Sunday, February 7, 2016

2014 - 2016 - Book 44

"The Truth About Forever" - North Carolina

Okay, I know it has been FOREVER since I've made a blog post, which I guess makes this book title quite fitting. In my defense, I still have been doing lots of tasty cooking and baking, I just haven't been documenting it as well, and I generally don't write a post unless I've finished a book, which was the real problem. I just did not have a lot of time to read because:

Yep, that's right, there's a baby on the way!!! I hope that the mountains of baby-related preparation is a good enough excuse for my sad lack of blogging. I am pleased to announce though, that there is a post today, and hopefully I will be able to get the rest of the books done and posted before baby arrives (ha), but if not, please be patient with me.

As for this book, I actually rather enjoyed it. It might have something to do with the fact that I hadn't actually sat down and read a book in a while or that I got to read about half of it on a very relaxing afternoon, but I ended up with a favorable impression. There was quite a bit of underage drinking as well as some bad language in spots, but other than that, it was a good book. It is a story about a girl who has kind of closed herself off from the world after her dad died suddenly, and how she is coping with life with her mom and sister. It follows her over the course of one very eventful summer where she starts some new jobs and makes some new friends and just documents her changes and the changes that take place in her family. It doesn't sound very interesting, but it was a nice, light read. I didn't' take a picture of this cover because the copy I had was covered with an "artwork redesign" by some student, so it wouldn't have made any sense.

Now, you know I have a ton of recipes to share, but I don't want to overwhelm you too much, so I'll only post the good ones:

GBBO English Muffins: I really like English Muffins, and I really like the Great British Bake-Off, so when they produced Paul Hollywood's English Muffins on the show, I was inspired to try his recipe. It didn't go quite as planned, because I didn't get nearly as many muffins out of it as I was supposed to, but the end product was still pretty tasty.
Fluffy muffins :)
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cereal Bars: These tasty treats were easy to make and they looked good, so that ticks two boxes in the "Make It Again" column. They weren't anything extraordinary or fancy, but if you have a craving for peanut butter and chocolate, they will fill it, just don't expect them to be anything more than the simple dessert that they are.
The swirl design actually worked. 
Mmm . . . chewy. 
Oven Fajitas: Wow, this one was a find. Granted, I have a cast iron skillet, so I don't know why I bothered with it this way, but it does have it's advantages. Mostly, that I don't have to stand over the stove stirring anything. I just set the oven timer for 20 minutes, come stir once, bake for another 20 minutes, and then they are done. Just give another quick stir and a squeeze of lime juice and you have very tasty, very easy fajitas. Also, since they are made with a homemade spice mix, you know exactly what is going into them. I'm not a big green pepper fan, so I used orange and red, and I also added some black beans for extra protein. After making them a couple of times, I realized they would be a good idea for a freezer meal too (chop, season, and freeze; then defrost and bake), so I made up two batches that way. We'll see if they turn out or not ;)
Before baking
After baking.
Okay, I think that's all for my catch-up for now. Hopefully I'll get some more books read and posts written soon, but I do have a stack of pregnancy/childbirth/parenting books that are probably a little more pressing at the moment, so I'll just do what I can. Hope all is going well with you :) 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

2014 - Book 43

"Everneath" - Utah

Hooray, I found another book that I enjoyed. :) It was a modern retelling of the Persephone myth, but since I didn't know what that myth was about, it didn't give away the story for me. I wasn't entirely happy with the ending, but I suppose if you are retelling a myth you can't completely change the story line. It's a very fantasy genre book in which there are the "Everliving" who once a century must convince a human to be their "forfeit" and give them their energy and then the Everliving live for another 100 years. Usually they find their forfeits because the initial energy they take is the outer emotions, the bad feelings, so it feels good for the forfeits, but eventually they are left as just shells of themselves. The main character volunteered to be a forfeit because her life was falling apart but during her time in the netherworld, she could only see the face of her boyfriend, and returned to the surface to try and have another chance to say a proper goodbye before returning to the endless tunnels of the underworld to power the Everliving forever. Sorry, I know that probably sounds really confusing, but the author does a good job of introducing everything that happens and making sense of it all.
The book chronicles the six months the main character spends back on the surface, and all that happens during them. It's a rather interesting, albeit rather strange, concept. If that's something that sounds interesting to you, check this book out . . . I thought it was pretty good.

As for my desserts this week, I have Frosty S'more Cups and After Dinner Mint Triangles.

The frosty s'more cups were a big hit with my Bible study group. They were a bit difficult to eat with a utensil since the crust got rather hard in the freezer, but they were still tasty. I think they would be great in a mini muffin tin so they could be bite-sized. I made them in a lined, regular muffin tin since I didn't have the pan that the blogger used, and then I just removed the liners before serving . . . I think it worked out pretty well.

