Baked Alaska and a Lesson in Lawn Maintenance and Life

I’m not even going to waste time and look at the date of my last blog post. It’s going to make me disappointed in myself temporarily and ultimately dampen my good mood. So on with the good stuff, this blog post is going to be jam-packed with lots of good stuff so let me not waste your time either!

I haven’t had the chance to cook that much in the last week because it was one of those weeks. If you have kids and a busy schedule, sometimes you have a period of time where it feels like all you’re doing is moving. In and out the house all day, every day for multiple days in a row. The day-to-day life of the daily grind Monday through Friday is already exhausting but add appointments, extracurricular activities, repairs, school activities and the extra stuff that you don’t do each day and you can find yourself winded by the time it’s all said and done. Actually the last two weeks have been like this, now that I think about it. The Baked Alaska I’ll be sharing today was made on Monday, April 16th as the second cake for my oldest son’s 14th birthday.

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A shot of the birthday table before I made the fruit salad, lol

His first cake was a store brought 1/2 sheet cake with half yellow cake and half devil’s food chocolate with whipped icing. The second cake was my first Baked Alaska. After being given the idea by one of my sons’ dentist I decided that it would definitely be a good recipe to try. It looked complicated once I realized what a Baked Alaska was. I think I confused it with Baked Apples, I dunno.

So now since I knew what Baked Alaska consisted of, I found that there were many flavor variations that could be used to construct the cake. First you should know what Baked Alaska is in case you don’t. It’s a cake that has been topped with ice cream and browned meringue according to Wikipedia’s definition that popped up in my Google search. With that being said, the possibilities are endless when it comes to what direction you choose to go in. This was also the perfect cake for my son because like a Baked Alaska he is sweet and cool. He has many layers to him just like the cake I dreamed up and I love that the most about him and the young man he is growing into. My son loves Brownies so I decided to make the cake layer 2 layers of Brownie. The Ice cream layer was a first layer of cookies and cream ice cream and a second layer of caramel ice cream. The Meringue covered it and encased it a fluffy covering that encased the ice cream and brownies.

I decided to short cut the brownies for the first layer by using a box brand mix from the grocery store. The instructions were pretty straight forward – I bought disposable cake pans because I didn’t want a ton of dishes in the sink afterwards. I sprayed my pans with Baking Spray and then mixed together the brownie batter. The brownie batter was then poured into the cake pans. At that point I realized that I should have just made 1 layer of brownie as the second pan was barely enough to call it an actual layer but I went ahead because I didn’t want to pour that batter into the other pan since it had the baking spay in the pan too. It might not have changed the brownie batter but at the same time I didn’t want to risk it. I wouldn’t have time to fix it and have it ready to eat on his birthday. I just made a mental note to check the brownie layers as the smaller layer would cook faster.

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The finished brownie layers.

The first brownie layer was perfect brownie texture, the second was a thin almost cookie like version of the brownie. I shuttered for a moment and kept moving. It was too late to turn back now. During the brownie baking I put together the ice cream layer. First I lined a plastic bowl with several layers of plastic wrap making sure to leave enough hanging over the bowl to pull the ice cream out once frozen. Next I scooped the thawed ice creams into the bowl and wrapped it closed before freezing it again.

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Before making my meringue I assembled the brownie layers on the bottom and then put the ice cream dome on top before wrapping it all together in the plastic wrap. The recipe I used to guide me cut the excess ice cream or cake off. I hate waste so I just used my hands to mold the ice cream in shape with the brownie layers, re-wrapped it and returned it to the freezer.

In most of my research the meringue is assembled over a double boiler however the recipe that I used did not. So I separated my eggs, putting the whites in a bowl with the cream of tartar. I used my hand mixer to beat the egg whites and tartar for so long that my arm started to hurt. When I saw the peaks beginning to form, I got excited and stuck my (clean) finger in the foam and then I unknowingly licked my finger. Gross! There was no sugar in that yet so that was totally disgusting. Back on track I added in the remaining ingredients and continued to beat it together. Truly I’m positive my meringue was still a little lacking but I would have to play around with this recipe another time to troubleshoot what might have gone awry.  With the meringue to my satisfaction I removed the frozen layers and unwrapped it on top of a cake stand. I did this all very fast as the kids were done eating and anxiously awaiting the second cake – the nerve of these kids right?

Next I began spreading the meringue all over the dome until it was completely covered. Of course my torch lighter was low on fluid and it would have given me that perfectly browned look I was going for. Even putting it in the oven on Broil didn’t give it the browning I was looking for. My last resort was my husband’s torch lighter that allowed me to just touch a few spots. I was done and it was time to serve the Baked Alaska Brownie treat up.

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The finished Baked Alaska.     
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A slice of the Birthday Boy’s second cake.

The Baked Alaska was a hit. It was absolutely scrumptious. The brownie layers complemented the other, the soft chewy one made the crispy one just as good. I’m glad I opted to use two flavors of ice cream. The caramel was smooth and rich – the cookies and cream was sweet with bits of cookie. The meringue was light and salty. (Not sure if I goofed or if this was mixing issues) Even the salt was good, with all the sweet it was just enough to tie it all together. Everybody loved the cake! My sons friends and some random kids devoured the whole cake and poof, in an instant it was gone. My son graciously thanked me for the cake and his great birthday party with a great hug. I was pleased all around. Though I had some issues, baking and otherwise (the first laptop I bought hours prior had a screen issue), it still turned out to be a great day and that’s all that I care about…the people I love knowing that they mean the most to me and them showing them how.

With my sons’ birthday behind me I had a quick moment to tighten up the backyard. So I pulled out my trusty Weedeater by Briggs & Stratton and prepared to do a quick cutting of the grass. To my disbelief and horror my lawn mower failed to start repeatedly. I checked everything. It had oil. It had gas. I moved it to a flatter location, primed and pulled the cord – still nothing. My heart began to sink. Yes I said it, my dead lawn more made me sad. One I like for my stuff to work and be operational especially when I need it but then I hate having to replace things or have them fixed. People aren’t honest or do the best work these days so nine times out of ten I would just buy another one. I’m too crafty and handy for that and my husband sparked my interest when he said that I might need a new spark plug. To YouTube I went in search of lawn maintenance videos. I did my research and found out what parts I needed and how to do the tune up to my lawn mower. I picked up the items over the next day or so, I think I found everything at Wal-Mart which was great because I feel like I live in Wal-Mart sometimes.

Yesterday, armed with my oil and spark plugs (I bought two different ones because I wasn’t 100% sure), the toolbox and my lawn mower I proceeded to perform the tune up. I needed a torque wrench though and I couldn’t find it. I’m certain we had one but I was at a standstill if I couldn’t change the spark plug. By the time I rounded my house a second time, checked our pick up truck and then re-checked the closet I still hadn’t found it. Something just said, “Tameka try to start the lawn mower up.” I did and it started right up just like it usually did. I let it go, and started it again, and it roared back on. Yay, I shrieked in victory. I ran inside, changed shoes and got back to my working lawn mower.

Yeah I know you were hoping for maybe more detailed instructions but in general good maintenance on your lawnmower is changing your oil and air filter (if you have one) and changing your spark plug. Some videos suggest cleaning the carburetor too. Surprisingly all of these tasks are fairly simple with the right tools. Also FYI, I believe you can borrow tools from AutoZone which I will keep in mind when I do have to actually change the spark plug.

The life lesson in this whole thing, don’t let anything get in your way of getting something done. I just walked away from my lawnmower for a couple of days and then it started working again. Moral: It wasn’t as bad as I originally thought it was. What else in your life can you apply that too? I don’t know but it was a simple moment that made a big impact and yet I am all the better because when my lawn mower does need maintenance I have broken the cycle of repair or replace. I instead can resolve on my own first, or at least try to. If by some chance that doesnt’ work, I’ll go back to replace or the repairman.

Happy Friday folk!

Be blessed and be a blessing!

A Very Pleasant Mom of 4…Tameka

#AHappy14thBirthday

#BakedAlaska

#Wikipedia

#AMothersLuv

#LawnMaintenance

#Briggs&Stratton

#LifeLesson

 

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Peri Peri Chicken

I know what you’re thinking. How did I end up cooking Portuguese Peri Peri Chicken? Well I saw a chef make it on one of the many cooking shows, it might have been Beat Bobby Flay. It looked delicious. Peri Peri  or Piri Piri chicken is grilled whole chicken that has been butterflied, or split or cut into leg quarters that has been marinated and basted in the peri peri sauce. The peri peri (or piri piri) sauce is made up of a blend up Peri Peri or african bird’s-eye pepper, garlic, sun ripened lemons and spices. Originally I thought this dish was Portuguese as there are spanish variations. However I prepared the African version as I used a shortcut this time, the already bottled and packaged Nando’s Medium Peri-Peri sauce. I did want to fix it but I didn’t want to buy a long list of ingredients to make the sauce, sometimes I’m here for it – the homemade taste and flavor of cooking from scratch. Then there are those days when I am absolutely not here for it. I want to cook, I want it to be good but most importantly I want it to be convenient. So I grabbed two bottles of this 4.7 oz bottle because I was skeptical if I could make such a small amount go far. But at $3.49 a bottle in Kroger, two had to do.

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Nando’s Peri-Peri Sauce (Medium)

It probably would have been cheaper to buy the ingredients and make the sauce, but again, I was buying time and convenience in a bottle. I would also benefit from getting the authentic Peri Peri flavor versus what I hoped it should be if I made it myself. So it was still a win win situation. I found mine at my Kroger on the condiment aisle. Once back home in my kitchen I prepped my chicken leg quarters for the marinade. I opted to get quarters because they are affordable, you get a gang of them, and I would have a bunch left over to cook another day. Still winning right? Right. So with my chicken rinsed and dried I covered 4 leg quarters in a gallon zip loc bag with a whole bottle of the sauce. I massaged the sauce into the meat and let the bag rest while I lit my grill. Normally I would recommend marinating your chicken overnight. If you don’t have time, 30 minutes is better than nothing. While my chicken marinated and the grill heated up, I googled side dishes that went with the Peri Peri chicken. I found a rice dish and grilled corn. Of course I included a side salad because that’s a staple at my table.

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The leg quarters marinating in a Ziploc bag covered in Peri-Peri sauce.

 

Once my coals were nice and hot I placed 4 leg quarters on the grill rack that I had already sprayed with Canola oil to keep the meat from sticking. Sometimes I cover the grill rack with aluminum foil when I want to slow down the cooking process or prevent the food from cooking too quickly. When I’m cooking bulky meats like leg quarters I try to get a direct heat source to help them cook evenly and completely. The best advice I have received to date is to cook to temperature and not time…when it comes to meats anyway. The quick marinated leg quarters went directly on the grill rack and were basted with the remaining sauce from the bag before it was discarded.

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The leg quarters grilling and basted with Nando’s Peri-Peri sauce.

 

While the leg quarters cooked on the grill I went back inside to prepare the rice dish, Portuguese Rice. Yes I know, I thought I was on a whole Portuguese thing with the chicken but I was already invested – no turning back. Again the ingredients were pretty straightforward: long grain white rice, olive oil, chopped onion, minced garlic, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, bay leaf, chopped tomatoes, water, parsley, and cilantro. The recipe calls for fresh herbs but fresh herbs go bad quickly. I keep dried herbs on hand because it’s more convenient and affordable. First you want to get your oil hot in a sauce pan.

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The chopped onions cooking in the olive oil for the Portuguese rice.

Once your onions have softened a little bit, you add in the garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. This cooks for about a minute or so and then the chopped tomatoes are added. Your tomatoes need a couple of minutes to soften and then the water, parsley and cilantro are added and brought to a boil. Once boiling the rice is stirred in and then the pot should be covered and the heat reduced to low. The recipe suggests cooking the rice undisturbed for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. An additional  5 minutes of rest time is given before the rice is fluffed for serving.

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The finished Portuguese Rice. Looks pretty good eh?

With the rice done, the chicken was coming along beautifully. It had a slight char around the edges but it was cooking to a golden brown with splashes of red peri peri sauce. During the grilling I had used the half of the second bottle to baste and brush the leg quarters as  flipped them over. I pulled the leg quarters about five minutes after they read 165 degrees on my meat thermometer and covered them in foil.

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Peri-Peri Chicken

Along my research I also stumbled upon Peri Peri chips and sauce. Essentially it’s potatoes that have been either cut or sliced in chip form and fried and served with a sauce that is mayonnaise and peri peri sauce mixed together. I short cut it and picked up a bag of Kroger potato wedges and whipped up the sauce (1/4 cup of mayo and 4 tablespoons of peri peri sauce) while I fried the potatoes in my cast iron pot. I tossed the fried potato wedges with smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt and black pepper.

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Kroger’s Potato Wedges with Skins

The final product looked pretty good once I put it all together. If you ever eaten at Chicken Fiesta, my finished plate almost resembled a meal from their menu if I have to say so myself. What do you think?

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Peri Peri Chicken, Portuguese Rice, and Peri Peri Chips with Perinase

I can’t forget I shucked a couple of pieces of corn, and cleaned and then covered with olive oil, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, salt, garlic powder, and old bay. I grilled the corn about 12-15 minutes while turning the corn over 5-6 minutes. The plate above is my husbands’ plate who doesn’t care for corn. The  plate below is the plate I prepared for myself and my mother in law.

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Peri Peri Chicken, Portuguese Rice, Peri Chips, Portuguese Grilled Corn and Perinaise

With all of the semi hard work done it was finally time to eat. Upon first bite the chicken was juicy and flavorful. The Peri Peri sauce was spicy and tangy. It wasn’t overly spicy but mind you I got the Medium version. There are a Hot and a Lemon Garlic version as well. The Portuguese rice was different. It too boasted lots of flavor but there was one flaw. The rice was still crunchy and  this was after determining at 20 minutes additional cook time was needed. So I added more water, replaced the lid and put it back on low setting to cook longer. I know I cooked it another 30 minutes or more and it still wasn’t completely tender. I didn’t care for the corn. I would have preferred it if I had boiled the corn first to get it tender and moist first before grilling. The Perinaise wasn’t my cup of tea. It was a little thick in taste and texture. In the future if I were to attempt it again, I might add more spices and fresh lemon to the mayo to lighten it up a little more. I ended up eating my peri chips with ketchup. Overall the meal was entirely delicious. The rice was still a hit, I would definitely add more water and a longer time to cook. My husband liked it. I liked it. I definitely didn’t get my kids to try this. This was way too elevated for their peculiar taste buds.

I give this meal 3.5 out of 5 stars, it delivered on the flavor and it was not very complicated to put together. With the modifications discussed I think this could definitely be a five-star meal.  So what’s next on my plate? Umm, at the suggestion of one of the doctor’s at my kid’s dental practice…baked alaska. Interesting right? Yeah, and my oldest son’s birthday is Monday and even though I bought him a traditional store brought cake, I still want to do something special for him. Two cakes for a special kid. So check back to see how my Baked Alaska turns out!

Till next time – Happy Eating  and Be Blessed!

Tameka, A Very Pleasant Mom of 4

#NandosPeriPeriChicken

#Portugueserice

#Kroger

#PortugueseGrilledCorn

#AVeryPleasantLife

#ittastesgood