Katie vs. Dessert

Last night we gave the children ice cream for dessert. The three big kids were happy, but little Katie thew a fit when she saw her bowl of vanilla ice cream, pushing it away and squawking madly at me and Brian. We shrugged and got ready to take the ice cream away, when we listened closer to her babbling and realized she was saying “chokwit, chokwit.” She was mad because she wanted CHOCOLATE ice cream, NOT VANILLA.

She is 20 months old, and she’s learned how to say “chocolate” before “mine.” I don’t know if I should say “Atta girl!” or be slightly afraid.

Road Tested Recipes: Gingerbread Waffles

Most “gingerbread” flavored waffle or pancake recipes are not good.

There.  I SAID IT.

This is because most of them have simply taken regular waffle/pancake batter and added molasses and some spices to it.  The extra sugar from the molasses makes the resulting waffle/pancakes too dry and sandy.

This recipe, however, has a thicker, moister batter, giving waffles that are cakelike and deeply flavorful.  Using buttermilk stops them from being too sweet, and adds complexity to the flavor.  Make sure to use a thick Belgian-style waffle maker for these; they become flimsy sad little graham crackers as thin waffles.

Whipped cream and sugared berries are a must.

Gingerbread Waffles

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • UN-optional whipped cream and fruit

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add sugar, molasses, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, soda, and powder.  Add all this to the wet ingredients and stir until smooth.  Stir in the butter.

You can either cover and refrigerate the batter overnight at this point (it will be very thick in the morning) or cook immediately in a waffle iron, 2-4 minutes.  It will makes around 14 big fluffy gingerbready waffles.

Occupy Candy Land

Brian’s family loves making an elaborate gingerbread creation every year, especially something topical or impressive.  Past years have included a castle, the White House, and an aquarium.  This year, they decided to recreate the Occupy Wall Street protest in sugar, frosting, and cookie dough.

BEHOLD!

Let me take you on a tour.  Here’s the facade of the New York Stock Exchange:

And the statue of the bull on Wall Street.

Inside, the 1%-ers are sipping champagne, smoking cigars, and snacking on caviar and toast points.  (I made these guys and gave them all monocles.)  Note the stock ticker on the wall.

Meanwhile, there are hippies in a drum circle (I made the ones with dredlocks).

Protesters surrounded by riot police and being casually attacked with pepper spray:

Hipsters with nerd glasses and goatees attend a protest meeting. Major props go to my sister-in-law’s husband Jake, who hand-carved the glasses out of clove-flavored gumdrops.  Oh, can you find Candy Waldo in this scene?

Zuccotti Park is populated with Fruit Roll-Up tents, piles of sleeping bags,  and a gigantic stack of donated library books made from Andes Mints.

Finally, Jeffrey insisted that there be a ninja scaling the building, which Caitlin says sounds exactly like the kind of stunt the real occupiers would pull.  Jeff says his ninja is named “PG-13 Spy Man.”  I like that guy.

WE ARE THE 99%!  The delicious, delicious, 99%.

Cookie Day & Christmas Village

My kids have no school this week, and boredom isn’t an option.  Fortunately, there is a wonderful grandma in our life who is more than willing to let her grandkids trash her kitchen.

Jeffrey: expert cookie cutter

William: supreme dough roller

Eleanor: takes on any and all flour-sprinkling duties

June: absolute best at smiling for the camera

We made this many cookies.  Lo, the sugar rush was great in size.

To shake off the sweets, my mom and I took my kids to Ogden’s Christmas Village afterwards.  For those of you not in the know, this is a series of miniature cottages, decorated inside with holiday-themed dioramas.

Some of the cottages have little nooks especially designed for children to climb and explore.  Others have buttons to push for special effects (like an animatronic Santa waving his robot arm, etc.).  We were there early in the day, so my kids didn’t have to compete to see the special effects.

I loved this “Hansel and Gretel” house, although I’m not sure if my kids recognized the story.

My mom and I really liked this scene of snowmen at a lunch counter.  The snowman on the center stool foolishly ordered hot chili and, as you can see, has melted, much to the dismay of his friends.

The children’s favorite was a house showing a nutcracker workshop.  There were probably over a hundred nutcrackers on display in the little house — so fun for playing “I Spy.”  Thanks again, Mom, for a lovely winter day out!

Electric Fug

Today is the day Brian turns 35 years old.

35 is the Ugly Lamp Birthday.  What, you didn’t know?

To celebrate, I hosted an Ugly Lamp competition, and friends and family submitted various unsightly entries.  Lamps could be “Born Ugly” or “Made Ugly.”  Here are the competitors — and I’d like you to vote on your favorite in the comments below!  Which is the ugliest?  YOU DECIDE.

THE SPIRAL THINGY: made out of a washing machine agitator.  Found at DI by Brian’s parents.

THE SPINNING FORTRESS: constructed out of Lego by James, Laura, and their children.  The cube not only lights up, but spins!!

THE GOLFER: brought by Justin & AnnaJune.  Susan, who used to be a Hallmark store employee, said it reminded her of the kind of thing she used to sell.

THE END OF INNOCENCE: decorated by Chris & Susan, featuring a feather boa, plastic ninjas and army guys, glitter pom poms, and pieces of a “High School Musical” jigsaw puzzle.  (They also named it “The End of Innocence.”)

THE APPLEGUTS: A column of “apple guts” — the side product of making apple cider — with an upside-down light-up Harry Potter wand inside.  (Shudder.)  Made by Brandon and Kellie.

THE SPIDER’S PRISON: Pat & Deb found this at DI.  There is a spider trapped inside the glass with those freaky silk flowers!

THE COLONEL SANDERS: Made by my mom and dad.  I think it’s appropriately dreamlike.

THE WATSON & CRICK: an ugly lamp tribute to DNA.  See the double helix hanging off the side?  And the bottom rim is decorated with “actg” stickers.  Made by Amy & John’s family.

THE SUBTLE KNIFE: My 16 year old brother Alex made this one.  The light bulb behind it flickered.

Those were the highlights (no pun intended).  Brian and William made awards together and handed them out (I think the Appleguts won the “Most Likely to be Rejected by DI” award).  In the meanwhile, everyone enjoyed a big pile of pizza and spinach salad.

Plus cupcakes for the children!

And now, of course . . . .

~~CAKE COMMENTARY~~

This is the Marbled Velvet Cake from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.  With a ganache glaze on top.  It was humble-looking but very tasty.

Happy #35, Brian!  (xxxoo)

Pie Nap

My friend Angry Baker gave me her personal “Most Likely to Throw a Themed Party” award.  To accept the award, I must pose with my favorite homemade treat; to decline, I must take a nap.

I couldn’t decide:

I AM AWESOME

(The caption is also part of the rules.  Oh, and the nap lasted about .03 seconds, or however long it takes the shutter on my camera to open and close.)

The dessert is Crisp Coconut Chocolate Pie from Martha Stewart Living.  It’s very easy and that filling — whoa.  It’s essentially straight ganache.  To make it:

  • 11 oz. sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz. good-quality dark chocolate (I prefer 50% cacao) chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take 1/3 of the coconut and the butter and grind it into a ball in a food processor.  Combine this with the rest of the coconut (use your fingers).  Press this into a pie pan, leaving the top edge fluffy.

Shield the edge of this “crust” with a strip of foil, then bake until center is browned.  (The recipe says this should take 10 minutes, but it took me more like 30 minutes.)  Remove the foil, then bake 10 or so minutes more until the edge of the crust is brown, too.

While the crust cools, make the truffle filling.  Put the chocolate in a bowl; bring cream just to a boil, then pour over the chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir it with a whisk until it is smooth and combined.  Pour filling into cooled crust, then refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before devouring.  (I like to let it warm on the counter for 20 minutes or so before eating it.)

