Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Banana Cupcakes

One of the challenges I face in baking is following familiar recipes and having my youngest son, Reed, be unable to share them. He has a slew of food allergies- including wheat, eggs, and soy. He recently turned 2 and so I took to trying to find either a vegan recipe that I could adapt to being gluten-free (since vegan means no egg) or find a recipe that used all the allergens and adapting.

I wound up going the latter route, mostly because the vegan recipes called for a lot of ingredients that he hadn’t tried before- whereas a substitution method would only call for one. And for those who either have allergies or have children with allergies, you know that’s the way to go.

I’m going to share the recipe that I used, without substitutions first, and at the end share what I did to make it wheat and egg free. No pictures, sadly.

Banana Cupcakes
Source: Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with liners.
In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Mix in butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir just until incorporated.
Spoon better into muffin pan lined with paper liners.
Bake 25-28 minutes or until done.
Cool completely.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Thoughts

This was an astonishingly quick recipe to put together, and as it turned out was pretty easy to adapt. For the two eggs, I used 1 Tbsp of Ener-G mixed with 4 Tbsp of water. To replace the 1 1/2 cups of flour, I used 1 cup of rice flour, 1/3 cup potato flour and 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp of tapioca flour.

The results? A cupcake that’s a little dense- almost more like a muffin. But excellent nevertheless. It got the seal of approval from the birthday boy, as well as from those who don’t have food allergies. Though, word the wise, they don’t keep as well as cupcakes made with all purpose flour. They’re much better the same day (two days later, and they were doorstops).

Sometimes, things just go wrong.

I will not pretend to be perfect in the kitchen. I have burnt bread, made rubbery shrimp, and have a tendency to get powdered sugar all over the kitchen.

I made a cheesecake just last week and when turning on my mixer, wound up splashing the filling all over my kitchen table and onto my husband’s jacket which I thought might be out of the splash zone.

But yesterday, takes the cake. Without even thinking about the oven, I turned it on so that I could make white chocolate chip cookies. I quickly whipped up the cookie dough and started to prep my cookie sheets when… I started to smell smoke. So I opened the oven to see a cloud of smoke quickly fill the kitchen.

The broiler pan was smoking. I’m not sure what dripped on it, or how (since the last thing we’d used the oven for was the cheesecake, and I know that nothing dripped from that). But whatever it was smelled like oil or fat that was burning, not sugar. My best guess is that something had spilled from the stovetop and through the oven. So now I know, double check the broiler pan. Even if you haven’t used it in ages.

Hopefully today will be better. I have the cookie dough warming out on the counter (I refrigerated it, but it’s rock hard, and hard to dollop onto the cookie sheets) and the broiler pan is out of the oven and soaking so that I can clean it. (Update: The broiler pan is clean, the cookies have been made – and I discovered that I should have tried the white chocolate chips before following this recipe. They were much too sweet, and so are my cookies!)

What’s your favorite story of kitchens gone wrong?

The Easiest Sauce You’ve Never Made

I am a fan of quick and easy meals from scratch. I think it’s genetic. My mom, the queen of Chopped style cuisine (“What can I make for dinner using a can of tomatoes, a can of black beans and some pasta?”), is as well. Okay, it probably isn’t genetic- but I know that since we were/are both stay at home moms, you run into situations where it’s suddenly lunchtime, you’re starving and don’t have the time to make something elaborate.

But it doesn’t mean you have to skimp on flavor. I’ve mastered the quick tomato sauce, which has a bit of a raw taste to it. While my pasta cooks, I heat a small skillet and saute some onions and garlic in olive oil. Then I throw in a can of drained crushed tomatoes and cook until it smells right- I usually just season with a bit of oregano, some fresh basil and salt and pepper.

This is my staple go-to sauce, but sometimes you just want something more luxurious. On my last shopping trip I’d bought more heavy cream (now a staple since I’ve started baking regularly) and some Parmesan Reggiano. So when yesterday rolled around (a beautiful overcast fall-like day in Southern California), I wanted something a little more luxurious.

So I made alfredo sauce, and discovered that it’s even easier than my tomato sauce and just as fast to make.

Ingredients

Heavy cream
Butter
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Salt & Pepper

You’ll note that I haven’t listed measurements. Mostly because I only made the sauce for myself, and not a family sized portion. But from the recipe I made, I can tell you this… for every 1/2 cup of cream, you’ll need an equal amount of parmesan. And 1 T of butter. So you can just expand as necessary.

While my pasta cooked, I put the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan, heating it over low heat. (This is the only thing you have to pay attention to – while you can heat it over a slightly higher heat, you don’t want the cream to boil. So low makes it fool-proof) When the butter’s melted, and they’ve thoroughly combined, pull off the heat.

Grate your parmesan cheese. (Or use the pre-grated stuff you can buy in tubs, but try not to use the stuff in plastic bags or in a can. They use stabilizers to make them shelf-friendly, which makes it not melt) When the pasta is nearly done, put the saucepan back on the burner. Add in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Toss with your pasta, and enjoy! Honestly, it’s just that easy!

Note – this is for the Americanized version of alfredo. The true Italian alfredo sauce is basically butter and parmesan, tossed together over warm pasta. Equally easy, and just as good. :)

Recipe: Homemade potato chips!

One of my favorite ingredients to use is the potato. I’ll have them mashed, french fried, turned into potato chips. They’re just wonderfully versatile, and typically quick to prepare!

Now, I’ve come to realize that people are divided into two types of snackers. Those who crave sweet foods and those who crave salty foods. I fall squarely into the latter category, and will eat just about anything that’s been fried.

Recently I’ve started frying things on my own. For a family party last month I made onion rings, and had said that potato chips were next on my list. I was making some potatoes for my son for breakfast and realized that I’d cut too many potatoes in half, and set aside two of them to make chips with.

Required equipment:
Heavy bottomed pot for frying
Fry thermometer
Spider/Skimmer

Ingredients:
An appropriate oil for frying (vegetable, canola or peanut)
Idaho potatoes (the number is up to you)

To start off, fill a non-reactive bowl with cold water. Potatoes oxidize quickly, so if you don’t want them turning brown, have a decent sized bowl ready. (I’d put the left over potatoes in cold water and they kept all day) When you’ve finished washing and peeling each potato, put it right into the water.

Making your own potato chips!Slicing. You can go one of two routes – use a knife, or invest in a mandoline! You can get pretty decent ones (just get one with a hand guard) for not much, and then you know you’ll have uniform slices and won’t have to worry about rolling potatoes. Just make sure that if you’re using a knife that you slice them as evenly as possible to ensure an even cook time- aim for about 1/8″. As you slice, put the slices back into the bowl of cold water.

Now, in your large heavy bottomed pan, get some oil heating up. You’re going to want to have at least 4-5″ of oil in the pan, so that the chips have enough room to flip as they fry. Using your handy dandy fry thermometer (not an expensive piece of equipment either), get the oil up to the 325-350 range. If you go too high, the chips will burn, and too low, they’ll just suck up oil and get soggy.

While it heats, set up your drain station. I used a cooling rack on a baking sheet with some newspaper underneath to help minimize mess.

Making your own potato chips!Potato time! Take out a batch of potatoes – about 6-9 slices depending on how large the slices are. Pat them thoroughly dry in paper towels or a dish towel, and add all at once to the oil. Now, these do cook fairly quickly, but you can’t leave them unattended. Gently stir the potatoes with your spider/skimmer to keep the potatoes from sticking and to make sure they cook evenly. Keep going for about 3-4 minutes or until they’re golden brown.

Making your own potato chips! Remove the chips from the oil and put on the sheet rack to drain. Once some of the oil has drained off, season them with whatever spice blend you like (I used just salt). And repeat until you’ve finished the batches.

Making your own potato chips!Obviously, this isn’t as speedy as opening a bag of Lays- but the chips were wonderfully crispy and delicious. As a matter of fact, I wish I’d made more!

Final thoughts: Making these in front of small children is not a good idea. Not because of the frying (my kids are well trained to stay away when I’m cooking on the stovetop), but because now my son knows that all I need are potatoes to make potato chips!

Trip Report: Las Vegas Days 2-4

Morning.

Las Vegas at 7:30 in the morning is a strange thing. I woke when there was enough light to illuminate our room- even though we’re facing the west. It’s one of those unfortunate quirks, that reminds me that even though I proclaim I’m not: I am more of a morning person than a night person.

Ronnie sleeps in the giant sized bed. It is large enough that even with my tossing and turning and his tossing and turning, neither of us woke the other. So I find myself, just as I did yesterday after our nap, looking out the window at Sin City. But it’s a different place.

Today is less windy than yesterday, and there are only a handful of people taking advantage of the pools being empty. Instead, I find myself watching employees at the pool preparing the cabanas for the day and checking the lounge chairs for any sort of damage.

The strip itself seems like any normal street at 7:30 am. There are cars driving, but none of that usual traffic jam that Las Vegas Blvd can be. Very few people walking along the street, even though the temperatures are much more comfortable than they will be in a few hours. I’ve seen several runners, and some people out for morning walks. But the vast groups of tourists are apparently sleeping in.

The signs are all going full tilt. We’re across the street from Fashion Show LV (a very lovely mall, I’m sure) which has four very large screens bombarding visitors with ads. Some for nearby shows (I’ve seen ads for Wayne Brady and Phantom- both of which are at the Venetian/Palazzo complex) and one for the ipod touch. I never want to see that ad again.

The rest of the day. Read More…

Trip Report: Vegas, Day One

Roadtrips are wonderful, especially road trips to Las Vegas. The first time we (Ronnie and I) went, it was just a couple weeks shy of my 21st birthday. (I’d been to Las Vegas a couple times with my family, but you have to admit, Las Vegas as a kid is an entirely different experience) At the time, we were working at Disneyland and going to school. January was (and still is) the slowest month at the Park. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, everyone stays home. Consequently, there aren’t many shifts during the week. January was still part of the winter holiday for me, as I never took part in the Winter Semester. So we could take off in the middle of the week, as we did, for Sin City.

The first trip was largely just to see the sights, since I couldn’t gamble. It was during the CES convention, so Las Vegas was packed. We (our group also included three other friends) crammed ourselves into a room at the Travelodge next to Circus Circus. I had a cold, and was taking plenty of medicine to keep myself from making everyone ill. Mostly, we ate. We walked along the Strip, went to the Forum Shops. Mostly, it was the journey that made the trip fun.

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you have to make a couple stops along the way- either to fill up with gas, to get a bite to eat, use facilities, or just to stretch your legs. This trip, we left our house around 10 am, got some Starbucks and headed off.

It didn’t take long for us to get to Barstow, which is always one of our stops. The first few trips, we stopped at Barstow Station – a run down little cluster of shops with a Taco Bell, Quiznos and McDonald’s thrown in. The most notable part about it is that you dine in the train cars at the McDonald’s. It was where we’d all stopped as kids, so we stopped there, and looked at the candy shop, at the variety of bizarre hot sauces.

But the Big Boy never left! This time, we stopped near the outlet mall. There’s a Del Taco, an In n Out, and now a Bob’s Big Boy (“The Big Boy never left, Sir. He still offers quality food at reasonable prices!”). We gassed up, and went to the Del Taco. Barstow’s the home of Del Taco, as they’ll proudly tell you, and the food’s just a little different than the rest of their chain. The chicken soft tacos are larger, for one. The first time we’d stopped there, we made our usual order, and the woman looked at us like we were insane. Five tacos for two people? Then we saw how large they were, and understood. This particular Del Taco is a well oiled machine. They deliver the food to your table, have people monitoring the tables to make sure they’re cleaned promptly, that you get bags to take your excess food in, and that you always have enough hot sauce.

Read More…

Oven Fried Chicken

Years ago, my husband and I had made the conscious decision to get DSL rather than pay for cable service. So we sat, for hours on end, adjusting our antenna to make sure that the broadcast stations came through loud and clear. Then, years later, we realized we were doing well enough to afford cable (and a precious DVR).

Finally, I would have what I’d been longing for. The Food Network. (To imagine my excitement, you have to hear a heavenly choir of angels singing every time you say it- The Food Network)

In the years that have followed, it’s been the channel that I’d leave on when I needed background noise. I nursed my second child while watching. I assume this is why, at the age of nearly 2, he’ll sit on the floor and watch an entire show with me. Or why he loves to watch Ratatouille.

All of that said, I’m much more a fan of Ina Garten and Alton Brown than say… Paula Deen or Rachael Ray. While both have their merits, usually their shows are on as background noise. But this recipe caught my eye. Paula Deen’s oven fried chicken. Not because it’s simple (it is) or because I love dijon mustard (I do). But it’s an egg free recipe. Not only that, it’s one that you could easily make wheat-free as well. Definitely one to add to your dinner rotation (it’s been added to ours!)

Oven Fried Chicken

Source: Paula’s Best Dishes (Paula Deen)

Ingredients

2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 -inch thickness

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place a cooling rack on the baking sheet. Spray cooling rack liberally with non-stick spray (you’ll be cooking the chicken on this).

Pound your chicken to 1/4 inch thickness. If you don’t have a meat mallet, use a pan that has a decent weight to it. (Note: I didn’t have full chicken breasts, but had tenders)

In a shallow dish, combine the dry ingredients for the crust – the panko crumbs, parmesan cheese, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper this mixture to taste.

In another dish, combine the wet ingredients. 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the dijon mustard and water. Also salt and pepper this to taste.

Coat each piece of chicken thoroughly with the mustard, then dredge into the bread crumbs. Place on wire rack and repeat until you’ve finished all the chicken.

Place in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is a golden brown.

Thoughts

This was a really fast recipe to assemble, and used ingredients that I always have on hand. My oldest son is nearly four and a picky eater, so I was worried that he wouldn’t want to try the chicken- but not only ate it, but proclaimed that it was yummy. He also was happy to see that we had leftovers, and happily ate it reheated. As I said earlier, it’s found a home in our dinner rotation.

On adapting it for allergies: My youngest had severe food allergies, so I plan on trying this with a crushed puffed rice cereal in place of the panko crumbs and a sheep’s milk cheese in place of the parmesan. The recipe itself is egg-free and can easily be made wheat-free or gluten-free by making substitutions for the panko.

Pan-fried Crostini w/ Bruschetta

Recipe time! After seeing the movie- I prepared the first meal that we see Julie Powell make (pre-Project, for those wondering). Bruschetta with a pan-fried bread. It’s quite a simple recipe (I made it in practically no time at all- even after I accidentally burnt the first batch of bread)

Bruschetta ala Julie and Julia
from The Hungry Novelist

Ingredients

For the crostini:
French bread (the wider loaf, not a thin baguette- though if you’re doing a party, those are great, too)
Olive oil
One clove of garlic

For the bruschetta:
Tomatoes (good quality)
Fresh Basil
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

The simplest part of the recipe is the bruschetta. Simply roughly chop your tomatoes, removing the core and seeds if they don’t look edible. Toss them in a little bit of olive oil (the original recipe called for 16 oz of tomatoes, and 1 T of olive oil) and sea salt. I added a tiny bit of pepper as well. Then, tear the basil into bite size pieces and set aside for the moment (to make sure that the basil doesn’t get soggy, it’s added at the last minute)

The crostini is pretty easy, too. But as I mentioned, you might want to keep an eye on the bread- I did burn mine the first time. In a non-stick skillet, heat 3 T of olive oil. Add in your bread (don’t overcrowd the pan) and cook until one side is a golden brown. Flip the bread and add more olive oil, if necessary – the bread will soak up the oil as it cooks. Remove as soon as they’re golden brown to a paper towel. Take your clove of garlic and rub the toast (both sides).

When all your toasts are done, top with the bruschetta and enjoy!

Review: Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron’s latest movie, is actually the story of three separate books. Combining Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in Paris” with Julie Powell’s memoir “Julie & Julia,” the story cuts back and forth between the two women’s lives.

Critics have said that the film lacked a uniting thread, since the two women never meet. But it’s right there, in all it’s glory- Julia Child (and Simone Beck)’s own opus, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Even before Julia becomes involved in creating it, the book is there. We know that she’ll write it, and we know that it will help define her career. And through Julie’s project of completing all the recipes in the book within a year- it’s impossible to ignore The Book’s presence.

Meryl Streep gives another amazing performance as Julia Child, embodying her so fully that even when watching one of Child’s most famous television appearances being re-enacted by Streep, that it wasn’t jarring in my mind. Amy Adams, as Julie Powell, gives a terrific performance as well. Few articles have said much about the performance, save that they felt Powell was too self-absorbed to embrace as a heroine. Yet, that’s the point. Julie Powell, the real Julie Powell, has a reputation amongst the food community as being self-absorbed and not entirely personable.

That said, the movie is about two very different (and yet similar) women seeking to find themselves through food. Through plenty of beautifully prepared, gorgeously shot food.

As a food enthusiast, a fan of Julia (and Julie Powell’s blog), and as someone who enjoys movies, I highly recommend it.

Recipe: Lucy's Lemon Squares

Source: Peanuts Cookbook

I looked forward to summer for these. I never quite believed my mom that these were easy to make- simply because they tasted so darn good!

My family has always loved lemon (my Grandmother has a “famous” lemon meringue recipe that we’ve all tried, and failed, to duplicate).  So it was extremely lucky that my husband loves lemons are well.  I was trying to decide what to bake one day, and his request was “something with lemons.”  Knowing how tricky meringue can be to pull off in the middle of a hot summer, I turned to these lemon bars.

The Husband loved them, but my neatnik of a son decided that he didn’t like them (the lemon portion was too sticky, but it was yummy, he said). I’m sure that he’ll come around! Forgive the horrible picture, all I had at the time was my cameraphone.

Lucy’s Lemon Squares

The crust:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour and sugar into a bowl.  Blend in butter with clean fingertips until well mixed.  Pat evenly into the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking pan (no need to grease it, but if you’re worried you can’t get it out, feel free to line with parchment paper!).  Bake for 20 minutes.

The filling:

2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
dash of salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, and pour over baked crust. Return to oven for 20-25 minutes at same temperature. Cool on rack, and cut into squares. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar.

Yield depends on the how small you cut the squares.

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