Renovating the Bathroom

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Welcome to Albany Jane’s Adventures in Home Repair: Bathroom Edition. I am really enjoying this DIY home repair stuff. I realize it’s not for everyone, but I feel like I’ve taken quite well to plumbing so far. If you’d like to learn a few novice plumbing tricks, tips, and frustrations, read on.

When I first bought this house, the bathroom floor was covered in carpet, and it was old carpet. I was pretty squicked out by carpet in a bathroom. I mean, it seemed kind of unsanitary – all that carpeting holding in  moisture. It wasn’t tacked down or anything, so as soon as I closed and got the keys to the house, I pulled that carpeting out. Which left me with an equally unattractive slab floor.  My Dad came up the weekend I closed and discovered a major leak in one of the bathroom sink pipes. I wish I had take more original photos, but let’s just say that particleboard doesn’t make for a great bathroom vanity. Dad taught me how to change the pipes, and put the pressure on me when I couldn’t really find a vanity I liked “Albany Jane, you have to pick something. We’re not leaving until you do.”

I wound up getting this vanity with sink from Lowe’s for about $239. It was the only one they had in stock that I even remotely liked. I like the big basin of the sink. It’s a medium density fiberboard, which means it looks like wood but shows nicks and scratches very easily. But at the end of the day I’m happy with my “emergency” purchase.
It took us most of the day for Dad to teach me how to change the tubes. He has a good engineering mindset – I want to learn how to be more analytical when it comes to house project assessment.

So that was project one. Project two was actually getting a floor installed! I want to shop locally, but a lot of the flooring stores I tried to buy from have such archaic models – you have to go in for a meeting, or go in to the store. They won’t do very much over the phone. A friend had some old tiles left that she got from Top Tile. I was going to buy another box or two, and from what she said it wasn’t cheap, but quality stuff. When I called I told them I wanted to buy tiles and that I had the model number. The person put me on hold for a while, came back and told me no one could help me because they were all with customers. So I found their website and emailed them, I figured if they were busy with customers I could just email them what I wanted and the specs. But they never responded to my email, either. I wasn’t going to waste any more time trying to give them my business, so I just wound up buying some cheap white tiles from Home Depot for like $0.99/tile and figured it would give me some wiggle room in case I screwed up, or I could renovate again in the near future if I really hated it.

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But before the floor goes in, EVERYTHING has to go out. Out, out, out! Which began with the toilet. And the very beginning of Project: Toilet starts with turning off the water to the toilet. Which was stuck. Very calcified from mineral deposits over the years. Oh. No. As you can see from this pic, the space between the vanity and toilet is very small. Okay, I’d have to turn off the water, remove the toilet, change the valve, and then reconnect the toilet.

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This project would have gone a whole lot more smoothly if the toilet were not completely grouted to the ground. As in – would. Not. Budge. But thanks to some kind words of encouragement from Dave & Mr. Dave, I gave it a go with a hammer, flat-head screwdriver (in lieu of chisel), and then a hand saw when the chisel would only do so much.

P1020517My tools of victory. I wore the crap out of the “wood” tool on that hand saw thing.But it helped eliminate the seal the grout had with the bathroom floor.
P1020520Victory. Heck yes! Space between the ground!

P1020522And of course, safety first.
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Okay, now we’ve got the toilet out, let’s see what we can do about that valve. The water was off, but there were still a few drips (I suspect the “off” is not as tight on my master water supply. Which is a project for later), so hence the extra buckets and makeshift buckets (2L bottle cut in half)). It might seem like a basic water valve, but it is its own special beast. I think it was a 1/2″ inlet by 3/8″ outlet. There was only one on the shelf at Home Depot, and a fellow customer helped me find it. I’ve had mixed experience with employees at the Latham hardware stores. Home Depot just tends to be the one I go to since it is the closest one to me. But the other customers have been really nice. I ended up hugging the guy for helping me find the lone match, which seemed to really weird him out.

