Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Do you have any foods tied to specific memories? Or memories that revolve around excellent meals? One particular memory I have is of a little restaurant in Scotland. My husband and I went on a tour of the British Isles in 2013 and stopped here for a wonderful dinner.


Now, one doesn't usually go to Scotland for the food, as Mike Meyers put so well: "I think most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare."


But while the haggis was only okay, the sticky toffee pudding was amazing! I thought I might have a picture of it, but apparently I devoured it too quickly! I do remember that it was thick and moist and full of caramel flavor.

This year, some friends invited us over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I decided to attempt to recreate the pudding I remembered. This is a great party cake, so give it a try next time you get together with friends and family. It is sure to please the whole crowd!

The key ingredient in making this toffee pudding "sticky" is the dates. I didn't understand why until I started chopping them up.


You know that stickiness you get on your fingers when you grab a handful of raisins? Multiply that by about ten and you might understand the stickiness of dates. You can apparently use fresh or dried dates, but buying a bag of 8 oz dried and pitted dates made it so easy!


In my memory from Scotland, I had no idea there was anything in the cake except gooey caramel flavor, so I decided to chop my dates in the food processor to make them extra small. It worked pretty well, though I might chop them even smaller next time.


You then pour 1 1/2 cup boiling water over the dates along with a teaspoon of baking soda. It will foam as it soaks.


Then I hit a major problem! I had somehow let myself run out of flour and I only had 1 cup in the house! How did I let that happen? I debated borrowing a cup from my neighbor, but after realizing that I was also low on eggs, I decided to make a quick run to the store while the dates soaked.


Whew, that's better. In hindsight, I could probably have been fine with just 1 cup and had a denser cake, but oh well.


Cream well your butter and sugar, then add the eggs, the combined dry ingredients, and the entire date mixture. Mix gently.


I must admit that the batter did not look appetizing and like I wanted to lick the bowl, but I popped it in the oven anyway.


Meanwhile, make your caramel sauce. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to cook 4 minutes. Allow to cool while the cake continues to bake.


As soon as the cake comes out (and is nice and springy), poke holes in it with a skewer or fork, then pour about half the caramel sauce over it.


Okay, that looks yummy! Allow the cake to completely cool and soak up the sauce, then serve topped with the remaining caramel and whipped cream or ice cream. Yum yum!





Sticky Toffee Pudding


Makes: About 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz dates
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Finely chop dates by pulsing in food processor. Combine with baking soda.
  2. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to boil. Pour boiling water over dates and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 9x13 pan.
  4. Cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  5. Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time.
  6. Whisk dry ingredients, then slowly fold into batter. Fold in date mixture until just combined.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-30 minutes until cake springs back when touched with a finger.
  8. While cake is baking, combine sauce ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  9. Immediately after taking cake from the oven, poke holes about 1 inch apart with a skewer or fork.
  10. Pour half of the caramel sauce over the cake and allow to soak as the cake cools.
  11. Serve with remaining sauce and either whipped cream or ice cream.

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Ivy and Elephants Photobucket

Sunday, December 20, 2015

About Me



Hi, I’m Megan, and I’m a Microsoft Excel nerd. 

I’ve been working as an actuary (statistician) for over ten years, and use Excel every day. I think most people who work in business have used Excel at least a little bit, and there are a myriad of websites and trainings to help them with their work tasks. But what I’ve grown to love over the years is the way Excel can be used for household and life tasks. I’ve made spreadsheets for the family budget, household chores, my Christmas card list, and even choosing the hymns at church! 

So what I really want to do with this blog is help non-technical people see how easy it is to organize things in Excel. Check out my posts for my favorite at home spreadsheets and tutorials on how to build and use them. If there is anything specific you would like, send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com.

When I’m not messing around with spreadsheets, I’m playing with my sons, reading fantasy novels, cooking for the family, or anything else that sounds fun at the moment. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hire Me to Build Your Own Personal Spreadsheet

Do you have a specific need? As you peruse my site, you'll see some of the spreadsheets I've already built, but everyone has different preferences and requirements.

If there is anything you need, but don't know how to do it, I can help! Just send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com and I will provide a free consultation to determine what you need and provide an estimate of the time and cost it would take to build.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to let me know!

What is a Formula?

In my opinion, the two top reasons to use Excel are the automatic organization of rows and columns, and formulas. Instead of adding numbers by hand or searching manually through a huge list, you can write a formula and Excel will calculate it for you.

As always, if this topic is brand new to you, I highly recommend watching this video, where I walk through the basics. Then I encourage you to try it out on your own to get comfortable with it.



If you've used Excel much, or at all, you've probably seen a formula of some kind. They are (usually) live, meaning they recalculate anytime you hit Enter or Tab on your spreadsheet. You can turn this off if you want, but that's for another post.

Formulas can be as simple or as complicated as you need.  My personal favorites include:

SUM
SUMIF
COUNT
COUNTIF
SUMPRODUCT
INDEX
VLOOKUP
IF

Obviously, some of these are my favorites at work when dealing with large datasets. And while there are over 200 Excel functions to choose from, I think you'll find that most of what you want to do can be done with these few.

Formatting

The first thing to know about writing a formula is how to start. The answer is simple. You start with "=". Go type = into any cell in Excel. Anything happen?

Now type just about any letter in the alphabet. Strange fact: there are no functions that start with J, but there is at least one for every other letter of the alphabet. Who knew?

But anyway, when you start typing after an = sign, Excel starts guessing at what formula you want. If you select a formula from the list, it will tell you what the formula does.

Once you've found your formula, either hit Tab or finish typing it in with an open parentheses (. Now you get to the meat of the formula.

Parameters

I use this word a lot when talking about my spreadsheets. What I mean are the values used within a formula. In an extremely simple case like the SUM formula, the parameters are the numbers you want to add together.

Let's use the SUMIF formula as a slightly more complicated example. When you type =SUMIF( into Excel, you'll see a box that says SUMIF(range, criteria, [sum_range]). What on earth does this mean?

What it means is that for this formula, your parameters are range, criteria, and sum_range. Sum_range is in brackets because it's optional. The formula will work whether you enter the third parameter or not.

Now, just because you know what Excel calls your parameters does not mean you know how to write the formula. There are a few ways to figure it out: Trial and error, Excel help, or check out one of my tutorials! Honestly, all three of these are viable ways to get what you want, and each will be faster depending on the situation.

The Bottom Line

To write a formula, always start with your "=" sign, and then don't forget to make sure you know what your parameters are. I will have lots of tutorials on my favorite formulas, but if there is a specific one you want, please let me know! I'd be happy to help.

Good luck writing your first formulas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Welcome to Excel

The whole purpose of my blog is to help people realize how easy it is to use Excel for everyday tasks. But it's come to my attention that in order to do that, I have to make sure people know the Excel basics!

One thing I want you to remember, especially if you are brand new to Excel, is don't be afraid! Just like anything else, you get better with practice. Try things out, make mistakes, learn to correct them. And, of course, check out my blog for tips on how to do things easier and faster!

If you have never used Excel before, I highly recommend watching this video. I walk through all the basics of opening and navigating through a spreadsheet.



If you've used Excel before, and just need a reminder, here is a brief walk-through of what you'll find when opening a new spreadsheet.

First Definitions

  • Workbook - Your entire file is called a workbook. Think of it like a spiral notebook. It's just a blank page where you can enter your data.
  • Worksheet - Within your "spiral notebook" you have several pages. We call these individual pages worksheets, or tabs.

Parts of the Spreadsheet


  1. The Ribbon - Excel created the Ribbon a few years ago as a new menu bar. The whole section at the top of your file where you see "Home," "Insert," etc. is the Ribbon. Here you will find almost any command you will want.
  2. Quick Access Toolbar - Excel allows you to display your favorite buttons at the top (or bottom) of the Ribbon so that they are always on display. This means you don't have to click through all the tabs of the Ribbon to find them. Personally, I prefer my Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon, but it will automatically show up above the Ribbon. You can easily customize it by clicking the arrow on the right of the toolbar and selecting the command you want. As you can see from the picture below, I have a ton of buttons in my Quick Access Toolbar. I hate having to search for them. :)
  3. Formula Bar - The next thing at the top of your file is the formula bar. In this bar is displayed whatever you have entered into your cell. It does not have to be a formula. When you enter data into your spreadsheet, you can type into this bar or you can type straight into your cell. Either one will work. Just make sure you pay attention to where it is showing up in the spreadsheet.
  4. Main Spreadsheet - And now we get into the meat of your file: your actual spreadsheet. Let's break down the pieces.
    1. Cells - The spreadsheet is made up of cells. You can enter anything you want in these cells: numbers, titles, notes, or even formulas that Excel will calculate for you. Note that because of the grid pattern of Excel, things that you enter will always stay lined up. Sometimes this is very helpful and sometimes it is a pain, but it will take lots of practice and use before you really get the feel for when those two situations happen.
    2. Rows - Rows are always numbered in Excel. The latest version allows for up to 1,000,000 rows, which is far more than you'll ever need for most spreadsheets.
    3. Columns - Columns are lettered in Excel. The latest version allows up to column XFD, which is over 16,000 columns. Again, this is far more than you'll likely need.
  5. Tabs - See at the bottom where it says Sheet1? This is your first tab, or Worksheet. Again, this is just like the first page in your notebook. You can change its name by double-clicking and typing your new name. Note that there is a 31 character limit, so the name can't be too long. You also can't name two sheets the exact same thing. If you need a new tab, just click the little plus sign or right click on the sheet name and hit Insert then Worksheet. Ta da! Now you have a new page in your notebook.

Spreadsheet Navigation

  • Enter - Hitting Enter at any time moves you down one row in your spreadsheet. If you've typed anything into a cell, hitting Enter will store that information in that cell.
  • Tab - Tab will also store information typed in a cell, but instead of moving down one row, it will move over one column
  • Esc - Hitting Esc will clear anything typed in a cell without "storing it" and will leave the same cell selected.
  • Arrow keys - Have the same effect as Enter and Tab, in that it will move one cell in the direction indicated and store whatever has been typed in the cell.

I hope that helps you get started! Try some things out. Test what you can do. When you're ready, check out my other videos and tutorials for other ideas on what you can build with Excel.

As always, if you have questions or are stuck, please send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fantasy Fudge



Isn't it funny the memories that we associate with certain foods? For me, fudge will always remind me of the Boy Scouts. Sound strange? It's because when I was growing up, the Boy Scouts in my church would do a "fudge drive" every year to pay for camp. They probably made hundreds of pounds of fudge in one night and sold them for $4 per pound.

I remember our family always buying at least a couple pounds. I also remember the year I had my own money and could buy my own pound so I didn't have to share with my brothers. That was the best part!

Last week, while at my parents' house, my mom had her own pound of fudge for us to snack on. Unfortunately, my mom's favorite kind of fudge is Rocky Road. I hate nuts in my fudge. To me it's just wrong to ruin a good batch of fudge with nuts. But, to each his own.

With two Christmas parties this weekend, I decided to make my own batch. Without nuts. :)

While there are a million fudge recipes out there, this is the one our Boy Scouts made, and so will always be my favorite.




I usually put the fudge into five tins, one pound each, but since I was going to be sharing this at a party, I decided to pour it into a 9x13. I lined it with parchment paper to easily lift out and cut.


It's easier to prep the chocolate chips and fluff in a large bowl first so it's ready.



Then set the butter, sugar, and evaporated milk to boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring slowly to prevent burning, for six minutes.




Do this next part quickly before it sets! Add the hot sugar mixture to the chocolate and fluff. Mix completely and then add the vanilla and salt.


Pour into prepared pan and allow to cool. Then cut into squares. And try to not eat as many as I did in one go. :)

This made plenty to take to both parties and still have a tin full at home.




Fantasy Fudge


Makes: 5 Pounds
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 7 oz jar marshmallow fluff
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt

Directions:

  1. In large, heavy saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and evaporated milk over medium high heat. Bring to full boil and cook, stirring slowly, for 6 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and add to bowl with chocolate chips and marshmallow fluff.
  3. Add vanilla and salt and pour into 13x9 pan. Allow to set.

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