Really I CAN bake, really

Since graduating from nursing school I’ve had some time on my hands. It’s been weird. I’ve slowly been going back to old hobbies….and watching an obscene amount of Netflix. (On a side note, I just love “The Flash.”)

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That being said, one afternoon I decided to make cookies. I went rummaging through my cupboard to see what I had on hand. I decided to make oatmeal butterscotch cookies from the bag of the butterscotch chip bag. It was a cookie fail. They were crumbly and either undercooked or overcooked. The flavor was good but the cookies just kinda fell apart.

The thing is, I really can bake! I swear! I have photographic and blog proof! There was this cheesecake, these balls, this other cheesecake, and I just made a beautiful fruit tart and scones. Here’s proof!

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I used a Paula Dean recipe for this. It was amazing! Like really amazing- with butter, sugar and fruit how could you go wrong?!

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These were also quite tasty. I just googled an English scone recipe. 

See, I can bake! And usually things turn out. I don’t even know what I messed up with the cookies but now I’m feeling the urge to redeem myself. I sent the lacking oatmeal butterscotch cookies to work with my boyfriend. A bunch of guys will eat almost anything! (and they did taste good, they were just a mess)

How sticky are your balls?

I’ve been practicing productive procrastination this week. I’m not sure why I need to practice, I’m already a master at all forms of procrastination but whatever. I’ve been sharpening my skillz anyhow. As usual this involves laundry, a little cleaning, running, and baking. 

Monday was basically a waste (aka spent sleeping) after working until 6am on next to no sleep. It was a struggle just to get myself home after taking the kids to school. Yesterday, Tuesday, I was feeling blergy and down; night shift jet lag was hitting me hard. There were things I really needed to do but they were not happening. I thought chocolate chip cookies might help.

And they did!  Sort of.

I love chocolate chip cookies. I mean, who doesn’t? (My seven year old just informed me  he doesn’t, doesn’t even like them. I think he’s an alien.) Classic chocolate chip cookies are my first love baking-wise too. Starting around age ten I’d make them whenever I was bored which was often. Yesterday it was dreary, cold, and rainy; my head hurt and I was tired. Making cookies was soothing. It was comfort….

But then I ate said cookies and, let’s not lie, excessive amounts of cookie dough. Physically I felt slightly gross. So this morning, after waking up late and getting kids to school almost on time, I had the urge to be super productive and healthy. I made a list of things to accomplish and decided today would be the day I’d start that low carb/high fat diet I’ve been eye balling. This required some Google searching which lead me to recipes for peanut butter chocolate chip protein balls.

Protein balls, or as they should be called power balls, seemed like an adequate replacement for the remaining chocolate chip cookies that were still tempting me. So I found a couple recipes including this one that I intended to follow and began throwing ingredients in a bowl.

I love peanut butter.  Love it! But I hate measuring it out; it’s such a sticky mess. So usually I just eye ball the amount. Really, there’s no way to have too much peanut butter.

The recipe called for 1/2 cup peanut butter but that didn’t sound like nearly enough. I probably used closer to a cup. AND then I added some ambiguous amount of coconut oil  (going for high fat here) and more flax than the recipe demanded because I didn’t feel like putting protein powder in. Oh, and instead of chocolate chips I poured in some cocoa powder. After mixing it all together and tasting the resulting concoction I added a bit more honey and called it good.

It was time to roll these balls!

I’ve never made balls like this before so I have no idea how they’re supposed to feel (insert immature snicker here), but damn! These balls were sticky!!!!

They made a goopy mess. Albeit a tasty goopy mess. 😉

The added cocoa powder gives these guys a…questionable appearance.

All joking aside, are these types of balls usually so sticky? Hopefully the refrigerator will solidify them some. Maybe next time I make them I’ll measure stuff and follow a recipe. Maybe not though. Probably not.

Hey who knows, these might end up being fantastic and delicious magic sticky balls. If they do I’m going to have to write my own protein balls recipe. I think I’ll call it Hippie Poop…for obvious reasons.

(P.S.-The amount the word balls was used in this post is directly proportional to the amount of immature giggles writing the post produced. Maturity is a little overrated anyhow.)

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

Dessert on the Brain

Clearly around here we’ve had food on the brain, especially dessert. I guess that’s what happens when we have a little time on our hands. I’ve been enjoying Pinterest and ran across a recipe for Pecan Pie Cheesecake. I HAD to make it. I mean who can resist that!?! I hadn’t baked in quite some time and had plans to see a bunch of my family over the weekend. Perfect plan bake cheesecake and force-feed everyone around me so I don’t eat the whole thing myself.

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The crust is made of Nilla wafers. Then a sticky delightful pecan pie layer is added.

 

 

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A well baked cheesecake layer.

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Topped with pecans and a tasty cinnamon, sugar, butter and pecan mix. It was a sicky tasty cheesecake. I think it may be one of my favorites. It was an involved process but not exceptionally difficult. I recommend giving it a shot.

On a side note progress is actually being made onthe guest room!! Walls are painted. The closet and trim still needs to be completed. Less than a week until school starts again so wish me luck!

Let Them Eat Pie

Because avoidance is my go-to coping mechanism when life is getting crazy (which of course just makes it even more insane), I keep thinking about ways to prepare for the start of the school year, or as I’ve taken to calling it, the Oncoming Storm, but I haven’t actually done anything yet. My daughter did convince me to take her to the nearby outlet mall last week for some new school clothes but all the other things, school supplies, much needed socks and underwear, pre-prepped freezer meals, groceries beyond microwavable foods and ice cream…those are all still in the theoretical stage. I did, however, make some pies. Because that’ll be super helpful when we’re getting home from school and practices at seven o’clock when everyone is tired, hungry, and stressed out from being awake, functional, and around people all day. (In our household of six, only one of us is an extrovert.)

Come to think of it, a stock pile of pies on my freezer might be useful after all.

First there was strawberry rhubarb…

pie strawberry ruhbarb

..which got eaten within the week. Then there was summer fruit, blueberry, and a bastardization of the two…

I got the fruit ingredients for a summer fruit pie (peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries, and cherries) and blueberries early in the week but didn’t get around to making these pies until the fruit was on the brink of going bad. When I’m looking ahead at the week it always looks like it’ll be relaxed and there will be time for some baking and making but something happens, time gets all wibbly-wobbly, and suddenly it’s Thursday and I’ve barely maintained for the week. And before you know it, BAM!, it’s September.

So there I was Wednesday night with fruit that was getting mushy and a week that was running out (my weeks end on Thursday, not Saturday or Sunday like most people’s). The only thing to do was mass produce. This was going to be a three pie night.

I used my favorite pie crust recipe. It’s basic, only flour, salt, shortening, and very cold water, but always turns out good. It helps that it’s a lot less dry than many crust recipes and that lends itself to easier rolling and shaping especially when using the wax paper roll out method. (okay, I just made that name up but it does describe the process pretty well).

After mixing the dough and pressing it into a ball (and separating it into two if you’re doing double crust pie), wrap the ball in wax paper and press it down into a disk that’s roughly an inch thick. No need to be precise though. Stack your disks in the refrigerator for however long the recipe says to (in this case twenty minutes or so…again, we’re not being precise here).  If they’re super stiff afterwards, let the wrapped disks of dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling them. Gradually roll each disk of dough between two sheets of wax paper until it’s nice and thin and big enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pie pan with some overhang.

 

pie empty shells

Once the crusts are all rolled out you just remove one layer of wax paper and flip the crust into the pie pan. This eliminates some of the breaking dough and frustration of trying to keep your crust in tact while putting the pie together. After the shells are filled, roll the top crust out the same way and place it on top. Pinch the excess dough from both bottom and top crusts together in whatever pattern or shape you want, cut a few slits in the top,and you have a pie. Or three.

