Friday, December 21, 2012

Yummy Christmas Round Up!

I hadn't planned to do anything like this until just now!  So many of my food blogger friends are making yummy Christmas food, I though I'd make sure my readers got a peek as well!

Chinmayie at Love Food Eat made a delicious looking fruit cake that is processed food free and vegan!  Plus, there's booze!

For a quick no-bake dessert, check out Sarah's Chocolate Oatmeal Coconut cookies!  And while you're there at Cake Student check out her awesome bread art!

From Blue Kale Road, a sweet, but not too sweet option is Hannah's Maple Roasted Nuts.  I used her cranberry sauce recipe as gifts for my gluten free friends, but these nuts make a great option, too!

Check out eggton's Lemon Glazed Snowflake Cookies.  Katherine may be the only person I know of who can make the untimely death of a guinea pig be the most hysterical thing I read all day.

And you can wash it all down with Cara's raw and vegan Eggnog!  Made with out all the chemicals store bought vegan eggnog often has!

Yummy Browsing Everybody!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Hand Dipped Chocolates

     This is it!  Day 12!  Thank you so much for visiting!  Our final treat this year is my Mom's famous Hand Dipped Chocolate.  This is the recipe that everybody wanted and nobody got.  And you, my friends, are getting it.  It took us so long to find it after Mom passed, I don't want to take a chance that this recipe might disappear ever.  So make them and think of somebody you love when you eat them.  I know I always do.

 Mom's Hand-Dipped Christmas Chocolates
Yield:about 4 dozen
1 lb confectioner's sugar
1/2 lb butter
Cream together.  Divide into 4 bowls. (2 ice cream scoops in each bowl with an extra 1/2 scoop for each mint bowl)
  • for chocolate: abt 1 tsp Dutch processed cocoa
  • for mint: 1/4 tsp. mint flavoring. Each got 6-8 drops food coloring.
  • for vanilla: 1 to 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Roll into balls and refrigerate 10 minutes.

2 (12 oz) packages of chocolate chips
1/3 block of paraffin wax (you can usually find it near the canning stuff in the grocery store)

Melt chocolate chips and paraffin in a double boiler.  Put toothpicks into balls.

Dip the balls in melted chocolate.  Cool on tin foil or wax paper.  Remove toothpicks and dip any uncovered tops in chocolate or fill a spoon with chocolate and top them off.

These store well in the fridge for weeks in a tightly closed container.

Make sure when you buy mint, you buy peppermint and not spearmint which is just wrong and should never be consumed by anyone ever for any reason, m'kay?

If you're creeped out by the paraffin, try it without and see what happens.  No, seriously, I don't know what happens.  I suspect they will be just fine.  I think the paraffin makes it a little shinier and a little firmer.  I was considering trying bees wax one time to see what that does.  But since this is Mom's recipe, this is what I wanted you to have!

I tried natural food coloring in these, but the red tasted like beets and let's just say beets and mint isn't going to be the new taste sensation this year.  Also, I haven't found a suitable natural green.  You could, of course, leave it out all together...

These are a little fiddly but totally worth it.  Another great one to do with the kids.

I'd also like to thank one Miss Cara Reed at Fork and Beans for following along as fast as her little legs could carry her on this crazy jaunt!  If you haven't already, be sure to check out her Gingerbread Ninjas, Cranberry Cheese Crumble, Fudge, Date Roll Ups, and Chocolate chip cookies, all made vegan and gluten-free! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Pecan Sandies

     This is another one from my Grandmother's recipe box.  It is basically a Southern Grandmother's dream recipe.  Butter and pecans with a couple other things thrown in to hold the two together.  Well, perhaps it's my dream recipe...

Pecan Sandies 
1 C butter
1/2 C powdered sugar, sifted
2 C plain cake flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1 C finely chopped pecans

Cream butter.  Add sugar.  Mix well.  Add flour.  Mix, and add vanilla and pecans.  Roll into small balls.  Bake at 325° for 20 minutes.  If oven tends to overheat, lower temp and set pan under sheet to keep bottom of cookies from burning.  Makes 34 cookie scoop size cookies.

