The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Thursday, January 28, 2016

PB Cup Delight

In the mood for chocolate and peanut butter?  Look no further.  I experimented a few times with this recipe, even though for the life of me I couldn't cut the cake in beautiful wedge-shaped slices as the original blogger did (and her photos are beautiful!).

Honestly, though, you won't want a wedge-shaped slice.  One little piece is all you'll want, possibly with a cup of black coffee.  This is a rich, decadent beast of a cake, meant to be savored in small portions.  Keep this in mind when making it, since you will be able to feed a lot of people with this triple-layer cake from heaven.  Or just maybe, you won't get tired of eating small pieces every day for a couple of weeks, while hiding the cake container from your family.

This recipe has three components:
  • Three layers of flourless chocolate cake (hey, it's gluten free!)
  • Peanut butter buttercream frosting
  • Chocolate ganache
Once each component is prepared, you have to assemble this triple-layer monster.  After trial and error, I think I've come up with a successful assembly method.  The first time I made this, I had to deal with trying to spread the buttercream frosting over soft ganache--yeah, that was a mess.  So make sure you read the assembly instructions before you just dive in, and consider these words your fair warning.  :)

One small piece of decadent chocolatey heaven.

Peanut Butter Cup Delight
Serves 30, if you cut really small pieces.  Or hey, just overindulge--I'm not your judge.

The Cake
1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chopped from a bar)
6 eggs
1 cup cane juice crystals (or sugar)
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I use Dutch process)
Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease three eight-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.  Melt the butter and chocolate chips in a medium saucepan over low heat (can use microwave).

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together for 3-5 minutes (I use a super powerful Bosch Universal Mixer on Speed 3 or 4 so it doesn't take that long) on high speed until pale and more than doubled in volume.  Add the vanilla to the eggs and beat until combined.  Sift in the cocoa and salt and mix again until combined.  Stream in the melted chocolate and butter, and beat until combined.

Divide into the prepared cake pans and bake for--start with 15 minutes, and add time up to 25 minutes--until an inserted toothpick comes out with some crumbs attached but no longer wet.  (The first time I baked the cakes at 20 minutes, they came out dry, and my oven usually bakes more slowly.)  Remove from oven, carefully invert onto cooling racks and cool thoroughly.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting
If you like, you can prepare this once you've spread the ganache on the cake layers.

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (I use natural pb)
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) butter
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar
8-10 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Cream together the peanut butter and butter.  Add the salt and vanilla.  Alternately add the powdered sugar and cream.  If too thin, add more cane juice crystals; if too thick add more cream.  Beat until fluffy.

Chocolate Ganache
3 cups chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate) -- can use combo of semi-sweet and milk chocolate
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
Prepare the ganache once you're ready for assembly, since you'll want to spread it on the cake layers right after making it. Melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan on low heat (or use a double boiler, or the microwave), stirring pretty much constantly until it is melted and smooth.

Assembly Instructions

Once cakes have cooled, make sure each cake is un-stuck from its respective cooling rack! Also, when spreading the chocolate ganache, make sure you divide it evenly enough for each of three layers plus the top of the completely frosted cake.

Spread a layer of ganache on top of each cake layer, then carefully set each layer--still on its cooling rack--into the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. This helps the ganache to harden, making it sooo much easier to spread the frosting on the layers. You'll have to trust me on this. If you haven't done it yet, prepare the buttercream frosting while the cakes are in the freezer. The cakes can stay in the freezer for a while if you need--though if you let them stay there overnight you should carefully cover them in plastic after the ganache initially hardens.

Once the ganache is hardened, remove the cake layers from the freezer one at a time to frost them. Frost the top of the first layer, then add the second, frost that, then add the third and frost that. Finish frosting the sides, then spread the remaining ganache on the top of the cake, letting the ganache drip down the sides.

And, since I had some Trader Joe's dark chocolate mini peanut butter cups in my pantry (because who wouldn't make sure her pantry is stocked with those?), I used them for decorating--whole ones for the top, and cut-in-half ones pushed gently into the frosting all around the base of the cake..

Cutting Instructions

You didn't think the cutting part of this recipe would be easy, did you? *wink* The only easy part of it all is actually eating it. Because this cake can really soften into a mess, I initially store it in the fridge. But, although this keeps the ganache cold, it also keeps it hard. So, for cutting and serving, I keep the cake on the counter or table anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before serving. You can cut it right out of the fridge, though--just be careful and go easy and slow. If you don't care how messy this gets, get a really sharp knife (I use a long serrated one) and start cutting. Otherwise, run the knife under hot water to warm it up, then cut. When the knife gets too gooey and full of yumminess, scrape it off (because you'll want to eat that part), run it under hot water again, and continue the process.

