Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie - Ridiculously Easy Cookies

Snot season is officially here! My poor little Z Man has the most wide open sinuses ever encountered. While he has never had an ear infection and rarely feels sick, his poor little nose runs as green as the Chicago River on St. Patty's Day from December until May. While it may be dammed for a day or two here and there, there really is no stopping the flow, save for a little relief in the form of Benedryl once in a while. The past few days, the poor man looks like he was in a real fistfight because he spent a week in the dry heat of my parents' house in NJ and was so busy playing that he just swiped at his nosey with his sleeve every few minutes. It is so raw and sore and uncomfortable that he won't let me near it to wipe it or to put some ointment on it. He just looks awful (but, thankfully feels fine). In order to give him some relief today, I stopped him up with the Bene and then tried to take him out to be social. Big mistake! You live, you learn, right?

At least there are cookies! Today's Dorie recipe was for "Cafe Volcano Cookies". For those of you who know me, you will find this ridiculous: I have never made meringues. Not shocking for most people, but for someone who loves meringues and eats them by the carton and who loves to bake as much as I do, it is just silly. Especially if they are really as easy as the ones that I made today.

Yes, today was a Tuesday with Dorie day, but it was also a long day with two snot nosed kiddos. So, I was tempted to skip my baking and just soak in a hot bath with a big glass of wine. However, I looked again at the recipe and realized that it was so easy that I could make the cookies and then have my mini vacay. These were the simplest cookies that I have ever made. The batter was not too tasty, but OH MY GOODNESS the cookies are good!

I burnt the bottom of one sheet of cookies because I didn't divide my oven in thirds and had the top rack too close to the top of the oven. However, after eating one of the ones from the good sheet and realizing that they taste exactly like toasted caramel nut cookies, I pulled a Miranda Hobbs. I took every one of those suckers out of the garbage and ate the unburnt tops off of them!

By the way, these do not taste of coffee from the espresso powder, only of sweet, nutty caramel, but some of my fellow TWD bloggers did some fun variations of these cookies - cinnamon, cocoa, maple sugar. I will be trying all of them because they are just so easy and delicious.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Operation Baking GALS

I don't remember where I came across it. Definitely on someone else's blog, but as soon as I heard about it, I knew that I wanted to take part: Operation Baking GALS. "Baking GALS (GALS stands for Give A Little Support) is a group of volunteer bakers from around the country who bake and ship homemade goodies to our heroic military men and women who are currently deployed in a war zone. Our goal is to show our support and send a little bit of home to remind them that we appreciate all that they do for our freedom."

As deserving as the men and women who work in the Emergency department with DrRuckus are of treats, the men and women in the military who are so far from home and who are dedicating their lives to protecting us are even more so because they can't go home at the end of the day. I am honored to be able to contribute just a little bit to making their jobs easier, if only for the minute that it takes to eat a cookie.

This was the first time that I baked with the GALS, and it was great to be able to make the holidays a little brighter. I joined a team that baked for Private First Class Rebecca and her troop stationed in Iraq. This is the letter that I sent to Rebecca along with some Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Dear Rebecca,

Happy Holidays to you and the brave men and women serving with you. I truly appreciate the service you are doing for this country, for all of us and for peace on Earth. I know that some day my children will live in a better world, in large part because people like you have dedicated their lives to bringing it about.
This is my first time participating in Operation Baking GALS, and I am so glad that I was able to do it for the holiday season. I know that this must be a very difficult time to be away from loved ones. Though I understand that you are a peanut butter lover, I know some of the others are sending that and I am assuming that some people with whom you are serving also love good, old fashioned, chocolate chip cookies.
These cookies are the the famous Neiman Marcus cookies. Why? Because, first of all, I believe that if you are going to give or get a really great present, Neiman Marcus is the best place to start! Second, these cookies really are good. Third, they tend to keep well and travel well, so will hopefully still be tasty by the time you get them. Fourth, they have a really good (but completely untrue) story:

FWD: Free Neiman-Marcus Cookie Recipe
This is a true story... Please forward it to everyone that you can.... You will have to read it to believe it....
My daughter and I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because both of us are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus Cookie". It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and the waitress said with a small frown "I'm afraid not." Well" I said, "would you let me buy the recipe?"
With a cute smile, she said YES". I asked how much and she responded, "Only two fifty, it's a great deal!" I said with approval, "just add it to my tab".. Thirty days later, I received my VISA statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, "Cookie Recipe - $250.00". That's outrageous!!!
I called Neiman's Accounting Dept. and told them that the waitress said it was "two-fifty," which clearly does not mean "two hundred and fifty dollars" by any POSSIBLE interpretation of the phrase. Neiman-Marcus refused to budge.. They would not refund my money, because according to them, "What the waitress told you is not our problem. You have already seen the recipe - we absolutely will not refund your money at this point." I explained to her the criminal statutes which govern fraud in Texas. I threatened to refer them to the Better Business Bureau and the State's Attorney General for engaging in fraud. I was basically told, "Do what you want, we dont give a damn, and we're not refunding your money." I waited a moment, thinking of how I could get even,or even try to get any of my money back. I just said, "Okay, you folks got my $250.00, and now I'm going to have $250.00 worth of fun."
I told her that I was going to see to it that every cookie lover in the United States with an e-mail account has a $250.00 cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus... for free..She replied, "I wish you wouldn't do this" I said, "Well you should have thought of that before you ripped me off", and slammed down the phone on her.. So, here it is!!! Please, please, please pass it on to everyone you can possibly think of. I paid $250.00 dollars for this... I don't want Neiman-Marcus to ever get another penny off of this recipe....

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds) 
2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.
3.In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.
4. Using a 1 ounce scoop or a 2 tablespoon measure, drop cookie dough onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2 inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

I hope that you all enjoy these cookies. Baking is one of my passions. It is the way that I relax and the way that I express myself. And, chocolate is my favorite medium in which to work. Other than my weekly baked treats, I am actually a very health conscious person. I ensure that my family eats a mostly organic, well balanced diet, and I love to exercise, but homemade treats just make life sweeter.
Like you, I spent some time living in Hawaii. What a beautiful place it is, so magical and so different from the rest of this incredible country. Though my husband and I both grew up in New Jersey, we are raising our family outside of Houston, Texas. We have two children, a four year old, and a fifteen month old. I am lucky enough to be able to stay home to be with them. My husband is and Emergency Room physician. We love to travel and to be outside as much as possible. Houston is a great place for that as we have moderate weather most of the year. Life here is pretty great. I feel very fortunate and realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women in the armed forces for ensuring that I can lead the peaceful existence that I do.
I hope that you enjoy the cookies and get to come home soon. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, for all that you are doing.

I am thrilled to be a part of this group and encourage all who are interested in taking part to sign up for the next round.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Whoa Tiger

For years I have loved Tiger Woods. What was not to love. He is the "Greatest Golfer of All Time." He has incredible ability, drive, concentration, willpower, success, and, let's face it, total hotness. And, when he got married and became a daddy, he became even more lovable to me because he seemed to do that with the same talent and passion with which he played golf. I have watched so many of his rounds, followed him around courses at tournaments, but my favorite Tiger moment was his US Open Win in 2008 when little Sam Alexis toddled onto the green and you could see how much he and his daughter adored each other. I rewound this part of the broadcast almost as many times as I once did the ending of Anne of Avonlea (when Gilbert proposes to Anne). It was that moving to me. (Yes, I just may be the cheesiest person of all time.) In short, Tiger was my hero. Like a mythological creature, he was beautiful, strong, brave and capable of superhuman feats. Except that he is human.

