Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Creating a tiered spiral cake with fondant decorations



Ever since Max's 1st birthday last June, I've been thinking about his 2nd birthday cake.  You see, I had some issues with the 1st birthday cake that can pretty much be summed up with this statement: don't put fondant decorations on cool whip icing.  They melt, they slide, they make a big sticky colored mess.

For birthday #2 we are going to do a train theme.  So i've been looking at google, pinterest, and everywhere else you can think of to come up with some ideas.  I now have 3.

Along my search I came across a few tiered cakes that did a spiral train track down the cake.  How cool.  So I spent hours reading blogs and trying to figure out exactly how to carve this spiral into the cake.

I just couldn't wrap my head around it.  One night while on travel for work, I literally stayed up so late making drawings on scrap paper that I only got 5 hours of sleep.  It's a bad obsession.

So last Sunday I decided it was test cake time.  The best way to learn is to do... so I did.

In this blog I'm going to go over how to make the spiral cake, and also some tips that I've learned over the years.  It's going to be a long post, but if you're making a cake, I think you will find it very informative.  It's also a way for me to remember what I've done :)

They're more like guidelines...

First, a few rules I've come up with for fondant and tiered cakes.  These come from my experience, reading blogs, and fixing mistakes.

1) freeze cakes overnight
 - if possible, use a denser cake on the bottom tier and lighter as you go up.  Super soft moist cakes don't hold up as well to heavy fondant (at least I've found).  Box cakes are doable, but can be more troublesome.  

2) assemble each layer separately, carving and filling as desired.  
- also cut the bottom board of each tier to the correct size at this point.
- you may want to put a pilot hole in the center of each cardboard at this point.  this will make it easier to drive the final center dowel into the cake once constructed.  

3) let sit on counter for 3 hours to allow crumb coat to harden and cake to settle and it to come up to room temperature
- can assist this with the use of light "weights", but the idea isn't to squish the cake, just to get the filling and cakes to settle.

4) add thin buttercream smoothing layer.  Use a glass of hot water to dip your metal curved spatula in while smoothing.
- your thick buttercream for tasting layers should be in the middle.
- For this layer, you do not want to let this one "harden" (like in the fridge or freezer) but just start working with your fondant and cover.  You want this layer to stay smooth and hardening it too much will cause it to become crusty and could cause bumps, which is the whole thing you are trying to avoid. 

5) fondant cakes.  
- do use corn starch on your hands and surface to prevent sticking
- do kneed and work the fondant a lot ... a lot a lot, until it pulls easily and is very very pliable.  If it's too stiff and hard it will crack.
- do elevate the cake or you'll get bunching around the bottom.  
- don't make fondant too too large or it will "pull" as it's draping and cause tares.  (test cake did this, but I had a very large piece of fondant so there was a lot of weight pulling it down in the back)
- Ask a helper to gently hold the fondant up on the back side if you're worried about it causing pulling on large tall cakes.  I haven't found this to be an issue on single layer cakes but on the cake below, the entire green part is one piece of fondant and it seemed to pull downward from gravity a lot while I was working with it.
- DO work very quickly getting the top and sides done.  (longer it sits, the more prone to tearing it is as it dries out).

HERE is a good quick blog about a simple fondant cake.  

6) add structure to each bottom layer with wooden dowels or smoothie straws
- To avoid repeating tips i'm going to link a few good sites here
WILTON - a good general overview with this pro tip: Finely shredded coconut or confectioner's sugar, placed in area where cake circles or plastic plates will rest, helps prevent frosting on the cake from sticking
Make Fabulous Cakes - very detailed. 
Dowels - these are plastic Wilton ones you can get on amazon.  I've also used wooden dowels and smoothie straws in the past.

7) assemble
- Don't forget the final dowel that goes through each layer

8) decorate

The spiral cake

The two blogs that I used to guide my direction on this cake were Cake Central and Baking in Faith.  I had some trouble following the end steps of Cake Central's explanation, but that's where just working with real cake helped a lot.

Also you'll notice two big differences in the above blogs.  The Cake Central blog talks about adding additional cake to make the second half of the spiral.  This leads to a bigger cake and a bigger top section.  The Baking in Faith blog simply uses the cake you already have.  This leads to a smaller top piece.  Because I wanted the ramp to go round the front, then down the back, then back around the front (for two ramp layers in the front), I needed to do something closer to the Cake Central approach.  (see picture at the top of this blog)

1st - make yourself a lot of cake.  Since I was just using this as a test cake and wanted a medium to use that would be quick, I used 4 box cakes (on sale for $1.50 each... score).  

Yes, you read that right, I used 4 box cakes.  It's a lot of cake.

I made 2 - 7" layers for the top of which I only needed one).  The 7" layer was 1lb 4oz of cake mix + pan.  

I also made 4 - 9" layers.  3 of the layers were 1lb 8oz, then the 4th layer was way heavy.  basically the rest of the cake.  I was trying to get a very thick cake so when baking the 4th layer, I dropped the temperature of the oven down to 300 deg and let it in there until set.  Probably 30-40 minutes but I wasn't keeping track.

In retrospect, I would do the following combination:
1 thicker 7" layer
3 normal 9" layers
2 normal 11" or 12" layers

As you'll see below, I used the thicker 9" layer to make the bottom of the ramp which was a bit tricky.  Ideally you'd want the inner diameter of your bottom ramp to be the same as the outer diameter of your bottom layer.  So a 11" or 12" cake would work better, as it would hold the shape easier.

1) arrange your cakes with filling inside and let sit for 3 hours to let settle.  (remember point 3 above?)  This cake was a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream and raspberry filling.



2) measure in from the outer edge for the width of your ramp.  I used 1 3/4" for my ramp.  Use toothpicks and mark all the way around the center.



3) choose where you want your ramp to start and stop.  I wanted half the top to be the train track, then start down the spiral, so I picked half the cake to work with.


4) decide how steep you want your ramp.  I knew I wanted the majority of the ramp to be around the front, and since this was the back of the cake, I made this section less steep.  The ramp around the back side only went down the first layer.  

using toothpicks, place them at your start and end, then fill in the rest to create the downward spiral.


5) as you can see from this top down picture, the top circle unwinds at the point where the ramp goes down.  So I added a few more toothpicks to bring out the circle.  It' looks funny, but you'll see.


6) using a sharp knife, follow your toothpicks along the top toothpicks then along the spiral on the side.  I did this a few inches at a time.  


Here you can see the spiral start to take shape.


And here's the final part of the top spiral.  

7) now for the additional cake.  For this I started cutting the 4th thick layer that I made.  Because it was so thick I only needed to stack at the highest points.  But I really think you could do 2 normal layers and stack (and fill) them.  Also, this is where I diverged from the Cake Central blog above.  I couldn't figure out what she meant when she talked about cutting the cake flat then turning it up on end and I found my approach just as easy.



8) Measure in 1 3/4" (or your ramp diameter) into the cake.   If you use the suggested cake diameters above, this center ring will be the approximate diameter of the main cake which will make nesting easier.  Here you can see how tight the inner circle is, which made nesting the cake together a bit difficult.  Of course it may not be exact, unless you can find just the right shaped cake pans.  We're going for approximate here.



9) Using the 4th layer you just measured out, start adding cake around the bottom layer to create the bottom ramp.  (Again, you can also see what I was talking about earlier, how the outside diameter of the main cake should be the inside diameter of the ramp layer that you are adding, so they fit nicely together.  Because I used the same size cakes, the outer diameters were the same so it made it hard to fit the ramp on without breaks in the cake.  I had to have a lot of pieces, which doesn't help the structure at all.)

IMPORTANT - if you look closely you can see that I did not put icing between the main cake and the spiral cake pieces that I was adding.  this was a mistake!  it meant that the outer crumb coat was the only thing holding the spiral piece to the main cake and I could tell that caused some structural issues once the fondant was applied.  Do NOT forget to attach your spiral with more icing.  

If you look at the below picture, you can really see how important this is where the bottom spiral made of extra cake came to meet the main cake.  That's such a thin piece there that it pulled away from the main cake because I didn't do a good job 'gluing' it with icing.  This caused the fondant to bulge in that area, but I didn't notice until the next day after transport.  (and we all know transport doesn't help things)



10) now that you've added extra cake do the same thing you did above and measure the width of the ramp to be 1 3/4" (or whatever you are doing) and then mark your spiral downward for the bottom ramp.   Again cut in and then down to remove cake.  

Ta Da.  You have a spiral!


11) For the top piece I used that 7" layer and cut this weird shape.  As you can see in the final pictures below, I wanted the left edge to look like a mountain and tunnel so that's why the extra cake there.  Since I was doing a mountain I didn't care if it came exactly out to the edge of the main cake, because I could just fill in with fondant rocks.

12) Add a crumb coat to the entire cake and let sit to harden (or put in fridge)

13) Then add your smooth coat (which I forgot for this cake... it was getting late)

14) structure, fondant, decorate as detailed above in the first list.

