Thursday, January 31, 2019

Oreo Whipped Cream Layer Cake

Matthew surprised me immensely this year when it came to choosing a dessert for his birthday. You see, as I've written before, this kid HATES cake. Legitimately hates it. He will tolerates certain flavors but rarely can finish a whole piece. At birthday parties, he accepts cake only as a gateway to get ice cream. For the past few years, he has only requested fruit desserts, specifically apple pie, for his birthday.

So, much to my shock, when I approached him and asked if he wanted me to make him my Caramel Apple Pie for his birthday, he shook his head and said that he wanted a cake. And not just any cake...he wanted an Oreo cake. For some reason, Matthew developed an intense and passionate love for all things Oreo over this past year. I think it started when his 3rd grade class were learning about opinions and debates by having an Oreo taste test where they got to try six different flavors of Oreo cookies and then had to debate the merits and flaws of each one. In the tasting process, Matthew discovered that he loved all Oreos and pretty soon I found myself being suckered into buying fancy flavor packs of Oreos to stick in his lunch - Red Velvet, S'mores, Birthday Cake, Peanut Butter, Peppermint Bark, Lemon, and Apple Pie. Thus, I enabled my son to become an Oreo connoisseur of sorts.

So, really, I should have seen the Oreo cake request coming. But there was more to his request than that.

"I really don't like sugary frosting or anything. It gives me a headache and makes me feel sick," he added.

So, one Oreo cake without super sweet frosting or icing. Got it. The first thing I thought of was an old fashioned icebox cake where layers of cookies are sandwiched between whipped cream and chilled until the cookies soften and breakdown, almost forming a "cake like" texture between the soft whipped cream. Actually, that didn't sound like a half bad idea....let's just turn it into a layer cake form!

A good quality chocolate cake would be the first component of this cake. It has to be chocolaty and rich on its own yet sturdy enough to hold up to being chilled while sandwiching a whipped frosting. And the frosting would be a simple mixture of whipped cream, a touch of sugar, and lots of chopped Oreos folded together. I really like the "Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake" with coffee as a substitute for the boiling water. It's fantastic. So, that's what I used for the cake layer, only I halved the recipe to make a single cake layer. After cooling, I sliced that cake layer in half and then filled it with the whipped Oreo filling. After sandwiching the cake layers back together, I "frosted" it with the remainder of the filling. Then, into the fridge it went to chill and allow those cookies in the whipped cream to soften. Right before it was time to serve, I added a few simple embellishments - a piping of whipped cream rosettes around the top border that are topped with halved Oreos. And, of course, for my future paleontologist, a model T-Rex skeleton for the center of the cake.

Matthew was thrilled.

The whole thing looked pretty cool all lit up with birthday candles. Paul purchased trick candles because you can never have too much birthday boy spit sprayed all over the cake.

Everyone loved the cake. It was quite rich yet simultaneously not heavy (if that's even a thing). We all enjoyed pieces for dessert, then again for breakfast the next morning. Because why not? I should note that I don't think Paul actually had a slice of cake because he was going through a bit of anti-sugar phase at the moment. But the most important thing is that Matthew loved and enjoyed it!

Oreo Whipped Cream Cake
adapted from Hershey's and Serious Eats

For the Cake Layer:
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or canola oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup very hot coffee (heated in microwave if necessary)

For the Whipped Oreo Filling:
50 double-stuffed Oreo cookies
4 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease, flour, and line the bottom of an 8-inch round baking pan with parchment paper.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in the very hot coffee. The batter will be thin - no worries! Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the whipped cream Oreo filling and frosting. Carefully cut 6 Oreo cookies in half and set aside. Chop remaining cookies into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 2 cups cream on medium-high speed to soft peak, spoon into large bowl and refrigerate. In same mixer bowl, whip remaining 2 1/2 cups cream, sugar, and vanilla to soft peak. Fold into already whipped cream.

Place about 1 cup whipped cream in bowl and refrigerate until ready to decorate cake. Fold chopped Oreos into the remaining whipped cream.

Split the cake into two layers by cutting horizontally. This might be easier if you pop it into the freezer for about 30-60 minutes.

