Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June Daring Bakers Challenge: Battenberg Cake

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was very time friendly, which I appreciate considering how busy we've been over the past 6 or so weeks! This month, we were challenged to make Battenberg cake, which is the nifty checkerboard cake just about everyone has seen at some point. We got to choose our colors, and I went with the "natural" cake color and regal purple (Battenberg cakes have a royal history, so I thought a color with "regal" in its name would be perfect.) I didn't intend to wind up with a UW-themed cake, but there you go! GO DAWGS!

The cake making was really easy. The thing I really liked about this challenge was I learned how to make my own marzipan. It was really easy to make and tasted quite good. I would, however, roll it a bit thicker so the purple doesn't show through, and I would choose to add a bit more powdered sugar during the marzipan kneading so it isn't quite as sticky as this batch turned out to be.

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Conor Dancing to Wiggle Bay

Annika went through a definite "I love the Wiggles" phase and Conor seems to be following in her footsteps. He adores their "Wiggle Bay" video and can't resist singing and dancing along whenever he has a chance, as is proven by this video (best if you have speakers/headphones).

Enjoy (we sure did)!!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

He Is Such a Boy

Before going to bed each night, we brush Conor's teeth, read stories, and snuggle. A recent addition to the routine has been sitting on the potty, not necessarily expecting anything to happen, but just to get the habit incorporated into the nightly routine.

Two nights ago, Conor was sitting on the potty (naked as a jaybird) when he passed gas. He giggled (such a boy thing to do). Then, he proclaimed, "I tooted!" I started to agree when he decided to rephrase his statement. "I FARTED!"

Side note: Eric and I constantly rib each other about our preferred term for "passing gas" ... one guess who prefers which term!

Conor then proceeded to sit on the potty singing, "Toot! Fart! Toot! Fart! Toot! Fart! Toot! Fart! Toot! Fart! Toot! Fart!" until I distracted him with a Sunset magazine that I had in the next room. It wasn't exactly the ideal reading material for a 2-year-old, but it did distract him enough to stop his impromptu concert.

We knew Conor's gender long before he was born, but he is now starting to prove that he is a boy right down the core of his being.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's ALIVE!!!

A number of weeks ago, I accidentally overwhelmed my Kitchen Aid with some bread dough. It was my fault - I incorporated the ingredients in the wrong order. That "whoops" moment basically resulted in me stripping one of the gears in my machine. (Insert sounds of me sobbing here)

Eric decided there was a chance that he could repair the machine instead of us having to replace it. (Ironically, he and I both researched the prospect and wound up finding the same website with the how-to instructions). He ordered the parts and then I sat awaiting the arrival of the Kitchen Aid's renewed lease on life (aka gears and grease).

The big day arrived ... moreover, a little box of gears and another little box of grease arrived.

Eric laid newspaper on the kitchen table (such a good man!) and went to work on disassembling the mixer and swapping out the stripped gear.

First, he opened up the patient and got started on pulling out the gear... with tools that didn't quite fit the bill. (His tongue is sticking out because he's working hard ... I do that, too. If it is genetic, our kids are definitely going to be tongue stickers outers while concentrating, too!)
Eric trying to get the gear out with a screwdriver and pliers ... didn't work

Close up of it not working ;)

Come to find out, he didn't have the right tool to pull out the ring thingy that held the gear in place, so off I went to the closest hardware store. 20 minutes later, he was back to working on the mixer! He pulled out the stripped gear with relative ease once he had the tool for the job.

After pulling out the gear, Eric popped the new one in and mad sure everything aligned as it was supposed to, only stopping now and then to check a really helpful "how to put your Kitchen Aid mixer back together" video on YouTube.

Then, it was time for the grease.

Eric foolishly asked if I had any tongue depressor sticks. I think aliens sucked out his brain for a second and he forgot that he was married to the queen of craft supplies. Faster than you can spin around three times, I was holding a quart-size Ziploc bag full of tongue depressors. 

 He filled every nook and cranny with grease, and then added even more grease ... and then a bit more, just for good measure.

After applying the massive amounts of grease, Eric closed the patient, I gave it a loving pat for luck, and we flipped the switch. IT WORKED!!! (OK, it still caught a bit, but Eric gooped it up with more grease and took care of that without any difficulty.)

Of course, I had to put it to the test in a real-world situation, so I made cupcakes!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aunt June's 99th Birthday Party

My great aunt will turn 99 this week, but we celebrated it yesterday. A few of us descended on her little home (good thing there weren't more of us, we probably would have violated the house's fire code!) and had a nice late lunch/early dinner with her.

