27 June 2012

batten what?

I slacked last month, but this month I'm back on board with the Daring Bakers and...


Traditional Battenburg is a yellow and pink checkerboard affair. Rather lovely but I was thinking a little boring flavor-wise. I opted for the walnut-mocha version. It's the opposite. The colors aren't so ravishing, but the flavor makes up for it.
A sweet and a sweetie.

Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! was the girl who did the hard work this month and prepared the challenge. Bravo! Mandy, because this dessert was supremo!

Not only does it look really awesome, but the cake itself was really, really delicious. To get the check-effect, one must trim the cake. And what does one get when one trims one's cake? One gets delicious trimming-snacks to nibble on! Huzzah!

Dame Battenburg
The darker cake is flavored with instant espresso. It didn't pop with flavor, but it had a lovely color. The whitish checks were speckled with walnut pieces. Soooo, soooo, soooo tasty. I'd make a plain cake just with the walnut layer. No need for icing or anything, just give me the pan and a fork.

Everything was glued together with an espresso buttercream ambrosia of delight. The chocolate plastique surrounding the outside, eaten with the espresso buttercream and then a nibble of espresso cake and walnut cake? Oh dear. Nom nom nom nom.

Highly, highly, highly recommend this baby.

And here's one more of my cutie-pie daughter...oh yeah, and the cake.

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Recipe can be found here.

28 April 2012

armenia, how could you have hidden this deliciousness from me for so long?

Armenia! This month's Daring Bakers Challenge hails from the little country nestled between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran in Western Asia. Jason from Daily Candor chose to honor his Armenian heritage and gave us Nazook, a classic pastry and Armenian Nutmeg Cake.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake
I made them exactly according to his recipe and oh. my. goodness. They were absolutely delicious.

The Armenian cake had a delicious crumb crust on the bottom with a distinct nutmeg flavor (1 1/2 tsp worth!) and a subtle molasses-y undertone. (I assume because of the rather large amounts of brown sugar.) The walnuts covering it made the otherwise visually-boring cake rather fancy-schmancy looking. Ultimately it comes down to flavor, though, and this baby is going into the permanent recipe box. Highly recommend! (FYI:I did have to cook it for about an hour, which is 30 minutes longer than his suggested time.)

Nazook, right out of the oven.
This challenge was actually two recipes and while at first I was a bit bummed at having to do both, I had no idea what I was complaining about. I didn't even know Nazook existed nor how empty my life has been until now. The recipe is actually very simple, but the results. Oh the results. I'm closing my eyes as I'm remembering the decadence...mmmm...

The cool thing about the Nazook dough is that there was no liquid. It consists of flour, sour cream and butter. This makes for such a flaky crust. Yum. The filling is butter, flour, sugar and vanilla. Such simple ingredients. Such excellent results. Those little rolled-ed up, browned bites of heaven are so incredibly exceptional. Seriously. Under the word synergy in the dictionary, a picture of Nazook should reside.

Thank you, Armenia! Thank you!
You can find the recipes here on Jason's post at Daily Candor.

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

27 March 2012

delicious, but Daring Baker challenges always are

Since my life has calmed down seemed to stabilize has been truly missing the Daring Bakers' challenges, I decided to join up again. Luckily for me, this month was pretty simple. I make bread on a regular basis and Sara and Erica of Baking JDs challenged us to add a Dutch Crunch topping and then make a sandwich of our creation.

I forgot to pay attention to the reveal date of the challenge and this morning decided to see when it was. It was today! Eeep! So here I am, just finishing my loaves at 11:21 pm and hurrying to type up a post to make it by the end of the day, simultaneously hoping that the bread cools enough so I can cut it and make a decent-looking/-tasting sandwich. (This is not the triumphant return to Daring Bakers I had hoped for.)

You know, I think I'll just make a sandwich tomorrow. If the bread lasts...

Update! I got up this morning and made the sandwich. Mmmmm! So good. I went for pastrami, hard-boiled egg, avocado, chives (don't like raw onion, but like a little onion flavor) and topped with baby spinach. Delicious! Thanks, Sara and Erica!

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

The recipe and instructions are here on their site.

15 February 2012

baby steps of progress

Squeeeee! They've sprouted! 

Look at that sweet, little, tiny baby lettuce!
Granted, these are radishes and leaf lettuce, which are notoriously easy. 
But still...my garden is growing!! 

Hello, row of radishes! A couple more weeks and I'll eat you!
(I way overexposed and supersaturated the pictures so the sprouts were more visible.)

14 February 2012

wake up feeling like crap...no more!

I just discovered this super-awesome app for my iPhone. It's called Sleep Cycle alarm clock and the premise behind it is ingenious. Since we go in and out of varying depth sleep cycles throughout the night, this alarm clock monitors you and within a designated time window, will wake you when you are in your lightest sleep.

From experience, the effect is that your alarm goes off almost like you were expecting it. It's as if you are "sleeping 'til you wake up" but somehow an alarm is involved. I love it. Hopefully, gone are the days of hearing a strange beat from the far side of my dream, slowly and confusingly realizing I was actually sleeping and not knowing what is going on before I remember that Disco Inferno is my alarm and I'm supposed to be waking up. (Yeah, yeah, it's a run-on, but I think it really lets you experience the confusion I'm talking about.)

Apparently your body moves, or doesn't as the case may be, depending on which cycle you are in. This app uses the sensitive accelerometer in the iPhone and monitors your movements, resulting in a graphed record of your sleep. I'm a graph person. I love analyzing and finding patterns. To me, the alarm feature is just an added bonus.

At left is my graph from last night. At 2am, you can see I came out of a pretty deep sleep since my dog had put me in such an uncomfortable position. I  kicked her off. Then at 6:30-ish am, my 2 year-old wanted to get up. I coaxed her into going back to sleep. (You can see that shortly after 7am I was in the deep, deep throes of la-la land, so I'm not sure when she crawled out of my bed.)

The cool thing is that after a few nights, I've noticed a pattern. One, I've been entirely horrible about going to bed at a reasonable hour, but that's nothing new. Second, I've noticed that I am consistently in light sleep or even awake in the six o'clock hour. If I can just go to bed earlier, it seems as though I should be able to wake up "for good" at that early hour. Heck, I just might become a morning person after all.

PS - This app costs $.99 and is well worth it in my opinion. 

06 February 2012

fresh veggies? yes, please.

We have a motto here about our yard:

Don't waste your time growing things that aren't edible or useful.

Take out your frustrations and give that bag a good stabbing.
In that vein, all the beautiful but pointless ornamentals planted by the previous owners have died. Well, not quite all of them. The ornamentals that were strong enough to make it through the Houston summers and random freezes without any help from me have lived. I'm rather proud of those tough little suckers.

The now rather empty flower bed surrounding our back patio is starting to fill up with kitchen and medicinal herbs. Parsley, Oregano, Chives, Horehound and Rosemary, to name a few. But herbs haven't been enough.

I've been wanting a vegetable garden for quite some time now, but it didn't ever make it to the top of the priority pile. See, vegetable gardening is a very labor-intensive task. I'd first have to section out part of my yard. But we have a sprinkler system and I'd have to make sure I wasn't getting in any pipe's way. Then I'd have to rototill, and since our soil is crappy clay crap, I'd for sure have to add all sorts of stuff to it to make it growable. But I wouldn't want to since it's so much work, so raised beds with new, good soil would be the next best option. But that's a lot of work because I'd have to...Are you getting the picture?

Oooh! Such a sinister gardening moment!
Well. God bless Mother Earth News magazine. I love checking out their back issues from the library and in the April/May 2010 issue I found the answer to my problem: a no-dig garden! You simply buy bags of gardening soil, cut them open and plant directly into them. Brilliant! No roto-tilling, partitioning of yards or amending soil. Plus, I could start as small as I needed to.

First, you jab a bunch of holes in one side. They suggest a screwdriver, I used the handle of a spoon that one of the kids had left out from their grub digging. Either way, this puppy needs some drainage holes. I also suggest massaging the bag to distribute the soil evenly. Mine was rather compacted to one side. Plus, who knows, maybe that soil is all stressed out from being handled so violently.

Yep, collards.
Now that your bag of soil is all relaxed, flip it over, making sure that the soil is distributed nice and evenly. Get yourself a nice sharp knife and cut the plastic off  the now-top of the bag, leaving a good two inches on each side. You don't want all that nice soil falling out now, do you?

That's it. Your garden is ready. Just plant whatever seeds you want and ta da!

Another nice thing is that I was able to label the bag. And with my radishes, since I'm going to plant new ones every week, I was able to mark where I had already planted a row of seeds. It was awesome!

The last photo is my finished vegetable garden. In SE Texas it's time to plant collards, radishes, beets, lettuce, green onions and leeks. That's what you're looking at. Each  month I'll add something else to the garden. As soon as my seeds come in the mail from Fedco Seeds (highly recommend ordering from them), I'll be planting cabbage and some other stuff which I can't remember right now. So I'll go pick up another bag of soil and do it again! I'm so excited!!!

There is a bit of rain on my parade though. I have to be very careful where to put this dream realization. My HOA, I'm sure, is against having bright yellow plastic bags sitting on my lawn. I think I placed them where they are not visible from the road...hopefully. We'll see.

I'll let you know how this works out. I won't promise you a play-by-play, but I can let you know if this li'l experiment ends up working...or not. 

03 February 2012

Thank you, Mr. Pushpesh Pant.

Dinner tonight came from my latest library visit: India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant. Delicious! We had the Baghare Gajar (savory carrots) and Khoya Matar (peas with thickened milk). The peas were a little strange as they took almost an entire box of dried milk that you proceeded to saute in ghee first. Didn't work quite perfectly but the taste was divine.

My mom fried up some chicken strips with Indian spices. (I told her, "Mom, I'm going to make some carrots and peas. You're in charge of the chicken." This may not seem a big deal, but was, in fact, a little mean, since at that point the chicken was frozen solid in the freezer. Sorry, Mom!) We also had a Masala Milkshake. (A super yummy, non-iced, blended milk drink with almonds, cardamom and rose water. Oh so good!)

I've already made another meal with India: The Cookbook. It was superb.

This book is going to mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

15 January 2012

art time!

I needed to wait until after Christmas to post these as they were made into a calendar for our families. But now they're all out and I wanted to share.

Our Christmas present to our siblings, grandparents, etc. was a calendar of ourselves. But we didn't want them to be any ol' pictures. So I came up with the idea last year to reproduce famous paintings. My plan was to do two a month and then we wouldn't be rushed. HA HA HA HA HA! Who was I fooling?

I completely forgot about it until late October.

But...I always do better with an impending deadline...

We ended up revamping our choices anyway because some paintings were too ornate or the costumes too difficult to reproduce and our budget was rather limited.

The unexpected part was that the kids learned all sorts of truths about paintings and photographs. As did I.

Truth #1 - Posing is hard work! And painful! Sometimes the shoots would take upwards of 30 minutes and we were constantly taking pictures and making minute adjustments.
"Move your foot just a titch more to the left."
*snap picture and compare to original*
"Nope, not far enough. A little more."
"Mom! My leg is starting to ache!"
"Just a few minutes more...I promise!"

Truth #2 - Paintings, while looking real, do not necessarily adhere to reality. My daughter, reproducing Flaming June, found that there was no way, short of breaking bones, to get her body in that exact pose. She's a child and the woman was full-grown, so there are some proportion issues, but frankly, I'm not sure even a professional yoga master could do it. Let alone fall asleep in that position! All the time the kids were realizing as they looked at these great works of art, "Hey! That's not even possible!"

Truth #3 - Photographs are just as dishonest. As a group, we were constantly looking at the paintings and asking, "What do we have around the house that we could use for that?" By the end, we were all outside-the-box thinkers. Strips of cut t-shirts became suspenders, a swimming medal, while being careful to hide the bright green ribbon, became a royal pendant, and very carefully placed fabric transformed into a beautiful, flowing dress, to name a few. And in the end, shoulders wrapped in towels, and bed sheets piled on heads, became pretty close representations.

(As always, click on the pictures for enlargements.)