Pioneering Muffins

I have been sucked into the world of Pinterest. I’m still learning how to use it. But I’ve made about a dozen boards already, and it’s so much fun.

Through Pinterest, I found a recipe for “Moist Pumpkin Spice Muffins (With Cream Cheese Frosting).”

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/10/moist-pumpkin-spice-muffins-with-cream-cheese-frosting/

I pinned and clicked and wanted to see what the recipe called for. I have a weakness for pumpkin. I love pumpkin pie. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin scents. . .

Mmm.

The link shot me over to the site of the Pioneer Woman from Food Channel! My mom loves her stuff. I scrolled, and (sorry about my scepticism) but I was surprised to find that I liked it!

She had a picture to go with each step. And for those like me who are challenged, this is the most helpful thing. It’s why I like doing step by step pictures on my blog. It’s helpful.

Anyway, I was hooked. And the pictures gave me confidence. I thought, “I can do this.”

And we had all the ingredients. All I needed to get was canned pumpkin.

On the other hand, when I was telling people I was making pumpkin muffins, they would give me this look and feel compelled to remind me that it isn’t fall.

People. I wear dark colors in spring. I don’t care!

Pumpkin muffins. I think you just don’t understand the enormity of this glorious circumstance. PUMPKIN MUFFINS!

We were having the Singles/College and Career Sunday school over at our house for a fellowship, so I decided to make these muffins for the event.

I’ve saved myself so many times by taking all the ingredients I’ll need and putting them on the counter. It wouldn’t be the first time that half way through the recipe I realize we’re missing vanilla or butter. Butter happens more often. And then I’m stuck with awkward batter in a bowl and don’t know what to do with it.

These are all the ingredients you’ll need for the recipe. (PS, I am in no way saying this recipe is mine. I’ve made it clear that I’m following Pioneer Woman.)

So, obedient to the recipe, I started by sifting a cup of flour.

Half a cup of sugar.
I was totally trying this whole capturing-slowmotion-pouring thing.
A teaspoon of baking powder (not to be confused with baking soda, which usually comes in an orange box).

Then the three musketeers, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, which obviously refused to stay still because the picture came out fuzzy in all of them.

Then you bang the heck out of the strainer against your hand until it all falls through, fluffy and perfect.

Pioneer Woman says that if she has little kernels still at the bottom of her strainer, she’ll rub them through with her fingers.

Or you can be like me who gave up and thought that my muffins could definitely survive without those pieces and thus tapped the strainer to the side of the sink until all the pieces fell out.

We can’t all be Pioneer Woman.

Next was butter.

Four table spoons, which you then slice into smaller pieces. My butter was soft by the time I got to this, so my slicing was slow, as if it was for revenge.

If that wasn’t enough, I tossed the chunks into my bowl and mashed the life out of it until it was no longer there.

This is what it looks like “fully incorporated.”

In a seperate bowl, you plop your heaping cup of pumpkin. I made a mess.

Then evaporated milk.

Which you’re supposed to “shake well” before opening. Of course, I didn’t notice that until I already pierced the side. I attempted to hold my thumb there as I shook it but it still got everywhere.

Then vanilla.

Finally an egg. Then you mix it all up until it’s this ugly pale orange color.

It apparently offended my camera because my camera refused to focus.

Next you dump this mixture into your dry mixture and stir it in. Pioneer Woman put it this way, “don’t beat it to death. Have a heart.” That made me laugh.

Especially after my Revenge Of The Butter episode.

I’m uber professional, so I use an ice cream scooper to fill up my muffin (well cupcake) tins. I had greased them with Crisco before hand.

Before I had begun, I realized my initial mistake: the recipe only made ten muffins, it said. And we were having a bunch of college age people coming. My mom’s solution was that we’d cut them in half.

So anyway, about at this point, I was feeling very good about myself. I slid them into the oven and set the timer. Then came back a few minutes later and thought I’d take a picture of them in the oven.

Then I started on the dishes.

 About which time, I started yelling…

“OH NO! No! No, no, no!” I scrambled to dry my hands and grab my phone, and I checked the recipe and sure enough. I forgot to add the cinnamon sugar topping before sticking them in the oven.

I snatched them out of the oven. They had six minutes to go and were already fluffed and perfect… minus the topping.

I gathered all my baking skills together and tried not to kick myself because this is exactly where we went wrong last time. Except this time I didn’t overdose on the salt.

I tried an egg white glaze, painting it on, then sprinkling the sugar mixture.

I stuck it back in the oven, but I knew the muffins were done and there was no way the sugar was going to melt in such a short period of time.

The sugar wasn’t sticking the way I wanted it to.

As I final precaution, I got a spoon of water and used my finger to flick droplets onto the muffins.

This saved me the most. It actually looked like I iced them a little afterwards.

Now, I have an explanation on why it went wrong.

I was over-using my phone. This is seriously my excuse? This is seriously my excuse. I was using my phone to look at the recipe, I was using my phone to take the pictures, I was using the phone to listen to Spotify, I was using the phone to text people how I was making muffins. Overload.

Simple fix! I’ll print out the recipe next time. And I ended up quitting spotify and turning on the radio in the front room instead.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

They were good, though. Not as sweet as I would like, but the topping did help. I skipped the cream cheese icing since this was for an outdoor party, and that sounded too messy. But the muffins were a hit. They didn’t last very long.

But they definitely were moist. I told Jake there weren’t any carbs in them so he tried one. He said they were delicious, and yes I can cook, and I had his blessing that I was now ready and prepared to find a man, which I found way funnier than it actually was so I yelled, “Yaye, I can find a man!!” in an excited voice that was definitely too loud to be socially acceptable.

So this was a success/fail.

I guess my desserts never look like the picture anyway..

Christmas Eve Cookies

It has been months since I’ve baked anything. Mostly due to the fact that our ancient oven broke, and we did have the new one sitting in the car port, but they took forever sending a guy to come and install it. 

