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Homemade Vanilla Cake

I have been on a quest to find the perfect homemade vanilla cake recipe to match the Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake".  When it comes to moist, melt-in-your-mouth texture, no recipe can come close to Hershey's in my humble opinion.  (For those who have tried to make this recipe with failed results, I will say that the most important direction on the recipe states to "mix for 2 minutes on medium speed before adding boiling water."  This is  a MUST to getting a perfect product!)  So don't poo-poo me when I say this is the best chocolate cake recipe floating around on the web.  I challenge you to change my mind by sending me your "best" chocolate cake recipe.

I finally discovered a forum where a person asked the same question I was asking, "How do I change a fabulous chocolate cake recipe into a vanilla cake?".  One smarty-pants baker responded with the whole scientific reason for all the ingredients listed in the original recipe and what needed to be done to compensate when eliminating the cocoa powder.  Whoa!  Here I was thinking all I would really need to do was take out the dry cocoa powder and replace it with another dry ingredient like flour.

WRONG!

Cocoa powder contains fat which effects the final texture of the cake as well as other needed chemicals to react to the baking soda and baking powder.  More sugar is needed with the chocolate cake to compensate for the bitter cocoa powder.  Also the boiling water is needed to enhance the chocolate flavor and "meld" the sugar and cocoa together.

My first try at adapting the recipe resulted in the right texture and taste, but I wasn't happy with the overall thickness of my layers.  My next attempt created a consistent result in taste and texture, but I mixed together 1.5 recipes instead of 1 for more batter.  It worked, but word of warning, it may overflow your pans slightly depending on how deep the sides are.  Future recommendation to myself and others would be to remove a few tablespoons of batter from each layer pan before baking.  (You just have to eyeball it for yourself.)

I love the ease it takes to whip this cake together on top of the amazing texture.  It pairs beautifully with a rich fudge frosting or buttercream frosting since it is not overly sweet.  It's a great "blank canvas" to adding whatever flavors you can think of - like a fresh fruit-filled center with pudding topped with homemade whip cream.  That just screams "SUMMER!!!"


Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1Mix all dry ingredients inside mixer

 

Step 2Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition
Step 3Add melted butter, mix well

 

Step 4Add vanilla, mix well

 

Step 5Slowly add half the milk

Mix like you are making a standard rue adding a little milk at a time so that there are no lumps.

 

Step 6Scrape sides and bottem well before adding remainder of milk

 

Step 7Preheat oven to 350F, prepare pans

Mix batter on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Preheat oven and prepare pans.

Step 8Pour batter evenly between 9`` pans

After pouring batter, remember to eyeball to see if they are too full.  If so, remove a few tablespoons from each.  Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes or until done.  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack before removing from pan.

As you can see, this cake is super moist and "fudgy" (well in a vanilla-version of fudgy).

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Homemade Yogurt

If you own a slow cooker and happen to have some plain yogurt hiding in the back of your fridge along with some milk, you're in luck!  You can take the dwindling remains of your yogurt and multiply it into a fresh batch of plain yogurt to be further changed into Greek yogurt, sour cream or a variation of cream cheese (aka Yo-cheese).  The health benefits are substantial and the ways to use homemade yogurt are only limited by your lack of imagination.

The process alone is so easy and only takes up three chunks of time throughout the day (2 1/2 hours, 3 hours, 8 hours).  I love being able to eliminate two items off my monthly grocery list - sour cream AND yogurt.  My brood loves yogurt and typically consumes about 12-24 ounces a day.  I could easily spend more than $20/month on flavored yogurt, so it's a blessing that I can make it from scratch for a fraction of the price and still have yummy flavored yogurt.


Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1Pour milk into slow cooker

Pour 8 C. milk into the slow cooker and heat on low setting for 2 1/2 hours.

 

Step 2Unplug slow cooker

Unplug the slow cooker, leave the cover on, and let sit for 3 hours.

Step 3After 3 hours have passed

After 3 hours have passed, scoop out 2 C. of the warm milk and pour into a bowl. Whisk in 1/2 C. live/active culture plain yogurt along with the 1/2 C. powdered milk.  After combined, dump back into the crockpot and stir to combine with the rest of the milk.

