19 December 2007

The Warmth of Hot Cocoa

The following took place the weekend after Thanksgiving.

My beverages of choice for the winter weather tends to be coffee and tea. The exception to that is hot cocoa, something that my mom makes every year when the weather starts to drastically cool down.

The ingredients for the mix (chocolate milk mix, confectioners' sugar, coffee creamer, and instant milk) get layered in the large container, specially reserved for the mix. and gets mixed together.

After it's well mixed, a portion goes into the decorative Christmas jar that gets put next to the coffee maker.

The snowflakes on the mugs remind me of cobwebs... Cobwebby snowflakes... I don't like cobwebs.

During the final preperations, I remembered an espresso drink consisting of espresso, chocolate milk, orange rind, and topped with foam that I always order from a special cafe when I go to two different 5Ks in St. Joseph, MI, Caffe Tosi. (A quick digression...Their trail mix cookies are incredible, very buttery, and they serve illy Coffee. The espresso is wonderful.)
In an attempt to recreate a wonderful taste, we added a teaspoon of instant espresso powder and a bit of finely grated orange rind -- enough to flavor it adequately but not enough to gag on (the latter ingredient was added to each mug, not just those drinking the espresso version).

After it was filled a bit more than halfway with boiling water, the mugs were topped with whipped cream and sprinkles in the theme of fall (since it wasn't yet Christmastime).

The flavor was lovely, very reminiscent of the chocolate-orange espresso drink but heavier on the cocoa. The orange came through nicely and forever remains the perfect compliment to chocolate, in my opinion. (To me, Scharffen Berger Bittersweet has orange undertones and is my favorite chocolate bar to nibble on.) I also appreciated the warmth it provided on a cold, nippy day. That might also have been due to the memories hot cocoa reminds me of -- thermoses filled with hot cocoa to warm us up when we take a break from sledding, hot cocoa and bizcochitos, and being together with my family while mixing the large batch.

**This year, the entire mixture was used up at an alarmingly fast pace -- we are almost out.**

Print this recipe

instant hot cocoa mix
from Butter 'n Love Recipes (an old church cookbook of my mom's)

ingredients ~

Large amount:

10 2/3 cup powdered milk
1 pound confectioners' sugar
2 pounds chocolate milk mix
2 cups cocoa powder
22 ounces powdered coffee creamer

Small amount:

4 cups powdered milk
2 cups chocolate milk mix
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup powdered coffee creamer (flavored or plain)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon salt

directions ~
  1. For large amount: Pour ingredients into a large container (it may be easier to mix in batches in a large mixing bowl before pouring into a container) and mix well. To taste, pour 1 cup water over 1/3 cup mix in a mug. Adjust ingredients depending on preference.

  2. For small amount: Pour ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Pour into a decorative container.

This would make a great gift if mix was poured into a pretty container and sent with some cookies.

09 December 2007

Thanksgiving, Part 2

The continuation...

The dinner table

The drinks, sparkling cider and sparkling water.

My plate (clockwise starting at the top), bread stuffing, green bean casserole, turkey, sweet potatoes, and cornbread stuffing.

Bubbly cider (non-alcoholic), very fruity taste, but too sweet. The sparkling water was much better and paired excellently with the food.

Almost finished! (The crusty marshmallow piece was the best!)

Roll innards -- though I added to much whole wheat so it wasn't soft and fluffy.

Dessert plate -- Tigger's pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, and apple-pear crumb pie.

Wow, quite the color difference! A turkey salad.

Thanksgiving, Part 1

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how long ago this took place!

Tigger's Pumpkin Pie (from a book about all things 100 Acre Woods). It looks very "rustic" -- that means I didn't get the crust right.

Pumpkin roll

Behold the pretty pie shell!

Apple-pear crumb pie

For breakfast, banana-cranberry bread (top), innards (right), slice with cinnamon-honey butter (left).

The three stages of the rolls... Rising, post-rise (I forgot to take the picture so I opened the oven door...), and baked.

Me haz turkey!

03 December 2007

I Baked My Mom a Cake

The following took place about 3 weeks ago for my mom's birthday.

My mom has a favorite cake and that is a spice cake. There is nothing "spectacular" about a spice cake -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but this wasn't to be an ordinary cake. Oh no, this was a birthday cake and I knew I had to turn it into a tricked out spice cake. Pimp my cake? Something to that effect.

I'm not going to tell you how I did that until a bit later.

And those are the pictures of the cake-making progress. I beat the Smart Balance shortening with sugar, then added the egg yolks and vanilla. The batter was a bit dense but airy. Then I whipped the egg whites until stiff and glossy peaks formed and took the picture while holding the bowl up in the air a bit, after which I folded them into the batter, drastically lightening it up. I divided between two prepped cake pans, baked, cooled slightly, then took the cake disks out of the pans to cool.

And this is where I tell you how exactly I pimped the cake out:

I decided to top the cake with caramelized mini-pears. Was that not the BEST idea ever? (You better say that it was... or else...)

