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Friday, February 16, 2018

Salted Chocolate Cookies in the New Range

Happy Friday! Yes, I'm still enamored with my new range and although I'm never one to need an excuse to bake cookies, I still figured there's no better way to test out a new oven then cookie baking!

I know Valentine's Day has passed but every day is a good day for chocolate and buuuuuterrr and these shortbread cookies have plenty of both and a little salt to make them extra decadent!

I got the recipe from the New York Times. It may be behind a pay wall so without further ado here it is.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) salted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped (but not too fine, you want chunks, not thin shards of chocolate)
1 large egg, beaten to blend
Demerara sugar (for rolling)
Flaky sea salt

Using an electric mixer and a medium bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until super light and fluffy, 3–5 minutes.

Using a spatula, scrape down sides of bowl. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour, followed by chocolate chunks, and beat just to blend.

Divide dough in half, then place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold plastic over to cover dough and protect your hands from getting all sticky. Using your hands (just like you’re playing with clay), form dough into a log shape; rolling it on the counter will help you smooth it out, but don’t worry about getting it totally perfect. Each half should form logs that are 2–2¼" in diameter. Chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet (two, if you’ve got 'em) with parchment paper. Brush outside of logs with egg wash. Roll logs in demerara sugar (this is for those really delicious crispy edges).

Slice each log into ½"-thick rounds.
Arrange on prepared baking sheet about 1" apart (they won’t spread much). Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake cookies until edges are just beginning to brown, 12–15 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating them all.

Do Ahead: Cookie dough can be made 1 week ahead. Tightly wrap in plastic and chill, or freeze up to 1 month. Cookies can be baked 5 days ahead. Store in plastic wrap or an airtight container.

Enjoy! We certainly did!

Friday, January 19, 2018

More Than You Want To Know About My New Range

I took the week between Christmas and the New Year off.  It was cold outside, may have even rained a little (or a lot), and I had time on my hands so I listed my range on Craigslist. Yes, the perfectly good range that I just cooked Christmas brunch on. Of course I did. 

It sold in a day to a nice fireman for their firehouse. 

No, I didn't have a replacement. 

I had been eyeing new ranges for a while now (maybe years?). Lately I've been reading a lot about induction cook tops and there are now a lot of ranges available that incorporate them. I know because I Googled it, a lot. 

I even started making a mental list of what I wanted in a new range (in order):

  1. I wanted an induction cook top.
  2. I wanted a white one (to match all my other appliances.)
  3. I wanted a convection oven option.
  4. I wanted it to have knobs not some overly complicating push-buttons.
  5. I wanted it to sit on legs up off the floor.
  6. I wanted it to look beefy but not industrial.

After continuing to research my new range I quickly modified my list of wants by dropping my second want:
  1. I wanted a white one.
Come to find out, almost all induction ranges come in stainless steel unless you want to spend $2000 more, then you can get a colored one. Justifying an additional $2000 for a color wasn't something I could do and besides I was now without a range and colors meant a special order.

Let's pause here to explain what is so special about induction cook tops. Unlike gas and regular electric cook tops which cook food via thermal conduction, induction cook tops cook via magnetic induction. 

Perhaps the best explanation I found for this was from this New York Times article that explained how it works this way: "an electrical current produces a magnetic field that excites iron molecules and heats the pan and its contents." 

The result is you reach zero to boiling in minutes, like one, seriously. For this to happen, you have to use cookware that's magnetic, think cast iron or stainless steel.

Induction cooking is also very efficient, only a small amount of heat is wasted by seeping into the kitchen. I've read articles that say less than 15% of the heat from induction cooking escapes to the kitchen. Compared to gas where 60% of the heat escapes into the air!

Another bonus, induction cooking gives you very precise heat control, similar to gas, and when you turn it off, it's off. 

So, that's why I wanted an induction cook top. What I didn't expect and what caused us to live two weeks without a range (and a lot of pressure cooker meals!), was the electrical end of it.

