Which will kill me faster?

Reading the daily entries of the current 83 food blogs I have tagged for my feed (and growing), or eating all the wonderful recipes I try from them!

I guess I really need to update my sidebar to include more of my favorites.

Happy Croissant day!

Otherwise known as - How the crazy lady spent her weekend.

So back in December, I read a post on several blogs about a cross-blog baking effort for chocolate biscotti. It looked like so much fun, all these bakers making the same recipe on the same weekend, that I asked to join in. (There were times this weekend where I felt I should have kept my fingers from asking!)

But I didn't, so this weekend I tackled the task of making croissants for the first time. Yes, the baker who doesn't like to roll her own pie crust dough made croissants. Ironic, isn't it?

And before I get much further - don't forget to visit the blogs of the rest of us crazy ladies and see how their croissants turned out: Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Peabody from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, Helen of Tartelette, Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen, Lis of La Mia Cucina, and Brilynn of Jumbo Emphanadas.

I didn't have a recipe for croissants (the whole idea of making them caused a bit of anxiety actually) but Ivonne was kind enough to scan and send off the recipe we were making, from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson. It was 5 pages long! And was quickly followed up by a schedule by Veronica, to make things easier for us!

Oh how I read and reread those instructions and that schedule. I even made my own notes, using lots of color, and to be safe, taped them to my kitchen cabinets for quick reference.

I'm not going to copy out the recipe here - if you want to make your own croissants using the same recipe, see Veronica's blog. She did a great job of copying out the entire recipe, including her own notes.

Thank goodness for the support system of the girls this weekend - we shared over 100 emails over the 3 days! That's right - 3 days of making croissants!

So let's start with Friday. Friday was prep and preferment day, if I wanted an overnight preferment, which I did. My preferment seemed to work out fine, though at one point one of the girls had me running to my fridge to see if it was turning into a sponge or a ball of dough!

Mine was a sponge, thank goodness, as I'd run out of yeast, having premeasured my ingredients for the next day, including the yeast needed.

Saturday morning had me up mixing the sponge with more yeast, 6 more cups of flour and a few other ingredients. I thought my poor mixer Bob was going to die on me!

He persevered for an entire 4 minutes, however, which let me move onto the next step, the first chill and rise.

I used an extra large ziplock bag to store my dough in while it rose, so I didn't have the problem of the dough rising through the plastic wrap or smaller bag. (Though at least then I would have known how much mine had risen.) The next step involved rolling out the dough to laminate it - as in smear it with lots and lots (and did I mention lots?) of butter. Where I ran into my first problem:

My counter was not big enough!

I was supposed to roll it into a rectangle 12 inches by 28 inches. My counter is only 26 inches.

And do you know how hard it is to roll out that much dough into a rectangle? And then spread butter evenly over the surface without melting the butter or tearing the dough?

Well I didn't, but now I do.

I think it looks kinda rectanglish. It was straighter before I started smearing the butter on.

Folding the dough into my plaque wasn't as difficult. I'd been practicing. On playdough. :-)

Okay and a few years in printing, knowing how to do a letter fold didn't hurt either.

So I did it again - roll out into a too short rectangle, fold over. Chill, then repeat. Three times in total.

I don't know why my arms weren't sore.

Next was break time. Time to freeze the dough for awhile, then unless I was so inclined as to be baking croissants at 11pm at night, let the dough chill and rise in the fridge over night. I was not so inclined, and chose to wait until morning to start cutting and baking my croissants. I would have warm croissants for breakfast on Sunday morning!

Now remember how I said I had read and reread the instructions? And remember how I frequently still forget things? Well this time I had forgotten about the rising time after cutting and shaping.

No early morning croissants for me!

Actually, maybe I did remember - and that is why I woke up at 3:30am thinking I needed to get moving on my croissants! (I wasn't so inclined then either, so rolled over and went back to sleep.)

Now Peabody had made her croissants earlier in the week and had said they were "on steroids."