Nobody doesn't like pecan sandies!  

Cara has posted her kick-butt gingerbread ninjas on Fork and Beans!  Too stinkin' cute! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats:Pfeffernüsse

This recipe came from Mom's old Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook.  It's so old that the copyright page is missing, but I suspect 60's era.

Pfeffernüsse is a German cookie whose name means "pepper nuts."  They are rock hard and actually contain pepper, though there are many recipes out there.  Mom's other oldie but goodie book The Joy of Cooking has a recipe with citron in it and no pepper.  I think I'm going to try that one next year!  But for this year, I'm going with the recipe Mom used to make.

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 C light molasses and 1/2 C butter.  Cook and stir till butter melts.  Cool to room temp.  Stir in 2 beaten eggs.  Sift 4 1/4 C sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 C sugar, 1 1/4  tsp baking soda, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and a dash of pepper.  Add to molasses mixture.  Mix well, chill several hours.  Shape chilled dough into 1 inch. balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet in a moderate oven (375°) for 12 minutes.  Cool, roll in confectioner's sugar.  Makes 4 1/2 dozen. (59 cookie scoop size)

Your kids will not go nuts over these.  You might not either.  But I like them.  So there.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Butter Mints

     Butter Mints are some of my very favorite treats.  When I was a kid, Mom used butter mints for every birthday.  Butter mints and Skittles.  And GORP.   Mom bought hers from the store, but I seriously love these homemade ones for Christmas.  I found them here, but apparently they originally came from Southern Living in December 2003.


Butter Mints
4 oz cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Melt cream cheese and butter in large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Gradually stir in powdered sugar; add peppermint and vanilla extracts, stirring until well blended.
Divide cream cheese mixture into 10 (1/4-cup) portions; roll each into a 12-inch rope. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Let stand, uncovered, 4 hours or until firm.

Put these away as quick as they dry because you'll never keep the kids out of them! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Gingerbread Men

     What is more Christmasy than a gingerbread man?  Nothing.  Nothing is more Christmasy than a gingerbread man.  Except maybe a nativity scene.  Or a candy cane.  Or a nativity scene made out of gingerbread with all the shepherds holding candy canes.   I will let somebody else eat the baby Jesus...

      This recipe came from a book called Better Homes and Gardens Old Fashioned Baking Cookbook (1995 edition).  They are called "Ginger Kids" in there.  I'm thinking that may actually be less PC than gingerbread Jesus, so I'm going to call them Gingerbread Men (and Women).

Gingerbread Men  (And Women)
1/2 C butter
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C molasses
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 recipe Powdered sugar icing

In a large bowl, beat margarine with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or till softened.  Add about half the flour.  then add sugar, molasses, egg, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.  Beat till thoroughly combined.  Beat or stir in the remaining flour.  Divide dough in half.  Cover and chill about 3 hours or till easy to handle.

Grease a cookie sheet, then set aside.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough in to 1/8 inch thickness.  Using 3 to 4 inch people shaped cookie cutter, cut dough into shapes.  Place 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet.  Bake in a 375° oven for 5 to 6 minutes or till edges are firm.  Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack.

Powdered Sugar Icing
1 C sifted powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla

In a small mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar and vanilla.  Stir in 1 Tbs milk.  Stir in additional milk 1 Tbs at a time, till icing is smooth and of drizzling consistency.
Makes about 1/2 C.

I added 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger to pump up the ginger in these a little bit.  Perfect!  Also, 1/2 C of the icing doesn't look like much, but I was able to do a whole batch of cookies and still have some left over, so unless you are going to be making a ton or using a bunch of icing this is just the right amount for this recipe.

This is a great one for the kids to help with.  They love the process and they love the result!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

     Here's another recipe I've been making for years.  It's another one from my "Low-Fat" cookbook so naturally, I added all the fat back in and threw in some chocolate chips for good measure.  Can't have all that stupid health at Christmas, now can we?