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread about 1/3 of Oreo whipped cream onto cake. Top with second cake layer and use remaining Oreo whipped cream to frost top and sides of cake. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow cookies to soften.

Place reserved whipped cream in pastry bag fitted with star tip (I had to rewhisk it a bit to "fluff" it up). Pipe 12 whipped cream rosettes around perimeter of cake and garnish with reserved Oreo cookie halves. Add a dinosaur to the center (optional).

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Crispy Baked Buffalo Wings

Every January, my eldest child gets another year older. I have tried to prevent this from happening but alas time marches onwards and the little boy I used to know as a toothless, grinning, drooling baby who refused to even attempt to crawl until he was 14 months but still managed to roll across the floor and raid my pantry cupboards just to steal an entire head of garlic (true story) is now a tall, smart, funny 9-year-old boy with quite the mouth full of large, fully grown adult teeth.

Although another year older with some continually developing tastes, there are some things that haven't changed when it comes to Matthew. He still enjoys Thomas the train. He still wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up as his obsession with dinosaurs has not waned over the past four years. He still hates unmelted cheese for some strange reason. He will never turn down the opportunity to build a good puzzle. He still hasn't mastered making his bed as soon as he wakes up each morning. He still snuggles with monkey every single night and occasionally sneaks him along on various outings by ensconcing him inside his pocket.

Then there are other things that are continually changing and evolving about Matthew that show me and Paul that he is in fact growing up. His love of reading has continued to blossom as he has moved away from picture-heavy books and now reads larger chapter books and biographies. After watching The Greatest Showman, he wanted to learn more about the real P.T. Barnum and checked out a biography on his life from the library and devoured it within a few days. His current favorite fiction author is Roald Dahl. One of the items we purchased for his birthday was a big boxed set of all the Roald Dahl books and it was his favorite gift!

Matthew's sense of humor is also really starting to blossom. He has been known to make some truly witty observational remarks that have left Paul and me in stitches. He's also been more adventurous with activities. He's always up for a new experience or activity, whether it be a hike, a bike ride, a new sport to try, skiing, you name it. He always throws himself in 100% with full enthusiasm and confidence. A most recent example of this is skiing. Paul is so proud about how Matthew just throws himself down the mountain, determined to race everyone in sight to the bottom of the hill. Never mind that he has suffered crash after crash, including a few "yard sale crashes" where the impact dislodged all his ski gear - gloves, skis, goggles, hat, etc. - to litter the side of the mountain, Matthew's confidence will not be swayed. We love this about him.

I also love how Matthew laughs first and hardest at all my jokes, even the ones that are over his head. At prayers every night, we always go around the room and have everyone name something they're thankful for. Matthew has thanked God "that Mommy is so funny" on more than one occasion.

For his birthday this year, all Matthew wanted to eat was meat. Meat, meat, and more meat! I remember when he was a toddler and we couldn't get him to eat a single piece of meat. It was all fruit and carbohydrates for the first few years of his life. But now that he is a growing boy, he loves to stock up on protein. He loves barbecue - especially ribs - and hot wings. So, we took him out to a barbecue joint that had caught his attention due to the name "Rib City" so he could get his fill of ribs. I was alarmed by how much he did eat. About twice as much as Paul. And he licked those bones clean. Makes me fearful for what his eating habits will be like when he's a teenager!

Since we had a late lunch, most of us were less than enthusiastic at the prospects of dinner, but Matthew insisted that we make Buffalo Wings for his birthday dinner. Even Paul wasn't hungry. But, being the good father he is, he dutifully made some baked wings for Matthew and they were phenomenal! Matthew ate probably a good two pounds of wings, leaving the little bones piled in a bowl as a showcase of the spoils of his meal. At one point while eating, Matthew turned to Paul and said, "You know what I bet goes great with wings, Dad? An ice cold beer."

Excuse me, what?

Either way, Paul took the hint and helped himself to a selection from his current stock of beer from New Belgium brewing company. And he agreed that it went great with the wings (duh). But those wings would have gone great with anything. They were out-of-this-world fantastic. Matthew dipped them in ranch dressing and we bought one of those veggie trays from Costco and just served that along with the wings and we had a meal! Easy and very, very delicious! Since the little girls do not like anything hot, we served a pound of the wings untouched by the spicy Buffalo sauce and they ate them with a side of barbecue sauce for dipping.

I'm out of town for the Superbowl and already Matthew and Paul are making big plans for making a huge batch of these wings for the game. I love how they bond over licking the tiny bones of chickens clean.

Happy Birthday to my growing son, Matthew! We are proud of you! But your Dad is probably most proud of how much of a carnivore you've turned out to be...

Baked Buffalo Wings
adapted from Cafe Delites

For the Chicken Wings:
4 pounds chicken wings cut, wing tips removed and cut into drummetes and flats
1 tablespoon baking powder (NOT baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder

For the Buffalo Sauce:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Frank's Original Red Hot Sauce
A generous dash of honey

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil and set a heat-proof wire rack inside.

Pat dry chicken wings liberally with paper towels, squeezing out as much moisture as you can. Transfer them to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the baking powder, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper together, whisking well to combine, and sprinkle the mixture over the wings. Toss wings through the baking powder mixture until evenly coated.

Arrange on rack, leaving about 1-inch of space between each wing.

Bake for 30 minutes; flip and continue to cook until crisp and golden brown, (about 20-30 minutes longer), until golden browned and crispy.

While wings are cooking, whisk together hot sauce, butter and honey. Toss wings through the sauce to evenly coat.

Serve wings immediately with ranch dressing or blue cheese dressing and plenty of crudites.

Friday, January 25, 2019

White Chocolate and Blueberry Panettone

Christmas baking was a challenge once again this year. The holidays normally take me surprise, but the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like a few days rather than weeks! I did manage to crank out the normal favorites for the kids - the sugar cookies, the seven layer bars, the gingerbread. However, the holiday breads are normally what i crave this time of year - Babka, Stollen, Walnut Twist, and Panettone.

I used to make Panettone every single Advent and Paul would look forward to enjoying it for breakfast with jam and coffee in the days leading up to Christmas Day. Of all the Christmas breads, it was his absolute favorite. It was certainly a labor of love - the recipe I used at the time was a very traditional one that involved a couple days devoted to the project, some tricky steps, and prolonged rising times for the very sticky dough. So, when we kept adding crazy kid after crazy kid to our tribe, the need to make Panettone around Christmastime took a back burner to making sure everyone had clothes on and stayed alive, but not necessarily in that order.

This year was no exception. I did not make Panettone for Christmas and frankly I didn't really regret that I didn't get around to it, although I had every intention of doing so. But then, once the kids headed back to school and I frankly had a tiny bit more time on my hands, I thought why not make it now? We had finished off all our other Christmas sweets and certainly had not enjoyed enough sugar over the past month, so naturally it was the perfect time to concoct a white chocolate and blueberry laced Italian cake. 

But I wanted to finish the Panettone in an afternoon. No more ridiculous rise times, or hanging upside down papered loaves after baking (for real, it's a thing with traditional Panettone). This time, I was going to use a non-traditional recipe and bake it in a non-traditional mold, and finish it in a non-traditional period of time. And you know what? I did. And it turned out awesome.

I had bookmarked a recipe from Cook's Country months ago that promised a quicker, easier way to Panettone. It involved an easy mixing stage, a shorter rise phase, and promised that the bread would bake up into the traditional dome shape perfectly in a standard round cake pan. I gave it a shot and couldn't have been more pleased with the results.

The original recipe called for chocolate and orange to be the flavor additions to the dough. I really like a fruity panettone, so I went with chopped white chocolate and a combination of dried blueberries and cranberries - but mostly dried blueberries. Blueberry and white chocolate is one of my favorite flavor combinations. But really, you could put anything into this bread/cake/thing. 

