Piece O’ NYC: Camp Lolanor Recap

Our apartment is back to being quiet. We had a lot of fun with Camp Lolanor! We did a lot, ate a lot, and enjoyed observing teenagers — they’re like research experiments to us! Ella and Lola are both great kids. I hate how fast Ella is growing: it breaks my heart. That’s what having and giving these fun memories with her is all about though, I suppose. We asked the girls to name their favorite things that they did while at camp, and it was the smaller things — like finding latte art — that got to me and squeezed my heart. While I hate to see them grow, it’s nice that they’re developing an appreciation for chilling like adults. It blew my mind away that Ella just wanted to sit in the park and read a book. How nice is that?! We’ve got too many similarities now, Ella. Sitting, reading, and drinking coffee is what I’m all about.
 

We did several touristy things, like going to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, a musical, Times Square for the Toys R US store and a Hunger Games Exhibit, etc… We even took them on a sailing trip (but I don’t recommend the Friday sunset sail with two teenagers — it sorta ruined the romance for other couples we think … lol). We also played it by ear and made impromptu visits to Top of the Rock, walked to a cool bookstore in Brooklyn, and had a spa night where us girls put up our hair and put on face masks. It was loads of fun!My husband was the best camp coordinator and went to the musical with them (I took the night off). He also very adorably eaves-dropped on their conversations because he’s a ‘nosy’ uncle and all (I knew he wanted to be sure they weren’t talking about boys, he just won’t admit it…). And though we’ll miss our little coffee partners in crime, camp season is officially over for us! I’m whooped and poor Jeff had to catch a red-eye to Brazil the same night he dropped Ella off at the airport. I can’t wait to have him home for a little ‘us’ time.

More pics can be found below. I took plenty of the girls together, so that’s the stream you’ll see mostly. They’re the cutest “besties”!

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The best tomato sauce, ever…

I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living magazine and every now and then there is a recipe in an issue that turns out to be amazing and, by that, I mean both very tasty and not hard to make. The MSL Roasted Cherry-Tomato Sauce has become my new favorite thing to eat!

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I didn’t actually make it, Steve did. He’s probably going to be tinkering with the recipe a bit because that’s what he does but it was wonderful as written. It’s not exactly a ‘tomato sauce’, it’s more of a juicy-roasted-squishy tomato topper that is good on many things… pasta, bread, salad, etc.

We’re going to try making it with larger tomatoes because my tomato plant will (I hope) produce lots of big tomatoes :-). I suspect Steve will cut them into wedges, but maybe not. At any rate, if you are looking for something quick and tasty for dinner, try this!

UPDATE: We tried it with bigger tomatoes last night and it was just OK. Lots more juice and less intense flavor. Next year I’ll plant cherry tomatoes.

 

 

Really?!

Have you ever seen purple potatoes? We got some, they were in a bag that said that they were proudly grown in Idaho. Who knew—they are purple inside and out! There was no photoshop enhancements involved…

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They don’t taste purple. They do add a special something to a dinner plate and, if you have kids who are picky eaters, you could have a whole lot of fun with these.

I’m traveling to CA today to visit a friend and I am looking forward to it! There will be some sitting and stitching and visiting and eating of cake! I hope you have a similarly wonderful weekend :-).

 

Make your own yogurt…

I eat a lot of plain Greek yogurt. I put it on my granola, and sometimes eat it at lunch. When I was in NJ a few weeks ago, one of my hostesses (Barbie) told me how she makes yogurt. It sounded so easy that I decided to try it when I got home. Once home, Lorna reminded me that she used to make yogurt all the time.

Barbie makes her yogurt in a heavy, enamel casserole dish kept warn in an oven set at a low heat and that works. The down-side for me is that my dish is pretty heavy and it’s too hot in Texas for half the year to keep the oven on for hours at a time, even on low. After thinking about it, I knew I would do better with a yogurt maker. I found one that is neither expensive nor fancy. It’s a small crockpot made by VitaClay with a yogurt setting.

I followed the instructions, took photos, and made some amazing yogurt! I’ve made 3 batches so I know that it continues to work. Here’s how you do it:

Choose your milk. I like organic whole milk. The VitaClay booklet tells you what kinds of milk work (1%, 2%, whole).
Have 2-3 tablespoons of a plain yogurt on hand to use as a starter for your batch of yogurt.
One batch takes 7 cups of milk (that is 1 cup shy of a 1/2-gallon). Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring it to 180° over medium heat, stirring every now and then. I measure the temperature with a precise candy thermometer. The milk will froth, but not boil.
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Once the milk reaches 180°, remove it from the heat and let it cool to 110°. This takes about 45 minutes. The booklet says that you can place the pan of milk in a cool bath to make this go faster. I have not done that. I did stir the milk every now and then.
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Once the milk is 110°, spoon 2-3 tablespoons of yogurt into the yogurt maker. (I used 3 tablespoons each time.) Pour 1 cup of the warm milk into the yogurt maker and stir to blend. Then add the remaining 6 cups of milk. The mixture fills the pot.
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Plug the yogurt maker in. Turn it to ‘yogurt’. Place the lid on the pot and don’t touch it again until it’s done. Apparently disturbing the pot is bad for the yogurt.
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The yogurt is done in 6-8 hours. If you like tart yogurt, cook it longer. I have had success at both 6 and 7 hours of cooking time and the yogurt is about as tart as I want it to be.
Remove the lid carefully, so that the condensation doesn’t get into the yogurt. I may have mis-read it, but I think that’s a bad thing.
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Take the crock of yogurt out of the crockpot and let it cool. I cool for a while on the counter top, then in the fridge. You can eat the yogurt at this consistency (after chilling) or strain it to make thicker Greek yogurt.
I think it works a little better to cool/chill the yogurt before straining it but I’m not that patient. I let the yogurt get to room temp and then I set it up to strain.
I line a small colander with fine cheesecloth and spoon the yogurt into it. I place the full strainer on top of the crock (you could use a bowl if it fit your strainer better) and use a twisty-tie on the corners of the cloth. The crock and strainer move to the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
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The next day the whey is in the colander (and there is a lot of it) and the Greek yogurt is ready to be spooned into a container and put back into the fridge. You can add whatever you like to flavor the plain yogurt or eat it as is.
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Buying yogurt is faster and more expensive. Making yogurt is a minor chore, but I think this yogurt tastes better and it is less expensive. I suspect I’ll be making my own yogurt for a long time.
PS – In case you wondered why Lorna quit making yogurt, it was because her oven couldn’t maintain the necessary low heat for the length of time it takes for the yogurt to set up. Plus, it heated up the house too much. She’s looking forward to receiving the new yogurt maker that is coming her way from Amazon :-).

Silicone baking cups!

The New York Baking Company contacted me to see if I would like to write an honest review of their silicone baking cups. It took me a while to realize that they probably contacted me because of my blog name, piece o’ cake, rather than the fact that I sometimes write about baking but that’s OK because I do, in fact, sometimes write about baking!

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I’ve seen these silicone baking cups before but had never bought them. Not because they are too expensive (they aren’t), but rather because I wasn’t sure how they would work. Well, I can honestly say that they work great!

I made the Birthday Cupcakes from The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. The problem with gluten free cupcakes is that they have a tendency to fall apart as you peel them out of the papers or try to remove them from a cupcake pan—more so than cupcakes made with wheat flour do. Using the silicone baking cups for GF cupcakes provides a good test for this product.

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The baking cup released the cupcake without tearing it up! I didn’t coat the silicone baking cups with butter, oil, or a spray.

Our grandson, Jack, was spending the night so I decided to frost the cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. Jack loves peanut butter! I used a new recipe which said to blend together 4 tbls butter, 1/2 cup honey, 1 cup smooth or chunky peanut butter. I added chocolate chips.

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This frosting is not stiff because you don’t add powdered sugar. Once I realized that I re-read the recipe and it said to place the frosted cake (cupcakes for me) 2 1/2″ beneath a hot broiler for about 1 minute. It would never have occurred to me to do that with a frosted cake but what the heck… I decided to give it a try. (And, no, this is not an April Fool suggestion :-).)

