Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Daring Baker's Challenge: Cheesecake!

So, uh, funny story. I have been experimenting with cheesecakes all month for my work so when I saw this challenge, I thought I have this on in the bag. I got all my ingredients together and planned on making it this last Sunday when *bam* Jack's sick. Not the oh he-has-a-cold-kind of sick but the if-you-put-me-down-I-am-going-to-scream-until-I-puke kind of sick. Poor baby..and poor cheesecake deadline.

But alas! I got it baked tonight and will give an updated post tomorrow night when I give it to the in-laws. Just in case you can't stand the suspense, it is a Coffee Caramel Cheesecake. I did some fun things with the crust but you will all have to wait until tomorrow! For now, here is the challenge recipe:

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve. Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Some variations from the recipe creator:

Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).

Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.

Mexican Turtle - add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.

Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of "coins" of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):

Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.

Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Christmas in April?

I totally realize that I am a little late on this but ebay has plants! I found a lot of 26 assorted succulents and managed to scoop in at the last second and win the auction. Three days later, this is what arrived at my doorstep.
I was like a kid in a candy shop! Each little plant was labeled and packaged separately and I had no problem telling what was what. The seller even threw in 2 free plants.
After reading up on transplanting these little guys, I ended up sticking them about a 1/2 inch down into to dirt and then watered them thoroughly.

Not bad for $24! Check out more from this seller here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Faint Grumblings

I heard through the grapevine that someone (Wade) is talking about a pizza rematch. That same person (Wade) is going to take it serious this time and train...and maybe not order a pizza topped with sausage and olives. I will keep you all posted...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Chicken Edition

Here it is! We finally finished the new coop for the chickens! Well, there is still a clear poly-carbonate roof to screw on but everything else is done. Want to see all the extras? You know you do...
We'll start with the basic coop design. We have a little hen house (any suggestions on paint color?) that is accessible by a ladder from the dirt run below.
I know it is kind of hard to see, but there is a small cut out on the side of the house with a latch on it. When you open it you see this...
How cool is this!? It is like two little egg filled pots of gold every morning when Jack and I go out to see the chickens!
And here is an all exclusive look at the inside of the hen house...two boxes and a perch.
The ladder hole...we cut out the floor from the old fake wainscoting that we took off the walls from upstairs. Makes it really easy to clean because it it so slick.
The ladder coming down from the coop...this needs a little adjusting due to the fact that the chickens surf down it from rung to rung. I also hung the feeder to stop them from scratching straw and poop into their food.
We dug the fencing down about a foot so nothing could get into get them (a.k.a. installed a home security sytem...ok I will stop with the lame jokes).
Also, we elevated their water up with pavers to keep the straw out of that. They are crazy scratchers and stuff flies everywhere. They LOVE the straw I put down every week and it keeps them pretty clean.
She really is happy. I promise!

We based our coop on this design but have to say that the plans were pretty sketchy. If any of you want them, we will give away our plans that we used for the project (with notes and everything). Just leave a comment!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Finally! Huevos Rancheros!

This post will not be pretty. I tried my hardest to make these guys look nice and yummy but they don't look the part...but ohhhhh do they taste the part! I promised a friend of ours that I would post how to make these little boogers after he visited us one night for dinner. Here we are three weeks later (sorry Mark!).Anyways, here is how you do it!

Huevos Rancheros
Admiringly Stolen from Smitten Kitchen (and yes hers are pretty...but she is a pro)

Heat a fry pan on medium heat and throw on a corn tortilla. After you can feel the tortilla get warm, add some grated cheese and let melt around the edges.
Crack an eggs on to the middle of the tortilla and season with salt and pepper. Wait until the edges of the egg set and turn white before you try to turn it. Oh yea, you will be turning this concoction. Tricky.
After the eggs sets a bit, flip the whole thing over and cook like a regular fried egg. I like mine all gooey while LJ likes his yolk well-done.
If cooking for more than one person, you can store your huevos in an oven set at 195. This makes things a bit easier if cooking for a group of people since you can really only make one to two of these at a time. Top with black beans and salsa and you will be so happy!

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Dropped My Banana!

How cute are these prints by Noelle Dass? We got "I Dropped My Banana" for Jack's room...

...and "Ottertopia"...
...and "Paradise Gained"...
...yeah and also "Hippo Doing a Handstand"...what can I say. These are sooo cute and not all "hey look baby art!"
I just checked her site last night and was pleasantly surprised to see some new pieces out. Here are two of my favorites...

... and "Chatty Turtle". Last but not least, I followed the link to Noelle's blog and spotted this gem...Yes folks, that is a wiener dog...done in watercolors. Pretty darn sweet and I hope she hasn't sold it yet.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wanted: The Kid That Cleaned Up At the Easter Egg Hunt

He carried his little bucket up to the line and held it the whole time we were waiting for the hunt to start. The true sign of a competitor.
The hunt begins...
...soo we only nabbed four eggs but what a glorious four eggs they were! AND, unlike some people, Jack actually grabbed all four eggs. Not LJ or I. Jack and his little egg-hunting self.

