I Suck at Cakes

Vanessa, from Suburban Mama Goddess, posted before Christmas that she baked an ugly cake. I felt her pain.

I was ten the first time I made a cake all by myself. It was from a box, but I still took it very seriously. While it was in the oven, I didn’t go outside and play with my brothers. I sat on a chair in the service porch and read my book.

When it was done, I took it out and turned it upside down on a rack to cool. There was a nice breeze coming through the back door, so I set the cake on the chair to cool faster.

Then I set the timer for 30 minutes, grabbed my book and sat down on the chair to read.

Girlfriend, yes I did sit on my cake.

Ten years later, I was home for winter break from college, and my mom asked me to bake a cake for my grandfather’s birthday. I got all fancy and tried to make two layers. I had no Food Network to tell me to even the layers before I tried to frost them. It was crazy lopsided. I honestly thought that a good thick buttercream frosting would make it look even. But I used margarine, and the frosting broke and slid all over the top of the cake. Then I left it in a spot on the counter that takes afternoon sun, so when I came back, the frosting had melted down the cake, over the plate and onto the counter.

In desperation, I dug through the baking cupboard and in the way back found a shelf-stable tube of green frosting that had only expired the month before. I tried making green roses on the pink cake.

When my grandfather saw it, he wanted to know who let the green owl in the house.

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A few years later, I decided to make an egg nog cheesecake for Christmas dinner. I will admit to not being 100% sober when I made it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out of the oven with nary a crack. I stenciled some stars on the top with grated nutmeg and carried it off to my parent’s home.

After dinner, I carried my cheesecake proudly to the table. I cut my brother a slice and passed it down. He took a bite and chewed. Then he started laughing.

Which of course made my other brother dive for the cheesecake with a folk and scoop a big bite into his mouth.

Then they both were laughing. By the time my dad took a bite, my first brother had spit it out: “It tastes like playdough!”

In fact, it did. I was mortified. “What happened?!” I wailed. My aunt asked me about the recipe. I didn’t remember it exactly, because Coors Light, but when I got to “three cups of flour” she stopped me. “Three cups???” she asked. “Are you sure?”

When I got home, I double-checked. Turns out, Coors Light and I misread 3 tablespoons as 3 cups and never looked back.

Every now and then I try again. For Father’s Day a few years back, I tried to make a scratch lemon cake in a sunflower cake mold for Shea. When I turned it over to pop it out, only the petals came. The center of the flower stayed in the pan. You better believe I cobbled that thing together, frosted it and served it up, gaping hole in the middle and all.

And for this past Valentine’s Day, I decided to bake a Paula Deen coconut lime cake for the family.

It was a three layer cake, but I only have two cake pans, and had to pick the kids up from school. So I tried to remove one of the cakes way too early to bake the third one, and this happened:

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Shea came home and saved it, thank goodness. It tasted amazing:

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I can bake a cookie that will make your heart melt. I perfected that egg nog cheesecake, and cheesecakes in general—you should try my key lime cheesecake. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie. Gingerbread. Nutmeg sugar cookies. Last Christmas I made a chocolate cinnamon loaf with a whole dang pear in the middle:

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But I suck at cakes.

Well. Somebody has to.

Christmas Cobbler

Can we start with this: On Christmas Eve, it snowed on our hill. Look at my babies. They have no idea what to do.

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On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a dessert hack.

Our new home town is also home to Harry and David, gourmet grocers, famous for their Moose Munch and gift baskets. Their flagship store also has fresh groceries. Last week they had cherries for $2/lb. So I bought a bunch, thinking I would make some jam.

Then the kids started eating them.

A few days ago I put them away in an effort to save enough to make a cherry cobbler for Christmas dinner. I need to work on my hiding places, because yesterday morning there were twenty sad cherries in the bottom of the bowl.

What I did have in abundance was cranberries and tangerines. So I made up a citrus cranberry cherry cobbler, using the cobbler topping from my trusty BHG New Cookbook (the 1989 version, thank you very much). Super easy and delicious!