Luckily Lorna was with me. She said silicone does not like to broil and sure enough, the package says not to heat the silicone baking cups above 475°. I carefully removed the frosted cupcakes from the baking cups which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. The baking cups sort of turned inside-out, ejecting the cupcakes. I placed the cupcakes on a baking sheet and slid that under the hot broiler.

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The recipe said to watch the cake carefully and pull it out when the frosting bubbled, but before it burned. That took less than a minute and even so, some of my cupcakes are browner than I would like. The frosting didn’t exactly harden, but it did get less soft once the cupcakes cooled. They are pretty on the plate and they were so very tasty!

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I did put the silicon baking cups back on the cupcakes that were not immediately eaten to keep them from drying out. That, too, worked like a charm.

My honest review of the Silicone Baking Cups from The New York Baking Company is that they are truly wonderful! I have 12, I’m going to get 12-24 more because I know I’m going to be using them a lot.

Side Notes:

  • The cookbook from ATK is a wonderful, marvelous cookbook! I made the flax bread too (twice!) but that’s another story.
  • This frosting would be very tasty on bread—broiled or not.
  • And now that I think of it, baby marshmallows would be a nice addition to this frosting.

 

Best Ever Granola

I'm at the Savannah airport, waiting for my plane home. Even though I love teaching, I do love going home!

Before I left home last week, I had to make a new batch of granola. I eat a half cup of this stuff with plain greek yogurt every day. I like to add fruit: blueberries in season, and lately sliced bananas. It fills me up, and it I'm not hungry again until lunch time.

I've written about my recipe before, but it has evolved. This time I happened to add the ingredients in a different order and darned if that didn't make a big difference. Here's the link to my new recipe:

Download BestEverGranola

The trick is to mix the nuts, spices, oil, and then honey—then add the oats! I had always added the oats first and it was harder to mix everything evenly.

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The granola is light in the bowl, then it browns up some as you cook it.

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It's toasted, but not dark when it cools.

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I stir it up when it's still hot, scraping the bottom of the pan and then let it cool completely. I keep it in any airtight container and scoop it out a half cup at a time. 

FYI—it makes a nice salad topper too!

 

Easiest pie crust, ever—and it’s gluten free!

We take part in the Bountiful Baskets food co-op most weeks. We sign up on Monday and pick up on Saturday. While there are a variety of foods available, we most often sign up for the fruit and vegetable box. Every week is different and you never know what you are going to get. On Saturday we got several granny smith apples. Time for pie!

Now that I have a good pie crust recipe, I like making pie. This recipe is by Annalise G. Roberts, from her cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking Classics. Her website is here. I buy the GF Classical Blend flour by Authentic Foods that Ms Roberts recommends. I like it better than any other GF flour. It tastes as good as any wheat-based crust that I’ve ever tried.

Download Traditional Pie Crust

(If you are not interested in gluten-free baking, click here to read a post with an excellent pie crust that is as easy to make.)

My pie-baking experience Sunday morning was not without a couple of hiccups. I was distracted and mis-measured the ingredients for the crust not once, but twice! It hurt to throw out the 1st and 2nd attempts but, thankfully, the third time was the charm.

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Steve and I each ate one small slice. Mom wanted two as well (one for today, one for tomorrow). The rest of the pie went to Chris and Lorna.

Lorna does not eat white sugar. Honey is fine, as is crystalized coconut or palm sugars. Steve and I eat very little processed sugar and so learning to bake without it is fine by me. The little bit of processed white sugar in the crust recipe was so small that Lorna and I figure it’s OK.

I substituted 2/3 cup honey for the 3/4 cup of combined white and brown sugars called for in the filling recipe. I used coconut sugar in the crumb topping. 

Coconut sugar is brown and has a different consistency. The crumb topping looks different than it would have with white sugar, but it tastes just fine :-).


ApplePie-Slice

FYI—The apple filling recipe came from GF Baking Classics as well. Honestly, this is my go-to dessert cookbook. The cakes are fantastic!