So after more email consultations, I went with the suggestion to divide my dough in half and make mini croissants instead.
But really, no offense to the authors of the recipe, but how the heck did they get all their giant croissants on one half sheet pan and still have room for rising? I used 4 full pans and one little bar pan for the last bit, giving my croissants lots of space to rise (which they barely did, so I must have done something wrong somewhere, or my yeast was dying.)

Some of mine rolled beautifully, others were barely passable. I think I should have also practiced that step with the playdough. Oh well, too late now!

Shaped and rolled all the croissants, leave them to rise. Note to self - do not forget to preheat oven!

I actually didn't forget to preheat the oven. What I forgot was to pull the sheet out I had rising in there (I'd run out of room elsewhere) before I turned it on!

Quick, quick, pull them out of the oven - oh wait, too late for this batch, it's already puffy and golden and half way cooked.

Now once again, remember that rereading part? Well forgetting that one sheet totally threw me off the entire rest of the recipe. I forgot the egg wash, which I was supposed to slather all over my croissants at least 10 minutes before I put them in the oven!

And do you know when I remembered about the egg wash? As I was rotating my last sheet of croissants, half way through the baking.

No purple check mark through that stage of the recipe. No extra golden color on my croissants.

Hey wait a minute! Look at my croissants! I forgot the egg wash and yet they are golden and browned! They aren't on steroids, but they are light and airy and flaky.

So what was that egg wash for again?

Now the recipe called for a few optional variations on the basic butter croissants. As wonderful as the "plain" recipe is, a change will be welcomed. Afterall, how many butter croissants can one family eat before they need something different?

So in addition to the "plain," I also made some chocolate croissants, rolled in rectangles instead of the traditional crescent shape, nestled inside each square of puff pastry a square of dark chocolate. No wimpy milk chocolate here! I need quality and flavor, or it will be lost inside those folds of butter.

In the end, I made 30 mini croissants, and a dozen chocolate croissants. The chocolate ones were so popular with my children that they are gone, long gone, with both children having requested one in their lunch yesterday.

Phew! Baking over, croissants made, kitchen still in one piece, husband still talking to me!

And 6 great friends to help out via email!

I do not think I could have done this without the help and support of the girls. We reassured each other that, yes, the butter was going to melt out no matter what, that it was okay to forget the egg wash, (and lose the milk in the pantry), to make mini croissants. And that yes, it was completely normal to eat half a dozen croissants as soon as they came out of the oven, warm, crisp and golden!

So I raise a glass to you girls on a job well done!

And I look forward to next months recipe, provided it doesn't involve making croissants again!

BPW: Valentine's Around the World

The last time Meeta organized BPW, she had the tough job of selecting who sent a postcard to whom. This time likely isn't any different!

And this time she had a bit of revenge: she gave us a theme!

I have to ask - have you ever seen a Valentine's postcard anywhere? I haven't. Lots and lots of cards. No postcards.

I know for sure that I am not the only person who didn't find a postcard and instead has "faked it." Sorry, no other word for it - we faked it!

I hope my BPW recipient isn't too disappointed with it. It is a Valentine, and it won't come in an envelope, so that makes it a postcard, doesn't it?

Hopefully I will get my postcard before Valentine's day!

SHF #27: Chocolate by brand (Very, very late but better late than never!)

I learned this week that no matter how many times I read and reread something, it doesn't mean I will remember it.

Such as the date of submissions for this blog event, Sugar High Friday: Chocolate by brand, hosted by David Lebovitz.

I was convinced the final date was Friday the 26th. Turns out it was the 22nd. I learned this as I was taking my item out of the oven.

Despite this, I see no reason not to share the chocolaty goodness that was my choice for SHF, chocolate torte with chocolate ganache.

I'm not a huge fan of dark chocolate, I admit. I like milk chocolate (especially if there is caramel involved in some way.) But I do admit that dark chocolate is superior for baking with. Because of its intense chocolate flavor, it is less likely to be dulled by other ingredients. I just won't eat it straight.

