Thursday, March 27, 2014

Recipe Fail {a baking lesson in moisture vs. structure}

With all the recipes I post on my blog, I wouldn't want anyone to think I never mess contraire. There are plenty of things I make that no one likes, or a few of us like, or they just aren't pretty. Case in point:

This is a Chocolate Chocolate Chip bundt cake I was making for after the first LDS General Women's Meeting this Saturday. I thought I should try it out early, and lemme tell you, it was a good idea. Because this cake definitely did not turn out. It tastes pretty good, but no one is going to want to eat a cake that looks like this!

Sometimes I mess up a recipe, and other times I think the recipe needs tweaking. In this case, the recipe definitely needs a little bit of help so that the cake can support its own weight. Here's what happened and how I plan to fix it.

First off, the cake needed five minutes extra to bake, and then while it cooled it started sinking into itself. When I tried to turn it out of the pan....well, you can see what happened then. This is one of those recipes that has 4 eggs, a lot of oil, pudding mix AND sour cream. The final result was almost soggy it was so moist, and no one wants soggy cake! So my amateurish baking intuition tells me that one, there is too much moisture in this cake and two, not enough structure (flour) to hold it up. The plan for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt cake #2 is to cut out one egg, cut the oil from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, and add 1/4-1/2 cup of flour, and I think that'll do the trick. I may also cut the sour cream in half, from 8 ounces to 4. If these changes don't work, I'll be going back to the store for more  ingredients for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt cake #3! Wish me luck....

Monday, March 24, 2014

Looks like.....a game of I Spy?

To help me blog, I try to remember to take pics of stuff (food, books I read, stuff I/my kids do) throughout the week. Then when I get ready to write a post I get my phone and check to see what pics I've taken before I decide what to write about. Sometimes I plan ahead.....other times, not so much. Taking and keeping pics helps keep me inspired. 

This morning I opened up my pics to find a couple of funny shots that I had nothing to do with, but they inspired me just the same.

 Love the wild look in her eye. Mia, ever the actress.

Evidently, she's spying on her little sister. I have no idea where I was. If Broadway doesn't pan out, she could probably put these skills to use.

Thanks to Mia for the fun surprise! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Balsamic-glazed Slow Cooker Pork Loin

Need an easy Sunday meal? Or an easy anytime meal? Here's a good option for you--Balsamic-glazed Slow Cooker Pork Loin from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. Yep, Mel did it again.

I slightly adapted Mel's recipe, and it was an overall hit at our house. I say overall, because a couple of the kids didn't care for the glaze, but my hubby loved the glaze and asked for more of it. I liked a little of the glaze, but not too much, and everyone loved the pork itself.

I like to brown roasts/pork loin/etc, before putting them in the slow cooker, and then I deglaze the pan I browned the meat in and pour those yummy juices into the slow cooker.

Balsamic-glazed Slow Cooker Pork Loin
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 T. olive oil
 2 pound boneless pork loin, trimmed
1 tsp. ground sage
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper 
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. water
2 T. soy sauce

Heat olive oil in a heavy pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the spices over the entire pork loin and then brown on all sides in hot oil. Transfer pork loin to slow cooker. Add chicken broth to hot pan and bring to a boil, scraping the pan to release the spices and browned bits left from browning the pork loin. Pour hot broth into the bottom of the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours.

Near the end of the cooking time, combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer til it thickens, stirring occasionally. 

Remove the pork loin from the slow cooker. Cover with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. After resting, use two forks to shred the meat, and then drizzle with some of the balsamic glaze. Serve additional glaze alongside the meat. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Snapshots: There are no small roles, only small actors. Date night. Garden time. Whatever else I feel like saying.

I love today's title. It totally reflects my state of mind right now. Yep, you guessed it. All over the place! My mind is with Nicole. It's also in Washington with my missionary....which probably explains how my Fitbit ended up like this:

 I washed my Fitbit in the washer. And then to add insult to injury, I dried it in the dryer. The ol' rice trick is in total desperation, but I really like that thing so I'm hoping it works! 

These two cuties are in their school musical, The Wizard of Oz. This is Libby's first musical, Mia's I've-lost-count. Last year, she had the starring role when the school did The Little Mermaid Jr. This year, though she could have ROCKED the part of Dorothy, she has a bit part as an Ozian and an "Optimistic Voice" (translation, high soprano singer). It's all in the name of other kids getting a chance to shine. I'm proud of Mia, because she knows it's true, "There are no small roles, only small actors." She hasn't complained one bit. 

 Got a letter from Elder Sedlacek last week that looked like it went through a tornado to get to us.

Garden time! One night while the rest of us were out, Daddy and Libby planted a bunch of seeds. They are successfully on their way to having a lot of good starts to transplant into the garden in a few weeks. Libby literally takes a little dropper bottle and waters "her" starts every day. :)

Last week's Date Night at Cafe Rio. Somehow I missed getting a shot of my Creamy Tomatillo dressing. I can't go to Cafe Rio and NOT have any of it. And Date Night? Absolutely, positively the best night of the week for me. And so important. Even if you end up at Costco.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Yellow Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream

Happy Monday!

