Thursday, June 22, 2017

Topping the Charts in 1985

Around this time of the month, thirty-two years ago, in 1985, the Brave Astronaut was preparing to graduate from high school (two years ago, you may recall I organized my 30th high school reunion).  A week or so ago, Entertainment Weekly, put out the list of the Hot 100 Top Ten songs from June 1985.

  1. Bryan Adams - Heaven - I may have had a Bryan Adams thing, but I preferred the snappier stuff
  2. Phil Collins - Sussudio - when I arrived at the University at Albany two years later, there was a running gag that he was actually saying, "Su - su - SUNY Albany."
  3. Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World - the 1985 Braves were prepared to do just that.
  4. Prince and the Revolution - Raspberry Beret - As I noted last year, the loss of Prince was significant to me and my generation.  I went to a "Purple Rain" prom in 1985 and our high school football team fight song was "Let's Go Crazy."
  5. Duran Duran - A View to a Kill - with the loss of Roger Moore earlier this year, another link to our high school days is lost.
  6. Madonna - Angel - I take every opportunity to tell LBA and SoBA that Madonna was the original Lady Gaga.
  7. Mary Jane Girls - In My House - I admit that when pulling this list together, I had no recollection of this song.
  8. Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better - perhaps an anthem for today, too?
  9. Katrina and the Waves - Walking on Sunshine - this was definitely one of my happy place songs.  These days, it's this one.
  10. Survivor - The Search is Over - and so is this list.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Graham Cracker Toffee

I would eat this. All of it. From Gimme Some Oven via BuzzFeed.

5-Ingredient Graham Cracker Toffee
Yield: About 24 pieces
Total Time: 25 mins
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 18 mins

This 5-Ingredient Graham Cracker Toffee is quick and easy to make, and feel free to sprinkle it with whatever topping sounds good!

Ingredients
  • 14-16 sheets of graham crackers
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 11 x 15-inch baking sheet (or jelly roll pan) with parchment paper or aluminum foil. (If using aluminum foil, mist it with baking spray.) Arrange graham crackers touching side by side in a single layer, breaking some of the graham crackers in half if need be so that that they fit. Set aside.

In medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat until melted. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a boil, stirring constantly. Let the mixture boil for about 2 minutes, then remove from heat and pour over graham crackers. Use a spatula or spoon to spread the mixture evenly over the graham crackers. Bake for 6-7 minutes or until the butter mixture is bubbly.

Remove pan and immediately sprinkle the the chocolate chips evenly on top of the graham crackers. Let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is melted, then use a spoon to spread the chocolate around as much as you’d like. Sprinkle nuts (or your desired topping) evenly on top of the melted chocolate.

Let sit for about two hours and them cut and serve. Sometimes, if I am in a hurry, I will cool the cookies in the freezer for a quicker serve time.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Bittersweet Father's Day



For the first time in my forty-nine years on this big blue marble, I do not have a father to celebrate today.  Since he left us in April, my siblings and I have been dealing with his loss and making plans for his last farewell, when we will travel to Bermuda to scatter my parent's ashes, in accordance with their last wishes.  The song above played behind the video montage that we played during his viewing at the funeral home - we learned that it was one of my father's favorites and he wanted it played when he died.

However, today is not all maudlin.  For the past 12 years, I have been lucky enough to be a father myself, when LBA arrived on the scene.  I became a double dad in 2007 when SoBA joined us.  I have done my best at this father thing - taking some cues from my father, and figuring out the rest as i went along.  I hope that if you were to ask LBA and SoBA, if I was doing a good job - they would tell you yes.

Thanks Dad, for everything.

Thanks LBA and SoBA, for making this a day for me to be celebrated.

I love all of you.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flying the Colors


Today, June 14, was Flag Day.  There is an American flag that flies outside the launchpad every day.  There are some who say that you put your flag out on Flag Day and fly it until the 4th of July.  There are others that only put it out on Federal holidays.  I like the flag outside the launchpad - but given that it is out there everyday - I'm going to need to replace it more often.  But out there it is.

Flag Day has always had significance in my family - it was my parent's wedding anniversary.  My parents were married for 53 years before my mother's death in 2006.  As most of you know, my dear readers, my father was reunited with my mother earlier this year.  I am sure they are tucked away in some corner of heaven (on a park bench) having a great time catching up.

June 14 is also my MIL's birthday - so if you know her or see her - be sure to wish her the best.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Shrimp Fajitas

LBA has developed a taste for the prawn. SoBA, not so much. I would be fine with more shrimp on the menu. I made shrimp, chicken, and beef kebabs a few weeks ago and they were well received by all. And we've already established that both boys love the taco / fajita, maybe I could thrown some chicken and steak in the pan too. Recipe via BuzzFeed.

Shrimp Fajitas
Servings: 5

INGREDIENTS
  • 5 flour tortillas
  • ½ red bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced lengthwise
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced lengthwise
  • ½ orange bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced lengthwise
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Olive oil1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Cilantro
PREPARATION
  • Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
  • Wrap the tortillas in foil and place on the corner of a baking sheet.
  • Add the bell peppers, red onion, and shrimp to the sheet and season with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, and lime.
  • Toss to coat.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, flipping the shrimp halfway through.
  • Serve with warm tortillas, salsa, guacamole, cilantro, and lime.
  • Enjoy!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Homemade Strawberry Pop-Tarts

I have been known to keep a stockpile of pop-tarts in my desk at work.  They are referred to as "emergency breakfast."  Here's a recipe for homemade ones that would be a little harder to keep in my desk - plus they probably wouldn't survive the trip into the office anyway. From Just A Taste via BuzzFeed.

5-Ingredient Strawberry Breakfast Pastries
PREP: 10 minutes
COOK: 17 MINUTES
YIELD: 6 servings

Ingredients
  • 1 sheet puff pastry (half of a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temp
  • 1 Tablespoon strawberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 large egg
  • Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
Directions
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Cut the puff pastry into six rectangles by following the perforations in the dough to first cut the sheet into three long rectangles and then cut each rectangle in half to form two smaller rectangles. Transfer the pastries onto the baking sheet, arranging them at least 1 inch apart.

Lightly score the dough by cutting a border 1/2-inch from the edges (do not cut through the pastry). Prick the center of the pastry several times with a fork.

In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and strawberry jam. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the centers of each pastry and spread it within the scored area. Top the cream cheese with the sliced strawberries.

Whisk together the egg with 1 Tablespoon water. Brush the edges of the pastry with the eggwash then bake the pastries for 15 to 17 minutes until golden and puffed.

Remove the pastries from the oven oven, dust with powdered sugar (optional) and serve.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Bourbon Chocolate Balls

I am a new convert to the brown liquor, specifically the sweet bourbon.  In honor of Memorial Day and the opening weekend of the pool - here is something that would be able to be consumed on the pool grounds.  There's alcohol in them, but no one would know, amirite? (via BuzzFeed)

Chocolate Bourbon Balls
Makes 30 balls

INGREDIENTS
  • 12 graham crackers, crushed
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 5 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup melting chocolate
  • ¾ cup walnuts, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
PREPARATION
  1. In a small bowl or glass jar, add the mixed nuts and bourbon. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and let sit overnight.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla until sugar is dissolved. Add in the crushed graham crackers, vanilla, chocolate chips, walnuts, and remaining bourbon.
  3. Freeze for 10-15 minutes or until firm enough to roll.
  4. Form mixture into small balls, and refrigerate.
  5. Coat the balls in melted chocolate and top with walnuts.
  6. Chill for 1 hour.
  7. Enjoy!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Chicken Wings Seven Ways

LBA has a thing for the wing of chicken.  Mrs. BA has a good recipe, but here are a few more worth trying (from BuzzFeed).  My favorite of the list is below.

Root Beer Chicken Wings

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 cup bbq sauce
  • 16.9 ounces root beer
  • Extra bbq sauce, to taste
  • Brown sugar, to taste
PREPARATION
  1. Season chicken wings with salt and pepper.
  2. Spray your slow cooker pot with cooking spray, add chicken wings, bbq sauce and root beer.
  3. Cover, cook on low for 4 hours. Remove wings from slow cooker, place on parchment lined tray. Brush more bbq sauce onto wings, sprinkle some brown sugar.
  4. Put under broiler for 8 -10 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fun With Data

Most of you, my dear readers know what I do for a living.  I work for a government agency that is responsible for collecting and preserving the records of the federal government, primarily the "born digital" records of the government.  Every once in a while, I spot something in the paper or online that is just too good not to share.  This is one of those instances. From Greater, Greater Washington.

