Wednesday, December 21, 2011

COOKING: some of the last month in pictures


Strawberry Pie:

fudge filled vanilla cupcakes:

Decorated as turkeys for Thanksgiving

Chocolate chip cookies

Cheesy meatball soup. pre the cheese

Meatball subs:

Spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread

COOKING: Christmas Cupcakes

I dont have time to play catch up on ALL of the baking/cooking/crafting I've been doing (as it's a huge list!) but I'll update what I've done lately.

Starting with Christmas cupcakes: red velvet cupcakes, cream cheese icing and buttercream icing for decorating. I made a snowy forest of Christmas trees, wreaths, and holly.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Catch up soon!

I keep forgetting to post! But I have kept up with baking every day. I've made peanut butter cookies, cake, and two kinds of butter cookies over the weekend. As soon as I can get to a comp to put pictures on here, I'll do a proper catch up post. Tomorrow I'm thinking apple pie!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

COOKING: Baking with Buddy; day 2

I made twisted tarelles (a traditional Italian Easter cookie) today! I was going to make flower piped butter cookies, until I realized it takes 4 sticks of butter (it makes like 50 cookies) and I only had two. So much for going out today just to find the almond paste I needed for it!

The tarelles were a learning experience. The dough was very different from doughs I worked with before. I tried to flour it a bit more until I realized they came out better if I just dealt with the wet dough. It was wet because it's easier to roll and twist that way. I made a few modifications to the recipe as well. Instead of cutting 1 1/2 inches of dough cylinder for each cookie, I cut 2 - 2 1/2 as I thought a thicker cookie looked much nicer than thin ones and they kept shape better instead of tearing. Also, I figured out how to get a nice layer of sprinkles on the top (shaking on sprinkles only led them to bounce off the cookie - none would stay!) Just before twisting the cookie together, I'd sprinkle down a layer of sprinkles onto my rolling board, and then as I twisted the cookie, it would roll over the sprinkles and evenly coat the tops. I know that seems simple but it took me a good five minutes to figure out (first I was frustrated at my bouncing sprinkles, then I tried hand puttin them on the tops, then I tried sprinkling the dough too early so that the sprinkles would be wrapped on the inside instead of the top part.)

They cooked perfectly though and cooled quickly. Once I did a pan or two full, I got down the twisting without breaks or mushing and I figured out how to make them thicker and still nicely twisted.

I'll have to add pictures later as my laptop is dead so I'm on mobile. Im taking plenty of pictures to remember!

I think tomorrow will be peanut butter cookies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

COOKING: Baking with Buddy Day 1

I'm already working my way through Buddy's book. It starts simple, with cookies. I have/can buy ingredients for 8 of the 10 recipes, so I'm going to have 8 days of cookie making plus at least 2 days of retried for anything that didn't come out right, making up for those 2 recipes that I can't do. Buddy says to make notes of everything to remember how each thing came out and what to do differently next time for improvement, so I'm going to do that here and detail how things go, recipe by recipe.

I've read 50 pages of the book so far and it's fascinating. I'm already learning so much. Today I made Double Chocolate Chip cookies. They weren't hard to make, and I loved all the tips along the way. Even so, I can tell it's going to be hard to relearn everything the right way. I have a bad habit of overcooking cookies to make sure theyre done, and even today when he warned right in the recipe to not cook over 15 minutes no matter what and that the cookies were supposed to look underdone, I still struggled with taking these still wet looking cookies out. I looked at those cookies, and back at the book and said "but Buddy, they don't look done! Can't I put them in for even two more minutes?" but I read it again, and he said no matter what, don't do it. So I kept them out, put them right on the cooling wrack, cooled the pan and put another batch in. Surprise surprise, the one with over 25 years experience was right. After cooling a few minutes, the cookies hardened and came out perfectly, not over or under done. The taste was only so so though, probably bc instead of using the unsweetened cocoa that he strongly recommends, I used my sweetened kind bc that's all I had. Didn't think it would make much of a difference, but it did change the tase as I followed every thug else to a T.

