Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ice Cream Report

Months ago A while back, a Lovely Person sent me a gift card to the wonderful, local ice cream place, so I felt it was my DUTY to try a variety of flavors and report! Most of these flavors are from Graeter's, but I discovered other delicious brands and flavors in the time I've been working on this post, so I included those too.

A couple nice things about the chocolate "chips" in Graeter's ice cream:
1. They are varying sizes and often large.
2. The chocolate melts in your mouth instead of sticking to your teeth!

NOTE: I *STRONGLY SUGGEST* that you have a delicious pint of ice cream in your freezer before you read this post.

Because I was too busy enjoying the deliciousness Somehow, I didn't take any pictures of the ice cream that turned out to be my favorite in this report. BROWNIE MOOSE TRACKS!!! Vanilla ice cream with the WONDERFUL fudge ripple throughout and lots of pieces of CHEWY brownies! Moose Tracks ice cream is sold under a variety of store brands, so check your local grocery store for their many yummy flavors. Unfortunately, my local grocery store's brand doesn't make the brownie flavor, although it does have 3 or 4 of the other Moose Tracks flavors, but the store carries a brand called Dean's that has it!

Some of the contenders

Graeter's Toffee Chocolate Chip
*Vanilla ice cream with pieces of toffee and chocolate chips
*Toffee is PERFECT: easy to crunch and doesn't stick to my teeth
*Milk chocolate chips

Graeter's Coconut Chocolate Chip
*This is what I usually choose because they only have my ABSOLUTE favorite, Mint Cookies and Cream, for ONE MONTH OF THE YEAR *sob*
*Sweet, creamy ice cream; not sure if it's vanilla or coconut flavored
*Lots of coconut flakes
*Semi-sweet chocolate "chips"
*I imagine a Mounds Bar turned into ice cream would taste like this

Ben and Jerry's Scotchy Scotch Scotch
*Butterscotch flavored ice cream with a slightly crunchy butterscotch ripple throughout
* SIXTEEN grams of protein in one container! I don't remember other flavors having that much; I guess I'll need to buy them again and check more carefully! (After checking: The other flavors have that much protein too.)
*Ian is quite sad that this is a limited edition flavor

Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Peppermint Crunch
*First bite tastes like a nice, cold peppermint patty
*Chocolate ice cream with a thin mint ribbon (a thicker mint ribbon would be nice); the description says there are fudge swirls, but I didn't notice those very much
*The "Crunch" is mint chocolate cookie balls that taste like Th!n M!nts or Grasshopper cookies!

Graeter's Cookies & Cream
*Nice cream flavor
*Very light on the cookies: 2 good size chunks, a few smaller pieces

Graeter's Butter Pecan
*Nice buttery flavor in the ice cream
*Nice amount of pecans throughout

Graeter's Salted Caramel
*Very nice caramel flavor with just enough of the salt to keep it from being to sweet
*Smooth ice cream; no chunks of anything

Graeter's Buckeye Blitz
*Chocolate and peanut butter flavored ice cream
*Dark chocolate "chips"
*Little pieces of peanut butter cookie dough (bigger pieces of cookie dough would be better!)

Graeter's Strawberry Chocolate Chip
*Varying sizes of melt-in-your-mouth (instead of stick-in-your-teeth) semi-sweet chocolate "chips"
*Natural strawberry flavored ice cream, no food coloring, smallish pieces of strawberry
*Somewhat sweet, but sweetness is balanced by the semi-sweet chocolate

There were some SERIOUS chocolate chunks in this one!

I hit the jackpot!

Piece of strawberry

Friday, August 8, 2014

PSA: Comparing Photo Books From Shutterfly and Blurb

I recently ordered 2 photo books from Blurb after having used Shutterfly for years. I wasn't sure how the finished products would compare, but now I know, so I'm writing this post to help me remember and to help anyone else who is wondering.

