Thursday, November 20, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #1

At the Launchpad, Mrs. BA has a strict rule about Christmas - you can't talk about the holiday until Veterans Day.  Well that was last week - and in one month it will be the Brave Astronaut's birthday, to be followed by Christmas (and LBA's birthday) and then SoBA's birthday on the 30th.  It is not possible there is so little time left before the holidays arrive - but we shall deal with it, won't we?

If you wondering what you could get your favorite Brave Astronaut for his birthday and/or Christmas, I have a few ideas.  Be sure to check in with Mrs. BA so you don't double up.
  1. The Neiman Marcus Christmas Wish Book Fantasy Gifts are out, although none of them are really over the top, but I wouldn't refuse two tickets to the Academy Awards.
  2. If you find yourself with some extra scratch around the holidays - the Launchpad is in need of some loving.  I have a long list of "lottery projects" that you should feel free to volunteer to help fund or service.
  3. I'm hoping that Santa comes through with a new iPod this year - it's time to retire mine - it's nearly 10 years old, an eternity in technology.  So iTunes gift cards are welcome.
  4. The Brave Laptop is also due for an upgrade.  I'm not seeing the BSOD, but it is definitely chugging along.  Mrs. BA just got a new one and I don't like having poorer technology than her :).
  5. I spotted this new biography in Barnes and Noble the other day.  It would be a very nice companion piece to some tickets to one of his concerts at Madison Square Garden, continuing through 2015!
  6. The Brave Astronaut clan is spending Thanksgiving at the beach, not far from the Tanger Outlets and I am always in need of some new threads - sweaters, turtlenecks (can you tell it's really cold?), and socks - I could really use some new brown socks.  Socks and underwear was what your mother usually gets you for Christmas wasn't it?
  7. More tickets.  I would really like to attend more sporting events.  Someday I would like to be a season ticket holder to at least one of the major sports teams in the region.  For now, it would be nice to know that I'm going to attend at least half a dozen baseball games in 2015 and maybe a hockey game or two.  You can skip the football tickets - there's no power on earth that will make me go see the Washington football team.
  8. Time off.  I am spread thin, partly of my own making.  It would be nice to be able to string several days together soon and not really do anything, and dammit, we are taking a vacation next summer.  But first up, we have to get through the two weeks of winter break - we may have to bring back Parent Camp for several of those days.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Harvest Apple Cake

Like the tart from last week, this would make a good addition to any Thanksgiving table.  From the Washington Post Food section, September 17, 2014

Harvest Apple Cake
Servings: Tested size: 12 servings; makes one 9-inch cake
The tender chunks of apple help make this butter-and-cream-cheese cake moist and flavorful – a simple sweet for offering throughout the day and especially at brunch.
After two years of apple-baking testing, Lisa Yockelson reports that a wide variety of apples can be chunked up and used for a recipe such as this one. Rome Beauty, Cortland, Jonathan, McIntosh, Stayman and Empire apples meld beautifully, as do Fuji, Jonagold, Northern Spy, Winesap and York Imperial.
Make Ahead: The cake can be made a day in advance and kept in an airtight container at room temperature. 
Ingredients
  • 1 2/3 cups flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and diced "cooking" apples (see headnote), in 1/2-inch chunks (3 to 4 medium apples) 
  • 3 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use flour-and-oil spray to coat the inside of a 9-inch round baking pan with 2-inch sides.

For the batter: Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg onto a sheet of wax paper.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat for 1 to 2 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl. On moderately high speed, blend in the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 45 seconds after each addition, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition for 30 seconds or until just incorporated. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, beating. At this point, the batter will look slightly curdled, but it will smooth out after the flour mixture is incorporated.

On low speed, beat in the flour mixture in 2 additions, mixing just until the particles of flour are absorbed. The batter will be thick. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the apple chunks.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the surface. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake has risen and set. It should pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. The top of the cake will be a medium-golden color and will look somewhat bumpy due to the chunks of fruit embedded in the batter.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto another cooling rack, lift off the baking pan, then invert again to stand right side up.

For the topping: Whisk together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. While the cake is still warm, sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the cake. To serve, use a serrated knife to cut the cake into wedges.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veteran's Day!

Through an interesting quirk of the calendar - today is the Veteran's Day federal holiday and Mrs. BA and I are off - but LBA and SoBA have school.  It's highly likely that Mrs. BA and I are going to the movies and we'll have popcorn for lunch.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the contributions of our veterans to our nation and I thank them for their service (and for making sure we have a day off).

