GPS, but it wasn't in the van.  Go figure!!!

All the same, it worked out without much hassle and we still got home at the exact time I told my little sister we'd be back.  Awwww yeah!  That means that if I'd have gone the right way, we'd have been home early.  Not that that'd have been a problem...

About the time we were eating our cinnamon rolls, another friend showed up on his way to work.  "Actually, I'm leaving in like, two minutes," he claimed, although he proceeded to stay for several hours.

And guess what, he wasn't even late for work because he has like, the best job ever, because basically he goes and helps this really awesome and hilarious old guy fix super expensive grand pianos, but he doesn't have a strict schedule or anything.

Imagine, if you will, me when I'm taking pictures of food and there are guests:  [looks up sheepishly] "Hey. [click] You. [click] Go away. [click click] Don't watch me. [click] Don't laugh at me. [click click] Shut up!"

10 minutes after he left, his brothers showed up.  We played games all morning, and had quesadillas and mocha cheesecake for lunch. Mmmm.  Except a couple of people had cereal.


And then...  We went to the zoo.  I would post some gnarly pictures of animals.... Except I took more pictures of the people I was with than the animals, because I like them better.  But here is a picture of me with two round stuffed pigs in the gift shop.  Hahahahha. :)

See my bangs?  Those aren't bangs.  Those are new hairs that my head decided to grow right there even though I already grew out my bangs.  *sad face*

After we made the rounds at the zoo, we came home and I made spaghetti and garlic bread for supper.

Only... the first batch of spaghetti noodles flopped.... and the second noodles hardly flopped at all, because they weren't cooked all the way through.

But it all worked out.

Sort of.

Annnnnyways.  The cinnamon rolls were awesome.  And their vanilla bean icing was, also.  So, yeah.

Here's the recipe.

Awesome Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Bean Icing

1 T active dry yeast
3/4 c warm water
1/2 c quick-cooking oats
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c packed brown sugar
2 T butter, melted
1 egg
1 t salt
1 3/4 to 2 1/4 c all-purpose flour

3 T butter, softened
1/3 c sugar
2 t ground cinnamon

1 c powdered sugar
6 1/2 t skim milk
4 1/2 t butter, softened
1 vanilla bean, scraped

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add the oats, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, butter, egg, salt, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour.  Stir until smooth.  Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft sticky dough.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.  Place in a bowl coated with cooking spray, turning once to coat the top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down.  Combine the filling ingredients and set aside.  Roll into an 18x12-inch rectangle and spread it with the filling as close to the edges as you can.  Roll up longways and cut into 12 slices.  Place them in a greased 9x13-inch pan.  Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes or until golden.  For the icing, beat the sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla bean until smooth.  Using a food processor makes that really easy!  Then just drizzle it over the warm rolls!  Mmmm. :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Long, Long Absence, and Pizza Experimentation

It all started Monday June 4th when I popped my jaw.  As you may recall from the end of my last blog post which was way back on June 5th, I was feeling pretty miserable.

Well, on Wednesday, I decided to stay home from hanging out with friends and take a nap, and when I woke up, voila!  I was coughing, lethargic, and had no appetite.  I knew there was a reason I didn't like napping!  That didn't keep me from napping nonstop whenever possible in the next week or so though.  And doing nothing.

On Thursday I managed to pick up our German friends and bring them to our house, where I proceeded to sleep while they played games with my little sister.  When I woke up, it was too late to call in sick to work, so I got someone else to take them home while I took another nap.  Work was miserable, but I (obviously) survived.

I made it through graduation on Friday, although I couldn't get the brownies for the post-grad sundae bar out of the oven or make hot fudge or caramel sauce or cookie dough crumble topping because the smells were too strong.

