Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

I made this cake for a fundraising auction.  I think it's my best one yet.  2 layers of chocolate cake, Raspberry Mousse filling, raspberry buttercream frosting, chocolate ganache, topped with raspberries and a raspberry glaze.

I used a devils food cake mix, baked using the high altitude directions.  Like my great grandmother said, while homemade cakes aren't really that hard, a cake mix is faster, and there's not any noticeable difference (plus, I know the cake will turn out great every time).  
The mousse filling recipe came from a strawberry mousse cake recipe I found awhile back.  I swapped out the strawberries and used thawed frozen raspberries instead.  I also doubled the sugar.  In a cake with so much other sweet stuff going on, I actually prefer a slightly less sweet mousse, but some people like things sweeter than I do.  If you use the mousse in a pie or for standing alone, be sure to double the sugar.

The frosting was also from that recipe, although I added a bit more powdered sugar to make it stiffer.  Again, swapping thawed frozen raspberries for the strawberries.  I didn't chop them, just added them into my mixer and let it do the work.  

The chocolate ganache recipe is 4oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I use a ghirardeli chocolate bar), 1 TBSP chilled butter, and 3 TBSP karo syrup.  Chop the chocolate and butter, and add karo syrup.  Bring 1/2 cup cream to a boil and pour over chocolate mix.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Stir gently until the chocolate is smooth.  let sit for a few more minutes.  Pour over cake and use a spatula to direct it over the sides.  I poured mine onto a cold cake, so it sets up faster.  

After the ganache had cooled, I piped a circle of stars with a blob in the middle, and piled the raspberries up inside the circle.  

The cake still needed something else, and my husband suggested some sort of sauce, so I used 1/4 cup of raspberry juice (from my home canned raspberries- mostly water and sugar), but pureed raspberries, strained, with some sugar added would probably work fine too, and dumped a packet of gelatin into it.  I let it sit for a few minutes, and then stirred it up.  It was still a little lumpy, so I added a little karo syrup to encourage glossy smoothness, and microwaved it for 30 seconds.  Then I let it cool in the fridge and when it started to thicken up, I drizzled it over the raspberries.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 Seed Starting

The weather here as alternated between snowstorm, and warm spring.  Warm enough that I want to start planting.  I'm holding off a bit longer, but I did get my seed starting trays out, washed them, and got them planted.  Somewhere in the moves of the last several years, I lost all but the top cover of my third seed starting tray.  Since I'm holding off starting perennial flowers and ground cover for the yard until next year (or maybe just later in the summer) when the sprinkler system is finished and the yard is leveled the way we want it with rocks in the right spots, I don't really need the third tray, but it was still a bummer to find it missing.  It's probably in a random box out in the garage.

Here are the two planted trays.

I have 48 Opalka tomatoes.  We've grown this variety for three or four years now and really like how solid they are.  They're perfect for making salsa and canning.  Thin skin that comes off easily and thick meaty flesh.  Shaped like a large hot pepper.

4 California Wonder, bell peppers that I picked up a couple of years ago at a local store.  I think they were Martha Stewart brand.

4 Sweet Banana Peppers.  These are a first-try seed for me.  The plan is to pickle them.

4 Isis Candy Cherry Tomatoes.

16 Scarlet Kale.  These are also a first-try. If we can't eat all of it, we'll share it with the chickens.

4 JalapeƱo pepper plants.  Hopefully these seeds germinate, since they're several years old.  I use jalapeƱos in our salsa, and also for pickling.

4 Quadrato Asti Giallo Peppers.  This was the new variety of bell pepper seeds I decided to try out this year.

12 Mortgage Lifter.  This is my second year with this variety.  They are big juicy slicing tomatoes.  Great for eating with a little salt and pepper.

12 Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry.  These are an experiment for this year.  I remember a neighbor when I was a kid growing these, picking the fruit off the ground, covered in little paper husks.  My grandmother made choke cherry jam, so when I saw these, I was hit with nostalgia and decided to try them out.  The seeds are tiny!

