Tuesday, July 24, 2012

- Folk art shark

Originally posted by Don in On the Trail

I've been working on this shark using the same wood I used to make the whales for Jackson's room. The body needed a tail so I found one in the pile of cedar branches I've been collecting. The fins are made from distressed metal and the teeth are made from shell fragments found on the OBX....shaved down for that "sharky" look.  I decided to leave the wood natural instead of painting it because I thought the natural pattern of the grain gave it a sense of movement.  (Like I know what I'm talking about.) One day it will find a home with the colorful fish paintings shown here.  Liz is in charge of that project.

Friday, July 13, 2012

- Whale of a Tale

Originally posted by Don in On the Trail

Now that Melissa has had her baby shower I can share what I made for Jackson's room. These two whales were made from an old screen door we purchased from our friend Jill at By the Bridge Antiques in Wimberley.  She was actually going to just give us the doors because they were in not the best of condition, but we ended up paying her 5 bucks apiece to take them off her hands. The body of each whale is made from the old door. The spouts are shells from the OBX and the flukes are cedar branches from the yard. The eye on the baby beluga is a button from a shirt Liz wore while in the hospital after Melissa was born. All made to fit in with the whale decor in Jackson's room...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

- I love Texas

Have I mentioned I love Fridays, too?  Our first stop was Wimberley, where I struck out on clothes shopping, but we redeemed ourselves at By the Bridge.  I'll let the pictures tell the story:    
This cowbell was spotted first ... it was incredibly loud
(especially considering we were in a very small antique shop).
Should be perfect for calling grandkids in from the floodplain.

Whenever we see something we like, we ask each other, "But where would we put it?"
In this case, at $35 for a beautiful solid wood mirror, the answer was, "Who cares?  We'll find a place!"

This was hanging high on the wall, which is probably why Don spotted it.
"Perfect for Keith" was his verdict.
Of course, getting it on the plane next week should be interesting.

On the other hand, this is what caught my eye as soon as we walked into the shop.
When I commented on it, Anne Marie said, "I made it."
At which point I explained how I craft stuff, too
and then apologized that I probably wouldn't buy it.  More on that later.

Last, but not least, Don also spotted this big iron pot, which has already been moved to the fire pit.
To get a sense of size, that's a 9" railroad tie that it's sitting on ...
it's almost two feet across the top and weighs a ton!  

So, about that cell phone pouch ... as we piled all the stuff up at the counter, I asked, "How much?" since, of course I had to choose the only one that wasn't marked. "Five dollars," said the young woman who made it. "I can't do that ... how about fifteen?" I replied.  "No way ... how about ten?" she shot back.  Sold, sold, and sold!   


Off we went to lunch at the Leaning Pear, where Don had Cuban pulled pork and I indulged in fish tacos with poblano rice that had just enough heat to leave a nice buzz on the tongue. After dropping our stuff off at the house, we headed on to the bank, where we were promptly approved for a 1.9% car loan and walked out with a "dealer's check." We killed a little more time shopping at Half Price Books and Hobby Lobby (which had no whale print flannel, alas) ... then on to Marshall's, where I picked up a couple of bathing suits.  All the while, we were waiting for a call from the manager at San Marcos Toyota, who had promised to get us a Tacoma regular cab from another dealership in Austin. And waited.  And waited.   
Turns out, the dealership in Austin wouldn't send down the truck we wanted, so the local dealership sent someone all the way to Corpus Christi to drive a Tacoma back to San Marcos. Which turned out to be a good move on their part, as you can see.  
The newest member of the Ackert family.  First assignment?  Taking us to Hays County BarBQ for brisket.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

- Catching up

Originally posted in On the Trail

I know, it's been a while, but we've been busy (in more ways than one ... some definitely better than the others). Fortunately, since Don is starting to feel better, blogging is back on the agenda. His rock work continues to amaze, with the latest iteration resulting in a paving effect using decomposed granite from Gardenville and rocks from the floodplain out back. We're now scouting out a new/used Toyota pickup truck, the better to haul stuff for future landscaping projects.  
Part of the fire pit incorporating pre-existing bedrock ...
I'd say it's about one yard square and one-tenth of the total project

Unfortunately, it's getting a little too hot and humid to spend much time outside (not to mention too noisy with all the red katydids). The good news is that I got my old sewing machine rehabbed on our last Katie-sitting mission in Austin, so I've been staying inside crafting something for my soon-to-arrive grandson. Said project involves unraveling sweater sleeves from my mom's cardigans (which have been sitting in my closet for four years ... obviously I'm never going to wear them):   
Which leaves me with sweater "bodies" and more yarn than I care to unravel (it takes for-ev-er).   Following an inspiration from Pinterest, I turned one of the sweaters into a pillow ... and was happy enough with the results that it will soon be followed by two more.    