Population growth by census tract for cental DC and Arlington. Image by Esri.
The map above comes from a website, Esri, that is using census data to track population trends across the United States, between 2012 and 2017. The darker the blue, the more growth, the light orange indicates no growth or a decline.  In the above picture, the Launchpad is in that dark blue area at the upper right. So we're doing OK.

Clicking on the link above, will bring you to the article and then you can search your own neighborhood and see what your people are doing.  Here is the link to the Esri map.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Creme Brulee in the Crock Pot

Sold!  I love Creme Brulee.  I love the crock pot.  I have a kitchen torch.  From Dessert for Two via BuzzFeed.

Slow-Cooker Creme Brûlée
Yields 2
Prep Time 5 min
Cook Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2hrs, 5min

Ingredients
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons
  • 1/4 of a vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Instructions
  1. Combine the egg yolks, whipping cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a bowl. Whisk to combine.
  2. Using a dull knife, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add it to the cream mixture. It should be about 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla bean seeds. You can substitute extra, if you prefer.
  3. Whisk the mixture together very well.
  4. Meanwhile, take 2 12" long pieces of foil and roll them up into a snake shape. Curl it into a circle, pinching the ends together. Place in the bottom of your slow cooker. Repeat with the other piece of foil.
  5. Place each ramekin on top of each foil ring.
  6. Pour boiling water in the slow cooker (carefully! Don't splash water on the custards) until the water reaches up about 1/3 of the way on the ramekins.
  7. Turn the slow cooker to LOW and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. When done, the custard should be set--poke it with a knife to be sure.
  8. Cover and chill the custards at least 6 hours.
  9. Before serving, sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar evenly over both custards and torch with a culinary torch until brown.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day.  As most of you know, my dear readers, I lost my mother eleven years ago.  Here's a picture of my mother with a very young LBA.  It's one of my favorite pictures.  She was very happy to have had the chance to meet her seventh grandchild and I really wish she had the opportunity to meet SoBA, her eighth - the two of them are very much alike.


Now the reason for me to still celebrate Mother's Day is in the picture below.  Mrs. BA, the mother of LBA and SoBA is a great mother and the best partner that I could ever ask for.  The Brave Astronaut Clan is on the road today to celebrate with Mrs. BA's mother and two sisters, also mothers in their own right. 
Happy Mother's Day to all those moms out there and especially to my mother, wherever she is - though she is certainly engaged in a lengthy conversation with my father - reunited now and to Mrs. BA - I love you very much!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Slow-cooker Steak Sandwiches

We've entered that time in the spring where both LBA and SoBA are playing baseball (practicing two nights a week and sometimes games on weeknights).  And I'm coaching SoBA's team - so the Clan is often not around for dinner until an odd hour.

We are going to need to amp up our prepared meal plan, cue the slow cooker. Recipe from Dinner then Dessert via BuzzFeed's "30 Delicious Things You Never Knew You Could Make with a Crock-Pot."

Slow Cooker Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 15 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients
  • 4-5 pounds chuck roast
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 can (10.5 ounces) can condensed French onion soup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 1 inch yellow onion sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms sliced
  • 1 inch green bell pepper sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 6 hoagie rolls
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Provolone Cheese

Instructions
  1. Season the chuck roast with the Kosher salt and pepper (if you are sensitive to sodium, adjust to your taste or you can even leave the salt out altogether since you're adding broth and soup).
  2. Heat the pan (or if you can brown in your slow cooker)
  3. Add the canola oil and when it ripples and is hot add in the roast and brown, deeply, for 4-5 minutes on each side.
  4. In your slow cooker add the beef, the beef broth, the french onion soup, Worcestershire sauce, and the beer.
  5. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  6. Add in the onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper in the last hour of cooking.
  7. To serve, toast your hoagie rolls with a bit of butter spread onto the cut sides.
  8. With a very sharp knife cut your beef against the grain.
  9. Add your cheese of choice, some of the meat and top with the cooked veggies.
  10. I like to have a bit of the liquid (with the fat skimmed off on the side, but it is totally optional - but sounds delicious!)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Honey Garlic Slow Cooker Ribs

I know that I've said this before - but I should really use my slow cooker more.  And I may have not said this before - but I should eat more ribs. Via Tasty by BuzzFeed.

Easy Honey Garlic Slow Cooker Ribs
Servings: 3–4

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 (2½–3 lb) rack of pork ribs, halved
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced

PREPARATION
  1. Season ribs evenly with salt, pepper, paprika, and chili powder. Rub in on all sides.
  2. Add honey, soy sauce, and garlic to a large slow cooker.
  3. Transfer the ribs to slow cooker and turn them over in sauce until coated. Position the ribs so they are standing up, with the meatier side down, and so the meat side is against the walls of the slow cooker, with the bone sides facing in.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 7 - 8 hours. Check after the allotted time, you want to make sure the meat is cooked through and tender.
  5. Remove the ribs and transfer to cutting board.
  6. Cut between the bones to separate into individual ribs.
  7. Serve with additional sauce from the slow cooker, as needed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Asparagus with Avgolemono Sauce

Two weeks ago (yes, I'm aware I didn't post one week ago), I posted a recipe about Chicken and Asparagus.  Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I enjoy, but as I learned to eat them from my father, I prefer cold, with a hollandaise sauce (actually just mayo and Italian dressing).  I spotted this recipe in the Washington Post Food Section and think I might give it a try.

Asparagus With Avgolemono Sauce
Avgolemono is a lusciously silky, brightly citrusy Greek sauce made with egg and lemon juice that can be drizzled liberally over anything from vegetables and poultry to fish. It takes just 5 minutes to whip up, and it’s healthful to boot. Here, it turns simple steamed asparagus into a truly elegant dish.
Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated a day in advance.
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup no-salt-added chicken broth
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch (14 to 16 ounces) asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions
Bring about 2 inches of water to a rapid boil in a large pot fitted with a collapsible metal steamer.

Heat the broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat; once it bubbles at the edges, reduce the heat to low.

Whisk the egg in a medium bowl until foamy, then add the lemon juice and cornstarch, whisking until incorporated. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of the hot broth to the egg mixture, constantly whisking to incorporate.

Pour the tempered mixture into the saucepan with the remaining broth (over low heat); cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, to form a lightly thickened sauce. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt and cover to keep warm.

Place the asparagus spears in the steamer basket, cover and steam for 3 to 6 minutes (depending on their thickness), until crisp-tender.

Serve the asparagus drizzled with the sauce and garnished with the parsley leaves.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Alan LeGloahec, 1929-2017


On Monday, April 3, 2017, my father left this world for the next. His journey ended just days after a diagnosis of leukemia. My father was not a patient man, so my siblings and I all agreed that once he was presented with this diagnosis, he was going to get on with it. We would have liked more time with him, but we were blessed with 87 good years. The picture above shows him at 40 years of age - I found the picture about 10 years ago and was immediately struck by how much I looked at him. For many years, I had thought that I favored my mother's side of the family - but there was no denying that he was my father. The picture shows my father in his element, a book in his hands (though there is likely a glass of scotch close by and probably a cigarette burning in an ashtray) and the model ship in the background is one that he surely made, a lifelong devotion of his, making models, and painting lead soldiers.

This picture to the left shows my father at the Jones Beach airshow, just last summer. My father was not a veteran - but loved war movies, military history, and history in general. Below is a picture of my father at a tank museum that my siblings and I took him to, also just last summer. He made many a model of tanks - and there are many, many models of tanks that he never got to build. Maybe I can get LBA and SoBA in model building.

My mother passed away 11 years ago, this past February, and I am sure that he is back with her now. My mother firmly believed that when you got to heaven, you got to be whatever age you wanted and I hope for his sake, she is about 20 and he is the same. They were married for 53 years and raised four children - I am the youngest of all of us. He was also the proud grandfather of eight, LBA and SoBA, along with three children from my brother and sister. He also became a great grandfather just in the past few years.

For the past nine years, he was blessed to have found a companion who took care of him as much as he took care of her. While she could never replace my mother, he found love a second time, and my siblings and I were grateful that she was in his life.


