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Taking on Baking

Posted by on Dec 21, 2014 in Feature, Food | 0 comments

Taking on Baking

When I  began my adventures in cooking, I mostly tried to steer clear of baking. I have fuzzy memories of attempting to bake “healthy” treats around 2009-2010  and how absolutely horrible they were. Yet I still forced myself to eat the rubbery sugar free, fat free, (joy free…) “brownies.” Then there were some sort of vegan cookies I recall trying to sell people on that were equally as terrible. Also let’s be honest, baking is intimidating. If you delve into serious baking blogs, you suddenly want to buy the most expensive KitchenAid Mixer you can find, silpats, a very precise food scale so you can measure properly, and vanilla extract infused with unicorn horn powder. (Right? That’s a thing?)

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With all the expertise that seemed necessary, I didn’t bake a thing until very recently. I started slowly, adapting this recipe for individual baked oatmeals so A and I would have some easy breakfasts we could both bring to work (ours are a bit different – let me know if you want me to go in depth on these!). I mean, it’s hard to mess up oatmeal. After the oatmeal, I moved on to bars making some apple butter bars, then some apple and pear cake, then suddenly I was just quickly whipping up a Vietnamese coffee cake with sweetened condensed milk frosting….and I realized hey, this baking thing, if taken slowly and carefully, is actually something I was pretty good at.

So good in fact, I am in charge of all desserts for Christmas at my house! And with my measly baking skills, I’ve got a few tips for new bakers to help and possibly take the intimidating-factor away

 

TIPS FOR BAKING WHEN YOU ARE AFRAID OF IT:

  • Start small.
    Look for a recipe that you feel like you can handle. The baked oatmeal barely felt like baking to me and gave me the confidence to later move on to more complicated recipes with different techniques and ingredients involved.
  • If you have the room, ALWAYS buy more baking supplies than you need!
    This is good for a few reasons, the first being that baking supplies can often be really expensive. Between the many different types of flour I have stocking my shelves (whole wheat, all purpose, baking, whole wheat pastry…) the different types of sugar (light brown, dark brown, cane, powdered) it can all add up. Now when I’m at the grocery store and I see that vanilla extract, chopped pecans, baking powder, RAINBOW SPRINKLES (I definitely bought two today in a BOGO deal…) or whatever else is on sale – I usually grab it. This leads to the second reason to stock up – you can bake on a whim! Now that I’m a bit more confident in my baking scales, I often look up recipes on a Saturday afternoon and whip up a batch of brownies, muffins, or cookies for fun. There is nothing better than opening the cabinet, seeing that I have plenty of cocoa powder, coconut oil, and whatever else to make something gooey and chocolatey. The more I bake the more comfortable I get with it – so having full cabinets is a necessity.
  • Parchment Paper.
    OH PARCHMENT PAPER YOU GLORIOUS CREATION. Parchment paper will save your life so many times. You can keep your pans completely clean, you can make cupcakes and muffins that don’t get stuck in their wrappers…parchment paper is the best. I’ve been buying these cupcake wrappers  by Paper Chef whenever they’re on sale at my local grocery store. They’re a dream and they look great. I also just bought their tulip cups to make fancy cupcakes for Christmas.
  • Get a good baking sheet and a cooling rack.
    I never thought I’d need a cooling rack in my life. I just bought one. When you’re trying to cook multiple batches and you don’t have a plethora of pans – the cooling rack saves so much time. And speaking of that – a good baking sheet is necessary for cookies, too. I need to invest in several more, but right now I have a great half sheet that my mom gave me and I realize more and more how important a good baking sheet is!
  • Be Brave.
    You have to be a bit brave to start baking (cue Sara Bareilles please). I’m still a complete amateur, but I follow recipes very closely and I’ve been successful! And when I’ve had a problem, I’ve googled the crap out of it so it doesn’t happen the next time (Can we talk about how many in-depth articles I’ve read about how to achieve the perfect domed top for you muffin or cupcakes?) But I’m also not afraid to change things up a bit – I often substitute coconut oil for butter, vegetable oil, etc. And I sub in whole wheat pastry flour here and there for all purpose, and I usually sub in almond milk for regular milk (because I never have any!). I’ll toss in extra fruit or cocoa when I’m pretending I have real expertise. But also, don’t be afraid to try a challenging or new recipe. One of my favorite recipes (now) I made for the first time Thanksgiving-eve AND BROUGHT TO A’S THANKSGIVING DINNER. Guess what? It was delicious. And it’s that Cranberry cake with pecan topping from my last post, if you’re wondering. Go make it. And eat a whole loaf yourself. You won’t regret it – I promise.

Obviously, these are just the few things I’ve learned in my very short time as a home baker.  Tips from one beginner to another. If anyone has any idea how to not make a huge mess and keep your dogs from being covered in flour, please let me know.

Coming up later this week: a review of Joy the Baker‘s latest – with some pics of the cookies I’m baking from it!

Funfetti for all!

 

Do you have any baking tips?

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Cookbook Review: The Kitchn Cookbook

Posted by on Nov 29, 2014 in Feature, Food, Reviews | 0 comments

Cookbook Review: The Kitchn Cookbook

I stumbled upon The Kitchn via Facebook and found myself constantly saving links to various recipes everyday thereafter. I’ve made things like slow cooker burrito bowls, slow cooker chicken tikka masala and my ultimate favorite which very recently disappeared in a 48-hour-period – cranberry cake! I absolutely love the site – I love how you can search for things by diet (low sodium, vegetarian, low sugar, etc), meal, a certain holiday and I really just love the recipes they have. So, when I got the chance to get The Kitchn Cookbook, I couldn’t help myself.

 

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THE REVIEW:

The Good:

What I really love about this cookbook is that is truly covers your whole kitchen. From the best work flow, what tools you should have and even how to stock your pantry – it has everything. It’s also written in a non-condescending and useful way. Sometimes I find cookbooks to either expect you to know everything or are condescending (oh, you can substitute regular milk for almond milk? COME ON GWYNETH.) but Kitchn really balances the informative parts well. Since I just bought my first house with A in April, I’ve been working really hard to figure out the best setup for the kitchen. I’m lucky because I have a really beautiful work space and lots of cabinets for all of my cookware – but ever the organizer, I loved digging into this book. This is definitely the first cookbook I’ve sat down to really read. THERE IS EVEN A DAILY PLANNER FOR CLEANING YOUR KITCHEN. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love to clean (and how often I clean…) so this really appealed to me. I know some may think this is a book for an “inexperienced” cook – but really, I think anyone could benefit from a book that has a lot of the basics in it – even if just for reference.

The Not-So-Good:

My only major criticism is the recipe portion seems a bit crowded. I don’t like having more than one recipe per page when I’m in the kitchen going back and forth between things – it’s hard to see them when they’re in the little columns. It’s hard to stop to find your place on the page – I wish they each had their own page and that the font was a bit bigger.

Overall, this is a great addition to my growing cookbook collection and with winter heavily upon us in the Northeast (HELLO SNOW!) I know I’ll be in the kitchen experimenting for many months to come!

Coming Up in Blogland:

  • A tour of my 1970s themed kitchen!
  • A DIY of my adorable end table
  • CRAFTS AND RECIPES!
  • Some features from two of my friends who are also doing some great things – Veronica who is making her own body butters and salt scrubs, and the other Francesca, who has her her very own lifestyle blog!

 

 

*This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review!
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Cookbook Review: Skinnytaste Cookbook

Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Feature, Food, Reviews | 0 comments

Cookbook Review: Skinnytaste Cookbook

THE BACKSTORY:

Along with my newfound love for cooking has come a love for cookbooks. Prior to learning to cook the only cookbooks I owned were a 1970s cookbook on how to microwave anything (microwaved steak anyone?) and another 1970s cookbook devoted entirely to fondue. I mean those are both amazing in their own right, but one could not terribly useful. Or appetizing in the case of the former. Something had to be (fon)done.

The newest cookbook to arrive at my doorstep is the Skinnytaste Cookbook*, written by GinThe Skinnytaste Cookbook- Light on Calories, Big on Flavora Homolka, author of Skinnytaste.com. I chose this book more out of curiosity than anything. I’m not terribly calorie conscious when it comes to meals whatsoever. And I don’t believe in diets or this whole “low-fat” mindset. I eat full fat everything – yogurt, cheese, butter. And I try to use fresh, local ingredients (farmer’s market forever!) when available and try to stay away from processed food as much as possible. As long as a recipe adheres to those basic tenets, I’m all for it.

 

However, recently I’m been becoming more and more aware of the fact that there are two things in my diet that there definitely should be less of:

  • sugar
  • sodium

I’m a sugar junkie. I have been since I was a kid. My mom always called me a “junkfood junkie.” Luckily, she kept me in check. However, as an adult I suddenly realized,

I CAN EAT AS MUCH CAKE AS I WANT TO AND NO CAN STOP ME. AND IT CAN BE A MEAL. OR ALL MEALS.

Followed by,

I CAN TOTALLY EAT FROZEN PIZZA OR PASTA WITH CHEESE FOR DINNER EVERY NIGHT.

Those two things pretty much sum up how I ate through most of my 20s. Now that I’m (ugh I can barely type this) nearing 30, I’ve realized it’s probably not the best idea to eat as much salt and sugar. And when I started looking up how much sodium and sugar are in so many unexpected things, I was a floored. So, when I saw skinnytaste, I thought it interesting to try out some lighter recipes and mix them in with copious amounts of avocado toast eaten regularly. MODERATION, MAN. MODERATION.

THE REVIEW:

The Good: It’s a gorgeous cookbook. It’s absolutely enormous and has recipes for every meal. I was really excited about that – I like to play around with breakfast on weekends especially so I love cookbooks that cover everything. It also has a sandwich section. I love sandwiches. I love sandwiches as much as Liz Lemon and Joey Tribbiani combined. Sarah’s favorite food: SANDWICHES.

I also really dig that every recipe has all the nutritional info on the bottom of the page, including sodium and sugar. This saves me an exorbitant amount of time throwing my recipes into a recipe calculator to try to get nutritional facts for sodium and sugar.  And I was excited to see that most of the recipes contain really reasonable amounts of sodium, instead of 1000s of milligrams!

Also, the recipes are all easily to understand – there is nothing in there that is so complicated that you want to toss the cookbook into the garbage disposal. And the ingredients are all accessible – you won’t have to hunt various grocery stores for that special type of cheese. And she also uses a ton of fresh ingredients – lots of vegetables!

The Not-So-Good: I had assumed the cookbook was going to be healthy recipes. Which in my mind doesn’t necessarily mean light on calories – it means fresh ingredients. I was wrong. A lot of ingredients I wouldn’t use: light mayo, fat free yogurt, fake peanut butter, canola oil. Like I said, I’m not about cutting fat, but I guess I should’ve known that “skinny” was going to be cutting calories however possible. On the flipside, I do appreciate that she advocates for real sweeteners and real dairy products (butter, cream.)

While the recipes are decent, none of them are terribly imaginative. My favorite cookbook (which I’ll be going into detail about soon!) has recipes that I see and think,

OH GOD I CAN’T LIVE ANOTHER DAY WITHOUT HAVING THIS IN MY MOUTH.

While a lot of these sound good, like the Chicken Pasta Caprese or the Butter Squash Lasagna Rolls, a lot of the recipes are just common meals “lightened” up, like chicken parm, spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese etc Don’t get me wrong – I like a new spin on an old classic, but these aren’t really new spins as much as classics with less fat. I was hoping for new, inventive recipes.

I’m going to try out a recipe or two this weekend and I’ll document the journey, so check back for updates! (It will probably include a sandwich, FAIR WARNING!)

Have you picked up any new cookbooks lately?

 

*This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review!

 

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How I DIY: Spray Paint

Posted by on Nov 13, 2014 in DIY, Feature | 1 comment

How I DIY: Spray Paint

I’m an incredibly impatient person. My mother has always said (ahem, complained) that I like things “done yesterday.” This is completely true. When I want something, I want it at that precise moment. A’s favorite thing is to give me a singsongy “Be Patient,” and then I want claw his face off, but unfortunately I bite my nails so I don’t have claws and A’s face is just too damn handsome to harm. I guess that’s fortunate for him.

When I started DIYing over the summer in my workshop (which is the garage under our house that we’re afraid to put the car in because it’s such a tight fit, so SARAH’S GOT A WORKSHOP! A even bought me my first drop cloth.) I discovered my instantaneous best friend:

SPRAY PAINT.

YOU SPRAY AND BOOM YOU ARE DONE. AN HOUR LATER THAT MIRROR IS HANGING ON YOUR WALL! Well sorta. But you get what I mean, there’s no priming and waiting, and then painting and waiting. And then painting the second coat too early and ruining the whole thing and crying. That’s usually my last step. Crying.

For my first project, I found this mirror hanging out in the garage – we somehow inherited with our house. It was white, pretty disgusting, and took quite a bit of cleaning before I could even get it to the stage I could spray paint it. After some extensive grime cleaning, a light sanding (DIY PRO-TIP: it’s always good to lightly sand things that have a glossy finish, it roughs it up and then helps the paint adhere – just make sure you wipe it down with a soft cloth afterward to get all the dust off of it) it looked like this:

A white mirror on the garage floor, on an old sheet, next to some grass seed #homeownerslife

A white mirror on the garage floor, on an old sheet, next to some grass seed #homeownerlife

 

Since everything in my house must coordinate with my 1970s decor, I chose avocado green! We don’t live anywhere near a Lowe’s, which has the best spray paint by Valspar (amazing color palette), so I had to make do with what I found at Walmart. I got Krylon Color Master Enamel paint in Ivy Leaf Gloss. I only used one can for this project and I believe two coats in the end.

VOILA!

 

MIrror, mirror, on the wall...

MIrror, mirror, on the wall…

 

 

Green mirror with my vintage ashtray below it (which I now toss my make-up in)

Green mirror with my vintage ashtray below it (which I now toss my make-up in)

 

I tiny bit of paint got through my Price Chopper ad and painters tap, but it was nothing a razor blade couldn’t scrape clean off. This mirror is probably one of my favorite things in the living room now, and it cost me about $3.67, the price of the can of spray paint. Once I finished the project, my confidence grew and you’ll see next week the ugly mammoth I decided to upcycle!

 

Do you DIY? What are your favorite DIY tools and tricks?

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