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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Baking

  1. Oreshki (Filled Nuts):  The original recipe is here.  I used this electric gadget.  Here are my changes:  (1) Instead of margarine, I used butter.  Yes, more calories but the difference in taste is -- Wow!  (2) Iinstead of vanilla essence, I used almond bakery emulsion.  These little balls are so fragrant and yummy!  (3) The filling calls for three sticks of butter and I only used two -- it's plenty.  (4) When shells are baked, there are leftover crumbs.  I mixed in crumbs into the filling.  It made it thicker.  I made goodie bags for S. to take to his coworkers.  They were begging for more! :)
  2. Zefir (Homemade Marshmallows -- if you don't like marshmallows, do give this recipe a try; these marshmallows are nothing are like sugar puffs sold in stores; they are creamy, yummy, and fragrant).  The original recipe is here.  It's a great recipe to make along with Oreshki since there are leftover egg whites!  I doubled this recipe because I had lots of egg whites -- do NOT do that, too much white fluffy stuff to deal with!!!  One batch is plenty anyway.  I used mango flavor but raspberry flavor Jell-O will make these fluffy balls so pretty, like Lea's picture.
  3. Banana Raisin Bread:  I "cheated" with this one...  We wanted to give little gifts to our neighbors but buying a tin of cookies is not the same...  Something homemade is much better...  So I bought banana bread mix and added some raisins.  We delivered bread last night and our neighbors were very grateful.  Maybe next year I will have time to make more things from scratch...
  4. Apple Spice Cake:  The recipe is here.  I still have to make several for our immediate families.  Dollar Tree had reusable cake carriers so I bought six, for easy packaging.  S. is in charge of wrapping ribbons around each carrier! :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Birthday Cake

This is a very old family recipe.  Traditionally, it's called "Firewood in the Snow" and arranged as a pile of "sticks," in a pile of creamy frosting.  Here how it usually looks:

I decided to arrange the "sticks" in a square gift box shape and decorate with a ribbon.  Ah, it did not work as envisioned.  Hmmm, just like the intended recipient of this cake...  lol... Stubborn sticks kept, well, sticking out!  The frosting kept sliding!  It resembled a pile all right but, unfortunately, nothing like what I wanted.  Frustrated, I stuck it in the fridge last night.  This morning, though, the frosting saturated crumbly sticks and wasn't as runny on the outside.  I was able to slice off the stubborn ends and achieve a somewhat square box shape.  Then I wrapped the ribbon and here is what is awaiting the birthday guy, who is not home yet.  I sure hope he likes it! :)

Dough Recipe:
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose flour (to make a cookie consistency dough)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
Note:  I was not happy with this dough.  The ingredients are not the same in quality as when I was growing up and it's difficult to guess just the right combination, so I think I added too much flour.  The dough was easy to roll out but too tough, in my opinion.  Next time, I will make a much softer dough and just shape "sticks" by hand, folding cherries (or preserves) inside.
  • filling:  very thick cherry preserves or sweet cherries in heavy syrup, drained
Frosting Recipe:
  • 32 oz sour cream (I always use Daisy because it's thick and creamy), drained overnight to thicken
  • 16 oz heavy cream
  • 2-3 cups confectioner's sugar
  1. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy.
  2. Add sour cream and salt.
  3. Mix flour with baking powder, then slowly fold into the mix.
  4. Make the soft dough -- see my note above.  It will be sticky and very soft but, as long as you can roll little balls, enclose preserves or cherries, and roll out (in your hands) into sticks, it's fine.  You need to make 15-16 sticks.  Alternatively, you can make filled cookies (round shape) and make a snowball pile.
  5. Bake at 400 until golden brown.
  6. To make frosting, beat heavy cream until thick. Add sour cream and sugar and beat until thick.  It won't be as thick as cream cheese frosting, for example.  It's OK -- the dough needs to saturate.
  7. Arrange in a pile, generously covering each layer with frosting.
  8. Refrigerate at least overnight.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grading Adventures and Birthday Cake

I really want to know what my students have learned (and haven't) as well as allow them to learn the skills rather than just memorize "stuff."  I really do carefully review what students have produced and offer feedback.  Otherwise, why ask students to complete projects, right?  Yet, I see more and more instructors taking the "multiple-guessing test" route and only glancing through the projects, if they assign any.  Of course, these instructors are saving hours (let's be honest -- days) of grading "hard labor" but how about authentic learning?  No wonder our graduates are clueless... 

Anyway, back on track...  guess what I did all week?  Yep, grading! :)  Some projects were actually a joy to review.  Some I had to pull myself through and try hard to remain objective.  Using rubrics helps but you know how it goes...  I finished grades for my full-time job by 6:00 am this morning!  They are due at noon so I was six hours ahead.  Yay, me!

And so I decided to get a few hours of sleep...  Two hours later, my cell phone rang (I would have ignored the house phone but cell is usually urgent).  Our new instructional coordinator wanted to know if I updated the program performance review files.  Really?!  After just announcing late last week, in the middle of final exams and grading?!  Ah, sometimes usually support staff is clueless...  I politely (at least I remember being polite -- not sure since I was half asleep) told her that her deadline of early January will be met but not this week, no need to freak out and pester me now (well, I don't think I used those words, I sure hope not)...

Back to sleep...  Brrrrrrring, brrrrrring, brrrrrring!  A part-time instructor, panicking because she forgot how to enter her grades into the system.  She did manage to average them in the LMS but our reporting system is separate.  Help, grades are due by noon!  No kidding!  So I woke up enough to guide her through the steps.

Back to sleep...  Brrrrrrrring!  Another part-timer, with a different problem -- knows how to enter grades but has no idea how to average grades in the LMS!  This one takes much longer because of formulas and explaining, repeatedly, how to complete all steps.

Two part-timers, really?!  Never happened before but it has been a rough semester...  One of our full-time instructors resigned a week before classes so we had to pull warm bodies off the street to teach some of the courses.  As a result, I spent countless hours this semester troubleshooting all kinds of problems that experienced instructors are usually able to resolve on their own.  I am dreading next semester since we will still heavily rely on part-timers...

Now I am very tired but wide awake... if I go back to sleep, I will just get a headache... and I still need to finish grades for my TA position.  Just a few more hours but that needs to be done today, for my sanity.  I want to relax this weekend and resume writing on Monday.  I promised myself that I will not check email next week so I can fully concentrate on completing my prospectus.  Next week is a Christmas gift to myself.  If I manage to pull it through, what an amazing gift that will be!

Because I dive back into more grading, I need to do the fun part -- cake for S., whose birthday is tomorrow!  He also wants Pelmeni.

I decided to make this cake:  Gift Box Cake.  I am using my own recipe, though, and just use the decoration idea.  My recipe involves baking cookie sticks filled with cherry preserves.  The sticks are arranged in a rectangular pile, with sour cream-heavy cream-confectioner's sugar frosting generously slathered on, to completely cover the "base."  The combination of cookies, cherry preserves, and the above-mentioned frosting is -- Wow!  It's a family recipe, passed from generation to generation.  It looks very pretty when cut, too.

Instead of gingerbread men, I will use doves around the cake.  Or maybe just leave the "box" white.  White box and frosted red ribbon may look better without anything else?  Any thoughts/advice?

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