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Monday, March 31, 2014

The measure of a toddlers love


You can easily measure your toddlers love by the number of items they put in your shoes.

A few legos?  Your kid thinks you're pretty awesome and wants you to know it with these awesome toys.

Three or four snack bowls and maybe a sippy cup? Your kid thinks you're the best parent ever and wants to show you with her beloved snacking accessories.

Fill up BOTH of your boots with various toys and stuffed animals?  Congrats, your toddler thinks you are THE BEST THING SINCE A PEELED BANANA (which, if you're my toddler, is the best freakin' think in the ENTIRE universe).


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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Homebrew-ed Mac n' Cheese


It was a war zone, the toddler had laid down the law: She was having mac and cheese for dinner and that was final.  Mom and Dad knew they had lost the battle, but not the war!  Just because mac and cheese was too be had didn't mean we couldn't sneak some veggies in there and maybe even (gasp) some fun new flavors: Beer-ca-roni was born!

A great meal, full of yummy good stuff, kid friendly and SUPER re-heated in the microwave for a quick weekday meal Home Brew Mac n' Cheese is a favorite around these parts and, lucky you, I've decided to give you the recipe!

Some pics to break down the concept and the full recipe is at the end.  Enjoy!







Homebrew-ed Mac n' Cheese


Source: Me! (J'aime Brown)
Serves: 1 army (well I don't know how many exactly but its a lot, easily dinner for 4 with leftovers)
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 20 min

Ingredients:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
1 lbs carrots, sliced
1 cup beer

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion diced (or 3/4 of a large onion)
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms of choice, chopped
1 bag frozen peas

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup beer
1 cup milk10 ounces sharp cheddar
6 ounces of shredded Italian blend cheese

1 box of pasta - farfale, macaroni, and medium shells all work well but you can use whatever


Directions:

  1. Get a medium sized stock pot and put it on the stove over on medium heat.  Add 2 tbsp butter, once melted add sugar, salt and pepper.  Once butter starts to bubble add carrots, stir to coat in butter and saute for a minute or too.  Then add beer, bring to a simmer, cover and forget about it while preparing everything else. Perhaps move it to a back burner to simmer.
  2. Put a stockpot of water on to boil for pasta.
  3. Get a large skillet and melt butter and oil together over medium heat.  Add garlic, onion and salt and saute until they start to brown.  Add mushrooms and continue to saute until everything is nicely browned.  Then add peas and cook until warm throughout.  Cover and set aside.
  4. By now your stockpot of water should be boiling, add pasta and cook as directed on box.
  5. Get another large skillet (or transfer veggie mixture and reuse previous skillet) add 2 tbsp butter, and melt over medium heat.  Once butter begins to sizzle/bubble slowly add flour while whisking.  Whisk constantly until the roux takes on a nice reddish brown color (called a "brick roux").  Add beer and milk, continue whisking until mixture thickens slightly, mixture will cling to the sides of the pan and be noticeably thicker but will NOT get so thick that it pulls away from the bottom of the pan.  Once desired thickness is achieved add in cheeses and stir until melted.
  6. Remember those carrots from step 1?  They should be nice and tender by now, try one, if its good and soft then drain out most of their liquid and combine everything in a large bowl: Pasta + cheese sauce + veggies + carrots.  Obviously if the carrots still have too much bite/snap to them, continue simmering until they are ready.
  7. Serve and enjoy! 
  8. (Optional:  Put in an oven safe bowl, top with some Parmesan cheese and panko and broil for a few minutes to get a nice crusty top)







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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Things I learned as a pet photographer


I spent several years running a part time pet photography business and while I had a blast and met some awesome people, I did learn a few things that I think you should know:

(1) Dogs do not magically become obedient when they walk into a photography studio.  If anything they become like tiny toddlers on a sugar high.  They want to put everything in their mouths and maybe even pee on a few things.

If your dog does not sit and stay at home, he is NOT going to sit and stay in my studio.  If he doesn't hold toys in his mouth at home, he isn't going to take one in the studio.  If you thought I was a magical instant dog trainer I'm sorry, you came to the wrong place.

If, however, you were hoping for a lot of photos of half of your dog walking out of frame or photos of your various limbs trying to hold your dog in place then you are IN LUCK! we're great at that.

(2) Cats are not poseable.  They are creatures of mystery who will kill you in your sleep if you let them.  If you thought you were getting a photo of a posed cat sitting in a santa suit because you took the cat and the santa suit to a photo studio you are an idiot.

