RECIPE: Double Cheese Cornmeal Souffle

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I think I am beginning to hate Halloween. 

It's not that it isn't great fun, or the fall leaves and cozy sweaters leading up to the holiday aren't awesome. It's just that Halloween has become a gauntlet of activity that almost surpasses Christmas! Well, maybe not that bad, but it's close. Between girls scout activities and parties, school functions, pumpkin patch visits, orchard visits, sourcing/creating/buying/sewing Halloween costumes, cooking and baking for all those functions/bake sales, it's enough to pack up your bags and not return until Spring.

SO here is something easy to make Saturday morning as you put your feet up in some cozy slippers, content in the aftermath of sugar highs and tired jack-o-lanterns - knowing that you survived it all. Sip that cup of coffee and take it easy, because this will be your last quiet weekend until holiday prep is in full swing! (Sorry to be "Debbie Downer", but look at your calendar and tell me it's not true.)

Oh, and by the way, Happy Halloween! I do mean it, and I will be getting dressed up as Catelyn Stark (from HBO's Game of Thrones) at work today...so I guess I don't dislike Halloween that much.



Double Cheese Cornmeal Souffle

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 chicken/veggie bouillon cube
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 425˚. Spray a 6" round casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set it aside. In a large saucepan heat 1 1/2 cups water. Dissolve the bouillon cube in the water. Add the milk, and get it to near boil. Whisk the cornmeal into the liquid, and turn the heat to low. Cook until the mixture becomes smooth and thick. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, and cool it down slightly. Meanwhile, separate the eggs. Add a little of the hot grits to the egg yolks and mix. This is tempering the eggs, getting their temperature up slowly so they don't curdle. Now add the tempered eggs to the grits, and whisk well while adding the cheeses and parsley. Set aside.

With your whites, throw in a dash of salt. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites gently into the cornmeal mixture until just blended. Don't over mix. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake on the middle rack until puffy and brown on top and center is firm. This takes about 30 minutes. Serve piping hot with some buttered toast.


COOKING CRAFTS: Warriors Cat Territories Birthday Cake

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Years ago, when my husband and I found out we were expecting, we secretly wished that two creative people would cancel each other out so that we would get some crazy rocket scientist kid or brain surgeon Well, it seems we just ended up getting double the creative helping in one child. This poses many joys, as well as many challenges for us-especially when my daughter's creative requests for birthdays and holidays like Halloween come to fruition. That creative mind is always thinking-which makes ours work overtime, too.

So part of my daughter's birthday this year was decorating a cake of her request. At first it was going to be a Roblox cake, which I gleefully thought, "That's easy, the characters are just squares!" Well, one night she seemed distressed and "needed to talk." She then admitted she changed her mind and was worried I would be upset. She then told me she REALLY wanted a Warrior Cats cake, preferably of their territories with their symbols for each clan included.

Now for some of my loyal readers, you may know by now that I accept any challenge.  I saw this as a huge opportunity to flex some "cake boss" muscle. I of course roped my sister in to help because I helped her with her Skylander portal cake for her son-so she owed me! Plus it would be "sister-fun" to play with icing and stuff while the kids were at the Cubs game all afternoon (my daughter's main birthday request/present).




For those of you who don't know, Warrior Cats is a great book series for kids. The stories are about cat clans, each with their own territories and adventures. They have real life dramas like most tribes would who share an area of land, usually around territory fighting, resource fighting, clan leadership, family relationships, etc. My daughter has become obsessed with these stories, and I know having a cake made  about these cats would be very special. But once I looked at the map of territories, I started hyperventilating at it's complexity. However, once I made a sketch and figured out what materials I could make with what, it was just a matter of going to the store for candy and such, and just getting into it.

Also to give you some "logistic notes",  I made two batches of homemade funfetti cake in two 12 x 18 Pyrex pans lined with parchment. Once baked and cooled, I laid them on top of each other, filling the middle with a white chocolate filling in between. Then I made a delicious chocolate frosting as a base for the decorating.


Here's how we did it, in case your child wants a Warrior Cats cake, too.





First of all, build your sheet cakes on a large piece of cardboard or flat baking sheet. Once the cake is filled, take a serrated knife and cut the edges so they are crisp and you have a nice, even  rectangle.

With the extra cut off cake edges, crumble them up by hand and put in a bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of chocolate frosting and mush up until you can form the crumbs into shapes. (This is similar to how to make cake pops.) Shape a mound for the plateau in "Windclan" and begin building up the bottom mountain ridge for "Highstones."



Next, create "Highstone" mountains by shaping little mountains out of the crumbled, mushy cake/frosting crumbs. Place them on a paper plate and freeze them for about 20-30 minutes.



Meantime get some other materials prepped. Add green food coloring to a cup or more of shredded coconut. This will be grass. Crumble Oreo cookies as well a Butterfingers. This will be rocky dirt and gravel. Finally, melt some grey-black candy melts according to package directions, adding a dash of canola oil to keep it workable. Dip the mountains into the candy melt to coat and place back on the paper plate to set.



Now frost your cake with the frosting, keeping "Windclan" plateau open for green gel frosting and sugar. Build up the frosting around the area you built up to start your mountain range. Use the frosting to "glue" down your mountain range.



Now create "Thunder Path" which is cat speak for a road. I used edible paper I bought from the craft shop (in the cake decorating aisle) and cut it into strips. I originally sprayed it with grey food coloring spray, but found it to be too light. So I used my finger and a knife to brush on grey candy melt to the paper to create the road.

Next, we need the rivers for "River Clan." I used blue Fruit Roll-Up strips as a base and blue sparkly gel on top to create the water ways, according to the map.




 

Now fill the grassy areas with green coconut, green sugar and green frosting for the flatter plateau areas. Build up the base of the mountains with crumbled Oreos and Butterfingers to enhance the rockiness of the mountains. Add Oreos and Butterfingers around the rocky areas on the map. You can also use chocolate candy rocks if you can get your hands on some! Sprinkle the mountain tops with powdered sugar for snow.


We carved a bridge out of the middle piece of a Butterfinger, and made the houses out of flat pretzel chips.

Then we dressed up the cake with a few cheap purchases of plastic figures we found at the craft store where you can buy materials for school dioramas. We bought a plastic tube of cats and a plastic tube of trees, and placed them around the territories, trying to match the map as best as possible.



Finally, we bought 5 Ghiradelli chocolate squares, and cut red Fruit Roll-Ups to match the size, then with kitchen shears cut them into the shapes of the different cat clan symbols. We laid the cut shapes onto the squares, and they stuck pretty quickly. Using a dab of chocolate frosting, we glued the whole thing down around the cake on the sheet.




We then drew our Happy Birthday salutations on the bottom pat of the baking sheet, and waited cheerfully for our birthday girl to BE AMAZED-and she was. Now if only the Cubs won that day, it would have been PERFECT. But alas, not even on my daughter's birthday can the Chicago Cubs pull it together. Well, at least MOM delivered on her cake promise.


The aftermath-it looked like the craft aisle, baking aisle and candy aisle threw up all over my kitchen. It was great fun!

RECIPE: Nutella Crinkle Cookies

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What to do when you work late, run to a doctor appointment, help your kid with 2 reports and studying for a test, then realize you owe the school baked goods for a fund raising bake sale the next morning?

My husband kept saying he would run to the store and get cookies that I could throw in saran wrap and pretend I made them. Well, winning 3 pie contests and having a blog called "the urban domestic diva" means we have standards and expectations to meet. (cue deep siiigh.)

So, I had seen Nutella cookies bandied about the "interwebs" here and there, with recipes as easy as 3 ingredients total. After clicking around, I kind of created my own concoction inspired by the easier versions. I would credit these recipes but there are too many to count!

These took 20-30 min total, and one bowl with a whisk. I was able to fit in a self-indulgent popcorn-munching rerun of Downton Abbey AND meet my Diva expectations at my daughter's school! (Oh, and I kept a handful here at home for the family, and they are all gone already. These babies are delicious.)

(Oh, darn. I need to buy more Nutella for the pantry. We'll go to Costco this time. Yeauhhhhh.)

Nutella Crinkle Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup Nutella (or other chocolate hazelnut spread)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
dash salt
3 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350˚. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, then add sugar until creamy and lighter colored. Whisk the vanilla and sour cream until smooth. Add the Nutella and whisk until smooth and thick. Finally add your flour and baking soda and whisk until just combined.

Drop batter by the tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a prepared baking sheet. Bake about 6 minutes, then flip the pans to opposite oven levels. The cookies will spread out, puff up and get a crinkle top. As they finish, they will flatten out and get a very light, golden color to their tops. This takes about another 4-6 minutes. Let them sit out to cool down for 5 minutes, then take them off with a metal spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for a few days-if they last that long. They didn't here.

CRAFTS: Make a Cozy Deck Bench

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BEFORE:

We had our deck redone a few years ago. It was one of those "quick weekend projects" that kept growing and growing, until it was two months long and triple the budget. Needless to say, we don't use that carpenter any longer. But at any rate, in the midst of the rehab, our carpenter had a nice idea to make an L-shaped sitting bench in the corner next to our grill. I liked the idea, as we use the deck for entertaining a lot. I threw some old pillows on there for comfort as well as a signal to guests that they could, indeed, sit on it. Many people would say,"Oh, it looked like a table! I wouldn't think to sit on it if the pillows weren't there!". But even with the pillow hodge-podge, the bench was quite uncomfortable as well as unwelcoming.

SO I saved my pennies, and when the fabric store had a 50% sale on outdoor fabrics, I went to town. I also reused old pillows from the nursery and play room that were not being used any more to recover them. It's a great way to save money and be green.

1:
You will need to first measure your bench. Then you will need to purchase foam at the craft or fabric store. I used a 2" thickness to give guests some nice padding while sitting. Then you will need fabric to cover the sides as well as top and bottom. You will need ribbon to tie the cushion to the bench.
Work right side down with your fabric, and pin your sides to the top and bottom edges before you stitch. Remember to leave openings on both ends to get the cushion out so you can machine-stitch things together.  Also, I used a serrated knife to cut the foam to sizes I needed. I used two big foam pieces to make it easier to take out and put back when I had to turn the fabric right side out after being stitched. I hand stitched the ribbon to the seam when I was done, but a better seamstress would have pinned the ribbon in between the assembly pieces when pinning so it becomes stitched within the seam all at once under the machine.






















2:
I created a dust ruffle along the bottom. I did this to dress up the bench as well as cover a storage bin underneath for the cushions when it rains. I created the pleats so that the fabric had the right flounce at the right lengths. I used two panels. I created a top along the panels with another piece of fabric. Then I took velcro strips to equal out 4 pieces per side of the bench. On the velcro/ fabric side, I actually sewed the velcro on. The glue would not stay put in the heat of Summer. The matching velcro "mates" I glued to the inside of the under hang of the bench, strategically placing them so the velcro on the fabric would stick to the inside of the bench. I wanted things removable and easy. Come late Fall, I will need to store all of this fabric in a bag in the garage until Spring. Velcro is perfect for that!










3:
I cut the fabric for the pillows, covering old pillows that were gathering dust in closets. Stitching them right side down, leaving an opening on one side. Then turning them inside out, filling it with the pillow, and hand stitching the end closed with a straight stich.



4:
Grab a book and an iced tea. Sit and enjoy!




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