Monday, September 30, 2013

Spice Up Your Snickerdoodles - Try Pumpkindoodles!

Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles
It's officially fall now, and we all know what that means. Cozy socks, long sleeves, rainy days and of course, pumpkin-flavored everything. From pancakes to lattes, M&Ms to marshmallows, 'tis the season for pumpkin spice. 

With that in mind, I decided it was time to spice up one of my favorites, too. If snickerdoodles are already so yummy, why not try... pumpkindoodles?! But, before getting crazy with the pumpkin, let's start with the basic Snickerdoodle recipe. 

Melt-in-your-mouth snickerdoodles... teehee!

The recipe I use already has a slight twist on run-of-the-mill snickerdoodle since most recipes call for shortening, but I steadfastly choose butter. As I mentioned in the π r Delicious: Pi Pies blog, I'm not a fan of hydrogenation and instead find ways to substitute more natural ingredients. If I'm going to eat junk food, it's going to be natural junk food! 

                                                        1 C. butter, softened
                                                        1 1/2 C. sugar
                                                        2 eggs
                                                        2 3/4 C. flour
                                                        2 tsp cream of tartar
                                                        1 tsp baking soda
                                                        1/4 tsp salt
                                                        2 Tbsp sugar
                                                        2 tsp cinnamon

Note: The final two ingredients (sugar and cinnamon) are used for the snickerdoodle coating, so keep them separate!

Short the shortening; butter is better!

In a large mixing bowl, cream the softened butter, sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Then combine both the wet and the dry mixtures and refrigerate the resulting dough for 30 minutes.

Taking a dip in the cinnamon sugar
Next up, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the tasty cookie coating. Form the chilled dough into little spheres (about a tablespoon each) and roll each one in the cinnamon sugar until fully coated. 

Snickerdoodles need their space.

Place coated dough balls on a greased cookie sheet about 2" apart and bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes (or in the case of my crazy oven, 7-8 minutes at 355°). Once the cookies are golden brown, remove from the oven and cool on a rack. 

Golden brown and delicious!

A good tip for streamlining the cookie process: try rolling all the dough balls first and then dousing them in the sweet stuff assembly line style. It makes for cleaner hands and much less of a mess!

Oodles of doodles!

And now, what you've all been waiting for: PUMPKINDOODLES! The recipe for pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies is essentially the same as the above recipe with a few minor tweaks:
  • Instead of 1 cup of butter, use 1 cup of pumpkin puree. 

Orange you glad we're not done yet?

  • Since the pumpkin dough is much gooier than the normal snickerdoodle dough, nix the fridge and instead try chilling it in the freezer for easier handling.

Not as spherical, but just as good!

  • To complete the Pumpkin Spice transformation, add a dash of nutmeg to the cinnamon sugar dip. Yum!

Pumpkin puffs!

And there you have it: Pumpkindoodle cookies just in time for autumn. While they still have some snickerdoodle bite, pumpkindoodles come out a little cakier, puffier and fuller of the pumpkin deliciousness you crave. Plus, since there's no butter OR shortening, they're a guilt-free, low-fat snack!

Just add latte

If you like the pumpkin substitution trick, try swapping in applesauce for oil in your next baking adventures! To see an example, visit the Firefly Shindig: Jayne Hat Bundt Cake blog. And as always, happy baking!

For more festive autumnal time blogs, check out the Foxy Jack-o-Lantern & Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, the Peanuts themed Harvest Festival Cut-Out Board, more than a decade's worth of Halloween Costume Art and the latest installment, Halloween 2016: Costume pARTy!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rice Children: Bean Bags with Character

Doc(tor Who) Pile!

Just the other night, my friends and I had ourselves a good old fashioned sewing bee... with a nerdy twist. No quilts or costumes this time, but Rice Children, the adorable little bean bags with personality. Beyond filling your cuteness quota, these rice-filled cuties can also be popped into the freezer or microwave to comfort your aches or warm your fingers, just like any rice bag. Thanks to their utter adorableness, they just might also warm your heart (or hearts if you're a Timelord).

Children of the Rice

The pattern for the basic rice child is super simple: two vaguely butterfly-shaped pieces of fabric for the body (front and back) and two stemmed circles for the head (one face, one hair). Extra pieces could be included at your whim for hair, ears, tail, etc. but that's really about it. The adipose seen above are even simpler, but we'll get to that later.

Pika Pieces

Using this Pikachu-in-progress as an example, you can see the butterfly-esque pattern piece for the body of your standard Rice Child and the stemmed circle head pieces up top. Depending on how detailed you want to be with your character, you can draw on the fabric or sew some accents on with buttons, felt or embroidery, like the stripes on Pikachu's back.

