Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Back-- With Cake!

I'm here, can you believe it?! It's really me! Remember how I said I'd be back sometime in May? Wait, what? It's June already?! But where did the time go? All I remember is a blur of ballparks and end of the school year festivities.

Now, however, it's summer vacation. Life has slowed down. (Unfortunately, that means the kids now have ample opportunity to regale me with a constant chorus of "I'm sooooo bored...") Ben is still playing baseball-- he was invited to join a travel ball team!-- but practices so far are only one night a week. We have *gasp* free time. Well, "free" may be an exaggeration. Mostly, I've been using this time to pull my house of the pit of chaos it descended into over the past couple of months. But there have been pockets, here and there, where I've had honest-to-goodness, nothing-needs-my-immediate-attention time on my hands. (Random fact: Now isn't actually one of those times. I should be moving furniture out of the living room so I can shampoo the carpet, while the kids are swimming at their NaNa's house. But I've had this post prepared in my head for over a week, and if I don't do it now, I'm sure I'll forget by the next time I can sit down and relax.)

I decided my back-from-the-abyss post should be a combination of my two favorite types of post: Food, and Photography. So, without further ado, I give you Blueberry Cornmeal Cake!

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening*
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
3/4 cup milk*
2 cups fresh blueberries

(Aren't they pretty?)

*Since when do I follow recipes exactly? I used 1/2 cup of coconut oil instead of shortening, partly because it's healthier, but mostly because I was out of shortening. I also used 3/4 cup almond milk instead of regular milk for the same reason. The almond milk was vanilla flavored, so I omitted the teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your pan (the original recipe calls for a 9x5x3 loaf pan. I don't have one that size, so I used a glass baking dish that measures approximately 9x7x2-ish).

Stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening (or coconut oil), then add the sugar; cream until fluffy. Beat in the egg whites, egg, and vanilla. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk.

Fold in the blueberries, then spread into prepared pan. Bake one hour, or until done.

Voila! Share with family, friends, and neighbors, or you will eat the whole thing yourself.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

So, uh...

It's almost like the more ideas I have, the worse I get about posting them! They're just up there, taking up space in my head. Unfortunately though, it's officially baseball/t-ball season. Which means if I'm not doing household-y stuff or working, we're at a ball park. I'll be back sometime in May, probably!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Photography Friday

I bet you thought I'd forgotten all about Photography Friday, huh? I've actually kind of missed it! Unfortunately, it's been wintertime. There's just not a lot to take pictures of this time of year. I live in a place where snow is an extremely rare event (thank goodness), but even with the warmer-than-usual winter, there's been a lot more brown than green outside.

So, it's been just recently that I've been able to get out and about with my camera. But now that the warm weather seems to really be on its way, and the world is starting to turn green again (we already need to mow our yard!), it's time for more Photography Friday! And hopefully this year I'll remember to bank a few good pictures to use next winter.

We took the kids to the Mardi Gras parade in Orange Beach, this year. It was a beautiful day, the Hubby happened to have a day off, and thanks to conflicting online reports as to the starting time of the parade, we ended up spending the whole day down there. It was loads of fun!

The tide was going out when we got there, and this is what it was leaving behind.

Writing their names in the sand...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I Made A Coat Rack!

I decided that I'd had quite enough of my kids' jackets and backpacks ending up scattered across the entry way by the front door. It was time for a coat rack. Turns out though, coat racks are expensive-- the cheapest ones I found were at least $30, and if I wanted more than just three or four hooks, I was going to be spending $50 or more. Since money's tight, I decided to just make one. I uttered those five words-- the five words I should know so much better by now than use-- "How hard could it be?!" and set out on my way to the hardware store.

Here's what I used:
45" of 1x6 pine*
6 garment hooks
white spray paint
4 large screws (long screws? I'm sure they have a technical term, but I don't know it.)

*The wood came in a 12 foot long plank. Depending on where you go, you could probably get it trimmed down to the size you need. But I figured this way, I've got about 8 feet of wood left (I think... my math skills are iffy-- which only served to make this project more fun!) in case I decide I need another coat rack. Or a shelf. Or something.

My total cost for this coat rack: $24 and some change.

First things first, I had my dad (who has a workshop full of carpentry supplies) cut my wood down to the 45 inches I needed. Then he routed the edges so they're rounded and match the chair rail in the entry way. Then he sanded it for me. If you don't have access to a workshop full of carpentry supplies, just take some sand paper and make sure the wood is smooth.

The lighting in my garage isn't awesome. Apologies for the iffy quality of my pictures!

Your next step is to paint. Or stain, if that's what you'd prefer. But the chair rail I was matching my coat rack to is white, so paint I did.

Here's what I used-- Krylon Indoor/Outdoor Semi-Gloss White.

First coat...

...second coat...

...third coat... 
...finally! All white!

