Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tres Leches Cake

So we were invited to a family taco feed a few weeks back and I kindly offered to bring dessert.  I was trying to think what might go with Mexican food when it hit me: Tres Leche Cake!  I had just seen  an episode where Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) had made one of these cakes.  Of course she had made it from scratch (which is an eventual goal of mine), but I didn't want to subject my friends to something as crazy as a first time attempt of a scratch cake, just in case it went horribly awry.  It was also so last minute when I decided to make this, I thought let's just use a regular yellow cake mix for now and see how it will turn out.  Well, I must say, I'm so glad I did, because it really turned out AWESOME.

Tres Leches Cake - Amazing creamy goodness on a plate!
By the way, our main camera is on the fritz so I quickly took the following pictures with my cell phone.  I apologize the quality is not as good as normal, but you will get the general gist of things.  First, make a yellow cake in a 9x13 pan according to package directions.

 Once it is baked, let it cool a bit on the counter

While it is cooling you can make the "Tres Leches" part of this cake.  If you remember anything from your high school Spanish class, tres means "three", and leche means "milk".  So this cake literally means "three milks".  The three milks you will need are:

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can of evaporated milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

Pour the three milks into a bowl and stir gently to combine

When your cake is mostly cooled (you can still do this if it is slightly warm) poke holes in the top with a fork

Once the entire top of the cake is covered in holes, pour half of the milk mixture on top of the cake.  Be sure to pour slowly and cover the entire cake.  This, will feel wrong.

My gosh... what have I done!!!
Seriously.  You will start to panic when you see all the milk just sitting there on top of the cake.

It's swimming in milk... Noooooo!
But rest assured, this cake is going to absorb all this moisture.  All you need is to give it a few minutes... check this out.  Five to seven minutes later I return to find that all the milk had disappeared!

What kind of witchery is this??
I thought, oh my, I still have half a bowl of three milks left, no way will this all go in here... I was actually afraid to add the last half.  But I did it anyway.  For you.  For science. For God and country. For cake lovers everywhere.

Round two....
Now I've gone and done it.  It's for surely ruined.  I've made cake soup.

But hold the phone... I let it sit for ten minutes.  I was even afraid to go back in the kitchen mind you, and lo and behold when I did, this is what I found:

What a difference 10 minutes makes, right?
So amazingly all the liquid was absorbed yet a second time, and the cake looks no worse for wear.  Matter of fact it looks delicious, because all that wonderful sweet liquid will make for a very cool, very MOIST, very creamy cake.  I covered this with plastic wrap and stored it in the fridge for a few hours until we left for the party.  I also stored it in their fridge after we arrived, until it was time for dessert.  I waited to top this this with whipped cream until right before serving, which worked out perfectly. 

This dessert was amazing cool, sweet and creamy.  A perfect ending to a slightly spicy meal.  Here it is surrounded by some heavenly sunset light, as if God himself approved of this dessert.


So this was just a fabulous dessert.  Everyone loved it's creamy texture and how cool and refreshing it was.  Let me know if you make it and how it turned out for you.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Cut a Watermelon

A few years back I threw my parents a surprise 40th wedding anniversary luau.  It was a huge undertaking to plan, and though we didn't have a ton of money for a full luau dinner, we still wanted to make it extra special.  We timed the event as an after dinner party, and opted for mixed nuts, big ol' fruit platters, and three types of desserts.  We got pretty lucky in the fact that a lady that used to be a professional caterer was the one who volunteered to help me in the kitchen and cut up the massive amounts of fruit for the platters.  I learned a thing or two that day that I thought I'd pass along to you. The best part is, this really stretches how many people you can feed with just one watermelon.  First, find yourself a watermelon.

Before learning this tip, I would have just cut this bad boy up into wedges and it might have fed only 8-10 people.  Now it will fill a whole fruit tray or large party bowl with little to no waste.  Some good tools to have here is a plastic cutting board with a ridge (to catch the juice) and a very sharp knife.  Take your knife and cut the end off the watermelon

Turn it around and cut off the other end.

Because a watermelon is notriously round and somewhat slippery, cutting the ends off will allow you to stand it up on its end (the tall way) for a more stable cutting surface.  Following the curve of the melon, glide the sharp knife down the side of the melon, removing a thin layer of rind.

You should get a nice long piece of rind that falls off

Continue around, slicing off one strip of rind at a time.  The trick is you want to cut far enough in to remove most of the white layer, without taking off too much of the red part.

By the time you work all the way around, most of the white part should be removed.  If there are "strips" left behind, gently shave them with the knife until you can only see red.

Flip the watermelon over, stand it up on it's other end, and remove and remaining rind and white sections.

After that you will have something akin to a juicy football

Cut the "football" in half, longways, right down the middle

Now, working with one half at a time, lay the first section of watermelon with the flat side down.

Cut this section in half again, down the middle, lengthwise

Make some similar cuts about 1.5 inches apart

If you want large slices for a big platter you can thinly slice from this moment and have some fairly large pieces.  I tend to chop this up further for smaller pieces.  Matter of fact I will get a watermelon home, chop it up like this, put it in a big bowl, and the whole family will snack off it for days.  The above pieces are still pretty tall, so I will tip them over and cut them in half as well.

Each piece is usually about 1.5 x 1.5 inches square and I will slice them about 1/4 of an inch thick.

Keep slicing each section this way, and soon you will have half of a large bowl filled up. 

Now it's time for the other half of the watermelon.  Repeat the above steps.  Sometimes if my long "bricks" of watermelon are about the same size, I can cut them up two at a time.

Soon after you will have a heaping large bowl full of perfectly sliced watermelon to take to a party, serve to family and friends, take to your next picnic, or do what we do, store it in the fridge and snack off of it for days.

As soon as that juicy watermelon smell fills the air... the little ones will start to appear out of nowhere...

I hope you've enjoyed this way of cutting watermelon.  Before that big luau party I had never thought to do it this way, but it's the only way I do it now.  By the way, we cut almost all the fruit for the party this way.  It worked all the way from pokey pineapples to little fury kiwis.  This really did help stretch our food budget out as well.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Classy Joes

Today we are going to talk about one of our family's favorite easy dinners.  Something we have formally named "The Classy Joe".

Okay, how many of you love leftovers?  Right.  Me, not so much either.  Of course cooking a larger meal is great in theory, but after day two, no body wants to eat the same thing three nights in a row.  When I do make something with ground meat or chicken, I tend to follow the "cook once serve twice" philosophy and cook an extra pound of the meat and freeze it later to be used in an alternate meal or added to soups.  This way you only have to cook the meat once with all the great flavorings, but not have to eat it repeatedly all in the same week.  On top of that when I do defrost the meat, I will then try and make it different than the first time we had it, so it technically qualifies as a brand "new" meal!  (Pay no attention to the woman behind the green curtain kids... it is the great and powerful leftover wizard, carry on, nothing to see here. I will give you a heart, some courage, and a brain - along with the same exact same meat we had last week, but prepared an entirely new way. I'm magical like that.)

Little know fact: Manwich sloppy Joes are the cowardly lion's favorite meal!
So from that humble idea of tweaking your leftovers into a new meal, came the birth of one of our best-loved family favorites, titled "The Classy Joe".

Our family just loves sloppy joes.  The classic Manwich version. What is the best part about a sloppy Joe you ask?  Why the messy way it falls out of the bun (and all over you, if you are not careful).  When my stepson was growing up as a teenager, we referred to them as "Sloppy Dereks", which was a great honor for him. Well one day I figured out if you roll the left over sloppy Joe meat with some cheese in a crescent roll, all the messy goodness get's tucked inside and suddenly we needed a new name for our fancier, cleaner sandwiches. Quick! Invite the Queen of England over... let's eat all prim and proper with our pinkies out, because there is not a mess in sight!

Little known fact: Classy Joe's are the Queen of England's favorite meal...

First, let us gather your small list of ingredients (this will make 8 Classy Joes):

1 package of crescent dough
Left over sloppy Jo meat
Finely grated cheese
Cookie Sheet

The next thing you will want to do is grate some of your favorite cheese.  The best way is to use the smallest setting on your grater for a very fine (easy to melt) cheese.

Next, you will want to take your left over meat and heat it up a bit in the microwave.  You will only be baking these for about 15 minutes, so getting the meat up to temperature from the fridge or freezer is important for a piping hot filling.  Unroll  your crescent roll triangles and place a scoop of warmed meat in the widest part of the triangle

Next add a nice smattering of shredded cheese on top

Next roll these babies up very carefully. Try to tuck in all of the filling as you roll the wedge into a crescent shape.  Pinch the ends together so nothing can escape through the tips and place on a cookie sheet.

My trusty silpat mat is great for this, as the crescents will not stick to it
Next bake at 375ยบ for around 15 minutes.  You want to make sure the outside of the crescents are nice and golden brown.

A little bit a cheese oozed out... but that's just fine around these parts
After that serve them up to your family and wait for the Ooo's and Ahh's.

Mmmm cheesey... meaty goodness....a

Please, great Oz... I mean mom, can I have some more?

Another idea would be to make them half size and serve them as an appetizer at your next football gathering of kid's birthday party. They actually are kind of fun to heat up and eat for lunch the next day or a late night snack too. I hope you enjoy your "Classy Joes" as much as we do!


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Launching Tin Cans - Make Firecrackers Last for Hours!

Well you might want to gather your husbands, brothers, sons, and teenagers around the ol' blog for a few minutes. I'm going to share some 4th of July fun that's aimed right at them!  This fun little experiment involves science AND explosives (come on, who doesn't love that?!). Many moons ago when my hubby Mr. D introduced this little trick into our family one sunny fourth of July afternoon, he was immediately welcomed into the clan.  With only a few simple items he kept the whole family entertained (kids and adults alike) by launching tin cans into the air for hours.

How high can you launch this can? Let's find OUT!
I am going to give you a play by play picture tutorial so you too can have some extra fun this fourth of July!  I'd say the BEST part of this explosive experiment is that you take something that, if normally lit, would last about 3.4 seconds.

watch your money vanish quicker than quick

OR... you can make this same pack of firecrackers last for hours!  The whole afternoon, even.  Okay, so let's gather the few things you will need to make this work.  You will need:

1 regular tin can (corn, beans, etc). Open, drained, rinsed, and label removed
1 larger can (coffee) lid removed
a hammer
a nail
package of simple firecrackers
a long lighter
adult supervision coupled with copious amounts of common sense

A small but mighty "Kit-O' Fun" for you and yours.
Okay first things first.  A safety warning.  Clearly these are fireworks and need to be handled with caution.  We will be using water pressure and science to launch a tin can high in the air.  Adult supervision, the ability to run for cover, a large open space, and a bucket of water on stand by are all good ideas.  Now onto the good stuff.

Take your opened, drained, rinsed, label-removed tin can and turn it upside down.  Take your nail and place it in the center of the can. 

Mr. D demonstrating the hammer/nail effect
Gently tap the nail into the can, making a small hole.

Now you want to find the package of regular firecrackers you will be using.

They tend to come with the fuses twisted together.  You will need to carefully pull them apart so they are all single use firecrackers 

Firecrackers come in all different sizes and you need to make your hole fit these perfectly.  After you separate them into individual firecrackers, take the nail out of the can and see if your firecracker will fit.

The hole will most likely not be big enough at first and you will need to widen  it a bit.

Mr. D just takes the same nail and lowering it down at an angle, spins it around with some pressure to widen the hole. Keep testing it little by little.  You are going to want the firecracker to be able to slide down and fit snugly into the hole, but NOT fall in.  Just the tip of the firecracker and the fuse should be sticking out of the top of the can.

Is this exciting or what?!
Now let's focus on the larger coffee can.  We are going to fill this with about 1 inch of water.

By the way, if you don't have a larger coffee type can, you can also use a heavy duty bucket.

This was Mr D back in 2008, we had two (count um) TWO buckets for launching
Once the large can (or bucket) is filled with an inch of water, place the smaller can, loaded with the firecracker sticking out of the top, down into the water.

What it will look like when you look down in the can:

The water doesn't show up on camera, but it's there and it's what makes this little science experiment work
Now you are ready to initiate the launch sequence.  This is where you are going to want a lot of space: A large patch of grass with plenty of space to move and launch your cans. It's a good idea to make sure no kids, pets, or gawkers (believe me, they will gather after you start this) are in the drop zone.

Now using your "go go gadget arm" you want to carefully reach into the can with a long lighter and light the fuse

 Then, using your ninja like skills, run as fast as you can away from the can.

Where's Mr. D? Oh he ran to safety already.  Hopefully you will have enough time to not only run away, but to turn and watch.  The water pressure at the bottom of the can makes a seal, and when the firecracker goes off, it will launch the can high in the air.

Hard to catch on camera, but I got one!  Can shot high in the air
Yes with a satisfying pop your can will sail high into the air with a trail of smoke behind it and land somewhere close by. Adults will nod approvingly, kids will squeal with glee and say "AGAIN AGAIN", teenagers with their face stuck in their smart phone checking their facebook status will raise their heads in confusion and start to wander over... and you will have family fun science-y entertainment that will last all afternoon!!  When you approach the launched can by the way, be sure to give it a few seconds to cool down, as it could be a little hot to the touch.  After that you are ready to launch again.  Get two buckets, have a little competition, who's bucket will launch the higher can?  The possibilities are endless.  Everyone is going to want to try and launch their own.  So have some extra fun this 4th of July and launch those cans to Timbuktu!
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