The after dinner mint triangles were made using an old Pampered Chef recipe. I know I'd had them before and I liked them, but I think my baking tastes have evolved. They are made with so many processed ingredients (pre-made mint cookies, almond bark, cream cheese), that they just didn't taste very homemade to me. They were still tasty, but I was frustrated with how sticky the crust was (Tip: pat it into the pan using the butter wrapper . . . that's the only way it worked) and my chocolate drizzle was too thick and didn't look as nice as the picture. Also, I think 6 drops of food coloring was too much, my green color was much darker than the picture, and didn't look quite as appetizing. So, not a winner in my book . . . just buy the mint cookies from the store and eat them plain ;)

Okay, that's all for my short post today, hopefully I'll have more to share next time. Have a great day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2014 - Book 42

"Go Big or Go Home" - South Dakota
This book was definitely written for young boys. It's all about having "extreme" adventures with your best buddy and the rivalry with the neighbor boys down the street. So for that reason, I didn't enjoy it too much, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's pretty well written for a basic book, and there is nothing inappropriate in it, which I appreciated. It's a story about a boy who finds a meteorite and then develops some strange talents. The quest for figuring out about the meteorite and all the extreme challenges along the way made it a pretty easy read. So, not really something I really like to read, but not a bad recommendation for a younger boy.

This week I have a couple of cakes (Gingered carrot cake and German Chocolate cake), some easy sauteed kale, and a neat "wobbly apricot tart".

I made this gingered carrot cake with lemon cream cheese frosting quite a while ago, so I don't remember exactly what the occasion was or my specifics about it, but I do remember that it was pretty good. The layers turned out nice and even too. One of my favorite features of this recipe was that it actually made the right amount of frosting . . . I didn't run out, and I didn't have a ton left over . . . excellent :)
So pretty
Mmm . . . layers
This German Chocolate cake was the same recipe I made during my cake month (Cake Month - Day 1), but I made it into a round cake this time instead of square. I wanted to make a special birthday cake for my friend Bill (who I made this raspberry ganache cake for a few years ago), so I even got a nice box to put it in. It turns out that I was able to buy the box from the bakery department of my local grocery store for about half of what it would cost at the baking supply store . . . saves time and money :) Anyways, it is a pretty reliable recipe and everyone loved the cake, as far as I know. If I'm not mistaken, I think I made German chocolate German buttercream frosting, but it was a while ago, so I don't remember for sure. Anyways, I just love how the box gives it a really final, professional look.

The easy sauteed kale was exactly what it claimed to be. I had a little trouble with the minced garlic burning in the oil though, so I would just use chili or garlic olive oil and add the chili flake or garlic closer to when you add the kale. The cooking times otherwise were just right, and adding that little bit of balsamic vinegar at the end really added a nice flavor. I don't usually love kale, but I ate this right up.

And finally, this fancy wobbly apricot tart, another attempt to recreate a cool recipe from one of the bakers on the Great British Baking Show (this time one of the hosts, Mary Berry). This recipe is not exactly for the faint of heart, because the crust was really finicky. The only way I managed to get the top crust thin enough to mold to the apricots, yet firm enough to stay in one piece was to roll it out really thinly on a silicone mat and then invert the mat over the tart and slowly peel the mat away. It still wasn't perfect, but I think it turned out really well. Also, I couldn't find apricots that weren't in heavy syrup, so I did rinse them before draining and drying. My marzipan was rather old, but had been in the freezer, so it was still okay to use. I thought the taste was a little off, so using fresh marzipan probably would have given better results, but everyone else loved it and they were all really impressed :) It certainly is a "show-stopper"

That's all for now, hope you all have a great week :)

Friday, September 4, 2015

2014 - Book 40 c & d & Book 41

 "Opal" & "Origin" (Luxe series books 3 & 4) and "Hourglass" - Tennessee

I don't really have a lot to say about "Opal" and "Origin". They were okay, and "Opal" pretty much satisfied any curiosity I had left about the series. I kept reading "Origin" hoping I would get drawn back into it, but I just didn't. I had the fifth (and final) book checked out from the library too, but I ended up taking it back without reading it, because (although this may sound harsh) I didn't really care what happened to the characters anymore. The story just got sort of weird and I wasn't really interested in it anymore, so I figured my time was better spent trying out a new book.

"Hourglass" was surprisingly good. I reminded me a lot of "X-Men", but all the people had abilities that had sometime to do with time. It was really interesting how the main character could see people from different time periods, and she's really just starting to discover what her power means, and come to grips with the fact that she's not the nut-case she thought she was. Of course, this is another series, so there is a lot more to the story that I don't know, but it was a decent first book, not the best, but not bad either. The relationships were good, not a lot of bad language, and besides seeming similar to "X-Men", it was a pretty original concept.

For my recipes this week, I have chocolate chip beet cookies, "Doritos" nacho popcorn, and a cardamom, pistachio, and coffee Swiss roll. Unfortunately, none of these recipes were "keepers".

The chocolate chip beet cookies were just okay . . . they were kind of chewy/gummy and not as pink as the photos of the original recipe. I tripled the recipe, because seriously, who makes just 8 - 12 cookies at a time? If I'm getting all those dishes dirty, I'm making lots. Also, I used canned beets, and the one can was ~ 190 grams, so I just tripled everything. I pureed the beets with the oil and vanilla in the food processor. It was just a really thick "batter", more like bread dough, so I think cutting down on the flour would have helped them be more cookie-like and less cakey. Also, her cookies look really flat, mine definitely stayed ball-shaped, so maybe if I would have pressed them thinner, they wouldn't have been so gummy? Anyways, I am very thankful for my nice friend who gave me all the canned beets, but since this idea failed, I don't know what to do with the rest of them. I still have five cans, I think, so if you have any ideas, please let me know :)

On a savory note, I really love Cool Ranch Doritos, so I when I saw the recipe for Doritos popcorn, I was hoping it was going to be ranch-flavored, but it's not . . . it's the nacho flavor. Oh well. Like the author of this recipe, I'm not crazy about all the artificial flavorings in Doritos either, so I decided to give her copy-cat recipe a try. It was my first time using nutritional yeast. It's supposed to be a natural cheese-flavored substituted for fake cheese powder, and sort of healthy too. I found it in the bulk bins at Whole Foods, so I was able to get enough to make the recipe for only 96 cents. It didn't really taste cheesy to me, but the taco flavor from the spices was good. After coating all the popcorn, there was extra seasoning left over in the bottom of the bowl, so I saved it and I'll probably use it to make taco meat. This trial was my entry in a friendly "Popcorntest" (aka Popcorn Contest) I had with some friends, but I didn't win . . . take that for what you will, but you might still catch me eating Doritos now and then ;)
The cake was something that I wanted to be really special because I made for my husband's surprise birthday cake. I'd seen it on the Great British Baking Show and thought it was just beautiful. It was neat to experiment with the cardamom pods, spice grinder, and pistachios . . . three things that I'd never used while baking before. The chocolate for the flowers looked beautiful for about 3 seconds and then sagged because I didn't temper it correctly :(

This is what it was supposed to look like:
Photo credit:
My version . . . it would have been prettier if I hadn't forgotten
the pistachios and had to unroll and re-roll it. Also, I have no
idea how they get such a clean end cut. 
In the end, I didn't really like the cake, but I'm not a big fan of any of the flavors (besides the chocolate), so it's not really surprising. It was a very "grown-up" cake, not very sweet at all. I don't think kids would like it . . . but maybe it would be good with a cup of tea ;) I think that in the United States we have become so over-sugared, that anything like this tastes so savory because it's not packed with sugar. Oh well, sorry I don't have anything better this week. Stayed tuned for hopefully some better recipes and books next week :)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

2014/2015 - Book 40 a & b

"Obsidian" - West Virginia (& "Onyx" . . . books 1 & 2 of the Lux series)
p.s. I'm pretty sure the real Katy looks
nothing like this embarrassing cover
Okay, this is going to sound really strange, but right now I'm writing a book review blog about a book about a girl who writes a book review blog. Crazy huh? Anyways, I'm sure I'm not as passionate about books as she is, but I try in my own little way :) This was a bit of a strange book. For starters, it's about aliens. I don't know why, but I have never been interested in alien stories. E.T. scared me and most of the other popular alien stories I found either scary or gross, so I didn't have high expectations for this book. I will admit that it was pretty entertaining though, and I just finished the second one in the series too, because the first book eneded with some cliff hangers that I needed to have resolved. Overall, they aren't great in the grand scheme of "bookdom". There is some bad language and the tension and innuendo between the two main characters is a bit much . . . definitely not a book for the younger young adult audience. I think the author also writes adult romance novels, and I think some of that flows over too much into her young adult books. However, back to the story: (Slight spoilers ahead . . .) The premise is that there are good aliens (Luxen) who had to flee their home galaxy when their planet was destroyed and are living as refugees on earth. They are known by the Department of Defense and have to keep a low profile as part of their agreement in order to stay here. There are also bad aliens (Arum) who want to kill them and take their powers. Katy, the main character, happens to move in next to a brother and sister duo of good aliens and her life gets a whole lot more complicated. I'll leave it at that . . . check it out if you're interested. It's a little embarrassing to admit I've read this book because when asked, "What are you reading?", by a coworker I had to say, "A YA novel about a sexy alien" . . . not very professional of me . . . oops.

Anyways, on to a better topic . . . cupcakes :) Oh, and soup and some more cake, and some salsa too . . . why not?

To start with, I have these really yummy, but incredibly putsy Almond Joy cupcakes. They were super tasty, but trying to dig through the container of sliced almonds to find perfect ones and then arrange them into "petals" on the top was kind of a pain. It was probably worth it though, because although they were really putsy, they weren't hard to make at all, and the results were really good . . . definitely a keeper.
This first soup I was not a huge fan of. I haven't had a chicken pot pie in a really long time, so when I saw this simple recipe for Chicken Potpie Soup, I had to try it. The soup part was actually pretty good, I'm just not a huge pie crust lover. I was skeptical about putting chicken seasoning on the pie crust, but it did taste pretty good. If you like pie crust, then I think you would like this recipe. But just for my personal preference, it wasn't that great. Maybe if it was puff pastry I would like it better? It is a good soup though, and I think oyster crackers in it would be a tastier alternative.

The Wonton Soup was really good. It was more time consuming than the other soup, but that was partially to do with my lack of knowledge on how to properly grate fresh ginger and how to assemble wontons. The wonton wrappers that I used were nowhere near big enough to allow a whole tablespoon of filling in them (I got a little over a teaspoon) and mine looked nothing like her pictures. So I'm sure I was doing something wrong there. Also, the wontons get soggy . . . really soggy . . . really fast. So I only cooked as many as we would eat that night, and they were really yummy. I saved the other assembled wontons and tried to cook them subsequent nights, but they either got really doughy or soggy and fell apart depending on how long I cooked them. I was a little scared of the miso paste, but I found some white miso in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods and it was really mild and the soup had a fantastic flavor. I liked the wontons, but in the future (and to use up all the rest of the miso I have now) I'll probably just make the soup without the wontons . . . the baby bok choy and mushrooms are really good :)
The other cake I have to share today is this amazing Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake. A friend found this recipe and asked me to make it for our Bible study group, and it was a very good decision to do so :) And who doesn't love a Bundt cake? So easy. I also want to say that I used Aldi Vanilla Greek yogurt, but it might have been plain. Anyways, that combined with the ripeness of my berries made a perfect batter, I didn't have any berry sinking issues like she did. Very, very tasty and easy . . . give it a try.
Finally, another recipe using some of summer's bounty, Watermelon Salsa. I wasn't sure about the combination at first, but I've tried salsas with sweet ingredients before and liked them, so I decided to give it a shot. It was actually really good, and it held up for a few days in the refrigerator too, which is a plus in my book.

Okay, I'm really hungry now after looked at all these recipes again, I should go eat dinner. I hope you all have a wonderful day :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2014 - Book 39c

"Boundless" - Final book in "Unearthly" series

Sigh. This book did not end the way I wanted it to. That's not to say that it wasn't a good book . . . it was, but when you have the typical love triangle story, someone has to lose. I really liked that this book made me think about angels a lot more than I typically do, and the author's take on heaven and hell was really interesting too. I think about half of you would feel the way I did about the ending, and the rest would be completely opposed, because both options were pretty good . . . not too often you find so many respectable characters in books these days :) So, I don't want to say more, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I was thoroughly entertained and captivated by this series, so I would recommend it. Now I wish there was a movie version I could watch :)