I will also admit, I was limited in my choice of chocolate by what they had on the shelves at the local drug store (which does have a pretty decent grocery section, which is why I went there instead of going to a grocery store.) I simply did not have the time this week to get to a gourmet store to buy the best quality chocolate I could find, even had I been so inclined to do so. I wasn't inclined.

Besides, Lindt is a pretty good chocolate (and again, one I don't want to eat out of hand, or at least I don't like their milk chocolate truffles.)

Okay, enough about my chocolate likes and dislikes - and onto the cake itself!

I had an afternoon to myself, both kids at school, no work and a relatively clean house. (Note to self though -next time don't try making dinner and the cake at the same time. Bad idea.)

My chocolate choices, as I've mentioned, were Lindt. I bought 3 kinds: 2 bars of 70% cocoa dark, two bars of 65% Madagascar dark mild, and one bar of Swiss dark chocolate, who's cocoa content were not listed. Each of the % bars were 100 grams, which is why I bought the third kind. It came in small pieces and could be broken up and added in to make up the weight difference. Plus I had 3 small squares of the 70% cocoa bar in my pantry, which allowed me to get the full weight of 257 grams of chocolate with only a few small pieces of the Swiss chocolate.

The 70% cocoa chocolate melted beautifully with the butter, giving me a shinny, smooth consistency, and Bob the mixer was happy to whip up the egg whites until light and fluffy. He'd done an equally good job at mixing the egg yolks with sugar earlier. The batter I poured into my springform pan was light, airy, and very chocolatey!

I only ran into one small hitch on this recipe. (Isn't there at least one for every recipe?) Seems I don't own a 9 x 3 springform pan. I own a 9 x 2 1/2. So my cake baked a bit above my pan, which meant it crumbled a bit more than it likely should have when I turned it out and later when I plated. Not that it had any impact at all on the taste.

This cake is not "pretty". It has cracks all over it, crumbles and leaves a big mess. Which makes it perfect for playing with. And my version of playing with was the ganache, which I made with the 65% chocolate, again with a few squares of Swiss to make up the weight difference.

Again, the chocolate melted beautifully into the cream, smooth and glossy. And I didn't want to pour it over my cake as an icing. Besides, crumb coating my cake would have taken alot more chocolate ganache than I had!

Instead I went fancy, pooled some of the ganache on the plate, with little drizzles for affect, placed a slice of the cake, and then poured more ganache over the top.

Can you say chocolate over load?

I had to get this cake out of my house fast! Otherwise I would have been eating it for breakfast, lunch, dinner with some snacks in between! It was deemed too rich for the children (by the children, not by me.) Good thing I have friends willing to be my assistants. Three friends were the recipients of cake, served up on a plate with a ball of ganache/truffle along side, for them to enjoy at home. I haven't heard any complaints so I think they enjoyed it.

If I've learned anything about this SHF it is to keep a closer eye out on the dates. Write them down, several times and in several places! Maybe next time I'll get it on time.

What's in my basket (or yours?)

Rachel, the creator of two food blogs, Food Maven and Coconut and Lime, is the hostess of a what looked like a really fun blog event - What's in your basket?

The rules were simple: go grocery shopping, take pictures of what you bought, blog about it, including what you bought, what you spent and where you went shopping. Just like it is an education to see what other people are cooking, it is equally fascinating to see what people are buying.