Also your cat will likely succeed in killing you in your sleep as punishment for trying.

I am a photographer, not God, I cannot preform miracles.  I do photograph cats but its what you might call "lifestyle photography."  It looks like this:


Not like this: (okay well this cat WAS poseable but he is unique, and awesome.)

(3) Similar to #1, if you wanted a photo of your newborn puppy sitting perfectly in a basket you came to the wrong place.  You should maybe try to find a magic lamp because that's the only way I know of to get unrealistic wishes grated.  Month old puppies do not sit and stay.  They do this when you put them in a basket:


(4) My least favorite request is "I just want a good photo of him with his mouth closed" its not that this is an unrealistic request for most dogs, its that if the owner is requesting this, it means the dog never freakin closes his dang mouth.

 Again, I am not God, I cannot make your dog close his mouth if he doesn't want to.  Besides, if you're dog likes his tongue hanging out, let him!  He's chill, he's cool, he hangs loose!  Go with it.

Whats even worse though?  When I spend an hour shooting photos of your dog, and I deliver you the photos a week later and then you drop the bomb "oh, sorry, I should have told you, I only wanted photos with his mouth closed." Tell your photographer your "must have" expectations BEFORE the shoot.  Or even during!  But not after you get the photos...


(5) And finally, to end on a educational note, if you are getting photos of your dog taken then set your sights on something that shows his or her personality.  Don't come in with preconceived notions of what you want, just let him be himself!  Its so much more fun for everyone:


Whats up?



**if you are considering getting pet photography done, you definitely SHOULD, and know these opinions are my own and probably not the opinions of the photographer you hire.  Also in case you didn't pick up on this, these opinions are mostly for comic effect**
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Friday, March 28, 2014

Cheesecake Cupcakes



Guys sometimes I make something and it looks amazing but it tastes only "pretty good."  These cheesecake cupcakes?  Are definitely absolutely 100% NOT THAT.  They taste freeking fantastic, at least 1,000 times better than they look.  There were moist, light, creamy, flavorful and not too sweet, JUST like a cheesecake should be and I think that has a LOT to do with making them mini-sized.  In fact I'm going to give you 5 great reasons on why you should never make a full sized cheesecake ever again.  But first, OMG you guys just look at these things, RIGHT?! Nom nom nom. 


Why cheesecake is better as a cupcake
  1.  So freekin' cute.  Adorable even. 
  2. Individual servings. No messy slicing and dicing, no having to "finish the whole thing" (okay I know that's actually a benefit but go with me here).  Plus you can try one before bringing them to a party and NO ONE KNOWS!  Its not like a cake where you could maybe make a mini second "tasting cake" but you never really know if it tastes like the real cake until you serve it and by then its WAY too late!
  3. Easier to bake!  I didn't know this until I started researching to make this recipe but did you know that cheesecake is actually somewhat complicated to make?  You have to avoid surface cracking and over mixing, there is a water bath part, and three stages of baking, its a whole thing.  Here are three reasons cupcake sized cheesecakes are easier to bake:
    1. Cupcake tins lend themselves more easily to water baths (I'll explain this more in the recipe below) 
    2. They are smaller so they cook through more quickly and easily
    3. Since you are going to frost them you don't really have to worry about the surface cracking at all, no one will ever know!
  4. Easier to add a whipped cream topping, since the topping is somewhat unstable you wouldn't want to put it on a cheesecake, it would get lost in the slicing and dicing but it works perfectly on a cupcake
  5. Easier to customize added toppings, you can make ahead an assortment of cupcakes with various toppings, you can't do that on a single cake!








 Okay I think I've sung praises enough here on how awesome these things are, on with the recipe! 


  • 2 1/4 cups sugar

  •  
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter

Directions for cakes




  1. Gather ingredients 
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 F (if you don't have a separate thermometer in your oven, I suggest you get one. They are pretty cheap and for recipes like this where temperature is VERY important they can be completely necessary.
  3. Set out two muffin tins, and add 18 cupcake liners. 
  4. Mix the graham cracker, butter, and sugar in a small bowl until combined and crumbly.  Evenly distribute among the 18 cupcake cups.
  5. Using a spoon, your fingers, or (my preference) a muddler compact the crust into the bottom of each cup.  I got this muddler for free with a bottle of Bacardi during the holidays when all booze comes with a free gift.  Alternatively you could pick one up on the cheap off of Amazon or at your local kitchen supply store. 

  6. Once your crust is nicely tamped down, throw all those guys in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until they are nice and "crust."  Once the crust is done reduce the oven temp down to 300 F.
  7. While the crust is baking, start whipping air into the cream cheese.  Add all three blocks to a stand mixer with the beater attachment and beat on med-high for about 5 minutes or until the cream cheese is light and fluffy.  This will take a little longer if the cream cheese is not at room temperature. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  8. Once fluffy, you can then add the sour cream, flour and vanilla a little bit at a time until well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again until homogeneous. 

  9. Meanwhile beat the eggs in a separate bowl lightly to break up the yolks.  Do not whisk vigorously or create air bubbles in the eggs, just break up the yolks.  Whisking air  into the eggs will cause your cheesecake to "puff" in the oven like a souffle which is not a huge deal (mine did it as you can see) but will make your tops more likely to crack. 
  10. Meanwhile, set a kettle or pot of water on the stove to boil.
  11. Finally, slowly incorporate the eggs into the rest of your batter with mixer on low speed.  Again, over mixing or mixing to quickly will incorporate too much air into the eggs. Once well combined, separate the batter into the muffin tins.  Be careful NOT to scrape the sides of the bowl here, you do NOT want chunks of cream cheese, sugar, etc in your cheesecakes.  People WILL notice and they will think you are silly.  I've had lumpy cheesecake and it is NO GOOD. 
  12. Next comes the baking, baking cheesecake is apparently an art.  You want to cook the eggs slowly and in two stages, the first stage sets the outside of the cheesecake so you can hold the cupcake in your hands without it being too soft or sticky.  The second stage cooks the cake through, you want to do all of the cooking slowly and at a low temperature to keep from drying out the cake.  A dry crumbly cheesecake is also NO GOOD. 
  13. The best way to cook slowly, evenly, and prevent drying is to bake the cupcakes in a water bath so go grab a brownie pan (or baking sheet or whatever you have), set the cupcake pan INSIDE of it and stick the whole situation inside of the oven.  Add that boiling water you made in step 9 into the BROWNIE PAN, being sure to get none of it on your precious cupcakes.  Bake for 45 min to an hour at 300 F.  Not doing the water bath is not the end of the world, just bake the cakes for a little less time, your cakes might just be a touch drier than they are supposed to be.

  14. When the cakes are set around the outside but still a little jiggly in the middle (after about an hour) turn the oven OFF and let them sit in the warm oven for another hour.  This will set the middle of the cakes. 
  15. Finally, remove the cakes and chill them overnight.  


Directions for Whipped Cream Topping

  1. Beat the cream cheese for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy (this will take longer the colder the cream cheese is)
  2.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla, continue to beat until smooth. 
  3.  Switch to whisk attachment and whisk until smooth.
  4. With mixer running slowly add cream, stopping frequently to scrape the sides of the bowl.  Stop mixing when mixture can hold stiff peaks.
  5. Pipe topping onto cupcakes.

Directions for Chocolate Ganache

    1. Add chocolate and cream to a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Mix while stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and homogeneous. 
    2. Scrape mixture into a small bowl or squirt bottle.
    3. Drizzle on top of frosted cupcakes with a fork or squirt onto cupcakes.

    Directions for Caramel Sauce

    1. Add dulce de leche, butter, cream, and vanilla to a small saucepan over medium low heat.  You can use the same pan you used for the chocolate ganache if you'd like, without washing it or visa versa if you make the caramel sauce first. 
    2. Stir mixture constantly until it smooth with a homogenous texture. 
    3. Scrape into small bowl or squirt bottle and drizzle on top of frosted cupcakes.




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    Thursday, March 27, 2014

    I LOVE blogging!


    While the baby peacefully naps the day away I'm here hard at work.  I just spent the last 20 minutes (well last hour...honestly 2 hours tops!) diligently perusing pintrest for post ideas and industriously catching up on my favorite mommy blogs to get an idea of what defines writing that's entertaining to read.

    But don't worry I wasn't having fun, I was RESEARCHING FOR MY BLOG!  Its really important stuff you guys, honest.  You're just lucky I'm taking this blog so seriously so that YOU can have quality content to read. 
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    I hate thinning seedlings...

    Its probably because I spent so much time and effort planting the seeds, watering the seeds and crossing my fingers that the seeds would somehow magically turn into little tiny seedlings but I simply HATE thinning seedlings.

    I feel so terrible for the little baby plants that I have to callously chop off the tiny heads of.  I feel like I tricked them, begging them to germinate and pretending to give them a warm loving home only to brutally smite them the second they trusted me enough to emerge from their tiny, safe seed pod home.

    It really is my least favorite part of gardening. 

    Next year?  I'm going to buy ALL of the seed trays in the world so I only have to plant ONE seed in every single pod, that way if she germinates, I'll tend to her and care for her and help her grow into a strong little plant.  I might end up with hundreds of veggie and flower plants that will never fit in my yard but hey, I'm sure SOMEONE will be happy to take them off my hands, right?


    Maybe I'll have a little seedling funeral for them?



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    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    Just a spoonful of sugar...


    My poor sweet baby is sick.  She's been sick for a couple of weeks with a nasty cough and a runny nose but this past weekend she got REALLY sick.  Her fever spiked and it was enough for the doctor to ask us to come in on a SUNDAY MORNING to take a closer look!  She was in a terrible mood and I felt so bad for both her and the doc who was desperately trying to help her but couldn't do his job with all of her flailing and screaming.  It was awful for everyone.

    The worst part was that we got sent home with antibiotics that she needed to take twice a day for TWO WEEKS and she absolutely despised the way they tasted.  Medicine? For the baby? HAH! Yeah right!



    What was a momma to do?  How was I going to convince my cranky toddler that she needed to take her medicine to get better?  I know from experience that trying to sneak it into her mouth will just cause her to spit it up and she was smart enough to know what I was trying to do so she refused to try any food that I might be sneaking her medicine into.  Plus she is going through an independent phase where she doesn't want any food spoon fed to her, if she was going to eat it I needed to come up with a way to let her feed it to herself.

    The solution, of course, was cupcakes!

    Now obviously I don't want to feed my toddler an entire cupcake twice a day but she LOVES frosting and she gets cupcakes infrequently enough that she was willing to try the frosting on one knowing there might even be a little medicine in it (lucky mom!)  All I did was scrape ALL of the frosting off, take about 1/4 of it and mix it in with her medicine.  Then put the medicine mixed frosting back onto the cupcake one spoonful at a time.  We would spoon some on, give it to the baby to lick off and then put another spoonful on.  This made sure it didn't end up on her hands and we could watch to make sure it ALL got into her mouth.  She only ended up eating about 1/4 of a cupcake worth of frosting and usually didn't want to eat much of the cake part at all.




    Success!  Happy Momma, happy toddles, happy family!  



    What cupcake?  There is no cupcake here Mumma...



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    Soft Pretzels!

    I know I've been posting a lot of food lately and I swear this isn't just a food blog but OMG DUDE I have to tell you about this pretzel recipe I tried out today. (I swear I'll talk about something other than food tomorrow... I'm just not sure what yet)

    As I usually do when I get the hankering to make something, I cruised the web for a suitable recipe and stumbled upon Food Network's pretzels.  I knew I wanted to make soft pretzels since I wanted to try out a new brand of yeast that I found and I wanted something that would go well with a Sunday afternoon glass of home brew but I wasn't sure which recipe I wanted to use.  I settled on Food Network's, honestly, because it has the most butter and milk (my arteries can thank me later).

    Anyways, I'm pretty happy with my choice because, seriously, LOOK AT THESE THINGS.  Don't worry, yes they are as delicious as they look.





    Almost Famous Soft Pretzels

    Recipe courtesy of Food Network

    Prep: 30 min
    Cook: 1 hr
    Yield: 6 pretzels

    Ingredients

    1 cup milk
    1 package active dry yeast
    3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
    10 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
    1 teaspoon fine salt
    1/3 cup baking soda
    2 tablespoons coarse salt


    Directions

    1.  Do something with your toddler.  I stuck mine in her high chair and gave her some juice.
    2. Gather ingredients
    3. Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees (don't go much higher or you risk killing the yeast, much lower and you might not activate the yeast)
    4. Pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, about 2 minutes; Do not stir yeast in to soften, allow them to sit on top as this slowly activates them and maximizes their viability. 
    5. Stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and soften; stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt to make a sticky dough. 
    6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
    7. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes.) 

    8. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. 
    9. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each rope into a pretzel shape.  I found this step to be particularly difficult, I found keeping the dough under a moist towel helped keep it from drying out which made it hard to shape, also keeping your hands damp helped keep the dough workable while shaping it.
    10. Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow baking dish. Whisking helped dissolve the baking soda more thoroughly.
    11. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. 

    12. Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish. Dip the hot pretzels in the butter, turning to coat; place on a wire rack to let excess butter drip off.



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