Apparently ranges (including induction ranges) come with cords sold separately. You can either get a 3-prong cord or a 4-prong cord. I had no idea since the range I just sold was about 15 years old.  3-prong plugs are the older style, which is what my old range had. This shouldn't have caused a problem because remember I just said ranges (including induction ranges) come with cords sold separately.

The problem was trying to buy an induction range from an appliance store in town that would include a 3-prong plug. They wouldn't sell me that. I assumed this was because their ranges were already wired with 4-prong plugs and they didn't employ staff to rewire the ranges. 

So, they insisted I should call an electrician to change my plug in the wall from 3-prong to 4-prong. They insisted on this so much that when I did get an electrician out and he said it was actually going to be a more involved job than just switching out the plug and would cost over $500 and I didn't need to do it anyway because my plug was code, they still wouldn't sell me the range with a 3-prong plug.

So, I went to a different store.

This store pretty much said the same thing however, they offered to deduct the cost of the electrician from the price of the stove in order to sell me the range with a 4-prong plug. OK fine, I did that.

So, to give you the Reader's Digest version of this story, I ended up with this beauty of a range; a Blomberg 30", slide in, induction range.

It was delivered last Tuesday. Not installed, though. We had to do that. Oh, and as the delivery guys were just about to leave, one of them hands us the cord! After all the hassle about the specific cord, we (Jeff) still had to wire the stove! It was not lost on us as we (Jeff) was wiring the range that we (Jeff) could have just as easily wired a 3-prong cord! whateva.

Isn't the new range beautiful!?

I'm still getting used to the induction side of it; learning how hot setting 5 is versus setting 7 and so on.

The oven oddly doesn't have an indicator to show when it's reached cooking temperature so I bought a $4 thermometer off Amazon.

Oh and I did need to replace my saucepans as they were not magnetic. So I bought this adorable enameled Cast Iron Apple Pot

So far I love my new range and am happy with the end result. Would I have changed anything in the process? Perhaps, maybe not selling my old one before I had a new one, but sometimes you've gotta live dangerously!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fresh Fruit Sorbet

Right before Christmas this year I made an impulse purchase off Amazon and bought the Yonanas Elite Frozen Healthy Dessert Maker.  This machine takes frozen
fruit and makes soft serve sorbet!

In preparation for my new machine to arrive, I made a trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on some frozen fruit. Going to Trader Joe's right before Christmas was not the best idea I had, however I did make it home with frozen pineapple, mango, and coconut (I had no idea you could buy frozen coconut squares!)

Once my machine arrived, I was ready to try it out. For my first batch I used pineapple, coconut, bananas, and some chocolate chips. The machine worked great but I wasn't thrilled with my fruit mix so for the second batch I used just mango.

The instructions say to let the fruit thaw for 5-7 minutes before putting through the machine. With enough practice, I imagine I'll find the perfect amount of time to thaw the fruit so the sorbet is always smooth.
For now, I followed the instructions and after 6 minutes started putting my fruit in the machine and applying a little pressure.  The machine runs pretty quiet and as you can see, the sorbet was of a nice consistency.

I definitely preferred my second batch using just mangoes. I sprinkled a little shaved coconut on top and it was delicious! Best of all, it was just fruit, no added sugar or cream.

As for clean up, the machine easily breaks down into four pieces that can be rinsed off in the sink.

My only complaint is that quite a bit of the sorbet is left behind the blade. You can get it out only after you take the machine apart. This may not happen as much depending on the type of fruit you use and/or the amount of time you allow the fruit to thaw. I'll have to play around with it to be sure.

If you, like me, like kitchen appliances, be sure to check back next week as I share the MOTHER OF ALL KITCHEN APPLIANCES!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Making Challah

Last weekend I was in the mood to try (and eat) something new so naturally I turned to bread making and decided challah would be the perfect choice.

