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.

Tuesday with Dorie - Apple Turnover

After the utter baking frenzy and the gluttony of the Little Ladybug's first birthday party, the last thing that I wanted to do was to haul out more butter and start baking again. I was going to skip this week, I really was, but then I saw that this week's project was "Flaky Apple Turnovers". Ugh! On the one hand, I still had some butter left after buying out the Plugra aisle at Hubbell and Hudson. But, on the other hand, Apple Turnovers just happen to be DrRuckus's favorite treat. How could I deny my amazing husband his favorite treat. Plus, in reading the recipe, It looked like something that could be done in bits and pieces and thus not be another all nighter. So, of course, I decided to go for it. I just can't step away from a challenge, especially one that makes my husband so happy. (Okay, that is not entirely true. The ladies in my playgroup and I tried to initiate a 30 day "{ahem} challenge" and the furthest I got was 5 days in. Though this could partially be blamed on DrRuckus's shift schedule.) Anyways, we are talking about the other way to a man's heart.

The dough, a sort of cheater's pastry dough, was really easy. The secret was mixing sour cream with sugar and adding that to the flour and butter mixture. Did you know that sour cream mixed with sugar is totally delicious? I had no idea. DrRuckus liked it so much, that he mixed up some more and ate it with a spoon. The batter was very moist and sticky, but I just smooshed it together and wrapped it in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge over night.

The next afternoon, during the kids' naps, I needed to roll out the dough into 9x18 rectangles and then fold these business letter style. Okay, let's discuss this. I am in waaaaayyyy better shape than most people due to my pilates and exercise routine, and therefore, I assume, way stronger than most bakers. I had done some cardio and a Body Pump class that morning, and thought that I was done for the day. Well, rolling that cold dough into rectangles was like a second workout. I really worked my shoulders and biceps and definitely broke a sweat. That done, I folded them up just in time to hear LL crying for me. (Damn it, no Mommy time yesterday!)

While the kids were playing, I whipped together a custard base to serve to my darling husband with his favorite dessert. While I am not really an ice cream person, he loves it. I figured what is better than your favorite treat than your favorite treat a la mode? I used Dorie's recipe for Cinnamon ice cream, substituting low fat buttermilk for whole milk because I had a bunch left from the cupcakes. Yum!

Then, after we got the kiddos into bed, I got to work peeling apples and dicing them into tiny pieces. While I let them marinate in cinnamon and sugar, I had to get out the rolling pin and do my third workout of the day. The first piece I rolled between two pieces of wax paper. I think that for this roll, it was a mistake. I had to get it really thin and the wax paper kept ripping and then got stuck to the thin dough. So, by the time I tried to fill the rounds, the dough was really warm and hard to form into the half moon shapes. Some of them looked fine, but others were just smooshed together. However, I put them on a silpat lined baking sheet and hoped for the best. Popped them in the oven, pressed "go" on the ice cream maker, and waited 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I rolled the second sheet on a well floured cutting board with a well floured rolling pin and this was much more successful. I was able to cut out my circles and form my little half moons around my apple mixture much more quickly. I ended up freezing these ones, which were so much prettier, so that we can just pop them into the oven when we want a rich, apple-y treat.

These are the second batch, pre-freezer:

This is one from the first batch, on the cooling rack:

I also took some of the leftover dough scraps, put them in a small glass dish, dumped the leftover apple mixture, and then pieced together some more scraps on top.

Overall, I was quite pleased with this recipe. The dough was very tasty but much denser than your standard apple turnover. It was not very flaky, more rich and buttery. The apples were fresher and more tart than you typically find at a bakery, where the apples tend to be very soft and syrupy. The overall effect was like a portable apple pie. With the slightly tangy buttermilk cinnamon ice cream, it was a party in your mouth. DrRuckus took the mini pie to work today and thought that it was almost perfect in this form, even without the ice cream.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dorie's Chocolate Souffle

I had actually attempted this soufflé last week before I even knew about Tuesdays with Dorie because I didn't have any butter left and wanted to make something decadent. Though it came out delicious, I had the wrong kind of pan and didn't have any dramatic rising out of the pan action. Plus, I didn't have a sauce for it that time and I was determined to do it right this time.

Since I still don't have a real soufflé dish, and since I was going to bring my soufflé to the block party, I decided to use my ramekins. I have a dozen of those suckers from the one time I decided to make molten chocolate cakes for a party and it was good to pull out more than just the one that I use daily to microwave my egg beaters .

I got the ingredients out and ready while I made the quinoa salad, so that when it came time to prepare the soufflé, it was really a cinch. This time, I beat the egg whites a little less stiffly than the previous time and this made folding the chocolate much easier. (I would say that you don't want to go all the way to stiff peaks, just shy of that.)

