Friday, September 4, 2009

Best Birthday Cake Evah!

It's chocolate. It's peanut butter. It's cake. What's not to love?

Chocolate, chocolate chip cake, peanut butter cream cheese frosting and chocolate peanut butter ganache! OMG! So rich. So good. Requires lots and lots of cold milk!

I can't lie ... I adapted the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It's not as pretty as hers but damn it was goooooooooooooooooooooooood!

The changes I made were small. I used my own cake recipe and only made 2 layers. I also added a bit of salt to the filling/frosting and found that I needed to thin it with a bit of milk. The chocolate peanut butter ganache was hands down the best thing I have ever tasted!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Boo-ter-fly Cakes

Sometimes I get myself in over my head without even trying. Such was the case with these adorable little cakes made for our little friend Boo. Exactly 7 days before her party her mother and I went over to the bookstore so I could show her Hello, Cupcake! to see if there was anything in there she liked. To my honest shock and surprise there was nothing in the book that tickled her fancy so we moved on to other books, fancier books, more complicated cakes. In the end we settled on a combination of the butterfly cupcakes from Hello, Cupcake! (with modifications) and a mini-cake from Mich Turner's book Spectacular Cakes. While the cakes would be labor intensive they weren't really all that complicated, especially if I started them three or four days before they were needed for the party. What I didn't count on was an entire week of whatever could go wrong, would go wrong (including me getting a migraine that just wouldn't quit).

The plan was that the mini cakes would be french vanilla, filled with soft pink buttercream, covered in poured fondant of pale green, striped with thin lines of pale pink and magenta buttercream and topped with a pastel colored butterfly. They needed 36 little cakes for their party. In order to ensure that I would have enough I decided to go with cupcakes thinking I would use a timbale mold/cutter to make them all uniform. Due to time constraints, I used french vanilla cake mix that I doctored up with a box of instant pudding and some vanilla extract. The cakes were soft and dense and yummy! However the timbale mold/cutter I bought was 1 size too big and I was unable to make them all completely uniform. Not a problem for cupcakes but for sure a problem when you're going to be coating them with poured fondant. Next time I will make sheet cakes and cut the cakes out to ensure uniform cylinders and save myself the headache when it comes time to coat them. The cakes looked like little light green Ring Dings (or Ding Dongs depending on where you grew up) but tasted amazing!

I used my go-to vanilla buttercream for the filling and butterfly bodies. Man I love that stuff ... it's just everything you want and need a buttercream to be. The pourable fondant however was a COMPLETE disaster! I used the recipe on the King Arthur website. Now, before I go on, I want to remind you guys of my love affair with King Arthur flour. To be fair, it's not that their recipe was a complete disaster, it was a comedy of errors and miscalculations and a migraine that set the whole thing on the road to horrible. We ended up having to scrap the Mich Turner like stripes we had planned on piping onto each cake pre-butterfly because we ran out of time and patience with this project. In the end I don't think it made that much of a difference to anyone but the two of us. Both child and mom were thrilled with the cakes and really that's all that mattered!

I had a little accident in the kitchen and I lost 1/2 a pot of liquid fondant to my kitchen floor. I also thought the original coating looked like, well, snot. It was light green and shiny and definitely had an "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew" factor. In the end I had to remake the fondant and add a can of ready made frosting to make it opaque (which turned out really well for my purposes) but not before I ended up with a sugar burn on the fingers of my right hand. I used a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water for the second batch and it makes the whole process so much easier as you can regulate the temp as you go. Also, the second time around we chilled and dipped the cakes instead of pouring them. I highly recommend using the dipping method! However, my partner in culinary crimes ended up with sugar burns on his palm when one of the cakes got away from him and instead of letting it fall to the floor he tried to be a hero and save it mid-fall only to have it land top down in his palm. This is not a project to try with the kids in case anyone was wondering. That being said, I have it on good authority that the cakes were a big hit with kids and kids at heart alike! Although, the kids weren't sure what to do with the wings and had to be told they could eat them!

The butterflies were the easiest part of all this and made using Merckens Rainbow Wafer Coatings (in white, pink, purple, blue, peach, yellow and light green) and a hand drawn pattern that eventually was only used as a guide. Once again my creative partner saw potential to put his own stamp on something already pretty cool and he made the wings more monarch-like by free-handing a wing extension. There are detailed directions in Hello, Cupcake! but you really don't need them (buy the book anyway, it really is cool). Just melt some coating or chocolate, draw a butterfly and fill it with a second color of coating or chocolate and then swirl. You should also know that we had to custom blend the Merckens to get these shades by mixing them with white. There are a few tricks and tips, enough so that they will be their own post in the near future.

Assembly was easy and went pretty quick. Just make sure you are not working in a hot kitchen or the wings will get too soft and give you issues. We placed each cake in a pastel cupcake liner, piped on the body and stuck the wings in place. They all sat in the fridge for almost 2 hours pre-transport to make sure the buttercream and fondant were really hard to minimize the potential for transport disaster. I made a cake taker out of a heavy duty plastic soda case topped with a cookie sheet that sat on the edge of the case and wrapped the whole thing in plastic. It worked like a charm and fit in a fridge perfectly! For display at the party I lent them my wire cupcake holder and a silver platter. With a few pretty cupcake papers and some doilies it made for a really neat display! I may try these again at some point, the original version as they were supposed to be .... maybe not. I am such a huge fan of petit fours and to me this was a great updated version of a classic little cake that time has forgotten. Hopefully next time there won't be so much other stuff going on, I won't have a migraine and they will come out as anticipated!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Princess In A Punch Cup

It's almost time for back to school around these parts but not before just one more summer birthday bash! It's a fairytale theme for one of my favorite little princesses, adorable, squishable, kissable "Boo"! Boo's fairytale comes replete with Butterfly Petit Fours (check back soon to see them in all their glory) and pink and purple princess lollies!