Much to the disappointment of Mrs. BA - summer is over, but she can look over this list (as can all of you) of the Top 50 Summer Blockbusters.  If I've seen the movie, I've noted that in italics.  From Dissolve via kottke.
Blockbusters have become such an integral part of the way we talk about films that it’s hard to believe they haven’t always been with us. But while there have always been big movies—lavish productions designed to draw crowds and command repeat business—the blockbuster as we know it has a definite start date: June 20, 1975. That’s when Jaws first hit screens in the middle of what was once, in the words of The Financial Times, a “low season” when the “only steady summer dollars came, in the U.S., from drive-in theaters.” It’s summer, after all; why go to the movies when you could be outside? Jaws changed that. Star Wars cemented that change. And now, the summer-movie season is dominated by the biggest films Hollywood has to offer. (At least traditionally; some signs suggest that the season is losing its meaning.) 

For our list of the 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters, we decided to be strict in some ways and lax in others. Only films released in the United States between May 1 and August 31 qualified. That eliminated a lot of films that might have landed on a list of best blockbusters, including the Lord Of The Rings films (all winter releases) and The Matrix (released March 31, 1999). (In fact, only The Matrix Reloaded qualifies for consideration. Spoiler: It did not make the list.) Beyond that, however, we left it open, meaning films with laser cannons and exploding Escalades qualified, but so did animated movies, comedies, and any other sort of film released during summer months. We let the calendar define what it meant to be a summer movie, but let our panel of 12 critics define what made a film a blockbuster, narrowing it down from 655 contenders over the course of three rounds of voting. The process yielded a diverse bunch of movies starting with a comedy about a man discovering love late in life, and ending with… Well, we’ll get to that.

50. The 40-Year-Old Virgin(2005)
49. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World(2010)
48. Babe(1995)
47. Top Gun(1986) - in fact LBA wandered in the other day when I was watching this and he got to watch a little bit.
46. Minority Report(2002)
45. The Lion King(1994)
44. Bull Durham(1988) - a baseball movie that LBA (who really, really likes the genre) may not watch yet.
43. The Iron Giant(1999)
42. Iron Man(2008)
41. The World’s End(2013)
40. Moulin Rouge!(2001) - I know this surprises me - it being a musical and all.
39. Up(2009)
38. Poltergeist(1982) - "YOU MOVED THE HEADSTONES BUT YOU LEFT THE BODIES - DIDN'T YOU!"
37. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan(1982) - KHAAAAAANNNNNNNN!
36. Gremlins(1984) - really, it's a Christmas movie.
35. Batman(1989) - the first is the best.
34. The Thing(1982)
33. Risky Business(1983) - right in my high school wheelhouse. "The thing is, Joel, I don't have to pay for it."
32. Airplane!(1980) - Yes, I'm serious, and stop calling me Shirley.
31. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
30. The Truman Show(1998)
29. The Muppet Movie(1979)
28. Inception(2010)
27. Midnight Run(1988) - One of Mrs. BA and my favorites. "I got two words for you . . . "
26. Spider-Man 2(2004)
25. The Shining(1980) - Mrs. BA wandered in while I was watching the end of this the other day.  Her comment, "this is more than this movie I have ever seen."
24. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut(1999)
23. Toy Story 3(2010)
22. Finding Nemo(2003)
21. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence(2001)
20. Clueless(1995)
19. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure(1985) - I'm so ashamed.
18. Blade Runner(1982)
17. Apocalypse Now(1979) - Do you smell that, son?
16. Ghostbusters(1984) - I did mention that LBA and SoBA were ghostbusters for Halloween, right?
15. RoboCop(1987) - um. yeah, this one, too.
14. WALL-E(2008)
13. Terminator 2: Judgment Day(1991)
12. Alien (1979)
11. Star Wars(1977) - I want this to be higher on the list.
10. The Dark Knight (2008)
9. Jurassic Park (1993)
8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) 
7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
6. Aliens (1986)
5. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
3. Die Hard (1988) - Again, now really a Christmas movie.
2. Back To The Future (1985)
1. Jaws (1975) - and every single time it's on, I'll watch it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Salted Caramel Tart with Kettle Chip Crust

I could so see this on the Thanksgiving table. From What'sGabyCooking.

Salted Chocolate Tart with Kettle Chip Crust
Ingredients 
For the Kettle Chip Crust 
  • 1 "Sharing Size" bag Kettle Chips, Sea Salt flavor 
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1/4 cup AP flour 
For the Chocolate Filling 
  • 1/4 cups heavy cream 
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
For the Chocolate Ganache topping
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips 
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Instructions
For the Kettle Chip Crust 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a food processor, pulse the potato chips until they are finely ground. Add the melted butter and flour and pulse for 30 seconds to combine. 
  3. Press the potato chip crust into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. 
  4. Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
For the Chocolate Filling 
  1. Combine the cream and chocolate chips in a medium pot over medium heat and warm the cream until the chocolate starts to melt. Whisk these 2 ingredients together until completely smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and continue to whisk until smooth. 
  2. Pour the Chocolate Filling mixture into the cooled tart shell and place it back into the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes.
For the Chocolate Ganache topping
  1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan and add the chocolate. Whisk together over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and all the chocolate has melted. 
  2. Pour this mixture over the middle of the chocolate tart and use an offset spatula to spread it around evenly. 
  3. Let the entire tart chill overnight in the refrigerator. 
  4. Dust with flaky sea salt before slicing and serving.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween Candy

One benefit of being a parent is the "house" takes 50% of the Halloween Candy.  Plus, because LBA is allergic, all the peanut items come right off the top.  It's a hardship - but someone has to make out here.  Why shouldn't it be me.

So what did you and yours score last night?  Here's a list (from BuzzFeed) ranking chocolate candy from grossest to bestest. "The criteria: In order to be considered for the ranking, all candy had to contain either a chocolate-y outer shell or a chocolate-y inner life. Sorry, no gummy candies or licorices were evaluated." [Comments in quotes from BuzzFeed / my comments in italics]

27. Chunky, Nestle
  • “Candy with raisins? Who does that?”
  • “I heard Chunky was Mussolini’s favorite candy.”
  • It's the weirdest - small and yet so completely unsatisfying.
26. Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, Goldenberg's
  • “They sound boring already.”
  • “It sounds like candy that would be at your grandparent’s house.”
  • “The chewing is the worst, TBH.” 
  • “The chocolate is gross.” “It’s vegan.” “Oh.” 
  • I can *tolerate* the milk chocolate ones, but that is blasphemy to those who like them - and only acknowledge the dark chocolate ones.
25. Birthday Cake M&Ms, Mars
  • “There is a level of fragrance to these that is uncomfortable.”
  • “This is an unhappy marriage of desserts.”
  • Sometimes it should just be . . .  cake.
24. Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Hershey’s
  • “This is a luxury candy bar.” 
  • “The first piece is always amazing, but you can never have more than, like, 3 pieces at a time (or even in a week).” 
  • “I love cookies and cream as an ice cream flavor, but white chocolate in a bar is atrocious.”
  • This treads into the white chocolate world - which there is no gray area, here, either you loathe it or you like it.
23. Almond Joy, Peter Paul
  • “I only eat Almond Joy. Sorry you all eat Almond Sorrow.” 
  • “Does adding almonds to Mounds bars make them any better? I’d say no.”
  • I despise coconut in my candy, well, in most things, actually
22. Mounds, Peter Paul
  • “Mounds are mom candy.” 
  • “Your mom is always like ‘I wish I had a Mounds.’” 
  • “Coconut is good only in shampoo.”
21. Krackel, Hershey’s
  • “Krackel is the poor man’s Nestle Crunch.” 
  • “Krackel was always the thing you got trick or treating where you were like ‘eh, whatever.’”
  • I feel like I'm obligated to stick up for Hershey's here
20. Mr. Goodbar, Hershey’s
  • “Mr. Goodbar is my favorite because I’m a degenerate.” 
  • “Has anyone ever purchased a full-sized Mr. Goodbar ever?
  • When I buy a bag of miniatures, I'm usually left with these and special dark
19. Pretzel M&Ms, Mars
  • “Pretzel M&Ms seem like a good idea for the first 10 seconds the first time you put one in your mouth, and then never again.” 
  • “They’re too funky fake tasting.” 
  • “WTF. I like them. I’ll eat your guys’.”
  • Like the two of the three above, I would have rated these higher - they are definitely in my top three M&M flavors
18. 3 Musketeers, Mars
  • “3 Musketeers are actually trash.” 
  • “Sorry I like them. Like, A LOT.” 
  • “Nougat is so good.” 
  • “But why advertise that you’re low fat. You’re eating a candy bar. You don’t care about those things.”
  • My problem is the amorphous "nougat" - I'm not really sure what I'm eating.  Though I like these frozen.
17. Peanut Butter M&Ms, Mars
  • “In a pinch these will do, but let’s be real. The peanut butter is far inferior to Reese’s stuff.”
  • Not worth my time, though I know that Kim Ayres disagrees.
16. Mint M&Ms, Mars
  • “They remind me of those fancy Andes dinner mints.” 
  • “Oh man, you know when you go to a restaurant and they bring a mint after the dinner and you’re like, what is this, a garbage mint? but then there’s CHOCOLATE inside and it changes everything.” 
  • “Pleasant. Creamy. Refreshing.”
  • I'm not interested.  I'm mildly intrigued, but won't seek them out.
15. Hershey’s With Almonds, Hershey’s
  • “It’s not thick enough to hold a good almond chunk.”
  • “Like of all the nuts they could have gone for they went with ALMONDS?”
  • Another of my go to candy bars.  I like these.
14. Milky Way, Mars
  • “I think it’s best in fun-size, but not as a legit full-size bar.”
  • Like it's cousin, 3 Musketeers, it's better frozen
13. Snickers, Mars
  • “Snickers are good but then I feel like I made a mistake after, always.” 
  • “I feel like the Snickers and the Milky Way are the basic bitches of the candy bar world.”
  • Sometimes I'm up on the Snickers bar, sometimes down.  I definitely have to be in the mood for it.
12. Kit Kat, Mars
  • “Kit Kat’s breakable structure pleases me.” 
  • “Plus that jingle. Forever in my head.” 
  • “Kit Kats are garbage candy. No one ever picks a Kit Kat.”
  • That last comment is a little harsh - I'll never turn down a Kit Kat.
11. Butterfinger, Nestle
  • “Butterfingers is a desperation candy.” 
  • “Physically impossible to eat without feeling like you’re destroying your teeth forever, to the point where your teeth might fall out while you’re eating it. and maybe that’s part of the thrill.”
  • “What IS the stuff in the middle. it’s not food.” 
  • “Controversial, but I love it. It just feels like danger in my mouth.” 
  • “I’m actually not that big a fan of Butterfingers. Probably the least appetizing name of them all. And they tasted just as bad. No one wants to choke on your flaky dust. It’s a poor excuse for a candy bar.” 
  • “I want to choke on that flaky dust.”
  • When there's other, better chocolate around, I'm going there.  I won't eat a butterfinger unless it's the last one about.
10. 100 Grand, Nestle
  • “The only legit full-size candy bar.” 
  • “I have never had one of those.” 
  • “Nope.”
  • On my list, this one is much, much higher.  It is possibly one of my most favorite candy bars, ever.
9. York Peppermint Patty, Hershey’s
  • “These make me feel like I’m eating a cool mountain breeze. In a good way.” 
  • “I cannot abide by peppermint candy. it’s like trying to eat a Hershey bar after brushing your teeth.”
  • A favorite of Mrs. BA, but not of mine.
8. Hershey’s, Hershey’s
  • “Never what I reach for, but always surprisingly satisfying.” 
  • “#Classic.” 
  • “I never usually want anything to do with milk chocolate. It’s garbage chocolate. But sometimes Hershey’s is aight.”
  • These are fine, and even better when you smear a bit of peanut butter on them.
7. M&Ms, Mars
  • “#Classic.” 
  • “A binge food.”
  • Meh
6. Baby Ruth, Nestle
  • “Baby Ruths are actually really good, but I think of them as a dad candy bar.” 
  • “I would agree, they are perhaps the most forgotten candy bar.” 
  • “But you know what? They’re great.”
  • Of the peanuts in my chocolate bar, these are better than some of the others out there.
5. Nestle Crunch, Nestle
  • “Crunch bar is the superior rice candy bar.” 
  • “Most definitely. Love the thinness of Crunch.”
  • They're OK.
4. Take 5, Hershey’s
  • “Woefully underrated.” 
  • “Pretzels, caramel, peanut butter and chocolate? Sold. DOUBLE SOLD.” 
  • “This proves that there should be pretzels in MOST if not all candy bars.”
  • Along with the 100 Grand, these might be my top two favorites
3. Toblerone, Toblerone
  • “The nougat is seriously crack.” 
  • “I love how it opens.” 
  • “Toblerone is too much work for your mouth. It’s like mouth geometry.” 
  • “It has a neat shape and there’s toffee in it. You can’t not love this stuff.”
  • Toblerone will always make me think of airports and duty free items.
2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s
  • “I love the Reese’s peanut butter in all forms - pieces, cups, actual peanut butter jar.” 
  • “Instead of flowers, throw Reese’s in my grave.” 
  • “Shower me in peanut butter cups.” 
  • “Reese’s forever.”
  • There isn't much wrong in life that can't be solved by a fresh, cold, Reese's
1. Peanut M&Ms, Mars
  • "Peanut M&Ms are so much better than regular M&Ms.” 
  • “They are perhaps the best.”
  • “They’re the elegant mom version of M&Ms.” 
  • “Solid, substantial, perfect size and weight.”
  • I would agree they are the best of the M&M family

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Jokes

Primarily for Dads to elicit groans from their children (from BuzzFeed):
  1. Why are graveyards so noisy?  Because of all the coffin'
  2. Why did the vampire subscribe to the New York Times?  He heard it had great circulation
  3. Why didn’t the mummy have any friends?  He was too wrapped up in himself.
  4. What kind of protozoa likes Halloween? An ameboo
  5. What happened to the guy who couldn’t keep up payments to his exorcist? He was repossessed
  6. What do Italians eat on Halloween? Fettuccine A-fraid-o
  7. Why can’t male ghosts have babies? Because they have hollow weenies
  8. What did the corpse’s mom do when she got mad at him? She grounded him
  9. What happened to the cannibal who was late to dinner? They gave him the cold shoulder
  10. Why did Dracula get thrown out of the haunted house? He was a pain in the neck
  11. Why are demons and ghouls always together? Because Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend (sing it, you'll get it)
  12. Why don’t skeletons ever go trick-or-treating? They don't have any body to go out with
  13. What do birds give out on Halloween night? Tweets
  14. Where do movie stars go on Halloween? Maliboo!
  15. What does a vampire never order at a restaurant? A Stake Sandwich
  16. Who does a mummy take on a date? Any old girl he can dig up
  17. What is a witch’s favorite subject in school? Spelling
  18. Frankenstein and Dracula had a fight. Who won? Frankenstein - because Dracula sucks
  19. Why did the headless horseman start a business? He wanted to get a head in life
  20. Who are some of the werewolves’ cousins? The What-Wolves and the When-Wolves
  21. What do you get when you drop a pumpkin? Squash

Monday, October 27, 2014

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

You would think that it's not hard to roast pumpkin seeds.  But it is.  Sometimes they get burned, or there's too much oil, or the seasoning is off.  So here's a recipe for you.  Not that I'll follow it - I'll keep winging it.  I do like a little Old Bay on my seeds and of course, just straight up salted.

Enjoy those seeds on Friday while you are handing out that candy to all those ghosts and goblins.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
If you want to jazz up your pumpkin seeds, sprinkle with spices such as smoked paprika, cumin, or chile powder before they go into the oven.

Ingredients 
  • One medium sized pumpkin
  • Salt 
  • Olive oil 

Method 
  1. Cut open the pumpkin by cutting a circle around the stem end with a sharp knife (knife blade angled in), and pulling off the top. Use a strong metal spoon to scrape the insides of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the mass of pumpkin seeds in a colander and run under water to rinse and separate the seeds from everything else.
  2. Measure the pumpkin seeds in a cup measure. Place the seeds in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to the pan for every half cup of pumpkin seeds. Add more salt if you would like your seeds to be saltier. Bring the salted water and pumpkin seeds to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat the bottom of a roasting pan or thick baking sheet with olive oil, about a teaspoon or so. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan in a single layer, and toss them a bit to coat them with the oil on the pan. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. Small pumpkin seeds may toast in around 5 minutes or so, large pumpkin seeds may take up to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the pumpkin seeds so they don't get over toasted. When lightly browned, remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack. Let the pumpkin seeds cool all the way down before eating.
 Either crack to remove the inner seed (a lot of work and in my opinion, unnecessary) or eat whole.