Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Baking Adventures

Today was Empanada Day! I have never made an empanada before, and I don’t know what an empanada is supposed to be. I looked up “empanadas” on allrecipes.com and came up with lots of different ways to do it. Some recipes made a pie crust type dough. Some made a pizza crust type dough. Some recipes were baked, others deep fried in hot oil. Most of the recipes involved some sort of shredded meat filling. So I took all that information, synthesized it, and then I did whatever the heck I wanted to do. I made a pie crust type dough following the recipe for pie dough in The New Best Recipe, aka the cookbook I use when I feel like humiliating myself. I had to prepare the dough in kind of a hurry because we were heading out the door to run some errands and I realized at the last minute that it would be too late to start the dough when we got back, because it has to chill for at least an hour in the fridge before you can use it. My excuse for what happened next is that I made it in a hurry.

100_1518The recipe calls for the usual cast of characters: flour, sugar, salt, cold shortening, cold butter, and ice water. So apparently it’s very important to use chilled shortening. I just grabbed my tub of Crisco solid from the cupboard and slapped it into the food processor. It cut into the flour pretty well. Then I diced up the butter super small like the instructions told me to do, and when I cut the butter in, something strange happened. Instead of turning crumbly and forming little pea-sized butter chunks, my dough actually started to hang together, right there in the food processor bowl! What the heck! That is not supposed to happen! So I dumped the stuff out into a bowl to fold in the 6 to 8 tablespoons of water, but the dough was already so cohesive that I only added 4 tablespoons. I was pretty miffed. And at that point I was totally convinced I had completely ruined my pie dough.

So I chilled it, and rolled out the dough as per usual, and it worked okay. The dough was pretty sticky. It actually reminded me of when I make sugar cookie cutouts. I used a smallish round dish to get circle cutouts and I heated up some leftover taco meat and rice and stuff we had in the fridge and stuffed my little pie dough rounds. I folded the rounds over to make half-moon shapes and baked them. They turned out really yummy! The crust has a really nice flavor, but the texture is totally wrong for pie crust. It was pretty crumbly and sandy; it reminded me of a shortbread cookie. Stephen was able to totally bust apart his empanada and reduce it to crumbs with only his bare hands. And forget about holding the thing and taking bites; it would fall apart if you picked it up with anything other than a wide spatula.

So, mixed reviews on the empanadas. Definitely tasty, but definitely a “pie crust” fail.

 

The other baking adventure I tried lately was Coco Wheats Brownies. Do you remember Coco Wheats? They are such a nostalgic food for me. I used to eat it sometimes as a kid, so when I saw a box in the store a couple years ago, I had to buy it. Then my parents thought that I loved Coco Wheats, so they sent me a box last Christmas. Now we’re moving, and I had to use up a box of Coco Wheats because you eat it for breakfast a few times then realize that you’re an adult and you don’t like to eat chocolate flavored cream of wheat for breakfast.

So I made the brownies. The larger size package used to print the recipe right on the box, but I had to look it up here. I’ll tell you one thing right now, this recipe has a lot of room for error if you follow their “tip” and soak the cereal in cold water before adding it to the recipe. I did this, and the cereal soaked up enough water that it would have taken an eternity to drain the excess water through a fine strainer. So I just stirred it up and dumped it into the batter.

My brownies turned out more like a cake, and they are pretty crumbly (what’s with the crumbly baked goods around here lately?). However. These things taste delicious. If you have a box of this stuff hanging around your kitchen and you want to use it up, make these brownies. Maybe not soaking the cereal would result in a more brownie-like texture. If you end up soaking the cereal, maybe try using a 15×10 inch pan rather than the smaller size called for in the recipe. I also had to increase the baking time to about 55 minutes. I also used butter and shortening instead of margarine. Who bakes with margarine? Anyway, this was a fun experiment that I don’t regret.

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Cake Research During National Bake Week

Yesterday was the kick off day for National Bake Week! In honor of that festive occasion, I started doing some research into what kind of cake I want to bake for my husband’s birthday next week. His only request is that the cake be sheathed in chocolate frosting. So many possibilities! Of course I could do chocolate cake, or yellow cake, but what about the less common choices like peanut butter cake, coffee-flavored cake, some sort of cake with fruit filling, pudding filling, different kinds of cake together in one cake, GAAAH! The possibilities are endless! How about you tell me your suggestions in the comments, and I can go from there!