For the record there are not made with actual chocolate. Merckens, the white and colored disks we used to make the lollies, is confectioners coating. What's the difference? F.D.A. specifications for chocolate say it must contain chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. While the Merckens wafer coatings contain neither of these ingredients they are good, creamy and most people won't know the difference. We've worked with several flavors and colors of Merckens over the past few months and have had great success with all of them!

I can't say I would make this the first chocolate mold a beginner should attempt. Why? Because this, at minimum, is a three color lollie which means getting down your chocolate painting technique in addition to melting and pouring. We also have to play with paramount crystals because some of the colored wafers were just took thick for such detailed work. Ultimately we did not use paintbrushes to fill in the colors. My partner in crime found that wooden kabob skewers actually worked better and he was able to drop the colors exactly where he wanted. He was also steady enough that he was able to drop all the areas of color without chilling until he was ready to pour but I wouldn't recommend doing it that way. I think slow and steady will win the race for most beginners. Melt and paint or drop one color at a time in your mold then chill before you move on to the next. Also, when choosing your colors, be mindful of how they will play off each other when layered. The lollies back filled with pink left the peach/skin tone unchanged. The lollies back filled with purple made her look like she had a tan. This wasn't a huge deal for this project but I could see it easily becoming one in others.

Another tip I can offer when you are making multiples is to package as they are done. The mold we had made 6 at a time so I had set up a foam holding area/wrapping station while the first batch was in the freezer. I picked up the bags and ribbon at Eatons at the same time I got everything else we needed for this project. Each one got bagged and tied with one of two colors of ribbon and nestled into their final destination which turned out to be a few vintage punch cups I had laying around. I had some opalized basket filler that I lined the cups with, dropped in a small block of Styrofoam, wrapped the long strands of basket filler over the top to hide the foam and then arranged the lollies in the cups. Hindsight being 20/20 and of course if this weren't another party on a budget I would have purchased large bags of pastel jellybeans or M&Ms to fill the cups with before sticking the lollies in. In any event everyone seemed thrilled with the final product and Boo got to have handmade lollies at her party!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chicken Spaghetti

My mother made very few dishes well and this was one of them. Mind you, when this dinner came into rotation grocery stores were literally giving chicken wings away. Buffalo Chicken Wings weren't invented until the early sixties and they wouldn't come into vogue for years to come so back then chicken wings were probably the least desirable part of the chicken where I grew up. Now chicken wings are often the most expensive part of the chicken at the market and so I use legs and thighs if that's what's on sale. The meat isn't as sweet but it's still pretty good.

I have three different versions of this sauce, one is exactly how my mother made it, the other is how I make it when I have the ingredients on hand and the third is using raw or homemade ingredients only. Her version uses the pre-made spaghetti sauce only (poured over the browned chicken & simmered for hours) and is pretty good but I think the addition of canned tomatoes, chicken stock and garlic make it so much better. However you make it, this isn't a weeknight dish unless you have extra time on your hands simply because of the time involved in cooling and deboning the chicken that was cooked in the sauce.

1 flat of chicken wings (5-8 lbs is what they usually sell) or 4 chicken leg & 4 chicken thighs
20 cloves of peeled garlic
olive oil for browning
salt & pepper
1 4lb jar of spaghetti sauce
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 C chicken stock
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot combine the spaghetti sauce, the crushed tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken stock. Set over medium heat while you prepare the chicken.

Wash the chicken parts, pat them dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken over medium-high heat in the olive oil, in batches removing the browned pieces to the stock pot. When all the chicken is browned, turn the heat down to medium and saute the garlic cloves until lightly browned (5-10 minutes.) Deglaze the pan with the remaining cup of chicken stock and add it to the stock pot. Stir to combine, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until the chicken is cooked through and basically falling apart.

Remove the chicken sauce from the heat. Using tongs or whatever tool you find works best for you, remove the chicken pieces to a platter leaving as much of the sauce as you can in the pot. Allow the chicken to cool until it can be handled comfortably and then remove the skin and bones returning the meat to the pot. When all the chicken meat is back in the post, stir in the Parmesan cheese and simmer uncovered until the sauce is reduced by about 1/4 and has thickened up.

You can serve this over pasta but my favorite way to eat it is over mashed potatoes with a side of baby peas (that I prefer to make part of the potato mound.) It's a great meal and one of those feel good comfort foods that we all crave from time to time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Food Cheats: Just Like Tomato Sauce From Scratch

I hope to make Food Cheats a semi-regular feature here at Our House. There are tons of food sites out there with phenomenal gourmet recipes but truth be told there are times when even the best of us have zero time to give in the kitchen, not to mention that many of the recipes have costly ingredients that aren't always in a family budget. Over the years I have developed more than a few of what I call "food cheats" using ingredients right from my pantry. Most of these cheats are so good people swear they must be "from scratch recipes" or that I slaved all day. Neither of these things are true. Case in point my basic tomato sauce.

1 jar of Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian Sauce
1 28 oz jar of crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can College Inn Light & Fat Free Chicken Broth
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
Meatballs, sausage or other meat optional

In a large saucepan combines all the liquid ingredients, garlic and Parmesan cheese, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer uncovered for about an hour. If I am going to add any meat I do it after the hour mark and let it simmer another hour. The longer you let it simmer, the thicker the sauce gets. And just like most other tomato based sauces, it's better the second day.

I use this sauce in everything from simple noodles and sauce to lasagna to stuffed peppers and even in my stuffed cabbage. It's great for subs, homemade pizza and can't be beat when you make it with meatballs. It tastes like you slaved away when all you really did was throw it all in a pot and leave it alone. I've even made this sauce in a crock pot on low and let it go all day while I was out and about.

I've tried it with other brands of sauce and they just don't cook down as well. However, I've changed out the College Inn broth for homemade chicken stock when I've had some on hand and man alive was it good. Play around with your own favorite brands and I'm sure you'll find one that your family will call a winner and dub you Queen Of All Things Yummy for!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Brioche Sticky Buns

In this house we have huge affection for breakfast rolls. Cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, sweet rolls, orange rolls... Is there anything better with your morning coffee than a fresh from the oven bun? Of course there is! A fresh from the oven bun with a tall glass of cold milk any time of the day! I have my favorite go to for Cinnamon Rolls covered in Cream Cheese frosting (which I will share at some point) but sticky buns have been a favorite of ours long before the cinnamon rolls came into rotation. For years I used a simple scalded milk dough recipe from the 1800s. It was simple and good and fail proof. When we lived in Las Vegas I made more sticky buns that I can remember because baked goods like that didn't exist in any of the shops out there, either did real bagels if you can believe that. The smell that emanated from our apartment brought company by (no matter the hour) wondering what the delicious aroma you could smell on the other side of the complex was. I never thought I would replace that recipe until one night a few months ago when I got it into my head to make them out of brioche.

For those of you who have never experienced the bliss that is brioche it's a yeasted bread that masquerades as a pastry. It is buttery and rich and sweet and flaky when made right. It's also one of those doughs that requires patience. I was pleasantly surprised by the brioche dough recipe I used. Looking at the recipe I wasn't 100% convinced that it was going to work, be enough or taste all that great, boy was I wrong! The starter actually sat in the fridge for over 24 hours with no problem. I'm not gonna re-post the dough recipe here because Joe Pastry does an awesome job, complete with much better photos than I can produce, walking you through the whole recipe. I used King Arthur all purpose flour and lightly salted butter because that is what I had on hand. I only left the finished dough rest in the fridge for 2 hours before I formed the rolls.

While the dough sat in the fridge chillin' I made the sticky part of the Sticky buns. I melted 1, 4oz. stick of lightly salted butter together with 1 C light brown sugar. Once the mixture melted I added 2.5 oz of light corn syrup (I was out of honey & golden syrup) and set the mixture aside to cool. About 20 minutes later I whisked in 1/4 C half & half and 1/4 C water and stashed the mixture in the fridge until I was ready to form the rolls. The brioche dough really was a treat to work with. Nice and firm, it rolled easily into a 12"x12" square that I sprinkled with 1 C of dark brown sugar and about 2 t of cinnamon before rolling up, slicing into 12 pieces and placing in a 9"x13" glass pan that I had already poured the sticky sauce into.

I left the covered pan on my counter for 90 minutes before placing them uncovered in a cold oven next to a saucepan of boiling water for another 20-30 minutes. I took the rolls out, preheated to 350* and baked them for 40 minutes. Once they were done I left them in the pan for ten minutes, removed them to a serving platter and spooned the remaining sticky sauce on them. They are good and completely worth the time and effort! Plus, when is the last time you had a really good sticky bun that didn't taste like chemicals or cost you $5.00 a piece?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Party Treats

Have you ever wanted a custom look to a party, special event or wedding you were throwing but knew you couldn't afford the custom price tag? Been to those pricey gourmet stores and seen little truffles and bags of candies at outrageous prices? What if I told you that you could make these cute little cupcake truffles (as seen with packaging) for less than $1.00 a piece? The bucket full of candy popcorn? About $2.10 per bag. Not bad for edible treats in this day and age. In fact, assuming you have a few basic kitchen tools and some of the usual suspects (butter, sugar, vanilla) on hand, there really isn't much you can't turn out of your own kitchen for less than those fancy shops charge.

The cupcake truffles are a variation of the cake-pops we made for June's Graduation BBQ and again the idea comes from Bakerella's blog. Using the same candy mold that made the base for the grad cap, two flavors of cake (left over cupcakes from the gator cake made for the same party), about a cup of cream cheese frosting, two flavors of candy melts (Merkins is my favorite) and the leftover sprinkles from the cake-pops we turned out these little cuties in no time at all. In fact, the only frustrating part was the heat and humidity the week these needed to be made. Just like last time we used the freezer to our advantage!

The candied popcorn idea came from one of my favorite blogs Saucy's Sprinkles! It's candied popcorn flavored with Kool-Aid! In this case we used pink lemonade and black cherry. It's colored with the same Wilton gels you use to tint frosting and friends it's good. I mean crazy good. I mean crack-like addictive good! It's sweet and buttery and "omnomnom" is the only thing you really hear when people get their hands on it. A candy thermometer is a must for this because unlike other kinds of candied popcorn this does not get baked to set the coating! Here's a few tips if you decide to try your hand at candied popcorn:

* 1/2 cup kernels = 12 cups popped corn
* have a partner when you make this, 2 sets of hands are infinitely better than 1
* butter/otherwise grease the pan you are going to mix the coating with the popcorn in and the mixing utensils for easier cleanup
* don't try to make this when it's humid
* a lidded bowl or other food-safe container is perfect for mixing two flavors together and breaking up any large chunks of popcorn that stick together

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hello, Cupcake! A Review and Project Test

Our little friend Emmy had a birthday this past week and it was her wish that she get a crocodile cake for her big party. As it turned out the book Hello, Cupcake! (by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson), which I've been wanted to check out for a while now, had instructions on how to make such a marvelous creature. As you can see we (we being myself and my wonderful, never used a piping bag before partner in confectionery crime) were able to turn out an end product that look pretty close to the photo in the book!

Hello, Cupcake! is an excellent resource for any baker's personal library and well worth the modest price tag! The bigger bonus is that you honestly do not need baking, cooking or decorator skills or any special equipment to turn out end products that look like the creations from the book. While I disagree with the authors on both the subject of cake and frosting (which I'll get to in a minute), I couldn't help but get lost in all the wonderful photographs and easy to follow directions. The cookies and candies that make up each project are readily available at more than one retail outlet in my area. In fact the only things I was unable to find for my project were white cupcake liners (my supplier was out) and green jelly beans (because I was unwilling to pay $4.50 for a bag when I only needed 2 beans).