Finally, I have 12 Emerald Globe Artichoke plants.  These have been in my freezer for two years now, since I forgot to take them out to plant last year, with the house building.  Hopefully the seeds think they're well over-wintered and produce this year.  Last time I did artichokes, I planted the whole packet of seeds (which was only 8 or something).  5 plants survived, and only one of those survived the next winter.  We'll see if I can find a more protected location this year to try to get more to survive.  These are perennials in areas that don't get so cold.  Here we have to baby them to make it through the winter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Minecraft Birthday

My kids don't have friend parties every year, so I feel like the years they get to have friends over, I need to make it memorable.  This year I didn't have a lot of time to devote to planning, but I was able to find some fun graphics for free online that made everything come together really well.

I got the amazing minecraft graphics from the blog

They had invitations, food cards, banners (which I didn't use- keeping it simple), and all the other printables that you might need for a great minecraft party.  

I found this picture on pinterest and decided to try to recreate it. 

I baked a chocolate fudge cake mix in a 9x13 pan with a piece of parchment paper cut to size in the bottom.  I also sprayed the sides and the paper with cooking spray.  

While the cake was baking, I made the blue jello or "water" for the minecraft cake.  Instead of following the regular jello directions, you want to make the jello thick so you can maneuver it into place.  To make minecraft water jello, you need two LARGE boxes of blue jello.  Stir them into 2 1/2 cups of boiling water.  Pour into a 9x13 glass pan (it helps to spray the pan with cooking spray first) and place in the fridge. 

About this time the cake should be done.  Set it aside to cool and get started on the rice krispie treats.  I followed the recipe on the bag of mini marshmallows, except I added a couple extra TBSP's of butter, because I think it makes the treats softer, which worked out really well since I decided to fill all the empty space with rice krispy treat.  

 When the cake is cool, run a knife around the edges and turn the pan upside down to get the cake out of the pan.  The parchment paper should make it come out pretty easily.  I cut a piece of a chocolate wrapper (it was thick paper)- the cake box would work well- to use as a template to cut my squares all the same size (for the most part).  I marked my lines and cut about 1/3 of the cake off in a stair step pattern.  Part of it I put on top of the other piece and some of it I used underneath the second layer (since my cake was much higher in the middle than the edges- cutting it would have been an option to make it flat, but the sides of my cake weren't very thick.  Another possibility is to bake two cakes, cut them both so they're flat and then stack them together- but again, I was trying to keep things simple, so some pieces of cake got used as fillers to level things out. I also cut one piece in half to give myself a couple of short cake levels.

I frosted the tops of some pieces with green buttercream, and used my spreader to rough up the top like grass sort of.  I used chocolate buttercream to hide the wedging-layer-job on the sides, and also on some of the top pieces to hold the raw cane sugar on- I don't play minecraft, but I think that is supposed to represent dirt or something?

I cut the rice krispie treats and created a pool and filled in around the edges of the cake.

The jello worked really well.  I was worried about getting it from one pan to another, but I dipped the jello pan in warm water briefly, cut a couple of squares and used a spatula to scoop them out.  Once I got an edge up, I actually just used my hands to put them in place.  They're really solid.  I think they were in the fridge for four hours or so.  I filled in any cracks with slivers of jello.

I found paper templates online for making your own minecraft creatures here.  The first few kids who arrived saw the cake and were all pretty excited by it.  I was surprised that they all wanted jello and rice krispy treats along with the cake and ice cream.

My son made his name out of perler beads.  I had intended to make a little black and white minecraft sign too, but I ran out of time.  Google perler bead minecraft for some fun ideas though.  

My son also decided the cake needed a tree, so he made one out of legos.  "I just threw it together mom!"

The printables link has fun drink labels.

And food labels- it was interesting trying to find treats that fit each minecraft label.  "coal" for example, was mini oreos.  

10 year olds are pretty good at coming up with their own entertainment.  We watched a movie, had an impromptu dance party, played "mine and go seek" (I have no idea what that was), ate cake, ate treats, watched funny you tube clips and generally ran around being crazy 10-year-olds.  A great time was had by all, I think.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hacking a Soap Dispenser

When we were picking out faucets for our house, we found one that I really liked (Kyle wasn't such a fan, but it's grown on him) but it came with a soap dispenser.  We had one hole to cut for the faucet and one whole for the filtered water tap, so we weren't terribly excited about cutting a third hole for a soap dispenser.  The pieces for the soap dispenser sat in a cupboard waiting for whatever we decided to do with them.

I had seen quite a few tutorials for making a mason jar soap dispenser, and it didn't seem very difficult.  The hardest parts were probably cutting the lid of the mason jar to accept the soap dispenser pump, and figuring out where to cut the pump pieces themselves to make them fit in the size of mason jar we wanted to use (which was a pint jar).

This pump isn't the same one that I have, but it shows the parts  clearly.  For our pump we had to cut the majority of the threaded piece off.  That is what stretches between your counter top, down to the plastic soap holder below (we didn't need that part, since our soap holder was going to be the pint jar).

To punch the hole in the top of the mason jar lid, use a hammer and chisel.  Also use a block of scrap wood to protect your work surface.  Use a marker to trace the size of hole you need, then punch your way around.  Be careful not to cut yourself.  

Spray paint your lid and ring to match the color of your soap dispenser.  We were lucky to have leftover oil rubbed bronze spray paint from another project.  I used two coats.

Cut the straw to length.  You want it to be cut on an angle so that the bottom tip hits the bottom of the jar.  This will allow it to get the last of the soap out (if you don't refill sooner).  If it doesn't go to the bottom, you will always have a little bit of soap at the bottom of your jar that never gets used.  

When the paint is dry, you can put everything together.  My soap dispenser came with a piece that screwed into the top from below the mason jar lid.  If yours doesn't, you'll need to break out the glue gun to glue the lid to your pump.  Then fill your jar with soap, place the ring over the top and screw it all together.

Also, take note that if you use two different kinds of soaps, they don't really mix together.  :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to make the best pie crust ever.

In a mixing bowl, add 2lbs (about 8 cups, if you don't have a scale) of flour.  Half white flour, half whole-wheat. Add 1 TBSP of salt and mix.

Roughly chop up 1 lb of lard.  Yes lard.  It makes better crust than butter or crisco.

Add the lard chunks a few pieces at a time to the flour/salt.  I put my shield on for this since the lard pieces tend to make flour shoot up out of the bowl.

Mix until you get the consistency of "peas and cornmeal".

Add 20 TBSP of cold water.  (1 1/4 cups)  Mix for a few seconds.

Dump the dough onto a clean surface and form into a wheel.

Plastic wrap is better, but I didn't have any.  Wrap up the wheel.

Put it in a bag, get as much air out as you can, and put in the fridge.  Let it sit at least 24 hours.  I made my crust on a Monday, and will roll it out for pies on Wednesday.  Letting it sit makes for a very forgiving, easy to work crust.  

When you're ready to use it, take it out, cut it into 8 pie wedges.  Each wedge can be formed into a wheel when you're ready for it, then rolled out.  Keep the other pieces covered while you work with one to keep them from drying out.

Here's the recipe in an easier-to-print format…

Perfect Pie Crust

From Reclaiming my Inner Pioneer at

2lbs (8 cups) of flour.  Half white, half whole wheat.
1 lb Lard
1 TBSP salt
20 TBSP (1 1/4 cup) cold water

  1. Mix flours and salt.  
  2. Roughly chop lard and add piece by piece to the flour mixture.  
  3. Mix until you have the texture of peas and cornmeal. 
  4. Add water and mix for a few seconds.
  5. Form into a wheel and place in plastic airtight bag in the fridge for at least 24 hours. 
Makes 8 single crust or 4 double crust pies (or whatever combination adds up to 8 single crusts).

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What do I do with 80 pounds of chicken?

For the last several years, I tried really hard to only buy farm-raised meat.  After watching a few too many documentaries highlighting to horrible conditions of factory farmed meat, I was done.

In practice, what has happened is that we've pretty much stopped eating chicken, aside from the occasional cheat with a costco rotisserie chicken.  We tried raising our own meat birds, and buying them from a local-ish farm.  But in the end, they always ended up being so expensive that we just couldn't afford to eat chicken very often.

I'm giving up.  At least for now.  After reading several positive reviews of Zaycon Foods, I decided to give them a try, and ordered two cases of chicken.

I picked up my chicken today and got to work.  This morning I made sure to set out all my supplies.  Clean jars (with lids and rings ready to go), trays and wax paper for freezing individual breasts (then I'll put them all in gallon sized freezer bags), a cutting board and scissors and a knife.  I also had a big bowl for scraps, and disinfectant wipes for just in case.  I also put 1/2 cup or so of water into each quart jar.  I've read instructions that say to top off the jars with water after, and instructions that say that chicken creates it's own liquid so adding water is unnecessary, and I've read that the chicken doesn't always create quite enough liquid, so adding a little is helpful.  I went with the latter.

Two big drippy boxes of raw chicken breasts.  The breasts were large and had some fat that needed to be trimmed off, but were really not too bad.  I cut them in half, trimmed them up, and cubed them for jars or just left them in individual breasts for freezing.

Add 1 tsp of salt to each quart.  (I used canning salt because regular salt will cloud the liquid in the jar, but for chicken, I really don't think it matters, it ends up cloudy looking anyway...

Usually when I wipe jar tops, I just use a damp rag, but chicken is slimy, so I opted for a disposable paper towel and vinegar.

Add lids (I put mind in water, bring it to a boil, let them boil for a short while then put them on).

Add rings, and place them in your pressure canner.  Make sure to follow the instructions that came with your canner.  I bring the canner to a boil, put on the lid, wait for a steady stream of steam, then set the timer for 10 minutes.  After that I add the weight/stop to the lid and watch until the pressure gets to around 13 pounds psi.  Then I set the timer for 90 minutes.  I'm a little neurotic and checked the three canners I had going today every few minutes to make adjustments to the heat to keep the pressure in the right range.

Once the 90 minutes is up, turn off the heat and wait until the pressure gauge reads zero.  DO NOT REMOVE THE WEIGHT OR THE LID BEFORE THAT.  It sucks out the liquid from your jar, and also, will hurt you.  Once the pressure is gone to zero, carefully (you may want to wear an oven mitt just in case) remove the weight and the lid and using a jar lifter, move the jars to a safe place to cool down.  When they're cool check for seal, and any that don't seal should go in the fridge (I'd say reprocess them, but really, after 90 minutes, there's no way I'm redoing that for one jar that didn't seal.  We'll just eat it up this week).

I didn't take any pictures of the chicken that went in the freezer, because of slimy raw chicken juice everywhere, but I canned 40 pounds of chicken, and froze the other 40 pounds.  I used trays and wax paper, stacking them up so they'd all freeze individually to make them easy to put into bags later.

In the beginning of to 80 pounds of chicken, I cut really carefully so I didn't waste anything.  Toward the end I got a little sloppy.  I gathered up all the fatty chicken scraps and put them in the crock pot, covered them with water and stuck in some veggies that I happened to have on hand.  The crock pot is pretty full, and I haven't quite decided whether to make a huge pot of soup and eat it right away or try adding carrots/celery/onions and canning chicken noodle-less soup.  

All in all- it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and now I have a shelf full of canned chicken and a freezer full of frozen chicken breasts.

Monday, August 19, 2013


My Mister decided to make sushi for dinner on Sunday, and we thought it would be fun to invite friends over.  With company coming, we needed something besides sushi to fill everyone up, so I decided to try something new.  Tempura veggies.  

Image Credit:

I've never made them before, so I started googling and found a couple of recipes that looked promising, and combined them a bit and came up with this:

The key to good tempura is the batter. You want it to be light and runny you aren't making fish sticks.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg
2/3 cup ice cold seltzer water or gingerale

Put the egg in Ice Water and mix with chopsticks. Don't mix it perfectly. Dump all of the dry ingredients in. Give it a few choppy mixes with chop sticks. Don't attempt to blend all of the items together. It has to be lumpy for a true tempura texture. Dip and then fry until golden brown.

I doubled the recipe so we'd have plenty, and it was just barely enough to fry a good sized zucchini, an onion, a sweet potato and several mushrooms.

Once I had the recipe I needed a little more understanding of the How To, and found this website that walked me through all the steps (it's also where the picture came from since we ate ours up too fast to take a picture):

1. Prepare Vegetables
You can tempura fry just about any vegetable you have in the kitchen. In this case we used mushrooms (halved), onions (peeled and sliced), sweet potato (peeled and sliced into rounds), and broccoli florets (from the freezer, no preparation required!).
Other suggestions might include: Bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, green beans, snap peas, cauliflower, baby corn.
2. Heat Your Oil
Bring the oil in your deep fryer or Dutch oven/cast iron pot to 360°F. Some electric fryers only allow you to increase the temperature in specific increments, so if that's the case, go for less temperature and longer frying time for root vegetables and a higher time for things like broccoli that won't require as long of cooking.
3. Prepare the Batter
In a medium to large size mixing bowl, add the rice flour and seasonings (if you wish). Next add the club soda, ensuring that it is cold before mixing. You're looking for the consistency of pancake batter. It should be loose enough to coat things easily, but not drip off completely on the way to the fryer. If the batter is too thick, add club soda or ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture loosens. If too thin, add rice flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Bubbles are good, lumps are bad, make sure to mix thoroughly!
4. Coat the Vegetables
Most vegetables can be tossed in the batter bowl ahead of time and allowed to sink a little to coat each one. It's far easier than hand dipping, which means of course that you have one batter covered hand the entire time (not always awesome). Toss items in and help them sink or roll to be coated with the batter. A flat whisk works wonders for this.
5. Fry the Vegetables
Next, lift vegetables out of the batter with your whisk (a fish spatula or large slotted spoon can also work out with success) and allow them to drain slightly, scraping the back of your whisk on the side of the bowl to remove excess. Drop vegetable pieces into the oil one at a time, ensuring that they don't touch. Most everything will immediately sink to the bottom (although mushrooms float). Use a spider strainer or long handled utensil (like a metal skewer) to loosen them and keep them moving. This will allow them to cook evenly on all sides. Cook root vegetables for 4 minutes and all others for 3 This time might differ if your oil is at a different temperature.
6. Remove From Oil
Remove your freshly fried pieces from the oil with a spider or the basket the unit comes with (though truth be told, we like to use the spider no matter what we're cooking in). Place them on a few layers of paper towels to allow remaining oil to drain. Give them a light sprinkling of salt and allow to cool slightly.
7. Return Oil to Temperature
Before dropping in your next load of veggies, make sure your oil comes back up to temperature. If it doesn't, things can get a little soggy and although they'll still be tasty once removed from the fryer, they will be a little greasy instead of crispy and chewy.
8. Repeat
Continue repeating steps 4 through 7 above until all of your vegetables have been coated, fried and hopefully enjoyed! This is a great way to entertain — simply tell people you'll provide the oil and ask them to bring a few of their favorite vegetables and gather round the table! Fry, nibble and chat away and let the good times roll!
Additional Notes:
• On Club Soda: Try tossing your club soda into the freezer while your oil heats up. It will be enough time for things to chill without freezing, allowing you to have perfect tempura pieces coming out of your fryer for longer! The colder the batter, the crispier your crust and less soggy your veggies will be!