Archive for the 'cooking' Category

warranty expired…

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Yesterday while doing a little Christmas shopping, I had to make a big purchase for myself. A new mixer. My old one lasted 13 years with no complaint. I have made countless cakes, batches of bread dough, bowls of mashed potatoes, dozens of cookies, icing, whipped cream and beaten about a thousand egg whites all with nary a cross word from the mixer. Much to my dismay, the bellyaching began about 6 months ago. It started with a faint whine that got louder and louder until it sounded like I was mixing ball bearings in the bowl. I was relieved that the mixer limped through Thanksgiving pies and potatoes but when it came time to make cupcakes for Hattie’s birthday, my beloved Kitchen Aid had taken all the abuse it could stand. The only two remaining speeds were “one foot in the grave” and “beat the heck out of it”. Thanks to a birthday gift from my in-laws, I set out to replace my mixer. I loved the original so much that I picked the same model in a different color. If you’re shopping for a mixer, the Kitchen Aid is worth every penny. But I digress…

While standing in the L O N G line of impatient Christmas shoppers waiting to pay I had the thought, “We sure have bought a lot of appliances in the last few years.” Which brings me to my point. When you are a newlywed staring lovingly at all of your new kitchen appliances, no one tells you to enjoy them while they last. A little pearl of wisdom left on the strand…much like many of the truths about birthing and raising children. Anyway, the day after our 10 year wedding anniversary our warranty ran out. On everything. First it was the toaster. Then the hand mixer. Then the blender. To be completely honest, the coffee maker went first but I don’t think slinging the coffee pot into the wall to its demise while trying to catch yourself after tripping over a gigantic dog counts as “appliance failure”. Just trying to be fair…

The rest of the little appliances failed on their own along with a few of their larger relatives. I, of course, enjoyed picking out replacements and upgrading as our budget would allow. But I still did not think it was fair that they all chose to quit working all within the span of a few years.

So just a little advice to all of you newly married folk: enjoy your new things while you can…and save up…inflation is a bitch…

try try again…

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Last night, as Robert and I polished off the last of the homemade chocolate chip cookies, he complimented me on my baking prowess.  I am not a professional baker by any means but I have mastered a handful of recipes through the years.  I’m not always successful in the kitchen.  In fact, I had three recipes fail in one weekend not too long ago.  But I try to learn from my mistakes and move on.  My skills have improved drastically since we first married.  In thinking about this, I decided to share a few of my favorite failure stories. These are not necessarily in chronological order but they all occurred sometime during the first year of our marriage.

Cornbread.  My mother often makes cornbread.  She shared her recipe with me and it is very simple.  I had even practiced with her a few times.  I failed to notice that the cornmeal in her recipe is self-rising.  The cornmeal I bought was not.  The finished product was not fluffy and light.  It was about a quarter of an inch thick and had the consistency of a gum eraser.  My precious new husband about chewed himself to death but he ate it anyway.  I had a similar experience with my Dad’s biscuits…he forgot to tell me to add the shortening.  More erasers…it took years before I tried bread again.

Pork chops.  I had another simple recipe for pan sauteed pork chops.  You brown the pork chops on both sides and add a few ingredients to make a sauce.  I didn’t even notice that I grabbed the soy sauce out of the refrigerator door instead of the Worcestershire.  The pork was so salty it made our lips pucker.  Once again Robert cleaned his plate without a word of complaint.

Cake.  The third major mishap occurred on Robert’s first birthday as a married man.  I got out our fancy new china, silver and table linens.  I invited our entire families and set out to make a yellow cake with chocolate icing.  The first mistake I made was waiting until the day of the party to make anything.  Then, I’m not sure what happened but, the cake stuck to the pan.  And not just a little bit – it ALL stuck.  I was flabbergasted.  Determined not to fail, I dug the cake out of the pan and glued it together with icing and toothpicks.  It looked great.  I thought I had made it out of the jungle.  That is, I thought I had made it until my new mother-in-law came to the table to help me serve the cake.  What a disaster.  The heaps of yellow and brown did taste good though!

My sweet husband was determined not to make me feel bad.  He ate some crap that first year.  Twelve and a half years later, there is no more pretending.  There is no meanness but there is no consumption of the inedible either!  Thanks to some good cookbooks and good advice I have become a decent cook.  Between the two of us, we fare pretty well.  I’m also happy to report that we ate cornbread for dinner tonight – this time it was perfect!


Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Oh boy.  We’ve done it now.  We’ve gone and spoiled the children.  Again…..

Last weekend it was cold.  REALLY cold.  We turned on our gas fireplace and stayed inside.  As a special treat, I made hot chocolate from scratch.  I used the recipe on the box of Hershey’s cocoa.  Holy Toledo, it is GOOD.  I’ve had this once before as an adult (I’m sure I had it as a child but I don’t remember).  Last New Year’s, we were visiting our friends Mark and Lara.  We had just come in from a walk in the cold wind and Mark whipped up a batch of this cocoa.  Granted, I am a confessed chocoholic but this was above and beyond.  Of course the girls LOVE it.

This morning, Robert made fancy french toast for the girls for breakfast.  We had some leftover french bread that we let sit out overnight.  He made batter with eggs, cream, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla.  Once again it was fabulous.  The girls ate it like it was their last supper.

We try our best not to spoil our children.  We occasionally go overboard with birthdays and Christmas but in our day to day lives, we do not give them everything they want.  We do not buy toys.  What toys they have, they must share with each other.  Robert does not bring back gifts every time he goes out of town.  We help the girls with their manners.  We do not order from TV commercials.  We usually have at least one item on the dinner plate that someone doesn’t like (not on purpose, mind you).  We do not go out to eat regularly.  We lead a pretty simple life.

There’s a point around here somewhere….

My point is that if we take a few extra minutes to make something yummy from scratch or warm towels after bath time, are we really spoiling them?  We make sure that they know how fortunate they are to have family that loves them, food on the table, clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.  They know that many children in the world have none of those things.  That’s good parenting, right?

You know, that cocoa recipe makes way more than the girls can drink…we might just have to have some this afternoon!  Yum!

gotta love the weekend…

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Weekends around our house are extremely low key.  Everyone sleeps in and stays in their pajamas as long as possible.  Keep in mind that “sleeping in” only lasts until about 7:30.  Long gone are the days of rolling over and going back to sleep until 10!

On school days, there is the hurry of getting Abigail and Hattie up, dressed, fed, combed, brushed, backpack-ed and to the bus stop well before 7am.  Breakfast usually consists of cereal, scrambled eggs or oatmeal.  On the weekends, our chef alter egos are allowed to come out and fix bigger breakfasts.  Sometimes we have egg sandwiches or the full on grits/eggs/bacon/toast menu.  Robert’s specialty is french toast – a house favorite.  My specialties have become pancakes and waffles.  Thanks to one of my favorite cook books, The Best Recipe, I have mastered these two breakfast treats.

When I was younger and needed more sleep (unfortunately after having 3 babies, you learn to survive with less sleep than you should be getting), I dreaded making breakfast.  I would get up hungry and cranky and not wanting to cook anything.  Now, I really enjoy the weekend breakfast.  The girls get up and play for a little while because they know that we don’t have to go anywhere and that eventually, mom and dad will get up and feed them something yummy.  It’s nice to get up, get some coffee going and just go with the flow.

This morning, I gave the girls a choice and they opted for pancakes.  Not to toot my own horn but they were delicious.  I could tell that the girls were happy by the lack of noise coming from the table!  Nothing like satisfied tummies to make a mom feel good!

…the bar is raised…

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

In the last 6 months or so, we have started watching food shows at our house.  Our favorites include Ace of Cakes, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Food Network Challenge and Good Eats.  Abigail has even watched a little Julia Child. Yum!

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired.  The older I get the more I love to cook.  I don’t particularly love cooking dinner – it’s still that witching hour at our house.  Everyone is cranky, tired and hungry and it can quickly become stressful.  I’m sure as the children get older, making dinner will become fun.  For now I mostly enjoy making desserts and snacks….I enjoy eating them too….. 😉

I have always made the girls’ birthday cakes.  Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with “store-bought” birthday cakes.  I know that a lot of people do not have the desire or time to make a cake.  I started making birthday cakes when Abigail turned 1 and never stopped.  These cakes have all started as basic two-layer cakes with butter-cream icing.  Typically, I would bake and ice the cake and Robert (the real artist in the family) would decorate it in the theme of the party.  We’ve had Rainbow Fish, ladybug, princess, duck, Hello Kitty, butterfly….all things girly!

ladybugHello Kittyduck

But now, thanks mostly to Food Network, the bar has been raised.  We’re on to fondant!  Of course I have to make things difficult so I make my own fondant.  It is labor and time intensive but in my opinion it tastes a lot better than the premade stuff.  I have 2 different recipes for fondant.  One is supposed to taste like buttercream.  It does but the taste is not worth the pain in my butt!!  It is too greasy, heavy and difficult to work with.  The second recipe is made mostly of melted marshmallows.  It is delicious!  Even though it is harder to knead, it is much easier to work with (especially after I decided to let my mixer do most of the work!)  However, I am still on the quest for the perfect professional looking recipe.

I started with Hattie’s Tinkerbell cake last year.  It was very simple.  One layer, light green with cut out leaves and Tinkerbell on top.  I used the non-fabulous recipe but it still turned out great!


This year, Abigail wanted more.  For her birthday she designed and I made a two tier circle and star cake with about 6 different colors of fondant.  I used the marshmallow recipe and it turned out really well.

circles and stars

For my parent’s 50th anniversary celebration I wanted to make a cake representative of two of their favorite activities.  So I decided to make a rectangle-block shaped cake with a piano keyboard on top and gumpaste flowers around the bottom.  For some inane reason, I made the buttercream fondant recipe.  I guess I wanted to give it one more chance before removing it from my recipe binder.  I won’t make that mistake again!!  Despite the many cracks and imperfections, my parents loved it.  That’s what’s really important, right?

piano flowers

Of course the cake shows that we watch edit out most of the hard, tedious work and make it look incredibly easy.  This can leave the home baker frustrated and cursing late at night!  Somehow, I still love it.  That feeling of accomplishment and pride when my child looks at her cake and says “Thanks Mom.  That’s exactly what I wanted.”  What more could you ask for?  At the end of the day, it’s all about doing something special for my family while finding a creative outlet for myself.  I’m no Ace of Cakes yet but I’m going to keep at it so stay tuned!!