8/8 8th Birthday

This year my boys turn 8 on 8/8…how cool is that?!

Our birthday parties for them have been essentially Halloween parties for the past few years. They love monsters and scary stuff and (even though they haven’t gotten to watch them here) horror movies. They told me that this year they want their theme to be Pyscho Killer.

What this means for me is I’m going to take that idea and dial it wayyyyyyyy down. I don’t want my fellow parents thinking I am raising little axe-murderers who are a bad influence on their littles, and besides–my guys are quite sweet and gentle, despite their bloodier interests.

I found a lot of cool ideas from grown-up Dexter parties (I don’t watch the show but the fact that shows like it exist leaves me no hope that my guys will outgrow their obsession with creepy stuff) and while some of it is either too mature or doesn’t apply, I think I have enough ideas to be able to adapt the general theme to a kids’ party.

What makes a good kid’s party, anyway?
This is what I have figured out thanks to trial and error and from going to lots of kids’ parties.

1. Lots of physical activity. I think we will have it at home this year and our backyard is equipped with a sandbox, swing set and trampoline but we have room for a bouncy inflatable. Since their birthday is in the heat of the summer I found one that has a water slide.

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2. Fun crafts for post-playing chillout time or for kids who want a more quiet activity. Also good for filling spaces between playing and eating. Since this is a scary party I think I will have lots of white t-shirts, red splatter paint and fabric markers so kids can make their own blood-splattered t-shirts.

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*from Etsy.com

We could also do construction paper Jason masks or Freddy gloves.

3. Yummy treats: (enough “real” food to balance out the sugar) Since our colors here are red and black I thought I would make red velvet cupcakes and red velvet ice cream with dark chocolate cookies for sandwiches or I could make dark chocolate sundae bowls with tartlet pans. Cheese and pepperoni pizza to eat and clearly fruit punch to drink.

20130312-210544.jpg *from polishthestars.com

4. Festive/spooky ambience: Pandora scary music station, red and black balloons, blood-splattered streamers sounds about right….and is super easy/cheap to do.

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*From popbetty.com

5. Proper timing: We want to have enough time for the kids to all play and have fun but not too much time to where everyone gets cranky and/or bored. Since we are serving food we should have it at lunch time-ish. Maybe 1-4 or 2-5pm. We also want plenty of daylight but not enough sun to scorch the tender kid-skin. I need to be sure to have lots of bug repellant and sunscreen (natural, of course) on hand.

6. Cool goodie bags: This is a tricky one. For the most part, goodie bags are bags of assorted crap that may make obnoxious sounds and *may* get “accidentally” lost before it makes it into the house. It also may include nasty sugar-laden treats that also need to “mysteriously disappear.” I was thinking I could just make confetti cookies with red and black sprinkles instead of rainbow and send a few home with each kid. They are big and tasty and the grownups will probably eat them when the kids go to bed later that night. πŸ˜‰

7. Food and beverages for the grownups: Tacos and sangria, anyone?

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I think this is going to be a fun party…too bad it’s still so far away! I guess I can get started on my ideas for my honey’s upcoming 38th (!!) birthday. πŸ™‚

Confetti Cookies

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I have loved every cookie I have made from the Milk Bar cook book. I love the giant chewy cookies the recipes produce and am not really sure I can go back to “normal” cookies. I used to scoff at prep work for baking. Freeze the dough first? Pfffft….but now I don’t mind starting the process ahead of time. My favorite thing is to start around G’s bedtime so I can prepare the dough, throw it in the freezer, then clean up from the day (random baby toys, discarded snacks, dinner dishes) for the hour it needs to get ready for the oven. Milk bar cookies have a super high butter-to-flour ratio so if you threw them right in the over without freezing the scooped-out dough first they would melt into a sad cookie-puddle.

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One of the unique aspects of the Milk Bar technique is the addition of crumbs. They literally have a section in the book on how to make different flavored crumbs. After living with kids for 7+ years I never imagined I would have to do anything special to have crumbs laying around but in this case they are used to create depth and texture in cookies and cakes and can be sprinkled on dessert plates or on top of ice cream.

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This is the second cookie I’ve made that has required a crumb mix-in (the first being the chocolate-chocolate cookie) and I almost forgot to add the crumbs in before I baked the cookies. I’m glad I remembered because I do think it adds to the flavor. You get little chunky-sandy bits of vanilla and sprinkles that almost tastes like little leftover birthday cake pieces when you take a bite of a soft snickerdoodle-inspired cookie. (the difference between a plain sugar cookie and a snickerdoodle is the addition of cream of tartar. On a classic snickerdoodle you roll them in cinnamon-sugar but that is omitted for this cookie.

Confetti Cookies:

Yield: 15-20 large cookies (I got 18)
Cook Time: 18 minutes (in my oven it’s more like 13-15 so keep a close eye, they are meant to come out still very pale!)

Ingredients:

(for the confetti cookies)

2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbs. glucose (or 1 Tbs. corn syrup–do not omit!!)
2 eggs
2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cups milk powder
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
1/2 recipe of birthday cake crumb, recipe below

For the birthday cake crumb:

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. tightly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup grapeseed oil (all I had on hand was canola…just make sure it’s a clear-colored oil)
1 Tbs. clear vanilla extract

Directions:

(for the crumb)
Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low until well-combined.

Add the oil and vanilla and mix to combine. The wet ingredients act as a glue to allow the dry ingredients to form clusters. Continue to mix until that happens.

Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally, as needed. Mine actually only took 18 minutes or so. Take them out of the oven before they harden; they should remain slightly moist to the touch. They will harden as they cool.

Let the crumbs cool completely before using or storing. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week at room temperature or up to 1 month in the refrigerator or freezer.

Cookies:

Combine the butter, sugar and glucose in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix for 7-8 minutes. At the end of 7-8 minutes the mixture should very pale yellow and doubled in size. It should be very shiny, homogenous, fluffy and resemble a cloud. (See notes below.)

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add in the flour, milk powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and sprinkles. Mix just until the dough comes together, not longer than 1 minute and don’t walk away during this step, just to make sure that you don’t overmix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, add the birthday cake crumbs and mix in for about 30 seconds, just until incorporated.

Scoop the dough onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan using a 2 3/4 ounce ice cream scoop (mine is a #16), or use a 1/3 cup measuring cup. Flatten the cookies slightly and wrap the pan in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, I refrigerated mine overnight.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. (I normally do 345 because my oven runs hot)

Arrange the chilled dough on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. I only bake 6 at a time. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes they should be very lightly browned on the edges. The centers will just slightly show a change in color. Leave the cookies in the oven for another minute or so if they seem doughy or the colors aren’t quite right. They will look slightly dry at the edges but and be just beginning to brown, but still be pretty pale.

Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to store. At room temperature the cookies will keep for 5 days.

*Recipe from Christina Tosi via Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook

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Thoughts on Banana Cream Pie

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My husband convinced me to practice restraint and not cut the pie last night, so I just cut a slice to try it out.

Sadly, I think that the color just freaks me out too much to be able to love the pie. Pies are already at a disadvantage with me because when given the choice I will choose a chewy cookie or a fluffy cake any day over a slice of pie. This didn’t really apply to Crack Pie because it was so freaking tasty, but with banana cream I’m just like…meh.

Another issue I had was that although the cream filling set really nicely and seemed to be the right texture, the crust was hard for me to get out. I like a good cohesive crust and this just isn’t happening here. My cutting skillz could be suspect, so I will see how the slices my honey cuts look.

I love banana and I love pudding-y, creamy fillings so I am not disappointed here, but I may try the banana cream out in the other Milk Bar recipe it’s featured in: banana cream cake. (yes, Oprah’s favorite cake)

The funny thing is, the yellow color just made me want to make a fresh batch of corn cookies (the first recipe I tried and one of my favorites so far) instead of trying a new recipe.

Aside from just wanting to make more cookies, I’m not sure what new adventure awaits me in the Momofuku Milk Bar cook book. When I feel like I’ve sufficiently conquered it I will either go on to the Bouchon cook book or try out something from a Martha Stewart book my sister in law recently gifted me.

I do have to say, I do feel bread whispering in my ear so that just may be the next big project. My sweetie and I have been talking for months about making bread baking our ‘couple’s bonding time’–he bought me some bread cook books and a baguette pan for my birthday and I think it’s just about time. I sampled some yummy Easy Tiger sourdough at Whole Foods the other day and it definitely planted a seed.

What’s going on in your kitchen this weekend?

Mustard Pie

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This evening after dinner I started on my banana cream pie.
Since I was using frozen bananas instead of fresh, I was a little nervous at how things would turn out.

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I put the bananas in the blender and added heavy cream and half & half instead of heavy cream and milk because I was out of milk. Next in was cornstarch, salt, sugar and egg yolks. After it was blended it went into a medium saucepan to be whisked and thickened. In the cook book it said that the mixture will “resemble thick glue, bordering on cement, with a color to match” and she was totally right. At that point I thought maybe the darkness of the defrosted bananas wouldn’t matter.

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A bit of bloomed gelatin and butter went into the blender with the bananas for round two of mixing. After it was all ready it was time to add yellow food coloring. This is one of the issues I have with the book: I am a bit of an ingredient snob because of my holistic background and some of the stuff she uses (food dye, crap cereals…) gives me a bit of anxiety. But I gamely tossed in more and more yellow until I had squeezed most of the bottle in there. Ew.

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It was looking a bit like baby poop yellow curry but I didn’t worry since I knew I’d later be mixing it with heavy cream and powdered sugar and it would probably lighten up. I threw it in the deep freeze to rapidly chill and got to work on the crust.

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The first time I made one of the Milk Bar pies (Crack Pie) I felt like I didn’t add enough butter, like maybe the oat crust was too dry when I tried to press it into the pie plate. So this time I added more butter until it formed a really cohesive ball. This may not have really been necessary since the Crack Pie crust was later baked and it was perfect. But this crust was definitely prettier although maybe I should have baked it a bit. Instead I just followed the recipe. (except I did add some graham crumbs because I was worried I didn’t have quite enough chocolate crumbs to make a good crust)

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By the time the crust was done the banana mixture was chilled through and ready to be whisked into heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar to finish the filling.

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Even after the banana was mixed with the whipped cream it still had a crazy color. If we like the pie, next time I’ll make it with fresh bananas and see what that color looks like. Or maybe I’ll just leave the food coloring out. I’m ok with a grayish-colored pie! πŸ˜‰ It has been chilling in the fridge for a bit so I may go scoop some out and see how it tastes. I think the mustard-y color actually looked kind of cool with the deep brown crust. Very 70’s.

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I did read a blog where the person who attempted the pie said that the pie filling remained loose, kind of pudding-ish so she didn’t cut cohesive slices but just kind of scooped it out. I was planning on leaving it overnight in the fridge to set with the hopes that I’d get pretty pieces but if that isn’t going to happen I’d like to sample my creation tonight. There were no pictures of the pie after it had been cut in the cook book so I’m not quite sure what to expect.

Next Up:

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I think the Milk Bar Banana Cream Pie needs to happen at some point today. I freeze super ripe bananas (much to my husband’s chagrin) and I think today is the day they will become a yummy pie. I had chocolate crumb leftover from the chocolate-chocolate cookies so that can be used for the crust.

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Ooh! When I was looking for a chocolate crumb photo I stumbled upon a tumblr page where someone basically did a Julie/Julia with the Milk Bar cook book. Can’t wait to read it, I just skimmed a bit.

