Renoir Reincarnated

For as long as I can remember, school vacation times like March Break meant one of a few activities was bound to take place. One place in particular that you could usually find me on school breaks was at Crack Pot Studio. Unless you are from the Oakville area, I am guessing you probably have not heard about Crack Pot. Don’t worry though, I’ve created a Storify here that gives a quick explanation of this awesome place.

Basically, it’s a business that lets people go in and either paint a pre-made ceramic item or sculpt their own piece. Last year I went with a friend and painted a mug/tea pot set that I have been using all the time since. My art skills are fantastically subpar, as you can see from my sad attempt to paint an image of a dog that for some reason always makes me laugh (my sense of humour is sad, I know, I know).

 

a poorly painted pot

my favourite tea set feat. my favourite dog

They have a wide variety of ceramics to choose from and my house is absolutely filled with random knick-knacks and mugs that myself and my siblings have painted over the years. There are a great selection of paint colours to choose from as well as various stencils and other tools for making your piece just how you want. Once you are happy with the painting, you leave it behind and they will fire it in the kiln for you. A short while later you can go back and pick up your masterpiece.

If you want to get even more hands-on, you can sign up for classes or even host an event where you work with clay to create your own pieces.

If you can find a place like Crack Pot Studio near where you live, I would wholeheartedly recommend you go check it out. Even if you are as terrible at painting as I am, you can just relax and laugh at your “artwork”, then take it home to proudly display for all to gawk at.

blindness and banana bread

Fun fact about this blogger: I am one of the rather rare examples of a female with colour blindness. The more accurate term is actually colour vision deficiency and I try to use it instead as it deters people from thinking I cannot see colours at all. While I do sometimes mix up colours, for the most part I am unhindered. When I do mess up, it usually just makes me laugh more than anything.

One problem that has arisen is an inability to notice mold on foods. One time, my similarly colour vision deficient brother and father once ate some bread that had, according to my step-mom, a rather disgusting blue tinge to it. I’ve been careful about checking for mold ever since.

Now some of you might be wondering why I’m talking about this on a blog that is supposed to be about finding the small delights in life. Honestly, I mostly just like telling people about my colour issues (it’s my go-to interesting fact about myself for ice-breaker activities).
But there is a super minor link to what I want to talk about today.
While I do take care to look for food that has gone bad, there is one food item that I actually get very excited about when it starts to age too much. After years of seeing seriously black bananas in my fridge and coming to realize that banana bread was on the way, the sight of them now brings me distinct feelings of glee.

When I happened across a recipe for Nutella-swirled banana bread, I knew I had to get some ripe bananas and give it a go. If you have some really ripe bananas lying around, you should follow along with these instructions.

 

You will need:

  • 3 bananas, yellow with brown speckles or even more ripethe supplies
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup Nutella

 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease whatever pan you want to bake it in. The recipe called for a couple of loaf pans but I couldn’t even find one because my housemates seemingly like to play hide and seek with our kitchen supplies. I used a Bundt pan and it worked just fine and dandy.
Additionally, the recipe calls for the buttering of the pan but I realized partway through pouring my mix in that I had forgotten to and it made no difference. Sometimes I don’t get the point of certain steps.

Mash your bananas and set them aside.

mashed bananas

a progress shot to show you how messy I am

Combine the sugar, butter, milk, eggs and vanilla in one bowl. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the first bowl and combine until smooth. Mix in the mashed bananas until combined.

Heat the Nutella in the microwave to soften it (about 20 seconds) and then drizzle about 2/3rds of it into the batter. Fold over to combine but try not to over mix so you keep the swirls of Nutella visible. Pour the batter into your pan and swirl the remainder of the Nutella into the top.Bake until a tester comes out clean. The recipe says 45 minutes but it took mine about an hour. Just keep checking it to make sure nothing is burning.

Allow the bread to cool and then enjoy! If you want even more Nutella up in that thing, go ahead and heat some off to drizzle more in top. Embrace your hazelnut chocolate overload.

2014-03-25 14.49.12

TA-DA!

watch my terrible baking! chocolate lava cakes!

And now for something completely different: a video I put together for you! Watch below to learn how to make an absolutely divine chocolate lava cake.

I have been absolutely obsessed with these desserts for a long, long time now and I have been hit several times for a craving for them. While I learned this year that Domino’s Pizza has a lava cake and have indulged in it a few times, I always find myself vaguely unsatisfied with them. I think they just seem a little too artificial from me and I’m wary about what exactly has gone into them.
As I was watching YouTube videos by How To Cook That, a channel filled with numerous fantastic desserts, I came across a video to meet all my lava cake needs.
I decided to try my hand at it and film the process so you can see just how easy it is to make as this was my very first attempt to make it and I managed just fine. Watch the video and then check out the more detailed recipe and instruction after if you want to experience this decadent delight.

For the chocolate tops you will need:

About two cups of melted chocolate. If you are using real chocolate (i.e. if it has Cocoa Butter in the ingredients) you will have to temper it. There are plenty of sources online that can explain how to do that but I would recommend you simply use fake chocolate to make things easier for yourself. Melt the chocolate and spread it out flat. Set it aside to cool. As you can probably see in my video, my chocolate topping was not entirely set but it still tasted great so whatever.

For the brownie base you will need:

  • 2 cups melted butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ¼ cups self-raising flour (or regular flour with 1 ½ tsp baking powder)

Mix all of the brownie ingredients together and then pour into a baking tray lined with baking paper.  If you want you can sprinkle in stuff like nuts or chopped chocolate but keep in mind this will make it more difficult to cut later.

Bake the brownies at 360°F until a you can poke with a knife and have it come out clean. I forgot to keep track of how long it took mine to bake but just keep checking on them and you will be fine.

When fully baked, allow the brownies to fully cool and then use a circular tool to separate them into pieces. Remove a smaller circle from the centre of these pieces and fill that hole with ganache (I used about 2 cups of milk chocolate with ¼ cup of milk but feel free to make whatever ganache you prefer).

Use the circular tool to cut a disc out of the chocolate topping and place it on your brownie piece. Drizzle warm ganache on top and watch it melt through.
The sight of chocolate oozing out is quite delightful but, if you are like me, you don’t have time for that pretty business. That cake is getting in your mouth pronto.

my go to sweet treat: banana chips

While thinking of a post that would help me ease my way into blogging, an obvious option sprang quickly to my mind. What could be more perfect as an intro to easy delight than my go-to easy dessert?

Like a lot of people, I have a major problem with snacking when I’m bored. Unfortunately, my laziness encourages me to just pick any option that will satisfy my sweet tooth but does nothing for my sweet body (…totally kidding, my body is still stellar).

While I have strived to stop snacking on things like chocolate chips (seriously, they are my weakness), I have had no desire to completely drop all sweet snacks from my life.
One day, the perfect solution presented itself in the form of a blog post on A Beautiful Mess. The sweet and salty banana chips they prepared are perfect for getting some sugary goodness while pretending you are making a healthier choice.

With no further ado, here is how to make this simple and sweet treat.

Dipping banana in brown sugar

You will need:

  • One or two bananas, depending on how hungry you are
  • Brown sugar
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Baking tray and parchment paper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Oven

First, preheat your oven to 400°F.

I like to set up a mini assembly line with a banana or two on a cutting board, a bowl of brown sugar (make sure there are no lumps) and my baking sheet prepped with lightly oiled parchment paper on top.

Cut the banana(s) into thin slices then dip both sides into the brown sugar. The brown sugar layer should be relatively light but I have no self control so my slices get coated pretty heavily.

Lay out the dipped banana pieces on the baking sheet and put the sheet in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  When the brown sugar melts and the edges begin to crisp you can take the sheet out and let the chips cool for a short while.

Completed banana chips

I got bored of waiting so these aren’t fully done.
They were still delicious though

If you can manage to not gobble them all down in one go, the chips can be stored for a short while in an airtight container. If you are like me, though, they’ll be gone in a flash. Luckily, they are so easy to prepare and you can quickly bake another batch the next time the urge strikes you.
If the urge does strike you, let me know how it goes!

candles and cupcakes

The other day I was busy doing schoolwork at my kitchen table when one of my housemates came up to me and asked if I liked candles. The question seemed incredibly out of the blue until he clarified that every time he saw me working at the table I seemed to have a candle burning beside me.
Indeed, one of my favourites was currently flickering on the table (if you don’t own this candle, you need to get it now. I don’t care if you don’t like candles, this one is amazing).

This made me realize that I almost constantly keep a candle alight somewhere nearby when I’m in the house.  The lovely light and awesome smells are part of the little things that bring me delight throughout the day.

This post is one of many to come that will detail things that may seem insignificant but that often bring me happiness and could perhaps make you happy too. An idea from Robert Brault that I really love is this: “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things”. Lighting candles and other similar practices may seem insignificant but I really believe they can make big differences in your day.

One element of life that is almost guaranteed to brighten my day is good food, especially desserts. While I am not the greatest at cooking, I am a moderately confident baker and will often whip up something when the mood strikes me. Recently, the mood struck and some cupcakes were called for. To end off this post, here is a straightforward and simple recipe for vanilla cupcakes I found online.

(Makes about 20 cupcakes)

Cupcake

For the cupcakes you will need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • Cupcake tray

 

Preheat your oven to 375°F and line a muffin tray with baking cups.
Cream the butter and sugar together and then beat the eggs in one at a time.
Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and then add portions of this to the mixture, alternating with milk. Stir in the vanilla.

When a nice and smooth consistency has been reached, divide the mixture evenly into the cupcake tray.
Bake for 18 minutes then let it cool in the pan. I was too eager and began icing too early and the icing began to melt so trust me, cool your heels and wait for the cupcakes to cool a bit.

2014-03-23 18.38.04I made my own icing from this recipe but I must say: if you are like me and have no appliances to mix for you, it may be best to just buy pre-made icing. I almost gave up halfway through mixing because it was rather tiresome (and I have no patience and was super bored). For my pride’s sake I stuck with it and made some absolutely delicious icing that I dyed purple with food coloring. I will leave it up to you to decide if it is worth it. One bonus to making your own: you get a little bit of a workout with the mixing so shoving multiple cupcakes in your face immediately after seems a little more justifiable.