Gin-GRR-Bread Habitat Contest 2011

Posted by barb on Dec 19, 2011 in Crafty Me, Random Thoughts

Longtime readers may recall that last year I entered the inaugural Gin-GRR-bread Habitat Contest at the National Zoo. My entry turned out better than I had ever expected, and I was fairly certain I was going to win. Well, that is, until it broke when I was transporting it to the zoo.

So, when the National Zoo announced this year’s Gin-GRR-bread contest, I was very excited – I was going to redeem myself this time! The theme this time was “Winter Wonderland on the Farm”, because the Zoo’s children’s farm was saved from closure this year by a generous donation from State Farm. I debated between doing a literal interpretation of the theme or thinking a bit outside the box – which one would the judges embrace?

I decided to go a little outside the box with my entry: Winter Wonderland Country Fair. Here’s the final entry:
Winter Wonderland Country Fair

The contest had a few requirements:

  • food and drink for the animals
    An alpaca buying a carmel appleCarmel apples and a candy cane in the concession stand
  • space to move around and explore
    A goat riding the carouselThe snowball toss game
  • and shelter from the heat or cold
    A pig and goat warming at the fire

I added one secret ingredient to my entry – Ares and Duncan, the two cats that our household lost this year:
Ares getting warm at the fireDuncan sniffing a candy cane

So, how did I do this year?

I won my category!!!!
Me with my certificate!Me and my winning entry

Hmmm…does this mean I’ll have to be even better next year? Dear Lord, I hope not! I was already a crazy gingerbread-woman for a couple weeks in November…I’m not sure Andrew could take more.



Yummy Key Lime Bars

Posted by barb on Jul 22, 2008 in Random Thoughts

I went scrapping with Laurie last weekend, and when I go up to her place, I usually bring a treat of some sort. This weekend I made up a recipe after seeing key limes at the grocery store. It turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. So, for posterity, here is the recipe, with modifications I’d make next time in red.

Summer Key Lime Bars

3 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick) (I’d use 3/4 cup next time)
1 cup sugar

16 oz. cream cheese, softened (2 pkg)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
juice from 12 key limes
12 oz pkg. white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13″ pan (I used canola oil spray, but it would probably be best with butter or butter-flavored spray.)

Mix ingredients for the crust (graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar). Reserve 1 cup of crust mix for later. Press the remaining crust mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lime juice with an electric mixer until smooth. You can get excellent results while juicing if you follow the Expert Juicer Reviews guideline to a tee.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the white chocolate chips for later. Hand mix the remaining white chocolate chips into the cream cheese mixture.

When the crust is finished (it will be set, but shouldn’t be browned), spread the cream cheese mixture over the baked crust. Sprinkle the reserved graham cracker mix over the top of the filling. Finally, sprinkle with the reserved white chocolate chips. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the cream cheese mixture is set. (The chocolate chips will brown — I wasn’t sure I liked that, but JD said that he like the chocolate chips on top.)

Note: JD suggested that the filling section could be a bit thicker, so I thought that adding a small container of ricotta cheese might do the trick – adding some volume to this layer, but not adding quite so much fat and calories. I might try that next time.



Happy Birthday Andrew!

Posted by barb on Oct 16, 2007 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Andrew with his cake

Yesterday was Andrew’s birthday. We spent a quiet evening celebrating his 35th year, with dinner and cake.

Inspired by Chocstress over at Chocablog, I decided to make a Dalek Cake.
That’s Andrew with the final product.

I told my coworkers yesterday that this would either turn out really cool or that it would be one big mess. Little did I know that both would be the case. Details on the making of the cake below the fold.
Read more…

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Christmas Past: Baking cookies

Posted by barb on Dec 19, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Sugar Cookies

Part of my family’s holiday traditions growing up was a fair amount of Christmas baking. Mom would start baking sometime after Thanksgiving, and by the end, we’d have six or seven varieties of cookie. We had several standards – cherry bars (which, I believe, Dad made…or at least he took over them at some point before I was out of high school), Russian Teacakes, Spritz, English Toffee, Fudge, and Toffee Bars.

One year, my family traveled to Florida for Christmas – we often called it the Christmas that didn’t happen, because even though we had a great time on our trip, it just didn’t seem like Christmas. While we were there, we visited some people my parents knew, and they had a new Christmas treat for us – No-Name Bars. The bars were chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter melted together, then salted peanuts and mini-marshmallows added. Yum! These were soon added to our own Christmas rotation. The bars were called “no name” bars because whoever these people had gotten the recipe from had not put a name on the recipe card. Eventually, we decided to rename them “Nut Goodie Bars”, though often we still refer to them as “No Name”.