P1020531Adjustable wrenches and channel locks come in really handing for all plumbing projects. Have a few of different sizes around. If you’re trying to remove a stubborn valve or pipe that doesn’t want to come out, you can have counter pressure on a nearby bolt or nut so you don’t accidentally damage the pipes.
P1020535This valve required quite a bit of force to remove it, which I am generally quite timid about (I don’t want to break something and make the project even longer lasting…) but it did come off!
P1020536The new valve went on with ease, and didn’t drip at all when the water was turned back on. Plumbing success, hooray!
P1020539Here is where true demo begins. Everything that was on the floor was taken out of the bathroom, water valves turned off. This is the work space.
P1020540A better view of the valves that got to hang out – the hot and cold water for the sink, plus the drain. And the toilet water connection on the right. It’s wet on the bottom because of the earlier plumbing (spills, leaks, and drips are bound to happen. Have a bunch of towels on hand, but expect to get a little bit all over).
P1020541I bought these glacial white tiles from Home Depot. They seem to work with the white/light color scheme over all, but I am by no means a decorator. I laid down the tiles to see what patterns would work. This pattern worked for me in that it meant I had to cut the least amount of tile.

Tile cutting requires patience and finesse, but also a willingness to get a bit wet from the tile saw. I picked up a cheapie from Harbor Freight tools. It worked a whole heck of a lot better than the nipper and hand scorer I bought from Home Depot (which broke when I first used them, ugh!), but still – there’s a bit of a learning curve.
P1020542Grout time! Is grout supposed to be half full? The grout I picked up from Home Depot seemed like someone had used half of it and returned it. :/
But I didn’t need much grout for my small 15 sqft bathroom and 1sqft tiles.

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Applying Thin-Set to the ground for the tiles was pretty easy and uneventful. I started at the top of this picture/the edge of the tub and worked my way out of the door. I used 1/8″ spacers.
I wasn’t super happy with how I cut the two small tiles I needed, but then I realized it was my first time using a tile saw, and installing a floor, so I realized these things will happen and are part of the learning curve. I made a few more imperfect (but always less imperfect) cuts of tile until I reached a combination of “Ugh, it’s freezing out and I want to be done with this now,” and “You know what, this is my first time. Not everything is going to be perfect,”. Let it sit for a day or two to cure before proceeding to grout.

After applying the thin-set mortar to the tiles & slab floor, it was time to grout. Since this bathroom is so small, I just bought a small tub of pre-mixed, sanded grout.

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I had plenty of grout. This was also a very fun task. Splat, sponge, splat, sponge. Wait another day or two for the grout to set, and then you can put your bathroom back together.

Which is what I really wanted to do. Since I raised the floor of the bathroom, I had to carve out a notch in the back of the vanity to have room for the pipes. No big issue there. Shop vacs and hand saws come in super handy there.

However, it was at this point that I realized the old toilet was grouted a good 1/4″ underneath, and uneven. Instead of leveling the ground, the grout was applied on the bottom of the toilet to level the floor of the toilet. I’m impressed at the amount of work that went in to this. No one else I’ve talked to has ever heard of this ever happening. Needless to say, I smashed the heck out of one Johnnie O ring and grumbled as I dragged the toilet out to the garbage.

I went out to Lowe’s looking for a small, round-seat toilet and picked up an American Standard Mainstream model toilet. I think it was either this or a Kohler, and the reviews for the Kohler weren’t all that great. Most of the toilets available now are extended bowls.

P1020729Installing the toilet took an few hours of an afternoon for a novice like me, but the directions were really easy to follow. I also put in some wooden baseboards so I wouldn’t have jagged drywall gaps around the tile edges. Looks pretty nice for a gal who isn’t really into decorating and aesthetics.
P1020730And hey, now I have a full bathroom back, again!
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Take whatever time you plan on your project taking and multiply by 4. I thought I could bang out this bathroom in a day, but ba hahahaha, no. At my pace, it took closer to a month “Wait, let me just look up one more home repair video!”
Don’t expect anything to be cheap.
Some things may be cheap, but if you don’t have the tools, it’ll add up. Nothing is really cheap. Even the cheap stuff.
The projects never really end, do they? I’ve already got my eyes on that shelf and the mirror above it.

How To Make Mustard

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I am weird about condiments. I didn’t really grow up eating condiments as a kid. I still think mayo and ketchup are the devil (and combined… gah, don’t even), but mustard… oh, mustard. I have a special place in my fridge for mustard.

I got some coffee mustard a while back from Chris at one of the From Scratch Club‘s food swaps. She said it was really easy to make mustard, and boy, was her mustard good. I had run out of mustard and, well, wasn’t too keen on going out and buying another jar, so I looked it up, and it turns out making mustard is ridiculously easy.

How To Make Mustard (Basically):

Take mustard seeds. (Black has more kick than yellow)
Put them in a container.
Cover them with apple cider vinegar (so they are completely submerged).
Leave it on your counter for 2 days.
Blend with some water and a pinch of sweetener.
DONE.

