Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yellow Cupcakes

As I mentioned on Monday, I made yet another dessert for this month's family game night. Even before I knew it was going to be a warm weekend, I wanted to make something light to celebrate the fact that it's finally spring. I'd made Marjorie Johnson's Chocolate Cupcakes several times before but had never tried the yellow ones. They were wonderfully soft and fluffy, as I expected, though they looked much more white than yellow to me - at least on the inside. In the cookbook they're paired with a lemon buttercream frosting, which was also quite tasty, but I'm also thinking I might experiment with different frostings on these in the future.

I sorta like that shadow because it was from the glorious sun shining through our window!

One funny moment - while telling the gang what I'd made, I added that I'd wanted to prove I could bake something that didn't involve chocolate. My father-in-law gave a simple and perfect response: "Why?" :-)

Oops, I got distracted.

Yellow Cupcakes (From The Road to Blue Ribbon Baking with Marjorie)

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
3 eggs

In a large bowl stir together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add shortening, butter, vanilla and 2/3 cup of the milk. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Add remaining milk and eggs and beat for 2 more minutes. Pour batter into 24 paper-lined muffin cups and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting:
1/3 cup butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 tbsp whipping cream

Mix together butter, lemon juice, and half of the powdered sugar. Add orange zest, cream, and the rest of the powdered sugar. Beat together until spreading consistency. Frost cupcakes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday randomness

What a weekend! We had lots of fun, part in thanks to the beautiful summer-like weather. We haven't hauled the air conditioners up from the basement yet, so it's been pretty warm in our house, but at this point I don't even care because I love being able to have the windows open. (And especially sleeping with them open, on the soft jersey sheets we use in the summer...ahhh.) Anyway, on Friday night we had family game night for the month, and I will soon post the dessert recipe I made for that. On Saturday, we had a nice day with our 13-year-old niece, hanging out and watching a couple of movies, and on Sunday we finally got out for a walk and realized how out of shape we are (in our defense it was pretty hot out, but we were probably sweating a bit more than we should have been). I also went grocery shopping on Sunday, as I usually do, and wow...even though the store was way more empty than it usually is, it seemed everyone had gotten in line at the self-checkout. I know machines can be stubborn, but seriously...sometimes I think there should be an exam before people are allowed to use these things. I guess if that was my complaint for the weekend, it was a pretty good weekend.

Other random stuff I've been thinking about lately... I'm bad at blog comments. I blame a lot of it on the fact that I mainly read blogs through Google reader, which is quite helpful, but once I've read it I'm not likely to go back and look on the actual blog for comments, so sometimes I miss them. Not a big deal, but I feel like I should participate more. I also blame myself for blog ineptitude - it took me quite awhile when I started this blog to realize that I wasn't getting emails when people if you still read me and happened to comment way back at the beginning, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to ignore you!

Also in the technology vein, I've been debating joining Twitter. With Facebook, blogs, message boards, and all my other regular sites I'm addicted to, part of me knows I really don't need any more online distractions. But, part of me is curious, and it seems like the new "in" thing to do. So right now, I just don't know. Is it worth it? Any thoughts?

Well, for now, I'm going to go watch the season finale of Chuck. With any luck, it's only the season finale, not the series finale - but we'll find out in a week or so if it's renewed. I did my part tonight by buying dinner at Subway, a major sponsor of the show (Give Me My Remote is a TV blog that has been awesome about drumming up support for Chuck). Either way, I'll shut up about it for awhile once the decision has been made - thanks for bearing with me. Time to go!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kent Falls

We took advantage of the gorgeous 70 degree weather on Saturday by getting out for a quick hike. We were actually looking for a trail I heard about online and ended up driving miles on this narrow gravel road next to a river without seeing any sign of a trail. By the time we found our way back to the main road, we were halfway to Kent so we decided to continue up to Kent Falls, a state park with a nice little trail and of course, a waterfall. We've tried a decent amount of trails in the area, but we have a soft spot for Kent Falls because it's where we got engaged back on September 22, 2006, about a week after I moved out here to Connecticut. Here are a couple of pictures from that day:

Little did I know what would happen just a few minutes after I took this.

Here we are at the top of the falls, after all the hugging and crying and coming out of shock. I can't believe that was over 2.5 years ago already!

Now, back to the present, with pics from Saturday:

Here's the view from the bench where we got engaged, which we of course have to visit every time we come back.

Shaun decided to explore a, a short tunnel between two big rocks.

At first I thought my mild claustrophobia would keep me out of there...

...but then I figured I could suck it up for a few feet.

Whew, we made it!

It figures that the sun would disappear by the time we got up there. But it was very nice to get outside, though it was a bit of a mean trick that today the weather was back to 40s and rain. Hopefully it'll all be worth it next weekend, when it's supposed to be close to 80! I'm loving all the flowers that are blooming, but the local scenery will be complete when the all the leaves finally come out...should be very soon. I'm especially appreciative of spring this year, after the winter that just didn't want to end.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Few Spring Desserts

I tried to make a variety of cute, festive, but relatively easy desserts to take to Easter dinner at the in-laws':

This one's a strawberry creme bar - it has layers of graham cracker crust, cream cheese, strawberry pudding, and Cool Whip. I honestly wasn't impressed with the taste, which is why I didn't post the recipe, but I loved the flowers made out of cut up strawberry marshmallows! I think other people liked the bars though, so maybe I'm just overly critical of my stuff. One of our friends looked at these just after I made them on Saturday and said I should open a bakery. I know my skill level is nowhere near that of other bloggers I see out there, much less professional bakers, but it was a nice compliment! (And to be fair, I got the recipe and flower idea from Kraft!)

I also made my first attempt at the infamous cake balls, with chocolate cake and buttercream frosting. I dipped them in melted baking chocolate and drizzled with some springy-colored white chocolate. They were good, but again being critical, I'm not sure they were worth the hype or work. Part of it was the texture - I didn't even mix in all the recommended frosting and they were still a bit too mushy for my taste. They seemed more like truffles than which case I'd rather have an actual truffle! They were pretty popular with the crowd though.

Ah, now this one is what I look forward to every year. Hershey's Easy Easter Pie is indeed easy, and if you like Hershey's Kisses and peanut butter cups, you'll pretty much love this. I tried it with a homemade graham cracker crust this year which makes it even better. Obviously I associate this pie with Easter, but with different decoration it could really be used for anything. Lent is over - go crazy! ;-)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

I snapped this picture the other day and only got one in before it started raining...that's the kind of April it's been so far! It's a beautiful morning here in the northeast, but pretty cold and windy. We're back at home briefly between church and an early dinner with the in-laws...hopefully in the next day or two I'll get to post some pics of the desserts I spent most of yesterday making!

Anyway, I like our mini daffodils and thought it would be fitting to post them today, as the only fully-bloomed flowers we have so far. (We would have had a few tulips too, but some animal came along and chomped them off just before they bloomed. They didn't even eat the flowers, just left them lying pathetically on the patio. How rude!) But hopefully more of our flowers will bloom soon (and stay there). Hope everyone has a great day!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Brownie Pie with Homemade Fudge Sauce

This is another one of those nostalgic recipes - something that my mom would make for our family as a special treat, back when we all lived under the same roof. I think she originally got it from an M&Ms calendar. There's now an updated version on the M&Ms website, but I have a few preferences that differ from theirs. First, I'm still partial to the chopped regular-sized M&Ms rather than the Minis, even though the latter would require less effort. I think I like seeing the chocolate insides melt when I drop them on the warm brownie and fudge (I'm sorry, am I drooling?). Second, even though I'm a whipped cream lover, the recipe seems to call for way more than needed. I halved it below and added my favorite mix-ins - vanilla and granulated sugar. Third, to further enhance the yummy-ness, I've also included the fudge sauce recipe my mom gave me (unfortunately, I've got no clue where this came from). I halved the amounts shown below, used the 1/4 cup called for in the Brownie Pie, and still had some left over for sundaes!

Colors just make things more fun to eat, don't they?

Brownie Pie

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 cup fudge topping
1/4 cup chopped M&Ms

1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Additional whole M&Ms for garnish

Heat oven to 325. Grease pie plate or round pan (9 x 1 1/2 inches). Mix sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, eggs, flour, and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour into pan. Bake until wooden pick inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Immediately prick holes in pie with wooden pick; spread fudge sauce over top. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup chopped candy. Cool completely.
Beat whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla in chilled bowl on high speed until stiff; spread over fudge sauce. Drizzle with additional fudge sauce if desired and top with candy just before serving. Refrigerate any remaining pie. (6-8 servings)

Some day I just need to break the rules, not wait for the pie to "cool completely" as instructed, and dig into the warm, chocolaty goodness.

Fudge Sauce

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and cocoa. In a heavy small saucepan, melt butter with whipping cream over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over medium heat 5-6 minutes or until mixture just boils around edges. Add the sugar-cocoa mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes more or until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth and thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Serve immediately for sundaes or other desserts, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Reheat in the microwave or on stove top. Makes 1 2/3 cups.

P.S. I made this over the weekend for a movie night with the in-laws. We finally got to see Slumdog Millionaire on Netflix - it was well worth the wait! We loved it! Definitely see it if you haven't already.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The usual gibberish

Wow, I have once again been a bad blogger. Over two weeks?! Time flies when you're having fun...or when you're working, cleaning, and watching all the TV shows you're addicted to. And spending way too much time commuting. Ugh.

I decided to force upon us the second annual spring cleaning this March to get rid of clothes and other stuff we don't need, as well as to go through and clean areas of the house we tend to neglect - such as windows and all the dusty corners. I'm still working on sorting and organizing all the stationery, craft and desk supplies I've accumulated over the years - it boggles my mind how many writing utensils I have collected! If they all still worked and had ink left in them, I might never need to buy pens again.

I also found something in an old backpack that always amuses me when I run into it - the little plastic tube from the one and only breathalyzer I've ever taken (and likely will ever take). My freshman year at ND, I did some stage music and percussion sound effects for the spring production of Oedipus. After one of the performances, some of the cast members hosted a gathering at their apartment, so I went to it with one of my fellow drummers. Unfortunately, some of the non-college-aged neighbors weren't too happy about the noise, and it wasn't long before the police showed up at the door to break up the party and breathalyze every single person under 21. And that is when it paid off to be a goody two shoes non-drinker* - or really, just someone who has (still) never developed a taste for alcohol. So I blew a perfect 0.00 and took my little souvenir back to my dorm. My more-frequently-partygoing friends thought it was absolutely hilarious that I was the one out of our group that got breathalyzed. Man, does that seem like a long time ago! (*Trying to make fun of my boring self here, not anyone else!)

On a funnier note, I have to share a blog that one of my message board friends pointed out this week - The "Blog" of "Unnecessary"Quotation Marks. It drives me nuts when people misuse punctuation and commit various grammar crimes, so I find this blog hilarious - and a bit scary. And when I see an overabundant usage of quotes, it makes me think of Chris Farley's frequent air-quoting in the Weekend Update segment where he didn't "own a toothbrush" or "wear clothes that fit him". Classic.

Well, for now, I'm off to figure out a bit of entertainment for the hubby and me tonight, seeing as I've so far made dinner, made a grocery list, looked at house listings and uselessly lamented the fact that we bought in 2007, and written this blog. Bet you wish your life was this exciting! So, hopefully I'll break out of this blogging rut and come up with some interesting (or at least tasty) things to write about soon.