     I used a food processor for the first time this year to chop the candies,  you can always use the old-fashioned "bash 'em with a hammer" method, but this was quicker and more uniform.  Process for about 10 seconds until most of the mints are dust, but there are still a few pea sized chunks in there, too.  I used Trader Joe's brand peppermints because they don't have artificial colorings or flavors.  They are smaller, though, so I used about 35 candies.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies (Modified from Low-Fat Ways to Cook Desserts)
Yield: 53 cookie scoop size cookies, 44 if you follow the directions
1/2 C stick butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C firmly packed brown sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C plus 1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
2/3 C finely crushed round peppermint candies (about 30 candies or 8 candy canes)
1/2 C chocolate chips

Beat margarine at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well.  Add egg substitute and vanilla; beat well.  Combine flour and next 4 ingredients.  Add to margarine mixture, stirring just until blended.  Stir in crushed candy.  Drop dough by level Tbs 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheets and let cool on wire racks.

You definitely want these to be on some sort of barrier instead of relying on cooking spray or any magical non-stick properties your pan may possess.  They can be super sticky!

I really like these especially with the smaller pieces.  The kids love them with hot chocolate! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Merry Berry Cheese Bars

     One of the reasons we kill ourselves baking at Christmastime is because we want to show our friends and families how much we love them.  These treats in particular made me think of several people as I was putting them together.

cranberries, oatmeal, cream cheese

     The cranberry sauce recipe came from a blogger friend, Hannah Cordes, who runs the lovely blog Blue Kale Road.  She's a Seattlite too, though we haven't met in person, it's always nice to have someone commiserate about the weather with.  Her cranberry sauce recipe calls for quince as well as cranberries and uses honey and maple syrup as sweeteners.  It's just fab in this as the cranberry is not quite so sharp and the quince adds an interesting texture.  She also uses apple cider in hers but since all I had was apple juice, I added some cinnamon and cloves while the quince was cooking down.  It makes a delightful addition to the whole proceeding.   And so, I thought about Hannah as I was making this.

     A few months ago, I was digging some compost into the garden and the boys came running up to me breathlessly.  "MOM!  There's a boy here!  He came out of the woods!"  And thus, our family was introduced to Aiden: The Little Boy From the Woods.  He was actually visiting our new next door neighbors and had grown tired of sitting around listening to grown ups talk about babies and heard my boys outside being as raucous as humanly possible.  Every other Saturday or so, he wanders down out of the woods and they have a big ol' time playing whatever it is 5-7 year olds play these days.  He even spent the night a couple of weeks ago.  His family also keeps bees and his Dad brought me a jar last week.  Light and sweet, it is the perfect thing for Hannah's cranberry sauce!  So I thought about our new friends while making this.

    Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to buy a box of lemons and having just run out of lemon juice, I did what anybody would do, and bought a 40 pound box to make juice out of.  Then, not knowing exactly how difficult it was going to be to juice 7 bazillion lemons by hand, I called up my friend Danika who just happens to own a juicer.  Danika and her family had to withstand a whole two days without fresh juice so that I could make these bars (and everything else I've used lemon for this past year.)  I thought about her family while I was making these.

     I thought about everybody I've given these to over the years, and there are a lot of you.  Thought about how much Mom liked them.  It was a little amazing how one little silly cookie could have so many people wrapped up in it.  OMIGOSH!!  Merry Berry Cheese Bars is PEOPLE!!

     I decided to update the recipe a little this year to be more in keeping with my no chemicals as much as possible policy and the result was a milder, more refined bar, which I am calling "grown up."  Not in the "uses profane language way" not in the "adult channel way" not in the "there's booze in there way" but in the "I'm happy with who I am, I don't need to be so in-your-face anymore, I think I'll push my reading glasses up and snuggle down with a good book" sort of way.