As promised, the recipe was simple and I was able to complete the majority of it while Daniel happily played on the kitchen rug next to me. He's been doing this thing lately where he will "summon" whomever's attention he desires by pointing at them. Then, the person, usually me, must point back at him and walk towards him until his fingertip is touching their fingertip. We call it the "tractor beam finger" and it delights him to no end when we respond to his summons. However, when we don't, as is usually the case when I am cooking, he gets very upset, very quickly. However, that was not the case while mixing this dough - not once did he employ his "tractor beam finger" demanding my attention, so it was a very non-stressful experience!

If you have been dying to try Panettone - and really, you should because it's delicious - then I highly reccomend this recipe as a starting point. The flavor was wonderful, soft and delicious but not quite as deeply developed as a traditional recipe. No surprise there given how much shorter the rise times were, but it was delicious none-the-less. Unfortunately for Paul, he still did not get to enjoy a piece since he was traveling for work at the time and this loaf was devoured by my ravenous school-age children for a snack within 12 hours of its removal from the oven. Matthew ate 1/2 the loaf by himself while practicing multiplication. Sorry, Paul. At least this easy-peasy recipe is so simple that I can make it all year long. But then, it wouldn't really be all that special of a treat anymore, would it?

White Chocolate and Blueberry Panettone
adapted from Cook's Country

3/4 cup warm whole milk
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups (13 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
1 tablespoon orange zest plus 1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
1 cup dried blueberries

Whisk milk, 1 egg, egg yolks, corn syrup, and vanilla in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup until combined. Using a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, yeast, and salt on medium-low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running, slowly add milk mixture and knead until cohesive dough forms and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down bowl and hook as needed.

Use your fingers to rub the orange zest into the 1/4 cup of white sugar until softened and fragrant. Set aside. 

With mixer running, add butter 1 piece at a time until incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and knead until dough pulls away from sides of bowl but still sticks to the bottom, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add the white chocolate, orange sugar, and dried blueberries, and knead until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Form dough into tight ball and transfer to greased large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Grease 8-inch cake pan. Pat dough into 12-inch disk on lightly floured counter. Working around circumference of dough, fold edges of dough toward center to form rough square. Flip dough over and applying gentle pressure, move your hands in small circular motions to form dough into smooth, taut ball. Transfer ball, seam side down, to prepared pan. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise at room temperature until center is about 2 inches above lip of pan, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. 

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly beat remaining egg and brush over dough. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Rotate pan, tent with aluminum foil, and continue to bake until center of loaf registers 190 degrees, 30-40 minutes longer. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours. Serve.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Christmas Time is Family Time

Sometimes we just don’t want Christmastime to end. That’s how I felt this year after this Christmas. It was so relaxed and chill and pleasant that I continued to ride the sleepy high of it well into the third week since the kids started back at school. Now that the final box of decorations have finally been packed away and stored back in our basement, I figured it was high time that I actually posted some pictures of the joyful time we enjoyed as a family during the twelve days of Christmas and beyond!
Nothing truly monumental or exciting was planned other than lots of togetherness. And that’s exactly why it was so wonderful! Have you ever experienced the completely freeing feeling of not having anything pressing to do or anyplace you had to go? That was what we enjoyed for an entire week! We didn’t even have to hit up the grocery store because there was so much food in the house leftover from our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasting. We stayed inside drinking coffee, playing board games, reading books, conversing with one another. It was truly lovely and I want to go back.

Christmas Eve we enjoyed the company of Elisabeth, our first Denver friend, for our annual fish dinner. Elisabeth has always been so great with our kids and they were excited to host her. She brought gifts in the form of three games for the kids and proceeded to patiently spend the hours after dinner leading up to Midnight Mass continuously playing games with them. Emma was especially enthusiastic about the new games. The activities kept the kids active and wide awake all the way until it was time to leave for Mass around 11:00 PM. Midnight Mass is one of my favorite Christmas traditions and we were excited to see how the church would be decorated at our new parish since this was our first Christmas there. We were totally not disappointed! Everything was beautiful, glowing, and bathed in the gentle glow of candles. We sat right in front of the large crèche and the children were so very well behaved. Only Lucy ended up succumbing to sleep midway through Mass in Elisabeth’s arms. Even Paul managed to refrain from snoring and drooling for the entirety of Mass!

