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29 June 2012

Visiting Sous Chef

My nephew joined me in the kitchen for a bit a few days ago.  I did my best to start teaching him the ropes, but he wasn't all that interested; the toy car he discovered was much more entertaining.  He did do a fine job of adding the lemonade mix to the pitcher; only had to clean up a small spill, so there is definitely potential!  Though maybe I should give it a few more years, give him time to grow a little so he can reach the counter top.

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Why was my nephew invading, I mean, hanging out at my house?  He and my sister came home for a visit and to help with the weaning of our latest group of goat kids, and, of course, since we were going to have a few extra people around to help us out, I went into full-on cook mode.  I made some good stuff too.  Wanna see?

(This is by no means everything I made, it's mostly just the sweet offerings, the savory options didn't have a chance to get their close-up since I was running behind schedule when it came time to serve.)

Candy Bar Cake
This was a cake I had originally seen in Food Network Magazine and wanted to try out.  It uses all store-bought ingredients, so it's quick and fairly easy to put together.  But...I had forgotten how awful store-bought pound cake tastes, and if I were to ever make this cake again, I'd make some changes to the recipe...for instance, make my own pound cake.  If you want to make one for yourself, you can find the recipe and how-to here.
  
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Cake Batter Rice Krispy Treats
"Ooo...yum!" That was my immediate thought when I came across these on Pinterest the other day.  My second thought?  "Must make soon!"  My verdict?  I'll stick to regular rice krispies.  (I think my focus group that day felt the same way, there were very few gone from the pan when it was all over.)

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
First time I've ever made lemon poppy seed cookies.  Shocked?  You probably shouldn't be if you've read the blog for any period of time; my tendencies lean towards the chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate variety.  Can you blame me?  These were a nice change from chocolate though, really light and summery and crispy.  But, I didn't care for the texture of the dough when I was rolling the cookies out.  Are most lemon poppy seed cookie doughs fairly dry?  I may have to make another batch using a different recipe...

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Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies
I love a good chocolate chip cookie, and these were pretty tasty, especially warm right out of the oven.  Will I make them again?  That's up in the air.  Like I said, they were tasty (lots and lots of chocolate), but required ingredients I don't typically keep on hand (ahem...bread and cake flour), they burned easily, and I had to wait 24 to 72 hours before baking them.  Sorry, folks, but when I want a chocolate chip cookie, I want it that day; not 1 or several days from then.  I think I'll stick with my regular recipe, and maybe just save this one for a special occasion when I need a little extra chocolate "oomph" in a chocolate chip cookie.

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Four recipe try-outs in and I'm sure that by now, you are probably thinking that I didn't make any dishes that I was happy with, but you would be jumping ahead yourself, because I did make two things that I loved.  Loved, I say!

The first...
Strawberry Super Pie
This recipe uses 3 pounds of strawberries.  Yes, you read that correctly.  3 pounds of strawberries...and for that very reason, it is a pie that will be relegated to the summer season.  Why?  You have to use fresh berries, frozen just won't cut it here, and strawberries are typically at their best June through August.  

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And, the second...
P.A.C. Granola
(The P.A.C. stands for pecans, almonds, and cherries.)
Saying I love this is a pretty big deal because I am not a granola fan.  Or, at least, I wasn't before this.  Of course, I had never made my own granola; had only tried pre-packaged versions and had not been impressed.  But this...this was delicious!

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Are you hungry now?

If it helps any, as soon as I find my recipe notes for the granola and super pie I plan to share them with you.  The problem is I can't seem to remember where I put them; good thing I'm planning to clean the house this weekend!

Talk to you soon!

26 June 2012

Ice Cube Improv


Want to add a little pizzazz to the clear or light colored beverage you're serving at your next party?  Freeze clean red, purple, or green grapes (or go all out and mix the colors) until solid.  Once completely frozen, put the grapes in individual glasses or into a large pitcher*, then add the liquid and serve.  The grapes add a pretty pop of color and will do double duty by keeping the drink cold without watering it down.  No ice cubes needed!

*Works best if you use clear glass or plastic containers so the colors will really show through.

Mmm...tasty!


20 June 2012

Summer Time!

It's officially summer!  Woo hoo!  (No, seriously...look on your calendar.  It even says Summer Begins or something along those lines.  If it doesn't, then it should; maybe it's time to upgrade? Hmm?)

Anywho, regardless of your calendar superiority or lack there of, how about these pretty coral and daisy yellow damask sugar cookies to start us off?

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My first time to ever stencil a design onto cookies using royal icing.  (Refer to middle cookie, front row.)  Turned out pretty well and, I must say, the application went much quicker than I anticipated it would.

