Monday, December 10, 2012

Life And A Few of My Favorite Things

So how's it going?
It goes.  And it goes nuts!

My little bundle of joy has arrived and whoa where has my time gone? I am up to my ears in diapers! I have not had much time for creating or crafting.  Slowly as Small's schedule permits I will get my hands busy with sewing, baking, and painting.

So what consumes my time now?

1. The kid
2. Feeding the kid
3. Diapering the kid... most adorable diapers ever !  I feel like his drawer is like a box of crayola crayons!
4. Finding fast, easy, meals that are delicious.
5. Keeping as much color in my life as possible.

Speaking of color, it really makes my life brighter :) When ever my mood goes south and I need some light in my life, I dye my hair or play with a TON of colorful makeup.  I swear a good shock to my self image really boosts the mood.

color cures

Then there is my husband who never fails to come to my rescue with some fresh cut flowers. 

 I love him. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Itching to Paint

We finally got hanging artwork on our walls.  It feels great to see photos, artistic prints, and paintings go up.  The hubby loves having original and limited edition works hanging.  He is not one for the generic print about the house.  I love how he supports the arts in this way.  I love how he supports my art in this way.   Our living room wall is full of my political paintings from the '08 election and the bedroom will have my watercolors.  Above the mantle he wanted my little birdie series.  I have yet to get them into nice frames and varnished for that matter, but at least they are up for the time being.

When I take the birds to the framer, he puts a nice coating of varnish on for me and the colors really pop.  I was supposed to do that as a father's day gift but my life got in the way :( 

I do want to continue my political paintings.  I am not sure if I still want to do the tea cup thing or what issues and symbols I want to focus on.  I like the goofy nicknames the candidates have like "mittens," which cracks me up.  I want to do something with the voter registration, healthcare, job market, and need to research some of the campaign bloopers as they are to come.   I am open to any suggestions.  I cannot start painting until mid September but I can sketch out ideas until then.  No oil paints while preggers!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Slow Cooker Bread Experiment no.1

My husband sent me an article about using a slow cooker or croc pot to bake homemade artisan bread in rather than the conventional oven.  "This seemed too fun to be true.  I must experiment," I thought to myself.  I felt that most of my research left me feeling unclear about the first rise of the bread dough... the most important for fluffy, well textured bread.  I had no idea which recipe to use so I stuck to my good ole Better Homes & Garden white bread recipe.  It's on the page right after the pancake batter soaked one (p. 132 in my book).  I figure once I get this technique down, then I shall honor the slow cooker with my FAVORITE challah bread recipe.  Mmmm!  Just thinking about warm honey challah bread makes me drool.
I decided that I would cut the recipe in half being it was written for two loaves... uhh yeah two loaves coming out of a 4 qt croc pot?  I don't think so! I also was too lazy to unpack my new bag of white sugar so I used brown instead.  I feel it would give a hint of molasses.   I am not sure if I actually tasted it or just imagined.  Probably the latter.  Perhaps I will use actual molasses sometime to make bread.  (Note to self: make sticky bun dough with molasses)

Recipe (Augmented version of Better Homes and Garden White Bread Recipe):
3-4ish cups of white flour
1 pack of dry yeast
9 oz buttermilk- 1 cup and a shot glass
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP butter
3/4 tsp salt

Mix 1 1/4 cup flour with yeast in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

In a sauce pan over low heat, warm milk sugar, butter, and salt to about 120-130 degrees F.  (the recipe says the butter should just start to melt. You do not EVER want to over warm your liquid that you activate your yeast with.  If it is too hot you will kill the yeast and have lovely flat bread.)
Pour your milk mixture into the bowl with the flour and yeast.  Stir it up until you have a gross looking sticky icky paste.  You should be able to smell the yeast activate.  It kinda has an undercooked sweet smell to it.  Learn this scent!  It will help you in a wonderful future of bread breaking.  You can also wait to see if it will bubble but I do not have the patience for that.

When the mixture is smooth and sticky begin to slowly add more of the flour.  (HINT: if you do not buy the fluffy bread flour which is a bit more expensive, sift your regular flour before you add it.  It will allow for a silkier texture) I dumped in a heaping cup and was quite satisfied with how the texture started to clump together into a firmer sticky dough.  When the dough gets too difficult to mix with a spoon (wooden is best) dump it out on a floured surface and kneed for  6-8 minutes.  Your dough should be firm and feel like the fleshy underside of your forearm.  (If you are a drummer or an athlete do not use this metaphor. Your dough will be too firm at that point!) On to the next and second most important step.

The First Rise! This is the part that I messed up.  I read that one blogger let her rough rise in the croc pot itself on the lowest setting.  "Hmm what a speedy idea," I thought!  Nope, wrong! BAD idea!  She must have had a nice super low setting because my dough started to bake! OOOPS! Next time I will turn the pot on low, place the greased ball of dough in for two minutes, and promptly turn it OFF!  The proper way to let your bread rise is to find a nice warm spot, place the dough in a greased container, put some plastic wrap on top so it doesn't dry out and let it be until it doubles in size.  If you put it somewhere too warm, the yeast will die, your bread will flop, you will cry.  The end.  Just do it right and be patient.  You can even let it rise in the fridge all night if you want according to some bakers on the interwebs.

Third stage, finally! Once your dough has doubled in size, punch the bugger down.  Dump it out on the counter with a little flour and shape it into a happy little ball.  Grease up the edges of your slow cooker or line it with parchment and plop that bugger back in there.  Set the temperature to high, place the lid on, set your timer, and walk away.  The blog article that inspired this experiment suggested setting the timer for 45 minutes but allowing the bread up to an hour to cook er umm I mean bake.  The top will now get brown and may be a pasty turn off.  To remedy that they and many others suggest popping the bread in the real oven under the broiler for a wee bit.  But that defeats the whole no oven thing.  I had no choice with my bread but to do that.  Because I ruined the first rise it was VERY dense and needed so TLC time in the oven to dry out and get a healthier color.
Once the bread is all finished let it cool, cut, butter, devour! If creating a circle loaf of bread and you want to have evenish slices, cut it using a fish tale technique.  My brother taught me this from his job at Great Harvest Bread Company.  You cut off the end, then slice it in an alternating diagonal fashion leaving you with fairly even sized slices of bread that will have one rounded edge and one cropped one.   I didn't use this technique because I was lazy and wanted yummy bread in my tummy asap!  My impatience also lead to me not letting my bread cool well enough so I had some dense soft spots through out.  Oh the many errors of my ways.  None the less, it tasted great.  The butter milk really adds a nice sourness to the bread and as I noted before I swear there was an imagined molasses hint to it.  Now on to pictures.
 My poor abused cook book.

 The first rise about to fail.

 Dense and pathetic cutting.  The edges touching the ceramic croc do get a lovely brown color.

 A little shot of the pale top but decent enough texture in the middle.

 More texture of the middle.  The bubbles should have been bigger but I killed the yeast in the first rise.

A nice shot of the browned edge.  It had a nice crisp crust to the bottom.

All in all,  I am not sad with the end result.  I will try again but tweak my recipe and technique.  Perhaps if I am not too fatigued I will blog Slow Cooker Bread experiment no.2 for the ineterwebs viewing pleasure.  I have even read of a rumored slow cooker chocolate cake recipe.  It's possible that is in my future as well.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Great Quiche Experiment

I made quiche for the first time ever.  My husband really enjoys it and wanted some homemade for father's day dinner.  We had visited the local farmers market the week before and had some left over veggies that had to be eaten so we tossed them all in the quiche.

I combined several different recipes from the internet to accommodate the ingredients we had available in the house.  The recipe I relied on most was from All

So here is what I did;
I refuse to use a pre made pie crust since I LOVE homemade, especially when crust is made by my friend Katie.  I used what I could remember from her apple pie lesson back in January.

Single Pie Crust: (ratio for ingredients from All Recipe)
1/2 cup unsalted European butter - I used the brand Plugra in the gold package.  It is worth the extra money to use the European style.  Katie said her secret is to keep the butter as cold as possible.  
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour- Katie usually gets the expensive kind but I went middle shelf.  You want a nice fine flour to work with. 
1/4 cup icy cold water.
1/4 tsp salt. 

Cube up the cold butter and toss it in the food processor with the flour.  Pulse it until there are no crumbles of butter left.  One website said to pulse it until it looks like cornmeal.  Quickly add half the icy cold water until the mixture is moistened.  Scrape down the sides of the processor and sprinkle in the rest of the water.  Pulse a few more seconds.  It still may look crumbly but that is okay.  Dump out the pie crust onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Form into a ball and pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Take this time to prep and chop ingredients for your quiche.  
When the dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface.  Use the rolling pin to transfer it into a 9 inch pie plate.  Trim the edges and cover in the fridge until you are ready to add your filling.

2 TBSP butter (the regular kind is okay for this part)
2 large shallots or 1/2 of your favorite type of onion- mince in food processor
2 cups fresh broccoli cleaned and chopped-  I used farm fresh organic and it is AMAZING just watch out for bugs
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms- I used a medley of fancy organic ones
2 cups shredded cheese- I used a ratio of 2:1 cheddar to mozzarella cheese
4 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4-1/2  tsp cumin (I know I tossed a bit in and failed to measure)
1 tsp salt
1 TBSP melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
In a medium pot saute onion, broccoli, mushrooms until softened and fragrant with 2 TBSP butter.   Spoon that into the pie crust and sprinkle with cheese.  
Mix together the eggs, milk, spices and melted butter.  Carefully pour over the veggies and cheese. 
Place in the oven for about 45 minutes until the crust is golden and the center has set.  You know its ready when you can insert a toothpick or knife and it comes out clean.  If the crust starts to brown too soon make little crust shields out of folded pieces of aluminum foil.   Once it is all done baking resist the urge to dig in which could lead to potential burnt taste buds.  Let it cool for a few minutes, slice, and enjoy!  

I am not sure what you are supposed to serve quiche along with.  Paul had buttered rye bread, I just had it alone.  I usually am not the biggest quiche fan but I will definitely be making, serving, and eating this recipe again.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yummy Yummy in my Tummy Cookies

My students have been assisting me in finishing up a few projects for my grad school classes.  One of those projects is graphing their vocabulary results  after direct instruction.  I bribed them with cookies and stickers to play along.  It is amazing what academic acomplishments 17 year olds can make when stickers and sprinkles are involved.  I find the more animated I am while teaching art terminology the more receptive my students are.  Goofiness goes a long long way.  These chocolate chip cookies however, do not.  They lasted all of five minutes after the kids finished their test and left them begging for more.  My other classes got jealous so I made some this afternoon.

I took the recipe from a bag of Acme store brand chocolate chips.  Sometimes the best recipes are the ones on the back of packages.  Of course I had to tweak things to my tastes.

1.25 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2  cup butter softened (one stick)
.25 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla (I add more and use the real stuff)
.5 tsp baking soda (I like my cookies fluffy so I allow for a smidge more)
1 cups chocolate chips
decorative sprinkles
1/4 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg (the kids really liked the cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 375. Mix all ingredients except for chocolate chips at a medium speed.  Stir in chips.  Drop on un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Yield 3.5 dozen. 
I was hesitant t just mix it all together without creaming the eggs, butter, and sugar at first but it all worked out in the end.  One of my boys asked for sprinkles and I had colorful fishy ones so on the cookies they went.  I always bake with my silpat silicon sheets because they really do preserve my cookie pans and make clean up so much easier.  I think that using my silpat for both regular cookies with shortening in them and my macarons is what destroys my macaron feet.  I will have have some designated ones just for each type of cookie.