I coughed through my sister's wedding on Saturday, and did absolutely nothing to help, which I felt pretty bad about.  I didn't even go outside for the bubbles.  I was wearing a silky jacket over my dress, and one of my sisters warned me "Make sure you don't get any bubbles on your jacket!  It'll leave round stains!"  So I stayed inside, and warned my enthusiastic young friends that I would pummel them if they dared blow bubbles at me.  At one point, I was sitting down, not paying attention, when one of them forgot and sent a deluge of bubbles right towards me.  Thankfully, my little sister saw it coming and (I like to think in slow motion) dove in front of me with a "NOOOOO!!!!"  and successfully blocked all the bubbles.  It was sort of epic, even though I was sort of oblivious until I was tackled and everyone was screaming.  Okay, it wasn't quite that dramatic.  But pretty close. ;)

I was supposed to work a few days in the next week, but I took work off to nap and not move at all whatsoever in an attempt to recover.  Okay, actually I just didn't feel like doing anything, because HELLLLOOOO... I was sick!

The next weekend, I went to Chicago to make cupcakes for my awesome awesome awesome friend's wedding.  It was a great weekend.  I had lots of help making the cupcakes, and the work I did do, I wore a surgical mask (or whatever the equivalent they sell at CVS is) for, because I didn't want to cough on the food.  But her wedding was awesome. :)  They had a photo booth and tea balls for favors and the best group of people ever.  Even her relatives are awesome!  Have I mentioned that Chicago is my happy place?  I'm not sure that I'd want to live there, but goodness!  I just love visiting!  The people, the food, the conversations, the things we do...  It's amazing. :)

Anyhow, we made 5 different kinds of cupcakes (white, vegan chocolate, spice, lemon poppyseed, and red velvet), and everyone seemed to like them, even though I accidentally put buttercream on the red velvet cupcakes and cream cheese frosting on the white cupcakes.  I don't think anyone really noticed.

Throughout the weekend, I was gaining strength, so even though I got back late on Saturday, I was able to work on Sunday afternoon.  I burnt myself making waffle cones, but it was great, because at least I didn't feel like taking a shift-long break, which was how I felt on Thursday!

Sunday night I unpacked my stuff from Chicago and packed my stuff for family vacation, because obviously the best way to recover from being sick is to go sleep on the hard ground, hike, and eat junk food!

We only really ended up taking one hike, because we were annoyed that they weren't loops, since we don't like backtracking.

The hike we took was long and rugged.

We had to go down down down into a gorge, then hike up a creek bed where the stones got bigger and bigger, the end of which was this teeny tiny waterfall way up high blocked by trees that totally wasn't worth the hike especially since you could see it from a lookout point above... (and hardly worth picturing, with all the trees in the way...)

...and then we had to hike back down the creek bad and then back up up up the gorge.  It took hours.  And my little sister got wounded. :O

It was pretty fun, though.  Nice and tiring.  And my little sister is recovering very very quickly. :)

But really, I read a lot and wrote some letters and sat around a lot and didn't eat too much junk food (except for s'mores, because I'm awesome at making s'mores).  Vacation wasn't exciting or particularly comfortable... But y'know, you gotta have that family time, no matter how busy you've been and no matter how much you'd rather be sleeping in a comfy bed.  Plus, my sister let me sleep on her air mattress for the last two nights, so at least I could sleep somewhat comfortably.

But this is pretty much what happened most of the time....

Puzzles for some, letter writing and reading for me... and also the reading aloud of "The Mouse That Roared" and "The Mouse on the Moon," both by Leonard Wibberley.  They're both utterly ridiculous and yet hilarious.

Oh, and also, this happened. :)

The day before yesterday, we came home, and on the way, the tire on our trailer fell off.  

Thankfully we had a spare, which was put on quickly.  Even so, due to a lunch stop and the tire dealy, by the time we got home, I had just enough time to unload and shower before going to a show with some friends!

That's John Davey and Laura K Balke, people!

So yeah, I'm happy to be home and not have places to go and things to take work off for, for a while anyhow.  I think I'm going to start drawing and painting more, and hopefully baking, of course. :)

Speaking of baking, I got home from vacation, and horrified at all the either bad or going-bad food, threw out a lot and then decided to use some of it up for supper tonight by making... pizza!