Tools of the Trade

Having the proper tools goes a long way when cooking or baking. I leave the savory stuff to my sweet husband for the most part but I really find a lot of joy in expanding my skills in the baking arena.

I have been baking my whole life, but it wasn’t until I met my chef husband and he insisted that I use professional equipment in our kitchen that I truly felt like I was getting consistent results when baking.

Here are some of latest tools to join the family:

Decorating comb I noticed cool, wavy details in some of the icing in the Bouchon cook book so when I noticed this tool at the restaurant supply store I snatched it up. It was super cheap and I think it will be fun to use. It turns out that at Bouchon they use a tile comb: literally, a tool used to smooth glue for tile floors. I’m most interested in the wavy part of the tool, I feel like if I need smoothing I will use the bench scraper (see below) or an offset spatula.

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Chinois, great for all straining. It is narrow enough to fit in the mouth of even smaller jars and pitchers.

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#16 Scoop
, essential for making huge, perfectly round cookies.

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Bench scraper, great for crushing, chopping and cleaning. (this picture is from Williams-Sonoma. Mine looks slightly different)

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Ok, these aren’t from the restaurant supply store, they’re from Target but I love a good solid wooden spoon.

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Sheet pans. We already had a few, but after my husband used them one too many times to roast pigs feet and other assorted bones I insisted that we get ‘baking only’ pans.

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Aluminum bowls. I have a jillion of these, but they were all larger sizes so I needed a few smaller ones.

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I use disposable gloves a lot as an esthetician but I had never used them for baking. I have to say…it’s kind of nice to not dig cookie dough or pie crust out of my wedding rings.

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I really wanted bowl scrapers but didn’t get them. I wish I had have because I would use them every time I baked. Next time.

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I do have a few other things on my wish list, I’ll get them later as my budget allows. In the meantime I have lots of other fun things to play with in our new kitchen. I’m sure I’ll be writing soon about my latest baking adventure.

What have you been up to in your kitchen?

Meanwhile, back at the Milk Bar…

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In the past few weeks since I got the Milk Bar cook book I have been baking like crazy. There is something very satisfying and familiar about Christina Tosi’s book. She is an American pastry chef who really likes blending nostalgic childhood flavors with more sophisticated and unexpected flavor combinations. But all of it is immediately recognizable to me so I have really enjoyed trying out different recipes. I already wrote about the amazing corn cookies, after that I made compost cookies with dark coffee grounds, milk chocolate chips and oatmeal (the were DELISH and kind of reminded me of cowboy cookies)

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After that I made cereal milk ice cream from Cap’n Crunch. I rushed the process and tried to spin the batch before my bowl was ready but it made great shakes.

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Once I tried ice cream I decided to go crazy and make chocolate-chocolate cookies AND two crack pies at thes same time. The cookies call for a chocolate crumb mix in that has to be made and baked separately before being added to the cookie dough. I have never in my life made baked crumbs. They are fantastic and super versatile:

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The finished cookies are dense and super rich, like a perfectly round brownie.

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The pies are so fantastic, so much bigger than the sum of their parts. It’s deceptively easy: oat cookie crust with a brown sugar custard filling. But after baking and freezing to set, then thawing for an hour in the fridge the suspense just about kills me. But it’s worth it because the finished product is so delectable. I couldn’t even get a picture of a whole pie because we ate them too fast. The boys told me it was ‘the best pie in the whole universe.’ It’s quite possible. Finished oat cookie, what will later become the crust after it marries a nice fellow named Butter.

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Here is the finished product, my filling seems a little different than what she described. I may have defrosted too much in the fridge before serving, but no one complains once they eat it. Seriously. It’s great. And shut up, I know that looks a little like snot.

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The recipe calls for a dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top but I skipped it, it really didn’t seem necessary, especially after we tried the first pie.