Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend wind-down - Signs of the season (9/30)

It was still September today, but I decided it was close enough to October to get out the Halloween mugs.  A friend commented that it was possibly even almost cool enough for hot chocolate.  That's sort of true, since it was a rainy, cloudy, somewhat cooler weekend.  But the real truth is, Brianna & Gillian ask for hot chocolate year-round.  I make it from scratch, and pretty much wing it.  I put an ounce or so of bittersweet chocolate (30-40 grams) in a small saucepan & cover it with about a quarter cup of boiling water (I usually have some already made for tea).  I add a pinch of salt and about a tablespoon of sugar.  I bring the mixture to a simmer and whisk in about a cup of milk.  I then heat the mixture until it's hot but not too hot.  It makes enough for a couple of kid-sized mugs.  Marshmallows are served along side.

I've been seeing lots of signs lately that we're changing seasons.  It's still way too early to be thinking about December holidays, but I admit that I'm already welcoming a few things that seem to come along with the holiday baking season.  This weekend I found several seasonal items at Costco--vanilla beans, parchment paper, and bundt pans. =)  I bought a roll of parchment even though I still have some left from last year.  It's not like it goes bad, right?  I missed the vanilla beans last year--I hesitated when I saw them later in the season, and when I checked again, they were gone.  So I grabbed them as soon as I saw them this year.  They seem to be pretty good, and I'm sure I'll try to pick up more before they disappear.  I don't actually know if they have specialty baking pans every year, but I couldn't help buying one when I saw it.  I got a very pretty Nordic Ware Fleur de Lis pan along with a cake keeper for only $20--no way could I pass that up.  I'm almost as excited about the storage container as I am about the pan, since I didn't have anything like that (hard to believe, I know).

I love fall (and winter), but the one downside of the changing season is the shortening of good daylight hours for taking pictures of baked goods.  I'm starting to realize that part of the reason I haven't been blogging much is that I'm not happy with the pictures I'm taking, if I manage to take any at all.  And I want to have good photos.  So I'm pondering solutions to that problem (both for better lighting and more time).  I've been baking quite a bit--really!--and I want to get back to sharing those things here.  If you have any good suggestions about what works for you, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekend wind-down 9.16.2012

Welcome to another episode of Di's stream of consciousness week in review. =)  My big accomplishment for this weekend?  Rediscovering how much I love baking bread.  I spent a couple years baking almost all of the bready things that we ate, but then for some reason stopped doing it.  I don't know that I'll go back to doing everything, but I do want to get back in the habit of baking bread on a weekly basis.  Yesterday I made my favorite sandwich loaf recipe, Dan Lepard's Milk Loaf.  You can find the recipe on my friend Nancy's bread blog.  I actually don't use it much for sandwiches for me, but the girls like it, and it makes fantastic toast.  Since I plan to use it mostly for kids' lunches, I made two smaller loaves, in these pans.  I increased the original recipe by one third, and it was just the right amount of dough.  

Once I got started, I was asking myself why I don't make this dough more often.  It's a great method, and such a nice dough to work with.  It's the getting started that's the challenge.  Once I get going, I'm fine.  I did the same thing this evening with another dough.  I meant to make the dough much earlier in the day, but kept putting it off, thinking it would take too much time.  I finally just told myself to get in the kitchen and do it.  The amount of active time I spent?  Maybe 10 minutes.  Now I just have to hold on to that and remember it the next time I'm procrastinating.  

I also made applesauce this weekend, and muffins for Sunday breakfast.  The applesauce was because we're starting to get some good fall apples, and homemade applesauce is the best.  I found some very large Paula Red apples at Central Market, and bought a whole bunch.  Gillian isn't a big fan of the applesauce, but Brianna likes it, so that's one more thing ready for the lunchbox this week.  The muffins were pretty good as well.  Muffins are good for grab & go breakfasts during the week, so that seemed like a good thing to make today.  I've been wanting to make crumb cake, but couldn't settle on a recipe, so I decided to make a basic muffin and add some crumbs on top.  For the base, I made the batter for these doughnut muffins from KAF.  I know from past experience that the muffins end up very domed on top, so I made 16 muffins instead of the usual 12.  I topped each one with some streusel that I modified from a crumb cake recipe.  It worked pretty well, but isn't exactly what I was after.  I plan to play around with it a bit more, so when I get it the way I want it, I'll have to do a full post.