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

- Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Almond cake (updated 2/3/2015)

It took me a while to realize why this has been one of the most popular posts ... someone must actually be using the recipe (head slap moment). So fear not, the original 9" x 13" version appears below in its entirety. But ... but ... but ... I've changed the way I make this and I think it's better. So you might want to try it ... I'm just saying...

For the past year or more I've been making the almond cake to fit two 6" layer cake pans, as blogged in this Birthday Bites post.So here's the re-jiggered recipe for a 6" two-layer version (which looks way cooler than a 9" x 13" sheet pan, in my humble opinion).

Almond Cake (makes two 6" layers)

6 ounces butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond flour
2/3 Tbs. baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Alternate flours and milk (2 rounds of each), but don't overmix.Spray two 6"x2" round pans (Wilton makes them and they are fantabulous), divide batter between the two. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Put on wire racks to cool.

Note: I just tried insulated baking strips for the first time and the layers did come out much more even, but they also took an extra 8 minutes of baking time. And the jury is still out on whether or not I like the much lighter sides and bottom ... the insulation definitely damped down the Maillard reaction.

When I started to gather my ingredients for baking today I realized I had no almond paste and it was raining so I didn't want to drive in to San Marcos, but I really, really, wanted to make this cake for the 200th blog post celebration. So I went on the internet and found this make-your-own almond paste recipe, which I promptly changed (right?)

Almond Paste (to fill two 6" layers split into four layers)

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water (scant)
1 Tbs. honey
1 cup almond meal/flour (I get mine in the bulk bins at HEB)
1/8 tsp. almond extract (not almond flavoring)
1 Tbs salted butter (is there any other kind?)

Bring water, sugar and honey to a boil. Put almond flour in a food processor and pour boiling sugar mixture over it. Process and scrape down for a few minutes. Add almond extract (or perhaps a slug of Amaretto) and butter. Continue to process and taste for another minute or two ... trust me on this. It will be much softer than Odense Almond Paste. 

Note: I don't recommend reducing this recipe any further (to use in a one-layer baby cake for example) as it would be hard to blend such a small amount in a food processor.

However, I no longer put ganache over the top of the cake ... instead, I've been using the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe from this Smitten Kitchen post, sorta.

Ganache (to fill two 6" layers split into four layers)

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips

Microwave cream on high for 40-45 seconds. Whisk in chocolate chips until melted.

Vanilla Buttercream (to cover two 6" layers split into four layers)

1 stick of salted butter, softened
2 cups of confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
2 Tbs. heavy cream, plus milk as needed

Beat 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar into the softened butter. Mix in cream and vanilla, then continue to add confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add 1 Tbs of milk if the buttercream is too thick.

Assembling the cake:

  • Split both layers in half horizontally, making four half-layers
  • Spread the top of the first-half layer liberally with seedless raspberry jam
  • Cover the jam with one third of the almond paste (I admit I had to use my fingers) or roll out a 7 ounce tube of Odense almond paste thin enough to cover three layers
  • Cover the almond paste with one third of the ganache 
  • Put the second half-layer on the cake and cover with raspberry, almond and ganache
  • Put the third half-layer on the cake and cover with raspberry, almond and ganache
  • Top with the fourth half-layer then put the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to firm up (or until the butter you forgot to take out for the frosting softens sufficiently)
  • Frost with vanilla buttercream and return to the fridge until serving time ... I find it's helpful to put a thin layer of buttercream over any jam and/or ganache that is seeping out so they don't show through the final layer of buttercream
To make a baby cake (pictured below ... at long last):
  • Split one layer in half horizontally
  • Spread one half-layer liberally with seedless raspberry jam
  • Cover the jam with 1/3 batch of the almond paste (I admit I had to use my fingers) or roll out about 1/3 tube of Odense Almond Paste to 6" in diameter
  • Cover the almond paste with 1/3 batch of ganache 
  • Put the top half-layer on top and put the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to firm up
  • Frost with 1/2 batch of buttercream and return to the fridge until serving time
  • Freeze or refrigerate the other layer and the leftover almond paste for another day (or make a batch of cake balls)

And please don't sweat the details ... I never (but never) follow recipes exactly and I heartily encourage you to do (not do?) the same.
Original post:

Meg made an amazing Petit Four Cake for Danielle's shower last weekend. I brought a piece home and Don raved about it. Since I needed to bake a cake for a co-worker's birthday, I decided to give it a try myself.
The recipe was from Smitten Kitchen, which is a terrific blog.  However, I've never met a recipe I didn't change (double negative ... which is to say, I always change recipes).  This was no exception ... not because Meg's wasn't good (another double negative ... Meg's was amazing), but I'm lazier.  So I substituted almond flour for the ground pistachios, bought ready-made marzipan, and baked the cake in a 9x13 pan so I could carry it in to work more easily. Oh, and just as Meg did, I substituted raspberry jam for the apricot. 
Even with all the changes, I'm glad copyright law doesn't cover recipes ... and I hope that my take on Petit Four Cake will lead you over to the Smitten blog for more inspiration.

Almond Petit Four Cake
8 ounces butter with canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
4 eggs (plus one yolk if your eggs are on the small side)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
7 ounce tube marzipan or almond paste (I used Odense)
12 ounces Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 ounces seedless raspberry jam (Clearbrook Farms)
  • Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a 9x13 pan with Baker's Joy. If using a glass pan, lower the temp to 325.
  • Cream the butter, sugar, and extracts. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in one cup of the flour, the baking powder, and half the milk. Then mix in the rest of the flour, almond flour, and milk.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake just pulls away from the side of the pan.
  • Cool and split the cake in half lengthwise to make two layers.
  • Cut the marzipan roll in half and nuke it on 20% power for a minute. Roll each half out on parchment paper as thin as you can make it.  Your goal is to cover the 9x13 cake ... twice!  The good news is, you don't have to roll it into a perfect rectangle ... patching it together will do, since it will be covered with ganache.
  • Nuke the cream for 40 seconds on high, add the chocolate chips and stir vigorously until you have a satiny smooth ganache.
  • Spread half the jam on the first layer of cake. Top with half the marzipan pieces. Spread about 1/3 of the ganache over that (you want to have enough left to liberally coat the top of the cake).
  • Put the second layer of cake over the ganache layer and coat it with the remaining raspberry, marzipan, and ganache, in that order.
  • Stick in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving ... overnight would be even better, but if you do, then it's best to take the cake out for an hour before serving.
  • Postscript: the downside of using a 9x13 pan is that the edges get overdone by the time the center is baked. Next time I think I'll trim 1/4" to 1/2" off the edges.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

- Babies R Them: Baby shower recipes

Imagine a baby shower where more than half the attendees are pregnant ... fun beyond words. Better yet, I got to cook all morning with Meg. A few of the recipes are already on the blog (granola, cinnamon knots, and waffles 4 ways ... although this time I tried a new topping: mascarpone cheese with maple, vanilla, and bacon), but there are two new recipes to share. Pictures? I hope some will come my way ... in which case I'll be sure to share those, too.

Southwest Mini-Quiche
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 ounces diced cream cheese (tricky)
8 ounces diced Monterey Jack cheese
4 ounces small curd cottage cheese
Fine shreds of dried chorizo 
Finely diced jalapeno, to taste (I removed seeds)
Spray Baker's Joy into a 12-cup muffin tin and place a single On the Border tortilla round chip in the bottom of each cup.  Sprinkle chorizo and jalapeno on top.
Whisk the eggs and salt together, then lightly whisk in the flour and baking powder. Fold in the cheeses and spoon into the muffin cups.
Bake at 350 and check after 20 minutes ... they should just be starting to brown, but be careful not to leave them in too long.  You can vary it by adding other cheeses, veggies, and/or proteins (gruyere, mushrooms, bacon, sausage) ... and flour tortillas split into two layers and cut to fit into the muffin cups can be a good alternative to the corn chip base.

Tomatillo Salsa
4-8 tomatillos (depending on size)
A handful of cilantro
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, diced
1/2 to 1 avocado, peeled and chunked

Put the first three ingredients into a food processor and pulse until chopped, but definitely not pureed. Add the avocado and pulse just until the avocado is rough chopped. Add a pinch of salt to taste.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

- Spineless cactus in bloom

Originally posted by Don in On the Trail

There is something uniquely beautiful about a cactus in bloom.  This is the spineless cactus in front of the outdoor shower.  Notice all the candles about ready to bloom.  Maybe a picture for another day...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

- Lace cactus

Originally posted by Don in On the Trail

The lace cactus are flowering out back on the floodplain ...