Saturday, April 21, 2018

S is for Stovetop Chocolate Cake


I saw this Pinterest pin with a recipe from Christopher Kimball's "Milk Street" (truth: I liked him much better on "America's Test Kitchen" and "Cook's Country" than I do on "Milk Street") on Pinterest for stovetop chocolate cake:

Since I had STELLAR results with the Crockpot Black Forest cake I made earlier this month for the challenge, I figured I didn't have much to lose with this.

The recipe makes one 9" layer, which is just a dessert appetizer at our house. It might have been enough for just us two empty nesters, but the Med School student flew back to the nest for the weekend, and we're also spending the weekend with my dad at the lake house, so if this cake is good, it's not going to be enough; if it's bad, well, it's duck food.

The first order of business in the recipe directions was to sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda into a bowl. Homey don't sift, so the dry ingredients got dumped right in the bowl, along with the brown sugar, and I whisked them all together before I finished reading the recipe and finding out the sugar was supposed to have been stirred into the melted butter and eggs in a large bowl. I quit reading at that point and just went ahead and tossed the melted butter, eggs, and sour cream in with the dry ingredients and mixed it with a spatula. I didn't have any vanilla, so I substituted almond extract, and it called for espresso powder, but homey don't do coffee, either, so I omitted that and spooned the batter into the cake pan.

Artsy shot of the dry ingredients that it turned
out weren't supposed to be mixed together....

Looks like chocolate cake batter. Tastes
like chocolate cake batter. 

The Med School student wandered into the kitchen about this time and began licking the bowl. 

"It's missing something," he said thoughtfully. "I think it's ... vanilla. And ... espresso," and he giggled and continued to lick the bowl. Sigh.

The cake pan then went into a dutch oven that had an aluminum foil snake coiled in the bottom and enough water to reach 3/4 of the way up the side of the snake. With the lid on, the heat was turned to high until the water reached a boil, then turned down to low for 23 minutes or until the center of the cake was firm to the touch.

Aluminum foil snake in bottom of dutch oven.

Pan on snake, snake in water.

And now, we wait....

It was not firm to the touch in 23 minutes. 

At 30 minutes, it was firm (and I guess the timing thing has to do with how the water simmers, and "low" on this stove must be lower than the low in the recipe). It should also be noted that it takes a very long time for both the cake pan and the dutch oven to be cool enough that you can reach in the dutch oven and lift the cake pan out. You'll know that it's cool enough because you won't lose any skin when your knuckles bump the inside of the dutch oven. Don't ask me how I know this.

I was pleasantly surprised when I took the lid
off the dutch oven and found...a cake!

The cake is supposed to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before removing it from the pan, but the pin writer obviously did not have their Med School student son breathing down their neck wondering WHEN is this cake going to be ready to eat. 

As an aside, I typed most of this post while I
was waiting for the cake to cook and used
only my right hand to do so....

"Touch the outside of the pan and let me know how it feels," I asked the Med School student, because I didn't want to get up unnecessarily. He came into the room carrying the cake in his bare hands. "Would I be able to carry this if it were still hot?" he asked, so I got up and headed to the kitchen where I found out the edges of the cake were cool, but the bottom of the pan was still quite warm. It should have cooled for another half an hour, but I was tired of my son and my husband asking for updates and I inverted it on plate.

And nothing happened.

I tapped it against the counter. Nothing. Tapped harder. Nothing. Smacked the bottom of it with my hand and rapped it solidly against the counter, and half of it (the outer half, it turns out) came loose, leaving a rather large chunk of the middle still in the pan.

Aww, fuuuuuudge.

Last time I let the Med School student rush
me to take a cake out of the pan.

"I've never seen them do it like that on 'Cake Boss'," the Med School student said.

"I'll show you how they do it on 'Cake Boss'," I said.

"Just scoop it out and put it on top of the cake," he said. "No one will be able to tell when you put frosting on it."

Chocolate cake puzzle.

I informed him there was no frosting; it was to get a light dusting of powdered sugar, and he said, "Yeah, that's going to show, then."

I cut slices for all of us. It wasn't as high and fluffy as the one in the pin, but it was rich and moist and fudgy.

My husband said it was a definite win, but it wasn't very chocolatey (the rest of us disagreed).

My son said, "I have two things to say about it."

"If you mention vanilla, I will stab you with my fork," I replied.

"It's missing espresso powder," and he giggled again.

Need a cake but don't want to turn the oven on in the summer? Here you go! 

Pinterest WIN!

Note: I started writing this post while I was waiting for the cake to cook, and as I was reading the recipe again - and please note that this is NOT directly from Milk Street but was "adapted" by the pinner into a blog post - the written step where the wet ingredients were stirred together included water as an ingredient. Whaaaa? It was nowhere in the ingredient list. I checked the original recipe from Milk Street, and sure enough, there was supposed to be half a cup of water in the batter; the pinner omitted it from the ingredient list in her "adapation," and I didn't see it in the directions because I started throwing everything in when I added the sugar at the wrong time. Truth be told, however, it didn't need it, and next time I make it, I probably won't add it then, either, and THAT time, it would be on purpose!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Q is for Qdoba Queso

Growing up, my family spent Sunday afternoons in the fall watching the Kansas City Chiefs football games on tv and eating Rotel dip, which my family to this day calls "hot dip." It was a Midwestern thing at the time, but now, hot cheese dip is everywhere (only we have to call it "queso" now).

My mother made hot dip in a double boiler, so the cheese wouldn't scorch, and she served it with ridgy potato chips (still my preferred method of eating hot dip) and - another new thing - taco flavored Doritos.

My daughter is a huge fan of cheese dip of any kind, and she would eat it with a spoon if we let her (and has done so, when she was younger and before we caught her). One of her favorite cheese dips is the one at Qdoba. There's a Qdoba about a half mile from the lake house, and sometimes, she and I walk there and eat cheese dip without telling anyone else in the family....

I found this on Pinterest and knew it was meant for me to try it:

The recipe called for shredded Monterey Jack, cheddar and American cheese, plus heavy cream (can you hear your arteries clogging just READING that?!). It also included roasted poblano peppers, chopped, canned tomatoes, and a little garlic. 

Oh, and you have to cook it in the crock pot for two hours.

I almost, ALMOST skipped this step and cooked it in the microwave instead, but that wouldn't be true to the Challenge, so I didn't, and then I read that cooking it low and slow in the crock pot keeps the cheddar cheese from getting weird and grainy, so I'm glad I didn't try a short cut.

I also confess that I looked long and hard for already prepared roasted poblano peppers, because I didn't want to have to roast them myself, but I couldn't and had to and they were slimy and gross as expected but chopped up into the cheese dip, they were fine.

Since I have a pretty big crock pot (5 quarts, if you will recall from "F is for [Black] Forest"), I feared there would only be a little puddle of dip in the bottom of it, so I doubled the recipe and hoped it didn't suck and we would be stuck with several quarts of the stuff. 

All the ingredients, dumped into the crock pot.

Hmm. Looks pretty good....

To make a fair comparison to the REAL Qdoba queso, I, of course, had to bring home an order of it.

Finally, it was time for the taste test:

On the left, Qdoba queso; on
the right, the challenger.

The knock off LOOKED like the Qdoba queso. It had the same mouth feel.

But they didn't taste quite the same. They were CLOSE, but, as my husband said, there was an additional depth to the Qdoba queso that we could not identify. The Qdoba queso also had a kick to it that mine did not.

So was it a fail? Not at all! The knock off was delicious, and hot sauce or jalapenos could be added to it to give it a little more kick. My husband even went so far as to say he liked the knock off better than the Qdoba queso, although he blanched a bit when I shared with him that it had a pint of cream in it.

Yeah, you're probably going to want to make this.

R is for Robot Hand

I've been rather crafty this week on the ol' Challenge, but this one kind of takes the cake:

Robot hand? Sweet!

The pin was a post on a Christian home school blog, and the project was used to illustrate how muscles and tendons work. I just thought it was cool and worth a try. 

I traced my hand onto cardboard and cut it out with my trusty utility knife, ever mindful, once again, of the famous Joey-stabbed-himself-with-the-utility-knife incident while building sets for a high school play:

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty
impressed with my utility knife cutting skills.

Next, I hot glued bendy straws onto the hand:

It looks like creepy, long fingernails.

I marked where the fingers actually bend and scored them lightly with the utility knife (and this would have been MUCH easier to do BEFORE gluing the straws on, but live and learn).

About 1/4-1/2" of the top of the straw was cut off at each joint. This would be where reading the entire post before assembling the supplies would have been a TERRIFIC idea, because I used some really old bendy straws I found in a closet at preschool, and they turned out to be very brittle with age. It would have been completely worth it if I had bought new straws to use, and the realization that this whole thing could have been SO MUCH BETTER if I had makes me want to kick myself.

My cutting was not precise because
the straws were so old and crispy
they cracked rather than cut.

After the straws were trimmed, string was threaded down through each straw with a long tail left at both ends of each straw. This took me about three times as long as it should have, because I had help with the string:

Dammit, Nora!

Large rubber bands were snipped to make a long strip; one end was tied to the string at the end of each cardboard finger and then hot glued on the back side of the hand, just below the fingers:

By some fluke, I made a killer knot
when I thought it would be impossible
to tie a rubber band to a string.

Rubber bands glued to the back of hand.

I gently bent each finger a little at each joint to loosen up the cardboard a bit, then I did THIS:

(I am fairly confident the pinner's home schoolers did NOT do what I did with the robot hand.)

One more time:

I may have to do this again with better straws and more experience under my belt, because I was greatly amused by this little project!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

P is for Paper Plate Clock

Every time I have thought I've found an easy Pinterest project for my challenge, I have been very, very wrong.

By George, this time, I think I've done it!

Here's the pin:

Supplies needed: a paper plate and a clock movement kit ($7.99 at Michael's)

I never took Geometry in high school because no one made me, and I seldom regret it; however, the first thing I had to do to make a paper plate clock was find the center of the paper plate. Some minor Geometry skills might have come in handy at this point, but instead, I found it using probably the most difficult way possible: I carefully cut the center out of a plate, folded it in half, then folded it again and marked the center with a dot. I poked a hole through the dot, laid the circle on the back of a new plate, marked the intersection, poked a hole, and done. Mission accomplished.

The only real directions there were after this was to stick the clock movement through the hole, and that's pretty much how it all went down:

Clock movement stemmy part
(the actual works are behind the plate)

This is the guts of the clock.

Assemble the hands by following
the directions on the package.

Guys, I made a clock out of a paper plate.
I made a CLOCK out of a PAPER PLATE


Monday, April 16, 2018

O is for Ornament

I do like being able to do these Pinterest challenge posts with found items (or, at least, cheap items)! The marble maze was made from all found items. So was the paper hyacinth, the net (hah!) bag, and googly eyes project. Today's project was a combination of found items and cheap items:

It wasn't that hard to get in the mood to make Christmas ornaments, since our weather has been so FREAKING COLD that it was easy to believe we had skipped all the good weather and moved right on to December (in fact, today at preschool, I played Christmas music, gave them a Christmas tree page to color, and then let them watch a Christmas video, just because I could).

I bought a bag of peanuts at the Dollar Store (and if I had planned on making, like, a whole bag of peanuts worth of ornaments, I should have upgraded to better quality peanuts, as dollar store peanuts must come from the bottom of the peanut barrel), and used felt scraps, pipe cleaners, twine, and little pom poms that I already had. I did buy some new acrylic paint, but that was my only real expense, and they were only fifty cents apiece.

If I'd had my druthers, I wouldn't
have used salted peanuts, but
you get what you get when you
buy your peanuts at
the dollar store.

I painted the peanuts first, obviously, and let them dry. I had to paint the snowman in two sessions, since I couldn't hold it and paint it all at the same time, and the penguin as well: first, the while belly, second, the rest of the body.

Ho, ho, ho....

Penguin belly

While the paint was drying, I made Santa hats. Lots and lots of Santa hats (I painted three of each ornament and did this before I noticed that every single one of them other than the reindeer had a Santa hat). 

It was tedious work, I'm not going to lie. But AREN'T THEY CUTE?!

If you have a lot of time to devote to making tiny Christmas ornaments, and it doesn't bother you that you are sinking a lot of work into decorating a peanut which may or may not some day become infested with something or found by a mouse or accidentally smashed, then you should make these.

Even my husband declared this a Pinterest win!

N is for Net Bag

"N" was very nearly for "nothing," as in "I've got nothing for this post." I panic-scrolled through Pinterest and found this:

What a find! It's something useful. A cursory glance at the directions made it look pretty easy. And who doesn't have an old, plain t-shirt around the house that can be sacrificed for a project? (Anyone see a red flag or two here? Anyone? Anyone?)

I checked my closet and my husband's, and neither of us had a plain t-shirt. Or a plain t-shirt he was willing to sacrifice for The Cause (and in retrospect, having completed this project, it was a good thing, because the bag created would have been able to hold several watermelons at one time).

The Med Student's room is sadly bereft of his clothes.

The College Girl's room is a complete disaster of clothes that don't fit and clothes that DO fit but are out of season and they're on the floor, hanging in the closet, shoved in drawers, and in laundry baskets where they may or may not be dirty. I waded through all of them, and she had NOT ONE T-SHIRT that was plain, let alone one she would be willing to give up. I finally, FINALLY found one that was almost plain; it had a small logo on the upper left side that I thought wouldn't interfere with the project if I cut it just right (I thought wrong, by the way). I texted her a photo of the shirt, and she allowed that I could have it. Yay.

I laid out the shirt and cut the sleeves and neck off as directed. Easy so far!

As close to plain as I could get.

I forgot to take a picture that showed that
the logo was still in plain view.

Next, I sewed the front and back together along the newly cut edge and turned it upside down. The hem of the shirt was now the top of the net bag, so now it wouldn't be necessary to hem a raw edge and I think that is a brilliant step. It's also the reason a plain t-shirt is necessary for the project, since the shirt gets turned upside down to become a bag.

Thus far, the project had been a breeze. The breeze turned stagnant when I got to the part where the slits were marked and cut. The directions were a little convoluted, starting with the fact that the measurements were metric. I could have swung that, but my ruler happened to have only inches on it (it's a quirky enough ruler as it is, being 12 AND A HALF inches long). Plus, the conversion of centimeters to inches made the measurements annoying fractions like 3/8 and 5/8 and that's just too hard to do with a piece of chalk and a 12 and a half inch ruler, but I did my best. The different bags pictured each had different spacing and slit lengths and I had to take a stab at deciding which measurements to use.

The smudgy chalk lines I had to try to follow were certainly not the fault of the pinner; had I planned a little bit, I could have found a better type of chalk to use (and probably a ruler with metric AND standard measurements on it). The measuring, marking and snipping took me a good hour, especially after I finished and realized whatever measurement I tried to follow was not giving me the result in the picture; my slits were too short but too close together to do anything about it.

After I cut a handle and made all the slits, I was to pull the bag horizontally to make the slits open more and the edges roll under, like in the picture. I did and they didn't.

I see a bag, but I don't see a NET bag.

By no stretch of the imagination did I make anything that looked like the bag in the photo, but I took it to Aldi and put some bananas in it. The bag stretched and hung down as though I'd dropped a bowling ball in it, and that's when it occurred to me that a bag made from my husband's t-shirt would have held several watermelons but been un-carryable.

There are TWO bunches of bananas
in here. TWO. I could fit a dozen
in there, easily. Or one watermelon.

Would I make this again? Mayyyybe, but I would hit a thrift store and buy a child sized shirt for it. And I would mark it with something better than chalk (or just better chalk). And I would use a ruler that had metric units on it to make the measuring easier (and, hopefully, more accurate).

Kind of a win, if you aren't too particular about having exact directions.

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?