I put the soufflé into 8 ramekins that had been prepared and the batter did go almost to the top of each one. I then put the tray of them in the fridge so that I could pop them in the oven while I put Little Ladybug to bed.

The block party was so much fun. We live in a great neighborhood with wonderful neighbors and friends. The sweetest kids live here and they take such good care of my two who are by far the youngest on the street. The Z-Man had the time of his life running around, riding bikes and skateboards with the big kids. Ladybug was content to get passed around, at least for a little while. Then it was almost 6 and past her bedtime. (Lately, she has been going to sleep before 6 every night and sleeping until after 7 the next day. She only takes one short nap, but who am I to complain with this amazing schedule?)

While I was putting her to bed, I popped those babies into the oven. After 18 minutes, they were all puffed up and gorgeous. Nothing says "outdoor block party in the heat of a Houston summer" like a soufflé, I often say. Oven mit and tray in one hand, pitcher of creme anglaise (okay, okay, it was melted vanilla custard, I can't do everything!) in the other, I set out the door. Much to my dismay and frustration, the wagon that I was counting on to bring dessert down to the party was not there! The Z Man had taken that and all of his bikes down the street.

So, I had to carry everything down the street. Well, those soufflés had barely made it out the door in our 97% humidity before they were completely deflated. No one got to see them all puffed up and gorgeous. But, I made a big show out of puncturing a hole in the top of each one and pouring my melted custard sauce over them. And, despite not being puffy, they were adored. Yay, another success! And, I am going to post this with two minutes to spare, while it is still Tuesday, September 8.

Two minutes from now, my Ladybug will be one!

Channeling Martha

All in all, it was a much busier and much less lonely Labor Day weekend than I had anticipated. I knew that I would be alone with the kids the whole time and I dread holidays when everyone else I know is having family time but DrRuckus has to work. This time, though, he had to work the entire weekend, really extra long shifts, with very little help. This has been a hard stretch and has sucked for all of us, but especially my amazing, hard working husband. We have missed having him around and are looking forward to a few days together at home and all of the festivities surrounding Little Ladybug's first birthday.

Saturday I was very ambitious and adventurous and took both kids by myself to Houston to the Farmer's Market. There is actually a pretty great one and we had a blast and got a lot of good stuff. I had even planned ahead and brought coolers so that we could do what we wanted afterwards. From there, we went over to Hermann park where we got to do the Z-Man's favorite thing - ride the train! We timed it right, got right on, and then back to our car quickly. By now, it was lunch time and I had been wanting to try a Thai place in the Heights for a while. It is called Asia Market and is a Thai grocery store that serves made to order, out of this world Thai food at some tables in the store. Fan-frigging-tastic and the nicest people! While there, I bought some sticky rice and a sticky rice steamer so that I can make my favorite dessert at home, Mango with Sticky Rice. After lunch, we went down the street for a sweet treat at Mam's House of Snowballs, a trailer where two women serve New Orleans style Snowballs in a mind boggling array of flavors. Exhausted after this, we headed home and both kids promptly feel asleep in the car. I only wish I had been able to do the same.

Sunday morning I woke up at 4:30 to do part of my friend's 20 mile run with her before DrRuckus had to go to work. That done, I decided to use the child care at the gym to have a little Mom Me time. I sat by the pool (in the shade, bien sur) to read my book for two hours. Why hadn't I done this sooner? It was heavenly, two hours of reading and free childcare? Of course, that night, I had to try my sticky rice steamer and it worked like a charm. It is such a simple, unwieldy contraption, but it does make perfect sticky rice. I didn't have any mangos, but had mango sorbet and it was out of this world. I used the epicurious recipe but substituted maple syrup for sugar. Mmmmm, devine!)

Monday night, we had a rather impromptu block party. Well, you know me lately, that seemed like an opportunity to try some new things! We had gone to Sam's Club that day and I bought a box of mangos, so the first thing I did was use the leftover sticky rice with some fresh coconut sauce and a lovely layer of mangos on the top. This was child's play. Next, I decided to bring a quinoa salad that I had stumbled across recently. This salad was out of this world. Fresh, healthy and delicious. It will be a staple in my house from now on as it lends itself to countless variations and pairings.

But, for dessert, I had to make my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for the week. More on that in the next post.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Two is Better than One (and Vegan Chocolate Cake)

I always thought that having two children would be exponentially more difficult than having one. For the first few months, I found this to be exponentially true. Two kids with two totally different needs, on different time schedules . . . How did I cope? But, lately, we have reached a fantastic point. My kids can actually play together!

