Thursday, June 30, 2016

3rd Annual Cookie Bake-Off, Spent Grain Version

We had our 3rd Annual Cookie Bake-Off recently. I dreamed up the competition in 2014 when my friend Nancy and her kids, Marco and Julia, came from Colorado to visit. We held our 2nd annual competition last year when we went to visit them in Colorado. Each time, I made a big batch of plain cookie dough and split it into equal parts for each contestant to enhance with the mix-ins of his or her choosing. After the cookies were baked, each did a presentation to the group, revealing the name of the creation and the ingredients that went into it. Then we voted anonymously, awarding each cookie a score between 1 to 10. The winner was the person with the highest score. In 2014, Julia won the inaugural event. In 2015, Nancy captured the win. 

Steve recently brewed up a batch of beer for a contest his homebrew club is having, which resulted in a large amount of spent grain. I've enjoyed experimenting with spent grain bread and spent grain vegan burgers but was ready to try something new... like cookies! I didn't know if spent grain cookies was a thing, so I turned to Google. Sure enough! I chose a promising recipe and gathered the ingredients.

I hadn't started out planning to do a cookie contest. We won't be seeing Nancy and the kids this summer, so I hadn't been thinking about the contest at all. But as I was making the dough, it occurred to me that it would be fun to divide up the dough and make different variations, comparing them with the recipe as written. Trevor's friend Landon was over, so I asked the boys if they wanted to do a cookie bake-off. Silly question - of course they did!

I made a double batch of cookie dough and split it into four equal parts. I made one part as written in the recipe (scaling down the mix-ins, of course). Then I gathered up everything in our pantry that a person could possibly think about adding to cookies. 

Trevor, Landon and I each chose our mix-ins privately. I baked up all four batches, keeping all variables the same. Each batch was scooped with the same scoop for consistency and baked on the same Silpat at the same temperature for the same length of time. Despite all that consistency, they came out completely different. Some were mounded and tall; others were completely flat. Some were moist and others were crisp. 

After the cookies cooled, I put them on a tray. 

From the left, Cookie A had butterscotch chips, chow mein noodles, and slivered almonds. Cookie B had Christmas M&Ms mixed in and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Cookie C had ginger, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and white chocolate chips. Cookie D was the original recipe.Unlike our usual procedure, I did not let anyone know whose cookie was whose. The boys each recognized their own, of course, but they had no idea which was the original recipe and who made the others. I read the ingredients in each rather than having each baker present his or her own. 

Rather than have them rate each cookie on a 1-10 scale, I asked the judges (Trevor, Landon, Steve and me) to privately rank the cookies in order by their assigned letter. This eliminated the problems of weird fractional and decimal parts, as well as handling what would happen if one person gave their own a 10 and everyone else's a 1. 

I assigned 4, 3, 2 or 1 points to each cookie based on each person's rankings, then added the points. There was a clear winner: Trevor's Spicy Chocolate Cookies (Cookie C)! Congratulations!
Landon's M&M cookies (Cookie B) came in a very close second. My butterscotch, nut and chow mein noodle cookies (A) were third and the original recipe with coconut and nuts (D) came in a distant fourth. Fascinating! All four cookies were good. Which sounds the best to you?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Aggie Pride

This week, Trevor is doing a robotics day camp at UC Davis. Rather than waste time driving home and back while he's at camp, I'm hanging out in the library. In fact, I'm typing this on my laptop in what was the card catalog room when I was a student here. Things have certainly changed since I graduated 20+ years ago! 

I don't have too many opportunities to come to UCD anymore, but it's always a priority for us to return for Picnic Day. It's so much fun. 2015 was especially fun, because Steve's manager (Andy) was in town, visiting from England. It was really cool to introduce someone to UC Davis who had never been here before. 

