Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh the places we go!

Look at that! Our little baby blog is one year old already!

It's great fun to look back at the year and see all of the fun things we've attempted. And the ones that we've accomplished, too. We continue the quest for great food and are still chasing that darn carrot. Aaron's sniper plants continue to pop up all over the yard, including the potatoes that wouldn't fit in the garbage can. He also still likes to reminisce about the irony of his life. We don't choose to buy such big bags of flour anymore because we'd rather try to eat a little more locally. We're still making our house a home with help from our every expanding victory garden. Though the backyard still needs a fair amount of help, especially the soil.

I can't wait to make some strawberry fools from the new plants we added this year. And our little Charlie Brown Pear tree is doing remarkably well. Though his peach friend had a rough winter.

The 4th of July will be sneaking up on everyone soon, so don't forget to eat your red, white, and blue.

Operation stair climb came to an end when I moved to a different building that has significantly less stairs. But I did gain a live in mascot. Win!

The grass has begun to grow and some days I long for the time just to watch it all happen.

Aaron's Land Lover's Gumbo has been our most popular post to date, in large part thanks to the wonders of Pinterest.

How far we've come in that one short year. So, even though you can't go home again, you can definitely move forward. With a cupcake in hand, of course.

Here's to another year of fun!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Maple Frosted Cupcakes

Okay, so I'm not known for how pretty I make my cupcakes. But this was super tasty.
So remember that coconut cake I made for my dad recently? I couldn't get the flavor and texture of the base cake recipe out of my head. It was so light and wonderful. Just the right amount of moisture and buttery-goodness.

Combine that with a sudden and intense need for all things maple and you get the above result.

I used the same cake recipe from the coconut cake, but decided to see how it would hold up as cupcakes. I cut the baking time down to 25 minutes and the recipe made about 24 cupcakes. They came out a little flatter than I might have liked, but the flavor and texture was still spot-on.

For the maple frosting, I augmented a basic buttercream. All these ingredients are approximations:

14-16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 regular bag of powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons maple extract

I started by creaming the butter and adding about 1/4 of the powdered sugar. I gradually added more sugar until I was about halfway through, then added the milk. Once the frosting was the right texture, I added in the maple extract and was happy as a clam.

I wanted to just eat all the frosting right out of the bowl. But then the exercise in making cupcakes would have seemed silly.

In the end, I was happy to exercise some restraint. The maple frosting with this cake was divine. Maple bars are a thing of my past. HELLOOO maple cupcakes!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easy Stir Fry Vegetables

One thing I get complimented a lot on is my preparation of vegetables. Vegetables are good and I like them a lot. Veggies are good and Chrissie didn't used to like them much at all, until she had my stir fry veggies. I'm not going to get into how vegetables are good for you, blah, blah, blah. You can read that lots of other places. I will tell you how to make them quickly and tasty.

The cooking & prep time is about 15 minutes. Ingredients are vegetable(s) of choice, vegetable oil, salt, and maybe water. All you need for equipment is a fry pan with a lid. You don't need a wok. The whole deal with woks are that they conduct heat well and require less fuel/energy to get hot. Woks are popular because they are pretty darn good at what they do. Woks are Asian totally by happenstance. Coincidentally, so am I.

You can stir fry any vegetable. Pick you favorites and throw them in the pan. Some of my favorites are green beans, snap peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage. If you mix and match, take a little time to game plan. Come up with a cooking order for the veggies. For instance, leafy greens don't take as much cooking time as beans or roots, and if you cook them all for the same amount of time they will get wilted. Put them in the pan after the thicker things have had some time to cook. Also, if you have items of different sizes, cut them up so they are close to the same size. This way, they all cook at the same rate and will finish at the same time.

1. Prep and wash vegetables.
2. Heat pan on medium-high heat.
3. After the pan gets hot, put in vegetable oil. Let it heat up.
4. When the oil is hot (you can tell because the pan will be "smoking") put in your vegetables.
5. Mix the veggies in the pan. Try and coat the oil over all the vegetables.
6. Add salt to taste.
7. Keep mixing. Do this so that you avoid burning.
8. If necessary, add some water and cover with lid. This will steam the vegetables.
9. Remove veggies and serve.

Times are a little variable. It depends on how many vegetables you have in the pot and how raw you like your veggies. Normally, it takes 5-8 minutes for Steps 5-7 and 1-2 minutes for Step 8. A good indication that you are done is when your veggies start to get char marks on them.

Step 8 is totally optional and to taste. In my experience, it really helps to "finish" the veggies. What steam does is it quickly cooks areas that are still raw and evens everything out. For instance, when I cook broccoli, the outsides are cooked but the centers still taste raw, but if I use Step 8, the steam penetrates the crown and cooks the center. For leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, I don't take time to remove leaf from stem, so I am faced with an issue with cooking time. Stems take longer than leaves. What I do then is after the leaves are mostly cooked, I finish with steam and the timing works out great. Be really careful with Step 8. It only takes seconds to go from perfectly cooked to over cooked. I am told that stir fry masters can achieve even cooking without the use of steam. I imagine that they take the time to do the little things like make every chunk in your stir fry evenly sized, but for my quick, easy (and inexact) way, I go with steam.

Lastly, practice makes perfect. Every step requires proper execution. Unfortunately, if something goes wrong, you're going to taste it. For me, the difference between properly executed and kind-of-properly-executed is pretty big. Fortunately though, the recipe is so fast, you can really pay attention to what you are doing so even if you screw up, you can keep track of what happened and do better next time.

What I'm looking for in my stir fry veggies are crunchy texture. The color should be bright and shiny. I should taste the actual taste of the veggie, salt, and a little bit of sweet, but I don't like getting any raw veggie taste. If I get droopy or wilty stuff, then it's been cooked too long. If you don't get sweet, then the oil wasn't hot enough when you put the veggies in the pan. Same thing if you don't get a bright and shiny color.

There's really nothing to show in the steps, so here's a look at the finished product:

French cut green beans and sugar snap peas

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coconut Cake: The real deal

It was my dad's birthday recently, so I asked him what he'd like us to make. Admittedly, I expected one of our numerous savory concoctions would be the first thing to come to mind, so I was a little surprised when he asked if we'd be up for making a coconut cake. Not one to back away from a challenge, I decided to go for it and drag Aaron along with me.

After perusing pinterest and the general interwebs for a while, I found this recipe from Saveur. I'd never made anything from there before, but I liked that it called for fresh coconut. We stopped by Whole Foods on the way home and bought all the coconuts they had (since we weren't certain how many it would take to get enough of everything the recipe called for). Later that week we bought the same Whole Foods (which happens to be just a few blocks from our house) out of okra. They're either going to come to love us or hate us.

For what it's worth, the entire coconut stock of Whole Food was 3 coconuts. Which made them slightly difficult to find and I was getting a tad irritated. In the end, we used most all of what we got from 2 of them. The third is still sitting in our fruit basket waiting for us to find a use for it.

The recipe as Saveur states it is as follows:

SERVES 10–12


16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for pans, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
5 eggs

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh coconut water
3 cups freshly grated coconut


1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans, and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high, and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth top with a rubber spatula; drop pans lightly on a counter to expel large air bubbles. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans; invert onto wire racks, and let cool. Using a serrated knife, halve each cake horizontally, producing four layers; set aside.

2. Make the frosting: Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form; turn mixer off. Bring sugar, syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup tap water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, and cook, without stirring, until thermometer reads 250°, 4–5 minutes. Turn mixer to medium speed, and very slowly drizzle hot syrup into beating egg whites. Add vanilla, and increase speed to high; beat until meringue forms stiff peaks and is slightly warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

3. To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated coconut; top with another cake, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Place another cake over frosting, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 12 cup coconut; top with remaining cake and drizzle with remaining coconut water. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting, and cover outside of cake with remaining coconut, pressing it lightly to adhere; chill cake to firm frosting. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Some notes from actually making it:
Fresh coconut is a beast to work with. Aaron was tasked with the job of cracking the things and getting the flesh out for grating. It took him the same amount of time to do that with 2 coconuts as it took me to do ALL of the other steps in the process.

The cake layers didn't rise as much as some do, so when you cut it into four layers it becomes slightly thin. Not horribly so, but more than I was expecting. The cake itself though is SUPER tasty and a great texture. It will now be one of my go-to cake options.

The cream of tartar in the frosting may well be a very important ingredient. I forgot it and my frosting came out VERY sticky. I'm not sure if that has more to do with the omission of the ingredient or the fact that I don't have a candy thermometer and had to guess at when my syrup hit 250°. Regardless, it was a complete mess to try to spread over the cake. By the third layer I had almost figured it out. Sort of. Good thing the shredded coconut covered everything up. (One plus to the stickyness: the shredded coconut had no problems staying in place.)

All in all, this cake is a good one. The fresh coconut had a lighter flavor which made a coconut hater such as myself not mind it as much as I normally would.  The cake itself is flavored with the coconut water which is also a very nice and delicate touch.  So, if you have a sledgehammer handy and a store that will sell you some coconuts, this recipe is definitely worth a try!