I'm excited to keep going on my 10 days of cookies. They won't be all in a row bc then we'd be drowning in cookies and I need more ingredients, but I'm going to make them as mug as possible. I can't wait to get to the eclairs, cream puffs and cannolis that follow the cookies.

Outside of the world of baking, I'm trying my own recipe for dinner tonight. Chicken in the crock pot with homemade chicken broth, fresh salsa and provolone cheese. I did a baked version a few months ago and it was Bill's favorite thing, he's requested it weekly ever since. I decided to try to improve on it with the crock pot, so we'll see how it goes!

Buddy's Baking Book!

My book came today!! My book came today!!

I couldn't get out of bed this morning for anything. We were supposed to visit the notary (something about the car, I just wanted a peek inside again) and to the store but Katie kept me up so late that Bill couldn't drag me out. And then I checked my phone and it said my book was delivered. Out of bed I ran, down the stairs and swung open the door to grab my box awaiting me. Then I jumped back into bed and looked through the pictures of what Buddy Valastro was going to teach me to make.

The book is written as if you're a new employee at Carlo's Bakery and he has to train you to bake. It's so exciting.

I'm going to need to invite people up or something though, because I need people to eat what I'm making. Bill has never been big on dessert stuff, and though he'll eat some, he doesn't make much of a dent. Since I don't want my butt to expand to the size of a doorway, I need others to help me out. So far I have Bill's dad as a volunteer (he's always been a big fan of my pies and cakes) and our Friend Chris, who goes to church with us every week. I guess this will be my start, cooking for people who come over and bringing things to holiday dinners. I just want to bake and then get rid of the food. Lol!

I have never in my life bought a book that cost more than $5. Never! I'd searh yard sales, book sales, goodwills and online to get it cheap. I like the idea of getting many good used books for $1 ray than paying $20 for a brand new book. BUT, the moment I heard about Buddy's book ($30 after preoder, almost $20 during it) I preordered it so fast that I got a receipt before I even finished reading then entire description! I waited impatiently for three weeks. So far from my reading, it was worth it.

Also, I got an extra smile today when I remembered that Buddy's bakery is on Washington st, as I also live on a Washington st. =D

Well, I'm about to continue reading. Hope I get to bake today, a cranky Katie is making me doubt it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

COOKING: Cake Decorating Attempt #2

I had my father-in-law over today because I needed someone to help eat all this cake! After staring at them for 6 hours, it was no longer very appetizing to me, and Bill couldn't eat them all himself (plus since they were girly wedding cakes, I didn't want to make him eat them at work). They both said it tasted great though. I didn't quite believe them until I ate part of the second cake - the sweet marshmallowy fondant combined with the simple vanilla cream cheese cake base tasted great - not overly sweet. I actually craved more through the day. Apparently once the fondant had sat over night, it turned into something yummy.

Anyway, once most of the cake was gone, I had a reason to make more. So before FIL even left the house, I already had chocolate cake in the oven. I had such high hopes for this one, it was supposed to be a nice simple cake, made in normal 9" round pans. But even after letting it cool for 2 hours, the cakes were stuck in their pans. I well oiled the pans and never had this problem, so I have no idea what had gone wrong, but they came out broken and crumbled. I pieced them together best I could, but not much could be done for it.

Still, the fondant had already de-cooled and i was determined to get another chance at decorating today. Besides, if I didn't, I would have had to make cake balls, and that was much more work. So instead I rolled out the fondant and used it as a wall to keep all the cake standing behind. I tucked the ends in so cake didn't fall out, even though that made the fondant not happy. Once the fondant was on, I smoothed it out (and the buttercream underneath as it tends to lump) then piped on designs.

I made the wrong color icing, as you can guess. That was not the color I was going for! I actually had wanted rose red as I had planned to try a rose on top. Instead, in my haste to finish because of the baby crying, I dumped the orange food coloring in, and quite a bit (as I had wanted a dark red color). Well, only when I was mixing and seeing it a yellow orange did I bother to stop and look at the lid and realize what I did. I tried combatting it with red, but it didn't turn the way I wanted it too. Fearing it would get worse and turn brown if I kept adding to it, I just stuck with this pumpkin-y orange color. It's just practice, and this cake was already ruined, so it didn't matter much at this point.

