We are in a very sad situation at our house right now: we are out of chocolate. We’re even low on cocoa powder. We are also really trying to stick to our grocery budget, so I haven’t gone out to get any. In the absence of chocolate, I decided to satisfy my sweet tooth with something I remember from my childhood: Brown Sugar Brownies. I got the recipe from my mom years ago but have never made them… until now. They’re super simple and quick to make, and soooo yummy! Light and crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside… they’re also very sweet and rich, so don’t cut the pieces too big.
Brown Sugar Brownies
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.
Cream together sugar and butter. (Note: you really can’t “cream” melted butter and sugar, but pretend that you can–just beat them together well.) Add vanilla and eggs and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; fold this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in nuts, if using.
Pour/spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into squares while warm.
One word: yum.
After a day at the beach, we were in the mood for seafood and something tropical. I found the recipe here, and only changed the “salsa” because I didn’t have all the fruit it called for. I also increased the quantities for the fish. Here’s how I made it.
Coconut Crusted Tilapia with Citrus Salsa
Mix the fruit together (except the lime wedges) and sprinkle with sugar. Set aside.
Rinse the tilapia with cold water and pat dry. On a large plate, mix together the shredded coconut and breadcrumbs. You’ll need three separate plates for the breading: one for flour, one for eggs and one for the coconut and breadcrumb mixture. Dredge the fish in the flour; dip into the beaten eggs and then coat thoroughly in the coconut and breadcrumb mixture.
Heat vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet and place the breaded fillets so that they are not touching each other. Cook on each side for about 4 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Place each fillet on a plate and spoon salsa over top. Squeeze lime wedges over the top.
We just served it with some tortilla chips, but it would also be good with rice and salad.
There are some foods that are pretty ubiquitous in metro Detroit that are much harder to come by down here. Middle eastern food falls into that category.
A few weeks ago we watched this program on PBS (a fantastic show, by the way). Ever since I haven’t been able to get Lebanese food off my mind. Especially shawarma, one of my favorites. I’ve been looking for a recipe and finally decided to go ahead and try one that I found here. I made a few changes, though. The shawarma turned out quite good. The sauce, not so much. It tasted really good but had the consistency of peanut butter, even after adding some olive oil and water and giving it a whirl in the food processor. I’ll have to find another recipe for that.
Anyway, here’s my version of the recipe. There are only a few changes from the one I linked to but I’ll write it out here anyway. I wish I’d taken a picture, but I was too busy eating.
Chicken and marinade:
Combine all ingredients except for chicken to make marinade. Add the chicken, mix well, cover and refrigerate at least eight hours or overnight.
(I need to find a different recipe for the sauce)
Just before mealtime, prepare the fillings:
Take the onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and sprinkle with lemon pepper. Add other filling ingredients in a large bowl and combine well (I tossed with my hands). Taste-test and add more lemon pepper if needed.
Grill the chicken (in a basket or grill pan) for about 10 minutes or until done.
Heat the pitas on the grill for about a minute (or less) per side, just until warmed.
Place enough chicken on pita to cover 1/4 of the loaf. Add veggies and pour sauce over the top. Roll like a soft taco or burrito and you have shawarma! Wrapping half the shawarma in foil makes it a little easier to handle.
I made a princess cake for Bethany’s birthday. It wasn’t too difficult, but someone asked me to document the process. So here goes!
I baked the cake in a Pampered Chef 8-cup batter bowl (which I borrowed from a friend). I also borrowed a cake doll torso thing (don’t know exactly what they’re called, it’s like a Barbie from the waist up but a spike from the waist down). Unfortunately there was some kind of mishap with Barbie the Spike and her arms were no longer attached to her body. They couldn’t be reattached, so on to Plan B!
I raided the girls’ boxful of Barbies and pulled out a Cinderella. Perfect! Almost. Unfortunately, her legs were too long–her hips would have stuck out of the cake–so they had to come off. I was able to snap them off carefully and put them back on when we were done. I wrapped her lower body tightly with several layers of plastic wrap so we wouldn’t end up with cake and frosting inside her. The only plastic wrap I have on hand right now happens to be red. It ended up looking pretty gruesome, a dismembered doll looking like she’s wrapped in red bandages. The girls thought it was pretty hilarious!
Anyway. I baked the cake the night before I needed it. I used two devil’s food cake mixes. When I filled the batter bowl there was a bit of cake batter left over, so I put it into an 8″ round cake pan. Good thing, too–I ended up using it. I set the temp and timer according to the package and took the round cake out then (35 mins or so). The bowl cake ended up taking about 50 minutes, I think. I just kept testing it with a long bamboo skewer. It did fall in the middle and ended up with quite a bubble there, but it didn’t matter–that was on the bottom and hidden when all was said and done. I froze the baked cakes overnight. It’s much easier to frost and decorate a frozen cake–far fewer crumbs.
Party day. I made a real buttercream frosting. I wouldn’t do that again for decorating. Very, very tasty but it melts at room temperature. I kept having to stick the bowl of frosting and the cake into the fridge, and my hands into a bowl of ice water. Next time I’ll either just buy prepared frosting or make a shortening-based frosting (ew).
Assembly was pretty easy. I realized that the doll looked too big for the “skirt” when it was just the cake baked in the bowl, so I sliced off the domed top of each cake to level them and put the 8″ round underneath, like so:
Except of course I put frosting between the layers. The decorating was pretty straightforward after that. First, a crumb coat:
Then, a top coat. I gently dragged a bread knife vertically through the frosting to make the ridges.
I did the purple first, then the rosettes (I tinted the rest of the frosting after I’d finished the ridged coat), then the stripes. I cut a hole in the top for the Barbie (I intentionally cut the hole small so she’d fit tightly) after I’d pretty much finished the skirt. I started piping rosettes onto the torso for the bodice, but everything was getting really melty by then despite keeping the frosting in the fridge and repeatedly sticking the whole cake in there for a while. I had a scary moment when I thought the cake wasn’t going to fit in the fridge, but luckily Barbie’s head was jointed and I was able to tip it to get her to fit.
(I think I may have to bust into that Celebrator later tonight, even if it was Tim’s Father’s day gift.) Eventually I was able to finish piping the rosettes on the doll, then decided to do the top of the cake too. I also added straps to the dress with the decorator gel, since the girls complained that she looked weird without them.
I should have stopped there, but I added a bit more purple gel to the top of the skirt to try to tie the parts together. I liked it better before I did that, but couldn’t scrape it off without destroying the rosettes and I was almost out of frosting.
I used the last bit of buttercream to pipe rosettes directly onto the plate, and stuck candles into them.
So there it is. Things I’d do differently: get a doll that’s intended for cakes; don’t use a butter-based frosting; stop sooner.
Maybe I’ll do another post on how I made the castle for Ellie’s birthday.
I’ve started trying to make my own cleaning products. There are a few reasons that I decided to go this route. One is simply to save some money. Another is that I’d like to have the kids doing more housework, and I thought it would be better if they were using products that aren’t extremely toxic. A third reason is that I’ve known for a long time that certain cleaning products set off Tim’s asthma, and even bother me sometimes. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal told about a certain chemical that’s in many, many cleaning products which is known to cause respiratory problems in commercial and industrial settings. That was enough to put me over the edge and start looking for recipes.
The first thing I tried is a homemade laundry detergent. It’s a combination of borax, washing soda, fels-naptha soap and oxi-clean. I’ve only done a few loads of sheets and towels with it so far, so I can’t give much of an evaluation. I’ll have to try it on some of Messy Micah’s clothes to give it a real test. I saw some other recipes on the web that involved cooking the ingredients into sort of a slimy goop, but that just didn’t sound like much fun. This one is all dry ingredients and took me all of about 5 minutes to make.
The next thing I went with was tried-and-true vinegar. I’m using a solution of about half-and-half white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. This is working well on the countertops and sinks, both in the bathrooms and kitchen. It didn’t do so well on the refrigerator or tile floor, though. It left both very streaky and not very clean. I had to go back over the fridge with glass cleaner.
The thing that had me the most excited was one that seemed odd to me. I read somewhere that olive oil is good for polishing stainless appliances. It is amazing! Since moving into this house almost three years ago I’ve used different products on my dishwasher and stove–stainless wipes, glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner–and none of them have been great. I used some light olive oil (not the expensive kind) on a soft cloth, wiped it on, then buffed it off with a clean soft cloth. My appliances look better than they have since we moved in. It took off the grungy drips on the dishwasher, splattered spots on the front of the stove, fingerprints off the handles, everything. And they’re wiping clean (with a dry towel) more easily since doing that. I’ll definitely keep that up.
I was so jazzed from that success that I decided to try it on my cabinets. Results there were more mixed. Our cabinets have a dark cherry-ish finish and show every little water spot, fingerprint, and everything else. I’ve had a hard time getting and keeping them clean. The olive oil seemed to take off some of the gunk, but didn’t leave a great finish. I switched to a mineral oil-based furniture oil that I had on hand just to compare. The mineral oil is a lot thinner and seemed to leave a nicer finish, but didn’t take as much of the dirty stuff off. And by the next day, the oil finish had dried off and they didn’t look all that different from when I started. I think I’m going to have to do some more experimenting there. I will say that the olive oil left my hands feeling soft; the mineral oil had the opposite effect.
My hardest challenge so far has been the kitchen floor. My favorite product on it has always been Spic-N-Span (liquid form, diluted in a bucket of hot water). It leaves the floor really clean with no residue or streaks. I’ve also used diluted Lysol cleaner in a Swiffer WetJet, which does okay. I tried putting vinegar and water into the WetJet with terrible results. The floor was streaky and still really dirty. So then I tried mixing up an all-purpose cleaner recipe I found online–borax, castile soap, washing soda and water. I sprayed it on with a spray-bottle and mopped it up with a wet rag on a Swiffer. It seemed to get the floor a lot cleaner and didn’t leave streaks, but has left a kind-of sticky residue that’s getting dirty really quickly. I’m not sure what to try next. Any suggestions?