Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chocolate Chocolate Bourbon Cake... with Chocolate

A friend of mine convinced me to sign up for a cake decorating class with her. There were only going to be 4 classes, the cost was minimal and since I'm self-taught, I thought a little formal training would be good for me. Unfortunately, the last class was the Tuesday just before Christmas and I would have to miss it because I was going to be in Utah visiting my family. To make up for it, I decided to test my new skills and create a wonderful cake for our Christmas Eve party. The question was...what would I make?

A couple weeks before Christmas, the New York Times published a recipe for a Chocolate Bourbon bundt cake. One of my favorite food blogs Simply Recipes tested it out for me with rave reviews. Being that my mom is from Switzerland, she is an avid chocolate lover and we grew up with it all around. Now that we are all adults, throw a little bourbon into the mix and it's a sure winner. To incorporate my new cake decorating skills, I changed it from a bundt cake to a layered cake and decided on a chocolate ganache covering.

Chocolate Bourbon Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour

5 oz bittersweet dark chocolate
1/4 cup instant (or liquid) espresso, or instant coffee
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon whiskey
1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tub of store-bought dark chocolate frosting (or about 2 cups homemade)

Chocolate Ganache

9 oz bittersweet dark chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325° and grease/flour two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans. Put the chocolate in a bowl and microwave until about halfway melted (about 2 minutes). Swirl the bowl until the chocolate is completely melted. (In one of my preliminary trials, I found that the chocolate burned on the bottom if I tried to melt the chocolate completely in the microwave. This method works a lot better). Set the bowl aside to let it cool.

Put instant espresso and cocoa powder in a 2 cup measuring cup. Add boiling water up to the 1 cup line and stir until all the powders are completely dissolved. Add the whiskey and the kosher salt and set aside to let it cool.

In your mixing bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and baking soda. By this time, the chocolate should be fairly cooled, add it to the mix and make sure to get the majority of the chocolate into your mixing bowl by using a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add 1/3 of the coffee/whiskey mixture and mix thoroughly into your cake batter. Now add 1 cup of the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the next 1/3 of coffee/whiskey mixture and mix. Follow with another cup of flour and mix. And finally add the remaining coffee/whiskey mixture and mix.

Pour batter into your cake pans and put in the oven for about 45-55 minutes. I made this cake in both Philadelphia (humid climate, elevation 39 ft) and in Utah (dry climate, elevation 5100 ft) and the baking time was shorter in Utah (as might be expected). So, check your cake around 40 minutes for a Utah-like climate and more around 50 minutes for a Philly climate. The easiest way to check if a cake is done is to put a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean (no batter-like residue), then it's done. Let your cake pans cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake pans onto wire racks and carefully remove the cake from the pans.

When the cakes have cooled completely, assemble your cake onto your decorating surface (I just used a flipped over 10" cake pan). If you have a lot of doming on your cakes, you may want to trim the domed part off. My cakes didn't dome that much, so I used a clean dish towel to gently compress the top of the cake immediately after I took it out of the oven. Place one cake layer on your surface with the domed side up. Add about a 1/4" thick layer of frosting to the top of the cake
and then gently place the second layer on the cake with the domed side down. Use the rest of your frosting to add a crumb coat to the cake. A crumb coat is a THIN coat of frosting that just adheres all the crumbs to the cake. It helps achieve a smoothed look when you add the ganache. This layer of frosting should be thin enough that you can actually see the cake through the layer. The only place where you may want to add more than just a thin amount is at the frosted middle layer between the two cakes. You want to fill (spackle if you will) all the holes in the middle region so in the end you have a flat surface for the entire height of your cake. Place cake in fridge for 30 minutes until the crumbcoat hardens. You can leave it in the fridge overnight if you'd prefer.

When the crumbcoat is hardened, start on your ganache. Place the chocolate into a bowl. In a sauce pan bring the 1 cup of heavy cream to just below a boil. You need to stir
constantly to prevent the cream from sticking (and burning) to the bottom of the pan. The goal here is to get the cream extremely hot so that it melts the chocolate. When the cream is just about to start boiling, take it off the heat and pour it directly into the bowl of chocolate. Using a spatula, stir and fold the cream into the chocolate until you have a nice, smooth thick chocolate syrup. In the end, if you have small bits of unmelted chocolate, just pop the bowl into the microwave for about 30 seconds and stir again. Let the ganache cool before applying to the cake.

