Tag Archives: catering

Hand Me Downs or I must have been Adopted or Banana Pudding

8 Sep

I used to think there was only one way to make banana pudding:

Line bowl with vanilla wafer cookies

Make instant vanilla pudding

Slice bananas

Layer pudding, bananas, and cookies in the bowl

Top with Cool Whip.

Shocking, isn’t it? It’s not that my mom can’t bake. She just doesn’t. At least, not without a box. In her defense, she did have 4 children. Who has the strength to do anything, much less bake from scratch, when you have 4 hellions underfoot? Therefore, my knowledge of banana pudding did not extend beyond boxes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a box. I’ve been known to use them myself a time or two or three. Spend a buck on a box, stir in a couple of pantry staples, toss it into the oven, and call it dessert for tonight. When PMS cravings hit, there’s no time to waste so I fully give you permission to hit the box. My point is not that anyone should feel guilty about boxes. Sure, it would be nice if you recycle the box, but who am I to nag? This blog is (mostly) about food, so I’m happy to leave the save the earth stuff to someone else.

My point is that we should not forget there is another way. I’d say my great-grandmother never used a box, but I’d be lying like that ex-high school boyfriend of mine, yours, and everyone’s. A few years ago, my mother gingerly handed me a box containing my great-grandmother’s recipe book. With awe and appreciation, I opened the book, expecting to find a treasure trove of scratch recipes that could be handed down generation after generation. Instead, I burst forth with laughter when I saw this:

I guess my mother learned at the knee of her grandmother, after all.

My love of cooking and baking could not have possibly come from these people. Opening that book reminded me of the years I thought/hoped I was adopted. I had nothing in common with the people who called themselves my family. They’re mean, ugly, and stupid. Okay, I was like 13 when I thought that and I had the lack of a birth certificate to “prove” it. When I opened that book, it reminded me yet again how different I am from my family. A family reunion would not be complete with a bucket of the Colonel’s best and Waldorf salad. That’s the extent of their cooking. Mix and toss or drive through. To my great disappointment (at that time), my mother did eventually get a copy of my birth certificate, thus crushing my Lil Orphan Annie dreams forever. Therefore, I must conclude (after taking a good look at family pictures through the years) that my love of the kitchen arts must stem from the entire family’s love of eating. In particular, we’re rather fond of sugar. Thinking further, I started baking from scratch as a newlywed because I was bored. No license, no driver, no tv. Practically the only thing I had was a cookbook I stole from my mother.

So, I dabbled here, dabbled there, popped out a few kids, and kept on cookin’ every time I was bored. Which, again looking at pictures, was a lot. This boredom led to my discovery that not all banana pudding is from a box. I felt quite ashamed about it, actually. Did others know about this? Were they laughing behind my back? Was I only the one who made it with boxes? Oh, Alice Walker, you’ve got some things to account for! I cannot remember which book it’s in, but there’s a chapter where she wrote about her (now) ex-husband and something something something white people can’t make banana pudding something something something. Whaaattt? I’m white, I make banana pudding. Oh, Alice! How could you feel that way?

I read on and discovered that indeed, my “family recipe” for banana pudding is quite different. The chapter included her recipe so I decided to throw off my shame and learn to make it “the right way.” Or I decided to give it a shot to see if it could possibly be better than my recipe. Whichever. It was good. Pretty dang good. A bit soupy, but good. The soupy part could have been me, though. After all, I’m just hillbilly white chick with time on my hands.  🙂

In the years since that discovery, I have tried many banana pudding recipes and tweaked them until I came up with my own. At least, the latest version of my own. I’m always messing with recipes. I still occasionally make the ol’ family recipe, too. My kids like both versions, so I assume the sugar addiction continues for the next generation. Don’t blame me. It’s your great-great grandmother’s fault.

Scratch Banana Pudding Pie

Crust

½ c. coconut

½ c. flour

¼ c. butter, softened

¼ c. (scant) sugar

Mix with hands until crumbly and press into pie tin or 8 X 8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Cool. Do NOT turn off oven.

 

Pudding

4 bananas

1 c. sugar

¼ c. flour

2 c. milk

3 egg yolks (reserve whites)

2 t. butter

2 t. vanilla

While crust is baking, combine 1 c. sugar with flour in a medium saucepan. Mix well, and then stir in half the milk. Beat egg yolks and whisk into sugar mixture. Add remaining milk and butter.

Place mixture over medium low heat and cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

While that’s cooking, slice the bananas and place a layer on the crust.

You want the pudding mixture to sheet off the back of the spoon when it’s cooked.

When it looks like that, it’s time to add the vanilla.

Stir that in and pour a layer of the pudding over the layer of bananas.

Add another layer of bananas and then another layer of pudding.

I know, it’s a lot of work so far. We’re nearing the end, I promise.

Meringue

3 egg whites (reserved from yolks)

¼ c. sugar

Chill mixing bowl and beater or whisk by placing in freezer. Glass or metal is preferred to prevent any grease residue from previous use preventing the egg whites from stiffening.

Using the chilled mixing bowl and beater or whisk, beat egg whites until foamy.

A bowl of ice water may be placed under the mixing bowl to speed whipping, if desired. Do not fill bowl too full with ice water or it will be difficult to beat the meringue.

Once the whites are foamy, gradually add ¼ c. sugar and continue to beat until stiff. Using the beater or a spoon, insert into meringue and lift straight up. If the meringue forms a peak and the tip of the peak does not bend/flop over, it’s at stiff peak.

Spread meringue over filling making sure meringue is all the way to the edges to prevent weeping.

Bake in 350 degree oven until meringue is lightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.

Clang the dinner bell, dessert is ready!

ETA: I’ve always had trouble with weeping and meringue. I made this again tonight but tried something a little different. Instead of mounding the meringue in the center and spreading it to the edges, try plopping meringue around the edges first and then fill in the center. Meringue is kinda tricky to smoosh around. As I’m moving it, I’m pulling on the pudding underneath and getting my spatula messy with the meringue/pudding combo. By covering the edges first, I don’t pick up the pudding and it’s easier to get that seal around the edge. Try it and let me know if it works for you, too. Mmm, Pie!

Ker-shoe! Excuse me while I make amends.

3 May

Shoe cakes are still enjoying some popularity and I am not immune. Since I still can’t walk in heels; in fact, every time I tried to wear them to school it was guaranteed that I would fall in the halls (and I had an awesome knack for somehow knowing just when they would be freshly waxed).  I naturally lean more towards Converse and less towards, as Carrie says, “the big girl shoes.” I also had to make up for this monstrosity:

 

It seems like a dream. You see, I once worked for “the man.” Forty hours every week. Plus college, plus marching band season, plus, plus, plus. I was a tad worn, a tad frustrated, a tad oppressed, a tad plum crazy. Yeah. That tends to show up in cake form when you have a few hours to get it done so you can go to bed and get those golden 5 hours of sleep before those-who-sign-your-check insist you be upright and at your desk again.

I wouldn’t call this cake a disaster. It’s all in one piece. The buttercream and fondant are smooth. The colors are pleasing. It’s just missing something. Stuff. It looks plain, like a grocery store cake. I suppose the purchased dude doesn’t help with that, either. Eh, looking back, it’s an okay cake; but who wants to make okay? I want spectacular, wow!, cool, awesome, how’d ya do that? kind of work coming from my cakeworld. I couldn’t do that right away (see above crazy life), but I determined I would fix this, someday. A shoe cake fit the bill, talked the talk, and walked the walk.

With such popularity, you think there would be a template online for this. Nope. Maybe there is now, but I sure couldn’t find one when I needed it. I’m lucky that way.  Left to my own devices/talent/imagination, I pondered my feet for a moment and realized my feet were still big. Not gigantic-special-order-shoes big, but there are no tiny dainties dangling from my spider veined ankles, either.  My feet, dear readers, are the perfect cake size. At long last, a reason for my suffering! All those years of my parents threatening to just strap boxes to feet have finally paid off!

Hmm, problem. Shoes are dirty. Shoes are smelly. Shoes are not food safe. Well, maybe if you’re an ogre or a goat or something; but otherwise it’s best to keep de feet away from the mouth whether you’re eating or conversating. With this dilemma began many tracings, swappings, and clean paperings to keep anything shoe or foot related away from the cake. I feel it’s important for you to know that ‘cause that’s how rumors start. You know who you are. Silly gossips, rumors are for turds.

As my biz math teacher says, with a hop no less, “Okay, here we go.”

The Tracing of the Shoe:

I wanted to have enough cake to carve away so I drew what would be called a seam allowance if we were sewing.

Notes on template: Carve under toe area, Carve under arch

At least, I think that’s what that says.

To help carve the sides, I made one more template:

Note that once again, I added a seam allowance.

I also took pictures of every side of the shoe for reference.

Don’t set the scraps aside yet. You still need an upper. One upper, coming upper!

Now that we have the basic shape, it’s time to fine tune it. The tongue area needs to be slanted more and we have to create a place to put a foot in- if we were going to put a foot in, which we’re not; but it’s supposed to look like you could. It’s all part of the illusion, folks.

“Gluing” more on to help create the slant:

I remembered to carve under the toe, but I decided against carving the arch. I didn’t want fallen arches and I was fairly sure that’s what would happen if I carved there and didn’t replace it with support. If I have to replace what I took away, why not leave it there and save myself some hassle?

I used a cookie cutter for the foot hole? Is that’s what it’s called? I doubt it, but today let’s pretend that’s its name, k? The depth of the hole may need some tweaking as you progress. Too shallow and it looks stupid. Too deep and you risk the outer sides falling apart. Start shallow and work your way deeper as needed, just like a blind date.

Once the cake is carved as close to your satisfaction as it’s going to get, crumb coat and decorate.

Looks like a clog so far. Fear not, cake friends! Have faith in the power of the caker!

Sing along with me: A fondanting we will go, a fondanting we will go….

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! I’ll smooth you, my pretty! Just you wait and see!

The tongue is quite a bit thicker on one end. Go ahead, check out your own ‘chews.

Don’t forget to narrow the end of the lace by rolling it between your fingers.

 

(cut two of the above shape)

I used a pastry wheel to quilt lines all along the cake, but I didn’t take pictures of that. I think you’ve seen enough of my man hands for awhile.

For a faux glimpse of the insole:

That’s your basic plain shoe. The rest of the décor is up to your crafty imagination. I added side stripes/arches and a bald dude. A cute bald dude, but bald nonetheless.

Yeah, I could not have done this in the three hours at night I had after working that “real” job.

Real jobs are overrated.

 I say marry middle-class and coast, baby!

Practice Makes Perfect or Perfect Practice Makes Perfect?

6 Apr

Spring has sprung (at least on some days). Feets and arms and knees and such are about to come out of hibernation.  Combined with changing fashions, I have to face the truth: pleated shirts cannot carry my stomach through another warm season. Getting my capris and shorts out of storage didn’t help, either. Dang it!

Something Must Be Done. Drastic Measures Must Be Taken.

But what?

I have to stop making so much cake and buttercream “just for practice.” Still, I do need the practice. My piping skills have gone from so-so, just need to perfect the rose and writing, to “are you sure you’ve done this before?”  I, my friends, have over-fondanted. I like fondant. It’s fun, it’s crisp, it doesn’t involve quite the amount of small motor skills as piping. Plus, I don’t eat much fondant as I practice. I wish I could say the same for buttercream. Fat and sugar, sugar and fat. Yum! I started playing with buttercream again to sharpen my skills. After all, some day fondant will be passé and clients will go searching for the caker who cakes “the old-fashioned way.” I must be prepared, right?

With my sugar addiction in full swing once more, and my summer clothes laughing when I tried to squeeze them beyond my Shar Pei thighs, I’m gradually changing things up in the kitchen. Mr. Handy is cool with salad for dinner once a week (after many eons of trying to slip it in) and leftovers are still breeding like rabbits since the kiddos decided to engage in some strange ritual called “college and job” so it’s easier for me to take those leftovers and make a meal for one that’s not packed full of the carb fest of rice and noodles that my Sugar Daddy, ooops! husband, adores. I’m drinking more (the non-alcoholic, non-calorie version of that word. No need to replace one addiction with another, I suppose). Still, that leaves the cake/buttercream issue. How can I practice without sugar laden goodies?  Everyone I know says they want free cakes, but no one is willing to come pick them up. That leaves a lot of cake in my kitchen.

I never wanted to do this. It seems like such a waste. Waste is bad. Save the earth, save the chocolate, save the buttercream! Alas, the return of my mother’s stomach in the mirror leaves me no choice. I must practice, gulp!, without cake. But, wait! you say; because you are smart like that. What about the buttercream? Does this mean that now I get to eat buttercream by the mixing spoonful since I cut out the cake calories? Alas, no, it does not. With the exception of the occasional, “what the crap is going on with the frosting? cake, my crumb and final coat are not a problem. I can smooth out nearly every crater you throw at me. Piping practice is what I need and that, my dear friends in cake, does not take much buttercream at all. In comparison, anyway. A quart sized baggie instead of the mondo gallon sized ones. Add in that you stick a tip in a bag, and not much buttercream flies anywhere anymore, much less near the pie hole. *Sigh* I’m in mourning. Is that natural? Don’t answer that. I don’t really want to know right now. Maybe later.

Lest you think this blog has become a confessional of purging caking demons, I do have a tutorial in mind. Waaaaiiit for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out of buttercream. My recipe takes 4 lbs. of powdered sugar so just imagine for a moment how much buttercream that makes. A Lot. A lot of buttercream, a lot of calories, a lot of inches on the waist. We all know that no matter what we say to ourselves before it happens, there will be buttercream calories on the scale the next day. I like to think it’s magic. Too bad that magic doesn’t transfer to my once cute as heck shorts, huh?

I was firm with myself for once and made an alternate choice.

No, not that kind.

 I’ve heard you can do this with toothpaste, but toothpaste is a lot more expensive than buttercream. I think. I haven’t actually run the numbers, but it seems to my sugar addicted mind that it is. So, no buttercream and no toothpaste. What’s left?

Chocolate

Stay with me here. I haven’t gone off the deep end yet. Probably not, anyway.

Yes, chocolate is still a lot of sugar. No denying my way around that. I also love the taste of chocolate. So much that I will eat sugar-free chocolate despite a case of the toots the rest of the day.  I had been piddling around with the idea of trying chocolate transfers again. You see, I fail at buttercream transfers. I’m missing the gene for it or something. But chocolate, maybe chocolate is the answer. Plus, the chocolate discs can be used in small amounts and are fast to melt and be ready for use when I have an hour to spare to play around. The other handy property of chocolate is: it’s hard to eat much when it’s flowing like Wllly Wonka’s river through the piping bag. You’re too busy trying to keep it corralled to eat much of it. It’s also messy as heck so you spend a fair amount of time with a washcloth in one hand and a piping bag in the other.

So, chocolate it is. Now, I’m not saying I’m a whizz here. No chocolate transfer miracles occurred. These things take time and practice. But one day, maybe; one day I might practice enough and the seas will part and the chocolate will stay put and not lump and I will create awesomeness. Just maybe not today.

It helped that I just read the Whimsical Bakehouse book.

Full of chocolate plaque visions, I tried a beaver first.

Heh. He’s a bit rabid, doncha think?

It’s tough to keep the chocolate at the right temperature: melted enough to flow smoothly but not so thin that it’s running like it’s had too much fiber, if you know what I mean (These kinds of thoughts keep me from considering consuming it in vast amounts while I’m practicing). I did a little better when I free handed a cloud looking object.

Okay, maybe I need more practice. Still, it looks better than my last wrestling match with buttercream transfer, so there’s hope in there somewhere.

What I really liked was writing with it. No messing about with the elusive perfect consistency ‘cause chocolate is what it is. I got brave enough at the end to even try a little freehand action.

Yup. Still can’t freehand. However, notice that there are no breaks in the chocolate. It’s actually even fairly straight. The bottom is even, but the top needs work. Also, spacing is still a problem. I think I need to figure out how to either get a template on the cake and pipe over it or figure out how to remove the chocolate from the wax paper without breaking it so I can place the words on the cake.

Yes, I know about using piping gel and rubbing it onto the cake, but these ol’ eyes aren’t getting any sharper so I have my doubts it would be obvious enough to be useful for me. Plus, I’m pretty good at smearing things when I shouldn’t.

There’s info everywhere about how to do this, so I’ll make this short. You need:

Waxed paper

Image/template

Chocolate discs

Disposable piping bag

Microwave

Tape

You can get the template by printing the picture of your choice from your computer. I suggest one without a lot of details to start. Also, look out for impossibly teeny spaces you won’t be able to get chocolate into.  Like girl child beaver wrists.

For the writing, I used Word and typed with different fonts, and then printed it.

Place your template on your workspace and tape it down to keep it from moving. Place the waxed paper over the template, and tape that down, too. Don’t use tons of tape or you won’t be able to remove the waxed paper easily.

Place a dozen or so chocolate discs in the piping bag and microwave the bag in 20 to 30 second increments. Take it out, smoosh it around to mix, repeat as needed. Stop nuking it when it’s almost completely melted. The remaining heat and smooshing will finish the job without burning the chocolate.

Snip a tiny hole in the end of the bag. You’ll have to experiment a little to figure out the right size. If that’s too frustrating, grab another disposable bag and rig it up with a coupler and a small round tip. Not to state the obvious, but don’t put your couplers or tips in the microwave. It will be pretty, but no good shall come of it. Once you have the second bag ready, snip off the end of the first bag (the one without the coupler and tip) and insert it inside the first bag.

Now, you’re ready to practice. If you messed around with royal icing and cookies, you know what to do. If not, here’s how:

For images: outline the image, including any parts you want separated from the rest like the arms. You are building the image from the front to the back. This means you create the facial features, let the chocolate set, and then fill in the other parts like the belly and feet. If you want toe/finger nails, pipe those and let it set before you make the actual foot/hand. I hope that makes sense. Look at your image for a couple of minutes and think about how you need to build it. You may even want to write it down for reference and to make sure you’re not overlooking something.

The important things to remember are:

Let each layer harden before adding the next

Chocolate spreads

For writing: just have at it. Remember to move your arm rather than your hand and to let the line fall into place rather than trying to etch it onto the surface like you do with a pencil.

What I don’t know yet: how to make the chocolate smooth.

I know I have to keep it melted, but the stuff is hardening in the bag and I’m trying to hurry before I run out of time and it’s a rock again so I just hope it all levels out.

It doesn’t.

It seems to me that it also needs to be cool enough that it doesn’t melt the features I’ve already added (like eyes) and it also can’t push down on those features to make them spread and thus make the image look messy/creepy. Eh, it’s a work in progress.

Leftovers: like dinner, I always have leftover chocolate and I believe, with all my heart, that every time you throw chocolate in the trash, a butterfly loses a wing (just kidding, kids. Calm down). Therefore, I put the leftover chocolate into a mold and, after it sets, bag it for use another day.

Now, put down that frosting and give me 2 miles on the treadmill! The dreaded bathing suit is just around the corner!

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

 

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

22 Feb

Life can’t always be a piece of cake. You know this, I know this, and the fam definitely knows this. Without their nagging, I wouldn’t occasionally clean up the kitchen and make dinner. Most days, if I had the cash and the metabolism, dinner would be purchased in those convenient big boxes called restaurants.  Since I have neither, every day I have to stop doing other things and fill the screeching beaks that hang out here and call themselves my relations.

We all have the same conundrum. Feed ourselves and the hangers on, don’t spend more than we should/can, make it healthy, and make something with the least likelihood of complaints. You would think that now the kiddos are grownups (in the eyes of the law, anyway) this issue would be simpler for me. Not so. I still have to consider the dietary restrictions of the other half. No tomatoes, onions, peppers, or anything his royalness considers “weird.” That could mean anything from guacamole to peanut butter cookies to filet mignon or sushi. (Okay, I agree with the sushi thing. Org invented fire for a reason.)I live with a guy who, I swear, his restaurant related goal in life is to eat a hamburger and fries in every food establishment he enters. Did I mention he has a tiny cholesterol problem? Yeeaaah.

Over the years, like you, I have amassed a small collection of stand by recipes that go beyond: open the box, read the box, do what the box says. I have found I have the best luck by scanning a recipe for ingredients I know everyone likes, has none of the dislikes, or that looks like I could leave the offending ingredients out of the recipe. Yes, it’s taken awhile to get a good mix of standbys.

I figured if your nest inhabitants are like mine, you might like to know some of the ways I get around all that. Plus, it’s February. Most of us have long broken the lose weight/get healthy resolution but would still like to keep it lest the guilt overwhelm us or swimsuit season arrives. With that in mind, I bring you:

Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs

Original recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Rosemary-Ranch-Chicken-Kabobs/Detail.aspx

Visit the link for the official directions, as what follows is my own personal way to get it on the table.

Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup ranch dressing

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon white sugar, or to taste (optional)

5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into 1 inch cubes

I would add skewers and an indoor or outdoor grill to this list. They may not be ingredients, but you’re gonna need them. I like to know this kind of stuff ahead of time otherwise I get aggravated/lost/disappointed when I find out I can’t make what I planned for dinner. The others don’t like it either because that means leftovers for dinner. Also, note that the chicken should be cubed.

If you’ve never worked with skewers before, there are a couple of things you need to know. Nah, it’s easy stuff, just a couple of little specialty tidbits to know.

Wooden skewers burn and metal skewers get hella hot and will scratch non-stick grids if you’re not careful.

Yes, this is obvious. Will you remember it? Probably not the first few times, so it’s worth reminding ourselves. I use wooden skewers since they are cheap and I already have them around for cake work. I do remember that they burn, yet I don’t always remember it in time. That’s why I’m going to list the first step as:

Soak the wood skewers in water. 

Soaking them won’t prevent burning (no matter what “the experts” say), but it will slow it down enough to enable you to use them.

The other tidbit you’ll want to know is if you are going to use an outdoor grill, once you have the magic wooden sticks loaded with food, cover the ends of the skewers with foil to keep them from incinerating.

With that very long intro, let’s get dinner going before the masses arrive.

In a small bowl, combine:

Olive Oil

Ranch dressing

Worcestershire Sauce (Bonus Chef Points if you can pronounce this correctly without thinking about it.)

Rosemary, but wait! The peeps at this castle think rosemary is a very strong herb, so I generally use about half of the amount that any recipe calls for. Your call, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Salt

Lemon Juice

Vinegar and Pepper (No pic, but I’m sure you can imagine it at this point.)

 Sugar

(Whew! It’s a lot quicker to do it than to write it!)

Once all that’s in the bowl, whisk it together.

Toss in the chicken, and stir it around until the chicken is coated in the goop.

(I removed that chunk of fat later, lest it stick directly to myrump roast.)

This is supposed to marinate for 30 minutes. That’s the ideal way to do it. However, if you have just schlumped in the door after a long day in the mines, you may not have the time or energy for that. I have marinated it for about 10-15 minutes and it still tastes good. Thirty minutes is best, but if you can’t do that, don’t worry about it. Serve it with a dollop of ranch for dipping and tell the little hungry birdies it was meant to be served that way. If they know better, they should be taking turns in the kitchen, right?

While it’s marinating, you can empty and reload the dishwasher, fold that load of laundry, or round up the chickadees for homework time. You could also rip open that noodle box and crank open the veggie can and get that going if you’re making side dishes. If it’s just you and the man of your dreams, you can make a salad and turn this into a restaurant style chicken salad. Once the time is up, or you can’t wait any longer, come on back here and we’ll finish this almost lickety split.

Before we get messy, heat your grill of choice. Yes, I spray mine with non-stick spray even though the directions say you don’t have to. It’s my thing.

Okay, now let’s get sticky! Thread/skewer the chicken. I put 5-6 pieces of chicken on each skewer. If your pieces are thin, fold them in half to get them on the skewer.

They are top heavy and drippy at this point. Carefully lift and load onto the grill and char to your liking.

DINNNERRRR!!!!

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

7 Feb

You can’t control it so you may as well pretend you like it, right? I don’t know about your sidewalk, but mine has barely seen daylight for months. At least it seems like that. Shoot, last night we left the sink cabinet doors open to keep the pipes from freezing. As I sit typing this, a very un-tropical breeze from the window is wafting across the keyboard. Fantasizing about Caribbean islands is no longer enough to escape from the reality of the once fluffy, now crusty, sea of coldness across the land. Simple cabin fever would be a blessing at this point.

It’s hard to remember this:

(http://www.info-res.com/dovesnest/)

When your door looks like this:

I don’t think he’s too thrilled, either:

That’s a major highway behind that rear end. Somewhere.

Fourteen inches on the ground and up to eight more coming. Arghhh! I can’t think about it anymore! Let’s make a cake and pretend we’re still plum full of excitement over the first snow of the season.

I shamelessly borrowed this idea from

http://www.cakecentral.com/modules.php?name=gallery&file=displayimage&pid=1544211

Even the mixer is hiding in embarrassment at such shameless borrowing.

 Nah. This cake was for home and Lord knows the original is better than the copy. The mixer just wanted a moment alone to create this:

It’s my bad. I was making all sorts of noise doing this:

and practicing this:

Later on, it hid again while I made cacti looking these:

In its defense, it’s fairly new around here- meaning new in comparison to the rest of the house since we can’t seem to ever get rid of anything.

Do you foresee Spring cleaning in my future in that last sentence? Good. I’ll await your arrival March-ish.

Moving forward didn’t seem to help the cactus theme happening.

I fear my longing for warmer climes is seeping through.

Let’s see what happens when I try for a snowman to get back on cake track.

Maybe a second one will help?

Why stop to thin your icing when you can do this?:

That’s cornstarch on my finger, not icing. I was smart enough to do that (this time).

He looks rather formless. Time for eyes and clothes. I can’t have the neighbors knowing I secretly make naked snowmen.

Which made him so mad his eyes are literally shooting darts. *Sigh* Time to tap again. I wish my mamma had let me take lessons.

By the way, it really is easier to pipe small things with a small bag. It almost seems like a waste until you remember how much you hate cleaning bags.

He’s nosy like bad neighbors so I guess we better give him something to nose around with.

There ya’ go. Now he looks all Frosty-similar. It’s time for random snow-like objects.

Pointy snow and cacti? The child ain’t right. Time to fix that before mamma finds out what she has spawned.

Whew! That looks better. Ignore the slope; or at least be kind enough to pretend a ski slope gets put there later. Yeah, that’s it.

The bottom looks bare, and you know we can’t have bare bottoms around here either, so I added snowballs.

Which look amazingly like really low clouds in the picture.  It was better in person. I cannot tell a lie (today, anyway), it really did look better in person.

At this point, I got a phone call. I was trying to finish the cake so I could move on and make dinner before hubster got home and the phone rang. Soooo the lettering isn’t exactly centered. I would have fixed it, but it was just for the homies and they don’t care about such things. Don’t care/aren’t allowed to say anything or they won’t get to eat cake. Whatever.

 

Now, dear readers, the difference between someone who half knows how to take pictures and someone who is irritated by people who half know how to take pictures.

My best shot:

It’s got the fancy plain background like it’s supposed to and everythin’ so it has to be the best shot possible, right? Yeah, right.

The “other shot” as we call it around here.

No fancy background. On the messy counter. Looks like a magazine photo. Dang it.

I’d say I have to learn how to do that, but the truth is I’d rather make cake than learn f-stops. Besides, my mother and her soap do not tolerate f words very well. Don’t ask me how I know. Not even my shrink can handle that story.

Just kidding, mamma. Just kidding.

(In case you’re wondering, I used 3 tips for this cake: one star tip and two different sizes of round tips. Now that your curiousity is satisfied, grab a shovel and get your butt over here. )

 

Great Balls of Fire!

24 Jan

Oy Vey! I always thought it would be the mixer. My expensive, once in a lifetime, too good to be true, I’m not worthy, Kitchen Aid mixer. Especially since hubby bought it an attachment for Christmas and I’m weird enough to think that it doesn’t matter if it’s okay with the manufacturer, asking a mixer to do anything other than mix is asking for a meltdown. But it wasn’t. Sure, she gave off a bit of that lovely electrical burning smell earlier in the day for no good reason, but all I was asking her to do is to mix the same dang frosting recipe she’s been mixing for 6 months, so I blotted that smell out of my mind. Maybe the smell wasn’t the Kitchen Aid? Naw, doesn’t matter, moving on. I’ve got cakin’ to do!

Later that afternoon, there was a noise. Kind of a popping sound. I was in the dining room, tuna breath was in the kitchen. He looked alarmed and kind of twitched a bit. Huh, better check it out if tuna breath is skeered. It sounded like it came from the sitting room or beyond. I took a quick look, smelled something odd again, thought it smelled electrical in nature; but again, no evidence of anything awry so I dismissed it as, “Man, I really gotta get out of the house soon.” After all, the farthest I’d ventured beyond the walls of the casa aside from the one minute run ‘cause it’s cold foray to check the mailbox was Monday and today was Thursday. Definitely time to get back into real life and do some shopping or something. Yeah, I know. I still get snail mail. Not good stuff anymore, but nonetheless, I get snail mail. I need to get on better propaganda lists or something since I get nothing interesting in the mail, but I digress.

Electrical smell, popping noise, can’t find anything, may be losing my mind.  Just another day in the manse so back to caking I go.  Half an hour later, the oven timer gives that annoying beep. You know, the one that sounds like a major piece of equipment in the hospital is signaling someone is dying kind of sound. Time to check the cake. Nope, nowhere near done. It’s still all jiggly. Set the timer for another 20 minutes. Better, but the center still looks like my thighs when I run. Tuna breath has settled down (meaning he’s in my way) so all is well in my world. Or so I thought. The timer sounds once more, it’s still not quite done. I think, “This is taking a long time. I guess I should have used baking strips, a flower nail, or something in that bad boy” and go back to caking. Okay, caking and emailing the Frosting Chick. Someone has to keep her sane and let her know there’s still caking in the world while she’s stuck in the pod. I’m good like that. Nothing like a good day of torturing corporate flunkies with tales of cake and housework and annoying life mates. 

Ten minutes later and the cake smells like it’s burning. It must be done. After all, everyone’s chocolate cake smells like that when it’s done, right? No? It’s just me? *Sigh* I guess the “Perfect Chocolate Cake“ recipe search continues. Until then, let’s check the cake once more, k? Huh. What’s that sizzling sound? Suddenly the oven sounds like I’m makin’ bacon. Now either I really have lost my mind or something’s up. I’ve really isolated myself from the cruel world too long because now I’m associating a brief mention of how chocolate and bacon is the “in” thing from earlier in the week chat conversations with the cake in the oven or something is seriously awry. Yeah, it must be me going bonkers. Open the oven, crazy lady, and check the cake. I open the door aaannnnd there’s fire down below. Whaaat?

It wasn’t a big fire. No need to run for the extinguisher (yeah, right. Like I have one.) No need to dial 911 and get the beefy boys. No need to even call beefy boy’s woman and ask if she thinks I should have a meet up with them. It was actually fascinating. A small flame on the front left of the element. Sizzling away and throwing sparks like, like, well, like a sparkler. This is God getting me back for buying sparklers for the chicklet last July. Sure, she’s way old enough to handle them now and she did miss out on all that fun because I’m overprotective, so what’s the harm now? Evidently, I hadn’t built up enough karma or something because this is the harm. Fire in the oven and cake due. Holy schmoly. Look at her go. Oh, crap! I better get the cake out of there, huh? Yeah, I’m quick on the uptake. Shiny objects and all that.

I’m dumb enough to stand there and look at it burn for a couple more minutes while tuna breath has headed for the hills. I finally realized that perhaps it might stop burning if, I don’t know, I turned off the oven or something. You think? I considered getting the camera and taking blog pictures but quickly dismissed that thought as another reason I really need to get out of the house more often. I switch off the oven, pick up the phone, and call my Mr. Fix It at the office. Big fat help he was. He needs the model number. And that would be where? I dunno. Probably in the oven somewhere. Yeah, I’m not sticking my big head in there, the thing is still sizzling like I used to do on a Friday night at the skating rink. At least the fire is gone. The smoke aroma isn’t too bad, so I put the cake back in and hope for the best. *Shrug* At this point, if the residual heat in the oven doesn’t finish baking it I haven’t lost any more than if I left it on the counter.

Mamma needs two things at this point: a model number and the use of someone’s oven. I still have cupcake batter sitting on the counter and I dunno how long that stuff can sit before it’s no longer fit to use. First, the model number. Mr. Fix It will be home in a couple of hours, which means if I find that blessed number in the next hour maybe he’ll take pity on me and pick up an element on the way home.

You should know I’m an organized person, generally. I’m not real pack-ratty, but I do tend to keep stuff that might be useful. Like warranties and guarantees. I’m smart like that. Small problem. It’s not an area of the file cabinet I venture into very often. I long ago moved that kind of stuff to its own drawer in the cabinet. Every January I clean the files to prepare for the new year and the dreaded tax/FAFSA season. I’m so good that this yearly cleaning has already been done, just not the particular drawer I need. There is no kidding 6 file folders and a shoe box stuffed with stuff. It’s not pretty. Answering machines, curling irons, bikes from 10 years ago- it’s all in there. What are the odds the stove papers are lurking in a dark corner of that drawer? 20 minutes later, I know the odds are very low. Just when you think you save way the heck too much stuff, you realize you didn’t save the one thing you need right now.  No dice on the paperwork so no hope of getting it fixed tonight.

Being the techno-savvy cake making mamma that I am, I put out a call for help on Facebook. The place where I can ask a favor without having to actually talk to a human being. Problem though. The person for whom I am creating this week is also on Facebook. I can’t freak her out. Therefore, I change my status to, “Who’s home? I’ve got a problem and I need an easy favor.” After that, I decide to pretend I live in the ‘50’s and call a neighbor to see if a little borrowing of an appliance is possible. She’s not home, of course. No one is. Everyone is snug in their pods except for those who I swear spend 24/7 driving around so as to try to annihilate me or, failing that, aggravate the heck out of me by driving slowly/erratically/while on the phone in the front of me. Either way, no oven for me.  Buddy Boy Blast from the Past catches me on chat and asks if he can be of assistance. Could it be? A hero in a hero-less land? He’s one state over. He suggests I get out my Easy Bake Oven. Yeah, no.  Big help. I don’t know why we keep him around. Pity, I guess.

I brave the oven and look for the model number. On the oven door? On the front of the body when you open the oven door? Inside the drawer? On the instrument panel? On the one side I can see without moving the stove? In the oven? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Maybe Mr. Fix It is right and it’s on the back of the stove. I’m not moving that thing- there’s a cake in the kitchen and I’m still not sure it’s done! I don’t care if you can now bounce around like your favorite kitchen activity is trampoline sky diving, don’t be messing around in my kitchen with a cake in the house!

Finally, Corporate America disperses its human contents back into the world, and a free oven is found. Huzzah! Cupcakes are baked, cake is done, if all a little extra crusty from the drama, and life can continue. Mr. Fix It locates the model number. Heaven forbid, but should you ever need to know where the model number is located on a 20 some years old GE electric stove, try pulling out the drawer and looking on the body of the stove, on the right. Shut up. The important thing is that it was located.

Before:

 

Thankfully, I keep a clean oven or these pictures would not be possible, if you know what I mean.

Where the fire was located when I finally discovered the problem:

See the ashy looking stuff that wraps around the element? Sparkler juice.

That’s supposed to be all in one piece, y’all. He said I did a darned good job of breaking it. What can I say? It’s all or nothing here, baby!

Check out Woodstock in the background looking dismayed and amazed.

 Mr. Fix It to the delayed, but still much needed rescue:

No, they don’t just pull out and plug back in like burners. ‘Cause that would be too easy.

But will it heat up? You know, my cake karma has really taken a hit lately, so I wouldn’t be surprised…

Whoo hoo! We’ve achieved red hot! Is it too hot? Too cold? Uneven heat? Mr. Fix It says it’s just perfect, but I’m going to test it with an oven thermometer next week when Corporate America steals my buds once again. In other words, secretly. No need to hurt Mr. Fix It’s feelings. Gotta keep him happy ‘cause you never know what’s going to blow up next around here. He was even kind enough to make fish sticks and reheat pizza in the oven today to get rid of any “new electrical appliance part” smells that might be lurking in the oven. Now that’s love, ain’t it?

Yes, he does still have to do something for me for Valentine’s Day. I have to keep him on his toes, after all.

By the way: Frosting Chick asked me if I took pictures while it was aflame. Either we’re both crazy in this together, or that’s a normal reaction? I’m shooting for both crazy. It’s the only thing that makes sense right now.

I’m back in action, y’all! Yee haw!

P.S.- I told you I wouldn’t get a new stove out of this. You know who you are. 😉

One Smart Cookie

22 Dec

Day two. Yes, the Stained Glass candy, fudges, and Spritz were all made in one day. Better yet- one afternoon. It’s that quick to make them. However, now we slow down to a project that lasted three days. We didn’t do anything on the second day, but it still took 3 days to get it completely done. What could possibly take that long? Fruit cake? Ew, no. Sugar cookies. It’s not making the cookies that take so long, it the procrastinating and decorating that gets in the way. Fiddly stuff, cookie decorating. In years past, we would slather the icing on with knives and let the drips fall where they may. Santa never looked like his Jolly Old Self, the stars had craters of frosting like we were going for the moon, and the candy cane stripes were less than tidy. Even that haphazard method took forever and I usually pawned off the job on someone else. Being newly unemployed with the kiddos and hubby home, I knew I had to pitch in and at least help this year. Ugh. What’s a cake decorator to do?

Avoiding the issue and considering the options took a full 24 hours. I’m going to save you one whole day with this tutorial. I’ve cut out The Day of Consideration and Procrastination because I found the solution. One that people have been doing for eons, but in my stubbornness, I’ve never tried. I thought it would be even more time consuming, more messy, and too full of tiny details that drive me mad. Mad, I tell you. Mad, mad, mad! Cookie icing, sprinkle throwing, candy ball placing mad! Bwahahahaha!

Ahem, let’s get on with it, shall we? The recipe I used was the same one I used for my daughter’s wedding reception. You, too, can have your very own copy of this recipe by clicking here:

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Rolled-Sugar-Cookies/Detail.aspx

Jill is one smart cookie and one smart baker. I even used her confectioner’s sugar and icing mixture to ice them- until this year.

One thing to note: the dough has to be refrigerated so plan accordingly. I hate when I’m in the middle of a recipe and run smack into “wait one hour.” Ruins the whole flow and throws off the schedule. I’m warning you now. If you want to complete the baking portion start in the morning (or afternoon if you’re a night owl). If you start at night and expect to get it done before bed, it ain’t gonna happen.

Per the usual crazy methodology of mine, gather your ingredients and tools. Wanna know why I do this first? Have you ever gotten into a recipe only to find out you don’t have something you need? Stinks, doesn’t it? That’s why I gather first. It’s not foolproof (and I am nothing but a fool- a sugar fool.) but most of the time it works for me.

Can you believe those are but a small portion of the cutters I own?  I just bought a set of letters and numbers to add to the collection. Hubby thinks my cake pan collection is bad, heaven forbid he ever realizes how many cookie cutters I possess. If you spill the beans, you’ll be on kitchen clean-up for the next year. K? Now, let’s get started.

Make sure the butter is soft, and cream it with the sugar.

 

I know, I know: why so many pictures? I always try to assume if you read this blog, you’re a newb. It couldn’t be our witty repartee now, could it? As a newb, you may not know what I mean when I say, “cream.” Hopefully, the pictures show what creaming looks like and the stages from whole ingredients to completely creamed. Some will tell you that the sugar should be dissolved and the goo won’t feel grainy. That doesn’t happen for me, at least not with this recipe. It needs to be completely incorporated, but don’t worry about graininess just yet.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

 

I’m a daredevil. Look at the bravery-adding ingredients while the mixer is running. Don’t try this unless you’re willing to clean up mess ‘cause sometimes it throws stuff like a baby with oatmeal at 6 a.m. after allowing you a whopping two hours of sleep.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, let it whirr for a bit to finish mixing, and then add the dry ingredients: baking powder, salt, and flour. I add them in that order because I fear the baking powder and salt won’t be spread out evenly in the batter. You have your quirks, I have mine.

 

See the tossing? Yeppers. Fortunately, the mess wasn’t too bad. Today, anyway. Don’t try this on the high setting, folks; or you will curse my name for years to come. Low only.

Mix until it’s all combined, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed.

 

 Aaannnd now we wait.  Scrape into a ball-like shape and cover the dough.

 

 Stick said dough in refridge for at least an hour.

 

 As you can see, it’s leftovers for dinner tonight. I gotta ditch the ghetto tupperware before the relatives arrive.

In the meantime, we really should clean up the mess we made so far.

 

 (Mixer can be found here:  http://www.kitchenaid.com/flash.cmd?/#/page/home or you can wait 5 years for your hubby to realize you seriously want one, would not have put one on your Christmas list if you didn’t, and really will use it all the time to make stuff that will give him to the roundest Buddha belly in town.)

Feel free to chill out while the dough chills out. Pour a cup of nog, put your reindeer slippers on the furniture and watch Rudolph unplugged. Isn’t it sad how much they chop up movies when they put them on the tube? Go wild and buy the originals on DVD this year. Support your local elf.

Okay, that’s enough. Don’t want to get too relaxed or we’ll never get this done and the neighbors will know what a slacker at heart you really are.

Prep your cookie sheets.

 

I like 2- one in the oven and one to put more on while the first one bakes.

Plop some flour on the counter, flour your rolling pin, and plop a smaller pile of flour nearby to dip your cutters.

 Yeah, don’t forget that second pile. As you can see, I did; and I had to start all over again. Bah humbug.

For some reason known only to Herbie, I always have to add more flour to this recipe or all it does to stick to everything. If you have the same problem, feel free to add more- but not so much the dough is dry and don’t knead it so much that the cookies are tough. You’ll have to learn by feel for this. It should stick a little to the counter or hands, but not at all to the rolling pin.

Turn on the oven before you start rolling the dough. It’s the little details like that which will delay progress. 🙂

 

Okey doke, roll it out, dip your cutters in flour, and press away.

 

 Seethe little spreader? I used this instead of a butter knife for the first time this year. It worked much better. Less tearing, less distortion, less hair pulling.

Cut them out, get them on the sheet, and slip the sheet into the oven.

 Like the Spritz cookies, you want the edges to just start to brown before you take them out of the oven. Any longer and you’ve made hard tack. You know- the bread the pioneers used to take cross-country that lasted forever. I bet more than one person met their end because they were so desperate to eat those hard things that they took a chance on the local water.

 

 Keep cutting, baking, and cooling ad-infinauseum or until your dining room looks like this:

 Once cooled, cover them up, clean up the kitchen, and go to bed. Even Santa sleeps some times.

 

 A fresh new morning awaits! Get up so we can finish these before the big day. I won’t bore you with a bunch of details, as this explanation is already quite lengthy. As I told you way at the roof top of this post, I usually make a thick concoction of confectioner’s sugar and water to ice cookies. I have used good ol’ buttercream, too. However, the results were less than impressive. They looked like a 5 year old decorated them. Slop on some frosting, load it up with sprinkles, and move on with life, right?

Being nearly in the cake biz this year, I felt it best to work on the execution this time around. I loaded up with colored royal icing and sprinkles and set to work, hoping my creative vibe had returned after being squashed in a corporate pod for months.

 Important things to know about royal icing:

Grease-free everything. Don’t just guess. I keep separate tips, spatulas, and metal bowls just for royal.

It dries quickly, so keep everything covered every moment it’s not in use- the bowl, the tips, the spreaders, everything.

Once it dries/crusts, it’s useless for anything other than throwing at your kitchen mate.

Raw eggs are bad. Don’t spend the holidays on the potty, use meringue powder instead.

Primary colors can be difficult to achieve. I didn’t have too many problems with this, but “they” say it’s hard to do.

 Generally, you make royal thick, outline the area you want to ice, thin the royal, and flood the interior of the outline. Too many steps for me today, so I stuck with medium consistency to do both. It worked okay- not perfect by any means, but the kiddos who will eat these will think they are and that’s all that counts, right?

Generally, I like the smaller grained colored sugar better than the larger. The exception was the white sparkly colored sugar. If you want snowy sparkle, that’s the stuff to use. The larger grained sugar tended to lay on top and looked exactly like what it is: sugar sprinkled on a cookie. The smaller grain looked more like part of the décor. Make sense?

The chicklet was in charge of our very first 3D tree this year. Basically, you take 2 each of 5 or so different sized star cookies, stacked them so the points are off-set, and frost away. Being the smart chicklet that she is, she frosted first.

The candy ornaments and snow drips were added after stacking. Pretty nifty, isn’t it?

Okay, enough explanation. The big day is but a few hoof beats away.  Get in there and do it. Soon your dining room can look like this, too:

 

%d bloggers like this: