Yes, I know it’s already Wednesday

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

But it’s sort of Tuesday because Monday was a holiday, right? And also I’m being lazy and re-using a post from the old A Frayed Knot blog. But it is both relevant, because after writing this post I did find a great local farm store, but just heard this past week that they’re closing their doors, which is sad and also leaves me once again without a local produce source. Anyhow, here’s your Tasty Tuesday post:

Originally published in A Frayed Knot Knits on July 7, 2009

Sometime last year, I read a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. It’s quite good, and I recommend it if you’re interested in where your food comes from. I found it much more compelling than a similar book, Fast Food Nation, as I don’t actually eat fast food all that often (once or twice a year) so being grossed out by the fast food industry’s practices was, well, gross, but didn’t really give me any information about changes I could make to my own personal habits. TOD, on the other hand, looks at food from three different sources: industrial farms, small growers, and hunting/growing/gathering your own. Pollan even takes the time to point out the many similarities between large-scale organic growers and non-organic industrial farming — things you’ll want to take into consideration if you’re really concerned about your food and how it relates to your own health as well as the environment. Which is all a really long way of saying that I’ve decided to try to eat more local food, especially produce.

Last weekend, I asked Kit to take me to one of our local farms. They have a petting zoo, so it’s kind of perfect for the kids. He took the kids up to visit the animals while I perused the produce in the farm store. What I found was really, really disappointing: very few things they were selling were actually grown there. I got some carrots (which, OMG, why didn’t someone tell me how amazing fresh carrots are?), some celery, and some mushrooms (which I apparently don’t know how to store because they went all ooky before I had a chance to use them). I believe the blueberries were also grown there. Everything else was from some place else. The peaches were at least New Jersey grown, but the strawberries were the same old big name farm berries they have at my A&P, the apples were from Chile, and most of the other fruit was from California. They also had pineapples and bananas, which were obviously not from around here, and the grape tomatoes I bought were from Florida. They did have some regular tomatoes that I think were grown there, as well as some lettuces and other veggies that I didn’t buy — I was just surprised at how much produce they offered that was not only not from their own farm, but not in any way local. So that was a really disappointing attempt at buying local produce. There are a couple of other farm stores in reasonable driving distance, so I’ll try those next and hope for better results.

One of the big reasons I’m doing all this is to try to introduce the kids to good fresh fruits and veggies. Zack will eat pretty much anything — he’ll try everything, and most things he actually likes and will eat lots of — but we’ve had lots of issues with getting Becky to try things. To be clear, it’s not that she won’t try “healthy” things — we have trouble getting her to try anything. She doesn’t respond to bribes (even crazy ones, like eat one pea and get a whole cookie), and I’m loathe to actually punish her for not eating something she didn’t request. It’s incredibly frustrating and we’re constantly trying new things. One thing we’ve incorporated is an idea from friends of ours who have a daughter about the same age as Becky: when dinner is served, she may eat what is on her plate OR if she tries it and doesn’t like it, she may request a (reasonable) alternative that she does like. If she doesn’t try it, though, she goes to bed hungry. We’ve been trying that for a few weeks now, with little success — Becky gets so involved in saying “no” and throwing a tantrum that I think she doesn’t really realize what she’s saying no to. So I came up with a new idea to add on: we’re going to do a menu each week [Note from present-day-me: this was a short-lived idea that didn’t work out for us after I got all employed and stuff]. One day a week she gets to choose what we eat, and on the other days, I’ll serve whatever we’re having for dinner and the previous rule applies. This allows me to tell her well in advance what we’re having for dinner, which allows her time to get used to the idea. Last night was our first menu dinner (meatballs and noodles for “International Monday” served alongside some frozen veggies), and Becky even helped prepare everything. She decided not to try anything on her plate, but she was very calm and polite about it, which is a big improvement. She didn’t eat much all day so I wasn’t terrifically surprised that she didn’t go for the deal, but I was very pleased with her behavior, at least.