"Old Swampy" as we made him consisted of 12 Chocolate Buttermilk cupcakes and 12 Buttermilk French Vanilla cupcakes tinted pink (to please the Birthday Girl) with Wilton "Rose" colored gel. He is frosted in homemade vanilla buttercream tinted with a mixture of Wilton "Leaf Green" and "Brown" gel tints. I followed the cake instructions in the back of Hello, Cupcake! and was very disappointed with the cakes themselves finding them a bit dry, bland in flavor and not at all as solid as the book suggests they will be. For future Hello, Cupcake! projects I will be sticking with my own tried and true cake recipes that have stood the test of time as being moist, dense and full of flavor. Hello, Cupcake! also claims that canned frosting works best for their projects however my own vanilla buttercream frosting pipes well and when refrigerated holds its shape even in the heat of an outdoor party (unlike canned frosting which gets drippy when it gets too warm)!

One of the other benefits of using my homemade frosting is that you can make up to 2 days before you plan on eating the end product and it actually improves the flavor! It's super easy to make and lends itself to an infinite variety of flavor possibilities!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1 stick room temperature salted butter
2 1/2 C confectioner's sugar
2 t milk + a little more
1 t vanilla
1 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix on low until blended then kick it up to high and let it go for 3 minutes adding more milk if necessary for thinning. Store in an airtight container for up to 48 hours prior to use. Holds well in the fridge for the life of the finished cake product (they never seem to be around for more than a few days here!)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Sister's Friend's Pot Roast Reworked

I can't take all the credit for my awesome pot roast, the recipe was taught to me years ago by a friend of a friend. I remember walking into her house for the first time and having my senses overwhelmed by the buttery smell coming from her kitchen. I never knew beef could smell like that. From the first bite I took I was hooked and never looked back. Over the years I tinkered and tweaked the recipe until it stands as written here today. Best. Pot roast. Ever.

The secret to perfect pot roast is time. Nothing more, nothing less. The secret to lustful pot roast is using beef stock instead of water.

5 or 6 pound blade chuck roast
3-4 thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 C beef stock or water
1 head of garlic, peeled, cloves left whole
2 carrots per person, peeled and cut into chunks
2 potatoes per person, peeled and quartered
1 purple turnip per person, peeled and halved
as many extra onions as you would like, peeled and halved or quartered
You can really use any root vegetables you like and as much or as little as you would like.
2 +/- C beef stock
you may need additional water
1 bag of frozen peas-thawed**
1 box of crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
flour or other thickening agent

Preheat your oven to 400*

Put your roast and the onions in a large roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until well browned about 1 -1 1/2 hours.

Take the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 350*. Add enough stock or water to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the garlic cloves all over the pan. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Check the roast at the hour mark as you may need to add more stock/water, you don't want the pan to dry out.

Remove pan from the oven, add your veggies (except peas), add enough stock to cover the veggies, replace the cover and cook another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from oven, add peas, recover and cook another 15 minutes.

When the cooking time is done I put all the veggies on a serving platter right along with the meat and cover with foil and proceed to make mushroom gravy using the pan drippings and extra beef stock (as needed) along with a little vermouth or red wine if I've got it kicking around.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bread Anyone Can Make

There is something about a loaf of bread straight from the oven. Maybe it's the way it makes the whole house smell? Maybe it's the taste? Whatever it is, homemade bread makes me feel like everything is just a little better, even if the feeling only lasts a few hours. I love to make homemade bread. It looks awesome! It smells awesome! It tastes awesome! The only thing that could make it better? The fact that it takes less than 5 minutes of actual time to make! This beautiful loaf came out of my kitchen without a bread machine or the use of my Kitchen Aid. This is a loaf that requires patience though, you need to mix the dough 12-18 hours BEFORE you bake it.

In your favorite large bowl mix together the following ingredients with a wooden spoon:

3 C King Arthur all purpose flour (trust me on this one)
¼ t instant yeast
1¼ t salt
1 1/2 C + 2 T warm water

Cover it with plastic wrap, place it in a draft-free place where it won't be disturbed or in the way. Now here is the important part... Walk away. That's it, put down the spoon and go about your business. Move along now, nothing to see you looky lous! Go away and don't touch it for a minimum of 12 hours.

If your yeast was good and you left the dough alone long enough this is what it should look like. It will be wet and full of bubbles, don't panic! Wet dough freaks me out, it doesn't hold it's shape and the first time I made this I worried that it would not bake into anything edible. There is no mistaking that this is a super wet dough, at the twelve hour mark you can see the wetness (click on photo for larger image) but I finally figured out that in order for the recipe to work properly, the dough needs to be wet. It's this waterlogged like dough that creates the steam bath in the covered pot while it bakes. Speaking of pots...

This is what I bake this particular bread in but you can do it in any oven safe covered vessel. You put the pot in the oven while it's preheating and then open it up, plop the dough in, re-cover and let it do its thing. Don't worry, I'm going to give complete directions in a minute but I wanted to show you guys that you don't need a fancy Le Creuset pot to bake this bread. Getting back to the recipe...

At the 12-18 hour mark it's time to form the dough into a ball. I use a 2 tea towel method. I put one tea towel on a cookie sheet and liberally sprinkle it with flour. I fold the dough over on itself several times, form it into a ball and place it seam side down on the flour. I sprinkle the top of the dough ball with cornmeal and place the second towl on top. I leave the dough to rest for about 2 hours total. At the hour and a half mark of rising, I put my covered pot in the oven and turn it on to 450* abd leave it alone for a half hour. To put the dough in the pot I slide one hand under towel and, although awkward the first few times, I flip the dough into pot, floured side up. You can shake the pan a little if the dough didn't land in the center but it will straighten out as it bakes all on its own. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned. Cool on a rack for about 15 minutes before you cut into it or you will have a mess.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Cookie Twofer

I don't think I have ever met anyone who doesn't like cookies. I know we all have our favorites and there are some of us who have specific dislikes but on the whole I think everyone can agree that there is nothing wrong with cookies. Cookie trays are an awesome addition to any dessert table (like the one above at the Grad BBQ*) and can even be turned into a dessert table of their own. They are easy to make, affordable and invoke happy memories of childhood and holidays past.

I chose to make three kinds of cookies for the Graduation BBQ, Pinwheels (which need their own post in the near future), Oatmeal Raisin (because one of the Grads the BBQ was for requested them) and Toll House (because almost everyone likes them.) The Toll House cookies really don't deserve their own post but I do want to talk about them a bit because any time I make them they quickly disappear and in the midst of all the "yums" and "ahhs" I do get the occasional question as to why mine turn out so different than everyone else's.

In the 1930s Ruth Wakefield accidentally invented the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie when she decided to add bits of chocolate to some Butter Cookies she was making for guests at the inn she ran with her husband. No matter what modern Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe you look at, they can all be traced back to this happy mistake. I love Toll House Cookies, especially when you cook them to the point of being "well done" and they are all brown and crispy on the outside and all melty and gooey on the inside. And in most cases I would tell you not to mess with perfection but tweaking my friends in a horse of another color altogether and it's the tweaks that takes these cookies from awesome to amazing!

Toll House Cookie Tweaks

1. Use real, good quality, unsalted butter and let it get really soft but NOT melted before you cream it with the sugars.
2. Use real, good quality vanilla extract. I like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla.
3. Make sure your dry ingredients are fresh.
4. I only use King Arthur AP flour in my cookies. Trust me, it makes a difference in flavor.
5. And this is the most important tweak... after you make the cookie dough, let it sit in the fridge overnight. To make my life easier I dump the dough onto a large (about a foot and a half long) piece of wax paper and roll the dough into a log. I wrap the log in plastic and let it chill until I am ready, then I slice and bake. It's the letting the dough rest that makes all the difference in the world with these cookies!

I guess we're now at the portion of this post where I have to make a confession. I really don't like raisins in baked goods and try to never add them. I find them dry, chewy and just plain old yucky. So when I knew I couldn't say no to the request (how could I ever say no to that face?), I set out to scour my cookbooks for the most awesome Oatmeal Raisin Cookies ever! And guess what? With a little tweaking and patience, I found hit on just the right combination of ingredients and technique!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This recipe is a little different than I usually give in that there are instructions before the ingredients list. These first directions make a HUGE difference in the cookie and should not be skipped.

1.) Two hours BEFORE you are going to make the cookie dough beat 2 eggs with 1 Tablespoon (yes you read that right) of good quality vanilla, add 1 cup of raisins or dried cranberries, cover and set aside. You can stir them occasionally if you would like but you don't have to.

2.) One hour BEFORE you are going to make the cookie dough set 1 cup of butter on the counter. Since I like to make my life easier and spoilage is not an issue, I took mine out when I did the raisins.

1 C unsalted butter -softened
1 C light brown sugar
3/4 C sugar
2 C flour
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1/4 t freshly rasped ginger
1/4 t freshly rasped nutmeg
2 1/2 C old fashioned oatmeal

Pre-heat oven to 350*, prep your cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sift all the dry ingredients except oatmeal in a bowl. I usually just dump all of my dry ingredients into a bowl and give it a few turns with a balloon whip.

Cream the butter and sugars. Mix egg/raisin mixture followed the sifted, dry ingredients and then by the oats. I do all of this on my Kitchen Aid but you can do it by hand too.

Now cover the dough and let it chill for 3 or 4 hours. When you're ready to bake, scoop out about a tablespoon of dough, roll it into a ball and space them about an inch apart on a prepared pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool for one minute and set on rack to finish cooling.

These are without question THE BEST Oatmeal Cookies Evah!

*I did not make the "photo cake" and I don't know where it was purchased. I do know however that almost any place that sells cakes can produce a "photo cake" and in most cases they will make and sell you the edible image(s) to put on your own homemade cake/cupcakes. All of the other goodies on the table came out of my kitchen or "Kitchen North" where I was aided by my best friend and the light of my life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chicken Fried

I swear I have Southern blood running through my veins or must have been Southern in a previous life because their food calls to me at every turn. Buttermilk biscuits, Coke A Cola cake, butterbeans, peaches, pecans... I am drooling all over my keyboard! I have never been better fed outside my Grandma's kitchen than when I was down South. Maybe it's the food, which always seems to be prepared by loving hands or maybe it's the people, some of the kindest on Earth but the South has called to me since I was in my early twenties. It's no wonder then that I am crazy-go-nuts for things like pulled pork, Chicken-n-Dumplings and of course, fried chicken.

Poor fried chicken. So well loved, so misunderstood. Too often (and needlessly) greasy, flavorless and soggy. IMHO, there's almost nothing that screams "It's Summertime!" as much as plate of fried chicken, really good potato salad and a tall glass of frosty cold iced tea with a big hunk of lemon! And no, I'm not talking KFC or any of the other (sadly misguided) restaurants that claim to offer "real" or "authentic" Southern Fried Chicken. I'm talking straight from your own kitchen yummy goodness and all you really need is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or a turkey fryer setup if you've got a crowd) and if you're really lucky someone to do the actual frying like I have. A testament to the excellence of my particular version of Fried Chicken is that there was none left to photograph at the BBQ so you'll just have to trust me that it looks as awesome as it sounds and tastes!

