the simple hive

simple sweets for your valentine

Five years ago, before baby honeybee was born, I made some treats for my husband to take to his work and share with his co-workers. That was back in the days, before homeschooling, when I had time for crazy activities like baking for fun. They were a hit, because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like chocolate?

They look like I spent all day in the kitchen, but I didn’t. I’ll take you on a photo tour and tell you how I made these so you can, too. When you present these to your loved ones, feel free to be dramatic about spending your precious time to make them happy because you love them so muuuuuch. Go ahead. I won’t tell.

Warning:  The photos in this post are terrible!  They were taken using an old point-and-shoot.  I now have a decent camera, but I cannot guarantee that future pictures will be any better.  Please don’t hold it against me.

The first thing you need to do before you can decorate the cake is to bake a cake. I’m sure you figured that one out. So grab your favorite boxed cake mix and bake as directed. Your secret is safe with me. Alternately, you can bake your favorite cake from scratch. Do whichever you want. I’m flexible.

heart shaped mini cake

heart shaped mini cake

To make this heart shaped cake, I used a strawberry boxed cake mix, ahem, and used a large heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut hearts for two layers. Hidden between the layers is a whipped ganache. Then I drenched the whole thing with velvety chocolate ganache and smoothed the edges with an offset spatula. A strawberry dipped in ganache adorns the top. See? Easy!

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For the heart shaped cake topped with 3 truffles, I used chocolate cake.  I used the cooled, leftover ganache for the truffles.  To make the truffles, simply roll the ganache  into balls and then roll around in cocoa powder.  A little whipped ganache in a pastry bag and piped around the bottom edge dresses it up a bit.

Do you see a ganache theme here? This is the recipe I used:

In a saucepan, heat 1 part cream to 3 parts good-quality dark chocolate over medium-low heat. When the chocolate is melted and completely incorporated with the cream, it’s ready.  If you remember nothing else I say, remember this:  Do not walk away from the stove.  If you do, the cream will betray you and will suddenly decide to boil and you will have a scorched, chocolaty mess on your hands.  I know you don’t really know me, but trust me on this.

While still warm and liquid, ganache can be easily poured over a cake for a smooth, shiny glaze. If you let it cool to room temperature, it becomes spreadable for fillings and frostings. Refrigerated ganache can be whipped for fillings and for forming truffles. Ganache is simple and versatile and that’s why I love it so.

baby cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

baby cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

This cake was make using 2 small round cake pans.  This time I made a chocolate cake from a boxed mix.  Don’t hate, appreciate.  I used chocolate buttercream for the filling and the frosting, then piped a simple edge with a pastry bag and star tip.  I’m fun that way.

all dressed up and ready to go

all dressed up and ready to go

What do you do with all the scraps of cake leftover from cutting heart shapes, you ask?

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You can do what I did and toss them in a mug, pour on the ganache, baby, and top with whipped cream!  My kids still remind me of how much they enjoyed these with hopes that I’ll make them again.  I’m not taking the hint.

If you’re making these treats for your family, they will love you forever, have the impression you have some mad baking skills and will hold you to higher expectations.  You’ve been warned.

gluten free chicken imperial rolls

gluten free chicken imperial rolls

gluten free chicken imperial rolls

Everybody loves a good laugh and I’m sure you’re no exception.  Today, because if I don’t poke fun at myself someone else will, I’m sharing my very first blog post from a few years ago.  Go ahead and look, while I awkwardly pretend to be busy.

Did you get a good laugh?  Did you see the quality of those pictures?  I have considered removing that post, but don’t because it keeps me humble. (The picture on the left is borrowed from that post.)  Also, it has been pinned so many times on Pinterest, I would hate to disappoint anyone who uses it to boost their self-esteem.  I’m all about lifting up those in need.

If you were frightened by those extreme close-up, blurry pictures on the old post and never want to visit it again for fear of night terrors, I understand and I’m here to help you through this.

Here is the recipe, sans photos.

Chicken Imperial Rolls

Here’s what you need:

rice paper wrappers
vermicelli rice noodles, cooked and cooled
leafy green lettuce
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled and cut into thin strips
bean sprouts
cilantro sprigs
peanut sauce or plum sauce (recipe follows)

Here’s what you do:

Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. I usually grill the chicken and boil the noodles early in the day so that they have plenty of time to cool in the fridge and it makes the dinner rush go much more smoothly.

