Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I wasn’t killed by a turkey

So, I didn’t suffer a fatal attack of indigestion after thanksgiving, which, incidentally, we celebrated on Sunday here because it’s not a holiday weekend in Italy. I know, why?  

Anyway, just wanted to let y’all know that I’m on hiatus this week. I’m tired and have no writing in me. So, instead of putting out half-assed crap for you to read I’m turning in early and catching up on my shows, hopefully this will get the creative juices flowing (and, more importantly, unclog my tivo). Or something.

But I’m not leaving you high and dry… I have pictures for you. Thanksgiving pictures. Because now that you’ve finally finished off the turkey leftovers and are starting to forget the family drama you absolutely need me to bring it all back to the top of your minds. You’re welcome.

Thanksgiving 2011 
Despite being in Italy, away from home for most of us, there was food:

the spread

yeah, baby!

dessert.... (the healthy fruit salad? just for show!)

And festive mise en place:

The womenfolk in the kitchen:
All the men cleared out when we mentioned carving the turkey... wimps!

Friends relaxing together:

The little kids. The big kids weren't all that keen to be photographed.


and lollipops:

 And outdoor fun

I'm not sure what she was getting into, but her who me face says it all!

 And dishes done:
me, in the kitchen

And lots and lots of this:

See you next week!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Butterfly (natural) Red Velvet Birthday Cake

Growing up in the south Red Velvet Cake is pretty much the birthday cake, it’s also one of those cakes about which everyone has an opinion… and these opinions are never mild mannered. Generally anyone from the South will think that anyone above or away from the Mason-Dixon line simply doesn’t get Red Velvet Cake and shouldn’t attempt to make it.

Red velvet cake needs cocoa, but isn’t a chocolate cake, it needs cream cheese frosting, some say it needs some sort of nut, most agree on pecans (I personally prefer it nut free), but the biggest point of contention is the food coloring. Nowadays it’s mostly made with red food coloring, and many will swear up, down and around that it’s the only way to get the “right” color red. This seems iffy to me for a variety of reasons, mostly because I simply cannot fathom baking anything with as much food coloring in it as red velvet cake calls for normally and also because red velvet cake’s been around longer than food coloring has, and it’s always been red. Enter the beet. I definitely belong to Team Beet, not Team food coloring.

Since I had recently fixated on making a Red Velvet Cake for the Girl’s second birthday, I searched and searched for a red velvet cake recipe with no food dye and I found it on Sophistimom’s awesome blog.

I highly suggest you go check out her pictures cause her cake looks fantastic. Mine tastes great and the color is perfect but I had to make it into a specific shape for the girl’s birthday so it’s not the beautiful three layer cake you’ll find at Sophistimom. Also, I can’t seem to get my cream cheese frosting to stiffen enough to be able to hold it’s own between cake layers. I’m still working on it! So for the cream cheese frosting, I suggest you try Sophistimom’s directly and not mine (mine works wonderfully for carrot cake though, if you’re interested!).

But the recipe for the cake itself is awesome, and if you can get past the crazy amount of sugar in it and the fact that you’re baking with beets you can enjoy the most awesome Red Velvet Cake and feel no guilt about giving it to your kids or worrying about ingesting a bunch of useless chemicals for no reason.

As usual I’ve converted almost all the measurements into grams for my European readers. Enjoy!

This is what you need:

400grams (1 ½ cups) pureed beets
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
(approx. 1 ½ lemons next time I’ll get the volume in ml)  
1 tbs. white wine vinegar

230 grams (2 sticks - 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, but not quite room temperature

230 grams (8oz.)  cream cheese, softened slightly

480grams (2 1/3 cups) raw cane sugar
- I know that’s A LOT of sugar I actually only used 400grams – 2 scant cups)
4 eggs

1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

250 grams (2 cups sifted) unbleached all-purpose flour

5 grams (1 ½ tsp.) baking powder

3 grams (1 tsp.) salt

30 grams (4 tbs.) natural cocoa powder(not dark or dutch-processed)
½ tsp cream of tartar (optional, and not in original recipe)

This is what you do:

The original recipe calls for roasting beets, but I used boiled beets because that’s the only way I’ve managed to find them here. I buy pre-boiled, peeled, organic beets so I don’t have to prepare them in any way. In fact, I suggest reserving the beet juice in the package cause it makes an awesome pink food coloring for frosting!
The original recipe also used three 8inch cake pans. But I used a butterfly shaped cake pan and a rectangular pan for my daughter’s birthday. I suggest using the 3 round pans though, because it makes a much more elegant, appealing cake. Go ahead and butter and flour your pans then set aside.

Cut up your beets into large chunks (peel them first!). Place in a food processor with the lemon juice, and pulse until smooth and pureed – like baby food, the smoother the better – this may take awhile.  Add the vinegar.

Cream together butter and cream cheese, add in sugar and mix until smooth. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well until each is incorporated. Mix in vanilla.

While ingredients are mixing, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Slowly add flour mixture to the wet ingredients. I suggest you set your mixer on the lowest setting and spoon the flour mixture slowly in the bowl as it tends to become airborne if you put it in too fast! 

Scrape the bowl well while mixing, it should have the same color and consistency of chocolate mousse.

Mix the beet puree into the cake batter by hand, making sure it’s well blended and there are no striations in the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Tap pans on the counter to remove any air bubbles – tap them well or your cake will be all holey.

Bake at 170°C (350°F) for 20-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool cakes completely then wrap in saran wrap, so they stay moist, and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to frost.

Notes: I used about 2tbs. beet juice to color the cream cheese frosting to decorate the cake. It came out really well, I didn’t detect any beet taste in the frosting at all. I also used about 3tbs cocoa powder diluted in about 4tbs. hot water to color the frosting brown for the butterfly’s body. The rest of the decorations are just various flavor jelly beans.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, Darling Girl

Today you are two years old and every day that passes I’m starting to remember details from the first year of your life. Memories I thought I had lost forever, or rather, never acquired, from all the stress, heartache and craziness of your daddy’s illness. But now I’m starting to remember. Sometimes when I cradle you in my arms just so, and you look up at me, I remember your face when you used to nurse. You were so different as a baby, and yet it’s still you.

You’re only two years old, but you’re the most strong-willed little person I know. Things have to be just so, and yes, you always have an opinion about everything. You’re starting to become bossy. You tell all of us what to do, and you do it with your mean face, with your teeny index finger jabbing pointedly towards my face. You have no middle ground, if you hear “no” it’s the end of the world, you drop to the ground, face first, crying and yet two seconds later it’s all forgotten and you’ve found something else to get into.

You always wake up with a smile. It brightens even the most depressing day. And when you’re up, you’re UP! Your whole attitude to life is: why walk when I can hop, skip or run. I really hope that never changes.

You’re starting to use full sentences. I don’t always understand them, but when I don’t you repeat them till I get it, or you take me by the hand and show me, or you mime them, like the other day when you were reminiscing about the spew-fest you initiated the night before. You kept saying that you “vomit” but I didn’t understand, so you cried “mama!” exasperated and bent over at the waist and pretended to vomit. It was so realistic, and it was so clear that you were telling me to stop being such a dolt, that all I could do was laugh.

You love your brother so much, your sun rises and sets with him. This makes me so happy and I hope your relationship always stays like this, that you always have each other to count on.

You’re funny and sassy and you have  a fully developed sense of humor. I’ve learned to watch out when you come at me with a glint in your eye cause I’m going to get played.
You’re a big drama queen, when you need me you NNEEEEEEEDDDDD me, when you don’t want to do something you really won’t do it, and if you don’t like something you leave us in no doubt about it. It’s equal parts exhausting and funny.

You WILL NOT let me put your hair up, for love nor money, when I try to put it behind your ears so it’s not in your face you start shaking your head like a dog drying off until your hair’s all over the place again, cause that’s how you like it, damn it!

You’re so affectionate, you give me lots of kisses but never when I ask for them. You hug me tight, you hold my face in your little, sweaty hands and look deep in my eyes, you won’t go to sleep if I don’t hold you and rock you and you always want me to sing “You are my Sunshine”.

You love cheese and meat and pasta and chicken but you WILL NOT eat any vegetables unless they are artfully hidden.

You are so smart, you notice things I never would, you never miss a thing. We have to be careful what we say in front of you and I swear sometimes you understand even when I’m spelling stuff out.

You have no middle ground, it’s all black or white, you are not reasonable, you cannot be convinced. You make me crazy.  You want what you want when you want it. You have to have my whole, undivided attention. You’re so big already but you’re only two years old. Don’t grow up too fast, cause I can’t stand it.

I love you miles and miles, you are my sunshine, you make my heart sing.

parenting BY dummies