My father spent his professional life on Madison Avenue. He was a Mad Man, before any of us knew what a Mad Man was. He started working at American Home Products, which later became Wyeth, before being bought by Pfizer, in pharmaceutical advertising. He later left AHP to go over to the advertising side exclusively, ending his career at McCann-Erickson. He really enjoyed watching MadMen, as we all did - and we looked forward to talking to him about the latest episode after it aired.

I can't begin to express my thanks to all of those who have supported me and my family over the past week - so many messages of love and support have come to us through Facebook, texts, phone calls, and emails. When we sent my father home on Thursday morning, my brother offered some words of remembrance about my father, quoting Napoleon, one of my father's favorite historical figures, by saying, "What is history but a fable agreed upon?" He offered several stories about my father, which my siblings and I all contributed to, and also included the words of the "Chairman of the Board":

"I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way."

Thanks Dad for everything.  Rest well, you've earned it.  We all love you and miss you - but we know that you are always with us.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chicken and Asparagus

I'm always on the hunt for easy dinners. By the time we all get home - one moment of indecision can lead to dinner on the table by 7:30 or later. We use the crock pot when we can - but the dinner in 30 minutes or less is always welcome. From A Saucy Kitchen via BuzzFeed.

One Pan Lemon Chicken with Asparagus
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients
  • 4 chicken breasts boneless, skinless
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper plus more for seasoning
  • 1 pound asparagus stalks ends trimmed and then cut in half
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 zest of lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley roughly chopped + more for garnishing
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic cling wrap and pound them down to make them even in thickness. This will help the chicken cook evenly and make for more tender chicken. If your breasts are extra thick you can also just cut/slice them in half. Place the flour, salt & pepper in a shallow dish and gently toss the chicken breasts to coat in flour.
  2. In a large skillet add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to a medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the chicken to the skillet and cook each side for about 5 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Once cooked remove the chicken and place on a paper towel lined plate. Set aside while you cook the asparagus.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet. Add the asparagus stalks and sauté for a minute. Add the garlic and sauté another minute longer until fragrant.
  4. In a small bowl or cup whisk together the lemon juice and mustard until fully mixed. Pour into the skillet with the asparagus along with the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce down to a simmer. Cover and let cook another 3-4 minutes or until the asparagus is tender.
  5. Stir in the parsley and then add the chicken back to the pan and rotate the breasts to coat in the liquids. Taste the sauce and season with more salt & pepper as needed.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Raspberry-Almond Brownies

As I believe I have mentioned here - raspberries are possibly the most favorite fruity of the Brave Astronaut.  And I have a sweet tooth.  WIN-WIN!  From Tutti Dolci via BuzzFeed.

Raspberry-Almond Blondies
Yield: 12 blondies

Ingredients
Blondies
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
Topping
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • powdered sugar, for dusting
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Combine melted butter, brown sugar, egg, almond extract, and salt in a medium bowl; whisk until smooth. Fold in flour just until incorporated, then fold in white chocolate chips. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with an offset spatula. Top batter with raspberries and sliced almonds.
  2. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and set in the middle, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Just before cutting, chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Carefully lift parchment to remove bars from pan and place on a cutting board; dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Come on Down! You're the Next Contestant on the Price is Right!

LBA and SoBA are off from school tomorrow.  It's a professional day for the faculty at the school.  I am taking the day off - maybe we'll do something fun - outside. Or maybe we'll just sit around and watch TV - including the "most fabulous hour on television - the PRICE IS RIGHT!"

List from BuzzFeed.  BuzzFeed comments in regular type, my comments in italics.

The Definitive Ranking Of “Price Is Right” Pricing Games

75. Double Prices: By far the worst game on The Price Is Right (henceforth referred to as TPIR). There are literally two prices given for a prize and the contestant just has to choose the correct one. There’s no cool props, generally no big prize on offer, and no need for the contestant to do much of anything besides stand and smile dumbly as they take their 50/50 shot at some mediocre winnings. NEVER AGAIN, TPIR. NEVER AGAIN. The Brave Astronaut agrees, though I haven't seen this game - but it sounds boring

74. Switch?: What a fun little question mark on the end of this one’s name. I like to imagine it being pronounced by a middle-aged gentleman who is utterly taken aback by the possibility of the two prices being incorrect. “Swiiiitch???” The game itself sucks, though. Sorry, generic middle-aged man who only exists in my head. Also not a lot to this game

73. One Right Price: Another game that basically boils down to, “Hey, there’s two prices, so…choose the right one.” That’s what the game is even called. One Right Price. Step up the creativity, guys.

72. One Wrong Price: The inverse of One Right Price, except now there are three prizes to choose from instead of two. The extra prize makes this game just slightly less blah. It’s still really damn blah, but…not quite as much.

71. Pick a Number: Literally what it says. The price is missing a number. You pick that number.

70. Most Expensive: There are three prizes. Shockingly, one costs more than the other two. Can you deduce which one it is?

69. Flip Flop: Flip Flop? More like THIS GAME IS A FLOP. Although I will say I've seen this game before and it least has some tension.

68. Side by Side: Very similar to Flip Flop, but it’s a little more fun to watch because the way the numbers move is kind of cool. But still, boring

67. Coming or Going: Another game from the “just give us these two sets of numbers in the correct fashion” playbook. It’s the best of the bunch because it’s actually really fun watching as the numbers cascade from side to side while the contestant is trying to make up his or her mind.

66. Squeeze Play: Similar-ish to Pick a Number, except now you need to pick a number to get rid of. Still boring and ridiculously simple to play, but the sound effects as the remaining numbers squeeze into place are kind of ~cool~.  I would agree with this - this game was and is one of my favorites

65. Bargain Game (formerly Barker’s Bargain Bar): The game itself probably deserves to be a tad bit lower on this list — it’s just a matter of choosing which given price is more below the actual retail price. But because this game originated as Barker’s Bargain Bar, the aura of Bob Barker has lifted it up a few spots higher in the rankings. Any game that originates with Grandpa Bob deserves better.

64. Do the Math: Math? LOL NO THANKS! The interactive chalkboard-y thing is real cool, though, so…props for that prop.  Math is Hard.

63. Freeze Frame: The design of the game’s name makes you think it’s going to be 10 times more interesting than it really is. Look at it — kind of reminds you of something out of a comic book. Like, “Freeze Frame, a battle between good and evil, as the villainous Dr. Ice attempts to freeze out the world. Only you can bring the heat back and save the universe!” And then you realize that no, you’re actually just choosing two sets of numbers that make up the price of the prize. Dr. Ice wins again.

62. Double Cross: Like Do the Math, this is another game made MUCH more interesting by the electronic screen on which it’s played. Look at those bright colors and the cool X shape and all that good stuff. That’s some good electronic screen action. This is a newish game, which I have never seen.

61. Balance Game: It’s like the scales of justice, except instead of human rights and freedom and all that, it’s about lackluster vacations to overpriced resort towns.

60. Hi Lo: Is this a good game? No. But at least the contestant has to try to figure out multiple prices rather than just choose between two options like some other games.  I think this is one of the original games - it deserves a better ranking.

59. Push Over: Push Over: a game on TPIR. Also, a person who gets this game and pretends to enjoy it so as not to anger Drew Carey.

58. Swap Meet: Swap Meet conjures up images of PTA parents getting together to trade in their old silverware in exchange for a cozy sweater or some shit like that. This Swap Meet is not that. It’s just attempting to swap one item out for another of the same price. Really the only reason it’s ranked this highly is because of the ~FuNkY~ color of the set.

57. Shopping Spree: Seems like a game that would be tons of fun, right? A shopping spree! Who doesn’t love those? Well, when the spree is limited to four so-so items, it’s not quite as exciting. The best part of this game is when the contestant somehow thinks that a couple of handbags is for sure more expensive than a gigantic plasma television and then gets SHUT DOWN by Drew.

56. Step Up: Would be better with a companion game called 2 Tha Streets but you work with what you’ve got.

55. Lucky Seven: Real talk: Lucky Seven is the worst game that offers up a car as the prize. Why? Because it’s fucking hard. These people are basically just guessing prices blind without any of the fun hints or mini prize opportunities that so many other games come with. There isn’t even a cool set to help spice things up — it’s just a big board that reveals numbers one by one. The only reason Lucky Seven is even ranked this high is that the excitement factor of having a car as the grand prize helps keep the tension high. I've always enjoyed this game - especially when Barker used to tell the winners if they had money left over, they could buy gas for their new car.  Back then, they could actually get somewhere with a couple of bucks.