Place a wire rack onto a baking sheet. Take your cake out of the fridge and place on the wire rack. Pour the ganache onto the top of the cake and allow it to drizzle down the sides. W
hen I've used about 1/2 of my ganache, I get a spatula and start working on the sides of the cake first. You want a nice even coat of ganache on the side. There is likely an excess of chocolate on the top of the cake, so if I need more chocolate on one side of the cake I use my spatula to push the chocolate off the top and onto the side I'm working on. I continue to take chocolate from the bowl and the top of the cake until the sides are nice and flat and smooth. Don't worry about the very bottom of the cake where the chocolate is dripping off onto the baking sheet. We can fix that later. Once you are happy with the sides, clean up the top of the cake to your liking. Place in the fridge until you are ready to decorate.

To decorate the cake, move your cake to it's final resting place. For me that was a glass cake pedestal. To transfer the cake I use two wide metal spatulas. The cake will be very heavy, so you need to support it underneath as you transfer it. Once placed on the cake pedestal/plate, use a s
harp flat edge knife to trim the bottom of the excess chocolate from the bottom of the cake. For my decorations, I made 3 gumpaste carnations and dipped them in an edible gold pearl dust. I learned how to make these flowers in my cake decorating class and perhaps that's a post for another time. In fact, that's the only part of my class that I'm using for this cake. Initially, I wanted to add a satin ribbon to the bottom, but was convinced that an all edible cake was better. So, I created a pink fondant ribbon for the bottom that I shimmered with the gold pearl dust.

All in all this cake tasted and looked just like I wanted it to. It was very rich and chocolatey, but the addition of the bourbon and the espresso added a hint of uniqueness to the cake. Don't hesitate about the amount of bourbon used, it's perfect and
melds nicely into the cake. I think this cake is a great crowd pleaser for parties. Because of it's richness, partygoers will likely only have one slice, but that's perfect when there is a lot of people.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Home-made Mac n' Cheese

Anyone ever hear the Bare Naked Ladies song "If I Had a Million Dollars?" There is a line in that song that reads "If I had a million dollars we wouldn't have to eat Kraft dinner... but we would." I always loved that line because if I was ever a millionaire I know that I would still have the occasional bowl of cereal or Kraft box mac n' cheese for dinner. I've never tried to make my own mac n' cheese, so when I saw a recipe on the Dishing up Delights food blog I had to give it a go.

Now, this posed a little bit of a problem because when I don't feel like cooking (which is usually about once a week), I tell Jon to throw on some mac n' cheese. So, if I'm planning mac n' cheese for one of my meals, what in the world do we make on the night I don't feel like cooking?

Despite this small dilemma, I still forged ahead. I was not sorry. This was very, very good. It has a bechamel base which gives it a creamy consistency. (I didn't even know what bechamel was or how to pronounce it until 2 days ago). As a first time effort, my bechamel wasn't bad, but it wasn't perfectly smooth and creamy. I know there are some bechamel experts out there, so if you have any insight into perfecting the consistency please put it in the comments section. Even with this small imperfection, the recipe still tasted fabulous.

Home-made Mac n' Cheese

(modified from Dishing up Delights)

6-8 slices canadian bacon (cubed)
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup Fontina ch
eese, shredded
1 1/2 cups extra-sharp chedder cheese, shredded
Cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper to taste

Get the elbow macaroni started in some salted water. While the macaroni are boiling, saute the cubed canadian bacon in a pan. I didn't use any oil and just cooked the bacon until it started to brown a little. The original recipe used regular bacon, but I wanted something a little lighter to go with the cheesiness of this dish. Once cooked, remove the canadian bacon to a bowl and reserve for later. Add a little oil to the pan and saute the shallot. (Shallots and scallions are my favorite onions. They each have such a unique flavor that really add another level to a dish). After about 3 minutes add the garlic and continue to saute until onions are translucent. Add the canadian bacon back into the pan and mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat and set aside.

