I Have a Baking Problem

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The first step is to admit you have a problem. Deep breath.

I’m sure I’ve made this clear already but I really love baking. Something about the process is very satisfying for me. I like to please people, and making delicious treats is a good way to do so. I like work that has a clear and tangible result at the end. So much of parenting consists of never-ending tasks that are undone the second you think you are finished (E.g. laundry!) I’m also a bit of a praise junkie, so that must be part of it.

Regardless, this has to stop. Or, at least, I need to figure out a way to get my fix while making healthier treats. You see, I’m good about staying out of my baked goods. I’m able to bake cupcakes or cookies and then not eat them.* But Pete gets into them, and although he is very lean and athletic and in good health, I want everyone in this house to stay healthy. I want my kids to grow up with wholesome, homemade food in the house. I think that’s the best example to set and I want to do it early.

So I’ve decided to start baking healthier. I’ll try to document my adventures here, along with Pete’s reactions. You see, he is a bit of a sugar addict at the moment. When I told him that I wanted to start baking with less sugar and white flour, he seemed supportive but said “can you just try to wean me off slowly?”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Wish me luck, it’s going to be a tough habit to break!

*Exception to this rule: homemade Crunch N’ Munch. I can’t not eat homemade Crunch N’ Munch.

Here is the recipe, for old times’ sake:

Crunch N’ Munch

1 cup pecan halves
8 cups popped corn
1 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup blanched almonds
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

Spread almonds and pecans on cookie sheet and toast lightly. Cool and mix with popcorn in large buttered bowl.

Combine sugar, butter, syrup, and cream of tartar in small, heavy saucepan. Cook until it forms a hard ball in cold water (I use a candy thermometer for this).

Remove from heat.

Stir in soda and add vanilla.

Pour over popcorn and nuts and mix with 2 buttered forks until all are well-coated. Turn into large buttered cookie sheet and press into an even layer.

Chill until hard and break into pieces.

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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Becomes Cocktail Hour

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I had a major disaster in the kitchen. I’m still not sure what happened.

Ever since I started dabbling in mid-century recipes, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of making a pineapple upside-down cake. I’ve never had one before, but they look delicious, and my parents assure me that the ones their grandmothers made were always scrumptious.

I found a recipe that suggested I bake the upside down cake in an iron skillet. This, apparently was my first mistake. I know this because my mother mentioned it several times. “I’ve never heard of anyone baking a cake in an iron skillet.” “Maybe you should take it out of the iron skillet.” “Do you want me to ask your aunt if she ever bakes in an iron skillet?” Helpful.

So, there was the iron skillet part.

Looks delicious so far

Looks delicious so far

But I also had a difficult time with the eggs. The recipe requires that you separate the egg whites and yolks. Okay, that’s fine. But then I had to whip the egg whites, adding sugar, until stiff peaks form. I’ve done this many times before. I’ve made meringue. I’m patient enough in the kitchen. But I stood there with the mixer on full blast, willing those stiff peaks to form, to no avail. I eventually settled for soft peaks and hoped for the best.

In the end, the cake had a really stiff upper (bottom?) layer that looked like this…

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that when cracked, revealed a globby, buttery, eggy mess underneath.

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Unfortunately, I attempted this recipe while my parents were visiting so I was bombarded with suggestions. “Put it back in!” says my Dad. “Scrape the hard part off and try again!” says my Mom. Once they came over for a closer look, they both agreed that the cake was a lost cause.

So I did what any failed baker would do, when left with delicious drink ingredients. I put the leftover pineapple juice, cherries, and rum to good use.

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I’m determined to make a pineapple upside-down cake successfully someday. I’ll lick my wounds, regroup, find a new recipe, and (hopefully) be back with a photo of a beautiful cake and a tale of triumph.

And if not, I’ll have a really good drink.

Addendum:

I managed to successfully make a pineapple upside-down cake a few days later, using this recipe.

This is what it looked like upside-down

This is what it looked like upside-down

I still had some minor mishaps. The cake pan I used was too shallow, so some (a lot, actually) of the buttery topping bubbled out. I was afraid I was going to set off the fire alarm at one point. But in the end, it turned out. Finally!

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Recipe Roundup: Coconut Cream Pie, Cherry Oat Crumble and Oatmeal Date Muffins

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I’ve been baking up a storm lately, and rather than post individually about each recipe, I thought I would do a Recipe Roundup of sorts.