I make photo books for 2 different things: 1) Photo books that *I* will keep once the children move away, that tell the story of our entire family, and 2) Photo books for each child, containing mostly pictures of that child, which the child will take with him/her when he/she leaves the house.

I've been using Shutterfly for....well, since we got a digital for 12? 13? years. I was hesitant to move to a different site because so many years of my pictures are stored there and it's always such a hassle to upload lots of pictures. But, inevitably, when I would have 5 or 10 or 18 minutes here and there to work on photo books, I would have problems uploading my pictures or getting my project to load because of some issue with the site. Also, Shutterfly continues to add to their layouts and other options, so one of the books I was working on became obsolete, I had a hard time learning the new system, and there are now SO MANY options for backgrounds, layouts, and embellishments ("stickers"/decorations) that I became paralyzed with indecision. (But mostly it was the rage from the loading problems that did me in.)

A Lovely Person recommended Blurb to me, so I looked into that site. One thing I liked about Blurb right away was their program, BookSmart, that can be downloaded onto your computer, allowing you to work on your photo book offline. Another thing I liked was that the kind of photo book I was interested in could have 240 or 440 pages, depending on the kind of paper I picked. I was a little sad that there weren't any embellishments offered, but they had a variety of customizable photo layouts,  85 patterned backgrounds (whose colors can be changed to pretty much any color there is) and any color of solid background you could possibly want. Lack of embellishments, although a little sad, simplified the process for me and saved me A LOT of time.

Now for the detailed comparisons!

Kinds of paper
Shutterfly offers one kind of paper.
Blurb offers Standard Paper, Premium Paper Lustre or Matte, Proline Uncoated, or Proline Pearl Photo.

*I wasn't sure which of Blurb's papers would compare to Shutterfly's. If I used Standard Paper, I could get up to 440 pages in a book, but if I used Premium, I could only get 240. Since I am expending so much time, energy, and money on these books, and I want them to last FOREVER a long time, I decided to try Premium Paper Matte for my photo book and Premium Paper Lustre for Jeffrey's, so that I could see what the difference was between the two, and so I could compare the Premium papers to Shutterfly's standard paper.

Results: Shutterfly's standard paper is equivalent to Blurb's Premium Lustre Paper. It's a nice thickness with a little bit of shine. I think I will use the Premium Matte Paper from now on because I prefer to not have a glare on the pictures.

Types of Covers
Shutterfly offers leather, silk, linen, cloth, padded, hard matte covers for their premium or upgrade options, and hard or soft covers (with pictures and/or text printed on) for their standard option.
*Jeffrey's first photo book has a standard hard cover; the cover has a shiny finish (which is easy to wipe off if it gets fingerprints or something sticky on it).

Blurb offers a softcover, hard cover with a dust jacket, or hard cover with ImageWrap (meaning, no dust jacket and pictures/text printed on the front and/or back of the cover).
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book have a hard cover with ImageWrap; the cover has a matte finish (which does not seem to wipe off quite as easily).

Shutterfly offers books in sizes: 8x8, 8x11, 10x10, 12x12, or 11x14.
*Jeffrey's first book is 8x11.

Blurb offers books in sizes: 7x7, 7.75x9.75, 10x8, 13x11, or 12x12.
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book are 13x11.

13x11 book on the left, 8x11 book on the right

The top book contains 101 pages (and has been well-loved).
The middle book contains 112 pages.
The bottom book contains 182 pages.
I am terrible at visualizing what size something will actually be, so I was pleasantly surprised today when the 13x11 books came and I saw the size of the pictures. For some things, like birthdays, where there are 40 pictures of the same event, I like to use the 9- or 16-picture layouts to keep a lot of the pictures but not use up a lot of pages with them. I always worry the pictures will turn out to be too small, especially with the 16-picture layout, but they were perfect!

