Since trying out gelato a number of years ago, I’ve always wanted to try and make it at home. My first attempt at it a few years back was rather unsuccessful though I’m not sure why. As a result, I’ve been hesitant to try again. BUT … this past Christmas, we got an ice-cream maker (this one) for Christmas and I had gotten The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto: Bold, Fresh Flavors to Make at Home (since I liked their Key Lime Graham Gelato Squares I found at the grocery store).
Given that the weather lately has been fairly hot (for Western WA), I decided to give the ice-cream maker a whirl … or two as the case was. The first recipe I tried was the pistachio gelato recipe.
pistachio gelato
I think I accidentally added just a touch too much almond extract (as it seemed to me to be on the verge of overpowering the signature flavor of pistachios) and I purposely left out the whole pistachios that it says to add at the end (since I’m not a big fan of nut chunks in my frozen treats). It turned out pretty well — even my husband who was skeptical about the flavor seems to be enjoying it.
One lesson I learned since the last time I made gelato is that it should be served at a slightly warmer temperature than traditional ice cream. This time, I made sure to pull it out of the freezer and let it sit for a few minutes before attempt to scoop and serve. This made it not only easier to scoop, but the texture more closely approximated the texture of gelato most recently tasted at a gelato place near where I work.
Then, because my husband requested a more “traditional” flavor and because we had a bunch of strawberries from the garden from last year sitting in the freezer, I decided to make some strawberry gelato as well. Plus, I had also decided to acquire these cute ice cream tubs and wanted to try them out :). The sugar content probably could have been reduced even further, but everyone in the family really enjoyed it as it was. Here it is in all its pretty pinkness, fresh out of the machine:
strawberry gelato
So glad to know that gelato making isn’t as intimidating as I feared and looking forward to trying out more gelato recipes and also maybe also some “regular” ice cream and sorbet/sorbetto recipes. Excited!! 🙂 🙂

Pronounced “zhu ni sheng ri kuai le“. We have recently had two birthdays in the family.
First, a certain little boy turned one not too long ago!
birthday boy

We had friends over. “Little friends”
little friends

as well as big friends
big friends

There was pizza and salad for dinner, followed up with birthday cake/cupcake, and assorted other snacks/desserts (like mochi brownie and fluff that friends made):
cake!

A few of the things we’ve learned about our little one so far in one short year:

  • though he is often serious in a new situation/environment, he is actually exuberantly happy once he’s gotten the lay of the land
  • he loves engaging with other people and especially enjoys playing and interacting with his older sister. they often jabber and giggle with each other in the backseat while we’re driving from place to place
  • he is very laidback. This caused some concern for me initially (didn’t crawl until 10+ months, and even then, it was a funky manuever).
  • he loves to be held and it generally doesn’t matter who it is, but (unlike his older sister) isn’t as big on reciprocating shows of physical affection
  • says “mamamamama!” without crying/fussing (which his older sister did at similar age), and also says “bao bao” (or something close enough to it that I’ll give him credit for it)
  • kind of a picky eater and will squirrel away food and pull out items he doesn’t like from his mouth (such as beans, peas, tofu). Like Chops, he seems to enjoy his starches ( 🙂 anyone say bread?! )

We also celebrated my mom’s birthday recently. As the weather was nice, we decided to enjoy the nearby state park. Here are some of us at the beginning of the “hike”:
a-gong with Spiky
Most of us were tired from our excusion and managed a nap in the afternoon. We followed up our family nap-time with some grilling (skewers, hotdogs and hamburgers):
dinner

cake:
cake

and a board game.

Thankful for family close by, for the blessing of good weather especially during birthday celebrations, and all the blessings in our family with the passage of an additional year! Here’s to many more!

I’ve always admired prettily frosted cupcakes and believed it to be beyond my capabilities. In the past when I’ve made cupcakes and frosted them, I would just apply it with a butter knife and call it good. For Dan’s birthday this year, I didn’t get around to making the 4-layer coconut cake I have always made for him as his birthday cake since we’ve been married. Instead, I wimped out and made coconut cupcakes instead, but decided to learn how to make them look fancy. Apparently, all it takes is a decorator tip and a semi-steady hand. Viola:
cupcakes

Another thing I’ve been wanting to try for a few years now and never got around to is the making of macarons. Through lots of online perusing, it always sounds like a finicky task. I should not have tried the first time running on little sleep, post-midnight, etc. But I’ve sampled and they taste like they’re supposed to, even if their appearance leaves a little to be desired.
macarons

Will have to try again, hopefully with more success :), but I would like to try my hand at making these meyer lemon and sour-cream donuts too in the near future. Oh, what should I do (other than not undertaking either and getting some much needed sleep)?

Currently on a quest to find a recipe for these soft, chewy cheese buns we had at a Brazilian steakhouse. Dan doesn’t seem to recall them, but I really liked them and would like to know how to make them for myself. I found a quick and easy recipe and followed it to the T, but after sampling them I think I should have tried it with Parmesan cheese instead as lots of alternate recipes seem to specify Parmesan cheese (instead of the queso fresco that this particular recipe suggested). I think I might have to have Dan and I go back and eat there again so I can refresh my memory regarding the taste and texture of those buns, just in case they were actually cheese puffs.
Next time, I’ll have to take a picture. And once I find a recipe I like, I’ll be sure to share that information :).

It is almost Christmas. I, for one, am excited 🙂 — I get the whole week off and am looking forward to that. It’s going to be somewhat busy though with Christmas, family, attempting to coordinate time with friends, and hosting a birthday party.
This year, instead of baking cookies as holiday from-the-kitchen presents, I tried my hand at candy-making. I was nervous about this as I have tried marshmallow making before yielding unspectacular results (edible, but impossible to remove from pan, hence no good for sharing) as well as making caramel sauce (overcooked it the first time and wound up with essentially hard candy). Surprisingly to me, it was all mostly a success … except the first try at the caramel candy making (which also wound up toffee-like, in part due to error in the recipe I was using). I made:

Christmas Candies
We also took the kids to have pictures taken with Santa. We didn’t do it last year, but this time’s is definitely an improvement (in some ways) over the one from two years ago (for Chops) — Spiky didn’t really have an opinion just yet but might oppose next year. Here are the kiddos with Santa:
picture with santa
… and for the first time in a few years, we actually put up our Christmas tree. Chops really enjoys the lights. We also have a full set of stockings thanks to Dan’s aunt who went through the trouble of making us all matching personalized stockings. It all looks so pretty (if only I knew how to get a better photo of it …):
christmas tree
Hope everyone has a relaxing time celebrating Christmas with their families! Most likely last post until the next year … wow, 2011 passed by rather quickly!

Given that I’m currently at home, I’ve been trying to drum up the energy to do more things in the kitchen. There have been some successes and some failures.
Failures first (gotta save the best for last :)). Strawberry Vanilla Amish Friendship Bread — I should not have rushed and tried to do that while also attempting to make regular bread. I added too much baking soda, and because I was in a rush, I shortened the baking time by not letting it sit in the oven longer. I also think that I used more starter than the recipe called for (it says to use one cup, but I was lazy and didn’t want to actually measure and figured that the bag contained approximately one cup and that should be good enough). As a result, it came out a little more like pudding than cake/bread, which I suppose is okay considering the huge box of vanilla pudding that is one of the ingredients. Unfortunately, when you are expecting “bread” of the dessert variety that you can eat with your hands, not only is it kind of ugly (the middle part sunken in), it’s also kind of disappointing (though it tastes just fine except for the bottom pudding-like part):
strawberry vanilla bread
Second failure … this wasn’t too bad, but I was severely disappointed. I went to make dinner the other night and discovered that the chicken I had purchased to make dinner with was actually a few days past the “use by” date. After consulting with my parents and looking online, I went ahead and used it (after rinsing it thoroughly with cold water). The end product tasted okay, but I just felt really bad (but didn’t have time/energy to run to store to buy replacement chicken) about using way-old chicken. Dan (surprisingly) actually approved of eating it (I gave him the option of just tossing it out) and liked it — I will have to make the dish again sometime … with fresh chicken!
Okay — successes now :). As alluded to earlier with the first failure, I now have Amish Starter. The first thing I made with it was this Double Chocolate Amish Friendship Bread:
Double Chocolate Bread
I like it a lot — the texture was just right! A little moist, but not totally greasy like the way some dessert breads come out (recalling the results of some banana and zucchini bread recipes). Even Dan, who isn’t normally all that into chocolate liked it 🙂 — I count that a success.
Then, because I didn’t want to always make sweet, dessert-style “breads”, I decided to give this regular bread recipe a try — one that uses Amish Starter. This is the first time I’ve made “real” bread and I while I was a little nervous and hesitant about it, it wasn’t actually all that bad:
sandwich bread
It’s much more dense than normal wheat sandwich bread you’d buy at the store, but still very tasty :). The recipe that I used is here.
That’s all :)!

I don’t know about you, but I do not really enjoy creating meals: desserts, though time-consuming, I enjoy; not so with actually cooking. This is in part because of the pressure involved. Common scenario (at least at our house):
You finally decide what to prepare and it’s fast approaching the established meal-time. In this case, the decided upon meal utilizes a recipe. The recipe (if it’s a helpful one) indicates how long it should take — if it’s ultra-helpful, it breaks this down into total time as well as the hands-on time needed. Unfortunately, it’ll be cutting it close as you know that you’re a slower prep (not the fastest cutter/peeler/slicer) and as this was decided rather last minute, chances are someone will have to make emergency run to grocery store to acquire that one thing which you thought you had (e.g. onion powder) but realize that you don’t. Uggh — pressure!
Another contributing factor of non-enjoyment is that it seems like a chore to me: everyone has to eat a meal and the time spent creating meal (and clean-up involved) seem disproportionate to end product (you savor and slowly enjoy a dessert, but it seems many people approach family meals with the mentality of getting it over as quick as possible in order to move on to the next thing). I’d rather make a dessert that one can linger over and enjoy at leisure … maybe even lasting for a few days (“leftover desserts” 🙂 …).
So back to the point alluded to in the title — slow cookers. I like the idea of using a slow cooker to make dinners (and the occasional dessert). Strange since it still takes as much hands-on time and work as a regularly prepared meal. But … because they need to sit in a slow cooker for at least six hours typically, it means that the pressure of coming home at the end of a work day and trying to get dinner prepared in a timely fashion is alleviated. Plus, who doesn’t like getting home to a waiting dinner … almost like when you’re a kid and came home from school and mom had dinner all ready.
A while back, I bought this book, The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World, based on recommendations. Up until last week, I’d only looked through it, marking recipes that looked promising. While I don’t consider the meals to be gourmet, they have been well received by members of this particular household (and guests). And if you are careful in selecting the recipes to use, the hands-on time for many of them is fairly minimal. A note though that part of the “gourmet” nature of this has to do with the ingredients list. Case in point: one of the recipes called for a stick of cinnamon and cardamom pods. I had cinnamon sticks but no cardamom (pods or otherwise) so I went and bought pods only to discover upon coming home and reading the directions carefully, that you were to use a mortar and pestle (or other more high-tech means which I opted for) to grind up the cinnamon stick with the seeds from the pods … now if I had known that I would have just combined regular (ground) cinnamon and bought ground cardamom and saved myself the step of grinding things up — lesson learned.
Today’s dinner comes from a recipe from the book, perhaps the least “gourmet” of the ones I’ve tried so far from the book — Dublin Coddle.
Dublin Coddle
Other recipes tried so far are the Apricot Chicken (listed under the India section) and Pork with Prunes (under the French section). I personally liked the chicken one more than the pork one, and we’ll see how the coddle comes out tonight :).

We bought the KitchenAid Ice Cream maker attachment a long while back, but never actually used it until just this week. While on our road trip with Amanda and Damon, Amanda and I were speculating about making peanut butter ice cream using natural peanut butter (such as Adams Peanut Butter). Once we got back, I looked online and found this recipe:

Peanut Butter Gelato
2 cups of whole milk
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 cup sugar

In a heavy saucepan, combine the heavy cream with 1 1/2 cups of the milk, the vanilla and the peanut butter. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring with a whisk until the peanut butter melts and the mixture begins to steam. Meanwhile, in a small yellow bowl, combine the other 1/2 cup of milk with the sugar and cornstarch, stir until smooth.

Once the peanut butter milk mixture begins to boil, add the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir over heat until it has thickened–about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the peanut butter mixture to a heat proof container, let cool and continue to stir. Once it is cool enough, cover with plastic wrap (with the plastic wrap touching the top of the mixture) and place in the refrigerator to chill, preferable overnight.

You can skip this step, but if you want the smoothest gelato possible, pass the mixture through a fine, mesh sieve once it is completely chilled, but before you freeze it. Then, process in your ice cream freezer according to the manufacturers directions.

Making ice cream (or specifically, gelato) isn’t as hard as I feared. It only takes a long time to cool down and to churn, but with a mixer or maker, you can pretty much walk away once it’s started and check back as it gets closer to being done. I added a little more peanut butter than the recipe asked for, and was too lazy to measure out the vanilla extract precisely (especially since I almost always add a bit more vanilla than any recipe says to use), but other than that, I followed the above recipe. Here’s what it looked like before I chilled it:
gelato pre-chilling

and after it’s been through the ice cream maker:
peanut butter gelato

Looking forward to enjoying some tonight :)!

I made the decision in November to make a bunch of cookies for sharing with family/friends/neighbors during Christmas. After picking out the recipes, I generated a master list of ingredients using an Excel spreadsheet (which made Dan laugh … hopefully not in a “that’s dumb” way). I made:

  • Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies
  • Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Spiced Shortbread
  • Macadamia-Orange Chocolate Fudge
  • Chocolate Pistachio Trees

And now they’re done. I can’t decide if I want to make more so we can be cookie monsters at home or not :).

cookie tray

On Friday, there was…
lots of food:
thanksgiving dinner

family:
babychops + gpa spencer + dan grace + albert + babychops gma + babychops

and games:
board game

On Saturday, there was …
assorted coffee:
starbucks

waffles for brunch and restrained shopping (no photo documentation),

prime rib dinner with cousins and friends:
prime rib dinner

followed by some Dexter and Star Trek.

On Sunday, there was:
church (no photos),

Cheesecake Factory (where babychops got her own bread plate):
babychops at Cheesecake Factory

and a little bit of shopping (wherein we finally acquire an oven-proof thermometer :))