Okay, another blog with lots of recipes to throw at you. First of all, I created a recipe to enter the Sargento "Chopped" challenge. The semi-final winners got to go to New York and cook their recipe for Chopped judges, and the winner won $10,000, so I figured it was worth it to enter. The entry process was a huge headache though, because even trying different computers and different browsers, I could NOT get my entry submitted, and the little entry deadline countdown clock was looming at the top of the screen. Finally, I got really desperate and e-mailed all of my information to one of my very kind friends and he was able to submit the entry via his smart phone. So it was submitted, but I wasn't chosen . . . not really surprising since there were so many entries. Oh well, we got a really tasty dinner out of it anyways. I made roasted red pepper and spinach stuffed chicken with a side salad with roasted red pepper vinaigrette, a cheesy Alfredo sauce (not pictured) and Italian cheese crisps (cheese crisp directions).
Another success was my "Duo of Silks" pie. It was inspired by an amazing pie I had at a local diner, and I managed to recreate my own by putting half of two different recipes into store bought Oreo crusts (Peanut Butter Silk Pie & French Silk Pie). I tried my hand at making stabilized whipped cream too, but that was not so much of a success. I had lots of gelatin lumps in it, so I just ended up putting it through the strainer and having unstabilized whipped cream, which worked out just fine. One pie turned out beautifully, complete with fancy decorations, but of course, I forgot to take a picture of that one. But I decorated the other one in honor of "Pi Day" (March 14th aka 3-14) with a lovely chocolate chip "Pi" :) Both tasted equally good.
This "One Pan Veggie Fajita Pasta" was also good . . . very spicy, but very tasty. It would be even better with some grilled chicken in it. It did seem a little strange to have Mexican flavors with pasta, but I think it worked.
The Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole however was not such a success. It was rather bland, and even after the 45 minute bake, the rice was still a bit crunchy. If you were cooking for picky eaters, and let it bake a little longer, this recipe might be a good option, but it was not a keeper for me.
And finally, Bruschetta Chicken Bake. This was just okay. I liked most of it, but I really didn't like the flavor of the tomatoes in it, for some odd reason. I won't be making this again either.
Whew, okay, I think that's all for this post. I'm slowly but surely getting caught up on my posts and recipes. Thank you for bearing with these marathon posts . . . I hope you are getting some good ideas for new recipes to try, or at least are feeling inspired to find some good summer reads :) Hope you have a great week.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2014/2015 - Book 39b

"Hallowed" - Second book in "Unearthly" series

Yep, you guessed it, I got sucked into the "Unearthly series". Since I've already gone past my year-long reading challenge (and failed, unfortunately), I figured diverging into another series won't hurt anything, and then I'll still have the story line clear in my head.
I thought this was a pretty good second book. I don't want to give out too much of the plot, because I don't want to ruin it for anyone who wants to read the first one yet. But there are some good twists and turns and it is a good set up for the third book (which I just happened to get from the library during my lunch hour today). I'm really looking forward to learning how it ends.

I have a couple of short recipes and then one long RECIPE EXPLOSION about some of the most adorable and professional-looking cupcakes I've ever made :)

To start off with, I made some strawberry-covered chocolates as a kind of Valentine's treat (yes, I know I am very behind with my recipe sharing). I found the idea in my Food Network magazine and thought it was clever. Chocolate-covered strawberries are so popular, so I decided to switch it up and make strawberry-covered chocolate, essentially chocolate truffles covered in freeze-dried strawberries. Finding freeze-dried strawberries was a trick (thank you Hy-Vee), but all-in-all they were pretty tasty. Not very much strawberry flavor, so I think I'll stick with regular chocolate truffles from now on, but it was something cute to try.

And for the main course, a french onion pork chop skillet. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of this. I needed a way bigger skillet, or maybe two skillets, to give my meat enough room to cook. Also, it was leaning pretty heavily to the salty side of things . . . not a good place to be. I served it with a side salad though, so it wasn't too bad. Definitely not a "make it again" recipe.

Lemon cupcakes with lemon curd
For the main attraction, feast your eyes on these cupcakes that I made for my friend Lisa's baby shower. Lisa knows I love to bake, so I was really honored when she asked me to make the cupcakes for her shower. It turned out that there were going to be a ton more people there than I was expecting at first, so I made a lot of cupcakes. I wish I had written this post earlier, so I could remember exactly how many I had made, but I want to say I made at least 24 regular sized cupcakes plus probably 60 mini cupcakes. I decided to make two flavors of cupcakes, because some people are crazy and don't like chocolate, and then of course, I had to fill them, because filled cupcakes are fancier. I finally settled on chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate raspberry ganache filling, and lemon cupcakes with a lemon curd filling. I used German buttercream for both and just split the batch and colored half pink and half blue (because she didn't know if she was having a boy or a girl). She had also had rubber ducks at her wedding reception, so I thought using duckies would be really neat . . . this was my cupcake inspiration (duckie cupcakes). Found really cute duckie toppers at my local bakery store . . . I got half that were actual rubber ducks that squirt water out their beaks and the other half were just plastic toppers.
For the actual cake, I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe and filled them with this yummy chocolate raspberry ganache. I didn't think the ganache had quite a strong enough raspberry flavor, so I put some of the extra seedless raspberry preserves in the cupcakes as well. These were topped with a swirl of pink frosting and a fresh raspberry. In case you were wondering the proper way to wash raspberries . . . I found this video interesting (washing raspberries).

The lemon cupcakes were a bit harder to plan since I didn't have a go-to lemon cake recipe, but I looked at a few and decided on this one (lemon cupcakes). I saved two lemon curd recipes (Martha Stewart lemon curd &  Sugarcrafter lemon curd . . . which is just a slightly scaled down adaptation of Martha Stewart's recipe) and I honestly can't remember which one I used, but I'm thinking that I used the larger one so the number of egg whites and egg yolks was even . . . who knows. I do like the pictures on the Sugarcrafter site though. I'd never made lemon curd before, so I found them helpful.

I knew presentation was important too, so I put them on my nice cupcake stand and a three-tiered tray. Driving to that baby shower was sure nerve-wracking, but they all made it in one piece. Next time, I think more of these plastic trays would be a great idea. So, I think they are the most professional-looking cupcakes I've made to date, they were super tasty, and they were a huge hit with everyone. I hope you're enjoying them as much as I did :)
So cute :)
Now, I need to apologize for the length of this post. I definitely need to trim down my recipes so I don't overwhelm my readers too much. Anyways, I'll have a few more longs posts, probably, and then I'll try to pare them down a little bit :) Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2014/2015 - Book 39

"Unearthly" - Wyoming

I was pleased to stumble upon another book that I really enjoyed. I even stayed up late reading it and took it to work to read during my lunch hours. Of course, it's another series, so now I'm (not so) patiently waiting to get the second book from the library. I have always been curious about the Nephilim in the Bible, and what they really were, so the idea of "angel-bloods" really intrigued me. Basically, this is a story about a teen girl finding out that she is part angel and discovering her powers. It really reminded me of the "Starcrossed" series in that way. She also is tasked with her life's purpose and she has to decide if she is going to follow her heart or her "destiny".
Having just driven out to the west coast and visited Yellowstone myself, that scenery was still pretty fresh in my mind, and it also plays a big part in this book. I thought it was pretty well written, and the story was right up my alley, so I enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to reading the next one :)

If you liked the cute crochet baby hat with the flower that I made before, you're going to love this one. It's a crochet puppy hat :) I made the newborn version for a friend of mine who just had a baby, but unfortunately, his head was so big that it didn't fit. So I told her to put it on a stuffed animal and I'll have to make him a bigger size at some point. Kind of a failure in the fact that it didn't fit, but a total success in the cuteness department (sorry I don't have a picture,  you'll just have to take my word for it that it looked pretty similar to the one on the instruction blog).

Now for the recipes :) One of my favorite foods of all time is a good batch of buffalo wings with medium sauce. Not too spicy, but spicy enough be the perfect combination of hot that when mixed with a piping hot chicken wing and some cool bleu cheese sauce makes for an explosive bite of awesomeness ;) I've had chicken wings all over the place, but I think this recipe is my ticket to tasty wings at home whenever I want. The recipe (Buffalo Wings) was spot on for cooking. The wings were crispy without frying, and although I didn't use the sauce recipe that went with the wings, it was pretty similar to the recipe I used, so I figure it would probably be good too. I liked the bleu cheese sauce, but it was not the star of the dish. Also, I can't believe how good the copycat Buffalo Wild Wings medium sauce is. Granted, I wish I could make it from scratch instead of having to start with Frank's Red Hot sauce, and I did use pasteurized eggs because I'm paranoid about raw eggs, but oh well . . . it works, and I'm happy in all my spicy, saucy glory . . . pass the wet wipes ;)
Also, since I've never really made chicken wings before, this video on how to properly cut them up to get the iconic wing and drumette sections and discard the tips really helped me. Not all of the wings were that easy to cut, but this is definitely a good guide.

While I was on a butchering streak, here's a tasty recipe for some Orange Ginger Glazed Cornish Hens. The recipe calls for cutting them in half and then skinning them . . . not exactly a pleasant process with the bone crunching and the slimy raw skin, but it made for a nicely sized portion for dinner. I wasn't able to get all the skin off, especially at the bottoms of the tiny little legs, but it didn't seem to matter. I served them with rice and green beans and they were pretty good. Probably a bit too much work to be worth repeating, but they were good to try and would be nice if you needed something for a fancier dinner.
Well, that's all for this time . . . now to go count down the minutes until I can get the next book in the series. I've been out of the loop of reading for a while and it's so nice to get back into it. Have a great week :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Another belated post

Hello everyone. Are you read for a ton of recipes to be thrown at you today? I hope so, because in an effort to catch my blog up to my cooking, I am doubling up on recipes for this post (and probably the next few posts as well) :) I do have a few winners in this post, so keep reading to find out more.

The first, and in my opinion, the best, recipe for today is these Black Bottom Coconut Bars. Generally Martha Stewart recipes don't steer me wrong, and this was no exception. I thought these were fantastic. I didn't know how the slightly drier coconut top would go with the chocolatey bottom, but the answer is . . . amazing. I took these to a dinner party at a friend's house and everyone loved them. Plus, the color contrast makes them very visually interesting too. If you like coconut macaroons and brownies, give these a try.

I also wanted to make some potato chips to go with sandwiches I was trying to copy from a favorite lunch spot and this recipe did the trick. To prep the potatoes I rinsed the slices and then soaked them for about 30 minutes in cold water that I changed every ten minutes (based on some other suggestions that I had read). Once they were cooked, I sprinkled them with garlic salt, and . . . yum. They kept well for a few days in a plastic container, and were the perfect accompaniment to my tasty veggie paninis (sauteed portobello mushrooms with garlic, hummus, avocado, tomato, shredded carrots, and a little ranch dressing).
Not quite as good as the restaurant, but very tasty! 
I even made my own bread for the sandwiches. I figured ciabatta would be a good bread for paninis, and since I've been obsessed with "The Great British Bake-Off" lately, I tried Paul Hollywood's ciabatta recipe. I can't say I was perfectly successful. It was good, but got kind of funky shaped and not as ciabatta-like as I would have liked . . . there weren't as many holes in it. Oh well, it still tasted good and made a good sandwich.

Another "British Bake-Off" inspired recipe that I tried was this Hot Chocolate Cake Roll. They had made cake rolls on an episode and then I saw it on Pinterest and felt inspired to make it, especially since I had never made anything like it before. I think it turned out pretty well. It wasn't my favorite type of cake, but it was pretty impressive looking, and everyone that had it liked it :)

Okay, last recipe for today, I promise. I saw a picture of ice cream in hollowed out apples with caramel sauce  (like this) on Pinterest, but I figured that they would taste better if the apples were cooked, and I didn't want to wait to bake them in the oven, so I found this microwave method. I stopped at step two, because I definitely didn't want cheese in my baked apples, I wanted ice cream with caramel sauce. The skin got a little tough, so it was best to cut it up with a sharp knife before putting the ice cream and sauce on top. That way it was much easier to eat with a spoon, Not the fanciest dessert, but it was very tasty :) I didn't take a picture, because once cooked, they didn't look very pretty, but this blog post is long enough as it is, so you'll have to forgive the lack of a picture.

Whew, you made it though this ridiculously recipe-packed post. Stay tuned for another one soon :)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Long Overdue Post

So sorry this is long overdue. I usually write a post when I've finished a book, and to be honest, I haven't finished any of the 50 States of YA books in a long time. I was a bit bummed that I didn't finish them all last year, so I kind of ran out of steam, plus I've gotten sidetracked by other books, and just haven't had a lot of time to read lately.

It's been so long that my recipes are really starting to get backed up, so I think I'm just going to have to do a few posts of just recipes. I will include a book in this one though, seeing as I read it.

"Allegiant", the third and final book in the "Divergent" series, is that one that I finished for this post. I also read "Insurgent", the second book, but didn't have enough to say about it to warrant a blog post. It was a typical second book with not a lot of progress in the story, just a lot of shifting things around to set up for the third book. "Allegiant" on the other hand, was a pretty good book. I don't want to give any spoilers since I really enjoyed this series, but I was told by multiple people that I wouldn't like "Allegiant", so I guess I went into it with that expectation. Since so many people said that, I figured there had to be something that happens that does not give the typical happy ending. There is, but personally, I think it was a good choice for the story. I ended up liking this book more than most of my friends because I thought it ended just as it should and kept the characters true to themselves. I still liked the first book in the series, "Divergent", the best, because I love the thrill of getting introduced to a new society, but "Allegiant" was a decent way to end the series. I look forward to seeing the movies :) Anyone else read this? What did you think?
For my recipes this time, I have a doozy: the White, White Chocolate Cake Bake-off. Some of my friends are host parents for junior league hockey players (players between high school and college looking to get recruited by colleges). These boys have huge appetites and since I made that amazing "Death By Chocolate" cake for their first hockey player, I offered to make a cake for their next one. He requested a white cake with white chocolate . . . that sounded simple enough, or so I thought. Apparently, his dad is a baker or chef, so I secretly think that he knew how tough this would be and was trying to challenge me, but who knows. All I know is that I looked at this site for some research and ended up very conflicted about what to do, so guess what I did? Yep, I made two cakes. Of course I did ;) Take a look at the website and you'll see that they made EIGHT cakes, so I had a lot of recipes to choose from. I wanted something really, really white, but at the same time, I wanted it to taste really good. Behold, my process:

The first cake I chose was a white cake made with shortening. I added 3 tsp. extra flour, 2 tsp. butter extract, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract to try and improve the flavor based on the reviews, and I think it was pretty tasty.

