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 10, 2014

Deep Dark Double Berry Pie

I went to a local pop up sale a couple months ago hosted by Stash Style. Sifting through all of the cool stuff for sale, I found this gorgeous ceramic pie dish. This thing is deep. It is the Mariana Trench of pie dishes. Naturally, I wanted my dad to get first dibs on the first pie I made in it. He is the one who loves pie so much he had me bake a new one once a week after all.

He prefers fruit pies over pudding or custard, but with the late spring, there was not a lot of good fruit available for the last few months. Only recently have I seen the prices of berries drop in the stores. I wanted to take advantage of the good produce available and went with a blueberry/strawberry combo pie.

Of course there is a twist. I added black pepper to the recipe instead of my usual cinnamon. Spicy sweet has been a strong holding trend in food for the last few years. Chili and chocolate, yep! Black pepper and blueberry... I dunno. So, I nervously grabbed the box of black pepper out of the spice cabinet and sprinkled a little into the filling. It was fantastic! A little bit of peppery heat adds a whole new dimension to the flavor without being too potent for those with a sensitivity to spicy foods. This pie is a new summer must, and I think pepper will be finding it's way into a few more of my pies from here on out.

You need:

2 pie dough recipes
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c cornstarch
1 tsp powdered vanilla (vanilla extract is fine if you don't have it in powder form)
1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
2 pints blueberries
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Roll both portions of pie dough into 1/8" thick rounds. Press one into a 9" deep dish pie pan. Dock the crust by poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Cut the other into 1/2" wide strips and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla (if using extract add after the berries,) nutmeg, and black pepper. Gently toss the berries in the mixture until coated. Allow the mixture to sit until the sugar mixture no longer looks powdery on the berries. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Arrange the strips of dough in a lattice over the filling. Cut off any excess and crimp the edges of the crust.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake for 50 more minutes or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Cool the pie on a rack completely. Serve.

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Art, Blogging, and Where it all Goes from Here

So here is a little update on where I am right now. My day job is going well. My moonlighting as an illustrator and artist is starting to pick up speed, and I am overwhelmed with projects from every direction. Very overwhelmed. Now, don't get me wrong, I would rather have too much to do than too little. That's just the way I'm wired.

Despite being a stress junkie, I realized that there really are only 24 hours in a day. I can run around like a maniac all I want, but I truly am doing too much. This blog is my baby and will always be such. It will be 2 in July, and I'm so proud. I have been doing some soul searching and made some decisions. I have to put my health, both mental and physical, before my blog. I love making big fancy meals, and I will never stop making ridiculous pies, but it all has been taking it's toll. 

I have decided to take a small step back from the grueling pace I've set for myself.  3 posts a week, working a 9 hour/day job, doing art for my other blog, going to art events including gallery openings, drawing sessions, and drawing competitions, doing freelance art and preparing for upcoming events and conventions is too much for me. Maybe some people could handle it, but I don't want to anymore. I would rather write meaningful and well documented posts for this blog rather than try to cram in a full meal and photo shoot between work and sunset.

What I'm saying is the Darling Apartment will go on. My cobloggers will help see to that as well. I just will not be posting quite as frequently, but I promise I am not going anywhere. This is a special place for me, and I will not give it up. Right now, I have to shift gears and focus more of my attention on other projects. More good things are on the way, I promise you that!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When in Milwaukee

This weekend was gone in a blink. Friday night, Tim and I packed up the car and took a very long drive out to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to meet our friends, Katie and Nick. They are getting married soon and asked Tim to do an engagement photo shoot for them. Katie is Tim's best friend from college, so naturally he said yes.

We had so much fun and can't wait to go back again. I got to see a little bit of the city since we did most of the engagement shoot on the River Walk. I would like to get a better look around town. There seemed to be a lot of fun shops and restaurants I would like to explore.

We had brunch at Café Centraal in Bay View. They has amazing Bloody Marys loaded with tasty toppings and served with a sweet beer chaser. The sugar doughnuts are so good. They are served with berry cream cheese sauce. Order a large. you'll thank me later. We also stopped off at the Mars Cheese Castle before we left town for very obvious reasons. Oh my, their cheese selection was very nice. I'm surprised I made it out of there with such a low bill.

Nick is a really amazing cook. While we were out for their photo shoot, he was smoking baby back ribs and chicken drumsticks for dinner that night. Katie made great baked beans and coleslaw to go with the meat. It was a fantastic barbecue. The morning we left, Nick made southwest style Eggs Benedict with chorizo sausage patties and ancho hollandaise. It was so nice to have someone else do all the cooking. I can't wait for him to cook for us again.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pie Sunday: Snickerdoodle Pie

Snickerdoodles may be my favorite cookie. They are fluffy, sweet, and just a little tangy. The tang comes from that all important cream of tartar. If you find a recipe for snickerdoodles that doesn't have cream of tartar, you won't get that unique flavor that I find essential to the success of the cookie. If it doesn't have that, it's just a cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar.

I was feeling adventurous and decided to wing it and turn my favorite cookie into a pie! What else is there to do, really?  I think the best part about this pie is the way it bakes up. Unfortunately by the time I got to take pictures, the filling settled, but it bakes up all poofy like a giant soufflé! Once it settled, the golden brown top shifted slightly. I don't think my oven is entirely level. Symptom of living in an old house I guess.

This pie was for my trip out to Milwaukee (more details coming soon!) Tim was doing engagement photos for one of his best friends, and her fiancé is a big foodie. He offered to cook up a storm for us, so I thought the least I could do was bring a pie. Four ice packs and a freezer bag later, it was able to survive the long journey out to Wisconsin.

You need:

1 pie dough recipe
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 c whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Roll the pie dough into a 1/8" thick round. Press the dough into a 9" pie pan. Dock the crust by poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Crimp the edges of the crust. Weigh the crust down with parchment filled with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla together. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a rack. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Sift over the whole pie. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Damage Free Wall Art: The Clothesline Method

Last week I did a feature on an easy way to display illustrations in frames. I understand that some people may not be so inclined to do that. I adapted this idea from something my friend and coblogger, Laura, does. I call it the "Clothesline Method." It is a really easy and low cost way to display a lot of art without having to buy expensive frames or put any holes in your walls. It's great for oddly sized posters and prints.

You need:

Command brand hooks (not the ones pictured, see the note at the end)
Rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball
Binder clips

Follow the instructions for preparing the hooks for hanging. Clean the walls where you want your hooks to go with alcohol on a cotton ball and let it dry. Attach the prepared hooks to the wall in the cleaned areas. Try your best to keep them level. Allow the hooks to rest for at least 1 hour.

Tie the twine to one of the hooks and pull it somewhat tight to the other hook. You don't want it to be so tight that they pull each other off the wall, but you don't want the twine to have any slack. Trim down the ends of the twine.

Use binder clips to hang your posters or art from your new "clothesline." You can also use clothespins if you want a more shabby chic look!

The art pictured above is from John G, Becky Dreistadt, David Petersen, and a few other artists who's names I regretfully don't know.

A NOTE: I decided to use the clear utensil holder Command hooks. I would suggest getting the bigger hooks. They are better suited for this project. The small hooks cannot hold the weight of several posters, the line, and the binder clips. About 1 hour after I finished these photos, the whole thing came crashing to the ground. The larger hooks would be wiser.