"Grown Up" Merry Berry Cheese Bars
(Adapted from Eagle Brand's classic recipe)

2 C unsifted flour
1 1/2 C oatmeal
34 C + 1 Tbs firmly packed brown sugar
1 C butter, softened
1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened (I used Sierra Nevada Organic Cream Cheese)
1 (14 oz) bottle Trader Joe's Organic Sweetened Condensed milk (Not evaporated milk)
1/4 C Lemon juice
1 recipe of Hannah's Cranberry Quince Sauce (I only had 8 oz of cranberries and it worked fine)
2 Tbs corn starch

Make the cranberry sauce up a few days ahead of time if you want, so it's ready when you want to make your bars.

To make the bars, preheat oven to 350°.  With mixer, beat flour, oats, 3/4 C sugar and butter until crumbly.  Set aside 1 1/2 C mixture; press remaining mixture on bottom of greased 13X9 inch baking pan.  Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

With mixer, beat cheese until fluffy.  Gradually beat in condensed milk until smooth, stir in lemon juice.  Spread over baked crust.  Combine cranberry sauce, cornstarch, and remaining 1 Tbs sugar.  Spoon over cheese layer.  Top with reserved mixture.

Bake 45 minutes or until golden.  Cool and cut into bars.  Refrigerate leftovers.

This is a lovely update to an old classic.  I love the extra spices in it.  It's fantastic warm, btw, if you can't wait until it cools for a bite!

Cara has posted her beautiful vegan and gluten-free version of these as a crumble!   Complete with sweet little ramekins!  Bask in the cuteness at Fork and Beans!

Friday, December 7, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Ginger Cookies

     One of my favorite Christmas flavors is ginger.  Ginger snaps are so crunchy and yummy and just perfect for a dunk in hot chocolate or tea!  I've made this recipe for years.  It originally came from a book called Low-fat Ways to Cook Desserts, but I gave up on the "low fat" thing a while ago when I figured what a funny mass of molecules margarine was.  I subbed butter for the margarine and replaced the vegetable cooking spray with a simple sheet of parchment paper.

Ginger Cookies
Yield: 52 cookie scoop size cookies; 26 if you follow the directions
1/4 C plus 2 tbs stick margarine, softened
2/3 C plus 3 T sugar, divided
1/4 C molasses
1 egg
2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mace
Vegetable cooking spray

     Beat margarine at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add 2/3 C sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  Add molasses and egg; beat well.  Combine flour and next 4 ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture, stirring until well blended.  Divide dough in half; wrap each portion in plastic wrap, and freeze 30 minutes.  Shape each portion of dough into 26 (1-inch) balls, and roll in remaining 3 Tbs sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 350°  for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from cookie sheets; cool on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container. 

If you forget like I did and add the three extra Tbs of sugar to the cookies instead of leaving it out to roll them in, fear not!  They still look and taste great!

In the interest of being minutely less processed, I substituted Evaporated Cane Juice for the white sugar in all my treat recipes this year.  For these ginger cookies, the larger crystals really look beautiful and glittery!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Fudge

     Mom used to have a fudge recipe that she just loved.  It had marshmallows in it and you melted them into the fudge in the microwave.  She lost the recipe and even the magical internet hasn't yielded it up, so this is the recipe that took its place.  It's by Eagle Brand.

Festive Fudge
3 C (18 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (Not Evaporated milk)
Dash salt
1/2 to 1 C chopped nuts, optional
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
     In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chips with Eagle Brand and salt.  Remove from heat.  Stir in nuts if desired and vanilla.  Spread evenly into wax paper lined 8 or 9 inch square pan.  Chill 2 hours or until firm.  Turn fudge onto cutting board, peel off paper and cut into squares.  Store covered in fridge.

I used Trader Joe's Brand condensed milk because it's organic.  I melt my chocolate in a double boiler.  If you don't have one, you can easily make one by putting the chocolate into a pot and floating it in a larger one with some water in it.  One secret to good fudge is to never scrape the sides while you're heating it.  This will drag crystals down into the melted chocolate and can cause it to seize.

So simple and so fantastic!

Yayyy!!  Cara at Fork and Beans has got her vegan and gluten free version of Grandmother's Date Roll Ups ready on her site!  Go check it out!!