Also, I just started my new job. =-) You can read all about it, I’ll be posting more, on my main site/blog.

Anyway, it only makes sense that I’d be itching to bake something. Dying even. Yesterday, I finally got my chance.

My family always has people over Christmas Eve. And the desserts, starting from Thanksgiving, become more frequent and more varied all the way up to New Years, where we go heart-attack crazy with sweets.

This Christmas, everyone in the family participated, right down to my little brother who made strawberry danishes.

My mom baked raspberry muffins and her first cheesecake (which turned out perfect!). And my older brother, back from school, was put to work making my Abuelita’s recipe. . . which I just realized I can’t describe. It’s layered cookies between evaporated milk and lemon, and I’m sure other things, and once it’s set, the cookies are moist and you cut it like a cake and it’s creamy and lemony.

I didn’t plan my desserts at all. I jotted on an envelope some recipes that inspired me on Pinterest, but that was about it.

I somehow mentioned mint cookies though, because my mom was expecting me to make those. So I used a recipe for mint star cookies I’ve made on this blog before.

It uses butter, superfine sugar, flour, an egg yolk, peppermint of course, salt, and chocolate for the drizzle.
You begin by creaming the butter and sugar, so, I believe you should get into the habit of immediately pulling out your butter sticks, first. That way they can thaw to room temperature by the time you’ve found your cook book, tied your apron, fixed your hair, spanked a child — whatever it is you do.
Otherwise, you’ll have to pop them in the microwave.
I did mine about twenty seconds.

So cream the butter and sugar. The book says use a wooden spoon, but *hair flip* I’m too professional for that now.

Sift flour and salt before adding it to the mix.
Then shape into two balls and pray you find room in the fridge. There mine went, right by my older brother’s dessert with the cookies I was telling you about.
The dough didn’t take me long to make and it had to sit in the fridge for about an hour, so I thought, why not make something else?
My mom said we didn’t have anything chocolate. Bingo.
This, is where things get crazy.
Recipes in my cookie book all require 3/4th a cup of sugar, two sticks of butter, and 2 1/4th cup of flour, I believe.

Here’s what I could scrounge up; about a fourth of superfine sugar, one stick of butter (not even shown in the picture), and about 1 1/4th cup of flour.

I could do this!!

I cut the whole thing in half.

One stick of butter.

This is trippy. I thought, heck I’ll use regular sugar instead of superfine, who’s gonna see the difference? 
. . Everybody, my dense friend, everybody. . 
Turns out, there is a difference between superfine and regular sugar. Honestly. Who knew?
Cream what you’ve got.

Add vanilla. The recipe calls for two teaspoons, so I put two teaspoons. Then gasped, covered my mouth, and suddenly giggled, because I forgot I was doing everything in half.

Why is there vanilla in a chocolate cookie anyway? 
So, I figured the vanilla mistake would be my little secret.
Sift what you’ve got. Mine was about a cup.
For the coco powder, I learned the hard way why you use liquid measuring cups for measuring liquid and the other ones for measuring everything else. 

No way of leveling. .

You live an learn.

I mixed it all together then added mini chocolate chips. They’re so cute, they raised my voice a few octaves. If you’ve never seen a mini chocolate chip, drop everything and go buy a bag right now.  You haven’t lived. They’re sooo small! Like chocolate chip babies. Or if a chocolate chip pooped, a chocolate chip.

I used a mini ice cream scooper to form balls and squished them slighly.

The double chocolate chip cookies were a little more than one baking sheet’s worth, so I finished up on those and moved back to the mint stars.

For a surface, I stretched a piece of plastic cross a cutting board and tucked it into the other side, without cutting it from the box it rolled out of. I put the ball of dough on the plastic and used the plastic the dough was wrapped in for the top layer – so it’d be completely between two sheets of plastic – and rolled it out that way so it wouldn’t stick to the rolling pin. Then I cut stars.

For the very last star, I press the cookie cutter in the middle like usual, then peel off the sides and press it into the cookie cutter by hand.

You can do this with an empty star (without initially having dough cut into it), if you don’t mind your awkward cookie to be thin. In this case, my awkward cookie would be thick, if that makes sense.

To finish off these cookies, you add a chocolate drizzle and they look pretty.

Like this.

So I put my chocolate chips in my melting pot and waited. . I was waiting so long that my mom told me she could melt the chocolate chips on the stove in no time flat, which sounded nice, so she took over.

I saw her add a few spoonfuls of water, then she began mixing forever.

Long story short, we don’t know what happened. It was thick and ugly. I added oil, trying to smooth it out and the oil refused to incorporate. It got worse the more it cooled, so I quickly dumped it into a zip lock back and tried to pipe some form of drizzle on the cookies, and the bag busted, the chocolate was so thick.

This chocolate was alive. And angry. We wouldn’t have been surprised if it swallowed us alive. But after the bag busted open, I was done with it.

My mother, on the other hand, wasn’t. She went into her Super Mama Safe The Day, Fix The Unfixable! mood.

Her first idea; spreading.

Then the cookie broke in her hand.

Next idea: make. . . truffles?

She formed them into balls and stuck them in the fridge and was very proud at that. She even tasted and must’ve been pleased, because she served them at the party. I have yet to try them.

Unfortunately for the frosted cookie. .

Ultimate segregation.

My little brother asked what happened. I said, “this is what happens when a cookie’s bad.”

So in the end, we had double chocolate chip cookies that actually turned out! I was shocked.

And naked, no drizzle, mint star cookies.

They plated nicely, though, I think.

So all, around, good baking day! I was also inspired.

This is the book I got my recipes from, I’ve mentioned it before. The reason I got this book is because I thought, “all I need to do is get the hang of one recipe (or one dough) and I can make one hundred different cookies!”

For a baker like me, that idea sounds preetty darn good.

Well, as I was baking these cookies, I thought, why not go through the whole book, cookie by cookie, starting at One?

Kind of like in that movie Julie and Julia. So. What do you say? Good idea? Boring idea? Any comment?

