June 8, 2014

2014 Summer Reading List

As of late, the posts have been all about baking. Time to fix that and so here it is, another summer reading list. The thing is, I've had a bit of a dry-spell, a reader's block (I swear, it's a real thing). There is no rhyme or reason to these choices, a mix of the books I have on my nightstand already and those in my GoodReads queue that stood out.


First, The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt. I very much enjoyed Possession and Angels and Insects, but the former is a dense terribly clever read while the latter is, well, you'd have to read it. The Matisse Stories are mercifully brief, less than 200 pages, three short stories about women, the book threaded together by references to the said artist.


The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell, awesome title, right? It's about a pig. It's Irish. If I end up loving it, the book is a part of The Pig Trilogy.


The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The book is about Earnest Hemingway and his wife Hadley during the Paris years paling around with the Lost Generation posse. I know very little about Hemingway and A Farewell to Arms might be the only one of his books I actually read, an oversight, clearly. Though I usually gravitate to more wacky book choices rather than historical ones, this will be a nice change of pace (and I already have it, thought I cannot say with any certainty where I got it).


The Cuckoo's Calling by the writer that shall not be named. The Casual Vacancy was a little tough for me, the writing was excellent, of course, but the topics the book tackled were difficult at best (some pages still haunt me). I expect this will be very different still and I have been curious to read it for a while but never quite got to it.

Jasper Fforde never fails to deliver an alternate reality that makes perfect sense: why couldn't you jump into fiction? Of course color-spectrum-perception determines the social pecking order! His Dragonslayer series are not quite so far fetched, it's just about the shortage of magic. The Eye of Zoltar, the final Dragonslayer book just came out (at least on this side of the Atlantic), so naturally it makes the cut for my summer reading.





Here are book picks from the years past - what are you reading these days?

2013 Summer Reading
2012 Summer Reading
Winter List
Other picks worth a look

May 21, 2014

Orange Polenta Cake (Gluten-Free, Naturally)

As of late, posts have been far and few in between. Right, we are all busy, so on it goes, and lets keep it brief, shall we?

This lovely little cake is naturally gluten free. The source is here but required some calculations to translate metric to cups.

Ingredients:
  • 8 cardamom pods, seeds extracted and bashed with a pestle (OR you could just use ground cardamom)
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2/3 cup polenta
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup caster sugar (translation - sugar)
  • 1 cup of butter (I used vegan substitution)
  •  3 eggs
  • zest of three oranges
  • vanilla (a bit)
  • pistachios (a hand full)
  • creme frache

lovely oranges
So from there on, easy-peasy. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a springform and line the bottom with parchment paper.

If you are bashing your own cardamom, roll up your sleeves and bash away. Mix in almond flour, polenta, baking powder, and cardamom, and set aside.

Beat sugar and butter together. Add in eggs and keep mixing, add the dry ingredients, orange zest, and vanilla  into the mixture. Pour the mixture into the springform and bake for about 40 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.
butter & sugar
While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup - heat up slowly juice of two oranges, 3 tablespoons of honey, and 2 tablespoons of rose water.

After the cake is ready ever-so-carefully extract it from the springform and place on a pretty cake plate. Poke itty-bitty holes in the cake and pour the syrup over it. Sprinkle crushed pistachios and orange zest over the cake, garnish with whipped cream if you are feeling decadent, and serve with tea (or Limoncello).

I am thinking this cake might work very nicely with rhubarb sauce too or perhaps lemon ginger?

Pretty little cake, totally gluten-free.

April 8, 2014

Learned Tot: On the Go

Wow, it's been a good while since I've posted about our learning-at-home-after-school activities. It's not that we have slowed down our learning efforts, indeed not. Yet finding a quiet moment to write about the said endeavors can be a challenge.

In a matter of days we will be boarding a plane for a spring break (destination is another matter, there will not be a palm tree in sight). Travel calls for packable activities, preferably with educational value, that fits into the carry-on with room to spare.

This before you is a fairly balanced curriculum that will serve us well for the duration of the trip, especially one the road.


Here is our packing list:
  • Tiny flashcards of words to review spelling - this itty bitty flip book I chanced on at Muji is perfect size for words.
  • The Angry Birds pack with a handful of twisty color pencils (less messy and easier to use than crayons!) and a pen.
  • We love any books that Simon Basher has to dish out. These books were selected off the shelf for their slimmer size and to cover a range of subjects: U.S. Presidents for a bit of civics, Math (in lieu of daily worksheets, it is spring break after all), and Extreme Physics to learn about way-out-there concepts. 
  • Wimpy Kid notebooks, one for writing and the other one for drawing. This was a great buy indeed - slim to pack and as evidenced by the smudgy nose well loved.
  • A fold-up map (no spontaneous Dora songs, por favor) - all of us in this house love maps and this one, which came in the mail from a charity, is perfect for travel.

Best part? All the materials stack up to fit into a medium size backpack with room for a snack and a hoodie.

How do you incorporate learning into your travel plans?

March 16, 2014

Camp Fire Cupcakes

This post isn't about cupcakes, actually. It is about decorating them. There comes a day, say any dreary Wednesday, when one realizes that she (or he) is expected to produce decorated desert for a group of greedy Cub Scouts. Right. We were in it to win. But win we did not, a subject that no one in the Klatch household is prepared to discuss, as it is still raw and it is generally agreed that we were robbed. 

So back to decorating the said cupcakes. Never mind the cupcakes themselves. A cake from a mix will do the job here. The pretty flames are key here and like jello shots, the flames are remarkably simple to make, if you follow the right steps.
 
What's not to love? Pretzel logs, mini marshmallows on toothpicks, and flames!

The key ingredient in flames are Jolly Ranchers! Thought any hard candy should work. Step one is smashing the candy (IMPORTANT: smashing is best done in a large zip-lock, this is where things could go wrong)

Smashed Jolly Ranchers

Step two is melting the candy - at about 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes. Now this is where things could go really wrong so it's important to line the cookie sheet with tin foil and spray it with oil (or else you may be faced with a nasty clean up job, for reals). Also, you have to watch melting candy like a hawk so it does not burn. when melted candy comes out of the oven it looks a little bubbly but the foam disappears as the mixture cools.  

Oh, and one more thing. Don't touch melted candy - it is hot, hot, hot.

Melted Jolly Ranchers.
Once the candy cools and hardens, carefully peel it off the tin foil and break into shards. And they are sharp, so watch your fingers, things could go wrong here too.


That's it! I am thinking this same technique of cupcake decorating would work for for ice cupcakes with blue and clear candy or for bloodied glass for Halloween, no?

These will be making a comeback this summer!

February 3, 2014

Let's Make Whoopie, Chocolate with Marshmallow Filling

Cupcakes are booooring, not to mention the frosting does not travel well. The answer: whoopie! I am still fiddling with this recipe to get the cakes smoother (where did I get it to begin with? It may have started out as a combination of recipes).

The Cakes for Woopies (this makes about 35-40 little half cakes)
8 tablespoons of veg shortening (Spectrum is the go-to brand)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs
1 cup of coconut milk
vanilla
 
2 1/4 cups of gluten free flour (usually a mixture of white rice flour, potato starch, & tapioca starch, but GF mixture worked very well too)
3/4 cups of cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum


Step 1: Preheat oven to 375, line baking sheets with parchment. Into the KitchenAid goes Spectrum shortening and sugar and brown sugar, start mixing and then beating together to fluff. Add eggs and vanilla, mix to fluff.

Step 2. I am never one to get an extra bowl dirty, but this step is necessary. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, xantham). Add half of the dry mixture and half of the milk to the KitchenAid, mix, mix, mix. Add the rest of the dry mixture and milk, mix again.

Step 3. Scoop tablespoons of dough onto the parchment (cookie dough scoop works great, I am in the market for a new one so let me know if you have a model to recommend) and bake for 12-15 minutes, cool cookies on baking racks.

Look at these beauts! Still working on getting smoother cakes.
On to fluffy frosting!

1 1/2 cups of Marshmallow Fluff (Rice marshmallow cream worked great, Ricemellow)
1 1/4 cups of Spectrum Shortening
A few glugs of vanilla

Step 4. Put all the frosting ingredients together and fluff, fluff, fluff. My original notes mention confectioners' sugar but the frosting was plenty sweet without the extra sugar.




This is my go-to frosting now!

Step 5. Frost and sandwich the cakes.

Option: are Whoopies too summery?

December 23, 2013

Mince Pies - Part 1 (Filling)

I am new to mince pie making but it seemed just the thing to go with our Olde-Worlde meets Whole Foods gluten-free holiday feast. None of the recipes were quite right. Some called for "good quality ready made mince" oblivious to realities of the New World - a sad dusty little jar of mince at the bottom of the grocery store shelf. Does that count as good quality?

Other recipes had precise measurements in metric system or called for beef suet (tradition or not, I am not prepared to bake with beef fat). It was time for desperate measures - winging it. 

All the recipes boiled down to dried fruit, apples, spices and brandy. On to the the mince.

Gobs of dried fruit and spices
So into the pot went:

  • Loads of golden raisins
  • Handfuls of prunes chopped up
  • Dried chopped apricots, not too many
  • Chopped dry figs
  • A baggie of dried cherries
  • 2-3 tart chopped apples (mine were Granny Smith)
  • 2-3 Meyer Lemon juice and zest 
  • Juice of an orange and zest
  • Spices: cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg
  • Some dark molasses
  • In the absence of brandy, in went Cointreau (but later, once the fruit is close to being done)


Into the pot the goodies go, stir and cook, smell the goodness. Here is what did not go into the pot - no beef or any meet products and no sugar. Most recipes called for extra sugar but dried fruit are so sweet that sugar seemed an overkill.

Mince smells and tastes like Christmas.
Next step pie crust. Good luck to me!

December 13, 2013

Magic Macaroons

Macaroons are magic - they are easy, gluten-free, and universally beloved (except by coconut haters). So, without further ado, on to to the macaroons. This recipe is courtesy of Danny Macaroons.

This is the plain old regular macaroon version but I see salty caramel and spiced pumpkin in our future. And the recipe couldn't be simpler. Pop your oven on to 350 and start gathering your ingredients. Arrange the said ingredients in an artful way - 14 ounce standard issue back of sweetened shredded coconut (make sure it is sweetened!), 14 ounce can of sweet condensed milk, 2 egg whites and a pinch of salt. A dash of boozy vanilla doesn't hurt either.

making macaroons - gluten-free!
This was a double batch.
Add salt to egg whites and whip them. There are different schools of thought on whether it is better to use cold or room temperature egg whites. Mine were cold and whipped well. Oh here is a tip, use a mixer, don't be a hero with a hand whisk.

See? Upside down! I took a chance and flipped the bowl over to test if my egg white whipping skills were up to snuff. They are!
This is the sticky part - mix shredded coconut with condensed milk and then fold in the whipped egg whites.

Egg whites are folded into coconut & condensed milk mixture.
Scoop spoonfulls of the mixture onto cookie sheets lined with parchment and in the oven they go for 25 or so minutes (I kept mine a little longer to get them golden).

Done!


Danny Macaroons just came out with a book "The Macaroon Bible" - mad props! This is going on the holiday gifts short list. But then again, I might keep it for myself!

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