Little Ladybug (who will be one next week) adores her brother and only wants to play with him, to do what he is doing, to be wherever he is. Z-man always wants an audience and a playmate. Well, aren't they a pair? This is them this morning, playing with one of the many big plastic toys that are throughout my house, so ugly, but so entertaining.

They were having so much fun and playing so well together without needing me to intervene, that I even attempted another baking project this morning!

I had promised my friend A, who is now the mom of three (an almost 4 year old and 7 month old twins) that I would bake a vegan cake for her birthday. A is such a devoted mom that she has given up dairy and many other foods because she is breastfeeding her babies and they do not tolerate a whole slew of things. So, in addition to being way more exhausted and overwhelmed than I can imagine (or could tolerate myself), she has also had to deprive herself of a great deal for her babies' health and well being. Of course she deserved a cake, even two weeks late.

So, I googled "vegan chocolate cake" and the first hit was "The BEST chocolate cake ever . . . that just happens to be vegan". Well, alright alright alright. This one, I almost timed right to bring to the library for story time. However, the icing took a little longer than I had thought, so, of course, I was 10 minutes late, but on time enough to give A her belated birthday cake.

However, I had to go home before lunch and A was taking her kids to meet some of our friends for lunch, so there went the second thing I had baked in 12 hours that I had not tasted.

Luckily, after lunch, A stopped by, bringing the few pieces of cake that were left for us to sample. Yay! This cake was actually really delicious! It is one of the moistest cakes I have ever had and was also extremely rich and velvety. Would I say that it was the BEST? No, but for a simple one-layer cake, it was pretty outstanding. I would definitely make it again. You would never guess that it is vegan, and never miss the eggs or dairy.

Tuesday with Dorie

Well, after having a comment from Dorie herself, I had to make sure that I followed through with my goal of baking along with the crowd at Tuesdays With Dorie. I am not an official member yet, as the group seems to be currently closed, but I am going to be a member in spirit. This group of bloggers bakes the same recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours and then blogs about it. Simple, right? Oh, and you are not supposed to post the recipes to encourage people to get the book. You should get the book; it is so great that here I am doing this. However, I am pretty sure that you are supposed to taste your own recipes, and I didn't get to do that.

You see, anyone who knows me knows that being timely is not my best quality. I have all intentions of being on time, but I never calculate correctly. I am perpetually late, usually 7 minutes, but sometimes way more. So, with baking, it is best for me to do it at night when I don't have be anywhere. Thus was the case last night, when I delved into this week's project: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies. I had picked up the cream cheese earlier in the day (and even got extra to put in the freezer for future projects) and had set out my ingredients so that everything was room temperature. I just didn't look at the clock and factor in all of the time a cheesecake needs to cool.

Because I had read a few posts that the brownies were rather lackluster, I added an extra ounce of unsweetened chocolate to the brownie mix. The brownie part was really simple and came together beautifully. The batter on the whisk was delicious.

The cheesecake layer was even easier, as my trusty Kitchenaid did all of the work and I just dumped in the ingredients. That batter, with it's espresso flavor was divine and I licked off every last bit of it from the paddle attachment before I washed it (but after I poured it into the pan :)

BTW, have I mentioned how much I love my Kitchenaid mixer? It is such a workhorse and makes doughs, icings, and batters so easily. I use it all the time and it just keeps going, strong as ever. Which, actually is rather unfortunate because I am currently lusting after Kitchenaid 90th Anniversary Mixer, in all of its candy apple red glory with the glass mixing bowl. Alas, with mine working as well as the day I got it, I can't justify it.

Anyways, the cheesecake layer was a "piece of cake" and my only challenge was swirling the last quarter of the brownie batter with the cheesecake batter. My brownie batter was too thick and didn't swirl well but I made sure that the chocolate was studded throughout.

So, here is where I ran into trouble and my lateness was a problem. I didn't account for how long it would take to cool that thing when it came out of the oven. I wanted to do it gradually, so I left it in the oven, with the oven turned off and the door ajar. After a little while, I transferred it to the counter, then to the fridge. At this point it was 10 p.m. and I was exhausted. I wanted to go to bed so badly, but I still had to put on the sour cream topping.

So, I took a bath, where instead of reading my novel, I read Cook's Illustrated 100 best recipes of all time. I really need to get my head out of the oven! Finally, at 11 p.m., I made the sour cream topping, layered it on top of the cooled cheesecake where it needed to set for an hour and went to bed. This morning, MrRuckus (or DrRuckus as he would prefer to be known) took it to a meeting. He and the Espresso Cheesecake Brownies left at 6:30 a.m.

I asked that he bring back tasting notes, but all I got was from his boss, "These things will get you high!" Well, if that isn't high praise, I don't know what is.