To get the maximum number of servings--instead of watching people eat a quarter of their pieces then throwing the rest out (it's that rich)--make your first slice straight across the cake about a third of the way in. Then cut slices perpendicular to that initial cut. Once that section is served, make another long cut across the remainder of the cake, cutting it in half, then cut more perpendicular slices from there. You can easily serve 30 people cutting any cake this way!

Whew, that's a ton of work.  But this beast of a cake is so worth it!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beef Liver and Onions

Yes, I really typed that.  Liver.  It was in a side of beef that we had purchased a while ago, and I had no idea what to do with it.  I've had people tell me to cook it "low and slow" and "high and fast."  What to do?  I asked a couple friends then went surfing around the internet for help.

What I learned:

  1. Soaking the liver in milk rids it of that liver-y taste (if you don't like it).
  2. Don't overcook the liver; it will become tough.

Based on these things, I decided that higher and faster would be the way I would go.  One thing I didn't like, though, was the onions cut in rings.  The next time I made this, I just chunked them up--no strings of onions to try and cut through, and the taste was the same.  (I have texture issues...)

This recipe turned out delicious!  I was surprised that I liked liver; now on the off-chance we order more beef in the future, I'll know exactly what to do with the liver we get.

Here's the recipe!

Beef Liver and Onions

1 1/2 pounds of sliced beef liver
milk as needed to cover the liver (one cup, maybe more)
2-4 tablespoons of butter/oil/lard (whatever you use, or combination), divided
2 medium/large onions, either cut into rings or chopped to your preferred size
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup or so of all-purpose flour
garlic powder, salt, pepper -- for seasoning

Gently rinse liver slices under cold water, swipe moister away with fingers, and place in a bowl.  Pour milk over liver until covered; let stand 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat two tablespoons of butter/oil/lard in a large skillet set on medium heat.  Stir in the onions and garlic and saute until soft.  Remove to a separate bowl.

Drain the milk from the liver.  Season the liver with salt, pepper, and garlic, and dredge in the flour (or sprinkle the flour over the slices).

Meanwhile, heat the remaining two tablespoons butter/oil in the skillet on medium-high.  Place the coated liver slices in the pan; cook until nice and brown on the bottoms.  Flip and cook the other sides until browned.  Add the onions back into the skillet and reduce heat to medium.  Cook just a bit longer to meld the flavors together.  Don't overcook!  Cut a piece to see if it's a teeny bit pink inside, then remove from heat and serve.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Stovetop Hot Chocolate

Sometimes I get frustrated with my "from scratch" pantry.  That winter morning, for instance, I come inside from shoveling snow watching my son shoveling snow and want something to warm my  insides.  Or that January evening when I'm curled up in a chair actually reading a book from the hundreds I've pinned on my "to read someday" Pinterest board.  Those days, I wish I could rip open a packet of hot chocolate, heat up some water, and have instant sweet and hot swirling around my mouth and warming my insides.

Really, though, making your own hot chocolate doesn't take much extra time.  It's healthier than store-bought convenience packets, and if your pantry is stocked with the basics--cocoa, sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla--you're all set!  You can easily make a whole pot to share--you may as well, seeing that it doesn't take any extra time to measure out the extra amounts.  Leftovers, if you have any--can be stored in a Mason jar in the fridge; just reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

If you're a hot chocolate fanatic and want to make this frequently (or a super organized plan-ahead person like I am), make up the dry ingredients and store in baggies or other containers, whether single serve or however you like.  If you store it in one large container, you'll need about 1/4 cup of mix for a single serving.  Otherwise, just mix the dry ingredients, divide into fourths (a weight scale is the most accurate way), and store in small plastic food storage bags.  By doing this ahead of time, it becomes just as fast--and a whole lot healthier--than the store-bought version!

Stovetop Hot Chocolate
Serves four.

1/2 cup cocoa (I use high quality Dutch process)
1/2 cup (or less, if you want to cut back) sugar or cane juice crystals
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Measure the cocoa, sugar, and salt into a 2- or 3-quart saucepan.  Pour about half a cup of the milk into the saucepan and stir with a whisk until the dry ingredients have been incorporated.  Whisk in the rest of the milk while heating up to a nice, hot simmer.  Whisk occasionally so the milk doesn't scald, and once it's heated nice and hot (doesn't need to come to a boil--just taste it carefully!), ladle it into cups and enjoy!