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I used the dough that was trimmed from all the edges to give this pie a sun/star type thing. Yeah, it’s a little messy but by that time it was two int he morning and I was rocking a two-beer buzz while making pies and watching Orphan Black. (I’m pretty sure that right there is  adulting done right!)

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Ta-da! Three pies…

pies wrapped and waiting

…wrapped and ready to freeze so that when the chaos of back to school is in full swing we’ll be able to enjoy a little taste of summer.

Time to Prep

As I may have mentioned, during the school year I’m a kinda a wreck around the house. When something has to give it’s usually cooking and house work. Right now I’m finally ON BREAK! It’s such a relief. The summer classes have been brutal and it’s so nice to have a little summer. I want to take this time to prep for the next school year. I have hopes of holding it together this next semester…at least for the first week.

I just tried a “No Bake Energy Bites” recipe. They turned out really well and were super easy. Just peanut butter, honey, coconut, flaxseed, chia seeds and chocolate chips. If you click the link it’ll go to the recipe and some ideas for variation. I think it’s more like a cookie than an energy bite but maybe that means the boyfriend will eat them. (Don’t tell him there’s actually some healthy ingredients in there!)

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I also made a few freezer meals using the foil packet idea. I’m hoping they thaw and cook ok. I’ve been using Pinterest for ideas. I’d like to get some crockpot meal prepped and frozen too.

My question is how do you guys prep for extremely busy months? Any good go to recipes?

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Something Resembling Cake Pops

It all started when I forgot to tell my thirteen year old daughter that she needed to grease AND flour the cake pans. She hadn’t baked with glassware before and my only square pans are glass. I didn’t think to mention it until I was trying to flip the second layer of the cake out of the pan and it stuck. Badly.

Crap! This was quickly moving beyond the point of being salvageable.

We were making the cake for my youngest’s impromptu seventh birthday party the next day while trying to clean up and set up something resembling an obstacle course in our back yard. The little guy had grand ideas for his birthday party, ideas that included Chuck E Cheese, Sky Zone, or some other overpriced mecca of childhood entertainment. My budget had other ideas. An obstacle course in the back yard was the compromise. That and a Minecraft creeper cake. That part, at least, would be simple. Except that I forgot to tell my daughter about greasing the pans when she offered to make the cake.

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Our second attempt went much more smoothly.

Based on how quickly the ice cream cake disappeared at my oldest son’s birthday dinner a couple weeks earlier, I was estimating that one cake wouldn’t quite be enough anyhow. I looked at the crumbly mess of our first cake attempt trying to figure out how to make it usable when the light bulb went on: Cakepops!

Those are just chocolate covered balls of cake crumbs…right?

Well, that’s sort of right. They’re actually crumbled cake mixed with frosting, pressed into balls, frozen and then dipped into melted chocolate.

Instead of balls (insert childish snicker here), I stuck with the Minecraft theme and made cubes. Okay, cuboid type shapes. Something akin to cubes. My thought was with the chocolate coating and some green sugar sprinkles they would resemble earth blocks.

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The problem is that dipping things in hot, liquidized chocolate makes keeping a discernible cube shape a challenge. That and it gets pretty stinkin messy. By this time it was almost three in the morning.

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This requires a beer!

I think the problem arose from crumbs and cake debris contaminating the melting chocolate. After that the chocolate was less flow-able and much more difficult to dip the cake blocks in. There’s probably a tool somewhere out there to prevent this exact thing from happening. Acquiring tools takes some level of planning ahead though. That’s just not my style.

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After a few fully submerged blocks I gave up and started applying the chocolate to the cubes with a knife. They do still slightly resemble earth blocks from Minecraft. At least one kid recognized them so there’s that. Even though they’re somewhat…visually questionable, these things tasted SO so good! While I was making them I thought “Never again!”, while I was eating them it changed to “I should make these again. Soon!”

They were Yum-O-licious! Making next time I’ll stick to balls though. Hehe, balls!

 

As for the actual cake it was just batter died green, square pans, and brilliantly colored frosting. I truly appreciate the easy to mimic pixel world of Minecraft.