Rhubarb!

The rhubarb seems pretty happy in its new home, although it always seems pretty happy in spring! It’s super pink this year, though. I need to start harvesting more of it. I thought my first use would be just stewing it down with a little sugar — quick and easy. And what better to have it with than cheesecake?

I didn’t want to make a full-sized cheesecake, and when I searched for a recipe that used only a pound of cream cheese, I came across this page. I used the first recipe on there, minus the sour cream topping. It was actually a little challenging finding an unfussy cheesecake recipe! Forget about water baths and leaving it in the oven with the door open for 2.5hrs, etc, etc. I don’t care if it cracks. Is it a cheesecake? Then it’s good enough! I made it in a small (7″?) springform pan, and it’s just the right size for us.

M likes it, too, although she prefers to pick hers up and eat it like it’s a slice of pizza! (Sidenote: She won’t eat pizza, though.)

Sunday Fun

I took a break from screens yesterday, in order to knock out a few projects I’d been wanting to do. (The active part of our device detox starts today! Go back a couple of posts to read about it and get the PDF, if you’d like.)

I had already cut out pieces to make M a new pair of slippers (using this pattern), so it didn’t take too long to sew those up. When I’d asked M what color fabric (from my stash) she wanted, she’d said, “Pink… and brown. And red and orange.” And I was sure I did NOT have anything like that — but look what I found! She’s pretty happy with the colors. I just wish I would have gone up a couple of sizes. I made a 10, which is what I’d buy for her in shoes, but these slippers just barely fit, and I wanted them to be roomy. Ah well. I was probably a little too generous in my seam widths.

I baked a loaf of bread in the morning — or, well, I put the ingredients into the bread machine and told IT to bake a loaf of bread. Then I made a small loaf of gingerbread after lunch. I halved the recipe from How to Eat Supper and baked it in a loaf pan instead of an 8×8″ cake pan. I let the chickens outside shortly after the gingerbread finished baking, and when I came back in, the house smelled like freshly baked bread AND gingerbread — can’t fit that into a candle!

M and I also made some daffodils for the window, a project I saw on Pinterest the other day. We’ve done a few sun catcher projects using clear contact paper and tissue paper squares in the past. (You lay down one piece of contact paper, sticky-side-up, the child helps you stick the tissue paper squares on (and possibly dumps a large amount of glitter on top), then you sandwich it under another piece of contact paper.) It was the cupcake liner center that sold me on these! So cute. And, luckily, one of the daffodils from our indoor bulb garden bloomed yesterday, so M was able to see exactly what we were making.

Lately

— I’m going through the 30-day device detox from The Power of Off, and apparently that means all my extra time is being directed toward the kitchen. I saved up enough eggs (we’re currently getting 1-2 a day, and I like to keep an “egg buffer”, so we never run out) to make pasta on Sunday. M was in charge of putting the dough into the extruder — you have to feed it little pieces every so often. I did the cutting and laying out to dry. I used most of the macaroni noodles to make a big batch of mac ‘n’ cheese (this basic recipe never fails), and the girls and I ate it up in two days. The baby can really put away some noodles!

— I took some sliced apples (from our neighbors’ trees) out of the freezer to make a pie. It was originally going to be apple-blackberry, but when the blackberries thawed, they smelled and tasted a little… ferment-y? So I gave them to the chickens instead. The pie came out super pretty, but I decided it NEEDED custard to be truly A+.

— I also made beans and rice, even though since it has salsa (aka pieces of things) in it, I wasn’t sure it M would eat it. But she did! F cleaned her plate, too. Success.

— On Monday, I gave M a new haircut. A bob. M looks good in anything, so of course she’s super adorable with her new, shorter hair. I can’t believe how she looks like a little… PERSON now, with her real haircut. She’s pretty proud. And after I clipped her fingernails yesterday, I asked if she wanted me to paint them. I never have before, and I think I’ve only painted mine once since she was born (when she was really little), so it was a new concept for her. But what’s not to love about making part of your body PINK, with GLITTER? She held perfectly still and didn’t smudge them even a little. And after we did her fingers, she decided her toes needed to be painted, too. She’s such a grown-up kid now!

Walnut Cookies

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It’s cookie season! We’re making sugar cookies today, with my friend Julie, but I made peanut butter blossoms and these walnut cookies yesterday. The recipe for the latter came from an old Martha Stewart Christmas Cookie magazine, but I also found it here! It’s definitely a keeper. I made half a batch but followed the recipe exactly, otherwise. I made the dough Sunday evening, put it in the freezer overnight, and baked them the next morning. (I found that it was easier to slice the cookies and roll the edges of each in walnuts vs trying to get them to stick to the entire log.) It’s basically a shortbread type of cookie, but the walnuts and cream cheese give it a much more interesting flavor.

