wowie cake and buttercream frosting

There are lots of varieties of cakes that have “missing” ingredients. Vegan cakes, depression cakes, cakes that use a can of soda instead of oil and eggs… the list goes on for all the ways you can make that quintessential dessert. Today was another blustery and snowy day in New Hampshire. In other words, it was the perfect weather for baking a cake!

The view out our front door this morning.

The view out our front door this morning. Pretty! And menacing?

Alas, we had no eggs. And no powdered sugar (for frosting!). And I had eaten the last of the chocolate chips. The cupboards, as they say, were a little bare.

No matter! It was my sister Ally, of The Kitchen in Stereo, to the rescue! I had texted her with my dilemma. She said, “Make a wowie cake.” I paused. I furrowed my brow. I had no idea what she was talking about. After a very quick search, it became abundantly clear. A cake you make with stuff that’s definitely in the pantry! A cake that requires no eggs! A cake you could make on wartime rations! A cake that makes you say, “Wowie!” This I could do.

The recipe I used was incredibly simple. Just some sugar, flour, oil, vinegar, baking soda, vanilla, cocoa powder, and cold water. These were all ingredients I had on hand.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

But what would I use for frosting? I had no powdered sugar for dusting, and no powdered sugar to make frosting. I felt stuck. I’ve tried using recipes that call for powdered sugar and substituting it with granulated sugar instead, but that has never, ever worked. It’s disgusting and grainy. It’s like putting a big spoonful of sweetened beach sand in your mouth. Perhaps you half expect a cigarette butt (maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the beach just seem to turn into a giant ashtray?). At any rate, I wasn’t sure what my searching would produce when I typed “frosting with granulated sugar” into my Google search bar.

Turns out there are plenty of frostings without powdered sugar. I was feeling adventurous, so after looking through a couple recipes I landed on this (there are many versions of this same recipe online…the one I used actually called for 3 tbs of flour, but everything else was the same. I couldn’t find the link after I had closed it.). Um, frosting that you cook? On the stove? I was a tad doubtful but decided I had no choice. It was either this or have a plain Jane cake.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Let me cut to the chase: it was the perfect compliment to the cake. Perfect amount of sweetness. Light and fluffy and smooth as whipped cream. Not a hint of grainy, sandy granulated sugar (though it contains a whole cup of the stuff). It wasn’t even that hard to make. I think the keys to success are as follows: 1. Do not melt your butter. Just soften it. In fact, just leave it out and let it come to room temperature. You need to cream the butter and sugar together, and the butter just can’t be liquid if you want to do this. 2. Have faith. When you pour that flour/milk mixture into the mixing bowl, it is going to look gross.  The whole things stays wet for quite a few minutes, and it takes a while to combine. Prepare yourself to blend for a good five minutes while you wait for the frosting to get stiff. But it will! Just have patience! And then you will try some and your eyeballs will pop out of your face because you’re so surprised that the granulated sugar virtually disappeared, leaving only a smooth, buttery frosting in its wake.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

Would make both again, and again, and again.

What’s your favorite cake recipe?

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results: recipe #2

Wow. I am terrible at keeping up with my own blog challenge. So, I wanted to do one every week, and here I am…the last week into February, and I’ve only cooked my second recipe. Blame it on the puppet show.

This week’s recipe was from The Good Housekeeping Christmas Cookbook, which Pete and I received as a Christmas gift this past year from my parents. It’s a really cool party-planning cookbook, and it’s filled with lots of practical advice for entertaining over the holidays. There are pages and pages of recipes, plus tips on pretty decorating, buying Christmas trees, deboning salmon…the list goes on. This particular dish is one that I was surprised to find in a Christmas cookbook. I figured I was going to have to make a dessert (and there are plenty of yummy-sounding recipes to try!), but I happened upon this chili recipe nestled in the “Christmas Brunch” section. I never would have thought of chili at Christmas, but what a great idea!

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Quick review:

Difficulty: Very easy

Total Time: 6 hours in a slow cooker. I did 1.5 hours on the stove instead.

