Thoughts

Weekend Ruminations

I used to follow a blog a long time ago whose writer would occasionally offer up a dose of “Friday Flotsam.” Along a similar tone, the Bon Appetit editorial staff emails occasionally send a catch-all summary of their happenings behind the scenes in their own world. They can be pretty amusing sometimes, so I occasionally break through my 30 second attention span to scan through an entire email. The best part of both of these offerings is that they are an effective tool to remind people to stay human. It doesn’t matter how many hats you wear or balls you’re juggling in the air, you’ve sometimes got to stop and smell the roses.

I promise I will never use that many clichés in one sentence ever again. I will also make a goal to never use that many clichés in a single blog post ever again.

I recently made a batch of delicious macarons that I’ve been dreaming about ever since. It might be on my to do list very soon, as they make wonderful gifts, dont they? Valentines Day is hard on our heels! Does anyone have plans they are looking forward to? This weekend I have an order for 5 dozen heart shaped sugar cookies and accompanying bags of icing. I love that! It gave me the excuse to pick up a new set of cookie cutters. Have you noticed the common trend this year that many of the stores have less than pleasing shaped cutters this season? I was telling my husband that I needed to make a trip to a specific store to purchase a set I previously found online because every set of heart cookie cutters I have seen elsewhere looks like an upside down saggy bottom. He laughed when I emphasized that the heart needed to have pronounced angles or else it would look bad once the cookies bake.

I must confess, this makes me feel like I need to increase my exercise routine even more. I dont want my assets to look like a cheap cookie cutter shape, do I? How is everyone doing on their new year’s resolutions? I have a friend who is down nearly 25 pounds, and I’m over here cutting out all caloric happiness and tripling my exercise, and all the scale says is that I have gained more rather than lost some.

The irony of typing this commentary is that a woman just knocked on my door to deliver food that someone had ordered. She had the wrong door, but I can’t help but wish it Was a delivery for me from my favorite Pho restaurant. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me that there should always be room for pho. This absolutely feels true to me.

Happy Friday, everyone. My goals for the weekend are thawing my hands and feet (I’ve been cold almost all week), making a comforting pot of soup for the family, and possibly filling my car with a load of donations. I’m living the dream, folks. That, and I really just need to slow down once in a while for my mental health. Lazy, quiet weekends are my favorite antidote to a long, stressful week. These wont last much longer, since my son will be back in soccer season soon.

Have a great weekend!

DIY · Good Things

It’s a Good Thing

Remember the older television episodes of “Martha Stewart Living” when she would squeeze in some super little tips or tricks to simplify or beautify your life? They usually ranged from flower arranging to a quick organizing hack. Man, I loved that show when I was younger! If I could have a show like that nowadays, I would be in heaven. Oh, the things I could share! I’m just putting that out there in the universe to collect some positive energy, okay?

Well, I have something to admit. This year has been brutal. I feel like my emotions have been battered, my nerves have been worked raw, and my soul worn ragged. Because of that, the unfailing optimist in me has decided it is time to bring back “Good thing” segments.

I needed a little cheer in my life, so I made myself a cute decoration for my car. (Since I practically live in it now that school is back in session, I want it to be cute and cheery.)

It’s a mini scentsy warmer!!

The cute jar has perforations in it so the lovely scent dissipates slowly from the natural heat of the car interior.

All you need is a few items you probably already have at home. A small jar, some paint, sand paper to rough up the lid if it is glossy (mine was an upcycled baby food jar), and a cheery flower. This is a sola wood flower which I dyed in advance for this project. You can find a huge array of gorgeous flowers similar to this one here. (I’m not an affiliate and don’t receive any dividends from promoting this company. They’re simply a wonderful women owned and operated business and deserve to be noticed and supported for their exceptional products and customer appreciation.)

Use a hammer and nail and carefully punch a few holes into the lid of your jar, and then paint it. Once your lid has dried, just glue your flower(s) of choice on top with a glue gun. Fill the jar with a scented wax melt or even some whole coffee beans, and you’re good to go!