We had snow on Sunday and then more — unexpectedly — yesterday. Big, fat flakes at one point. So M and I spent the day doing quality control on the cookies and taking turns saying, “Look at all that snow! Wow!”

Food Stuffs

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After more than a year of seriously contemplating it, I finally bought a deep fryer. This one. (It was $80 when I bought it — looks like the price has gone up!) I had thought about getting a small, cheap one, but I wanted it to be dependable, and I realized that soon enough there will be three of us to cook for — and that’s when it’s just me and the girls. I’ve used the fryer twice so far, and I’m really happy with it. It feels safe (from a hot oil standpoint), cooks the food well, and the filter and oil storage box are awesome. Once that oil is cleaned up, the frying smell dissipates quickly.

I made donuts to start — how could I not? They were delicious fresh, but I won’t make that recipe again. The dough was a little too light and yeasty, so it was a perfect sponge for the oil. I guess I’ll just have to try recipe after recipe, donut after donut, until I get it right. SIGH.

Yesterday, I made hand-cut fries, following these instructions. Perfection! It’s really satisfying and magical-feeling to totally nail (in my humble opinion) something on the first try, and those fries couldn’t have gotten any better. If you ask me.

I also made ice cream yesterday, and with the leftover egg whites, I baked an angel food cake. We’re getting fewer eggs these days — two of my hens are molting, and one is broody, so only two are laying. But as long as I don’t give in to M’s request to make scrambled eggs EVERY morning, I can save up enough for treats. This is my go-to ice cream recipe. I’ve made it several times now, in several flavors, and it’s been perfect every time. I think the trick (as with so many things) is just to not skimp on the good stuff. Need the cream, need the sugar, need all those egg yolks. I churned in some broken Oreo pieces right before the ice cream was done, so it’s cookies and (real) cream. M approves! The angel food is an older Betty Crocker recipe — no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s just impossibly fluffy. Those chickens do good work.

Graham Crackers

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These days, any time I manage to think of and execute a special project for M, I temporarily feel like Mom of the Year. She’s pretty happy doing her puzzles and playing with her pup toys most of the time, but I can tell she gets bored after a while. So a few days ago, we made these graham crackers. M loves using cookie cutters, but we really didn’t need any sugar cookies. The graham crackers are still fairly sweet, but at least there’s whole wheat flour in them?

I’ve been baking with M for quite a while now, and it’s amazing how much more capable she’s become in that time. She wanted to help with every step of the process this time, and she was really able to do a lot. Such a sense of accomplishment for her! And way more fun than watching another episode of Paw Patrol.

Marmalade Cake

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Make this cake! I mean, if you have a jar of marmalade going spare. There’s always one in the Fortnum’s hamper that Rob gets, but while I like marmalade, I don’t love it enough to get through a jar in the four weeks recommended on the label. So I went searching for a cake recipe to use it in. This one wound up being just right. I liked that it used a substantial amount of marmalade, instead of just a few tablespoons. And I just happen to have a 6″ wide, 3″ tall cake pan — convenient!

I was worried that the cake was going to be really overdone and dry around the edges, since it takes so long to bake through in the middle, but — at least today, when it was super fresh — it wasn’t at all. I covered the top with foil after 45min, and I turned the oven down to 325˚F for the last 10min (I was getting nervous!), but I did keep it in there for exactly the recommended 75min. The edges turned fairly dark and are crunchy (in a good way), but the interior stayed light and tender.

I don’t use self-rising flour, so I used cake flour (to keep it a bit lighter) and three-and-a-bit teaspoons of baking powder, plus a teaspoon of salt. That seemed like a ton of baking powder, but it was actually less than the recommended substitute for self-rising flour — at any rate, the cake rose nicely and doesn’t taste bitter! It’s basically a pound cake (lots of butter), but I thought the method was interesting: you cut the butter into the flour (I used a food processor), add the sugar, then add the wet ingredients.

I could see a sprinkle of powdered sugar being a nice touch, but I don’t think the cake really needs anything extra. There’s a lot of flavor from the butter and the marmalade, and it’s sweet-but-not-too-sweet. A perfect cake for eating with tea (or for breakfast, ’cause that’s definitely going to happen!).