Another year, we attended a family Christmas night at our church. They had lots of various “classes” and we could choose a couple of them. One of the classes we took was on how to make corn flake wreaths. These cookies are a lot like Rice Crispie bars, but with a bit of green food coloring and Corn Flakes instead of Rice Crispies. When the mixture is still warm, we shaped spoonfuls into wreath shapes. Finally, we topped them off with cinnamon candies to look like berries on the wreath. I loved making these, so they were also added to our Christmas cookie repertoire.

A year or two after my Mom returned to work (she was a stay-at-home Mom for many years, and then returned to school when I was in kindergarten, and to work when I was in 6th grade), she did not feel up to making all of those Christmas cookies every year. As luck would have it, I was old enough to bake, and in need of some extra cash for Christmas presents, so she and I struck up a deal. I can’t remember what she paid me for the cookies, but I felt flush when I went off to do my Christmas shopping. After a few years, I didn’t ask Mom to pay me for making the cookies. I just did it because I liked the tradition.

Since I’ve left home, Mom has taken to buying cookies from bakeries or church cookie sales. While the cookies are good, it’s still not the same as having home-baked cookies. Also since I’ve left home, I’ve done some measure of baking myself. Once I moved into my own apartment, I started to develop my own repertoire of cookies. (Check out the tale of my first excursion into Christmas baking in my apartment here.)

Oh, and Dad does still make Cherry Bars every year – they’re his favorite.

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Christmas baking

Posted by barb on Dec 16, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Last weekend I did most of my Christmas baking (and some of you work friends have already sampled it). I made seven different kinds this year – more than what I was planning, but a couple of them were very easy.

Here they are:

Spritz Ginger Snaps
Spritz (gluten free) Ginger Snaps (gluten free)
Rice Crispie Snowment Sugar Cookies
Rice Crispie Snowmen Sugar Cookies
Russian Teacakes Choclate Marshmallow-Hazelnut bars
Russian Teacakes Hazelnut Marshmallow triangles
Ishler Tortchen (sp?)  
Ishler Tortchen (Tortlettes)  

Three of them are free of wheat gluten (turns out my mom is okay with corn gluten). The spritz and ginger snaps are completely gluten free, with the spritz recipe coming from here, and the ginger snaps were from a mix from the Gluten Free Pantry (found at Whole Foods – good cookies). The Ischler Tortchen are an Austrian recipe from Andrew’s mom, and for the first time making them, they turned out quite well (if I do say so myself).

Notes on the gluten-free spritz: I used white rice flouer instead of the brown rice flour that was called for. They taste quite good – slightly odd texture, but no odd after-taste. I colored a third of the dough red and a third green, and these colored bits went through the spritz machine a lot easier than the uncolored third. The uncolored bit fell apart more easily, and wouldn’t go through one of the holes of the disk. The Christmas tree mold seemed to work best, both for pressing the cookies and for getting them off the cookie sheet. Oh, yeah, there was a delicate balance between leaving the cookies on the cookie sheet too long and not long enough – in both cases the cookie fell apart. I resorted to using a knife to free the cookies from the pan, then a spatula to transfer them to the cooling rack. This was no guarantee that they’d stay together, but it tipped the odds in my favor. Even after they are off the pan, though, they are very delicate. I don’t know if these will make it to Minnesota in one piece, though I’m gonna give it a try.

A note on the Rice Crispie Snowmen: commercial brands of Rice Crispies have flour in them – you really need to buy the gluten-free ones to ensure a gluten-free treat. The marshmallows contain modified cornstarch, but according to several gluten-free informational websites, in the US modified cornstarch is gluten-free. In other countries, this may not be the case. In any event, the M&Ms and frosting on my snowmen has cornstarch (not modified), so has some corn gluten.

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Baking without gluten

Posted by barb on Sep 10, 2006 in Random Thoughts

My Mom recently discovered that she has trouble digesting gluten, so has switched to a gluten-free diet. For those of you unfamiliar with gluten, it’s in everything, or at least seems to be. The main thing is flour, but also cereals, grains, pasta, breads and many processed foods. It’s everywhere! Check out the table on this page (it starts about halfway down the page) for a good summary.

Mom has tried a few gluten-free products, and found a few she likes and a few that she doesn’t. But, I think she’s gotten tired of trying new, potentially weird-tasting things. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to try a few things for her. A couple weeks ago I tried a gluten-free brownie mix that was really quite good. Andrew picked up a couple packages that we’ll send off to her soon.

The last time we were at the grocery store, we found an “all-purpose” gluten-free flour, which says it’s good in baked products. Tonight I tried to make chocolate chip cookies using that gf flour, and the results are, um, mixed. The dough had a weird, metallic aftertaste (and, as anyone knows, eating the batter is one of the ultimate pleasures of making home-baked cookies). The cookies spread out a lot – they got very thin and, as a result, crunchy. Oh, and these crunchy cookies stuck to the cookie sheets – Andrew had to listen to me cursing and grunting as I tried to get one pan of cookies free. On the other hand, the cookies actually taste pretty good. There’s a small aftertaste, but not overwhelming and fairly subtle. If I were to try this again, I’d try adding a third egg to the dough (eggs are a binding agent, and may help the cookies from spreading out – Mom tried adding extra flour to a pancake recipe for the same reason without good results, so I don’t think I’d try that first), and definitely grease the cookie sheets.

Anyone else out there have good gluten-free baking tips?



Tribute to Summer dinner

Posted by barb on Jul 16, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Kebabs and corn on the grill

Kebabs and 'tato salad

Blueberry cobbler

Our weather has been miserable hot and miserable humid, so I decided that we needed to celebrate summer a bit. My method? Grilling! We went out this morning and bought a little grill (Weber’s Smokey Joe), since it’s just two of us, and we don’t plan on grilling all the time. I spent the afternoon making ‘tato salad, cutting veggies for kebabs, and baking a blueberry cobbler.

This evening I got the grill going with a a bit of trial-and-error (and a bit too much “carcoal starter”…*wooph*). And about an hour later we had a yummy summer-themed meal. Can I just say that I love grilling? I mean, really, fire and food, what more could a person want?



Carousel bundt cake – trial 3

Posted by barb on Mar 1, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

This time around I decided to try Bitch, PhD’s suggestion of using colored sugars or rainbow sprinkles anchored in the horses with butter. (I had thought about using colored sugar, etc., but couldn’t figure out how to make it stay in the horses – I might be able to do complex integrals, but anchoring sugar in a cake pan with butter is just too hard to figure out on my own.)

I tried lots of different sprinkles to see what would turn out best – several colors of sugar, rainbow jimmies, rainbow nonpareils, rainbow sequins. After loading up the horses, I put the pan in the freezer for a few minutes while mixing up the batter. This kept the sprinkles in place when I put the batter in the pan.
Carousel bundt cake, try 3

I’m not sure it turned out better than the colored batter attempt:
Carousel bundt cake, try 3  Carousel bundt cake, try 3  Carousel bundt cake, try 3

The jimmies, nonopareils, and sequins all ended up melting into the cake, though they did still keep their colors basically in the shape of their respective horses. The sugars seemed to slop all over, despite my best efforts to clean up the pan before adding the batter. The purple actually looks pretty good, and the blue and purple show up much better than the pink and green. Hmm…I didn’t have any of the crystal-type decorative sugars…I wonder if those would have worked better. I have one other idea to try, too; though, I’m beginning to think I might be stuck frosing the horses after baking.



Carousel Bundt Pan – Trial 2

Posted by barb on Feb 20, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

I tried baking with my carousel bundt pan again – this time I didn’t make the mistake of topping it with powdered sugar, and I think it turned out better than last time. Instead, this time around, I took out some of the batter before filling the pan, colored it, and then put the colored batter into the horses. Then I filled the pan with the uncolored batter, and baked it. I think the horses came out a bit better, though the colored bits slopped out of the horses.

Carousel Bundt Cake - Try #2   Carousel Bundt Cake - Try #2

I have one other idea to try, and I might do that next weekend. Any other suggestions out there?



Carousel Bundt Pan — Attempt 1

Posted by barb on Jan 29, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts
The Carousel bundt pan

Death by Chocolate Carousel bundt cake

Death by Chocolate Carousel bundt cake

One of my Christmas presents from my parents was this cool bundt pan in the shape of a carousel. Tonight was my first attempt at making a cake with the pan. I used a Death by chocolate bundt cake recipe from Recipe Source.

The cake turned out really well; however, I wanted to try and bring the carousel out more. My first thought was to sprinkle it with powdered sugar. As you can see in the picture, that was a big failure. The carousel animals were visible in the cake, but completely disappeared after I sprinkled the powdered sugar.

Next time? I’m not sure. I’d prefer not to have to frost the animals all individually, but it may come down to that. Any ideas out there?


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