As you may already know, I get a big kick out of National food days. Who even decides these things? There’s at least one commemoration for every day of the month. Here are the food days I plan to celebrate in April.

First Week of April: Bake Week

April 1: Sourdough Bread Day (we bought a loaf since I never started my sourdough culture again when we moved)

April 7: Coffee Cake Day (we just had coffee cake for Easter…but I must do another one!)

April 8: Empanada Day

April 10: Cinnamon Crescent Day (may be trumped by birthday cake)

April 12: Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day

April 16: Eggs Benedict Day

April 18: Animal Crackers Birthday (woohoo! throw a party for the cracker!)

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day (I hope we don’t have to actually eat a lima bean, just demonstrate respect…)

April 23: Cherry Cheesecake Day

April 28: Blueberry Pie Day

I really like the baking ones, apparently. I wasn’t too attracted to things like Day of the Mushroom (April 16) or National Prime Rib Day (April 27) but maybe you want to celebrate some different days from me! I hope I get to do those days at the end of the month. Our official move-out date is April 22, so we’ll have to celebrate Cherry Cheesecake and Blueberry Pie on the road!

100_1483Finally I want to share these cute Stephen pictures. He’s like a cat or something: when the window is open, he perches there and just hangs out, looking and sniffing the air or something. This morning they were actually sharing the perch. As you can imagine, that didn’t really last long enough to get a picture. Here Stephen has his sippy cup in the first photo, but it looks like he’s holding up some binoculars! Cute.100_1484

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What I Wore Sunday: March 24 Palm Sunday

Once again I’m joining the link up at Fine Line and Purple.

Happy Palm Sunday! Today we heard the account of Jesus’ passion and death from the Gospel of St. Luke. One line stuck out for me when we were listening: when Jesus meets the women who are mourning along the way to Calvary, he tells them not to weep for him but instead for themselves and for their children, for indeed, “the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.'” Maybe as a pregnant lady this speaks to me, and also as a lady involved in the pro-life movement, and also as a lady who stands against the cultural norm by choosing to give up my career in order to stay home and rear children. This line from Luke’s Gospel seems to be referring to a time that is now upon us. Women are no longer valued for their ability to nurture and bring forth life, but instead for their contributions to industry and business. Women have long fought to be equal to men, but along the way, something of what makes women sacred and special has been given up. Truly, I think we are in a time where women are often applauded for not succumbing to the oppression of having kids and raising a family. Maybe this isn’t quite the way Jesus’s speech to the mourning women should be read, but that is how it struck me today as I was sitting in the pew, pregnant and entertaining my active toddler.

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for, my church clothes! I know you just sit in your homes all week, biting your nails in anticipation of seeing what I wore to mass each Sunday. Well, wait no longer!

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Stephen finally consented to be a part of the photo taking. Also, guess what? This photo was taken with our real, actual camera! We finally dug it up and located all the appropriate cords and power chargers.

Scarf: I wanted to wear my scarf with the red design for Palm Sunday. Nerd.

Shirt: From Goodwill. The tag has been cut out of the shirt; suspicious, I know. I really like the embroidered detail around the neck line.

Skirt: Look, that skirt sure looks like the same skirt I wore last week, but it’s not. I promise that is not the same exact skirt I wore last week but with a different shirt and different shoes. I don’t just wear the same skirt to mass two weeks in a row. Who even does that? Not me. I never would.

Boots: J.C. Penny from like two years ago. The toes are super scuffed. I need to replace them but I just wuv dem so veddy veddy much.

Now for something completely different, today happens to be National Corn Dog Day! WooHoo! If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m trying to observe some of these national food days. Today to celebrate, Jeremy took his motorcycle over to Wienerschnizel to get some corn dogs. They have a special two-for-one price just today, so hurry over! Plus they’re doing this contest right now called Cash In On A Corndog where you can win prizes printed on your corn dog stick. Or you get a code to enter online and try to win. Today we won two free corn dogs on our sticks! And some dud codes, but two free corn dogs! What a prize!

How did you celebrate your Palm Sunday?

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I don’t even LIKE donuts

So let me just preface this post by saying I’ve never been a huge donut fan. Sure, I’ve been excited about the after-mass coffee and donut Sundays at the various parishes I’ve attended over the years. When I was working at a church in Billings I often hit up the donut selection between masses to help get me through the morning line up. I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no problem with desserts in general–quite the contrary, actually.