Trevor was proud to show off "his" college as well. Fingers crossed that UCD will still be his choice in 7 years. It would be awesome to have a deRosier trio of proud Aggies.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Broccoli Potato Egg Boats

Have you gotten into the potato egg boat craze yet? I know they're not a new invention, but suddenly they're all over Pinterest and in every food magazine. Here's my version:

Broccoli Potato Egg Boats

                           3 large potatoes                              1 c. shredded cheese, divided
                           2 big handfuls of broccoli                 6 eggs
                           1/4 c. butter                                   1/2 c. diced ham
                           1/4 c. sour cream                            chives to garnish
                           1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

Wash and pierce potatoes. Microwave them for 8-10 minutes or until they are cooked through, turning once. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then set them aside to cool. Chop some broccoli. Put it in a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, put plastic wrap on top, and microwave for 2 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375°. When the potatoes are cool enough to touch, scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/4" edge. Mash the potato pulp with butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir in steamed broccoli and 3/4 c. shredded cheese. Return this mixture to the hollowed-out shells, leaving a 3/4" deep cavern to hold the eggs. Build up the walls, forming it with your hands. 

Crack one egg into each potato half. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle each potato with diced ham and remaining shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 2 minutes to melt cheese and heat ham. Garnish with chopped chives.

Note: This recipe is very, very flexible. Add more broccoli or take it out entirely. Use less butter and more sour cream, more butter and less sour cream, or replace them with something else (ranch dressing is yummy). Add more or less cheese. Swap bacon for ham or leave out the meat. You get the idea. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Changing a Photo Background with PicMonkey

Every year on his birthday, Steve takes Trevor's portrait. Trevor holds a wooden number, drawn, cut and painted white by my dad. For ten years, I've been planning to create a collage of these birthday portraits. For ten years, I've been picturing it in mind. It would be awesome, except for one thing. Trevor is against a black background every year except when he turned three. For some reason, I let Steve photograph Trevor against a mottled gray background that year. I didn't realize it was a mistake until it was too late.

Here's the collage (created in under five minutes using PicMonkey), with empty spaces for a title and journaling.

I know some people would just live with the gray, but it bothers me way too much. It occurred to me that there might be a way to solve the problem with PicMonkey. I'm constantly learning new things I can do with it. Sure enough!

I started by using PicMonkey's Design tab to make a solid black rectangle. Following the directions in the video, I added it as an overlay, then erased the black to reveal the image of Trevor. Using different sizes of brushes, I cleaned up the edges. It's not perfect, but I am SO happy with how it came out!

Here's the before and after:

Check out how much better the collage looks with the uniform backgrounds! 

Believe it or not, everything I did is available with the free version of PicMonkey. But at only $33/year, my PicMonkey Royale membership has already paid for itself a thousand times over and I would happily pay it simply to support the free version. It's that awesome. 

PicMonkey offers a free trial 30-day of their Royale Membership. That's how I started, although it took only a day before I was ready to commit to the $33. If you're interested in trying PicMonkey, please click the ad below. It doesn't cost you anything, but I get a referral fee if you end up joining. Thanks! 

PicMonkey Photo editing made of win

Friday, June 24, 2016

Washi Tape Stickers

Check out what I made using washi tape!

The deRosiers have been having great fun making washi tape stickers recently. It all started when Trevor bought this book:

I'm a big fan of the Klutz books. They feature clear directions, large photos, and plenty of helpful tips. Each comes with pretty much everything you need to do the project. In this case, the book includes six rolls of washi tape, a pen, dozens of patterns, and the sticker backing paper. The only thing you need that it doesn't include is a pair of scissors. 

Here's a small sampling of what Trevor made independently the first day he got the book. Unfortunately, he put his stickers on the back of a word search he'd made, and the grid and word list show through on the scan. But it gives a good idea of the variety of stickers you can make the very first time you pick up the book.

Since that first day, Trevor has been putting his stickers onto cards, or leaving them on the backing paper and giving them away. Every time a friend or relative comes over, he pulls out the Washi Tape Stickers book. It's been a hit with everyone so far!

I highly recommend the Washi Tape Stickers book for the children, teens or adults in your life. The book is recommended for ages 8 and up, although younger children could make simple stickers with just a little bit of support. At less than $15, it makes a great birthday or Christmas gift. If you do purchase one, please consider clicking the image below. It won't cost you any more, but a small portion of your purchase will help support my blog. 

Thanks, and enjoy! I would love to see any washi tape stickers you make. It's addicting!