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31 December 2011

Auf Wiedersehen 2011

As you get ready to usher in the new year, I'd like to pass along this sentiment to each of you:

surprise yourself
Click on image for a larger version.

and I truly mean that.  I've had great fun this past year blogging and sharing some of my adventures with you, and I hope that you'll continue to join me in the coming year.  May 2012 bring you great joy and a few surprises.


30 December 2011

Sugared Cranberries

This recipe has recently become one of the most requested sweets I make for any of our family gatherings.  It is festive and beautiful and stands well on it's own or as a garnish to other dishes, plus you get a serving a fruit with the sugar.  And who doesn't love that kind of deal?!  It does have a steeping time of at least 8 hours (though 12 hours is what I find almost ideal), so plan accordingly!  You still have time to make some for your New Year's party tomorrow, if you start soon that is...

Sugared Cranberries
Printable Recipe
Adapted from EveryDay with Rachael Ray Magazine

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Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups sugar (divided use)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries (approximately 1 12-oz bag)
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

Preparation:
  1. Sort cranberries to remove any that are soft, then place in a medium heatproof bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups sugar and the water to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved; remove from heat.
  2. Pour the sugar syrup over the cranberries in the bowl; let cool to room temperature.  Once cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
  3. Using a food processor, pulse 3/4 cup sugar with the vanilla bean seeds until superfine; transfer to a shallow dish.
  4. Strain the steeped cranberries with a slotted spoon, add to the sugar and roll to coat.  Transfer the sugared berries to a parchment-lined baking sheet and let stand until set, about 1 hour.  Store in an airtight container (but not a zippered storage bag!) for up to 2 weeks.
Happy sugaring!

29 December 2011

I'm Still Here!

Yep...I'm still here!  I know I haven't been posting quite as often lately, but I have very good reasons for that, including a pre-Christmas blizzard, lots and lots of Christmas baking, and battling a cold that I just can't seem to shake.

But, let's worry about the important things right now...the baking!  I have to say, I don't know that I care to see another one of these for quite a while:

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Or another one of these:

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Ah...Christmas themed and melting snowman sugar cookies, the ubiquitous treats of the holiday season.  (You can learn how to make the snowman cookies here.)  At last count, I had baked and decorated over 29 dozen of these goodies (for those of you keeping score, that's 348 individual cookies), so I think my exhaustion of them is understandable.  There were a few days right before Christmas when I wasn't sure I would have enough counter space or baking pans to get them all finished, but, luckily, it all worked out!  And, yes, I did eat my fair share of the "less-than-perfect" ones; all the more reason for me to get back on track with my workout regimen ASAP!

Speaking of cookies, I also had the chance to make my first cookie pops and cookie bouquet these past couple of weeks.  Yes, the cookie pops were Christmas themed...Christmas trees to be exact.

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But, the cookie bouquet was not!  It was a get-well soon gift, so I had to go with an edible arrangement of sunflowers, daisies, and tulips.

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Not to shabby for a first effort, eh?  And, I have to admit, it was a lot of fun to get to create something other than a cake for a change.

Before we get too far away from the Christmas goodies, here's a few of the red, white, and green cake pops  made for the holiday.  I mixed edible glitter into the white coating in hopes that it would give the cake pops a pretty, glitter-flaked appearance; as you can tell, it wasn't one of my better ideas.  They still tasted yum though!

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Oh...and I don't have any pictures to share with you, but I also made homemade English toffee, chocolate fudge, puppy chow, reeses, cheesecake, peanut butter pie...well, you get the idea...for the fam's Christmas celebration.  This was in addition to the homemade cinnamon rolls Madre made for breakfast, and all the savory foods we had for lunch and dinner.  To say we had an over abundance of food would be an understatement, we all had rather large "doggy" bags to take home with us when it was all said and done.

I think that's all the Christmas confections I have to share with you, but I'm not done showing off my other projects just yet!  Here's a cupcake cake I made for a 60th birthday:

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And the first birthday cake and matching smash cake I made for my nephew.

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These cakes had to travel to Arkansas, so I opted to rough ice them so that they wouldn't quite so readily show any imperfections that might occur during the trip.  The mascot is hand-drawn and colored by yours truly, not a printed image.  And, yes, the birthday boy's parents are both avid Oklahoma State fans, so they are raising him up right!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and that you are looking forward to 2012.  Do you have big plans to ring in the New Year?  Let's just say mine will include lots of windshield time, a visit with some of the fam, and a football bowl game...can you guess which one?  (The birthday cake above provides a HUGE hint.)

Talk to you soon!



20 December 2011

Butter Temperature


If a recipe you're using calls for either cold butter or room-temperature (softened) butter specifically, there is a reason!  Using butter that is at the right temperature can make all the difference in a "ho-hum" recipe and "yum" recipe.

If you need COLD butter:
Dice the butter, then freeze for 10 to 15 minutes.

If you need SOFTENED or room temperature butter:
~ And you have plenty of time, place the butter in a cool area (not near the stove or any other heat sources) and allow to sit at room temperature for several hours or overnight.
~ And you have a little time, cut the butter into small pieces and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
~ And you have no time, microwave the butter in short 5 second intervals until pliable. Be careful not to let the butter melt.

Mmm...tasty!



16 December 2011

And the Winner is...

Comment #1, as picked by Random.org.


Congratulations to rbraley!  You're the lucky winner of the cookbooks and measuring cups from the "1 Year Already?" contest.

Here's the winning response:
"I love to do homemade sugar cookies.. kids and I enjoy frosting them for whatever holiday, valentines,easter, halloween and especially christmas.. That is what I give to the kids teachers for their present!" 


I'll be contacting you soon to arrange for you to collect your winnings!







13 December 2011

Stick It To Me


I love parchment paper...it is one of the most important items in my kitchen, particularly at this time of year.  It provides a nonstick surface and cuts down on cleanup time...but I always have a problem with the parchment trying to slide off my cookie sheets.  So, to help it stay put, I swipe a little butter on each corner of the pan, then top with the parchment paper.

Mmm...tasty!


09 December 2011

1 Year Already?

Yep...today's the day.  It's the 1 year anniversary of the blog! Or the "blogiversary" as I like to refer to it.

Time really flies when you're having fun...I can hardly believe it's been 365 days!  There's been a lot of ups and downs, a few changes, both big and small, and lots and lots of sugar!  Hopefully, I'll be able to continue sharing my baking and cooking adventures with you well into the future.

If you've been following my posts before now, I hope you've been enjoying yourself and a big THANK YOU for your support.  And if you're new here, feel free to take a look around...maybe you'll be tempted to check back in with us or even read the ramblings on a regular basis!

And, in honor of the blog making it to the 1 year mark, I'm having a giveaway!

Want to see what 1 lucky winner will receive?  Here it is:

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What's included:
  • 1 large "Mix-n-Measure" glass (1.5 cup capacity)
  • 1 small "Mix-n-Measure Mini Measure" glass (2 TBSP capacity)
  • 1 copy of Good Housekeeping's "Brownies:  Favorite Recipes for Blondies, Bars & Brownies" 
  • 1 copy of Good Housekeeping's "Cookies:  Favorite Recipes for Bar, Drop, Rolled, & Shaped Cookies"
So, why this stuff?  

Well, I absolutely love, love the "Mix-n-Measure" glasses.  They have several different forms of measurement (i.e. ounces, cups, grams, millimeters, teaspoons, etc) printed on the sides, making them perfect for both dry and liquid measuring.  And, as for the cookbooks, I ran across them the other day while shopping, and they just pulled me in.  (Yes, I'm a sucker for cookbooks and food photography!)  Both books have an abundance of recipes and tips, the photography is beautiful, and they are from Good Housekeeping, which means the recipes are tested and re-tested for the perfect result!  

How do you enter?*

Just leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite thing is to bake.  It could be bread, cake, cookies, or maybe something a little less common.  I look forward to seeing everyone's answers! (And, make sure you leave some type of moniker (i.e. nickname) so that I can identify you if you're the lucky winner!)

I'll announce the winner on December 16, 2011.  You'll have to check back on that day to find out if you're the lucky recipient, and if so, to find out how to claim your prize.

Good luck!





*Contest ends Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm CST.  Winner will be announced Friday, December 16, 2011.  Winner will be selected using the True Random Number Generator at Random.org.

**Disclaimer:  I am not in any way affiliated with the manufacturers, writers, etc. of any of these products, nor have I received any compensation to mention or giveaway these products on my site.  They are just a few fun items I wanted to share with one of my readers in honor of the blog's birthday.

07 December 2011

Cow Lick

Let me introduce you to the mascot for today's post:

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Pretty cute, huh?  And, she's made from gumpaste!  By me!  I think this cow may be my favorite figure I've modeled from gumpaste so far...a lot of that has to do with the facial expression though.  Expressions can make or break a modeled design. 

Wanna see the cakes that went with her?

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The main cake for a first birthday.  It was iced in green buttercream with gumpaste/fondant accents.  And let me tell you, those picket fences were a real pain to cut out with my Exacto knife!  The best part (other than the cow, of course) was the filling for this cake...homemade Bavarian cream and raspberry.  Yum, yum!

And, since it was a first birthday, there was also a smash cake to go with the main one, designed to match, of course!

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I also made this sweet Baptism cake this past week.  The client didn't have a preference on color scheme, so I went with a fun purple and lime one.  (I was trying to stay away from the traditional, expected pale pinks and blues.)  Oh, and I also made letter/name blocks for the first time.  They were surprisingly easy to create, though next time I will aim for more of a square shape rather than a rectangle.

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And, last but not least, I made this cute themed cake for one of my nieces for her 3rd birthday.  She specifically requested this cartoon bear, (yes, the one that lives in the blue house), and I couldn't resist adding the mouse.  At least I think it's a mouse, I'm, admittedly, not very familiar with this cartoon...

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Hopefully, she was pleased with it.  I didn't get to attend her celebration because I was in Stillwater watching the Cowboys kick the Sooners tails...

Anybody going to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl?  Want a travel companion??

06 December 2011

What's a "Smidgen?"


Did your grandmother ever tell you to add a "smidgen" of an ingredient to a recipe?  If so, she wasn't being vague.  A smidgen is exactly 1/2 a pinch, or to be more precise, 1/32 of a teaspoon.

Mmm...tasty!


02 December 2011

Superstitious Stew

The OSU v OU game is this Saturday!  Bedlam is pretty much a state holiday here in Oklahoma, and while I'm just making a delish dip and olive relish for the tailgate, for those of you who will be warm at home, give this quick stew a try.  (I'm not sure why it's called Superstitious Stew, other than the fact that it is a perfect football viewing food!)  You can also turn it into a fabulous warm dip by adding additional Velveeta cheese, if you'd like.

Superstitious Stew
Printable Recipe
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen
Prep/Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield:  4 servings

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 whole onion, chopped
  • 15 oz can beef broth
  • 15 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 10 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 pound Velveeta, cubed
  • 15 oz can Ranch Style Beans, undrained
  • Corn chips, optional
  • Sour cream, optional
  • Shredded cheese, optional

Preparation:
  1. Brown the ground beef and onion in a large skillet.  Drain.
  2. Using the same skillet, add the ground beef/onion mixture, beef broth, corn, diced tomatoes and green chilies, and Velveeta.  Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until the cheese is melted.
  3. Add beans, then heat until bubbly, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve over corn chips and topped with sour cream and additional cheese, if desired.

Go Pokes, Go Pokes, Go Pokes...Go!  
Guess who I'm rooting for?  Happy cooking!

01 December 2011

Eclectic Eleven

Ever stop to look around you, and wonder where all the time has gone?  Sure, I know what I've been doing every day - I've got the marked up "To-Do" lists to prove it - but, I still can hardly believe it's already December.  I haven't even finished my Christmas shopping yet!  I'm definitely not complaining about my full schedule, I just sometimes wish I could squeeze a few more hours into the day, and maybe even figure out how to slow time down during those moments I really want to savor...

Anyway, enough of me rambling!  I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving and that you gobbled until you wobbled!  The family and I certainly did, and I enjoyed making the desserts for this year's feast.  I finally settled on pumpkin pies (of course), chocolate pies, mini cheesecakes, sugared cranberries, mini apple pies, and grape salad.  I apologize for not having photos of any of the sweets I made, but I will be sharing the recipes for a couple of these in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those!

I do have photos of cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops for you though.  (I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  My kitchen has been busy!)  Let's get started!

Red, yellow, and green cake pops:

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I'm always on the lookout for fun, inexpensive ways to display finished cake pops, and this cute cardboard box I picked up at Hobby Lobby for 99¢ was perfect.  I did have to cut the top off of it and insert a couple of pieces of styrofoam to hold the pops, but it was still a perfect solution!

The cake pops were favors for the party these car themed cupcakes attended:

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The cars were made from fondant pressed into a mold, then I added the black accents with a food color pen. The stoplights were made from fondant and miniature candy coated chocolates!

Usually when I make cupcakes, I either have to bake more cupcakes than I need or save the batter for a later use (luckily, I know it freezes perfectly well).  But this works out to my advantage when I have a last minute order come in because I can defrost the batter and have freshly baked cupcakes in minutes!

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These cupcakes were pumpkin spice with cream cheese icing and lemon with vanilla buttercream.  The leaf accents were fondant that had been brushed with a little gold and green petal dust to give them added dimension.

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This cake and pie aren't terribly fancy to look at, but they were the two most important baked goods I've made this last couple of weeks.  They were the desserts for Madre's birthday party!  The pie was a black-bottom banana cream pie and the cake was a from scratch coconut cake with a strawberry filling.  Yum, yum!

Here's a fancy cake, too though.  Complete with feathers and glitter!

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No the feathers are not edible.  Though I've heard some whispers that an edible feather can be made from rice/wafer paper, an interesting concept I may have to do more looking into, but delivery would be a nightmare because they would never survive our winds out here!  The cake is a topsy-turvy style, so it was covered in fondant to give added support.

I'm not a gamer, but after tackling this next cake, I'm more familiar with this series of war games than I ever thought I would be!  And, though I vaguely remembered hearing about the armed forces adopting a digital camouflage pattern, I'd never been curious enough to check it out...until it was requested for this cake.  Turns out it's more of a "square" pattern than rounded shapes...makes sense, the pixels and all...needless to say it was knowledge expanding experience all the way around!

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I hand cut all the silhouettes.  I could have set-up the Silhouette cutter to do this for me, but I didn't want to take the time to do that.  Oh, the irony...I spent over an hour cutting the pieces. Haha!

The force is strong in these next two cakes.

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All the characters on both of these cakes are edible.  I cut them from gumpaste then used food coloring to draw them.  The side of the top cake reads "Come to the dark side - we have cookies."  It was the perfect opportunity to use this phrase since the reciepent of the cake not only loves these movies, but is also a computer guru.  And yes, the Yoda on the second cake is a Lego version.  It was the best way I could decide to combine the movies, Legos, and the color blue all into one cake!

(We're nearly to the end...just two more cakes to go!  Hang in there!)

I know I've asked this question before concerning a different character, but when did the ones I grow up with all get makeovers?  I am, apparently, so behind the times!  Regardless, the cake, which was all buttercream with fondant accents, turned out exceptionally well once it was finished.

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And, here's the final cake of the post!  Also, I've got good news...for sticking it out with me, you're a WINNER!

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Of what, other than being a fantastic blog follower, I'm not sure.  But who can argue with cake?  This one was based on the honoree's fondness for the Wheel of Fortune slots, and yes, the coins are chocolate.  You says you can't eat money?

Talk to you soon!

29 November 2011

Beat the Spread


No, this isn't a tip for how to beat the extra pounds that we all seem to acquire between Thanksgiving and the New Year...but it is a tip for how to make sure your holiday cookies bake up at their best!

Instead of arranging the cookie dough balls in a straight line, try staggering them.  This will help keep the cookies from spreading into one another as they bake.

Mmm....tasty!


23 November 2011

Sour Cream Chip Muffins

These muffins make a perfect breakfast or a great snack and are quick to whip up using ingredients you probably already have on hand.  An added bonus to this recipe is that you won't even have to get out the mixer!  Try using different flavored chips to change things up - mint chocolate chips lend them a festive holiday feel and are one of my favorite variations.

Sour Cream Chip Muffins
Printable Recipe
Adapted from Taste of Home
Yield:  Approximately 1 dozen muffins
Time:  30 minutes

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 5 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg, sour cream, butter, and vanilla; stir well.  Add the wet ingredient mixture into the dry ingredients; stir just until moistened.  (Dough will be thick.)  Fold in the chocolate chips.
  2. Fill 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake at 350°F for 15 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan to a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Happy Baking!

22 November 2011

Turkey Tip: Stuff, Cook, Eat


Thanksgiving is only 2 days away!  I hope you've got your turkey thawing in the refrigerator by now...

For today's tip(s) though:
  • Don't stuff the bird!  Stuff the turkey after you cook it if you'd like, but stuffing it prior to cooking can result in an unevenly cooked bird.  To ensure you have a good opening to place the stuffing in after cooking, place a large soup can (both ends removed) in the bird's cavity; you can also add aromatics if you'd like.  Just remove the can and add the (cooked) stuffing while the bird rests.  If you want the stuffing to have those awesome crunchy bits, just make a couple of passes over it with a blowtorch.
  • The bird will need to roast for 15 to 20 minutes per pound (325°F is the recommended oven temperature).  But, how do you know when it's done?  Just place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, taking care not to touch the bone; the temperature should read 155°F.
  • Allow the turkey to rest after cooking.  Tent it loosely with foil after removing from the oven and let the bird sit for 15 to 20 minutes.  This will allow the internal temperature to reach 165°F.  Then it's time to carve and eat!
One last little bit of fun trivia for you:  It takes 3 to 4 hours to roast a 14 to 16 pound turkey, but only about 20 minutes to eat it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mmm...Tasty!


17 November 2011

Birthdays, Baby Showers, & Boone

Boone Pickens Stadium that is.  Remember, last time I posted cakes I mentioned I was going to attempt OSU themed cake pops?  Well, here they are:

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I was pleased they survived the road trip (turns out we have some very ROUGH roads here in Oklahoma...surprise, surprise); they were a big hit at the tailgate.  And I learned that football shaped cake pops are not nearly as easy to make as I initially thought...but the less then perfect appearance is easily forgiven when there's chocolate cake inside!

The birthday cake below was rough iced with yellow buttercream and included a hand cut monogram and fantasy flower detail.  The yellow icing wasn't quite as bright as it appears in the picture, it was actually quite a bit more pastel.

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The second birthday cake from last week; however, really was as bright as it appears.  I was told the birthday gal loves baby blue and daisies, so this cake was a fairly easy one to design.  The colors are a great, cheery combination!  The cake was mostly buttercream, only the daisy petals were made from fondant.

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And, lastly, this adorable baby shower cake.  The design was taken from the invitation, and is made from fondant pieces.  Each color was cut to shape, then the pieces were fit together like a puzzle; then I painted on the eyes, noses, and mouths using a little bit of black food coloring.

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I'm busy planning desserts and other yummy goodness for Thanksgiving next week.  The only problem is that I have more recipes I want to make than our guests could possibly eat...cheesecakes, fruit, custard, and cream pies, cookies, brownies, and bars, homemade breads, pastas and potato dishes, layered salads and delicious dips, vegetable and fruit sides...I suppose I need to pick just a few, and save the others for a different time.  There is always Christmas...or I could just find a few willing folks to sample the recipe of the week, whatever it may be, for the next year or so.  Hmm, there's an idea...any volunteers?