 

Step 4Wrap with towel

Replace lid (leaving unplugged!) and wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around the slow cooker for insulation.  Let set for 8 hours.

 

Step 5Strain out whey

To make either Greek yogurt or Yo-cheese, pour the finished yogurt into a strainer lined with cheese cloth or a thin linen napkin/towel that is placed over a large bowel to catch the whey.  Place inside the refrigerator until enough whey has been strained off to reach the consistency you desire.

 

Step 6Blend with flavors

Blend with your favorite fruit flavors for fruit yogurts or add spices to your Yo-cheese and spread on crackers for a yummy snack.

 

Step 7Store in refrigerator

Store in containers in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.  Set aside 1/2 C. in a separate container to use as your starter for your next batch of yogurt.

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Homemade Flour Tortillas

Whether you’re a taco fan, enchilada lover, or breakfast burrito guru, homemade tortillas are the best way to enjoy your favorites and save a little extra in your pocket book at the same time.  Or simply make them because you forgot to pick up a pre-made package at the grocery store and find yourself on Taco Tuesday without the needed shells.  Aaah!

You can make these in bulk and freeze until you're ready to eat.  Either lay the shells out in a single layer on cookie sheets inside the freezer and once frozen place inside a gallon zipper bag or layer with parchment paper and place inside a gallon zipper bag.  When you are ready to use for a meal, take out as many as you need and warm inside the oven at 225 degrees for 10-15 minutes or place inside the microwave with a damp kitchen towel covering the plate for 1-2 minutes.

The money saving breakdown.... Ten tortilla shells in the store cost $2.99 for the good ones (29.9 cents each).  You get 12 shells out of the homemade recipe.  Compared to the store, the homemade recipe is equal to the savings of $3.58.  If you go the inexpensive generic route at $1.29 for a package of 10, it still saves you $1.54.


Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1Wisk Dry Ingredients

Whisk together all the dry ingredients.

Step 2Add Shortening

Add shortening by mixing in with fingers until you have little pea-sized balls of shortening.

Step 3Add Water and Mix

Add water and mix until a dough ball forms.

Step 4Lay Out Dough

Lay dough ball out onto a lightly floured surface.

Step 5Knead

Knead a few times.

Step 6Let Rest

Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Step 7Divide and Roll

Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll into ball (if you want smaller shells, divide into 24 pieces).

Step 8Flour

Lightly flour your work surface.  Flatten your ball into a disk.  Flip the disk over so that both sides are floured.

Step 9Roll Flat

Roll with floured rolling pin and turn disk.

Step 10Cook in Skillet

Place shell in an ungreased 10-inch cast iron skillet (or non-stick skillet).  Cook on one side until it bubbles up some and is slightly browned.

Step 11Flip and Repeat

Flip and cook on the other side.

Step 12Cover Until Served

After cooking, place on a plate and cover with a kitchen towel until ready to serve.  I placed these in a zipper bag and put inside the oven until it's time for dinner.  The steam keeps them warm and soft!

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Money, Possessions, and Eternity

I have read a lot of material on the subjects of Christian stewardship and general money management.  While most have been helpful, none of the resources I've looked at so far have satisfactorily provided as comprehensive a treatment (both theologically and practically) of this important topic as Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions, and Eternity.

How a person views matters of ownership, wealth, giving, saving, investing, debt, and other related matters all comes down to how they view life. More specifically, it comes down to how a person views life in relation to eternity. Either this life is all there is, and so we are all free to spend it in whatever ways make us happy, or this life is the prelude to something greater, which means we should spend our lives with an appropriate concern and long-term perspective for what follows.  Alcorn writes,

"The key to a right use of money and possessions is a right perspective - an eternal perspective. Each of our lives is positioned like a bow, drawn across the strings of a cosmic violin, producing vibrations that resound for all eternity. The slightest action of the bow produces a sound, a sound that is never lost. What I do today has tremendous bearing on eternity...The everyday choices I make regarding money and possessions are of eternal consequence."

I am still learning how to best apply this "eternal perspective" in life, but the influence of the basic theological motivations and practical disciplines promoted in this book has already been tremendous.

Book Description

"What does the Bible really say about money? This completely revised and updated version of the classic best-seller provides a Christian perspective about money and material possessions based on the author's painstaking study of the Bible. Randy Alcorn uses the Scriptures to approach this often touchy subject head-on. Thought-provoking arguments challenge readers to rethink their attitudes and use their God-given resources in ways that will have an eternal impact. Alcorn deals straightforwardly with issues of materialism, stewardship, prosperity theology, debt, and more."

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What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

If you're looking for help with time management and productivity disciplines, I'd encourage you to look into Matt Perman's "What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done."  While I have also benefited from some of the market's best-sellers for this genre like David Allen's "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productive" and Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Matt's book offers a solid theological basis for why we should ultimately be fruitful in our work, how we can be rightly motivated to that end, and what exactly fruitfulness looks like in God's economy.

One of the most life-changing points-of-reminder made in the book for me is that, because of the sin-atoning and merit-achieving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross (i.e. the Gospel), our favor before God is determined not in how productive we are at the end-of-the-day, but in our dependence on the finished work of Jesus before our day was ever started.

"Embracing the truth that God accepts us apart from good works is the precise thing that causes us to excel in good works . . . the only way to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be." - Matt Perman

Book Description

Do work that matters.  Productivity isn't just about getting more things done. It's about getting the right things done--the things that count, make a difference, and move the world forward. In our current era of massive overload, this is harder than ever before. So how do you get more of the right things done without confusing mere activity for actual productivity? When we take God's purposes into account, a revolutionary insight emerges. Surprisingly, we see that the way to be productive is to put others first--to make the welfare of other people our motive and criteria in determining what to do (what's best next). As both the Scriptures and the best business thinkers show, generosity is the key to unlocking our productivity. It is also the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in our work. What's Best Next offers a practical approach for improving your productivity in all areas of life. It will help you better understand:
  • Why good works are not just rare and special things like going to Africa, but anything you do in faith even tying your shoes.
  • How to create a mission statement for your life that actually works.
  • How to delegate to people in a way that actually empowers them.
  • How to overcome time killers like procrastination, interruptions, and multitasking by turning them around and making them work for you.
  • How to process workflow efficiently and get your email inbox to zero every day.
  • How your work and life can transform the world socially, economically, and spiritually, and connect to God's global purposes.
By anchoring your understanding of productivity in God's purposes and plan, What's Best Next will give you a practical approach for increasing your effectiveness in everything you do. This expanded edition includes a new chapter on productivity in a fallen world and a new appendix on being more productive with work that requires creative thinking.

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Lemon-filled Olive Oil Lanterns

After a recent conversation with Tim regarding our winter preparations, I started doing some research on inexpensive types of homemade candles or lamps.  Last year we had a horrible snow and ice storm dumping over a foot of snow on the roads and power lines.  Our property is at the end of the line, so any power outages means that we will be the last ones to have our power restored.  This all boils down to us needing to be more prepared for a long power outage.

Using what I already had inside the house along with some lemons given to me at church this past Sunday, I was able to spend just a few dollars on some very economical (and pretty) oil lanterns.

The great thing about these little lamps is that they can burn smoke-free for many, many hours.  If the oil starts to get low, just refill.  Also, you can continue to reuse the container and just add a new wick.


Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1Wire the Wick

Loosely twist your wire around the wick leaving a small portion at the top in order to light on fire.

Step 2Center the Wick in Jar

Center your wick inside your container then bend the wire over the side to anchor it into place.

Step 3Arrange Lemon Slices in Jar

Next, slice your lemons to your desired thickness and place them inside your container arranging them in a way to cover the sides without taking up the bulk of room inside the container.  You will need to leave room to fill with as much oil as possible.

Step 4Fill Jar with Oil

After you’ve arranged your lemon slices the way you want, carefully fill the container with your oil.  Let your wick soak up the oil for at least 15 minutes before you attempt to light it.  Not only are the lemons pretty but they also help scent the oil so it will give off a soft lemon fragrance the longer they soak in the oil.  L


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