So here is what was in my basket this afternoon, purchased at Farm Boy:

500ml Homo milk - $2.59
Large tub strawberry-vanilla yogurt - $1.99
12 package fruit pieces yogurt - $3.99 (minus $0.75 coupon)
English muffins - $1.29
Lean Beef stew meat - $7.21
500ml Light (6%) cream - $0.99
1lb unsalted butter - $3.99
boneless skinless chicken breast - $8.59
1/2 lb package vermicelli sized rice noodles - $1.49
2 pints blackberries - 2 for $5.00
banana's - $1.24
Royal Gala apples, 6 - $3.20
2 pints blueberries - 2 for $5.00
Red Spanish onion - $0.91
2 packages of fresh basil leaves - $1.49 each
5 peppercorn mix - $1.89
Cheddar cheese curds - $3.10
green seedless grapes - $4.08
red seedless grapes - $4.26
3 package organic garlic - $0.99
White Spanish onion - $1.19

minus bag credit of $0.10

Total spent: $65.12

I could easily have bought more items but was walking home and knew I would have to carry whatever I bought, so I behaved myself. The beauty of this store is that I can go daily and buy fresh as needed. I still need to go to the regular grocery store, get items like cereal and cleaning items (my family goes through massive amounts of hot and cold cereals), but those can wait until later this weekend.

So what's in your basket?

Three cheers for Cream Puff!

The truest compliment of a recipe. The empty plate of a slightly picky child.

Tonight's plan ahead for dinner involved pan fried pork loin chops, with baked rice and carrots. A little bit of "plain"to go with a little bit of a risk. Okay, with my children, a big risk.

But Ivonne promised me easy to make rice that was creamy, and tasty, and I decided to take her up on it, despite the risk of having a full container of rice for myself to eat.

I'm sorry I did not get a picture of the rice before it was served - I admit, this afternoon hasn't been pleasant with my children and I was not in the mood to listen to one more little voice demand to be fed dinner, so I just dug in and fed them. I knew they would eat the carrots, that is the only guarantee I had for the entire meal. Instead, I ended up with three empty plates, every bit eaten, and compliments on the rice.

In the comments of Cream Puff's post, I mentioned I was going to make a substitution, and I did. I didn't have any Pecorino Romano cheese, but did have a good sized block of Grana Padano which I used instead. I would like to try the recipe again using the proper cheese, but for now I used what I had and it worked out just fine. I also didn't have any fresh parsley but that is okay because adding fresh parsley on top of food is a clear way to get the children to not eat it.

So thank you for the lovely recipe Ivonne! It is a keeper!

Schmecks really does mean good!

So earlier this month I kept seeing blog posts involving the word "schmeck" and they all linked back to Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict.

I'd never even heard of Edna Staebler, let alone food that schmecked! What the heck was a schmeck!




Sounds like I'm cursing or crazy!

(Btw, turns out I'm neither, I think.)

Jasmine did a fine job explaining what schmecks is about:

Schmecks is a word that Mennonites use to mean tasty…flavourful…yummy.

Her original event was so popular, she decided to have a repeat event, a part two, and invited all her readers, some of us by personal invitation, to participate and make either an Edna like recipe, if not one of her actual recipes.

Any event that requires I make something yummy sounds like fun to me.

I checked out all the original posts and decided I wanted to cook something new for this event, but I admit, I didn't really want to go out and buy a new cookbook. I haven't even been able to finish reading the pile I have. So I cheated a bit, visited my local bookstore, checked out a book or two and ended up copying out a recipe from More Food that Really Schmecks, Hurry Up Chocolate Cake, as well as Cocoa Fudge Icing.

I picked this recipe because my interest was piqued by the idea of making a chocolate cake in the pan, one that didn't involve cake mix, but was as easy as cake mix. Would it stick to the pan and come out in crumbles instead of nicely cut pieces? Would it have enough chocolate flavor to satisfy my chocolate needs? Would my children eat it, or just eat the icing?

So here are the recipes I copied out:

Hurry Up Chocolate Cake (use a 9x9 cake pan)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 rounded tablespoons cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1 cup lukewarm buttermilk

Sift all the dry ingredients into the pan and stir to blend. Bump pan on the counter to level off. Make 3 hollows in mixture with a spoon. Put vanilla in one hole, vinegar in second hole and melted butter/margarine in 3rd hole.
Pour buttermilk over top. Stir and blend until smooth with no flour showing.
Thump on counter and bake in 350F oven for 30 minutes.

Cocoa Fudge Icing

1 cup sugar, brown or white
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar and cocoa. Stir in milk until smooth. Drop in butter and stir over moderate heat. Boil for 1 minute only.
Remove from heat and cool quickly (cold water in sink.) Stir in vanilla and beat until creamy and thick. It will stay soft - but firm, on cake. (Her words, I didn't really see it though.)

So here is my messy first piece of chocolate cake, with icing. It was very fudgy looking, moist and with a good crumb. Currently my husband is having his second piece, and my youngest child ate his entire piece instead of just the icing.

A cake recipe that only makes a 9x9 pans worth is actually quite practical for a family of four - not too much cake, we won't be eating it for days, but just enough that we will be able to all have some in our lunches tomorrow. It will be a special treat in the kids lunch boxes, a nice way to start off the week.

I am looking forward to other people's submissions to this event, so I can increase my recipe base with more of Edna's quirky recipes.

Vegetable, not vegetarian, chili

I first had this at a friends house for dinner, where the evening started with the question, "Do you like chili?"

The answer was, "No."

Try as I might, I just don't like most beans and legumes. (And, yes, I know that authentic chili doesn't have beans in it, and that kind of chili I do like.)

I like my mom's baked beans, on the rare occasion when she makes them. But I can't stand anything involving kidney beans, even if you pick them out, the flavor lingers and I don't like it.

And I'm probably the least picky of my family, when it comes to beans.

Notice, however, the beans in the picture of this chili? Aren't that many, are there? Now, see all the yummy vegetables?

This chili actually qualifies as a 30 minute meal, start to finish, because it uses a convenience food (or two): canned baked beans in tomato sauce, and white corn and black bean salsa sauce (President's Choice brand.)

So, the recipe:

1 - 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped (I like red)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 broccoli, cut into florettes
1/2 cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
a bunch of carrots, cut into bite sized pieces
any other vegetable you want in your chili. (I wanted red or yellow pepper but the kids won't eat them, so didn't bother.)
1 jar President's Choice White Corn and Black bean salsa
1 can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
sprinkling Italian seasoning, chili powder, salt and pepper

Brown ground beef in a large pot - don't bother draining, you'll want the fat to saute the vegetables. Add chopped onion and carrot pieces, cook a few minutes before adding in the rest of the vegetables and continuing to cook over medium heat. Sprinkle in the spices of your choice. (I didn't have any Italian seasoning and was in too much of a hurry to pull out the basil, oregano, and thyme to make my own, so skipped it - and never noticed the lack of flavor from omitting them.)
Add in jar of salsa, beans and tomato paste. Fill tomato paste can with water and add into the chili. Or for a more grown up version, use red wine instead. Once mixed, turn heat to low, put lid on the pot and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Serve with toppings of choice and dippers, see list below. I've marked our required toppings with a *.

Topping suggestions:

shredded cheese*
sour cream*
green onion
garlic bread
tortilla chips

So the next time someone asks me if I like chili, I won't answer no right away. I'll wait to see how many beans are in it first.

I think I have a new go-to quick bread recipe!

I'm falling behind on my reading.

I have a stack of lovely new cookbooks, a brand new novel given to me for Christmas, and piles and piles of magazines around me. And when my new issue of most of those magazines come in - I devour them!

The new Today's Parent was no exception. I've said it before - I love the recipes.

This issue had the winners of the quick breads contest that I had totally failed to notice was happening. How observant am I?

This recipe appealed to me for a few different reasons - it was a quick bread that was appropriate for the kids lunches, I could make it quickly (with help if necessary).

And it didn't involve bananas!

Plus I had all the ingredients on hand to make it, including the strawberries.

To me, that was a sign that this was the recipe I should be making. So I did. Two bowls, quick mix up (took longer to crush the strawberries than it for the entire rest of the recipe.)

And it was so good, that the next morning, there was a small heel of the second loaf left, and that's it!

I did learn one little quirk about this recipe afterwards - the bread lacks its vibrant flavor and texture when it is cold. I learned this when I had a piece for myself as a snack left in the van while I worked. When I came out and had a piece of the bread, it fell flat. Room temperature in the rest of the lunches, there were only crumbs left.

I wonder if the rest of the recipe winners will be nearly as good?

One more for last week

Again I'm late, and again, it is a horrible picture. (I will be really glad when it stops being pitch black at 5pm at night so I can go back to taking some more reasonable pictures!)

Sunday was cold and the end of a very long weekend, filled with company and overnight guests and too much to do. I didn't really want to cook but forced myself to go with my plan ahead of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Homey and with lots of left overs.

My recipe of choice for the meatloaf came from The Food Network and a show I had seen a few weeks back, Good Deal with Dave Lieberman. In it he made three make ahead meals that were easy on the budget and allowed for lots of left overs for a busy week. Just what we'd had and just what we needed.

I specifically wanted the turkey meatloaf recipe as I hadn't made any kind of meatloaf for awhile and hadn't used a specific recipe for any of those. Mostly meatloaf is a recipe I tend to just do by the seat of my pants. Or the contents of my fridge and pantry.

I was a little leary about trying a red pepper sauce after the fiasco that was red pepper pasta sauce a few months back but decided that since it wasn't going to be the feature flavor, I could risk it. And as luck would have it, my local grocery store actually had ground turkey in (doesn't happen that often) and specially packaged up the amount I wanted.

This was a good choice. It came together quickly, smelled lovely while baking (even my husband complimented the smell of dinner cooking) and was enjoyed all around. (One exception - oldest son was sick so picked at his veggies but chose to go to bed early instead. I find it amusing that my children tend to eat their veggies first at dinner time.) Left overs the next day were also quite good - the meatloaf had a bit of a warm kick to it, from the cayenne pepper in it.

So total new recipes (from actual books/magazines) is well above my required one.

Wonder if I can keep that up?

A weekly round-up of recipes

I actually did alot of cooking this week, and surpassed my minimum of 1 new recipe for the week fairly early.

I also broke one of my own "guildlines" - finish reading a new cookbook before you start cooking from it. Which is why no one has seen recipes form me from The Vegan Lunch Box, or either of the ACES Bakery cookbooks. I'm still reading them.

So early in the week I had the hankering (funny word, I know, I just like it right now,) to roast a chicken. It was something I could prep in advance and put into the oven before I go do the 45 minute-plus drive to pick up the husband from work on the days I have the van. I've done a few roasted chickens lately, always involving a brine and garlic, but haven't really been satisfied with the results. Having to take the time to prep the chicken a full day before for brining should yield good results, and maybe it's just been my roasting, but I haven't been happy.

So I went net searching for a different type of roast chicken, something that didn't require alot of advanced work and found this. The combination of the basil, oregano, cayenne and paprika intrigued me, as they aren't four flavors I would have thought to put together for chicken. But it had all my requirements so into a bowl they went, out came the oil and the chicken, and into the oven it went.

Then promptly into our stomachs afterwards!

It smelled good, it looked good and mmmmmm it tasted good!

A new recipe to add to my expanding blue book of tried and true recipes.

Friday I had company coming, my grandparents, whom I don't get to cook for often. I had "comforting and elegant" in my head and for some reason felt that meant soup, homemade soup, with good sandwiches. And since my grandfather was involved, there had to be dessert as well.

I didn't want just any kind of sandwiches but something a bit special - I ended up deciding on California BLT's, which I found in my new Ina Garten cookbook, Barefoot Contessa At Home. When asked by friends what I was making, the California portion caused confusion, so to ease that "huh?" factor, the difference is avocado slices added in with good, crisp bacon, fresh, ripe tomatoes, buttery lettuce and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a smear of mayo. And to up them up in special quality, I made bread, honey white bread, also from the same cookbook.