Attending Midnight Mass is rewarding in a lot of ways, but it certainly has its drawbacks. We did not get the kids to bed and asleep until well past 2:30 AM. Then Paul and I had some Santa business to do which meant we were up until around 3:30 AM. You’d think the kids would be so tired that they would perhaps sleep in a bit later than normal, but our children are like roosters and at the first sign of day they must arouse the troops to rise and shine. This arousal came in the form of Matthew standing unnaturally close to Paul’s face at 6:00 AM. That’s a fun way to wake up, I’ll let you know.

Pretty soon, the girls were up too and everyone was excited and bouncing about ready to see what Santa brought. When Paul and I still appeared slightly comatose, all three kids climbed into our bed and began whispering “Merry Christmas!” in our faces with their fish-scented morning breath until we couldn’t continue the charade any longer. “I’ll make coffee…” Paul mumbled as he stumbled out of bed. Actually, he fell out of bed because he asked the kids to help pull him out and lost control of the fall and ended up whacking his back pretty hard on the edge of the bed, leaving a nasty bruise.
Anyway, we stumbled downstairs and the kids happily began to unwrap gifts. We unwrap slowly, focusing on one gift at a time so that everyone can see what everyone received. The kids were thrilled with all their gifts. Daniel was thrilled with all the empty boxes and piles of wrapping paper to explore and possibly consume.

After unwrapping gifts and eating a delicious breakfast of strata and cinnamon rolls, we announced to the kids that a very special gift was on its way, set to arrive at any minute. The kids were all bewildered and wondering what this surprise could be when who should walk in the door but Uncle Jacob, fresh off the airplane all the way from Honolulu.

The kids were delighted! Matthew immediately wanted to blare “Mele Kalikimaka” from the stereo as an effective greeting to our Pacific Islander relative but was sad to learn that we did not have it on CD. Actually, we might, but Paul and I didn't really feel like trying to find it right then. It was a nice idea anyway, Matthew.

The kids enjoyed every minute of having their beloved “Uncle Jakey” stateside for Christmas with them. Jake was extremely patient with all the kids, spending hours and hours and hours playing board games with the little girls and indulging a few other hours with Matthew, Paul, and me playing some more involved strategy games. He and Paul also went to a few distilleries, spent an afternoon hiking in the snow, and took the oldest kids to the movies. Paul and I also gifted Jake a sous vide machine for Christmas and spent a little bit of time teaching him how to use it. Jake and Paul made the most delicious brisket I have ever tasted in addition to the prime rib we enjoyed for Christmas dinner. We all ate way too much, but it was incredibly enjoyable for everyone.


When it came time for Jake to leave, Emma clung to his ankles and begged him not to leave. Both girls sobbed as Paul drove away with their current favorite uncle in the passenger seat, headed to catch the plane that would fly him back to Hawaii. They really bonded with him during the visit.

Soon after Jake’s departure, Daniel started crawling at a wicked fast pace, and we have been struggling to keep him safe from his own destructive habits ever since. He especially enjoys sucking on power cords and attempting to lick light sockets. No cabinet is safe from his rummaging. His new favorite toy is the Swiffer duster. I taught him how to actually use it but he tends to dust the same side of the cabinet over and over. On the bright side, at least one side of the cabinet is clean. He definitely grumbles less than the other three when it comes time to doing chores!

And here we are! Back to school, back to work, back to wishing away the winter cold and dreaming of warm summer days. Lucy is already looking forward to the pool opening up and Emma is compiling her list for Santa for next Christmas (the greedy child).

One thing is for certain, our first Christmas in Denver was a happy, healthy, and restful one. As a family, we look forward to a new year of adventures in our not-quite-so-new home. We chose the word “gratitude” to focus on together in the coming months. We have so much to be grateful for: our families, our friends, our health, our beautiful home and all the amazing possibilities that come with living in such an incredible part of the country. We are also grateful for life and love, especially as we watch our baby Daniel grow and thrive. He brings us all such joy. May we never lose sight of how much we have all truly been blessed in this beautiful life.