Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgingerbread Darcy

Hmmm, I should have mentioned this earlier... Baking Bites, a cooking blog that I've followed for quite a while, is having a Gingerbread cookie decorating competition this Christmas season. The entry deadline in midnight tonight, which is why I should have mentioned it earlier, now that I think about it. Sorry. *dodges flying tomatoes*

Amidst the craziness of the Christmas season, I determined to enter, and since it will be judged on creativity instead of quality of picture (I confess I don't have a Canon Rebel like 90% of the blogging world!) I figured I might have a shot. I started sketching ideas on paper and a Victorian gent with a monocle very soon turned into a Regency gent with a high collar and... it was MR DARCY.

So naturally, Lizzy followed.

I made the cookies four days ago (I don't really intend to eat them, so I didn't care how old they would be!), using a traditionally gingerbread man cutter for the basic shape and just cutting out the modifications like Darcy's hat and Lizzy's skirt with a paring knife.

Using Royal Icing* and Wilton gel colorings I began the fun today! I had two sets of Darcys and Lizzies because I had a pretty good idea that I'd need a choice for final pictures. I was right. One Mr. Darcy resembled a Leprechaun more than anything else. And one Lizzy had a straying eye. Creepy.

For the record, Wilton colors are AMAZING. Black actually makes black icing. I can't express how over-joyed I am about this. Also, about twenty minutes into it, I gave up the pastry/decorating bag and settled for a ziplock bag with a finely snipped corner. It was so much easier to rinse out between colors, and I could make as fine a line as I wanted. Our finest metal tip was too large.

Between Google Images and my memory of the mini-series, this is what I came up with:

Nowhere could I find a picture of Mr. Darcy's green jacket (except perhaps under the gray overcoat in the picture above?) or Lizzy with her bonnet on, but I have vivid memories of both. I didn't have time to watch all 6 hours of the mini today just to make sure, so if there are costume flaws, I beg your forgiveness.

My mom asked me why I let them both be so pudgy. It's because this represents them after 25 years of marriage.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Global Sugar Art

Through a local community college, I recently signed up to attend a basic fondant and gum-paste flower class. I've followed the Cake Journal for a few months and drooled over the stunning roses and adorable bunnies that could be made to decorate cakes with. Artist-meets-Cook has a huge amount of appeal to me.

The class was held last night, and I came home full of ideas and excitement and wishing someone had a birthday soon so I could make them a cake. Oh wait, someone does... me! Haha! *ahem*

I managed to take some pictures after another student asked if it was alright. Most of the time I forget to even take my camera with me, so this is a big deal. Or something like that.

Our teacher:

Alex.... Something-or-other. I couldn't quite read the name on his uniform from where I was sitting. I believe that he's the owner of Global Sugar Art. He was fun, easy to learn from, down-to-earth and certainly knew his stuff.

Here's the cake he made for us! This is not a display piece; rather, he used as many basic techniques as he could fit into two hours on this one cake.

Pretty! Sparkles! Flowers! Yay!

Alex really likes his pearl dust. He claims that he collects pearly dust on a cold, cold night during a full moon in January when there is at least two feet of snow on the ground... either that or he finds it in his bath-tub. (You just had to be there I guess...)

A few of his many, many 'toys'. I am now convinced that I need one of those giant blue silicone mats. *sigh*

And we ate it! Fondant and all! Interesting fact: Wilton is the most commonly available brand of fondant here in America, and according to him (and others who I've heard talk about it) it gives fondant a bad name. Apparently it's hard to work with and tastes just plain awful, so if it ends up on a cake it's peeled off before anyone eats it. Umm, that's appealing. The fondant that he used here was a butter-cream flavored fondant, perfectly edible and actually yummy. It tasted just like frosting, only chewier.

It wasn't until I was nearly done with my slice that I realized I'd gotten some pearl dust! Frankly, I'm hoping he collected it during the full moon in January, because eating something from someone's bath tub does not appeal to me.

After that class, we had a chance to take a look at some of his display cakes.

Then we got to go out back to the warehouse. That's what Global Sugar is, a warehouse for a mail-order company! I didn't even know it was there, in a city where we regularly shop. I only had a few minutes to look around, but I already know I'm going back to do some serious shopping soon. They have everything you could think of for making cakes, candy, decorating everything... I saw some food items that I would call professional grade and started to feel giddy. Years of frustrated Wal-Mart shopping melted away in an instant...