At Home

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1. We’re settling in for a rainy week now, but we had some spectacular weather the last several days. We cleaned the chicken coop (I say ‘we’, but M only took away the one child-sized wheelbarrow of old bedding — she was very proud of herself for pitching in, though, and so was I), and it was a perfect coop-cleaning temperature outside. I think it’s quite a narrow range where raking out dirty wood shavings feels fun.

2. On Saturday, we took two walks down to the rock pile. With Grandma in the morning, and in the afternoon, we met our new neighbors. They’re also expecting a baby in May! It’s so nice to be able to let M wear herself out outside again. She’s been falling asleep much more quickly at night!

3. I needed something bigger/better to put over the breaker box in Baby Sister’s room, so I made this yesterday. I masked off the letters with painters tape and then just kept painting until I was too bored to keep tweaking it. ‘I Will’ is one of the songs I sing to M most often, when she wants a real song.

4. Trying some furniture reorganization to get M’s clutter under control. There’s still a long way to go (I think it’s just time to box up more stuff that she no longer plays with), but at least this little reading area looks serene.

5. My challah got a little tall — this particular bread flour always rises just a little too high. It’s good, though!

6. I was going to put away M’s wooden blocks and Brio trains for a while, since she rarely plays with them, but then we played with them together this afternoon and had a nice time. I made some ‘garage’ stalls for her cars, but they somehow turned into bathrooms for these wooden animals, instead. Toddlers!

Carbo-loading

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I probably should have put a warning at the very top of this post — is it safe to even look at this much gluten if you’ve got celiac disease? Clearly, we don’t avoid carbohydrates around here. I had a glut of eggs, so a couple batches of pasta were in order. I tried a half-whole-wheat recipe this time, using Sunrise Flour Mill’s refined and whole wheat flours. That, plus eggs from our hens, plus water from our well — the only thing that had to travel very far was the salt!

The rigatoni was VERY fun to make — I went from those little dough balls to a finished batch of noodles in about ten minutes. I was thinking I’d make a pan of baked ‘ziti’ using rigatoni, but the noodles might be too big. (There’s a ‘large macaroni’ plate for the press that should be a better size.) They’ll get eaten, though! The small macaroni is a pain to make (it all wants to stick together), but we really like it. A batch is about 1.5lbs, or about one and a half medium-sized boxes from the store. We still have 1/3 of a pan of macaroni and cheese in the freezer, but otherwise we’ve eaten all of the first batch of macaroni noodles! When I buy boxes of pasta, they sit in the pantry for a long time, but we really like these homemade noodles (which I freeze, so we don’t have to rush through them quite as quickly). I’d like to make minestrone and toss in some of this macaroni.

And while I was making pasta, my bread machine was working on the dough for baguettes. Something new to try! I just used Bob’s Red Mill artisan bread flour, since it never fails me. The baguettes needed minimal attention from me after the machine finished with the dough (which is good — the machine makes amazing bread, but I still doubt my ability to get it to rise properly outside the machine). The big baguette got slightly sunburnt on top, but it’s perfect inside. I took the two smaller loaves out sooner, so they’re just right. My plan is to slice them into little rounds and bake them at a low temperature to make Melba toasts. I’m trying to come up with snack-y cracker alternatives. M LOVES toast, especially the ‘crunchy part’ (the crusts), so I think she’ll get a kick out of thoroughly crunchy little toast-crackers!

Chocolate Caramel Cake

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A week or two ago, my friend Ann posted a link to this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake, saying she really wanted to make it… but didn’t think she could (although I’m sure she could have figured it out!). Since we’d already planned a visit for this past weekend, I volunteered to give it a try. It’s only polite to make a cake when your friend drives up to visit you, after all.

There’s nothing complicated about the recipe (which you need a Cook’s Illustrated account to view, unfortunately), but I’d never made soft caramel before, so I wasn’t sure how that would go. I’ve realized that, more and more, I like to try these things out and check them off my mental list of ‘Things I Can Do’. I think the caramel would have pretty straightforward — if my brand new candy thermometer had been completely accurate / hadn’t started to melt at the last minute. TSK. There were two phases of cooking (before adding the cream, butter, etc. and after), and I cut the first phase short when I started to sense that the sugar was starting to burn ever so slightly (even though it still wasn’t up to temperature, according to the thermometer). And then, yep, the thermometer just up and melted — not INTO the caramel, luckily! — at the end of the second phase. In the end, it wasn’t a disaster; the consistency was perfect, although if I’m being critical, I can detect a little bitterness from that first-phase over-heating. Technology!

Overall, though, the cake is great. I love the icing — a nice mix of frosting and ganache. And Ann loved it, so mission accomplished.