Good fried chicken takes time but is in no way time consuming! I start the day before (or in the case of the BBQ my dear friend started the day before) by cutting up and washing all the chicken pieces. For regular fried chicken the pieces go into plain old buttermilk, for the spicy version they went into buttermilk that had a few tablespoons of this really cool chicken seasoning we found in its own grinder at BJ's. If you don't have really cool seasoning in its own grinder you can pretty much put anything your would like in the buttermilk; salt and pepper, garlic powder, a few shots of hot sauce... you get the idea. But remember that whatever you use is going to actually permeate the flesh of the chicken so once it's in there, it's in there. Now put the chicken in the fridge and walk away. Just walk away and leave it alone for 24-36 hours. If you are marinating the chicken in bags you can flip them over to make sure the buttermilk is hitting all parts of the chicken but that's it.

No less than one hour before you're going to fry it's time to put the coating on the chicken. I fill up my largest bowl with a few cups of flour seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, celery salt or whatever I have around (if I've made spicy chicken I'll put the same spice in the four) and setup a sheet pan with waxed paper. Going one or two pieces at a time I dredge the buttermilk soaked chicken in the flour until it is well coated and then set the pieces on the sheet pan. Once the last piece is done clean yourself up and set up for frying. Leave the pan on the counter, nothing is going to happen to it, the chicken is not going to spoil. Just leave it alone and in about an hour your dry four coating will have turned into a yummy wet batter!

I like to fry in peanut oil or a peanut oil blend. If I'm only doing a bit of chicken I will cook three or four pieces at a time (don't crowd the pan) in my cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side. If we're lucky enough to be deep frying, heat the oil to 350* and depending on how many pieces you put in it takes about 12 minutes a batch. I put a cooling rack over a sheet pan to drain the chicken a bit before serving. And that's it. No fuss, little muss and really, really good fried chicken!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Graduation Cake Pops

I first saw these on Bakerella's blog and thought "how cute are these!?!" By the time we were done making and bagging them I was thinking "what a giant PITA!!!" I'm sure I was thinking that only because of all the things that went wrong this being the first time making them and the fact that we ended up with 76 finished pops! What went wrong? We didn't have enough white chocolate coating, I didn't like the cake, it was a humid night and it took about seven hours to make these from start to finish. The process is relatively simple and Bakerella does a great job explaining the steps on her blog. Bake cake, crumble cake, mix with frosting, form, stick, chill, dip/pour and decorate. And while the process itself may be relatively simple getting these to look and taste the way you want them to is not and they are super time consuming if you are going to make more than a dozen.

Here is the exact list of what we used to make the pop and display:

1 9x13 cake -flavor of your choice
1 can of cake frosting in a complimentary flavor
your largest mixing bowl
medium peanut butter cup mold
square thin mint style candy mold
3.25 lbs of white melting chocolate

measuring spoons in 1/2 and 1 teaspoon
lollipop sticks
wax paper
2 standard cookie sheets
2 blocks of Styrofoam
2 cup liquid measuring cup -microwave safe
2 Wilton squeeze bottles
Wilton purple sugar sprinkles

Wilton Heart Drops
grape licorice rope
Airheads bars in White Mystery
pair of scissors
curling ribbon
cello bags
xacto knife
large, painted terracotta pot
shiny, opalized basket filler

Don't bother using anything other than "candy melts", "melting chocolate" or "candy coating" (these are the different names I have seen it go by) for these unless you are schooled in the ways of tempering chocolate. We ran out of "candy melts" and given the hour the only thing we could get our hands on was Lindt white chocolate. I made the mistake of not re-tempering it and not only did it lose its snap and shine but it just did not hold up as well as the "candy melts" the day of the event. Truth be told, I actually preferred the taste of the Merkens than the Lindt for this project but then again I have never been a huge Lindt fan. Also, do yourself a favor and clear out enough space in your freezer to hold the cookie sheet(s) and candy molds. Using the freezer speeds up the set up time and when you're doing this in warmer weather makes it a lot less frustrating.

Let's talk about cake because without the cake, these are just regular old white chocolate lollies. Due to budgetary and time concerns we used a Pillsbury Strawberry cake mix. BIG MISTAKE! First of all, while it may have smelled (to some people, people with stuffy noses) like strawberry it in no way tasted like it. Also, the color was not the bright pink I would associate with strawberry cake. While I did my thing to dress it up (butter instead of oil, hot pink food tint) I just didn't like it. Plus and this is a big plus, the texture was all wrong for this project. You don't want a light, fluffy cake for this you want a dense, moist, heavy cake. I would suggest baking the cake in a loaf pan (or two) ( even if you need as much cake as we did) and baking it at least a day ahead. I think traditional Pound Cake would work awesome for these.

The freezer was so our friend the night we made these! I made the call to deviate from Bakerella's directions and stick these BEFORE we placed them in the peanut butter cup mold and I'm glad we did. Having these little cuties all sticked up made it easier for the person pouring the molds to just plop them right in and move on to the next instead of having to fiddle with getting them just right. Each one used about 1/2 teaspoon of the cake/frosting mixture and even then some of them pushed through the top of the mold (which was okay since it was covered with a square of chocolate.) Here they are all lined up and ready for the freezer where they sat for about two hours in our process (since we ran out of chocolate.) For the plain round ones I would suggest using no more than 2 teaspoons of cake/frosting. The larger ones we made, about a tablespoon of cake, were just too big/heavy to hold up especially once they got warm!

I am really grateful I wasn't making these alone! Those freaking tassels (made from licorice rope and air heads cut and twisted together) would have been the death of me! The Styrofoam blocks were well used both while making the pops and then again when it came time to create the displays. We were able to stage the pops (I think) eight at a time and having a place to stick them upright was helpful for packaging them too! As long as you shoved the stick in deep enough it was stable enough to move them around in case they needed to get popped back in the fridge, which they did. In the end I think these are TOTALLY worth all the hard work that went into them and they seemed to big hit at the BBQ!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cupcakes Are The New Black

It's no secret that cupcakes are hot right now, in fact they have been elevated from a tasty bakery treat to fashion icon. I can't turn my head these days without seeing them on t-shirts, purses, jewelry and even sneakers (man I gotta get me some of those!) But the things I like best about cupcakes are their simplicity and infinite adaptability from afternoon treat to elegant dessert. These are Tye Dye cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream frosting made or a high school graduation BBQ. I wish I could take the credit for inventing such a clever idea but it was Saucy over at bloggedy blog blog who posted about them and where I got the idea.