Hot chocolate in my Lake Bonaparte mug.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

New Every Morning Part Twelve

The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NASB

Read previous segments here:

The Beginning
The Injury
The Furnace
The Waiting
The House
The Phone Call
The Truck
The Car
The Business

The Gift

Maple leaf tree ornament on our Christmas tree.

Happy New Year!  As our 2015 Christmas was celebrated and we headed into this new year, I thanked the Lord for a very special gift, which we actually began to open the week before Christmas.  We had just gotten home from California, where we had traveled to be with family at the death of Fernando's aunt.  There were vague prospects for employment for Fernando, and we took the next steps of life into a misty, uncertain future.

One of the homes on our Christmas light "sightseeing" date.

God had plans for us, however--plans that were months in the making, being woven into the tapestry that is our family's life, with gold- and silver-stranded threads we couldn't see until now.  It was time for Him to reveal the front side of our life's tapestry, as He does every now and then, to show us the beauty we many times don't see because we're looking at the back side into which He is weaving what seems like a confusing mishmash of variously colored threads and yarn.  Oh, the beauty of seeing His perspective from time to time, the awe of knowing how intricately He is involved in our lives!

Silvery snowflake ornament, a gift from my younger brother.

You may recall in Part Eight of our journey the story of the Arctek truck--how Fernando had had a month's work with this satellite uplink company, and how I thought that that work would result in more permanent employment, and how perfect that would have been so that Fernando could work every other month (as is Arctek's typical practice) and have time to build his business in the off months.  When those expectations faded, and Fernando started to build his business over the summer, I thought that may be the direction the Lord was leading; but then his business income slowed, and I was left with questions:

  • Although I was thankful for the much-needed income that March, why just one month with this company, then nothing?  What was the purpose?
  • Why had Fernando's business surged forward, then slowed?  What exactly were we supposed to be doing?

I had the whys of each of the other sat (satellite) truck companies figured out:

  • STS helped Fernando get his CDL, and introduce him to the uplink operations part of the broadcast communications industry.
  • Working with PSSI enabled us to keep our house with exactly, to-the-day three months of employment.

But the reason behind that March's work with Arctek eluded me.  Not that I needed to know--many times we don't know the why, and we may never know, until we see Him face to face, and all becomes clear.  I would have liked to know.

And now, I know.

The week before Christmas, Fernando got a phone call out of the blue from Arctek:  Are you still interested in working for us?  Fernando's immediate answer:  yes.  They wanted Fernando to work a job for them the week of Christmas, just to confirm their confidence in his abilities, and then they'd offer more permanent employment in the new year.  Two employees--one who retired and one who moved into a different position--both recommended Fernando for the operator of Arctek Purple, the satellite truck Fernando had worked with back in March last year.

The next Monday, just like that, Fernando was off, headed out to Iowa.  He made it home for Christmas, and the Arctek satellite truck was once again parked in our driveway--a very good sign for the new year.

Arctek Purple parked in our driveway.

We rang in the New Year with family...

...and the following Monday evening, Fernando was off--Indiana, Ohio, Indiana again, and home, finally, late last night.  He worked with the heads of Arctek throughout the week, troubleshooting his way through last-minute issues, completing transmissions, driving from city to city.  They were duly impressed with Fernando--which is my opinion from what he told me, but seriously--he handled himself like the professional he is on the job.

My questions (from above) were answered, and things--even things I hadn't thought about--are now clear:

  • Fernando's work with Arctek last March laid the foundation for his future employment with them.
  • The delay in hiring him was the push he needed to start and grow his business. 
  • Now he has the ability to earn income with Arctek and with his own now-established business.
  • My past inability to secure extra outside-the-home employment has turned into the ability to manage the home front and both of our businesses while Fernando is gone.
  • I also have the potential to travel with Fernando on some of his longer trips away.

The mist has lifted, and the Lord has lit the path of our immediate future.  Just a few hours ago, and less than 24 hours after Fernando arrived home, he kissed me goodbye and is right this very minute driving toward Michigan and the next transmission job.

Our table is set for a bountiful feast of blessings this year!

This won't be the end of Our Journey posts, I'm sure.  There will be more to share from time to time as we move ahead along the Lord's path for our lives.  And I'll share it here, where we can praise Him for all that He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives!

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