Pieced together.
For a basic Rice Child face, I like to draw two chibi eyes and leave it at that, as it seems to yield max adorability. You can also add a nose, mouth, facial hair or markings depending on what you prefer. As for hairstyles, felt or fleece work wonderfully since you can cut out whatever shapes you want and not have to worry about it fraying. 

To attach the hairstyles, ears or hats, simply place the felt pieces on top of the face as seen above, top with the back-of-head hair circle and sew (make sure to leave an opening at the neck). When you turn the sewn head right side out, the hair should be in place!

"It's a me, Luigi!" "Sweeeeet!"

If you have a character with long hair like Princess Peach, it's a lot easier to hand sew the extensions on after you've sewn the head together, but before adding rice. If the short and/or spiky hair, hats and ears aren't working out the machine sewing way, you can always use this method to attach those troublesome pieces.

Turning right side out is no easy feat!
When sewing the head together, I highly recommend reinforcing your starting and ending stitches, as they will be stressed when you turn it inside out. Same goes for the body, and again make sure to leave an opening at the neck. Layer the body pieces together with the front of the fabric facing in, then start on one shoulder, sew down around the body and stop at the other shoulder, leaving about an inch or so gap in between. 

At the filling station.
Once both the body and the head are sewn and turned inside out, it's time to fill them with rice. It's important not to overfill lest it becomes impossible to sew the head and body together OR the Rice Child is so dense it is no longer soft and squishy, but rather brick-like and uncuddlable. To test rice fullness, try pressing your fingers over the opening and seeing if the head or body are able to flop around a bit, while still maintaining basic posture. If so, get ready to sew!

Pikachu's tail was sewn on the side, between the body pieces.

Tuck the neck of the rice child into the body and fold the edges of the body fabric in to avoid raw edges. With a swift swipe of the sewing machine (or a more careful stitching by hand), you now have yourself a rice child! Try different techniques and styles to make some characters with your own personality!

Mickey Mouse had his tail sewn in the back, twixt top and bottom.
Since this was a multi-nerd sewing extravaganza, it's important to note that credit is not mine for all these cute little Rice Children. Pikachu and Batman are courtesy of Kirstie. Naruto, Luigi and Princess Peach are Megan's handiwork. Ben went off the map and made an ALIEN, while Stewart showed his craftsmanship with a very in depth Mikasa Ackerman (still in progress). All the rest - 9th, 10th & 11th Doctors, Roxas, Cloud, Rachel and Mickey Mouse - are from me! 

9, 10 & 11... can't wait for 12!

But wait, there's more! In the midst of our nerdy banter, someone brought up the adorable Doctor Who alien babies known as the Adipose. Once it was said, there was no going back. I had to make a herd of alien fat. 

Flat fat!

Since they were so simple, it barely took half an hour for all seven of them. If you want to make an Adipose of your own, these guys only need two gumdrop/ghost shaped pieces of white fabric for their bodies, plus four little rectangles of white felt for their hands and feet. Like with any Rice Child, draw a cute face and fill with rice. Just don't forget to tuck the appendages into the sides when sewing!


Sew sweet! And speaking of Alien Rice Children modifications...

Hug me!

Monday, September 16, 2013

From Batmobile to Unicorn: The Art of Car Dubbing

Yellow Sports Car!!

One of the best things about getting a new car is picking out its name. New or used, a good name can give any car character for all your adventures to come. While not everybody bothers to dub their vehicle, it's really quite simple. Got a bright blue car? Call it the Tardis. Have a Mercury? Name it Freddie. A bright yellow sports car as seen above? Mine! Well, not yet, but I can enjoy what I've got in the meantime.

Ninja Yellow Sports Car!

When I first came into this shiny, black coupe, it had already had a few adventures of its own, and a few dents to prove it. It was a sporty little thing, complete with spoiler, sunroof, snazzy rims, darkened windows and a general aura of awesomeness, and it didn't take long for me to realize the proper name for this super car.

Da na na na na na na na... Batmobile!

That's right, the BATMOBILE. Indeed, the title took so well that my brother even gave me a large, stuffed Batman to be the car's mascot. For over four years, my toddler-sized Batman sat in the backseat and accompanied me everywhere I went. He even gave my nephew some hero training, nap-time style.

The Bat Boys at rest.

But after four awesome years, the quirks of the Batmobile started to get a little too quirky. Hot A/C, broken tape player, no antenna, a side mirror held up with a binder clip, an impressive new dent and so on. It even decided to spring a leak in its radiator hose the day I brought it to meet its future owner. Character is one thing, but attitude is quite another.