I think it’s cool. It’s not a project for a culinary master, but for anyone. And for you guys at home, you can buy yourselves a copy of this book and bake along if you want. =-)

I’m selling myself on this idea.

So yeah. There’s that. X-) Right now, I really need to sleep. I have a cold, and work tomorrow. Oh the joys! 
Comment below if you can!

Lemon buzz crush

So. Things came up, and I haven’t been in the writing mood lately. But I’ve decided to tell myself to suck it up and just write.

If there are any aspiring writers out there looking for advice, mine would be: just stinkin’ suck it up and write.

Best advice I’ve given myself, let me tell ya.

Anyhow, yesterday afternoon, we had the worship leader from my new church and his family over for lunch. It was kinda like having a celebrity over. Well, for me at least – because I’m dramatic. Anyway, on Saturday, I started feeling a little better, which was good, because I was supposed to make dessert.

It’s pretty trippy actually, because I had a dream about a lemon cake with cream cheese filling and lemon icing. More like a vision. But somehow I new what kind of cake it was.

So when my mom asked me what I’d like to make, I spouted that “off the top of my head.” She just kind of looked at me.

But I was determined. I hadn’t had drive for a couple days, so I had pent up energy, and motivation from watching Julie and Julia. The best part was that I had my handy dandy kitchen aid. And okay, I made the cakes from boxes. I wasn’t in the best mood to laugh at a catastrophe, or to tackle something I’ve absolutely never done before.

And I knew there was just as much possibility of me screwing up a cake mix as there is with a recipe from scratch.

I don’t know if anyone else does this. And I might have mentioned it before, I don’t know. But I never listen to the baking instructions. If it says bake 20-35 minutes. I’ll put it in at fifteen and then check it. And then I’ll add a few minutes. And check it. And by then, I’ve already lost count of how many minutes I’ve left it in there, and I’ll just check it every five minutes until I shake it and it doesn’t jiggle, and then I do the knife check.

I’m sure I’m making it way too hard on myself. I’m just so paranoid that it’ll burn. And I really don’t understand bake times to begin with. It’s also become a habit. . Eh. Habitual paranoia. Haha, maybe I’ve found my problem *cough*

But oh well. My house isn’t that big. And my bedrooms practically right next to the kitchen. So I just kept pausing Julie and Julia (they didn’t mind) after every five minutes to make sure the cake wasn’t burning.

I got two cake mixes. And was determined to have a two tier lemon cake. So after I got the first cake out of the oven, I washed the kitchen aid paddle and bowl (I didn’t plan on it, I thought I could bust cakes out with production, but the battery bowls had been sitting there for half an hour and looked icky) then whipped up a second cake batter, which consists of me flipping a switch on the KA (new name for kitchen aid) and setting a timer while I grease and flour the cake pan within the time span of two minutes.

I’m usually exhausted after baking. It’s pretty pathetic. I’ll bake, bake, bake, then crash in bed, usually still wearing my apron. But I wasn’t at all, honestly. I really hadn’t done anything by the time they had baked and cooled outside the oven. So I went on to stage two, which is a bit new, since I’m usually swaying on my heels, my eyes half shut, by then. (Slight exaggeration.)

We’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t correctly level your cake before you stack it, it will. .

Look like that. . . Appetizing. .

So, use this weird looking thing, called a cake-leveler. I think.

(Eh, my instant upload isn’t working. . But here’s an advertisement for a “professional” leveler. It’s basically a U-shaped thing, with a wire running across it, pulled taught to be able to cut the cake smoothly. The one advertised is a little freakish, with the three wires cutting at the same time and everything. But it comes with a turn table. I could use one of those, haha.)

http://ad.doubleclick.net/adi/N7433.148119.BLOGGEREN/B6534699.344;sz=400×400;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000613802463797;pid=28908;usg=AFHzDLvITAdCHiDJeNMucv_Rb9khn57iPQ;adurl=http%253A%252F%252Fwww.chefscatalog.com%252Fproduct%252F28908-Fat-Daddios-Professonal-Cake-Leveler-20-inch.aspx%253Futm_source%253Dgoogle%2526utm_medium%253Dshopping%2526utm_content%253D28908%2526utm_campaign%253DFat%252520Daddio%2527s;pubid=634072;imgsrc=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chefscatalog.com%2Fimg%2Fproducts%2F500x500%2F28908_500.jpg;width=400;height=400

Usually, and I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise, I can’t use a cake leveler to save my life. Not only does the cake have slopes, but I end up tugging off chunks from the side of the cake. And it gets all crumbily. And the crumbs get in the icing. . Egh. It’s just nasty looking.

But I managed to find ways around both of those things!

The best way to level, this’ll sound stupid, but have your cake on a leveled surface (unless you’re blessed with a turn table). I put mine straight on the wooden cutting board. Then, make sure you keep the leveler upright (that way, it doesn’t really matter how you go about it, the cake with still cut leveled). Using a sawing motion seems to be the best way to go about it, without tugging on your cake and damaging it. Hold the cake against the sides, when you’re cutting toward it, to keep from hacking off the corner. The cake tends to be a little harder on the sides and corners from being more baked and likes to take chunks with it if you handle it too roughly.

I suppose the best way to do it without creating too many crumbs is cutting it right the first time. But that didn’t happen for me. I summoned my courage and went over it again with the leveler, set at the same height, and taking the gamble that I’ll make it worse than it was. But I fixed it! It’s the best leveled cake I’ve ever done!

Now I wasn’t absolutely sure the cream cheese frosting would taste good with lemon, which wasn’t a big deal. I had all these cake tops from leveling, that I just broke off a piece and spread some cream cheese frosting. I had to taste test a few times to be sure. Then, I decided which cake should be on the bottom, and spread the top of it with half the container of the cream cheese frosting. Then I added just a little more, to make sure you could see the frosting once it’s cut.

I’ve watched quite a few episodes of Cake Boss. And I always see them scoop heaps of icing onto the cake before spreading it out with a knife. This is how to keep crumbs from getting to your frosting. Just spread it from the middle out, always keeping about a quarter of an inch of icing ahead of your knife. Don’t spread it out thin until you touch your cake and then pull up, because the icing sticks to the cake and you’re just pulling up cake crumbs that’ll mix with your icing. I don’t know if this makes any sense. Basically, heap a lot of frosting on and spread it out somewhat thick so you never touch your knife to the cake.

I dropped the top layer on it after I frosted it enough, then I iced the top of that one with the lemon icing. It felt like the best idea to start with the top in case I didn’t have enough icing for the whole cake, but I did, so I smoothed it, albeit a little thinner, over the sides. Then tried adding a rose-y design on the top, and took a million pictures. I was so proud of myself. I was telling my friend, Julie, that I have a crush on this cake. It’s gorgeous.

And! Our worship leader’s wife said it was delicious! MY cake. Delicious. I’ve never heard that before about anything I’ve made. I tried to smile humbly as my mom told her that I baked  it. =->

White Chocolate Bon-bons

Feel free to eat the cream, if you want.

Honestly, I wanted to make the red velvet cupcakes again. But I got some. . . Kindly dismissive answers from my dad.

He groaned aloud. “Oh please don’t.”

He was acting like I was making them for him. They’d actually be for my girls’ bible study group, but for whatever reason, he pleaded with me to spare those poor girls the privilege of seeing the Lord face-to-face before their time.

Fine. So I made my famous white chocolate bon-bons. . I got myself into a good little system too.

There are 36 cookies in a package of Oreos. As you know if you’ve read Bravery, Optimism, and Chocolate, I use a package of Oreos for this recipe. That’s the original recipe. With the white chocolate variation of the recipe I’ve made (ha, I love saying that, makes me feel so smart), I use vanilla cookies. The cheap ones. Hehe.

Funny thing about cheap cookies, you get a lot of them. So I counted out 36 to scrape the cream out of. Oh, also, as usual, take your package of cream cheese out before hand so it thaws on the counter. Ha, oh yeah, I guess I should give you the ingredients, huh?

1 Package of Oreos
1 Package of cream cheese
Meltable chocolate.

I know. Oh so hard.

Once you’ve scraped them of the cream, put them in a blender and crush them up real fine. You might have to do this periodically with little batches of cookies, dumping each batch of crumbs in your bowl at a time.

Something I’ve noticed about cheapo cookies (or maybe it’s just the vanilla ones, I don’t know) is that they’re not as moist as Oreos. Keep that in mind when you start mixing the crumbs with the cream cheese. I left out about seven-ish cookies from the 36 count. You don’t want your bon-bons to be crumbly or they won’t hold together. But at the same time, you want the inside of the bon-bons to taste like the cookie and not like cream cheese.

When it comes to combining the cream cheese and crumbs, patience is key. But if it looks like there’s chunks of crumb-coated cheese just dancing around your bowl, laughing at you, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Take off your rings, and squish everything into one big mass, then go over it with your mixer again. You can do this a few times, or even smash the big chunks with a spoon. The final goal is for it all to be the same color and consistency.

Once you’ve gotten to that stage, taste it. If it tastes like cream cheese or needs to be sweeter, add more crumbs and kneed it in with your hands until it’s incorporated. Then taste it again. Not really rocket science. X-) Just be careful, you’ll start eating more than you’re actually making into bon-bons.

Start melting your white chocolate, stirring as much as you can. When it’s ready, or while you’re waiting between stirring  (be careful that the chocolate doesn’t burn), start making little balls. I make mine to be about the diameter of a quarter. But whatever floats your boat. Just don’t be crazy. You want people to come back for more, not get one stuck in their throat or something. Make it about two bites big enough.

Picture I took of them on the way to the bible study.

This is a great recipe for kids, by the way. If they want to help you in the kitchen, scrapping cookies or making little balls.

You finish by dipping the balls in the chocolate and placing them on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. If I’m making bon-bons for events, I like to freeze them before hand. They taste better cold. But if anything, freezing them will simply keep them from melting before the event.

You can also sprinkle them with colored sugar crystals for a little bitty crunch. Or decorate them however you like, even with left over crumbs.

See? Easy as. . well, not pie. .

Merry Christmas! And, by the way, I hate molasses

Heather flipping her hair. Don’t worry,
she’s away from the food.

I’ve been sitting around the house, wondering what to do with myself since I’ve been a busy body these past few days. So I figure. I might as well blog and tell all you wonderful people (um. . *squints into the darkness* marco? Marco . . Is anyone out there?) about things.

So I had that Christmas party Saturday! Before I tell you how that went though, I’ll tell you about the Friday before. (Because I know you absolutely can not wait to hear about the Friday before. You’re practically begging me to please, for the love of everything good and holy, tell you what I did the Friday before. Well beg no more, dear heart. I’m here for you. I’m here for you.)

As usual, I stayed up late finishing the desserts. .Yeah. .

“But how can you say that,” you may be asking, “when you started so early?”

Well, well. I’m glad you asked. See, things didn’t exactly go the way I planned. Which was typical. So, looking back, I should just plan THAT. And that way, things will go the way I planned. Heh, I’ll try it next time.

So, turns out I DIDN’T have the whole day to bake, which is how I planned it. I thought I’d wake up and just bake pleasantly all day, with this sweet and easy going smile on my face like any good homemaker, the wind breezing gently across my face, just happy and joyful and everything’s going so well. . .WELL. Hah-hah. You see. .

Okay. I did know that someone had to go pick up my older brother from the airport. Really I did. I just didn’t know I was required to. . participate in the going to pick him up.

That’s like two hours going and coming and not counting waiting for him there and lunch. So half my day went POOF. It’s crazy how it does that sometimes.

To retaliate I woke up early and prepped as many desserts I could before we needed to leave.

