Thursday, August 27, 2009


It's been that kind of week. No, I think it's been that kind of month. I feel like I can't keep up with much of anything. (School starting this week has definitely added to that feeling.) One of the things I feel like I can't keep up with is the Daring Bakers. I should be posting the August challenge today, and I haven't made it. Since I missed last month, I really need to if I'm going to continue to be part of the group. Which leads me to the question that's been sitting in my brain all week. Is it time for me to leave the Daring Bakers? I know it's only once a month, but it seems like I always end up leaving the challenge until the last minute and then stressing myself out trying to get it done. TWD and the BBA Challenge take up a lot of my time (no plans to quit either of those--I love both too much), and I want to bake other things as well. I joined the Daring Bakers to expand my baking skills and try things I wouldn't do otherwise. The recipes I've made have helped me with both of those. And I hate letting go of something that I've been a part of for a year and a half. But part of me is ready to move on (plus I get a lot of challenge from my other baking groups, too). I just can't decide what to do.

I don't have to work this weekend, so it's possible that I may be able to make the August recipe, though late. Guess we'll see...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to school

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. There's no lime or meringue in these photos. It's Tuesday, so I should be posting the Tuesdays with Dorie recipe here. But I haven't made it yet. And if I do get to it this week, it probably won't be before the weekend. So my apologies to Linda of Tender Crumb, who picked the Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie for us to make this week. I love lime, and I loved this recipe's close cousin, the Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart, so I will make it at some point.

Meanwhile, what's been stopping me from making it... First I had to work last Saturday. So I had only one weekend day for baking. I spent it getting ready for Brianna to head back to school (1st grade) on Monday. That meant bread for her lunch (coming soon) as well as cookies for her lunch and for teacher treats. Oh, and the cinnamon rolls for the BBA Challenge, also coming soon.

This is Brianna's second year at her elementary school, so besides sending cookies with her for her teacher, I also dropped some off for her kindergarten teacher. We've been very lucky to build good relationships with many of Brianna's and Gillian's teachers over time. And not just because of the baked goods. =) Gillian still goes to the daycare that Brianna used to be at, and we're very close to a lot of the teachers there. One in particular has become a good friend, and her birthday was last week. When I had asked her a while back what kind of cake she wanted, she just said "something chocolate." I didn't get to cake, but I did make a second attempt at the Brownie Buttons, and I think I've got a real winner now.

For starters, I made my favorite brownie recipe, Robert Steinberg's Fudgy Brownies from The Essence of Chocolate. The recipe was perfect for two dozen minis. I ended up baking them for 14 minutes, and they were nice and fudgy in the middle--not dry at all. After I removed the brownies from the pan and let them cool, I dressed them up with some paper wrappers. But they needed something more. Unlike the ones from Dorie's recipe, they were quite flat on top, so dipping didn't seem like a good idea. Then I realized--they needed frosting! Cream cheese frosting seemed like the perfect way to go. I piped some swirls on top, added some colorful sprinkles, and they looked quite festive. And from what I hear, they were a hit with the birthday girl. Brianna and Gillian helped me eat the extra unfrosted brownies, and we'll definitely be making these again. Soon.

You can find the brownie recipe at the link above. And here's what I used for the frosting:

Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Fine Cooking)

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
1 ounce (1/4 cup) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. (I used my hand mixer.) Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla until there are no lumps. Add a bit more sugar for a sweeter frosting. Makes enough for 15-16 minis. Increase the recipe to top a full batch of brownies. I used a 1M tip to pipe the swirls.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spice girl

One of the things you do as a parent is worry. Am I doing this right? Am I teaching my kids the right things? It's easy to make yourself totally crazy. It seems like lately I have a harder time with it. I miss my mom being on the other end of the phone, reassuring me that I'm doing okay, that things will turn out just fine, that my sisters and I were the same way as kids. I know these things, but it's nice to have someone else tell me, too.