Here is the final product.




Here I borrowed Max's "mo mo" train for effect, but I will probably look for smaller trains with more cars for the final product.  

You can also see the upper ramp that I talked about earlier.  If you look at the Baking in Faith blog that I mentioned above, then you won't get this upper ramp.  

I think if you thought about it enough, you could do a two ramp spiral using all one main cake (green part above), but you'd need a big cake to start with (maybe 12" for a 9" top with a 1 1/2" ramp).  You'd have to create a 9" circle around the top, then you'd have to measure 1/3 of the way down and cut in 1 1/2" to make sure you have the correct top section.  Then start doing the spiral.  As you cut the spiral around the front you'll be taking away more cake, so I think it would be okay.  I don't have it drawn off hand since I just thought about it while writing this, but I think its' doable and might lead to a more structural cake especially with the bottom ramp.  If I decide to go this route for the actual cake, I may have to give myself extra time and try that.  


Friday, January 23, 2015

Hiking the Cataract Trail

Last weekend we had made plans to hike the trail to the Alamere falls, however, we quickly realized that the hike was 8 miles round trip.  Not so much a problem for Jeremy and I, but we weren't so sure that Max was up for the challenge.

As I was reading reviews for the Alamere falls trial, I came across the Cataract trail.  A 3 mile round trip hike following a beautiful waterfall, lush green fauna, and a nice picnic area.

As it turned out, Max actually stayed the entire 3 miles in his backpack!  Amazing.

The picnic area was half way, so it was a nice spot to take a break, have lunch, and let Max run around.

This is definitely one of my favorite hikes in the Bay Area.  It reminded me a lot of hiking in Costa Rica and some parts of Hawaii.

During my search I also came across THIS SITE.  About some other great Bay Area hikes.  I'll have to check them out soon!










Friday, December 12, 2014

A Trip to Disney

Over Thanksgiving the family took a whirlwind trip to Houston, Disney World, and Cocoa Beach.  With that many stops you know this is going to be a long post.  So grab a cup of coffee and sit back.

First Stop: Houston

We decided to start our trip in Houston and spend Thanksgiving with our Houston family, just as we had for the past several years.  Amy and Lenny were nice enough to host such a large gathering this year and it was all delicious.  Jeremy even made an apple and pumpkin pie and brought it on the plane with us!

Max had fun spending a few days playing with the other kids, and we all throughly enjoyed eating at Torchies, Ninfas, and Rudys.  Ah, texmex and bbq, how I miss thee.  And although I didn't get to do my usual Black Friday shopping trip, I did get up early and do a lot of online shopping and got some great deals on clothes for Max and Jeremy.

A big thanks to the Wellners for letting us stay with them and letting us use their car.

Onto Walt Disney World!

Sunday we caught a morning flight from Houston to Disney.  I was beyond excited.  Like a kid in a candy store.  Or like Max at Disney.  Yea, he loved it.  Anyway...

We decided to take advantage of the Disney Magical Express.  This is AWESOME.  You get off the plane and head right down to the magic express.  No bags, no luggage, no waiting around, just you and your carry on and the kiddo.  Don't forget to bring your magic bands, as you'll need those to board the bus.  You'll also want to take a carry on, as your luggage won't arrive in your hotel room for a few hours.  We made sure to tag all the bags with the yellow stickers they gave us, and bam, they were in the room by the time we got back from dinner later that night.  Sweet!

The Magic Express bus only took about 30 minutes to get to the Port Orleans French Quarter and max loved the TV's and looking out the window.  Our room was nice, a corner room on the second floor.  I also really like the decor of the hotel and how it wasn't too crowded.  When we showed up there was a woman standing out front with our name on an ipad.  Why yes, I am Rea.  I don't know what we did to deserve that privilege, but it was icing on the cake.  Max even got a 1st Visit button which we proudly displayed on our stroller for the remainder of the trip.

The first night we met up with some friends at Downtown Disney.   They were also out for the launch, and it was great to see them after so many months.  We had dinner at an Irish place called Raglan Road.  It was really good and the kids were really into the dancing.

Magic Kingdom


We spent day 1 and 3 at the Magic Kingdom.  Because of some bus issues, we didn't see the opening of the park.  I was pretty bummed out and mad, but as soon as I made my way inside, all that disappeared.  (FYI, the opening show is 10 minutes before the park opens)  First thing we did was wait in line for Pluto and then head down Main Street.  I knew Max wouldn't be able to do most of the rides, and it wasn't too crowded, so we took our time.  (Okay, well I took my time, I'm fairly sure Jeremy felt rushed, but he has no idea).

Let me just take a minute to talk about the characters and the castle.  Max LOVED every minute of it.  Seriously, this kid should be the poster child for this place.  I get the characters, because he sees them on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but the castle?  Why?  Every time he would see it (and even now when he sees pictures) he points and screams and babbles.  I don't know what he's saying, but I know he's excited.

The first characters were pluto then chip and dale.  Both he was a
little like "hum, what's this guy" but I think he saw mom's excitement and decided to go with it.  After that he would run up to the character, give him/her a hug and kiss, then do a 180 and pose for the camera.  Then he would interact with them and wave 'bye bye.'  It was like a freaken script, only I didn't even prompt it.

To the right is a picture with him and piglet.  The first day after pluto and chip and dale, we went over and did the magic carpets, pirates of the Caribbean, and small world.  (haunted mansion was closed, boo).  We then headed over to the Crystal Palace for breakfast.  We had a 10:30 reservation and I was nervous that breakfast stopped at 10:45, but that's just when the stopped seating and we were able to eat breakfast until 11:30 then even get some of the lunch buffet before we left.  (breakfast is way better, btw).  I wasn't sure how the Winnie the Pooh characters would go, since he didn't know them, but from the picture here you can see that they obviously went very well.  This is by far one of my favorite places in Disney to eat, so you should put it on your list.

Between the two days we hit a lot of rides... several times.  Tea cups (3 times) and the people mover  (4 times) were among the favorites.  We also enjoyed peter pan, monsters inc, tomorrowland speedway, winnie the pooh, dumbo (2 times), and just walking around.  It was hot enough during the day to play in the splash pad and we also got to have lunch at Be Our Guest.  The restaurant is really cool and the food is good and different.  It was a nice change.  We also saw a lot of characters.  The characters were one of his favorites so we saw them multiple multiple times (like more than 4 or 5 for some of them)  Plus we had time.  It was nice to go when the park wasn't crowded.  The second day we did the animated Mickey.  It was really cool.  He sings and talks and dances with you.  The only creepy part is his closed smile, but I guess that's only because I'm used to him with his mouth open.  Once I asked him to take a picture with his mouth open and he just looked at me, looked at the handler, looked at me again and said "i can say cheese."  I think they can't stop the mouth, it can only open and close in succession.  It was pretty funny to watch the reaction to my question.  The best part about Mickey was them doing the hot dog dance together!  So cute.


On the last night, on the way out the park, we spent a few minutes to find my family brick on the walkway into the Magic Kingdom.  My dad bought this brick for my mom 20 years ago for her birthday and it's still there!  (and mostly readable).

Hollywood Stuidos and Epcot

Our 2nd and 4th days we hit Epcot.  Well, the second day we started with breakfast at Cape May's at
the Beach Club.  Because we had an early breakfast time, we took a Mears Taxi over from our hotel.  It was super easy and they had a carseat as I requested.  Though someday I would like to do Chef Mickey's again, you have to book it so far in advance that I haven't been able to get it the last few times.  Cape May is pretty good and puts you in a good position to get to Hollywood Studios and Epcot with the boat or walking.

First we started at Hollywood studios.  We only spent like 2 hours here, and in retrospect it probably wasn't worth the park hopper, but we did get to do muppet vision 3D and walk around.   Jeremy bought Max a Chewbacca stuffed animal and a Star Wars Mickey & Goofy beach towel.

After walking around and playing in some puddles we took the boat back to the Beach Club and walked from there to Epcot.  My parents and I used to stay at the Beach Club all the time, so the walk has a special place in my heart.

Over two days at Epcot we walked the countries, did some rides (Jeremy got to do Mission to Mars), and saw more characters. Though the last day didn't go as well, I'm pretty sure it was just because the kid was so sleep deprived that he was delusional.  (more on that later).

At each country they have a Kid Spot, where you can color a stick puppet thing and then take it around to get stamped at each country.  We didn't do the stamp thing so much, but Max did enjoy coloring the stick puppet with the markers and then got super mesmerized  by the other little girls that came by the table.

At Epcot we ate dinner in Mexico (San Angel Inn & Tequila Bar), and Morocco.  It was our first time eating in Morocco but it was good and I would go back, though I still prefer Mexico.

As for the rides, Max enjoyed them all, but the Norway boat ride was closed to be turned into a Frozen themed ride (go figure, Disney looks like Frozen threw up in that place).  We found Figment and Nemo to be kinda strange.  He loved the dancing waters and the fireworks (which, btw, have an awesome special holiday ending)

Other Disney


Between the rocket launch attempts, we spent some time at the pool, going down the water slide like a champ, and eating and shopping at Downtown Disney and the Marketplace.  We wound up eating at the T-Rex restaurant twice because we liked it so much.  It's owned by the same folks as rainforest cafe, but it's way cooler and the food is much better.  Max was a little scared during the meteor storms, but otherwise found it cool.  And we got to see our friend Brandon before we left, bonus.

All in all, Walt Disney World was super awesome and I was sad to leave.  Truly, I thought about extending our vacation but I knew Jeremy would have never gone for it.   As a last note, we paid for the Magic Maker photo package and found it to be worth while.  We got a LOT of pictures and basically took them whenever we saw someone, as each only took a minute or two.  This proved key with a toddler who didn't want to cooperate half the time, or when people would accidentally walk into your shot.   You can review the pictures on your phone about 30 minutes after they are taken, so I would just recommend making sure they get up there.  We lost some of our Mickey pictures because they were "having trouble with the camera" at that time.  Fortunately we had already seen Mickey a bunch, but I can't imagine the poor people before and after us who were counting on that photographer.

Orion EFT1 

Jeremy will tell you that the real reason we came to Disney was to see the Orion EFT 1 launch.  I suppose in some way that was true, but details.  The Orion capsule was set to launch on a Delta IV Heavy on Thursday December 4th at 7:05 am with a window extending until 9:44am EDT.  We wanted to get to the causeway early to get a good spot, so we left our hotel in Orlando at 2:00am... both mornings.  Notice I said "both", yea, it was rough.

Jeremy's parents came down for the launch so we met them at their hotel in Cocoa Beach then met up with the Lillard's and headed to the Causeway.  Because Jeremy worked on the entry guidance for Orion he was able to get a Causeway pass, and even got a Space Flight Award!

If you caught onto my word "both" up top, you've probably figured out that it didn't launch on the first day.  It started with a tugboat in the debris field, continued with high winds and unnecessary automatic shutdowns, and ended with overheated valves.  So after spending about 6 hours on the causeway we headed back to Orlando to do the whole thing again the next day.

Well, Day 2, and it launched!  Right at 7:05am.  It was awesome to see, I was so proud of Jeremy and I knew he was so excited to be there.  He was also really excited to watch the launch with his parents and a bunch of our Houston friends who had also made the trip.  I'll post a group picture when I get it.

I had my small camera positioned to take a video of the launch.  It's not the best video because I was fairly zoomed out, but my DSLR had quit working on Day 1, so I was glad I even had this.

Congratulations to the entire Orion team for a successful launch and landing.  It was nearly perfect and they were only 1.5 nautical miles off target (that's like still hitting the bullseye).

For those of you that don't know, this was the first time that America has launched a rocket so far into space (3600 miles) since the 1970's!

For some reason the video won't upload into the blog, so make the jump HERE to see it.  And HERE to see the pictures from the launch.

Here's to a great vacation!  For more pictures and videos from the Disney World part of the trip go HERE.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dinner Dinner Chicken Winner

or is it Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?

Does it really matter :)

It's time for the biweekly round up.  (or is it tri-weekly?)

I'm not going to list everything, just the favorites.

First up: Flammkuchen (From: My Kitchen in the Rockies)

For some reason her site is down, so I'll recap the whole thing for you here.

Flammkuchen is this delicious pizza type dish that we first had when we visited Oberammeragu in 2013.  We subsequently had it 3 or 4 more times before we left Germany.


This is a great alternative to the standard pizza and more filling than you'd think.

This recipe claims to make 4 pies, but I would make them a little thicker and do 3 pies or just 4 smaller ones.

The dough:
4 1/4 cups flour
1 pinch salt
1 cup water
4-5 tbsp veg. oil
tbsp+ dried thyme (my modification)

The toppings:
scallions (green parts)
bacon (uncooked, chopped into pieces)
yellow onion (julienned) 
whatever else you want (if you do hamburger, precook that)

The sauce:
8 oz creme fraiche
8 oz sour cream (my modification, says to use 16 oz creme fraiche, but I'm cheap)
1 tsp nutmeg

Directions:
Combine all dough ingredients until a smooth non-sticky dough forms.  I used a stand mixer with dough hook, but even then I had to work it by hand a little and add a touch more water.

Wrap dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 2 hours

Once ready, preheat the oven to 425 deg with a pizza stone inside.  

Split the dough into 3 or 4 balls.  Roll out the dough on a flat surface.  I used semolina flour to prevent it from sticking.  You want to make a thin crust.  Maybe 1/4" thick.  It does take a lot to work with this dough, but it will get there.  Mine turned out a little thin and crispy but it was still delicious.  It's easy to make it too thick, so just remember it's not American style pizza, it's supposed to be thin and crispy.

Spread the sauce over the dough then top with ingredients (reserving the green scallions)

Bake anywhere from 10 - 20 minutes until the edges are brown.  Mine only took about 10 minutes, but our oven runs very hot.  The bacon was still cooked just fine in this amount of time.

Sprinkle with the green scallions and devour.

Manicotti

You'll need:
12 manicotti shells
1 lb italian sausage
4 c mozzarella shredded cheese
2 c ricotta cheese
6 tbsp fresh basil (chopped)
1 jar spaghetti sauce 
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
EVOO

Cook the pasta according to the directions.  I felt it could have used +1-2 minutes as it came out VERY al dente.  Also cook the italian sausage until done.

Mix everything together in a big bowl except for the parmesan cheese and the pasta

Stuff the pasta with the mixture using your fingers.  Honestly, you could use a spoon, but it's just easier with the hands.

Spread a thin layer of EVOO and spaghetti sauce into a 13x9 glass pan then lay in the stuffed manicotti.  Cover with remaining sauce.

Bake for 15 minutes at 350.  

Sprinkle with parmesan and bake for 10 more minutes (I needed to go 15 here)

Enjoy.


This one is obviously not mine, but I saw it and it looked pretty good.  This is getting made this week, so no comment yet on how it tastes.

Rack of Lamb with Kiwi Mint Sauce

This one comes from one of my convection cooking books.  I love it.

First the kiwi mint sauce:
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c raspberry vinegar
1/3 c lime juice (fresh)
2 c chopped mint leaves
4 kiwi's, diced
1 tbsp grated lime zest (about 1 lime)

In a small pot, combine the sugar, vinegar, and lime juice.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cool add the mint, kiwi, and lime zest.  Stick in the fridge until ready to use.

Lamb:
2 racks of ribs with ~7 bones each
3 tbsp dijon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp fresh thyme (or dried if you get lazy like me)
2 c breadcrumbs
1/2 c melted butter

Place the ribs in a roasting pan and convect roast at 400 deg. F for 20 minutes.  (last time I forgot about the convection roast and just did it at a normal 400).

Meanwhile prepare the seasoning.  Melt the butter and combine with breadcrumbs, garlic, pepper, and thyme.

Brush the cooled lamb (did you cool it down a bit?) with the dijon mustard and sprinkle with garlic.  Coat the lamb with the breadcrumb mixture prepared above.

Return lamb to oven and convection roast for about 20 more minutes (for medium rare).  

Remove from oven and loosely cover with foil.  Let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve with Kiwi Salad.

Yum!

Salmon Cakes

The salmon out here in CA is just awful.  Seriously bad and seriously over priced.  So the only way I can bring myself to eat it is to make these salmon cakes.  

1 1/2 lb salmon
3 c. panko (divided)
6 scallions (green and white parts separately chopped)
2 small ribs celery - finely chopped
2/3 c mayo + 1/2 c mayo
4 large eggs, beaten
6 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp white wine vinegar

First, precook your salmon however you like it.  Last time we poached it and it turned out very well.  Let cool.

Flake the salmon into a large bowl.  Mix in 1/2 cup panko, scallion whites, celery, salt, 2/3 cup mayo, and black pepper.

Refrigerate for 30 mintues

Roll the salmon cakes into little slider sized patties.

In a bowl pour the remaining 2 1/2 c panko and in a separate bowl have the eggs beaten.

Coat the patties on both sides with panko, then egg wash, then panko again.

In a heavy skillet, heat 1/2 the EVOO over medium heat.

Add the patties and cook about 3 mintues on each side until golden.  (it should sizzle.  if it doesn't then your oil isn't hot enough.  But be careful not to burn it!)

Repeat with remaining patties.

For the dipping sauce, combine 1/2 c mayo with vinegar and 1/3 c scallion greens.

Delicious! 

Chicken Paprikas 

I love this traditionally Hungarian dish that my mom used to make all the time.  Of course she's German and it's quite different than it's Hungarian roots, but it's homey and I love it.

Start by cooking some chicken breasts (or 1/2 light and 1/2 dark meet).  I usually cut it into small pieces then fry it up in a skillet.

In a large pot fry 1 large onion in 7 tbsp butter and 7 tbsp EVOO.  (yep it's a lot, but what do you expect from a German)

Once translucent add 14 tbsp flour to make a roux.  Mix until bubbly and thickening.  

Add 12 cups of chicken stock (we use the low sodium type), 1 pt of sour cream, 2 tbsp paprikas, a pinch of salt, and pepper.  

Add the chicken once heated and mixed throughly.  

Lastly make the dumplings.  

using a stand mixer with dough hook mix together 3 eggs, 3 cups flour, 1/2 cup water, pinch of salt, and dash of pepper.  

Drop the dough by small portions into a pot of boiling water.  After 1-2 minutes they will float and they are ready to go.

Word of warning, don't store the dumpings in the soup or it will suck up all the broth.

Other random dinner ideas

Those were my big involved ideas for the week, but here are some other quick things to make if you are in a pinch.

1) Omelets or Breakfast Burritos.  We started making breakfast burritos out here when we were just craving tex mex and couldn't find anything decent.    

2) Quesidillas  - veggies, chicken, cheese, whatever!  Jeremy likes his open faced.

3) Spaghetti.  I like to use italian sausage instead of hamburger meat.  Toss in some veggies and serve over rigatoni!

Bon Appetit!


Friday, October 31, 2014

Big News

BIG NEWS!


Make the jump!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekly Dinners - a few weeks late

I was really good about posting for the first month, then, well, life happened.  And I haven't posted since.

Instead of going day by day, I'm just going to put up a few of the recipes that we've made over the last few weeks in addition to the ones we are doing this week.

Hopefully it will inspire some of you!

Roasted Red Pepper Lasagna - Cravings of a Lunatic

This was delicious.  I really enjoyed the twist on traditional lasagna.  Mine came out a bit runny, but I think I could have let it reduce more and possibly cut back on the liquid a bit.

My substitutions:
- 1/2 ricotta and 1/2 mozzarella cheese.
- Add 2 zuchini
- When I made this, I split it into two small pans, one traditional, and one with spinach instead of noodles (for Jeremy of course, I'd never touch that)
- Add 1 lb ground beef

Orange Ricotta Pancakes - Breakfast - From my Mom - From some Inn somewhere...

Zest and Juice of 2 oranges
1 3/4 cups Ricotta
2 eggs
1 cup self-rising flour (NOTE: SELF-RISING)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Butter for frying

Mix together orange zest, orange juice, ricotta, and eggs.  Then mix in flour, sugar, and baking powder.

Preheat skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, then add some butter.  Pour pancake mix 1/4 cup at a time into circles.  Cook 3-4 minutes/side.

You can garnish with powdered sugar or orange zest, but I usually just add a touch of butter.  No syrup needed for these babies.

Simple Sausages with Sautéed Spinach and Red Potatoes

Quick and easy, for this dinner I just bought some brats from the store and cooked them up on the stovetop.  I boiled some red potatoes (doused with a lot of butter) and made a side of sautéed spinach seasoned with Anna's Herbs.

Chicken Parm

Another easy one that tends to get forgotten.  Take chicken breasts and slice in half lengthwise to make thin.  Pound with a mallet to make even thinner.

Next, toss them with some bread crumbs and herbs (I used basil and oregano) and lay in a glass dish.

Cover with marinara or your choice of sauce and slices of mozzarella or provolone cheese.

Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes (until chicken reaches 165 and is done)

Pork Carnitas - by Nicolas Mora with Queso Blanco - by Six Sisters Stuff

Carnitas Substitutions:
No Coke
1/4 recipe
No Lard - use butter instead (or bacon grease)

Queso Blanco:
We can't get queso out in CA anywhere, so I've been trying to make my own.  What I really want is to learn how Torchies' makes their queso, but until I figure that out, I've been trying different recipes online.

I'll update once I see how this one goes.

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak - All Recipes

Anything that involves a slow cooker and minimal extra work is right up my alley.

Now you do need to pre-brown the steak and do a little more upfront work, but I'm willing to take on that extra step.

Also, in the comments some folks noted the need to use cornstarch in the last 30 minutes to thicken the sauce and to add the peppers in the last 2 hours to keep them crispy.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce - Food Network

If you goggle Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce you'll find about 100 different recipes.  You'll also find a bunch of different ones on the Food Network site itself.

I'll admit that I had ambitions of making the peanut sauce from scratch, but at the store they only had 16 oz bottles of fish sauce and really, I just don't need that much.  So I opted to buy premade peanut sauce.  It was late, the store was crowded, and I was tired.  Don't judge me. :)

Salmon with Corn and Asparagus

Not much to say about this one.  Salmon gets sprinkled with salt and pepper and goes into the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Asparagus gets pan fried with some butter and Herbs from Provence.

Corn gets boiled and then buttered.

Simple yet delicious.

One Pot Pasta - ???

I took a picture of this one on my phone and can't remember exactly where it came from, but it looks easy and good.  I've made a few modifications to the original, detailed below.

You throw EVERYTHING in the pot, including the pasta.

12 oz pasta - we use whole wheat - yep, Jeremy's even getting in on this one
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large onion julienned
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 sliced zucchini
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp oregano
2 large sprigs fresh basil
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup water  (note the original calls for 4 1/2 cups veg. broth, but it comes in 32 oz box, not 36, so I wasn't about to buy another can just to use 1/2 of it)
2 tbsp EVOO

Put the pasta, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, basil in a large pot.  Pour over the liquid and herbs.  Drizzle the top with EVOO.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce to low and keep covered, cooking for about 10 more minutes.  Stir every 2 minutes along the way. until almost all the liquid is gone.

Serve in a bowl!

Peanut Butter Fudge

Not sure where I got this one from, or if I ever modified it, but it's so delicious.  In fact, since it only calls for 5 oz of evaporated milk, I'm going to use the rest and make a second batch of fudge... I'm thinking with Andes Mints.

Place the following in a pot and bring to a roiling boil over medium heat.  Stir frequently until reaching 234 deg (softball stage).  If you don't stir toward the end, it will start to burn on the bottom.  Also, be sure to pull it at 234, if you get much over that the texture will be off.  For this batch I went to 238 and I could taste it wasn't as creamy.

1 1/4 sticks butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
5 oz evaporated milk

Remove from the heat and mix in 7oz of Fluff

Now mix in 1 tsp vanilla (ish) and 1 1/4 cups peanut butter (I use Jiff, because it's smooth)

Pour into a square pan that's been lined with aluminum foil (or parchment paper)

Let cool in the fridge.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Week 4 - Simplicity.

The theme for this week is simplicity.  So simple in fact, that I'm writing this blog on a Friday morning and I've already planned out the meals for the week.

These are tried and true, oldies but goodies.

They may be boring, but they are easy, quick, and easy.  (did I mention, easy?)

Sunday: Tacos

Same as every Sunday but last week I stepped it up a notch with some Creamy Yogurt Avocado dip.  It was delicious and I think I'll bring it back this week.  For me I'd like to see a little more flavor, so I'll probably cut back on the yogurt, add an avocado, and 1/2 tbsp more seeded jalapeños.

Monday: Pan Fried Cod with Pasta

A few weeks back I bought some frozen cod from Costco, so it's time to test it out.

I'll be pan frying the cod in a skillet with some butter and salt and pepper.

I'll present the cod on a plate of angel hair spaghetti tossed with olive oil, fresh basil, and cherry tomatoes.

Tuesday:  Pork Tacos with Peperoncini Peppers

A big thank you to my friend Christy for this one.

1 pork butt + 1 jar peperoncini peppers + crockpot on low for 6-8 hours = Ta Da!

I'll probably spice up the pork butt with some Joe's Stuff before cooking, just to take it up a notch.

Use corn tortillas and top with a light white Mexican cheese (cotija), cilantro, red onions, avocado, and some lime.

Wednesday:  Spaghetti

You can never go wrong with spaghetti.

I use ground mild italian sausage, Classico roasted garlic tomato sauce, and vegetable based rotini.

Jeremy likes to take the sauce and put it over some sautéed spinach instead of pasta, cause he's weird like that.

We also toss in some chopped and sautéed zucchini and asparagus too.

Thursday: Trader Joe's Meat & Veggies

Remember, simplicity is the theme this week.  You can't get any simpler than walking into Trader Joe's, looking around for whatever pre-marinated meat tickles your fancy, then throwing it on the grill or skillet to cook.

Make a side of sautéed spinach seasoned with Anna's Herbs (Whole Foods), and ta da, you're done.

Simple. Simple. Simple.

Lunch:  Oven Roasted Turkey Sandwiches

Oven Roasted Turkey, Light Rye, Avocado, Pepper Jack Cheese, Mayo, Tomato, Lettuce.

Side: Small bag of chips or some fruit.


Bon Appetit!