Friday, September 27, 2013

Caramel Corn

I want to preface this post by stating that I have been "functioning" on very little sleep. T is up a lot at night. A bonus is that he tends to wake up at about 3 in the morning and it usually takes about an hour and a half to two hours to get him back to sleep. Conveniently enough, K starts rustling about by 5:45 or 6 - granted he has to stay in his room until 6:30, but he is awake and I can hear him moving. Essentially, my days start at 3. Awesome. I blame my lack of sleep on totally spacing to take a photo of the finished product - delicious caramel corn.

It has cooled down quite a bit here, in fact I would say that mornings and evenings are cold! The afternoons still get nice and toasty, but there is definitely a fall breeze in the air. I was talking to my mom who was making a batch of her amazing caramel corn and thought it would be the perfect thing to make this week. I don't know why, but caramel corn makes me think of cool weather. So, here is my mom's awesome recipe (I quartered the recipe, so those are the measurements I will share.)

First pop up some corn, yo. Throw some kernals into a non-stick pot and cover it. Set the heat to medium and swirl the pot around every minute or two. Once the popping slows down, turn off the heat and wait for another minute or two.

Measure out 8 cups of popcorn. (The original recipe calls for 8 QUARTS of popcorn, which is 32 cups...yeah, that wasn't going to happen in my tiny oven.)

Put 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 2 tablespoons of corn syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a pan.

 Bring it to a boil.

Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off and stir in 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.

Spread your popcorn onto a baking sheet. I split mine between two sheets and put parchment on the bottom.

Pour the caramel sauce out onto the popcorn. Then bake it at 120C for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Mine didn't get super evenly coated, as you can see from the first photo, but holy moly is it delicious. I took it to a friend's, who was totally bummed because her husband was away on a work trip and she said he would have loved it. I shared some with a neighbor who promptly asked for the recipe. A different friend came over to our house that afternoon and had a healthy helping. There was about a quarter of it left after Y got home from work. He asked if he could have some and it was gone in minutes. Seriously, everyone likes this. If you like caramel corn MAKE THIS!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bento Thursday - Bears

It's bento day today!! K requested broccoli, asparagus, carrots, fried fish, an onigiri and apples, so that's what he got. I asked him what kind of onigiri he wanted, as in what shape, but he said he didn't know. Since K was a baby, I have often called him, "bear." He used to just snuggle up so close in my arms and it just seemed fitting. To honor my little nickname for him, I thought a bear onigiri would be cute. I also used bear cookie cutters for the carrots to add a bit more cuteness. I loved how the onigiri turned out - I think it's adorable, but I didn't like the space between the bear and the carrots at the bottom.

So, I remedied it with a little bear paw. I think this is one of my favorite bentos for K. I was a bit unsure of how he would react. He generally likes his trains, cars, rockets, etc. and while he likes his stuffed animals, they aren't his go-to toys. I showed it to him and he said, "Mama! It's so cute!! I want to show it to sensei (his teacher)." I was so happy!! Maybe he is still little enough that I can work out a few more cute bentos...

Y's bento was so plain - rice, Japanese-style omelet, fried fish, carrots and burdock root, komatsuna (like spinach) and tofu.

But!! Just as I was wrapping it up, I figured since I had a few carrot bears left over from K's lunch, I would sneak in a few of those little guys. Hehe. Y called me during lunch and said the bento was delicious. He also commented on the bears. I asked if he was embarrassed, but he said he wasn't. Yay for cute bentos!!

This is not really related to today's bento, but I got these little food picks for K's bentos that have little sphere heads/faces on the ends of them. I thought they could be cute to stick in cars or trains so it looks like people are actually riding in them. I used one the other night for K's dinner and he loved it. After putting K and T to sleep, I watched a really old episode of Breaking Bad - if you watch the show, it was the episode where the dude's head is stuck to the turtle. Then I washed up the dishes. I started the garbage disposal when all of a sudden a tiny head popped out of the sink. It scared the bejesuses out of me!! The timing could not have been better. Guess I have to be a bit more careful about not letting things get into the disposal. RIP little food pick. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pastel Layered Cake

There are certain areas of Osaka that are full of foreigners - my old neighborhood happens to be one of those areas. My new neighborhood, however, is quite different and primarily Japanese (to be expected, perhaps??). There are a few of us though! One of my good friends here is a Mexican woman and another is a Romanian woman, both are just lovely and such fun to be around. Unfortunately, our Romanian friend is moving downtown at the end of the month. This week we had a little going away lunch for her at my place. We decided, of course, that I would make the dessert.

As it was a special occasion, I wanted to make a special cake. I started by making up a chocolate cake using this recipe. I have made that recipe a few times before, but always in cupcake form. It never disappoints. The only changes I made were to half the recipe, given that I had plans to make a second cake, and also adjust the baking time for a full cake instead of cupcakes. It ended up taking about 40 minutes (I think), and one spot on the top got a little too dark. That being said, I ate that part with no frosting and it tasted just fine.

The next step was to make a vanilla cake. Again, I used a tried and true recipe. No changes were even necessary, aside from halving it.

I endedup with two cakes. As you can see, the chocolate one caved in a bit.

This wasn't such a big deal since the cake was to be four layers anyway.

I just sliced the tops off of each cake so they were the same height. 

Then I made a cream cheese frosting, the same as frosting that I used in the Oreo cupcakes post. I did make a few changes, however. Before adding in the crushed Oreos, I separated the frosting into two bowls, putting about a quarter of it into a smaller bowl. I crushed up about 5 or 6 Oreos and added them to the smaller bowl.

I sliced each cake in half lengthwise and then added the Oreo frosting between the layers. I was pretty careful with how much I added between the first few layers, ensuring that I would have enough for the top layer. It ended up not being a problem at all and the top layer even got a bit more than the others.

Once the cake was all stacked, it looked like this. I was thinking of stopping at the bottom three layers to mimick an Oreo, but I couldn't resist the top white layer - more layers, more drama...and I LOVE cake drama!

Then it was ready for the crumb coat.

Once that was ready, I separated the remaining white frosting into three bowls.

I colored two of the bowls - one lavender and one turquoise. I left the third one white, but just before frosting the cake, I decided to make it a light pink.

Starting with the pink at the top, I frosted and worked my way down with the lavender and finally the turquoise.

Where the colors met, I smudged the line a bit with a spoon to make it look a bit better. Then I used the spoon to add texture to the frosting. I love how it ended up looking, almost like a painting. I also love how the inside looked, all stripey and delicious.


For lunch we had delicious tacos made by our Mexican friend and dessert was delicious as well.

We definitely made a dent in the cake - not naming any names (nationalities would be more accurate, perhaps?), but a few of us even had a second slice. 

A few of K's friends came over that afternoon, so I helped myself to a second slice then. The next morning I gave away two more slices, so at this point, the cake is nearly gone. I'm a little sad. Maybe I will have to make it again sometime soon...

As a side note, I made this cake and showed it to K on Wednesday morning. He said, "Oh, is the cake for Jandro?" (Jandro, or T, is my little brother.) I was totally confused by this. " Why would it be for him?" "Because it's his birthday." "How do you even know that???" Turns out that yesterday was, in fact, Jandro's birthday! Happy birthday, little bro!! I still have no idea how K knew that. He says I told him a few days ago, but I have no recollection of this. More to the point, however, is that I LOVE how K associates pastel, extremely feminine looking cakes with my with my 24-year old brother. Ha!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bento Thursday - Quesadillas & Cars

Monday was a public holiday here in Japan, so K went to school on Wednesday instead of Monday. As a result, it was the first time for him to go to school two days in a row. I was half expecting it to be a complete disaster, but I actually think it was easier. The only (minor) challenge was that we had to plan the bento on Tuesday even though he didn't eat it until today. He hates school lunch, so he was a bit bummed about having that on Wednesday instead of his bento. Oh well.

I asked him what he wanted and he requested corn, cucumbers, sausage and circle quesadillas. I had no idea what he meant by circle quesadillas, so I asked. He responded that they are quesadillas that are in the shape of a circle. Still slightly confused, "have you ever eaten a circle quesadilla before?" "No." So, I made a quesadilla and then used circle cookie cutters to cut them up. Whatevs. Since it was a pretty lame looking bento, I made the sausage into a little car. I also added some pineapple for good measure.

As per usual, Y's was pretty boring - rice with salmon flakes, corn, cucumber, octopus-shaped sausages and pork and veggies in a sweet and sour sauce of sorts. Boring!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Diaper Covers

Before little T was born, I made him some diaper covers given that it was summer when he was born and I figured I would have him in very little other than a diaper and maybe a little tank or T-shirt. If homey was going to be wearing just a diaper, it better be cute! At that point of course, we didn't know if T was a boy or a girl, so I gathered all of the gauze material I had and decided that I would just make a few diaper covers - boy or neutral pattern be damned! I used Dana's diaper cover pattern and got to cutting.

I figured it would be fastest to do these up at the same time, so here they are sewn together and the waistband ready.

I did a pretty shoddy job with the waistband in that I didn't measure anything, I just did it. I ended up making it a bit too big, but since they were just for T and likely to be covered in his own bodily fluids quite soon, I wasn't stressing it.

When it got time to make the leg casings, they overlapped the waistband a bit, but oh well.

I ended up with a cute little stack of diaper covers that to be honest I hardly use. By that, I mean I have put him in one exactly two times - once today to take photos and once a few weeks ago to see if they fit. If he is just in his diaper and a top, we are usually in the house in which case no diaper cover needed. If we go out, I am usually holding him in a wrap and his bum is covered anyway, again no diaper cover needed. These were super fast to make, however, and while making them it was fun to think about my baby-to-be. So, I'm not counting it as a loss either.

That being said, they are pretty cute on his little baby legs. I couldn't get a good photo of him looking at the camera - the curtains blowing in the breeze were much more exciting apparently. Because this is my blog, however, I feel like I can put a gratuitous photo up every once in a while. So here is the little one face on...I love him and his chubby cheeks.

Also, by chance, today I had him in the pants I made for him before he was born as well - I threw the bow out a while back. I love them and think I will crank out a few more pairs of these bad boys if I get some time!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

Going to the grocery store has, quite frankly, become a production. K inevitably wants to ride his bike and I don't feel that T is ready for a stroller yet. As a result, I carry T in a wrap while K speeds around on his bike. He is pretty good about stopping at the "stop points" that we set together way back when I was pregnant, but those points are pretty far apart and now with me carrying T, neighbors continuously stop me to say congratulations and ask after the little one. This means that K gets pretty antsy waiting for me and things fall apart pretty quickly.

I was in the mood for a sweet treat, however, and remembered a recipe that I saw on Facebook for simple, four ingredient cookies - all things I already had in my house. I was a tad skeptical, given that it seemed a bit too simple to actually work and/or taste good. I was pleasantly surprised, as was K.

The cookies start by mashing up three bananas.

Then add a cup of oats and a spoonful of peanut butter (seriously, the "recipe" said a spoonful, not a tablespoon or some other standard measurement, a spoonful - so I just threw some in).

Stir all of that up until it is kind of like cookie batter.

Then stir in a half a cup of chocolate chips.

At this point, I was thinking, "Wow! This might actually work..."

Drop clumps onto a baking sheet and bake at 180C for 13 minutes.

Then pull them out and take a bite.

The cookies were good. They weren't your standard super sweet cookie, but that was to be expected. They were, however, quite tasty. The bananas browned a bit in the oven and I feel like they browned even more during the two days it took us to eat them. I didn't mind it, neither did K, but if you are making them to serve to others (these would be great for a peanut-allergy-free playdate), you might want to keep that in mind. I imagine you could play around with the ingredients and just use one banana if you just wanted a few cookies.
My favorite thing about the cookies is that really, it's just like eating oatmeal and hence a gives one a perfect excuse to eat cookies for breakfast. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bento Thursday - Rockets!

K is back in school and today was the first bento day since before summer break. Yesterday K and I talked about what he wanted - a rocket. During break he primarily ate ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch and it seems he wasn't about to stop that. So, a ham and cheese rocket sandwich it was!! He also requested carrots, corn, and a mini hot dog/sausage. I also snuck in a few cookies, but more about those tomorrow.

I don't remember if I have mentioned it on here, but I try to make Y a bento twice a week - once on Thursday and once on some other day where I have saved up a good amount of leftovers to throw together his lunch. This week, this happened on Tuesday. I made Y a bento of teriyaki chicken, Japanese omelet, pumpkin salad, komatsuna (similar to spinach) with tofu, and a salmon heart on rice. Cute, right?! I thought this bento would be the one I would show you in today's post because it has a bit of a cute element to it.

But, this morning, I decided to make Y his own version of a rocket bento! For this bento, I put in some niku-jaga (boiled beef with potatoes, onions and carrots), green pepper with konbu, corn, and scrambled egg and ginger and soy sauce seasoned ground beef over rice.

The rocket bentos are totally different given that one is sandwich and one is rice-based, but I think they both look pretty cute. K came home from school and was all stoked that he ate his entire bento! Wahooooo...