Do you know that when I first heard of his car "accident" the other night, the first thing that I thought was that he must have been going out to buy diapers or baby motrin? Meanwhile, as he ducked and avoided the media and authorities for the next few days, this became an unlikely explanation. I, like everyone else, knew that something had gone horribly awry for Tiger. However, when he "confessed" today, it was like a punch in the gut. I know that it is his personal life, that this is a private matter for his family to deal with. However, it hurt. He let me down. I know that he is human, but precisely the reason that I loved him is that he is better than most humans. He is supposed to have more discipline, self control, and uprightness than the rest of us. That is what makes him Tiger Woods.

But now I know, he is just like every other jackass celebrity who is all ego, who thinks he can have it all, can do it all, and is above it all. And that sucks. Have you heard this? Ugh!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu

My in-laws will be joining us for Thanksgiving and it will be the first time that I am doing the holiday at my house. I am NOT making the turkey, though. I have always wanted to try deep fried turkey but am not brave enough to do it myself. Plus, I really, really, really hate touching raw poultry and the idea of having to do any manipulating of that big bird gives me the heebie jeebies. So, I ordered the turkey from our local meat market and only will have to reheat it. But everything else I will do myself.

Company comes tomorrow night, and I will be serving them a fun recipe that I found on one of my favorite blogs, We are Not Martha: Pumpkin Pasta with Chicken Sausage. I will be using whole wheat pasta and Fage 0% yogurt instead of the other dairy. But, I have a major thing for pumpkin lately. I have been going through cans of it. You get such a nutrient and fiber rich punch and a lot of flavor. I add it to my oatmeal, to LL's smoothies, to cookies, and my new favorite "treat" - Fage 0% yogurt, 1/4 cup of pumpkin, 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice, 1 packet Splenda (aka elixer of the Gods), and a sprinkle of Fiber One cereal. So, anyways, this pasta sounds really great.

I also have the whole wheat variation of no knead bread rising right now and will bake it off tomorrow.

Then, Thanksgiving morning I will be doing the 5 mile Run Through the Woods race and then a Thanksgiving yoga class so they will be on their own. Luckily for them, I will leave them some of Dorie's Allspice Crumb Muffins for them to munch on while I am gone.

For lunch, we want to eat light, but still be in the Thanksgiving spirit. So, I will be serving a roasted butternut squash and apple soup from the NYtimes Dining section. and a big, beautiful salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries, diced honeycrisp apples, and some of the sweet and savory spiced nuts that I just made from a Gourmet recipe and that can easily be munched on all weekend. Hopefully we will have some bread left, but if not, I have an extra one in the freezer just in case!

And, onto the BIG meal. As mentioned, the turkey will be a deep fried one. Along side, I will be serving a Sausage, Chestnut and Mushroom "Dressing" (first time I ever used that word, but I am in the South now) that I found in the Williams Sonoma catalog. Only, instead of focaccia, I will be using the Cook's Illustrated Corn Bread.

I am will also be making maple pecan sweet potatoes. I know that they are from Cooking Light, but they will be amazing! I love sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and pecans, and they have some butter, so there is nothing dietetic about them. However, this recipe does call for one ingredient that I have never added to sweet potatoes before, but many of you have: marshmallows! Back in high school, my friends and I used to have a "Day After Thanksgiving" Feast, and I famously was aghast when my friend even suggested this, telling him, "I am not a Goy!" However, here I am in Texas and the tiny marshmallows are waiting to be bruleed on Thursday!

For the cranberry sauce, I made a light and fresh cranberry orange relish from Gourmet. It was good last night, and is supposed to be even tastier a few days later. And, for "something green", but something that still goes with the deep fried turkey and southern theme, I will be making brussel sprouts with bacon. Not sure which recipe I will be using yet, but anything with bacon is bound to be good!

And last, dessert . . . Oh, how I had a hard time with this one. I wanted to make so many desserts, but we are only 5 adults, one of whom had a heart attack recently, so it seemed as though I should reign in my desires to bake up a storm. In the end I settled on DrRuckus's favorite - classic, two crust, deep dish apple pie. But not just any apple, pie! First, I will be using the magical Cook's Illustrated vodka pie dough. And, on top, we will be serving homemade cinnamon ice cream and butterscotch sauce from Food and Wine.

The exciting thing is that I used all of my magazines for this menu, as well as my beloved NYTimes. The bad part is that I am so far ahead of the game that I am now rethinking that second dessert decision.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TWD-Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Oh, I thought that this month's TWD baking would be no problem, what with getting to choose any two of the TWD November recipes and then posting them on any two Tuesdays during the month. However, here I am, blogging about a cake that took me an entire weekend to prepare on a day when I have to prepare for the first Thanksgiving that I have ever made on my own! Those Molasses Spice Cookies were so good and simple, but I let DrRuckus choose the second recipe. He saw "chocolate" and "caramel" and decided that I would make him that cake. It seemed fine at the time. I thought that I had all month.

I even thought that I was so ahead of the game because I found the chestnut spread and the roasted chestnuts weeks ago. I had stocked up on chocolate from the King himself. Because of this, it didn't even dawn on me until I put it all together, that this might have been the most expensive cake I have ever baked. So much good quality chocolate and those chestnuts really added up. Good thing that it was completely worth it! It was really delicious and decadent.

As the deadline approached and I realized that I would be busy with Turkey Day prep, I decided to start the cake last Friday. Well, i started the salted caramel milk chocolate ganache that day anyways. Dorie says in the recipe that this cake might just be an excuse to eat that ganache because it wouldn't be polite to lick it right out of the bowl. Well, she is right! I am not really a milk chocolate person, but if I was not already married, I could have easily gotten a proposal out of my husband with this concoction. It was ridiculously rich and creamy, chocolaty, salty, insane!

Revisiting the recipe that night, I realized that this cake was going to be so over the top in every way that I was going to have to throw a party in its honor. Luckily we were already planning on watching DrRuckus's childhood friend on Food Network as the sous chef to Jose Garces on The Next Iron Chef that night, so we had an excuse for a cake party!

On the second night, I made the dark chocolate glaze for the cake. Dorie says that it might take up to 4 hours to thicken up, but a few other bloggers said that it took longer and in my hot, moist kitchen, I knew it would have a hard time setting up. So, I decided to give it an overnight. It is a good thing I did because it took almost 20 hours for it to reach an almost spreadable consistency. Even then, it was on the brink and was quite melty and messy.

The cake itself was pretty simple, and was much easier since I finally invested in a second bowl for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Without having to clean out the bowl in between the batter and thew whipped whites, it took very little time. My only problem was that I forgot that my square cake pans are all 8 inchers, When I poured my batter in, my cake pan was very full! However, though it baked about 10 minutes longer, everything turned out just fine.

The advantage of that 8 incher was that it was very easy to cut into three nice, thick layers and so I was not intimidated by this step. I used Grand Marnier instead of brandy in the syrup between the layers and the orange flavor went well with the chocolate and nuts. The ganache spread easily, though it was hard to resist licking the spatula and the bowl when I was done. One thing that Dorie doesn't mention but not everyone would realize is that you must let the ganache come to room temperature to be able to spread it. Some of the other TWD bakers used leftover ganache to make truffles, but I put as much as I could on the cake and saved the rest for my beloved. The chopped chestnuts between the layers added texture, but I don't find them to be very flavorful. Which is too bad because I have so many now that I am currently putting together a chestnut stuffing for T Day. Well, chestnuts and corn bread and sausage and fennel.

The most difficult part of this cake was the dark chocolate glaze. It was very runny and messy, and even with Dorie's innovative drip catcher (i.e. parchment under a cooling rack), I had chocolate glaze all over my counter. As soon as I put as much as I could on, I put it in the fridge to firm up. It did, but then I had to take it back out to get to room temperature before serving it. At which point, the glaze started running again and the cake had to be rushed back to the fridge! Still, nothing wrong with the taste of that runny chocolate glaze. Yum!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TWD-Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies

This afternoon was so rough, that I don't even have the energy to bake. (I know!!!) Usually I find it very zen, very relaxing, but today it just seemed like too much work. Luckily for me, I baked my TWD - Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies a couple of weeks ago and already put the pics on the computer so I can post this and still keep up with my commitment to bake along with my favorite baking book.

Why was this afternoon so rough? I am not really sure. First of all, my Little Ladybug has a cold and is teething, so her already Drama Queen personality is exaggerated by her discomfort (poor baby). B (as my sister would say) - they were both really hungry from being too excited to eat lunch due to having friends over. Lastly, neither one slept this afternoon (never a good thing). So, LL was on a major crying jag from about 4:30 on and her siren like cry makes blood boil. Z Man and I were actually doing a pretty job keeping it together until he dropped his bag of marbles from his Quadrilla set and that was it! I actually managed to remain calm despite dozens of marbles scattering across my tile floor and just whisked LL upstairs for bath and bed (yes, it was 5:30 but I had tried everything else) with an admonishment to Z Man to "not do anything else until you find all of the marbles (aka baby chokers)" on the floor.

Went upstairs, had a nice bathtime, book and cuddle and put LL in her crib and descended the stairs thinking that I would see Z Man (self proclaimed "bad finder") playing and not looking for his marbles. Instead I detected the unmistakeable odor of, well, poop. Asking about this, Z said, "I pooped on the floor". When I asked him where it was, he said, "{Phoebe the dog} ate it." Ugh!!!!!!!!! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but I felt awful knowing that I had told him not to do "anything" and he took it literally. Also, I was so worried about the dog getting sick! At this point, I too lost my marbles! But, I managed to remain somewhat calm (maybe it is the yoga I have been doing?) and get him clean and into bed. He hasn't had an accident in months and this was his second one today! He peed on himself at the gym after downing an entire water bottle.

Anyways, thank goodness I had made those cookies a few weeks ago. I wish I had them now to eat, but they are long gone and that is very sad. They would be a perfect holiday cookie, a perfect after school snack, a perfect after dinner snack. They are pretty much a perfect cookie! And, this is coming from a pretty die hard chocolate lover, but these were that good. Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle with a great slightly spicy but very sweet flavor. I really could go for one now. However, I will not be baking tonight. Alas, am already on my second glass of Rjoja.

Here is the recipe for the Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies.

I have never baked with molasses before, but I really liked the depth of flavor of it. I have also never put pepper in my cookies, and I was skimpy on it but will actually add more the next time.

The batter was very sticky and thick and was perhaps the first cookie dough I have had "raw" that I didn't think might be better right out of the bowl rather than baked.

It was a really sticky situation to roll them into balls, roll them in the sugar and squash them. The dough was really stuck to my hands and was quite a mess. I also had a hard time getting them to the right shape. I have subsequently learned a trick for the squashing part that I will employ next time: cut a square of parchment to place over the ball of dough and then use a measuring cup to make them round and even.

They didn't look done when they came out, but they cooled to a perfect consistency and tasted even better the next day. I really recommend trying these. Next time I am going to use 1/2 white whole wheat flour and a bit more pepper, but I will definitely be making them again.

Oh, and just to remind myself why days like these are worth it:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dirty Cookies

When DrRuckus was at work last night, I looked at porn. Food porn that is! I was searching for inspiration for a delectable and fun treat to bring with me to our annual Moms' Spa Weekend on Friday and Saturday (yay!), and ended up finding all sorts of naughty things.

For some reason, I had an idea to look for homemade Oreo cookies. I have no idea how that got into my head. I never buy nor eat Oreos. Z Man refers to them as "dirty cookies" because of the mess they leave on your face (which, apparently, is caused by the black cocoa powder. I don't have it but will be putting it on my next KAF order). One quickie Google of "homemade oreos" and I found a fantastic food blogger who had a recipe and the most amazing pics of her homemade oreos. Smitten Kitchen was immediately bookmarked after I tried to scratch and sniff my monitor for those cookies. I was so on board with one of her commenters who said, "Brilliant! This falls right into my 'why buy it when i can make it for twice the cost and 20 times the work' ethic." That is so me!

After that, I moved on. I thought that the Oreos looked fantastic and I knew that I would be making them soon, but they would not be the right thing for our outing. I got it in my head that cupcakes would be more festive and happily spent the next few hours (no kidding, hours) looking at cupcake blogs. I finally settled on my choice for Friday night: vegan margarita cupcakes since margaritas are delicious, celebratory and probably the official drink of Texas. Plus my friend who is nursing dairy intolerant twins will be with us so she can partake in the treat! (Don't worry, the alcohol is cooked out during baking!)

Anyways, today I was gathering the ingredients for the cupcakes and I purchased vegan, organic shortening. I was going to get started on my cuppersons, but realized that I didn't have enough limes. However, I remembered that this same shortening was one of the ingredients in the filling of the homemade Oreos. How convenient! (Yeah right, as if this was not my plan the whole time, to do both, this week!) I had the ingredients, DrRuckus was working, Smitten Kitchen's recipe looked so easy, my kids were exhausted and in bed before 7, so the stars were aligned to make my Oreos.

From Smitten Kitchen:

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman

Let’s talk about the sugar for a minute, shall we? This is a sweet cookie. A good, sweet cookie. Yet, if you think of an actual Oreos, the wafers are fairly un-sweet and actually on the slightly salty side, which contrasts with the super-sweetness of the filling bringing harmony, happiness, yada yada. If you want your cookie closer to that original, you can take out a full half-cup of the sugar. If you want to make the cookie by itself (as I did a while back for ice cream sandwiches), go ahead and use the full amount.

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies

For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar [see recipe note]
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream. Dunk generously in a large glass of milk.

These really are super easy to make, but I do have a couple of notes:
1. I made most of them them too big. I used my teaspoon ice cream scoop to scoop them and then smooshed them down with a piece of parchment under a measuring cup. This worked great in getting the cookies to perfect shape and width, but they spread in the oven and they are about 4 inches in diameter.
2. The ones I baked on Silpat and my good cookie sheets did not puff up as much. The ones on parchment and old cookie sheets puffed up so I just smooshed them with the same parchment/measuring cup as soon as they came out of the oven.
3. I ran out of filling near the end and had to whip up another batch. I only used a little and have a bunch left in a container. I should have thrown it away because my dear husband does not need to be eating it with a spoon, like I know he will.
4. I made some that were tiny, little one inchers, and these baked in only 4 minutes. They are cute little bite size morsels and would look great on top of a cupcake!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Toys for the Z Man

Funny, when I first started this blog, I thought that it would mostly be about all of the great things I have found for my kids that make all of our lives better. But, it has evolved to something else entirely. I know that I discuss by babies and some of the things that I have found for them, but it is certainly not the norm. However, I have to share some of our latest and greatest here.