Tonight we’re having tostadas for “Try Something New Tuesdays” — technically, I served tostadas Sunday, but nobody was prepared for them and there was a tantrum and I think we might do better tonight. I had one for lunch yesterday, topped with a few diced grape tomatoes — yummy!

The base is a fresh corn tortilla that I fried myself in vegetable oil, so I feel better about it than commercially fried and salted chips. There’s also some whole corn hiding in there between the beef and the cheese.

PDM again: Glad I found this post — I’d completely forgotten about these and now I want them. And I’m pretty sure Zacky would chow down on them, too!

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Baking cakes ain’t like dusting crops, boy!

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m working on a new recipe to give you next week (I’m in the testing stage, because I overcooked it while I was writing it down the first time. Oops.) so this week’s Tasty Tuesday is a rerun.

Originally published April 25, 2010 on  the A Frayed Knot Knits blog:

Somehow, my daughter Becky has become a huge Star Wars fan. I know, right, how could this possibly have happened? She has recently:

– cried when watching Darth Vader’s body burned on a pyre at the end of Jedi
– told me that I shouldn’t be watching Fanboys because “We don’t watch other Star Wars movies! Only Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi!
– declared that she wants Darth Vader to be her father instead of Luke’s because “Luke is a bad boy and doesn’t deserve him.”
– announced that she wants to be Han Solo when she grows up
requested demanded a Millennium Falcon cake for her birthday, with Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, but not Luke, “because Luke is too whiny.” Because I’m a sucker for the Millennium Falcon, and a challenge, and my little girl, I said, “Sure! How hard can it be?” And then I found out:

The party was Saturday at 4pm. Giant props to Kit for handling every detail of the party, from scheduling the space (Build-A-Bear) to taking care of the invites to greeting the parents and filming the party, leaving me free to concentrate fully on the cake.

I had originally thought to do gum-paste figures, but the tiny little sane part of my brain said, “Hey, dummy — they make perfectly good action figures, and then the kid will have a bonus birthday present, too!” So I went out and got everything but a Leia (because the Toys’R’Us I was at didn’t have one, but she was not terribly missed, so it’s okay). I had already ordered the most awesomest birthday candle EVAH for her: Darth Vader holding as his lightsaber a red candle.

After some hemming and hawing, Becky settled on both chocolate and vanilla for the actual cake. I do not particularly enjoy actually baking cakes, which means I don’t do it often enough to get really good at it, which means I bought mixes. My mom’s in town (hi, Mom!) and she helped me get the mixes all, well, mixed and into the oven. One large (13×9) chocolate rectangle for the bottom, and two 9″ vanilla circles for the top + accessories. They came out fine, and we were ready to carve them Friday.

Now that I think about it, perhaps “ready” isn’t the right word…I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of carving cake, and got pretty frustrated, especially with the cockpit. I finally ended up with something I thought would work, but it was clearly unstable and would need to be attached just prior to putting the fondant on, which I had planned for Saturday morning. Here’s what it looked like Friday night when I was done:

Bright and early Saturday, Kit took the kids for a walk, and I started putting it together and getting it ready for frosting. I had done the carving on a board, but wanted to transfer it to the actual presentation board before frosting. This necessitated planning the layout, so we opened up all the action figures and the candle, which promptly broke at the ankles. All attempts to repair it failed, and actually broke the base even further. Lacking the time to panic, I decided to just set it aside and deal with it later.

We decided where the ship should be on the board, and I commenced frosting it (in case you’ve never worked with fondant before, you put a thin layer of regular frosting on to “glue” the fondant). This meant it was time to attach the cockpit, which promptly disintegrated. You can see in the picture above that I had originally carved the cockpit piece out of the vanilla cake, and as it turns out, the chocolate cake holds together a little better. So I quickly re-carved it out of a piece of chocolate cake that was in my big bowl o’ cake scraps, and skewered it on. And then the bottom fell off, and I panicked.

