Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pink Lemonade Cake

This cake is just made for celebrating summer and sunshine.  We enjoyed it with our visiting family over the Memorial Day weekend and it was delicious.  Lemony and sweet and so pretty.

Pink Lemonade Cake, adapted from Karen Tack, found in Better Homes and Gardens May 2012 issue
1 cup butter
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
red food coloring
1 1/3 cups milk
1/2 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Frosting, double the recipe!

Take the butter and eggs out to let come to room temperature for 30 minutes.  In the mean time, prepare either (2) 9" x 2" round pans or (1) 9" x 1 1/2" and (1) 9" x 1 1/2" pans**.  Grease them liberally then cut out circles from parchment paper to lay in the bottom of the pans.  Grease the paper too and then flour each of the pans.

**The cake is meant to be done in four layers by baking the cakes in 2 round 9" x 2" pans.  Unfortunately I only own 1 pan of that size, my other 9 inch pans are more like 1 1/2 inch pans.  No to be deterred from making this, and as quickly as possible since my to-do list was long, I just put 5 cups of batter in the taller pan and 3 in the other and baked them off.  My larger cake took about 40 minutes to bake, the smaller, just a little over 30. I sliced the taller cake in two and ended up with three pretty even sized layers!

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter for 30 seconds.  Continue beating on medium as you gradually add in the sugar.  Scrape down the side of the mixing bowl and then add in 1/8 teaspoon of red food coloring and mix to combine.  Now add in the eggs one at a time, making sure each is well combined before the next egg is added.  In another medium bowl (preferably one with a spout) combine the milk with the lemonade concentrate and the extract.  The mixture will look curdled, don't worry!

Alternate between adding the milk mixture and the flour mixture to the butter mixture until all are combined.  Fill first cake pan with batter, see ** note above for amounts.  Now add 1/4 teaspoon more red food coloring to the remaining batter and mix to combine.  Pour the remaining batter into the remaining pan and bake them each at 350 F. for 30-40 minutes.  The cakes are done when the middles spring back at a light touch.

Let the cakes cool for about 10 minutes and then remove them from the pans to finish cooling on wire racks.

When cakes are completely cooled slice them if necessary and then frost.  For the best results when frosting make sure the cake is 100% cooled, baking the cake the day before is a great way to do this.  Once you begin frosting do the middles and then just a very thin coat (called a crumb coat) all over the outside and let it harden for about 10 minutes before finishing the rest of the job.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Garbage Disposal Cleaner/Deodorizer

My sense of smell has been fine-tuned since becoming a parent.  Sure I can smell a poopy diaper from a mile away, I can even smell a wet diaper!  Weird and a little gross.  One smell that always gets me is the garbage disposal.  Every so often it just smells nasty and I've never really found anything on the market that I liked to use to clean it up.  A while back I did some internet searching of DIY remedies and now I have two easy ways to keep the disposal clean and smelling pretty.  Two toddlers make enough bad smells around without having to worry about the sink too.

For a quick disposal cleaner pour white vinegar into an ice-cube tray and let it freeze overnight.  After the cubes are frozen you can pop them out of the tray and put them into a freezer bag so they are ready to go.  Anytime the disposal seems gross, turn it on and toss a cube down the drain.  The ice helps to clean the blades and it helps with the smell too.

(don't you just love my cute little star ice-cubes?  Dollar Store, yeah.)

But the real secret to keeping the disposal smelling fresh?

Lemons.  Whenever I have a left over lemon wedge I toss it in  the disposal (while it's running) and the sink is instantly unoffensive.   Cool huh?

Have a very happy Memorial Day weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DIY: Desk Skirt

I mentioned I got a really pretty desk for Mother's Day right?  Well here it is.

I really love it!  I do not love exposed cords.  In fact, my favorite feature of this desk is that the front pulls down to reveal the computer keyboard and lots of cubby space for my stuff so that the top stays nice and neat. Another awesome feature is the charging station hidden inside.  Now, instead of having 3 cell phones, an iPad, iPod and a Kindle all plugged in and hogging space on my kitchen counter...they can all be tucked inside.  Awesome!  But something had to be done about all those horrible looking cords.

For about $10, I created a very easy, no-sew desk skirt to rectify the cluttery cord situation.  