Design Options
Shutterfly offers 2 book-making options: Custom Path (1-25 pictures per page, you design the book yourself, including backgrounds, text and fonts, and embellishments) or Simple Path (1-4 pictures per page, the computer organizes your pictures onto pages according to the dates and you can go through an adjust some things). In Custom Path, there are LOTS OF OPTIONS. LOTS. OF. OPTIONS. Backgrounds, page colors, embellishments, fonts, picture layouts, and now you can "customize" the picture layouts, which means you can change the size of the picture box, add or delete text boxes, and move things around on the page.

Blurb's BookSmart offers 85 patterned backgrounds with colors that can be changed, all sorts of solid colors for backgrounds, a variety of picture layouts (and the option to save layouts that you've designed), the option to "edit" the layout by changing the size of the picture boxes, adding or deleting picture and text boxes, and moving all of those things around on the page, and a variety of fonts.

Verdict: If you love designing things, having LOTS OF OPTIONS, and scrap booking, Shutterfly is what you want. If too many options make you feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision, and what you want is a basic photo album with pictures and some text talking about the pictures, you want Blurb's BookSmart.

Note: Blurb has other book designing options, besides BookSmart, but I haven't used those.

Uploading Things
For Shutterfly, you add pictures to your book from your computer, your Shutterfly account, your Facebook, or your Instagram. You have to be online while you do this. I have had problems with uploading taking A LONG TIME. Once your pictures FINALLY load After you have your pictures, you make your photo book online, at the Shutterfly website. I have also had problems with this site refusing to load or loading very slowly. When your book is finished, you order it from the website, which is pretty quick if the program isn't running slowly/refusing to work that day.

For Blurb, you add pictures to your book from your computer, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, or Smugmug. I only got pictures from my computer, which was fast, and did not require me to be online. I never had any problems using BookSmart to work on my pages; the program never froze or worked slowly. When I was ready to order my book, I uploaded it to the website, which took over an hour (it was a VERY large file), but I was expecting that, wasn't in a hurry, was able to do other things online at the same time, AND it never froze and had to be restarted, so that didn't bother me.

Shutterfly: Jeffrey's 8x11 book, without sales, would cost $39.99 for the first 20 pages, plus $1 per page for additional pages. His book has 101 pages (ultrasound pictures to 18 months old). I can't find the information on their site after 5+ minutes of looking, but I think 101 was the maximum number of pages I could get at the time; that may have changed.
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $120.99+shipping (which, AGAIN, I have looked and looked for on their site and cannot find, but it ends up being a moot point because they usually have a coupon code that gives you free shipping).
From Blurb, as similar sized book would have cost $61.01+shipping.

Blurb: The Large Landscape (13"x11"), Hardcover ImageWrap would cost $60.81 for the first 20 pages, plus $0.50 per page for additional pages. The Family book has 182 pages (January 2011 to the end of July 2013).
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $141.81+shipping.
From Shutterfly, the similarly sized 11x14 book would have cost $312.99+shipping.

*The price of the basic 20-page book is the reason I put so many pages in my books; most of the cost is the initial book, so it's cheaper for me to make fewer books with more pages than to make more books with fewer pages. But if you're making a smaller-sized book for grandparents or for one event (for example: a certain family vacation or family event) then this is irrelevant.

Coupon Codes
*Shutterfly's shipping price depends on the amount of money you are spending, but they often have a free shipping if you spend $30+ code. They usually have a 30% off photo books coupon, often have a 40% off coupon, and sometimes offer a 50% off coupon; the coupons sometimes specify a certain size of book. Also, I am signed up for Shutterfly's emails, and will receive a "free 20 page photo book" coupon a couple times per year, so you could sign up for emails and try making the free book to see how you like their system.

*Blurb: I have only been signed up with them for about 2 months. A couple weeks before that 2 months was up, I received emails from them offering 20% off if I spent one amount or less, or 30% off if I spent more than that before it had been 60 days since I signed up with them. I've also seen 15% and 25% off codes from them. I have not yet seen any free shipping codes.

Final Thoughts
For me, the biggest downsides to Blurb were that I would like a few more decorative options, and I would REALLY like to be able to copy an entire page layout and paste it into another book project, but that isn't possible at this time. (The Shutterfly site isn't cooperating with me again tonight, but, from what I can tell/remember, I can't copy pages there either.) Everything else was a positive for me: ease of use of the website and program, price, and quality.

I was happy with Shutterfly's quality, and I enjoyed the decorative options before there were so many, but my frustration with their site is a HUGE downside.

Also, there are MANY places out there that make photo books, so GOOD LUCK choosing one!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Oatmeal Experiment

So, after days, weeks, months, and years of complaints and declarations of ingratitude and entitlement, and a few days of certain hormones I had finally HAD IT, and declared that we would be eating oatmeal (made with milk, for added protein), fruits, and vegetables for every meal and snack FOR A WEEK to help us remember how blessed we really are to have our needs met and a variety of food easily available to us.

Day 1:
Ian is resigned; I've been his mother his entire life. He knows I am serious.
David is refusing to eat. (He thinks he will survive just fine on his secret stash of candy.)
Marie is resigned; I've been her mother her entire life. She knows I am serious.
Joseph and Jeffrey are happy; they LOVE fruits and vegetables and don't mind oatmeal.

I go grocery shopping and want to WEEP WITH JOY at how simple it is! No agonizing over what to buy (Is it healthy enough? Is it filling enough for hungry, hungry boys to justify the price? Is it chemicals disguised as food? Should I buy it when I can make it for less money? Shouldn't I try harder to incorporate more beans into our diet since they are healthy and inexpensive? If I buy this will they refuse to eat anything else?)! No hunting through coupons (fruits and vegetables don't usually have coupons and I bought store brand regular oats)!

Later that day, I decide that people can make things like apple crisp or carrot cake. So far, nobody is feeling desperate enough to put forth the effort.

Day 2:
I told the boys they may take hot dogs on their camp out if they do their chores without complaining or being reminded. One child is refusing to do a part of his chores that irritates him. 3 others: forgetful. (Final total: 2 boys can have hot dogs, 2 bitterly pack oatmeal. One package of candy is confiscated on the way to the van to leave for the camp out.)

Joseph and Jeffrey are getting a little tired of apples and strawberries, and so they try salad with dressing for the first time as I am unconscious on the floor from the shock. Joseph decides he doesn't like it; Jeffrey does.

At 3:00pm, Ian asks if he can eat waffles if he makes them (from scratch). Unfortunately, he is having a very busy day and doesn't have time to make waffles before they leave for the camp out.

In time-honored tradition (the boys all go camping about once a year twice if we're really lucky), Marie and I have ice cream and pizza for dinner.

Day 3:
Boys have pancakes and sausage for breakfast at the camp out.

5:25 Jeffrey, after asking for a treat and being told no, says, "Can we PLEASE go back to what we usually eat?"

5:53pm Ian BEGS (because I told him that when a person is going to cook dinner they need to start cooking at 5:00 and not at the last minute {due to bedtime and various things}) to be allowed to make waffles. Every child, except 1, happily and GRATEFULLY eats waffles for dinner. One child complains that he can't find a waffle crispy enough and is pointed to the oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables.

Day 4:
I am very much enjoying the lack of stress about meals! Nobody is whining in the morning or at lunch about not knowing what to have, and I don't need to keep checking the calendar to see which person is supposed to be cooking dinner and remind that person 4 or 5 times throughout the day.

Since today was Mother's Day, Husband made sausage, eggs, and biscuits for me for breakfast. The children eagerly ate their share with many proclamations of thanks.

Entirely unprompted and without one sound of complaint, David made pizza (from scratch) for dinner for everyone.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
I hope my possible future DIL appreciates all of the effort that went into this ;-)!
Day 5:
I am sick, and it is WONDERFUL to not have to worry about what people will be eating all day because: OATMEAL, FRUITS, OR VEGETABLES!

Day 6:
At ~3:00 a child remembers that, in times like these, popcorn is considered a vegetable. The child makes popcorn for snack time and there is much rejoicing in the land!

Husband, Jeffrey, and I have salad for dinner, Marie has oatmeal, the other boys opt not to eat dinner.

Day 7:
Children practically LEAP out of bed in order to work on their chores, since the oatmeal experiment ends when the weekly chores are finished.

Since the oatmeal experiment has ended, I have had a lot less stress about dinner times. If the child in charge of dinner doesn't start cooking dinner by 5:00, I happily announce another meal of oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables! I do not worry about who is in charge of dinner and repeatedly remind that person to get cooking! For the most part, the children have HAPPILY and GRATEFULLY eaten whatever food someone has prepared. There has also been an overall decrease in the amount of complaining surrounding the daily and weekly chores. All in all, I call it a SUCCESS and will do it again if needed!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Recipe for Caramel 'N Chocolate Pecan Bars

I found this delicious sounding recipe on the inside of the butter box some time ago, and I finally tried it!


Caramel 'n Chocolate Pecan Bars (with my changes in bold and parentheses)

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 Cup salter butter, softened
1 Cup pecan halves (In an effort to not skimp on the health benefits of pecans--protein and so forth--I did not measure these; I spread a nice, solid layer over the entire crust.)

Caramel Layer (Caramel is one of my favorites and this didn't look like much, so I doubled it. GOOD CALL.)
2/3 C. salted butter
1/2 C. firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I was suspicious that the strong flavor of the semi-sweet chocolate chips would overpower the more delicate flavor of the caramel, so I sprinkled the full amount on half of the pan.)

>Heat oven to 350*. Combine all crust ingredients except pecans in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Press onto bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan. Place pecans evenly over unbaked crust.
>Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until entire surface of mixture begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, 1 minutes. Pour mixture evenly over pecans and crust. (I really don't think this would have adequately covered the pecans and crust if I hadn't doubled it.)
>Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until entire caramel layer is bubbly. DO NOT OVERBAKE. (I checked at 15 minutes and there were bubbles around the edges; when I checked a few minutes later, the entire caramel layer was bubbly.) Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle with chips; allow to melt slightly. Swirl melted chips over bars leaving some whole for marbled effect. Cool completely. (This is a great way to take advantage of the unusually cold temperatures and a nice, chilly garage!) Cut into bars.

Right out of the oven

TIP: You can use a combination of your favorite nuts or flavored baking chips for variety in these bars. (I am SORELY TEMPTED to try them with butterscotch chips...but that might be too sweet.)

With chocolate chips on the left, without chocolate chips on the right

Mmmmm. I was right: the chocolate does overpower the caramel flavor, but maybe it wouldn't have if I had only used half of the called-for amount. SOMEONE SHOULD TRY IT AND REPORT BACK =)! With the chocolate chips, I think it tastes like a delicious chocolaty treat. Without the chocolate chips, it reminds me of Butterscotch Squares or the delicious, gooey part of Swistle's Mom's Pecan Rolls.

So! You try it and come back and report on any changes you made and how they turned out!

PSA: What Happens When You Go To the Doctor Because of a Smashed Toe (or Finger) (Updated)

WARNING: This post contains pictures of a purple toenail and swollen toe.
On Monday afternoon, I was walking past Jeffrey with my arms full of things to put away, when I noticed he was messing around with a bar stool, tipping it back and forth. I paused on my way and said, "Please don't do that; you're going to get..." *WHAM* Bar stool to the toe.

Not even 5 minutes later
His toenail immediately turned purple, and he cried for quite a while and didn't walk around much for the rest of the day. I asked around, and the consensus was that the way to treat this sort of injury was to have a little hole drilled in the nail to release the pressure. Given the amount of screaming that occurred at Jeffrey's last shots, I knew I did not want to try this at home. Also, I wasn't sure if this was one of those things that, if I took him to the doctor immediately, they would just roll their eyes at me and say we needed to watch it for a couple days, so I decided to skip that experience and just watch it for a couple days. I did give him some ibuprofen for the pain.

EDITED TO ADD: If he had broken the skin/nail, I would have taken him in right away because foot wounds like that are notorious for getting infected.

I tried to go to bed early that night but, a couple hours later, I got out of bed when I heard heartbroken, frantic sobs of, "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" coming from the hallway. It seems Joseph a helpful brother had matter-of-factly commented how sad it would be if Jeffrey died from his toe injury 2 days before his birthday. It took an hour or so to calm him down. It took me a LONG TIME to get to sleep.

Thank you, helpful brother.

The next day, the purple had spread, the toe was definitely looking a little puffy, and he said it hurt to wear a sock.

The third day, his toe was so swollen that I expected his toe nail to pop off at any moment from the pressure.
The picture doesn't do it justice; it was really bad.

But it was his birthday, and I didn't want to ruin his birthday with an unpleasant trip to the doctor, so we went in the next day.

While we drove, I told him a little bit about what would happen when we got to the medical clinic. I tried to explain things to him a little ahead of time so he would know, generally, what to expect. I presented a calm and unworried face so he wouldn't become alarmed. (I truly wasn't worried; by boy #4, I'm pretty resigned about these things.)

When we checked in, a couple people made comments about this having happened DAYS ago and what did I expect them to do about a broken toe AT THIS POINT. I told them I was worried about the swelling, not the possible break.

While we were waiting for the doctor, I told Jeffrey that the doctor was going to need to look at his toe, and that he was probably going to do something to it to make it feel better. He asked me what the doctor was going to do, and I told him I didn't know, which was true! I didn't know...exactly...what he was going to do. As soon as the doctor came in the room, I told him it would be best if he did NOT tell or show Jeffrey what was going on. (At his shot appointment, Jeffrey was so terrified about the shots that there was no reasoning with or bribing him, so I knew it would not go well if he had a specific idea of what was coming.) The doctor looked a little puzzled but he followed my lead. He went to get some back-up and whatever the tool was that was going to burn a small hole in Jeffrey's toenail.

When he came back, I laid Jeffrey on the bed and leaned over him, pinning his top half down and blocking his view. He asked what was going to happen, and I told him that the doctor was going to do something to his toe to make it feel better. He asked what they were going to do, and I told him I would tell him that after the doctor was done. The other guys held his legs while the doctor did his thing. Of course, the first tool broke, so the doctor had to go get another one. Jeffrey looked a little apprehensive, but stayed pretty still and did not scream! When the doctor used the 2nd tool to make the little hole, Jeffrey didn't know exactly what was happening but laughed nervously and said it tickled. It hurt a little bit when someone pressed on his toe gently to help the fluid come out, but it was quick, and then it was finished!

The doctor had made a tiny hole in his toenail, about the size of a pin head. Since Jeffrey wasn't screaming or flailing around, it was VERY FAST. His toe IMMEDIATELY looked and felt a lot better! 24 hours later it isn't draining and still looks good.
4 months later, the toenail fell off to reveal a new, bumpy toenail that had grown in about halfway; I assume it will keep growing until it covers his toe again.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Chocolate Cakes Report

IMPORTANT: Make sure you have a decent quantity of unsweetened cocoa powder and other baking supplies BEFORE you read this post.
A while ago, I had a reason to make chocolate cake, so I tried out LOTS of chocolate cake recipes in an effort to find the BEST one. I used A LOT of cocoa powder and parchment paper that week. Here are my results.

Items of Note
Although I did attempt to follow each recipe exactly, it is highly likely possible that there was some degree of overcooking user error involved in the results of these recipes, so keep that in mind as you are evaluating my results. (In my defense, the ovens in my new house are not heating up to the correct temperature, so that complicates delicate cooking projects.)

The newly shrunken, yet same price, chocolate squares are just as irritating as people have been saying!

"Easy Break" indeed!

Parchment paper is magical stuff! The cakes came right out of the pans and barely stuck to the parchment paper!

I kept these cakes, covered, in the garage when it was just warmer than refrigerator temperature out there. Apparently, chocolate cake needs to be at room temperature; when it is chilled it seems dry...which is especially unfortunate if you accidentally overcooked the cake in the first place.

I made this Chocolate Cake and this Chocolate Frosting.

Note: I made this one in a stoneware bar pan and baked it for 25 minutes.

Verdict: This cake was frosted and uncut for about 24 hours with no ill effects. The cake itself had a nice chocolate flavor without being too sweet. The frosting was very smooth and buttery, not overly sweet, and very much reminded me of the filling in a chocolate truffle. My frosting didn't look like the picture in the post; once cooled, my frosting was solid enough that the kids could separate it from the cake in one piece.

Fudgy Chocolate Layer Cake

Thanks to this picture, I have LONG wanted to try this cake. This recipe came from a Great American Home Baking card that I received many years ago. (I like quite a few recipes from that collection, by the way.)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup less 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Frosting and Garnish
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate shavings (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350* F. Line bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with waxed paper (the recipe says "waxed" paper, but I was told to use PARCHMENT paper instead). Grease paper and sides of pans. Dust with flour.
2. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each additions. Add vanilla.
3. At low speed, alternately beat flour mixture and buttermilk into butter mixture just until blended. Divide batter equally between prepared pans.
4. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Remove paper. Turn layers topside up and cool completely.
5. To prepare frosting, beat butter and confectioners' sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and vanilla; continue beating until shiny and smooth.
6. Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate; spread with frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread frosting on top and sides of cake. Let cake stand for at least 30 minutes before sprinkling with chocolate shavings and slicing.

Notes: I doubled this recipe because I wanted 4 layers. Luckily, I made a batch of frosting from this recipe for the frosting in between the layers because the amount of frosting given in the recipe, even doubled to go with the doubled cakes, just BARELY covered the top and sides; if I make this again, I will make twice as much frosting called for for the top and sides. I did not use chocolate shavings.

Verdict: This cake looked really impressive. It was WAY too dry when it was chilled but decently moist when it warmed up. I'm nearly certain that I overcooked it. The truffle frosting in between the layers had a definite "semi sweet" flavor while the cake was more of a sweet chocolate, so I think I'll try milk chocolate chips in that frosting if I try this recipe again.


Chocolate Mousse Cake

This was another recipe that came from the Great American Home Baking cards.

1 cup chopped walnuts (4 ounces)
1 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (4 ounces)
1/4 cup butter, softened

1 pound (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Genius that I am, I realized in time that I could use chocolate chips instead of buying a bar of semisweet chocolate and chopping it!)
1 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup whipped cream
1 cup fresh raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 325* F.

2. To prepare crust, mix together nuts and butter. Press evenly over bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

3. To prepare filling, in a medium saucepan, heat chocolate and cream over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature, 10 minutes.

4. Beat together eggs and vanilla at low speed until foamy. At high speed, gradually beat in flour and sugar until thick, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Fold one-third of egg mixture into melted chocolate mixture. Fold chocolate mixture, one-quarter at a time, into remaining egg mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan; smooth top.

6. Bake cake until puffed around outer edges, 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Remove sides of pan.

7. Chill cake for 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh raspberries before serving.

Notes: I used all almonds for the crust. I used a deep dish pie pan because I don't have a springform pan. I did make whipped cream but did not garnish with raspberries.

Verdict: Oh my.

*fans self*

Even though this cake was definitely overcooked, it was rich and dense; it reminded me of the richness and density of cheesecake. A small slice was enough to satisfy a sweet/chocolate craving. Again, this cake wasn't overly sweet; definitely semi-sweet as opposed to milk chocolate. WILL MAKE AGAIN. Ahem.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cream Cake
I have long wanted to make this Chocolate Cream Cake from the Lion House Desserts cookbook (which I don't see anymore but maybe this set which appears to be on clearance has the same recipes?)

and the recipe called for two round layers of chocolate cake made from a Devil's Food Cake mix, but I wanted to try the famous chocolate cake made with mayonnaise, and a Lovely Twitter Lady gave me this recipe.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup water
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together in one bowl. Make 1-10 1/2" round cake. Bake at 325* F for 30-40 minutes. Do not overbake.

Notes: I doubled this recipe because I wanted 2 layers so I could try out the cream cake recipe. The batter for this cake did not smell good to me but that may be because I don't like mayonnaise.

Chocolate Frosting
4 tablespoons cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons softened butter or margarine
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix cocoa and powdered sugar in mixing bowl. Add softened butter, milk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Notes: Again, I needed more frosting so I will double it next time.

Stabilized Whipping Cream
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine gelatin with water in a small saucepan. Let stand until thick. Over low heat, stir constantly until just dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. (It should still be liquid.) Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until slightly thick in a large mixing bowl. Turn mixer on low and gradually add the gelatin, then beat on high until the cream is thick.

Stabilized Whipping Cream will hold up for 4 to 5 days without separating. It can also be used to garnish cheesecakes or in any recipe that calls for whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping.

Notes: STABILIZED WHIPPING CREAM! OH, THE POSSIBILITIES! Ahem. This amount of Stabilized Whipping Cream was perfect for a thick layer between the two cakes with a little left over. Also, I didn't dare try to split my cake layers, but I think I would like this cake even better if I did split the cakes to make more layers.

To assemble the cake: Place one layer of cake on a serving plate. Put the Stabilized Whipping Cream on top of the layer of cake. Spread evenly, being careful to leave about 1/2 inch border around the edge of the cake with no cream. Then put another layer of cake on top of the cream. (Er, they use more layers than I did, so I'm going to leave those instructions out.) Gently push down on the cake to set the layers together. Frost entire cake with Chocolate Frosting.

Verdict: The cake itself was nice and moist, but I noticed a slight, unpleasant aftertaste. The frosting was definitely a sweet chocolate frosting, which I liked, but the Stabilized Whipping Cream was not very sweet and the difference between the two bothered me, so I would increase the sugar in the Whipping Cream if I made this again.

That Chocolate Cake

Notes: I didn't have 5 ounces of the called-for 99% Unsweetened Chocolate for the frosting, so I used 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder instead. Probably Possibly related: my frosting stayed runny.

Verdict: I...didn't write any notes down for that recipe, so you'll have to try it and tell me what YOUR verdict is!

Texas Sheetcake
This recipe is in my recipe box, and I do not remember from whence it came.

2 Cups Flour
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Shortening or oil
1 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 Eggs
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Vanilla

In large bowl combine flour and sugar. In saucepan, combine butter, shortening or oil, water, and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling. Pour boiling mixture over flour mixture and stir. Add buttermilk, eggs, salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into an 11x17 pan. Bake at 400* F for 20 minutes.

1/2 Cup Butter
2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Milk
3 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla

In saucepan, combine butter, cocoa, and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring. Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla. Pour warm frosting over cake that has cooled just a bit.

Notes: This frosting is so delicious that I often make it to use for dipping strawberries!

Verdict: This cake was also nice and moist, and I LOVE the frosting, but the flavor of the cake was pretty blah. I used to have a recipe for this cake that called for cinnamon in the cake batter; I need to see if I can find it so I can make it and see if the cinnamon makes a big difference.