Monday, February 24, 2014

The Office

(Doo doo doooooo, do do do dooo doo dooooooo!)

No, it's not Dunder Mifflin.

Our upstairs hallway is currently the resting place for several IKEA boxes full of soon-to-be furniture for our office: two bookcases, a secretary desk, and a pre-assembled chair (well, the chair is already in the cardboard wasteland that will become the office).

This week's mission:

unload/move to the center of the room everything that is in there currently
tarp and paint
assemble two large, solid wood bookcases
assemble one secretary desk with lots of hinges (sorry in advance, John!)
re-load room
spend every spare second possible in there to drink in the success and organization

I will do my best to take pics along the way--this room will probably undergo the biggest transformation in the whole house because there's just more work to be done--the rest of the house was just paint walls, drop in furniture we already own. This one...oy, we're starting from the ground up for reals.

It's gonna get messier before it gets better, so I'm kinda steeling myself. haha But it will be sooooo worth it!

Wish us luck!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I Just Made Me Some Danged Cinnamon Buns from Scratch

I saw Ree Drummond make her mom's cinnamon buns on her show one day, and basically had to mop up the drool. But at the time I was like, "Ugh, active dry yeast...scary!" and wrote it off. My irrational fear of yeast was like my irrational fear of the springform pan. I just hated the idea that I could do everything right and something like dumping in the yeast a few degrees off could kill it, or the walls of a pan could rip apart an otherwise perfect cheesecake.

But these cinnamon buns. They seemed to call to me. I was super excited when another favorite food blogger/baker/chef Joy made a visit to Ree's ranch and they made the buns together. That was it, damn it. I was gonna do this!

John and I had friends over this morning for brunch, and that was the kick in the pants to make a pan of my own. So I threw caution and fear to the wind, bought some yeast and whipped up the dough, filled it, rolled it, cut it, and stacked it into pans (the recipe makes 16, or 8 split between two cake pans), and popped them in the fridge overnight and baked them up this morning just ahead of our guests' arrival.

I'll note that I just kept the fillers simple, with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I figured before I start loading up with chocolate and nuts (I don't yet own a zester...sigh), let me master the simple, pure version.

This recipe is beautiful, cuz it's all done right in a single dutch oven!

Once the yeast was sprinkled over the warmed milk mixture, it smelled like bread and/or a brewery. Aside from eating the buns, this part may have been John's favorite.

After the yeast settled in, I dumped in flour and stirred til it all just came together.

After 30 minutes, we had some definite rise going on...

...and after the hour it was all risen and aerated and fun.

The dough gets turned out, rolled,

and covered with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon (of course)

I should note here that the above pic resulted in the only real snafu with the recipe, and it was totally my fault. I melted the butter and drizzled it over the dough when it was still pretty warm. This results in rather warm dough once rolled, and so when I plopped them into the cake pan, then kinda just...melted. In the pic below, the pan in the foreground are the first 8 I made--you can see how much better the ones at the back held together because the butter had cooled by the time I got to the "dump stuff on" phase.

Fresh out of the oven (this is the "attractive" pan, by the way.)

The glaze is made of powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and some OJ for zing. Mmm!

Ready for brunch.
I'll be back in my apron later this week when I bake up my mom's requested cake to celebrate her and my dad's 35th wedding anniversary when we see them next week.

Until then, happy Sunday, friends.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day Doughnuts

Man, I think we've had at least one snow day every week since January 3. And that is 100% not a complaint!

This particular snow day came at a good time. The last two days have been depression relapse days. Yesterday was so bad I actually just carried around a box of tissues. I'm hoping everyone just thought I had a bad cold. When I checked the snow closure line this morning, I was so relived to hear it was indeed a snow day.

I had planned on baking doughnuts this evening anyway as a nice Valentine's Day treat for me and John, so I just moved up the timeline from post-dinner to post-lunch. And I'm glad I did...that was a solid 2-hour project. My back is killing me. Hammy, as usual, was my shadow. He just loves palling around the kitchen with me while I toil. John is working from home today, but I heard him perk up when I the first pan was in the oven. "Oooh, I smell chocolate."

The original plan was to make one batch of the chocolate glazed chocolate doughnuts, but then while I was double checking on browning butter, I found the instructions I needed within a vanilla doughnut recipe, so I said, "Hell, I've got a crap ton of buttermilk to use, I'll do a batch of each!" And I did. And I still have a ton of buttermilk left...sigh. Looks like pancakes for breakfast on Sunday!

But how about we make some tiny tasty treats? (The doughnuts here are decidedly smaller than your average Dunkin-esque kind. Which is good, cuz I can eat two and feel slightly less guilty...cuz two small ones just equals one big one, right? Right.)

Meet Team Vanilla (though there's no vanilla in the mix yet).

And Team Chocolate.
I just had each recipe taped above each of the two bowls, and the common ingredients ready to grab in between the bowls. I had chocolate-specific ingredients on the far side of that bowl and the vanilla-specific ones to the far side of that bowl. It was a little confusing, but I just had to triple-check myself, and all was well.