54. Danger Price: This game would be SO much better if the contestant was forced to traverse a set of laser wires in pursuit of their goal, but I guess that’s not the kind of “danger” being referred to here. Still, for such a simple game, it’s weirdly addicting watching the pieces on the board rotate to reveal their prices.

53. Take Two: This game should be way more boring than it is. The contestant literally just has to choose two items, out of four, that add up to a given dollar amount. It’s wicked simple. But for some reason, those fun ’70s-style asterisks are enough to bring this game up a bit in the rankings.

52. Grand Game: As a kid, I always thought this game was way more exciting than I now do. $10,000 seemed like such a huge sum of money, and it was always portrayed as one of the higher-stakes games because of that. But then you realize that half the games out there are giving away cash and cars worth way more than $10,000, and Grand Game loses most of its luster. The residual nostalgia is what brings this game to number 52 on the list.

51. 2 For the Price of 1: Yet another relatively boring game saved by a set piece that is way more fun than it has any right to be.

50. Bonus Game: More asterisks = another solid game option. It’s not too complex, to be certain, but the addition of a bit of luck into this one ratchets up the excitement. Also, I think one of the older games and I like the suspense

49. Five Price Tags: Because this game is played for a car, it gets an automatic bump in the rankings. The game itself is pretty dull, though. Any game that mostly just involves choosing the correct price among many given options is never all that intriguing, no matter how many price tags they add to the equation.

48. Gas Money: There’s some interesting Americana at play here, with a set and name that does just enough to evoke the aura of Route 66 and the colorful Southwestern sky. But, when it comes down to it, this is just another “choose the price from among a group of prices” game. Sure, there’s a chance to win some cash thrown in, but…

47. Bullseye: A game that seems way more complicated than it actually is, and offers quite a few chances to win the grand prize. You don’t have to hit the bullseye to win, just get on the board and then hope that the grocery item that got you there offers up the victory. Sometimes these “multiple chances” games are great. But this one is almost like two games in one, except the second game is 100% luck. I have always been a fan of the grocery games

46. 1/2 Off: It’s just fun to watch a whole pile of money come cascading out of a small box, honestly.

45. Easy as 1 2 3: The game is very similar to a bunch that have been listed above, but this one comes with numbered blocks as props. And everyone knows that regressing back to childhood via the use of oversized blocks is SO in this season.

44. Line ‘Em Up: Another one of those “why do I enjoy this stupid game so much” kind of games. There’s literally no reason it should be as entertaining as it is. No reason. But here we are.

43. Magic Number: It’s all about dat sound effect.

42. Check Out: A solid game brought down by the fact that it reminds you of how you need to go shopping for dinner later even though you’ve only got $17 in your bank account right now.

41. More or Less: What a ~unique~ ’60s-inspired font!

40. Safe Crackers: Safe Crackers is one of those games that looks INFINITY TIMES better than it actually is. You except some kind of super-sleuthing, James Bond-style intrigue. Instead, you’ve just got people putting a couple numbers in order and then trying to open a comically oversize door. Why, Safe Crackers, must you make promises you can’t keep? This game would probably be in my Top 10 or 20

39. Pick a Pair: A strikingly simple game — choose two items that cost the same as each other! — paired with the fact that the contestant is given multiple choices to win makes this a game that is easy to watch, even if it never completely stirs the imagination.

38. Pay the Rent: A relatively new game, and one that offers one of the larger (if not largest) cash prizes among any of the TPIR games. The major con here is that the name of the game just reminds you how much damn money you throw away each month on rent.

37. Shell Game: A variation on one of the most classic games of chance of all time, TPIR’s version of this gambler’s temptation throws a couple pricing questions into the mix but otherwise remains pretty similar. When you stack it up against some of the other pricing games on the show, though, you realize that even the classics aren’t necessarily infallible. And Barker did it better

36. Triple Play: Lots of cars on offer, which is an automatic bonus. Otherwise, not all that great.

35. Bonkers: Because it’s always fun watching people run around, frantically mashing large tokens against a board.

34. Card Game: This game has a bit of everything — there’s a car to be won, a bit of strategy at play, and oversize props. But too often this game ends with the contestant getting the card that allows them to just name their final price right then and there, which negates everything else about the game. I always liked this game, too.  But if that "new" card is now part of the game, I agree, it takes the fun out of it.

33. Check Game: OVERSIZE NOVELTY CHECKS FTW. again, when Barker would give out the check and tall them they could only cash it backstage, classic.

32. It’s in the Bag: One of those games that really isn’t that great, but feels more enjoyable than it is because of its ubiquity. You become so used to watching as those faux-crinkled-bags descend to reveal the item within that the process becomes almost soothing.

31. Make Your Move: Whenever this game is played, I like to think about how much oil is used in between appearances to ensure that the track upon which the multicolored signs slide remains as slick as ever. Then I imagine just taking the signs and pushing them around wildly for no reason at all other than to experience the soothing glide of a well-oiled track.

30. Grocery Game: This game requires a surprising amount of skill — five grocery items are put in front of you, and you just have to come up with whatever combination of the five you think will put you within the (relatively small) price range required to win. The intrigue comes from the fact that there are so many different ways this game can be played; the contestant is give numerous paths to follow, and it’s always intriguing to see which one he or she follows. But then some idiot chooses like, 12 boxes of cookies and goes WAY overboard and you realize just how frustrating all that freedom can be. Again, the grocery games are definitely my favorites.

29. Temptation: There really isn’t much temptation here, despite the name. It’s not like the contestant is given a new offer to walk away each time, increasing as they get closer and closer to winning the car. Either way, it’s strangely enthralling watching Drew Carey hit the little buttons that reveal the actual numbers in the price of the car.

28. Golden Road: I used to think this game was THE BEST. I mean, there’s gold, and a road, which makes it seem like the game will be a long journey through a land of riches and mystery. But then the reality of the game appeared to me as I grew older. The golden road itself is all flash, no substance. The real game is just choosing one of the given numbers to complete the price of the prize at hand — not anything really different from many lesser pricing games. Still, the nostalgia I feel for the Golden Road keeps it ranked in the top 30.

27. Clock Game: Race-against-the-clock games are always enjoyable because they expose the true strength (or weakness) of the human spirit under pressure. This is a clock game distilled to its very essence — I mean, it’s literally called the Clock Game. And so while the contestant might simply be standing still the entire game, there’s a certain energy and pace to this one that infuses it will just enough je ne sais quoi. The quiet tones of Barker calling higher and lower were always soothing.

26. Cover Up: The real fun here comes from the fact that the contestant is given multiple chances to win the prize. Get just one number right, and you can continue. And since there are so many opportunities possible here, it’s one of the best games for playing along at home.

25. Money Game: Am I completely and utterly taken in by the little drawing of the car that the contestants must try to uncover? Yes. Why do I find it so great? Unclear. Just let it happen. And I remember watching when there wasn't a space in the middle, yep, I'm old.

24. Pass the Buck: The setup for the main part of the game is fine — choosing which of two items is priced a dollar too low. But once the contestant reaches the main board and must face the possibility of hitting a “lose everything,” the tension reaches a new level. This is a game with multiple ways to win, and even if the contestant doesn’t get the car, there is still just about as much money on offer as a “consolation prize” as there is total for some other pricing games.

23. Now…or Then: A history lesson and a pricing game all wrapped into one. What a fun look back into the past, when times were simpler and we weren’t paying absurd amounts of money for basic products.

22. Stack the Deck: Perhaps seems better than it actually is because it looks like one big card game. And unlike the Card Game, this one doesn’t have any crazy circumstances in which the point of the game is basically rendered null in one fell swoop.

21. Time Is Money: This one’s got a countdown clock, but instead of counting down time, it counts down money. And as each dollar ticks away, the excitement level starts ticking upward.

20. Any Number: When a game offers such a HUGE distance between its top prize and lowest prize, it feels like so much more is at stake. And perhaps no game represents this better than Any Number. You can either walk away with a car, or with barely enough to cover the cost of a cheap meal at the deli down the street. And with such a simple structure to follow, this game makes for incredibly good viewing. I always used to root for the piggy bank.