He also said that they hope to find a teacher to come and teach regular classes there. Hopefully they will keep their web-site up to date so if they do I'll hear about it! Sign me up!

So check out their web-site. A lot of what I looked at seemed very reasonably priced and he also has useful basic information and recipes for various home-made pastes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

He convinced me!

Today I was browsing through digital kitchen scales and came across this Oxo food scale. It has what I'm looking for: it has a Metric and Imperial weight button to easily switch back and forth, it's slim and compact to take up minimal space, and the 'zero' button... that's the clincher for me. I actually was having a hard time deciding which one to order, since there are some cheaper ones and I have frugal instincts hovering in the back of my mind. But then I saw a customer review video. I found it highly amusing, highly informative and... very highly convincing. I couldn't find a way to embed it, so here's a link to the video on his blog (which I recommend browsing through).

Watch Here @ Cook with Certainty

I know it's not the best idea to recommend an item before you've even ordered, much less used, it... but what can I say? I'm a dork, and I'm excited about the prospect of using this highly recommended tool. Not to mention that I recently stumbled across, which is AWESOME but all metric. It's a time-consuming pain to convert everything any time I want to try one of their recipes. So... here's hoping his scale is as awesome as everyone says it is!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Boston Creme Waffles


2 C milk
1 C sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 C flour
1 Tbs butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Put the milk on to boil. In a mixing bowl, gradually beat sugar into egg yolks and continue beating 2- minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms the ribbon (Julia Child's definition of forming the ribbon: "The mixture will turn pale creamy yellow and thicken enough so that when a bit is lifted in the beater, it will fall back into the bowl forming a slowly dissolving ribbon on the surface of the mixture."). Beat in the flour. Beating the egg mixture constantly, gradually add the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets. Pour into a saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir with a whisk constantly, making sure not to let any flour scorch on the bottom. When it begins to boil, lower the temperature and let boil 2-3 minutes. (I found that the custard on the bottom of the pan got VERY thick at this point, a giant lump almost, and stirred like a mad woman to keep it from sticking. It was worth it though.) Remove from heat and mix in the butter and vanilla.

At this point, you can do two different things - use the custard as it is, a thick pudding-like creme, OR you can beat the left-over egg whites with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form and fold them into the hot custard for a lighter, fluffy topping. This is what is pictured here, but I want to try using the thick custard next time.

For the chocolate sauce, use 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped baking chocolate and 1/2 C heavy cream. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth. Allow to stand 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over your favorite waffles.

* Based on the recipe Creme Pastissiere by Julia Child, Vol. I Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cherry Pancakes

Yesterday my mom and I picked probably 18 quarts of fresh sour cherries (all from ONE tree... and it was hard to tell we'd taken any! I can't wait for our own trees to be that size.), and I knew right from the start that I wanted to try recreating my favorite breakfast from Cracker Barrel - pancakes with tart cherries and whipped cream. The nearest Cracker Barrel restaurant is over an hour away - inspiration to make these at home.

First off, I needed a pancake recipe, since my mom's pancakes (which are VERY good by the way ;-] ) are much thinner and a completely different consistency. By doing a little research, I learned that greasing the griddle with shortening can help give the pancakes the crispness that I love at Cracker Barrel. And fortunately, we had some Redi Whip in the fridge left from my sister's birthday.

Here are the results!

Honestly... just as good as Cracker Barrel, only smaller pancakes, so you don't have to make yourself sick trying to eat them all and feel guilty for leaving so much on your plate!

Sorta Cracker Barrel Pancakes

2 C sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
2 eggs
2 C buttermilk

Heat griddle on medium heat while mixing pancakes. Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs and buttermilk together in a separate bowl, then add to the flour. Mix well, but be careful not to over-mix - there should be a few small lumps left.
Grease griddle with shortening, then drop batter with a 1/4 C measuring cup, allowing each side to turn golden brown.

Fresh Sour Cherry Topping

I didn't have a recipe, so hopefully this is what I did! :)

2 1/2 quarts pitted fresh sour cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar, or sugar to taste - I like the tartness and flavor, so I try not to over-do the sugar.
2-3 Tbs corn starch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Heat everything over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbling and thickened. Test for sweetness before serving.