From day one, food is a worry. Is the baby eating enough, often enough? When should you start solid food, what to feed first? What if my child won't eat any vegetables if I give her fruit first? I realize now that I didn't know how good I had it before they could talk back to me. =) Gillian still eats most things put in front of her, but Brianna is definitely more picky. (Though I swear, lately, she must be gearing up for a growth spurt because she's been eating everything in sight.) But I also realize that I'm lucky--my girls will at least try just about anything. While Brianna and Gillian have a certain fondness for mac & cheese (Annie's from a box; they don't like my homemade) and chicken nuggets, they eat a lot of other stuff too. At two, Brianna loved pesto even more than ketchup. Of course, these days she likes to tell me that she doesn't like it at all. But she'll try things like sushi, though she doesn't like the vinegar in the rice. And we're still working on some of the veggies... =)

Brianna will even be picky about dessert at times. She doesn't like nuts except to eat out of hand (mainly pistachios and cashews). She likes fruit, but not in things. And she doesn't usually like things with spices. Chocolate anything is what she prefers. A girl after my own heart. =) And yet, Gillian is the one truly like me. Sure, she won't turn down chocolate. But she also really likes things with cinnamon and ginger and other spices. I love chocolate, but sometimes it can be a bit too much (not often, mind you!). I never get tired of what we think of as fall flavors, though. (Now if only the weather here would cooperate!) Gillian loved the cinnamon chips scones. Brianna asked me to make them with chocolate chips instead. Gillian is the one asking me to make coffeecake (with cinnamon streusel, of course). So it's no surprise that she and I really liked this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

This week's selection comes from Karen of Something Sweet by Karen. In anticipation of fall (which can't get here soon enough), she picked Applesauce Spice Bars. The method reminded me of my favorite blondie recipe, but I found the result more cake-like. I actually made them early for a change, which was easy to do, since the recipe is very straightforward. I used a Golden Delicious apple, since the selection isn't very good around here this time of year (normally I'd go for a tart apple, but the only option was Granny Smith). I used a bit of Calvados for the flavoring. And in the hope that Brianna might actually the bars, I left out the nuts, though I kept the raisins (I love raisins!). The bake time wasn't that long (23 minutes for mine). While the bars cooled, I cooked up the caramel glaze, which was quite tasty right off the spoon. I let it cool slightly before spreading it on the bars, so it wouldn't run right off the sides. It didn't, but it did soak in more than I expected.

The verdict? Very tasty! But as I said, more cake-like than I was expecting. I'd like to try this one again when a better variety of apples is available, and bake it in a 9" square pan so I get something more like a snack cake. Plus then I'd have a thicker layer of glaze on top. =) I'll also add some of the Calvados to the glaze, since I couldn't taste it in the cake. Gillian was definitely a fan; Brianna not as much. Jamie enjoyed the flavors and different textures. As you can see, I enjoyed mine with tea.

For the recipe, head on over to Karen's blog. And be sure to check out what all the other TWD bakers have been up to this week!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The hole (short) story

Those of us doing the Slow & Steady version of the BBA Challenge (watch for a round-up on Nancy's blog) are up to Ciabatta,

which is one that I've really been looking forward to since I love using it for sandwiches as well as just eating plain, and I'm pretty happy with how mine turned out (especially since I had to improvise a couche--bought half a yard of linen at JoAnn's which worked great),

which I attribute in part to all my experience dealing with the wet, sticky doughs from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; I'll definitely be making this one again since I want to try the biga version (I did the poolish version this time) and since I want to make sandwich rolls as well as see if I can get more holes, though I was happy to find some bigger ones in one of the loaves.

Yes, it's another 1-sentence post. =)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Short, but sweet

This week's TWD post* (thanks to Jayma of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen for her pick of Brownie Buttons; the recipe is on her blog) is brought to you by the number 24 and the letters O and K--I love Dorie's concept of making bite-sized brownies in mini muffin tins (though I thought it was weird that the recipe made 16, so I adjusted the ingredients and made 2 dozen), but next time I will try a different brownie recipe, since these weren't particularly outstanding even though I topped them with the glaze from the Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes and was careful not to over-bake them (though that didn't stop Brianna and Gillian from devouring them).