While I make a ton of stuff from scratch there are times when I need to cut corners and when it's okay to cut corners and cake is one of those things it's okay to use a mix for AS LONG as you use a good cake mix. I only use Duncan Hines. I've tried other brands available at the grocery store and almost every single time I consider the end product to be nothing short of a disaster. Duncan Hines has perfected the cake mix and while I only use their basic flavors* (Chocolate, Devil's Food, Yellow, Marble and White) they make an excellent jumping off point. No matter what kind of pan I bake the batter in I always mix it the same way (except for the white cake mix) box of mix, regular size box of instant pudding in the corresponding flavor, 4 large eggs, 1 C water and 1/3 C melted butter. I put everything in my Kitchen Aid bowl with the paddle attachment, start on "Stir" until blended and then let it go for 2 full minutes on 5 or 6. The batter will increase in volume, thicken and lighten in color if mixed properly. It's important that you follow the mixing directions as it directly contributes to your finished product.

For these particular cupcakes I mixed the White cake mix exactly as the directions said to. I removed 2 cups of the batter and tinted it using Wilton Icing Color (gel formula) in Violet. As you can see it looks pretty dark but when I pulled the cupcakes from the oven they looked pale. If this happens to you DON'T PANIC, they darken up just fine when they cool! I used an ice cream scoop (the same one I always use for cupcakes it holds a little over 2T of batter) and two tablespoons to layer the batter into the silver cupcake liners. I'm not even gonna try to fib here, it was a giant, messy pain to do this! Next time I will simply plop the colored batter on top and use a knife to swirl the same way I do when making a marble cake.

Aren't they cute? They smelled awesome too! IMHO, a cupcake is only as good as its frosting and canned frosting, while it has its uses (DH Cream Cheese Frosting is what I use on my cinnamon rolls because at that hour of the morning there is no way I'm making homemade frosting), just doesn't cut it for me anymore. I am not a cake decorator by any means and I used to get really frustrated because I couldn't make my cupcakes look as awesome as others seemed to be able to do so easily. I learned that they key to the beautiful swirls was the consistency of the frosting. The softer the frosting, the more luscious looking the swirl! In fact, the frosting should be so soft that you fear it melting right off the cupcake.

Vanilla Buttercream

2 sticks unsalted, room temperature butter (really soft but not melted is the key)
2t vanilla
1 t lemon juice
4 C 10x sugar
1/4 t salt
milk to thin

I throw everything in my Kitchen Aid at one time, start on "Stir" so I don't get covered in powdered sugar and then kick it up to 8 and let it go for 5 minutes. If it's too thick I add about a tablespoon of milk. I used a Wilton 1M tip for the frosting swirls and Wilton Pearlized Sugar Sprinkles and Wilton Heart Drops to finish them up. There are a few tips I can give you that I find help me immensely. Before I start frosting I divide the cupcakes into 2 pans that are sturdy enough to be able to carry over to the fridge. When using the 1M tip I found that in addition to the soft consistency of the frosting, holding the tip directly over the cupcake and NOT at any kind of angle gave me the best look. I frosted 4 at a time, sprinkling the sugar and adding the Heart Drops as I went. When one pan was done it immediately went into the fridge to firm up. Firming up the frosting BEFORE transporting is the key to your cupcakes arriving as beautiful as they were freshly frosted in your kitchen.

*I do not use and will never use a mix for things like Carrot Cake, Strawberry Cake, etc. If I am going to make a fruit or vegetable cake I want to use fresh fruit and veggies.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Welcome To "Our House"

Hey there cats and kittens! I'm so happy you've found my brandy spankin' new space on the web where I plan to share all my best recipes and crafty ideas! I hadn't really planned on doing this but over the weekend I helped pull together a rather large BBQ celebration for one of my very favorite people in the entire world and received so much (very kind) interest in the desserts, foods and crafts I made for the event that I thought it was about time to start doing something more public and well, here I am. For the record, no, I am not a professional baker or chef and I presently do not do any kind of commercial party planning. That being said I have rarely, if ever, said no when a friend comes calling for some help or baked goods! Before I roll forward I wanted to cover a few small details.

1.) I am not a photographer and my camera is pretty basic but it's what I have and I do the best I can when it comes to photographing my food and crafts. I am hereby preemptively and in perpetuity apologizing for my less than wonderful photo skills.

2.) Whether you know me IRL or from other places on the interwebs I ask that you please do your best to respect the boundaries of privacy I have set up here at Eat, Craft, Enjoy and not disclose or discuss any of my personal information unless I have already disclosed the same previously.

3.) Please keep your comments family friendly. Don't make me get all delete happy on your behinds!

4.) If I mention a brand by name it's because I either have or am currently using it and NOT a paid plug or advertisement. That being said if I have mentioned your product or website by name I am not adverse to receiving a little love for it. Ahem. ::cough:: King Arthur your flour rocks and I can't buy your European-Style Artisan Bread flour at any of my local grocery stores! ::cough:: Ahem. In the event I am ever preemptively compensated for a product review of any kind the keyword "subsidized review" will appear in the keyword section at the bottom of the post.

I think it's time to call it a day and go find my favorite jammies and a cup of lemon tea. Over the next few weeks I will be republishing recipes and ideas I have shared other places on the Net for the sake of having them all in one place that is my very own and adding tons of new ones. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you stick around. After all it's June and that means my infamous Captain's Blueberry Pie can't be very far away.