The pictures are below:

COOKING: Professional Cakes Attempt #1

I should have updated this earlier. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't as I've been jumping off the walls excited about getting bakery  tools and beginning to invest in running a bakery one day.

Even though I've never lost steam or enthusiasm for this idea, walking up and down State Street every day has kicked me into gear. State Street is where my desired future bakery shop is, in a place that is currently a notary. The place makes me nearly drool, as there's so much I could do with it. Every time I pass it I look in and my mind runs wild. So far they've very successful as they double in vinyl making - who knew that could go anywhere? But I heard the owner talking about having enough of a business to open on the internet for international sales, and they were profitable enough to afford building a handicap slope outside their door.

I have back ups because of this. In fact, the notary is attached to another store. The store front is smaller but it has a huge back room, ideal for baking. The place I like has a very small back room, probably not enough to bake on premise. This attached store holds promise and looks cheaper to rent. There's a store on the other side of my favorite store, separated by an alley lane. It looks pretty shot down and would need work, but it's charming looking and reminds me of Buddy's store, if it was even smaller than it is. But I won't have the money to fix up an entire place, so that's a last shot. Across the street is a huge place, ideal window store front and very nice looking, but I doubt I'd be able to afford the first year's rent, even after saving up for a few years. I think I'll stick with fantasizing over the two red attached stores, as they're my best bet.

ANYWAY, I didn't mean to say any of that. I meant to say that I'm buying lots of tools to build up my baking artilery. They're expensive, so I can only afford two or three things at a time, which is about every two weeks. But I'm going to keep gathering. So far this past week I bought three things that are just wonderful. First, my favorite baking thing ever, my professional grade cast iron bottom cake stand. It doesn't wobble, not even a little. It's so smooth and perfect.

Then I got a cake pan that makes mini three tiered cakes. It's like making little mini wedding cakes, they're adorable! The pan works GREAT. I couldn't believe how easily the whole cake slid out, as I anticipated it getting stuck (I made two cakes thinking one would probably crumble, but no problems at all there!) The cakes are so cute.

Then I bought icing presser patterns. These are fancy shapes in different sizes that let you push them into the icing, leaving a pattern. Then you just easily follow the lines with icing and it looks like you did it perfectly by hand. I love these - it's something so simple that really helps make cakes look amazing and professionally done.

The cake stand arrived yesterday, as I planned it would. The day before I prepared to make everything I'd need to have a professional looking cake and yesterday I unfolded the plan.

Things went a bit rocky. First, I followed the recipe on the cake pan since I wanted to try something new. It was a vanilla cream cheese cake that tasted great. I assumed that since it was on the cake pan, that it would be enough to fill the cake pan. It wasn't, it only made two instead of four. I was fine with that - it would have taken double time to do all of them and that would have drove me crazy. I enjoyed only working with two.

Then I made buttercream. I knew i needed to cover both mini cakes with it and have plenty left over for the decorating, so I made a double batch, having no idea that it needed so much powdered sugar. I had about half of what i needed. I just went with it - the icing tastes pretty buttery this way but hey, it's called butter cream. It ended up making so much I still have enough for another normal sized cake.

Then I realized oops, I used all my powdered sugar, which I had to have for the fondant - the fondant being the most important experiment of the day. It was like 8 PM and cold, so I couldn't just run to the store with Katie. Instead I called my mom and convinced her to let me have her powdered sugar, her fondant rolling pin, and to drive it down to me for a small payment. Thankfully that worked out, and I made the fondant with little problem after that.

Though fondant is SO difficult to work with. I wasn't at all surprised, as I never heard anyone refer to fondant as something easy to work with. It dries up within ten minutes, which means you have to roll it out, shape it and get it perfect on the cake within 10 minutes. LOTS OF PRESSURE! Especially when you have to scrap it and reroll it about 5 times over because it won't stop tearing on the cutting board.