While part of my brain was panicking, the other part was applying frosting and considering the situation. I finally came to the conclusion that the solution was to cheat. So I went upstairs and got some styrofoam and carved my third cockpit. This one didn’t fall apart, and I moved on to the actually fondanting.

There were a couple of tricky things about applying the fondant, mostly because the shape has a lot of nooks and crannys and this is only the second time I’ve ever used fondant, so I’m not particularly well-versed in manupulating it. But I got it on the cake with no real problems, and despite some cutting errors and a little bunching on the back, I thought it looked pretty good. It was, at the very least, the right shape:

Oh! Before I did the big fondanting bit, I decided it would be a good idea to practice a little and remind myself of how the fondant moves and acts. So I built the sensor dish, which ended up being my favorite part of the cake:

Now that I had the fondant on, it was time for the decorating. I cut out the dots that are a recognizable part of the top of the MF, with the plan of spray painting them with the black frosting I’d purchased for the dual purposes of painting said dots and also dirtying up the finished ship. It turns out that the “black” spray frosting is really more of a “light silver gray,” even after several applications. So it was off to Michael’s for emergency black frosting coloring…and where I found food-safe markers, including black. Win!

Back home, I set Mom to the task of coloring the dots, while I began applying the details with white piping. Then I changed my mind and decided most of the lines should be scored, with a very few details sticking up. So I scraped it down and started over, and let the sane part of my brain convince the panicky part that we had plenty of time as long as we didn’t get too carried away. Applying the blue of the engines to the back was considerably less stressful than I had thought it was going to be, and it improved the lines of the back of the cake quite a lot.

Now, Becky had specifically requested that we included the red/rust detailing — it’s on the real thing, and it’s on one of her toys but not the other — so I used the red marker to color that in, and then went back and piped in a few details here and there, using her two MF toys for reference (incidentally, I highly recommend having a 3D model on hand when doing something like this — much better than trying to find pictures with the right angles on the internet). I redid the cockpit a couple of times, and never was quite happy with it, but finally I had to declare it finished. I took it outside and gave it a quick spritzing with the “black” spray frosting, just to scunge it up a little.

I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not the best looking Millennium Falcon cake I’ve ever seen, but I think I did a pretty good job for someone who doesn’t really decorate cakes:

I was a little annoyed about only having the foil for it to sit on, but then I had an idea while I was in the shower (yes, I finished in enough time that I was able to shower and even iron my skirt before we had to leave for the party!)…on the way I grabbed a couple bags of brown sugar and when we set the cake up, I think it looked a lot like it was parked on the sands at Mos Eisley:

And look! I solved the Darth Vader problem and the gun turret problem (at some point I realized that I should have guns up there and I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do) in one fell swoop! Yay me!

Next time, I’m going to make someone else cut the cake — it was a lot harder than I expected it to be. It took about 5 minutes to go from the above to this, and I really felt like I needed a good lie-down afterwards:

(Incidentally, when you stack cakes on top of one another, don’t forget to put a layer of frosting in there — you’ll thank yourself when it’s time to serve.)

I have to give tremendous thanks to Kit and Grandma Tedi for all their help and encouragement and keeping the kids out of the kitchen/dining room/my way. And especially thank you to Becky, who told me at every stage how awesome her Millennium Falcon cake looked, and made me remember why I was doing this even when I was so frustrated with the cockpit that I was seriously considering sending Kit to the A&P for a plain old sheet cake. Love you all!

Cake-tacular!

November 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

Cake shown with glaze and berries

It occurs to me that my practice of linking to online recipes rather than including them here is likely to backfire on me at some point, when  a recipe gets moved or the blog I found it on is gone, or any number of other things. So, from now on, I’ll be adding those recipes to the blog as well as linking to the source. The first one of these is a scrumptious, versatile, and just stupidly easy yogurt cake, which I discovered via the magic of Pinterest. (I’ve also added my go-to bread, blackberry cobbler, and lime cupcakes to the Recipes page, so those are there now.)