It’s a good thing.

Baking · Breads · Vegetarian

Whole Wheat Bread

I recently brought a few loaves of homemade wheat bread to a friend of mine who lives on the other side of town.  That night he made a point to tell me how addictive it was.  I think he was telling the truth, because it was completely gone within a week.  That’s not too shabby, if you ask me. I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten around to blogging it until now, but here it is for your homemaking bliss! The best part is that it is (nearly) whole wheat and 100% guilt free.

Made with Love. My husband happens to be equally good at making bread, if not better. Oftentimes, he will force me out of the kitchen so he can have time with his special recipe. In fact, this is one that he found and I adapted for our family needs. This picture features some of the lovely loaves that my husband recently made.

Even better, it freezes well, I’m planning to make a bunch of loaves of bread in one weekend and we will be all set when school starts in a few weeks.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is pre-sliced before freezing or not.  I’ve tried it both ways and they’re both great.  If you do freeze it, be sure to let the loaves cool completely before slicing.  Wrap up in a regular bread bag, and then put into a freezer bag.  They should last up to 4 months in the freezer.

I love this recipe because it doesn’t fall apart when sliced, and it handles well for toast or sandwiches.  It is heavenly when sliced while still warm from the oven and slathered with soft butter and raw honey.

Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat bread perfect for sandwiches or on the side of a hearty stew.  It holds together with minimal crumbs and doesn’t taste too heavy.  If freezing, cool completely before packaging.  Will last in the freezer for up to 4 months.  

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon active, dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered nonfat milk
  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour or bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • additional flour for kneading

Instructions

  1. Liberally butter one 2lb bread loaf pan. 
  2. Combine warm water (around 105°F) with granulated sugar and yeast.  Allow to get frothy for 5 minutes while assembling other ingredients.
  3.  In a large mixing bowl, add yeast mixture, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, the all purpose flour, powdered milk, butter, and egg.  Mix this for two minutes.  Gradually add another 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour to encourage dough to pull off of the sides of the bowl.
  4. Turn out dough and knead by hand for approximately 50 more turns.  
  5. Cover and allow dough to rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Turn out dough.  Shape dough into your loaf pan, cover it, and allow it to rise in the bread pan for 35 minutes.
  7. While dough rises, preheat oven to 375°F.
  8. Bake bread for 30 minutes or until inside reaches approximately 200°.  If bread is at risk of browning too quickly, add a foil tent halfway through baking.  
  9. Turn out immediately onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely before slicing.

 

 

Breads · Brunch · Uncategorized

Going Bananas!

I’ve been spending the summer determined to relax and rest with the kids as much as possible. Even though we have been doing occasional outdoor activities, it is so darn hot and we don’t feel the need to keep up with the sun-scorched Jones. We are natural home bodies, and it is wonderful to do nice projects with them around the home or yard. We’ve been doing a fair amount of cooking and testing recipes for the freezer too. The reason this is so important to us is because during the school year, and when sports come back into season for our family, it feels like we have an activity nearly every night. This gets taxing on me since I have an infant and still fight on a daily basis to keep my thyroid energy levels optimal. As a result, I love doing as many things as I can in advance to lighten our burdens once it is the busy season.

I’ve been going bananas! Literally, bananas are constantly on my mind lately. Hah. It’s officially summer time in the valley, and for Las Vegas that means HOT. We like to eat as much fresh produce as possible this time of year to keep our bodies hydrated and not overheated. Sadly, one of the fruits that gets passed over is the overripe bananas. My family isn’t terribly picky. We all love bananas, but once one of them gets a bruise, my kids think it is ruined. That means I had to come up with a way to not let them go to waste. This was particularly difficult as I’ve never actually found a banana bread recipe which I absolutely loved. I mean, they’re all good, but none of them are outstanding.

I think I finally found the perfect banana bread recipe. It is adapted from Nigel Slater’s black banana cake. Instead, I decreased the amount of sugar because bananas are already sweet enough without help, and I increased the volume of the recipe to make it more practical for a large family. The best part? These beautiful loaves freeze wonderfully!! It will last up to 4 months in the freezer when packaged properly. Just take it, parchment paper and all, and wrap it up in a bread bag, and a freezer bag after that. When you’re ready to use it, pull it out of the freezer 8 hours in advance or the night before.

Golden Banana Bread

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 1 loaf

Ingredients

2 medium, ripe bananas

1 (half cup) stick room temperature butter

2 ounces brown sugar

2 ounces granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional:  10 oz. of your favorite chocolate chunks (I prefer 70% soy-free chocolate chunks)
and/or 8 oz. of chopped walnuts or pecans.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and line with parchment one 2lb bread tin.

Mash bananas with a fork in a small mixing bowl and set to the side.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars.  Add bananas, mix.  Add eggs and vanilla, mix until smooth.  Gently stir in the flour and baking powder.  Do not over mix or it will make the bread tough.  Fold in optional chocolate chunks and nuts.  Spoon batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown around the edges.

Tip: A plain toothpick should be able to come out clean when inserted into the center of the banana bread.

Baking · Cookies

Ultimate Fudge Brownies– The Real Deal

It’s Knights Night at our house!  Tonight is game 3 of the Western Conference of the NHL Stanley Cup Final.

We love our Knights!

Ultimate Fudge Brownies cut into “pucks” for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Usually we do homemade pizza on Knights night, but tonight is a school night and I needed to keep it a smidge more simple.  I’ve been planning this idea for a while, so it was really easy to pull together with minimal effort.  All you need to pull this off is a 3 inch circle cutter, a stencil slightly smaller than 3 inches, and some edible shimmer spray.  I recommend using a foil pan to contain any off spray from the project.  These were as fun to create as they are delicious to eat.

I’ve promised you my Ultimate Fudge Brownie recipe for a while now, but the end of the school year sprint has really thrown us for a loop.  Sorry it took so long.  Enjoy!

GO KNIGHTS GO!

#VegasBorn

 

 

Uncategorized

Ultimate Fudge Brownies (pt 1)

I want to introduce you to my ultimate fudge brownie recipe…

Soon. (Don’t hate me! I can explain.)

Tonight I’ve done it with a twist.

I’m always experimenting with ways to simplify life without robbing myself of the rich rewards of a worthwhile labor. It’s not that brownies are labor intensive by any standard, but when you’ve got many little ones who pull your attention in multiple directions, it is best to plan ahead in order to keep your domestic crown perfectly in place no matter when or how you are needed.

Tomorrow is the night I will actually need to bake the brownies, because my daughter wants to bring them to school on Thursday morning; but I wanted to get the mess out of the way so we had little to worry about tomorrow. Because of that, I’m experimenting tonight: dry brownie mix two ways…

Dry mix #1 has an exciting (to me) ingredient in it: powdered butter. Now, don’t turn your nose up at it just yet. Let’s look at the benefits. For starters, if you buy a box brownie mix at the grocery store, it will ask for crap oil which, in my opinion, has no place in a GOOD brownie. (Just don’t lower yourself to that standard, I beg you.) Second, this has enabled me to create a nearly fool proof solution to the lofty goal of buttery, chocolatey brownie instant gratification. Just add eggs, water, and mix. Similar to the box crap on grocery store shelves, no? (No! Better!)

Yes, this is entirely the reason for making the dry mix two ways tonight. Tomorrow night I want to do a side-by-side comparison and decide for myself if this is as good as the product claims. If it is, which is what I hope, then can you imagine how many batches of delicious brownie mix I will be making?! Ahem… purely for simplifying my life as needed, of course. No midnight episodes of chocoholic instant gratification here! (Hah. Believe what you want. I confess, you’re most likely half right.)

So… that leads me to Dry Mix #2. It will contain the regular amount of melted butter as usual. I have no doubt that these will be as decadent and sinful as usual. It’s a wonder I haven’t gone down the dry mix road before now, isn’t it? I cannot wait to report back to you how it goes. Who knows what other avenues it will enable us to explore in the near future?

Stay tuned for an update in the coming days.

Uncategorized

Blue Moon Gems

There’s a Blue Moon-Super Moon-Blood Moon-Total Lunar Eclipse this week. What a cool thing to look forward to! It is the first time in over 150 years that this combination has taken place. With this coming up, I though it would be delightful to put something cute and new into the blogosphere for people to enjoy.

Blue Moon Gem Cakes– so cute!

I adore the glossy, iridescent sheen they have, don’t you?

Alas, they did not turn out as well as I hoped. I mean, theyre still incredibly cute, and a great first attempt at a recipe concept, but I dont believe they’re OMGee Good.

So, I was talking with my sister, who was awesome enough to come partake in this new endeavor, and we agreed that showing the troubleshooting is every bit, if not more, important as showing a perfect product. Truth be told, I feel like it gives someone more “street cred” than simply pretending to be perfect. And believe me, I am far from perfect, though I like to sum it up saying that I am fabulously flawed.

I was probably doomed to fail from the start. I recommend that you never create a new recipe when you are still trying to regain your sense of smell and taste after a recent cold. It won’t work. Because its a blue moon, my husband asked for blueberry. I’ve been dying for a velvet cake lately, so I created a hybrid. Blueberry and chocolate go surprisingly well together, too!

Homemade blueberry syrup went into the cake. Look at that steaming dark sweetness. Although I cut the sugar back in my velvet recipe, the syrup still added a bit too much sugar to the cake.

You can see from the glossy crumb structure that the sugar content is too high for this sponge. I believe the amount of leavener was too high as well. At this point, however, I was already in it, so I decided to carry it out to the end. I froze them, iced them with a cream cheese icing (actually it was a no bake cheesecake recipe which I love, but let’s be honest, those are practically synonymous). After spending the night in the freezer once more, they were ready for their debut in a glossy, new coat.

Here’s where the troubleshooting really gained momentum. In all our experience baking and decorating cakes for the public, neither my sister nor I had ever used a mirror glaze. Really, it was so straightforward that anyone can do it, but it’s always more fun with great company, don’t you think?

This is what the gorgeous glaze looks like before colors being added. I should also note that this was batch #2. We tossed the first batch. Here is what we learned:

  • Use bright, white sweetened condensed milk. The first can we used looked like dulce de leche. It was caramelized decadence, from which we happily enjoyed leftovers drizzled over sliced fruit as we worked. Sadly, this produced a tan base color for our mirror glaze, which we did not want.
  • Melting candy buttons such as Wilton’s brand truly do work better. They are brighter white than real white chocolate and they have a lower melting point, which is half the reason they are a fool proof for so many applications. We originally used a high quality baking white chocolate, and it not only added to the tan color, but also took forever to emulsify.
  • Shimmer dust does not achieve a good base color; rather, use gel food coloring for the hue you desire and use shimmer dusts for iridescent undertones and finishing accents instead. In addition, it floated back to the surface when it sat to rest.
  • Lastly, no matter how long you have frozen your cakes, buttercream or icing Does Not work as well as fondant would have. It has such a high fat content and low melting point that the over all appearance of a dark cake with light icing was slightly degraded. My only plea is this- do not buy fondant. Always make it yourself if you can. I will provide a tasteworthy recipe for that in the future. Also, in favor of fondant, you wouldn’t have to freeze the covered cakes the night before, which means this could all be done in the same day for a fresher product if desired.

To be fair, this is supremely rewarding to do, even if they weren’t perfect.

And we may have an edible slime recipe in the works for you and your little ones in time for Halloween this year!

Conclusion: No matter how your recipe lacks in gastronomic perfection, as long as you have great company, good music, terrible singing, and scandalous humor, there is no such thing as failure.

We will have the perfected version of Blue Moon Gem cakes perfected for you all to make, with ease, in time for the next blue moon this March. Until then, be sure to prepare for this upcoming lunar nonpariel. Let me know if you have anything exciting planned for it.

You can read about it here: https://qz.com/1189777/a-supermoon-and-total-lunar-eclipse-will-coincide-for-the-first-time-in-152-years/

Thoughts · Uncategorized

Auld Lang Syne

The very loose translation of “auld lang syne” is time gone by. More specifically, it is Scots language, not to be confused with Gaelic, from the lowlands of Scotland, and means, “old long since.” In 1788, Robert Burns penned the ancient poem which until then had only existed as an unwritten poem amongst the older folks.

Between 1560 and the 1950’s, Christmas was banned in Scotland. This likely contributed at least a little bit to the strong tradition of celebrating the new year, or Hogmanay as the major holiday of the end of the year.

Hogmanay is the last day of the calendar year and celebrates the coming of the new year. People still share gifts and visit one another’s homes for celebrations and general good cheer.


2017 was a difficult year. Among the general experiences which life often offers, my family lost some special relatives and one of our best friends. New Years Eve was our late best friend’s birthday (and wedding anniversary) and it was tough not getting to wish her well on her special day. My husband was recovering from an illness and we stayed inside in the warmth of our home with our children for an intentionally quiet evening. It gave me the opportunity to ponder the wonderful relationships we have been blessed with in our lives and to cherish the memories of times gone by. We definitely rose a glass to the joyful memories of times long since.

My favorite thing about Hogmanay and New Years Eve is a tradition celebrated not only in Scotland but also other parts of the world called First Footing. It is believed that the first guest to step foot into your home in the new year will become an indication of the general fortune your family and home will experience throughout the new year. For my family, that was my sister, and she came with cookies! If that’s any indication of how our year will play out (fun times with best family and friends, special recipes, and treats), then I have no complaints here. She didn’t even know that she was our first foot until I told her later on.

Some may argue that this is superstition, but I believe that we get out of life what we put into it. If we invest in spreading positive energy, hopefully positivity will also come back to us. This is indeed a tradition that our family is going to follow from now on. Hopefully it can gain popularity here in the rest of United States soon.

We are already two weeks into the new year. What are some of your reflections from last year and this new year?

Supper

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 12: Apricot Pork Tenderloin

Growing up, Sunday supper meant pot roast. It was wonderful. My mother often did it in the crock pot and slow cooked it while we were at church. When we came home, our noses were filled with the tantalizing scent of vinegar and onions, carrots, and potatoes. It was always tender and flavorful. We gathered around the family table for almost every meal. My dad always sat at the head of the table, my mother next to him. The family cat on his other side. She was smart to sit out of sight from my mother because it enabled my dad to sneak small pieces of fat to our sweet kitty. None of us kids ever ratted him out because our beautiful kitty was, as my dad once in a very great while called her, the queen.

Although this is not a traditional beef pot roast, my apricot pork tenderloin is also quite deserving of a place at the Sunday dinner table. It always receives rave reviews, which are especially sweet since it is effortless for even a novice cook to prepare. Do not fuss over it. The key is to keep it simple. Although I have given a guideline for spices to use, I always change it slightly each time I make it. You ought to use the flavors you already have in your spice cupboard and pantry. If you don’t have fresh garlic or onion, etc, then do not hesitate to use powdered alternatives. Your favorite (or most accessible) spices plus one jar of apricot jam are all you need for such a non-judgmental piece of meat.

Ingredients:

4-5 lbs pork tenderloin

1 onion, chopped

4 tablespoons minced garlic

Salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, etc.

One 16-18 ounce jar apricot preserves/jam

Put a generous drizzle of olive oil into your slow cooker and place tenderloin into it. Sprinkle an even coating of your favorite herbs and spices onto the meat. Sprinkle onion and garlic over and around it. Lastly, spoon the whole jar of apricot jam on top. Place the lid on your slow cooker and go about your day until it is done. Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite choice of vegetables. The meat turns out moist and the juices are delicious served over the potatoes.

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Use the spices that sound desirable to you, in the quantities you desire. In most cases, you really can’t go wrong.

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