I started with the sugar cookie dough. I squished it into a ball (which I think is what they mean when it says “form into a ball” instead of “roll,” am I right?). And, I thought the ball looked like the butter was still in big chunks and I didn’t mix it in all the way. But I didn’t think too much about it because I needed to move on.

The peppermint puff dough went pretty good, I think. I don’t remember anything really horrible.

But then, came the spice crackle cookies. (Honestly, they’re just ginger snaps. Haha. But oolala, doesn’t spice crackle cookie sound so much more interesting?) I used two new ingredients in my spice crackle cookies: crystallized ginger and molasses. .

Have you ever seen crystallized ginger? I sure as heck hadn’t even heard of it until I read the recipe. I can take a picture of it if you want or if I have time. But it really just looks like weird chunks of yellow gummy candy, coated with sugar. My first issue with this was ew, that’s going in my cookies? And then, the recipe says “chopped.” What the heck does that mean? How big should they be? Well, I chopped it up until it looked  like you couldn’t be able to feel it in the cookie. (Maybe they dissolve in heat, but I didn’t want them to be like ginger raisins *shudder*) And then, the more I chopped it up, the stickier it became, which was interesting. But yeah. So there was that.

Then *foreboding tone* there was the molasses. Oh. My. Gosh. Have you ever smelled molasses?? It’s frikin’ disgusting. I got a headache smelling it. When I got to rolling out the dough balls and dipping them in sugar, my arms were stretched out so I could get as far away from the bowl as possible. It was really nasty stuff. And my main fear was that I thought molasses takes forever to pour out in the winter. HA! That part was easy.

I had some friends stay the night Friday to Saturday. They came over at seven, and by then I still hadn’t decorated the snowflakes, dipped the peppermint puffs, or even made the chocolate bon-bons I thought I could make, since I didn’t have time to do the mocha meringues anymore. But since they had shown up and I was already pretty worn from baking and everything, I thought I’d toss the bon-bon idea too.

Well, I immediately put them to work to try and help me finish as soon as possible. Each of us took a turn decorating the snowflakes with the runny icing I made. We even had a contest. Mine was the first, and the best one. Amy’s was so-so. But then Heather started getting into it, and we all quickly realized she was the best, so we folded from the game and bowed to her almighty icing powers.

Amy trying her hand at icing.

Amy and I got to work on finishing the peppermint puffs as Heather did that. I don’t know about you people out there but white chocolate is very stubborn to melt in my opinion. It’s very. . high maintenance. You can’t just leave it alone like milk chocolate, let it melt, come back, mix it, and you’re good to go. If you leave it, it gets cakey and disgusting. I always have to put oil to thin it up and mix it constantly. Sometimes even mashing it with a fork because it won’t melt all the way. So after a while of me trying to get it right, Amy started on dipping the peppermint puffs, while I grounded up some candy canes in the blender. (Question: I have a vitamix thing, will the candy canes ruin the blades? Heather and I got in an argument about this, until I settled it by going “oops” and hitting the blend switch.) But the good news is, it wasn’t white powder this time! There was red in it, so it looked nice. =-)

Quick heart shout-out to Heather. She washed most of the dishes. I was mixing stuff. And Amy admitted she was doing the fun chocolate dipping jobs. But Heather just randomly parked herself at the sink without anyone asking and started washing. She was SUCH a big help. And we were making a mess. So thank you Heather. ❤

Fuzzy picture of Heather and me talking
in the kitchen. Don’t I look like a mother in that apron?

Since Amy was in a chocolate dipping mood. We went ahead and made the bon-bons pretty quickly, with her dipping and Heather and I rolling out the balls. Then I wiped the counters while Heather resumed the messy chocolate pot (hey you can see it in the picture!) washing.

Baking stuff with friends is fun, people. It’s not something only little old ladies do. Especially stuff that’s as tedious as chocolate dipping, or cookie decorating, things that are really repetitive, it’s really fun. You should try it! You can have everything baked beforehand – which is what happened to me, not like I planned it – or bake it from the beginning with friends. Try it. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. What’s the worse that could happen?

Actually, nothing went horribly wrong. And the spice crackle cookies were a big hit, so I guess my torture was worth it. And no one asked about ginger raisins, so I guess they dissolved? *shrug* There was only one chocolate bon-bon left over and one sugar cookie. But there were a few of the peppermint puffs, not that they weren’t good. I had one and they were perfectly refreshing. And my friend Kyle even made fudge to bring, and yeah! A fun success. =-)

Hey they don’t look that different compared
to the magazine picture!

"I would like chocolate cookies"

That dog likes heights

        I was doing my schoolwork today and saw my little brother, who obviously didn’t have anything better to do, sitting around. (Sorry the picture to the right isn’t the best.) So I came to his rescue by telling him I would like chocolate cookies with maybe some sort of filling.

         “I don’t know how to make cookies.” Was his excuse.
         “Well learn.” Aren’t I helpful?
         I have a way of selling people on “delicious, mouth watering chocolate cookies with rich and creamy vanilla icing.” Eventually, he caught up to me as I was coming out of my room.
         “I’m ready to make the cookies,” he said.
         “Good, I’d like chocolate ones. Oh! And if we have chocolate chips, that’d be good too.”
         “Um. I thought you were going to teach me.”
          I told him to find a recipe. But when he asked me where he could find a cookbook (there’s a huge bookshelf in our front room, you can’t miss it), I realized we’d need more help than I thought. But, genius that I am, I thought up a brilliant idea.
          “Go find a box of chocolate cake mix,” I said, then left him in the kitchen with a confused look on his face. A minute later, I returned with a proud grin, a cookbook in hand, and a crooked chefs hat on my head.

          On the box of Pillsbury Funfetti Cake Mix is a recipe for Funfetti cookies, so I really didn’t need my cookbook after all. I simply had him follow the recipe on the Funfetti box, but we used devil’s food cake mix instead. I wanted chocolate cookies after all. (Hehe)
          I started off by telling him that this whole thing was an experiment. (I’m used to things flopping, and I’m pretty good humored about it. But considering this was his first time, I didn’t want him to think he was as bad as me right off the bat.) Then we got started. Well, mostly him. I “supervised” by correcting his techniques, giving tips, cracking the whip . . You know, that kind of stuff. Oh, and answering the most intriguing questions like:

        “I should probably wash my hands, huh?”
        I didn’t even answer this question. He got the hint, left to the bathroom, then came back.
       
         “Where’s the oil?”
         “In the pantry.”

         “Are the eggs supposed to have those white things in them?”
        He was lifting a nostril and looked genuinely disgusted, so I took a peak in the bowl. He wasn’t talking about the egg white but the little globs that I believe baby chicks are made out of. Signs that the egg could’ve been fertilized. Personally, I try not to think about these kinds of things while I’m baking.
         But he wasn’t letting this question go. He started poking one. “What are those things?”
         “Oh, how should I know? The eggs are from the store. They should be fine. Just keep going.”

        “Is the oven working?”
        “Press START.”
         
         But none of these questions beat: “what kind of spoon?”
         This one caught me off guard. “What do you mean?”
         “The box says, ‘mix with spoon.’ What kind?”
         “It doesn’t matter.”
         “Where can I find one?”
         “You live here, LB.” [LB stands for “little brother”. I’m trying to protect identities and whatnot.]
         “Yeah. But what kind of spoon?”
         “It doesn’t matter!”
         He began digging through a drawer. “This one?”
         “It doesn’t matter!!”
         “A wooden one?”
         “It stinkin’ doesn’t matter!”

         He reached for a wooden spoon, eyeing me cautiously. “I think I’ll use this one,” he said timidly. I gave him a bored look. Then he finally started to stir.
       
         After I told him how to make the dough balls and showed him my technique of how to flatten them with the bottom of a glass, he was off and running. I think the only other thing he was confused about was when he noticed all the dough in the bowl wasn’t going to fit on the one cookie sheet. But I explained how he had to make cookies in batches, and he went “ohhhhhh.” So I figure, he got it.
          I didn’t help him at all on the second batch. And he proudly announced to everyone that they were done. (There are two types of announcements that happen in my household. Actually, three. No, four. 1) we’re going to watch a movie. 2) food of some sort is ready. 3) we’re in trouble. Or 4) family discussion. If you were curious, this one falls under #2.)
          The cookies were pretty good! A little dense, but very chocolatey. We had the option of spreading vanilla icing or whip cream on them if we wanted, too. So I’d say it was a success. Congratulations, LB!

Happy happy birthday from all of us to you

     My dad’s birthday was here once again. And this year. . . I nailed it.
     It was beautiful.

     He didn’t want a German chocolate this year so you’ll see a new type of cake with “Papi” on it.
     Devil’s food cake with white frosting. Yum!

     Even though I did well I do have a story — because my mom had some last-minute card buying to do. And we needed an stealthy excuse to go out, without giving our intentions away.

     I had actually messed up my mom’s clever reason to “stay home” as my dad and brothers went for a run. It went so stupid I have to tell you how it happened.

     My mom, ever so nonchalant: “Maybe we should stay home as you boys go out.”
     Me, ever so . . . very, very chalant: “No! We have to go on this run . .” I made a fist and planted it in my palm, “as a family.”
     I was so incredibly and idiotically passionate about this that I didn’t notice the what-the-heck-are-you-doing look on my mom’s face. Then, when I eventually did notice, I was confused. Haha. Took me a moment until “ohhhhhhhhhh, heh, whoops”.

      So I had to fix it. This was the day before my dad’s birthday. I had to think of a reason to go out.
      “Hey, um, I think we need cake mix.” (Okay, okay. My secret’s revealed. I made my dad’s cake from a mix. You caught me.)
      My mom chipped in, “yeah, we should go tonight to get some.”
      I nodded like a good little actress.

      The second I got home, I scrambled to the pantry and grabbed all (six) of the boxes of devils food cake, spilling spaghetti, bottles, and spice containers then ran to my room and stashed them in my closet. The best part of my sneakiness was I was able to come home afterward, casually go down the hall with the bags, and oh “whoopsie” I left them in my room by mistake. Silly me. =->

     With my record clean of stupidities, I baked the cake and decorated it. The best decorating job I’ve ever done too. Pretty proud of myself, I have to say. Success!
       

Well what do ya know

     As you know, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what to do for Christmas Eve desserts. It was the day before baking that I magically came up with a faint plan.
     Hmmm.
     You know what? The plan was so faint I don’t even remember what it was. I barely remember anything, actually. So I’ll start by telling you what I made.

    Choco-mint stars, white chocolate bon-bons, classic sugar cookies, two pumpkin pies, and . . . Nope, that was everything. Everything that I made, I mean. My mom made a flan, mini cheesecakes, and a double layer cake (chocolate cake on top, vanilla on the bottom, with dulce de leche filling – I think – and frosted with chocolate. Yep, it was rich and delicious). And if that wasn’t enough, two of the guests brought desserts! One brought an apple bunt cake. And the other brought butterscotch, marshmallow bars, and chocolate covered peanut butter balls (AKA “buck eye-balls.” Call me immature, but I had to have them say the name about three times before I fully understood it. I was surprised at first, like, “gasp! You’re church-going people. How can you use that kind of language?” Then I realized I was the sicko with the problem. Ha, you should’ve heard me though: “ohhhhh. EYE balls. Gooootcha.”)

    Well, what do ya know, everything was great . . . I think. I was so full from dinner that all I had for dessert was a little bit of flan and one of the buck eye-balls. (Hah, hah.) But I heard no complaints! And, of course, I was too distracted to remember pictures. But nothing was truly interesting to look at that you can’t imagine it in your own mind.
     The sugar cookies were shaped like Christmas bells. I piped a yellow outline of vanilla frosting and a green bow on them. Something that was just a perfect “figures you’d make that kind of mistake” was that halfway through baking the bells, I flipped the cookie cutter around and realized they weren’t bells at all. They were tulips! So that’s why I decorated them, to decrease confusion. I tested a couple people too. I asked my brother what the “green” looked like (because to me, it looked like a big, fat, green mistake.), but he said “bows”. And I asked a guest what she thought the cookies were. She focused on them with a confused look on her face. “They’re bells, aren’t they?” Bingo.
     Oh. I also sprinkled green and red sugar crystals on the white chocolate bon bons.
     Oh! I had this awesome idea for the choco-mint stars. I was going to crush up candy canes and sprinkle bits of candy over the cookies to give them a Christmas-y look. What ended up happening, though, was that I got a little too happy with our mallet and made too small of crumbs that it just looked like white stuff on the cookies instead of nice, red and white, candy pieces like I imagined. It was pretty ugly. But I quit while I was ahead and only did a couple cookies that way. Also, the candy cane crumbs kept sticking to my fingers. So when I tried to pinch a bit to sprinkle it on the cookies, nothing was sprinkled because they wouldn’t rub off. It was strange.
     But anywho, everything went really well! I had a great time, and I think the guests did too. Score!

Tasting Soup Pie #2

    I bet you thought that all the commotion about the soup pie was over.

    Au contraire.

    Well, even though the recipe said to cover the pie with plastic wrap in order to “keep a skin from forming”, I think I just plopped the pie, cover-less, into the fridge out of frustration when I realized it was soup for the second year in a row. And I thought that was that.

    Out of curiosity the next morning, I tilted it. Still soupy. Ugh, useless thing. I plopped it back in the fridge.

    I don’t know how many days later it was when my mom knocked on the door of my room, telling me that the pie seemed to have set. That evening, I decided to cut myself a slice.

       I slid the knife in and started tracing out a piece. At least I could tell it wasn’t soupy, because the piece stayed solid instead of filling back in. It was when I started pulling it out that it fell apart. The crust had sucked in all the lemon moisture and was now soggy so it didn’t hold together enough to be tugged out like a normal pie. But I had set my mind to taste this thing, so I wasn’t giving up quite so easily.
      Using the knife, I scooped the slice onto it, walked over to the kitchen sink in case it fell off, and tasted a bit. (Not exactly safe, using a knife, but hey, I wasn’t going to dirty a plate, a fork, and a knife for a nasty piece of pie.) The filling was tangy, with a hint of sweet, and creamy, and you didn’t even notice the soggy crust on the bottom. Yum!

    “Hey you guys! I made lemon pudding!”

    My little brother was the first one to the kitchen to ask for a slice. I proudly showed him the scoop method as I served. He liked it so much that he had two servings. Everyone else, though, I’m sorry to announce, was too scared to try some. Oh well, they didn’t know what they were missing.

    Of course, there’s always more to the story.

    Yesterday, I walked into the house to find my little brother finishing another slice of my lemon pudding pie.
     He licked his fork then looked at me pitifully, “Mama says I can’t have any more of your lemon meringue pie.”
     “Why not?”
     “She says it’s bad.”
     This didn’t make sense to me. I had tried it myself. How could it be bad? I thought that was the end of the conversation so I turned to walk down the hallway. Then he asked the fatal question.
      “Hey Rose? Are there supposed to be chewy things in your pie?”
      Heh, heh. Um yes??

      Don’t worry, folks, little brother still lives.

He (finally) gragiminated!

I know it’s beautiful. But still try to resist
the tears.

         My big brother, you might remember him from “Snicker Challenge” (he was the one who orchestrated the scarfing down of all my cookies as I was locked out of the house), he was also the lucky one who didn’t get a mush doughnut during my “Doughey Nuts” breakfast, he’s the reason I forgot about my grandma’s birthday “Too Easy?”, and the person behind “The Day Of Trail — Part #1andPart #2“. Remember him? Well, I’ll be darned; my big brother finally graduated.
         For the longest time, I had to stop myself from writing this blog post about it, because I was planning a surprise graduation party. (Emphasis on “surprise”.) I don’t know about you, but for me to keep something quiet for a month — is hard! I can’t keep my own secrets. The funny thing is, tell me a secret, and I’m a locked safe. But when it comes to MY secrets. Psh. I have none. So you can imagine how hard it was for me to keep my vow of silence. You can also imagine how hard it was for us to get ready for the party without him suspecting anything. But, have no fear! The queen of excuses is here! And I had one for just about anything he could throw our way, starting with the grocery shopping.

         “Why is she coming with us?” BB (big brother) asked my mom, pointing at me. You have to give him points for being observant. I was wearing shoes, had my purse, and stood in the doorway, but he was able to piece it all together to conclude that I was coming along. And he did that aaalll by himself! Aw, I’m so proud. Look what twelve years of education have done for him. (BB don’t smack me! hehe)
         “We’re going grocery shopping after we drop you off,” Mom said cooly. “We need milk.”

         It never ceased to amaze me how smooth and sneeky my mom could be. I found myself several times throughout the party planning getting wide-eyed and mouth hung open as my mom shrugged off, yet another, touchy question my brother happened to ask.
         “What are we doing Saturday?”
         I’d shoot a quick glance to mom.
         She wouldn’t so much as flinch. “You have club in the morning.”
         “That’s it?”
         “Yup.”

         (In reality, what was going to happen Saturday was that Dad would drive BB to club, while the rest of us stayed home and finished getting ready for the party. Then my dad would stall until 2:30pm, which was the time all the guest would be here.)

          Now, the fact that I was going grocery shopping with my mom that day wasn’t a big deal anyway. My brother knows I like to go out, even if it’s just to buy groceries. For added ooph, I picked up a cookbook.
         “I’m going to buy ingredients to bake something, since I haven’t been able to lately.”
         That gave me another reason to come. So BB grabbed his backpack, and we headed to the college to drop him off.

          In my “Pillsbury, Best of the Bake Off” cookbook, I bookmarked two recipes. “Easy Sugar Cookies”, and “Oatmeal Carmelita’s”. My goal was to find some desserts that were fast and easy.
         The “Easy Sugar Cookies” is made in a pan. I liked that because it meant that I didn’t have to spend time rolling little balls or having to do more than one batch. And the “Oatmeal Carmelita’s” made me swoon just by reading the ingredients: oatmeal, brown sugar, caramel, and chocolate chips. Oooh doggy! My mouth was watering as we bought the ingredients at the store. Also, for good measure, I’d be making brownies; the all-time classic. So that’d make three desserts plus the cake we ordered from Costco. Sounds good.

          My biggest worry at that point was: how am I going to bake these? If I baked them on Friday, how do I keep BB from eating them? I could make up an event I’m baking them for. That’s not a total lie. Or would I have time Saturday morning, before the guests come, to bake them? What if I run out of time or one goes bust and I don’t have time to make something else?
         Somehow, I decided that making the desserts Saturday morning was fine. Oh, yeah. It’s because we spent all Friday cleaning the house, which was weird – and funny at the same time.

         I decided to have an “attitude”, because Mom was making us clean. This kept BB from suspecting anything.
         At one point, he even whispered to me, “I think Mama is going through that everything-has-to-be-clean stage.”
         I almost laughed out loud, but I stayed “in character” and scoffed, “it’s stinkin’ annoying . . .”

         I was doubting myself, too. Even, I began wondering if Mom was going through a phase. She was that good. So good, that I was genuinely annoyed as I was on my hands and knees dusting the legs of the chairs, because they were apparently “filthy”.
         “But no one looks at the legs of chairs. No one cares.”
         “I do.”
         I don’t know about you, but when I lose an argument, I at least want to have the satisfaction of knowing the other person had SOME form of a challenge.
          I almost blew my cover when I asked Mom if she wanted me to do anything else. I could see BB looking at me with a surprised and confused look on his face like, “did she really just ask for more work?” Mom played it cool and made me pull weeds in the front yard, but afterwards, we all settled that that was a “doh” on my part. And the fact that I pulled almost all the weeds even after the sun went down was, not only insane, but made BB curious. Gave me a good workout, though. And an excuse to stay home from club the next morning. I slept in until BB and my dad left. Then it was time for desserts!

         I attempted to strategize with what order to make my desserts. But all of them used different temperatures. So I started with the brownies made from mix. As it was baking, I helped decorate and clean the house. See, the day before, it was the hard-core cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, weeding, cleaning the yard), but this was the guests-are-coming-so-organize-the-house type of cleaning. So I crammed all of BB’s stuff in his closet (I don’t think he minded), made a pile of little brother’s stuff for him to pick up, and put everything else on my mom and dad’s bed, closing the bedroom door behind me. “Our little secret”, I told the cat. And wouldn’t ya know it? Ta-da! Done. I even folded the blankets on the couch and made the pillows neat like BB usually does when he cleans the living room (he’s a little, um, neater than I am). The house looked pretty darn good, though.

It’s so evenly spread!

          It took a couple toothpick-tests for my brownies to be perfect, but they eventually were, and I went on to make the “Easy Sugar Cookies”. As I was making the batter, I worried because it seemed like so little compared to the pan I was supposed to spread it “evenly” in. But nevertheless, I poured it and began spreading with my spoon. Spread. Spread. Spread a little more. About half the pan was covered. Spread a little bit more. The spoon wasn’t really spreading. It was more like pulling. Pulling is not spreading, darn spoon; get with the program. I switched to a spatula, and man, you would not believe what a difference it made to actually use the right tools. It was the most evenly spread batter I had ever seen. It was gorgeous. I even took a picture.

          With that in the oven, I started with the Oatmeal Carmelitas; first, by making the oatmeal/brown sugar mixture and flattening it to the bottom of the pan. That had to bake a while, so I added flour to the caramel. Let me tell you, having the self-control to NOT taste the caramel sauce is insanity. I definitely don’t have that self-control. I tried to lick anything I could (without it being unsanitary, of course). But just watching the drizzle of caramel flow from the jar makes you want to open your mouth and have every bit of it drain down your throat. Oh. It’s just that good (I took a picture of this, too. Scroll to the top if you missed it.). When the bottom oatmeal mixture was “golden” (whatever that means. If you asked me, it looked “golden” before I put it in the oven), I sprinkled the chocolate chips, drizzled the caramel, and added the remaining oatmeal mix. In the oven it went. Wow, I was done.

          Making the “presentation” of my desserts had to be the true failure of the day. I attempted to make a cool design with the brownies. That became mush, so I quit while I was ahead and left it all in the pan for guests to scoop for themselves. The sugar cookies were more butter tasting than sugar, but who doesn’t like butter? They were yummy. And those did come out with a cool diamond design. Also, to my surprise, the Oatmeal Carmelita’s was barely touched. I was the first one to try them. They were still mushy and warm (according to the book they had to be “completely cooled”) so I was breaking the rules, and I had my penance. It was like gushy, salty, stuff with a chocolate chips thrown in the mix. I almost wanted to hide it in the microwave so no one could eat it, but it was too late. By that time, we had already announced that we had “oatmeal carmelita’s”. Everyone knew.
         Later in the day, though, they got better. But still no one was eating them. My aunt made a comment that they looked too healthy. So that could be a reason why no one wanted them. Or they got a bad reputation from being tried too soon. I have to admit, that was all right with be, because the next day they were the definition of BOMB itself. The oatmeal was crunchy with a little touch of salt, the caramel gooey, the chocolate chips added a soft crunch. It was deeeeelish. I could even see the caramel oozing out from the center. A gift from Go. You guys have to try these.
          To wrap this post up, BB came home to find his family and friends in his house, and he was more confused than surprised. But after a while, it slowly sank in, and he had fun. Success all around. The best part is that BB enjoyed it. And they told me my brownies were great. (I just didn’t tell them they were from a box. . My cat and I have more secrets than who it was who trashed my parents’ bed. Hehe. Shhh.)