Monday, December 27, 2010

Quality versus Quantity

The Christmas holiday has come and gone and though I have much to say about my adventures, like, what the best thing I ate was (trying to get the recipe) and a few other little tasty life lessons one can't help but pick up when spending that much time around loved ones, one thing from my travels sticks out in my mind today - toilet paper.

First off, I must explain that I was in and out of several airports in the last two weeks.  Normally, my toilet paper consumption remains entirely loyal to the bear brand (thank you very much adorable cartoon bears for displaying just how much stronger your little quilted paper is), however, when you travel, you are at the mercy of those who buy in bulk.  And, it never seems to fail - when I fly, I find myself in an airport restroom completely baffled at the concept of cheap toilet paper.

I mean really, what is the logic behind cheap, translucent-thin toilet paper?  Please someone enlighten me.  Please!  If I had to guess, I'd say the thinking must go something like, "Yes.  This is less expensive.  Let's by it in bulk.  We'll get more for the money" and yada, yada, yada…

Okay so every time, and I mean every time, I'm there scowling at this toilet paper that is literally thinner than a rose petal thinking, "WHY?!"

I can see through it!  Instead of using say like 5 or 6 squares to take care of business, I find myself gently, gently tugging down on the paper, trying so hard NOT to have it tear off so I have to start over.  I end up having to use like 5 times more of the cheap stuff than I would any regular T.P. because it's so painfully thin!  And the time factor - It means I have to be in there longer (which, who wants to spend any more time in a public restroom then they absolutely have to?  Who?  Tell me! Who?!  No one, that's who…)  I spend so much time gingerly pulling down the delicate paper so that I can get the quantity needed to get me out of there.  It's ridiculous!  It just baffles me.  In this scenario, I always find myself thinking that, as it relates to toilet paper, quality wins out over quantity every time.

And, don't even get me started on those automatically flushing toilets.  "I'm not done!!!!" I don't know if my butt twitched or something or if the little toilet nymphs just thinks it's a hilarious joke but seriously, I don't think anybody's saving water with those things.  Then when it actually is time to flush it's like, "Nope.  Sorry.  Ain't happenin'."

I apologize.  This is probably the definition of "Unappetizing," which, for a blog about food, is probably NOT a good thing but, it just stuck out in my mind and, I thought I'd share.

Hopefully, before the week is out, I'll be able to share the recipe for what the best thing I ate was this Christmas.  Because, who doesn't love to have one more dish to add to their stellar-dish repertoire?!

Peace & Blessing & a Happy Near Year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cup a' Joe

Those who know me are aware - I love me a cup of coffee.

It's not about the caffeine so much as it is the entire... experience.

I love opening my little brown bag, sticking my nose in and inhaling the scent.  I take great care in setting the coffee filter into place and then scooping in several heaping spoonfuls of grounds.  Filling the canister to just the right level, pushing that wonderful button marked, "Brew" and enjoying the rumble as the water begins to drip and the warm, brown beverage trickles into the pot.  

When I can tell the percolation is almost complete, out comes the soy milk.  

Careful not to spill, I pour myself a mug full of the steaming, bold brew and with a few, "Shake-ah, Shake, Shakes," of the ol' milk carton, I get a nice layer of foam on top as I pour the milk into my coffee.

The mug warms my hands as I take the first sip, breathing in deeply the full-bodied scent; my muscles relax as the warmth travels from my tongue to my toes.

Me and coffee, we've had a long, lustrous relationship going back to sometime when I was in high school.  I think it probably all started because of early morning band practice (nerd alert!) but, I'm not certain.  

It is one of life's simple, daily pleasures for me and, as you can tell, I enjoy it immensely.

Around Christmas time, I've been known to throw half a packet of hot cocoa mix in mine to make a little cafe mocha type drink for a little something extra special.

I have had several people express how they're quite impressed with the frothy, foamy top my coffee sports in the morning.  So, I thought I would take a moment to share my secret (it's all in the shake-ah, shake, shake of the soy milk before pouring it into the coffee) and to share some of the reasons why I enjoy a cup a' joe so very much.

This Christmas mug is especially… well, um… special because, there's a little snow-guy waiting there at the bottom of the cup, holding his little package, looking up at you as if to say, "Hello!  Hi!  I'm adorable!"

Well, I like him anyway.
So, however you may enjoy a cup, I hope it brings a smile to your face.

Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 13, 2010

ScrumDIDDLYumptious - Part II

I've heard it called "Texas Sheet Cake."  Standing in the lunch line, me and my fellow teens referred to it as, "Wacky Cake" (don't ask me why).  I've taken the liberty of dubbing this similar creation, "Hot Cocoa Cake" simply because I used a box of special dark, hot cocoa mix to make the delicious, fudge like icing that topped this chocolatey indulgence.  So, whatever you choose to call it, it's most definitely worthy of the expression, "Ummmmm…" and an eyes closed sigh of satisfaction (especially when you enjoy it fresh out of the oven when the cake is still a little hot and the icing's a tad bit gooey).

Shopping List:
non-stick cooking spray
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 c. strong brewed coffee or water
1/4 c. dark, unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c. buttermilk*
1 ripe banana (egg substitute)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 c. canola oil
8 packets special dark, hot cocoa mix (1 box)
1/4 c. milk
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

large mixing bowl
heavy saucepan
electric mixer
11' x 17 1/2' pan (standard size cookie sheet)

Preparation:  Combine flour and sugar in large mixing bowl.  In saucepan combine oil, shortening, coffee or water (I chose a strong Kona/Columbian blend for mine that was oh so nice), and cocoa.  Stir and heat to boiling.  Pour into mixing bowl.  Add buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla.  Mash up banana and add to mixture.  Mix everything together with electric mixer on high speed.  Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray then pour batter into it.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until toothpick tested in center comes out clean.  While brownies bake, prepare frosting.  Combine canola oil, milk,  and empty all contents of hot cocoa packets into a saucepan  (I used the same saucepan as above for less clean up) and heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla (add more milk if needed) and stir for smooth consistency.  Pour warm frosting over brownies as soon as you take them out of the oven.

Conventional recipes will tell you to let this cool and then cut it into however many bars your little heart desires.  I am of the mindset though that there's nothing quite so wonderful as enjoying a warm piece of cake or cookie right as it's come out of the oven.

As I mentioned previously, once the icing does have a chance to fully cool, it takes on a wonderfully fudge like quality which I'm quite a fan of too.

To be honest, I don't really no how much more delicious this recipe is compared to the original which, instead of hot cocoa packets in the icing just calls for 2 Tbsp. dark, unsweetened cocoa.  But, using the hot cocoa mix felt special.  I wanted to try it.  So, I did.

The result was a pleasing little piece of heaven that seemed just that much more befitting of the Christmas season which, for me, is inextricably intertwined with Hot Cocoa consumption.

So whether you make this dish just to love on yourself or for a group of friends who are absolutely not skipping dessert, I hope this brings a smile to your face and warmth to your home.

Merry Christmas,

*For an easy buttermilk solution, combine 1/2 c. of a milk alternative (rice, soy, or almond all do great) + 2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice.  Combine and let stand for at least 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ScrumDIDDLYumptious - Part I

Yes.  I'll say it.  These treats are totally worthy of adjectives like scrumDIDDLYumptious or fanFREAKIN'tastic or any other word that might have an added descriptor stuck in the middle to let you know they're dawg gawn good.

Now, there are a few things that prompt me to make sweets:
One -  I have a gathering or party that I need to contribute to
Two - I get an idea for something that I think would be the bomb
Or Three - I have something in my house that is either A) going to go bad or B) is unusual for me to have on hand and therefore brings me back to two, an idea I want to test.

These baked goods were inspired by both Two and Three - I had three brown bananas (Part I) and a box full of special dark, hot cocoa mix (Part II).

The bananas, well, that was a no brainer.  "I'll just make Mom's Banana Bread," I thought.  But, in one fatefully glorious accidental move, instead of adding 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, I added 1/2 tablespoon of allspice.  I knew as soon as I dumped the seasoning that I had made a mistake.  The particularly potent scent of allspice drifted up from the mixing bowl… where my eyes had failed me in my hurried attempt to pull out all the ingredients, my nose now testified to my folly.

There was, however, no going back.

This was just going to have to become a Banana Spice Cake.  In addition to the allspice, I added half a tablespoon of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice.  The result was a wonderfully aromatic, spicy sensation.  Just imagine... spice cake and banana bread combined!

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/2 c. clover honey
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
3 well ripened bananas
4 Tbl. milk alternative (use to make buttermilk)

From the Pantry:
4 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. white distilled vinegar or lemon juice (use to make buttermilk)
1/2 tbl. allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

mixing bowls
electric mixer
9' x 13' baking dish

Preparation:  Combine milk and vinegar (or lemon juice) to create buttermilk and let stand while you prep other ingredients.  With an electric mixer combine sugar, shortening, honey, applesauce and three well ripened bananas until mostly smooth (you may still have a few chunks of banana but nobodies gonna be mad about that).  Combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Add baking soda to buttermilk.  Alternately add buttermilk and dry ingredients to wet ingredients until all are blended well.  Add vanilla extract.  Mix well and pour into 9' x 13' baking dish.  Cook at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick tested in middle comes out clean.

(Yes.  That is the center piece, with the little hole there where the toothpick pronounced the completion of my bread. And doesn't it just seem that just as with the central cinnamon roll,  when it comes to cookies and cakes, the center piece is always the most coveted… it seems to beckon us, like a siren seducing sailors, calling to us in a voice so sweet that sings, "I am the gooiest, yummiest, most indulgent of all the pieces."  Children have no queries making their piece preferences known.  "I want the middle," or "Give me a side piece."  It seems that it's only once we've grown older that we somehow restrain that child like impulse to call the center piece like we would call the "shot gun" seat.  Go with you're inner child on this one.  Better yet, make your own dish and don't even wait to make your way to the center.  Go right for it, first thing.  Ah the joys of baking… ummm…)

Check back for Part II for how I make use of that box of special dark, hot cocoa mix.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lemon, Pumpkin Muffins

Some of you may be all pumpkined out.  But, for the die hard fans who are looking for a creative way to share pumpkin cheer throughout the remaining holiday gatherings this year, try this recipe for Lemon, Pumpkin Muffins.

When you take the first bite, you're mouth and nose are immediately filled with a zesty punch of lemon that's followed by a smooth, cinnamon, pumpkin finish.

Sprinkle your cooled muffins with cinnamon laced powered sugar and savor a lip lickin' good bite of this surprisingly sweet combo.

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. granulated sugar
15 oz. can pumpkin
1 c. applesauce
1 c. powdered sugar
zest from one large lemon

From the Pantry:
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
topping (about 1/2 c. powdered sugar + 1/2 Tlb. cinnamon)

Mixing Bowls
muffin pan

Preparation:  Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and salt in large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, powdered sugar, applesauce, pumpkin, lemon extract, and lemon zest.  Gradually stir wet ingredients into dry.  Pour into muffin tins and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Once cooled, pour cinnamon/powdered sugar mixture into sifter then tap to sprinkle evenly over top of muffins.  Makes about 2 dozen muffins.