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Here are my soaked seeds. I kind of got sidetracked and left these on my counter for 2 days, then in the fridge for another 2 days. Still came out fine. I used about 1 C of mustard seeds, and a bit over a cup of Apple Cider Vinegar. The mustard seeds soaked up all of the vinegar after the first night, so I topped it off that morning. This is really easy.

So, if you want to do this on the cheap, you can pick up 1 lb/16 oz bags of mustard seeds at the Asian Supermarket or the Asian Food Market for, like, $1. Or you can forget that you already have several of these baggies at home, and buy 2-3 oz of mustard seeds from the Co-Op for like $3..

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I whirred these seeds in my blender, and it made about 3 cups or so of mustard. Yowza! We are gonna be set for a while. This is quite zesty and spicy, so I’m one happy camper. Oh, and tip – put your mustard in a jar with a metal top, otherwise the heat can dissipate.

Kim Chee

Oh David Chang, you are a genius. Project Kim Chee all started with this 2nd Edition of Lucky Peach magazine (brought to you by Chang & my other food crush, Anthony Bourdain).

Chang’s got a crazy-easy recipe for kim chee contained within this tome, and he made it seem so… accessible. Like even I couldn’t screw it up. It’s a two day process, but really not all that time-consuming.
Start out with a big ass head of napa cabbage. They’re $.50/lb or less at the asian grocery stores in Albany. This particular head was exactly four pounds. Yes, I tared the bowl.

The next step is quartering each head and removing the tough cores. But don’t throw them out! Just cut them into little slices. We waste nothing with this kim chee.

Chang’s recipe says to cut the quarters of napa into 2″ sections. That’s the size you get (or larger) in kim chee you can buy in stores. I don’t like those size leaves – too big and difficult to cram in my mouth (I know, hard to believe).

I sliced these into 1″ sections instead. I’m so badass!


Then you throw them in a bowl and dump a TON of kosher salt and granulated sugar on them. I’m serious. It’s a lot of both. Cover it with saran wrap and let it hang out in your fridge overnight.
Wow, that really shrunk overnight, hunh? There’s a lot of water at the bottom of that bowl, so you want to drain out as much as you can, but there’s no need to go crazy with it.

Then I busted out my handy dandy mandoline to matchstick-ify some carrots (please, like I have the dexterity to even think of trying that with a knife), and roughly sliced up some scallions. Just one bunch of scallions is fine.
Next, we prepare our chili paste in a blender. About a cup of chili flakes, 3/4 cup soy sauce. 5 T fish sauce. About a dozen dried shrimp (I think that dried scallops would also make a great dried fish ingredient). Close to a whole head of garlic, 2-3″ of ginger (peeled), some sugar syrup, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Any who, whir that into a paste.

Plop the paste onto all of the other ingredients.
ATTACK! If you wear contacts, I highly recommend wearing a glove when touching spicy items. Otherwise you will scream later.

Mix, mix, mix. Work it girl – you really wanna work that hot & spicy paste into every bit of your veggies. I think that some daikon probably wouldn’t have been a bad addition to the napa cabbage with salt & sugar the night before now, come to think of it.

Then pack it in some jars. I had a few ball jars, and a few leftover other glass jars (miraculously with tops, even).

Let it sit in the back of your fridge for at least a week before you even think of trying it.

Then have your husbear make kim chee fried rice! Holy moly, I have no clue what kind of kitchen chicanery her worked on this, but this was good! And that’s coming from a rice-hater.

The kim chee wasn’t that fermented after a week, but had a good kick to it and was quite velvety. Sweeter than I’m used to, that’s for sure. I’ll give it another try in a week and see how it’s fermented, but it’s definitely tasty stuff.

Project Baconage



So. You might know that I am a spurious individual given to the occasional impulse purchase. In this case it was about 10 pounds of primo Kurobuta pork belly from Adventure in Food. Given that my significantly better half is from Western Mass, it’s pretty much local to me.



Also, quite a nice purchase at around $7.99 per pound. This bacon was cooked two ways. One with my stovetop hot smoker, and cold smoking with the help of one Chef Christopher Tanner.

I’ll get the math out of the way. The hot smoked bacon lost about 25% of its weight while smoking. So it was closer to $10.50 per pound for hot smoked bacon. I didn’t weigh the cold smoked bacon, but I don’t think it lost very much weight. Cold smoked and all. Next time I’ll try to be a bit better with my measurements so I can nerd out and create a graph on weight variances.

The hot smoked bacon is delicious and 100% cooked. 180-200F with maple wood chips until the bacon registers around 160 F and the meat looks pinky and good. Kind of like super delicious fatty ham. Just use Ruhlman’s cure and you’re set. A few weeks, 6 weeks…. it’s all good.

I enlisted The Profussor in this cholesterol laden drive. Parce que je suis égoïste et je voulais une autre personne à essayer ce lard.

Any way. Step 9723 of Project Bacon is to petition your chef friends to cold smoke your bacon out of the kindness of their hearts ‘coz they have cold smokers and you don’t. Pull out all the stops – compliments, pouty faces, promises of first born children. This is science, damnit! COLD SMOKED BACON THAT YOU CURED, HULLOO!

Your chef friend may explicitly tell you “You NEED to cook this. DON’T eat this raw. Whatever you do, don’t eat this raw. COOK IT.” Clearly, my reputation for putting things in my mouth precedes me. Okay, cause I might have just tried a wee slice of raw bacon. But I didn’t cause Tanner was all concerned about me eating raw pork. Sheesh.

So I just cooked the bacon. SO GOOD. Best part of making your own bacon is slicing pieces to your own desired thickness. THICK BACON!!

Here is what the bacon looked like raw. Huuuuge props to Chef Tanner for vacuum sealing it for me too!

Bacon lurve! So making your own bacon isn’t exactly easy, but oh man is it worthwhile. SO FREAKING GOOD.



But the down side is that it is so yummy you will want to eat tons of delicious bacon slices whenever you open the fridge and the bacon is just sitting there. Sitting there in the bag. Un eaten. Poor bacon, come to my belly.


Char Siu Pork Belly

What do you do when you have an extra 3+ lbs of pork belly laying around? You make char siu! Fatty, delicious char siu. Here’s one 2-3″ wide hunk o’ pork belly goodness.

I used my old Chinese Snacks cookbook for a simple recipe. All of the recipes I’ve found there have been what I’d imagine someone in my family to make, if anyone in my family cooked with any amount of regularity. (Heck, I only really even like cooking when it’s as “projects”. Ask me to cook a random dinner and I’ll just pick up the phone and order pizza).

Here’s all the ingredients you need for a

Char Siu Marinade

1T Soy Sauce
2T Hoisin Sauce
2T Sugar
1/2t Salt
1T Rice Wine Vinegar (I don’t like the taste, so I use dry vermouth)

Stupid easy, right? I was kind of like “Oh, but I want to add more stuff. And MSG.” But I resisted, since these recipes from this book are pretty fool proof, and delicious in their simplicity.

Okay, so you’ve got all of your marinating ingredients.

HALLO PORK BELLAH!

Blop all of your ingredients in a large bowl. I know, not very photogenic.

Whisk it all together.

Chop yo’ po’k!
Line the three little pork bellies up in your bowl of marinade. I carefully weighed out the belly chunks after slicing, before baking and after marinating, and finally after being cooked, but… now I can’t find them. If I find my numbers I promise I will nerd out for you HARDCORE! YOU CAN’T STOP ME!

MIX IT UP. Eeeeww, raw pork fingers! (Now is a great time to freak someone out and chase them around the house)

The book called for me to bake it at 500F for 20 minutes. I was kind of skeptical about that, so I only baked one as directed. That blackened parts of the outside. And…

It didn’t cook it all the way through. This was actually a nice medium-rare, but it was kind of closer to raw in the center. BTW, this was Kurobuta pork belly I procured from Adventures in Food in Menands, NY. More than fine to eat med-rare.

See? A little undercooked on the right hand slices. But pretty colors.
Here’s the other two pork bellies I didn’t cook up. I let them marinate in the fridge overnight because I was lazy. It didn’t hurt them any. Actually, I think a bit of the cover popped off at one point, so it was a little dried out, but not super dry. Just think, a bit of water-weight evaporated, and not dessicated.

Wary of the 500F baking method, I just let them go low and slow on 350 F for about an hour and a half. Or maybe more. Or less. I don’t know. About that long.

Let them drain a bit. When husbear shouts “Oooh, this looks like Meat Candy!” respond “Don’t you eat that yet!!!”

Meat candy in our house is also known as Siu Yuk (too lazy to create a backlink to it, but just google AlbanyEats! and Siu Yuk and you’ll find it), and that shit gets eaten in the blink of a fucking eye. So good.

Oh, we just pan fried the rarer slices of pork belly and had them as little lettuce cup dealies:
MMMMMMM!

Next task, make some of my own steamed baos. Who wants some?


The Cure

As some of you may know, Jon in Albany is participating in Charcutepalooza. He’s got some awesome stuff up about making his own cured meats. I sought out some of his expertise, and he even swung by my house and dropped off some curing salt! A big bag of it!

How awesome is Jon? Seriously – very awesome.

I finally pulled it out of storage and was like “Jane, if Jon is going to be awesome and up and give you some pink salt, it’s time to put it to use!” so now I’ve got some beef curing in my fridge after making up a corning brine. But I didn’t use brisket. I used a different cut of beef.

And check out Jon’s page – he’s corning beef, too! However, unlike Jon, I totally forgot to toast my seeds before tossing in my powder seasonings, so I’ll just have to hope it turns out okay. Ah, I have so much to learn from the master of curing arts!

I also forgot to start this a few days earlier, so I’ll be eating corned beef on Friday or Saturday instead of on St Pat’s day this Thursday. But I will be making an awesome Irish Soda Bread recipe that I got from some students at SCCC.

DIY Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract always seeems to cost an arm and a leg. And vanilla beans? Forget it – I think we’re looking at like $9+ for a few beans in the Albany, NY area. Not exactly wallet friendly.

That all changes.

I found Vanilla Products USA on eBay and read some pretty good reviews of them on eGullet and other sites online. I figured I’d put in an order with them and see what I got. I purchased 1 lb of Tahitian Grade B beans and 1/2 lb of Madagascar Grade B beans.

Shipping is $5 per item. They say the knock off $2.50 for each extra item, but I got charged the full $10 for shipping. I don’t know – shipping charges confuse me sometimes. Maybe it was if I’d ordered 2 orders of 1# beans. Plus they throw in free stuff depending on how much you spent, and I got a quarter pound of Tahitian Grade A beans, too.

1.75 lbs of vanilla beans for under $40. Insane. And the shipping was super quick. I think they’re based in Pennsylvania, so I had them by the end of the week.

Hell yeah, vanilla bean bender! Wait, no – this is just how we start out our extracts. Have you ever made vanilla extract? Do you want to know how to make vanilla extract? Well, I hope you do, ’cause I’m tellin’ ya.
I’ve made extracts before with spent bean shells, and it’s pretty awesome stuff. Beats the pants off of what you’d buy. All it takes is a little time. I cleaned off a few ball jars and bought some rum and vodka.

The rum based vanilla extract makes a nice little addition to cocktails. It’s also a nice gluten-free option.

You can see my beans all lined up in a little row. Tahtian Grade A on the left, Madagascar Grade B in the middle, and Tahitian Grade B on the right.

Can you tell what kind these are? These are six beans of Tahitian Grade B! I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between Grade A & Grade B. I figured six or so beans was a good amount for a quart jar.

I sliced each of my beans in half (well, as close to half as I could. Some are jagged strips) and popped them in the jars before covering them in booze. Lucky little vanilla beans.

I also boiled some rubber lid things to keep my extracts from spilling all over the place. Hey, I know our household. Albany John and I are clumsy as all get out. If it can spill, fall, or drop – it will.

I labeled them with the amount/kind of beans and the kind of liquor in each bottle. I’ll let them sit for a few weeks and then check them out. Obviously the smaller guys are going to be done pretty quickly. I’d give the little recycled extract bottle on the very left about a week or two before checking it.

I would have made more, but I ran out of rum and bottles, and was running low on vodka. Now I need to find some more glass jars or bottles. Where can I find them for cheap?

I thought these would make nice gifts, but the quart ones are a little awkwardly large: “Hi, thanks for having me over/doing something nice. Here’s four cups of vanilla extract. Enjoy!” I think pint glasses or smaller amounts would be nice.

Applesauce

AppleSAUCE!!! So after picking all of those apples, I made some apple sauce. I’ve never been much of a fan of the stuff, but Albany John can really hit the sauce when the mood strikes.

I might not be a fan of applesauce, but man do I like eating it! And after making my own, I might actually like it after all.

So start off with a lot of apples. There’s about a dozen or so in here. I didn’t use them all, so go with about a dozen or so for two quarts of apple sauce. A mix of mutsus, golden delicious, empires, and probably another kind of apple I don’t know about, too.

Give them a good wash, and then peel them.

This apple corer-peeler thing is nifty, although I don’t use it that often. It also makes stellar potato rings. And they are suuuuuper cute. But anyway, I got this one from the Pampered Chef for an ungodly overpriced sum (it’s sturdy and will last, though, so I don’t mind that much), though you can find them for $12-20 just about any where. The designs can be different, but I prefer the kind with a clamp base on it over the kind with the suction cup base.

It can make a bit of a mess with apples and juice, so putting a towel underneath the entire thing is also a good idea, and will protect your counter tops and table tops.

The peeler has a side tool to take the skins off, which I didn’t use. You make apple sauce with the skins on. Who knew? Well, obviously not me.

I like this peeler since it makes the slices so uniformly thin. Figured it would cut down on cooking time. It definitely did. I added a little bit of water to them (1/4 c max) in a pan to prevent burning or sticking and cooked them down for a bit.

This was the end of cooking. I think it took me about 30 minutes or so to cook them until they were soft and mushy, stirring every so often. The volume pretty much reduced by half over the cooking time, too.

And then I was wondering, “How in the hell am I going to make THAT into apple sauce?” I have a grinder, so that was a possiblity, although I was really not sure how I would avoid making a mess, burning myself, and getting applesauce eerrvvrrryywhheerrrr. And then I looked around my kitchen some more, and, HELLO, mother flippin’ stick blender!

Immersion blenders are awesome for stuff like this. Kept it all in one pot, and very minimal mess and minor hot apple goo flickage around the kitchen. It took about two minutes to go from pot of mushy apple slices to applesauce. Sa-Weet!

I didn’t add any sugar. Just apples and some water. I actually liked this applesauce. Kind of pinky, which is a major bonus, and just tasted like fresh apples. I canned a quart jar and a cup jar, so we’ll see how it holds. Either way, it was easy, and probably the easiest thing I’ve canned so far.

Meanwhile, I left the remaining 3/4 quart to Albany John, and it gets his seal of approval.

Cupcake Bouquets


Cupcake bouquets! Bouquets made out of cupcakes! I’ve ever found my favored gift basket, bouquets of food are it. If you’ve got some extra time on your hands (or just want to have a decent reason for procrastinating), these are worth a go.

My decorating skills end here. I didn’t have any green tissue paper to stuff between the cakes to cover up the empty spaces, but if someone has an issue with that, I’d snatch the sparse looking bouquet out of their hands. Dude, they are cupcakes in the form of a bouquet, and inherently awesome.

Now, I have a pretty bad track record at cake baking. My cakes are usually on the denser side, and while I haven’t been making bricks lately, they’re generally so-so.

I’ve stumbled on a real winner of a recipe for a good all-purpose cupcake/cake. Grace‘s Cinnamon Cake from her Just How Much Cinnamon Can One Mouth Handle? cake fit the bill quite nicely for a light and fluffy crumb. I couldn’t resist after seeing the texture of the cakey innards she posted. SO tender looking. What I liked the most about it was that such properties came out of a recipe that used all purpose flour.

I left out the cinnamon (I hope you’ll forgive me, Grace) and just used vanilla extact since I wanted to pair it with some raspberry icing.
I recently picked up Royal Raspberry extract at the Confectionary House in Troy. It was like $5.99 for a large bottle, and hoo-boy is it ever strong and worth the price. It’s made for candies, so that’s probably why. A little will last you a long way.


I also found out that I was completely out of big cup cake liners. Whoops. Luckily I had some small cupcake liners laying around and I used them all up. Like I said, cakes and cupcakes aren’t what I usually make when I opt for desserts.

I also finally used this mini icing piper thing. I think the aspect of icing is why I don’t do cakey desserts more often. I try to make pretty icing designs, but I am really terrible at it. It usually squirts out of the bag I put it in, and I end up covered in it and wasting a ton of icing. I don’t mind the slatherings of frosting, but the waste is annoying.
The mini thing is like a contained accordion squeezy tube. It’s small and I couldn’t figure out how to get icing in at first. Turns out it’s just a slow process, but overall now that I have figured it out I like it. I have never iced cupcakes with such ease before!

And yup, those are pixie sticks in the background. They’re Albany John’s. He likes to mainline his sugar in as pure a form as possible, while I like to add as much fat as possible to my sweets.


I used a hair too much raspberry extract (they weren’t kidding – that stuff IS strong), so I added some peach juice and ended up in fruity-frosting heaven. It was quite a tasty mistake to have made. Just your basic buttercream – butter, powdered sugar, extract, milk, juice, pink food coloring.

I loved how I could pipe little cartoonish rosettes onto the mini cupcakes with the piping accordion. And you would not believe how easy it is to shoot a line of frosting in your mouth with those things (hint: very).


Check it – I wasn’t kidding about the crumb. If you’re a cake doofus like me, give Grace’s recipe a whirl. Those whipped eggs and sugar help build one fluffy base.

I had some leftover frosting, so I built a mini cupcake iced to my preference. Y’know, a nice 1:1 ratio of icing to cupcake. Okay, this might be closer to a 1.5:1 ratio.

And now I have 3 cupcake bouquets laying around. I’m bringing one to Albany John’s and his crew tonight. They’re a bit dry at this point, but I really doubt any one will mind that much. And seriously, the icing rocks.

Pastrami Results

Continuing the pastrami project from yesterday, I took my foil wrapped hunk of beef out of the fridge. It had some liquid, which you can see on the western side of Ms. Beefers. She looks eerily like Australia.

The liquid was like smokey, liquid pastrami juice. Good sign. Albany John came peering through the kitchen window like a hawk ready to snatch Ms. Beefers from my hands. I gave him a peace offering of pastrami juices, which seemed to appease him.

I am hoping the liquid is more from condensation as a result from being thrown into the fridge straight from the pan, and less from moisture leaking from the roast itself.

I used the rice cooker to steam Ms. Beefers for a little under an hour:

I had to cut her up a bit to get her to fit in, but she steamed up very well. The pastrami seasoning was sticking well to the outside, and stayed that way throughout steaming. The rice cooker is a good gentle way to re-heat and steam food. More moisture was introduced to the meat, which seemed slightly dry from sitting in the fridge all night.

Doesn’t she look great?! Really lean – most of the intramuscular fat has melted away enough to leave it tender and moist, but not overly fatty. There was just a bit of fat on the surface of some pieces, but they were very tender and soft – not like squidgy blobs of fat or anything.

I sliced her up very thin. I’d only had about two Irish Car Bombs at that point, and my Irish Car Bombs are 1/2 cups of guiness and 1/3 shots of bailey’s, so knife work wasn’t completely out of the question. And I’ll be honest – I get sweaty in the kitchen, so uh… yeah. All that booze tends to get worked out of my system as soon as I start, oh, you know, moving and breathing.

Slick and his lady came over to join us for St Patty’s day as well. Thank god – so much meat! Everyone liked the peppery outside and smokiness of the meat.


And since we’re not complete heathens, Albany John cooked up a more traditional corned beef & cabbage dinner with oodles of cabbage. Crock pot like whaaat?

After cooking for 6 or so hours on high, the meat was nice and tender and gave off tons of fatty liquid. Cut across the grain and soon in tummies.

Now, I wasn’t super excited with how my pastrami originally tasted, but after comparing it with Albany John’s traditional corned beef, it did have much more smokey intensity and was leaps & bounds less fatty. It was also less salty – the 1 hr soaking definitely helped, especially because it shrank a bit.

I still ate more slices of my beef than the Mister’s. Corned beef is just so intensely flavored with salt and fat that I just can’t eat a lot of it. I think I had one slice of traditional corned beef and 4-5 thin slices of my own. So maybe I ate the same amount in total, but oh well. I like it, I just bitch out really quickly when I eat it. And I can wolf down a bag of chicharrones. Go figure that one out. Must be the texture.

We also had bread & butter, an amazing amount of cabbage, one potato each (we were running low on potatoes), and tons of mac & cheese shells. It was a lot of food. But hey, if I have people over, I want to make sure they are gonna get FED. We were all really happy to eat such tasty food. Slick told me cigarettes taste great after eating meat. I’m not really going to test that theory out, but hey, I learned something. Don’t even ask about what the kitchen looks like. I’m hoping we can just put a tarp or something over it and forget it exists until racoons, badgers and squirrels start taking over.

From what I’ve been seeing online, I think I’m going to double up the recommended amout of wood chips to 4 Tablespoons to increase the smokey flavor. I ordered 7.5 QUARTS of wood chips online yesterday (a variety) and can’t wait to try them all out on the smoker! (BTW, it’s a Nordic Ware kettle smoker)