I know something that can make Monday even better. Yellow Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream. It's no secret that I love Mel's recipes at Mel's Kitchen Cafe, and you can add this chocolate frosting to the list, because it's definitely a keeper.

I didn't used to go for yellow cake with chocolate frosting. In my mind, chocolate frosting belonged on chocolate cake, but I have a certain 23-year-old daughter who loves yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and requests them every year on her birthday. So they've grown on me.

This cupcake recipe is easy because you start with a box of yellow cake mix, but instead of water, oil and eggs, you add softened butter, buttermilk and eggs. Makes a world of difference in the finished product, and almost as good as from-scratch when you don't have the time.

The Whipped Chocolate Buttercream was posted last week by Mel, and deserved a quick turnaround in my estimation. I had to make something good for a bake sale for our Young Women Camp fundraiser, so I put Mel's recipe to the test right away. I only had one problem with it, and that is that my melted semi-sweet chocolate chips were not "drizzling" consistency. Mel says to drizzle it into the whipped butter and powdered sugar. I first added 2 teaspoons of butter to the melted chocolate chips to loosen it up a little. It still wasn't drizzling consistency, so I just took a spoon and dropped big dollops of melted chocolate into the buttercream and then whipped it all for 3-4 minutes per Mel's instructions. As you can see in the pic above, I don't think it made any difference. The frosting was fluffy and light with delicious chocolate flavor. So if you melt your chocolate chips and it's too thick to drizzle, don't sweat it.

Easy Yellow Cupcakes
  • 1 package yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Butter Yellow)
  • 1 stick of butter, very soft
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs

Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer until combined, then turn to medium speed and whip for 3 minutes. The batter will be very thick and rich. Spoon into muffin tins lined with paper liners, filling about 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 17-20 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched lightly with a finger. Cool 5 minutes in pans, then remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 24-28 cupcakes, depending on size. 

Whipped Chocolate Buttercream
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe 
  • 2 sticks of butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled to room temp (I used the Kirkland Signature Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips from Costco) 

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, whip the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until well-combined and the frosting is creamy, 3-4 minutes. Blend in the vanilla. Drizzle or spoon melted chocolate chips over the butter mixture and blend to combine. Turn mixer to medium speed and whip for 3-4 minutes or until light and creamy. Frost your favorite layer cake, cupcakes, brownies, etc.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Living Room Makeover: From White-out to Warmed-up

When we bought this house, the previous owners had pretty much taken a paint sprayer and gone through the entire place with an antique white paint. (Complete with drips and other paint job don'ts). As we've lived here and gotten a feel for what we want, little by little color has taken over the majority of the place. The main living area upstairs was one of the last to go. 

These windows had tiny white vinyl blinds when we moved in, and one of the first things we did was replace them with these 2" wood blinds in a light finish. Now with warmed up walls, they look revitalized! (Good thing, cause they cost a pretty penny and aren't being replaced!) 

We are keeping white trim and ceilings throughout the house, but color on the walls really makes a difference.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the color white--but too much of it in a space with a lot of rock and wood can be devoid of warmth. I wanted to warm up the living room and hallway and make them feel more inviting. Did we succeed? I think so...

Hard to tell in this shot, but in the before, the rock entry looks more greenish, and darker. After, it is really warmed up. The front door pops, as well as all the trim in the stairwell. Definitely looks more inviting to me!
The paint is an earthy gray, almost the color of the mortar in the fireplace, but instead of bringing out the mortar, it seems to just soften the entire fireplace, which I love. It looks less stark and more inviting. In the light of day, it's very light. You can see how the corner by the china hutch is not a whole lot darker than the white ceiling, but at nighttime, it takes on a whole different look. (Note that the "golden eyeball" lights are still there. Those are being replaced next week.)

The hallway feels more closed in, because now the bright white doors and trim stand out, but looks much improved. All the walls in the living room, stairwell and hallway got two coats of Valspar Ultra in Colonial Woodlawn Gray. The doors and trim got one coat of Kwal Ambassador paint (so rich and thick it only required one coat) in glossy bright white.

Now my kids are all asking me, "What are we doing with the carpet?" The short answer is "I don't know yet." Still thinking on that one. (And that could take awhile!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cinnamon Rolls {Bread dough variation #4}

Who doesn't love a soft, yummy, warm-from-the-oven cinnamon roll? Well, no one around here, that's for sure. Around here, a batch of cinnamon rolls won't last the day.

This is another variation from the basic bread dough that I make in my bread machine. Follow the link for the recipe, with the following changes:

Instead of oil, use softened or melted butter
Double the sugar from 2 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons

Once the dough is done kneading and rises once, roll it into a large rectangle. Butter it and sprinkle liberally with brown sugar. (You can use white, but we prefer brown. It gives a deeper flavor and color). Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, in the amount you like. I'm pretty darn liberal with both the cinnamon and the brown sugar! Roll up from one of the long sides, and pinch the edges to seal everything in thoroughly. Slice using a sharp serrated knife into 1-inch slices. You should end up with anywhere from 12-15 cinnamon rolls depending on the thickness of your rolls. Place on a greased baking sheet. If desired, let them rise for 15-20 minutes, but it isn't absolutely necessary. Pop 'em in a 350 degree oven and bake til rich golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. Ice with your favorite icing while still warm. My favorite icing is this:

2-3 T. melted butter
3-4 T. milk
1/2 t. vanilla
a drop of almond extract
approximately 2 cups powdered sugar

Mix together to desired consistency. I like it spreadable but a little loose. Spread over hot rolls. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Living Room Makeover {let's see what some paint and better lighting can do!}

Since the bathroom renovation was finished, we've sat back and relaxed a little. Well, not really. We've just been busy with more normal stuff. You know how it goes!

After a little breather, now we're on to the living room. Cue the whiteness:
 Vaulted ceilings, beams....lots and lots of white in here.

Now cue the "Golden Eyeballs."
These are the lights above the fireplace. They are going bye-bye so that we can put in some white recessed can lights instead. Plus two more a few feet away so that we can up the lighting factor in here. We desperately need it. {Jeff is especially happy about that!}

This hallway is also going to be painted the same color as the living room and stairwell to the basement. Once again, we went with Valspar Ultra in satin finish. The color choice is Woodlawn Colonial Gray. It's in the same color family as the gray we did in our master bedroom, Montpelier Ashlar Gray, but a shade or two lighter and a little less of an earthy gray.

Once the painting is done, flooring is on the list for both the living room and hallway, but we haven't yet decided between carpeting or hardwood. We already have a lot of wood in there that isn't changing--the piano and Jeff's grandmother's china hutch, so that's why I am not sure. I certainly am not an interior decorator, and I wish I had some talent in that area.

Anyone gotten rid of carpeting and gone with hardwood? Do you love it, or regret it? I'd love your input!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Exophoria & Reading: Update

Two out of eight in this family need glasses. Mia has Exophoria and I'm nearsighted.

One of my past posts that still gets hits is the Exophoria & Reading post. I wrote about my daughter, Mia, and her struggles with reading, and how we came to find out that Exophoria was the reason behind the struggles. This is an update on how she is doing.

Exophoria is a condition that causes the eyes and brain to not work together very well when focusing up close--basically anything within arm's reach can be a struggle. At close range, the eyes want to focus outward and away from each other instead of "converging" as normal vision does, causing double vision and "jumping" of words and numbers on a page, the computer screen, etc. Though the eyes want to sort of  "drift" outward in focus, this is different from Exotropia (or Lazy Eye) where others can actually see the eyes drift outward. With Exophoria, the eyes don't physically drift. The only outward symptom Mia had was trouble reading and doing math homework.

Mia has been wearing glasses with prisms in them since August of 2012. They have really made a huge difference in her reading scores. During 4th grade, her scores were so low that we had to have her tested for a learning disability, but nothing showed up. The summer following 4th grade was when I finally clued in that it could be a vision problem and took her to see an eye doctor. Now in 6th grade, her reading scores are considerably better--almost at grade level.

This year we noticed a little backsliding in her reading ability, so I took her back in to the doctor. I wondered if she needed vision therapy (some Exophoria patients do). The doctor reassured me that she just needed an increase in her prism diopters. He explained that Exophoria cannot be corrected all at once, and if they tried, the patient would not be able to tolerate the amount of prism diopters necessary. So they start by correcting a small amount, and as the patient gets used to that correction and it isn't as effective, the prism diopters are increased. Kids usually need increases every so often, and at points of high demand on the eyes (such as studying in high school and then college). During adulthood, the prisms can often be reduced again.  Exophoria is not something you grow out of per se, it is something that is corrected incrementally and managed through life. The prisms can force and teach the brain how to focus the eyes together better, but the underlying problem doesn't go away. The prisms also help the eyes not to have to work so hard to maintain focus at closer ranges, cutting down on the eye strain someone with Exophoria experiences. Eye strain worsens Exophoria symptoms.

Since Mia needed more prism correction, she got to get new lenses, and since we're lucky enough to have good vision insurance, I let her choose new frames (pictured above). She didn't complain about that at all! 

For more on Exophoria, visit Optometrists Network: Children Special Needs and scroll down to the section on "Adequate Convergence." This is a great explanation!

Also, like my frames in the pic above? Check out Warby Parker. The concept is similar to Tom's buy a frame and another is given to someone in need. They have some great options, including single vision lenses, for $95. Not bad! My frames are the Nedwin in amber. Don't miss the "Home Try-On" option. I did it, and it works exactly as described. **Note: I'm not getting anything out of telling you about them--just sharing a good thing!