I also did some baking to take to work last week.  I may not always have something to make for dinner, but I always have the stuff to make some sort of cake. =)  In this case, I was looking for something else to make with apples.  I wanted to make this cake that my friend Tracey posted, but actually didn't have everything I needed.  (Now you know another reason why I made applesauce this weekend.)  So I went looking, and found this Apple-Ginger Streusel Coffee Cake.  (I didn't have applesauce, but did have both fresh and crystallized ginger. Go figure.)  I used pecans instead of walnuts, but otherwise made the recipe as written.  I was happy that the recipe called for a 10-cup bundt pan, because it gave me a reason to get out my Heritage Bundt pan.  I got lots of compliments on the cake, and it did look really pretty.  It was very moist, but next time I think I'll add just a bit more salt.  

And for non-baking stuff?  Well, Gillian was under the weather for a good part of the week (still that annoying cold from last week), but finally seemed to be doing better today.  We had an interesting trip to Costco in the rain this morning.  I'm thrilled to have the rain, though, and the cooler temperatures that have come along with it.  It actually feels like we really might be approaching fall.  I also survived a trip to the outlet mall with Brianna last night for some new clothes.  We managed to find some stuff with a minimum of drama, so I can't really complain.  And Jamie had an interesting day on Friday; hopefully this week will be less eventful.  

I think that's about it for tonight.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekend wind-down 9.9.2012

Okay, I have to admit that I'm totally stealing this idea from my friend Kayte, who often posts a Sunday Snippets on her blog as a summary of what's been going on during her week.  I have a whole bunch of odds and ends that I can talk about, but nothing that I want to write an entire post about.  I thought about doing a Wordless Wednesday-ish sort of thing, since I have some pictures, but I realized that I do have some words to share as well.  So here we are. =)  If I like the way this works out, it might even become a weekly thing.

Above is my dessert from tonight.  I'm trying to will autumn to come to Central Texas sooner rather than later.  Summer is my least favorite season.  I dislike the heat, I don't really grill, and summer meals aren't the ones I really enjoy making.  We had a brief taste of fall weather this weekend--the highs were still around 90 (I can hear my northern friends thinking, how can she say that's fall weather?), but the low this morning was about 60, which we haven't felt in months.  We might get one more run of temperatures around 100, but maybe we'll get lucky and avoid it.

I've been craving fall flavors big time, things like apples and pumpkin and warm spices.  I had a short day on Friday, and spent part of my time at home making spice cupcakes.  I tried a recipe that I hadn't made before.  (It's from the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.)  It was originally for a 13"x9" pan, and I made it as cupcakes.  It was a mixed success.  The flavors were great, but the batter spread too much and the cake's crumb was too delicate in cupcake form.  It did give me a chance to use my new cupcake papers from my recent KAF order, though.  I took a bunch of the cupcakes to work, where they got rave reviews.  The rest got crumbled up and layered with some homemade applesauce (I found some enormous Paula Red apples at Central Market the other night) and whipped cream.  Yum!

My other major baking activity for the week was the Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake for Tuesdays with Dorie.  I actually made it on Tuesday, but ran out of energy to post about it.  The verdict?  I like the cake, but I'd make a few changes next time.  The main thing would be to use a tarter fruit, either regular nectarines (I used white ones) or maybe plums.  The cake was also at its best the first day; it got soggy after that.  Thanks to Marlise and Susan for hosting this week.  And everyone else's results can be found on the Links page.

Getting back to fall flavors...  Gillian was quite concerned that Central Market had Halloween stuff out this week.  At least they waited this long.  Most of the candy I can take or leave, but I do have one notable weakness.  I can resist the regular candy corn--I don't buy it, because if I do, I'll eat it without really thinking about it and then wonder, "why did I do that?" when I end up with a queasy stomach.  But a few years ago I discovered caramel candy corn.  This stuff is awesome.  Tooth-achingly sweet, which isn't usually my thing, but so tasty.  

I'll leave you with some kid news.  This picture is actually from last weekend.  Gillian was pretty happy to lose the second of her top front teeth, since it had been pretty loose and annoying.  This way she still can't bite into a lot of stuff, but she doesn't have a wiggly tooth in the way, either.  Both girls were a bit under the weather this weekend.  Both were in daycare from a very early age, so we dealt with a lot of germs and built up their immune systems early.  But G is at a new school this year for kindergarten, with lots of new people and their different germs.  Plus she's been really tired from the adjustment to a new schedule.  So I'm not terribly surprised that she got a cold already (and shared it with her sister).  Here's hoping things improve as we all get into the new routine.  

Well, that's all I have for now.  My goals for the next week include figuring out some new ideas for school lunches as well as some new easy dinner ideas.  (I'm open to suggestions if you have them!)  I'm also reacquainting myself with Pinterest.  A bunch of my blogging/tweeting friends use it, and I'm starting to see why.  I've had an account for quite a while, but haven't spent any time with it.  We'll see how it goes.