To serve pancakes Cracker Barrel style, lay out three pancakes in a row on a plate, slightly over-lapping eachother. Spoon plenty of cherries down the center and top with whipped cream.

Confession: I ate the left-overs for lunch, too.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Cook-Books

These two are on their way to my eager hands right now... :)

I've loved making biscotti since my very first attempt - not to mention how much I love eating them, dunked in hot milky tea. YUM!

And I'm sure you all know by now that I adore scones. A friend has this book, and I've had a couple of different scones from it - so good.

Loving pastries as much as I do is NOT a good thing, and yet I don't do much to discourage it... other than forcing myself not to make them very often. Trust me, I would be very happy to have scones for breakfast every day.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eva's Spaghetti Dish

This recipe is so ridiculously easy to put together, and tastes so good! Any night mom wants me to make supper and I'm pressed for time, this is a stand-by that everyone loves. It comes from a local cook book; you know, one of those fund raiser cook books put together by a local church group of ladies. The thing about these cook books is that they are written by real people who use real every-day ingredients. So while it may not be a culinary masterpiece, full of expensive ingredients, requiring techniques that only a chose few can pull off with accuracy, it is delicious and satisfying.

Eva's Spaghetti Dish

6 slices bacon, chopped into 1" pieces or smaller
1 large onion, minced
1 quart tomatoes (stewed or whole, chopped, not sauce)
1 tbsp sugar
Pepper to taste
(We prefer feta, but have used cubed cheddar. Anything sharp will do!)
Cooked spaghetti

Cook the bacon and onions together until brown and tender. Carefully add tomatoes, sugar and pepper. Heat through and let simmer just a minute to let the flavors blend. Serve over noodles, sprinkled with cheese.

Rhubarb Cake

This is a recipe that my grandmother has made as long as I can remember. She would bake the huge 13" x 9" pan, and then send most of it over to our house because she and my grandfather couldn't possibly eat the whole thing themselves.

It's basically a coffee cake with rhubarb in it... too much sugar on top makes a crunchy coating, delicate cake kept moist by the rhubarb, which adds a wonderful tang to off-set the sugar. Or is it the other way around? Either way, this recipe will always be a favorite with me.

We grow huge amounts of rhubarb. I sell a good deal of it by just putting it down by the road, but still we have much more than we will ever use in a year. This recipe uses 1 1/2 cups chopped, but I've been thinking about trying it with even more. The amount it calls for is by no means overwhelming, and I need to use up last year's frozen crop to make way for new. It's poking out of the ground now, getting ready to grow like crazy as soon as the warm weather finally arrives.

Rhubarb Cake

1 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C soft butter
1 beaten egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C milk
1 1/2 C chopped rhubarb


1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp soft butter

Preheat oven to 350*

Cream sugars and butter; add beaten egg and vanilla. Sift in remaining dry ingredients. Make a well and add milk and rhubarb, stirring til thoroughly incorporated. Spread in a lightly greased 13 x 9 pan. Mix topping ingredients thoroughly (fingers turned out to be the most useful tool here), making sure not to leave any sugar dry. You may find a tad more butter to be helpful. Sprinkle over the cake and bake 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temp.

I'm very tempted to wave my arm and say "Bon Appetit!" , but I'll content myself with a sorry little "Enjoy!" instead.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Julie and Julia

Anyone else watch it? I know some of you have. I watched it the other night on NetFlix, and I LOVE it. As in, really, really, really like it a LOT. I'm sure I'm following in the footsteps of thousands of fans who watched it much sooner, when I do things like look up Julia Child's cook book on e-bay (Probably could have gotten it pretty cheaply before this movie came out... but who ever thought of it? Not I.), and search for THE blog... and find it. And did I mention that my long-felt desire to go to cooking school has blown through the roof?

I will say up front that the movie is not 100% what I'd have it be. There is language, and an awful lot of, er, making out... among married couples, but still, this is something that's terribly private and I don't want to watch other people doing it repeatedly in the space of two hours. Nothing horrid, just not my cup of tea. Still, I found it very refreshing that both lead characters had very supportive, caring husbands who stuck with them when it was rough (*SPOILERS* or at least come back...) and listened to them ranting about their passions very patiently. I can honestly say I've never experienced that with ANY man, Dad, brother or friend, and it's something I hope for very much in my future.