This bread worked perfectly to the recipe and was so well received that I've just pulled out a new batch from the oven. My children loved it both with a bit of butter and toasted with jam. And it was just what I needed to make my sandwiches have that special touch.

Btw, the second picture of the bread, before I sliced it, is being admired by my grandfather.

Okay, really he's just being silly, but then if he weren't being silly, we would wonder what was wrong!

My last item for dinner was the soup, and again I knew where I wanted to go with it. I wanted roasted cauliflower soup, topped with some sharp, shredded cheese. And I could not find a recipe that was specifically for roasted cauliflower.

So I winged it.

I roasted up a head of cauliflower pieces with some chunks of onion, roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I added them into some chicken stock, more salt and pepper, a sprinkling of cumin and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I also added in the flesh of a baked potato, for thickening. Then I pureed it all together, added a bit more salt and pepper, and some pieces of a sharp white cheddar. Each bowl was served with additional cheese sprinkled on top.

This soup did not look good at all. The picture is terrible, I could not find some good light to take one, but even before I took one, it looks icky. And was an excellent example of don't judge by looks. It was amazingly good, even better two days later (I had the leftovers for lunch yesterday.)

My final effort of the day was homemade vanilla ice cream. Sorry, no pictures, so you will have to simply imagine the flecks of vanilla beans generously floating through the thick, creamy ice cream. It went very well with the apple pie my grandmother had brought, baked up by me.

My only other effort that weekend was to make some muffins for breakfast with my 4 year old. My grandmother had cleaned up her fruit bowl by bringing everything to me, which meant over ripe bananas. So we remade the chocolate banana bread, in muffin form, and fancied them up a bit more using chunks of banana chips, broken up by the assistant chef. (Oh, one thing I failed to mention with the original post about the bread. I don't use nuts in my baking, so did not add them.)

Hopefully I will be able to post more often, by recipe instead of by week, but work has been keeping me busy. I'll figure it out eventually.

Sorry about the horrid picture

It was late in the day, no light, and I had to take a picture before this was devoured by the children!

So my neighbor had a baby last week, her forth boy. What do you give as a shower gift to someone who has four boys? And her baby shower was scheduled at the same time as the husband's birthday party, so I couldn't do more than drop in for a few minutes. (And for the record, my shower gift was a gift certificate to Build-a-Bear so they could make a stuffed bear for him.)

We jokingly laughed about the cake party I was hosting, and how I would try to bring her some of the left over cakes, which she loved the idea of!

No suck luck. The really, really good stuff (read that as cheesecake) was eaten right away.

So instead I made her some banana bread, but not your normal, everyday banana bread. Having a forth child deserves something a little more special than my standard banana bread!

How about chocolate banana bread, loaded with white chocolate chips?

Now that is a bit more like it!

And as it happens, I had just found a recipe for chocolate banana bread at Joy of Baking. Plus this let me fulfill my requirement of at least one new recipe a week, and it gave me something I could bake with the 4 year old chef-in-training. (We even had to use his new bowl, measuring cups and spoons, those that Santa brought him - couldn't find his little hat or apron though.)

This bread came together quickly, as most banana breads do, and was just special and different enough to be a lovely change from the norm. The chocolate was deep, though not intense, and a bit surprising since it was only cocoa powder. The white chocolate chips added a touch of texture, despite not being overly obvious.

I will make this recipe again, anytime I feel like a change, or want something special.

And maybe next time I'll get to use my own bowls and measuring spoons.

How to celebrate a birthday

"Mommy, I'm having my birthday soon. Tomorrow."

"No you aren't, your birthday isn't for a long time."

"How many sleeps?"

"Alot, over 300."

"We'll who is going to have a birthday then?"

"In our house, Daddy is next."

"He's going to have a party. We can invite all my friends. And they can all bring a cake." (note who's friends he plans to invite?)

"A cake?"

"Yes, it will be a cake party. Everyone has to bring a cake for Daddy."