Let me start out by saying that my kids are extremely fortunate. Not only do we adore them and shower them with love and affection, but we are able to provide for their needs and wants. And, on top of that, their grandparents do the same and send boxes of gifts all of the time. It is like a birthday here every week. We are all really, really lucky and try to instill in our kids a sense of gratitude and generosity as well.

Still, in the past few days, the Z Man has made out even better than usual. On Saturday, we were going to meet my friend in Round Top, TX. (She lives in Austin, and it is an adorable town halfway between us and has become our little spot.) En route to Round Top, we stopped at the Le Creuset outlet (didn't buy anything) and out of the corner of his eye, Z spotted something. "Mommy! Let's go over to that toy shop. I see something that I have been wanting!" I looked and sure enough was this Dalmatian race game that he first coveted when we saw it at a toy shop in Vail last winter. Knowing that it was under $20 and impressed that he had remembered it all this time, I bought it for him. It is not very interactive, but is cute and sort of mesmerizing, though the sound is rather annoying. But, he has been loving it.

In fact, it has been his obsession for the past 48 hours until it was package time again. You see, I subscribe to a number of online sample sales: Gilt , RueLaLa, ideeli, The Mini Social, and Hautelook. It could be a full time job scouring these sales each day, but I try to only look if it is something that I am really excited about. (Send me a message if you need an invite code to any of these, btw.)

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Hautelook had Hape toys and I checked it out. The prices were great, and, even better, I had some store credit with them. So, I ordered a game and an intro quadrilla set. As soon as I saw the quadrilla set, I knew that the Z Man would go bananas over it. It is just so right up his little alley to build tracks and study the motion of the little marbles. My little man might not have much gross motor coordination, but his ability to engineer a track is incredible. He is thrilled and delighted each time he attempts a new configuration and is really smart about knowing how the marbles will move. I am truly impressed with how he uses his brain and his hands to play with this toy. And, I haven't seen him this excited about a toy since, well, since his grandparents sent him a Lionel train set (!) a few months back.

This little intro set is perfect for a three year old and was only $15 from Hautelook! Only problem is that the marbles are "baby chokers" so we have to be extra careful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oooooh, Look at these shoes

Damn that Antropologie catalog! I should put it right in the recycling bin and not look at it. I do love everything in it, even the things that have no relevance to my life, like ornaments and stockings. It is like a fantasy world for me.

But those shoes! Chie Mihara, a Spanish shoemaker, makes lovely , well made shoes with great style. There are even some on sale at Saks for 40% off, but not with duckie heads! These ones have a sexy vintage looking heel, a lovely soft black leather, and a whimsical little mallard head. Oh, how I love them. Any friends with November birthdays want let me use their 15% discount to buy these pretty babies? I have just the place for them in my closet.

Oh, speaking of "damn" . . . Yesterday the Z-Man was playing with his electric train. He was trying to put it on the track and having some trouble. He said, "Damn it, Damn it." I had to walk out of the room to keep from laughing. I guess it could have been worse. Me, I prefer the F word!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD-Sweet Potato Biscuits

Knowing that today's Tuesdays with Dorie project was to be "Sweet Potato Biscuits", I purchased some gigantic ones at the Farmers Market over the weekend. You know how they say, "Everything's Bigger in Texas"? Well, these things were ridiculous! Each one weighed in at over 20 oz and they were shaped like enormous bulbs of garlic. Here is a photo of one after it was oven roasted:

I just washed these two big boys and popped them in a 425 degree oven for an hour and 15 minutes. The skin got all nice and charred and the first layer was soft, sweet and mushy. However, because these were so big and thick, the middles were still kind of hard. So, when I went to mash them in my food processor, they were still a little solid. No problem! I added a little bit of orange juice and made a truly delicious sweet potato puree. The recipe called for canned sweet potatoes, but I couldn't use canned when it is sweet potato season. It almost feels like fall around here. It has been cool in the mornings and evenings and gorgeous and one can imagine that it is autumn (except for the fact that it hits 80 every afternoon).

I happened to have some White Lily flour on hand and used that because it is supposed to be the ultimate biscuit flour. I added about 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, about 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Working the butter into the flour felt so good, though I may have overworked it because I was having so much fun! When I stirred in my sweet potato puree, it looked like this:

All it took was a couple of good smooshes and the dough came together. Rather than work it more and develop the gluten, I just flattened it on the countertop with my hand. I then used my recently acquired biscuit cutter and cut out 20 cute little biscuits from the dough. I thought that I had been gentle and had minimized handling, but they didn't puff up all that much. Here they are before baking:

And after:

All morning I thought about what I would make to go with my biscuits. Funny to pick the bread first and then go from there, but, as I have said, the bread is my favorite part! Anyways, I wanted to make chili but then thought that my kids wouldn't eat it as neither is any good with a spoon nor can handle the spiciness I would use. Anyways, I got lazy and just bought a store roasted chicken from Hubbell and Hudson and served it with their very tasty barbecue sauce and made some garam masala spiced green beans. The biscuits tasted great, though I wished they had been lighter and flakier. They were utterly divine dipped into the barbecue sauce.

Z man had 4 of them and kept asking for more "cookies" (they were that flat).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Outerwear solved!

Here in Houston, there are about 20 days a year that it is cold enough for a jacket. Last year I didn't even wear my little leather blazer one time here because with two little kids to buckle in and out of the car, it was one more thing I didn't want to deal with. However, we do travel to colder places, for our annual ski trip and to see family in NJ. For all of these trips, I usually only have an inappropriately light jacket, the aforementioned leather blazer, or an inappropriately bulky and casual jacket, my snowboard jacket.

Well, in today's NYTimes Style magazine, I found the perfect thing! The RainForest packable down coat.

It comes with its own cute little hobo, into which it can be packed. This way, when traveling to a colder place, I can still have everything in my carry on, pull my coat out and have a bag to use while I am there. There are a couple of other styles, but I am partial to the simple down coat. It is available in a chocolate brown and black. Knowing me, I will pick the black one. I always end up going with black. But, I am so excited about this find!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hawaii, Quick Recap

It already seems like weeks ago, but DrRuckus and I had a truly fabulous week away in Hawaii! I can't believe we have been back for four days already and I fear that if I don't post something about it now, it will be too far gone. It was so needed and the help that our parents gave us by coming to our home to care for our kids so that we could get away was really appreciated.

DrRuckus and I honeymooned in Hawaii in 2002 and then lived there for his first year of residency, but we haven't been back since we moved to Chicago in 2003. My aunt and her husband still live there, but not for long! They are getting ready to move to Arizona and we thought that if we didn't go back while they were still there, we would regret it immensely. So, their impending move was our excuse for going.

We spent the first night in our old neighborhood in Waikiki, revisiting old haunts and then having a wonderful sunset dinner at the Halekulani Hotel. There is something about the light in Waikiki that is magical. The next morning I had one of my best runs ever up and around Diamond Head and then we hightailed it out of there and to Kauai.