When they say to "dust the cutting board" for your fondant, don't listen to that. You want to COAT the board like you're trying to keep the fondant warm for the frosty winter using only powdered sugar. You need layers on everything that touches it - including your hands and wrists. And DON'T touch you're clothing at all, as fondant loves fibers. Keep any clothing that's fluffy out of the kitchen, as fondant acts like a magnet.

I tried two different methods with the cake. The lazy way, ie, just covering the whole cake with icing and putting fondant on it, and the better way: cutting the layers off, fondant-ing them individually and gluing them back together with icing. You can see which one worked better!

It took about 4-6 hours to make and decorate these cakes, but I had fun. In fact, I'm doing it again today, this time with a new chocolate cake recipe and doing a normal 9" round cake so I have more room to decorate.

Here's pictures from yesterday. Note: Some of the decorating was done with one hand while holding a baby!

Monday, October 3, 2011

COOKING: Roasts & Muffins

Big day of cooking again! I don't even know where to put all this food!

First up, I had to use my beef roast that's been defrosting, so I broke out my crock pot and searched my cabinets. I found a giant can of cream of mushroom soup, beef broth and onion mix packets. I typed these things into google and found a great recipe. I flavored the beef with salt, garlic salt and something else, seared it, floured it, then put it into a mixture of the ingredients above. It's slow cooking until 11 PM.

(seared and seasoned beef roast)

Then I made my first ever muffins from scratch. I started with chocolate chips. As the recipe warned, they don't look elegant but they're yummy! They were on the small side and the batter was hard to work with but the taste is yummy!

I then grabbed my last can of pumpkin to make more muffins. I put some chocolate chips in it per the recipe, still waiting to see how that tastes as they just came out of the oven. It seemed like the best alternative, as I hate raisins or walnuts in things.

The best part about the muffins was actually the difficulty they gave me. It was a huge  recipe, and my large yellow pyrex bowl just couldn't fit it all. Katie was crying so I also had no time to play. I grabbed my Kitchen Aid mixer, plugged it in, quickly figured things out and dumped all the ingredients in and turned it on low stir.

I was amazed. The sight of this machine doing the hard work and turning sloppiness into beautifully mixed batter just awestruck me. What is this hand stirring stuff and WHY did I ever do it? I was so excited that I called my mom so she could hear the awesomeness of the efficient stirring. Yeah, that's how overwhelmed I was by my new toy. No wonder they get so much money for these things, they're great!  It will now have a permanent home on my counter near an outlet for easy stirring. I want to bake just as an excuse to use this now! I love love love it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

COOKING: Sides and Desserts

I experimented for the first time with chicken wings today. I've been craving them so I bought a pack of 20, found a recipe, and went at it. Last night I covered them in a flour mix and let them sit over night. Today I got them out, added butter to them, and popped them into the oven. They sat on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet so the juices would drip down and keep the chicken crisp instead of soggy. I realized too late that it was only in my imagination that we owned hot sauce (as Bill said we have never bought hot sauce ever) so it was just regular chicken wings. We dipped them in ranch and they were juicy but grease free and yummy.

Since it was cold today, I needed a reason to keep the oven on to warm the house. So after the chicken was done, I made pie dough and let it sit while preheating for pie #1. I cleaned the kitchen up and took care of Katie, then got one pie dough out, rolled it flat, and made a coconut custard pie (one of my favorite types of pie!) it came out looking beautiful and perfect!

After that was pumpkin pie. I made this in a rush though and Katie started to cry. I couldn't believe how easy and fast it was, and though the batter was super liquidy, I decided to go with it and pop it in the oven since Katie was still upset. I started to hurry and put the ingredients away when I grabbed the unopened pumpkin can and went to put it back on the shelf. Oops! I grabbed the pumpkinless pie out of the oven and mixed the pumpkin in, then popped it back in. My other problem was I forgot to cut down the recipe and made enough for two pies. Knowing I wouldn't be making more pie dough soon as I'm out of flour and butter now, I decided to do a deep dish - but forgot to lower the oven temp so it would cook slower and thoroughly. I ended up with dark crust and taking double and a half the normal amount of time. I've yet to try it, but my fingers are crossed. It's the first time I've ever experimented with deep dish pies, so I'm not being too hard on myself.

This morning I wanted to also make cookies, but after I was frazzled with the pie and I needed to prepare dinner for Bill coming home, I decided to stop baking and leave the rest for another day (plus I was running out of room in my fridge!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

COOKING - Oct 1st

Five Minute Chocolate Cake in a mug. It sounds delicious and easy. It drove me crazy at the idea in pregnancy. Finally I found the recipe again and I tried it.

Let me first say that it's NOT WORTH IT. By the time you drag out all of the ingredients (a five minute task in itself), there's no reason to make only a mugful of cake. You could just as quickly as easily dump all of the same ingredients into a bowl, just with biggest measurements, and you've got yourself a real cake. None of this tiny mug stuff where you need to make five to satisfy your pregnancy self. So that was my first problem.

The other one was, while the cake did rise in five minutes and was done, it was terrible. It didn't taste at all like chocolate, it tasted just nasty. So much in fact that I threw it out. I tried it three times (the first time was to taste, the second was in disbelief that it could be that bad, and the third was after I walked away, did laundry, and though there must be some good in it somewhere if I dug deep enough!) it went in the trash. Five minute chocolate cake ended up being five minutes of prepare time, five minutes of cooking, and then five minutes of trying to get the taste out of my mouth while mourning the loss of ingredients.

You know it's bad when the dog didn't even try to dig it back out of the trash as a midnight treat. Even she left it in there and she eats things like, you know, dirty diapers.

 So today's project is chicken wings. I'm trying a recipe that had over 200+ reviews on it and modifications for it, so hopefully it'll come out well.

So far, I covered them in a flour mixture and popped them into the fridge to sit for a few hours. Here's the wings all covered:

It has to come out better than the cake, so I'm optimistic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I decided to try to make deviled eggs the way restaurants do it, with the designer swirl. The eggs peeled perfectly, which may be because I let them sit in the fridge for half a day beforehand. Once I whipped together the yolk mixture, I fed it into my cake design dispenser and capped it with a large tip. I realize now that I should have used the largest one, since the smaller swirls looks a little weird. The mixture also needed to be whipped, which I knew, but didn't have enough time for.

My icing dispenser already had a crack in it, and in the beginning of making these, it completely cracked. So I had to actually hold the tip on myself while squeezing this thick mixture into it. I ended up with very messy hands, and the dispenser was coated by the end. So...not so fun there, but it would have been a million times easier had it not broken.

I kick myself on that, because I was JUST at the Restaurant Store a few days ago, saw a lookalike of my dispenser for only $7 and didn't buy it because I figured I'd buy it when this one broke. Well I didn't expect it to break so quickly! Now I have no way of getting down there again, because when I do get down that way, I need to go to Petco, Ross's and the Party Store first in any time we'd have left over after a doctor visit or some other reason why we'd be in the area. (Cost too much in gas to drive all the way down there just to grab an icing dispenser!)

Anyway, they came out tasting great, but not looking quite like I had hoped. And two got botched up after the dispenser breaking apart all over them.

I also made a small batch of eggsalad (I usually double or triple the recipe, but didn't have enough eggs to do so. I made this a handful of times though, so it wasn't something experimental at all, but I figured I'd throw it in there. I love making egg salad and deviled eggs because combined, they take maybe 10 minutes to make.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

COOKING: Pot Roast

So I finally tried cooking with a beef roast. Couldn't put it off any longer. I scrubbed out my crock pot and defrosted my roast for two days. Then I chopped it up in 8 pieces and put it in, then poured french onion soup and 8 oz  of mushrooms in. I cooked it on low for 10 hours and the result was juicey, dripping beef that just shredded itself. Bill came home full but I made him taste it - he couldn't stop eating it and said it was one of his favorite things I ever made. Besides wrestling with the meat to cut with my dull knives, it was super easy too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

COOKING: Pasta Bake

I'm in the midst of making another Pasta Bake. I think it's my 4th in 2-3 weeks, mainly because it takes 15 minutes to put together (if you count the cooking noodles time) and it's cheap. It costs about $5 to make and if that's not cheap enough, it lasts both Bill and I 3-5 meals. So it's about .50 cents per serving!

Every time i make it, I play with it a bit. Last time I added more sauce and cheese, using romano, parm and mozzerella. This time, I kept that same amount of mozzerella cheese, added ground beef that i already had cooked and leftover, sprinkled in oregano, and added some large mushroom slices. It's currently baking, so I have to wait to see if it turns out ok. my main concern was forgetting about the beef until the whole thing was already assembled. Bill had requested it simce the first time I made it and i had leftovers that had to be used today, so instead of ruining what was ready, I just added it all on top. I have a feeling it'll turn out a bit hard because of it.

Here's the recipe I use. It tastes GREAT if you follow the recipe as is, but if you play with it, you can get some great tastes!

1 lb ziti (I use trio pasta), cooked and drained
15 oz ricotta cheese
8 oz mozzerella cheese (I use this and a half)
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 pepper
3 1/2 cups sauce
1/4 parm cheese

In large bowl, mix all ingredients but noodles until well blended. Fold in pasta until all is well coated.

Spread 1/2 cup sauce on the bottom of a 13x9 inch dish (I put additional cheese on top of sauce). Pour pasta mixture in and even it out. Top with remaining sauce and add parm cheese.

Bake in preheated oven at 375 for 30 minutes or until heated through. Sauce should be bubbly and top should be lightly browned. Allow 10 minutes before cutting.

UPDATE: This pasta bake is the best so far. I recommend adding some oregano and sliced mushrooms - it really enhances the flavor! I only sprinkled the top with beef, but next time I'll add more and put it inside the mixture.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

COOKING: Cake Decorating!

Just a little update here, I tried my hand at some cake decorating today. Only the second time I've done it, using a really old set from like the 50's or 60's that my grandmother gave me and isn't in the best of shape anymore. But it's definintely something and it's teaching me how to use tips, so it's something.

Now, before you say that I'll never make it as a baker and you wouldn't buy a cake from me, I admit the design on the cake is terrible. Probably because it wasn't planned out AT ALL. In fact, I didn't even know there would be cake decorating 30 seconds before I was putting it on the cake, as this was just supposed to be a yummy cake for tonight's dessert. However, Katie was being super good and before I knew it I was mixing up food coloring and darting it on the cake in flowers and waves.

The color came out terribly. It was supposed to be turquiose, and I thought blue and white would be nice, but it reminds me of a yucky color I'd rather not eat. (however, I will be eating it!) Well, it's better than yellow, orange or green. I would have went for a darker blue if I wasn't afraid it would start changing the taste of the icing too much.

I tried two different star/flower tip sizes and a wavey tip. I have no idea about the names or sizes of these yet, but I managed to get the hang of both of these before running out of icing. So this cake may not look good, but maybe if I plan one out and use these tips, the next one will.

Here's my practice:

And here was my lunch, roasted veggies:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

CRAFT: Sleeping Baby Diaper Cake

So I impulsively made a sleeping baby diaper cake today. I saw them when I was pregnant and thought it was pretty neat, so I just grabbed some things I wasn't using (a pack of generic diapers in a size that Katie is outgrowing, a yard sale sleeper, an infant sized hat, etc) and made one today. It took maybe all of ten minutes? I basically just looked at the picture that I had saved on my computer and figured out what to do. It didn't come out quite as neat, it's a little bland looking and I haven't figured out what to put at the face yet (the picture I was copying off of had a pacifier, but I'm only using things that are already in the house. Maybe a toy, or a corner of a blanket?)

Either way, for a first try and just eyeballing it, I thought it came out pretty cute. Doesn't seem as cute in the pictures, but in person it's neat. It's nearly the weight of a newborn with all those rolled up diapers, it has a big diaper padded butt, and I shaped the diapers so you could feel the shoulders, arms, knees, feet, butt, etc.

Here it is, mostly finished aside from the finishing touches that I'm still figuring out.

EDIT: here's the picture I went off of. It used a onesie/sock combo instead of a sleeper, and it's in newborn size (mine is 9 m size!) so it's much smaller: