Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wrapping Up Winter Holidays

 I am loving this spring. I am definitely feeling the world coming alive again! We actually had a couple of inches of snow yesterday morning and I almost ran outside with my camera to take pictures. I posted so many pictures last summer, but I never got any up of the seasonal changes. If you got our Christmas card though, you got the idea: snow, snow, and more snow! Anyway, it's been lovely, but it's time for longer days and warmer weather. And that reminds me, we still have one more recipe to finish out the 12 Days of Christmas! It's classic Abby, I know. And to complete the belated holiday observance, I'm posting Valentine's pictures as well. We should just go ahead and change the title of my blog to "Better Late Than Never." Words to live by, those are.

These are the candy heart Valentine's frames that my kiddos worked super hard on for their grandmothers. I think we spent four days crafting before we sent everything out! They also made cards for everyone.

Grandpa and Uncle Rick got a card that looked more or less like the one above. It's a little candy heart dude. Cute huh?

These were the "lovebirds" they made for Aunt Katie and Uncle Caleb. We almost put a caption like "Owl always love you" or "Happy Owlentines Day" or "whoo loves you?" You get the idea. In the end, the kids just hand wrote a message without a cheesy pun. So, while they looked like owls to me, I think K&C just saw birds. What do y'all think?

The little bags on the front of this were labeled "hugs," "kisses," and "Valentine wishes."

This one was really creative on Amabel's part. How she thought to make hearts with all the tiny pipe cleaner scraps she found in the craft box, I don't know. But it turned out cute, no?

Each grandmother also got a set of magnetic frames for her fridge.

I was so proud of how hard they worked! Didn't they do such a cute job?! Of course there are aunts and uncles on my side of the family, and cousins too! Cousins got goodie bags with candy and some smaller crafts. We dig the Snoopy theme around here for most holidays.

And I took care of the aunts, seeing as how they are my sisters, with a heart shaped souffle dish filled with some of these:

I was quite proud of how my Valentine's cupcakes turned out, and quite delighted with how delicious they were. And that, my friends, brings us to recipe number 12. You too can make these little cuties at home. I used my mini muffin pan for fun, but you could certainly make these as regular cupcakes. If you do make them in miniature, check them a little early. This originally comes to us from that culinary publication which must not be named. There is supposed to be a ganache filling, but that seemed rather ambitious for the first try so I left it out. I'm sure the filling is delightful, but these are good, and easy, without it.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 c. Dutch processed cocoa powder
3/4 c. hot coffee
3/4 c. bread flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6T vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 recipe Creamy Chocolate Frosting (follows)

- adjust oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350. line a muffin pan with liners. place the chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium bowl. pour the hot coffee over the mixture and whisk until smooth. refrigerate until completely cool, about 20 minutes. whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- whisk the oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. add the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
- divide the batter evenly among the muffin pan cups. bake until the cupcakes are set and just firm to the touch, 17-19 minutes. cool the cupcakes in the muffin pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. lift cupcakes out of pan and cool directly on wire racks for about 1 hour, until room temperature, before icing.

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

1/3 c. sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch of salt
12T unsalted butter, softened and cut into 12 pieces
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp. vanilla

- combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer, then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. heat the mixture, whisking gently but constantly, until slightly thickened and foamy and it registers 150 on an instant read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes **if you don't have an instant read thermometer (I don't either),go by time and texture. don't leave it on too long like I did, or you'll end up starting an egg white omelette! yuck! i got it right the second time, so just give it a try and you can always try again if you mess it up the first time- you'll only have lost 3 minutes and 2 eggs.
- using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture on medium speed in a standing mixer until it reaches the consistency of shaving cream and is slightly cooled, 1 to 2 minutes. add the butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. (the frosting may look curdled after half of the butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.) once all the butter is added, add the cooled melted chocolate and the vanilla and mix until combined. increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping the beater and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Alright, so we're done with winter! Hurray! We can cross Christmas and Valentine's off our list- for at least 8 months, right?! Next on the list, wash the coats, hats, and mittens, and put snow boots and all the clean winter wear in a box for our next destination. With weather still in the 30s though, I reckon that chore will have to wait. You never know if we'll have another day like these:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Probably Weird But

I love the hoarders shows. I'm not sure why. But I think it may be the redemptive quality of cleaning all of the mess up and helping a person through their pain in a very visible way. So many emotional issues manifest themselves in intangible ways that we never fully know, but when a person's pain compels them to hold on to everything so tightly, and then they are finally able to let go, it's like healing you can see. For many people, their internal landscape probably looks a lot like the inside of the hoarder's home, but we never see their mess in any measurable way. And if they work through their issues, we never see it "cleaned up." And we certainly don't see it go from one extreme to the other in an hour. The hoarding shows provide us with remarkable strides in personal growth in a one hour time slot! As with any kind of pain, some of the stories end sadly- some of the people aren't able to heal. But there's always the hope, while you are watching, that you will see the person freed and transformed. It's like Common Grace on steroids. How does the song go? "I've got to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time... It's getting better all the ti-i-ime (better better better)." I like it when I can see that. Hoarders be healed! But do it on camera so I can be encouraged too!

Monday, March 14, 2011

They're Eating Chinese Food on How I Met Your Mother and it Looks Darn Good

Do any of y'all ever make Chinese food at home? Do you have any good ideas for a starter dish for me? I actually don't even eat out Chinese very often- as in, almost never. But it's so yummy. I'd love to be able to make it at home some time. My younger sister sent me a beef and broccoli recipe a while back and I think I'm ready to try it. My kids' favorite veggie is broccoli. But beef is so expensive. And I'm afraid of it. I would love to have access to affordable, organic, grass fed beef. But when we moved here, there were all the waiting lists for co-ops or annual fees. When you know you're only going to be somewhere for a year, the ship sales pretty quickly on those things. Maybe the next stop... Anyway, I'd love some pointers for making Chinese food at home with "normal" cookware (I don't have a wok). I think I'll make a trip to Gateway Market in the next couple of days (it's the closest thing we have to Whole Foods and the only place I can find turkey lunch meat that doesn't gross me out) for some meat. I'll let y'all know how the beef and broccoli turns out later in the week.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

To Serve Soon

So this is a recipe, but just sort of a freebie. My friend Becky made this for the church potluck last week and it was fantastic. I asked her about it and she said she was "quite proud" of it. She is one of those who likes to mess around and see what she comes up with. This is so obvious when you look at it, but it definitely requires creativity if you don't have it written out for you. She pretty much has the reputation for making all things delicious, but this was extra good to me- maybe because it was eaten after church when I was starving and was scooped out of a beautiful bowl? I don't know, but I want to remember what she did, so I am noting it here for all of us.

bowtie pasta
kalamata olives
crumbled bacon
sundried tomatoes
lemon zest
lemon juice
olive oil

I may have to edit this later if I remember something else, but that right there is already making my mouth water. Mmmm... pasta! It's so springy isn't it?! This looks like the beginnings of a good grocery list for next week!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recipe Eleven in the Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh

Make a wish! Did you used to do that on the clock? 11:11 or 2:22 or whatever? Somehow, I think I sort of trusted that it would eventually work or else why did I do it every single hour? And you know, it was super exciting on November eleventh or February 22nd. So so silly. I really was a very silly girl really up until I got married. I'm not even sure that grew me up, but at some point, I did stop wishing on clocks....

George is out of town for his licensure exam this weekend and left me the computer. I may actually have time to put the last two days of Christmas up! Can you believe this? Of course you can, because it's me. But it is so pathetic that it is halfway through March and I am not finished with Christmas yet! I made the recipe from day number 12 for Valentine's Day, so we may be able to finish up with Valentine's Day too! It's me though- let's not count our chickens before they hatch.

Lately, I have spent all of the time I have had with a computer available to me listing stuff on ebay. I am really quite excited about all of the stuff I am selling- all of my maternity clothes, my discontinued and incomplete set of silverware, some spring and summer kids' clothes, and other odds and ends. I will let y'all know how much I make after it's all over. It's really more about lightening my load than making money. I am determined that our next move (to who knows where) is going to be easier than the move here. We're finally chucking our ten year old desktop computer. I have other stuff in mind for Craigslist, and I am giving a lot of our baby gear to our upstairs neighbor who is due with her first baby any day. Then there's the rummage sale at church next month, and don't forget that as soon as I'm finished with the school year, I can sell all of my homeschool stuff! Hurray! My children think it's very amusing to witness my strange delight in getting rid of stuff. You probably do too.

And now to get rid of the task of typing these recipes! I hope this eleventh recipe isn't disappointing. It's one that I have wished I had on my blog for years. When all of my recipes were packed up in storage, I figured pretty much all of my essentials were online somewhere. But I couldn't find my pie recipe because it is from an out-of-print cookbook from the early nineties. It is likely the recipe I have been making for the longest (with the possible exception of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe), every Thanksgiving since ninth grade.

Pecan-Chocolate Chip Pie
5T unsalted butter
1c. light corn syrup
1/3c. packed light or dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 1/4c. pecan halves
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
- position a rack in the center of oven and preheat to 375
- bring butter just to a simmer in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. continue simmering 1 to 2 minutes longer, stirring, until butter solids turn light brown. immediately move from burner. pour about half of butter into a heat-proof cup and reserve. stir corn syrup, sugar, slat, and vanilla into butter left in the pan until well blended and smooth. beat eggs into mixture using a fork.
- spread pecans, then half of chocolate chips into pastry shell. slowly pour egg mixture over top. sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over top. (at this juncture, I usually straighten up the pecans and make it look all pretty, but that is not necessary). drizzle reserved browned butter over surface.
- bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes until golden browned and puffy on top. transfer to wire rack and let cool. store refrigerated for up to five days (best breakfast ever? this pecan pie, cold, the day after Thanksgiving. mmmm...). serve at room temperature or cool with freshly whipped cream.

Pate Brisee - I think it's bizarre that I have never put this pie crust recipe up before. It is the only recipe I ever use for both savory and sweet pies. It's so easy and tasty, why try anything else? This comes to us from The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It makes one double crust or two single crust 9-10 inch pies.

2 1/2c. all purpose flour (use bleached, not unbleached for this one)
1 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, cut into pieces
1/4c. - 1/2c. iced water

- in the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt. add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.
- with machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; but be careful not to process for more than 30 seconds. to test, squeeze dough together- if it is crumbly, add more ice water.
- divide dough into two pieces. fatten each piece into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap. transfer to refrigerator and chill at least one hour. dough may be stored in freezer for up to one month (I recommend putting wrapped disc in a freezer bag to keep it protected).

Appreciation for Invention

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Fallon had a funny joke on his weekly thank you notes. "Thank you, ketchup packets, for having exactly one tenth the amount of ketchup I'm gonna need." It was one of those moments where I was just like, "Yeah! What's the deal with that?" I had never thought about it before. My whole life I've just been grabbing five ketchup packets, tearing and squeezing, tearing and squeezing, tearing and squeezing. And then Jimmy went and pointed it out and I wondered why in the world Heinz couldn't just make a bigger packet. And guess what? They did! I saw the article online last week somehow (maybe someone's blog linked to it?), but I didn't know when or where I might see them. And then, two nights ago, we made a family trip to Chick-fil-A and there they were.

They're three times the size of regular ketchup packets. You can tear the bottle top off at the perforations to squeeze or peel the foil off the top to dip. It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Jimmy's Latest

I can't wait to try this!!!! Chocolate covered potato chips in vanilla ice cream?! Crazy yummy!

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