Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Homemade No-Stir Almond Butter

I may have ruined store bought almond butter for myself. This was one of those recipes I made and went, "Wow, that's it?" It's so easy to make I can't think of a reason to not do this myself from here on out.

Store bought almond butters are expensive and have a tendency to separate. The magic of this recipe is the butter is made with coconut oil which is naturally in a solid state up to around 76ºF, so it doesn't separate in the refrigerator. It still spreads well once it hits a warm piece of toast. Ooh yum. I'm getting hungry again... excuse me.

You need:

1 1/2 c unsalted roasted almonds
1/2 tsp salt
1 T virigin coconut oil
1 tsp maple syrup

In a food processor, chop the almonds and salt until the nuts have formed a paste and begins to get slightly sticky. Add the coconut oil and maple syrup and continue to chop until the mixture forms the desired consistency. I let mine go for a while until it's very smooth.

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bipartisan Cookies!

Hi all, Mark here!
It's been awhile since my last post, so today I'm showing off a fun, new cookie recipe that I made for a special event.

The event in question was the birthday of my super awesome and hilarious older sister.  It was a political themed party, and I knew I wanted to do something that was easy, but offered variety.  It was at that moment a light-bulb went off: I'd combine chocolate cake with yellow cake and bake it up as a cookie, topped with Oreo crumbles on the chocolate side.  By combining two flavors, I realized this was a lot like bipartisan politics, mirroring the two main parties in our country when they work together.

I guess that would make the milk the Libertarian party?

As mentioned earlier, Bipartisan cookies combine two flavors: chocolate cake and yellow cake.  Many people don't know that boxed cake mix can easily be made into no-effort cookies!  You just add two eggs, 1/3 cup of vegetable, 1 box of cake mix, and bake.  Easy peasy. However, since today we're dealing with two flavors, we double the original recipe.  Quick note-- this recipe produces quite a lot of cookies!  Very good for a large get-together.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

You need:

1 box pre-packaged Chocolate cake mix, 18 oz (15.25 oz box can be used)
1 box pre-packaged Yellow cake mix, 18 oz (15.25 oz box can be used)
4 eggs
2/3 c of vegetable oil (divided into two 1/3 c portions)
12 Oreo cookies, separated into chocolate wafers and broken into crumbled pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Take 12 Oreo cookies and twist them apart, scraping away and discarding the creme centers.  Once you've done this to the cookies, you will be left with 24 chocolate wafers.  Put the wafers in a sandwich bag, and gently crumble the bag with the bottom of a mug or glass.  The end result should be small size pieces of broken Oreo wafers (not a fine dust). Once done, set aside.

Next, in a large mixing bowl, add the chocolate cake mix, 2 eggs, and 1/3 cup of oil together.  Stir by hand or with an electric mixer until no more lumps of dry mix are present.  This should yield a sticky, malleable dough and it should not be 'runny' like normal cake batter.  (Note: if using a 15.25 oz box of cake mix, you can try using 1/4 cup of oil at first, and add more oil as needed)

After the first bowl of dough is mixed, repeat the same steps in a second bowl with the yellow cake mix, remaining 2 eggs, and remaining 1/3 cup of oil.  Once that dough is formed, cover your hands in a little bit of vegetable oil and pinch off a piece of yellow dough (about an inch in size), balling it in your hand.  Then, pinch off an equal size piece of chocolate dough, ball it a little, and then gently press it into your yellow piece.  I find that if you use one hand for handling chocolate dough and one hand for handling yellow dough, the two colors don't contaminate each other when you assemble the cookies.  Once the two small dough balls are put together, press them gently onto a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.  Once the sheet is full of dough balls, take a handful of Oreo crumbles and place some pieces on each dough ball's chocolate half.  Be sure to press them in a little, otherwise they will fall out during baking.  At this point, take the sheet and put it in the oven, and bake for 6-8 minutes.  Generally, I found 6 minutes to work best.  The cookies may appear a little under-baked at 6 minutes, but this is normal.  Let the cookies cool down (if possible, on a rack) before moving into an airtight container.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pie Sunday: Mini Lemon Pies

Easter is one of my family's get together holidays. Every year my grandma asks me to make some kind of lemon dessert. After a long winter of heavy foods, I like to do something bright and springy tasting. My grandma always likes when I bring over desserts.

On a side note, I love the way she says dessert. She pronounces it DEE-ZURT. There is something about the emphasis on the first E that I love. Whenever she asks if I can make a dessert for a family function, I can't help but smile. She has this accent that I just love.

These little pies are the perfect 2 bite dessert to enjoy in the spring. The tart lemon and sweet whipped cream are bound to shake off any funk leftover from the long winter.

You need:

2 recipes pie dough
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
4 large eggs
1/2 c lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
1 pint heavy cream, chilled
2 packets whipped cream stabilizer (I use Dr. Oetker's Whip It)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Roll the pie dough to your desired thickness. I usually hover around 1/8-1/4". Use a cookie cutter to cut 2-2.5" circles out of the dough. Form the circle over the cups of an inverted mini muffin pan. Bake for about 10 minutes. Depending on how thick the dough is they may bake faster or slower. Keep an eye on them. Cool on a wire rack once they are golden brown.

Cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Mix in the lemon juice and salt. Pour the mixture into a 2 qt saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook on low until thick and just barely boiling. If you are nervous, use a candy thermometer and remove from heat when the mixture reaches 170ºF. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Using a chilled bowl and whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream on medium speed in an electric mixer and sprinkle the whipped cream stabilizer in gradually. Turn the mixer up to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form. Chill until ready to use.

Fill each mini pie crust with about 1 tablespoon of chilled lemon curd. Eat any leftovers with a spoon to hide the evidence. Using a pastry bag and a wide star piping tip (or whatever floats your boat) pipe swirls of whipped cream onto the lemon pies. Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Perfect Diner Burger

You know the taste of a perfect burger? I'm not talking about one from the grill. I mean the euphoria inducing flavor from a burger made at a greasy spoon diner. There is something about the taste you can't quite put your finger on, but it is something that can't be achieved outside of one of the restaurant.

That is, until now. I have compiled my knowledge from homemade tricks to snippets on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to bring you the ultimate homemade perfect diner burger. There are several must-have elements that make this all possible.

First: 80/20 ground beef. Don't get the 93/7 stuff. It's too lean and gives you a dry burger. These aren't healthy. Accept it. When forming the patties, don't smash them into dense little pucks. Gently press 1/4 lb portions of meat into a 1/4" thin patty with a slight indentation in the center. Good.

Second: Onions. Sweet Onions. Chop one up. These are the base of your burger. Throw a pat of butter on a griddle top, or in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melty, add your onions, a good handful. Set your patties on top of the onions. Press them in slightly. Season with a little salt and pepper. The next part is very important.

Mustard: Yellow. Good ol' yellow mustard. This is an old In 'N' Out Burger trick. Squeeze a tablespoon size dollop onto each patty. Let it rest. Don't bother it while the magic is happening. After about 3-5 minutes, the patty should look partially cooked through. Now we flip. Get under those onions.

Cheese: Mild unfancy cheddar, colby, or American. (I know American cheese is an abomination to most people, but come on, it's a greasy burger we're talkin' about here.) Put a generous slice of cheese on top of each patty, sealing in the grilled onions. Now cover with a lid. Let the cheese get all melty and beautiful. Once the patty is cooked and the cheese is melted (~3 minutes) transfer each patty to a sesame seed bun.

Toppings: Iceberg. Dill Pickles. Secret Sauce. Prepared before the patties, add some shredded iceberg lettuce, a few dill pickles, and a generous dollop of secret sauce. What is secret sauce? Most burger places use basically the same sauce with small variations, but it's the most wonderful topping a burger could ever have. The recipe is below.

(Not So) Secret Sauce:

1 c mayonnaise
2/3 c ketchup
1/4 c sweet relish
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use on burgers, fries, anything.

For 8 burgers you'll need:

2 lb ground beef, 80/20 preferably
1/2 T butter, unsalted
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
salt and pepper
8 T yellow mustard
8 slices cheese like mild cheddar, colby, or American
8 seeded sandwich buns
iceberg lettuce, shredded
dill pickles
Secret sauce (above)

Gently press 1/4 lb portions of beef into a 1/4" thin patty with a slight indentation in the center.

Throw a pat of butter on a griddle top, or in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melty, add your onions, a good handful. Set your patties on top of the onions. Press them in slightly. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Squeeze a tablespoon size dollop onto each patty. After about 3-5 minutes, the patty should look partially cooked through. Flip each patty. Put a generous slice of cheese on top of each patty, sealing in the grilled onions. Cover with a lid. Once the patty is cooked and the cheese is melted (~3 minutes) transfer each patty to a sesame seed bun.

Add some shredded iceberg lettuce, a few dill pickles, and a generous dollop of secret sauce. Enjoy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Like What You Like"; Tales of a Man with Not-So-Manly Interests

Hi all!
Mark here. Today I wanted to talk about my experiences as a man with less than masculine interests, and why "liking what you like" regardless of who you are is always the best policy.

For those who don't know, I am a 28 year old nerd.  (See above photo)  I am super into plush toys, obsessed with cute things, and love to cook and sew.  I'm an illustrator, and the artwork I produce is mostly cute, happy characters.  I'm also sensitive, gentle, a sentimental romantic, and I don't much care for sports.  Based on that description alone, there are many people who would assume I am a woman.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm an artist, and I make a living producing artwork for children's products.  My entire career has revolved around the concept of "cute" characters, which is honestly what I naturally tend to create any way.  Regardless, most of my peers in the "cute character" field are women.  Popular artists like Tasty Peach StudiosHip Hop Candy!, and Sugar Bunny Shop are all female.  There simply aren't as many men who do work in this genre, but they do exist (myself included).

The idea that only women do "cute art" even affects other artists.  I met a female artist on an online art community, and she and I conversed a little, complimenting each other's portfolios.  It wasn't until I uploaded a profile picture of myself in real life, that she said she had thought I was a woman.  I don't take offense to this (I view men and women as equals), but it was still surprising to see this woman's reaction to my gender.

