Sunday, May 3, 2015

Star Wars Day--May the 4th Be With You!

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I love the original Star Wars movies, but Return of the Jedi holds a special place in my heart.  Daring rescues, cool light saber fights and adorable Ewoks!  I clearly remember going to see it in the summer of 1983.  I had gone on a trip to California with a singing group I was in--and came home to hear about lots of flooding in Salt Lake City.  So much flooding that they created a "river" right through downtown.  Our family went to see the river and then headed to the Century Movie theaters--these awesome theaters that were in dome shaped buildings (at least I thought they were awesome).  I even got to buy treats with my leftover trip money. It was a pretty great day.

Tomorrow is May the 4th and to celebrate I decided to do some baking.  I went looking for inspiration on Pinterest and found a deliciously delightful blog called Yummy Crumble and knew this was the cake to make!  It didn't require a bunch of cake decorating skills like fondant or piping--but it is a multi-step messy process.  I made a few changes from the original because I couldn't find some of ingredients (and I didn't have a madeline cookie pan and neither did any of my neighbors).

Vanilla Bundt Cake
I liked the recipe on Yummy Crumble, so I'll send you over to her blog to get the recipe. Be sure to REALLY grease that bundt pan-mine was non-stick and I drowned it in non-stick spray and I still had one spot that didn't come out clean.  My cake took 43 minutes (I check it at 35 min and it was still really wet in the middle).  I did the cake first so that it could be cooling while I got the decoration stuff prepped.

"Sand" topping
Oatmeal cookies (the crunchy un-frosted kind from the cookie aisle)
Caramel topping (bottled from the ice cream section)

I used 12 cookies and pulverized them in the Vitamix.  Glaze the cake with a thin layer of caramel topping.  I spread it around with a rubber spatula and then pressed the cookie crumbs all over.  I did this while the cake was still on the cooling rack and on top of a cookie sheet to catch all the excess (and re-use the crumbs).


Sarlacc monster
Butterscotch chip jaws and tentacles
Almond slivers

I melted the chips in the microwave (heat in 30 second cycles and stir until all melty).   Put it in a zipper bag and clip the corner and pipe into 4 different fat squiggles for the tentacles.   For the mouth, I squeezed a rounded triangle shape onto a wax paper square and let it set for about 5 minutes and then draped it over a water bottle and popped it in the fridge (with a container on each side so it didn't roll around on me) to harden up. About 1 minute after it was in the fridge I used a butter knife to make some ridge marks on the back of the "monster." Honestly, this was the trickiest part--the water bottle really wanted to escape on me.  I used some white frosting to make teeth.

You stick the almond slivers around the inside, and then make a pile of frosting in the hole and set up the monster pieces. 

I'll be serving this fine cake with some Yoda Soda (ginger ale) and some ice cubes from my fancy Darth Vader and Han Solo in Carbonite molds.  Should be a fun celebration.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Iceland: What to pack

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When you live in a place that usually gets 4-5 months of snowy, cold winter you usually don't choose a place that has more snow and more cold for your spring break destination. Usually-but his was an unusual year. We didn't get much winter to speak of and I do like a good travel adventure.  My birthday often falls over spring break, so it's made it convenient to spend my birthday somewhere other than home, so this year I went for Iceland.  I know, I like beaches and warmth-but Iceland looks so beautiful and it's somewhere not everyone gets a chance to visit. A trip to Iceland requires more research and planning that your average trip-it's not like heading to SoCal where you can basically buy anything you need at Target when you get there.

I did lots of blog searching to find out what the weather was really like, from real folks who really went there. I wanted to know what they packed and what they were glad they had with them.  I knew that seeing the Northern Lights was priority number one and then visiting the scenic coastlines and waterfalls and geysers would also be part of my plan.  I also wanted to be able to pack in a carry-on. A real challenge for a cold climate.  My trip was April 5-11, so while technically spring, definitely still winter-like conditions in Iceland.

I did manage to get it all in my regular carry on roller-board suitcase along with my Keen cross body purse. I needed all my packing skills to make this one work, but I did it.  Packing cubes are key!  I saw that Ikea now carries a set of cubes for about $8.  I wore my boots and parka on the plane, but everything else went into the luggage. I ended up buying several new items for the trip, mostly from Sportsman's Warehouse-they have a really great ladies clothing section and sales folks who actually know stuff about their  products.

3 coats  (only needed 2)
4 sweaters/sweatshirts (only needed 2-3)
3 long sleeve base layer shirts
2 short sleeve base layer shirts
3 pair leggings
6 pair socks (some wool, some synthetic)
Trail shoes


Columbia Interchange Outer West Jacket- outer shell is wind/waterproof. Very important feature in Iceland. I stayed nice and warm and dry in this coat.

Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Jacket-knee length, had the Omni Heat reflection lining. Was a great under-layer. Wore it everyday under my parka.

Mountain Hardwear down jacket-didn't need as much as I thought. Could have left this one home (but to be clear, I love this jacket...its my go-to jacket all winter at home, I just didn't need a 3rd coat on this trip). 

Columbia waterproof pants-used these twice on the trip and was glad for them. The Skogafoss waterfall sprayed lots of water around and  it snowed while we were there. I also was glad for them the night I was photographing the Northern Lights (since I was often kneeling on the snowy cold ground).

Columbia Bugaboots II with Omni Heat-waterproof and warm! Pretty decent traction too. Waded through some water and snow with no problems. Feet were toasty and dry.

Salomon Pro XA 7 trail running shoes--my first pair of trail shoes.  Great traction and Gore-tex waterproofing.  Kept my feet nice and dry and warm.

Burton fleece lined hat-warm, but I wish I had taken a hat with ties or ear flaps. The wind was so gusty that it was hard to keep on my head sometimes.

North Face running gloves-these were good enough for being outside for less than an hour at a time, but they did get completely soggy at the last waterfall stop.

Base Layers

Marker silk long johns-I've had these for years. They are super thin and slippery, so clothes don't get all bunched up around them. Glad I took the bottoms but I could have left the top at home, I never used it.

Helly Hansen long sleeve tech tee

Athleta long sleeve tech tee

Kirkland 1/4 zip long sleeve tech tee-I've had this shirt for a couple years and I  love it--wore it once under the Columbia fleece, but I didn't really need it. I could have left it home.

2 short sleeve t-shirts-basic cotton layering t-shirts

Sweaters and Leggings

Athleta Relay leggings-2 pairs, 1 gray, 1 black. These are thick running leggings that I use in the winter. Perfect for traveling.  Comfy and warm enough.

Cuddle Duds black fleece leggings-I wore them on the plane since they are super comfy.  Thought I might wear them over my Athleta pants, but never felt like I needed the extra layer. Bonus, you get them at Walmart and they are very cheap!

Columbia Optic Got It II sweater 1/2 zip fleece-super comfy and warm.  Its a nice sweater and fits really nice. Would definitely take it again.

Columbia 1/4 zip fleece-super thin fleece, but soft and warm.  Already had this and glad I took it.

Athleta Stoked 1/4 zip sweater-I've had this one for a couple years--warm and comfy.

Columbia black 1/4 zip waffle weave sweater-wore on the plane, wouldn't take it again because I didn't really need it.

Everything else

Swimsuit-a must for the hot pools around Iceland
Socks--miscellaneous wool, but my favorites were the Lorpens
DSLR camera with 4 extra memory cards and sets of batteries and travel tripod
Nylon daypack-very compact, packed in my suitcase and just used during the day.  Thought I could use it for souvenirs if I needed it (didn't). 
Unmentionables (long johns included)
Toiletries (I took a bare minimum of make-up...with a hat on every day and sunglasses, make up was pretty unnecessary). 

Here's the final thoughts--pick out clothes that will wick away sweat and keep you warm--and maybe pick a super cute parka and hat since every picture will show you in it.  Iceland is amazing--and having the right clothing kept me comfortable so that I could enjoy being outside for pretty much 6 straight days. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bottling Grapefruit

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I ran across a Pin one day while looking at "Popular" pins and found a fun blog that had lots of canning and preserving instructions.  The post that interested me most (at the moment) was the bottled grapefruit.  I like grapefruit.  Even as a kid I liked it--provided it had a lot of sugar on the top.

I really enjoy the fancy grapefruit in the glass jars from the grocery store that have all the membrane removed--but its usually over $3 a jar, so I don't buy it too often.  Today, looking at the grocery ads, a small store had grapefruits on sale 5 for $1.  I stopped by and picked up 20 fruits (each were about a pound) for just $4 and tried out home canning of grapefruit.

When you peel and de-membrane the fruit, you lose a lot of volume.  I did 10 fruits and got 4 pints of finished product.  It took me about 40 minutes to peel and prepare the fruit.  I thought about doing the other 10 fruit on the counter, but I think I'll just eat them fresh--but it was a fun project for an evening.

Canning jars with new lids and bands
Sharp knife!
Water bath canner

Prepare the fruit
I used my sharp santoku knife to slice away the peel and pith.  Then I sliced as close along a segment's membrane on both sides and popped it out of the fruit.  Do this over a bowl since it will be juicy and slurpy.  Put the prepared fruit in a bowl and try to keep out the seeds.

Sugar syrup
You can make it more or less sweet.  I used 5 cups of water and 1 3/4 cups of sugar (which was about twice the syrup I needed for my fruit).  Mix the water and sugar in a pot and bring it to a boil.

Add the fruit to the jars and then pour the hot sugar syrup over the top, leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar.  Use a knife to slide around the edges of the jar to get rid of any air bubbles).  Wash the rim of the jar off and put on the lid and band.

Process the fruit
Put the hot fruit-filled jars into the water bath canner and bring up to a boil.  Once its boiling, process for 15 minutes (I live above 4,500 feet).  Pull the jars out and set on the counter.  The lid should have "sucked down" and not make any noise when you push on it--otherwise the seal didn't work and you'll need to keep the jar in the fridge and use it first.

Since I already had jars and sugar, I got 4 pints of grapefruit for $2, so much better than the $3 at the store-and I enjoyed a couple episodes of Big Bang Theory while I was at it!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tomato Soup for a cold day

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Up until last week, its been unusually warm (I think it might have been 50+ just a couple days before Christmas).  That changed on Monday when the winds came to town and brought single digit temps with them ("lucky" for me I had returned home from the holidays, because my parents home experienced below zero temps).  In weather this cold, soup is the order of the day.  A grilled cheese with a side of tomato soup is one of my go-to winter meals, but since I was off work, I went with home made soup instead.  Only took about 20 minutes!

3 cans of diced tomatoes (I had some tomatoes from my garden I had roasted and frozen this fall, yum)
3 T. olive oil
1/2 c. diced onion
1 T. dried basil (use fresh if you've got it)
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. water
1 tsp. sugar (opt)
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil until transluscent (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds and then dump in all the rest of the ingredients except the sugar.  Taste your soup and decide if its too acidic for your liking, if so, add the sugar.  Let simmer for about 15 minutes while you get the grilled cheese sandwiches going.  I prefer my soup more smooth, so I used my immersion blender to puree it right in the cooking pot (you could put it in the blender, but be careful, blending hot soup can create a disaster, so use a dishtowel instead of the lid).

Enjoy your hot soup.  I know I did.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

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If you have a holiday party that you want to "WOW" everyone at, I suggest this tasty dessert from America's Test Kitchen (I've never been disappointed with one of their recipes).  Warning, while the dessert is not super challenging, it does take all morning to get it prepped and then it will need to refrigerate the rest of the day (or overnight).



Bottom Layer
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter , cut into 6 pieces, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I didn't use this)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs , separated
  • Pinch table salt
  • 1/3 cup packed (about 2 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar , crumbled with fingers to remove lumps 

  • Middle Layer

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder , preferably Dutch-processed
  • 5 tablespoons hot water
  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt

  • Top Layer

  • 3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 6 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • Shaved chocolate or cocoa powder for serving, optional

  • Directions

    1. FOR THE BOTTOM LAYER: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of 9 1/2-inch springform pan. Melt butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool mixture slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in vanilla and egg yolks; set aside.

    2. In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add half of brown sugar and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add remaining brown sugar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer, scraping down sides halfway through. Using whisk, fold one-third of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Carefully transfer batter to prepared springform pan, gently smoothing top with offset spatula

    3. Bake until cake has risen, is firm around edges, and center has just set but is still soft (center of cake will spring back after pressing gently with finger), 13 to 18 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. (Cake will collapse as it cools.) Do not remove cake from pan.


    4. FOR THE MIDDLE LAYER: Combine cocoa powder and hot water in small bowl; set aside. Melt chocolate in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

    5. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip cream, granulated sugar, and salt at medium speed until mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, 15 to 60 seconds.
    6. Whisk cocoa powder mixture into melted chocolate until smooth. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Spoon mousse into springform pan over cooled cake and gently tap pan on counter 3 times to remove any large air bubbles; gently smooth top with offset spatula. Wipe inside edge of pan with damp cloth to remove any drips. Refrigerate cake at least 15 minutes while preparing top layer.
    7. FOR THE TOP LAYER: In small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water; let stand at least 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in medium bowl. Bring 1/2 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat; add gelatin mixture and stir until fully dissolved. Pour cream mixture over white chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 5 to 8 minutes (mixture will thicken slightly).
    8. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip remaining cup cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, 15 to 60 seconds. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into white chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold remaining whipped cream into white chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. Spoon white chocolate mousse into pan over middle layer. Smooth top with offset spatula. Return cake to refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2 1/2 hours.


    9. TO SERVE: If using, garnish top of cake with chocolate curls or dust with cocoa. Run thin knife between cake and side of springform pan; remove side of pan. Run cleaned knife along outside of cake to smooth sides. Cut into slices and serve.