Cleaning & Cocktails

 

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I know! I know! I have been M.I.A and what happened to my 35 week challenge you ask… life!  Life happened and there was nothing I could do about it but accept that I had, once again, challenged myself to an unattainable level.  I will say, however, with the exception of a couple of weeks, I have been baking up a storm.  The major challenge has been to transfer my pictures to the desktop and edit them and then proceed to write up a reader worty blog post.  I assure you, I will get those delicious, Pinterest board delicacies on my post but for now I will leave you with a quick recap of my latest endeavor.

After begrudgingly attending a friends Norwex party, I found myself walking back to my car with a baggy of freebies in my hand, an order receipt in my pocket, and contemplation in my mind as I had purchased products and volunteered to host a party.  The clever consultant, Jennifer, both lured me with her excellent presentation and played to my hosting obsession.  Fast Forward to a few days after  my friend’s party and I  not only had a theme for my party but an catchy title as thought up by Jennifer The Consultant (Thanks Jen…I didn’t even ask her if I could call her that)….”Cleaning & Cocktails”.  Oh be still my hosting heart.

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Unfortunately in the middle of planning, I had a life situation happen that distracted me and took me out of town away from my children for the first time.  I actually ended up returning only four days from hosting day.  So you know what that meant, last minute shopping and running behind.

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On the day of the party, I was really limited in my time.  I was fortunate enough to have baked my cupcakes two days in advance and tossed them in the freezer (I can never thank the baker who posted this tip in a thread).  Anyway, I will tell you one thing that has come out of all of this baking and cooking, I am getting pretty fast.  I think I am ready for one of those speed baking cooking shows.  In the morning, with my kids running circles around me, I was able to prepare a mint chocolate mousse (post to follow….at some point), mint flavored whipped cream (homemade), tart crust and shrimp bruschetta topping.

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Since I had little decorating time, I chose to buy four gold balloons and instead of wrapping the gift boxes containing the most amazing coconut cupcakes I have ever tasted (oh yes I am boasting about something I made and you will be as well should you try it out) with gold ribbon I had purchased, I used the gold marker with which I decorated the mirror in the drink bar area to write a simple “Thank you!” and it looked pretty cute.

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I was so behind, I was plating up dishes when guests arrived so the pictures are few and poorer quality than my usual and I even put Jennifer The Consultant to work on prepping the caramelized onion tartlets.  She did an amazing job by the way!

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In the end, the turn out was enough to make me smile and the food had everyone including myself eye rolling.  You know what I mean…when the only response you can muster when savoring every bite of a delicious piece of food is just a slow roll of the eye.

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Top all of that off with yummy wine and Moscow mules and I was a happy girl.  I had almost forgotten someone was selling something in the middle of all of this.

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A special thank you to all my guests and a special special thank you for your purchases.  I made it to some freebies!  Who could ask for anything more!!!

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 9 – A Sophisticated Strawberry Cake for A Sophisticated 7 Year old

I did not take many pics of this one so I will also attempt to spare you the long, drawn out, wordy blog, but don’t get too comfortable with this format.  For my 9th Pinteresting goodie, I chose to make a cake for my son’s actual birthday.  Again, I will be posting his party sometime this week.  He loves strawberry desserts so what better treat than to create a delicious Strawberry Cake with an even more irresistible Brown Buttered, Roasted Strawberry Buttercream Frosting.  Oh yes, you heard me right, roasted strawberry and, at this point, you are likely not surprised that the butter has been “browned”.

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For this cake, I actually combined two different recipes with the frosting being the sole inspiration for the cake.  My son liking strawberry desserts was a cover-up I must confess.  The roasting of the strawberries was exactly what you imagine….heavenly.  First you toss the fresh strawberries in brown sugar and I don’t know about you, but strawberries are probably the most beautiful fruit with that rich, red color and sugar always brings it out even more.

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Finally when they are pulled out of the oven, you get this rich and syrupy version of the strawberry that produces an aroma sweet enough to give you a cavity without a single bite.

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The cake recipe itself, was quite simple and definitely made sure it stood out alongside the superstar frosting.  The cake also contains fresh strawberries in the form of a puree and produced a really moist texture.  I did slightly overmix the batter so it did not turn out making the final product slightly more dense than it should have been.

This cake was so delicious and I love that, as emphasized in the recipe prep, the strawberry pieces were visible through the frosting.  I am telling you this had to be the best tasting cake I have made so far.  I ate more than I care to admit, but most importantly my son was so excited despite likely not appreciating the quality and sophistication of the frosting, but the smile on his face when he saw his cake was more than any praise I could ever get from even the most experienced of bakers.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 8 – The Unbreakable Cinnamon Roll

Once again, I am late with my post, but I have decided as long as I bake in real time I have fulfilled my challenge.  Being a working, who relentlessly takes on more than I can handle pretty much sets me up to constantly have something fall by the wayside.  I must say, though, I have been baking away come hell or high water or just plain crying…I have been baking!

This particular week, I sneaked over to my “Breakfast Breakfast Brunch” board to find a delicious addition to my son’s birthday breakfast which I will post later.  I landed on this handy dandy recipe and let me tell you I did not regret it.  The funny thing about making cinnamon rolls is it is very intimidating.  Then, mid-way through preparation, you realize it is not that bad.  I think it is the yeast that gets you.  I mean some weird creature that you have to feed or keep a certain temperature or you baked good will not turn out right seems pretty creepy.

Well this time was no exception.  I was pretty much worn out from party preparations when it was time to prep.  I  almost almost decided not to bake so you can imagine that when I chose to push forward, I was dragging.

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In preparing the dough, as the recipe notes, it was really sticky and and took longer to rise than I am used to.  It also requires you to come back and forth to your dough mound and flip it and flop it in a 2 hour time period.  Fortunately it is a two day process so Thursday evening while on my last leg, I was pretty happy when I got to the point of putting it in the fridge for the overnight rise.

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Day 2, I was more energetic, but who would I be if I was having to rush due to the fact that people would be over shortly to taste whatever it is that was going to come out of the oven.  First thing is I must watch a master roll out the dough.  I never obtain this mythical, measured rectangle that recipes so often tell me to make in order to get a particular size and amount of cinnamon rolls and this time was no exception.  Actually it was an exception, an exceptionally far deviation from the measurements as I was really really rushing at this point.  It was so funny when I rolled my dough and found more of a cone rather than a perfectly symmetrical cylinder.  Needless to say, I got several rolls and tossed them in the oven.

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I almost overcooked them since I was chasing 7  year old boys around and also preparing many other dishes, but they made it out with what I would just call an elevated browning.

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The frosting took seconds to make and I just slapped it on and threw the dish on the table.  Once things settled down and I had finished my hosting duties, I snagged a bite and holy bleep, they were amazing.  You have absolutely got to try this recipe.  Even with my half-step, one eye open, delirious baking they turned out so good.  The rolls were moist and the cream cheese topping melted in my mouth.  I think the main difference with this roll that contributed to its amazing flavor was the honey.  Most cinnamon roll recipes do not have this and I often find them tasting quite yeasty.  Now that may be my fault and my strange husband says he likes that taste, but I am not a fan.  If you are looking for a recipe where you can go wrong, look no further, I have found it for you.  Enjoy!

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 7 – Franken Pie

For shame!  I am so behind on my posting that it should be a crime.  In all fairness, I baked two last week and then just could not post.  Why do I put so many challenges on myself, I could not tell you.

This week I attempted to make a dessert for Father’s day.  I planned on making apple pie since that is the favorite of my husband and my father in-law (if I add the vanilla ice cream.  On baking day, I ended up not having any apples so I opted for a pie with whatever a had remaining in the house.  In this case it turned out to be random berries, raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry to be exact.  I had a recipe for mixed berry hand pies so naturally I decided to use that recipe, but without the hand part.  I wanted it to be a full on pie because that just looks fancier.  Also I call it Franken pie because, for some reason, it took several links to get me to the actual recipe from the link I have on my Pinterest board and I am pretty sure in the end I just meshed together a few recipes that I viewed while trying to confirm my actual Pinteresting recipe was legit.  I also used the streusel from this recipe since I opted against a double crusted pie.

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I was unstoppable.  I made my fancy crust and utilized the techniques I learned (e.g. use the rolling pin to gather the dough and place over the pie plate).  I rinsed the fruit which, in itself, looked so gorgeous.

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I was on a roll!  I mean, I made two desserts in one day and had this gorgeous pie.  Oh yes, I was full of myself…..for a moment.    I even tried to use the stressel recipe instad of just adding a top crust.

While driving on the back roads on the way to Oma and Opa’s house, I noticed some liquid forming on the surface of the pie.  “That’s weird”, I thought to myself and like a bolt of lightning, it hit me…Holy sh*@, I forgot the flour.  I totally forgot to add flour to the filling.  I cursed myself all the way to the in-laws.  All that freakin’ work.  All of that self-gratification gone!  It was so liquid like, we totally ended up depending on it being an ice cream topping.

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There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The flavor of the crust (to which I added an extra tablespoon of sugar) was superb and the berries tasted like heaven.  I want to make this one again with the, you know, correct ingredients.  It is definitely worth a try!

35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 6 – The Little Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches That Could

I mentally prepared myself to start this blog post off with yet another baking fail.  When I took the cookies out of the oven, they were super flat and appeared discolored.  I was even embarrassed as I knew I had to post and confess my defeat.  Not to mention the fact that I am a week overdue.  Scratch that, it is now two weeks overdue.  This challenge I have given myself has definitely proven to be a….well, a challenge, but I am not giving up!

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I chose this dessert because I kept seeing the beautiful image staring at me while perusing my board.  It was kind of nostalgic as it brought up memories of the white rectangular box that housed my favorite individually packed Oatmeal cookies sandwiches.  I am pretty sure we had an everlasting supply in my house.  I even had them on hand in my dorm room when I went to college.  Fast forward to several years later and a maturing palate and I now see a poison sign whenever I look at that box so you can imagine it brought me excitement to be able to get a childhood treat made with ingredients I can pronounce.

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This time I did cheat a bit and recruit my mini bakers to balance wild boys and attempting to pump out yet another baked treat.  They are becoming pros now as the oldest has been helping me bake for about 4 years and my youngest for almost 2.  We started off with the cookie portion which was quite easy.  I cannot tell you why they came out so flat and discolored, but I think I let the butter sit out too long and that may explain the flatness.  I opened a new box of baking soda so it wasn’t that.  Regardless, this was definitely a “don’t judge a book by its cover moment.

I “tested” one of the cookies and had a moment.  The cookie was so soft and flavorful.  It really felt like it was melting in my mouth.  I would definitely attribute the texture to the molasses.  You don’t really taste it but it makes sure its presence is known by creating a cookie that seems to almost massage your teeth as you chew.

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I was pretty exhausted when it came to creating the filling so I just cut a hole in a ziploc bag and went to town.  I also need to note that I did not use bourbon or brown the butter.  I know I know, don’t fall out.  I missed that it was browned butter as that is usually  highlighted in the recipe description and I refuse to purchase alcohol at the ABC stores.  I just added 1 tablespoon of vanilla and used plain butter.

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They were so good, there was almost no final product to capture.  I had to leave the last few at my in-laws so I would devour every single one myself.  This is definitely going down in the books as a go to treat.

35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 5 – Brown Butter White Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Macadamia Nuts

Say that 5 times in a row without getting tongue time.  Last week I was so proud of myself as I did not wait until the end of the week to bake.  I had my cookies ready for co-workers by Thursday.  Of course, I managed to delay posting until Week 6 so you will hear from me twice this week.

For week 5 I used Pinterest as an inspiration to create a Franksteinesque recipe for my favorite cookie.  I honestly cannot tell you what I like more, the smell of browning butter or that smokey taste it lends to baked goods, but I am definitely a fan.  The original recipe on my Pinterest is for Brown Butter Cinnamon Cookies with White Chocolate Chips, but I wanted to add macadamia nuts and omit cinnamon chips.  Oh and I did not have sour cream or greek yogurt so I was pretty much destined to go off script.  I ended up combining the aforementioned recipe with a general White Chocolate Chip w/ Macadamia nut cookie and I ended up with a recipe that looks something like this:

2 1/4 C AP Flour

3/4 C Light Brown Sugar

1/2 C Granulated Sugar

1 Large egg + 1 egg yolk

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/8 tst Almond Extract

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 C Butter

1 C chopped macadamia nuts roasted

1 pkg Ghiardelli White Chocolate Chips

 

First I browned the butter.  I removed it from the heat, let it cool and then placed in the freezer for quick chilling.  Once the butter was ready, I creamed the butter and the sugar.  Ohhh it smelled so good!  While that mixed, I combined the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  I added the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture with the blender on low.  To add the nuts and chips, I used a wooden spoon.

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For the chips, I recommend Ghiardelli.  They are amazing and yes, yes there is a noticeable difference.  If those are not on sale, Nestle is the way to go.  I refuse to go generic on the chips, but funny thing is I will go generic on everything else.

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When I decided to prepare this recipe late in the evening, I threw my hands up when I found that the dough needs to chill for a couple of hours.    It was around 10:00 pm and I had to go to work the next morning so I opted for overnight.

When I took the mix out of the fridge in the morning, I was concerned the cookies would be dry and not soft because that dough was so challenging to handle.  I am sure I was supposed to bring it near room temperature first, but time was limited.

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The cookies turned out great.  My idea to roast the nuts didn’t quite back fire, but I will say, the nuts stole the show so be sure your audience likes the taste of nuts before you give this a try.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 4 – Mini Bananas Foster Cheesecakes

O.k., I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this challenge.  Between my work schedule, my kids, and still needing to cook regular meals, throwing in a weekly baking session has proved to be…well a bit daunting.  Nevertheless I shall move forward, power through, and fight the good fight.

I had been eyeballing this particular treat for quite some time now.  It was a newer “pin” and it is at the top of my board.  Aside from the recipe’s image staring right at me every time I open my board, cheesecake just so happens to be my favorite dessert.  The banana part wasn’t as appealing, but seeing as how I end up having a constant need to Google “what to do with your over ripe bananas”, it fit the bill.

Cheesecake recipes are usually pretty standard. Crush Graham crackers and mix with melted butter to create your crust.  A food processor is absolutely best for this especially if you add nuts.  It should look like beautiful, delicious, sweet smelling sand when you are finished.

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Next you usually mix cream cheese and sugar (and you’ll usually find cheesecake recipes use a smaller amount of sugar than typical desserts) and then add eggs.  It’s pretty simple and basic, but for the first time I used brown sugar as the recipe requires and man oh man did it ever make a beautiful color.  I could have just used it  as a spread right then and there.  The next unique aspect of this recipe was adding mashed bananas at the end.

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For the entire recipe, I used generic store bought products.  I actually had some cream cheese in the fridge awaiting their transformation.  Since I do consider myself a cheesecake veteran, I did decide to do a tiny bit of freestyling.  Since I am a crustinista (oh yes, yes I did go there), I wanted to add a little more flavor to the Graham cracker crust by adding about a tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.

It is so critical when baking cheesecake, that you have either a springform pan or this cute mini cheesecake pan (like the one seen below).  I used to make them in muffin pans and it added so much work, but it is manageable if you do not have the actual pan.  If you plan to make mini cheesecakes often, it is well worth the investment.

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One little poke of the finger and you have a super cutesy dessert.  It also shapes better than out of the muffin tin.

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To prepare the pan for it’s special task of creating this rich dessert, is the spray each well with cooking spray.  You then, scoop the sand-like crust into each well.  I must say, I had to add more than the 2 T of butter which the recipe required.  The crust should start sticking together when compressed otherwise you would not have a formed crust, but rather a Graham cracker crumble sloughing off when you take out your cheesecake.  To add the filling, I like to use a container with a spout for pouring.  This time around I chose a measure cup, worked like a charm.  I actually ended up making 16 mini cheesecakes instead of the 12 the recipe noted.

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Some of my cakes cooked a little bit long or my oven was too hot. Also, some of the cakes sunk in due to uneven baking.  The only way I have ever learned to have cheesecake cook evenly is to submerge part of the baking container in water while in the oven.  Yesterday was not the day for that so I just placed the pans directly on the oven rack.

For the sauce, well that begin very interestingly.  The butter melting went perfectly according to plan.  I mean, it’s melting butter in a pan.  I then added the brown sugar and started to wonder after a minute why it did not look smooth like the recipe had indicated.  At this point I am cursing silently in my head as my kids were nearby.

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It looked anything but smooth.  I started looking grainy and when I mixed it, well it was just strange so I decided adding the liquid now might help.

I did not have rum and I was going to give some to my kids so I added 1 T of vanilla instead.  Steam, hiss, splat….I had a boiling science experiment on my hands.

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At this point, there was no turning back, I was not about to start over so I just threw in the sliced bananas.  It didn’t seem very clear in the recipe but for this part you can use a regular banana as it will be cooked to perfection.

After a few whirls, my sauce finally looked thin and glassy like the picture from the original recipe blog.  The take home here is that it takes a while to get to that thin, smooth, glossy texture.  I always feel like recipes frequently fail to mention how long some foods take to transition to its new elevated state.

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Like caramelizing onions!  OMG it takes like hours or something crazy and recipe wording, to me, seems to indicate it happens just like that.  Anyway, by the end of what seemed to be an episode from Bill Nye the Science Guy, my “Foster” turned out beautiful…and so did the cheesecakes.

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Ooh, they looked so cute!  My favorite part was the light mocha-like coloring of the cheesecake.  I have only made white cheesecake in the past so that was a treat.  It was quite good and got rave reviews from my neighbor and her family, but as I mentioned before, I am not the biggest banana dessert fan.  I will say, if you are a fan of banana flavored desserts, this will knock your socks off!  You will want to herald in the streets about this wonderful treat you discovered.  It is rich and creamy and the brown sugary banana on top is icing on the….cheesecake.

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