Daring To Blog Again

Wow! Who is this smiling face showing up in your RSS feed? You thought I died, didn’t you?

Nothing catastrophic to report. It’s just that the in-laws, because of visa issues and having already rented out their house, ended up going from a 2.5 wk visit to a 7 wk visit and busily worked on putting up our metal storage building (42′ x 48′, not just a ‘garden shed’). And during that time I got out of the habit of blogging. Not their fault by any means, just priorities needed to be changed. So, you are thinking to yourselves, they’ve been gone for what? 15 or so wks? What happened? I have several excuses, but no good reasons. Life is a little busier this year on several fronts and will continue to be as we plod along with our construction project, and a hopeless addiction to Bejeweled Blitz is no help at all.

While the family has been enjoying not waiting until the food photo session is done to be able to eat, I find that have missed blogging. I enjoy taking pictures of food and writing about it. I’ve wanted to tell you so many things in the past few months — Cocomero (frozen yogurt on UI campus) is fantastic, if a little pricey for a family outing (and they really should consider buying ‘troughs’, like a banana split boat, rather than a deeper container so you can try more of the 16 flavors without them smooshing into each other). Have you checked out the recycled aluminum foil? It costs a little more than regular and it’s a little thinner, but it works just fine. FoodBuzz kindly sent me some food samples to review — Emeril’s chicken stock is good but I’ll stick with Meijer, however, his Chicken Rub is fantastic! Tartlet 1 is hooked on his Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard.

But what brought me back to the blog was to say that I’ve just found a new butter cream frosting recipe! I’ve been using the same old thing and used to think that American frosting is American frosting. But this is one good recipe! It pipes and spreads so well, firms up when refrigerated, and is super easy to work with. I made 4 dozen cupcakes and 4 dozen snowman cookies for a school carnival tomorrow and thought I might need a double batch, which ends up being roughly the amount you would need to decorate a life-sized version of the Titanic. Sounds like a good excuse to make more cookies or a cake . . .

 

Butter Cream Frosting

1 c. butter
1 c. solid shortening

8 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

3/4 c. whipping cream

Cream together the butter and shortening until fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Gradually beat in whipping cream, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure it is well incorporated. Beat on high speed for a few minutes, until fluffy and smooth, adding a few tablespoons of whipping cream if needed (mine didn’t).

Daring Dobos

I’m finally here with the Daring Baker Challenge for August, the Dobos Torta. It has an interesting history as a cake invented for keeping longer than other pastries of its era.  The recipe was k ept secret until it’s inventor, Jozsef C. Dobos, retired and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, provided every member of the chamber could use it freely. I’ll bet he would have a food blog if he hadn’t retired in 1906.

I had intended to make this as a birthday cake for my MIL who just arrived this weekend, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Still, we enjoyed the cake together.

The sponge cake and the buttercream are just sort of ‘meh’ in my opinion.  We’ve had buttercream similar to this before, and while I understand their utility and place in the realm of desserts, it’s just not my personal favorite. The cake layers were very easy to make and baked quickly as they were so thin.

I think the thin layers look just fabulous with the thin layers of buttercream. I really like the way the buttercream holds its shape and firms up in the fridge, making for easy cutting. The real highlight of this challenge for me was the caramel. I think I didn’t get it as hot as I was supposed to, because mine came out softer than I had expected it to. Still, this was greater success than I have managed before with sugar play and I was able to make a few interesting shapes with it and twist some to drape around the cake. It drooped easily if it warmed at all, but it was cute while it lasted. I wish I would have had some hazelnuts to prop up the caramel cake wedges on the top, because I love that look.

Thanks to Lorraine and Angela for a fun challenge!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Learning New Lessons

Yesterday I took one of my girls to school for the first time. I was not one of the parents with a video recorder, a camera that looked like what you might expect from a National Geographic photojournalist, or even a point-and-shoot camera snapping up photos of every step she took to the front door. I was in the car, dropping her off at the door with a wave and ‘have a good day!’. Tartlet 2 started 4th grade with Ms. Sabin. The rest of the tartlets and I started a new school year at home. With the new territory of a brick and mortar school comes the backpack, the gym shoes, and packing a lunch. I’m not likely to be as cute and creative as Jennifer’s Vegan Lunch Box, but hopefully we can get nutritious lunches ready for the kid before it’s time to head out the door each day. Unfortunately, I bought the lunch box one day and found the little boxes another . . . it doesn’t hold three of them at one time, no matter how you rearrange them. So the pretzels ended up in a little bag in the front pouch.

Another lesson learned last week was about salmonella. I think I gave myself a case of that last week after licking my cake batter spoon. I should know better, as Tartlet 1 pointed out, because I won’t let the kids do such a stupid thing. If you do the math and figure that salmonella is in 1 out of every 10-20,000 eggs and I tend to go through 3 dozen eggs each week, sometimes more, then I use roughly 2000 eggs each year and the chances are that every 5-10 years I will lick a spoon with a contaminated raw egg. Unfortunately, despite the violence with which I was sick last week, I’m fairly certain the odds that I’ll lick a spoon in the future are probably greater than 1 in 10,000. I don’t learn all that quickly, I suppose.

Daring Copy Cats

I’m trying to get back in the blogging groove after a summer of very little baking and I have to say that I’ve missed participating in the Daring Bakers, Sugar High Friday, and Hay, Hay It’s Donna Day events the last couple of months. Unfortunately, I’m still a couple of days late putting this one up, but here I am, finally, with the copy cat cookies that were this months DB challenge.

First I did the Milans, thinking I might only do those and not both, but I really did want to try making marshmallows. Despite warnings that the Milan cookies spread, I wasn’t prepared for just *how much*! We’re talking s-p-r-e-a-d, and maybe we’ll just skip the comparisons to hips.

Also, while the batter sat waiting for the next sheet to bake, the cookies developed a lot more air bubbles. I was trying to aim for a crisp cookie that didn’t brown too much, but I never achieved that. Part of the cookies sat out overnight sandwiched with the filling (I chose to flavor mine with raspberry extract/flavor rather than orange zest), and part of them I put in a zip bag to play with the next day. The ones in the zip bag retained some crispness, but those that sat with the filling were chewy and not at all the texture of a Pepperidge Farms Milan. So for future reference, I would probably bake the cookies in advance and fill them not long before serving them. The girls absolute LOVED these cookies and declared them not *good*, but wonderful, the best cookies ever, and absolutely delicious. WIN!

The marshmallow was interesting to make. And very sticky. I didn’t make the cookie base for these, but rather used graham crackers and piped the marshmallow on top (which, when covered with chocolate, gives them an unfortunate shape).   :P  I was glad to use a disposable decorator’s bag with no tip so I could just throw out the sticky mess when I was done. I made the mistake of placing some of the cookies too close together, so that when I went to pick them up to put them in the chocolate coating a few hours later, the neighboring marshmallows clung to my fingers like little octopi. But they were good.  And did I mention, sticky?  The chocolate melts on your hands very easily, so these are best stored in the fridge.  I served both of these cookies for dessert when we had friends over for homemade pizza and there were none left. Thanks, Nicole, for a great challenge.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

Recipes after the jump.

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A Tart! A Tart! My Kingdom For A Tart!

Well, I don’t suppose that was truly the line, but we unfortunately missed that particular part of Richard III last night.  Yesterday 9 of us got together in Bloomington, IL to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Ky, you should turn 30 more often ;-)

It was a lovely evening with everyone contributing something for a picnic dinner of bread and wine and cheese, spinach salad, pasta salad, a giant sandwich, and of course I brought mini-tarts for dessert.

The grounds of the Ewing Manor are simply fabulous and it was a perfect evening for a picnic.

I had tucked some Off! in my bag, but didn’t even need to pull it out. There were wandering minstrels and a group stopped to sing Happy Birthday to K.

The down side of an open air theatre, is the chance of being rained out, particularly in the Midwest. That is exactly what happened to us, not long after intermission. I must say they chose a very good time to call the play off. Just as we arrived at the car, it started to really pour and we would have gotten on a good drenching had we still been in our seats.

Nevertheless, it was a fabulous evening. KT’s car is equipped with video so A and I got to watch The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform the complete (abridged) works of Shakespeare on the way home. It was hilarious! So, thanks, Ky for turning 30 and letting us participate in the celebration. Now, if I can just figure out another excuse to go back . . .

Home Alone: A Mother’s Fantasy

Back at the end of January, The Husband bought a barn on eBay. No, I don’t mean like a barn and some property, I mean just the barn, 5 hours from home. He finally started taking it apart and bringing home the pieces in March and has been going back up to it every nice weekend he can. The first weekend he went alone, then he took Tartlet 1, another time he took Tartlets 1 & 2, another time it was Tartlets 2, 3 & 4 (Tartlet 1 was in her glory having Mom without competition!). This weekend he has taken all four Tartlets! So I am having a wonderful quiet day alone.

I’ve done the sorts of things it seems every mom I know does when the kids are gone — clean and organize without interference. Tossing out little plastic toys that no one will miss if they don’t see them going into the trash, straightening some drawers, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. Finally it was time to take a break and find some nourishment.

Many times when The Husband is gone, I don’t really cook. Either I get some take out or I scrounge leftovers. Knowing I would be sans car (no take out) and wanting something that celebrated the adult moment of being home alone, I bought some mushrooms and asparagus before the family left. I added a sprinkling of feta, some onion, a little long sweet red pepper, and seasoned it with a little fresh garlic and dried basil and oregano and tossed it with mostaccioli.  Mmmm, adult food!

Barbie Birthday v.3

Despite protests from Tartlet 1 that Barbie cakes are a special treat for the 7th birthday (and Only The Seventh Birthday!), Tartlet 3 requested a Barbie cake for her 6th birthday, at the end of May. I have posted earlier about the Barbie Cakes I made for Tartlets 1 & 2 for their respective 7th birthdays, and last year I made 14 Polly Pocket Princesses for Tartlet 3’s birthday. This time I made a couple of modifications to my previous method.

I baked a cake in the Pampered Chef bowl again and this time I also made a 9-inch cake for multiple reasons: 1) it allows for the Barbie’s leg length w/o the two inch frosting disaster of the last one; 2) it gives a platform for the birthday candle; and 3) more cake for a number of guests. Next time I’d like to use an 8-inch cake under the skirt and that on top of the 9-inch. As it was, Barbie’s feet still touched the cake board and the top of the skirt was not quite to the waist so it made for a slightly awkward transition and seemed a little out of proportion.

I couldn’t scrounge up a top that worked for the top of the dress and I prefer not to put the frosting on the doll, if I can avoid it, so instead I did a little late night hand sewing and made the top from wired ribbon.  I cut a piece of ribbon in a trapezoid to fit her figure and the wired top and bottom allowed a little better fitting.  I stitched on two straps from a narrow ribbon, also wired and easy to shape, and two snaps in the back.  Then I used a length of the narrow ribbon as embellishment at the base of the dress and at the waist.

The top has the added benefit of being reversible, since I used a double sided Christmas ribbon. ;-)  The kids have already requested that I make more clothes that will actually cover the dolls since the current Barbie fashions aren’t nearly modest enough for their sensibilities — e.g., when she sits, her skirts expose her rear end.  Fashionable in some circles, but not ours, thank goodness!

After some fun at the pool, we enjoyed the cake in the park. Barbie seems to be saying, “Yeah, Tartlet 3! Happy Birthday!” She loved the cake.