Materials needed:
damp cloth
Stitch Witchery (or other iron-on adhesive) 
straight pins
pretty fabric cut to fit your desk plus a few inches extra for hemming
measuring tape
3M hanging stickers

To start I measured the width of the desk and added a few inches for good measure, then I headed out to JoAnn's for some fabric.  But!  On my way I saw a Hobby Lobby. I had never been to a Hobby Lobby before but had heard so much about it that I decided to go there instead. Whoa that store is big.  I spent quite some time wandering around with project ideas floating around in my head.  Loved it.  Anyway.  I bought my fabric (and maybe a few other items) and headed home.

To make the skirt, wash and dry the fabric then iron it.  Confession: I didn't pre-wash mine.  I was too excited to get going and I figured the chances of me ever washing this thing again were slim to none.  But you should wash it first, especially if you ever want to be able to wash it again later.  

Next I did my thing with the no-sew hemming.  That stuff is super easy to use.  All you need to do is fold a 1/2 inch of fabric over the tape then place a damp towel over it and press down with the hot iron for 10 seconds. Continue around both sides and the bottom.  You don't need to bother with the top because you won't see that when the skirt is hanging up.

Now lay out the fabric and pin in some pleats.  You just need to gather the fabric a bit in regular intervals and pin the fold with a straight pin.  Hard to explain but really simple to do.  As you can tell from this post, I don't sew but I just experimented until I liked what I had.

Ok, the skirt is done, time to hang it up!

To hang it, I just stuck some 3M sticker wall adhesives to the front top edge of the skirt.  One at each pleat.  I removed the backings and with the help of my lovely husband, stuck it to the back edge of my desk.  I wasn't sure if it would work but it's been holding strong for about two weeks now with no problems.

Not bad, huh?  No more ugly cords!  Now I just need to refinish that darn chair.....

Monday, May 21, 2012

Baked Eggs in Whole Roasted Tomatoes

I have a slight obsession with eggs as I may have mentioned in the past. I love eggs cooked any which way. Recently we bought the cutest little egg cups and Mr. Pears will often make me a surprise soft boiled egg breakfast while I'm upstairs waking the babies in the morning. He even cuts my toast into little sticks perfect for dipping, how sweet is that?

This weekend, though, I found a recipe in Whole Living magazine (a freebie subscription that came with Martha) that I just had to try immediately. Roasted tomatoes and eggs? It sounded delicious, and it was.

The eggs are baked inside a roasted tomato with garlic and thyme.  Light and savory, these babies only have 150 calories each. These are just perfect for a late weekend breakfast or brunch and would make an awesome (and healthy!) breakfast-for-dinner type meal. The tomatoes take some time to roast but I like how you can easily do this for quite a few people if you have company, or just for two on a lazy Saturday morning. Choose the largest tomatoes you can find because the egg will fill it right up and you don't want them to overflow. Serve  them with some rustic toasted bread for dipping into the yummy runny yolk. I hope you enjoy them!

Baked eggs in Whole Roasted Tomatoes, adapted from Whole Living magazine June 2012
(serving size is one tomato and egg per person so adjust this as necessary)
2 large ripe tomatoes
2 large eggs
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper
1 small clove garlc, sliced thin
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut the top one third of the tomatoes off and scoop out the seeds and core.

Put the tomatoes in a baking dish and then drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper and the garlic and thyme.  Pop them into the oven for about 30 minutes to slightly caramelize them.

Once they are done and out of the oven, crack an egg into a small cup and then pour it carefully into a tomato, repeat for other tomato(es).  Salt and pepper them again and put them bake into the oven.  This time bake them for 7-9 minutes.  You just want the egg to be set on top so that the white is cooked and the yolk is runny.  Serve and Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Different Kind of Recipe - Dishwasher Soap/Detergent

Next on my list of diy cleaners to tackle was dishwasher detergent and this was one I was very hesitant about. Sure vinegar and water can clean my countertops but could I really make something that would actually clean my dishes as well as the Finish tablets I'd currently been using? Because it seems like dishwasher detergent is the cleaner I am most particular about. We've tried just about every type on the market in search of the perfect one that gets everything, especially the glasses, squeaky clean and shiny....and doesn't cost a million dollars. 

Well we have been using our own diy detergent for a few weeks now and I am really happy with it! This is a powdered detergent so I keep it in a jar and put a heaping tablespoon in the detergent compartment for each load. In place of a "jet dry" type of rinse agent, I am using straight vinegar. Just pour it right into the compartment and refill as necessary.

Dishwasher Soap, adapted from diyNatural
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda (found in the laundry aisle)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup lemi-shine (found with the dishwasher detergents and rinse agents,  you can also substitute food-grade citric acid)

After mixing the ingredients together in a glass jar or other container, leave it out on the counter (open) for about 24 hours and give it a stir every once in a while. This keeps it from clumping. After that you can just put the lid on and store it wherever you usually keep your detergent. Use a metal tablespoon to measure it out or pick up some plastic measuring spoons at the dollar store to keep in the jar for easy access. We have hard water here, but we also have a water softener so I don't know where that leaves us as far as hard water goes. If you have hard water and aren't getting the results you want with this formula you can add more lemi-shine or citric acid, up to double.

If you do the math on this (which you can see if you click through to the original recipe) it works out to about $0.05 a load.  Compared to $0.20 per load for the Finish Powerball Tablets. And of course the cost savings of using vinegar instead of Jet Dry is overwhelming.

Oh, and if you are interested in the label template (you really should label all cleaners!)  I got them for free here.  They were very easy to use and I like the vintage look. :)

I hope you give this one a try!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cucumber Pasta Salad

Did you have a wonderful Mother's Day?  I hope you did.  We had a nice quiet weekend here.  I got some Mommy-time on Friday and on Sunday we took the kids to a big park and let them play in the sand with buckets and shovels.  They had a blast digging and dumping sand all over themselves and then running through the park and the splash pad area.  We grilled burgers and ate non-homemade Klondike bars for dessert.  It was lovely.

For Mother's Day, Mr Pears got me a new desk to put in our bedroom.  I'm super excited to be able to get on the computer without worrying about disturbing napping babies in the next room. (our Master is on the first floor, the computer used to be in a guest room next door to the babies' room.) And, by moving the computer into our room the old desk can now become a sort of crafting area for me.  I'm really enjoying more of that kind of thing lately so it will be really nice to have a space to spread out on other than the kitchen table.

My new desk brought some projects along with it though.  I'm making a desk skirt to hide all the ugly cords and I'm  refinishing an oak chair into a dark espresso color to match the new desk and the bedroom.  Last night I started staining only to realize I hadn't sanded nearly enough and then I spilled stain on my foot.  Not fun and goodbye pedicure. My first refinishing project is off to a rocky start but I will prevail!  And probably post pictures at some time in the future. :)

For now I thought I'd leave you with a great little pasta salad that is just perfect for a summer lunch or a picnic side dish.  It is light and refreshing and super simple to make.  It tastes even better the next day and keeps great in the refrigerator for three days or so.

Cucumber Pasta Salad, by 4 Pears
1 lb tri-colored rotini, cooked al-dente
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh dill
salt and pepper

Combine pasta and vegetables in a large bowl.  Bring the vinegar, water and sugar just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then pour it over the pasta salad.  Stir to combine.  Let the salad sit out at room temperature for an hour and give it a stir every once in a while before moving it into the refrigerator.  Serve chilled.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Multi-Purpose! Stain-lifting Spray

The other week I shared a "recipe" for a laundry stain-lifting spray. The reviews I found on the web for this stuff were full of success stories from people who had used it on stains in plenty of other places too, especially on carpeting and upholstery. So I have to admit I was a little excited when the boys spilled a some of their bright red V8 Fusion on the carpeting in the playroom. (I know, I am such a dork). Even better, I (gasp!) didn't clean it up right away! I let the juice sit there for like 2 hours. Living life on the edge I tell you.

Luckily for me, this stain spray worked! I sprayed a bit on, let it sit about 5 minutes, then wiped it with a damp cloth and the spot was gone!

Whew. Mr Pears would have been pretty ticked if my little experiment had permenantly stained the carpet. Although, on second thought, that area of the carpet is usually covered by a gigantic hippopotamus ball bit. Anyone else have a 5 ft hippo in their house? No?

But, back to the spray. I really am super excited to find another product that works in more than one place. Multi-purpose cleaners make it easier for me, more cost efficient, and eliminate all of those extra space-hogging bottles. So far I feel like I am having great success working towards my green-cleaning goal. Right now I'm testing out various bathroom cleaners and a dishwasher detergent that seems to be doing the job. I'll be sure to share more of these with you soon.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream

I hope you had a happy Cinco de Mayo! We celebrated Quatro de Mayo, Cinco de Mayo, and Seis de Mayo here at the 4 Pears house.  We made lots of yummy Mexican-inspired favorite foods like fish tacos and mango margaritas and even tried our hand at a few new things like Chiles Rellenos (which were delicious, by the way, but my technique needs some work because they weren't the prettiest fried peppers I've ever seen).  For dessert we had homemade ice cream.  I actually have no idea if ice cream is big in Mexico (my favorite part of Cinco de Mayo is usually the margaritas) but we are on a homemade ice cream kick over here right now and it is sooo delicious.

We made homemade ice cream out of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook a couple of weeks ago and it was so good that I believe we'll be eating very few other desserts this summer.  I'm actually eating some right now while I'm typing this out.....

The ice cream base or "batter" is very much like a custard so you do have to manage to cook some eggs in hot liquid without scrambling them and it is a time-consuming process.  If you start tonight, you can have some ice cream tomorrow.  But, believe me, this is worth the trouble.....and the wait.

We've done  both the chocolate and the coffee (well and also the vanilla but I had a bit of an accident with my machine once and overcooked the batter another time so vanilla is not my friend) and they were both awesome.  So awesome that we even Craigslisted our old ice cream machine and bought the stand-mixer attachment which is super easy to use and doesn't take up an entire cabinet.

So, if you have an ice cream machine, I really hope you try this out.  You are going to love it!  If you don't have a machine, go buy one!  Just kidding.....well sort of.  ;)

chocolate ice cream, adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc
7 ounces 55% chocolate bar chopped into 1/2 in pieces
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 large egg yolks
pinch of kosher salt

Put the milk and cream in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium high heat.

Meanwhile bring a small pot with about 2 inches of water to boil and place a glass bowl containing the chocolate over top and stir until the chocolate is melted.  

Add the melted chocolate to the warmed milk and stir.  Heat just until it starts to simmer.

While the milk is heating whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until slightly thickened.

When the milk is just about to simmer add a 1/2 cup to the eggs, whisking the whole time.  Add about 2 cups of liquid, half a cup at a time, to the eggs to temper them and then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the warmed milk whisking the entire time.  Switch to a slotted spoon and while the pan is on medium heat stir constantly until the custard is thick enough to coat the spoon.  Take it off the heat right away (especially when you see the steam begin to rise!) or the eggs will over cook and all will be lost.  Egg lumps.  Eww.  It won't take long so don't stop stirring or take your eyes off of it!

Pour the finished custard into a bowl and stir in the pinch of salt.  Let it cool, then cover it with a lid or some plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator to chill overnight.  Put the base into your ice cream machine the next day and voila!

It makes "a generous one quart".  It goes fast, but I store it in a plastic storage container.

 Amazing stuff.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pineapple and Carrot Muffins

Sorry I've been M.I.A. this week. I've been sick, bleh. Luckily though, I didn't get sick until after we got home from a pretty great trip to Phoenix with the kids last weekend. It was so nice to see family and friends and live life outside our regular little box. The kids did great and it is nice to know that even if we do have a pretty strict schedule here at home, they can be adaptable sometimes too. I mean these guys slept twelve hours a night in tiny pack n plays! Talk about awesome. Anyway, enough bragging....

I finally mustered up some strength yesterday evening and decided to make some muffins for the kids' snack. I had planned on making either the applesauce ones or the banana zucchini bread but then Mr Pears went to the grocery store....for one thing. Yeah. Mr Pears never comes home with one thing. He just can not do it. Yesterday, the random item to come home from the store with him was a can of pineapple, for the kids. Of course the kids do love (fresh) pineapple, but he bought crushed...oops. Plan B, pinterest search for pineapple muffins.

I found a recipe which not only included the crushed pineapple but carrots as well, yeah! Plus, this recipe uses honey as the only sweetener. I added a bit of whole wheat flour and baked up some very healthy and very tasty muffins. I hope you like them!

Pineapple and Carrot Muffins, adapted from Life is Sweet 
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup grated carrots (3-4 carrots)
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a regular size muffin pan with paper or silicon cups.

In a large mixing bowl combine the honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla. In a smaller bowl combine the dry ingredients, everything except for the pineapple and carrots. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet and then fold in the pineapple and carrots. Make sure to just stir ubtil combined. You never want to overmix muffin batter or your muffins will be dense.

Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full. You may have a bit of batter left over, my recipe made 14 muffins (using silicon liners). Bake for about 17-20 minutes if you are using paper cups. My muffins cooked in 15 minutes in the silicon.

Remove them to a wire rack and cool completely. Enjoy your guilt free snack!

**On a side note...don't you love the cute little muffin liners?  If you are on the fence about buying some of these very popular new little kitchen toys, I would totally recommend them.  The muffins practically jumped out of them!  No stuck on paper, they are very easy to clean, and they turn a regular baking sheet into a muffin tray.  Love them!