Cara has finished her fudge and it looks faaaabulous!  Wait till you see how she substituted the condensed milk! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Lemon Squares

     My Mom had great taste in goodies.  And these were some of her very favorite for good reason! Lemon.  Squares.  Are.  Yummy.  Another flavor for your cookie tray that will mix it up a little.

Lemon Squares

2 sticks butter
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 C flour

4 eggs
2 C sugar
1 T flour
1/3 C lemon juice
1 t baking powder

     Mix pastry ingredients, press into 10X14 inch pan.  Bake 15 min. at 325°.  Beat 4 eggs slightly, add remaining ingredients, mix and pour on top of pastry.  Bake 40 minutes.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Cool and cut into squares.

So simple to make it's ridiculousSo delicious it's ridiculous.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Chocolate Chip Cookies

     For Day Two, I thought I'd bring out an old favorite.  Everybody's Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies!  That's right.  Everybody's.  Because Everybody's Mom just used the recipe on the back of the package of chocolate chips.  She may have told you it was an old family recipe.  Do you remember those old Rice Krispie Treat commercials?  Yeah.  It's like that.  Once you've tried this recipe, you can totally call her outOr not, because if your Mom made you a boat load of chocolate chip cookies, is that really any way to show your appreciation?  Naughty.

Everybody's Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield:  Yield 5 dz cookie scoop size cookies

2 C Sifted Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 C Butter
1/2 C Sugar
3/4 C packed Brown Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
1 12-oz package Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips

     Preheat oven to 375°.  Sift first 3 ingredients together and set aside.  Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy.  Add vanilla and egg, beat well.  Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture, mix well.  Add chocolate chips, mix well.  Take a heaping Tbs of dough and roll into ball.  Place each ball 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake in a preheated oven 8-10 minutes.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and place cookies on cooling rack. 

When you make this recipe per instructions, rolling a Tbs of dough into a ball, it will yield about 3.5 dozen.

The kids can't get enough of these!  It's an old family recipe.

 Woohoo!  Cara made her vegan and gluten-free version!  They look fantastic!  Also, apparently, Santa is partial to these... Go check them out at Fork and Beans!

Monday, December 3, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Date Roll Ups

      Welcome back to the 12 Days of Christmas, friends!  This year I wanted to mix it up a little and fill out your Christmas trays with some of the other delicious Christmas treats I like to make!  There will be cookies, just not today...  I am also hoping my friend Cara Reed over at Fork and Beans can join me again this year, but it may be on a slightly different schedule. 

     For Day One, I thought I'd start with a date roll-up my Grandmother used to make.  It's a little bit cookie and a little bit treat!  It's not as sweet as most Christmas goodies, so the kids may not know what to think of them, but most adults will go bonkers for these, I promise!

Date-Cream Cheese Roll Ups 
Yield: about 60
1 C Butter
1/2 lb Cream Cheese
2 C Flour
1/2 t Salt
powdered sugar
pitted dates
finely chopped pecans

Cream butter and cream cheese.  Sift flour and salt.  Beat into butter mixture.  Chill for several hours.  Roll into 1/8 inch thickness on board sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Cut into 1X3 inch strips.  Fill center of dates with finely chopped pecans and place date on each strip and roll up.  Place cut side down on cookie sheet.  Bake at 375° for 15 minutes.  Roll in powdered sugar.

About 1 1/4 C pecans yielded the same amount chopped and filled about 60 dates.  It depends on how big the pits were in the dates you are using.  I suggest using dates that still have the pits in since they seem to yield juicier dates. Just slice it open and pop out the pit!  I like Medjool dates best.

I distinctly remember not liking these as a kid.  My kids will be distinctly remembering the same thing, I'm sure.  But as a grown up, I am grateful for a little palate cleanser in between bites of chocolate frosted sugar bombs!

You can now find Cara's super easy vegan and gluten-free upgrade at Fork and Beans!

Monday, November 26, 2012

2 Years and Counting...

This marks the second anniversary of Crackers on the Couch!  I can't believe it!  Thank you so much for visiting this little place and encouraging me!

 While it's still the 26th, I think I'll go ahead and get this up...

Just in case you've got some Thanksgiving leftovers left, this is what I did with mine.  Basically, you put all your leftovers into ramekins and top it with leftover mashed potatoes.  It helps if you've got gravy made, too.  This really isn't a recipe so much as a technique.

Leftover Thanksgiving Shepherd's Pie
This year's pies had green beans, sweet potatoes, gravy, chicken, apples, celery, and onion.  I left the stuffing out as a side and topped them with mashed potatoes and a dollop of cranberry sauce when they were done cooking.  You can use virtually any side in these.  Last year, leftover roast veggies were perfect for these, for example.  Adding extra herbs like thyme, parsley, or rosemary is a nice touch, too.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Chop one onion, and sauté in olive oil until cooked, add cold veggies and gravy and cook until everything is warm.  Fill ramekins 3/4 full with filling mixture and top with mashed potatoes.  Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and heat in the oven until the mashed potatoes have heated through and begun to brown (about 20-30 minutes).  Remove from oven, serve with stuffing and a drop of cranberry sauce if available.

The great thing about these is that everything on the Thanksgiving plate usually tastes great together.  My favorite thing as a kid was getting a fork full of everything.  That's exactly what you get with these.  My youngest even eagerly chomped down onions, apples and celery that he totally skipped on during the regular meal. 

Get ready to begin another 12 Days of Christmas next week!  I can't wait to show you what Cara and I have in store!
Thank you all for another wonderful year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Cake is a LIE!!

My boys are big fans of the game Portal.  Their Dad brought home an inflatable turret a few months ago and they just had a cow about it.  They begged for a Portal birthday party and I said, "YES!"  My regular readers probably won't have any idea what to make of all the geeking that's about to go on up in heah, so I'll try to explain as well as I can along the way.  Oh, and it should also be said that I've never played the game nor have I seen the game played because when I watch it, it makes me want to zook.  My inner ear does not like first person games.  Everything I know about Portal I've learned from accounts by my children, my husband, and online.  This is how it goes:

OK, so like, you're in this science experiment, right?  And you have this guide named Wheatly. 

And he's all good until he turns bad or bad until he turns good or whatever.  There's a companion cube.  You love it.  It has hearts on it. 

You use a gun like this to shoot holes in the walls.  Sometimes they have blue flames and sometimes they have orange flames.  They look sorta like this:

These portal mirrors were an ingenious find!  My husband put these together with mirrors and rope lights from Home Depot.

 and this:

Our friend Sam showed up with this because he is fraktastically awesome!

and this:

When you shoot a hole in one wall and shoot a hole in another wall, you can jump through one and come out the other one because of this, like, space warp type thing.

An old Ikea tunnel with painted entrances worked pretty well!

One more note about portals:
If your birthday candles fall into a portal, they come out on other cupcakes!  It's happening everywhere people, you should really be careful about that...

Sometimes you're in a room with turrets.  They shoot at you.  Fortunately, these don't really...

The place where the testing occurs is Aperture Laboratories.

Propulsion Gel and Repulsion Gel... do... something...?

This gel (a.k.a. gak) was made following this recipe.  I used Wilton's gel coloring to get the orange and aqua.  Be careful with the blue, though.  That stuff stains like nobody's business.  I found those little tins for .99 cents at Michael's.  A wise man once said, "We're throwing science at the wall here to see what sticks."  This stuff will definitely stick in the name of science.

Though, in the game, the gels will rot your skeleton, this next gel (a.k.a. Jell-o) is much more user friendly!  (It probably will only rot your teeth.  Most likely...)

Push up containers and stand came from Amazon.

The man who is putting you through all these tests is named Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Laboratories.  Also, apparently, he has a hard time putting his name tag on...

It could be because his assistants were all blindfolded... 

Your reward for battling sarcastic robots, turrets, and GLaDOS in the name of Science is a wonderful cake.  Unfortunately, along the way you find out that the cake is, in fact, a lie.  Until the end, when you find it and it isn't anymore.  It's a chocolate cake with cherries.

Or is it?

That's right, folks.  This cake is a lie.  Meatloaf, mashed potato filling, bean frosting, mashed potato "whipped cream", and cherry tomatoes on top where those lovely cherries should go.  More about how I pulled this feat off later...

Meanwhile, everyone knows scientists in the future drink from juice pouches turned backward to look more "science y."

They also love hummus and carrots and mini quiche.

These hobos test subjects are definitely up to the task of being subjected to tests.

Our little test subjects got to go home with a bag full of gear and a couple of portals as well as a tin of Propulsion or Repulsion Gel.  You can buy a bunch of Portal swag at Think Geek, but my husband knows someone who knows someone (possibly Cave Johnson?) and scored us a bunch of this stuff for free.  I got the idea for the gels from Pamela Smerker who threw her very own super-awesome Portal party last year.

Guests at our party were serenaded by the sweet sounds of selected tracks from the Portal soundtrack and Still Alive by Jonathan Coulton.

And now back to that "cake."

     A wise man once said, "They say great science is built on the shoulders of giants - not here. At Aperture we do all our science from scratch; no hand holding."  And that wise man was Cave Johnson.  To honor his great (and wise) spirit, I shall give you a little hint about how I made this cake, though I'm afraid there really isn't a recipe.

The Cake is a Lie Portal Cake
     I made two round cake pans full of meatloaf.  It used 4 pounds of ground beef and two onions.  I made a gluten free cake so I substituted the contents of 1 (3.5 oz) bag of pork rinds ground in the food processor.  It sounds weird, but it's an old low carb diet trick that I used many times when my hubby was on the Atkins diet.  You can't tell, really.  It worked out to about 2 cups of crumbs.  I used 1 egg for every pound of meat and put the rest of the ketchup that was in the bottle, probably about 1/2 C.  Salt and pepper.  I baked it at 350° for about an hour, until the center reached 160°.

     The mashed potatoes are just regular old mashed potatoes with butter and salt and milk and a little pepper but not enough to give anything away on the outside decoration.

     The hardest part was the frosting.  Traditionally, meatloaf cake is frosted with mashed potatoes, but the Potal cake is chocolate.  Mashed potatoes aren't brown.  On Thursday I had an epiphany!  Refried beans!  I spent a day testing the best way to color the beans to make them look like chocolate.  Soy sauce tasted funny and Worcestershire sauce wasn't dark enough.  Black beans didn't work either.  Finally, I consulted my favorite message board over at Baby Center for help.  Baby Center user ~*downwithNCB*~ suggested Kitchen Bouquet as a darkener.  Kitchen Bouquet FTW!  The flavor was a bit meh, so I hid it with Worcestershire sauce and raw garlic.  Worked like magic, folks!  For the beans, I cooked a pound of pinto beans in the pressure cooker because I wasn't sure how much frosting I'd need.  I probably could have done it with half a pound.  When the beans were done cooking I let them sit in the fridge overnight to firm up.  The next day, I reheated them slowly on the stove with no extra water while the meatloaf was cooking.  I pureed them with a hand blender and added Kitchen Bouquet until it looked "chocolatey" enough.  Then I added Worcestershire sauce and pressed about 2 cloves of garlic until I couldn't taste the KB anymore and the bean flavor was pretty well masked.  Salt and pepper to season a little more, and then I slathered it on the cake!

People loved it!  I only heard one adult say, "I'm not sure I can eat this!  It looks too much like chocolate cake!"  I am never sure with meat dishes of course, but I badgered my husband to give me the honest-and-for-real-truth and he says it was pretty good!  I wasn't sure how the beans would be with the meatloaf, but nobody complained and my eldest son has been pestering me for leftovers all day, so I think it must have been OK!  The only drawback is that it really does look so much like chocolate cake that now I want to make one...

5 and 7 here we come!  Onward for Science!!
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