Still Life, With Cats

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Today is both Muffin Day and Cherry Pie Day. Richard loves anything to do with cherries, but I most decidedly do not, and we really didn’t need me to make an entire pie for just one person, considering all the *other* baking I’ve been doing this month. So this morning I made muffins with pie filling inside them, in an effort to combine the two.

I used a pretty basic muffin recipe (from the red-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook I have on my shelf), but added about a tablespoon of filling to each. The cherry pie filling is from a can, because there are limits to how much time and effort I’m willing to spend on this challenge, especially for something only one of us is going to be eating. The apple pie filling, however, which I added to half the muffins instead of nasty cherry glop, was the last of a batch I canned a year or so back, so at least there’s that.

The muffins turned out about what one would expect for a straightforward muffin with nothing added but a dollop of pie filling. Richard reports that his cherry pie muffins were delicious, and I was quite happy with how the apple filling worked out in mine.

I had originally planned that just being the end of it, but there was a *lot* of filling leftover. So I pondered some more and eyed those tiny tart pans that have been so useful so far this month, and decided that I might as well do some tiny pies to try to use the stuff up.

So when I got home from work I threw together a pastry crust dough and I stuffed that in the fridge to cool, and then after dinner I made two tiny pies – one for Richard, with the cherries, and one for me with the apples.

And thus both National Food Days have been celebrated appropriately and deliciously (and we shall not discuss the fact that there’s *still* more pie filling lurking in the fridge for later).

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Didn’t we do this already?

Today is Chocolate Mint day which seems a bit redundant, since earlier this month there was also Peppermint Patty day. But then I guess there’s other things you can do with chocolate and mint, so eh, whatever.

It being a Monday, which means very limited time for me to make anything, what with work and rehearsal, I went for something quick. I used this recipe, since it makes only two, but instead of adding in chocolate chips, I chopped up the last of the peppermint patties and mix those in instead. I do not own tiny skillets (nor do I foresee a need for me to own tiny skillets), but I *do* own tiny tart pans, so I just baked the brownies in those.

Verdict: This is a very delicious brownie (although I question the ‘for two’ designation, since each one could easily have been shared between two people on its own), but alas, the mint flavor didn’t really come through. Ah well. I think at this point, we’re a bit minted out anyway, so it wasn’t any great loss.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


There weren’t any food-related National Days for yesterday. I suppose I could have made one up, but Mondays are notoriously busy for me, what with work and rehearsal, so I decided I’d just skip it instead. Ah well. Today sort of makes up for it, though, because you’re getting two Things instead of just one!

First, today is Shrove Tuesday, which is apparently when Episcopalians eat pancakes for some reason. I hadn’t included this in my plan for the month, but when Richard, who happens to be an Episcopalian, informed me, I shrugged and said, sure, let’s do pancakes for breakfast, twist my arm. So I made an oven pancake, which is basically just a slightly eggier pancake batter, that’s cooked all at once in a skillet in the oven. The result is a slightly puffed ‘pan cake’, that you can then just slice up and serve with whatever toppings you are in the mood for.

We had ours with some of my home canned apple butter, and a dollop of whipped cream, since that seemed appropriate somehow.

More importantly, though, today is Tortellini Day. I admit there was a small part of me that initially pondered just buying tortellini at the store and having my Thing be the recipe that incorporated it. But making fresh pasta has been on my list of of things to do for a while, and Tortellini Day happened to fall on a night when neither of us had anything planned. So tonight, we made tortellini. From scratch.

We have a pasta roller, but it hadn’t ever been used and needed to be washed, so instead I just rolled the dough out by hand on the kitchen island. Once the dough was rolled as thin as I could get it (not quite as thin as if I was making strudel, but thin enough), I used my largest ring cutter to cut out circles, and then put a small dollop of filling (a mix of cheese and herbs) in the center of each.

Next they get folded over and shaped. The majority went onto a sheet pan to be dried and then frozen for later, because if one is going to go through the process of making pasta from scratch, one ought to make enough for more than a single meal.

But the first set got tossed immediately into some boiling water. Five minutes later, they were cooked, and shockingly, not a single one unfolded, or otherwise sprung a leak in the water.

We had them with a simple herb butter sauce, and a side of steamed broccoli, and they were quite tasty. The entire process took far less time than I had feared (even with having to roll the dough out by hand), and was far easier than I had anticipated. So I think it’s safe to say we’ll be making fresh pasta again in the very near future.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


Today is National Peppermint Patty Day. So naturally I had to make peppermint patties, because why not.

I admit, that until this challenge, peppermint patties were not a thing that ever crossed my mind one could make at home. But it turns out they are shockingly easy!

This is the recipe I used, although there’s lots of varieties out there on the internets. Hooray for the internets!

First you stir together a large quantity of powdered sugar with some sweetened condensed milk and some peppermint extract. An electronic mixer is going to be your friend here because basically you are actually making your own fondant and it is *stiff*. Taste it at this point, to see if you want to add more peppermint extract or not.

Then you dump it onto a powdered-sugar-covered surface, and roll it out.

Do not skimp on the powdered sugar, by the way, because otherwise this stuff will stick like *crazy*. Also a bench scraper is totally your friend if that happens. Possibly I speak from experience. Mayyyyybe.

Next you cut it out into little circles. I happen to have a set of circular cutters, one of which was the right size, but you could easily use the top of an appropriate-sized jar, or you could roll the stuff into little balls and flatten them with your fingers, or you could just cut them into any shape that isn’t round. Go crazy!

Those go into the fridge to chill, and also to give you time to get the chocolate ready, which is just baking chocolate (or chocolate chips if you prefer) melted and mixed with a dash of oil to keep it from being too thick.

Once the little discs are chilled, then you get to make a ginormous mess. Um. I mean, you dip them in chocolate, and unsuccessfully avoid getting it everywhere. Or maybe that’s just me.

Those go back into the fridge to chill, and when they’re done, you have peppermint patties!

Verdict: These are delicious and taste just like a York Peppermint Patty, except that they’re more…uh…rustically shaped. They should be stored in the fridge, so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


Today is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day, but I’m not actually going to talk about that, because there won’t be any of those in this house. Not that I have any issues with Cream Cheese Brownies – they are quite tasty – but because today was this month’s #BakingSisters day, so instead of doing the National Day thing, we made mini Swiss rolls.

Originally we were going to use this recipe, which was used in a Technical Bake in the most recent season of Great British Bake Off, but then I went a-Googling, and found some other options, and so instead, I used the cake from this recipe, and the filling and ganache from this one. I do love peppermint and the thought of peppermint cream inside tiny little chocolate cakes sounded delightful but that was going to end up as an awful lot of peppermint for the weekend (spoilers!), so I went with peanut butter instead.

My pastry-chef-by-training sister recommended that a sponge would be a better option than the cake we’re more familiar with in America, so we started with that. You mix eggs and sugar over a double boiler until the sugar is dissolved, and then decant that into a mixer and whip until it’s pale yellow and fluffy. Then you carefully fold in a mix of flour, cocoa, and salt, and also some melted butter.

I was *so* careful when folding (I’ve seen enough people on GBBO fold too quickly and lose all their volume) but my batter still shrunk a lot by the time I was done, so maybe I didn’t get the egg and sugar mix whipped enough to start with. Who knows!

Next you spread the batter out into prepared sheet pans (covered with parchment paper and then greased and sprinkled with cocoa powder). Here is mine.

It looks kind of sad. My sisters was a much lighter color and filled her sheet to the rim, so clearly one of us had a misstep, and considering which of us has had prior training, I’m guessing it was me!

Then it goes into the oven and bakes for 6 minutes, and as soon as it’s out, you immediately dump it out of the pan onto a clean kitchen towel that’s been sprinkled with cocoa powder. Hah. My sister was frantically warning me ‘cut the corners!’ so the cake wouldn’t stick to the pan, but, uh, see above for why that was not remotely an issue for my cake.

After it’s onto the dish towel, you roll it up right away, apparently so that the cake then has the ‘memory’ of the roll once it’s cooled. Which sounds really really weird to say but totally works.

While that cooled on the counter, then we made the fillings. My sister made two fillings – one peanut butter and one caramel, but I stuck with just the peanut butter filling, which is really just peanut butter buttercream. It is, by the way, insanely delicious and I was a Very Loving Wife when I let Richard lick the whisk attachment after I was done instead of keeping it all to myself, even though I was VERY VERY tempted.

So once the cake is cooled, then you unroll it, *carefully*, and fill it. Because we were making tiny rolls, we first cut the cake into quarters, and then filled each one individually and rolled those up. I did not, for some bizarre reason, take a picture of them pre-rolled, but here they are, after being rolled up, and before going into the freezer to chill.

I am quite pleased to report that there was minimal cracking on any of my rolls! I know this is an issue because every time there is a rolled cake challenge on GBBO, someone has a massive cracking failure, so hooray for the lack thereof! Also, if some pieces fell off the ends, well quality control is important and the cake tasted quite fine.

After the cakes were chilled enough that the filling was firm inside, then we cut them into pieces.

Aren’t they pretty? I totally didn’t make sure to turn them all so that the nicer side face the camera, nope, not at all.

The final step was ganache, so we heated up cream (or in my case half and half, because that’s what I had in the fridge) and poured that over chocolate and corn syrup, and whisked that together until it was smooth and lovely, and then poured it over the little cakes.

The recipe called for dunking each cake individually but that seemed like a lot of hassle, and I was worried there would end up being too much chocolate and the peanut butter flavor would be lost. So instead I just spooned it over the tops of mine, so the pretty swirls were still visible (well, except for a few drips), and then sprinkled them with chopped peanuts.

Also when one is the baker and there are trimmings and leftover filling and ganache, one *has* to do more quality testing. Many yummy noises were made on both sides of the camera. So many.

Here we are with our finished rolls! This is from my sister’s side of things, because I had to use both hands to hold up my tray, and she was thus the only one with an available hand to work the camera.

And how, you might ask, do they taste?

SO VERY AMAZING. The peanut butter filling is very light and fluffy and really helps counteract the dark chocolate of the ganache and the cake. Five stars, would totally make again some day when I have lots of hours to spare and don’t mind turning the kitchen into a cocoa-powder-coated disaster zone again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

If the moon hits your eye

Today is National Pizza Day, which is a lovely thing to happen on any day, because pizza encompasses two of the basic food groups (bread and cheese).

I’ve made pizza a bazillion times over the years, because as much as I love delivery pizza (especially if they have a garlic sauce), there is something special about making it yourself.

Pizza dough itself is pretty simple – it’s just flour, water, yeast, salt, and olive oil. I guess you can stir in other stuff if you want, but I’d rather do all my extras on the top, instead of burying them in the dough. It should be a soft dough, but not sticky (if you do it by weight, you’ll likely get a perfect dough every time; if you do it by volume, like most American recipes call for, you’ll likely have to make adjustments to the amount of water and/or flour you use, each time you make it). I always make mine in the morning and stash the bowl in the fridge, so it rises slowly over the day.

I’m a pizza purist – plain cheese pizza is always going to be my favorite – but I also do like other toppings from time to time. I’ve got a pizza stone, which is a lovely way to bake your pie because it provides the best amount of heat to really cook the bottom through, but I also have tiny little individual-sized pizza pans for when there’s a crowd over and we need to get a whole pile of pizzas set up quickly, or if we’re making up a batch to keep in the freezer for lunches or quick dinners later in the week.

I also make my own sauces, because I can (and often am able to end up using my own canned tomato sauce to start with). I prefer a minimal amount of sauce if it’s red, because otherwise the acidity of the tomatoes starts to really take over (and also that way the cheese can really shine, because let’s face it, pizza is a really good excuse to eat more cheese. Mmm. Cheese.)

Tonight, since it was just the two of us, we decided to use the pizza stone instead of the tiny little pans, so the pizzas look a bit rustic. I decided to do one with garlic sauce (make a roux, add garlic and cream or milk, cook until thick)…

…and one with red sauce (which got a little overcooked, oops, because we weren’t paying attention).

Both are topped with exactly the same thing – mozzarella, a sprinkling of cheddar, and some turkey sausage crumbles we had leftover in the freezer. And both were quite, quite delicious.

Also, it turns out leftover orange/peach frozen yogurt goes shockingly well with molasses bars. In case you were wondering.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


Happy Molasses Bar Day!