At one point during Aunt June's celebration, I realized it was probably a good thing she's hard of hearing because our family is frighteningly loud most of the time. That fact aside, everyone had a lovely day celebrating one of our favorite women.

The birthday girl

Staci and Eric

Katherine and Annika

I made sure to point out that her cake didn't have all 99 candles ...
then again, it might have been a fire code issue if it did!

The kids with Aunt June
(Getting this picture reminded me of the "herding cats" poster we have at work)

Getting a whip cream shot: Aunt June has an inner party animal that is craving to get out.
Reminder: she's the one who made Troy get a straw for Staci's wine a few months ago.

OK, whipped cream fun done ... now time to put it on the delicious cake (albeit funny looking) that my mom made
(I'll definitely need to get the recipe from her ... the cake had a very brownie-esque quality that was to die for)

Troy and Emily

Troy and Kat

It's a Conor sandwich!

Emily and Aunt June

Friday, June 15, 2012

One more reason I'm glad to have Irish blood

I'd heard rumor of some knock-your-socks-off cupcakes called Irish Car Bombs (named after the drink). They're comprised of chocolate cupcakes that contain Guinness, are filled with chocolate/Irish whiskey ganache, and are topped with Bailey's buttercream frosting. Oh my!

I searched online for a recipe and the recipe from Brown Eyed Baker was referenced A LOT, so I decided it was a safe bet.

Last night, I pulled out my Kitchen Aid (yes, Eric did raise it from the dead, more on that soon) and whipped up some sinful cupcake delights.

(Side note: Simultaneously, I made a batch of homemade avgolemono soup... impressed?)

The cupcakes weren't difficult, but did take a lot of bowls because of the numerous components and steps. (Our dishwasher was not short on things to wash last night). The cupcakes were very good and INCREDIBLY heavy ... I'm talking serious heft! They were so sweet, though, that they made my teeth hurt. (Yes, I'm weird ... sweet things cause me physical pain). Eric gave them two enthusiastic thumbs up, however.

I took a dozen cupcakes to work and my co-workers also professed their love for the cupcakes ... and few failed to comment on the weight each cupcake had. :)

Please ignore the smooshed frosting; 
it had to endure my morning commute on the bus

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Yield: 24 cupcakes
Prep Time: 40 minutes | Bake Time: 17 minutes

For the Cupcakes:
1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

For the Whiskey Ganache Filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

For the Baileys Frosting:
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream

1. To Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners. Bake until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.
3. To Make the Whiskey Ganache Filling: Finely chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then, using a rubber spatula, stir it from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped.
4. To Fill the Cupcakes: Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a large decorating tip), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes, going about two-thirds of the way down. Transfer the ganache to a piping back with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

5. To Make the Baileys Frosting: Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar until all of it is incorporated. Add the Baileys, increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.
6. Using your favorite decorating tip, or an offset spatula, frost the cupcakes and decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Store the cupcakes in an airtight container.
(Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slides are Fun

On Sunday, Annika and I met one of her school chums at a local park for a play date. The kids had a great time playing on the swings, going up and down the slides (especially the salmon slide), playing on the beach, and chasing each other.

(Side note: We went to Carkeek Park, which Annika continually called either "Car Key Park" or "Parky Park.")

Even with all of that fun, nothing compared to the big blow-up slide that was at the park. Apparently, a local church was having its summer picnic and had rented the slide and they were kind enough allow any kids in the park who expressed an interest in playing on it have a go at it. Our kids were beyond thrilled!! I can't even begin to count how many times the went up and down that thing. I knew it was a hit when Annika resisted leaving it to go down to the beach, which is one of her favorite places of all time.

Thank you to the generous church that gave our kids an added bonus level of fun on Sunday!

Catholic Girl Challah

I've been slowly eeking out my own challah recipe and finally have gotten to the point where it is ready for prime time!

It is fairly safe to say that my family and co-workers, Annika's teachers, and a few of our neighbors probably have challah coming out of their ears. Little tweaks here and there resulted in many, many, many loaves of bread. That said, I'm pleased as punch with where the recipe is now ... not to mention the evolution of my braiding techniques. The 4-strand round and 6-strand oblong loaves are definitely my favorites, but I turn to the standard 3-strand braids when I'm in a hurry.

Thank you to all of my taste testers; you definitely helped shape this recipe.

(Please ignore the fact this isn't a bread knife!
I took this picture at work and we don't have a proper bread knife here)

Without further ado....

Catholic Girl Challah
Yield: 2 loaves

  • 1 c warm water 
  • 1 pkg yeast 
  • 1000 g AP flour 
  • 1 c + 2 T sugar 
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 2 T honey 
  • 1/2 c butter (melted and cooled) + 85 g vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • Egg wash: 1 egg, 1 T (approx) water whisked together 
  1. Dissolve yeast and 2 T sugar in warm water. Allow to proof 10 minutes. 
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. 
  3. With motor running (low), add eggs, yeast mixture, honey, butter, and oil. 
  4. Knead (low) for 6-7 minutes. 
  5. Knead (med) for 3-4 minutes. 
  6. Drizzle lightly with vegetable oil, turn dough to coat, cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
  7. Let rise in draft-free location until double in size (60-90 minutes). 
  8. Gently punch down dough and cover with plastic wrap.  
  9. Let rise again in draft-free location for 60 minutes. 
  10. Divide dough into two even portions and shape each half into a braided loaf. 
  11. Place each loaf on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. 
  12. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 60 minutes. 
  13. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  14. Using pastry brush, coat exterior of loaves with egg wash. 
  15. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Vacation Rainy Days

When we tell people that we went on vacation for a week, they inevitably ask if we had good weather. People, please! We visited the Oregon coast in May... what do you think?? Of course we got rained on and saw our fair share of clouds. We knew it going into the week and planned accordingly. We packed lots of books, games, and other inside activities to keep the troops occupied when the weather was too stormy to play outside.

A few local attractions were icing on the cake for our kids. They LOVED the carousel which was located only a few blocks from our condo. And its affordable ticket prices made it a common destination for us. The aquarium was another fantastic indoors activity for us. Finally, we discovered a you-paint-it pottery studio that proved to be a fun (and only slightly messy) activity for the kids. Annika chose to paint a castle bank and Conor chose a monkey. The kids had a great time selecting their colors and glopping the paint onto their respective projects. Monet ... eat your heart out!

Annika on her carousel rabbit

Around, around, around we went!

Annika getting started on her castle masterpiece

Conor insisted on using an oversized brush for his project

Eric and Conor teaming up

Annika deep in thought

"My monkey is done, but the table could use a little pizazz!"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Haystack Rock

In the resort lobby, there's a wall of coupons and suggestions for things to do. One of the things to do cards was a suggestion to visit the tidal pools at Haystack Rock. For those of us who live in the PNW, Haystack Rock is a pretty well-known landmark and I thought it would be fun for the kids to see it up close and personal.
We easily made the 15 minute drive down to Cannon Beach and then spend another 20 minutes trying to figure out where in the world to park. Once that excitement was behind us, we lugged our sand toys through a few parking lots and found ourselves on a gorgeous stretch of beach. (Side note: Eric and I have been beyond impressed with the sand on the beaches here. At home, our beaches are comprised of rocks and barnacles. Here, they are wonderfully fine sand that is like Heaven on our feet.)

We had a little bit of a walk to actually reach Haystack Rock, but it was sure easy to find... thank God for HUGE rocks! I can't help but think that Louis and Clark were grateful for it, too... they didn't have the luxury of Google maps way back then. :)

After walking down the beach and stopping to explore a few pieces of driftwood and some random shells, we arrived at Haystack Rock and its famed tidal pools. Eric and I were both surprised to see so many sea anemone in the tidal pools and absolutely no crabs or starfish. (That's what we get for thinking we were so smart.) We also saw some neat, zippy green fish; they moved so fast that the kids had a hard time finding them. We were also treated to seeing a bald eagle; it kept stirring up the seagulls that live on top of Haystack Rock. That eagle was definitely an unwelcome visitor.

After exploring the tidal pools and snapping pictures of the breaking waves, we headed inland a bit so we could perfect our sand architecture skills. We build many a sandcastle (promptly stomped to death by our Godzilla impersonators) and dug holes to bury our feet and hands.

The rain decided to make a return appearance, so we fairly quickly packed up our gear and returned to the van before getting soaked. In hindsight, though, it might have been smart to walk a bit slower so the rain could wash off some of the sand that we were wearing.

Conor balancing on a piece of driftwood


Haystack Rock

Annika showing how good her handwriting has gotten

Annika exploring the tidal pools

Eric and the kids exploring the tidal pools

Annika, Meredith, Conor at Haystack Rock

Conor, Eric, Annika at Haystack Rock

Eric and the kids watching the waves

Sand fun

Explorer Conor

I dare you not to start humming "Chariots of Fire"!

More big rocks

Hands are fun to bury!