Category Archives: Domestic Blitz

In which we don our aprons and putter about the house.

On your marks, get set. Bake!

A long, long time ago — all the way back in 2008 — I joined an online group called The Daring Bakers. Someone would post a baking challenge every month, and then members would attempt them and share their results. I think the first one I made was a caramel cake, and it was delicious. Others didn’t work out so well. (I’m looking at you, pao de queijo and savarin.) But some of them, like the buche de noel and the Momofuku crack pie, were delightful. And then there was the princessatorte and the Battenburg cake. We all have a hot mess or two in our history, and mine seem to involve various royal desserts.

The point is that I was baking weird, challenging things, and it was fun. Most of the time. Sometimes it just felt like a chore, and those chore-times started outnumbering the fun-times so I stopped doing it for awhile. When I wanted to start again, the Daring Bakers had disbanded.

I didn’t stop baking altogether, but I also didn’t push myself to embark upon new baking adventures. I missed the camaraderie — celebrating one another’s beautifully puffed puff pastry; commiserating over burnt caramel.

Then a few months ago something new popped up in my Facebook feed: Someone was starting a group dedicated to making food from “The Great British Baking Show.” I love that program as much as I love a good cake, even with the new hosts.

And so I signed up without hesitation.

Our first challenge was to make a “fruity cake.” Not a fruitcake in the holiday-brick-of-cake sense, but a sponge cake with fruit baked into it. I missed that note the first time around, and I made a chocolate sponge cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and nary a fruit inside the cake.

It did not go particularly well.

A sponge cake gets all of its lift from air that’s beaten into the eggs, so you’re supposed to sift the flour over the well-beaten eggs and fold, fold, fold just a wee bit at a time. Instead, I decided just to dump it all in and then fold, which resulted in clumps of cocoa in the mix. After that misstep was followed by too much time in the oven, I had myself a very flat sponge.

It was not a good bake.

I cut the burnt edges off as best as I could and sallied forth, because we are not one to waste cake. Rockford and Pete claim it was good despite all.

Not wanting to be defeated by a sponge cake, I regrouped and tried again. This time I used As Easy As Apple Pie’s Italian Sponge Cake, which turned out indeed to be even easier than apple pie, provided you follow the directions. I added blueberries, brushed it thoroughly with lemon syrup and topped it with coconut whipped cream and candied lemon peel, and I was very, very happy with it.

(Even though the coconut whipped cream didn’t whip quite as I wanted it to and the blueberries all sunk to the bottom, which ended up being the top.)

I’m looking forward to seeing what concoction the organizers order up next, and I’m very much hoping it’s not a Tudor Week challenge.

How the Ninja Coffee Bar won my heart

Disclaimer: SharkNinja sent Nichole products to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. No money changed hands, and all opinions are Nichole’s own.

I am a confirmed homebody, and as such I have a lengthy list of the Things I Miss When I’m Not at Home. Normally, the things at the top of that list are:

3. My bed.
2. My bathroom.
1. My fuzzy little angel and constant companion, Marsha T. Cat.

But things felt a little different when we were at my dad’s house for Christmas. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was until I saw Dad making a cup of coffee. And I realized that the things I was missing most were:

3. My bathroom.
2. Making a fancy frothy latte with our new coffeemaker.
1. The furry bright star of my firmament, Marsha T. Cat.

I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but I do love a great kitchen gadget. And I have had a great time playing around with the Ninja Coffee Bar ever since the SharkNinja people sent it to me a couple of months ago.

The Ninja has completely replaced our Keurig, which we bought because Rockford is the only permanent occupant of our house who drinks coffee, and he only drinks one cup in the morning before he heads off to work. So it made sense for us to have a one-cup coffee system. Most of the time. Unless we had visitors who practically live on coffee, which happened more often than one might expect and led to us going through far more of those little cups than I would’ve liked.

Enter the Ninja.

The Ninja Coffee Bar uses regular ol’ ground coffee, and it comes with a reusable filter. You can make a full 10-cup carafe when you have highly caffeinated guests, or you can use the one-cup setting if it’s just your slightly bleary-eyed self. There’s even an extra-large cup setting and a travel cup setting, in case you’re a little more than slightly bleary eyed.

“But how do you make just one cup of coffee in a full-size coffee maker?” you may be asking. “It’ll splash everywhere!” The Ninja people thought of that, and it’s one of my favorite thoughtful little touches on the machine. You flip down a little built-in platform and put your cup on it, and the coffee goes straight into the cup without leaving little coffee splatters everywhere. So smart, those Ninja people.

It’s like a tiny patio for your coffee cup!

The Coffee Bar also features a built-in cubby to store the measuring scoop that comes with it, and there’s a slider you can pop into place to stop errant coffee from dripping onto the heating plate. It also has an array of settings so you can customize the strength of your brew, from Classic to Rich to the rather potent Cafe Forte.

But my very favorite thing about the Ninja Coffee Bar is — drum roll please — the frother. It’s a tiny, motorized whisk that’s attached to an arm that swings out from the side of the machine, and it makes me want to add frothed milk to everything.

My drizzling skills need some work.
I like to add a little flavored syrup to the milk, heat it up for a minute and then froth it for 20-30 seconds before adding it to a cup of coffee — usually brewed on the 4-ounce specialty setting, which makes an espresso-like brew.

So far I’ve made iced coffee, caramel lattes, cinnamon lattes, vanilla lattes and a mocha. My father-in-law said the iced coffee I made using the (you guessed it) iced coffee setting tasted just like the one he gets at his favorite chain coffee shop. That’s high praise from a guy who may be the world’s leading consumer of iced coffee.

The Ninja Coffee retails for right around $200, and it makes a mighty fine cup o’ Joe.

Dreaming of more space

We’ve been feeling slightly claustrophobic in our house lately — and not only because we just hosted 19 people in our house for Thanksgiving. Our house was built in the mid-’50s. One of the bedrooms is pretty tiny, the kitchen is serviceable but cramped when more than one person is in there, and it would be nice if Rockford had a space he could use as an office.

The real estate market in our town would make it easy to sell our house, but it would also make it tough for us to find something with the space we’d like in an area we’d like that’s in our budget. So we’ve toyed around with moving, but I don’t think it’s in the cards.

We’re currently talking about the possibility of either building a tiny house or converting the garage, which of course means I’ve been googling “garage conversions” quite a bit. There are some really beautiful conversions at Houzz — including a few that were turned into kitchens! — and some helpful info at Garages.About.Com and Money Pit.

My current garage-conversion dream moves the kitchen out there, with a half-bath, a laundry room and a ginormous pantry. I’m still trying to figure out what we’d do with the current kitchen. A formal dining room? A den? Who knows!

I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but I’m feeling inspired.