Saturday, June 19, 2010

How to Chop a Pepper

My kids love fresh red, yellow and orange peppers. Peppers and other chopped up veggies keep them happy while I prepare the rest of a meal. I learned how to core them like this on the internet somewhere, but now I can't find it, so I made up my own step by step how to. This is how I cut up my peppers now.

Cut off the bottom bit of the pepper.

Cut off the top of the pepper. Set the top and bottom aside for later.

Get in the way of your light while you try to take a picture with one hand while holding a knife. Cut the pepper beside one of the connector white bits.

Do that again, so you get a piece like this and a nice clear look at the insides of your pepper.

Cut away the connector stuff from the side of the pepper on one of the sides.

Cut beside the next connector piece to free another piece of pepper like this.

Keep doing that until you have freed all the outside pepper pieces from the core and connectors. Now you can slice or dice the lovely pieces because they're almost flat and rectangular. Easy peasy.

Now turn to your top & bottom pieces.

Cut in between all the bumps on the top of the pepper.

When they're all cut, loosen them from the stem piece with your hands.

Until you've taken them all off the stem piece.

Even if you're planning to just serve these as crudite, these little pieces of pepper, while not conventional, are bite-sized and perfect for a veggie tray.

I usually chop the bottom piece into wedges, too.

When you're done, this is all that's left for the trash. Seeds in tact, not all over your cutting board or knife, and not a bit of delicious pepper wasted!

Here are all my peppers chopped up and ready for creole sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Remember when I posted this nifty little idea? Well, little did I know that rip-stop nylon is $16 a metre at Fabricland and when I was there last time it was one of the few fabrics that was not included in their sale at the time. So, no ripstop nylon for us. But today I was reading someone's blog and they mentioned oil cloth and I thought I remembered seeing something about making your own oil cloth. So, Google to the rescue and I found this handy little tutorial by Burda Style. It's a little different from the one I remember reading earlier. This is not an authentic oil cloth. I think authentic oil cloth is actually oiled many times over. But I think this could be a much cheaper option to buying rip stop nylon to line the other side of a pretty fabric bowl cover.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On the table tonight: another flip

So, on Sunday, husband arranged to have some people over for dinner. I think somewhere between his brain and my brain, it wasn't fully communicated that he meant to barbeque some hamburgers for said company. I usually like entertaining and having people over is no big deal and even better when it motivates me to get everything tidied up for company. But I didn't shop for hamburgers; I was just going to stick with my meal plan and make a little bit more. I was pretty sure I had enough chicken in the freezer to feed a few extra people.

Tonight was supposed to be grilled chicken with my mom's Rice Pilaf (boy, my mom's recipes sure are being featured this month!). Since next Saturday is supposed to be hamburgers and hot dogs, we will flip the meals around, since I didn't buy anything perishable especially for this meal. I will have to send husband for some patties since I'm not sure I have enough ground beef in the freezer to make enough burgers for everyone, and if I do, I didn't take it out to thaw it in time. Frozen patties are not so bad, though I don't usually like to have so much filler in my burgers.

I am experimenting with baked potatoes in the crockpot. I got the idea from the Saving Dinner newsletter and googled it to find "A Year of Slow Cooking" come to my rescue again with Crock Pot Baked Potatoes (it's also where I learned to make my own yogurt). I hope they work out because I didn't get them started until after 1:00 and it's supposed to be 6 hours on high or 10 hours on low. Our company is expected around 6:00 pm. We might have to finish them off on the BBQ if they're not finished in time. They were super easy to prepare and if they work out, we'll totally be doing baked potatoes once a week throughout the summer. If they don't, we'll be headed down to the mini-mart for some potato chips tonight.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meal Plan: How We've Been Doing

As you can tell, this month has been all about the meal plan. Since I'm doing it anyway, I figure maybe you all can benefit from all my hard work and planning and get some inspiration.

June 2010

Here's how things have actually shaken down in the last week... Wednesday went as planned... yay successful day 1! But by Thursday, as you know, things got a little off course. I had forgotten about the family BBQ planned at my daughters school and even went as far as preparing the scallopped potatoes during quiet time so everything was all ready for dinner. When I remembered the BBQ, I figured I could leave everything in the fridge and pull it out for dinner the next night.

On Friday night, things did not go quite as smoothly, since we were at a birthday party that began at 3:30. I would have liked to put the meatloaf and scallopped potatoes in the oven at 4:00 for a 5:15 or so dinner. We were not home. Thankfully my wonderful husband thought to put them in when he got home (yay for blogging about dinner plans!) and we were able to eat by 6:30 instead of pulling out some kind of back up plan.

We also switched Saturday & Sunday's dinners around because we didn't have briquettes for our barbeque to grill the pork chops. We had yummy homemade pizza on Saturday, which I ended up taking down to the park where we listened to a friend's band play at a local festival. Husband bought briquettes on Sunday afternoon and we had delicious BBQ pork chops for dinner with a salad.

Beef Barley Soup went ahead as planned on Monday, but somehow I had forgotten to buy barley on shopping day (it was on my list; I checked), so husband picked some up along with some fresh Safeway crusty rolls on his way home for work. It added an extra 20 minutes to finishing the dish once he got home, but soups are so forgiving (it also gave me time to warm up the rolls in the oven... mmmmm....). It's a delicious soup recipe, make with ground beef instead of a more expensive cut of beef, which makes it a pretty cheap meal and very easy. I'll have to post the recipe before the month is out.

I opted to switch Tuesday night's "Snacky Supper" with next Thursday's "Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup" since it has been chilly all week and I like to take advantage of the cooler days to eat warm food when I know it will be warming up later on in the month and they'll be plenty of opportunities to eat Snacky Supper.

Last night and tonight went according to plan, as well. So, all in all, we've done pretty well at sticking to our meal plan. This week is a pretty good example of how I am loosey goosey with meal planning. Some might call it flexible, relaxed. That sounds so much better. Once you have a plan and shop for it for the week, you can bump the meals around pretty easily if it ends up not working out so well for that particular day. It's so nice to have a plan and not be fretting about what to make for dinner at 4:00.

Happy meal planning!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tonight's Supper: Turkey Mac & Cheese Casserole

This is another one of my mom's recipes. Apparently it was my older sister's first solid food, which I love because for one, it's a casserole which automatically means it contains a many ingredients and these days with all the concern over allergies and everything, there's no way most moms would give this as their baby's first solid food. And it's full of potential allergens: fish, wheat, milk, cheese, and whatever's in condensed mushroom soup. By the way, my sister is not allergic to any of these things (or much else, for that matter).

Here is my mom's recipe. I made the following changes: I used butter for margarine, canned turkey (please don't do this: use some cooked diced chicken or something better; I was being cheap and lazy. Canned turkey is gross. If you don't believe me, buy some and try it) instead of canned tuna (husband won't eat tuna), brown rice rotini pasta for macaroni, and some Alymer's Accents tomatoes with spicy red peppers instead of regular tomatoes. I also threw some cottage cheese in there to use up the rest of it. I also omitted the salt since the turkey was pretty salty (eeewww...)

My kids don't really like this, but I will make a salad or some crudite and serve it with some rolls. I like to give them things they don't like so they get exposed to new foods and who knows? They might be hungry enough to try it one day and maybe they'll like it. I probably shouldn't try very hard with this recipe since it isn't the healthiest I've got.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What's for Dinner tonight: Meatloaf and Scallopped Potatoes

Oops! What's for Dinner TOMORROW Night

ETA: I just realized we have a dinner at Z's school tonight! I guess in all my planning I still failed to put this event on the meal planning calendar. Thankfully this meal is a great make ahead meal. Everything is all ready to go for tomorrow night. What a great way to start the weekend!

Here starts the original post:
It wasn't until I was in college that I realized that Ham and Scallopped Potatoes is a much more common combination of dishes than Meatloaf with Scallopped Potatoes. But this is what we ate growing up. What potato dish do people eat with meatloaf? Mashed potatoes? Meh. And I really like scallopped potatoes. And meatloaf. Ham, not so much.

This is a popular meal around here. Z will eat the potatoes, S will eat the meatloaf and husband and I love them both. Husband is not big into leftovers, which is really a shame. It's not that he won't eat them if I prepare them for a meal, but he won't usually think to eat them for lunches or meals on his own. That's the whole point, in my mind. However, this is one of the meals he will heat up on his own.

What we're eating tonight has actually been frozen. I made the recipe a couple of weeks ago, but the entire recipe is too big for the casserole dishes I have and for our family, so splitting it up is perfect. So today I just have to prepare the potatoes and pop them in the oven.

Enjoy! (We will!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Today's Recipe: Chicken Creole

This is a dish that my mom either got the recipe from one of the cooks at the restaurant we used to work at or she made up inspired by the dish at the restaurant we used to work at. At the restaurant, it was served with either shrimp or chicken over pasta or rice with a cornmeal muffin (that last bit was important because that was the part I, as a server, had to do; and since there were a couple different things that could have been served with the dishes, you had to know which dish got what). Since my family doesn't really eat shrimp (sad, I know), we go for chicken and usually pasta.

So this is scanned directly from the cookbook of my mom's recipes that she made for me and my sisters. It is awesome. There is nothing like having all the recipes you grew up with at your finger tips.  Mom, if you have a problem with me scanning your recipes in, let me know, ok? I will probably make the recipe almost exactly as printed, except I'll use butter or olive oil instead of margarine because that's just how I roll.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Month of Dinners

 Today is 15% off day at my grocery store. It's the first Tuesday of every month. A couple months ago I started planning our whole month of suppers at the beginning of the month. Then I would stock up on all the pantry-type and freezer-type items I was planning to use for the month on 15% off Tuesday, save some money, save time doing weekly meal plans and shopping lists and have a whole list of ideas all at my finger tips. I don't adhere to my meal plans as strictly as I should, but since ideas are half (or more) of the battle, having a plan is super helpful.
Since the next 15% off Tuesday isn't for 5 weeks, I planned 5 weeks of meals, for which I'm pretty impressed with myself. Originally I was using an idea I learned from Passionate Homemaking, assigning categories to each day of the week and slotting 4 different meals into those categories and rotating them through. Our lives just aren't that regular, though. It's a good idea and I think I may modify it still (with my own categories), but I didn't stick with it for this plan.

That image up there is my actual meal plan (you can click on it to see a larger image). The smudges are just my edits getting rid of some of our family's personal information: plans for the day that might affect the amount of prep time I have or if we're planning to have people over. I may post some of the recipes (or links to them) throughout the month, if anyone is interested. But you're welcome to use the ideas to inspire your own meal plans, if anything looks interesting.

As soon as my husband gets home, I'll be headed out the grocery store. I hope it's not too busy!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Make Your Own Popsicles

I mentioned in passing that we make our own popsicles around here. If we have leftover smoothie, I pour the extra into popsicle molds and freeze them for popsicles. Works great. I gave you the recipe for Orange Yogurt Creamsicles. They're delicious! Here's a slight variation on the Orange Yogurt Creamsicles: Pineapple Orange Creamsicles!

1 can pineapple (tidbits, chunks, slices: it doesn't matter!)
1 orange
2 icecream scoops of frozen orange juice concentrate
2 cups plain yogurt (I use homemade)

Put it all in a blender and blend until smooth. Freeze in popsicle molds (I bought some great ones at Ikea this spring). I didn't use all of the juice from the canned pineapple (mostly because I like to drain it and have a little drink), but I did use some to help sweeten it up. If you have a sweeter tooth than me, you might like to add some honey or something. Oh, and on using the frozen orange juice concentrate: I just wrap the can with plastic wrap and put an elastic band around the top to keep it in place and put it back in the freezer until the next time I want to make smoothies or popsicles.
These are delicious! I'm a big fan!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Won!

I feel like I never win give-aways. Part of the reason for that is that I don't enter very many. Sometimes I decide the entering process is too arduous to bother with. Sometimes I just decide I don't really want what's being given away. And when I do enter, it's usually for something so good and cool and well-advertised that everyone enters (ie. Pioneer Woman giveaways). Still, entering online give-aways always have better odds than the lottery (even Pioneer Woman's giveaways) and they're free! So, when I see that I've not won another give-away (even one I didn't enter) I feel like I never win.

So, here is my first win! I entered a giveaway on Monster Bites for one of my friend Naomi's Owly Baird stuffed owls. So I get to pick one of these cute owls! Because, as it turns out, Naomi is actually my friend in real life, I won't be picking my Owly Baird until either the baby is born or we decide to tell people the gender of our baby. I don't want to choose a gender-neutral owl just to keep our little secret (not telling people is a LOT harder than I thought it would be!).

Naomi's shop, Butterfly Garage isn't just full of cute stuffed owls. She also makes adorable upcycled wool bears like this guy:

But I think my favorite things she makes are Judies Booties. How sweet are these?

Naomi actually gave me a sneak peek into some new projects she has on the go. They're so great. You'll have to check back at her shop in a week or so to see what she's got new in there!

Fundamentals of Cuteness 1010 by WooWork Crochet

I can't rememeber if Dude Craft crochets or not, but if he doesn't, this is the only guy I "know" (and that in the Internet way of knowing) who crochets. And he's come up with this adorable study in cuteness, pertaining to the placement & size of eyes & mouth on amigurumi. You need to click through the link to see what he makes with all his samples!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baby Blanket in the Shoppe!

Well, I finally have a new item in my ArtFire shoppe! You must have thought I'd get around to it eventually! It's very similar to the one I gave my friend at her baby shower earlier this week, but the top stitching pattern is different.

Please visit my ArtFire shoppe if you're interested in this item, or a (this item has been SOLD!) set of my Re-usable Facial Pads.

So much inspiration, so little time!

I found this sweet Shirred Shirt Dress tutorial on Ruffles and Stuff via Whip Up this morning. If you remember, I made some shirt dresses for Z last year and she loved them. I loved them, too! I loved making a new dress out of my husband's old shirts. And they're pretty fast!

I have at least three sewing projects all ready to go (fabric purchased and whatnot), so I shouldn't start anything new, but this certainly is cute and inspiring! I wonder if I could find a men's shirt that would be big enough to accomodate my growing belly to make a good maternity shirt...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eco Travel Lid

Here is a sweet tutorial with great pictures showing the easy steps to making this handy travel lid for your bowls and dishes when you're travelling to picnics and BBQs this summer. Once I finish the projects that I already have fabric purchased for, I think I may try this baby out.

What do you think? Would this make a good teacher gift? I think teachers must get a lot of useless crap as teacher gifts. This is super handy, but is it too utilitarian/not-related-to-being-a-teacher for a year-end teacher gift?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baby Gifts

Everyone is having babies! (Including me, but that's another post!) I made a couple things for the baby shower on Monday, in addition to the cookies.

I made this baby blanket. I've mentioned before I make baby blankets. Double sided flannel is my favorite to swaddle my babies in.

Here is a close up of the top stitching and a peek at the pink argyle fabric. I like the top stitching: makes it a little bit extra special.

I love the pink flamingos!
And, lucky you, if you love the pink flamingos/pink argyle combo, you will soon be able to buy one of these lovelies in my ArtFire shoppe. I'll be doing a slightly different top-stitch, so if you'd like some say into the top-stitch pattern, let me know and I can set it up as a custom listing for you.

I am trying to make two when I make things for people, so I have one for my shop. It actually cuts down on my fabric shopping time by a lot. It is so time consuming to shop for fabric! I like it, but I'm pretty fussy, and I have to shop for fabric by myself. I don't get a lot of time for fabric shopping. The other bonus of buying twice the amount of fabric I need for a project is that they usually cut a little extra in case they have cut it crooked or something, so I end up getting an extra 20+ cms of fabric, which might just be enough to make some baby bibs or burp cloths!

Oh, and if you happen to know somewhere online where they have great boy flannel fabric, I would love to know your sources. I've been really frustrated with the ugly/goofy boy fabrics at Fabricland lately. They used to have some great animal prints, but I haven't seen them there lately.

I also made these really great slippers for this baby shower. I fell in love with this pattern. Honestly, I tried to figure it out on my own before I bought the pattern, but apparently I am not that good. It's a really great pattern and they turn out super cute, so it's worth the price. I actually bought the all sizes pattern set and have made slippers for Z and myself, too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Baby Shower Sugar Cookies

So, here are the cookies I made for yesterday's baby shower. I think I bit off a bigger bite than I was prepared to chew with these cookies. They were as much work (or more!) than a cake! Each one was like a mini cake!

These were probably the easiest, since they were only two colours, so it just required outlining, flooding, waiting for that to dry (I waited overnight) and then piping the pink decorations.

These were the next easiest, since they are only three colours and only 2 layers, meaning that I didn't have to wait for the second layer to dry before piping the third colour.

And these were the most complicated, since there is actually only 3 colours, but also three layers in some places. I wasn't very impressed with how these ones turned out.

Something funky was going on with the icing as it dried. It kind of...crystallized? I don't know: it turned sort of white in spots. It's probably most obvious on the pictures of the onesie cookies. And I couldn't get the icing to stay shiny when it dried. I used honey and not light corn syrup since I didn't have any. I wonder if light corn syrup would make them stay shiny looking. They looked ok, but not shiny like I wanted. Matted. And the white spots... ugh. Happily most people are not as fussy as I am and everyone ate them with no problems.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Princess & the Pea Play Set

I'm headed to a baby shower this afternoon. When I am back, I will post the gifts I made. I doubt the mom-to-be will be hanging out on the internet reading my blog, but just in case: I like surprises. In the mean time, I want to show you this sweet play set I saw on Stitch/Craft today. She has a tutorial on how to make mini-mattresses that are an important part of the play set.

I'm sure my Z would love something like this, but I feel so overrun with toys lately, I'm not sure I can handle adding to the mess. The kids have been trashing Z's room in the hour before they're allowed to wake us, by pulling every book off her shelf, emptying her box of small toys (Little People & such), and throwing all her bedding on the floor. Not to mention that someone climbed on the dresser and one drawer (that has be repaired before) has broken again and another one is a little wonky.

(ok, little rant:) You know what comes with children's furniture? Anchors to attach it to the wall so that in case they climb on it, it won't tip over and fall on them. Not really something they need to do, since the drawers can't support the weight of a toddler without breaking to pieces. I'm just saying'. So, if you haven't purchased your children's furniture yet, don't bother with Storkcraft (obviously, with all the recalls, is anyone buying Storkcraft anymore?) and just about anything from their Sears line. Go to Ikea instead. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about the quality of furniture that comes out of Ikea. Our family is kind of rough on furniture, and everything we've bought from there has held up beautifully. It's a brilliant company. Go to Ikea.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cute Crocheted Hats

A friend of mine on Facebook suggested I become a fan of her (I'm presuming) friend's  shop, Sparkleberry Crafts. She makes super cute crocheted hats. They're great, but I don't pay for crochet. I must say I did a pretty good job of figuring out a pattern and coming up with some knock-offs on my own. I feel a bit copy cat-ish, but whatever. I haven't been selling them... and they're my patterns anyways, even if they were inspired by someone else's work. I've made two for my daughter's friends' birthdays and two for my friends' newborn/soon to be born daughters. Soo cute. Z and her friend love their hats (we have yet to give the other hat to the other friend: party on Tuesday).

I had to look up how to make crocheted flowers. I could have figured out my own by trial and error, but why do that when there's Ravelry? I found this easy pattern on Ravelry by searching "crochet flowers." I just made up the leaf pattern myself.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Remember last Halloween when I made these cookies? It was mostly about trying out this recipe for icing, which was nice, smooth, shiny and professional-looking. I'm a big fan. I made it again this morning, substituting honey for corn syrup. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a mistake. I worried the honey wouldn't allow the icing to set properly. I did drop a bit on the counter and a couple minutes later it was starting to crust up, so that's a good thing.

In the Halloween cookies post, I mentioned I was going to try this cookie recipe since I found my dough a little difficult to work with. I did try it out and it is a pretty lovely recipe. The flavour could stand some enhancing, as many of the commenters noted, but I'm sure once the icing is on, it won't matter much.

I'm planning to decorate the cookies up all fancy-like for a baby shower I'm headed to on Sunday. I bought this set of cookie cutters by Wilton and I plan to decorate the cookies similarly. We'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quilled Monogram

I think this quilled monogram is sweet. I actually bought a quilling tool on Artfire a few months ago, but I have yet to do anything with it. Now I need a paper cutter. Anyway, once I get a craft room set up in our new house (that's what I've been doing while I've been away: making yogurt, selling our condo and buying a house), I would love to explore quilling and make some of these quilled monograms... maybe for the kids' bedrooms.

Check out the tutorial here on Craftastical.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Make Your Own Yogurt

So, I can make my own yogurt. I know, the crafty-ness and the cake decorating-ness, it's all blowing you away, and now I make my own yogurt? Yeah. I go off and on with the yogurt thing. It's a little more work to make the yogurt kid-friendly, since all I can make is the plain stuff, so if it's an ok price at the grocery store, I'll still buy the commercial, fruity, sweetened, thickened, ingredients-I-can't-pronounce stuff off the shelves, but then I start to get worried about all that extra crap the kids and I are eating in our yogurt (D doesn't really eat yogurt) and I make some of my own again. I'm doing that today.

I make it in my crockpot, using this handy little recipe/tutorial. It's not a simple crockpot recipe (as in leave it and fuggetaboutit), but it does only require coming back to a few times a few hours apart and then overnight. It's best to make it on a day when you're going to be home.

I've never been able to get store-bought consistency out of my homemade yogurt, it's usually a fair bit thinner, but excellent for use in smoothies and other recipes. Speaking of other recipes, I finally read the ingredients on my canned soups... and Campbell's mushroom soup has MSG in it. I'm not terribly surprised, I suppose, but I don't like it. Anyway, apparently yogurt can be used (along with some other flavourful ingredients) and a nice substitute in recipes that call for creamy soups. You can also use this recipe (at the end of the post).

Other than smoothies, my favorite thing to make with my homemade yogurt is healthy homemade orange "creamsicles." They're perfect in summer when you're looking for a frozen treat. I often use leftover smoothie to make smoothie popsicles for the kids. We all love them and they're way better for us than storebought popsicles.

Orange Yogurt Creamsicles

Homemade (or store-bought) plain yogurt - I don't know how much, maybe 2 cups?
Orange juice concentrate - a couple of icecream scoops
1 ripe or overripe banana

If you don't like the banana taste in your creamsicle, you could sweeten with honey or sugar instead. Blend it all up in your blender, pour it into popsicle molds and freeze.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cheesy Veggie Biscuits

So last night I made this veggie chowder recipe from Passionate Homemaking. I just found her blog a couple weeks ago, but I think I read about 2 years worth of archives! Lots of great stuff there. It's a yummy recipe, though I would follow her advice and take it easy on the cheese. I think I used 2 cups, but it's a little too cheesy for me. Z isn't really touching anything with multiple ingredients lately, but S was a big fan. Even D ate it and he's not a big veggie fan.

 image source: Passionate Homemaking

I was planning to make biscuits to go along with the chowder and when I saw the bits of chopped veggies left on the chopping board, it inspired me to modify my mom's biscuit recipe. Here is the result:

Cheesy Veggie Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vegetable seasoning (I had some that looked like Montreal Steak Spice, but I'm sure Mrs Dash would work too)
1/3 cup cold butter
1/2 cup mixed minced veggies (I used cauliflower, broccoli and carrots)
3 oz shredded cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup? I just threw some in)
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk (or use milk and substitute one of the tbsp of milk for lemon juice/vinegar, let it stand 5 minutes before using)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter. Mix in veggies and cheese. Add buttermilk and stir together just until combined (too much mixing = tough biscuits). Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 16-20 squares. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

I made these during the 20 minutes of simmering to cook the vegetables in the chowder recipe. While they were baking, I finished up the chowder recipe. It worked well as far as timing goes. Z liked these a lot and made up for not eating the chowder by eating three biscuits.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Coffee Cake Recipe

I found this recipe through CRAFT Magazine online, but it seems like they haven't kept the links working for this recipe. I'm not sure if that's some way of try to get you pay for archives or print versions or something, but I printed this one out when it was first posted and I'm glad I did. Another smart blogger, Yasmine of Love Live Survive Home saved a jpeg so you can access the recipe on her blog. I had to show you this original recipe because this recipe is what I would call an illuminated recipe: beautifully illustrated. So, I picked up the jpeg from Yasmine's blog and if you click on the picture below, you can print out the beautiful recipe from Elena Nazzaro of

And you're going to want to not just print this beautiful recipe out, but you're going to want to make it and eat it because it is TASTY! I made it for church this morning and it was a big hit. Thankfully it made enough for us to take some home, too (yum!).

Here are the modifications I made for this morning's version. This would go in the "OR TRY" section
1/4 cup craisins & 1/4 cup white chocolate chips instead of the 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

And... pretty much that covers it. Oh, except either my loaf pans are really small or she means something totally different than I do when she says "loaf pan." The first time I made this recipe, it was all over my oven because there was waaaaaaay too much batter for my glass loaf pan. So, this time I used a bundt pan and while it didn't rise to the height of the bundt pan, it worked well. Two loaf pans would have worked, too.

If I do say so myself, this was fantastic. The white chocolate melting with the brown sugar in the swirl topping caramelizes and... mmmmmmmmm.....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cake Decorating Tips #1: Starting Right

I've been sitting on this post for a couple weeks thinking that I must have to make a cake sometime soon, so I can fill it with relevant pictures relating to what I'm talking about, but it just hasn't happened. But since I've had a couple more questions and thought I should just do it even without the perfect pictures.

So, I end up sharing many of my tricks with people in person, in emails or facebook wall posts or whatever after I post cake pictures. I should note that nearly all of these tips and tricks came from the woman who taught me basic cake decorating. I own almost none of them. They could all very well be straight from a Wilton decorating book, but I don't own one and that's not where I learned them.

I'll have to do this in a couple of installments. This first one is super duper important because it gives you the base from which you start. If you start with a broken cake, you're going to be fighting a losing battle through the whole process. Later, I'll give you some tips for working through some of the problems you might encounter, but let's start by doing it right the first time, so we can avoid the problems.
This is the kind of start you want to your decorating. 
No holes, no crumbs, no breakage; just nice crisp edges.

First thing: Prepping the cake pans. This is usually one of the first instructions in any cake recipe. Grease the pan. Grease and flour the pan. Put a layer of parchment on the bottom of the pan, whatever. I no longer obey the instructions on the cake recipe. Because I have a better answer: Dream Cream. It is magic. Here is the recipe:

Dream Cream

1/2 cup shortening*
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup flour

Mix them together thoroughly, until you get a nice smooth, creamy paste. I usually start by creaming the shortening, adding the flour and then the oil slowly. Store in the refrigerator for up to a respectable amount of time (I'm really loosey goosey about this and refuse to reveal how long I might store this in my fridge)... seriously, it's shortening, oil and all purpose unbleached flour. Do these things spoil?

Spread liberally on your pans, especially the corners. Then, when you turn your cake out of the pans onto the cooling racks, you should require no shaking, no knives, no hoping, nothing. You should be careful not to turn them over any distance from the cooling racks, because the cake should fall out of the pan and you don't want it damaged in a fall. In fact, I usually put my cooling rack upside down on top of the cake, hang onto both the cake pan & the cooling rack and turn them over. Lift off pan. Seriously. Dreamy.

The cake recipe. Since taking a little course in, what was it?... 2003? I've mostly just used cake mixes. Our instructor said she couldn't really make a cake for much cheaper than a boxed cake mix. And, well, Betty Crocker knows her cake. In the last year or so, I've ventured out to find cake recipes to make from scratch. This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe (except I omit the chocolate chips**). The frosting is good, too. The cake recipe is vegan (I think; unless there are hidden animal products in those other ingredients that I don't know about); the frosting is not (butter & milk). Something about making the cake from scratch makes me feel good. I like knowing what's in what we eat. That Chocolate Peanut Butter cake was good, too, but you should read my notes about it. The recipe as written is not as conducive to cake decorating because it's quite fragile. So, make a cake mix, make your own, whatever. Bake and learn.

I often bang the air bubbles out of my cake batter before I put it in the oven. If it looks all bubbly on the top, I gently shake and bang the cake pans on the counter to pop some of the air bubbles. I'm sure our basement neighbour loves this (too bad he never gets any cake). It makes a little denser cake, a little easier to work with and then you don't end up with big air pockets in your cake.

Actually baking the cake. Here is another part of the recipe I don't follow. Typical cake mix baking temperature is 350 degrees F. Unless you have a convection oven (which I don't, but I would love to have one. If you do have one, follow your awesome convection oven instructions...), pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Bake your cake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, turn the oven up to 325 and bake for another 10 minutes, and finally turn the oven up to 350 and bake for the rest of the time recommended in the recipe. This helps your cake to bake more evenly and not peak in the centre. You'll have less to level off later.

After the cake is baked (insert a toothpick in the centre of the cake; it should come out clean), remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes (set a timer). Then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely at least 1 hour. Turn it over so the top doesn't get too indented by the cooling rack. I like to bake the cake the night before and let it sit overnight. I cover it with a tea towel so it doesn't dry out.
As you can see here, I did not level this cake the way I outline below. 
It was practically level when it came out, so I just pressed down it with my hand covered in a tea towel.
I read that tip somewhere on the Internet (sorry source I don't remember you).

Leveling the cake. Here's how you get that nice flat edge to your cakes: you cut the rounded top of the cake off and turn it up side down. If your cake has risen higher than your cake pan, put it back in the pan and run your longest serrated knife along the top of the cake pan to keep it level as you cut off the top of the cake. If it hasn't risen that high, you're going to have to eyeball it, or buy a fancy cake leveller/trifler (which I want to buy anyway, but I don't have one, so it's not like you must have one) to cut the top of the cake off. This is the best part of the cake. Snack on this while you decorate (or feed it to your kids to appease them while you put off making their dinner as you decorate a cake for someone else), ensuring you keep the crumbs far from your precious icing.

Well, that's it for this time. Hopefully the next installment won't take me too long. Happy baking!

*I have no answer for trans fats and cake decorating. ... sorry. That's the best I've got. I guess you could try a non-hydrogenated margarine, butter... or lard, I guess. I have never used those. One day they will ban trans fats altogether and what will all the cake decorators do?
**As much as I like real chocolate, chocolate chips are designed to retain their shape after baking. If you ate the cake warm, it would likely be very tasty and chocolatey, but if you ate it at room temperature or cold, you have cold chocolate chips in your cake. I don't like this. Besides, leveling the cake would remove a lot of the chocolate chips which, while tasty for the decorator's children, kind of defeats the purpose.
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