Satisfaction Level: 4/5

Click here for a link to the recipe, which is found on page 169 of the cookbook, or easily searched for on the internet. It’s Good Housekeeping’s Slow-Cooker Chipotle Beef Chili. The recipe is the same online and in the book, except in the book the amount has been halved. For example, I only used two cans of beans (rather than four) and I only needed one pot to cook it in!

Finely chopped onion, green bell pepper, garlic, and a chipotle pepper in adobo.

Finely chopped onion, green bell pepper, garlic, and a chipotle pepper in adobo.

I did make some changes to the recipe while I was cooking. All were made out of necessity. First, I ran out of cumin. Instead of the full tablespoon, I was only able to get a little more than a half tablespoon. Additionally, it’s a slow-cooker recipe. I was running late this morning, leaving myself only enough time to brush my teeth and hair and fly out the door. This chili was tonight’s dinner plan, so when I got home I had to figure out how to make it in waaaay less time than the recipe suggests (6.5 hours in a slow cooker). I used my trusty  cast iron casserole (I’ve been told it’s not a true Dutch oven, but why I’m not sure…) on the stove for about an hour and a half instead.

Such a pretty piece of cookware!

Such a pretty piece of cookware!

I also found a really yummy corn bread recipe on Allrecipes.com that I whipped up while the chili was cooking. I’m glad I did–it was the perfect complement! You can find that recipe by clicking here. It was easy and took a little more than a half hour to bake. The two were ready within a few minutes of each other! Of course, the chili could have cooked forever, so there was really no rush with that.

Finished product with cornbread on the side. Mmm.

Finished product with cornbread on the side. Mmm.

I give it a 4/5 mostly because of my own lack of foresight. The fact that I ran out of cumin was disappointing, and definitely affected the flavor. It could have used at least a whole extra tablespoon more. Additionally, because the chili didn’t cook for as long as the recipe suggested, the meat was still a little chewy. If it had a chance to cook for 6.5 hours, I bet it would have melted in our mouths. Of course, none of that stopped us from eating up lots of it!

Last bite.

Last bite.

I think this could easily translate into a vegetarian recipe. Just take out the meat! If you want a little more substance, a nice firm tofu would be a good replacement, but I really don’t think this chili even needs it. The sauce and beans were tasty thanks to the chipotle flavor, and there was plenty of “stuff” in it (beans, onion, peppers, etc.) that it felt full even without the addition of the beef.

I would definitely call this experiment more of a success than the last one, but it might help that I’ve made chili lots of times before, just not this particular recipe (I never even knew what chipotle peppers in adobo were…in case you don’t either, here’s a link).

And now for something completely different:

IMG_1802There’s a bunch of sheetrock in my living room, awaiting its destiny: new walls in the baby’s room! Progress, y’all.

results: recipe #1

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Stuffed baked leeks, from Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook

Well, nearly a week after my previous post, Pete and I actually made the stuffed leeks! A quick review:

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Total Time: 45-50 minutes

Satisfaction Level: 3/5

The scoop: this was a fairly straightforward recipe. I made the rice filling in a Pampered Chef microwave rice cooker  (one of my favorite kitchen gadgets) by throwing brown rice, two beef bouillon cubes, some olive oil, and a chopped onion into the cooker and zapping it for a half hour. I guess I’m a study in  contradiction, because I don’t mind using the microwave to cook rice in a plastic container, but I’ve been trying to stop using shampoo because of all the chemicals. You pick your battles, I guess.

I love this rice cooker.

I love this rice cooker.

Per the recipe’s instructions, we boiled the leeks for one minute before popping the middles out and stuffing them with the rice and onions. For the record, the rice filling was delicious! After sautéing the leeks to brown them a bit, I gently arranged them in a baking dish and covered them with some tomato sauce.

Leeks are much more difficult to stuff than peppers or tomatoes. They're so much skinnier!

Leeks are much more difficult to stuff than peppers or tomatoes. They’re so much skinnier!

The end result, after boiling, sautéing, and baking :

Did I mention we made baked chicken and broccoli to go with the leeks?


Did I mention we made baked chicken and broccoli to go with the leeks? Leek in the foreground. It looks like a giant piece of pasta. I can assure you: it didn’t taste like a giant piece of pasta.