Peace, Love and Butter,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Creative Commons Attribution

Most people do not realize that you can't copyright a recipe the same way that you can claim copyright on a poem, song lyrics or photograph. I've seen numerous heated battles, by otherwise very nice, people get completely out of control on this issue, an issue which the U.S. Courts still haven't settled on a position. Typically the Courts have held that an individual recipe lacks sufficient creativity to qualify for copyright. This particular interpretation of Copyright Law holds that a recipe is really a process for creating some edible product, and not a creative expression of the sort copyright law is designed to protect. So what does that mean to you, the person who would like to reprint something from this blog? Here's the deal...

This blog represents a physical collection of my personal photographs, stories, craft projects and recipes that I have amassed in my years on the planet, as well as my thoughts/ponderings/musings on whatever happens to be on my mind on any particular day. Unless otherwise specifically noted you can use my recipes and craft instructions in any non-commercial way you would like as long as you credit it back to me/this blog. Photographs and graphics that belong to me may be used in the same way.


Whether it's friends, extended family or someone I have just met once someone has tasted my cooking or baking I am invariably asked the same questions over and over. Even though this blog is brand new (opening day 6/21/09) I thought I would start with the IRL questions I am asked all the time. As this blog (hopefully) grows I am sure there will be more questions and I will add them from time to time.

1.) Why do very few of your recipes contain "convenience food" items?

Simply put I did not grow up eating convenience foods. It was a rare day in Gram's kitchen when you would find things like Cool Whip or Campbell's Soup and you would never find artificial foods like Velveeta. That's not to say we didn't get the occasional treat of Spaghettios or McDonald's but those were more of a Saturday visit with my Dad thing than anything else. Prepackaged foods simply were not part of my culinary experience as a child. In fact, curious as it seems to some, the first time I ever heard about, let alone tried Kraft Mac & Cheese I was almost twenty years old! As I got older I tried and tinkered with many "convenience foods" and food items and they just aren't my cup of tea.

2.) Butter or margarine?

Butter butter butter butter butter! Why? It just tastes better.

3.) Do you craft or bake professionally?

Not at this time. In my late teens/early twenties (before the advent of the Internet) I had a roaming wearable art business. It was fun, it was rewarding but it was also a ton of work. Moving from venue to venue every weekend after spending the week creating handmade jewelry, clothing and other accessories (hats, shoes, etc.) was not an easy lifestyle. While I have toyed with the idea of opening a cafe/bakery since I was in my mid-twenties, I've never been at a place in my life where I could seriously consider doing it. That being said, if the opportunity were to arise I would absolutely jump for the brass ring!

Last updated 06/21/09

About Me

In my hear of hearts I am a simple girl. I am my Gram's girl. Everything good about me, everything that makes me a decent human is because of her, the woman who never drove a car. My Grandma had a kind word for everyone she met and everyone loved her but no one more than me. I was the apple of her eye and there wasn't a day that went by, from my first memory of knowing her until the end of her days, that she failed to not just tell me, but show me how very much I was loved. She took me to my very first MLB game. We watched The Muppet Show together. At night she would tuck me into bed with the blanket she crocheted me and sing to me. She instilled in me a love of reading, growing things, cooking and baking.

As a child I would sit at the kitchen table and watch her create the most fabulous food my little nose had ever smelled. Toll House cookies, Beef Rouladen, birthday cakes, cheese fondue, Chicken Kiev, blueberry muffins... There was nothing she couldn't make and everything always tasted amazing. And the best part? She always let me lick the spoon! My favorite birthday treat was her chocolate petit fours, each one in a lovely pastel shade of pink, blue or green. At Christmas there were more cookies than any family of four could ever eat. And her cheesecake? In all my life I have yet to find another that looks or tastes like hers! It was tall and melted on your tongue like cotton candy.

When I close my eyes I can still see her standing in the vegetable garden, seersucker shorts and polyester, v-neck sleeveless shirt, gathering tomatoes for canning and sauce. She swore you got the best fruit by planting New Jersey tomatoes in Connecticut soil. There was lettuce, green beans, bell peppers, zucchini, pumpkins and more I have forgotten I am sure. Late afternoon we would sit on the porch under the wisteria and snap beans for supper. During Summer visits to her sisters we would always go crabbing with her gentleman friend, hit the farmer's market and no trip to Jersey was complete without at least one visit to Eat Gud Bakery for what I still affectionately call Chocolate & Vanilla Bread (which is really Marble Bread) and real cream doughnuts!

Now as an adult (and I use the term loosely) I like to think I am just like her. I cook, I bake, I garden and crochet. I always try to have something nice to say about everyone I meet. I know she would love my soul mate, she would keep his plate full and he would gladly clean it each and every time. No matter whose kitchen it is, if I'm in there cooking it becomes the heart of the home filled with love, laughter and lots of good food. Gram would be proud!

Welcome to No One Goes Hungry At Our House, I hope you stick around! Feel free to email with any questions about crafts or recipes or even just to say hi. There's always room for one more at our table!

Peace, Love and Butter,



If a link isn't live yet, it means the recipe has not been published yet (but will be soon).

Pot Roast

Tye Dye Cupcakes (instructions only)
Crocodile/Alligator cupcake cake (tips only)
Boo-ter-fly Mini Cakes
Carrot Cake


“We don't need a law against McDonald's or a law against slaughterhouse abuse--we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.” ― Joel Salatin

A lot of what you will find on this blog is celebration and/or special occasion food. As of June 2012 I am going to try to feature more every day type dishes

I do not advocate people eating rich foods and sweets all the time but I do think they have their place on the family table. I don't think it's my "job" to tell people what to eat or how to eat. This is a personal blog and I am not a doctor or nutritionist.

If you don't like what you see here, don't come here. Don't send me emails telling me I am a bad person because I shared how I made my niece's birthday cake or chocolates.