Friday, April 18, 2014

HOW TO: Bring Butter to Room Temperature Quickly

It's no secret that I love to bake.  And baking is a science.  You have to have exact measurements and temperatures to achieve the results you are looking for.  

I was never great at science.  I got by, but I wouldn't say that I ever excelled at it, especially at chemistry. I was terrible at chemistry no matter how much I studied.   But, for some reason I'm pretty good at baking.  I think it may have something to do with the fact that I get to devour a yummy treat when I'm done baking, if I do it right.  I never got to do that in chemistry. 

Anyhow, one of the most important steps for baking cookies, cakes and other treats is to start with room temperature eggs and butter, when it is called for.  Room temperature means somewhere around 70 degrees F (68-74* F is acceptable).   Most refrigerators are set to 40 degrees or below F, so using eggs or butter straight out of the refrigerator can really alter the end result of what you are making.  

But, if you are like me, you rarely have the foresight to pull out the eggs or butter when you want to bake.  I shared my method for bringing eggs to room temperature quickly here.  But, how do you get butter to room temperature quickly?  

Well, I simply cut the butter into small pieces and let them sit while I gather my other ingredients.  Usually by the time I have everything I need (about 5 minutes, depending on how warm the kitchen is), the butter is softened.  I typically cut my butter into about tablespoon sized pieces, but will cut it smaller if I am in a real hurry.  

And that's it!  Smaller pieces have big surface area compared to their size so they will react to temperature faster than larger pieces that have less surface area compared to their size.  So, the smaller you cut the butter, the quicker it will come to room temperature.  

Check me out!!  I guess I picked up more in chemistry than I thought. Ha!
How to bring butter to room temperature quickly

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Side Dish Roundup: Chickpea Recipes

Do you ever feel like you prepare the same recipes over and over? That is how I feel about side dishes. I have the same 5 or 6 side dish recipes that I rotate between our meals. So, I've decided to expand my repertoire and incorporate new side dishes into our menu. Since I'm already doing the research, I thought I'd share the recipes I find with you. My Side Dish Roundups will include recipes that I plan on testing and adding to our menu staples. They look so delicious! I can't wait to try them!

Chickpeas are buttery in texture but have a mild nutty taste.  They lend themselves really well in salads, stews and dips.  They are really high in protein so they are a great option for vegetarians.  Lots of salads in the roundup this week.  Perfect for the warmer weather here in AZ! 
Chick Pea Side Dish Recipes

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cork Board Makeover

A while ago I shared with you how I added some color and function in our office / craft room with my DIY Craft Paper Storage Basket.  Well, I finally added some more color (and more function) to the room!  Hooray!!  

I've had all the materials for this project for months, literally.  But, I just never got around to doing it.  For some reason every time I went to start I'd get overwhelmed and would set it aside and work on something else.  Maybe it was the size of the HUGE cork board that did it?  I don't know.  

But, about a month ago I finally sat down and got it done.  I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to do it.  It was so simple to pull together.  The hardest part was pushing in the thumb tacks and that wasn't even hard, just time consuming! 

This huge orange board is the perfect addition to our office / craft room. It adds just the right pop of color and is functional too!  I'm so happy I finally got this project done!!  Well, done for now anyway.  I'm debating painting the thumb tacks.  I'll let you know what I decide to do there.  But for now, its hanging  in all its orange glory!  Yay!
Fabric Covered Cork Board

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

So Into / So Over - Episode 9

If you know me personally, you know that I am a very honest person and not at all shy about sharing what I think, whether it is good or bad.  So Into / So Over posts provide me a forum to share my thoughts on things that make me happy as well as things that make me, well, not so happy.  Here's what I've been So Into / So Over this week:

So Into: Road Trip Bingo
We just got back from a long road trip to Colorado.  Based on the route we chose, we knew the trip would take us at least 12 hours each way.  Clearly we have lost our marbles since we freely chose to drive 12+ hours with a 4 year old and a baby.  But, I digress. 

A couple months ago we spotted a Road Trip Bingo game when standing in line at Old Navy and thought it would be the perfect distraction for Lovebug (and us!) during our long drive.  Boy, were we right!  Lovebug is fiercely competitive and was focused on finding the stuff on her board throughout our trip.  We played until blackout and she ended up winning shortly before we reached our house so the game lasted our whole trip home!  

This game honestly made the trip seem faster since we had something to constantly focus on and it was fun for both the adults and the kid.  The boards we got are compact, sturdy and thin so they travel really nicely and can be used again and again.  There were 4 different colored boards in our pack so we never got our boards confused.  Plus, the boards had both written and illustrated items on them so for the most part Lovebug was able to identify what she needed to find for her board without assistance.  I am so into Road Trip Bingo for long road trips!  It's a great way to keep the 'are we there yet's to a minimum!

Note: I wasn't able to find the exact boards we purchased online, but there are several options on Amazon as well as free printable versions as well (just type "Road Trip Bingo" OR "Travel Bingo" in your search term). You can also check Old Navy to see if they are still carrying them. 

So Over: Distractions at Meal Time
From the time my hubby and I first started dating we made it a point to put all electronics away during meals.  That means no phones, no tablets, no computers and usually no television.   We indulge in a family movie during dinner once a week but otherwise, we feel meal time is our opportunity to talk about our days and enjoy each others company.  So, we set the distractions aside and focus on our family during meals.  Of course, we make exceptions when we are expecting a call, something urgent comes up or if we want to look something up as education, clarification or support to a healthy conversation.   But otherwise, mealtime is generally an electronics-free time for us.  

During our road trip last week, we stopped into a chain restaurant for lunch and found a Ziosk at all the tables.  We had never seen them before and we quickly learned that the Ziosk is a tablet that houses articles, games and other apps to keep patrons "entertained" during their meals.   Now, I have nothing against games and/or reading materials.  In fact, I quite enjoy both.  I also do not have a problem with Ziosk as I think it would be a useful product in certain settings, like doctor's offices, hospitals, airports, etc.  What I do have a problem with is the fact that our culture is so electronics focused that a big chain restaurant feels the need to provide this type of "entertainment" to their customers.  Maybe I am just out of touch, but in my mind enjoying a meal with other people, especially when meeting at a restaurant, is plenty entertaining on its own, so long as those people are engaged in conversation and not staring at a screen.  Am I wrong?

While I love the convenience and information electronics provide these days, I am so over the distraction of electronics replacing good old fashioned conversation at the table, whether at home or eating out.   I would so much rather have an interesting exchange with those I share a meal with than look at the top of their heads as they look down and type or swipe away.   There are plenty of other times to update a status, share a picture and/or play a game.  So, put the electronic distractions away people!!  Take advantage of mealtime and talk, laugh and make memories instead!   

I'd love to hear from you!  What are you So Into and So Over?  Products? Projects? Gadgets? Books? Anything really!  Leave a comment to share.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Butterfinger Brownies

My Love had to go on a week-long business trip to Singapore a couple weeks ago.  You can imagine how thrilled I was given that (A) we just had a baby (ok maybe not just as in last week but she's only a few months old!) and (B) there is a whole airplane still missing from that region of the world (we are still praying for the passengers and crew as well as their loved ones).  Not only was I frustrated that he had to go but I was terrified of him flying!  

It took him a whole day and there different flights to get from Arizona to Singapore and I was worried out of my mind until I got the call that he had arrived safely.  The week was both quick and slow at the same time but the girls and I survived and even had a little fun.  

My Love started his journey home Friday evening.  So, of course, I worried from the moment he departed until I got the call from each of his layovers.  And then I worried some more until I got the text that he was back in Arizona.  I tried to keep myself busy so I wouldn't be such a basket case until he returned Saturday evening.  So, I decided to bake him an unforgettable treat that would both keep my mind occupied as well as serve as a "Welcome Home!  Please don't ever leave again!". 

I've mentioned before that he loves Butterfinger candy bars so I was on the hunt for a delectable Butterfinger treat.  I found the perfect thing in The Recipe Critic's Butterfinger Brownies.  They looked mouthwatering and I knew he would love them.  I made some very minor edits to the recipe and the result was out of this world!  You have to try these brownies, especially if you love Butterfinger candy bars!  Just make sure you have a glass of milk close by.  You will need it.  Trust me. 

My Love had a productive trip and made it back home safely.  I'm so happy to have him home and the Butterfinger Brownies were a huge hit!  I hope this means he'll never have to travel on business again.  But somehow, I don't think the brownies will be a deciding factor in his future business travel plans.  Maybe I need to make Butterfinger Brownies for his boss since he's the one who calls the shots?
Butterfinger Brownies

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What's for Dinner?

Happy Sunday!!  We just got back from a long road trip so we'll just be unpacking, stretching our legs and doing some laundry.  If I get through the laundry I'll consider it a productive day.  :)

Off to move the laundry and hit the grocery store.  Have a great day!

So, what's for dinner?

Sunday:  Eat Out

Monday:  Ham Casserole and salad

Tuesday:  Chicken and Vegetable Risotto with salad

Wednesday: Grilled Steak, corn on the cob and salad

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: French Bread Pizza with salad (New Recipe!)

SaturdayChicken Cannelloni, broccoli and salad (recipe coming soon)

'What's for dinner?' That question used to haunt me until I started Menu Planning a couple years ago. Now, menu planning is a scheduled part of our weekend routine. See how we do it here.

What's on your menu this week?

Friday, April 11, 2014

HOW TO: Make Chocolate Curls

Earlier this week I shared this chocolate pudding recipe that I dolled up with some whipped cream and chocolate curls for a dinner party.  Chocolate curls take any chocolaty dessert to the next level. They look so elegant and can make a plain Jane dessert, like chocolate pudding, look like it could be served in a five star restaurant.  Your guests will think you spent a lot of time and energy making them when in reality they are incredibly easy to make.  
how to make chocolate shavings

Here's how:
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