Sunday, March 21, 2010

A new hobby?

A co-worker of mine, Ellen, is leaving next month and I was asked if I wanted to contribute to a memory quilt for her.  I said "Of course!  Although I have no idea where to start."  I do have a friend, Jean, who does a lot of quilts so I knew I could count on her if I got stuck. 

Ellen and I always plan the monthly birthday parties at work, so I decided my quilt block would have a birthday cake on it.  Like you didn't see that coming!  I considered a slice of cake or a traditional cake, or maybe even a quote of some kind...after sketching some ideas on paper I decided on a topsy turvy cake.

I spent what felt like hours walking around the craft store looking for inspiration and finally found a group of fabrics that I liked together.  I decided to just ask Jean for help and I'm glad I did!  She had some tricks that really helped this project happen much easier and faster than I ever would have thought. 

Making this seem simpler than it is....First I cut out the pieces of my design in each fabric using a paper template.  We then used a spray adhesive to place the pieces on a large square of fabric.  Then each piece is outlined with a decorative stich using Jean's fancy sewing machine.  The border fabric was sewn on and small iron on crystals added for pizzaz.  There was actually alot of measuring, math and cutting but I'll save you the details :)

Thanks to Jean I'm happy with my design and they way it all turned out! 

While I did enjoy working on this and it is kind of therapeutic because you really have to focus, I think I'll stick to cake decorating for now.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ever heard of spoon bread?

Well, I tried a new recipe from my Williams-Sonoma American cookbook...Rosemary Spoon Bread.  It sounded intriguing and I imagined something similar to corn bread.  I have to say this was NOT a success.  Now I just need to figure out what went wrong...

First, I failed to do some research to really understand what spoon bread is.  It is a moist cornmeal based "bread" more like the consistency of pudding or casserole and resembles a cornmeal souffle.  It is a classic element of Southern cuisine and corn, vegetables or cheese are commonly added.  OK, it did look like a souffle as it was baking in the oven, but it never "dried" on the inside.  I may have used a dish that was too deep because the top was golden brown and the inside was like runny scrambled eggs!

Speaking of scrambled eggs...the recipe calls for heating milk, adding cornmeal and cooking on the stove top.  Then you add egg yolks, milk and rosemary.  As soon as I added the egg yolk mixture all I could smell was scrambled eggs.  The eggs did not appear to cook as I added them to the hot cornmeal mixture but maybe they did.  Next time I will try to temper the eggs first and see if that makes a difference.

Next, whipped egg whites are folded into the mixture.  This was fairly straightforward.  I ended up baking this dish for more than double the time stated in the recipe and every time I tested it the skewer came out wet.  I know it shouldn't need to set because the recipe says serve immediately. 

So this could have been a compilation of errors or maybe I just don't like the texture of spoon bread.  Either way, it did smell good and I do think I will try again.  Maybe with a larger pan, cooking the cornmeal on the stove top longer and adding just a little less milk. 

Anyone out there know the secret to spoon bread?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Didn't get around to making shamrock cookies like I wanted so I'm sharing a cake I made last year for St Patrick's Day.  The "gold" and clovers are made from color flow - icing that flows and hardens like candy. 

Note to self...never do a rainbow again.  Too much work coloring and filling the bags for one "stripe" of color. 

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Heavenly Coconut Cream Cake

This is a must try recipe if you like coconut!

It’s not fancy, as a matter of fact, on the surface is looks like a simple cake with whipped topping and coconut. But it is SO much more than that…. a rich, moist coconut cake that just melts in your mouth. Whenever I bring this cake somewhere there are no leftovers, and almost everyone goes back for seconds!

This cake is served in the same pan as it is baked. I love those disposable cake pans with lids for this because I don’t have to worry about clean up or carrying my baking pan home.

Start with a basic white cake mix and bake as directed in a 13” x 9” pan. While the cake is baking, mix together 1 (14oz) can of sweetened condensed milk and 1 (15oz) can of cream of coconut. Be sure to use coconut cream and NOT coconut milk. I find the cream of coconut in the Hispanic section of my grocery store but I have also seen it in the baking aisle in some stores.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke several, and I mean A LOT of holes in the top of the cake with a fork. SLOWLY pour the milk/cream mixture over the warm cake so it soaks in evenly. You may have to use a spatula to move the liquid around because it tends to flow to the edges if you don’t have enough holes or pour too quickly. This will seem like a lot of liquid but the cake will absorb it as it cools. Immediately place the cake in the refrigerator to cool. I usually allow it to chill overnight.

Once the cake is cooled, top with 1 small tub of whipped topping and shredded coconut to taste (about 7 oz). I make sure the surface is covered with coconut but if you aren’t a fan of shredded coconut you could use less. Store this cake in the refrigerator.

This cake can easily be made a day ahead. Everyone will ask for the recipe and no one will believe how easy it is!  You could also mix this one up and use a chocolate or pineapple cake! Mmmm.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cobb Salad

Cobb salads…they look impressive and are so easy to make!

My inspiration was a recipe from my American Williams-Sonoma cookbook. Traditionally, a Cobb salad includes lettuce, tomato, bacon, chicken, hard boiled egg, avocado, cheese, chives and a mustard vinaigrette.

I started by boiling 2 eggs, frying two chicken breasts and cooking 6 slices of bacon.
Cooking tip: I have found a technique, from Betty Crocker, that works great for getting perfect hard boiled eggs. First place your eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with cold water to at least 1 inch above the eggs. Bring to a rolling boil – large bubbles breaking the surface. Cover, remove from heat, and allow to stand for 18 minutes. Immediately drain the hot water and run cool water over the eggs until they are cool enough to handle. You can then place the eggs in the refrigerator or peel and use! For easier peeling of a hard boiled egg start at the large end and run under cold water as you peel.  Always remember to cool your eggs as soon as they are done cooking to avoid that nasty gray/green color on the outside of the yolks.
Next, the vinaigrette….this recipe called for red wine vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. But you could really use whatever kind of dressing you like.

On to the chopping….per serving of salad I chopped: 1 chicken breast, 1 egg, 3 slices of bacon, 1 tomato and half an avocado. You will notice that my salads did not have avocado. That’s because when I cut my avocado open it was a little too ripe (brown avocado is not appetizing!)

For assembly….A traditional Cobb salad is “composed” meaning the ingredients are placed in quadrants or rows on the plate instead of being tossed. I used romaine lettuce as the base of my salad, but again you could use whatever salad green you prefer. I added the sliced chicken breast, tomato, egg, bacon. Then I sprinkled crumbled blue cheese and chives over the salad. I served the dressing on the side.
Cooking tip: Scissors work great for chopping fresh herbs!
Why not try a traditional Cobb salad for dinner tonight?  Or get creative and add your own twist to it! Don't forget to come back and let us know how your version turned out.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My First Carved Cake: Mater

Sorry I have been MIA; too much baking, cooking and activities bunched into such a short time span that I just needed to take a break. But I’m back!

My Mater cake order for the end of February was cancelled but I thought I’d dig up the picture from the last Mater cake I did and show you. For those of you who don’t know, Mater is the tow truck from the Disney movie Cars. I had to do some research and watch the movie myself before I made this cake. Cute movie, even for adults!

This cake was my first carved/3D cake. The only bad part about making this cake is that it was late August, it was very hot and humid, and I don’t have central air! The brown fondant was melting before I could even get it on the cake. I had to keep stopping to put the cake in the fridge for it to chill. So it took a little longer than expected but then again it always does.

The base was a 12” round 2 layer yellow cake covered with chocolate buttercream. I piped the cactus using a star tip and small bunches of grass with the multi opening tip (also used for hair). The rocks are chocolate covered bridge mix. There is a road on the top of the cake but it was completely covered by the truck.

I used fondant cutters to cut out the “Happy Birthday William” ahead of time so they would dry and piped a small line of buttercream around the inside edge of the cake to use as a “support” for the letters.

For Mater, I started with a 9” x 13 “ cake cut in half and stacked to make a basic truck shape about 9” x 6” x 4” high. (I did practice earlier with a frozen pound cake just to get an idea of how to carve it.) Once I did some basic carving, around the headlights, the engine space, the wheel wells, and the truck bed, I covered it with chocolate buttercream. Next I covered with brown fondant. I did lots of smaller pieces so it would look like the panels on a truck, for example the front fenders, the cab, the doors, the rear fenders, etc. Once everything was all smoothed and chilled, it was time for the details.

Chocolate donuts for the wheels, a peanut butter cup for the engine and Twix for the bars in the truck bed. The windows, eyes, teeth, and headlights are white fondant. The side mirrors were made ahead of time and are just small rectangles of dry brown fondant with toothpicks used to hold them in place on the truck. The large 3 was also cut out ahead of time to dry and was supported with a lollipop stick. The blue and green surfaces are thinned buttercream that I brushed on with a small paintbrush. Buttercream was used to pipe the yellow caution lines on the back, the small lights on top of the cab and the hubcaps.

And that’s how I made Mater!