Shirt Design I Created For: Agape Gallery

For a while it was difficult for me to accept myself as I am.  I would get self-conscious showing my artwork to other men, or I'd feel funny standing in line at Jo-Ann Fabrics as they cut my fabric.  In college, one man implied I was gay after I left the room at a small get-together; this was after he learned earlier that evening that I liked sewing and was romantic.  Some people have a hard time accepting anything other than traditional gender roles.  To these people, men like sports and women like to sew (not the other way around), and everything is evenly divided into "masculine" and "feminine".

Squishable Hermit Crab Doll I designed for: Squishable

It wasn't until a few years ago that I really embraced myself, and all the parts of who I am.  What does it matter if I like making cute artwork or that my idea of a fun Friday night is baking myself into adult-onset diabetes?  What does it matter if I actually like a good rom-com instead of an action flick?  No matter what chromosome you have, the only way to keep your sanity in this world is to let yourself enjoy what you enjoy.  There's a certain positive energy that comes from doing what you love and what you want to do, and if you are an artist, this energy will manifest itself in your artwork and your overall attitude.

So like what you like, love what you love, and do what you want to do-- regardless of who (or what) you are.  Your life will be better for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ricotta Cheese Easter Cookies

Happy SPRING, (finally) everyone! It feels like we waited an eternity for this one. This weekend, the weather finally turned. It was nice enough to open the windows which was a welcome relief from the stale, closed up air I've been sitting in all winter. Despite the brief cold snap and snow on Tuesday, I'm in full spring mode. I needed to make something bright and fun to celebrate.

These ricotta cheese cookies are just the ticket. They are light and fluffy, bordering on a little cake more than a cookie. I love the texture. Before you get skeeved out, they don't taste cheesy. They are subtle and sweet. A little dollop of frosting on top and some cute sprinkles sweeten them just enough.

They are one of my favorite cookies. My mom got the recipe from her coworker years ago. The recipe is easy enough, but we quickly learned it is best to use an electric mixer. The dough needs to be very well mixed. Otherwise the cookies will ooze when baked and look a little more like amoebas than cute cookies.

Ahhh! Clare without makeup! Run for your lives!

This frosting recipe is a little different from my usual because I know a lot of people who are put off by buttercream frosting. If done poorly, it feels like eating chapstick. Noooooo, thank you, ma'am! This is lighter for all your buttercream haters. Who needs heavy sweets in the spring anyway?

This makes a lot of cookies. Like 5 dozen a lot, but they are great for parties. Why not try them at a family party? Easter is this Sunday! Just be sure to save a couple for yourself. I promise you, they will be gone if you bring all of them.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

You need:

For Cookies:
1lb butter, softened
2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda

For Frosting:
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 T milk
2 c powdered sugar
2 T flour
pink, green, and yellow food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, ricotta, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and baking soda and mix until combined.  
Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet 2"-3" apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are
light brown but the tops are still light. Cool the cookies completely on a rack.

To make the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and milk. Slowly mix in the powdered sugar 1/2 c at a time. Divide the frosting evenly between 3 bowls. Mix food coloring into each bowl until each is the desired color. Frost, decorate with sprinkles and serve. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ready-To-Go Oatmeal Flavor Mixes

I have always talked about how a bowl of rolled oats will start your day on the right foot. Oatmeal is packed with fiber to keep you full and nourished until lunch time. Days when I (regretfully) don't have oatmeal, my stomach will be growling by 10:30. There is nothing wrong with having a mid-morning snack, but I would rather not have my empty belly treat my coworkers to the song of it's people in the first place.

With a little preparation, a bit of oatmeal can be simple to make in the morning. Keep containers of flavoring ready so you can scoop a spoonful into your plain oatmeal in the morning. Prepare a bowl of old fashioned oat like usual and stir in a spoonful or two of flavor mix. Enjoy the healthy satisfaction. I made mixes for my dad, and he recently sent the containers back asking for more.

Classic Raisin Spice Mix:

1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp ginger, ground
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp cloves, ground
1/2 c raisins

Mix dark brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves together. Toss in the raisins. Add one spoonful at a time until oatmeal is the desired flavor. Store in an airtight container.

"Hot Cocoa" Mix:

3/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c dark cocoa powder
1/4 c nonfat dry milk
1/2 tsp salt

Mix granulated sugar, cocoa powder, dry milk, and salt. Add one spoonful at a time until oatmeal is the desired flavor. Store in an airtight container.

Blueberry Muffin Mix:

1/2 c vanilla sugar
1/4 c nonfat dry milk
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp ginger, ground
1/2 c dried blueberries

Mix the vanilla sugar, dry milk, cinnamon, and ginger. Toss in the dried blueberries. Add one spoonful at a time until oatmeal is the desired flavor. Store in an airtight container.

Peanut Butter Cup Mix:

3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c powdered peanut butter
2 T nonfat dry milk
2 T dark cocoa powder

Mix the granulated sugar, peanut butter, dry milk and cocoa powder. Add one spoonful at a time until oatmeal is the desired flavor. Store in an airtight container.