Challah is a ceremonial Jewish bread typically eaten on the Sabbath or major Jewish holidays. It is distinguished by it's braided strands and golden brown crust.

For my first attempt at making this bread, I followed the recipe found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice cookbook. It's basically the same recipe I found on the New York Times website as well.

The first thing I noticed when reading the recipe, was that it  called for sugar. Although it doesn't taste sweet, there is a half a cup of white sugar in the recipe however there is also 8 cups of flour making a very large loaf!

Since I was a novice, I opted to do the 3 strand braid of the dough rather than the more advanced 4, 6, or 12 strand. I followed the instructions on braiding the bread from this excellent website.
I love that so many breads are steeped in strong historical or religious reference and certainly challah is no exception.

Such a beautiful loaf of bread and even better it tastes wonderful!

Friday, December 15, 2017

How To Commute By Bike

Let's take a break from all this holiday cheer to talk about something near and dear to my heart....

I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure this year marks the 20th year I've been commuting by bicycle to work. Sure, that statement dates me and if I count commuting to school by bike too, its been over 30 years.

Are you interested in bicycle commuting or just think I'm crazy to have done it for so long? Well read on because I'm going to share a little wisdom and a lot of common sense on how it's done.

First and foremost, when you're job searching or home searching, make the commute a priority! When I moved to Portland, Oregon back in the late 80s I had a job. I knew where I was going to work so when I was looking for a place to live, the number one priority was that I was close to work; less than 5 miles. Since initially moving here, I've lived in five different places, but none farther than 5 miles from work. I could probably stop here as this really is the most important part of bike commuting, however then I wouldn't get to talk about the fun stuff, like the bike and gear!

Let's start with the bike. You're going to want a comfortable and safe bike. Over the years, I've commuted on 5 different bikes (really, there's no theme of 5 here) and I've concluded that the most comfortable, responsive rides I've had are on bikes with steel vs aluminum frames. Having never owned a titanium framed bike, I can't speak to them.

Also important and simply weren't around when I first started bike commuting, are disc brakes. Seriously, these are a game changer for bike commuting especially in wet conditions. They allow you to stop much quicker than bikes using caliper or cantilever brakes and the upkeep is much easier. Twice a year I get my bike tuned up and they adjust the disc brakes and install new pads if needed. I think I've only replaced the pads on the disc brakes once or twice in 6 years, in comparison, old style brakes go through pads every couple months.

Aside from the bike, there's a litany of accessories to buy for it and most are personal preference except fenders, lights, and a helmet.

Fenders are a necessity if you're ever, ever going to ride in the rain. They will keep your backside dry and just as important, keep you from being the a-hole rider that spews water onto everyone behind them or passing them. You don't want to be THAT rider and because of that, opt for fenders that cover most of your back tire.

Lights have also come a long way since I've been bike commuting. The use of LEDs in bike lights mean you don't need to haul around a 5 lb battery pack to light your way (or those old generator lights that ran off the friction of your tire--ahhggg!)

For me, since most of my route to work is well lit and I'm not riding in complete darkness, the lights on my bike are more for others to see me rather than for me to see where I'm going. Therefore, I opt for a simple front white blinking light and a red back blinking light. Both these lights have the option of not blinking but blinking lights let drivers know you're a bike and they can plan accordingly. I also like that these lights take simple AA batteries and not some fancy battery you have to run to a special store to get.

A helmet is just common sense, especially if you ride in increment weather. You can spend as little as $15 or as much as you want. I've crashed 3 times on ice and each time I fell and hit my helmet on the concrete before I even knew what happened. It was quick and there was no way I could have kept my head from hitting the ground. After a crash, it's always important to replace your helmet, they're only meant to withstand one blow. Oh, and by the way, don't try riding when it's icy out. Take the bus or work from home.

What you wear to commute in, as long as you followed my advice and aren't commuting 40 miles, is really up to you. As work environments become more casual, I see more and more people wearing their work clothes on their bike and that's certainly how most Europeans commute by bike.

Regardless, one thing you'll want to invest in is a good, reflective rain jacket one that will keep you dry from the rain on the outside and not trap the sweat on the inside. Along that same line, on really rainy days you'll probably want some rain pants. The past couple of years, I've been using a bike poncho to commute in wet weather. I prefer this to rain pants as I find rain pants slip around on the bike seat. I also recommend, for those really rainy days, a pair of shoe covers. They're not expensive (I've even seen people just rubber-band some plastic bags around their shoes) but are worth it.

There are plenty of other accessories you can buy and are important (like gloves and ear muffs) however, you'll probably find over time what you need and like. Early on in my bike commuting, I used a rack on my bike with panniers. I've since migrated to just using a messenger bagand find I like it better.

How to ride safely, is more important than any gear you buy. It takes a long time to feel comfortable on a bike in traffic. It's important to always be visible and that means riding in the lane with cars if you're on a street with a traffic speed of 35 mph or less (and you should be.)  You don't need to take all the lane, but don't hang out so far on the shoulder that you have to swerve in and out of traffic to get around parked cars.

It goes with out saying that when you're on a bike you're vulnerable. Your best line of defense is to act predictable which means follow the traffic laws, stop at stop signs and red lights, take your turn at four way stops, signal when turning and changing lanes, and ride in a straight line.

The best advice I can give for bike commuting is simply to try it. You'll discover over time what works well and what doesn't work but just try it.

And now if you've stuck with this post long enough to get to the end, for your viewing pleasure, here's a (bad) video of my commute.
If you're still reading...don't forget it's not too late to order Lora's Beauty Goats' Milk Soaps for the holidays! They make great gifts for everyone on your list and with free shipping on orders over $30 in the US you can't go wrong!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Stocked for the Holidays

And just like that the online Lora's Beauty store is stocked for the holidays!

Shop soap for everyone on your list. It makes a great gift for a favorite teacher or coach!

Have a brother that's hard to shop for? Soap is the answer!

What about Mom? Is she wallowing in too many sweaters? Soap is the answer!

Don't forget Dad. This rugged Pine Tar soap will be sure to please.

Not to be left off the list, of course, is the significant other. Pick up a few bars to have them smelling sweet!

Lora's Beauty offers Free Shipping in the US with all orders over $30 so you can't go wrong with an all natural, skin loving and soothing gift!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Soap For The Holidays

Last week I participated in a holiday bazaar at work. It was a lot of fun and I sold pretty much my entire stock of soap, so this week I've been frantically busy making more!

I've made more of my most popular soaps including Peppermint Ice. I add menthol and peppermint essential oil to this soap to provide a fragrant, skin tingling experience while bathing.

The Oatmeal Ginger was a huge hit at the bazaar and I needed to make more. This soap has a lovely spicy ginger scent and is made with colloidal oatmeal making it a wonderful soap for dry skin. I think it was the scent, however, that had it selling so well.

I also sold out and remade some of my Lavender Meringue soap. The white 'meringue' on this bar is a shea butter rich soap making it extra moisturizing as well as beautiful.

My Cinnamon and Honey soap is always popular. Made with ground cinnamon and scented with cinnamon leaf essential oil this is a very fragrant bar that's also great for oily skin.

Also in demand was my Safflower and Honey soap. This is another very fragrant bar as it's scented with fennel and anise essential oil so it smells very much like black licorice. The safflower in the bar gives it it's pretty pale yellow color and is a wonderful additive for soothing skin.

All these bars will be available in a couple weeks and in time for holiday shopping.

For those who can't wait, the online store is currently stocked with plenty of other soap like Mug-o-Beer,
Pine Tar

Lora's Beauty soaps make wonderful gifts for anyone especially those hard to shop for people! Who doesn't need soap? Lora's Beauty is an affordable luxury.