19. Pocket Change: I really like the games where they have to pick envelopes off a board at random

18. Race Game: A race against the clock, plus a person sprinting around and looking goofy, plus four different prizes up for grabs, makes for a successful game. One of my Top 10 - it goes up a notch when the contestant wipes out.

17. That’s Too Much: If only because it’s fun to watch as the host forces contestants to scream, “That’s too much!” with way more fervor than any person has the right to say those words.

16. Range Game: Who knows if the Range Game machine really takes as long to reset as they keep claiming. But there’s something about that fact — the idea that this is a special moment that comes around rarely, so it should be cherished — that is utterly endearing. I, too, love the explanation about they can't restart the game 

15. Dice Game: As Beyoncé says, “Man it feel like rollin’ dice, man this feel like rollin’ dice.” I always wanted them to give the dice to hang from the mirror of the new car.

14. One Away: In times past, Bob Barker requested that contestants kindly ask the “ladies” if they have at least X amount of numbers right. Now, with Drew Carey, it’s just “sound effects lady” who is in charge. Where have the other ladies gone? Do they no longer have the ability to crosscheck the price of the car against the contestant’s given price?

13. Let ‘em Roll: As with the Dice Game, watching people roll dice is strangely enthralling. And the model-cum-croupier watching with her oversize stick at the ready makes this feel like a true ~Vegas~ game.

12. Secret “X”: SECRETS AND HIDDEN THINGS AND TIC TAC TOE YES PLEASE.

11. Switcheroo: If only because saying “Switcheroo” is hilariously enjoyable.

10. Pathfinder: You know in the first Harry Potter when Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to play as pieces on a life-size chess board, and you’re like, “Wait, being a human game piece actually looks kind of cool,” until you realize they are going to be violently attacked by the non-human pieces and it all starts to seem way too dangerous for kids to be participating in? This is kind of like that, but safer and with a car at the end. This game is in the right slot.

9. Punch a Bunch: The vicarious power you feel as a contestant slams their first through those small money holes is INCREDIBLE. "And be sure not to pull the paper out that is inside."

8. Rat Race: No, not the seminal (read: not seminal) 2001 film, but a game played with actual (robotic) rats. And while the outcome is clearly predetermined by producers, it’s still fun to watch and pretend that the little rats are actually real and fiercely competing for glory.

7. Spelling Bee: Again, my predilection for games involving pulling random slips off of a large board helps raise this game in the rankings. Plus, spelling bees are fun.

6. Ten Chances: Alternately one of the most exhilarating and most frustrating games on offer, there’s just something special about Ten Chances. And it combines watching the host hit small buttons with the fun of sliding little signs along a well-oiled track, so obviously I can’t resist. And the game requires relatively good penmanship, which is a lost art.

5. Three Strikes: Is this game actually anything like baseball? No. But does it do its darndest to make the most out of the comparison with fun props and the like? Hell yeah.

4. Hole in One: An all-time classic. Combines the fun of a regular pricing game with the tension of watching a golf tournament. OK, maybe more like watching your relatives play mini-golf, but still. The combination of shopping savvy and golfing skills needed to succeed at this game means that it is never dull, and even a contestant who has studied all of the prices of items usually on offer by TPIR obsessively won’t be guaranteed a win. That kind of uncertainty adds just the right amount of tension. when Barker would always make that first putt (and make the contestant hold his mike - perfect

3. Master Key: What is it about watching people turning fake keys in comically large fake locks that makes for good television?

2. Cliff Hangers: Ugh, SO MANY TIMES have I wanted to be able to reach into the TV screen and just grab a hold of the little yodeling climber and shake him and say, “DO YOU NOT SEE YOU ARE ON YOUR WAY TO CERTAIN DEATH? TURN AROUND, ALL YE WHO CLIMB HERE.” And yet, watching that poor guy plummet over the edge is one of the most iconic moments you can have on TPIR. A simply glorious game. The yodeling song would push this down a few notches for me.

1. Plinko: Is there any universe in which Plinko would not be the number one game on TPIR? Plinko is THE ultimate symbol of TPIR, and even though the top prize isn’t as high as some of the other pricing games, Plinko remains the one game that EVERYBODY wants to play. I mean, they even did an entire Plinko-only episode, for crying out loud. Congratulations, Plinko, on your literal perfection. We are not worthy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Steak Quesadillias

At some point in my cooking repertoire for the boys, I started making quesadillas.Not something I usually had growing up - but it is a big fan of the boys and a easy meal solution. Here's a more robust version that could be a meal for the entire Brave Astronaut Clan. Via Tasty/BuzzFeed

Steak Quesadillas
Servings: 4–6

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 pound skirt steak
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 large tortillas
  • 2 cups Mexican cheese blend
  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa 
PREPARATION
  1. Season skirt steak with salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin.
  2. Cook on high heat for roughly 3 minutes on each side, for medium-rare.
  3. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes, then slice into strips.
  4. While the steak is resting, sauté onion and garlic until slightly translucent. Add bell peppers and jalapeño, cook slightly, then mix in the steak. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In a clean pan, melt butter. Lay the tortilla on the buttered pan, add cheese, fajita mixture, and more cheese, then top with another tortilla and pat it down.
  6. Flip the quesadilla over and cook the other side until it’s golden. Remove from pan and cut into quarters or eighths. Repeat these steps with the remaining tortillas.
  7. Serve immediately with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.
  8. Enjoy!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Homemade Twix Bars

The Twix bar is definitely in my top 5 of candy bars.  Recipe from Food Faith Fitness via BuzzFeed. Though I'm not too sure about the coconut oil.

Homemade Twix Bars
Total time is NOT including chill time, so please factor in at least 3 hours for the bars to chill.
Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 16 Bars

Ingredients
For the crust:
  • 1/3 Cup Coconut oil at room temperature (should be the consistency of softened butter)
  • 3 Tbsp Honey Agave
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 Cup Coconut flour sifted (66g) *
For the caramel:
  • 2 Cups lightly packed Dates cut into halves (290g)
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut oil melted
  • 1 Tbsp Hot Unsweetened vanilla almond milk
For the chocolate coating:
  • 3 oz Dark chocolate roughly chopped
  • 1/4 tsp Coconut oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang over the sides to use as a handle when the bars are set.
  2. In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat together the coconut oil, honey and salt until creamy and smooth.
  3. Stir in the sifted coconut flour until a wet dough forms. Form the dough into a flat disc and wrap with saran wrap, or place on a piece of parchment paper. Refrigerate until the dough has set a little bit, and has lost some of it's "stick." This takes about 8-10 minutes.**
  4. Once chilled, press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. This may be a little difficult at the beginning, because the parchment paper may move around. I found that holding it with one hand, while pressing with the other worked well. Additionally, if your dough is quite sticky you can use a small piece of parchment paper to press out the dough.
  5. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 9-10 minutes. If your crust rises a little bit, gently press it flat with a large spoon once it comes out of the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  6. While the crust cools, place the chopped dates in a medium, microwave-safe bowl and microwave until hot, but not burned, about 1.5-2 minutes.
  7. Add the hot dates into a SMALL food processor (mine is 3 cups ***) and use the "chop" setting until they are broken down into small pieces. Then, turn to the "puree" setting until the dates are creamy and begin to form a ball.
  8. With the food processor running, stream in the coconut oil and HOT almond milk (I just microwaved it for 1 1/2 minutes) until the dates are broken down, sticky and smooth.
  9. Once the crust has finished cooling for 5 minutes, gently spread the date caramel on top evenly, making sure to not break the crust.
  10. Place the pan into the refrigerator until the caramel is hard, at least 3 hours.
  11. Once the caramel is hard, lift out of the pan and slice into 16 bars. Additionally, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  12. Place the chocolate and 1/4 tsp of coconut oil in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 second intervals on half power, stirring between each interval, until the chocolate is smooth and melted.
  13. Pour the chocolate into a small shallow plate with sides. Gently pick up each bar by the sides and dunk the top into the chocolate until it's fully covered. Gently shake off any excess, and place onto the parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Repeat with all the remaining bars. ****
  14. Place into the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set the chocolate and DEVOUR.
Recipe Notes
* PLEASE weigh your coconut flour! I have tried this crust MANY times with different brands and, for the most part, 3/4 cup of sifted coconut flour is 66g. BUT, I have found some brands that are a little denser and only require 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp to make 66g. To ensure results, weigh the sifted flour.

