Homemade Chocolate Cake with Sweet Cherry Sauce

20120118-042016.jpgUsually, I reserve the baking of cakes for special occasions only.  But for some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to make a chocolate cake today and top it with the cherries I had in the freezer.  There were no recipes in the known google-verse that fit my specifications, as they were mostly some variation of the simple boxed-mix-and-canned-cherry-pie-filling recipe.  That one is definitely tasty, but not what I was looking for today, especially since I don’t keep those things on hand.  Finally, I combined several recipes and tweaked them my own way to come up with the following delightful dessert.  It is sooooo good and would be perfect to make for your valentine.

To make the CHOCOLATE CAKE

This recipe is very close to the “Perfect Chocolate Cake” recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container, I’ve just tweaked it a bit, more in the directions than in the ingredients.

2 c. sugar ( I ran out so I used 1 1/4 cup sugar plus 3/4 cup brown sugar and the cake is so moist!)

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour

3/4 c. Hershey’s cocoa

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

2 eggs

1 c. buttermilk (sub 1 T white vinegar plus milk to make one cup)

1/2 c. vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour two round cake pans.  Combine all of the dry ingredients (I sifted them) in a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.  Mix in the boiling water–your batter will be thin.  Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake for 35 minutes.  Test with a toothpick.  Cool for 10 minutes exactly and turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the SWEET CHERRY SAUCE- based on the topping provided for this recipe at Smitten Kitchen:

2 cups frozen sweet cherries (not necessary to thaw)

1/4 cup sugar

1 T cornstarch

2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/8 tsp. almond extract

Pour all in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat until boiling.  Boil for a few minutes, stirring well, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

To make CHOCOLATE FROSTING:

1 stick butter, melted

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Melt the butter and mix the cocoa in until completely smooth.  Whisk or beat in the extracts.  (I like this blend for the cherry cake.  You may use a whole tsp. of just the almond extract for a stronger flavor, or a whole tsp. of vanilla extract if you don’t have almond.  It really enhances the flavor of the cherries.)  Alternate mixing in the powdered sugar and milk, adding in a little extra milk (teaspoon at a time) if it’s too thick to spread.

To assemble the CAKE:

Place one layer of cake on serving plate.  Frost a generous layer on the top of the cake only.  Place the second cake layer on top, frosting the top of that layer as well.  Use remaining frosting to cover the sides of the cake.  Use a bamboo skewer to pierce the cake through both layers, about 15 times, no closer than half an inch apart.  This will allow the cherry sauce to run down through the cake by the time you serve it.  Now, slowwwwwly spoon the cherry sauce on top of the cake, concentrating it in the center and allowing it to spread out slowly from there.  Try not to let it run down the edges of the cake.  You may chill the cake for a couple of hours before serving if you like.

The sweet, tart sauce from the cherries is so wonderful with the full chocolate flavor of the cake.  Save a little bit of cherry sauce (just the liquid) if you like, and drizzle a little bit on each serving plate.  A little whipped cream would also be nice, if you have it.

I tried a slice and I wouldn’t change anything (the sauce is fabulous all by itself!), but next time I might try the cake recipe using coconut oil, which I much prefer in terms of nutrition.  You could also choose to frost this cake with a fluffier Chocolate Buttercream, but I find that the firm texture of the frosting I used makes a nice platform for the gooey cherries.  I can’t wait to try the cherry sauce on other things as well.

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Quick Pumpkin Bean Soup

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When Mommy Needs a Sick Day

Sometimes I think (and wonder if it’s been proven?) that heightened immunity is bundled up, standard, with the package of maternal instincts.  In the 5+ years I’ve been a mom, I can count one one hand the number of times I’ve really been sick.  Along with super-bionic night ears, the ability to sleep with one eye open (not to mention the ones in the back of your head!), and a built-in lie detector, perhaps there is something inside us that realizes we need a stronger resistance to the many germs and viruses these little people carry so frequently.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But after fighting it off for a while, I have finally been invaded by a nasty sinus-infection and strep throat.  Waking up this morning with weepy eyes, swollen tonsils, and splitting sinus pressure made me give a little moan and pull the covers up closer.  I said a prayer.  I had no idea how I was going to make it through a full day of taking care of the kids.

Sick days for mommies are like instruction manuals for kids.  They don’t exist.  So today I want to tell you how I survived, and what I think other moms should know about how to prepare for the inevitable day when life knocks you off your feet and you somehow have to keep going.

1.  This is a great lesson for your kids.  Especially if you are a stay-at-home mom, the little people get quite used to having you get their meals, play on their level, and take them places.  Remember that we are not just teaching them how to be kids, but how to live, and how to be adults one day.  Grown-ups get sick too and some days we don’t have it all together.  Let them help you.  Tell them that you are sick and need their help to get better.  When a certain little boy got an attitude with me today, I said “Marshall, how do you feel when you are sick?”

“Bad.  Really bad.  My froat hurts and I cough and my ears hurt too and I don’t like it.”

“And how do I treat you when you are sick?”

“Oh, you take good care of me, Mommy!  You always make me feel better!”

“Then how should you treat me when I am sick?”

The smile of understanding spreads across his face and suddenly I’ve won myself little helper.  In a world that can be so harsh, it is so important for us to teach our kids compassion.

2.   Delegate, delegate, delegate!  Little kids actually love to be given jobs to do.  They feel so special when you give them a task and beam with pride when you praise them on their accomplishment.  When they learn to do things for themselves, life is easier for all of you.  So, ask them to get you the tissues.  Tell them to go make a pirate castle out of their blocks.  Let them work together to feed the pets.  Keep them busy while you rest.

One of my favorite strategies to help them feed themselves is to put together “muffin meals”.  Pull out your muffin tins and line them each with a cup.  Make one tray for breakfast and one tray for lunch.  For the breakfast tray, try filling the cups with different, simple foods to make an easy meal.  Cereal, raisins, dried fruit, nuts, fresh berries and anything else they like to snack on.  Help them get a glass of milk if they can’t do it for theselves, and then let them have fun picking out what to eat.  Same for lunch…shredded or crumbled cheese, crackers, carrot sticks, chicken chunks…whatever is simple.  Make one pass through the kitchen, and they will be so delighted that they get to pick whatever cups they want that you won’t hear a single complaint.  It is easier than cooking with less dishes to wash!

3.  Prepare for sick days while you are healthy.  It’s always a good idea to look around your home and think about ways you can make things a little easier for kids to do themselves.  Maybe you put a dispenser jar in the fridge so the kids can fill their own cups with milk or juice.  Or keep a little basket on a low shelf where they can always find kid-proof plates and cups.  And make plans to keep them busy too!  I love to pick up little craft activities when they go on clearance at Michaels for 29 cents.  Keep a couple of unopened jars of play-doh in hiding, as well as a toy or two from the dollar store that you can make a big deal about bringing out when the need arises.  And when you make a pharmacy run to pick up your medicine, stop at the redbox and take a new movie home with you.  (Unless, of course, you are forced to remove that privilege when your kids run away from you 4 times while you wait in the pharmacy line, screaming “SPACESHIP!!!” while they dash for the blood pressure cuff machine and jostle for supremacy.)

4.  They  nap, you nap.  If at all possible.  Even older kids can have some healthy quiet time to read or draw.

Spaceship incident aside, I am happy to say we made it today and I’m proud of the kids for following my directions and playing well with each other.  I definitely have some ideas now on some things I’d like to prepare for tomorrow and for the next sick day, whenever it comes.  Hopefully, my mom-munity will recover its HP and I won’t go through this again for a long time 🙂

Do you have any ideas about how to make it through sick days with kids?  I’d love to hear it in the comments!  And I realize that I have only addressed the needs of a sickness like I have today.  The game changes when it’s a stomach virus, and/or when everyone in the family gets it at the same time.  For this, I recommend having talks with your kids while they are healthy about things that happen when they are sick, so they have more understanding about what to do when you throw up.  Believe me, you’ll be glad you did when your child remembers to run to the bathroom instead of staying in place.  And make sure you have a spare set of clean linens on hand at all times.  A little preparation goes a long way when you’re in survival mode!

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Baked Oatmeal

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This morning I am testing out the WordPress app. I want to see what it’s like to take a picture and post from my phone, so here is a lovely shot of my baked oatmeal for breakfast. Every time I make baked oatmeal, I try a different recipe in search of perfection. This one isn’t quite there yet but my husband says it is excellent and I like the crumbly texture. If this post goes up successfully, I will post the recipe in a bit. Rise and shine!

Edit time: yay, it worked!  So the recipe I used is here http://www.food.com/recipe/amish-baked-oatmeal-117211.  I reduced the brown sugar to 1/2 cup and it turned out great, though I might add a tablespoon or two of honey next time for healthy sweetness and texture.  I also added 1/2 cup fresh blueberries and 1/4 cup pomegranate-infused dried cranberries.  I broke it up in my bowl and poured a little milk on top.  Perfect with a cup of tea!

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What is a Pummelo…and what do I do with it?

Grocery Cashier: “Uhm…what is this??”

Me: It’s a pummelo.

Cashier (poking it): “Is it gross?

Me: No, it’s a citrus fruit!  It’s really delicious.  Like a grapefruit, but sweeter.

Bagger (16-year-old boy): “WHOA!  I’ve got to take one of those home!”

Anyhow.  If you are fortunate enough to find this gigantic fruit hiding out in the citrus section at your grocery store this winter, you really should add one (or three, if they have that many!) to your cart.  People might ask questions and the cashier might wrinkle up a skeptical face, but a juicy bowl of sweetly tangy, aromatic fruit will be yours in the end if you follow these simple directions.

The pummelo (also known as pomelo; though this name also applies to very different fruit than I have pictured) is an ancestor of the modern grapefruit.  It is native to Southern Asia and Malaysia, where it is highly prized.  Pummelo is now grown in California, USA.  Obviously, it has excellent nutritional value, but some sources I’ve browsed say that it can even be used to fight atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries), balance blood sugar, and control asthma.  I’m not a nutritionist, but I am at least qualified to tell you it’s delicious and good for you.

Don’t be fooled by the enormous appearance.  You will need to cut away at least an inch and a half of spongy pith to reach the rosy fruit, which itself is about the size of a softball.  The easiest way to get started is to cut about 1 1/2 inches down from the top and the bottom, until you start to see pink flesh.

You have just caught the first whiff of the incredible aroma that hides in the spongy pith.  A little fruity, a little floral…how I wish I could bottle this into a perfume!

Now take your knife (a long, serrated blade will serve you best) and cut down the sides in sections, going about an inch and a half deep again, right along the edges of the fruit like in the picture.  Take your time and let the fragrance of each slice fill your kitchen.  You don’t have to get it all on this first pass through.

Go back over it again, and this time remove all the remaining white spots until you see the pink fruit all over.  It’s not like an orange, where a little bit of the peel left on is just fine.  You really don’t want to eat this part.  At this point it is best to hold your fruit over a bowl to catch any juice that falls as you’re working your way around.

Now your pummelo is fully peeled, but unlike other citrus fruits, you can’t just tear it into wedges and eat it.  That’s because each wedge is covered in a tough, thick membrane.  You need to take your knife and section it.  If you’ve never sectioned a fruit before, simply hold your knife just in between the membrane and the fruit, and cut out a section of only the fruit between the membranes.  This takes a little practice and you have to be careful!  Let the wedges fall out into your bowl and work your way around until it’s all been cut.

 

See how thick the leftover membranes are?

There are still a great many juicy sacs left in them, so here’s what I do.  Squeeze with your hands, wring it out, and get alllllll that sweet juice in your bowl.  There will be quite a bit!

Finally, your pummelo is ready to enjoy.  It is absolutely delightful by itself, but you could try it in a winter fruit salad.  Here’s what I would suggest:

Jen’s Winter Fruit Salad

1 pummelo, sectioned and with juice

2 navel oranges, sectioned

2-3 sliced kiwis

1 cup sliced pineapple

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Mix all the fruit and its juice together in an attractive glass bowl.  Chill until serving.  Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over salad.  (Add grapes and bananas if you like!)

Enjoy!  If this post was helpful to you please leave me a note in the comments telling me how you like your pummelo!  Oh, and, if you really don’t want to go through all the trouble of peeling and sectioning the fruit, just cut the pummelo in half and eat the sections out of it with a grapefruit spoon.  It provides you with a lovely natural bowl.

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Welcome to Crazy Nest!!

Nice to meet you!  I’m Jen, and this is the blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time but for some reason or another, excused myself out of it.  I hope you will enjoy this collection of stories about my little family, crafts, recipes, and a bit of everything else.  There are four of us here:  me, my wonderful husband, and two sweet children: Marshall, age 5 and Lily, age 3.  (Children’s names have been changed to protect their precious selves.)

Why Crazy Nest?  Well, first, I love birds.  There is something birdy in every room of my home.  And I love the idea of home as a nest, where everyone is cared for in a safe and cozy spot.  As I raise my family, I am learning to let go of my own expectations along the way, to relax, and to let my children be the wonderful people they are in a safe, and happy place.  Crazy…well..that’s the life with kids!  If you’ve kept up with family blogs for any amount of time you’re familiar with the feeling that everyone else has it SO much more together than you, wishing you could be as creative a crafter as this one or as fabulous a mother as that one.  But if you’re a real person, you know that the reality is that there are dishes piled up in the kitchen, 37 matchless socks in your laundry piles (yes, that’s plural!), kids running around screaming just as you’ve made yourself a cup of tea…it goes on.  Life is crazy.  But finding peace and joy in the middle of it is sometimes as simple as taking a deep breath, finding whatever gift the moment is just waiting for you to notice, and refusing to be overwhelmed by chaos.  The awesome thing about blogging is this: for that time, in your own little space, you are free to focus on the beauty around you…to document the sweet little moments…to share the things that you are proud of with the world…so that somehow, the craziness seems a little more manageable.  Soon enough, you realize that you will miss it one day.

Thank you for taking the time to check out my little blog.  Please know that most of my posts will include photos, but I don’t really have the time or equipment to be as professional a photographer as many others out there.  I keep my iPhone with me and use that handy little camera to snap everything in my day.

Please comment if you read!  I’m still figuring out how to use various blogging functions, so feel free to leave tips!  Happy Nesting!

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