Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey Day Baking!

(Ahem) one week later.

Thanksgiving was last Thursday. It's now Wednesday night, the following week. That turkey came and just ran away with time. But in it's stead I have some mighty fine baking results. 

I had to make an early-morning run to the store for some last minute ingredients. Lucky me I stumbled upon this nifty dish from Duncan Hines. 

Check out those red handles! Rubber, removable, and oh-so convenient.

I stumbled upon Cooking Light magazine's Salted Caramel Brownies and I made that for Turkey Day dessert. The recipe is broken into three different parts--the brownie batter, the caramel topping, and the chocolate syrup. Everything was simple to make, but cooling time was necessary in between each section. 

Brownies before the frosting. You should've seen them before the baking

Caramel frosting, bad chocolate detailing, and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Decorating baked goods is not one of my strong points. Part of me would love to take some lessons. Another part of me looks at it and realize its the taste that really counts, so why bother with the fine details.

Soon after this, I was reminded of another one of my not-so-strong points--making pie crust. I should know better by now than to try and make it from scratch. This time I bought a boxed mix and added water. It still rolled out horribly and broke apart. I ended up patting the dough into place and then poured the pumpkin pie filling into it. (Thank you Libby's for a simple recipe!)  But out of the depths of my oven came this heavenly scented pie. 

Just add some Cool Whip and consider it done.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Untitled" Mac 'n Cheese

This mac and cheese remains untitled at the moment. It can't simply be "mac and cheese"--too much love and cheese went into it. Believe me, this mac deserves its own name.

I came up with this concoction on my own after longing for an easy-but-delicious adult mac 'n cheese. There are so many fancy-pants recipes out there, but many of them require more ingredients and time than I am willing to put into a simple dish. Thus, I improvised using recipes I've read and some hints from my mom's Mac and Cheese recipe.

The combination of Sharp Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and Mozzarella cheese made this a stick-to-your-ribs dinner. I made it just for my husband and I, but there is at least enough left over for one or two bowlfuls (depending if someone wants a heaping serving). To make it a little more heartier, I added some diced chicken. And I made myself some broccoli to toss into my own bowl since I have a picky eater on my hands.

Since I was making it from scratch, I eyed the measurements for the ingredients. I ended up with some extra sauce that was not included in the baked dish. You can always save the extra and add it to the leftovers, or just adjust the amount of cheese to milk ratio. 

"Untitled" Mac 'n Cheese

12 oz sharp cheddar cheese
  8 oz monterey jack cheese
  4 oz mozzarella cheese
  2 oz swiss cheese
  2 cups whole milk 
  2 tbsp butter
  2 tbsp flour 

Additional ingredients:
1 to 11/2 cups broccoli florets, boiled or steamed
1 to 2 cups pan-cooked chicken tenders
1 box noodles, boiled

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Shred all of the cheese. If you think you want more, go for it! Adding either the swiss or mozzarella gave the sauce some extra gooeyness. (Just think of the possibilities had I added more!) 
  3. Pour 1 cup of milk into saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt. Add 2 tablespoons of flour* and whisk together. *I'm not sure the flour really did anything. This was something I took from my mom's recipe. Flour is supposed to help create a creamy base I think, but with so much cheese and milk, it didn't seem to matter.
  4. Stir cheese into the milk/butter mix. Do this in handfuls. Let the cheese melt a bit in between handfuls. If need be, use the remaining milk to even out the mixture. You don't want the sauce to be too runny, but you don't want it to be a solid blob of melty cheese either.
  5. Pour your noodles and chicken into a baking dish. My dish was and 8X8 Pyrex. 
  6. Once cheese sauce is at the right consistency to pour, evenly pour it over the noodles and chicken. Stir things up a bit to make sure the sauce oozes in and between the noodles. (At this point, if I were making this just for me, I'd stir in the broccoli too. Instead, I just stirred it into my own bowl.)
  7. Place dish in oven for 20 minutes. 
  8. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey Day Weekend

Hey... HEY! What's Swedish Chef planning on doing with that 'torkey'?!?

This is rather fitting considering "The Muppets" is just being released to theaters. Now there's something to be thankful for!

Things to love about this video:
  • 'Bork! Bork! Bork!'
  • Only the Swedish Chef can make 'torkey' sound cool.
  • Notice the love Swedish Chef gives to the turkey, even though he's about to skew it. See that chin scratchy, kissy thing? That's the kind of affection I bestow upon Gerber. 
  • Slapping a turkey isn't the nicest, but Swedish Chef adds such humor to it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tutti Flutti

There are days where something musical hits me and I remember that I was going to be a professional floutist.

Yep. In high school I had my mind set that I was going to study music in college. I had been tooting my flute since 4th grade and wanted to do little else for a profession except possibly teach. Eventually my dad told me he didn't think I'd make it in the music world. Later, when I was actually in college (studying English, but playing in the extracurricular band) I reminded him of this and informed him that it was the reason I didn't continue with my musical education. (He felt real bad afterwards.)

Who knows if it could've really worked out for me. But when I was senior in high school, I thought perhaps I'd teach music instead. Not too sure what happened to that idea. It was a toss up between music and English. The grammar won.

I still love my music though. Every now and then I pull out my flute and practice. And in the warm, cozy times of winter (or late fall, like today) I get the urge to listen to classical music and show tunes. Then I think, "If I only kept working at it..."

Bonus of fact of the day:
I used to play this song like it was the last thing I'd ever, EVER do in this world. I'd still love to find an orchestral version for flute, rather than the easy songbook.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"If I Knew You Were Coming Id've Baked a Cake"

And I did!

Right before Halloween, my brother and his girlfriend came home to visit for a few days. Since the family was getting together for dinner, I figured I'd exercise my baking skills by making a double-layer cake. Now mind you I had never attempted to do this before, but I had been looking for a good excuse for a while.

I cheated a bit by using a boxed double chocolate cake mix, but the way I see it there is no shame in using the box. Two tubs of store bought vanilla frosting were used to cover the sides, top, and the center layer. And Halloween sprinkles and a ghost face were added to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

A few notes:
  • There is no need to fill two 10-inch cake pans to the brim for a double-layer cake! (Not unless you are feeding an army or a mob of sugar stoked kids/adults.) The cake was practically 9 inches tall when assembled. Next time, I'll be filling the pans half way. Sure there will be left over batter, but that just means there will be cupcakes to give away!
  • I definitely need to work on my frosting skills and buy some tools. I've gone years without a proper frosting spatula. All this time I've been using either a butter knife or spatula, and either way I end up pulling bits of cake into the frosting.
  • Sprinkles! My gosh the sprinkles! First of all, how do bakeries entirely coat the sides of cakes with sprinkles? I resorted to throwing and gently pushing them around the side of the cake. There were lots of renegade sprinkles that made ended up being collected from the counted.
  • If you use store-bought buttercream frosting and attempt to put sprinkles on it, they will melt and you will have a discolored mess. There has to be some way around this.
  • Using cocoa powder to dust pans for chocolate does indeed work. This will allow the cake to pop out of the pan with ease when it's cooled, and you won't have the obvious white flour left on the bottom.

And in case you were wondering, the title for this post is actually a song title. "If I Knew You were Coming Id've Baked a Cake" was published in 1950. My grandma used to sing it when I was a kid. The Sesame Street version is too good not to share!

Monday, November 7, 2011

We're Entering the Heart of Darkness

Yep. It's that time of year again. We're entering the heart of darkness, or the dreaded-long-depressingly-gray-cold times in the Midwest. Daylight savings time went into effect yesterday. I didn't notice it that much.

Then today came. Monday. The start of the work week.

The sky was gray and dim the moment I woke up. You could tell by the color and the bare branches outside that it is the tail-end of fall. But alas! Due to the dreary skies, there is no distinguishing light for the morning through the afternoon. But I'll be darned if the drive home from work didn't show the seasons true colors--BLACK.

It was a black world I descended into with my little car. The expressway was full of lights, and my depth perception was already lost to the night. When I walked in the door, it felt like 8 pm. The clock read 5:15. And then I was officially baffled. It is a rare occasion that I get home that early, but unconceivable that it would be dark out already.

The time change brought the night and took away the potential for daylight after work. As I said, we have entered the heart of darkness my friends. And in no way is this an approving nod to the Joseph Conrad novel The Heart of Darkness. That story is possibly be even more depressing than the impending Chicago winter. But it has a helluva title.