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 bag fresh cranberries

½ cup water

½ cup fresh squeezed tangerine juice (orange would work, too)

¾ cup sugar

Whatever cherries (or any other berries, fresh or frozen) you got, sister! Pit them, of course.

Topping:

1 cup flour

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Pop the cranberries, sugar, water and juice into a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until cranberries pop and break down into sauce, stirring occasionally, about ten minutes. Add cherries, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cherries begin to soften.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in the butter fork or pastry knife. Whisk milk and egg separately, then add to mixture, stirring just to combine

Pour hot fruit mix into an 8x8x2 baking dish. Crumble topping over mixture. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until crumble browns.

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I would normally serve this with homemade whopped cream, but since my Kitchenaid DIED on December 23 and the nearest service center is Portland–no, I can’t talk about it, hurts too much.

Ice cream would work too.

Dana and I hope you enjoy this Christmas season. We’ll see you again on Epiphany. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and yours. Be warm, be safe, be happy!

 

Ice-y Creamy Ice Cream

The first time I made ice cream from scratch was thirty years ago. It was with one of those old fashioned salt crank makers and when I tasted the fruit of our (what felt like five hours) labor, I had one thought: Not worth it.

Then five years ago I was flipping through a Williams Sonoma catalog when it came to my attention that ice cream makers had moved into the 21st century. There on the page was the most darling Cuisinart blue ice cream maker. It arrived in time for Mother’s Day and I’ve been making my own ice cream ever since.

Yeah, right.

First, we try not to keep dessert in the house. Ever. Because I’ll eat it.

Secondly, we’re more of a baked goods kind of family.

Thirdly, it’s not in mine or Shea’s family of origin to have cake AND ice cream. It was always one or the other.

But I do tend to make ice cream in June and July, as an alternative way to scratch my baking itch when it’s too hot to turn on the oven. I use the basic recipe, no custard making required, and in 20 minutes I can serve up homemade, creamy, safe (if not healthy, lol) and organic dessert.

All it takes is milk (I use fat free), heavy whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. My ice cream maker has a center cylinder insert that I store in the freezer at all times. Pop it in the maker, pour in the base and turn it on—that’s all it takes.

I have tried to make lower fat and sugar versions using just milk and no cream. No bueno. What comes out is the consistency of slushy milk which then freezes into a giant ice cube. So I stick to the heavy cream. I halve the sugar if I am adding fruit—we barely notice that it’s less sweet because of the richness of the cream and the vanilla flavor. And we actually eat the correct serving size—half cup—because since it tastes the way it’s supposed to, you don’t need as much to make your sweet tooth happy.

Recipe (courtesy Cuisinart)

1 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla (for vanilla flavored ice cream) AND/OR

1 cup macerated, mashed fruit of your choice AND/OR

chocolate chips

Really, once you have the base, you can do whatever you want to it.

Whisk milk and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add cream and vanilla. Whisk until mixture becomes nice and frothy. Refrigerate for two hours. Then pour the base into the maker and process for 20-25 minutes. Add any other ingredients in the last five minutes.

Whisking the base. I like to get some air in there. I think it makes the ice cream creamier.

Whisking the base. I like to get some air in there. I think it makes the ice cream creamier.

Logistics:

There are ice cream makers out there that cost $300, but I don’t know why. The Cuisinart costs $60, and I also found a Hamilton Beach option at Target for under $30. That’s roughly the same as six half gallons of regular ice cream.

Pour it all in and turn it on. Easy!

Pour it all in and turn it on. Easy!

I have learned not to store the leftovers in the cylinder or Tupperware.  A glass bowl with an airtight lid keeps the ice cream from getting too hard or crystallizing.

If I’m adding fruit, I chop it, macerate it, mash it and then throw it in the last five minutes. If the chunks are too big, they get caught in the stirring thingy, causing the ice cream to back up and overflow.

My macerated, mashed and strained raspberries.

My macerated, mashed and strained raspberries.

There are lots of ice cream recipes out there, including in the booklet that comes with the machine. But some of them require a custard, and I’m not having that. The easy recipe is just fine.

And when I want to be crazy, I suffer the heat, bake up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and make my own ice cream sandwiches. I plop a scoop of newly made ice cream on completely cooled cookies, wrap it all in plastic wrap and pop it in the freezer. Two hours later, yummy summer goodness.

Kitchen Rules: If you help, you get to lick!

Kitchen Rules: If you help, you get to lick!

Enjoy!

 

I can ~ Jen

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Not like “Yes I can!” Like can food. Jams and applesauce, mostly. Butters. Once, lemon curd.

It feels weird to admit this. Maybe because Dana and I have realized that with our recipes and our stories, we might be crossing over into crunchy granola SAHM mom-dom. There is nothing wrong with crunchy granola moms, but we don’t fit the mold. We’re more like cancer fighting sparkly Queens of the Castle moms.  And we’re taking urban homesteading mainstream, baby!

Anyhow, last Fall, I made a giant batch of organic Granny Smith applesauce with nothing in it but apples, water and cinnamon. It was tasty, but we didn’t eat it fast enough and some went to waste. I could have frozen it, but I have issues with freezing things. So instead  I started canning.

I bought the Ball canning kit, which comes with the Ball Recipe Book. There are plenty of websites that have tutorials about canning. I’ll put some at the bottom. Know that canning is science, in terms of recipes and measurements. Turns out, you can’t just make Aunt Sue’s famous pasta sauce and can it. Unless you want to die of botulism. You have to balance things like acids and sugars. Jams are a bit more forgiving, in the sense that if you screw up the ingredients, you only risk getting the consistency wrong, and not death. As long as you have correctly sanitized your jars, lids and tops, that is.

It scared me at first too. But it’s really just a process and once you get the process down, it’s easy. I make sure I use recipes which I know are tried and true.

The first time I canned jam, it took four hours to get three half-pints. I was nervous and kept checking and double-checking the process.

Last week I canned 4 half pints of blueberry jam and 3 pints of apricot jam in 90 minutes total. Six months of jam in an hour and a half.  That’s the kind of canning I am talking about!

I got the apricots at the store. But the kids and I picked the blueberries ourselves.

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I’ve never picked blueberries before. This farm was amazing—beautiful, green, clean. The kind of place where you let the kids run free and don’t worry about them.

We ended up with three pints for $14. Considering blueberries can run $4/half pint in the store when they’re not on sale, this was a pretty good price.

I make low sugar jam because I cannot bring myself to put 6 cups of sugar in anything.  We don’t notice any difference in taste.

In 45 minutes, I took blueberries from this…

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To this…

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To this…

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To this…

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I know, it’s not for everyone. But if you are curious about canning, then I’ll tell you  it’s not so hard once you get started. And there’s something so fulfilling about the fruits (ha!) of my labor all lined up there on the counter.

Resources:

www.freshpreserving.com

www.foodinjars.com

www.kraftbrands.com/surejell

www.pickyourown.org/jam

Homemade Bread ~ Jen

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Our Friday update:

Dana’s daughter is down with the stomach flu. They are playing the 48 hour Russian Roulette of “Who Will Get Sick Next?” Bad way to spend the weekend.

And my kids are out of school today. Welcome summer. Ish. SAHMs, you know what I’m talking about.

I’m working on a wedding post for next week, in honor of June. Tentative title: “What I learned from fainting on the altar at my own wedding”. Oh yeah.

But today, we want to leave you with something a little bold in the homemade department.

Whole Wheat Bread.

I resisted this for a while, because it seemed so Little House on the Prairie. Or I Love Lucy.

 Lucy and bread from oven

I tried a few versions and a bread machine. The kids complained that the loaves were dense and dry. Shea complained that the loaves from the bread maker had a giant hole in the bottom, which interfered with his sandwich making skills.

Finally, I found a recipe that worked for us: No Fail Whole Wheat Bread. It makes two loaves. We freeze one while we eat the other.  It’s light and moist and by far the easiest and least time consuming of the recipes I’ve tried. I can make the two loaves in two hours, but I really only have to stand over the mixer for five minutes. The rest of the time is waiting and baking time.