This one was filled with white chocolate German buttercream (which was also the frosting for 2nd cake . . . read more about it below) and frosted with a crusting buttercream. The frosting worked great for what I was planning to do with it, but I guess I just don't like taste of shortening frosting. It was beautifully white though. The reason I needed a crusting buttercream was because I wanted to try a neat frosting method that I found on Pinterest for making buttercream look as smooth as fondant. Mine wasn't quite as perfect as the example, but it was a pretty slick method, and did look quite a bit like fondant. What do you think?
I attempted to make white chocolate curls to top the cake with, but this did not work at all. I ended up just prying white chocolate pieces off the sheet pan and making a piece of abstract art on the top of the cake. It didn't help that I ran out of time during the decorating phase . . . oh well.

The other cake was a White Butter cake. This recipe was much more exact and included the weights of ingredients, which is something that I appreciate. I couldn't fault this cake either, it was also tasty, but definitely not as white.

The filling for this cake was supposed to be a white chocolate mousse. If you recall from my cake month, I had a few issues with the chocolate clumping up in the milk chocolate layer of my Triple Chocolate Mousse cake. Unfortunately, this happened with this white chocolate mousse too :(
Such a frustration. Have I told you how much I dislike white chocolate? I cannot seem incorporate white chocolate without it seizing up into little chunks :( Therefore both the mousse and the German buttercream frosting became "white chocolate chip" flavored, despite my best efforts. It tasted pretty good, for white chocolate, but the chunks were a bit off-putting (and made for sloppy, desperate piping).

This German buttercream is one of my go-to frosting recipes . . . nice and creamy without an overpowering butter flavor. I couldn't find anything about making it white chocolate flavored though, so I followed the directions here for making a Swiss buttercream chocolate flavored. It probably would have worked better if I had used regular chocolate, but white chocolate is a bit more temperamental. The German buttercream has worked very well in the past, maybe if I had put the chocolate into the warm custard so it could fully melt instead of adding melted chocolate into cooled frosting it would have worked better? I don't know if that would work or not, but since I don't really like white chocolate, maybe I just never try to do this again? That would work ;) So, there you go, my white, white chocolate cake madness. Who knew such a simple request could become so complicated. I took a poll of those who ate the cakes and the votes were as follows:

Appearance:  Smooth frosting - 5             Piped frosting - 1
Cake:           Shortening cake - 4              Butter cake - 2
Filling:          German buttercream - 3      White chocolate mousse - 3
Frosting:       Crusting buttercream - 3      German buttercream - 3

So besides the lovely appearance of the "fondant" frosting method, the cakes were pretty much tied. I guess give them both a try and let me know which one you like better :) Have a great week.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2014-2015 - Book 38

"Revived" - Nebraska
I actually rather enjoyed this book. It was an interesting look into a sci-fi type program run by a secret group who were developing a drug to bring people back to life. An Iowa bus crash with over 20 fatalities, mostly small children, was the launching point. The 21 "Bus Kids" that were Revived became the test subjects and this book focuses on one of them, Daisy. She was an orphan at the time so she is being raised by two of the program's scientists, or Agents. When she dies and has to be revived for the fifth time (she is severely allergic to bees) she is forced to relocate and assume a new identity . . . again. She meets new friends and begins to fit into her new Omaha high school but she is also discovering some unsavory aspects of being in the Revived program.

I liked most of the characters in this book and there wasn't really anything in here that was inappropriate (unlike some of the other books I read). The story was engrossing and it was fun to imagine a program like that actually existing. All in all, a pretty good read :)

My two recipes to share this week are both exceedingly tasty: Candy Cane Tree Meringues (Idea & sugar info / Other idea / Recipe) and homemade Chocolate Pudding.

First of all, these recipes complement each other perfectly. The pudding requires 4 egg yolks, and the meringues require 4 egg whites, so what are you waiting for? Go make both right now :)

These little trees were amazingly easy to make and tasted really good. I didn't even bother dipping them in chocolate, and for how much I love chocolate, it's amazing to say that I didn't miss it. These were perfect just the way they are . . . I will definitely be making these a Christmas tradition.

As for the pudding, I think that boxed pudding has given pudding a bad reputation. I thought that I loved pudding (Jell-O cheesecake pudding with mini chocolate chips on top is amazing), but this pudding is in a class all it's own. Mousse is supposedly the fancy thing to make for dessert, but once your guests take one taste of this homemade chocolate pudding, their ideas about pudding will be completely transformed. This was oh so rich and chocolaty and just plain yummy. We topped it with just a little whipped cream, and it was SO GOOD. Yes, it's pudding, so it's not the most impressive looking dessert, but trust me, use up those four egg yolks you have left from making the lovely meringues and treat yourself to some really amazing pudding.

That's all for now folks . . . hope you are all doing well :)