Ooo...check out these daisy and number 1 topped cupcakes and smash cake.  Hot pink!  Lime Green!  Purple!  Fun summer colors if I do say so myself...

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Of course, summer isn't really off to a good start until you see lots of sunshine.  (And heat, but we'll gladly stay away from that as long as possible.)  These cupcakes are portable, flower themed doses of sunshine yellow.  

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Admit it, just the color brightened your day, didn't it?  See, it works!

Summer time is all about vacations!  And, what better place to visit than the ocean.  You might even encounter a few friendly sea dwelling animals.

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Fish, sharks, turtles, crabs, and octupi...oh my!  And, can I just say I love the turtle's expression in the picture above.  (Made you look twice, huh?)

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This cake is almost entirely buttercream; the only fondant to be found is in the inscription on the board the and "1" the octopus is holding.  Everything else is buttercream.  Yes, I said buttercream.  

I think I'm going to refer to my technique and attempt as "modified figure piping" because I know it is nowhere near, not within many, many miles, of what can be accomplished by someone who actually knows how to figure pipe.  (If you're curious, Google "Roland Winbeckler figure piping" or just "figure piping," you'll get a nice broad spectrum of images showcasing the good, the bad, and the ugly.)

This marks the end of the summer time theme.  The three cakes that follow are fabulous, but my weary mind didn't seem to be able to find suitable ways to tie them in with those above.  *sigh*

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A farewell cake for our local Baptist Student Union leader.  The stained glass window was created using fondant and royal icing; the inscription was cut using the Silhouette and icing sheets.

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Have you got the fever?  Bieber fever!  Buttercream cake with fondant details and accents.  The iPod screen is an edible image, the microphone topper was molded from rice krispy treats, then covered in fondant.

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Basic German chocolate cake.  Why no decoration?  Because it wasn't for anything specific, I just couldn't bring myself to waste the homemade coconut pecan icing.  So I whipped up this little beauty and made sure it went to a good home!

Talk to you soon!

19 June 2012

Key Limes


Summer begins tomorrow!  (Officially, anyway...I've been a summer state of mind for several weeks now.)  And key lime pie is a ubiquitous summer-time dessert, but what if you can't find key limes?  Can you substitute regular limes?

The answer:  you can, but the pie will taste slightly different because regular Persian limes are less tart and floral tasting than their key lime counterparts.

Make the substitution:  use the same amount of juice or zest, but make sure you measure by volume and not by lime count.  (Key limes are much smaller than regular limes, so they have less peel and yield less juice.)

You can also try mixing a bit of fresh tangerine or orange juice with regular lime juice to re-create the complex flavor Key limes.

Best time to buy Key limes?  The Florida crop of Key limes is at its peak during the summer months, so opt for the fresh fruit in  late June, July, and August.  Many stores also now carry bottled key lime juice as another option year round.

Mmm...tasty!




13 June 2012

Greek Chicken Wraps

I've got a recipe for you today!

Best part?  It's a "quickie," not even 30 minutes and you've got it made!  And, these make excellent leftovers, served warm or cold.  Hmm, healthy brown bag lunch option, perhaps?

The photo doesn't look like much, but I promise, these are delicious.  Oh, and, we are going to pretend that there are tomatoes in the wrap in the photo...mmmk?  We used up all the 'maters before I got around to taking the pictures.  Sorry!

Greek Chicken Wraps
Printable Recipe
Adapted Slightly from "Emily Bites"
Prep/Cook Time:  15 minutes
Yield:  Approx 6 wraps
Greek Chicken Wraps

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp  dried rosemary
  • 12 to 16 oz pre-cooked chicken strips (I used the Tyson Grilled & Ready frozen variety)
  • 6 wheat tortillas or wraps
  • 3/4 cup roasted garlic hummus (or any other flavor you prefer)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • Balsamic vinegar

Preparation:
  1. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the garlic, basil, oregano, and rosemary; cook 1 minute or until garlic is fragrant.  Add the chicken and stir to coat with the oil/herb mixture.  Cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until chicken is warmed through.
  2. Warm the tortillas/wraps.  Spread 2 tablespoons of hummus down the center of each tortilla.  Divide the chicken evenly among the 6 tortillas, then top each with 2 tablespoons crumbled feta and a few tomato pieces.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Fold in the ends of each tortilla, then roll the sides to make a wrap.  Slice each wrap in half before serving, if desired.
Happy cooking!



12 June 2012

Purple Fade


Ah...purple.  The color of royalty, the Colorado Rockies, and among other things, a dreaded color to try to create in edible mediums.  Buttercream, royal icing, fondant, gumpaste - the list goes on...they all have a tendency to fade to blue when colored purple.  (Purple, while the most common culprit, isn't the only color that will do this, anything with a red component has the potential; see below.)

Why?  Well, there's a lot of science behind it, but basically red + blue = purple, and, due to regulations, the reds that are often used in food dyes today are fairly unstable.  Result - the red fades quickly, leaving behind only the blue.

So, how to combat the fade? There are several food dyes on the market that are "no-fade" and seem to give good results, but if you don't want to purchase a special product, try one of these approaches:
  • If your recipe calls for a liquid (i.e. water) substitute milk in an equal amount.
  • Add a few additional drops of red or bright pink food color.
  • Use powdered food colors.
And, keep in mind:
  • Lemon juice and cream of tartar will often cause the color to change to blue; save yourself some trouble and omit these ingredients if they are included in your recipe.  (The acids don't play well with the purple food dye, in particular.)
  • Direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting will speed fading, so try to keep the finished product away from these light sources if at all possible.
Mmm...tasty!

07 June 2012

Checkmate

Completed my first wedding cake of 2012 this past weekend!

Crazy, I know.  Here it is June and I've only done one wedding cake for the year thus far; that's just the way things go sometimes.  I've had plenty of other things on my schedule to keep me busy though, so no worries.

Since it has been a while since my last foray into wedding land, I had somewhat forgotten how stressful wedding cake orders can be.  Lulled into a comfort zone, perhaps? And, while I take every cake I create very seriously, wedding cakes bring a special kind of worry with them; this one was no exception.

But, first!  The groom's cake, which I absolutely loved and had great fun creating.  This was the first time I have ever made 3D objects using a 2D mold - make the two halves, put them together, blend the seams, yadda, yadda - I wont' bore you with the details...it was an adventure, to say the least.

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Pretty nifty, eh?  Here's a close up of some of the chess pieces:

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Oh, and did I mention the squares on the board were also made from chocolate?  And the cake was chocolate?  Complete chocolaty chess goodness!

Now, about the wedding cake.  

I may have mentioned, but I'm not the biggest fan of fondant covered cakes; I prefer buttercream finished with fondant accents.  True, I might come to love covering cakes with fondant if I practice the process a little more, and one of these days when I have the time, I'll take the "good 'ol college try" at perfecting the process, but for now, fondant covered cakes and I will continue our love/hate relationship.

This cake is a perfect example of the above mentioned relationship...it was fondant covered AND included an extended tier; double whammy!  It took me over 3 hours, several aborted attempts and restarts, and lots of patience to cover the extended tier to my liking.  (Luckily, the other two tiers played nice and covered in mere minutes!)  And, additional lesson learned - always insert your separator plates/legs soon after covering the cake with fondant; waiting until the next morning will result in cracks in the fondant.  *sigh*  Luckily, I'm a pretty good repair-woman, the cracks were nearly invisible when I was finished!

Oh, and before I reveal the cake...  What?  I have to keep the suspense up!

Anyways, before I reveal the cake, I have to share the absolute best remodel decision I ever made, and I wasn't even caking at the time I made the decision!  Haha!

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Yes...that is one of my kitchen cabinet doors.  And, yes, I am utilizing the wire mesh front panel (that I chose not to back with anything during the remodel, score!) as a drying rack for gumpaste hydrangeas.  Who needs a fancy store bought drying rack when I've got 15 cabinet doors available?  Side note - please excuse the mess that is the interior of the cabinet.

So, are you ready to see the wedding cake?  By now you know it was fondant finished, three tiers, and included the color blue.  

Here it is.  Tah-dah!

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The bride was supremely pleased with the finished cake, and it certainly drew plenty of attention while my helper (Hi, Madre!) and I were finishing the set-up at the reception room.  All the floral work was hand-made using gumpaste (yep...made by my hands!) and took several days to complete; the borders were fabric ribbon that matched the main color of the wedding.

Here's a closer look at some of the flowers, which included roses, hydrangeas, stephanotis, stylized dogwoods, and several types of leaves.  The colors were a bit brighter than they appear in the photos, but, as is so often the case with wedding reception locations, it was fairly dark in the room.  One of the drawbacks of having to finish a cake on site - not always good lighting for taking photos! 

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Talk to you soon!
Oh!  And a shout out to my eldest sister for helping me load the cake for transport to the reception location. It wouldn't have gotten there without her assistance!

05 June 2012

Build a Better Sandwich


Making a super stuffed sandwich?  Try pulling out the bready inside of your sandwich roll.  Doing so will make more room for the filling, plus it will be easier to eat.

Mmm...tasty!