Friday, July 31, 2009

Cooking With Sara: Red Velvet Cupcakes

You knew it was only a matter of time before I'd revert back to my cake-baking ways. But one out of my three Cooking With entries dedicated to a baked good - those aren't terrible odds. I promise, I really have tried to refrain from baking entries in the name of being more creative and testing out "real" food recipes (I'd argue that cake is, indeed, real food). But, hey I've got a deadline looming with some Sarandipity orders, and I need to test out a cake recipe. So here we are.

I've tried some Red Velvet recipes in the past, but I've never been too pleased with the results. It just seemed so "meh" tasting after all that flashy red color and white frosting contrast. All pretty and no tasty. Like, all beauty and no brains. We certainly can't have any of that here, so I continued my search for a recipe that looked promising. And with a photo like this, how could the results be anything other an amaazzzzingggggg? I mean seriously, who here didn't try to lick their monitors when presented with that beautiful photo of cake heaven? So, I tried out Pinch My Salt's recipe and, as always, made a few modifications of my own.

In summary, I'm not terribly fond of this recipe either. As Bo put it, "it just isn't velvety." And he's dead right. The texture isn't dense and moist and well, velvety. And I had the same luck with cream cheese frosting that I always seem to have - as is, the recipe turns out soupy. I increased the powdered sugar from 2 1/2 cups to nearly 8. Yes, 8 cups of powdered sugar. I modified the recipe below to remove half the cream cheese, so that should help. The quest continues...

Red Velvet Cake (a.k.a. Waldorf Astoria Cake)
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 oz. red food coloring
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with 24 papers. (This recipe yielded 23 cupcakes for me.)

2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a soupy mixture without lumps; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa mixture, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

4. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. Yes, it will fizz! Add it to the cake batter and stir well to combine. (The batter will almost look puffy.) Working quickly, divide batter evenly between the cupcake pans using your trusty cookie scoop, and place them in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Check early, cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and allow cakes to cool completely before frosting. Frost with buttercream or cream cheese icing (recipe below).

* Recipe Notes: Sift cake flour once before measuring, then sift again with the other dry ingredients per recipe instructions.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese (1 packages), softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in salt and vanilla until combined. Turn mixer to low speed and blend in powdered sugar, 1/3 at a time, scraping sides of bowl between each addition. Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm Scared

Of this:
We're tending to a lone tomato plant on our back patio. When I say "we," I actually mean Bo. He dutifully waters and fertilizes the thing, and I go out to admire it from time to time. It really has grown a massive amount in the past few months. And there are small little tomatoes scattered throughout its leaves.

But the size isn't what scares me. It's those tomatoes. I hate tomatoes. The slime inside them makes me gag. It sticks to my throat and slowly drips its way down to my stomach. This is if I can even get them past my tongue. In my defense, I've tried - TRIED - to like them. It's the hugest pain to always be asking places to hold the tomatoes, and I'm missing out on what could be amazing food. Bruschetta? We've never been properly introduced; alas, I've only admired you from afar.

The part that's especially scary is that I've heard eighty million times how AMAZING homegrown tomatoes are. Sure, sure, I don't doubt that for a second. And I know that as soon as those babies are ripe, Bo is going to make me taste one. My lips are squirming just thinking about it. Had I been smart, I would've planted an eggplant and made him return the favor of tasting something he hates. Oh well. Wish me luck.

For scale. Plus, it's fun to make her pose with ridiculous things.

Rory's not so much a fan of the giant beanstalk of a thing either. Maybe that's because she can no longer root around in the dirt. She dug us some pretty good holes when it was sitting within reach of her little paws.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We're Adopting This Dog

Except that Bo said I couldn't. And then I got mad at him, so very mad.

But, really it was all a dream. Sigh. I dreamt last night that we were moving out of a place, and my old-old landlord had left a dog there. The dog looked a bit like this picture, and she was just the sweetest thing ever. I knew she'd be perfection with Rory. I pleaded and pleaded with Bo to take her with us. I told him that we'd adopt her out, so she'd just need a home for a very short while. (I was totally lying; I fully intended to keep her forever.) But he kept saying no. So I got mad at him, and then the dream ended.