So on Friday when I saw an advertisement for Dunkin Donuts in my Facebook NewsFeed (also strange because I don’t even “Like” Dunkin Donuts), and it made my eyes light up and go “ooooh,” I was a bit surprised.

I put off the unusual donut craving all day, but I couldn’t take it any more by the evening and made Jeremy Google “best donuts in Albuquerque” because I needed me some donut. I’ll just stop here to say again, I don’t even like donuts. He came up with two top choices, Duke City Donuts and Rebel Donut. Well, we didn’t really know where the heck Duke City Donuts is in Albuquerque, and I didn’t need a donut so badly as to make a special trip into the heart of congested Saturday morning urban area, so we turned our attention to Rebel. Behold, they have two locations, one of which is just down the street from some errands we had already planned for the morning!

So we added a trip to the donut store to our Saturday morning agenda. Rebel Donut has all kinds of goofy flavors: fruity pebbles, chocolate pretzel, red chile bacon, mint chocolate, peanut butter, coconut, and more. I don’t remember all the great names of the flavors. Plus I’ve already stolen their picture for my blog so I don’t want to steal their names as well. My favorite one I tried was cookies and cream. Yes, that does imply that I tried more than one. No, you don’t need to know how many I tried.

So, Rebel Donut.

But the story continues. Jeremy and I do a study group at our church on Monday mornings, and I usually bake a little something to take along. I didn’t have time last night, so we decided to stop at the store on the way and pick up something from the bakery.

Donuts.

I don’t know! They just looked good to me! And I don’t even like donuts.

But you know, apart from my current donut fixation, I did make some room in my heart for today’s National Food Day: Oatmeal Nut Waffle Day! I used this recipe, and the waffles were delish. They turned out super hearty; I couldn’t even finish my one waffle. We served a complete breakfast for dinner to go with the waffles: bacon, eggs, guacamole (we had an avocado that was seriously on its last day). The recipe says to garnish with peaches, which is absolutely delicious, though I’m sure maple syrup would also be heavenly. We may even serve these same waffles next week on National Waffles Day. So all in all, we’ve had a very breakfast-y day, and it’s been awesome.

oatmeal nut waffle

 

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Crab Batter

The subtitle of this post is “Or: The Inherent Hazards of Substitutions.”

Today was National Crabmeat Day. Woohoo! I think I already mentioned that this holiday enabled me to write in crab cakes for tonight’s menu, which is great except I have never ever before made a crab cake, and I had no idea how to do it. I knew that I liked crab cakes because there was this amazing restaurant in Billings called Bin 119 that served crab cakes with a coconut curry sauce that was to die for. When I did my grocery shopping early this week I bought a can of crab meat (located with the canned tuna and spam!) because I was planning ahead, but I didn’t really have a clear idea what I was going to do with it.

I started my research in The New Best Recipe, which is the definitive selection of a wide variety of recipes. I knew that book would steer me in the right direction, and sure enough, it has a recipe for crab cakes. Of course, one of the first sentences in the recipe’s write-up is, “Canned crabmeat is horrible.” Well, I was stuck with it and there’s nothing America’s Test Kitchen can do about it. Neener neener. Like the “pound cake” I made a few days ago, I had to make do with what I had in the kitchen, so I pretty much followed the recipe except:

Instead of jumbo lump crabmeat, I used a can.

I used dried minced onion flakes instead of the scallions.

I omitted the Old Bay seasoning.

I used finely crushed cracker crumbs instead of bread crumbs.

I more than halved everything because the recipe calls for 1 pound of crab, but I only had a 6 ounce can. But then I forgot to halve the egg, so I put the whole egg in the mix.

…oooooops….

my crab batter

 

At this point the recipe says, “Divide the crab mixture into 4 portions and shape each into a fat, round cake.” Yeah, that isn’t gonna happen. So Jeremy suggested I glop spoonfuls into the frying pan and make pancakes. Luckily he has a lot of experience making things like potato pancakes so he knows about these things.

So that’s what I did. It actually turned out really well because I made Jeremy finish cooking them when it came time to do the flip. I knew they would probably end up half in/half out of the pan if I did it.

finished crab meal

To go with the crab cakes, I made a coconut curry sauce that I hoped would at least come close to the Bin 119 miracle on earth. Of course I couldn’t find any existing recipe so I had to adapt something. The closest thing I found was actually a marinade recipe in The New Best Recipe–a marinade intended for grilling shish kebab. So, instead of buttermilk I used coconut milk, and reduced all the amounts of the spices, and turned it into a spin off a bechamel sauce. It turned out really good, except it’s not quite perfect so I will be tweaking it in the coming weeks. I will admit, I’m impressed that a marinade turned bechamel variation ended up being so good, because it could have gone all kinds of nasty. I’ll post the recipe for my sauce on the Favorite Recipes page in case all y’all want to have a go.

I also went whole-hog with the coconut curry theme and made some curried rice I found on allrecipes.com while searching for a sauce recipe. It was good, too, except I forgot to put in the onion. And the recipe does have an error as printed, so I fixed that. If you go look, the liquid/rice ratio is off; you need twice as much liquid for your rice (1 c. rice, 2 c. liquid, for example). But nevertheless, even Stephen liked the rice!

All in all, I would say it was a fitting celebration for National Crabmeat Day. I learned a lot and took some brave steps in the kitchen.

Tell me about the last cooking adventure you had! I can’t wait to hear!

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Celebrate National Pound Cake Day!

Yes, today was actually National Pound Cake Day. I learned about this when I read the manufacturers coupons that arrived in the mail this week, and there was a Sarah Lee coupon for frozen pound cake that suggested purchasing one in honor of today’s festive occasion. Skeptical as I was, I verified the existence of this holiday by doing a Google search of “national food days” and finding this website. Little did I know how full the calendar truly is! Well, I was inspired. I decided to observe National Pound Cake Day by baking a pound cake. I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to get to the grocery store to buy the frozen cake, which also meant I would have to use what I already had in the kitchen to make my cake. So I looked up a pound cake recipe and got to work. Because my pantry is a bit understocked right now due to an unusually postponed trip to the store, I had to make some adjustments to the recipe. The butter, flour, and sugar were okay, but I could only use one egg instead of four. And instead of baking powder I used baking soda plus a little cream of tartar. And I didn’t use quite as much vanilla extract. And since the batter wasn’t very liquidy (because of the egg shortage) I couldn’t pour it into a loaf pan, so I spooned it out onto a baking sheet into little lumps instead. They didn’t look very cake-like so I pressed each one flat with the bottom of a small drinking glass dipped in sugar.

Okay, fine. I admit it. I made sugar cookies instead of pound cake. And they were perfect.

But I totally made up for the slight discrepancy by making a kick-butt dinner thanks to the Pioneer Woman. Follow that link to see the recipes for Patty Melts and Crash Hot Potatoes that are every bit as delicious as their name suggests. I highly recommend the potatoes to you! And a plus, I was able to follow the recipe as printed! I did have to adapt the patty melts (remember understocked pantry). I used wheat bread instead of rye, cheddar cheese instead of swiss, and pre-made store burger patties. They were still phenomenal sandwiches!

In conclusion I would just like to encourage you to celebrate wacky food holidays. A friend of mine throws a pie party every year on National Pie Day. A few weeks ago I accidentally made sweet rolls on National Sticky Bun Day. I fully intend to observe a bunch of food holidays throughout the year. I think it will be really fun, plus it’s a great help to me when writing up my weekly menus! For example, I already knew that I should make crab cakes on National Crabmeat Day. Done! No actual thinking involved.

Here is a list of the National Food Days I plan to observe in March:

March 4: National Pound Cake Day

March 9: National Crabmeat Day

March 11: Oatmeal Nut Waffles Day (I know, right!?)

March 14: National Potato Chip Day

March 18: Oatmeal Cookie Day

March 20: National Ravioli Day

March 23: National Melba Toast Day AND National Chip &  Dip Day (why not celebrate both?)

March 24: National Corn Dog Day (the Wienerschitzel coupon circular told me about this one!)

March 25: Waffle Day (plain waffles this time, I guess)

March 28: Something on a Stick Day (how could you resist?)

March 31: National Baked Ham with Pineapple Day (because of Easter, this trumps Tater Day, National Clams on a Half shell Day, and Oranges & Lemons Day. Who knew?)

 

What interesting made up holidays do you and your family like to celebrate?

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