By this time your pasta should be cooked. Drain in a colander and set aside. Add the butter to the pot and set on medium-high heat. When half-way melted add the flour and stir until mixed. When the butter has completely melted add the milk. Continue to stir and cook on medium high heat until your "bechamel" has reached it's desired thickness. Add all of the Fontina cheese and about 1/2 cup of the chedder to your bechamel. Stir until completely melted. Add about 1 tsp cayenne and some salt and pepper. The original recipe didn't have amounts for the cheeses or the cayenne, so I did everything to taste. If sauce has no real flavor add some more chedder. If it needs a little kick, add some salt, pepper, or cayenne. I just kept adding chedder until I was satisfied. The fontina is a creamier cheese, but it has a very mild flavor. Add the fontina for texture, but the chedder for taste.

Once your satisfied with the taste, stir in the onion, garlic, and canadian bacon mixture. Once mixed, add the pasta and mix. Voila! It's yummy home-made mac n' cheese. I had leftovers the next day for lunch and it was great. Jon told me how his mom bakes homemade mac n' cheese and I can definitely see how having a crunchy top would be yummy. In fact, baking it in an oven reminds me a lot of my mom's macaroni casserole, which will have to be a post for another day.

What I would change about this recipe:
Nothing. I loved it. I just need to work on the texture of my bechamel sauce, but the flavor was great. I really liked the canadian bacon touch. Homemade mac n'cheese also makes you feel a little healthier than eating the box mac n' cheese, but I'll still always have a couple boxes on hand.

Paper-Wrapped Chicken

When I was in my first year of college I worked as a receptionist/secretary/errand girl at the same company that my dad worked. It was a small enough company that you knew everyone who worked there and everyone knew you. Working in the same company as my dad meant that I got to see him in his highest state of stress and was occasionally caught in the line of fire. However, one of the benefits of working with my dad was lunch time. He frequently took me out to lunch and I could pick where we went. One of my favorite places to go was a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall called Sampan. Not only did they have the best tasting Chinese food (my favorite was mongolian beef), but they gave you a lot for your money. With every lunch special you got soup and your choice of either an egg roll or paper-wrapped chicken. Paper-wrapped chicken are little chunks of chicken wrapped in rice or cellophane paper and deep fried. However, at Sampan, they are wrapped in little triangles of aluminum foil and baked. They were delicious and I got them every time I went.

When I originally came across this recipe, I thought it was going to be a method for cooking chicken over a campfire. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was for my precious paper-wrapped chicken!! Funny, how the author of the blog posted the recipe as a memory of her father and I also associate them with my dad. While this recipe was not identical to those at Sampan, they were still very, very good.

Paper/Foil Wrapped Chicken
(from the Food Gal)

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp ginger paste or fresh ginger pressed through a garlic press
5 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
pinch of sugar

dash of sesame oil
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1" cubes

Preheat oven to 350degrees. Combine all ingredients into a bowl. The original recipe says to marinate for 2-3 hours, but I just let it sit for about 30 minutes and it was fine. While the chicken is marinating prepare the tin foil squares. 6"x6" squares work fairly well, so if your tin foil box is 12" long, then pull out 6" of foil and tear. Then just fold in half and tear so that you are left with 2 equal squares. I personally just eye-balled it (and didn't do a very good job oat it), but the more even they are the better your squares will look. Fold each square along its diagonal to create a diagonal crease. This will help you later when you are wrapping the chicken.

Open each foil square and put a heaping teaspoon of the chicken into the center. Fold up the square along the crease so that you have a triangle. Fold the open edges of the triangle 2-3 time to create a tight seal. Place all foil triangles onto a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

At the restaurant, part of the fun was having your own set of triangles and opening them yourself. Serve with a big bowl of rice, the plate of triangles, and your veggie of choice (mmmm...asparagus).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ricotta Stuffed Chicken with Twice-Baked Potatoes

I won't lie. I love potatoes. I like them mashed, fried, baked, broiled, baked...pretty much anyway. These carb-laden devils are one of my weaknesses (though, I have many). Sometimes I think that if this country were heading into a depression I might be perfectly satisfied with just eating potatoes and cereal. This post actually has 2 recipes. One for chicken and one for potatoes. And while the chicken dish was definitely very good, it pretty much involved no effort on my part. Most of my time was spent working on the potatoes. A lot of work for a side dish, but the end result was definitely worth it.

Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

(recipe adapted from Once Upon a Plate)

2-3 large chicken breasts with skin and bones
8 oz ricotta cheese
2-3 Tbs dried parsley

Twice-Baked Potatoes
(my own recipe)

3-4 large baked potatoes
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 package pancetta

2 cups grated sharp chedder cheese

First things first, the potatoes are going to take about 45-60 min to cook so wash them, wrap them in foil, and place them in the oven at 400°. If you have someone at home who can get them in ahead of time, do it. If not, just sit and relax for about 30 minutes.

Cook the pancetta in a pan at med-hi heat. Pancetta is similar to bacon, but it cooks a lot cleaner (less oil) and has a unique flavor to it. It's a little difficult to tell when it's done, so just realize that it'll cook slightly faster than bacon. Once cooked, set aside for later.

In a bowl mix the ricotta cheese and parsley. Wash chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Stick finger under the skin to slightly loosen it from the meat. Try to keep the skin attached to the muscle along the edges of the chicken breast. Take a spoon and start scooping the ricotta mixture between the chicken breast and skin. You can get the mixture to the end of the chicken breast by massaging it downward from the outside (kind of like the what you would do to get the toothpaste to the end of the tube). Once you get a fairly even generous layer of cheese in there, brush the outside of the chicken breast with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a pan bone side down and bake uncovered at 350° for about 25-30 min until juices run clear and the top of the chicken is slightly browned. At this point, I lowered the temp of my stove and continued baking the potatoes while the chicken cooked. (Note: raw chicken looks awful in photographs, so I don't have any pictures of the process.)

Crumble the pancetta. In a bowl mix yogurt, 1 cup of the grated shredded cheese, and 1-2 handfuls of the pancetta. Take the potatoes out of the oven and check them. I unwrapped the potatoes and, at first, cut a slit in them to check them. Later I found out this was a waste. Just unwrap them and cut them straight in half. Poke with a fork to see if the innards are soft. If not, fold back together with the tin foil and put back in the oven until they are done. Once done, let cool for about 5-10 minutes (enough to be able to handle them). Take a fork and start scraping out the inside of the potato leaving the skin as in tack as possible (I wasn't very good at this). Put all the scraped potato into the bowl and mix thoroughly into the mixture. I try to mash any big chunks, but you don't have to get it perfect. Scoop the mixture back into the potato shells. Be generous. Top with the remaining cheese and pancetta and throw back into the oven for 10-15 minutes. I kept my potatoes in the foil, but folded down the sides for this stage. This helps keep the potato sides together, but also acts to prevent any melting cheese from getting on your oven racks.

Take out the chicken and potatoes and serve as is. Yuuuummmmy!

A couple notes on this recipe: 1) Most people use sour cream for the twice-baked potatoes. I only had yogurt on hand and was great. I don't see any reason to add the extra calories of sour cream. 2) I had leftovers the next day for lunch. I honestly think the potato was even better reheated than it was the day before (but that could have been the fact that I was at work and never have anything really great for lunch at work).

Validation of Goodness: I got the chicken breasts at the Reading Terminal Market and they were HUGE! I only ate half of mine and saved the other half for the next day. I gave Jon the larger one and at the end of the night he had eaten all of his and was picking at the rest of mine!

If you try this one (or any of my recipes) out let me know what you think!

I am officially caught up on posts, for now. We'll see what creations I decide to try next week.

Grilled Pineapple Shrimp Kabobs

It's only been 2 weeks and I'm already falling behind on my food blogs. I have two recipes that I made last week that I will be posting. The first is a grilled shrimp kabob marinated in a terriyaki sauce. It was really, really good. If you don't care for shrimp, I'm sure you can substitute chicken. The key to making this dish taste good is to sear it at a high temperature using either a grill, grill pan, or broiler. I found the base for the recipe on The Pioneer Woman Cooks food blog. She didn't really provide measurements, so I improvised and am putting the approximate amounts that I used here. The original blogger also served the kabobs plain, but I thought it could use some color so I added some red and green veggies, and served it on rice to make it into a more substantial meal.