It tastes like a gigantic Bounty bar, only much, much better.  Here’s a prettier picture of the results:

Oh!  I also just realized that I could have titled his post “Pie Napple.”  This is probably a sign that I need to go to bed.

Summer Eats: Something-for-Everyone Tortellini Salad

Hmm.  Can you guess what Eleanor is thinking?

If you guessed “I’d rather be friends with a racist kangaroo than eat that,” you’d be absolutely right!  It’s a face I’ve become familiar with over the years.  That’s why I like this recipe.  You serve it like this:

Everyone chooses which toppings to put on — or not put on — the top of a pile of tortellini: things like fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and other objectionable foods.  Those who want plain pasta can blah it up as they choose.

Grown-ups are rumored to even put a nice balsamic-lime dressing on top of the salad, too.  But that’s just a rumor.

Something-For-Everyone Tortellini Salad

  • 1 pound cheese tortellini (don’t substitute ravioli.  Ravioli, while great in its own floppy way, doesn’t salad-ify as well as tortellini.)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 fresh mozzarella, cubed*
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Cook tortellini according to package directions.  Drain and rinse under cool water (if you don’t, the tortellini will glom together in a Starchy Ball of Doom).  Put the tortellini, tomatoes, cheese, basil, and avocado in separate serving bowls.

Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, and balsamic vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, pile some tortellini on a plate, then add other ingredients as desired.

*Fresh mozzarella is the pure white, very soft stuff usually found in the “fancy” cheese sections of grocery stores.  Sometimes it’s packaged as bocconcini — little pre-made balls that you don’t even have to chop.  My kids call these “cheese marhsmallows” — it’s what we used in the photographs above. But you can substitute regular mozzarella if you want.

Summer Eats: Shrimp Cocktail Gazpacho

Oh, the summer eats.  Sure, thanks to imported melons and hothouse tomatoes, you can pretend it’s summertime all year round, but let’s be real: some foods need to be made in season.  (Yes, I’ve become a tomato snob, picking out limp pink specimens from restaurant salads.  Blame the backyard garden.)

I have a whole collection of recipes that are strictly for summertime only.  Here’s one of them:

This is probably the best thing to do with those frozen rings of shrimp cocktail you can find in supermarkets.  Yes, yes — those weird perversions of Christmas wreaths that come with the little plastic tub of cocktail sauce.  Stop wrinkling your nose at the computer screen.  Have the trust, people — this is full of all sorts of goodies like avocados and lime juice, and you don’t even have to turn on the stove.  (The broiler does come on if you want to make your own parmesan crostini for serving on the side.  Otherwise, just purchase those, too.  You’ll need ’em for scooping all the treats out of your bowl.)

Shrimp Cocktail Gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • One of those Christmas wreath perversions (as mentioned above)
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 2-3 fresh tomatoes, diced (feel free to substitute cherry tomatoes if that’s what you have)
  • Ripe avcoado, chopped
  • jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed and then minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped (totally optional.  I really dislike raw onion, so I never put it in.  But perhaps you’re more sophisticated and world-wise than me, and can stand it)
  • Extra cocktail sauce, if you happen to have some lying around
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Thaw the shrimp by setting it in a bowl of room-temperature water.  Drain it when the shrimp is soft enough to eat.  Refrigerate the shrimp until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, put the tub of cocktail sauce that came with the shrimp in a small bowl.  Add tomato juice, tomatoes, avocado, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, red onion (really?  Bleh), and stir.  Taste it, then add extra cocktail sauce, tomato juice, salt and pepper to get the flavor combination you want.  I like my gazpacho on the tart side.

Dish up bowls of this heavenly stuff and serve with shrimp and dipping carbohydrate of your choice.

Parmesan Crostini

Ingredients:

  • One baguette.  Go for one that’s more firm than fluffy.
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, halved
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • freshly grated Parmesan (do NOT use the stuff from a can, it won’t melt properly.   But you’re probably a brilliant foodie who’s already munching down on the raw red onion and didn’t need to be told that)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat your broiler.  Slice the baguette diagonally into 1/2″ slices.  Brush one side of the bread slices with olive oil and place them on the baking sheet.  Broil — keeping a close eye on them so they don’t burn — until nicely toasted.

Remove the bread slices from the broiler and carefully flip them over.  Rub cut edges of garlic cloves on the untoasted sides of the bread.  Sprinkle with Parmesan and return to the broiler — once again keeping a close eye on it — until cheese is golden and bubbling.  Let cool slightly before barking at your eight-year-old for swiping pieces when you’re not looking.

Road Tested Recipes: Chocolate Cupcakes

My friend Angry Baker wants to find the best chocolate cupcake recipe in the world.  That’s a darn noble endeavor.  Here’s my contribution.  This recipe was published years ago in Everyday Food magazine.  I make it all the time for parties, and people always ask for the recipe.  That’s known as Good Sign #1.

Good Sign #2 is that this is the only cake I’ve ever seen little kids eat.  Usually they just lick off the frosting and run away.

Good Sign #3 is that this recipe has just as much cocoa powder as there is flour.

You’re on your own with the frosting.  Just promise me you won’t use anything that comes from a can.  Swear it!  Swear upon the King Arthur Flour catalog!

Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with cupcake liners and coat with nonstick baking spray.

In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, powder, and salt; set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla.  With mixer on a low speed, add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour.

Spoon batter into cupcake pan, filling each cup about 3/4 full.  Bake until it comes out clean 20-25 minutes (my oven runs cold, so I always need to bake it longer.  Use your judgment).  Cool in pan 5 minutes before removing to a rack.

Take THAT, L.M. Montgomery!

Hey, do you remember the part of Anne of Green Gables about the ice cream social?

Of course you do — it’s the one where Anne is excited to make a “bosom friend,” but almost doesn’t go because Marilla Cuthbert thinks Anne has lost her treasured amethyst brooch?  DON’T YOU REMEMBER?!??

Well, anyway, as fabulous as that ice cream social was, it couldn’t possibly compare to THIS:

That’s right.  You’re looking at two-dozen kinds of ice cream.  HOMEMADE ice cream.  This is a tradition in my neighborhood.  It was particularly fabulous this year, even if it made me late for my children’s literature discussion group (AGAIN).

Brian and I take our ice cream making seriously.  In the past, we’ve contributed flavors like Almond Fudge Ripple, Ginger Spice, and Mango Jalapeno.

This year, Brian contributed one we’ve made many times, Kill the Mint Cookie:

We rip up the (very invasive) fresh mint from our garden and steep it in the cream for the flavor.  Then we add crumbled chocolate cookies to the finished product.

My flavor this year was Blueberry Cheesecake.  I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever made.

The recipe is from Ann Hodgman’s excellent cookbook Beat This! only quintupled (yes, this meant we separated 30 egg yolks).  When we poured the finished product into a plastic tub for storage, we mixed in chopped up chunks of frozen cheesecake.  This was done mainly because we didn’t think people would eat 5 quarts of plain blueberry ice cream, but would easily down anything cheesecake-oriented.  Turns out we were right.

I ate about 2,348,549 spoonfuls of many different flavors.  My favorite was the Lavender Honey.  Many good wishes upon the creator of that delight, O Universe.

And in case you don’t like ice cream, did I mention the cookie table?

Yes, yes.  Much with the evil carbohydrate consumption.

We’ve always had children’s activities as part of the social, but this year the neighborhood kicked it up a notch.  Yes, that’s a bouncy house.  Yes, Jeffrey spent 99% of his time there.

I’m not even sure he ate any ice cream.