Lego Fun Build Day: Hot Air Balloon

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A few days ago, Corran was reading through our blog (which I thought was pretty neat) and he asked why we don’t do the Lego Challenge Tuesday anymore. So I thought we’d start a Lego Fun Build Day; it won’t always be the same day every week, since our schedule can be unpredictable, but we will try to do one every week. These are just for fun builds and can be as creative or as simple as you want them to be.

To help me out with ideas for Lego Fun Build Day, I looked through this book:

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It truly is an Ideas book as it has no actual build instructions in it, but it is great to as the cover says, “Unlock the imagination.”

You can buy The Lego Ideas Book at Amazon.com for a little under $15.

I decided on the Hot Air Balloon Build because it looked fun and would be an easy and quick build for my boys. The book has some general instructions on how to build a hot air balloon. My boys’ creations looked nothing like what was in the book. But that’s okay. We’re trying to help them be creative!

The only two things that I required for their hot air balloon:

  1. It had to be hot air balloon-shaped (no square balloons!).
  2. It had to have a basket.

It is always interesting to me how different the boys’ builds are.

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My middle child, Ian, modified his hot air balloon a few times. He wanted to make sure a minifigure could fit in the basket, specifically Zane, from Ninjago. I’m not sure why he didn’t include Zane in his picture.  I thought he did a good job with his balloon.

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Matthias’s balloon looked the most hot air balloon-like. I liked his flame that he used in the basket. Something about Matthias’s Lego builds always makes me think of art for some reason. Sadly, no minifigures can ride in this balloon or they would burn up!

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Corran did not have much time to build his hot air balloon. He spent most of the afternoon working on his math problems and then he had to write a five paragraph essay for his World Studies class. His balloon looks like it is just the basket, but it does have a light inside for a flame. He said that his balloon looks more like the beginnings of a lighthouse or a hot dog stand. I’m just glad that he still wanted to build something even though it was almost dinnertime!

Next week’s Lego Fun Build: Microbuildings!

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Pumpkin Scones: Final Recipe

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Last year around Thanksgiving, I had been trying to perfect a pumpkin scone. See the posts for Pumpkin Scones and Back to the Drawing Board: Pumpkin Scones.  I realized a few days ago that I never posted the final recipe that I thought was perfect. I ended up using a different scone recipe than I usually do. This new recipe also had the added bonus of making double what my usual recipe does. The original recipe is from Southern Living and is actually a recipe for sweet potato scones. I just modified it to work for pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice instead.

The dough was incredibly easy to work with! I don’t usually end up with such nice, neat circles like in the following picture.

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Even though it’s not the holidays anymore, here is the printable recipe in case anyone wants to make these!

Pumpkin Scones with Maple Icing

Ingredients

Pumpkin Scones

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp  ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 12 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup heavy cream + 2 Tbsp for brushing onto scones
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Maple Icing

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 – 5 tsp maple syrup
  • 3 – 5 tsp heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or a fork, until the butter pieces are the size of peas. Stir together pumpkin puree, heavy cream, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the pumpkin/cream mixture into the well. Stir with a silicon spatula just until the dough comes together.

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour. Place half of the dough onto the floured surface and shape it into a circle between 6 and 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Brush circle evenly with remaining heavy cream. Sprinkle turbinado sugar evenly over dough circle. Using a bench knife, cut the circle evenly into 8 wedges. Place each wedge onto the prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with other half of dough.

Bake on the middle rack in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool before using maple glaze.

Directions for maple glaze:

Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl. Add maple syrup and heavy cream until the glaze is desired consistency. You can either brush or drizzle the glaze onto the cooled pumpkin scones.

Just one more thing before I close this post. I do something with my scone dough that probably isn’t a normal thing. In the step where you stir the heavy cream mixture into the batter, I only stir until it is barely holding together. Most of the dough is still very crumbly. What I like to do at this point is pour the crumbly dough (and it does pour and sometimes makes a bit of a crumbly mess!) out onto the floured surface and use a technique similar to “frissage” to make it come together. I usually use this method for making sweet tart dough and pie dough, but it seems to work well for me for making scones also. I plan on making scones again soon so I will try to take pictures of the process the next time I do!

-Lynn

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

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Ever since I got my ice cream maker a few months back, my children have been asking for chocolate ice cream.  While I could have been boring and made just that, I decided to add a little something to the ice cream.  Personally, I think peanut butter tastes great with chocolate, and I don’t think I am ready to put chunks in my ice cream yet so I attempted to do a peanut butter swirl.  I ended up with something less than a swirl, but the ice cream itself is amazing.

Since it is more a frozen custard than ice cream, it is very rich.  I can usually eat a lot of ice cream, but even I had problems eating what I gave myself.

I created a double batch since there are 7 of us.  If you need or want less, you can easily cut the recipe in half.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

  • Servings: 2½ quarts
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1½ cups cocoa powder
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  • In a saucepan over medium heat whisk together cream, half and half, and cocoa powder.  Bring to simmer. Stir in chocolate chips until melted.  Take off heat and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks until pale yellow and thickened.
  • Add ½ cup of the cream mixture to egg mixture while continuing to whisk.  This will keep your eggs from cooking. Repeat two more times, adding ½ cup cream mixture to egg mixture.
  • Add the egg mixture to the remaining cream mixture.  Put back on stove over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer. Continue to stir until mixture thickens and coats the spoon.
  • Remove from heat, and pour through a mesh strainer to remove any lumps.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Place mixture in ice bath to cool to room temperature.
  • Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to have plastic wrap on the custard to prevent a skin from forming as it chills.
  • Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, over night is best.
  • Make ice cream per your maker’s directions.

 


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We ended up serving the ice cream with one of the chocolate chip cookies that Lynn made, and some of our home made hard shell.

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-Joshua

Crazy Baking Day #3: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Making the cookie dough yesterday was a huge help to me today! It only took me about 3 hours to bake the cookies since all I had to do was scoop dough.

I did learn quite a few things though, even though I’ve baked these many times! Just not in this quantity.

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This big bucket of cookie dough made 199 chocolate chip cookies. Before baking, each ball of dough weighed about 30 grams.

My first two trays of cookies did NOT turn out right at all. Usually, I bake one tray at a time but that just was not an option today with baking so many. So my first four trays were spent trying to figure out timing and when the cookies were baked through. I was also using the convection setting on my oven for the second time so I was figuring that out as well. I thought about trying two trays on the normal bake setting, but anytime I have tried that with these cookies, they definitely do not turn out right! Who knew chocolate chip cookies could be so complicated? Or maybe I am just overly picky…

Finally, I hit upon the magic number and method. Convection bake at 335 degrees F for 5 minutes. Then, switch the cookie sheets on their racks and bake for another 5 minutes. So the cookie sheet on the lower rack went on the top rack for the last 5 minutes and vice versa. I don’t think you’re supposed to have to do that with a convection oven but I was desperate to get these cookies baked without much more messing around. The cookies browned a little more than they usually do on a normal bake but at least they weren’t uncooked in the middle, which was the problem with the first two trays.

My second issue with these cookies: The chocolate chips! They seemed overly large for the size cookies I was baking. I know it seems impossible but it was almost like the cookies had too much chocolate in them. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You must be crazy, Lynn. How can a chocolate chip cookie have too much chocolate? And I completely agree. I’m probably just being picky again.

Right at the end of the bake, I had one of those “British Bake-off” mess-ups, when a baker pulls a cookie sheet out of the oven and some of the baked goods slide off the parchment paper and onto the floor or into the oven. Yep, that happened to me. Four of my half-baked cookies went splat. It was very sad. And messy. It wasn’t an end-of-the-world sacrifice though. I had the 150 cookies I needed for the fellowship tonight.

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I was not happy with the cookies in the picture above. They were way too gooey in the middle. So I guess those are for us to eat. I don’t think any of my family will be complaining about this.

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I set up a cooling rack and packaging station on our dining room table. I ended up needing 3 of the disposable pans for 150 cookies.

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My scooping area was in the kitchen on a gateleg IKEA table that we use as a counter/storage space.

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Here are all the cookies baked. And yes, my house still smells like chocolate chip cookies! Yum!

This concludes this portion of Crazy Baking Days. Thanks so much for reading! And if I end up doing something crazy like this again, there will definitely be a Crazy Baking Day #4!