I am very excited about this because I love the combination of molasses and all the dark, sweet spices that usually go along with it, and prior to this little challenge I had never even *heard* of molasses bars, so this is a brand new (to me) recipe. Is it a regional thing? I don’t know! Who cares! Let’s make some molasses bars and then eat every single one of them in one sitting!

A quick search of the internets finds a variety of things called ‘molasses bars’ so I am not actually sure if the one I made is the ‘true’ molasses bar, or if there is such a thing as a ‘true’ molasses bar, but I digress. Basically this comes together like a stiff cookie dough – the sort that is usually rolled out and cut out with cookie cutters, except that for these, you grease and flour a cookie sheet (did they provide a size for this? No, they did not, which is a bit frustrating as cookie sheets come in a wide range of sizes) and then you press the dough into the cookie sheet (this will be messy! Use lots of flour) and then you bake what is essentially a ginormous soft molasses cookie. The recipe calls for raisins, but as previously discussed on this site, raisins are Not Food, and thus, I ignored that ingredient, because why sully such a delicious morsel with those grape abominations? Why?

Here they are in all their molassesy glory.

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I am saving this recipe and will definitely be making them again. Like most things made with molasses and those spices, they need time to sit, so the flavors come through, and are thus likely to be much tastier the day after, than fresh from the oven (although fresh from the oven is also quite delicious). Also one batch makes a bunch, so it’s convenient that Richard’s writers group met at our house tonight, so that the bars could be distributed among a larger group of people and thus were not left to sit on the counter to tempt me.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

When a cow and a rabbit become very good friends…

Today is both Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, and Carrot Cake Day, so obviously we had to celebrate both.

Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, according to Wikipedia (which as we all know is the absolute *epitome* of factual accuracy, cough cough), was invented in the 1960’s by an exasperated mother. I have a sneaky feeling that Ice Cream for Breakfast Day was actually invented a lot earlier than that, (in fact I’m pretty sure it came into being the morning after the invention of ice cream in the first place), but the formal designation of it as a National Day is a more recent thing, if only because the ability to submit weird and wacky food-related days via the internet to a gathering house sort of website wasn’t around back when ice cream magically popped into being. Think what all those ancients were missing out on.

I like ice cream, obviously, but I am ambivalent about carrot cake. On the one hand, it’s usually a lovely, moist cake and there is usually cream cheese frosting involved. On the other hand, it is far too often used as a vehicle for raisins, which are a horrible thing to do to a grape and are therefore Not Food. Luckily if I’m making it myself, I can avoid the Not Food parts of the recipe. Ah, the power of being a home baker.

I admit I did go Googling for recipes for carrot cake ice cream (and trust me, there’s quite a few out there) but then I got to thinking about how ice cream by itself isn’t a very filling breakfast, and cake would be a much better option, and also there’s still vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer so I really didn’t need to be making *more*…all of which is to say that this morning, we started the day with some vanilla bean ice cream and a slice of this Carrot Cake Coffee Cake, which covered both bases.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of shredded carrots. Therefore one serving totally counts as a serving of vegetables for the day. Yum.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Ooh la la

Today is La Chandeleur, which is a French holiday where they eat crepes (I am sure there’s probably a lot more to it than that, but the only part I care about is the crepe part, because yum, crepes!). Today is also National Tater Tot Day, except that I couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate tater tots into crepes, nor did I really want to because ew, so actually let’s just forget I mentioned the tots. Today is all about the crepe!

I’ve made crepes lots of times, because they’re kind of fun and also tasty. Basically crepe batter is really just pancake batter with extra liquid stirred in, so you could probably make them with any standard pancake recipe, with some minor adjustments (well, any pancake recipe that doesn’t include a lot of chunky bits; you are aiming for thin, smooth batter, after all). You don’t need a special pan; all you need is a regular frying pan and a non-metal spatula (I use a silicone one – the type you use to scrape down the sides of a bowl) because a metal spatula is more likely to tear your delicate pancakes.

Two things to keep in mind to make a successful crepe are low heat, and oil. The pan needs to be lubricated (nonstick spray works just fine here) and it can’t be too hot, because once you pour in the batter, you then need to very quickly tilt the pan around so that the batter spreads out as thinly as possible. Too high a heat, and the batter will cook too fast, so your crepe will end up too thick, or lumpy. The oil is because these things are really delicate, since they’re so thin, so you want to prevent them sticking, or else your lovely smooth crepe will turn into a shredded, sad mess.

Crepes are extremely versatile and work just as nicely with savory as well as sweet fillings, so one batch takes care of both dinner and dessert. With that in mind, for dinner tonight, we had crepes stuffed with ham, mushrooms, and swiss cheese.

Cornelius M. Peabody, III was quite excited about his. He’s a big fan of crepes.

And for dessert, we decided to light things on fire!

Or in other words, I made Crepes Suzette, which is a fancy way of saying I mixed orange juice, butter, and sugar in a pan until it reduced, and soaked the crepes in that, and then poured some alcohol over the crepes and set it on fire. Which, by the way, is another thing that would have been a whole lot easier to do if I only had a kitchen torch. Ah well.

The crepes were all quite tasty.

The cats were all, as usual, unimpressed.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Cloudy with a chance of ice cream

Hooray, it’s February, which means it’s once again time for Thingadailies! In years past I’ve knit dishcloths and crocheted teeny tiny snowflakes, but I was having a hard time coming up with what to do this year. Despite the fact that there are plenty more snowflakes in that book, I wasn’t really feeling the snowflake love for a third year in a row, nor was anything knit jumping out at me.

Then my little sister shared an event for Ice Cream for Breakfast for this coming Saturday (why yes, that *is* foreshadowing!), and curious, I started tracking down why this was apparently a thing, and it turns out there are entire websites devoted to all the weird days of the year, and I started looking through all the National Days for February, and thus, my plan for 2018 was born. Every day for the month of February, I will be making something having to do with whatever that day’s National Day is.

Luckily we’re starting off with something easy, because February 1st is National Baked Alaska Day. This is a dessert that looks complicated but it actually isn’t, because all it requires is cake, ice cream, and some meringue. No sweat!

First you start with some cake. Any cake will do, but for the purposes of tonight’s bake, I used this recipe, because there are only two of us and Baked Alaska isn’t really a thing that keeps well, and also last Saturday was National Chocolate Cake Day (go on, Google it, I’ll wait), so technically I made the cake for that, except I put it into two little mini tart pans and saved one of the cakes for today.

Then you pick some ice cream and you shape it into an appropriately sized blob. I used vanilla bean, because that pairs well with chocolate. I’m sure there’s some fancy schmancy way to form an ice cream blob to go atop your cake, but I just stuffed another mini tart pan with ice cream this morning and tossed it into the freezer and figured that would work.

Finally, you need some egg whites and sugar, which you whip into meringue. This takes several minutes, which means you have plenty of time to chisel the ice cream out of the mini tart pan (pro tip – line your tart pan with plastic wrap before filling it with ice cream, which is a thing I did *not* think to do until after the fact, hence the chiseling part of the equation), but you also have time to then lick all the extra ice cream out of the tart pan once you’ve extracted the vaguely tart-pan-shaped blob and placed it on top of the cake.

Next you stuff all the whipped meringue into a piping bag and if you are a trained pastry chef or someone who is actually good at decorating you cover your ice cream-topped cake with a beautiful array of meringue rosettes. Or if you are someone like me, you sort of blob meringue randomly all over the place until it looks like someone melted the head of the Staypuff Marshallow Man on a pan (because you have to make sure the ice cream is completely covered), and then you either torch it (if you happen to have a kitchen torch) or else you stick it under the broiler until the top is golden brown and hopefully not burnt, or until you notice that ice cream is leaking out the bottom and you hastily extract it from the oven before it all dissolves.

Here is my *beautiful* Baked Alaska. I totally meant for it to look like this. Um. Yeah.

You may note the ice cream, leaking out at the bottom there. Oops.

This is the cut view. The ice cream was really starting to melt by this point so I’m sure it could be a lot prettier but oh well!

Verdict – it might not look like much, but it was quite, quite delicious. The meringue was soft and airy and was not too sweet, which I was admittedly a bit worried it would be. I might actually be tempted to try this again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.