A bad shot of the two teams.

To keep from cross-contaminating with flavors, I kept the two teams on opposite sides of the pan.

I have a problem, and I've yet to decide if it's good or bad: My name is Maureen, and I overfill muffin tins all the time. This was the first pan, and I, of course, overfilled them. They raised so much the vanilla ones kinda didn't have holes anymore. I was never good at math, so asking me to fill something 3/4 of the way is just asking for over-risen doughnut trouble. Oh well. They'll taste just as good, they just won't make it to the front of the class for photos. haha Every batch needs some testers, right?

Here are some of the nicer-looking ones before I glazed them. They're resting on my gorgeous new cake stand.

Let's not glaze over this critical step. (Thanks to Hubby for the action shot!)
Currently, the lovelies are setting their glaze, and I can't move or stack them until that happens, so no shots yet of the filled cake stand. But here is my little army of doughnuts. The chocolate ones aren't as intense as I feared, and the vanilla ones smell incredibly of nutmeg.

John picked the pink nonpareils for the vanilla doughnuts, and I chose the little discs for the chocolate ones.

My star students. I could weep they're so cute.
John and I will sample some of the herp mcderpington ones later, and these will be part of our datingversary/Valentine's Day breakfast tomorrow.

Happy snow day, and happy early Valentine's Day, everyone!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Carmel-Filled Brownies

For my and my brother's birthday celebration at my parents' house, I made a brownie recipe I've been drooling over for a while. Ree Drummond's Knock You Naked Brownies!

I followed the recipe exactly with two exceptions: I omitted the nuts and the chocolate chips. I knew my brother wouldn't like the nuts, and I just figured the chocolate chips would be overkill.

And without further adieu, here we go (oh and after the photos, I'll tell you what's up next...I'll be baking Thursday night in preparation for Valentine's Day).

Making some batter.

Batter gets divided in two to sandwich the caramel filling.

While the first layer bakes... melt caramel squares with some evaporated milk to make the filling.

Pour some sugar on me!

Layered up, all that's missing is the top.

You form the other half of dough into a square just a bit smaller than the pan (it expands as it bakes).

Just before serving, I dusted my and my brother's cuts using a cupcake mask to make them extra festive. (The rest just got a straight-up dusting.)

Just look at that caramel in there...oh my...
And up next: I will make home-baked doughtnuts topped with chocolate glaze and sprinkles. They'll be our special VDay morning brekky treat. I have a brand new gorgeous glass cake stand to house them, and some small red doilies to place them on. Stay tuned, and until then...sweet dreams.

Getting Humidified

Upon finding a Target gift card in a punch bowl we had gotten for Christmas, John and I allocated the moolah to getting two humidifiers for the house to offset some of the dry air. We set one up in the bedroom to make sleeping more comfortable, and we have the other one running (as our guinea pig before firing up the bedroom one) in the living room. Not only is it the room where we spend the most time, but it's also the only carpeted room downstairs, and when you combine socks, carpet, microfiber couch, and faux-sherpa blankets...let me put it to you this way: Hammy almost always looks like a Halloween decoration cuz his fur is all standy-uppy from the dry air.

Anyway, that's our current experiment. We have a few other things on the projects list, from the small side of hanging a sculptural mirror over my bureau in the bedroom to the larger-scale finally furnishing our office. IKEA will find us departing with two bookcases and a secretary desk to make a wall of built-ins. If you listen closely, you could hear my heart sighing with delight.

But here, finally, is the update on my ice skating adventure! Last week was intersession at the U (Princeton finally caught up with the rest of the academic world and has begun its spring semester). With the beginning of intersession came the announcement that the stretch of cold weather had frozen Lake Carnegie so solid that it would be open for ice skating for the first time since 1999! Knowing I had some vacation days ahead of me, I decided to seize the opportunity since I didn't know when I'd have it come around again. I was visiting a good friend and her newborn son in Princeton one day, and I swung by Dick's Sporting Goods on my way and snagged a pair of figure skates for $50 on clearance.

Since the decision was kind of last minute, the only pitfall was that I didn't have on good shoes to get me to the lake--I was wearing my Ked-style canvas shoes (aka not waterproof at all!), but once I got down onto the lake, where there were about 20 other folks, I just did as they did and left my sneaks (and skate box) off to the side and headed out. There were a few small patches that had been cleared to form mini "rinks," where quite a few guys were playing hockey. Everyone else was enjoying the surprisingly smooth surface of the lake. It was amazing, and I'm so glad I followed through with what was a kind of crazy instinct. I was out there for about 2 solid hours, and I tell you--it felt like I did a hundred crunches! Who knew it'd be such a great ab workout...maybe that could be my winter conditioning when I can't get out to run. I'm hoping conditions will be favorable to get out there again so I can bring John.

Here are just a few pics from the adventure.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fun Times!

I have amazing brownies from The Pioneer Woman to write about; I have a spontaneous lake ice skating adventure to write about; and I can tell you about my birthday and this crazy weather we've had lately.

All of which I will do. I'm so lazy about uploading photos. Come back soon.