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Jam! April 16, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in food.
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I was out with Jenn the other night (nothing exciting, just talk and Starbucks as it’s the only non-bar place other than Denny’s that’s open late) and afterward she was headed to Wal-Fart so I went with her (the other non-bar place open late). How pathetic that we can only get together in the evenings after our kids are in bed. Anyway.

Strawberry Jam

At Wal-Fart they were selling strawberries for $1 a pound and had about a zillion of them. I thought for sure there must be something wrong with them but they were US-grown and there was a staffer there who told us they had just ordered way too many so were trying to get rid of them before they went bad, hence the great price. So, I ended up buying a whole bunch as we eat a lot of strawberries (like, three pounds in two days isn’t uncommon) and I have a neat upcycling idea for the plastic boxes they come in. I decided I would try my hand at making jam since I had never done it before.

Here are the fruits of my labor, so to speak:

Strawberry Jam

I started out small with just four pounds of berries, and tried out a no-pectin recipe. I plan to do another batch with pectin to see which I prefer. Anyway, it was a little time consuming getting the whole jar sterilization process down but overall fun and delicious. I even got to try out the food mill attachment I bought (refurbished, so it was cheaper) for my KitchenAid mixer, and it was awesome! I’m glad I wore a red sweatshirt because I learned that pushing too enthusiastically with the food pushing stick makes liquified strawberry shoot out. I like my jam to spread evenly.

Lesson learned: Four pounds of strawberries may not look like all that much while floating in the sink, but once you get into cutting off the stems and those little hard seedy bits at the bottom you realize it’s actually quite more than you expected. I think I’m going to invest in one of those rubber mats for standing in front of the sink.

In the end, though? So totally worth it.

Strawberry Jam

Yum!

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Banana CakeMuffinBread February 20, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in food.
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Banana muffins

I made some more banana cake last night, in the form of muffins so the kids can take them to school/daycare. After investing a bunch of money around the holidays on silicon bakeware, it’s ironic that I’ve really come to love my coated aluminum Nordicware pans the best. Ever since I started using cooking spray with flour – I couldn’t find Baker’s Joy locally so I ended up with Pam with Flour – it has completely eliminated any sticking issues. I just have to be careful when I spray it because it tends to get everywhere. I also have to remember to wipe it off the surfaces of the pan that aren’t going to be filled with batter so it doesn’t bake on. Overall, though, I’m a convert. I guess I’ll save the silicon for soapmaking or donate it to GeeDub.

Nom.

Banana muffins

Recipes. Here’s the cake recipe, since I was asked for it – I used to make banana bread which has less flour and is heavier, but was never totally satisfied with the results. The cake, however, this will be my banana bread recipe from now on, it’s spot-on perfect. With a few edits, of course ;)

Banana CakeMuffinBread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar (recipe calls for 1-1/2, but I don’t think it needs that much)
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup milk (it calls for buttermilk or sour milk but I never have those on hand)
1/2 cup butter (recipe calls for “shortening”, eugh)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (I use a sploosh)

Combine dry ingredients and 1/2 tsp salt. Add banana, milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Beat on low until combined, then beat on medium for 3 minutes (very important!) Pour batter into whatever you’re baking it in – cake pans, muffin tins, Pyrex bowls, bake at 350 degrees (325 if using convection) for 30-35 minutes, test by poking with a knife. Cool on racks. Nom.

And of course no baked good would be complete without buttercream frosting! I use a standard recipe, more or less.

Buttercream Frosting

1/3 cup butter, soft
4-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
sploosh of vanilla

Beat butter until fluffy, add powdered sugar gradually and mix well in between. Slowly beat in liquid, adjusting amounts by how stiff or soft you want your frosting to be. Spread on cake if you want. Nom.

Happy Birthday Mim! February 17, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in bebeh, food.
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Today is Mim’s first birthday! We already had a really casual party on Sunday at the local Chinese place, I mean she doesn’t know what’s going on so it’s not like I had to plan anything elaborate this year. Also the folks at the Chinese place love my kids, seriously love them.

Mim’s pretty party shoes! Which stayed on all of 1.5 seconds before she kicked them off.

Mim turns one!

I made banana cake with buttercream frosting – I freakin’ LOVE buttercream frosting, the kind made with real butter and vanilla. I used to detest making it before I got a mixer, now it’s so easy. Mmm frosting. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I was originally going to use a banana bread recipe and just make them into cake shapes but of course I didn’t start baking until mid-morning on Sunday (we were meeting at noon) so the 55-60 minute baking time gave me pause…until I found a banana cake recipe with the same ingredients, just more flour and milk, that only took 25-30 minutes. Sold! I ended up using Pyrex storage bowls for baking pans, two medium round ones for most of the batter and one small one-cup sized for Mim’s personal cake. They were yummy.

Mim turns one!

Her little cake had a smiley face in it!

Mim turns one!

Mim’s Signature Look.

Mim turns one!

Time for cake!

Mim turns one!

First up – testing the buttercream frosting.

Mim turns one!

Nom.

Mim turns one!

Processing…

Mim turns one!

Yeah, that’s good, let’s have some more of that.

Mim turns one!

Once all the frosting was licked off, the cake itself wasn’t too shabby

Mim turns one!

Here, have a Happy Birthday smack.

Mim turns one!

NOM. January 7, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in food, Ravelry.
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Back in September 2007 I started a wee little group over at Ravelry called the Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group group – at the time it was a lark as there were already a gazillion very specific groups such as “Knitters With Jesus-Shaped Birthmarks” and “Tea Cozies for Antarctic Penguin Enthusiasts”. You get the picture. At the time I said to Joy, “I should start a completely pointless and arbitrary group about nothing that you and I can hang out in!” So I created the group, we chortled at it, then promptly forgot about it for a week or so. When I returned to check it I discovered about 60 had joined it and were hanging out chatting! Color me surprised.

Over a year later the group has over 2700 members and is my favorite place to hang out online. People come and people go, but the biggest draw to the group is that it’s pretty much self-regulated. Members respect one another, help keep those in line who stomp on toes, and keep things as pointless as possible (well, most of the time). I love that we endured the 2007 US elections with members from both the hard left and the hard right and no one talked about politics there. It was strictly verboten. For the majority everyone just plays nice and don’t antagonize one another (in the CPaAGg, anyway – what they do in other groups on Ravelry is their own business). I love the sort of “get away from it all” vibe the place has taken on.

Anyway. I’ve mentioned the CPaAGg before but never really bragged about it. But I have to because I love those people. Once in a while someone thanks me for starting the group but really I have all of them to thank, because without them my lark would just be a lonely group with two members talking about farts and poo. Now we have thousands of people talking about farts and poo! Ha!

Even though the group had only been around for a few months when Margaret was born they organized a really awesome virtual baby shower for me, made and collected gifts, then had a Maine-based Raveler who I had already met in person deliver them to my house. It was incredibly touching and every time I use the blanket they made me (just about daily) or put Margaret into one of the outfits they sent I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. One of the best gifts by far, however, was this:

Hello Kitty Waffle Maker

Oh how I love this thing. I’ve made waffles in it a few times but never had the presence of mind to take pictures, but this morning it was a snow day and Michael was taking the day off to hang with the kids so we didn’t have to brave the roads taking them to the YMCA. He decided to make waffles and so Hello Kitty was pressed into service, having recently been unearthed from the eleventy billion things stuffed in our kitchen cabinets when he cleaned them out.

WAFFLES!

Hello Kitty Waffles!

These were teh nom. We ran out of the Bob’s Red Mill multi-grain mix we usually use so I pulled out the trusty Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book my Dad got me when I was in college. I discovered the secret to really awesome waffles – separate the eggs, put the yolks into the batter first, then beat the whites until stiff and fold in just before baking. That and a lot of vanilla extract (which incidentally wasn’t in the recipe – insanity!). I love vanilla. The recipe doesn’t even have any sugar in it, the vanilla extract is flavorful enough that they taste awesome without any butter or syrup or anything. Kidlet ate four of them before they even had a chance to hit his plate. Best of all it took about five minutes to whip up the batter so it’s very very quick. This is something I’ll make up in packets of just the dry ingredients to keep on hand for future snow days and weekend breffusts.

The Hello Kitty waffle maker was awesome in that it made four small waffles instead of one big huge one – these ended up being perfect for the kids, we were able to just hand one to Margaret and she could nom away on it as it was easy for her to hold in her chubby baby hands. We can also send these to daycare with her as they won’t take up a huge amount of space in her lunch box.

I hesitated to post the recipe until I looked online and saw the same one in about ten different places. I don’t think you can copyright waffles, can you? Anyway here you go:

Fluffy Vanilla-ey Don’t-Need-Nothin-On-Em NomNom Waffles!

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup oil (I might reduce this to 1/4 cup the next time I make them)
A healthy sploosh of vanilla extract (real vanilla extract, not that fake crap!)

1. Mix dry ingredients, if you’re anal retentive like that. I didn’t. Shh, don’t tell Martha!
2. Lightly beat egg yolks and milk together until combined. Again, I didn’t bother doing this either but you can if you want.
3. Add egg yolks and milk to dry ingredients, mix until combined. A few lumps are okay.
4. Oh right, don’t forget the vanilla! Sploosh! I never measure vanilla extract.
5. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. I queued this up in my KitchenAid mixer and got it whipping while I mixed my batter.
6. Carefully use a rubber spatula to fold the egg whites into your batter until just combined – you might still have a few lumps of egg white but that’s okay.
7. Cook in waffle maker. DO NOT FORGET to oil the waffle maker very well before making waffles! I made this mistake once. What a mess.
8. Wait. Remove from waffle maker. NOM!