Monday, September 26, 2011

Week Nine -- Rainbow Cake

Okay, who wouldn’t be enchanted by rainbow colored cupcakes, especially when they are rendered in such bright colors that one might suspect they would glow in the dark? And who knew it could be so easy?
We actually opted to bake a rainbow cake instead of rainbow cupcakes, reasoning that the effect would be multiplied exponentially in a layer cake.

• One box of white cake mix
• Ingredients needed for the mix. In our case, 3 egg whites, 3 T of vegetable oil, and water.
• Food colors (We used Wilton gel colors for their lack of flavor and their bright colors.) Red, yellow, and blue.
• Either two cans of white frosting or a batch of homemade white frosting.
• Two eight or nine inch round cake pans.

• Prepare the cake mix according to the package instructions.
• Separate the mix into six (or seven if you’re a rainbow purist) bowls.
• Using a toothpick (or in our case chopsticks) add a small amount of the appropriate dye to each bowl, keeping in mind that you can always add color, but you can’t take it away (see our notes below). We ended up with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and vomit. I’m sorry, but there it is. Our purple just went south fast and kept getting worse the more we messed with it.
• Layer the colors carefully in your pans. If you are making layer cakes as we were, layer one with red, orange, and yellow (in that order) and the other with green, blue, and purple (or in our case just green and blue).
• Bake according to package directions, being careful not to over bake.
• Remove from the oven and let your layers cool. This is a good chance to mix up your icing, clean up all those bowls, and poke around for decorations (if you want to use them). We didn’t this time, but I think next time we might have to go bigger.
Once your layers are cool, slice them horizontally if you like into two layers each (for a total of four), or just use them whole.
• Ice your cake, being careful to cover all the color with your white icing. Your goal is to have a completely white cake when you are finished. This makes the reveal that much cooler. You can, at this point, use some of your frosting to make ‘clouds’ on top of the cake. You might also look for Sour Punch X-tremes to use as decoration. I see using them as mini rainbows on top or as a border around your cake.
• Slice into your cake and enjoy.

Notes on a Barf Cake: Okay, we ended up with vomit colored cake batter, so we decided to make a second (smaller cake) with it. Then we dyed some of our frosting rotten avocado green. My son called it barf cake. It’s true. And the thing is, I think the barf cake actually ended up being the highlight. Anyone can make a beautiful rainbow cake which everyone will ooh and aah over. Who can say the same about our barf cake?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week Eight -- Apple Pie and Bubble Junk

I will confess that I wasn’t all that creative with one of our projects this week (yes, we did two, but one isn’t edible… I mean, I guess it is, but you wouldn’t want to.) The first was inspired by the amazing pyramids of apples that showed up last week in our grocery store. I promise not to bore you with my memories of picking apples in Maine. (Sigh… it’s just more romantic than picking apples at Brookshire’s here in Tyler.) I know I’ve already done an apple project, but please forgive me. I haven’t made apple pie in a while… so…. Here goes. My recipe is my own and of course it’s sort of flexible because I don’t know what kind of apples you are using or how sweet those apples are. I used McIntosh, which I know is some sort of culinary felony in some circles. I’ve been told (pinch your nose and read this aloud) “McIntosh are not for cooking. They are for eating out of the hand.” Whatever. I’m not a pomologist, ( so I pretty much just eat apples that I like (Honey Crisp, Jazz, Northern Spy, MacIntosh, Ambrosia, Winesap, Pink Lady, Pippen, and Black Gilliflower) This last one I’ve only had once and I include it because it’s amazing and I love the name and well, it’s black. Very cool. For a complete guide of registered apples go to:

So, apple pie is about the easiest thing you can do… seriously. And listen, if you are afraid of the crust, just go buy one for heaven sake. No one will know...unless you tell them or unless you are having Martha Stewart over for dinner. And if Martha is coming over, you’ve got bigger fish to fry than to worry about whether your pie crust is flaky enough.

Texas Size Apple Pie
The crust: (Or Pate Brisee if you are feeling fancy pants)

P.S. If you bought your dough… congratulations… you can skip all this business.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 to 8 Tbsp ice water

1. Place flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Zip it around for a few seconds. Add the butter pieces; process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. You can obviously do all of this by hand, but it’s easier with the for processor because you won’t’ have to worry about the dough getting too warm from your hot little hands.
2. Add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube with the machine running, just until dough holds together. Use that fun pulse button on your food processor for this so you don’t get that nasty flour gluten all worked up. (That will make your crust tough and Martha won’t like that.) Test by squeezing dough; if it is still crumbly, add a bit more water. REMEMBER! You can always add water… you can’t take it away!
3. Dump out the dough onto some plastic wrap. Divide the dough in two pieces. Pat each into a flat disk. Wrap the dough in the plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Apple Filling

• ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
• Crust (Sorry Pate Brisee)
• 5 ½ pounds apples (about 12-14) Zip it… I know this seems like a lot of apples, but trust me.
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 1 cup sugar This will vary depending upon your apple proclivity
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ t nutmeg
• 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out your chilled dough (or unwrap your store-bought dough). You need to roll it out to about 15 inches so that you have enough to pinch the edges closed when you’re finished. Line your DEEP DISH pie pan with this. You can do a regular 9 incher, but you might have enough apples for almost two pies if you do this.
2. Peel, core, and slice apples. Put the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and part of the sugar. Toss the apples to mix. Taste the apples… add more sugar if you like.
3. Dump apples into you crust-lined pan. Dot with your butter chunks.
4. Place other pie crust (which you’ve either rolled out or unwrapped – if you roll it out, make it a little larger than the other.. .maybe 18 inches.) on top and seal the edges. Use your thumb and forefinger to make little pinches all the way around the edge so it looks nice and it holds all the hot apple bubbly goodness inside.
5. Cut vents in the top crust. This will allow the steam to exit your pie without blowing a hole in it.
6. Now, you can brush the crust with egg wash (egg yolk mixed with a little cream or milk) and sprinkle it with sugar, but it’s fine without. Note: if Martha is coming over, definitely do this. If I’m coming over, don’t bother.
7. Put your pie on either a baking sheet or foil to catch any overflow of the juices. That way you won’t have to buy a new oven when you’re finished.
8. Place the pie in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes.
9. Cool before you eat it. I know…but it will be all dribbly and juicy otherwise. Trust me. Let the filling thicken….

Bubble Junk
This might not even be on your radar, but if it’s not maybe you shouldn’t be so sophisticated. There is something so soothing about making giant bubbles and watching them float up into the sky. Even better if you live in an upper floor of a building or live near a body of water. But, the best is when I lived in Alaska… the bubbles don’t burst in the winter, they shatter. Weird, right? Yep… bubble junk plus 50 below equals breakable bubbles.
So, here you go… this is best recipe for bubble junk.

1 cup dishwashing liquid… Blue Dawn is the best. (I don’t know why)
12 cups water
¼ cup glycerin (or corn syrup – but glycerin is better… less messy and you won’t attract bees.)

Mix it all together and let it sit for an hour or overnight. It just gets better.
If you have one of the giant bubble thingies that you can buy from Klutz… awesome, but a big can (like a coffee can) with both ends taken off it works great too.
Go eat pie and play. Life is too short to just sit at your computer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Week Seven - Applesauce

We had to make these, both because apples were on sale at the grocery store and because we are feeling very homesick for someplace where there actually is fall. My mother wrecked me and I’m wrecking my son. I never ate that weird tan stuff they call applesauce that you can buy at the grocery store. I even remember looking suspiciously at the yellowish blob of the stuff on my lunch tray in elementary school. The menu listed applesauce. It was only vaguely apple-y and only marginally edible in my mind… not because it was terrible. It was just not that good compared to the homemade stuff I grew up on.

Okay… you are likely saying to yourself. “That crazy woman! I don’t have time to make homemade applesauce.” But, don’t despair… it is EASY! And so worth it. The apple jelly is optional, but I highly recommend it. I mean, what else are you going to do with all that juice? And lest you think this is like those little packs of jam that they serve at diners… let me tell you quickly that like homemade applesauce, homemade jelly is an entirely different beast. A delicious beast.

The recipe is sort of vague, but I think you’ll get it pretty easily.
First, before you do anything… do you have a food mill? If you don’t, you should, but you can still make this recipe, it just won’t be quite as easy. Go buy a food mill. You can pick them up for about five bucks at an antique store like I did. I’m sure you can buy them new too, but probably not for five dollars.


Apples (duh) I usually won’t make applesauce unless I have at least five pounds, but this time I had ten. As for the kind? Get what you like. I love Macintosh, so if they are available, I buy them. A close second is a Jonathan apple or other thin-skinned apple. But, you can throw in whatever apples you like. You can even use the bruised ones… it doesn’t matter. And you may be able to get your produce person to give them to you for cheap or free because otherwise they’ll just throw them out.
Lemon juice
Nutmeg (optional)

  • If you have a food mill, congratulations. This will be easy. Just quarter the apples and chuck them into a pot filled with about an inch of water.…. Yes, seeds, stem, those maddening little stickers and all. If you don’t (I’m sorry), you’ll have to peel and core them then put them in the pot. See? The food mill is the way to go.

  • Cover and let simmer until they are soft. This usually only takes about fifteen minutes tops. Keep an eye on things and add water if everything starts getting dry. It just depends on how juicy your apples are at this point.

  • Let cool for a bit. You can uncover them to help them cool. Don’t be alarmed. They look gross.

  • Use a slotted spoon to scoop some into your food mill (or a blender or food processor). I guess you could mash them by hand with a potato masher, but I’ve never tried this.

  • Whirl everything around until your mill is empty. Repeat until you’ve used all the apples.

  • Add the juice of half to a whole lemon and a bit of sugar and cinnamon. Keep tasting it until you like the flavor. You can use artificial sweeteners or agave or stevia in place of some or all of the sugar, but I’m sort of a purist… or nonpurist, depending on your point of view.

  • Also, your applesuace will be brown, whether you add cinnamon or not. This is the natural color... that other junk is bleached or something. ;)

Apple Jelly

  • Now, you still have a pot of juice. You will need to strain this. You can use either a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Shhh. This isn’t hard.

  • Then pour the juice or drip it into a clean pot (a medium one).

  • Eyeball your juice (I told you this isn’t exactly scientific) and add ¾ to 1 cup of granulated sugar for each cup of juice. You can’t use anything artificial here…. Sorry.

  • Place over a low flame and stir it until the sugar is dissolved. Let it simmer for about five minutes. You may need to skim off any foam on the surface. I don’t know what this is… it’s best not to ask.

  • Now, let it boil gently until it begins to thicken. Use your spoon to judge this. Once it is about the consistency of honey, you’re ready to pour it into jars or some other heatproof container.

  • Let it cool and eat it. If it isn’t as firm as you like, just tell everyone it’s apple honey or apple syrup. If they still give you a hard time, tell them to shut it. Or just snatch it back from them and say “Too bad. More for me.” That’ll teach them.

  • Monday, September 5, 2011

    Week Six-- Cherry Pickles

    Yes, you read that right. Cherry Pickles. Obviously this is a very simple project, made even simpler by the fact that we used prepared pickles. I'm sure that you could make your own pickles, but for the sake of this project, I can't imagine why you'd go to that trouble.


    • Dill pickles.

    • Cherry Koolaid mix -- we used sugar free, but you could probably just use the regular mix without the sugar mixed in. Results may vary, however.

    • A jar

    What you do:

    The original recipe called for turning a whole jar of pickles into cherry pickles, but I thought that maybe we'd just start with three. Besides, three was all my jar would hold.

    1.Pour some of the pickling liquid into an empty jar. Don't fill it more than half full or you'll risk a flood of brine.

    2.Add the cherry Koolaid mix. I used enough to make around a quart. Obviously far more than needed to make my liquid cherry-y, but I figured we might as well go for it.

    3.Put the lid on the jar and shake.

    4. Slice up as many pickles as you can fit into the jar. I used three for my pint jar.

    5. Put the pickles in the jar. Put on the lid and let sit in the refrigerator for, well, as long as you can stand to wait. I figure about a week should do it.

    I have no idea if these will be good, but I'll post our results. Stay tuned.