We spent 8 nights of our honeymoon in Kauai and returned to the same place for our three days this time. The hotel was just taken over by St. Regis and redone and reopened the week before we arrived. The resort already had one of the best locations and views in all of the world, and the redo makes it seem much more in keeping with the location. The old resort was too formal and palatial while it now feels warmer and more Hawaiian.

Our stay at the St. Regis was wonderful, even though the resort is still working out some kinks. The staff there were really friendly and for the most part did everything they could to make guests feel happy and relaxed. Well, we were certainly those things. Sitting on those turquoise chairs gazing at Hanalei Bay, reading a good book and sipping one of their divine El Fresco margaritas with my beloved, I couldn't have been more content. This is how we spent the majority of our three days on Kauai, even though there is so much more to do. We only had those few days to just chill and we took advantage of that. Our big adventure was stand up paddling on the Hanalei River, which was really fun. It was a really great workout and something totally new to both of us. It must be really challenging to do in the ocean and something I want to try next time I have a chance.

The resort's fine dining restaurant was not yet open, but we had some incredible meals on the island. The iPhone is really the greatest thing ever for travel (and everything else) and we found some delicious spots:
Best Sandwiches I have ever had (seriously): Deli and Bread Connection in Lihue
Fresh Sushi, laid back vibe: Hanalei Dolphin
Creative Tapas, cool atmosphere: BarAcuda
Local Ingredients, Old School Hawaii: Hukilau Lanai

After our three days, we flew back to Oahu to stay with my aunt and uncle. We had an action packed 48 hours with them, touring the island and all of the best spots to eat. (Oh yeah and I did my 13 mile training run one night.) We had an out of this world meal at Chef Mavro's justifiably famous restaurant. revisited many of our old favorites, like Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Dave's for ice cream, and Mariposa at Neiman's (for consomme, popovers, and a great view).

I will not lie, though. A highlight of my trip was searching out and then walking along the beach to the "Lost" beach camp set. I love that show more than any other and it was important to me to make a pilgrimage while we were on the island. We encountered a major rainstorm as we were walking back and were sandy and soaked, but it was so worth it.

We also used miles to fly first class and I don't know how I will ever go back to coach! It made travel so much more relaxing and comfortable. We actually slept the entire red eye flight and had no problems adjusting back to Houston time.

Aloha, ya'll!

Happy World Bread Day!

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of sumbission october 17)

When I got an email from King Arthur Flour a couple of days ago announcing something called "World Bread Day", I knew I would have to celebrate it. Baking bread is my favorite kind of baking because I find it so magical to watch it rise and change shape. Plus, I just llllooooooooooovvvvvvveeeeee bread but only eat the white flour, really yummy kinds as a special treat. Otherwise, it is all whole grain, high fiber for me. Not too exciting. So, when I bake bread, it is pure joy.

As soon as I got that email, I thought, "what kind of bread"? I had so many choices, but then I realized that World Bread Day fell on a Friday. So, naturally, a Challah was in order. Though are Atheist non-practicing Jews, we are Jews culturally, and food is a big part of that culture. And Challah, a rich, dense egg bread is one of my favorite aspects of that culture. So, it was "basheret" (meant to be) that the Food and Wine magazine that I got in the mail on Wednesday afternoon included a recipe for Sephardic Challah. Our families are not Sephardic (these are Jews originating in the Iberian Peninsula as opposed to Eastern Europe like our families, who are considered Ashkenazic). Anyways, the challah looked amazing, and I was excited to try it.

I always use instant yeast rather than active dry yeast (just decrease the amount of yeast by 20%) and then don't need to proof it before mixing. I dumped all of the ingredients into my beloved Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and let the dough hook go. Really, this would have been an arduous hand knead, but with the Kitchenaid did all of the work. That thing is amazing! All I ever use it for is mixing, but I am thinking of finally getting some other attachments to see if it really is a jack of all trades. After about 7 minutes, the dough was smooth and elastic and smelled so good. Ladybug and I were very excited watching it go round and round.

I put it in an oiled bowl and left it to rise for a couple of hours while we ran to the gym. When we came back, it was huge and beautiful.

It divided in half really easily and stretched out into a rope as though it was made of elastic. It was truly easy dough to handle and to work, so coiling it up was super easy. I have tried to make round challahs before and always find the coils collapse onto themselves. This dough held its shape but was really pliable. According to the instructions I coiled them on the baking sheets and then let them rise under an inverted bowl. They looked so cute!

After a rich bath of egg yolks and a sprinkling of the seed mixture, they went into the oven. Just half an hour later, they came out and they were gorgeous!

All I wanted to do was eat bread and butter for dinner, but I thought that it would make me a bad mom, so I made some quick, ultra healthy turkey and million vegetable meatballs to eat with the bread. Oh so good!

Happy World Bread Day!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD-Comfort Food Needed

DrRuckus and I got back from a great and much needed week in Hawaii this a.m. (more on the trip later). Our red-eye was pretty painless (despite the woman with the child who screamed all night in the row behind us) because we had cashed in miles to fly first class and had comfortable seats. ( I actually don't know how I will ever go back to coach again after the comfort, service, space, food, and make your own sundae bar. But I digress . . .)

Anyways, though we were better rested than we might have been had we flown that red eye in coach, we were still pretty tired when we got home. However, we were not nearly as tired as my poor mother in law was! My parents watched our kids for the first part of our week away and then my MIL flew down halfway through to take over for them. She had been looking forward to some alone time with the kids, though I thought she was nuts for taking it on herself. Well, so did she after two days because not only was the Z-Man holding on to the bug that has caused him to run a fever every day for over a week, but she also got sick. I always think that the hardest part of parenting is not being able to take a day off when you don't feel well. I called on some friends to help her, but she persevered on her own and made it through the day and a half before we got here.

So, this gray morning, she was eating her 800th piece of toast as it was the only thing that seemed agreeable to her. The Z-Man was feeling fine but stir crazy, and DrRuckus and I were a little bit jetlagged. I had no intention of baking, but when I saw that today's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was for muffins, I decided that there was nothing that sounded more comforting than fresh muffins. These Allspice Crumb Muffins were intriguing because Allspice is not something I use frequently. The jar smelled delicious, like cinnamon and clove cigarettes (oh how much fun those were back in the day), so I decided to give it a whirl. As soon as everyone went for their nap, I whipped up the batter.

Because I went way off of my healthy eating plan about halfway through the vacation (though it was soooooo worth it), I thought that I better make these a little bit less fattening. So, I substituted all of the flour in the struesel topping and half of the flour in the batter for whole wheat and half of the butter in the batter for Fage fat free Greek yogurt. I did use the optional lemon zest because I think that it adds a zing to everything. The best part of making these was making the struesel topping. I did it all with my hands, mixing the flour, sugar, and allspice and then kneading in the pieces of butter. In my jeglagged state, it felt really good and relaxing.

I divided the batter in the muffin tins and then really smooshed the topping onto each one. I had heard that the topping slid off the muffins in some cases, but I didn't have that problem at all. These are them before they went into the oven.

I added 5 extra minutes to the cooking time because at 20 minutes they seemed raw. However, at 25 they seemed a tad dry and overdone. Might just be the proportion of whole wheat flour though. Tastewise, they are delicious. The Allspice has a subtle kick and a really delicious flavor. The Z-Man thought it was a "good cupcake, Mommy" though he did ask for a cup of hot chocolate to drink with it. I know that it is 80 degrees out, but the kid knows what's good!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding Balance

Our local Bikram studio is hosting the Texas Yoga Asana Championship in a few weeks and they requested submissions for the magazine they are putting out for the event. They wanted personal stories about how Bikram fits into our lives. I have submitted the following story. (WARNING: it is long. They promised they have an editor, but you are seeing the unedited version.)

Growing up, I was never an athlete - zero coordination, less than zero skills on the field, the court, etc. I was always one of the last ones chosen in gym class. When I tried to play softball in high school, I was cut from the JV squad because they didn’t have enough uniforms. But, really, who could blame them? I would close my eyes when a ball came towards me.

Things changed somewhat when I matriculated at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont. There, amidst the glory of the Green Mountains and surrounded by shiny, happy people, it was impossible to be sedentary. I first shucked my non-athleticism there on the slopes of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. It was on that little hill that I learned to snowboard. Having been stuck as an intermediate skier for years, snowboarding was a revelation to me. I was skilled and graceful for the first time in my life. It remains, to this day, my absolute favorite thing to do.

Bolstered by my confidence on the slopes, I took up running that first spring at Middlebury. I certainly was not fast but was mentally strong and so could run far. On those hilly back roads of Central Vermont, I could run for miles in perfect contentment. I still recall some of those runs, which I used to escape and find my own head space.

After college, knowing that distance was my strength, I decided to train for a marathon. I ran my first marathon a year and a half after graduation. Training for it and completing it was one of my proudest accomplishments. I could never again say, “I am not an athlete.” In subsequent years, I completed four more marathons, slowly and steadily. I developed great and lasting friendships through my training and truly gained a respect for myself and my own body. Where I had always hated my heavy thighs, I learned to love them for being able to carry me 26.2 miles.

I completed my last marathon about a year and a half before my son was born. Going through pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding, I gained new respect my body for all that it could do. But, as a new parent, it was difficult to find the time to focus on myself and I did so sporadically.

Then, when my son was almost two years old, I discovered Bikram yoga here in The Woodlands. After my first class, I felt an euphoric feeling of both peace and accomplishment. It was almost better than completing a marathon because I experienced those feelings but felt physically wonderful rather than the post marathon pain. I loved everything about Bikram and was doing it as often as I could. Right away, it was a good fit for me, a definite “Type A” personality, because it is so organized and requires intensity of focus and discipline.

I told everyone who listened that “Bikram is great for the body, mind and spirit. It is an amazing workout that targets every muscle in your body, gets your heart pounding, but encourages you to keep your breath measured and controlled. It is meditative because you block out your own thoughts so that the only thing in your head is the instructor’s voice. Then, after class, you are so much more centered than before.”

A few weeks after my daughter was born, my doctor gave me the OK to return to exercise. The first thing I tried to do was run because I could just step out the door and go. It was awful! I was barely able to complete two miles and every yard was excruciating. However, my first Bikram class back was wonderful. I surprised myself by being able to not just stay in the room but practice every posture in the series. It felt great to be back. Unfortunately, my daughter was extremely colicky and I was nursing her all the time for many months, so I was not able to make the time commitment and attend class much at all.

It was about this time that I attempted my first Pilates Reformer class. I had done some mat Pilates here and there, but had never tried the Reformer and wanted to try something that offered the intensity of Bikram. For years I had heard that nothing transforms your body as quickly as Pilates. Knowing that I was definitely NOT having any more babies (colic ensured that it was out of the question), I was ready to not just lose the baby weight, but to transform my body completely.

I lucked out and found a trainer with whom I work incredibly well. She is a kind and skilled instructor who right from the beginning has encouraged me to go farther each and every time. I work one on one with her twice weekly, and each and every time I feel like I get better, stronger, leaner and longer. Pilates, like Bikram, utilizes the breath to encourage the muscles to go deeper into every movement. Many of the movements are similar to ones that are done in the Bikram series, though there are so many more postures and variations that even a year into twice weekly sessions, I have yet to not try something new each session.

My trainer specializes in rehabilitation after illness, and she knows how crucial it is to be physically active for one’s mental and emotional health and well being. In the beginning of our practice together, she encouraged me to find the time to do my cardio as well as our practice. I made a commitment to myself to work my heart and clear my head daily. When I was in the studio, I pushed myself to the limit each time. Thus, I began to see a difference very quickly. I was stronger and leaner each and every week. It was truly amazing! Because of this, I took up running again.

Getting back to running was so difficult at first. I didn’t want to do it, and did it because I “should”. Then, I began to recall why I loved running for so many years. No other workout allows you to just lace up your shoes and go, getting your heart racing, allowing you to push yourself harder, faster, longer without having to use any special equipment. I once again was able to find some head space, much needed for a mother of two very demanding little children. Even better, I found that I was a much better runner than I had ever been before. I can now run so much faster than I ever thought possible, thanks to being stronger and leaner than I ever thought I would be.

It was only this past Spring that I really returned to Bikram. I had really missed it, the 90 minute active meditation that had always left me feeling euphoric. Though I had been away from it for so long, my first class back went incredibly well. It was amazing to see the evidence of how much more flexible I had become. I could see small differences, such as how much better my toes were able to spread and support me after being used to grip the bar on the Reformer. I could see large differences too in how much deeper I was able to go into each pose. My practice took on a whole new dimension.

Now, I am at a point where I am more fit than I ever thought possible for me. Like they say at Lululemon, I sweat at least once a day. I do a little bit of everything - gym classes, spinning, weights, cross training - in addition to my three favorites. The amazing thing to me is how each of the activities that I do informs the others. I now regularly run at a sub 8 minute pace, something I never thought could do. I am much more flexible and graceful when I practice Pilates. And, in Bikram, I am so much more advanced. I am now able to put my forehead on my locked knee in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose or, more recently, being able to get my hips all the way off the floor in Locust.

Better than all of this is the way that I feel. I have never felt so great about myself as I do now. I have so much pride in all that I have accomplished, and I am able to push myself to accomplish more every day. One of the things that they teach in Bikram is that the goal of your first class is to just stay in the room. Then, when you do more, you have really done something. Well, applying that to my every day, my goal is to just get there and move, but then I end up doing so much more than that once I get started.

I am planning to run a half marathon in a few weeks and actually have a time goal for the first time. I feel confident that I will beat it. I am considering becoming certified as a Pilates instructor. And, with one child in preschool three days a week, I can actually find the time to be able to practice Bikram much more regularly and try to advance my practice. The athlete in me is here to stay; I just can’t wait to go snowboarding!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD - Thank Goodness!

Today was one of those days. If you are a parent, you know the ones. The ones where you count the minutes until bedtime. The ones where you feel like bad mommy, a mean mommy. The ones where you find yourself singing the Stones, "I go running for the shelter of a mother's little helper." The ones where you say, "Calgon, take me away". A big part of the problem is that both of my kids were up before 7, something that is just not done in this house. Plus, LL was just fussy and discontent this morning and there was nothing I could do to console her and thus nothing anyone could do to console me. Then, when I tried to take them to the gym so that I cold get a break for some mom-me time, LL fell asleep in the car and I felt guilty waking her up to drop her at child care. So, we went to a friend's house (which was lovely) and the day started to get better.

It got better because when I am having "one of those days", baking really and truly relaxes me. I love the precision of it, the magic of the chemistry of it, and of course, the taste of the finished products. I find that creating something in the kitchen really makes me feel better. So, when we got home I tackled this weeks Tuesday's with Dorie project: Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart. Buttery, shortbready crust covered by a layer of caramel coated salted peanuts and then bathed in a thick layer of bittersweet ganache. Chocolate salted caramel - prozac on a plate?

Because I had been feeling like mean mommy for being short on patience and long on exasperation, I decided that this would be a fun way for the Z-Man and I to bond. He loves to get up on his ladder and help me to bake. Plus, the crust was nice and play-doughy, so he was able to contentedly play with it for a couple of hours. (Oh well that he stuffed it into every crevice of my food processor; he had a blast and we had a good time together.)

The tart crust, made in my beloved processor, was really simple to put together. I don't own a tart shell, so I did it in my stoneware pie plate and had some extra (for Z to play with). Chilling it in the freezer for 1/2 hour prior to baking really seemed to help it bake up perfectly.

The caramel was painstaking - melting 3 tbsp of sugar at a time, stirring in the rest of the ingredients one at a time, getting it to an exact temperature. However, it was well worth the effort, especially with the peanuts mixed in. I never had a problem with it getting too hard; it stayed a perfect consistency.

The ganache was really easy, perfectly pourable, set well after the 1/2 hour, "not one minute more" in the fridge, looked all lovely and shiny and tasted divine - bitter, rich, smooth and yummy! I actually assembled the whole tart while on the phone and so I didn't pay close attention to the recipe calling for the peanuts to be chopped, but they were small and lovely studded throughout the caramel. I did use all of the ganache. Some of my fellow TWD bakers had leftover ganache for next week's project. I think that by making it in the pie plate, I made it denser than they did. Extra chocolate? No problem. The Z Man couldn't wait for his piece and then he and I split a tiny one because it was so rich and awesome.

I do think that the crust on this was the best part. This tart crust is ridiculously easy and tastes incredibly good. I can't wait to use it in a myriad of recipes.

My day, however got better, then worse, then better again. I got to catch up with some friends finally, Z and I had a great time baking, LL was delightful after her nap, DrRuckus got home early and we went out for dinner. Yay, right? But the restaurant was a bizarre little place called Eden Café in Magnolia, TX and none of us could find anything we really wanted to eat. Especially my LL, who wouldn't eat, wouldn't touch anything we offered her, and then proceeded to projectile vomit all over the table. She has had a mild bug for about week. We keep thinking she is better, but this is the first public vomiting and it was AWFUL! So, of course, I blamed myself for weaning her this week and for giving her spoiled milk (I really did, for who knows how many days). Either way, mentally, emotionally and physically, there is nothing worse than having your kid be sick. (Meanwhile, she was fine right after puking, just as she is every time she does.)

However, on a good note, after we put the kids to bed, I was feeling too warn out to do much but also feeling blah and guilty because I had my running clothes on since 6:30 a.m. and had never gotten my run in. So, I was talking to my beloved friend/pilates trainer/life coach and bitching about my day. She said to me, "Why don't you go for your run now? You will feel better which will make your husband happier and then tomorrow will be much better." So, I didn't think, just went out the door (I still had my running shoes on) and proceeded to do my fastest run ever!

Maybe it wasn't one of those days after all. It's all in the perspective (and the pie).

(Oh and one week from now I will be in Hawaii!)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Homework

Well, folks, it has begun. I am doing my kid's homework already. It is only a short step before I am building his dioramas late at night. Z-Man is in pre-school three days a week and has little projects that he has to do at home. He loves this and takes great pride in doing them each week. This week, I got a little extra "bonus". I had a project to do myself. The Z-Man was the Line Leader all week at school, helping his friends with snacks and getting them to line up and follow him as they went from place to place. He was oh-so-proud of himself and told EVERYONE that he was the line leader. Then, at the end of the week, he got to take the class mascot home for the weekend. He really took this seriously and was very responsible about keeping Leo the Lamb with him at all times. And, lucky me, I got to document it all to put in Leo's journal that will get passed around all year. Here goes:

The Ruckus Family had the joy of hosting Leo the Lamb for his birthday weekend. Yes, everyone, Leo turned two years old today and we had the distinct pleasure of celebrating with him. He is very sweet and a whole lot of fun, and was a great guest to have around.
On Friday after school, Leo accompanied Z on his daily bike ride. Ever since his first day in P-21, Z tells us that he “needs to do his long bike ride”. So, on Friday afternoon, Leo was strapped to the back of Z’s bike and away we went. Our destination on Friday afternoon was Lakeside Park where Leo, Z and L enjoyed some slide and swing time. When Z walked in front of L’s swing and bumped his head, Leo was there to comfort him. What a great friend!

We spent Saturday in Houston and Leo was with us for all of our fun. The first stop was the Bayou City Farmers’ Market. We picked out all of fresh produce, eggs, cheese, treats and meat. (We decided not to buy Leo’s cousins in the form of chops.) Everything went into the cooler and then we departed for the next adventure - our train ride on Houston’s Metro. We all got on and rode the Metro from end to end. Trains are Z’s very favorite things, so he was delighted to share this with Leo.

After the train ride, we went to our favorite Thai place, Asia Market, which is a Thai grocery store and restaurant. Z pushed Leo up and down the aisles in a little shopping cart admiring all of the goodies and we feasted on delicious food.
On the way home, everyone was exhausted and took good naps. That night, Leo watched Bee Movie with Z and then slept in his bed. (He is going to miss having his new friend to cuddle with at night.)
Today was Leo’s birthday and he spent the day playing with Z’s toys. We sang to him many times and even enjoyed some cupcakes in honor of his special day. Leo, we can’t wait to have you back when, as Zac says, “my turn comes around the circle again.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

50 (!) Calorie Cupcakes

Oh, last Friday's party was so much fun. So decadent and delightful. Alas, this evening is much different. Rather than friends, Louboutins and cocktails, it's just me and Gossip Girl on the elliptical trainer. But, at least I still have cupcakes. Only today's cupcakes are the direct opposite of last week's over-the-top indulgence Today, adapting a Hungry Girl favorite, I made 50 calorie, mini chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. And, though they are no Sel your Soul cupcakes, they are pretty damn good for a guilt free treat.

Here is all that I did:
1. Preheat oven to 325 and line 24 mini muffin tins

2. Take 1/2 box Devil's Food Cake mix and 1/2 can of Coke Zero Vanilla (or whatever diet soda you like, though if you find something better than CZ Vanilla, I will be shocked). Mix them up. Divide batter among the 24 mini muffin tins and bake for about 15 minutes. Drink the rest of your bubbly beverage.

3. Whisk together 12 Tbsp Cool Whip Free with 4 tsp reduced fat peanut butter. Put mixture in the fridge.

4. Let cupcakes cool in tins and then remove to cooling rack. Then frost each one with the whipped peanut butter frosting. Put a chocolate or a peanut butter chip on top, if you want.

5. If not serving right away, keep in the fridge.

Not bad at all, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Ladybug

My blue eyed little girl turned one year old last week and we were determined to celebrate this milestone in style! Though she is utterly adorable, charming, funny, delightful, adventurous, bright and sweet, she was not, and still is not, always this way. Unlike my placid, easily pacified little boy, LL knows what she wants and will scream until she gets it. It took us a few colicky months to really get in sync with her and to this day, if we are not on her wavelength, she lets us know, loudly. I love her with a consuming passion, but getting through this first year with her, on top of parenting a toddler, has been the biggest challenge of my life thus far. So, we wanted to throw a party to celebrate her first birthday, but really, we wanted a party because we haven't thrown her or ourselves out of the window this year! We wanted everyone to see our little birthday girl and then send her off to dreamland while the grown ups could get down to the celebration. No kids were invited and even Z-Man was sent down the street for the night to play with neighbors.

The theme was "Cocktails and Cupcakes" because those are two of the most festive things I could think of. We decided to have the party catered because we didn't want to spend the few days before, the first few days in a row that DrRuckus had off at home all summer, in constant party preparation. Also, since this was to be a grown up party, we wanted to be able to relax and imbibe rather than fuss with entertaining. Because I love them, I decided to have Hubbell and Hudson do the catering. Their catering manager was delightful to work with and put together a fun menu of tasty nibbles and platters to please everyone. However, I could not entrust the cupcake aspect of the party to anyone but myself. I love baking too much, and really think that my cakes and cupcakes are way better than any you could buy anywhere else. Besides, it was way too much fun to plan which cupcakes I was going to make.

I have never been a fan of Martha Stewart, but I saw her cupcake book at Williams Sonoma a few weeks back and it really caught my eye because I opened it to the page on Ladybug cupcakes! Of course, I ordered it right up from Amazon and had it two days later. I got that book and poured over it like it was my Organic Chemistry textbook back in college. It was post-ited, highlighted, annotated and broken in within two days. I wanted to make everything in there, but finally narrowed it down to four cupcakes.

I also learned something very important: Martha Stewart is a huge pain in the rear! Her recipes are way more complicated and require way more steps than I am used to, and I bake a lot! Secondly, her recipes make really odd numbers of cupcakes. Not 24 regular size ones, but 32. Not 48 minis, but 56. Why? She obviously has a huge staff, so why can't they tweak the recipes so that the whole batter can fill regular muffin tins without having to start but not fill a third tin. Why?

Usually, I am a last minute lady, but I wanted to be relaxed for the party, and I was damn excited about my cupcakes, so I started baking early in the week and got some cakes in the freezer so that I could do a bit every night instead of being crazed the day before. My mom was there for most of the week and we had fun each night perfecting the "cuppersons". This method worked well for me, and I will have to remember in the future that, with a little planning, things are much more fun and less stressful!

1. Ladybug Cupcakes

I used Martha's recipe for chocolate chip cupcakes and wanted to make a caramel buttercream because I was still dreaming of the best cake I ever had, the Z-Man's third birthday cake which was made by a baker who has subsequently moved to Singapore. First, I tried to use the recipe for Magnolia Bakery's chocolate frosting, substituting caramel for chocolate, but this came out sickeningly sweet. I could not eat it and had to dump the whole thing (much to the chagrin of my sweet toothed sweetie). Then, I decided to try Martha's caramel swiss meringue buttercream. Boy, this one was a pain! Making a fresh batch of caramel, cooking, whipping and cooling egg whites, beating with two different mixers. But, it would have been all good if it was delicious. However, it was not to my liking at all. Where my improvised caramel icing was sickeningly sweet, this one was not sweet enough and just tasted like sweet butter. I still have it in the fridge, but I couldn't use it. I wanted to make the most delicious buttercream. So, I went to Old Faithful, the Magnolia Bakery buttercream, though I always triple the vanilla:

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream Recipe

(Makes enough for a 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

15 minutes 15 mins prep

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add in 4 cups sugar, then the milk and vanilla. On
medium speed of an electric mixer, beat about 3-5 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well (about 2 minutes) after each
addition, until the icing is thick enough for good spreading consistency (you may not need all
of the sugar).
If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. Use and store the icing at
room temperature because icing will set if chilled. The icing can be stored in an airtight con-
tainer for up to 3 days.
**If making a 3-layer cake, use the following proportions: 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, 8-10
cups confectioner's sugar, 3/4 cup milk, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

I then added some green gel paste and placed two marzipan ladybugs. My good friend, L, stayed until the wee hours of the morning making these, dying our hands black and red and cursing Martha the whole time. They came out so adorable and the completed cupcakes looked fantastic on a cupcake stand, but, even better, I thought that they were the most delicious of all that I had made.

2. Sel Your Soul cupcakes - These were directly from the Miss Martha's book. They were mini rich chocolate cupcakes, from which my mom cut a tiny cone out of the top of each, into which I poured Fleur de Sel Caramel. Then, they were topped with the richest, creamiest, most chocolatey frosting I have ever had. Martha, you more than made up for that yucky Swiss Meringue crap! BTW, I am a great baker, but not a very good decorator, and piping this slick, rich icing was quite the challenge for me, but I sprinkled each of these puppies with a little fleur de sel and they were out of this world. The definition of "To Die For".

3. Pucker Up Cupcakes - These were also from Miss Martha, though I made a combination of regular and mini sized ones. The cakes were delicious, lemony and crumbly. However, her curd did not set up right. I used her recipe exactly (8 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, yikes!) but it did not set up. This kept me up at night and so I did some searching around and saw that there was not even close to enough butter in that recipe for it to work. I ended up adding another stick and a half of butter to Martha's recipe before my curd set up, but when it did . . . heaven! Who knew that lemon curd is one of the worst for you foods that there is? But, yum!

4. Raspberry Dream cupcakes - For my last and final cupcake, I wanted to do something in a cupcake paper that was not exactly a cupcake, so I made Martha's raspberry swirl cheesecake cupcakes. However, I had a clever twist. Later in the book, there are Oreo cheesecake cupcakes, and I used the crust from these: one whole Oreo in the bottom of the cupcake paper. Brilliant! I also substituted marscapone for half of the cream cheese. These ended up being the easiest of all, and were truly delicious.

I ended up with hundreds of cupcakes, so from Amazon (of course) I ordered a bunch of cupcake boxes so that people could bring cupcakes home to share with their kids. This was a stroke of genius on my part, as the kids got a little goody and all of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes went to good homes. In fact, we only ended up with a few the next day, definitely a very good thing after much indulgence!

And the party! Simply marvelous, darling! LL looked adorable in her French frock and managed to stay awake until about half of the guests arrived. We had friends from all different aspects of our life and it was wonderful to have them all here, mixing, at our house. We love our friends and don't get to socialize with them all that often, so it was great fun for us to have them together, meeting one another and enjoying a fun night out. Our neighbors even got a little nutty and played quarters in the entry way, always a sign of a good party.

The food was delicious, and having servers there made it so much easier for us and for all of the guests. All of the little "hors" from the coconut shrimp to the little prosciutto poblano cupcakes with goat cheese "frosting" were delicious, though I was partial to the tiny martini glasses filled with the vanilla corn chowder and a crab meat "surprise". However, my only regret was setting the bar and bartender up in the kitchen. I know that at parties people always end up in the kitchen, but I invited this to happen by having the bar here. I had set up beautiful cocktail tables with turquoise linens tied with silver sashes that set off my chocolate brown living room walls, and no one ventured into that room. Next time, I will put the bar where I want the people to be.

All in all, it was an awesome party. Happy Birthday, Little Ladybug. Daddy and I love you so much.