Another perk of this movie is it's ending. I won't say what it was in case some of you haven't seen it yet, but it did NOT end the way I was expecting, which is almost always a good thing.

Anyone else feel like cooking some boeuf bourguignon?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala & Naan

I am a food-lover, not a food connoisseur. I have NOT been to a number of Indian restaurants and tried this dish numerous times and so had to make it at home... in fact, I've only been to an Indian restaurant once in my life that I remember, and that was a good 17 years ago! I remember liking it though. I was probably five or six but I remember saffron rice, flat bread and chicken pieces plastered with curry. A while back I started noticing the name of this chicken dish all over the place. Well, I said, we'll have to see what this is all about. And we have to find a flat bread to go with it.

The recipe I started with calls for a number of spices, but when I found the recipe I decided to use, other cooks argued that using pre-mixed Garam Masala (which can be found in the spice aisle at your local grocery store) was good enough. The ingredients on the bottle included a number of spices not included in the recipe itself, so I mixed it up, using the spices called for as well as a hefty dash of Garam Masala. The next time I make it I'll try the mix exclusively and see how it compares.

With that said, doesn't this picture look AWESOME? I didn't take it but I love, LOVE mixing fresh spices and the thought of making my own Garam Masala is making me positively giddy!

Okay, on with the recipes!

NOTE: Both of these recipes require planning ahead. Don't think you can whip them up last minute for supper, you'll be eating at 9 if you try. They are totally worth the preparation though!

Chicken Tikka Masala

3 boneless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces

1 C plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cayenne pepper (I used our home-grown cayenne peppers for this, so did not use nearly that much. I didn't want our heads to explode. However, store-bought ground cayenne is much more bland, so that amount should be fine.)
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs minced FRESH ginger. Fresh, fresh, fresh. Which means not dry powder.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Garam Masala, optional. Or try replacing the first four spices with just the mix itself.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with a lid. Coat the chicken thoroughly, cover and chill for at least one hour. The longer it marinates the more tender the chicken will be.

A half hour or so before you want supper ready, preheat your oven to 475F. Place chicken pieces on a broiling pan or grill pan and bake about 15 minutes til done.

While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce.

1 tbs butter
1 clove minced garlic
1 jalapeño pepper, finely minced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 8 oz can tomato sauce (I cooked down home canned tomato puree)
1 C heavy cream

Sautee garlic and jalapeño in butter in a heavy skillet. Add the spices and salt and 'toast' for a few minutes to bring out the flavors. Add tomato sauce and cream and simmer on low heat until thickened. Add cooked chicken and simmer 10 minutes longer. Serve over rice.


From what I gather, Naan is a loose term for a variety of Indian flat-breads. I've seen Naan prepared in a number of different ways; on a grill, in the oven, in a fry-pan; I made mine on our pancake griddle, and it was delicious, though I don't know how authentic it tasted. The flat-bread I had as a child was cooked in a tandoor oven (We got to go into the kitchen and watch it being made! Yay for homeschool-group field-trips!) and was much larger and full of large air pockets. This one has smaller air pockets than some, but it looks lighter than others... As I said, it's a pretty loose term. Whatever the authentic thing is, THIS was delicious. I wouldn't say it's the end of my hunt for Naan recipes, but my brother, who is one of the people whose opinion I care a jot about when it comes to my cooking, said it was awesome and give me more now please.

1 packet (1 tbs) dry yeast
1 C warm water
1/4 C sugar
3 tbs milk
1 egg
1 tsp salt
4 - 4 1/2 C bread flour
1/4 C butter, melted (or if it's available, 1/4 C ghee, another specialty I want to try sometime.)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and a little of the sugar in the water, and let it proof ten minutes, until it's very puffy. Beat in the milk, egg and salt. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead 6-8 minutes on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Set in a warm place to rise until double, about an hour.
Punch down dough, and cut off pieces to roll into golf-ball sized balls. I think I got 18 out of one batch. Place balls on a tray, cover with a damp cloth and let rise another 1/2 hour. While rising, heat a griddle or heavy skillet.
When ready to cook, grease griddle. Roll each ball into a thin round, only rolling out as many as you can fit on your griddle. Keep the other balls covered and damp. Cook until lightly browned and puffy, then brush butter on the raw side and turn over (2-3 minutes). Brush cooked side with butter. When the second side is browned, the naan is done.