Next, pound the heck out of the chicken breasts until they are nice and thin. Season very simply with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and grill until done. I use the George Forman for this so they cook quickly. I use the lower heat setting so they stay moist and the outsides are light brown. Let cool and cut into narrow strips.

Wash the lettuce and tear into pieces that will easily roll up. Remove any crunchy ribs. They will tear the rice paper wrappers as you roll them and then you will say bad words. Then you’ll blame me and I just don’t want to be the cause of such strife!

A word on bean sprouts:  Sprout your own! This takes a little planning since they can take several days until they’re ready to use, but it’s worth it. It’s super easy and cheap. Get a jar, sprinkle some mung beans in the bottom. Fill with water and let soak for a few hours. Place some cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure with a rubber band. After the beans have soaked a few hours or overnight, drain well and place the jar on its side in a dark pantry or cabinet. Rinse and drain well a couple of times a day. When the sprouts are about 1 1/2 inches long, soak them in some cold water for about an hour, then drain and store in the fridge in an air-tight container until you need them.

Or you can just buy them at the store. Whatever.

Now for the fun part! Grab a skillet that is bigger than the diameter of the rice paper wrappers you’re using. Add a couple of inches of water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat as you work and turn it back on when the water begins to cool. Soften the wrappers by placing them in the warm water. This only takes a few seconds. Ok, maybe 10, that’s a little more than a few. The way I tell when the wrapper is soft enough, is I look for the texture in the wrapper to disappear. (This tip won’t make sense until you actually see it for yourself.) As soon as it does, pull the wrapper out of the water and lay flat on some wax paper (a large plate works too).

This is where you need to work quickly. The wrapper gets sticky as it begins to dry so you need to have all your ingredients ready to roll! Place a lettuce leaf or two in the middle of the wrapper. Grab some noodles and put on top of the lettuce. Add sprouts, chicken and a couple of cilantro sprigs. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper over the pile of yumminess, pulling everything in for a neat wrap. Fold one side, roll once. Fold the other side and then finish rolling up the wrapper. While rolling these, you will destroy at least one wrapper. Trust me, you will. Just accept it and move along. You can start over with another wrapper, or you can do it the lazy way, like I do, and just wrap the sad little mess of a roll in another wrapper so it’s double wrapped. Then forget it ever happened.

In the end, you will end up with what looks like a transparent egg roll. It’s a little freaky looking, but don’t be fooled. It’s delicious! Serve with peanut sauce or plum sauce.  Because tween bee and baby honeybee have peanut allergies, we serve these with plum sauce.  It’s so delicious, you won’t even miss the peanut sauce.

Plum Sauce

plum jam

hoisin sauce (make sure your brand is gluten free)

water

That’s it. Three ingredients. I don’t measure. Shocking, I know! Just add a couple of tablespoons of hoisin to a bowl. Plop in a tablespoon to two of plum sauce and add a little water to thin to a dipping sauce consistency. Stir to combine. Done.

Chinese New Year is this Friday, you need to make these!

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a simple plan

2014

This is the year we go back to basics.  We already live fairly simple lives as compared to many families of our size, but life gets out of control in a large spiral then gains momentum.  Before you realize, it’s string cheese for dinner as you fly out the door to youth group or 4H meetings.

This must not continue.

I’m sharing my plan for 2014 to accomplish my goals for health, homeschool, church, my home and my garden.  It was born from exasperation stemming from too many days of buzzing around in circles and accomplishing little.  I need results, people!  I thrive on them, in fact.

In sharing my thoughts, I hope to clarify the foggy areas and focus on my priorities.  Also, I feel if I don’t get some organization to my thoughts, they will make my head explode in dazzling display of glitter, rainbows and unicorns.  Oh sure, that sounds fun for you, but I wouldn’t be right after that.

So here I am.  I am hoping you will keep me focused and hold me accountable.

Health

  • Drink plenty of water daily.  This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s so hard to remember.  I begin the day with good habits but as the day progresses, I get busy and never have a free hand to perform the physical act of holding a glass and bringing it to my lips. I need a beer hat with the flexible tube straws to hold a couple of bottles of water.  You may think I’m just saying this be funny, but I kid you not.  Don’t be surprised if you ever meet me in person, is what I’m saying.
  • Incorporate more fruits and veggies into daily diet and move away from meat-based meals. Buy organic produce when possible and grow more in the garden.  We eat healthy meals overall, but we have room for improvement.  We deal with multiple food allergies in our family so meals can become complicated when trying to feed everyone.  Over the years, I have tweaked recipes to allow for delicious and healthy meals for all.  We have a good-sized garden so with a little more effort, we can achieve this goal.
  • Cardio and strength-training workouts.  We have an old one-and-a-half story bungalow.  Before we bought our house, the upstairs had been gutted and renovations began.  We spent a couple of long, dusty days up there recently to organize it more efficiently.  I now have a sewing and crafts area and we now have a workout area for the weight bench and elliptical.  Now I have no excuse for not exercising.  I have mixed emotions about this.
  • Schedule annual check-ups for everyone early in the year.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have an issue with this like I do.  I usually put off scheduling doctor appointments until closer to the month we need them.  My thinking is that I will be better able to schedule appointments around the other chaos and obligations.  This. Never. Works.
  • Start a routine of getting the kids out for a daily walk.  We homeschool and the day can get pretty hairy in the afternoon if the kids don’t get a break from schoolwork and chores.  A short hike through our property or to the mailbox (we live in the country) will hopefully prevent them from turning into angry bees.

Homeschool

  • Keep ongoing records on computer for easy management and to print year-end records to be stored with work.  This is pretty straight forward, but up until now, I have been keeping handwritten records.  I know!  What was I thinking?
  • Allow for more field trips and journaling to replace textbook curriculum.  After all, I’m teaching them not just to make a living, but to make a life. We learn naturally from experiences. This might be the best thing for my little ADHD bee. She’s an eager learner when it doesn’t feel like learning.  
  • Incorporate life skills into homeschool day. Teach cooking, fiscal responsibility and time management.  We all grow up and leave the hive someday. These skills aren’t optional.
  • Weekly trips to library for movies and books.  This is me being self-indulgent.  I love the library! I could live there! They won’t let me, though.  Need a business idea?  Library/B&B.  There you go.  You’re welcome.
  • Use Spanish immersion technique to reinforce what has already been learned by my older child and to begin teaching the girls.  I’m planning on driving my family crazy with this.  When they get frustrated with me and the shouting begins, I’ll shout  back “Espanol por favor!”.  This will be fun!

Church

  • Phase out responsibilities of youth group and Sunday school to prepare for busy school year.  I almost didn’t include this.  We currently are the youth leaders and Sunday school teachers for high school kids at our church.  These activities require planning and time in an already stretched schedule.  Many days I feel like we aren’t making a difference and anybody could take our place.  (Here is where I mentally scream and stomp and then sigh.)  God called us to do this. He led us here for a reason. So, phasing ourselves out of church responsibilities probably will not happen this year.  I think I’m ok with that.

Home & Garden

  • Improve soil in existing garden beds and maintain.  Easy peasy.  We have plenty of organic compost.  The hard part is digging it out from the bottom of our bin.
  • Create cleaning schedule and keep clutter under control. This should more accurately state Blow the dust off the cleaning schedule created last year and put it to use!
  • Regularly go through household items and donate unwanted items.  When we cleaned upstairs to make room for a workout/sewing/lounge area, we cleared out and donated several bags full of clothing and items we no longer need.  Well, we haven’t donated them yet.  They are sitting in my kitchen.  I like to think of them as frumpy fans cheering me on as I channel my inner rockstar while I cook.  I feel badly as I kick them aside to access the lower cabinets.  They understand.

Cancel newspaper subscription and Netflix.  Done and woohoo!  Man, those two innocent-looking subscriptions are a beast to control!  Unfortunately our day doesn’t allow for sipping coffee leisurely while catching up on local events.  I have to say, newspaper wrangling just isn’t for me.  As for Netflix, it became a burden to sit down and watch a movie and return it in a timely manner.  We plan to check out movies from the library.  Problem solved.

This next goal doesn’t fit in any one category above, yet it fits perfectly in all of them.

Find the funny in everything.  Humor keeps me sane by laughing hysterically and it is everywhere!  We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but did you know it’s also the best workout?  It’s true (in my head).  If you laugh hard enough, it’s an excellent ab workout so you don’t have to spend any time upstairs in your newly created workout room.  Two birds, one stone.

Join me in my journey of simple living. If you have any tricks up your sleeve that help keep your life simple, I would love to know.

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