Don't ask why, but we went with this idea. All the girls thought it was a hilarious idea for a party, while my husband, "Daddy", said, "Um, I'm in training right now."

Yes, we ignored him. :-)

Normally he requests black forest cake for his birthday. This year was a bit different: he asked for something involving chocolate and orange, but left the rest of the details up to me.

I settled on this: Decadent Chocolate Orange Cake.

I have to admit, I didn't like this cake. But I also am not a person who really likes chocolate and orange together, despite it being a classic combination which is supposed to marry so well together. Sorry, I just don't go crazy for it the way some people do.

And the name of the cake is very deceiving. It isn't a chocolate orange cake, it is an orange cake with a chocolate ganache. The orange in the cake comes from the rind of two oranges (I zested mine straight into the sugar instead of peeling, chopping, then adding to the sugar to puree) as well as orange marmalade both in the cake and in the filling. The filling itself is simply cream cheese, marmalade and a bit of sugar, which is then given a coating of the chocolate ganache.

I made one other change to this - I didn't use the pans specified, but instead used the square silicone pans I was given for Christmas. It meant I could not split the cakes in half to make four layers (the cakes baked up very lopsided and only careful work on my part resulted in a square cake that was not completely off balance,) but allowed me to have a nice square cake.

In the end, we had 6 cakes: my chocolate/orange cake, a banana chocolate chip cake, a triple chocolate torte (I need the recipe for this one), a lemon cake from a local bakery that I so want to visit, a black forest cheesecake and a caramel chocolate brownie cheesecake (which was so rich I actually could not eat it!)

Yes, there was alot of cake! And alot of giggling over the idea of a cake party. One has been requested by another adult for their birthday later this spring, and one adult as asked for a variation - a cookie party!

So the next time you are looking for a different idea for a celebration, ask a 4 year old what kind of party he thinks you should have. Just don't let him compile the guest list. :-)

Birthday smoothie, and the new year

Today is the husbands birthday, so we started the day out early (it is only 9am now) with some cooking and not cooking. The cooking part involves a large pot of homemade tomato sauce simmering on my stove, for use later today when I make some lasagna for the dinner party we are having (more about that fun event later!)

The non-cooking is just as tasty as homemade sauce though - fruit smoothies! Just the thing to fuel a runner pre-morning run, and just a bit special for his birthday!

I didn't plan in advance to make this for him, so what went into it was made up of what I had on hand, which was fortunately a good variety. Frozen strawberries and pineapple joined a ripe banana, pureed together with orange juice (which I was just about out of) and orange, raspberry, passionfruit juice. A scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt was added for a touch of creaminess and decadence! Yummy! It was so good!

By the way....

Belated Happy New Years!

Yes, I know I'm almost a week late! I've been busy with kids, clean up, going back to work (a week before school starts, so bringing kids with me.) Cooking almost every day but nothing new, nothing fancy again. Even today's lasagna is nothing new.

Despair not! New recipes are coming! I have all kinds of lovely new cookbooks to read, recipes in my "to try" pile are growing faster than the weeds in spring and I have a resolution to back up that long, long list!

Resolution you say? At New Years! How surprising! (hehehe)

1. No arrowroot cookies for me! (This is work related - we provide the children with a snack of apple juice and arrowroot cookies - and usually have lots left over for the parent volunteers and staff to munch on. These cookies are like chips - bet ya can't eat just one!)

2. No eating after 8pm, parties excepted. Or late night dates with the husband.

3. You will make one new recipe per week, minimum! Try new things, even if it is something made that only I will eat for my lunch, try some new things!

No the smoothie was not my new recipe for the week. Actually I made my recipe yesterday, a birthday cake that needed to set up over night. Haven't taken pictures of it yet, though I will do so at the party this evening, so will post about it either later tonight or tomorrow.

For now, live vicariously through us - enjoy the sight, though not the taste (sorry!) of the smoothie, and keep thoughts of chocolate and orange in mind.