 They looked great and smelled amazing! I was so looking forward to that first bite. But then I took that bite, and realized, “Maybe I don’t like leeks?” I think it might have been because they were still quite firm, even after ten minutes in the oven. I think if they’d been cooked longer I would have liked them a lot more. It felt a bit like biting into a raw onion filled with rice. It wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t amazing, either. Additionally, I gave these leeks more care and attention than I typically give to side dishes. I suppose if it was the main course  I wouldn’t have been too annoyed, but I can’t imagine a dinky little leek being the main event, even for a vegetarian meal. Thus, the 3/5 satisfaction rating above. Good, not great.

What will my next recipe be? I don’t know, but today is a great day to try another new one out. We have our third snow day of the year (I think it’s the third…), so it leaves me with plenty of time to find a new recipe for which we have all the necessary ingredients!

It’s too bad about the snow, though, because we have lots of rehearsing to do at work for our upcoming Little Gingerbread Man puppet show, which will be debuting this Saturday. I’ll be sure to post some pics of the “sets” I designed–I think they’re pretty cute.

Have you cooked anything new lately? Tell me about it!

Would you like the recipe for these baked leeks? Check out my previous post for details!

finished curtains and a recipe challenge!

First, remember that kitchen curtain post? I finally got my act together and sewed ’em up today! I found out this morning that the library would be closed for the day (snooowwww!), so I figured there was no better time to finish a project that had been hanging over my head.

I think it does add that certain something I was looking for.

I think it does add that certain something I was looking for. I’m going to go ahead and call this a success. For some reason I couldn’t get the editing to be what I wanted it to be in this picture. I can assure you that the curtains are much brighter than they appear here.

In other news, I’ve embarked on my very first BLOG CHALLENGE!

Not long ago, I was cutting a mango and just happened to look across the counter. I noticed all my cookbooks, and suddenly saw them with new eyes: there were some books there that I’d never even opened! And that’s when the challenge started to take shape…

So, here’s the plan: every week, I’ll post one new recipe that I’ve tried to make from a cookbook that I’ve either never used, or have used very little. I have a lot of cookbooks that don’t get much use, so I think this challenge will be going on for a while. Additionally, I’ve invited a few friends to join me in the challenge! I look forward to seeing what everyone makes–we’re all so different, but food has that unique quality of unification, I think.

Don’t forget to follow this blog to keep up to date with how the challenge is going, not to mention get a few new recipe ideas for your own kitchen. If you’re interested in participating leave a comment below.

My plan for this evening is to use a cookbook I bought at Baldface Books in Dover, NH about five or six years ago. It’s Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook, from 1978. I was mostly intrigued because it has some gross-sounding foods (like calves brains fritters), and I figured it would be a fun conversation piece more than anything else. Because it’s a menu cookbook, it includes sample menus for different types of gatherings along with recipes for all the items. I was not only weirded out by some of the recipes a few years ago, but severely intimidated by them; they seemed really, really difficult.

We bought a couple of leeks the other day because for the first time in weeks they actually looked pretty good, but I didn’t know what I’d do with them. This morning I decided to crack this puppy open and see what it told me about leeks. I’m happy to report that I found a very tasty-sounding recipe, and we’ll be trying it out tonight!

A cookbook I've never once made a recipe from.

A cookbook I’ve never once made a recipe from.

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From page 441 of Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook.

I’m going to give it a whirl, and it doesn’t sound too hard. Of course, we’re only making two leeks instead of 12, so it’ll require some adjustment. Still, I have high hopes for this gourmet meal! Wish me luck. 🙂

apples and spice and everything nice

I’m so happy my parents were able to instill a love of baking into their children; there’s nothing quite like a brownie on a bad day, or piece of apple pie to finish off the perfect week. We three siblings will find any excuse to bake, really, (check out my sister’s music and baking blog at The Kitchen in Stereo) and this cake is no exception.

My brother and I went apple picking last Friday and I ended up with about 12 or 13 pounds of enormous apples. They had been sitting on my counter for a week, so it was high time I made something with them! I’ll probably be making another appley treat today, but two days ago all I really wanted was something sweet that was easy to eat.

When I think of apple desserts, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, pie. But then there’s making the crust or crumb topping, and the fact that it can be messy eating, and the cutting of all those apples… I just wasn’t into it. I turned to the Betty Crocker cookbook for answers. I have other cookbooks, some of them specific to baking, but Betty Crocker always seems to know where it’s at. This recipe can be found on page 72 of the 1990 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. It’s easy and fun (and you only have to cut three apples!).

Laziness at its finest...I can't even be bothered to type out the recipe.

Laziness at its finest…I can’t even be bothered to type out the recipe.

First, my recipe updates/changes: I did not have nutmeg, so I subbed in pumpkin pie spice instead, which includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and a few other things. It was just fine. I also accidentally omitted the baking soda (I confess I was on the phone at the time of baking and got a little sloppy with the recipe). The good news is that even though it didn’t rise much, it still tasted delightful. Just imagine how much prettier it will be when you make it WITH baking soda!

Big apple chunks.

Big apple chunks.

I cut my apples into big chunks for two reasons: 1. I didn’t feel like chopping forever, and 2. I LOVE a nice warm hunk of apple. I’ve been eating pieces of this cake warmed up in the microwave because those apples really shine when they have a little heat.

Le finished product. Could have browned for a few more minutes.

Le finished product. It could have browned for a few more minutes.

Looking back, I kind of wish I’d left it in for maybe 3 or 4 more minutes to get it extra brown on top, but Pete and I were so excited to eat it that we couldn’t wait. It was still tasty, I assure you.

Look at those chunks!

Look at those chunks!

All in all, I’d say it was a successful experience. Two days later and it’s still good. In fact, I just had a piece for breakfast, polished off with a nice cold glass of almond milk.

What’s your favorite thing to bake this season?

“there were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch”

…”Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.”

It’s hard to pick my pears and not think of Robert Frost, even if he was writing about apples.

As I pulled into the driveway this afternoon after work, the pear tree was glistening in the last bits of sun that find their way into the backyard. A sight like that is hard to ignore, so I grabbed my basket and got to work.

Pear gathering. You come, too.

Pear gathering. You come, too.

Tomorrow I'll get my ladder.

Tomorrow I’ll get my ladder.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous. Delicious.

I guess I can’t quite say why this pear tree makes me feel so much, but it does. I think it’s something about a plant, taking only sunlight and water and whatever nutrients it can from the soil, and creating something that’s simultaneously life-giving (food for the birds, the chipmunks, and me) and self-preserving (gotta spread those seeds somehow). It’s a seasonal miracle, and it happens 100% without my intervention.

In other news, I can’t wait to turn all these little pears into: pear crisp, pear butter, pear sauce, and pear salads.

Happy Harvest!

Christmas time’s a-comin’

I haven ‘t been updating much lately because Christmas is on its way, and here at LFTPR, it has been BUSY. Three gingerbread building parties, Christmas shopping and crafting, making gifts, baking and cooking… Huh. I guess our holiday season sounds a lot like everyone else’s!

I felt pretty proud of myself today for using my Thursday morning wisely–making a from-scratch supper that Pete and I can enjoy when we are off doing our own things tonight (I’m working, he’s rehearsing). I made Guinness beef stew using this recipe, and baked biscuits using this recipe. Both came out DELICIOUS, so I highly recommend.

All around the internet I read tales of biscuits gone awry. These were easy!

All around the internet I read tales of biscuits gone awry. These were easy!

Carrots, onion, mushrooms, beef, Guinness, and some spices.

Carrots, onion, mushrooms, beef, Guinness, and some spices.

 

I’m thinking it’s going to be a very tasty supper!

Oh! And this past weekend my family helped me stage a fabulous gingerbread party at the library! We had a few pieces left over, so Pete and I decided to build this on Sunday afternoon. That gingerbread beauty took us four hours to complete:

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I’ve promised myself that I won’t eat any of it until after Christmas. We’ll see!

Those gumdrop flowers are definitely my favorite part.

The gumdrop flowers are definitely my favorite part.

I hope you all have a joyous holiday!