Some of the stuff I used I didn't even know was going bad before I used it.  But yeah, we had 1 1/6 a pint or so of wrinkly cherry tomatoes, two regular tomatoes, each with a little mold on the top, a head of cauliflower with a few browning spots, pepperoni, some of which had some bad spots on it (has pepperoni ever before gone bad in our house???), thawed hamburger leftover from vacation, some of which was a little gray from coming into contact with water (I cut off some and cooked it well), and a perfectly fine lump of pizza dough in the freezer from a while ago.

First I made this cauliflower crust.  And you know what?  My family actually liked it!  When my dad first heard that I was using cauliflower for a pizza crust, he was all like, "Will you pleeeeeeease make a sorta normal pizza?" (He's not big on all my mad kitchen scientist pizza experimentation stuff).  I replied in my head, "[grumble grumble grrrr]"  But I made some normalish ones anyhow.  But he liked the cauliflower one jjjjjust fine. :)  Which I totally didn't expect, but woo hoo!

The crust from the freezer was roughly this one....  Although I may or may not have put in a leeeeettle bit of whole wheat flour, I think.  It's habit.

...and I also made a whole wheat crust, which is a never-before-made recipe from my recipe book which was good but not spectacular.  Mom thought it tasted yeasty.  Whatever.  First you proof 1 T yeast in 1 c warm water.  While it proofs, you mix 2 c whole wheat flour, 1 t salt, and 1/4 c wheat germ.  Then you make a well and add 1 T honey and the water/yeast mixture.  Stir it all up, let it proof in a warm place for 5 minutes (I did longer just because I wasn't ready to use it) and then top and bake.  I baked it at 375 but that was just sort of an experiment, because I always wing it when it comes to pizza.

Honestly, I'm not sure if I've ever made the same pizza twice.  In fact, I'll probably never post a "this is my go-to pizza recipe" ever, because I have so many bookmarked pizza recipes and recipes in my recipe book that my pizza is always different.  Plus a lot of times I have to wing it, or am experimenting with baking stones or healthier crusts or funky toppings.  Soo.... Yeah.  On the plus side, my family has never NOT eaten the pizza I've made, so it's all good. :)

For the sauce (which I made roughly from this recipe), I first blended some onion and garlic until practically a paste.  It probably would have gone faster in the food processor, which is what the recipe said to use.  Anyhow, then I sauteed them.  Meanwhile (while the onions and garlic were sauteing) I threw the tomatoes, cherry and normal, (moldy spots cut out) into the blender until they were liquidy.  I added them, a can of tomato paste, and some salt and pepper and Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese in the pan with the onion and garlic.  I let all that cook down until it was saucier, since it seemed a little too liquidy at first.

For the hamburger, I browned it through, drained it, then added salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and onion powder.

I topped the pizzas with sauce, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni (except for one which I didn't have enough pepperoni for), and hamburger.

And this time I baked them right on the pan instead of using stones.  They all baked in 15-20 minutes at 375, except the cauliflower crust, which per instructions was prebaked at 450 for 20 minutes.  And they were pretty tasty, not just all things considered, if you know what I mean.

Well, if you stuck around for the whole post, good for you!  All I gotta say is... I'm back. :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Not-Eclair Cake and Easy Tiramisu

I was going to make an Eclair cake, but forgot some parts, and changed others, so I pretty much ended up with something different. I made the first layer of graham crackers, and the first layer of pudding, and while I pondered why it looked so wrong and why I was running out of pudding so fast, I added a layer of oreos dipped in coffee (yes, using a spaghetti server - hey, it worked great)

Then I remembered that the pudding was supposed to be mixed with cool whip. That resulted in a couple phone calls, and an excursion to the grocery store by someone on my behalf. I passed the time sprinkling cinnamon on the oreos (can you really go wrong with any combination of coffee, chocolate, and cinnamon??) and squirting some canned whipped topping in between the oreos. When the cool whip arrived, I mixed that with the last remaining bit of pudding and did the last layer: chocolate graham crackers. Delicious!