Grilled Pineapple Shrimp Kabobs

1 cup terriyaki sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 bunch scallions with white tips diced
2-3 cloves garlic crushed or diced.
1 small can of pineapple chunks.
1 lb raw shrimp
1 red bell pepper
1 zucchini

Pepper to taste

In a bowl mix terriyaki sauce, sugar, scallions, garlic, and about 1/4 cup
of pineapple juice from the can. Add a little pepper to taste. Remove shells and veins from raw shrimp. I buy raw shrimp that has already been cut and deveined to make things easier. Add the shrimp to the marinade and set aside. The original recipe said to marinade for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. I only marinated it for 30 minutes in the fridge and it was fine. You can use frozen shrimp if you'd like, but make sure you soak the frozen shrimp in water until thawed before placing into the marinade.

While the shrimp is marinating, prep your veggies. I cut the red bell pepper into 1" squares and sliced the zucchini to create 1/4" thick discs.

Assembly time. I started by putting one red pepper square on the skewer and then threading the skewer through the head of the shrimp. Before skewering the tail, grab one of your pineapple chunks and add it on. Then skewer the tail of the shrimp on the other side of the pineapple chunk. This puts the pineapple (and it's juices) snugly underneath the curved portion of the shrimp (see pic). Add another red pepper square to the end and repeat for the next skewer. Because zucchini cooks a lot faster than red peppers, (and they are a perfect canvas for grill marks), I decided to cook them separately and assemble them to the kabobs later.

Cook at high heat until cooked on one side, flip and cook the other side. Using a grill will provide you with the best results, but because I live in an apartment I don't have access to a grill. This really hampers my ability to create perfect little grill marks in my food. I don't know why grill marks make dishes look ultra-tasty, but they do. A grill pan is a great solution to this problem. I recently purchased a cast iron grill pan and love to break it out every chance I get. It was an impulse purchase at Kohl's. I couldn't resist the orange 60-70% off tag. (Does anyone actually ever pay full price at Kohl's?) .

Attach the grilled zucchini (or jus
t serve alongside) and serve immediately over a bed of rice. Delicious!

ne word of caution, the juices on the grill pan caused A LOT of smoke in my apartment and my stove fan doesn't work so well. I opened all the windows, turned on some fans, and crossed my fingers that my neighbors wouldn't come knocking at my door.

Retrospective: The only thing that I would do different is reduce the marinade in a sauce pan and drizzle over the rice before serving. Other than that, it was perfect.

Coming next.... Ricotta stuffed chicken and twice-baked potatoes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

As promised, here is another pumpkin recipe. Being the weekend, I actually had some time to do some baking, and a friend needed some cupcakes for an event she was having. This gave me the perfect reason to try to make pumpkin cupcakes using a recipe that I found on Taste and Tell. The recipe was fairly easy, and the cupcakes turned out great. To quote a friend of mine who was around to sample the end product, "These are good as h***!". That's a compliment.

So, without further ado...

Pumpkin Cupcakes

1 box spice cake mix
15 oz pumpkin filling/puree
3 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water

Mix all the ingredients together and fill cupcake tins 3/4 full. Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Mine were actually done closer to 15 minutes, so make sure to watch them. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting them.

Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a unique recipe because it is a mix between cream cheese and w
hipping cream. The result is a much lighter, creamier frosting.

1 cup whipping cream
1 8oz package of cream cheese
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

My mom always told me that whipping cream worked better if everything was cold. So, I washed the metal bowl and egg beaters that I had used for the cupcakes and placed them in the freezer. Do this almost immediately after you put the cupcakes into the oven because then it gives them time to get nice and cold. Put the cream cheese in another bowl with brown sugar and vanilla, and set aside for now. Retrieve your bowl and beaters from the freezer, add the whipping cream and beat whip cream until soft peaks are formed. Put the whipping cream bowl into the fridge while you beat the other ingredients.

Without rinsing beaters, mix the cream cheese, vanilla, and brown sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipping cream until well mixed. Put the frosting into the fridge to firm up for frosting.

Once cupcakes are cool...frost away!

My one regret about this recipe is that the cream cheese frosting is pretty domineering compared to the pumpkin cupcake. I piped the frosting on fairly thick, but in retrospect would do a thin 1/8" layer on top so that you can taste more of the cupcake. The person who originally posted this recipe had a great idea and put a single candy corn on each cupcake...very cute.

So, does this satisfy my pumpkin craving? Yes, I'm definitely done with pumpkins for a while.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pumpkin Penne Pasta

This Halloween I have not been feeling the costume vibe. Not sure why, but it's ok because all that creative energy has been driven toward pumpkins...yes, pumpkins. I've never made anything with pumpkin before and I want try a pumpkin recipe before the season ends. Unfortunately, the idea of making pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie seems like too much work to fit into my schedule, so I kept pushing the idea to the back of my mind. And then I came across a recipe that drew a raised eyebrow from Jon, but would definitely satisfy my pumpkin infatuation. Pasta with garlic, basil, and tomatoes is guaranteed to be good, but pasta with pumpkin? This was definitely going to be an adventure.

The recipe is one of Rachel Ray's recipes. I have never been a big fan of Rachel Ray. Her recipes usually don't appeal to me and I don't like her bright orange cookware (ironic since this post is all about pumpkins). But regardless, this recipe intrigued me and I found a rave review about the pasta from someone who feels the same way that I do about Rachel Ray. So, it was worth a shot.

I followed the recipe to a 'T' and was not impressed. I think it has potential, but it was too rich and too thick. I could envision it being so much better if the sauce was thinner and the pumpkin provided more of a subtle flavor instead of being so dominating. So, instead of posting the original recipe as written on Rachel Ray's website, I'm posting my own take on this recipe. I have yet to try these changes, so if you get to it before I do, let me know what other things we can do to make this recipe worth 5-stars.

Pumpkin Penne Pasta

1/2 lb penne pasta
2 Tbs butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup reserved pasta water

1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsely
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the penne pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce. Put pot on low-medium heat and add cream, butter, and 1/4 tsp pepper stirring occasionally until butter is melted. Add pumpkin puree and pasta water and thoroughly mix. Increase heat to medium-high and stir until sauce boils. Reduce heat to low and add parmesan. Once mixed in, taste sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Once satisfied, turn off heat and add pasta to pot. Stir to coat. Add parsley. Stir to coat. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and parley on top.

Concluding Pumpkin Remarks

So, does this satisfy my pumpkin craving. Not remotely. I still have some pumpkin puree left and I think I'll try something a bit more traditional this weekend. :) ... stay tuned.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Cake Only a Mother Could Love

Jon's mom recently asked me to make a flip-flop cake for her birthday (see pic). I got really into it and decided that I wanted to try another fun cake for the next occasion. That occasion happened to be Brian's b-day. Since he and Jon are both lego-fanatics, I decided to make a cake that looked like a bunch of lego blocks stuck together. To pull this off I was going to need fondant. In my past attempts with store-bought fondant, the cake came out looking great, but the fondant was disgusting. I found a recipe for marshmallow fondant online from Peggy's Baking Corner. Her website has a lot of information about cake decorating. It's also the site that I get my buttercream recipe from.

Here are the basic steps that I followed in the creation of the cake.

Just the Cake

I used a basic white cake recipe that I found on online. I actually thought it was too dry, so I'm not going to repeat the recipe here. Peggy's Baking Corner had a butter cake recipe that was so much better. I made two 9"x9" square cakes. Brian wanted strawberry in between the layers, so I put a layer of buttercream with some strawberry preserves. After stacking the layers I put a really thin layer of buttercream and let sit in the fridge for 20 min. This serves as the crumbcoat and prevents the crumbs of the cake from getting into the frosting. I then applied about 1/4" layer of buttercream on all sides and cooled in the fridge for about 30 min. This layer is necessary for the fondant to adhere to the cake.

Fondant Creations

The beauty of the fondant is that you can store it in the fridge for weeks as long as you wrap it with saran wrap AND store it in a ziploc bag with the air pushed out. I've read several websites that put a thin coat of crisco on the fondant in addition to the saran wrap to help maintain its moisture. I made mine about 5 days ahead and it was just fine. The marshmallow fondant was basically melted marshmallows with a lot of powdered sugar. It did taste much better than the store bought kind, but it was very sweet. If I were to do this again I would make my buttercream layer a little thinner. As it was, the fondant+buttercream combination was too sweet for me.

After coloring the fondant the classic red, yellow, green, and blue lego colors, I went to work creating the lego "bricks". Unfortunately, I didn't have a ruler, so my lego bricks were not very consistent. In addition, I should have made the fondant a little stiffer. They were pretty flimsy when I tried to apply them to the cake. To the right is the beginnings of my creation. After a while I realized that there was no way to get it perfect and just kind of gave up. Hence...only a cake a mother could love.

Once the cake had all the "bricks" in place, it was time to make it really look like a bunch of legos. The key to this was to add all the "bumps" that connect each lego together. Again, I was ill-prepared and didn't have anything to make uniform bumps. I ended up taking bits of the fondant, rolling them into little balls, and then pushing them with my finger to make little mini cylinders. I estimated that I must have made about 250 of these "bumps". However, in the end I took a poll and everyone could figure out what it was...success! If I were to make again, I would definitely try to get more of a professional quality rather than a homemade quality.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Early Thanksgiving w/ Mash Potatoes and Green Beans

In an effort to try something other than beef and chicken for dinner, I decided to buy a turkey for tonight's dinner. I was hoping for a little small turkey, but I completely forgot about the Thanksgiving holiday and the enormous 16 lb turkeys that go with it! That's a little too much for only 2 people. Then I found a Turkey London Broil. (I had no idea they had london broils in anything but beef). If you've never seen a Turkey London Broil, imagine a giant chicken breast. So, I bought it and when I got home I stopped and realized that I had no idea how to cook a london broil. I had originally planned on roasting it, but that wouldn't quite work. After doing a little research, I came up with my own recipe using some of my favorite ingredients: garlic, red wine, and onions.

Result: The turkey broil was great! The meat was juicy and flavorful and no bones to deal with.

Turkey with Mashed Red Potatoes and Fresh Green Beans

Turkey Marinade:
garlic powder
onion powder
pepper and salt

I didn't measure anything. Just put all the ingredients into a plastic bag with the turkey london broil and marinaded for about 30 minutes in the fridge. While marinating, get the potatoes and green beans started. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Put the london broil and marinade in a roasting pan and cover with tin foil. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or until no longer pink in the middle. After cooked, let sit for 5 minutes and then slice for serving.

Mashed Red Potatoes
While the turkey marinates, wash and cut 4-5 small red potatoes into approximately one inch squares. Put in a pot of boiling water (with salt) on the stove. Move onto the green beans while potatoes boil. Once green beans are simmering, check potatoes with a fork to make sure they are mashable. Drain water from the pot. I often use a plate for this to save dishes (ahem...small kitchen, remember). I place the bottom of the plate toward the inside of the pot, hold the center of the plate in place with my hand and slowly tip the pan with my other hand. Be careful not to let the steam or water burn your hand. Once drained, add 1 Tbsp of butter and start smashing! I find that smashing the potatoes before you add milk really helps achieve a smooth consistency for the potatoes. Once mashed, add milk and keep smashing until it's as thick or thin as you like your potatoes. Add another Tbsp of butter and some salt to taste.

Fresh Green Beans
I stopped by the Reading Terminal Market on my way home from work earlier this week and did all my veggie shopping. Nothing beats fresh local vegetables. The green beans looked amazing, so I decided to get a bunch and work them into one of my dinners. The recipe below is from my mom. I have no idea if she got it from somewhere else. This is by far my favorite way to eat green beans...thanks mom!

2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion (chopped)
2 Vegetable bouillon cubes
2 cups water

Wash the green beans and snap off the ends. In a saute pan on medium high heat melt the butter. Once melted add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add green beans and saute until the color becomes that wonderful bright green color (about 5 min). Add 2 cups water to the saute pan. Once the water begins to boil, break up the bouillon cubes and add to the pan. Stir around to dissolve the bouillon cube. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover the pan. Check and stir the beans every 10 minutes or so. I like me beans a little soft, but by no means mushy. Take a bite after 20 minutes to see if they are to your liking. The beauty of this dish is that the broth serves as the "gravy" for the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Jonny's Corner
Seconds? Yes
Response: Horrible! (In reference to the base running of the Phillies game). What? Oh, good meal.

Welcome to My Kitchen

Welcome to my new blog! This blog is all about my very, very, very small kitchen and all the different and new dishes that I can churn out of it. I hope you enjoy your time here and hopefully get a few ideas for what to cook for dinner tonight.