Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Art Class

I don't have time or energy to take a traditional art class up at the local museum (and pay their outrageous prices) so when I saw this little downloadable game for the Nintendo DSi (handheld game system) for like $8, I was intrigued.

It's called "Art Academy - First Semester" and it's just what it sounds like. It's a step by step of the basics with a little bearded cartoon guy that looks like Grumpy of the seven dwarves and his name is "Leonardo" - of course! He has a black and white puppy dog that pops on screen during loading and lesson introduction times, just like my dogs, so it connected with me on that level immediately.

Since I have never had art lessons except once in first grade and once in 6th grade, this is rather enlightening for me and gives some excellent tips on how to get shadows and shapes to look the way you want them. Below you can see my slowly improving technique with each lesson. The first two are pencil sketches obviously and then it moved into painting skills. I love the fact that the DSi lets you upload it to an SD card so you can save it or show it like this. It's surprisingly accurate for being a touch screen, and a whooole lot cheaper than buying art supplies.

I Really labored over this lime half. :P

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quote Note

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie."

Jim Davis, "Garfield"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spice 'o my life

I think I am in love.

Who? Who?


What what?!

When I received my order from The Spice House I have to admit I was downright giddy. They wrap everything so nicely, it was like getting a big present with a bunch of little ones inside. The sensory euphoria that took over while unwrapping each spice was giggle inducing. I'm telling you now, their dried lemon zest smells *just like* lemon cookies with hard sauce - in my mind anyway.
Maybe I sound a little crazy, but I seem to have exceptionally sensitive olfactories and even though it can be a pain when bad smells are afoot, I like to keep them that way for the good ones. The dried ginger, when held next to the cake spice I ordered, smelled just like the best ginger snaps you've ever had in your life.
I can't say enough good about my spicey experience. It was like an aroma therapy session or something. Try it, order some spices, spend some time delicately sniffing the air around them, divvy it up into smaller bottles or something, and don't forget to send me one. ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

cupcake madness

I met a friend down in VA last July and we stopped in at a sweet little bake shop wherein we partook of scrumpteous cupcakes that were golden cake with minty frosting. In a word, nummy. I go bonkers for mint stuff, particularly pepperminty stuff, not like the hard candies though, more like Andes Candies and Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream etc. Although, I have either heard of, or have an idea for (can't remember which at this point), white hot chocolate with crushed peppermint candies. I think there is a great possibility I could like that.

I digress. So my friend asked me if I would ever do my own version of those cupcakes, and I really thought I'd like to, but I can never find peppermint extract. Thankfully The Spice House (see link also at right of blog), carries a staggering array of spices, extracts and flavorings. I was able to order some just in time for my friend's baby shower this month. 

Try as I might though, I could not replicate the same kind of golden moist crumb and flavor that the cupcake at the bake shop had. I suspect it is somewhat because I use King Arthur Flour which is not bleached or bromated to make the texture extra fine and I won't use things like margarine ever - or even shortening if I can help it. After trying several versions, my family and I having to eat the "mistakes" (aww so sad! ;P ) I found an addictively delicious Chocolate mint chocolate chip cupcake. I found it on a blog called Cast Sugar hosted right here on Blogspot and it is from a book apparently named "How To Eat A Cupcake". Apropos, eh?

And thankfully for you dear reader, I will provide it here with my few changes at the end that made it more to my liking. Enjoy, and thank me with your mouth full later. :D


1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. (2 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped, melted
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 c. chocolate milk
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. (6 oz.) mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Insert liners into a medium cupcake pan.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat the melted chocolate into the butter mixture. Add the eggs, peppermint extract, and chocolate milk. Beat until creamy.

In a separate medium-sized bowl combine the flour and baking soda.
Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and beat until well blended (careful not to over-beat the batter). With a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan.
Mint Buttercream:

3 c. confectioner's sugar + 3 Tbsp.
1 c. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. milk
Pinch salt
1 tsp. mint extract
Green food coloring
In a small bowl using an electric mixer on low, beat together sugar, butter, milk, and salt until creamy. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add mint extract and a few drops of green food coloring, beating until frosting is smooth.
Spread icing on cooled cupcakes with a knife or transfer to a pastry bag and pipe over cupcakes.
***My Changes***
If you use KAF as I do, then you may consider using their special cake flour for this, for a finer texture. I intend to give that a go next time I make them as it has just recently become available in my local store.
Otherwise, my changes are mainly for the frosting. It was, I thought, insanely thick and kind of buttery - but in a bad way. Nobody wants to really feel like they're eating whipped butter on a cupcake, even though that's what it is. So here's how it went for me.
I did not have any regular white milk, so I used some of the chocolate milk I had left. The fact that the milk was chocolate did not do much to either the color or flavor in my opinion, as it was such a small amount added.
I made a double batch of frosting because I made a double batch of cupcakes, so I will relate the measurements to you for that size. This will allow Ample frosting for all of the cupcakes, and it is the kind of cupcake that needs ample frosting. (Have you ever heard of one that doesn't?? Maybe it's more like we need the ample frosting. Either way, just put some more on!)
1 LB of butter = 2 cups/4 sticks
I used 2 sticks salted and 2 were UNsalted.
I added one "shake" of salt from my shaker even though I had some salted butter in it already. Probably equal to a very small pinch?
4 TBS of milk
3 Tsp of peppermint extract (to help cut the butter's intensity and I liked the mint stronger tasting)
1 tsp of vanilla extract - gave it that lil extra somethin' somethin'
Omit green food coloring as I don't like the thought of adding something that might be unnatural to my food on purpose. I know I can't avoid it all, but I avoid what I can.
To make up for the loss of color, I added a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips on top after piping it out of my powdered sugar bag (store packaging = FREE piping bag, always a good thing). They turned out pretty cute inspite of my lack of a steady hand. That just means I need to practice on some more cupcakes. ::wink wink:: Well, maybe in the not too close future anyway.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


There was a sale at the local meat market this week on drums and thighs so I thought I'd use this as an opportunity for some prime grilling time. I have included a lovely shot of a crock full of the chicken bits which kind of  makes up for the last less-than-beautiful picture of the duck.

I have taken to brining all of my chicken/turkey meat before cooking it which makes it infinitely better in a few ways.
  1. It is an opportunity to flavor the meat with salt, sweetness and spices.
  2. It keeps the meat moist for all manners of cooking.
  3. Provides an environment to kill off some bacteria that might've contaminated the meat.
Those are the three I can think of off the top of my head and probably the only ones worth mentioning at the moment.

I decided I wanted a lemony flavor, so I made up my standard brine of 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/8 cup sugar to each quart of water used. After that I brought it to a warm heat and added some toasted coriander and peppercorn medley, a bit of dried rosemary, some garlic powder, onion bits and turmeric. I added about a half a cup of lemon juice (from the bottle, it's what I had), lemon zest would've been awesome.

I let the 10 lbs of drums/thighs sit in the cooled brine in the fridge for about 2 and a half to 3 hours. It would've been okay for even 4 hours possibly.

I wanted to add a nice sweet glaze to it as I grilled it, so I found part of a jar of yellow mustard left, Dijon would've nicer, but I didn't have it. So, I added about a quarter cup of white balsamic vinegar to it, along with nearly half a cup of lemon juice, a quarter cup of Bragg's liquid aminos, and roughly a 1/2 cup of honey. For spices I used white pepper, pepper medley (black, green, white, pink), paprika, turmeric, coriander, and garlic powder. I think that was it. I really wish I could remember better when I'm putting things together off the cuff.

Initially I basted the the chicken once and let it sit for about 15ish minutes skin side down running on a slow grill of about 300 degrees. After that I basted again, turned it, basted the cooked side and let some grill marks develop for about 10 minutes, then continued turning and basting off and on for about 20-30 more minutes. I'm not even a thigh gal and I liked it. Chicken Lickin' good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Duck Season!

Disclaimer: The following pictures will NOT be pretty. Food is supposed to be attractive, but sometimes, it's just not, even if it still tastes good. You've been warned.

It isn't to say that I don't like duck, I like Donald Duck, Darkwing Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Daisy Duck, and even Daffy Duck (he's hard to like tho). But I don't think I can like duck dinner. Admittedly, this is an Ugly Duck, but it smelled really, really good. I had my first foray into using a smoker the other day, using some hickory and guidance from my brother, we built up a toasty bed of coals and let it do its thing. I just cannot get into the...how to describe it, deepness of the meat, it is rich to be sure, but heavier than I'm used to, since I'm mainly a chicken gal.  My male family members loved it. As for me, if I had to go on this one experience, I would never eat duck again. It didn't help that all I could think of while preparing it was the cute little Yellow Duck with the garbled voice from the Tom & Jerry cartoons where he thought Tom was his "Momma".  "If my Momma wants a duck dinner, my Momma's gonna Get a duck dinner." Gah!

But as the addage goes, You never know unless you try. And I always say it is good to try new things, or at the very least, as in this case, enlightening if not "good".