The recipe I found was modified from a recipe found on another site, but I went ahead and modified it even further. I’ve made this recipe twice now, and both times I used the 170ml size yogurt  that’s commonly available here in the US (I used Chobani both times, honey flavor the first time and strawberry the second). I also just used regular ol’ sugar, though the original recipe calls for caster sugar (which is much finer than regular granulated sugar). Finally, the biggest mod I made was, the first time, an accident.

Zacky and I were in the middle of throwing our ingredients into the bowl, and I popped open the fridge to grab the milk…which we were out of. We had already added both wet and dry ingredients, so stopping for a trip to the market wasn’t really an option. I asked myself: what do I have that’s liquid and non-alcoholic? The answer: apple juice. My biggest concern was for the texture of the cake, and I have to tell you, it came out incredibly moist. It was dense without being heavy, had a nice crumb while still being silky on the tongue. I so ❤ this cake. That one got eaten without any glaze or anything.

This past weekend, we had another shindig to go to and I decided to bake another one of these cakes, only to take it a step further and go with OJ, which I also used for the liquid in the glaze. As noted above, I used strawberry yogurt this time and also put some lightly macerated berries between the layers and on top. So good. Oh — one more thing: the first time, I baked the cake in an angel food cake pan, and this time I baked two rounds. Both came out just fine.

I’m gonna make another one for the party we’re going to this weekend. I think I have finally found a go-to cake recipe, and I love that it’s so, so easy. Did I mention the best part? You use the yogurt cup for all your “cup” measurments, plus it’s a one bowl recipe. Love. It.

Recipe

(originally discovered on The Boys Made Me Do It, via Pinterest)

Ingredients:

 Note: YC = Yogurt Cup

  • 1 YC yogurt
  • 1 YC  all purpose flour
  • 2 YC self rising flour (make your own)
  • 2 YC sugar
  • 1 YC juice (you pick the flavor!)
  • 1 YC vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Grease a bundt, angel food cake, or two 9″ round pans. Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake for 40-50 minutes (a toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center should come out clean). Allow to cool in pans, then remove and top as desired.

It’s Not Always About You

November 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

While skimming through posts to move over to this blog, I came across this pasta recipe that I posted over on the old blog. There is no accompanying post, but I know I posted it so I could find it again, because the pasta recipe in my Italian cookbook is kinda meh and doesn’t come together as nicely as this one. And then, of course, I promptly forgot I had done that. So, when I came across it today I thought, “Hey! I should totally put that on TD!” and so I am, because that seemed like a Really Good Idea(tm) to me, and also, will work out nicely when I put the meat sauce recipe up later this week (or possibly next week — we are still without power from the storm so I’m trying to cram getting everything done into the very limited daylight hours I have available to me). Mostly, I’m putting it over here so I can find it again (if I remember to look here instead of in a cookbook!), but you are welcome to share the fruits of my labors.

Without further ado, here is my go-to pasta recipe:

Recipe

(adapted from Tyler Florence’s Pasta Dough for Ravioli)

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 c grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 for egg wash
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp water

Combine flour, cheese, and salt in mixer w/ dough hook. Add one egg at a time, mixing continually. Add oil. Continue mixing until dough forms a ball.

Dust work surface with flour. Turn dough out onto surface and work for 5-10 minutes, until dough is elastic. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide dough in half and rewrap one half (to avoid drying). Form other half into a rectangle and run through pasta machine on widest setting 2-3 times. Run through middle setting 1-2 times, flouring as necessary. Lay rectangle out on floured work surface. Brush with egg wash (made by beating one egg w/ 1 Tbsp water).

For raviolis:
Dot with filling app. 1″ apart 1/4 – 1/2″ from one long edge of pasta. Fold strip over to enclose filling. Press air out around filling. Cut apart with sharp knife. Crimp edges with fork tine. Boil for 4 minutes in well salted water.

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