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28 February 2012

Be A Mindful Eater


You've probably heard about "mindful eating," but you've wondered what exactly it is.  Well, it's knowing what you're eating and why - and taking the time to enjoy every bite!

One of the easiest ways to start becoming a mindful eater is to not settle.  If, for instance, you are craving some Chunky Monkey ice cream, don't settle for low-fat frozen yogurt.  The fro yo is just a substitute that will likely leave you unfulfilled and still craving the Chunky Monkey, so you'll end up eating the yogurt and heaven only knows what else, before eventually giving in to your craving anyway.  You are better off eating a scoop of the good stuff and savoring every spoonful!

Mmm...tasty!

24 February 2012

Baking for A Baker

I had the opportunity this past week to make the birthday cake for one of my cake comrades.  And, while I was excited to undertake the project, I was also quite nervous about it.  After all, she's a baker herself, has cake decorating skills I'm slightly envious of and owns her own bakery...no pressure or anything.  She seemed genuinely pleased with the cake, so I definitely breathed a sigh of relief after I delivered it!  And, I think it may well be one of my favorite cakes.  Think it could have anything to do with the theme?

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The cake was iced in buttercream with the pink and green overlays done in fondant, and all the small baking accoutrements were made from gumpaste.  They included bags of flour and sugar, a rolling pin, oven mitt, eggs, a bowl of batter (complete with a spoon), cookies, and, of course, a cake, cake slice, and cupcake.  The stand mixer was molded from rice krispy treats then covered in fondant...my first ever attempt at a larger scale "krispy" design.  I was pleased that it looked like the object it was supposed to represent and that it didn't cave in on itself.  (I did some serious thinking and planning on the supports for it.  I'm no engineer, but they worked!)  I've still got to do some work on covering the krispies smoothly though...it was a bit "bumpier" than I would have liked.

I did quite a lot of other gumpaste work/sculpting, in addition to the miniatures for the baker's cake, this past week.  There was this wedding cake with gumpaste roses, leaves, and stephanotis:

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This baby shower cake with baby booties and bow:

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Side note:  I just have to say, I love the giraffe print!  It's a nice change from the zebra that is very popular right now and still fits well with a safari theme.  Plus, I got to work in a heart shaped spot...do you see it?  There were also cake balls to accompany the giraffe baby shower cake:

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And, then these horse themed cupcakes:

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Yes, the horse heads are 3D.  No, I didn't sculpt them by hand - I used a mold that I had from a previous project.  Might as well use the tools available to make things easier, right?

Oh, and I have to share this deliciousness with you...

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Brown butter chocolate chip cookie sundaes with mocha fudge sauce.  They...were...amazing!  So good in fact, that I didn't share with the family.  And, that's saying something since I typically try one of anything I bake up, then send the rest to my nieces, nephews, sisters, madre, etc.  Why?  Well, less temptation that way and less possibility of falling off the fitness wagon.  

But...not with these, these I kept all to myself.  Don't judge me - there were only 6 and I've still got 2 in the fridge.  It's not like I gorged myself by eating them all in one sitting.  And, I will be throwing these in as a dessert when I do my turn as cook for the goat kidding crew.  I think they'll be a big hit.

Who wants a sundae?

22 February 2012

Chocolate & Water

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Yes, you read the title correctly.  And, if you are at all familiar with baking or pastry or the use of chocolate in general, then your first thought was probably along the lines of "NEVER combine the two, disaster will occur!" and, until recently, I was right there with you.

After all, that seems to be the first rule of working with chocolate - never, never, never allow the chocolate to come into contact with water, particularly when melting.  The result will be a seized glob of unusable chocolate, an outcome that truly is a tragedy!

But...I've recently found one instance in which combining the two, and nothing else, actually results in a delicious, decadent dessert!  What's the resulting dessert?  A deep, dark chocolate mousse that I'd recommend serving in small portions along with a dollop of whipped cream or a glass of milk.  Yes...it is that indulgent.  (And coming from a huge chocolate lover like myself, that's saying something!)

Admittedly, the only reason I even tried the recipe was because I doubted it would work.  And the first time it didn't.   In fact, all I achieved with the first effort was to splatter madre's kitchen and myself with chocolate sauce.  Not a pretty sight, especially considering the mousse was going to be our Valentine's Day dessert.  Good thing she had ice cream on hand...  

However, the intrigue of the recipe lived on, so I attempted it a second time, this time precisely measuring the ingredients using a scale.  (I didn't the first round and the recipe won, but using the scale made me victorious in round 2!)  Learn from my mistake...precisely measure the ingredients if you try this recipe!

So, here it is, the recipe for 2-Ingredient Chocolate Mousse:

2 Ingredient Chocolate Mousse
Printable Recipe
Genius Recipes/Herve This*
Yield:  4 servings

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Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces (approx 3/4 cup) water
  • 8 ounces chocolate (choose a high quality chocolate that you LOVE & do not use chocolate chips)
Preparation:
  1. Pour the water into a sauce pan, then over medium-low heat, whisk in the chocolate until it is completely melted.  A well-blended, thin chocolate sauce should be the result.
  2. Put the saucepan in a bowl partly filled with ice cubes , then whisk the sauce, either manually or with an electric mixer. After awhile strands of chocolate will begin to form in the loops of the whisk; pour or spoon the mixture immediately into ramekins or small bowls and allow to set.
  3. Serve immediately, or refrigerate.  Top with whipped cream, if desired.
Notes:
  • The flavor of the mousse can be altered with addition of a bit of vanilla, orange juice, cassis puree, flavored liquers, coffee, etc during the first step.
  • To chill the mixture faster in step 2, pour it into another bowl set over the ice cubes.
  • If using an electric mixer in step 2, keep a close eye on the chocolate, as it will thicken faster.
  • Three things can go wrong:
    • If your chocolate doesn't contain enough fat, melt the mixture again, add some chocolate, then whisk again.
    • If the mousse is not light enough, melt the mixture again, add some water, then whisk again.
    • If you whisk it too much and it becomes grainy, melt the mixture and whisk again, adding nothing.  Just don't whisk quite as long!
Mmm...tasty!

21 February 2012

Put a Cork In It


Next time you finish a bottle of champagne, save the cork.  Why?

Well, while I'm sure the cork has lots of uses, one of the best I've found is to use it as a plug for the hole in the middle of my food processor's work bowl.  Voila!  No more worrying about losing ingredient because of the opening and I don't have to dirty another dish if I need to stir in additional ingredients.

Mmm...tasty!

15 February 2012

Feelin' Green

It rarely happens that I have orders for cakes in the same color scheme in the space of a few days, but this week was an exception - two cake orders, both using lime green, pink and black.

There was this purse cake:

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Complete with pearls, a cuff bracelet, and "diamond" earrings.  The cake was covered in fondant; all the jewelry and additional accessories were made from gumpaste.

And this zebra-striped and "accessorized" cake:

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Sunglasses, nail polish, lipstick, a purse, and feathers...what more could a girl need?!  This cake was buttercream with the lime green overlays done in fondant.  I had originally planned to add the zebra stripes using additional fondant, but decided at the last minute to paint them onto the buttercream instead.  All the accessories were made from gumpaste, with the exception of the purse.  It was molded from rice krispies and had a black licorice handle.  (Speaking of molding things from rice krispies, wish me luck on my project for next weekend...it will be my largest "krispy" object to date, and I'm nervous about it for several reasons!)

Aside from the cakes, I also was given the opportunity to create this cupcake buffet for the local "Women in Agriculture" conference.  It included five cupcake flavor combinations, and considering that within the space of about 2 hours nearly all 6 dozen were gone, I'd say they went over extremely well.

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And, I would be remiss if I didn't share some Valentine's themed baking with you, since the "day of love" was earlier this week.  So, how about some decorated sugar cookies?  The first Valentine's Day themed ones I've ever created, in fact!

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I think my favorite designs were the "XO" cookies and the lovebirds...

Talk to you soon!
P.S.  I apologize for some of the less than stellar photos in this post.  I'm seriously considering getting a "big girl" camera soon, if I can only decide which one I want.  Of course, an improved camera will only help so much...there's not much you can do when it's 2 AM and there's no natural light to be found...

14 February 2012

How-To: Chop Chocolate


Ah...Valentine's Day.  The holiday that's all about amore, roses, and chocolate.  And, while the first two things are fabulous and great, I'm concerned with the chocolate today...specifically how to chop chocolate.

Choose a serrated-blade knife (a bread knife works especially well), and begin at the corner of the chocolate with the knife angled slightly outward.  Then using a smooth back and forth sawing motion and pressing only as hard as necessary, begin to whittle the chocolate into almond sized pieces.  Once you have cut one corner down sufficiently, rotate the chocolate and begin on a new corner until all the chocolate is chopped into fairly uniform-sized pieces.

If you find that the chocolate seems too soft or starts to melt, place it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  You can also do this prior to chopping to make the chocolate even easier to work with.

Mmm...tasty!



13 February 2012

Valentine's Marshmallow Pops

I had planned to share the recipe for these beauties with you as fun Valentine's Day baking project.  They look yum, don't they?

Photo:  Food Network Magazine

After all, who can say no to red velvet sandwich cookies with a coconut cream cheese filling?

Unfortunately, the recipe didn't work out nearly as well as I expected, especially considering the glossy magazine spread I'd gleaned the recipe from (see photo above).  My attempt looked nothing like the Food Network chefs' version.  In fact, here's how my cookies turned out:

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NAILED IT!!  

Haha!  Nowhere even close to comparing to the magazine photo.  I just had to laugh...I knew when I was mixing the dough that the cookies were doomed, but I went ahead and tried them anyway.  I kept thinking the recipe was missing some type of binder, an egg or milk maybe, and apparently I should have added one.  (The reviews I found through Google, after the fact, confirmed my suspicion and gave me comfort that I was not alone in the recipe failure.)  On the bright side, if I ever need a crispy cookie that looks like a ground meat patty, I have the perfect recipe!!  Oh, and the filling really was quite good.

So, as a "Plan B" Valentine's Day edible project, I give you these Valentine's Marshmallow Pops.

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Super easy, there's no baking required, and super quick!  I turned out 2 dozen of these cuties in under 30 minutes, not including the drying time.  And, as an added bonus, marshmallows are fat free!  You just have to love a sweet treat that isn't loaded with fat calories, though the sugar count is probably through the roof.  We don't really need to go there, do we?  

I used the Campfire brand "HeartMallows" for these pops, but any brand of heart-shaped marshmallows will work. (One bag yielded about 2 dozen pops.)  Or if you've got the time, you can make your own homemade marshmallows!  Use any chocolate you'd like, white, semisweet, dark, etc, just make sure it's good quality so that it will melt easily and smoothly and set-up well.

Dress them up a bit for gift giving by packaging each one in a small, clear bag tied with a festive piece of ribbon or a silver twist tie.

Valentine's Marshmallow Pops
Yield:  2 to 3 dozen pops, depending on design
Time:  Approx. 30 minutes + drying time

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Ingredients:

  • 24 to 36, 4" or 6" lollipop sticks (you'll need 6" sticks if you intend to use 2 or more marshmallows per pop)
  • 24 to 36, heart-shaped marshmallows
  • 12 oz good quality chocolate, melted
  • Assorted sprinkles, jimmies, or decos
  • Lollipop bags and twist ties/ribbon, if desired

Preparation:
  1. Gently push one or more heart marshmallows onto a lollipop stick, being careful not to go through the top side of the marshmallow.  Repeat with the remaining marshmallows and lollipop sticks.
  2. Dip each marshmallow pop into the melted chocolate.  Gently tap the excess chocolate off, then sprinkle with the chosen decorations, or drizzle with additional chocolate.
  3. Allow the pops to dry completely.  Depending on how the pops are dipped, you may need to lay them flat on a wax paper lined cookie sheet or stand them upright in a Styrofoam block or drinking glass.  If you are in a hurry, you can place the pops in the refrigerator for a few minutes to speed up the drying process.
  4. Once the pops are dry, you can place each pop into a clear cellophane lollipop bag and tie with ribbon or twist ties, if desired.
Happy Valentine's Day!

09 February 2012

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!

It's sooo FLUFFY!!!

Haha!  Do you have any guesses what the themes of the two cakes this past week were?  I'll wait while you contemplate your answers...

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Need a hint?  The first cake is referenced in the post's title and the second cake is referenced in the post's very first line.

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Ready?

Here's the first one:

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Yep, it's the "super" man himself, complete with a few homemade kryptonite crystals.  There's just something about playing with 300°F sugar that's hard to resist; maybe it's the fact that one slip could leave you with a severe burn.  I like to live dangerously...sometimes..and within reason, of course.

And, here's the second one:

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Recognize this "stuffed" unicorn?  If you have children or are a fan of animated movies, I imagine you do.  Despicable Me ring any bells?  

So, how is it that I came to create Mr. Fluffy (as I've christened him) here?  My niece requested a unicorn cake for her birthday and I knew she was a huge of the movie, so it was a natural choice.  And, yes, he is constructed from cake and buttercream, with just a little bit of fondant here and there and some gumpaste details.  (Not a rice krispy in sight!)  And to make the sugar overload complete, how about a mane and tail made of cotton candy and sugar cookies to spell out "It's so fluffy!"  By the way, it turns out cotton candy melts incredibly easily when it comes into contact with piping gel.  I must have replaced and rebuilt the mane and tail at least four times!  And, yes, I considered other methods of attaching the cotton candy to the cake, but all of my ideas were worse than the piping gel; worked out in the end though...

Ciao!


07 February 2012

How-To: Hull Strawberries


Planning on making a delicious strawberry dessert for your sweetheart on Valentine's Day?  If so, try this tip for hulling strawberries:

Center a sturdy, plastic straw at the bottom of the strawberry.  Push the straw up toward the cap of the strawberry, keeping the straw as centered as possible.  The core and cap will come off in one easy movement.

And, as an added bonus, this makes the strawberry easier to stuff or pipe full of additional deliciousness.  Maybe a yummy cheesecake filling with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs and then dipped in chocolate?

Mmm...tasty!


02 February 2012

Let's Get Fancy!

I continued my educational foray into "new" children's characters this past week.  (And by "new" I mean characters that I don't remember from my childhood or characters that have been updated so much that they are hardly recognizable next to their former counterparts...such as this one and this one.)

Anywho, the character this week really is a new one - her name's Nancy, and she's fancy, and she loves to use big words, so she's a character after my own heart!  Of course, a cake designed around the book series had to be just as splendiferous - with feathers, jewelry, sunglasses, and, of course, a crown.

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The crown was made from gumpaste.  I considered using royal icing, but had read too many horror stories about royal icing crowns breaking into a million little pieces...I needed something stronger, so gumpaste it was.  Not to shabby for a first effort, eh?

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There were also these fun cupcakes to match the cake.  This one is the dark pink/chocolate cake version, but there was also a light pink/white cake version.  And, yes, the "jewel" and butterfly were edible!

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And every fancy party should include purses and shoes!  Oh, and don't forget a few more crowns and a wand or two.  All cookie versions, of course, so no need to try to find space for them in your closet!

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Not everything I created this past week was full of glitz and glitter though.  
There was this wildcat cake:

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It was filled with tequila lime buttercream, and with the exception of the logo and inscription, was all buttercream.

And this Bieber fever mp3 player cake:

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The "screen" on the player is an edible image.  Sometimes you just have to concede that your best hand drawn effort won't measure up to the look of a pre-printed one...but the headphones and mp3 player are both made from gumpaste and made by yours truly, so I suppose I redeemed myself somewhat.

And, last, a few more birthday themed sugar cookies:

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In a few different shapes and designs than the previous ones from last week.  And, yes, I did add the ice cream cone cutter to my collection...but just look how fun it is!  How could I resist?  

Now, about the storage of all those cookie cutters, does anyone have any good ideas to suggest?  I need something that doesn't take up much space...

Are you planning to watch the super game this coming weekend?  I am, though more for the commercials than anything.  Oh, and we won't be having pizza, it'll be homemade chicken fried steaks instead.  Now, that's real football food!