My parents recently came back from their trip to Florida, and as a welcome-home treat, I made a Coconut Cream Pie. Coconut Cream Pie is my mom’s favourite, and for some reason, I’ve never attempted to make one. This turned out to be silly, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to make.

I found this simple recipe online.

Mom absolutely loved it and so did my Dad. And Pete, who is usually hardest to impress, even said “I think you’re turning me around on coconut.”

Photos like this demonstrate why this will never be a photography blog

Photos like this demonstrate why this will never be a photography blog

The next recipe I tried out was a Cherry Oat Crumble. This just kind of happened. I’ve been wanting to bake a pineapple upside-down cake for a while and put “maraschino cherries” on our shopping list. Pete came home and said “I have no idea what kind of cherries you were talking about.” He bought cherry pie filling. So I searched around in my trusty Cookbook ’78 and sure enough, I found a recipe calling for cherry pie filling (other than a cherry pie, of course).

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It was tasty enough, but not a “taste explosion” according to Pete. I don’t think I would make it again, even if I had extra cherry pie filling kicking around.

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The next oat-based treat I decided to try were some Oatmeal Date Muffins. I love having fresh muffins in the house because they’re a good snack to send with C to daycare. Also, when I make them myself I cut back on sugar and try to make them “healthier” than they otherwise would be.

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I mostly followed the recipe, although, like I said, I reduced the sugar. I also used some whole wheat flour and added some coconut, because I’m a coconut monster.

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These were a hit. Evidence above. I meant to take a photo of the muffins once they were out of the oven but before I could, one of them went missing.

Pete’s Muffin Review: “They taste good, but they have a healthy texture, and I don’t like healthy textures.”

Here are the recipes:

Cherry Oat Crumble

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pre-sifted flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup soft butter
1 – 20 oz. can cherry pie filling
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Blend first seven ingredients until crumbly. Place pie filling in a 9″ square baking dish. Stir in almond flavouring. Sprinkle crumb mixture on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Oatmeal Date Muffins

Note: This recipe is somewhat confusing and I ultimately just did my own thing: soak the oats, mix the dry ingredients together, the wet ingredients together and then fold them into the oats. I also added coconut because I can’t get enough coconut, ever.

1 cup rolled oats
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking power
1 cup buttermilk (Almond milk also works well)
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used a little less)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole-wheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
* I added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup shredded coconut, because coconut is the best thing in the world

Combine rolled oats and buttermilk (or Almond milk) in mixing bowl and soak for one hour. Add egg and brown sugar to oat mixture and beat well – stir in cooking oil and dates. Grease muffin pans. Makes 12 muffins. Oven 400 for 12-15 minutes.

St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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As a St. Patrick’s Day treat, I decided to make some special cupcakes. I remembered having some amazing Bailey’s Cupcakes that my friend Meaghan made a couple of years ago and emailed her about them. Turns out, she blogged about them, so snagging the recipe was easy.

The cupcakes are Martha Stewart’s Devil’s Food with her Basic Buttercream Icing, plus some Bailey’s Irish Cream.

These cupcakes, while delicious, did not work out exactly the way I envisioned. First of all, Pete picked up Carolans Irish Cream from the liquor store, because it was on sale. Not a big deal. We’re fans of Carolans in our hot chocolate around here.

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However, my plan to make these with C evaporated pretty quickly when she decided not to take her afternoon nap.

As “punishment” for not staying in bed for naptime, I told her she wasn’t allowed to help me bake. This sounds harsh as I write it, but it was actually for the best. C has become very sensitive to noise lately (Is this a 2 1/2 thing?) and I had to use my very old, very loud electric mixer a few times. She ended up perfectly happy to play with her Lego a safe distance away from me and my antique mixer.

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Once I was finished, she and Pete were more than happy to lick the beaters, however.

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The cupcakes turned out well. I wish the icing tasted more like Irish Cream, but Pete said they were perfect.

My frosting job was not perfect, but there is always room for improvement

My frosting job was not perfect, but there is always room for improvement

The Five Stages of Cooking with a Toddler

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I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking with C lately. It keeps us both busy during these frigid winter days, and I’m hoping it fosters an appreciation for preparing healthy, homemade food. But whoa, is it a process. If you have cooked or baked with a toddler before, you will be familiar with the stages:

1) Preparation. So much preparation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it takes a lot of prep before I even get C involved in the cooking/baking process. At 2 1/2, lives are busy and attention spans are short. I get all my ingredients out and ready to go before I move on to stage two, which is:

2) Manufacturing excitement. Toddlers generally like to help in the kitchen, but I’ve found that excitement for the finished product has to be manufactured in order to get C to stick with the task long enough to actually get something into the oven. A lot of cheerleading goes on. We’re baking! B-A-K-I-N-G ! Wooooo baking!

Pumped up!

Pumped up!

3) Explanation. Beyond simply telling C how many cups of this or tablespoons of that go into the mix, I have to explain why she can’t crunch eggs with her bare hands, why she can’t drink the vanilla extract, why she can’t wear the mixing bowls as hats, etc.

This stage leads to the next:

4) Minimizing kitchen disasters.

This is where anticipatory skills and cat-like reflexes come in, because despite the explanations, she will attempt to do some of the things listed above.

Watching it all go down

Watching it all go down

5) Praise. I’ve found that praise goes a long way. C’s behaviour is far more influenced by praise than by discipline, so we do our best to catch her doing good things as much as we can. It leads to better behaviour and a happier family.

And here is what we were making in these photos:

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Banana Pineapple Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour (I use half whole wheat)
3/4 cups white sugar (I put in less)
1/2 teaspoon baking power
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter, but again, a little less)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (not drained)
1 large mashed banana

The original recipe is convoluted as all-get-out, so here is my version: Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix softened butter, 1 well-beaten egg, crushed pineapple and banana. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Fold together and do not overmix. Bake at 350 for 20 mins.

Baked French Toast with Praline Topping

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Pete and I decided to have some friends over for brunch. We’ve all been so stir-crazy from cabin fever this winter, that it’s extra-nice to have friends over. Also, these particular friends have us over *all the time* so their place and serve us delicious coffee and breakfast foods. It was time to return the favour.

Unfortunately, since we all have toddlers, we’ve had to reschedule twice because of toddler-illness. So at the last second, we invited other friends over and they were happy to have brunch with us. Their daughter is one of C’s best friends, so everyone was thrilled.

The night before our brunch date, I started working on the French Toast. I found a recipe of Paula Deen’s, which looked delicious, and as is Paula Deen’s way, full of butter.

C and I cut up some baguette, lined an oven-safe dish and poured the cream and egg mixture overtop. I left that in the fridge over night to “marinate.” I made the praline topping on the stovetop and set it aside for the next day.

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The next morning the only task we had left was to spread the praline topping over the baguette pieces.

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C helped with the praline-drizzling.

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Meanwhile, the baby was watching from his baby chair, cooing supportively. He’s a helpful baby.

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Then we baked it for forty minutes, until it was golden brown.

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It was a big hit with the adults, although my silly toddler was only interested in eating the chopped pecans from off the top of the French Toast. Silly kid. There is no accounting for taste.

Morning Glory Muffins

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This is a recipe I got from my lovely blogging friend Meaghan over at The Ginger and the Giant. They are Morning Glory Muffins, a recipe she found in a cookbook called Spilling the Beans, and they are definitely glorious.

I don’t make them as much as I would like, because they can be somewhat labour-intensive, by muffin standards. Now that I have a toddler-helper, I do some of the prep before I get her involved. While C was out ice skating with her Dad, I grated two cups of sweet potato, boiled some red lentils and chopped up an apple for the muffins. Toddlers do not have time for that sort of thing. The baby, however, was happy to watch from his vibrating chair while giving me encouraging smiles.

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These muffins are not only super delicious, but they stay moist for ages. They’re full of fruit and nuts and coconut and have a pretty small amount of added sugar. And rather than using carrot (which Pete has an aversion to since the carrot cake incident) I grate sweet potato. They’re super yummy, and they usually don’t last long around here.

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According to C, these are the muffins “that mommy helped me make.” Hmmm.

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Baking Weird ’70s Pudding with my Toddler

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I was reading a blog post the other day about gross recipes from the ’50s (Jell-O and mayonnaise, together at last) that inspired me to whip out my favourite vintage cookbook.

I stole Cookbook ’78 from my mother, because I felt she didn’t properly appreciate it. Check out the font:

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It actually has some really yummy dessert recipes, and some of them are classics around these parts. I haven’t used it much for main course recipes, and it turns out that was probably wise of me. After reading about those ’50s recipes (and visiting the Gallery of Regrettable Foods), I checked out some of the mains in my favourite cookbook. There were tons of “congealed salads” and recipes involving bizarre flavour combinations. But I stopped when I found a casserole combining oysters and creamed corn.* I wasn’t going to be able to find anything to top that.

Anyway, I decided to bake something from Cookbook ’78 with C today, because we needed an afternoon activity.

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I chose a recipe called “Busy Day Pudding” because it seemed appropriate on a day when I had both kids at home. I put the baby in his chair in the kitchen so he could watch us cooking, and got started.

I’ve realized that in addition to letting C put in the ingredients, it really helps if I let her count out measurements. She learns her numbers and it keeps her busy enough that I can (mostly) keep her from throwing non-ingredients into the batter. Win-win.

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The pudding was really quick to make, and the clean-up was easy, too. It’s a good one on that front.

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The pudding is a thick batter in a “sauce” of hot water and brown sugar. This is what it looked like uncooked:

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Once it was cooked, it was still a bit weird, texture-wise. Pete and I both agreed that it had a slightly disagreeable gooeyness to it. Were you the kid in school who liked to eat paste? Then this recipe is for you.

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So, the Busy Day Pudding was a success in the sense that it kept my toddler busy and let her practice her numbers. Would I make it again? Probably not. But at least it was free of creamed corn.

*Someday, and you can mark my words, I am going to make this. I won’t eat it, but I HAVE to make it. Just out of curiosity. I’ll be sure to document it here.

Recipe: Busy Day Pudding

Put 1 cup of brown sugar in casserole. Add 1 cup of boiling water and let stand while mixing the following ingredients.

1 cup flour sifted with 2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soft butter
1/2 cup milk

Drop batter in syrup and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Valentine’s Day Cake

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It’s been a very cold winter, and my kids and I have been cooped up a lot. We’ve gone through some bouts of cabin fever. I try my best to keep my toddler occupied, but sometimes we all get bored around here and I have to think of ways to keep things interesting. One thing that I’ve started to do with C is baking. She enjoys it, I enjoy it, Pete gets lots of baked goods. Everyone wins!

Well, not exactly. Baking with a toddler is challenging to say the least. She wants to put all the ingredients into the mix, and sometimes, she wants to put things in that are definitely NOT ingredients (eggshells, spice jars, pens, etc.) But I’ve learned a few tricks along the way and C and I have learned how to bake (mostly) productively together.

Our first “big” baking project together was a Valentine’s Day cake. We had baked some batches of cookies before, but this was the first recipe that was really labour intensive. Because toddlers have very short attention spans, I decided to grate all the carrot and mix the cream cheese icing the day before. This was wise.

The day of, we just measured and mixed and that was about all she could handle. I poured the batter into one square pan and one round pan. When the cakes had cooled, I cut the round pan in two in order to make a heart shape.

I added some food colouring to make the cream cheese icing pink, frosted the cake, and voila! An enormous Valentine’s Day cake for C’s Dad. He loves carrot cake, and was very excited to dive into it.

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After we had each had a slice that night, we realized just how huge the cake actually was, and the challenge that was before us. How on Earth were two people supposed to eat this much cake? I clearly didn’t think this through. I’m already unable to eat a ton of carrot cake due to overconsumption of my sister’s wedding cake. (It’s a long story, but basically the wedding cake was in a corner during the dancing part of the wedding and everyone forgot to eat it – so we ate wedding cake for ages afterwards and the bottom tier was carrot. TOO MUCH CARROT CAKE.)

To make matters worse, Pete came down with a stomach bug a few hours after eating a piece of the cake a few days later. He now has to take a break from carrot cake, due to the association. The moral of the story? I’m not really sure. Don’t bake 75 portions of cake for two people? We’ll go with that.

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I Had a Baby!

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Four months ago!

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It’s amazing how things like blogging, exercising, banjo-playing, and sleeping go right out the window when you have a new baby.

But yes, I had a beautiful baby boy and he’s a very sweet little guy. He’s an easy baby during the day, which is great because I have a rambunctious two-year-old to wrangle. He’s relaxed and happy, although he still thinks he needs to wake up every two hours to eat in the night. He also just turned four months and weighs nearly nineteen pounds. Could those two things be related? Hmmm.

Anyway, the fact that this baby has kept us so sleep-deprived has meant that I’ve had almost no time or energy to do much of anything other than baby and child care. But I’m determined to somehow reboot this blog. We’ll see how this goes.

Because I’m not doing much of what I originally set out to do in this blog (namely, things that I enjoyed pre-parenthood such as playing my banjo) I’m going to incorporate the things that I do with my little people. C and I have started baking together, so I’m going to start documenting that. Baking with a two-year-old is both stressful and hilarious, and I’m hoping I can convey all that in some new posts. We’ll see what else I can cook up (pun!) for the blog in the next few weeks.

Thanks, as always, for reading! It’s good to be back.