A Chevy hit my Batmobile... like a rock.

As it happened, the car I found to replace the Batmobile turned out to be a nice, little white Corolla, complete with a giant dent in almost the exact same place. Fancy that! Even with one door/window rendered into a wall, three doors is still an upgrade from two. ;)

The new and improved 3-door car!

But what to name a little white sedan? I toyed with quite a few options before finding one that worked. Batmobile the White (like Gandalf post-Balrog), Shadowfax, Bartok, Storm Dragon, Sherlock... As fun as these names were, none of them seemed just right. That is, until my mom had a brilliant idea: Charlie the Unicorn (a.k.a. the Unicorolla).

There are few ways to upgrade from a Batmobile, but I figure a unicorn is a pretty good bet, especially a cantankerous unicorn. With a centered antenna and a scar on its side (most likely from a run-in with some less than reputable unicorns), it was clearly meant to be. And now with Charlie by my side, perhaps it's time for a new mascot...

"We're going to Candy Mountain, Charlie!"

If you've got a clever car name of your own, feel free to share in the comments! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pineapple Right Side Up Cake... Psych!

I've seen it both ways.

Every once in a while, it's time for a good old-fashioned TV series marathon. Whether one season or seven, no media marathon is complete without snacks, themed snacks especially. Itching for another excuse to try my hand at nerd food, I was ready to host. The inspiration for this media mania? None other than the USA Network hit - PSYCH!

I'm such a Psych fan, I majored in it!

You heard it, pineapple heads, Psych is in the house. This awesome comedy starring Shawn and Gus (James Roday and Dulé Hill) follows a fake psychic and real pharmaceutical salesman crime-fighting duo through countless misadventures. Filled with witty dialogue, silly aliases and classic 80's movies references, this show is seven seasons strong and growing. 

As for snacks, the possibilities for Psych themed nerd food are endless thanks to Shawn and Gus' inordinate love of food in the show. From jerk chicken to muffins, Quatro Queso Dos Fritos to the infamous Blueberry, there are almost too many options to choose from, or at least too many for one marathon. But, seeing as how there's pineapple in some shape or form in every single episode, I thought that'd be a good place to start. Thus, a pineapple shaped Pineapple Upside Down Cake

"Am I clear?" "Like butter."

Fortuitously enough, I came across this awesome little pan long before I had intentions of hosting a Psych marathon. In fact, I'm pretty sure it spurred the idea to begin with. Needless to say, I was psyched. ;)

Pineapple squared!
Just like one would for any pineapple upside down cake, I first lined the bottom of the pan with an unhealthy amount of melted butter and brown sugar. Then, instead of placing rings of pineapple and cherries on top, I cut up smaller pineapple chunks and arranged them to look like an actual pineapple. Just add batter and it was off to the oven!

It may be a bit underdone...
As a rule of thumb, a good way to see if a cake is done is to press it gently with your finger. If it bounces back up, you're in pretty good shape. Another trick of the trade is inserting a skewer, knife or fork into the the center of the cake and seeing if it comes out clean. A third, lesser known way of testing the doneness of a cake is consulting a magic Psych ball.

It's a matter of Phsysics.

In lieu of Gus' magic head, this magic Psych ball can answer all your deepest metaphysical questions - provided they are in yes or no format, of course. Upon asking it if the pineapple upside down cake was ready, I received the following answer:

The magic Psych ball has spoken.

Wise words, magic Psych ball. A few minutes later, I pulled this mouth-watering creation out of the oven.

"Are you a fan of delicious flavor?"

I toyed with the idea of adding pear slices or even lettuce to the top to make the pineapple leaves green, but the effect was more silly than pineapple-like, so I left it au natural with the toasted brown sugar exposed. Yum!

As delectable as the cake turned out, a single pineapple upside down cake could hardly last a whole season of Psyching out, let alone seven! As such, I decided to add a few other favorites from the show. Mostly sugar-based favorites.

"Licorice pastels, twelve o'clock!"

As per Shawn's demands in the episode known as "Think Tank," Skittles made their appearance (and were swiftly consumed), as well as licorice pastels mentioned in "100 Clues." The chocolate is in honor of Clem, Shawn's dream swan made primarily of cocoa, a la "From the Earth to Starbucks."

"BA-NA-NA. A yellow fruit. Also, a kind of pudding. ...A delicious pudding."

Last but not least, I hearkened back to one of my favorite episodes, "Spellingg Bee," for our final treat of the evening: banana pudding. Complete with a giant Psych mug to serve it in, the pudding proved to be quite delicious indeed.

