Sunday, March 29, 2015

Moussaka

Ingredients

  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced into strips (enough to make 3 layers in a baking dish) - alternative: zucchini.
  • 8oz grated cheese (your choice which - I use cheddar)
  • 1 small (6oz) tin tomato paste
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 3 tbsp chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cream (or milk)
  • olive oil

Instructions

Slice the eggplant (or zucchini) about 1/8"-1/4" thick and lay flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Bake in 400F oven for 30-45 minutes (depending how thin the slices are), until soft but not turning crisp. (Alternately, you can fry in oil which is faster but less healthy.) Remove and set aside when done. You can do this step a day in advance and keep the eggplant in the fridge.

While or after the eggplant is cooking, in a saucepan, heat a little olive oil on medium heat and add the onions until they're translucent. Then add the ground beef and mix regularly until the meat is also cooked.

Add the tomato paste and broth to the saucepan and mix together, then turn the heat low and cover, allow to simmer very gently for 10-15 minutes.  If the eggplant isn't quite ready, you can take off the head and set aside, covered, to wait. 

Turn the oven to 350F.  In an oven-safe baking pan, place a layer of the eggplant. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Then spread half the meat mixture flat on top. Add another layer of eggplant, and another 1/3 of the cheese, and the remainder of the meat mixture.  Press this down fairly firmly so it makes a flat top.  Finally, add a third layer of eggplant, sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg and cream together with a fork; add a little salt and pepper if you like. Pour over the top of the baking pan, and bake in the oven at 350F for about 30 minutes, until the top is set. It can keep warm in the oven longer if needed, but since everything but the egg is cooked already, it just needs long enough to set the egg.

Serve warm.  Leftovers freeze & reheat well.

Low(er) carb cheesecake

McCall's Best Cheesecake (modified)

Crust

  • 3/4 walnuts, finely chopped
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • Combine, mix well, and press onto the bottom of a spring form pan. Leave to set in fridge.
Main body
  • 24oz (680g) plain cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup (6oz) sugar

Preheat oven to 375F. Beat the cream cheese until light and smooth, then add eggs one at a time and mix until blended. Add vanilla, lemon juice, and sugar, mixing till light and smooth. Pour over crust in tin, and bake about 45 minutes until beginning to set.

Topping
  • 2 cups (500g tub) sour cream
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Mix together in the sour cream tub. When the cheesecake is ready, remove from oven and spread this topping over it. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool in tin.

Refrigerate overnight before serving. Good with strawberries or strawberry sauce.

Without the strawberries, this should work out to about 380g of carbohydrates in the entire cake, which would be just under 50g for 1/8 or 25g for 1/16 slice.  Using sugar substitute would obviously reduce the carbs even more.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

High fiber breakfast muffins

I've been experimenting with recipes for a high fiber, low calorie breakfast muffin that I can make on the weekend then freeze to take to work each morning.  I'm still tweaking it, but so far this isn't bad:

High Fiber Breakfast Muffins

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups Fiber One bran
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (about 2 snack pouches) organic apple sauce
1/2 cup 2% milk
4 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1 cup frozen raspberries
2/3 cups chopped dried figs
optional: 1 tsp each ground ginger or cinnamon

Mix everything together.  Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners.  Fill each to the top; the muffins won't rise much. Should make about 20 portions.  Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.

Nutrition info:
  • ~140 calories per muffin (assuming 20 muffins; or ~180 calories each if you make 16 muffins)
  • 5.8g fat
  • 21.2g carbohydrates
  • 4.2g protein
  • 0.5mg cholesterol
  • 4.2g protein





Monday, March 09, 2015

Candied bacon

Ingredients:

Bacon (I used thick cut hickory smoked)
Brown sugar
Chipotle chile (or your spicy seasonig of choice, preferably in dry form)

Instructions:

Mix sugar and spice in a shallow bowl. Amounts really depend on how much bacon you're making and how spicy you want it; here's what I used for about 3 dozen bacon strips:



Line a baking tray with foil, ensuring the sides of the foil are raised so grease won't drip out. Preheat oven to about 400F.

Firmly press one side of the bacon into the sugar mixture, then lay on foil with sugar side up. When the tray is full, bake for about 15 minutes or until bacon is cooked crispy. Note that the brown sugar will caramelise and make the bacon look darker than it actually is, so double check it's cooked enough. The goal is to cook it enough that the fat is nicely crispy even once it cools.


Blot the bacon's bottom side on a paper towel to remove excess fat, then set on parchment paper or a cooling rack to cool.

 Avoid humidity. Serve cold or room temperature.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

German Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter (or Coffee) Frosting

German Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter (of Coffee) Frosting 



Cupcakes 

(modified from Bakehouse)
These are much lighter and airier than my other cupcake recipe, which is more dense and moist and cake-like.
  • 8 oz (1.5 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 5 oz (2/3 cups) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 oz (1.5 cups) sugar
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) melted butter
  • 2 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup warm coffee or warm water (I use water as I don't drink coffee)
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In large bowl, beat together sugar, butter and egg until thick and pale, about two minutes with a handmixer. Beat in vanilla.

Slowly mix in the flour mixture and warm water (or coffee) alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Using a spoon, fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake for about 15 minutes, or when a toothpick inserted into center comes out with only a few crumbs attached.

Makes about 16-20 cupcakes depending how full you fill the cups.

Top with your choice of frosting, two great ones below:


Peanut Butter Frosting 

(from AllRecipes)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk, or as needed
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Make sure butter and peanut butter are at room temperature (and butter not melted) - this is important or the texture will be coarse! You may think you can cheat with a microwave, but trust me, I tried it and it did not end well. Just leave them on the counter a few hours or overnight.

Place the butter and peanut butter into a medium bowl, and beat with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in the sugar, and when it starts to get thick, incorporate milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is thick and spreadable. Beat for at least 3 minutes for it to get good and fluffy.

Consensus from work was very positive:



Coffee Frosting

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • about 6 tablespoons strong black coffee or as needed to soften (e.g. use way too much instant coffee in a small amount of hot water, or brew very strong coffee far too long)
  • (Optional: you could also add about 2 tbsp cocoa powder for mocha icing)
Again, butter must be at room temperature - leave out overnight.

Beat the butter well, slowly adding the sugar alternating with coffee until smoothly mixed. Beat at least a couple minutes to ensure it's light and fluffy.

I don't even like coffee and I thought this frosting tasted amazing.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Weeping Angel Costume


Last year I found a guide to making a Weeping Angel costume, and decided to use it (with some changes) as a basis for creating my Halloween costume this year.

These are my notes on the changes I made and what did and didn't work.

The mask was one of the easiest things.  A basic store-bought plastic mask, with the details built up using PlasticWeld epoxy putty (plumber's putty, from Home Depot).


Because the angel's mouth is open, it actually extends down over the mask's chin and I had to add extra chin with the putty. 

 
I cut the plastic out of the mouth area and added in the fangs.



A couple of layers of paint turned it to "stone" (matte for the top layer, angels aren't shiny).


For comfort, I lined and padded the mask with toweling material.  I also enlarged the nostril holes (hidden by the mask's nose) and glued a strip of black stocking material behind the teeth to hide my chin from showing through the mouth.


The mask was reasonably comfortable but the epoxy putty made it heavy.  I might try to recreate it with a lighter modelling clay like Crayola Model Magic.

Next, the wig.  This was very last-minute as I was running out of time. 


I agree with the author of the blog I was referencing: it might be better to model out of clay instead; the yarn is difficult to work with.


Next, the wings.  I wanted to do these differently from the blog I was referencing, because I wanted to be able to detach the wings for portability, and I wanted to try and design the wings and dress so I wouldn't need a second person to help me change into it.

First step was to take apart a backpack with comfortable padded straps to make a harness.  I found some PVC pipes at the hardware store that were a perfect fit to be a socket and support for the wings.  I attached these to the backpack padding, and added an extra strap with velcro closing to ensure they were supported firmly upright.



The wings are made of hard foam sheets from the craft store, glued firmly together in layers.  Initially I tried using duct tape to secure the foam to the PVC pipes, but duct tape doesn't stick well to styrofoam, so I ended up using glue.

Here are the wings, partially made, slotted into the harness:



Wing showing the pipe that slots into the harness:

 Detail on a wing showing the layers, and the carving of the feathers.  I was hoping the paint would cover up the joins between sections of foam better, but it's really only visible at this one place:


Next, the dress.  I wanted a comfortable top, so I picked up a cheap sweatshirt at a second hand shop and chopped off all but the shoulders.


Apart from the shoulders, the dress was made from a dark grey cotton fabric, essentially a tube sewn so it hung in folds. 


The front was sewn to the sweatshirt top, but I didn't sew the back so it could be closed with velcro.   This is how the back looked after painting, when the velcro is closed up:


And with the velcro opened, two vertical slits (hidden in the folds) allow the wings to be slotted through to the harness underneath:


For the arms, I tried the instructions in the original blog.  I used grey stockings, cut and sewed into gloves, and painted them.  




Not only was sewing the gloves a lengthy pain, it was also uncomfortable and the arms were still more transparent than the rest of the costume.  It didn't look awful, but it didn't look perfect either.  I used a stocking hat as well to cover my ears and neck, however, I also had trouble with the neck creeping up and it had to be pinned to stay in place.

I've already bought a lycra bodysuit to paint and see if it makes a better substitute.

Here's how the costume (minus arms and wig) looked on a mannequin,, not yet fully painted:


After taking this photo, I went to work leaving it here just inside the front door, and forgot all about it when I came home in the evening. Almost gave myself a heart attack bumping into it in the dark!

Here's me at the SOE Halloween party. You can see the difference in the transparency of the arms:


The other problem was that I didn't realize how much the wings would swing around when I was moving.  On a stationary dress mannequin it wasn't a problem, but when walking I had to constantly adjust them or hold them.  I need to revise the wings to prevent them from swinging sideways.

Before wearing this again, I will try using a bodysuit instead of the stocking arms, and redesign the wings to stop the swinging.  Possibly also redo the mask with a lighter clay.

Overall, it was fun and challenging to make, but not at all comfortable to wear.  OK for a short costume contest, but I couldn't have worn it comfortably for any length of time. Still, it looked good enough that I tied for first prize and freaked out a few people by following them around!
Here are some of the final greenscreen photos from the SOE party.




Monday, September 16, 2013

Cassy's Peanut Butter Cookies



Cassy's Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (I prefer crunchy)
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
Optional: 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cream together the butter, brown sugar and peanut butter.  Add the egg and vanilla extract, mix well.  Add in the flour, baking soda and salt.  

Optional: Add chocolate chips for a peanut butter chocolate chip version!

Roll dough into 1-inch balls (or drop by tablespoon scoop) and place onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Made a criss-cross design with a fork, slightly pushing cookie down.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.
Let cool for 1-2 minutes on cookie sheet before moving to cooling rack.

This recipe was from Cassy Arretche - thanks! :)