And now along the lines of custardy desserts: tiramisu. I finally managed to track down some mascarpone cheese, and to my surprise found some real ladyfingers in my pantry. I spent a little time trying to figure out when I got them and where, since I have had the worst time trying to find them in stores lately, then I realized I must have gotten them some time ago, and decided not to think about it anymore since they still seemed fine, and even had a nice easy recipe on the package. My paraphrase from memory:

  1. Separate three eggs; beat the egg whites until firm.

2. Mix the three egg yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar and 8 oz of mascarpone cheese and then blend the two into a custard.

 3. Dip the ladyfingers in strong coffee and make a layer in the pan. (Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the one I made with actual ladyfingers. These pictures were taken using margherite cookies instead - see my notes below regarding substitutions) Cover with a layer of the custard, then another layer of coffee-soaked ladyfingers, then the rest of the custard, and sprinkle the top with cocoa powder. Keep refrigerated until served. Can be made a day or so ahead of time.

I made this for our last potluck at church. Because there wasn't very much of it to go around, I put a sign on it saying it had strong non-decaf coffee in it. Did that slow down the children? I somehow didn't get the feeling it did. Fortunately, I did manage to snag a little before it was gone.

A couple weeks later I made it again. I could not find ladyfingers in any of the grocery stores I checked...grr. Note to self: If I can't find something in a store one time, wandering hopefully through the international section or the cookie aisle on subsequent visits isn't likely to yield any different results. It may, of course, result in my getting either some other kind of cookie, that I really don't need to be eating, or some obscure foreign food that looks interesting, that I may or may not like. Anyway, I really just need to check the international grocery, or start making them myself if I can't find them there. Actually, Bex has sent me a recipe to make them, which purports to be EASY! I will have to try it and let you all know how it goes, but I haven't yet, so that isn't what this post is about.

So moving on with some notes on substitutes: First, I suppose that cream cheese could be substituted for the mascarpone, but I can't officially vouch for that since I haven't done it. I think the mascarpone is softer (I didn't have to soften it at all to get it to mix with the custard) and possibly sweetened - at any rate, I don't think it's as tangy as cream cheese.

Most of all though, I must note that as far as cookies with which to make tiramisu, they are most definitely not all created equal. In this case, I got some cookies that looked similar to ladyfingers (see the picture; the margherites are in the pan and the ladyfinger is held in front. I was hopeful because the Margherites were approximately the same size and shape of ladyfingers (in case you were wondering, about like um, a lady's finger...not a delicate lady's finger, but a plumpish sausagy sort, flattish and of course without any knuckles or fingernails. Actually, probably more the size of a man's finger, but that just doesn't sound dainty and appetizing the same way...but, well, now I'm disturbed that any kind of finger is supposed to sound appetizing.) Well, anyway. Margherites are NOT the same. You see, the primary distinguishing feature of ladyfingers is the absorbency. A real ladyfinger, you must dip very quickly in the coffee, and even then it pretty much falls apart almost immediately, so you decide it would be better to just lay them in the pan and drizzle the coffee over, and you find that they seem to be inquenchable, and one layer in an 8x8 pan will easily absorb a full cup of coffee, and get even plumper. And then you find that the second layer, on top of the custard, is even more fun, because it drinks up any coffee that overspills onto the custard.

Margherites, on the other hand, are more just like vanilla cookies I guess. I had high hopes when I quickly dipped one in the coffee, but no such luck. Margherites require more of a soaking process, I found. I improvised with the same process I used for the oreos.

Even so, they did not swell and fill the pan, meaning I also found myself running a little short on the custard because it had to fill the spaces between the cookies instead of just laying on top.

Still, when all was said and done, it didn't come out half bad!