While we didn't end up watching seven seasons of Psych (more like three episodes), it was a wonderful, delectable, pineapply extravaganza nonetheless. Plus, with more episodes to watch, that means more nerd food to eat. Until next time!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Salad Algorithm: Infinitely Appetizing

Have you ever wanted a tasty salad, but had no idea what to put in it besides just lettuce and tomatoes? Have you ever had a great idea, but not the ingredients, nor the drive to go to the store to get them? If so, this one's for you. By following a simple algorithm for choosing five ingredients, you're minutes away from a fresh, delightful delicacy no matter the goods in your groceries!

Without further ado, the Salad Algorithm:

Green + Fruit + Nut + Cheese + Onion = SALAD

Believe it or not, this works. I discovered it myself when attempting to make one of my all time favorite salads (the Strawberry Spinach Salad) for my family in Germany. The only thing was, we didn't have most of the ingredients. Luckily, we're a clever bunch and we started doing what any clever, hungry people would do in such a situation - substitute! Feldsalat for spinach, a fancy French cheese for Monterey Jack, white onions for green... you get the picture. 

The funny thing was, for all these changes we made, the salad was clearly no longer Strawberry Spinach, but it was still amazing. We realized that by matching the basic flavor profile for ingredients, nearly any combination would be delicious! And so, the Salad Algorithm was born. (Special thanks to my Aunt Mary for the catchy title!)

And now some examples, just to get the creative juices flowing...

The greens (and pinks and yellows).

It's easy to fall into a rut with greens for a salad, grabbing a head of iceberg lettuce or a bag of spring greens every time we're at the store. Well, in case you're interested in what else is available out there, check these out! Clockwise from the top: rainbow chard, baby spinach, romaine, green leaf lettuce and butter lettuce. Each one has a different texture and taste, so be sure to explore the produce aisle and find your favorites!

Be fruitful!

Next up: fruits! The examples seen here are all fairly common and easy to find - pears, nectarines, mango, Fuji apples, dried apricots and raspberries. As you can see, the fruit doesn't have to be fresh, though fresh is nice and juicy. Dried cranberries are already quite the staple in many salad makers' homes, but why not try something a little unexpected, like apricots? (FYI, unless you're an apricot hater, you won't be disappointed.)

Aw, nuts!

And now it's time for the nuts (or seeds if you prefer). These little guys not only add a nice crunch, but also some valuable protein. Clockwise from the top: pepitas, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and pine nuts. That last one is pretty expensive, but it's also pretty scrumptious. Try roasting them for extra flavor!

My, these captions are cheesy!

Where would we be without cheese? Clockwise from the upper left: blue cheese, Colby Jack, mozzarella, smoked Gouda and shaved Parmesan. Adding cheese to a salad gives your creation a savory, creamy component that you might not get if you opt for a vinaigrette type salad dressing or even none at all. Just like the other ingredient categories, the possibilities are endless!

Don't worry, the tears are for the joy of eating!

Even the onions have much variety to choose from. Not just white and yellow, but leeks, green onions, shallots, red onions and pearl onions, too! My personal favorites for salads are red or green onions, but it's definitely worthwhile to expand your horizons and find out which pairings work best for your taste buds, too.

With the ingredients done, I do believe it's SALAD TIME!

Green leaf lettuce, raspberries, pine nuts, smoked Gouda and leeks.

Romaine, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, blue cheese and pearl onions.

Rainbow chard, nectarines, walnuts, mozzarella and shallots.

Butter lettuce, Fuji apples, pepitas, Colby Jack and green onions.

Baby spinach, pears, almonds, shaved Parmesan and red onions.

If you're looking for a delectable dressing to go with your salad, the following recipe is a great option. While designed for the salad that inspired it all (the Strawberry Spinach Salad seen below), its combination of flavors compliments any creation from the Salad Algorithm. (Note: the recipe makes enough dressing for salads several times over, so be ready to eat!)

Simple Salad Dressing
                                                      1 C vegetable oil
                                                      1/2 C red (or white) wine vinegar
                                                      1/3 C sugar
                                                      1/2 tsp salt
                                                      1/4 tsp ground white pepper
                                                      2 cloves garlic, minced
                                                      1/2 tsp paprika

Spinach, strawberries, almonds, Monterey Jack and green onions.
Homemade Simple Salad Dressing on the side.

You may have noticed that apart from the salad dressing, there are no actual measurements for the different ingredients listed in the Salad Algorithm. That's because the algorithm itself is not a recipe with steps and amounts to follow to the letter (or the number). It was born out of creativity and open for more. Explore, innovate and have fun doing it! 
Bon Appétit!