** You can totally omit the chilling if you want, but it makes the dough easier to press into the pan.

*** I could not get the dates to be smooth enough in a large food processor, so definitely use a small one.

**** You may have some chocolate left over. You can easily re-microwave it and gently spread it on the sides of the bars if you wish. Bars are best stored in refrigerator.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chicken in the Crock Pot

Hey. I just bought a roast chicken.  But I forgot the red potatoes.  And I have broccoli and not green beans.  Other than that, I'm good.  Via BuzzFeed

Complete Slow Cooker Chicken Dinner
Servings: 5

INGREDIENTS
  • 1½ pounds red potatoes, halved 
  • 1 medium white onion, quartered 
  • ½ cup butter, softened 
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped 
  • Salt, to taste 
  • Pepper, to taste 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 3½- to 4-pound whole chicken 
  • 1 wedge lemon 
  • 1 sprig thyme 
  • 1 sprig rosemary 
  • ¾ pound fresh green beans 

PREPARATION
  1. Lay the halved potatoes and half of the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker. 
  2. In a bowl, mix butter, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic until well-combined. 
  3. Stuff the chicken with the other half of the onion and lemon wedge. 
  4. Rub the herb butter mixture all over the outside of the chicken. 
  5. Place the chicken on top of the potatoes and onions in the slow cooker and place a sprig of thyme and rosemary on top. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high. 
  6. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and place on a baking sheet.
  7. Add the green beans to the slow cooker. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  8. Remove the lemon and onion from inside the chicken. Broil for 2-3 minutes or until the skin is golden brown. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. 
  9. Enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Salmon Four Ways

Yesterday was the highlight of the winter season for Mrs. BA - the Spaghetti Dinner at our local church, for which I currently serve as the President of the Men's Club.  We had a banner day - serving up spaghetti and all the trimmings to nearly 500 of our friends in town.  Tomorrow night, we will observe Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) with the Annual Pancake Supper at the Methodist Church, also in town.  Then in March, we will dine at a Lenten Fish Fry, also at the church.

The dinner schedule at the Launchpad has been somewhat disruptive of late, with both LBA and SoBA out at basketball practice on several nights during the week and then basketball games on the weekend.  We haven't been eating very well - except when we manage to get out to organized events, so we need to try and get back on a better schedule with the end of basketball season this weekend (at least until baseball season starts).

We really should eat more fish too.  The whole clan likes salmon. Via BuzzFeed.

Poached Salmon
INGREDIENTS
  • 6 ounces skinless salmon fillet
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Peppercorns, to taste
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Fresh thyme

PREPARATION
  1. Fill a pan with enough water to submerge a fillet. Bring the water to a simmer.
  2. Add salt, peppercorns, sliced lemon, and thyme to water.
  3. Add salmon, cover the pan, and cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove salmon from pan, and season with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon.
  5. Enjoy!

Pan Fried Salmon
INGREDIENTS
  • 6 ounces skinless salmon fillet
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Fresh thyme

PREPARATION
  1. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet.
  2. Season salmon with salt and pepper.
  3. Lay the salmon on the skillet and watch the color rise to about two-thirds of the way up the salmon. Flip the salmon once and cook until done to taste, roughly 2-4 minutes longer.
  4. Serve with lemon and thyme (optional).
  5. Enjoy!

Baked Salmon
INGREDIENTS
  • 6 ounces skinless salmon fillet
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Fresh thyme

PREPARATION
  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.
  2. Cover a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper.
  3. Drizzle olive oil on the salmon, then season with salt and pepper. Top with lemon slices and thyme.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes. (The salmon should flake easily with a fork when it’s ready.)
  5. Enjoy!

Parchment Wrapped Salmon

INGREDIENTS
  • Parchment paper or aluminum foil
  • 6 ounces skinless salmon fillet
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Fresh thyme
PREPARATION
  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.
  2. Fold the parchment paper in half, then open up.
  3. Lay down the salmon. Drizzle oil and sprinkle salt and pepper. Lay lemon slices and thyme on top of the salmon.
  4. Fold the parchment paper over the salmon, and cinch the paper together by folding it over itself along the edges.
  5. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until internal temperature of salmon reaches 145˚F/63˚C.
  6. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Coffee Flavored Cake

The Brave Astronaut was having LASIK surgery yesterday and missed getting Monday's recipe out on time - so it's coming out today.  I'm off shortly to my first post-op appointment - I will say that the procedure went very well and I can see without glasses (or contacts), although my need for readers is much more pronounced.  But I knew that was coming.

Here's a recipe to help keep my eyes open,  From A Cookie Named Desire via BuzzFeed.

COFFEE FLAVORED CAKE WITH WHIPPED MOCHA GANACHE
PREP TIME 55 MINS
COOK TIME 30 MINS
TOTAL TIME 1 HOUR 25 MINS
A rich and moist coffee flavored cake that tastes just like your favorite cup of coffee in cake form. Finished with a mocha ganache for a truly decadent treat.
Serves: 1 layer cake 

INGREDIENTS
Coffee Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (if using fresh nutmeg, cut in half)
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup room temperature brewed coffee
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Whipped Mocha Ganache

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (depending on the intensity you like)
  • pinch of salt
  • 16 oz semisweet chocolate 

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, espresso powder, and sugar together. Stir to combine well.
  3. In a separate bowl, add the oil, milk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk well until completely combined.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing gently between each addition.
  5. Evenly distribute the batter between the baking pans and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Allow to cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Gently run a knife between the cake and pan, then gently remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  6. Heat the heavy cream, espresso powder, and salt in a saucepan until it is starts to boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then stir to melt the chocolate and combine with the cream. Do not stir until after the 10 minutes or else the frosting will end up grainy! Chill in the refrigerator until completely chilled. At least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
  7. Pour the ganache in a mixer and whisk on high until doubled in volume and light in color.
  8. Cut the two cakes in half to make four even layers. Slather the whipped ganache on each layer of the cake and layer the cakes on top of each other. Run an offset spatula on the sides of the cake to smooth the ganache on the sides.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Strip Steaks with Blue Cheese Better

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so at the grocery store on Saturday, I bought some nice strip steaks and fingerling potatoes to make a nice dinner for Mrs. BA (and LBA and SoBA, too).  Life of course, intervened, and dinner last night didn't materialize.  Given the boy's basketball practice schedules and I'm out at several meetings this week - we'll see about squeezing this in one night this week. From Fine Cooking.

New York Strip Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter
The stout flavor and aroma of blue cheese have always been a steakhouse staple as a salad dressing. But in recent years the blue cheese has moved from the iceberg to the red meat. This recipe gives you the basis for making compound butters, which are nothing more than butter blended with flavoring agents to add another dimension to your food. If you’re not a blue cheese fan, you can totally leave it out, or use rosemary, thyme, or an even stronger cheese if you desire.

For the blue cheese butter:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. crumbled blue cheese, preferably Maytag or Point Reyes
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
For the steaks:
  • 4 8- to 10-oz. New York strip steaks, 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
To make the butter, blend the butter, blue cheese, garlic, and pepper together in a medium bowl. (A fork is a good tool for doing this. If you wish, you could use a hand mixer.) Pack the butter in a small container and refrigerate until needed. The butter can be made several days in advance and even frozen.

Allow the steaks to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling. Brush olive oil over both sides of the steaks and season generously with salt and pepper.

Oil the grill racks. Preheat your grill using all burners set on high and with the lid closed for 10 to 12 minutes.

Place the steaks on the grill, close the lid, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Add a minute or two to each side for medium; subtract a minute or two from each side for rare. Remove from the grill and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Smear at least a tablespoon of the butter over each steak and serve.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Garlic
from the Food Network
Total: 25 min 
Active: 5 min 
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
Level: Easy 

Ingredients 
  • 2 pints fingerling potatoes 
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary 
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh sage 
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme 
  • 6 cloves garlic, left unpeeled 
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus for sheet pan 
  • Salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F and place a baking sheet inside to heat.

