Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Baby Blankets - Divided Squares Pattern

Both of these blankets were knitted using a pattern called divided boxes. Unfortunately, I do not remember where I found the pattern. It is an easy pattern to follow.

The pattern is done in multiples of five stitches, and I add on additional stitches for the border. I like to make my border in seed stitch. Here is the pattern itself:

Row 1: (Right side) Knit across
Row 2: (K1, P4) across
Rows 3 and 4: (K3, P2) across
Row 5: (K1, P4) across
Rows 6 and 7: Knit across
Repeat Rows 2-7 for pattern

This one was done using a single strand of Bernat Softee Baby in Funny Prints.

This blanket is for one of the two little girls born to my friends this November (there were actually four babies born in November for whom I need blankets). I used two strands of yarn, one is Bernat Softee Baby in Baby Pink Marl, and the other is Red Heart Hunny Yarn in Pink Blush. Two strands are used because the Red Heart yarn is not very stretchy, and I do not care for how it lies on its own. As the Hunny yarn has been discontinued, this is the last of my stash, so lucky Baby A.

I think I have already talked about why I use Softee Baby so much, but in case I have not, it is because the yarn can be washed and dried.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the photo in the background of the picture featuring the pink blanket–it is of the Golden Gate Bridge, and was taken by my sister, Mindy, of Mindy Metivier Photography.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Banana Cupcakes and Honey Cupcakes

When I made the dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, the peanut butter frosting was well-received and a couple of people asked me what other cupcakes might go well with the frosting. I thought about it, and finally settled on a honey cupcake and a banana cupcake. Full disclosure, I love peanut butter toast with honey, and I usually only like bananas with peanut butter.

Today was someone's birthday at work, and since I signed up to make cupcakes, this was the perfect time to experiment. This person at work also happens to be one of the people who really enjoyed the peanut butter frosting.

The honey cupcake recipe came from the Half Baked - The Cake Blog, and the banana cupcake is from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book. I used the ATK peanut butter frosting recipe. However, since I was worried about the banana cupcakes with the peanut butter recipe, I also made Martha's honey and cinnamon frosting.

They turned out pretty good, and everyone at worked really liked them. Phew! It was quite a long afternoon in the kitchen, and I was very worried about how they would be received.

Roasted Banana Cupcakes With Honey and Cinnamon Frosting
From Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
Makes 16 cupcakes

3 ripe bananas, plus 1 to 2 more for garnish
2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Place 3 whole, unpeeled banans on a baking sheet and roast 15 minutes (the peels get dark). Sift together cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Remove bananas from oven and let cools before peeling. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixture on medium-high, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs yolks, one at a time, beating until each incorporated. Add roasted bananas, and beat to combine. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of sour cream, and beating until just combined after each. Beat in vanilla.

In another mixing bowl, with electric mixer on medium, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Fold one-third whites into batter to lighten, and gently fold in remaining egg whites in two batches.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool.

Honey-Cinnamon Frosting
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

With electric mixer on medium, beat all ingredients until smooth. Use immediately, or refrigerate up to five days in airtight container.

Honey Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
From Lauren Kapeluck on the Half Baked - The Cake Blog
Makes 12 cupcakes

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

Combine buttermilk, honey, and vanilla.

Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.

Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well.

Add wet and dry ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Let cupcakes cool for five minutes before removing from tins and placing them on a wire rack to cool.

Peanut Butter Frosting
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sticks, unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup creamy butter (not old-fashioned or natural)

Stir the cream, vanilla, and salt together until the salt dissolves. Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium-high until smooth, about 30 to 60 seconds. Reduce the speed to medium-low, slowly add the confectioner's sugar, and beat until smooth, two to five minutes. Beat in the cream mixture. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about four to eight minutes. Beat one cup creamy peanut butter.

Friday, November 11, 2011

P Eleven

The Eleventh PlagueThe Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In October I attended a This is Teen event because author Maggie Stiefvater was going to be there. Two other authors also participated, and one of them was Jeff Hirsch, author of The Eleventh Plague. Honestly, I decided to read it because The Hunger Games author, Suzanne Collins is quoted on the book jacket as saying, "The Eleventh Plague hits disturbingly close to home...An excellent, taut debut novel."

If you've read The Hungers Games then you know that Collins is no-joke when it comes to the harsh realities of what our world would be like if it was destroyed by disasters of nature and mankind. Based upon my experience with her books, I felt like Hirsch's book would be worth a try. It turns out, Collins was right. While Hirsch's world isn't as disturbing (no televised fights to the death between children), you will find yourself in an America you recognize.

This time, the US has been decimated by a deadly sickness known as "the Eleventh Plague," and the country is a barren wasteland. Following the plague, was "the Collapse" when the government, businesses, hospitals, and the military fell. Our protagonist is a 15-year-old boy, Stephen, who was born after the Collapse. He and his father have just buried Stephen's grandfather, and they are faced with a choice. Stephen's grandfather ran their trio strictly, and the family kept on the move. Others were not to be trusted, and everything was done with one purpose in mind—survival. Eventually, Stephen finds himself in charge of their destiny; and now is when you should go to a library or bookstore and pick this one up.

For those concerned about exposing young readers to graphic elements, I say don't worry. This is far less violent than The Hunger Games series. What amazed me the most was the way this made me think about human nature and the things we regress to and cling to in dire times. I also loved the imagery Hirsch conjured for me with two of my favorite lines from The Eleventh Plague:

"There was nothing at his back but thirty feet of open air and, beyond that, the bared fangs of a raging river."

"I dug my thumbnail into the soft wood at the edges of the table and wondered if it was true, if she really would come back or if there would be a time when that rubber band stretched as far as it could and would snap, releasing her into the world, never to return."

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Minestrone Soup in the Slow Cooker

Yes, I love my slow cooker. The only problem is that it makes so much food. Well, it's a problem for me, but not for my co-workers (who sometimes get a container full).

Since it's getting chilly in Southern California, this is a good time of year to bring the slow cooker out and make one of my go-to meals. This time I made minestrone soup. The recipe was blended from a couple of different sources (which I can't accurately recall) years ago.

3 1/2 cup beef broth
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 medium carrots
2 zucchini
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 medium potatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounce red kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Optional: 2 oz. pasta

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 16 hours (cook time depends on how large or small the vegetables are chopped). If you wish to add pasta, place it in the slow cooker during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

My Notes
I use two cans of beef broth, which is about four cups. This makes a very thick and hearty soup, so the extra half ounce of broth doesn't hurt. Because spices tend to lose their flavor in a slow cooking process I add more of the dried spices towards the end of cook time. If I use low-sodium broth, I add salt as well. Yes, it defeats the purpose.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Case Anyone Needs a Movie Recommendation

From the looks of it, a large portion of the general public drank the Netflix haterade, including myself; but I simply modified my subscription. I downsized to one movie at a time (plus streaming), and lately the ones arriving in my mailbox have been pretty good. Specifically, Flipped and Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest—two very different movies.

Flipped is for anyone who wants something light-hearted. It is about a young boy named Bryce and a young girl named Juli. They first meet when Bryce's family moves into the neighborhood, and for Juli, it is love at first sight. Not so for Bryce. The movie takes place in the late 50s/early 60s, so there is a certain innocence to the entire story. I rarely watch movies for artistry behind the filmmaking (although I can appreciate beautiful cinematography), so I can't comment on this as a film. That being said, I loved it! I enjoyed this so much, the book it was based on (also of the same title) is next on my reading list.

The other movie I thoroughly enjoyed was Michael Rapaport's documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. It follows the hip-hop group, a Tribe Called Quest during their 2008 reunion tour. I have to admit, I did not really know much about the group, other than songs like Left My Wallet in El Segundo and albums like Midnight Marauders, but this sounded interesting. Michael Rapaport did not disappoint! It felt like a very honest look at the group, without too much Hollywood-sensationalism. Then there was the music! Like or love hip-hop, put this in your queue, because it is a history worth learning.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Barbecue Chicken in the Slow Cooker

If I've already posted about this, my apologies. This is an easy recipe for barbecue chicken in the slow cooker, and I always get compliments when I make it. If you're wondering why there's no photo, it's because I don't think my camera skills do the dish any justice.

The recipe comes from allrecipes.com, and it is super easy.

6 frozen, skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 12-oz. bottle of barbecue sauce
1/2 cup Italian dressing
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Place the chicken in a slow cooker. Combine the barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce, and pour over the chicken. Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or on low for 6 to 8.

My Notes
  • Most of the barbecue sauce I like comes in an 18 ounce size, and I use the entire bottle. I tend to use Stubb's Original barbecue sauce or the Kansas City barbecue sauce at Trader Joe's.

  • I use Newman's Own Family Recipe Italian dressing.

  • I have used both frozen and fresh chicken breasts. My cook time for the frozen ones was about 3.5 hours on high, and I cooked the fresh chicken for 5 hours on low.

  • At the end of the cooking process, the sauce becomes pretty watery, so I shred the chicken and put it back in the sauce. I don't think using only 12 oz. of barbecue sauce will cut down on the watery-ness. Plus, you might also not have enough sauce at the end if you shred the chicken because a lot of the liquid is soaked up by the chicken.

  • Normally, like to serve this with a mac and cheese dish, but it's also good on some sort of bread roll, or in a tortilla.