Knowing this cake ends up a tad on the dry side, I wanted a very fluffy frosting. I chose a 7-minute frosting because it would be thick and marshmallow-y without being marshmallow-y. That makes sense to me.

So you see here the frosted and decorated whole cake and an individual slice. Overall, the cake was tasty and the smoothness of the pears melded wonderfully with the cake, added another dimension. The downsides were that the once smooth frosting ended up getting grainy (the website says not to let the top pan touch the boiling water or else grainy frosting would ensue. Mine didn't but it ended up being grainy anyway.) and the cake was really dry (perhaps because it was shortening-based and had no butter?) and I didn't put enough frosting in the middle to offset that. I'm going to look for another spice cake next time that is more moist than this was.

But everyone enjoyed the pretty cake and it did taste great. Happy Birthday again, Mom!

30 November 2007

In Which I Say Goodbye to Cat

My cat Cat, who has been with my family since I was 3 years old, died two days after Thanksgiving. I've compiled a few of her pictures to remember her by and a poem that I feel does her kitty-ness justice.

The Cat of Cats

I am the cat of cats. I am
The everlasting cat!
Cunning, and old, and sleek as jam,
The everlasting cat!
I hunt the vermin in the night --
The everlasting cat!
For I see best without the light --
The everlasting cat!

-- William Brighty Rands

My everlasting cat, Cat.

Cat and Merry, with whom she never got along very well, but occasionally would tolerate.

Where we buried Cat. The little dot is one of her hairballs.

The day we were to bury Cat, we received this unexpected card from the vet we took her to the day she died. A very kind gesture from them.

**ETA: I forgot to say that she bit a piece of my ear off one day when I rolled on top of her while I was sleeping, thus earning her the nickname of Cat Tyson!

27 November 2007

Sugar Cookies: The Fall Files

The following took place during Halloween and the first week of November.

The Birds! Take cover!

Soooo... I decided that sugar cookies shaped in the theme of fall should be made. My recipe of choice is Once Upon a Tart's recipe for Crispy Sugar Cookies. The texture is between crispy and chewy, which to me is just right.

I assembled the ingredients, started beating the butter and sugar, which produced a fluffy and somewhat grainy texture, then I beat in the eggs and vanilla.

The resulting texture was somewhat smoother, but still quite fluffy.

After that, I added the flour mixture in four additions. By the third addition, I had to switch from a sturdy-ish plastic spatula to a wooden spoon.

By the fourth addition, it required a bit of upper body strength to stir and it had the potential to be a little panic-inducing, as the mixture resembles that of the sand near the water at the beach with large curd-like pieces. Will it ever come together to look like a cookie dough?

Worry not, my dear readers. I'm living proof that, yes, it does come together. The texture of the dough thus far is actually very soft but not sticky and quite firm.

To refrigerate, I separated the dough into three squares (I can't remember if I weighed each portion out or not, but I'm thinking I didn't because it wasn't really necessary). Why three instead of two? Ease of rolling out and it requires less time to roll to the proper size, meaning it won't totally lose it's chill. (** Losing it's chill: 1. Subject has lost the coolness factor it once possessed. Can be used either temperature-wise or as in trendy, hip, something/someone who was "popular". **) Even if it gets too warm, slip the dough (I rolled it between two sheets of plastic wrap, wax paper can be used as well, for ease of clean-up) on a baking sheet and pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so, the freezer for about 5-10 minutes.

The day that turned into bake-the-cookies day, I made the royal icing and separated portions into different bowls to color. This time, I used liquid colorings and at first the colors weren't very strong, but after sitting a bit the colors intensified. Keep the bowls covered so it won't dry out.

From a flat sheet of dough to...

A cooling rack full of sugar cookie cut-outs!

The top photo says, "Look, I haven't been out in the sun much and I'm all washed out.", while the bottom photo says, "I have been kissed by the sun!" (**There is NOTHING wrong with being pale. In fact, I am quite pale myself**) If the bottom is pale, stick it back in for 2-3 minutes or until it's just golden underneath and the edges on top are barely golden. Too much (read: the bottom and/or top is completely golden-brown) and it gets very hard, as these will crisp up while cooling.

On another note, the still-warm cookies are very greasy.

So I outlined the large pumpkin shape with some of the orange frosting that I thickened (a little too much), then I filled it in with the thinner orange frosting (a tad too thick), dusted with orange-colored sugar, then spread a dab of brown frosting for the stem. The frosting is very glossy when not set, but when it firms up it turns sparkly. And that's not because of the colored sugar. It looks like a mound of fresh snow sparkling under the sunshine.

This is Emo Billy and his popular sister Kitty Carry-All.

I should elaborate: Ever since I explained to my parents what it means to be Emo (I'm not, by the way) it's been a bit of a joke to say, "That's so Emo of you!" One of our cats has been dubbed "Emo". So I made Emo cookies.

So ends a fascinating session of sugar cookie-ing. I hope you enjoyed!
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