Pink Champagne Cake

By far my most successful cake to date. Modified from a recipe in Booze Cakes, a cookbook Rosey gave us for Christmas. Since I was making cake for two, I made a single layer round cake in a 10-inch pan. I bought a four-pack of inexpensive Californian Champagne, the tiny bottles, so I didn't have to waste a whole bottle. The other bottles I saved for dinner.
The cake turned out really short, but I loved the look of it after I added the frosting. Since my frosting skills are terrible, I called up my sister-in-law and asked her to give me a frosting lesson. Lesson learned!


1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 stick of butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg whites
2 drops red food coloring
1 cup Champagne

12 oz. cream cheese (like a brick and a half)
1/2 stick of butter
About a cup of powdered sugar
Fresh strawberries for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and butter cake pan and place parchment paper in the bottom. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter till light and fluffy, about four minutes. Add the egg whites one at a time. Mix in the food coloring.

Now add the flour in four parts and the champagne in three, alternating starting and ending with flour. This will prevent the batter from curdling. Pour batter into pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a knife pulls out clean when inserted into the center.

Let cool for about 30 minutes and remove cake from pan. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter till fluffy. Start adding the sugar and taste it once and a while till it's to your liking.

Frost the cake Slice the strawberries and place them around the sides of the cake. Add a pretty strawberry design on top.

Oliver's Marinara

This simple marinara sauce is the backbone to many of my father's recipes. He would make a far larger quantity than the recipe I'm providing so he could freeze it and use it anytime. I have fond memories of my dad standing over the stove and instructing me to stir in the corners of the pot so none of the sauce would burn. My sister and I would bring small cups to him, which he'd fill with piping hot sauce, and we'd sip on it like soup.

To this recipe you could add several ingredients. I sometimes saute some chopped onion and mushroom in butter and toss that in. My dad adds reconstituted porcini mushrooms that we pick in summertime. I have porcini powder right now, so I sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon into the sauce. For a putanesca sauce you could add fried up bits of pancetta and kalamata olives. Add a splash of red wine to give it some depth. Add fresh chopped herbs at the end of cooking such as oregano, basil or thyme.

Ingredients (most are eyeballed):
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
2 tbs. olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 dried chili pepper, or 1 tsp. dried pepper flakes
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tbs. dried basil
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar

In a saucepan, heat up olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic, and cook till golden brown on all sides. Be sure not to burn the garlic. If you do, just start over. Garlic is cheap. Add all of the other ingredients. When sauce is bubbling, turn heat to med-low, cover and cook for at least 30 minutes. Stir frequently so the sauce doesn't burn. Freeze leftover sauce in jars.

Spicy Ground Pork

Add spicy ground pork to any italian dish or marinara sauce to give it zing!

1 pound ground pork
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1-2 tsp. cayenne powder (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 tsp. dried pepper flakes
ground pepper to taste

Mix together all of the ingredients. Fry up a small sample to taste how spicy it is. Add more cayenne if you want it spicier.

Lasagna with Spicy Pork, Spinach and Mushrooms

I call this lasagna "Babysitter Lasagna" because I went to babysit a couple of boys once and the mother had made this ahead of time for me to pop in the oven. The use of cottage cheese instead of ricotta makes the lasagna less watery and more creamy. I love fresh, authentic ricotta, but it's not available where I live and the grocery store kind just isn't my style. Hiding spinach in the recipe adds a little more nutrients. I used to use fresh mozzerella, but after making this so many times, fresh mozz just becomes really chewy and watery. I find the storebought pre-grated stuff works better.

This recipe will be followed by two more recipes. One on how to prepare spicy ground pork at home and the other is my homemade marinara. Both of these you can sub storebought, but I love to make it all myself.

Serves 9-15

1 pound of spicy ground pork (storebought it fine)
1/2 package of frozen chopped spinach
1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla works)
1 2-cup container of 2% milkfat cottage cheese
1 egg
3 cups marinara sauce (about 1.5 jars of storebought)
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbs. butter
dash of dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper
2 cups pre-grated mozzerella and asiago blend cheeses
1 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese

Preheat oven according to the lasagna noodles' packaging. Usually 350-375 degrees.
In a microwave-safe bowl, add the spinach and a splash of water. Cover bowl with saran wrap, leaving a space for air to get out, and microwave for about 5 minutes. Let cool.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the cottage cheese, egg, oregano, basil and salt and pepper to taste.
In a frying pan, brown the pork. Set aside. Drain some of the fat, but leave a little in the pan. Add the butter and the mushrooms and saute till mushrooms are soft and slightly browned. Set aside.
Transfer the spinach to the center of a clean dishtowel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Usually I refer to the lasagna noodles' box for layering instructions.
In a 13x9x2 baking dish, add about 3/4 cups of sauce and 1/3 of the meat. Add three noodles. Add 1/3 of the cottage cheese mix, some spinach, and sprinkle with some of the cheeses. Top with more sauce. Add some meat and mushrooms. Place 3 more noodles on top. Add some cottage cheese, some spinach and cheese. Do this layering one more time, top with the last 3 noodles, sauce, meat, mushrooms, or any other ingredient that's left. The last thing you add is cheese.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or according to noodles' packaging. Take off the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until it's all bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

Orange Garlic Shrimp

This recipe is based on one from The Pioneer Woman Web site with a few alterations.

There are still a few shrimp left in this photo! They were so good, I forgot about blogging altogether.

Appetizer for 2

1/2-3/4 pounds of raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
A small carton or jar of orange juice
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
dash of cayenne pepper
several shakes of Old Bay seasoning
olive oil
1 tbs. honey
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter


With a large Ziplock bag propped up in a bowl, pour in about a cup of orange juice and three sliced cloves of garlic. Add a glug of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and a shake of cayenne powder. Add the shrimp, seal up the bag and marinate for a couple of hours.

This dish only takes a few minutes to prepare, so when you're ready, take out the shrimp and dry them on a couple of paper towels. In a liquid measuring cup, combine 3/4 cups of orange juice, a few sliced garlic cloves, some cayenne and the Old Bay. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat up a large non-stick skillet on high. Add the butter. When it's melted, add the shrimp. Cook for about one minute, flip shrimp and cook another minute. Set aside. With the pan still on the heat, add the orange juice mixture and the honey. Let it bubble and thicken for about five minutes. Take care not to let it burn by stirring often. When it's a little thicker, add the shrimp and toss thoroughly. Transfer to a shallow bowl. The leftover glaze is phenomenal when sopped up with rustic bread.

Party Decorating

Yesterday was Stephen's birthday and since he was out of town all week I had plenty of time to clean up and decorate.

After gleefully searching through beautiful craft blogs all week, I came across ruffledblog.com where there were free, printable letter flags.

In photoshop, I halved the size and altered the colors a bit since I had a few repeat letters. I strung them up on wool yarn and hung them up three days before his birthday (just because I loved to look at them).

To add to the festivities, I thought back to elementary school days when we'd make cut-out spirals and hang them around the classroom.

We have a disco ball we bought at the thrift store last year, so I set that up too. It looked pretty awesome. Now time to think of a menu. Stephen originally wanted to go to Club Paris, since that's his favorite restaurant, but he must have been burnt out on fancy restaurants after going to the Vallata restaurant in Fairbanks the night before. In honor of Club Paris, I decided to make an appetizer of orange garlic shrimp. That's something we usually get alongside our steak. It was so good, I almost forgot to take a photo before it was all eaten!

I didn't do steak for the entree. Steve's been asking me for lasagna for a while, so I made a big ol' batch of it with spicy ground pork, mushrooms, and three kinds of cheeses.

And for dessert, the piece de resistance -- a pink champagne cake. I'm no baker, but this is the most successful cake I've ever created.

Recipes to follow.


Mini gift bags made from envelopes

My new favorite site is How About Orange where loads of paper ideas are at your fingertips. I just discovered her Gift Bags Made from Envelopes. She has a step-by-step guide to making the cutest little bags you've ever seen. Here's my version:


Kasandra Gloves

My friend Kasandra requested a pair of long, fingerless gloves because her classroom gets really chilly in the winter. I decided to alter my Cabled Gauntlets pattern for her.

I used the same yarn, Universal Yarn Classic Shades, but there were a couple of things I did differently. First, I cast on 37 stitches instead of 36. This way the moss stitch is created without having to change the pattern of the stitch every time you get back to the beginning of the round. When I was finished with the moss stitch and was ready to start the cable pattern, I just knit two stitches together and carried on my way. Second (and most obvious), I extended the cable pattern. I did seven cables before starting on the gusset. Third, I knit a couple of more rows after joining the thumb. I think I did rows 1-6 one more time and then started the moss stitch, at which point I created one stitch to make 37 as I did in the beginning. And last, I made the thumb three rows tall with three rows of moss stitch.
Kasandra got them in the mail today and said, "It was love at first sight." I guess she likes them!


Kale Krisps

Kale is a beautiful plant. It's ruffly and looks so healthy. But who cooks Kale? I know little about this vegetable. So today I decided to try something new: kale chips. It's simple. Take a fresh bunch of kale and dry it as much as possible. Tear the thick stem away from the leaves. Break the leaves into bite-size pieces and toss lightly with olive oil. Transfer to a cookie sheet, making sure none of the leaves overlap. Lightly salt and place in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. What comes out are crispy and salty. You wouldn't believe you're eating something so rich in beta-ceratene and vitamins A and C!

Semi-Homemade Skirt and Tank Top

Yesterday as I was rifling through the crafts section at a thrift shop, I came across a piece of pretty red fabric for 50 cents. When I got home I realized it was the beginning of a skirt that someone had never finished. Plus, it had pockets. The pockets were what made me want to finish the skirt. It was already hemmed, but hadn't been gathered at the top. Also, there was no waistband. So I took to the internets to find a suitable online pattern. I came across the Alice Dress. It seemed simple enough and I have an old H&M tank top with a hole in it, so why not put them together?
Here was my basic idea:

The skirt was too long for my liking, so sadly enough I had to trim the beautiful hand-hem job, but luckily it left me with enough fabric to create a waistband. First I hemmed up the skirt just by doing a basic stitch. It's visible on the outside, but I don't mind it. Then I basted the top of the skirt and created gathers like so:

When it was gathered to my liking (and I was still able to slip it over my hips), I secured the gather with one more stitch all the way around. After cutting a 3-inch waistband from the hem I sewed it to the top of the skirt, flipped it around, and sewed the band to the inside, creating a 3/4-inch waistband. I left part of the waistband open so I could push elastic through it. When the elastic was tight enough for my waist, I sewed it up and voila! A nearly perfect skirt -- with pockets!

I was going to sew the tank top to the skirt, but then I decided not to because I may want to wear the skirt with other tops. I did take inspiration from the Alice Dress and I made ruffles out of the bottom of the tank. It was a long tank so I trimmed off the bottom 3 inches and hemmed the raw edge of the tank. With the 3-inch strip I basted the raw edge, made two ruffles and secured them to the collar of the tank. The other edge of the ruffles were already hemmed since that edge was originally the bottom of the tank. It was really easy. I need to do this more often. I felt like the craftiest person.

Here's me out on the town with my new outfit:


Mint Basil Granita

A refreshing, icy dessert. Perfect for a hot day in Mexico.

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil
juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
3 cups of water, divided
1 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and one cup of water to a boil. Simmer, stirring constantly, for five minutes. Let this simple syrup cool in the fridge. Meanwhile, in a blender combine the mint, basil, lime/lemon and one cup water till well blended. Add another cup of water, blend well, then chill in the fridge. When both the simple syrup and basil/mint combo are cold, combine in a 6-quart Tupperware with a lid. Place in the freezer. Every couple of hours, stir the mixture and scrape the sides until it's a yummy, crystallized dessert. Expect this process to take all day, but it's totally worth it!

Salsa Roja a la Moña

This recipe totally doesn't work with American ingredients (at least Alaskan). So be wary of this recipe. I think I can only replicate it in Mexico

Another simple recipe from a Mexican kitchen. This is a thin salsa -- not too chunky. Kind of like house salsa at a Mexican restaurant.

3 Roma tomatoes
3 small hot green chilies (or two small jalapeños)
1/2 cup minced sweet onion
1/2 cup minced English cucumber
A couple of tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove
A couple of tablespoons of water

Place tomatoes and chilies in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool in the water till you're able to handle them. Slip the tomato skins off and discard. Discard the stem of the peppers as well. Place tomatoes, peppers, garlic and a couple of tablespoons of water in a blender and combine. If it's too thick add a little more water. Combine this mixture with the onion, cucumber and cilantro. Serve with corn chips.


Guacamole a la Moña

This is one of the recipes that our housekeeper, Moña, makes. I'm not sure of all the proportions since the ingredients back home are slightly different. I will try and provide the U.S. equivalents.

2 roma tomatoes
1/3 English cucumber, peeled
1/4 sweet onion
2 green chili peppers (smaller than jalapeños, but 1 jalapeño could work)
3 ripe avocados
a couple of tablespoons of cilantro, chopped
juice of 1/4 lime
dash of apple cider vinegar

Chop the sides of the tomatoes off, leaving the juicy core. Discard the core and mince the sides. Mince the cucumber, onion and pepper (choose to remove the seeds for less spiciness). The tomato, cucumber and onions should all be about the same quantity when minced. Add the cilantro and mix up with your hands. Add the avocados to a bowl and mash up with a potato masher. Add all of the other ingredients to the bowl. Serve with chips!


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