Monthly Archives: February 2011

Pros and Cons

Pro: My husband and I now have a place to live in our new city. You know, together.
Con: It is NOT in the house we’re trying to buy. It’s a rental. You are KILLING me, Short Sale!

Pro: It’s a very nice rental. Possibly the nicest rental in the History of Rentals. Because I’m an expert on such things. And I’ve seen a lot of crappy rentals.
Con: Hi, I’m Expensive!

Pro: The movers moved everything in for us while we stood around.
Con: They won’t move it back out. (Well, they will. But it won’t be free.) Also, I can’t find the iron. Or the TV remote.

Pro: It’s immaculately clean with lots and lots of really white carpet.
Con: It’s immaculately clean with lots and lots of really white carpet.

Pro: Three words: Walk. In. Closet.
Con: The closet is in the bathroom. This leads to inefficient use of dressing time. Items in the closet in the bathroom, items in the dresser in the bedroom. The back and forth is exhausting. I’m telling you, I need a system. Help me. Please.

Pro: It has a sun room in the back with tons and tons of natural light. Hello, built in Blog Photo Studio!
Con: The view out the windows… Um. The blinds are closed most of the time.

Pro: There’s a delightful, brand new grocery store (that just happens to be my fave regional chain) like right around the corner.
Con: I don’t know where anything else is in this town. I can get to and from that store and that’s pretty much it. I tried to find the mall yesterday. I got amazingly turned around and lost coming back. It was epic.

Pro: I have my own kitchen again!
Con: I don’t know where I put ANYTHING. I am lost in there.

Pro: I made cupcakes.
Con: None at this time. Duh.

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting has always been a favorite combo of mine. It was my birthday cake of choice when I was younger. Coincidentally, It was also my breakfast of choice when I was in college. 😉 I may or may not have stood in front of the sink in our tiny apartment shoving week and half old cake and frosting into my face at 8:00 a.m. before running after the bus to get to campus. Breakfast of Champions, friends!

Of course, yellow cake and chocolate frosting always came from a box and a can. It was time to give making both from scratch a try.

Pro: These cupcakes are so good.
Con: I can’t keep my mitts off these.

Let’s talk about the cake. Now, after I made this particular butter yellow cake, I noticed my cupcakes weren’t super yellow. Even though I’m pretty sure the yellow box cake mix of my youth got it’s neon hue from dyes, additives and what not, I wanted to take a look at a few more recipes to see what kind of differences were out there.

To the Interwebs, Batman!

Right away I noticed that some recipes labeled yellow cake used whole eggs (as does the recipe I used) and some only the yolks. All of the recipes (including this one) used butter as the fat, not oil or shortening. I may have to try a yolk-only cake here in the future just to see the difference, but in the meantime, I like this recipe a lot. It’s buttery, moist, and puffs up in the cupcake pan instead of spreading out. The flavor is slightly sweet and almost creamy with just a hint of vanilla. It is the perfect vehicle for chocolate frosting.

Milk chocolate frosting. Boo-ya!

I get excited when I find a recipe that uses a technique I’ve never tried before to produce a product I’ve had many times before. I’ve had chocolate frosting before. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten my weight in it over the course of my lifetime. Duh. But I’ve never made this particular way.

I’ll break it down for ya, real easy like.

Milk chocolate is chopped and dropped into the bowl of a food processor with corn syrup. While the machine is running, boiling cream is added and the whole thing is processed until smooth. Sounds a lot like ganache, doesn’t it? Well, then a bit of powdered sugar is added – only half a cup. Like nothing, right? Keeps the finished product from being teeth-achingly sweet. Once that’s all mixed in, super chilled butter is added, one piece at a time and it’s all whipped together.

Directly after processing, the frosting is too thin and runny and to use, but after an hour at room temp on the counter? Hello. Silky, creamy, dreamy, chocolate heaven. It’s milk chocolate so it’s got a sweet bite, but it’s not TOO sweet. Really, all you taste here is the flavor of the chocolate made extra creamy with butter. Yep. It may be a sin.

Be forewarned, the finished texture of the frosting is much better suited for spreading rather than piping but I think it really fits here. How homey and comforting is a cupcake slathered with a rustic smear of frosting? These are truly made with love.

Pro: Now you get to try them too!
Con: Mine will be gone soon. 😦

BUTTERY YELLOW CUPCAKES WITH MILK CHOCOLATE FROSTING (Cake and frosting both from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook – pgs. 561 & 563)

*A little note to confuse you*: This cake recipe makes two 8 or 9-inch cake layers, a 9×13-inch sheet cake, or about 24 cupcakes. The frosting recipe does have a note that it’s not the best for layer cakes and that it will frost a 9×13-inch or about 12 cupcakes. I made 12 cupcakes and used the rest of the batter in a different pan that I baked and put in the freezer. I had a tiny bit of frosting leftover after doing 12 – I probably could have layered it on a bit thicker on some. 😉 Now, to the recipes!