*See here for more info

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Got milk?

Quick post this time, since I'm already running late for an event... I was happy to see a post a couple weeks ago from Linda of make life sweeter! saying that she was going to reprise a blog event that she did last year for World Breastfeeding Week. The theme is simple--make a sweet dish using milk of any sort. I participated last year with Dorie Greenspan's Ganache Ice Cream. Since World Breastfeeding Week falls in August (1st through 7th, which is why I'm late), ice cream seemed like a good idea again, especially since we're still having a heat wave here in central Texas (something like 45 days of 100+ weather this summer--ugh!).

I know it's not for everyone, but I'm very glad that I was able to breastfeed both my girls for a long time. It certainly wasn't easy at first, and pumping at work during the first year (for each of them) was a pain. But I know that the benefits were worth it. Plus it was so nice when feeding them at night or away from home not to have to mess with bottles and stuff. I'm sure I got a few funny looks over time, since I nursed them (discreetly, of course) in lots of different places--airports, restaurants, park benches, dressing rooms... the list goes on. Thankfully I never had any bad experiences at all. Like with most things, I was probably more worried about it than I needed to be.

Now on to one of my girls' current favorite forms of milk. =) Thanks to some bloggy friends of mine and my new supply of vanilla beans, I've been playing around with vanilla ice cream. Most recently, I made Dorie's vanilla ice cream, which is a custard-based ice cream, for TWD. But through some Twitter conversations with the bloggy friends, I was introduced to David Lebowitz's Philadelphia-style ice cream. Philadelphia-style ice cream is quite simple to make, consisting of cream, milk, sugar and flavoring. I used one of my new Bourbon beans (since I tried the Tahitian for TWD). Since this one was aimed at my kids, I stole an idea from Tracey and added some mini m&ms. Next time I'll chill the m&ms before adding them, since the colors melted more than I wanted when the room temp candy hit the frozen ice cream.

The verdict? Everyone loved it! Brianna and Gillian both love m&ms, so that was really no surprise. And Brianna was happy to see that I was taking pictures of the ice cream in her bowl this time. =) I really like the flavor and texture of custard-based ice creams, but I'm slowly being won over to the ease of making Philly-style ones. =)

Linda is very busy, with a 2-month-old baby and a new home, but I know that she'll put together a wonderful round-up when she finds the time. Be sure to head over to her blog to check it out.

Rainbow Vanilla Ice Cream

1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup (5.25 oz) granulated sugar
2 cups (16 oz) heavy cream, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 oz) whole milk
1/3 cup mini m&ms, chilled

Place the sugar in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife. Then use the back of the knife to scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the seeds to the sugar and rub the two together with your fingers until the seeds are evenly distributed. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream, then add the salt and the vanilla bean pod. Warm the mixture over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the remaining cream and the milk. Transfer the mixture to a covered container and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator (or in a bowl set in an ice bath if you're in a hurry).

Once the cream mixture is very cold, remove the vanilla bean and freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream has reached a soft-serve consistency, transfer it to a container to finish freezing. Place about a quarter of the ice cream in the container, then sprinkle over a handful of mini m&ms. Repeat the layers until you've used all the ice cream and m&ms. Freeze until the ice cream is firm. Makes about 1 quart.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I think all parents have high expectations for their kids. And high expectations for themselves, as well. I know I worry way too much about whether I'm doing the right things as a parent, teaching my girls the right things, handling things the right way... the list goes on and on. And things definitely get more interesting with more than one child, especially as they start to interact with each other more. Jamie often shakes his head and asks me "Is it really normal for them to behave like that? Why do they act that way and fight with each other?" Yes, he's an only child. My usual answer, "Yes, it's normal. And why? Because they can!"

I'm the oldest of four girls, so I know how hard that can be. Yet I still find myself saying the same things to Brianna that my mom used to say to me. It's hard, having to be the older, more responsible one. And I'm sure it's particularly trying when your not-quite-3-year-old sister is making your life miserable. I realized that I tend to forget that Gillian is almost four years younger than Brianna, and I probably expect too much from her a lot of the time. It's easy to think that because Brianna can do something when I ask her to (can do it; will do it is another matter entirely), Gillian can too. Add in the fact that Gillian's vocabulary and sentence structure is very advanced, and it's even harder to remember that she's not even three yet.

Case in point... Over the weekend, I wanted to stop by Sur la Table to look for a new bundt pan. I didn't really need one, but the one I have was cheap and not very interesting to look at, so I wanted to explore some new options. So while Jamie and Brianna were finishing up at Borders, I took Gillian and walked over to SLT to check things out. Unfortunately, I forgot that Gillian doesn't really listen when I ask her not to touch things. So I told her that if she couldn't listen to me and leave things alone, she'd have to hold my hand. At that, she sat down on the floor and told me "No!" At that point, I just picked her up off the floor and headed out of the store as quickly as I could while Gillian squirmed and shouted "No! I want to be down! I will listen now!" *sigh* You'd think I'd learn my lesson and not try to take her places like that, but I know sooner or later she'll get past this stage...

The reason I was looking for the new bundt pan was for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Mary the Food Librarian loves to bake bundt cakes. So I don't think anyone was surprised to learn that she selected the Classic Banana Bundt Cake for us to make this week. I resigned myself to making the cake in my usual pan, but then I remembered my kugelhopf pan! I've only used it once, so it was about time to try it out again.

We go through cycles of eating bananas in this house. Jamie doesn't really eat them much. I will if I'm in the right mood, and only if they aren't too ripe--I like them totally yellow, but not yet brown at all. Gillian--my monkey girl--loves them, and Brianna will usually eat them as well. In fact, banana was the first food other than breastmilk that my girls ate. It's certainly one of the easiest to prepare for kids of all ages. =) I don't really like banana desserts and baked goods, though. I'll eat banana bread sometimes, but don't like things like banana cream pie at all. Still, I like bundt cakes, and definitely wanted to give this one a try, especially since everyone who made it was raving about it.

The cake is very straightforward to mix up. It uses the standard creaming method. Besides the bananas for moisture, it has sour cream, which I love in cakes. (I used reduced fat for this one.) The leavening comes from baking soda. I expected that, because of the sour cream, but was a bit surprised at the quantity. You don't see many recipes that call for 2 teaspoons of baking soda! Then I did some thinking and some checking online, and realized that the bananas are acidic as well, though not as much so as the sour cream. Plus baking soda results in more browning, and this cake definitely comes out a gorgeous brown color. Because of the shape of my pan, my cake didn't take quite as long to bake as the recipe said. I tented it with foil after thirty minutes (that browning thing again), and it baked for a little less than 60 minutes total. I used to worry a lot about bundt cakes sticking to the pan, but I've found that a liberal application of baking spray (like Pam for Baking or Baker's Joy) works wonders.

The verdict? Well, as I mentioned, the cake turned out gorgeous. And besides looking good, it was quite tasty. I added a drizzle of glaze (just powdered sugar and milk). I love glaze. =) Gillian liked it too--she mostly picked off the glaze and ate it, leaving the cake behind. I was surprised to find that Brianna liked the cake a lot. I think she's going through a growth spurt, because she's been eating everything in sight. She actually preferred the cake without the glaze. Jamie liked it, and banana baked goods aren't his favorite. He commented that he liked the lighter texture (as compared to your typical banana bread). I took a bunch of the cake to the daycares, too. Several people immediately commented that banana cake or bread was their favorite. I didn't get any other comments from them yet, but the containers came home empty, so I guess it was a hit. =) I would definitely make this one again, especially if I had people to share it with.

For the recipe, be sure to head over to Mary's blog. And check out the blogroll over at TWD to see what everyone else thought of this week's cake. And I leave you with a new picture of my silly monkeys... =)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Feeding body and mind

One of the things I've been trying to do is read more with Brianna. We worked our way through several "chapter books" last summer and during the school year. We read up to one chapter per day (some long ones take a couple days), averaging 3-4 chapters per week. Sometimes I read to the girls while they're in the bathtub. Sometimes I read while they're eating dinner (on days when I'm feeding them early while Jamie & I eat later). Lately Jamie and I have been thinking that we need to split things up and take turns--one of us can read with Brianna while the other reads to Gillian. But we haven't gotten started with that yet.

I started with books that I enjoyed reading as a child. The first book we read last summer was Charlotte's Web, after I found a copy at Half Price Books. Then we moved on to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and later Prince Caspian. (That was easy, since I already had that whole series.) I figured we could start off with me reading the early books in a series, then work up to having Brianna do some of the reading herself. We haven't been doing as well this summer, though we just recently started on Little House in the Big Woods. (And I picked up several more books in the series at the same time, so we can keep that one going for a while.)

Another series that we started on last summer and continued during the school year was the All-of-a-Kind Family books. Written by Sidney Taylor, they're stories about a New York Jewish family in the early 1900s. The family has five girls, so I found them quite interesting, as the oldest of four girls. And it's fun to read them to Brianna, trying to explain how things were different a century ago. Those books were probably the first time I read about Jewish traditions and food, including challah.

Which brings me to the latest bread in the BBA Challenge. Like the past several breads, challah is an enriched bread, but with a lot less fat. This particular recipe uses an ounce of oil, along with a couple of eggs and a couple of egg yolks. All the eggs yolks give challah it's traditional golden color. Also traditional is the shaping--usually braided. I went with a simply three-strand braid, though more complicated 4 or 5-strand braids can be made as well.

The dough is straightforward to mix. It's quick as well, since there's no preferment. The dough is very nice to work with (PR describes it as "soft, supple but not sticky"), and I made it by hand rather than with my stand mixer. I did add some additional flour while kneading to keep it from getting too sticky, but tried to get away with as little as possible. My total dough weighed about 33 ounces when I was done. I needed buns for hot dogs, so I used a portion of the dough to make some--four buns at 3 ounces each. I divided the remaining 21 ounces of dough into three 7-ounce portions, which I then formed into ropes for braiding. It took a little while to roll them out to the length I wanted. I would roll one strand, then let it rest while working on the other two, then return to the first one to roll some more. I repeated this process several times until they were long enough.

Fortunately, I don't seem to have any problems braiding dough. (I've certainly had lots of practice braiding hair, both on my own head and for my girls.) For a three-strand braid, I do start in the middle and braid to one end. Then I braid the other end, being careful to cross the strands underneath each other rather than on top so the braid comes out looking right. One thing that I always seem to forget is the egg wash, though. Fortunately, my dough still browned nicely--it just wasn't as shiny. The baking time was fairly quick, too. My buns took 20 minutes and the loaf baked for 30.

The verdict? Good, but not my favorite. We all tried the hot dog buns. I think this is a good dough for something like that--nice fluffy interior, but sturdy enough on the outside to contain everything. Some of the other hot dog buns I've made were too dense. Brianna and Gillian didn't eat that much of their buns, but that's not unusual (they were too busy eating French fries). As for the bread itself, I liked the texture, but thought the taste was a bit bland. I've made challah once before (recipe from ABin5). That recipe used butter instead of oil, and I liked the flavor a lot more.

Be sure to head over to the BBA blogroll to see what everyone else has been up to. The main group is quite a bit further along. I'm baking with the Slow & Steady sub-group, at a pace of one bread every couple of weeks (rather than every week). Nancy has been kind enough to put together round-ups for us, so be sure to check out her blog. Next up, ciabatta!