I'm not searching for any meaning in the dream. That's no fun and too serious. Really, I just want to pet that sweet dog again, tee hee.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Someone brought in two enormous boxes of donuts this morning and left them unattended in the break room. I wandered in there to get a cup of piping hot coffee because it's frigid in this office. En route to the coffee pot, I found two glittering boxes of donuts, winking at me and calling my name. I love donuts, I really really do. So light and airy, the perfect combination of carbohydrate and fat, and with a drizzle of frosting to put me over the edge. I peeked into the box, and speedy quick closed it back shut. I can't be tempted by those rows of sugary happiness, can't be tempted, can't be tempted, I won't be tempted. Instead, I will satisfy the sweets craving with some coffee splashed with yummy creamer. Onward to the coffee pot. Except that it's empty. And I don't know how to make coffee here. Gahhhhh...

I included this picture to intentionally torment you. I am quite happy to spread the agony.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ants Marching

We have ants in our house right now. My bleary eyes noticed one on my pillow this morning, as I was struggling to wake up. Yuck!! And 3 minutes later, I discovered that my shower was infested.

You see, in San Diego, even the ants are weather wimps. Along with the locals, they can't handle fluctuations in temperature. After a few years of living here, I realized that during a string of hot summer days, ants will come into your house, seeking water. You'll find them in your sinks, showers, and faucets. And then, when we get a few consecutive days of rain (yes, it does rain here, but barely), they come into houses to escape the water.

It's incredibly annoying but at least I don't have to immediately disinfect every speck of my kitchen to eliminate sugar and food crumbs. The ants don't give a rip about food; they just want some water.

Odd, huh?

Standalone player

* Doesn't that picture just make you itchy all over? It's courtesy of google images.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cooking With Sara: Fancy in the Freezer

This week's recipe is simple and doesn't require the stove or oven - score! I was inspired by the recent heat wave that hit my town and by the latest issue of Cuisine At Home magazine. Even tho I read that magazine from cover to cover, I never get around to actually making the recipes. Weird, I know! But this one caught my eye. And I did, after all, promise to post some kind of food preparation entry thing each week.

Under normal (read: plenty of time to mull over recipes and plan grocery lists and use the oven) circumstances, I wouldn't have made these. Raspberry and mint, together? But after I thought about it, yummm. You see, the smell of fresh raspberries instantly reminds me of my grandparents' house in the summer. They always had a huge patch of raspberries, and my gramma would pick a bowl of them in the early mornings before I had even woken up. Grampa would eat the berries with fresh cream from a nearby dairy. And fresh mint? That smell reminds me of the evenings at their house. Their house is in an agricultural area, and in the summer evenings, the mint would be cut and harvested, filling the entire valley with the smell of fresh mint. Ahhhh.....pure summer.

Raspberry Mint Popsicles*
4-5 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 Tbsp fresh mint, minced

Stir water and sugar in a large glass measure or bowl. Heat in microwave for one minute and stir to dissolve sugar. Puree the raspberries in a blender until smooth. Strain puree into glass measure through a fine mesh sieve, pressing solids to extract as much juice as possible. Stir in mint and then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze for 4 hours or until firm.

* or, as I'll now be referring to them - Gramma's Popsicles

Peach Creamsicles*
3 cups fresh (or frozen) sliced peaches
1 cup vanilla ice cream or..Coconut Milk Ice Cream!!
1/2 cup peace juice or nectar**
1 tsp. vanilla

Puree all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Strain puree through a fine mesh sieve, pressing solids to extract as much puree as possible. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze for 4 hours or until firm.

* I made this with nectarines because I had them on hand. And because, yum!
** I used OJ because, again, I had it on hand. And I wasn't making a trip to the store for 1/2 cup in 90 degree weather, nope.

Mmmmmm...fresh mint. Too bad you didn't spring for a scratch n' sniff monitor.

Smashing the raspberries through a fine mesh sieve. Isn't my pink heart spatula just the cutest?

This. This, this, this. This is The. Freaking. Bomb. I don't care if you're one of those people who can have dairy and la la la, life is spectacular, and isn't real butter just so good on fresh corn? Shush. You will love this too, I swear. It's made from coconut milk, so you should think coconut flavor is good, obviously. But, man alive, this ice cream is freaking amazing. I have to eat it with a tiny spoon so that I don't inhale the entire container in one sitting. Much love to Kristen for the 3 pounds I've gained since reading her recipe using this ;)

But let me explain: See, they were super cute last night when I taste tested a raspberry one. But I was so swamped with my Etsy orders that I decided to postpone a photo until this morning when they were good and frozen. And, indeed, they were good and frozen. So much so that I had to run hot water over the cheapy Ikea mold to even get them dislodged. And then, well, I got distracted, see. I'm kinda extremely prone to distraction. Yeah. I got carried away with the packing tape and lil freezer packs and the Etsy boxes, that I forgot about my adorably yummy popsicles sitting in the sink, all lonesome. And melting. The perfectionist in me was appalled and wanted to wait until tonight to snap another photo for you. But then, it was just so funny and so ME, that I couldn't resist posting this one anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sauna, Anyone?

I just have to rant a lil here...

For all you (East Coast natives) who roll your eyes and dismiss my talk of it being humid in San Diego in July and August, IT'S FREAKING 95% HUMIDITY RIGHT NOW. (Yes, that really did warrant capitalization.) 95%!!

And before you try to interrupt me with talk of it being a fluke - for the record, it hovers around 75% humidity every morning here during the summer. That's not something to shake a stick at.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Potpourri No. 2

  • I can't wait for the Supreme Court hearings to be over, because I've had the words "Sonia Sotomayor" stuck in my head for the past 2 days straight.

  • I didn't realize until I was halfway finished writing this post that my last Potpourri entry had the exact same phrase stuck in my head. Evidently it's a plague someone has cast upon my house.

  • My mom's side of family sweetly passes on a gene that predisposes us to get the hiccups so bad that they're painful. (Why oh why couldn't I have got the tall and skinny gene instead?) They give me a stomach ache immediately, and I can't even hide them in public because they're incredibly loud too. But! Over the years, I've learned to make them go away. No peanut butter, no sugar, no drinking funny out of a glass. I've decided that since they're a result of spasms of the diaphragm muscle, that if I can get it to relax by breathing calmly and slowly, they'll stop. And they so do. I'm a genius!

    Bo straight up laughs at me every time I get the hiccups. He says they sound like baby alligators. Leave it to someone from the South to recognize that sound:

  • I originally didn't have a whole lot of interest in seeing this movie, but now that I've seen the preview, I. Cannot. Wait. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I spent yesterday wanting to punch someone and be violent. But the soundtrack could be amazing, too. Who wants to see it with me?!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cooking with Sara: Brown Sugar Salmon

Blog Update: I've decided to do a weekly entry with a recipe for you all. I figure that way, I'm putting myself on a mini-deadline to try out the zillion recipes I've been eyeing. It also forces me to hone the techniques of the recipes I already do love. And, hey, blog content without having to dream up something witty, right? Right? Bueller?

This week's recipe was originally intended for bacon. (Yeah, sounds totally kinda gross, but I did make it, and I'll vouch for its yum!) But, it turns out that the same ingredients (plus a couple more) can be thrown on salmon with Freaking Amazing results. It's our most favorite way to eat salmon now, so I thought I'd pass the recipe on to you.

Brown Sugar Salmon
1 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

2-4 Salmon filets (easier to cook if they're no thicker than 1")
2-4 Tbsp. butter (~ 1 Tbsp per filet)

Combine dry ingredients in a ziploc bag and shake (the bag and your booty) to mix. Rub mixture onto salmon filets, approximately 2 Tbsp rub per filet. Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat and add filets - rub side down - to skillet. Allow to sizzle and brown and form a crust before flipping the salmon filets. (After you've flipped, they should look something like the photo above.) This step will only take a minute or two.

At this point, it depends on how thick your salmon is. My filets were thick, so I needed to add some liquid to the skillet and cover it with a lid to finish cooking. My favorite liquids to add for finishing are: Bourbon, Amaretto, or chicken or vegetable broth. Add approximately 1/2 cup of liquid and let it come to a sizzle before covering with a lid. Check for doneness by flaking the filet with a fork.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Buying Your Salvation

I love when my friend, Pringles, starts out her stories with, "I'm so going to hell." It always means something hilarious and probably catty and definitely revolving around something ridiculous someone said or did. We laugh hysterically about it and say all kinds of feisty things and engage in hoards of eye rolling.

Today's eternity-deciding topic? Baby shower games. Can I please volunteer to scrub toilets in lieu (pun intended) of participating? I find it amazing that with all the creative and "artistic" baby-naming going on these days that we're still subjected to that same awful Guess the Melted Chocolate Poo in the Diaper game. Even boys who laugh themselves silly over poop talk think that game is hideous. And we're girls, for goodness' sake. Why oh why must we play that game?!

Pringles and I are very anti-game for showers because they all feel so forcefully precious and end up costing money that a lot of people can't spare in this economy. Call us boring old hags, and we won't even blink. We just can't bear to sit through another round of "you said the word baby!!"

But back to our topic at hand - Lest you think I'm incapable of being nice or gracious (or social, for that matter), I bring you the real subject of today's post: Redemption. Whenever Chiml and I laugh at someone or say something that For Sure is sealing our fate in hell, we speedy quick buy some forgiveness. And where do we shop? At the Red Cross.

My mantra: "Let your sin dictate what you donate."

I'm personally a fan of giving my money to the Starving Kids Fund, but really, it's purely subjective what will alleviate your guilt. In case you were about to ask - so far, the most I've spent buying back my soul is $25. Told you I was a nice girl.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Girl Power

Or, You Power, rather. I've been hearing empowering, you-rock-you-amazing-person-you songs lately, and I can't get enough of 'em. It's always nice to walk around feeling confident and able to conquer the world, and any little messages - be they from loving friends or from the music in your car - just make your chin raise up all the higher.

So I thought I'd share a wee little I'm-a-rockstar playlist with you. And for those of you who've been cheering for me lately, it's my thank you. You've helped me summon up that confidence I've had buried down too deep. A big, heart-felt hug is coming your way over the 1s and 0s.

If the embedded player isn't actually, er, embedded:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Blink and You'll Miss It

So obviously I'm not the best of listeners. I ask you all for advice and then go and don't take it. Completely dumb, don't you think? And we all just love a person who solicits advice and then goes and doesn't take a lick of it. Ho hum boring yawn. But for whatever reason, it wasn't Drastic Change Day when I got my hair did, so I'm going with the flow.

I did add more highlighty coppery pieces, but I'm letting the rest continue to fade and lighten in the sun. Sometimes, my hair is a journey what with all the fading and the coloring and the fading and the coloring. I'm kinda very interested to see where this journey will take me. (Certainly not back to my natural color, gasp!)

Sorry to create such suspense. I'll try to take more cute dog or Cupcake Pops photos for you as a token of apology. Will that buy your mercy, dear readers?

Monday, July 6, 2009

It's July, People

Not Fall. Not even Almost Fall. It's freaking Summer! I just barely got my first sunburn of the season, 2 days ago! As such, I'd appreciate it if all retailers would ix-nay with the "Fall Preview" notices. Don't get me wrong, Fall is my very mostest favorite season of the whole year. But, for goodness sake, please let me enjoy the current season as it's just beginning! Leave me alone for another 2+ months, I beg you.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Holiday Homesick

4th of July Parade in Toppenish, WA. Mom and my uncle in the truck Grampa restored.

Today is really hitting me hard. Hard, as in tears at breakfast, and I'm floating around the house in a gray daze.

The underlying current of emotion is homesickness. It's the 4th of July, and I'm not home. I'm not home for one of our family get-togethers. Those kind that aren't complete without my mom's potato salad and the 5 pies she's made the night before. Without some kind of red jello salad, melting in the sun. Without hot dogs and hamburgers and regular dogs standing around, waiting food to spill off flimsy paper plates.

I'm not home to gather lawn chairs and head in to the parade. My parents are from the same tiny town, and their families have been meeting at the same grassy block on the parade route since before I can remember. It's our own little family reunion there, and all the old timers would stop by to tip their hats and say hello to Grampa and Gramma.

I miss the blazing heat. How can it be the 4th of July without the dire need to cool off in a swimming hole? It feels like May here, and the fact that it's Independence Day just refuses to sink in.

Most of all, I miss a sense of Home. Home, where you feel at ease. Home, where those you love dearly are just a couple of dirt roads away.

This homesickness is having me realize that my living in this city with one foot out the door is taking its toll. I absolutely do not feel like home here. I'm so set on moving away, that my house isn't decorated, and it doesn't exude "home" when I walk in the door. Living with the strong desire to be somewhere - anywhere - else has left me without roots. I'm floating along like a gypsy, without anything to make me feel grounded and secure.

Today has shaken me up. I realize that I need to make some changes. I need to get myself grounded and attached and living in the moment. And that starts now.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rainbow Results

Well, there aren't any really.

You all picked different choices for different reasons. Ha!

But, my hair appointment is tomorrow, so I'll have my fabulous hair-lady whip out the book of color swatches to see what would work best with my current color(s) and the season. You will definitely, definitely get a pic of it, but purty please don't get antsy. It takes a good couple of washings for my color to calm down and for my curls to get happy again. So, it won't be until later next week that you get a picture. I'm all about instant gratification myself, but I refuse to post a pic until my locks start behaving themselves.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ode to Ror-kins

Call me lazy, call me uninspired, call me an annoying pet owner. Whatever you want to call me, you can't deny that my dog, Rory, is goofy. And, I swear, I played no part in making her that way. Honest. I'll even pinky swear. But because I'm lazy, uninspired, yada, yada, today's post is nothing but pictures of Rory. These are the moments speedy-quick cameras were invented for (not to downplay the photogenicness of anyone's children or anything).

At our front door. I stopped to pick up something off the ground, turned back around to Rory, and found her like this. I did not put that leash on her head. I still don't know how she did this.

Road trip! She's smushed up next to my cousin in the back of my car. Look out the windows at all that green. Oregon. Holllaaaaa!

She loves water so much that she tries to swim in buckets too. But then she coulda been showing off for her ex-boyfriend, Cooper, there.

Once again. I turned around and HUH. She's wearing my curtains like a little bonnet.

I screwed up the depth in this photo, but her little Elmo there is half in the ground. I came home from work one day, and she had dug a hole just big enough to stuff him in halfway. And that's where she left him. And, let me tell you, she was so proud to show me her handiwork.

Another fun discovery upon arriving home. I thought I had wedged her dog bed into her doghouse tightly enough to make it nice and secure and unmovable. Nope. She somehow got it out and then shredded the cover. And then sweetly spread the stuffing all over the entire back patio.

She looks so tiny in this picture, but she's nearly 80lbs. No idea why sleeping under my bed was better than sleeping on her bed.

In case you needed proof that I didn't stage the first under-bed picture, here's another. Taken 2 weeks after the first.

This entry wouldn't be complete without a boring youtube video of my pet. Yes, I've joined the ranks of other adoring pet parents by posting video on the In-Ter-Net. You can think it's boring, and I won't hold it against you. Just don't tell me so. Manners!