Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chewy Brownies with Olive Oil

Whenever I bake brownies that are Phoebe friendly (that is, sans butter and milk chocolate), I usually go with a cocoa recipe and convert the usual 1 stick (or 1/2 cup) of butter to 1/4 + 2T of oil. (Because oil makes baked goods, well, oily, you have to use less.) Even though cocoa brownies are clearly cake-like brownies, my husband always balks and cries "dry!"

This time I tried a few strategies to increase chewiness and chocolate flavor: reduce flour, increase oil, add dark chocolate (no milkfat--just cocoa butter, which is the fat from the cocoa bean and therefore Phoebe friendly), replace some granulated sugar with brown sugar. Can you tell I'm a fan of America's Test Kitchen?

I'm not going to go so far as to claim this is a healthy recipe, but I do want to point out that olive oil, dark chocolate, and cocoa are all healthier ingredients than butter and milk chocolate. I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour, which is more tender than regular whole wheat flour, because I had it on hand. Healthy ingredients aside, these brownies passed the finicky-husband test!

1/2 c flour
1/4 c cocoa
1 t baking powder
1/8 t salt
3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate
1/4 c extra light olive oil
2 eggs
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/3 c light brown sugar
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk first four (dry) ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Melt chocolate in microwave 30 seconds at a time (total of about 1 minute 30 seconds). Stir olive oil into melted chocolate and set aside to cool. Whisk eggs, sugars, and vanilla in large bowl. Pour chocolate and oil mixture into wet ingredients. Fold in dry ingredients just until blended. Pour into 8" square pan lined with aluminum foil. Bake for about 20 minutes. Brownies should be cracked on the surface but chewy inside.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Toms Shoes Review

It's Chloe's first day of summer break! What better way to celebrate than with a new pair of summer shoes. We decided to give those popular Toms shoes a try. Chloe chose the classic slip-on in an army green. The new nautical red stripe wedge (candy cane!) caught my eye. I had originally planned on trying the black wedge, which have that Parisienne feel, but they didn't have my size. Apparently, these shoes are so popular that Nordstrom has trouble keeping them in stock. But don't fret, Nordstrom offers to order the color you want online and have them shipped to your house no charge. The salesperson brought out the ash (gray) for me to try on for size.

The Verdict
Classic wedge: Considering that it's a 3-inch wedge, they are surprisingly comfortable--very cushiony. The tough decision was whether to go with the candy-cane or the solid. In the end I chose the gray because the shape of the toe box felt wider. If you look closely, the classic wedge with the heel has a square toe, whereas the candy-cane stripe with the cork heel has a pointier toe. I already have long narrow feet, so I don't want to enhance that. Because of the long feet problem, I sized up from my normal 7-1/2 to an 8.

Classic wedge in ash with basketweave heel

Candy-cane stripe with a cork heel--so cute!

Classic flats, Chloe weighs in: SO comfy and so cute! The flats feel like a pair of house slippers or flip flops. The bottoms are very cushiony, and the tops are very flexible; I could even do ballet in them! These shoes also stretch to fit many types of feet. I have wide, and not too long feet. At first the shoes looked too narrow for me, but they easily stretched to accommodate my feet. However, they do run a bit small, so you may want to get one half size up. I am usually a 7, but could not get my foot into that size, so I ended up getting a 7-1/2. As a bonus, the 7-1/2 came in gray, which I liked even better. I wore them around all afternoon, and my feet were overjoyed! Not only are they surprisingly soft, but they also spice up any regular outfit! I have to say, these shoes have got sole. Haha, punny . . . :)

Classic slip-on in ash

In terms of value, the wedge seems reasonable for $68.95. The slip-on is a bit pricey at $43.95, especially considering Phoebe's reaction when she saw Chloe: "Those look like hobo shoes!" However, when you buy a pair of Toms, the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need so in essence you're paying for two pairs of shoes, which makes the price reasonable.

Coming Soon: Want to hear more from Chloe? Now that she's on summer break, she's agreed to write for the blog. Stay tuned for tutorials on friendship bracelets and origami stars. I think I can talk her into writing some movie reviews, too!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Homemade Silly Putty

Phoebe came home all jazzed because she made silly putty during the polymer rotation of Science Day at school. Here's how to do it:

Step 1. Dissolve about 2 tsp of Borax (available in the
detergent aisle) in a jar of water. Have a few
teaspoons of Borax on hand in another jar.

Step 2. Fill a dixie cup about halfway full with glue.

Step 3. Add about 2 tsp of Borax water into the glue.

Step 4. Stir with a wooden chopstick.

Step 5. Your glue should start to form a glob.
If it feels too thick to stir, you can add
a few drops of water. If it feels too thin,
add some more Borax water.

Eventually, it will look like a soft marshmallow.

Step 6. At this point, you can add some
food coloring if you want.

Step 7. Once your glob is the consistency
of a marshmallow, empty it onto a piece
of wax paper. Knead it with your palm. You
can dip it in some water if it feels too hard.

Step 8. Work it with your fingers until
it becomes pliable and shiny.

Step 9. Put your glob in a plastic bag to dry.

Check it in about an hour. You made putty!

Once your putty is dry, you can play with it. It even bounces! It's more rubbery than Play-Doh and doesn't dry out. Go Science!

It Works! Easy Silver Jewelry Cleaner

It's finally warm enough for t-shirts and blouses. Too bad my Elsa Peretti open-heart necklace is so tarnished. I'm never going to buy silver polish. I've tried cleaning silver with baking soda but no luck. Here's an easy way to clean silver jewelry with things you probably have around the house:

Step 1. Put your silver jewelry in a glass jar
with a small piece of aluminum foil.

Step 2. Add a tablespoon of salt.
Fill the jar about 1/3 full with warm water.

Step 3: Give the jar a gentle shake
to agitate the contents.

Check your jewelry in about half an hour. It works!



Apparently, the silver is attracted to the aluminum and sodium. You may need to leave your jewelry in longer if it's heavily tarnished. 

Mini Chocolate Meringue Cupcakes

So I needed a dairy-free cupcake to bring to a potluck. Something impressive enough to deserve a spot at my mother-in-law's buffet. Something that would survive in a Tupperware on the car trip. Something that required no messy frosting or fussy decorations. Something mini! The answer: Giada De Laurentiis' mini chocolate meringue cupcakes. Here's the link to her recipe:

The verdict: If you like the gooey texture of a souffle in a compact bite-size cupcake, you'll love this recipe. Even my husband, who has no problem yelling "dry!" when a recipe doesn't require a stick of butter, approved these.

Unlike fluffy chiffon cakes made with oil, begging for frosting, these cakes are satisfyingly rich unadorned. I even left out the drizzled chocolate at the end because it seemed like a shame to weigh these babies down with anything. When I serve these at home, I add a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Caution: If you decide to double the recipe, make sure you have two mini-muffin tins. Otherwise, by the time you bake the second batch, your meringue will have collapsed quite a bit. You should make these the day you plan to serve them, as they will be droopy if you make them the night before. I usually like to cut back a bit on the sugar in most recipes. In this case, I reduced the sugar that gets whipped into the egg whites from 1/3 cup to 1/6 cup. Don't forget to add the flour at the end. Once, I completely forgot the last step and the cupcakes did not hold their shape.