For the cake:

  • 2-3/4 cups cake flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If making layer cakes or sheet cake, grease the pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. If making cupcakes, line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. Beat in vanilla.
  4. Reduce the speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture until combined. Add half the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture.
  5. Stir the batter one last time with a rubber spatula to make sure it is fully incorporated. Pour the batter into prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes for cupcakes, 20 to 25 minutes for layer cakes, 25 to 30 minutes for sheet cake. Rotate the pans halfway through baking.
  6. Let the cakes cool in the pan on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

  • 10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (Go with a better quality chocolate to keep the frosting from being too sugary – I used Ghirardeli)
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, boiling
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled
  1. Put the chocolate, corn syrup and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. With the machine running, gradually pour the boiling cream through the feed tube and process for 1 minute.
  2. Add the confectioners sugar and continue to process until combined, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the butter through the feed tube, one piece at a time and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  3. Transfer the frosting to to a medium bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring frequently until thick, about 1 hour.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Guacamole
Two Years Ago: Lemon-Scented Mini Cheesecakes with Mixed Berry Topping

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OH (S)NOOOO(W)!

Hello. This post has no recipe. If this offends you in any way, please locate your nearest emergency back button and slowly exit the blog through the gift shop. There’s a sale on Snowpocalypse t-shirts. Thanks.

Let’s just go ahead and get this out there in the open. I’m 28 years old (also married. Very, very married) and I live with my parents.

Ahem. Temporarily. I’m temporarily living with my parents. We left one city without a place to live in the next one. The cart got a little too far ahead of the horse on this one, but we’re dealing. Live, learn, move forward, press on, so on and so forth. Bottom line and key word here: temporary.

How wonderful for me to waltz into Chicagoland just in time for the snow, snow, snow-torious storm of the century! What amazing luck!

Hi, I’m sarcastic! 🙂

I thought I knew about snow. I thought I’d seen it all. I’ve experienced 20-plus inches of snow before (New Year’s weekend 1999, anyone?) And who could forget this early winter wallop from December 2009. But this…this outdoes them all.

Let me tell the story of the Blizzard of 2011 before I get too old and start adding outrageous exaggerations like the roof collapsed and we had to use spoons to dig ourselves out. 😉

As this storm kicked into high gear Tuesday night, I found myself glued to the window in the front room. In the background, the television news buzzed and sizzled with a mix of excitement and concern. As reports of stranded motorists abandoning their cars on a stalled out and gridlocked Lake Shore Drive began rolling in, I watched the snow flutter like a thick, white sheet through the air. The homes across the street disappeared inside wind gusts and snowflakes. The power flickered.

Batten down the hatches. Thar’ she blows.

The wind kept me up all night. Strong gusts pushed into the house, sending slow, agonizing creaks through its bones. When I popped my head up from my toasty pillow like a groggy groundhog Wednesday morning (it was February 2nd after all!) I couldn’t believe the scene outside. Layers of white, rolling hills of snow blanketed the entire neighborhood. The flakes were still falling and the wind was still howling. Oh, also…the heat was out. Yeah.

The heat situation was rectified relatively quickly (thank goodness!) and the snow settled into an eerie, quiet calm outside. Not a creature was stirring. It’s an odd thing to see so little life in a usually busy neighborhood. No cars on the street, no sounds of jets overhead, no echoing dog barks.

The real adventure began much, much later. My parents live in a subdivision with certain, um, rules. Mainly age rules. Oh, and rules about children. I’m pretty sure if the neighbors saw grandchildren hanging around a particular property too long they would summon an angry mob to carry the children off into the night in potato sacks. Lucky for me, there are no rules against freeloading grown children setting up shop in the guest bedroom. 😉

Kidding, of course, about the children. I think.

Anyway because of the, uh, demographics of this particular subdivision, the residents are not responsible for removing the snow from their driveway. An outsourced service does that. This all well and good, except when there’s a freeloading grown child taking up a spot in the garage and the extra car means someone has to park on the driveway. The service will NOT clear the driveway if there’s cars on it. So, we worked out a plan. We kind of cleared off the area around the car, which by some miracle of nature did not end up completely buried, and then planned to watch closely for the Snow Removal Heroes in their zippy little skid loaders. They could clear off the end of drive and my dad could get the car out of the way and they could get to it.

They finally arrived around 10pm. Before he left, my dad told me he would just take the car around the block a few times while they worked and come right back. He rushed out there, did a little hood sliding Bo Duke style, (Wait. No. But that would have been epically awesome), and got into the car. When the path was clear he gunned it off the driveway and bumped along down the street toward to end of the block.

The Snow Removal Heroes did their good deed. Bless those guys. They did our driveway and a couple more then disappeared around the corner. Fifteen minutes or so go by. Dad does not return.

Hm.

I stood by the window watching the street, waiting for the car to appear and take it’s place back on the driveway.

A few more minutes go by. Still no Dad. I sat in a desk chair and let my knee jump up and down for a bit.

Okay. I’m not one to assume the worst. As I stood by the window in my snowman jamies, I started wondering where Dad had disappeared to. He ran to the grocery store for…something that he just had to have at 10:30 p.m. He  ran into a neighbor and stopped to chat. He decided to build the Chicago skyline out of snow. SOMETHING!

Surely nothing’s wrong. Right? RIGHT?

My eyes darted from one end of the block to the other expecting to see the car’s headlights. Clock said 10:45. It had been over a half hour since he left three important things behind: our nice warm house, his worried daughter, and his cell phone – which was perched on the kitchen counter.

Pacing around the front room, my stomach filled with dread. You know that feeling? That panicky shakey feeling that makes your heart pound in your ears. That feeling had started to consume me. Something was wrong.

I thought about waking my mom, who was fast asleep by this time and had absolutely NO clue what was happening, but decided against it. I concluded I would wait until 11:00 and if he didn’t reappear I would get in my car and see if I could locate the burning wreckage my missing father.

Just moments before my deadline, Dad appears. Only something’s missing. The car.

My poor father is trudging up our street on foot. The snow had cleared out but behind it came bitter, bitter cold. A person planning on taking a car for a quick spin around the block is likely unprepared to be scaling snow mountains in below zero temps.

My heart jumped into my throat as I bolted to the front door, threw it open and called out to him. I’m pretty sure I’m not the person you want around in an emergency because I immediately burst into panicky tears. It’s what I do. I can’t help it. Calm, cool and collected I am not when something goes wrong. I’m sorry.

He was out of breath but unhurt. Oh, thank goodness! Long story, he told me when I asked what happened, but get dressed because he needed my help.

It turns out, in a bizarre twist of fate, he ended up stuck in a massive drift just outside the neighborhood.

On his last crawl around the block, the Snow Removal Heroes weren’t quite done. So he ended up out on the main road outside the neighborhood. As he turned down a four-lane divided road that runs north/south on the east side of the neighborhood, he found himself driving straight toward a man-made snow drift stacked high as a skyscraper. The plows had pushed 20-plus inches of the stuff into a pile in the middle of the road. And left it there. My dad’s car was stuck in the foothills of a snow mountain!

Ah! But a stroke of luck produced a village snow plow behind him on this deserted road. A couple scoops and pushes of the blade would render my father free of the snow’s icy grip! YAY! A scoop and push later, the plow breaks some hydraulic line somewhere and renders the blade useless. Dad is still stuck. BOO!

The plow driver got on the horn with one of the many other plow drivers out and about that night and explained the situation. Ten-Four. Someone else would be along soon to dig you out, he said, and by soon I mean I have no idea when. Good luck!

Knowing his phone was at home and that I was likely standing by the window hyperventilating with fear, he walked back to the house. Down the middle of a (normally) busy road. In the dark. Ugh. So dangerous.

I got into another car with Dad and we drove around the neighborhood, passing the scene every few minutes to see if another plow had arrived. Thirty minutes goes by…nothing. We head for home and decide to check again in a half hour. It’s 11:30 and way WAY past my bedtime.

We pull up to the scene of the crime at midnight on the dot. Hooray! More Snow Removal Heroes at work! They are slowly but surely un-gluing the car from the clutches of the Blizzard of 2011.*

*I have video of this awesomeness but I can’t figure out how to get it off my phone. Because not only am I a freeloading grown child mooching off my parents, I’m also incredibly not smart. If I figure it out, I’ll add it. Maybe. I sound like a goon on it so perhaps I’ll just skip it and save myself the embarrassment. Yes. Perhaps.

Finally! The car was free! Dad was safe! I could go to bed! (Did I mention I’ve been kind of sick? Yeah, I needed sleep. STAT!) We came home exhausted, hardly believing the night’s events. It’s funny, isn’t it, how things can change in an instant? How something as innocent as taking the car around the block can turn into a epic two-hour debacle in the blink of an eye. It’s a lesson learned if anything else. You just never know what’s waiting for you behind that snow drift.

We’ll call this a new chapter in the ol’ Family History Book. I think we’ll all be talking a long time about the first of February blizzard in Chicago and the events that transpired in the hours after. It all turned out okay in the end, but boy, if I never see 20 inches of snow again it will be too soon!

What about you, any Snowpocolypse stories to share? I’d love to hear ’em!

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Filed under Just for Fun