Add potatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, and garlic to a medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Remove sheet pan from oven, lightly coat with olive oil, and pour potatoes onto pan. Place potatoes in oven and reduce heat to 425 degrees F. Roast for 20 minutes, or until crispy on outside and tender on inside.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Brownies with Raspberry Swirl

I like brownies.  I usually am satisfied with the Ghiradelli Brownie Mix from Costco.  But if these came out of Mrs. BA's kitchen, I would be fine with that.  From the Washington Post Food Section, February 1, 2017 [link].

Brownies With Raspberry Jam Swirl
These not-too-sweet brownies from an easy batter rely on cocoa powder and don’t require you to melt chocolate (meaning no double boiler or questions about cacao percentages). The raspberry jam can be replaced by another flavor of jam or by nut butter (such as fig jam, cherry preserves, orange marmalade, peanut butter or almond butter). You can, of course, just leave the brownies plain. 

Make Ahead: The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature (or in the refrigerator, which will make the texture fudgier). 

Servings: Tested size: 16 servings 

Ingredients 
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 2 tablespoons strongly brewed coffee or espresso, at room temperature 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (may use Dutch-process) 
  • 1/2 cup flour 
  • 1/4 cup raspberry jam (may substitute any flavor jam or peanut butter) 

Directions
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square pan with baking spray (flour and oil), and then line it with parchment paper (two overlapping rectangles work well) so that there’s enough paper left hanging over the edges. Spray the parchment in the pan as well.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for about 2 minutes, until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla extract, coffee or espresso and salt. Add the cocoa powder and flour, stirring until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Dollop the jam evenly over the batter. Use a skewer or the tip of a paring knife to swirl the jam into the batter a little bit. The goal is for the brownies to have bites of jam, not to have raspberry jam-flavored brownies (meaning don’t stir it in completely, just swirl it).

Bake for about 30 minutes or until set throughout (test by jiggling the pan) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few wet crumbs and not raw batter (try to avoid inserting the tester into a raspberry swirl). Let the brownies cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes; then lift the brownies out of the pan and let them cool completely, if you can bear it, and cut into 16 even squares.

Serve at room temperature.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sheet Pan Fish and Chips

Mrs. BA is one to order fish and chips if it's on the menu. Her usual follow-up question is if they are made in house, she's a stickler. Maybe I can put these on the menu at the Launchpad.  Thanks to Simply Recipes for the recipe.  I might even get SoBA to eat it.  Now to put tartar sauce on the Wegman's list.

Sheet Pan Fish and Chips
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings 

Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more if needed 
  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes (3 large or 6 medium), unpeeled (I think that butter/yellow would work best - thought I'll probably use russet)
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup Panko, or other unseasoned dry white breadcrumbs 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 2 pounds firm-fleshed white fish fillets, skins removed (I've got some flounder in the freezer)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley 
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve 
  • Tartar sauce, to serve 
Instructions
  • Preheat the oven to 450F. Arrange 2 oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with foil and coat with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per baking sheet) or with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Prepare the potatoes: Quarter the potatoes lengthwise into 8 spears. In a bowl, toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the potatoes on the baking sheet with their wedges pointing up, if possible, so the cut sides are exposed 
  • Roast the potatoes on the lower rack in the oven for 40 minutes. Turn pan after 20 minutes of cooking and move the potatoes around the sheet pan
  • Toast the breadcrumbs in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the panko (no oil needed), and lower the heat to medium. Stir frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Remove the skillet from heat. Add olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper into the panko breadcrumbs until well coated. Transfer the crumbs to a shallow bowl.
  • Cut the fish into large strips. Rub with remaining olive oil. 
  • Coat the fish with the panko until well coated. Place the fish on the second baking sheet, spaced slightly apart. 
  • When the potatoes are almost done (about 15-20 minutes remaining), bake the fish for 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness, until the fish is firm and the coating is starting to brown.
  • Serve the fish and chips, sprinkle with parsley, serve with lemon and tartar sauce.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lighthouses


The Brave Astronaut has a thing for lighthouses. In fact on our recent trip to Legoland, I may have bought this. As we all seek shelter in a port away from the storm - here are some lighthouse photos to soothe you.

Or maybe you're looking to get away from it all - and you want to go and live in a lighthouse?  It may not be the life you think it is.  Read more here.

If you live here in the DMV, maybe you'd like to visit some of the local lights.  Here's a list.
  1. Turkey Point Lighthouse - Elk Neck State Park 4395 Turkey Point Rd., North East, MD 21901: The 35-foot-tall tower was built in 1833 to direct ships along the Elk River toward the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Perched atop a 100-foot cliff, the lighthouse remains the highest beacon on the bay. Its light can be seen for 13 miles. Another thing that sets Turkey Point apart is that four of the keepers were women, which was remarkable for an era when the physical labor and extreme isolation were seen as conditions only tolerable for a man. The last keeper, Fannie Mae Salter, was appointed after the death of her husband in 1925. In her early 40s, she initially was told she was too old for the job. It wasn't until President Calvin Coolidge stepped in that Salter was allowed to stay. She went on to serve until her retirement in the late 1940s - a feat that earned her the title of last civilian female keeper in the country. The light was automated in 1948 and now runs completely on solar energy. In the spring of 2007 the stairs were rebuilt in the same way they were in 1833, and visitors can climb to the top for a spectacular view. Interesting fact: The cliffs around the lighthouse appeared in Clint Eastwood's 1997 film "Absolute Power."
  2. Concord Point Lighthouse 100 Lafayette St., Havre de Grace, MD 21078: This 36-foot-tall tower of granite, with three-foot-thick walls at its base to the 27 steps in the spiral staircase, is not the quaint striped beacon many think of when they romantically picture a lighthouse. But it's absolutely worth a visit. The tower was built by John Donahoo, a legend among Chesapeake Bay lighthouse lovers: He is responsible for building 12 lighthouses on the bay, including Concord Point in his home town of Havre de Grace in 1827. His lighthouse was built to mark the entrance to the Susquehanna River. Despite Donahoo's request to be keeper, the honor went to War of 1812 hero John O'Neill. The responsibility was kept within the family with O'Neill's son, daughter-in-law, grandson and great-grandson each tending the light. The keepers' residence, 200 feet from the tower, went through several reincarnations during its history, including stints as a bar and restaurant. It went through a renovation in 1990 to restore it to its 1884 glory and now serves as a museum and gift shop. Interesting fact: The current light comes from a 100-watt bulb.
  3. Seven Foot Lighthouse S. President Street and Eastern Avenue, Pier 5, Baltimore, MD 21202: Seven Foot Knoll is a screw-pile lighthouse, meaning it was suspended above water on long cast-iron pilings screwed into the sea floor. It was built from 1855 to 1856 at the mouth of the Patapsco River and named for the shoal that it marked. Approachable only by boat, it also served as a home for the keeper and two assistants. So how did the bright red, 220-ton circular goliath end up on a pier in Baltimore? After the light was automated in the late 1940s, the structure succumbed to the elements and was retired. The Coast Guard donated the structure to the city, and in 1988, over the course of two days, Seven Foot Knoll was moved to its present location. Original features have been preserved, while interpretive exhibits have been added. Visitors can climb to the watch room (ladder access to the beacon is restricted) and take in a view that includes Federal Hill, the Domino Sugar factory and boats docked in the harbor.
  4. Lightship 116 Chesapeake E. Pratt Street and S. Gay Street, Pier 3, Baltimore, MD 21202: The Lightship Chesapeake is docked at pier 3, near the Seven-Foot Knoll lighthouse. First used in 1930, the ship was a movable aide used to direct maritime traffic everywhere from Fenwick Island Shoal in Delaware to the waters off Cape Henry. During World War II it aided in the war effort off the Cape Cod Canal. It was decommissioned and since 1971 has served as a floating museum. Interesting fact: The lightship has a gallery of photographs of dogs that served as mascots on Navy and Coast Guard ships from the 1880s through the 1950s.
  5. Fort Washington Park 13551 Fort Washington Rd., Fort Washington, MD 20744: It is easy to overlook the squat, 32-foot-tall wooden tower on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River. One's eye naturally goes toward the mammoth fort atop the hill looming behind it. History views the structure in a similar light. George Washington picked the location as a prime spot for a fort to protect the fledgling nation's capital. Subsequent forts were built around the same spot to reflect military advancements and to protect the city. But as maritime traffic along the Potomac River increased and the size of ships grew during the 1800s, a light was needed to direct ships away from shallow water near the shore. Before a beacon was installed, the military was calling the shots. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis approved the light so long as it was "not within any of the fortifications; and the light keeper shall be subordinate to the military command." Two other beacons preceded the one that visitors see today. Interesting fact: The first beacon was an 18-1/2-foot-tall post with a light on it, installed in 1857.
  6. Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum 213 N. Talbot Street, St. Michaels, MD 21663: Hooper Strait lighthouse, now at home on the grounds of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, once guided ships through dangerous waters between Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay, 40 miles to the south. The screw-pile cottage was actually the third light used at that location. Beginning in 1827, lightships were used to direct the boats, and in 1867 the first screw-pile lighthouse was built. That lasted only a decade before icy floes carried it away in January 1877. The keepers nearly went down with the house, evacuating at the last minute on a small boat. The latest lighthouse, built in 1879, almost met a similar fate. After being automated in 1954, the lighthouse began deteriorating. It was set to be demolished, but the museum rescued it and moved it to the museum in 1966. Visitors can walk through the six-room house and explore what life was like for a keeper. Children are encouraged to explore and find tidbits of information hidden in everything from empty paint cans to desk drawers to a goose wing. Interesting fact: Youth groups can spend a night in the lighthouse select Fridays and Saturdays in the spring and fall. 
  7. Cove Point 3500 Lighthouse Blvd., Lusby, MD 20657: Cove Point is another lighthouse on the bay built by John Donahoo, and, like his structures at Concord Point and Turkey Point, it is a basic white tower with black lantern room. Built in 1828 to mark the entrance of the Patuxent River, the Cove Point lighthouse has been witness to two interesting pieces of history: the very early introduction of a telephone in 1899 and World War II practice landings and invasions. The keepers even once rescued a drunk man who, after losing the oars to his boat, tried to swim ashore. From World War II until its automation in 1986, there was enough room for three keepers and their families to live around the lighthouse. Interesting fact: The light is the oldest continuously operated light in the state of Maryland.
  8. Drum Point Light Calvert Marine Museum 14200 Solomons Island Rd., Solomons, MD 20688: At one point in time, you would have no trouble finding a screw-pile lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay - 45 dotted the waterway. Now if you want to see one up close you need to visit Drum Point at the Calvert Marine Museum. Like its screw-pile brother, Seven Foot Knoll in Baltimore, Drum Point fell into disrepair after it was decommissioned but was later rescued and relocated. In Drum Point's case, the 1883 lighthouse was originally at the entrance to the Patuxent River and was moved to the grounds of the Calvert Marine Museum in 1975, 13 years after it was decommissioned. Based on lighthouse logs from 1883 to 1943 kept at the National Archives, the museum was able to lovingly restore the building to its early 20th-century grandeur, and visitors can walk through it. Interesting fact: What passed for bathrooms on lighthouses like Drum Point were outhouse-like structures that opened up over the water.
  9. Piney Point Lighthouse Museum and Historic Park 44720 Lighthouse Rd., Piney Point, MD 20674: When most people think of lighthouses, they think of lonely towers isolated by water and rocks. Not so with Piney Point, on the Potomac River. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Washingtonians, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who would ride down on his yacht to go fishing. With amazing views of the water and sandy beaches, it remains a popular spot for vacationers. The lighthouse was in use from 1836 until 1964, and in 2002 it opened to the public as part of the museum. The museum's historic park interprets the history of St. Mary's County with exhibits about Dory boats, World War II torpedoes and a separate building dedicated to a Potomac River Maritime exhibit. Interesting fact: There is a sunken U-1105 offshore, marked by a buoy. One of the rooms in the museum is dedicated to the German submarine, which the United States claimed after World War II.
  10. Point Lookout State Park 11175 Point Lookout Rd., Scotland, MD 20687: While the Civil War played an important part in the history of many lighthouses along the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps none was more greatly affected by the conflict than Point Lookout. The lighthouse was built in 1830, and during the Civil War, the Union used the land around it as a Confederate prison. It is estimated that 52,000 prisoners were kept there and more than 3,300 died. The lighthouse keeper during the war had Southern leanings, and it is noted in logs that she was reprimanded at least once for aiding the South. It isn't clear what she did, but she was allowed to remain in her position. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1966, and for a while the duplex was rented as a home. After the last resident moved out in 1981, the lighthouse suffered from vandalism and neglect. In 2006, preservation efforts began with the hopes of restoring the lighthouse to its last renovation in 1927. Visitors can take a self-guided tour during open houses, explore the unfurnished rooms and read interpretive posters. One of the former keeper's daughters, who grew up in the house, often visits during open houses to share her experiences during the '40s and '50s. Interesting fact: Point Lookout is believed to be haunted. Former residents and visitors have reported hearing footsteps, smelling a strange odor in one room and hearing disembodied voices saying "abandon" and "get out."
  11. Assateague Island and Chincoteague Beaches 8231 Beach Rd., Chincoteague, VA 23336: Assateague Island is perhaps best known for its annual wild pony swim and as the setting of Marguerite Henry's novel "Misty of Chincoteague." But a close second might be its iconic red-and-white striped lighthouse. The 142-foot-tall tower was built in 1867 to warn ships away from the dangerous shore between the Chesapeake and Delaware bays. About seven years ago it opened to the public for climbing, and when the weather is especially nice a line forms out the door. Visitors are advised to come early and wear tennis shoes. The parking lot is a short, shady walk from the lighthouse, and then the climb is 175 steps. There is a landing with a window every 25 steps just in case you need a break. Also be sure to visit the oil shed next door to the house, where artists take residence and display their work. The band Three Sheets occasionally performs sea shanties. Interesting fact: During the Civil War, the island sided with the north in order to continue selling seafood to Union states. The soldiers protected the light.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cupcakes!

Cupcakes are perfect!  These would be problematic for the best way to eat cupcakes however, which is to make cupcake sandwiches.  From Cooking Classy via BuzzFeed.

Creme Brûlée Cupcakes 
Yield: 12 cupcakes 

Ingredients 
Pastry Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • 2/3 cup milk 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided 
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Cupcake 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar 
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature 
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
Topping
  • Granulated sugar, about 1/3 cup 
  • Whipped cream (optional) 
  • 12 fresh raspberries (optional)

Directions
For the pastry cream:
In a medium saucepan, heat heavy cream, milk, 6 Tbsp sugar, salt and seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean along with vanilla bean pod over medium heat. Bring mixture just to a gentle bubble, stirring occasionally (remove from heat as necessary to prevent vigorous boiling while preparing remainder). Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 Tbsp sugar until well blended. Add cornstarch to egg yolk mixture and mix until very well combined and and slightly pale and fluffy. Take about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture from pan, and while vigorously whisking, slowly pour hot cream mixture (about 1 Tbsp at a time) into egg yolk mixture. Reduce burner temperature to medium-low. Then, while whisking hot cream mixture in saucepan, slowly pour egg yolk mixture into hot cream mixture in saucepan. Cook mixture, whisking constantly, until thickened (allow it to boil for about 30 seconds to cook out starchy flavor). Immediately force mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Mix in 1 Tbsp butter. Cover with plastic wrap pressing directly against surface of custard. Chill thoroughly, about 2 hours.

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt for seconds, set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg then blend in egg whites and vanilla. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and blend just until combined, then add milk and blend just until combined and finish adding in remaining 1/2 flour mixture and blend just until combined. Divide batter among 12 paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven 21 - 24 minutes until toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble cupcakes:
Pipe or spread chilled pastry cream over cooled cupcakes into an even layer. Working with one cupcake at a time, sprinkle entirety of pastry cream with sugar then heat with a kitchen torch until sugar begins to melt and caramelize (I would first coat the edges of pastry cream while rotating the cupcake, then sprinkle tops, then I would torch it and add another layer of sugar. I just found working in layers worked best so it didn't all bead up and just run off the sides, but just experiment and see what works best for you. I used about 1 - 1 1/2 tsp sugar per cupcake). Allow topping to cool then garnish with whipped cream and a raspberry if desired. Serve immediately (note: the pastry cream can be made the day before and the cupcakes can be made hours ahead of time but top with sugar and caramelize sugar just before serving).

 Recipe Source: vanilla cupcake adapted from Sprinkles Cupcakes via Oprah, pastry cream lightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated