Adventures in Snack-Time…Or How NOT to be a baking Diva

Sooo…It’s back-to-school time for the clowns:

Which means Mom has to get back into super-mom mode. Even without the boys doing sports, we still have plenty of school-related functions to keep us busy, such as endless fundraisers, Cub Scout activities, birthday parties, class parties, room mother duties, PTA meetings and so forth. This usually means that I have ample opportunities to make a lot of snacks. Last year, on one particularly busy work night, I tried my hand at Bakerella’s cake pops (see www.bakerella.com). These were a disaster, mainly because I did not factor in the chill time, and the end result was the walk-of-shame to the Brookshire’s to purchase an emergency snack replacement. Sad, I know.

This weekend, I was determined to try again for our weekly Cub Scout meeting. As per Bakerella’s instructions, I cooked a red velvet cake, crumbled it in a bowl, and added in some cream cheese frosting. The result looked absolutely gross:

However, I was determined to succeed, despite already being overwhelmed trying to get a nice Sunday dinner made for my hungry family and friends. I rolled this concoction into balls:

Then added the sticks:

After chilling these for the APPROPRIATE time, I busted out the candy melts:

Which did not go as well as I had hoped. I tried melting these in a double boiler, instead of the microwave, and that may have been a mistake. They never did melt very evenly or smoothly, and I had to add an obscene amount of vegetable shortening to get the chocolate to a dipping consistency. I am sure that there was an easier fix for this, but at 8:00 on a Sunday night, I was not up for figuring it out. Luckily at this point, my friend J had arrived and helped me dip these annoying cake pops in the chocolate before I turned them into projectiles. The end result was worth it, however:

Because I had hungry cub scouts swarming me before I could even set the tray down. And yes, I do get a big fat “F” in the presentation department on this one, but you try cooking dinner, doing homework and rushing back out the door to a meeting in under 20 minutes. They are just lucky they made it to a platter at all, instead of remaining on the chocolate-splattered sheet pan.

Now, if I had only foreseen the reality of red velvet cake in the hands of 20 first-graders…..

Because One Craft At A Time Would Just Be Slacker-ish….

So, my friend J and I have been on a candle-making binge, which has had unexpected success, with a few hilarious failures here and there. During these experiments, we discovered that candle-making sure does have a lot of idle time, and idle hands are bad, bad things…at least, I think they are.

Anyway, we decided to fill this time last weekend with more craft lunacy, because what better way to fill the idle time than with yet another project that involves heat, sharp objects, and possible trips to the ER?

With our Fall-obsession in full force, we decided to try our hand at a dried apple wreath we saw on the internet. After a fun adventure in search of craft wire (which was WAY more difficult than it probably should have been), we scored at the local Michaels in the floral section. J peeled a boatload of apples, I sliced them with my handy mandolin, and we soaked them in a noxious mixture of lemon juice and salt. Afterward, we mixed up a bowl of cinnamon, allspice and cloves, and dredged our slimy apples in them, and popped them into a 200 degree oven to dry:

This only took a couple of hours, which was way off of our six hour estimate. Once the apples were pretty dry but still pliable, we folded them, threaded them through the wire, and made this:

The candles hanging in the center were our first attempt at taper candles. Overall, our little wreath may not be much to look at, but we did have fun doing it, and it smells dang good too. Who knows what kind of mayhem we will get into this weekend?

It’s Not A Problem If They Don’t Make A Support Group For It

At this point, I think I am showing remarkable self-restraint.

Though it is taking everything I have, I’ve left the Fall decorations alone…so far. I solemnly swear not to start our seasonal madness until at least September. *she says with a twitch*Yes, I fully understand that decorating for Fall when it is 100 degrees outside is probably eccentric, bordering on downright weird.

Though my husband and I are about as different as two people can be, we both share an unnatural tendency to go overboard on the holidays. It all starts with Halloween, which we over-do like it’s going out of style. We decorate the entire house, usually have some type of party, and carve enough pumpkins that people must think we are pretty freaky. I have already spent this month planning, plotting, reading and scheming about what the month of October will bring. I have a stack of Halloween books and magazines littering our coffee table, and have been to the craft store EVERY weekend for the past four weeks. I have been scouring the internet for ideas, like this:

And this from MarthaStewart.com:

And this:

 

I think I may have a problem with obsessing…

And if you think this is bad, wait till Christmas….

My Confession and Tuesday Night Dinner Catastrophes/ Victories

I have an embarrassing confession to make.

I hate sweet potatoes.

Horrid, right? What kind of southern girl hates sweet potatoes? That’s like, sacrilegious. Up until recently, that has been my deep, dark, sad secret. In fact, I try them every year at Thanksgiving just to see if maybe I’ve outgrown this problem, all to no avail.

Not too long ago, I tried some sweet potato fries, which were pretty yummy, so I decided that it may be time for me to try this Louisiana staple again. I’d been searching for a recipe that had the potential to convert me, and finally found one online. Monday night, I put these together and shoved them in the fridge to go with whatever I decided to make for dinner on Tuesday night:

Those just happened to be maple-topped, twice-baked sweet potatoes. Don’t they look pretty? They are loaded down with plenty of tasty, fattening ingredients that I will probably regret when I meet my scale later. On Tuesday morning, I started a Balsamic Roast in the Crockpot. Tuesdays are always the worst day of the week, so I figured the Crockpot would give me a leg up on the bad-day-meets-5-o’clock-dinner-rush. On Tuesday night, I rushed home, and threw my sweet potatoes in the oven. They came out looking like this:

They smelled soooooo good, and were like a bit of Fall aromatherapy for forgetting the 102 degree heat outside. I became very hopeful that this experiment would not end in disappointment. But, after I took them out of the oven, it occurred to me that these potatoes really do not go with a Balsamic Roast, and cooking additional rice or potatoes violates some inner mandate I have in my mind about serving two starches in a meal. WONDERFUL foresight on my part, I know. I quickly threw together some garlic bread:

My theory was that I could tear off large chunks of the bread and serve the roast over that. I know what you’re thinking smartass—bread IS a starch…but not in Louisiana. Bread is its’ own meal component (ya know, protein+starch+2 veggies+a bread= a meal). So, that crisis was averted, but then I realized I neglected to plan any vegetable with dinner. *smacked forehead here* I quickly whipped up some glazed carrots, because that’s the first thing I saw when I opened my fridge:

Only later did I realize I now had a plate full of two very orange things, thereby violating some inner mandate I have regarding meal color diversity:

At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel and retreat whimpering into my wine. The curse of Tuesday had struck again, and while I did get a hot meal to the table in 30 minutes after work, I could hear my inner-mom voice saying “what the heck kind of menu is this??” So, I did what any self-respecting, tired, working mom would do…I drowned that voice in Chardonnay, and patted myself on the back for providing my family a hot meal that did not come from a drive-thru…orange or not.

Regardless, it all turned out to be awesome. I loved the potatoes, as did my husband. In fact, he wants them to replace our old Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, because they are that good. You should try them too:

Maple-Topped Sweet Potato Skins

  • 6 sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 c. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 t. cinnamon, divided
  • 2 t. nutmeg, divided (I grate mine fresh from a whole nutmeg. You can find them now in the spice section with all the McCormick’s spices and use a micro-plane grater. The bottle will set you back nearly 10$, but I’m still working on my first nutmeg of the four that were in there, and I bought the bottle a year ago)
  • 2 t. ground ginger, divided
  • 2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 3 T. butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
  • 2 to 4 T. warm maple syrup, depending on your preference

Pierce potatoes with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees until tender; cool. Slice each potato in half lengthwise; scoop out baked insides, keeping skins intact. Place potato skins on an ungreased baking sheet. Mash baked potato in a bowl until smooth; add cream cheese, sour cream and one teaspoon each of spices. Mix well and spoon into potato skins. In a bowl, mix nuts, butter, brown sugar and remaining spices; sprinkle over top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes, or until hot and golden and yummy. Drizzle with warm maple syrup. Makes one dozen.

Flammable Hilarity

This weekend, my friend J and I decided to get crafty and make some candles…or rather J resolved herself to trying to teach the most uncoordinated, creatively-challenged person in the world the fine art of candle making.

Did I mention I’ve already burned one house down? Well, technically I didn’t, bad dryer wiring did, but it still makes me a little gun-shy on all things flammable.

So, for two days, J helped me get the basics of candle-making, which was no small feat considering that I still managed to have a wax accident that we dubbed either the wax-apocalypse, or waxopalypse, depending on how many drinks we had in us at the time. Regardless of the name, my sweet husband bit his tongue and helped me clean the carnage up, because he is a saint like that.

In our crafting adventure, we experimented with a few techniques (all with an eye toward Halloween). Here are the results:


First, and the least hard to screw up, were the jar candles. This first set turned out really well, and smells like fall-in-a-jar. These have definite potential as favors for our big Halloween party:

We then attempted some black pillar candles for my spooky candelabras. We made various sizes, and I was really excited about these because they also smell just right, not like some licorice nastiness I find in the stores:

Finally, we saw a project in a craft book that looked too easy or crazy to pass up. It involved dipping fabric in wax and covering a candle. This was the result:

So, overall, my first foray into candle-making was pretty darn fun, and pretty darn successful, all things considered.

And my house is still standing.

Recipe Chaos Solved…or at Least Contained

I have a big recipe problem.

First, I like to try new things so often that by the time I want to remake something again, I have completely lost or forgotten about the recipe.

Second, I spend waaaayyyy too much time on the web looking at recipes, printing them, then misplacing them on my desk before they can even make it home.

Third, on any given day, I have the attention span of a goldfish, and refuse to devote time to organizing my recipe madness when I could be doing other fun things…like annoying my husband by putting my cold feet on him right about the time he falls asleep.

As you can see, this has been a simmering problem for a while. I tried resolving it by purchasing Mastercook software, but it crashed. So, I purchased it again, new version and new computer, and guess what? It crashed again. So, I voted all software off the island.

However, last year, I stumbled across an ad for the Living Cookbook software, and since it offered a free trial download, I decided to give it a try. After two days of playing around, I was sold!

This is absolutely the best software I ever purchased. Sure, it does all the expected stuff: categorizes recipes, menus, grocery lists, etc. But what really sold me was the “recipe capture” function. If I find a recipe on the web, I can capture it straight into the Living Cookbook software, without retyping or reformatting a thing.

I can also add my own recipes, with pictures, notes, categories and sources, export it to Word, and print it if needed. You can make your own cookbooks in nothing flat. I haven’t explored even half the features, but it has certainly made my recipe chaos a lot more manageable.

Basically, with a little experimenting, this software is easy for even techno-dunces like me. So, if you have your own recipe chaos, give the free trail of this software a try; it may be perfect for you too.

**by the way, in case you were wondering, no one pays me to review anything. I am just not that cool, though it would be super-neat if that were the case. So, any review you see is just me passing along something I really think you might like too**

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!!!

It’s about that time…

The time every mom does not WANT to admit she loves, but secretly DOES anyway…

It’s just about school time!!!

(hear that choir of angels singing “Hallelujah?”)

I love back-to-school time. I love fresh school supplies, new school clothes and the promise of two kids who will not be bored to death in this miserable heat anymore. They will have work, structure, activities, friends, recess and most importantly, early bed-times.

Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

Don’t get me wrong…I am sad to see the lazy days of summer go, but at the same time, I think I’ve reached my limit of being the perpetual cruise director to two kids who are dangerously bored.  Because with boredom comes swords, and with swords comes imaginary warfare that threatens every breakable thing in my home. Not to mention the three rolls of scotch tape they used last week to build their own battle accompaniments out of construction paper…but hey, it bought Granny an hour break from the “I’m bored” brigade, so I guess it was tape-well-spent.

So, as we prepare for the back-to-school rush, I will do my best to contain my happy dance, and act appropriately sympathetic to my Phineas and Ferb wannabees. *snicker, snicker, snort*

Yeah, Right….

Living With Three Guys

As a mom, I knew two boys would be a challenge. As a clueless wife, I had no idea that my husband would occasionally regress into a boy as well, turning the challenge of two boys into a war of immaturity, potty-humor, and Nerf guns.

I am outnumbered.

I am an easy target.

I have an on-going, epic toilet seat battle.

I’ve learned that boys (and husbands) eat like hobbits. No three meals a day for these clowns. Oh, no, we have second breakfast, elevensies, and so on.

As much as I want to tear my hair out at least 2,387 times a day, they’re still my guys, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

 

 

My unfortunate tendency to over-do it.

This weekend, we had some friends over for some much-needed adult time. We grilled up steaks, had six cocktails too many, and generally blew off steam from several weeks of work-related psychosis.

My husband and I wanted to make this night easy, so we hit the local market, and got some great steaks and pre-made dips, all with the goal of making it truly effortless entertaining. Great plan, right?

But then, the voice started. It was my mother’s voice…ya know, that little voice in the back of your mind that starts scolding you when you are slacking off? That voice that says “what the hell are you thinking, I raised you better than this?”

See, my mom is not only a fabulous cook, but she can entertain like it is going out of style. However…she ALWAYS over-does it. Over-cooks, over-bakes, and generally makes enough homemade, gorgeously presented food and drinks, that she could supply half the free world in any one event. At every party, family get-together or funeral, my mom puts out a spread that looks like it is ready for a Southern Living photo shoot. My mom has some pretty high standards for entertaining; she treats every event like it is a personal reflection not only on her, but also on the care and respect she has for others. Also, she is a proverbial Nazi when it comes to homemade versus store-bought.

In fact, when mom gave me some of her recipes, she wrote at the top of the cornbread recipe, “Don’t be a lazy-ass and use a mix; it takes the same amount of time to make it your-frapping-self.”

So, as you can see, she instilled this mania in me, and it has taken root. Though we were all prepared for an effortless evening with friends, my inner-mom-guilt-voice got the better of me. How could I have guests and not have something homemade? Furthermore, how could I not offer them pretty, delicious variety????

Despite the 105 degree heat, I hit the kitchen, and baked up a 24 of these cupcakes. But was that enough? OF COURSE NOT!! Only one variety of dessert is bad enough, but one variety of dessert when the rest of the meal consists of pre-made, easy, lazy food? OH GOSH NO! (see the psychosis here?)

So I then bake up 24 of these cupcakes as well:

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And then I bought flowers and arranged them in a centerpiece. And then I ironed some linens. And then I polished a silver bar tray…

By the time this gig was done, I had made 48 cupcakes for four people. Sick, isn’t it? I know one clown who didn’t mind:

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That is, until he realized that both sets of cupcakes were fancy-schmancy flavors like sweet potato and cappuccino.

Then the sh*t really hit the fan.

Want to bake up your own psychosis? Try the Cappuccino Cupcakes today:

Cappuccino Cupcakes


Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup  butter, softened
  • 1/2  (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2  cups  sugar
  • 4  large eggs
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 3  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  (8-oz.) container sour cream
  • Double Shot Latte Buttercream
  • Garnishes: grated chocolate or chocolate covered expresso beans

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line muffin with paper liners. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

2. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beating until blended. Spoon batter into muffin pans, filling each liner about 2/3 full.

3. Bake at 350° for for 22 to 24 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool completely and pipe or spread Double Shot Latte Buttercream onto cupcakes. Garnish, if desired.

Double Shot Latte Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup  butter, softened
  • 1  (3-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  instant espresso
  • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1  (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
  • 3  to 4 Tbsp. milk

Preparation

1. Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

2. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 3 Tbsp. milk, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition.

3. If desired, beat in remaining 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until desired consistency.

New House Part 2–The Kitchen

Though it is definitely smaller than I would have hoped, the kitchen in our new house is pretty sweet.

 

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This is the view from the door leading to the breakfast room.

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Because of the limted counter space, and the weird dimensions on the room, we added this island for a bit more function.

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This is the view facing the sink. As you can see, to the right are floor to ceiling cabinets. Also, the sink is one of those deep, stainless steel jobs that you can fit giant pots into.

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Despite all the storage space in the rest of the house, the kitchen is sadly lacking on cabinet space, but we fixed that by pulling a Julia Child, and putting up some peg board. My husband can be pretty handy!

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and last is the stove area. I am digging the tile backsplash because it is SOOO easy to clean.

So, overall, the kitchen still needs some touches here and there. It is certainly not my dream kitchen, but I traded that for a breakfast room and dining room that rock beyond belief! I knew moving into a historic, old home would have challenges, but so far, we are making it work.