Added bonus, our little man did not cry when he saw the Easter Bunny. He laughed and if we had let him, would probably have tried to pet her.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Frenchy Goodness

Now that we are getting fresh eggs courtesy of our lovely ladies, I am trying to find recipes that are Jack friendly. He won't eat eggs by themselves (not in any form...I have tried) so I found a great french toast recipe for him. Yum.French Toast Sticks
Adapted from The Super Baby Food Book
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix all ingredients onto a platter. Place two pieces of whole wheat bread in the mixture and let soak. Turn bread over once and let the other side soak. Once all the egg mixture is soak up (usually about 20 minutes or so) cut the bread into small slices. KEEP TOGETHER!
Using a spatula, put the whole piece of bread(but really cut up already) into a pre-heated frying pan (I like mine on medium). After you get the bread into the pan, use the spatula to separate the sticks. Any other way and they will fall apart. Trust me.
Cook until the wet side is dry looking then flip over and brown the other side. Jack likes his a little custardy on the inside. Delicious.

Uh yeah, that would be the WHOLE stick shoved into his mouth. I am hoping this is a phase he is going through...or it could be because he is 1/2 Joseph.

Feeling Left Out...

Sometimes while I catch up on other blogs, I come across things that I find very amusing in comparison to my life. One of those things is the "Through Her Eyes" series by Maria at Layers of Meaning. She featured a sneak peak into 9 bloggers purses and I had to laugh at how simple these ladies live. Oh the good old days of manicures, cell service everywhere one goes, and long dangley earrings. Here is a shot of the contents of my purse......glamorous huh. You want a break-down of the goods? Here it is: a corduroy purse I got in China (completely washable BTW), disposable paper table covers for when we eat out with Jack (made of recycled paper and they have animals on them, double score), disposable diapers for when we travel or in case of emergencies (the number of these grow due to the fact that I always forget I have some before stuffing another in there), wipes that Jack so lovingly unpacked for me, my wallet, my coupons/gift certificates/receipt holder, an old shopping list, goldfish, gum, random bobbi brown lipsticks, the best lip balm EVER, barrettes, random napkins that I at some point picked up due to the impending mess Jack was going to create by eating something, gum wrappers, ipod, fabric swatches, pacifier (for emergency car break-downs), one of Jack's baby spoons, his body wash (no idea how it got in there), a roll of quarters and a pen.

For all my friends out there that haven't had a kid yet, your purse will look like this once you do. Totally unavoidable.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oh My God.

The attention to detail is...scary? I just ran across this new blog called "What Not to Craft" and I have to say it is pretty funny.

If I start now, maybe I can finish a screaming, horrified looking angel with twiggy arms for everyone by Christmas! Really, who couldn't use that looking at you everyday?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Please Watch This Show

Sooooo we don't have cable at our house *huh* I know! How dare we! We do, however, have our poor man's tivo (no not a VHS recorder and TV in one...which is what we did have for awhile) but Hulu.com. That being said, the list of TV shows that I am watching these days is slowly dwindling. I gave up on Grey's after Izzie started sleeping with her dead ex-fiance...(yeah I know she is sick...still a lame storyline)

...Heroes is just awful...(ok as a cheerleader, totally unbelievable as someone that kills people)

...and has left my much anticipated Monday nights with one shiny bright star...

To make a long story short, an old friend in trouble at the C.I.A. hacks into Chuck's brain and inputs all of the government’s secrets, then blows up the mainframe they were originally stored in. This leaves Chuck as the most valuable asset the C.I.A. has, and turns his life upside down.

I am not kidding...give it a try.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Party in My Lamp!

After painting my new purple lamps, I wanted to something a little funky-cool to spruce them up a bit. I decided to line them with a black and white fabric that you would only really notice when the lamp was on. I have mixed feelings on the print that I went with but it was the only black-white print at our local Jo-Ann's fabric so I will learn to live with it. Anyways, here is how to line a lamp...just in case you want to do it too.
Start by tracing out your lamp shade on a piece of paper. I used dollar store paper. This is what it should look like after you are done...just roll it along and mark as you go. Make sure to use a pencil because you don't want to leave marks on your shade.
Next, cut the pattern out and lay it in your shade to make sure everything fits. Trim as needed.
Then lay your pattern down onto your fabric. I recommend using a rotary cutter if you can. Cut out.
Starting on the lamp shade seams (you want to match the seams up) spray adhesive on to your fabric and press firmly to the shade. Work in small patches to make sure you stay on line with your borders.
You might have to trim up your edges a little. Tuck them into the edge of your shade with your fingernail.
Let dry for a few hours then set on your lamp!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inspiration: Wow Your Family

Right...Happy April Fool's Day. Check out Ugly House Photos for more "inspiration".