-Lynn

 

Crazy Baking Day #2: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

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Crazy Baking Day #2 actually involved no baking at all! Today was basically prep for Crazy Baking Day #3, which happens tomorrow, when I get to bake 150 chocolate chip cookies.

Just as with my macarons, I have a favorite recipe that I can’t seem to stray away from. My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is from Not Without Salt.  This recipe uses chopped-up chocolate bars (which I really suggest you try sometime! They really send these cookies to over-the-top delicious.) but for this bake, I just went with a 48 ounce bag of Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips from Costco. When you bake these, don’t forget the salt sprinkle on top of the cookies. The salt also sends these cookies to over-the-top delicious. Here is a link:

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt from Not Without Salt

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I can guarantee that these chocolate chip cookies will still be awesome.

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My challenge: fill up this 6 quart bucket with chocolate chip cookie dough and somehow fit the bucket in my fridge until tomorrow.

 

My equipment: Two KitchenAid stand mixers. I am so glad my parents let me borrow their stand mixer for a few days.

If I had only had one stand mixer, well, this job would have taken me about 2 and a half hours instead of only 1 and a half hours.

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Bucket with one batch of cookie dough!

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I know you’re not supposed to eat raw cookie dough but this dough tastes as good as it looks… so I did eat the dough off the mixer whisks. My oldest son is smarter than I am. He didn’t eat any of it.

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Batch two is in. Is it just me or is it starting to look like I’m filling up an ice cream bucket? Cookie dough ice cream… now there is an idea. A very good idea.

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Batch three and four are in! And my job for the day is done.

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If I calculated everything correctly, I should end up with 192 chocolate chip cookies (about 30 g of dough each). I can’t wait to bake this up tomorrow! Just look at that yumminess in a bucket!

-Lynn

Note: If you do try this recipe and bake the 48 yield (30 g or smaller cookies) rather than the 24 yield (60 g or cookies as in the recipe), the cookies should not bake in the oven as long as the 12 minutes in the recipe. You really don’t want these to be overbaked. You want them to still be slightly gooey in the middle… but not too much! I think I usually started the timer at 6 minutes and then would look in on them from there until they were the right color and looked almost baked through.

Crazy Baking Day #1: 160 Vanilla Latte Macarons

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I think it’s been about two months since I’ve posted anything on the blog, but I think I’m back now that it’s after the holidays. November and December have always been crazy for me, since I love to bake and basically, Thanksgiving and Christmas are excuses to bake a lot and bake big!

So what’s been going on with me since my last post? Quite a bit has changed since then!

I am definitely a novice cake baker and decorator, but last month, I made 3 four-layer cakes for a Christmas party. They weren’t very pretty to look at, but they actually tasted decent. I wasn’t too happy with the appearance of them, but this bake did give me hope that maybe I can learn how to bake a good cake. I am hoping to take a cake decorating class sometime this year.

Josh made the mistake of buying me a Nordicware Bundt cake pan for Christmas. I am now addicted to them and want to collect all of them. I will try to post soon about my Bundt cakes… which are so much easier for me to make than a traditional layer cake.

I am slowly practicing as many new (and sometimes unusual) bakes as I can and trying to perfect them. I would eventually like to apply for a cottage food permit here in California and actually sell my baked goods. Where and how I would do this is still up in the air, but I would like to prepare for the possibility!

Last month, I was asked if I could make desserts for a fellowship at my church. I’ve been wanting to make macarons for an event like this for a while, so crazy me planned to make 80 macarons and 150 chocolate chip cookies for the fellowship.

Today was my planned day to bake and fill 80 coffee-flavored macarons with vanilla buttercream frosting. My wonderful MIL, who wasn’t feeling well, watched my kids for most of the day so that I could concentrate on baking the macarons. I wouldn’t have been able to do this bake without her help.

One mistake: For some reason, I thought my usual macaron recipe only made 24 macarons, but it actually makes closer to 40. Yesterday I had prepped my egg whites for 4 batches of the recipe. 40 times 4 equals yes 160 macarons. So I had been planning to make around 96 macarons (in case some of them weren’t pretty enough to go to the fellowship) but ended up making around 160 macarons instead because I couldn’t let those egg whites go to waste! Ok, in reality, I knew Josh would be ecstatic that there would be so many “extra” macarons.

Since I used an entire 18 count carton of extra-large eggs for this bake, I now have 18 egg yolks in the fridge. Lemon curd anyone?

In my previous macaron posts, I’ve mentioned trying to get the total prep, bake, and fill time to under 3 hours. And I’ve never been able to do it. Today was no exception! In fact, I started the bake at 9 AM this morning and didn’t finish until 5 PM. Admittedly, that whole time was not spent actually working on the macarons. I had to let the piped macarons crust for about an hour instead of only 30 minutes because it was raining outside and rain means humidity. Piped macarons don’t like humidity! I also had to stop around 1:30 PM so that I could go pick up my kids and did not get back until about 3 PM. I think that my second batch of macarons did need all that time though to develop their crust.

When I try a recipe and love it, I tend to use only that recipe and won’t usualy want to try another. This is the case with macarons. I love Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for macarons and can almost follow it from memory now!

Dorie Greenspan’s Parisian Macarons

I did discover on this bake that this recipe can be successfully doubled. You will probably wish you had more baking sheets like I did though!

The batter probably needed a few more stirs with the spatula though before piping. All the macarons kept their little “hats” through the bake in the oven.

I also found out that the macarons on the insulated baking sheet needed more than 12 minutes in the oven. A few of them ended up being soft instead of crispy after 12 minutes in the oven. That was okay though since I still had 120 others to choose from.

And another oddity, the macarons in the small cookie sheet had more of a macaron shape than the others. I wonder if the walls of the cookie sheet contributed to that.

For the coffee flavor in the shells, I used 4 teaspoons of coffee extract (homemade by Josh) in the heated sugar syrup then half a packet of Starbucks instant coffee in the almond/powdered sugar mixture.

For the filling, I made a simple vanilla butter cream frosting.

150 g of butter

450 g of powdered sugar

1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

1-3 Tbsp of milk

First, I beat the butter until creamy in my stand mixer. Then, I added the vanilla extract. The powdered sugar goes in next a little bit at a time. Lastly, drizzle in the milk until the frosting is the consistency you are looking for. Even a little bit at a time, my mixer still ended up looking this

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after I was finished making two batches of frosting. It seems that it is just inevitable that when you work with powdered sugar, you will make a mess.

Two batches of frosting was enough to fill the 160 macarons and some leftover to eat out of the bowl.

This is an interesting pic and video of the heated sugar syrup portion of the recipe. It is so funny how the temperature of the sugar syrup just shoots up to about 210 degrees F and then creeps up to that 235 degrees to 245 degrees F so slowly! In the video, you can see the steam from the boiling sugar syrup. So so glad for a stand mixer! During this part, I stay away from it for about 10 minutes and let the mixer do its job. Side note: coffee-flavored Italian meringue is yummy!

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Also, Josh bought me a new oven for Christmas! I love it so much.

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Tomorrow is Crazy Baking Day #2, where I try to fill a 6 quart bucket full of chocolate chip cookie dough. Come back soon and thank you for reading!

-Lynn

Seven Magic Mountains: Land Art

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Lynn and I took a short trip to Las Vegas, Nevada for our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  We are not gamblers, but there are many different things to do and see in the area. We may do a few posts on the area, and things we did.

While driving from Las Vegas to Primm, Nevada to go to outlet malls, we saw some brightly colored things in the distance.  They are easily seen from at least 2 miles away as you crest over a hill on the Interstate 15 South.  To me they looked like they giant blow up dancers that car dealerships sometimes use.  Lynn did a quick search on her phone to see what they are and found out that they are land art and made of giant stones.

I am always intrigued by odd things while on road trips, so on the way back to Las Vegas, I made sure to stop and see this exhibit.  There are two exits from the Interstate, both of which have road signs.  Both exits are a couple of miles from the actual exhibit, but it is an easy drive.  There is also parking on the road side, and trails to the rocks.  It is a short walk, so just about anyone can do it.

Seven Magic Mountains is a large-scale site-specific public art installation created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. The “mountains” are large local limestone boulders stacked on top of each other.  They are either 3 or 6 boulders high, and are painted with day glow paints.  They color of the paint is amazingly bright against the drab brown of the deserts.

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This is short time exhibit.  It opened on May 11th, 2016 and will only be in place for 2 years.  If you happen to be in the area, this is a fun thing to check out.

-Joshua