…is like pillaging without burning?  No, that can’t be right…

But I do have a theory that if I don’t make somebody a birthday cake (note: cupcakes, cheesecakes, and pies are all perfectly acceptable alternatives), I don’t truly care about them.  So for my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I made him the Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Cake from Kris Holechek’s Have Your Cake and Vegan Too.

It’s a fairly standard chocolate cake with a peanut butter filling in between the layers and topped off with a chocolate-peanut butter ganache – garnish as desired.  The recipe was easy to follow, and the cake easy to assemble; if and when I do it again, the only thing I’ll do differently is grease-and-cocoa the pans instead of greasing-and-flouring them, to avoid that flour residue (since it’s not frosted all over, it does kinda show).

And yes, I probably will make it again.  Not only did the birthday boy love it, but it went over extremely well with my omnivorous coworkers, too.  Such is the power of chocolate and peanut butter together.

Christmas in July!

July 25, 2012

A few weeks ago, I went to the cigar store with my lunch date to pick up a top-up card for my phone (this is important).  There was no harm in looking at the magazines first, was there?  This way, if I saw anything I wanted, I could pay for it all at once instead of having to queue up again after.  I squealed when I spied the Christmas ornament preview issue of Just Cross Stitch on the shelf.  It’s a harbinger of great things to come.

“Christmas already?” he asked, taking the magazine from me and turning it over in his hands, examining it.

“Of course!” I replied cheerily.  “If you want to be finished in time for Christmas, you have to start now.”

We perused this year’s offerings, looked at the magazines a bit longer, and I paid for my cross-stitch magazine, the latest issue of Macleans, and a Wunderbar, and we left.  Without the top-up card.  But we did have a Wunderbar, which was a definite plus.

I was right, you know.  You really do have to start stitching/crafting/creating early if you want to have any semblance of sanity left by Christmas.  Hmm.  I remembered a partially finished kit bequeathed to me by my chief cross stitch consultant, who had started it before deciding “Nuts to beadwork!”.  This would be a good time to finally finish it.

A cedar I didn’t know we had in the backyard made a wonderful Christmas tree stand-in.

This is one of the many Mill Hill beaded kits I’ve amassed over the years – I had completed a “Noel” one similar to this a few years back.  It’s supposed to be a poinsettia, although to me it looks more like a bold, Eastern European geometric design.  Also, I’m starting to think there could be a real market for partially-finished kits – with most of the cross stitch finished, this project just flew by as I added the beads and sewed it together.

So there we have it: my second Christmas ornament of 2012.  Hey, if Hallmark thinks it’s time, that’s a good enough reason for me.

When I was just a wee tyke, the Grade 3 class in my school would learn songs from the Anne of Green Gables musical – Canada’s longest-running musical; who knew? – in music class, and as part of this curriculum, would actually get to make ice cream, just like they sang about*.  This was probably the most hotly anticipated moment of my entire educational career, particularly when my cousin, who was a year ahead of me, got to do it and I got to hear about it in greater detail than ever before.  For reasons I still don’t understand, her class was the last to do it, and I felt sorely robbed of the opportunity to waste valuable class-time making ice cream, of all the crazy things.

I eventually got over this snub, and really hadn’t had much of a burning desire to make ice cream since, because you can buy it at the store/I don’t eat dairy anymore/you can buy non-dairy ice cream at the store, too.  Besides, ice cream is just not one of those things I really crave too frequently.  But…every so often, in perusing a cookbook or website, I’d see an ice cream recipe and think, “Dang!”  Since we’re having a heatwave (a tropical heat wave), I finally took the plunge this weekend.

This product is particularly awesome for three reasons (besides the taste!):

1. It’s homemade (duh – who blogs about store-bought ice cream?)

2. It’s vegan

3. I made it without an ice cream maker

Yes!  Thanks to the Brown-Eyed Baker’s handy tutorial (found here), I was able to experiment with homemade ice cream without having to shell out for an ice cream maker that would sit and collect dust in the basement roughly 360 days out of the year.

Oh, the recipe?  Just a little gem from Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan Desserts, “Toasted Coconut Key Lime Ice Cream”.  I’ve fiddled with key limes exactly once in my life, decided they weren’t worth the trouble, and employed one standard lime instead to get the necessary juice and zest.  It yields approximately one pint once all is said and done, which was the perfect amount to slake that cold-n-creamy craving.  The texture was nothing short of velvety, and it tested very well with omnivores.  Although the coconut milk makes it rich, the tartness of the lime provides the perfect balance.

Oh, yeah.  This opens up all sorts of possibilities….

*”Ice cream!  Is anything more delectable than ice cream?  Why, even the most respectable eat ice cream!  It’s wonderful on a summer’s afternoon in June,” etc.

Or perhaps not.

I desperately wanted to bake this weekend – had a serious kitchen itchin’ going on – but it was so hot.  To make a long story short: yes, there is air conditioning in the house.  I absolutely hate it; it’s a battle royale over whether it goes on at all, and so its use is restricted to those days with crazy, 40-degree humidex.  I figure, I freeze my tuchus off six months out of the year or so, and so I can suck it up for a few steamy days because come February I’ll be wistfully reminiscing, “Remember how hot it was in July?”

Baking wasn’t going to happen unless I felt like waking up early and starting while the grass was still vaguely dewy.  So what about a cool, refreshing dessert instead?

I took the basic recipe for Chocolate Mousse Topping from (where else?) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added two teaspoons of raspberry extract to the works to give it a twist.  This ain’t your grandma’s (or the aforementioned Mr. Cosby’s) Jell-o pudding!  And thanks to Pyrex bowls and the microwave,  I didn’t even have to turn on the stove to melt the chocolate in a double boiler!  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I have a hunch – but haven’t tried it yet – that this mixture would be great frozen in popsicle moulds for creamy tofudgsicles, too.  The dollar store is definitely on my must-go list.

Summertime…and the livin’ is easy.

There’s something about the last week of June that just brings with it a certain magic.  For kids, school is almost out for the summer (and I freely admit to watching “Kamp Krusty” the other day and bemoaning that I no longer get to enjoy that last-day euphoria).  For adults, the long weekend is imminent; an extra day off work to celebrate your country with barbeques and street fairs.

In my dad’s case, he got the best of both worlds, since he decided to retire at the end of June.  I sighed, and told him what a lucky bum he was: it’s like graduating, only without the worries of university in the fall or finding a job.  Since he first announced his intentions, it’s been a running joke in our household that he’s going to turn into Oscar Leroy – with all this time on his hands, he’ll find all sorts of little things to complain about and generally become a crotchety old man.  Naturally, I thought this momentous occasion required some sort of festive dessert, although “crotchety old man” is really hard to convey in cupcake form.  (Just for kicks, try Googling “Oscar Leroy cupcakes”.  They don’t exist.)  So I did the next best thing:

It’s an Oscar, he’s grouchy…it’s not such a stretch, really!

I used the basic chocolate cupcake recipe (love it!) from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and made a massive batch of buttercream to do the fur and eyebrows.  I finally got to use my grass tip!  I had bought a tube of black icing from Wilton to do the mouth and pupils, but when I went to do the first mouth I realized that, colour-wise, it was difficult to tell the icing from the cupcake, and so just left the mouth unfrosted.  Note: the eyes and tongue are both marshmallow and therefore are not vegan, but I was under time constraints and this was the path of least resistance.  If you have a little more time, the frosting could be further split and coloured to pipe on eyes and tongue.

My dad loved them!  So much so, in fact, that he was inspired to wear his Oscar the Grouch t-shirt the next day.  Fashion inspiration from cupcakes…strange.

Up next….Cookie Monster cupcakes – a Muppet after my own heart!

P.S. Happy Canada Day, everyone!