Mark where you want your hooks to go, and also where you want your mounting screws to go. This is where things started to go wrong for me. Somehow, despite knowing that I had six hooks, I measured for seven perfectly spaced hooks. The best advice I can offer is to notice that sort of mistake before attaching your hooks to your board. 

See? H for hook! I also had some dots marked S for screw, but apparently I didn't think they merited a photo.

Here's what I used. (Three packs of these.)

Now it's time to attach your hooks to your board! This is roughly the point at which I started screaming profanities and begging inanimate objects to just please, for the love of GOD, cooperate with me! What I learned: next time the cashier asks you what kind of wood you want, don't just say "the cheapest." Because what you get is a piece of wood that is hard and unyielding and not willing to just let you screw things to it, thankyouverymuch.

Lots of colorful and highly unladylike language later, combined with earnest begging and pleading and appealing to the better side inanimate objects, and all six hooks are in place, however unwillingly attached to the wood.

Once you've finally convinced your hooks and your screws and your wood to be friends, it's time to hang the coat rack. Find your studs, and make sure that's where you put your screws, because once you start hanging things on your coat rack, it will be heavy enough to fall right out of the wall if you're just relying on drywall.

Remember what I said about hopefully noticing you've measured for seven hooks before you start attaching them? I haven't decided whether to add a seventh hook, or maybe just use the blank space for some sort of design or decal. Or leave it as a testament to my inability to remember what happens when I say "How hard could it be?"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Same Song, Second Verse

I still haven't been blogging. But, fret not-- I have (cue harp music) IDEAS!

So, for real, I promise, posts will soon resume.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Resolution?

So, remember how one of my New Year's resolutions was to blog more? Well, it just goes to show that I shouldn't go around making resolutions! I apologize. I'm currently suffering from a very un-busy month (which, while it doesn't provide much fodder for the blog, is welcome after so many months of non-stop action!), and a lack of creativity.
Real posts to resume soon. I hope.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lemon Meringue Learning Curve

I believe I've mentioned before that when it comes to my kitchen skills, I rarely stop to consider the fact that I may be about to embark upon a task that I'm not quite qualified for. Generally, this results in disaster. This time, it resulted in two yummy disasters and two perfect products. So, I guess that makes it a win, right?

My mother-in-law brought me a bag of Meyer lemons from her sister's (my aunt-in-law?) tree. I like lemons, but these are much bigger than your average lemon, and I couldn't think what to do with all of them. Lemon meringue pie is one of my husband's favorite desserts (the other is red velvet cake), so I decided to give it a try.

I'd never made lemon meringue pie before. I'd never made anything like lemon meringue pie before. But, in a reiteration of words all too often uttered in my kitchen (and all too often, I find myself eating those words), how hard could it be? To be honest, it was pretty easy, and it turned out that what I did wrong was to follow the recipe exactly as it was written. (Except for the part where the recipe said to bake the pie crust first... somehow I missed that part.) Which leads me to an important lesson I feel I must share: Always read the comments below any recipe you find on the internet. It could end up saving you a lot of trouble (and wasted ingredients).

Now, without further ado, I present my Lemon Meringue Learning Curve (recipe courtesy of foodnetwork.com and Alton Brown):

Bear in mind, I'm still learning when it comes to food photography!
First, gather all of your ingredients. You'll need:
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
(it only took one of my Meyer lemons)
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 9" PRE-BAKED pie shell 
(somehow I missed that part for my first two pies)
For the meringe, you'll need:
4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tbsp sugar
(My modifications-- I didn't use any lemon zest because the Meyer lemons have an un-zest-able rind. [No, I'm sure that's not actually the technical term.] I also didn't add cream of tartar to my meringue because I didn't have any and didn't want to make a trip to the grocery store just for that. Cream of tartar adds stability to your meringue, but mine seemed to be just fine without it.)

I'm not sure why the whites look so yellow. I'll blame it on my camera.
First, separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks, and set the whites aside.
In a medium sauce pan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Believe it or not, this was the best picture I got of this step.
Remove from heat and gradually, one whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture. (I used a tablespoon to add the hot mixture to the yolks, because my whisk wasn't really picking anything up. Either way you do it, make sure you're only drizzling in a little at a time so you don't end up with scrambled egg yolks.)


So far, so good...
Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, "for one more minute." This is where things went wrong. Cooking it only one minute more is not enough. Unless you're going for Meringue-Topped Lemon Soup in a Pie Shell. In which case, go for it! But, if you're like me, you're going for nice, gooey, thick lemon filling. In which case, keep cooking! Let it come up to a boil, and stir it constantly so that it doesn't scald or curdle. You want to let it cook until it looks like lemon pie filling.

What's wrong with this picture? If you guessed "it's lemon soup in an unbaked pie shell," you win!
Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still warm.

The original recipe says to use a stand mixer, but my stand mixer is missing a beater (and goodness knows where it is, I'm afraid it must have gotten lost in the move somehow), so I used my hand mixer. And really, what's the difference? Either way we're incorporating air into egg whites, right?
To make the meringue, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl, and use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then, add the sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Use to top the lemon filling.

Notice how the food photography gets worse as I lose my natural light source. I'll have to file that away under "things to remember."
Bake for 10-12 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the meringue is golden.

Looks pretty, doesn't it? Well, looks can be deceiving.
So, my first attempt at lemon meringue pie was fairly disappointing. All that work... all that precise measuring... all that exact recipe following... and all I got was lemon soup. On the bright side, did you know that when you freeze soupy lemon pie filling it makes a nice lemon sherbet-y kind of thing? So, aside from the wasted pie crust and meringue, at least it wasn't a total failure!

So, taking what I learned from my first pie experience, I decided to make a second. This time I cooked the filling longer so that it was the correct consistency.

Yet, for some reason, I still managed to gloss over the word "pre-baked" when it came to the pie shell.

We scooped the meringue and filling out and ate it like a pudding.
And then, finally, it all came together! Lemon Meringue perfection!

Behold! Cooked crust! Gooey lemon filling! Sweet, fluffy meringue!
I even made a fourth pie after that, because the one above was supposed to be for someone else, but Olette decided to stick her fingers in and help herself while it was in the fridge cooling.

I still have a bunch of lemons left, so I think my next project will be lemon bars. Stay tuned!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Food Post!

I keep wanting to do regular food posts, but I'm awful at remembering to take my camera with me into the kitchen, and even worse at remembering to take pictures as I go along. But in the past couple of weeks, I've managed not to drop the ball-- twice! So I get to show you cube steaks with gravy (my Hubby's favorite meal), and How Not to Make a Lemon Meringue Pie. (The pie post will come later, though, as I'm hoping today to turn that into a how-to, rather than a how-not-to. It was my first try. And it ended up being lemon meringue soup. Tasty, pretty, but not pie. Today will be a re-do. Hopefully a successful re-do, but either way, I'll share my results!)

Anyway, cube steaks with gravy is my Hubby's favorite meal. I learned how to make it by watching my mother-in-law, and while I have yet to get mine exactly like hers, it still comes out incredible almost every time. The Hubby prefers his served over rice. I, on the other hand didn't really grow up putting gravy on rice (and didn't even know it was something people did until I moved to Alabama); I prefer mine over mashed potatoes.

I'm not a great follower of recipes (except when baking, where precision matters), so any measurements I give are rough estimates. You may need more or less of something. Also, I was already about halfway through making this when I remembered to grab my camera, so I've only got pictures of the actual cooking process. Go me! Fair warning-- one of my New Year's Resolutions is to work on my food photography. So far, my skills are fairly underwhelming.

To begin with, you're going to need a package of cube steaks (how many depends on how many people you're serving. One per person should do it.), some flour, salt & pepper, and a can each of beef broth and beef consomme. (For a package with four cube steaks. The more you have, the more gravy you're making, and the more consomme and broth you'll need.) I also like to add an 8oz package of mushrooms (baby portobellos are my favorite), and half an onion.

First, cut each steak in half. In a shallow dish, mix together about 1/2 a cup of flour with a dash of salt and pepper. Dredge each steak in the flour, and set aside. Heat a large skillet over med-high, and add about 1/4 cup of oil (olive, vegetable, canola, whatever). Once the oil is heated, add the steaks, and cook until the crust is just browned. Remove the steaks from the skillet and set aside. While the steaks are browning, chop your mushrooms and onions.

This is the point at which I remembered to grab my camera.

Add the chopped mushrooms and onions to your skillet, turn the heat down to medium, and cook until the mushrooms are soft and the onions are translucent:

Remove the mushrooms and onions from the pan. (You don't have to, but I think it makes it a little easier to make the gravy.) Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and about the same amount of flour (I use the flour I dredged the meat in. Why not? It's already there, preseasoned, and this way I'm not wasting anything). Whisk the flour and oil together...

...until it turns a nice, golden brown color. (For some reason, all the pictures I took of the roux-making process look the same... must have been the lighting?) Then, pour in your consomme and broth, whisking all the while to prevent lumps. I also like to add in a splash or two of worcestershire.

You'll also want to test the seasoning at this point. Add a little salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
Return the steaks and mushrooms to the pan, cover with a lid, and then either let it simmer for about an hour, or let it cook in a 350 degree oven for an hour. (I use the oven method if I need to free up stove top space.) 

The cube steaks just get all tender and fall-apart-y and fantastic as they cook. It's like food magic.

While the steaks finish cooking in the gravy, make your rice or mashed potatoes according to your favorite recipe. Serve the cube steaks and gravy over the rice or potatoes.

Mmm... (I served mine with sauteed squash and zucchini, also.)

(I'll be linking to this post over at My Chef-ish Friends and Me, where my friends and I all swap recipes. There's a lot of great stuff over there-- check it out!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more. We'll see how that goes. I have two photo/food posts waiting to be written up, hopefully they're going up sometime this week.