I have a Kitchen Aide 6 quart stand mixer with a dough hook. Mine was a gift, but Kitchen Aides are expensive. I did some research and there are lots of reasonably priced (under $100) stand mixers out there. Or you can use a hand mixer for the first part and then hand knead the dough for five minutes after mixing.

Thanks to Progressive Pioneer (www.progressivepioneer.com) for this recipe!

No Fail Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients:

3 ½ cups warm water

1 ½ teaspoons yeast (I buy Fleishmann’s Active Dry Yeast in jars because I use so much)

¼ cup honey

7 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 generous tablespoons olive oil

2 loaf sized baking pans

Directions:

Combine water, yeast and honey and stir gently. Allow to sit for ten minutes so the yeast will activate (it will start to look foamy).

Add 3 ½ cups flour, all the salt and olive oil and stir together. Let sit one minute. Add the rest of the flour and mix. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough attachment on high for 7 minutes (this will mix and knead). If doing by hand, you need to hand knead it for 5 minutes after you mix it.

Let it sit in bowl for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. When it is ready, turn it off (you just need some heat in there for the dough to rise.

On floured surface, cut dough in half, shape into loaf and plop into both pans. Stick in the oven (it should be OFF) and let rise until the top of the dough is at the top of the pan (about 45 minutes).

Remove pans from oven; preheat to 350. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Let cool ten minutes then turn out on flat surface to cool.

I store mine in ziplock bags. One I leave out for sandwiches and the other I freeze until we need it.

Nutritional Information (2 loaves, 14 slices each)

132 calories per slice; 1.3 g fat; 0 g cholesterol; 168 mg sodium; 26.4 g carbs (2.6 g sugar); 3.3 g protein; 1% calcium; 8% iron; health grade: B+

No preservatives. No chemicals.

I promise, promise, promise that this is a fast and easy recipe for busy moms. And it’s cheaper, once you get the ingredients in your cupboard. Try it once and see what you think.

PS: there is NOTHING like this bread right out of the oven. A little butter, a little honey. Heaven.

How meeting your friend from high school turns into strawberry cream pie ~ Jen

I was Facebook resistant for years. Years.

Then my niece convinced me I could lock a Facebook page down so tight that my name wouldn’t even appear in a search. I was ok with that.

I have 42 friends. That’s all.

Thankfully, one of them is my friend Jeannette from high school. We reconnected last summer through our other friend, Kristen.

Jeannette lives an hour away. But it is an hour that all Inland Empire Californians are happy to drive. When it is 117 degrees in my town for the entire month of July, it is a sea-cooled 80 in coastal North County.

Which means that while the rest of the nation is digging out from that last Spring snow, or sandbagging for the Spring thaw, in Southern California, we have this:

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The other day we piled up the kids and went to a U-Pick field.

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Kate had the bucket for 10 minutes and not one strawberry made it in. Not one.

And yes, she did accessorize it up for this adventure.

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Gabe took picking seriously, so much that he was standing in six inches of mud to get the best berries. “I had to” he told me.

(Sigh. See previous post.)

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Annie was mostly unimpressed, but that’s because I woke her up from a nap.

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At the end, the kids had strawberry juice everywhere. Evan is actually dripping in this picture.

Luckily, I had wipes. We cleaned them up before we walked backed to the car, past the sign that said “No eating while picking”.

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On the ride home, we talked about what to do with all our strawberries. Gabe and I decided we would make a strawberry cream pie. So we turned this:

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Into this:

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I had to hurry, because every moment, there were less and less berries in the bowl.

Shea blames Lizzie, but I’m on to him. Her fur is white. If she was eating berries, I would know.

Thanks to Go Bold With Butter (www.goboldwithbutter.com) for the recipe:

Strawberry Cream Pie

Vanilla Cream Filling:

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

3 cups half and half

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

Crust:

1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used chocolate Teddy Grahams and processed them in the mini-prep)

½ cup butter, melted

1 quart strawberries

Directions:

Begin by making the filling. In a medium-size saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, flour, salt and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together half-and-half, egg yolks and vanilla. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the cornstarch mixing, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. When it thickens, remove from heat, and push through a fine sieve. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours. This can be made 24 hours ahead of time.

Hull strawberries, cut in half and toss with a tablespoon of sugar. Let rest for two hours.

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the cookie crumbs with melted butter and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, cool completely on a rack.

Pour the vanilla filling into the cooled crust. Arrange strawberries over the top of the pie.

Keep the pie in the fridge until ready to serve.

Nutritional Information (10 servings):

Calories: 408; Fat: 23; Cholesterol: 181 mg; Carbs: 43.9; Protein: 7.7;

The recipe got a grade of D in terms of health. But it’s homemade. And it has 68% of required daily Vitamin C.

That counts for something, right?

Food from Scratch

We are not conspiracy theorists. We believe that the food innovations of a generation ago were developed with good intentions.

But it didn’t work. For the last ten years or so, we’ve had evidence that this food is hurting us. Our weight. Our blood pressure. And cancer.

The food industry and big agriculture will be slow to change. Their businesses are profitable and their argument is twofold: It’s not broke (for them) so don’t fix it; and no one is forcing us to eat their food.

Ish. Read this NY Times article for more on that.

Cancer has walked into our lives, both of us. So we try to do what we can in our own kitchens.

Our motto is “No Fake Stuff”. We use butter, sugar, olive oil and coconut oil, but search for lower sugar and lower fat recipes. We do not do “Fat Free”, “Sugar Free” or even “Low Sugar” if that involves chemicals, like fake sugars. The kids drink 100% juice, watered way down, or water. We buy organic when we can afford it, and the closest thing to it when we can’t. We try to buy local. If we can’t get fresh, we buy frozen. And one of us (Jen) just started canning her own jam and baking her own bread.

It’s true: we can do this stuff because we stay home.

But it’s also true that we were doing some of it while we were still working.

Working moms take a lot of flak in the media and in the blogosphere. So do stay at home moms. We think that sucks.

Another thing that sucks is marketing aimed at working moms that says they are so busy and so worn out from being Supermoms that they don’t have time—to cook, to shop, to bake, to can. This marketing convinces moms that the only solution is some packaged, processed, shelf stable box of food.

The companies that pay for this marketing don’t want you to open a cookbook and see how easy and economical it is to make your own pancakes, bread, applesauce, jam and peanut butter.

And they surely don’t want you to know how much healthier it is.

So we had this idea: what if we did some marketing of our own?

What if we do the legwork? And put the recipes right here where you can find them?

What if we tell you exactly how much time you need to make them, how much it will cost you and how healthy it is? Like we did with the Lentil and Smoked Sausage Soup.

Will you consider that this:

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Is better than this:

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Not to make anyone feel guilty. We hate that. Moms should not feel guilty for doing the best they can.  And not to say “Look what we do!” We hate that more. We aren’t here to compete. We’re here to support and to share ways to be healthy, happy and frugal.

Let’s start with this:

Super Secret Saturday Pancakes (adapted from pg 72 of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book)

These take five minutes to whip up, which is only two minutes longer than adding the milk and eggs to the boxed versions.

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon cooking oil (such as coconut)

Super secret ingredients: vanilla and cinnamon (we eyeball it)

Mix together and cook! Makes 14 3 inch pancakes (Jen doubles it for her family of five and has some left over)

Optional ingredients: chocolate chips, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc. We drop these in while the first side is cooking to ensure even distribution (in case you also have Chocolate Chip Equality Cops in your house…)

Nutritional Data: 58 calories; 1.7 grams fat; 13 mg cholesterol; 55 mg of sodium; 8.9 grams of carbs (1.8 sugar); 1.9 grams protein; Calcium 4%; Iron 3% 

Cost:

Ingredient Cost (bulk) Cost (per recipe)
1 cup flour $1.99/5 lbs $.19
1 tablespoon sugar $2.19/4 lbs $.02
2 teaspoons baking powder $2.19/10 oz $.03
¼ teaspoon salt $.99/16 oz Less than a penny
1 large egg $4.39/dozen $.37
1 tablespoon oil $3.29/48 oz $.03
Total Cost $15.04 $.68