Category: Cooking

Dinner Confessions

An open letter to my family:

I’d like to apologize for the meal I’ve prepared for tonight’s dinner. Out of the approximately 500 meals I cook and serve in any given year, it’s to be expected that a few will be not so awesome. Tonight is one of those meals.

In my haste to prepare the meatloaf I’d planned for tonight, I neglected to add any seasonings whatsoever to the ground beef. I did remember to put it in the meatloaf pan and pop it in the oven for about an hour. What you’ll find in the kitchen looks very little like the meatloaf you’ve come to expect from me and a great deal more like “old brown shoe.” Looks aren’t everything, folks, so I’d suggest you refrain from making comments about its appearance — unless you are planning to volunteer to make dinner for the next three weeks.

Please trust me when I say it is entirely edible and safe to consume. In fact, you could consider it a blank canvas, just waiting for the condiment of your choice to lend it flavor. Seriously, go grab some kind of condiment out of the fridge and pour it on because you’re getting overcooked, plain ground beef for dinner. At least the mashed potatoes have garlic in them (I bought them that way).

xoxo,
me

Cupcakes=Love

My obsession with cupcakes doesn’t appear to be diminishing. I just can’t help myself. They’re so small and cute and delicious. Plus? They’re pretty much made for sharing. I could probably make a batch every day if I weren’t afraid that all the sampling would undo all the hours I’ve spent at the gym the past 18 months.

We celebrated Easter with some friends again this year and I opted to bring some cupcakes to the potluck supper. My favorite was definitely the Devil’s Food with Peanut Butter Frosting but the Chai Honey disappeared twice as fast, so I think other folks loved them even more.

Both recipes are in the book Cupcakes: Luscious bakeshop favorites from your home kitchen by Shelly Kaldunski. I’ve made a good number of the recipes in this book and haven’t been disappointed yet. I particu;arly like the buttercream recipe, which has turned out perfectly every time.

Sweet Goodbyes

I come by my craft addiction via my mother, who tried anything and everything under the sun. Back in the day (and by “the day” I mean the 1980s), she even experimented with molding chocolates and shared some of her supplies and expertise with me. OK, maybe “shared” isn’t quite the right word. More like “I snuck into her supplies and used them when she wasn’t home.”

Thanks to Bakerella, I’ve been making regular trips to the Cake Art Party Store. It is ridiculously close to my house. Maybe dangerously close, especially since I can never walk out of there with less than a dozen things. (Again glad that Honey does not read my blog!)

I stopped in this week to pick up something and stumbled upon the cutest chocolate sewing mold. Knew immediately it would be an awesome gift for my friend Clare, whose last day at the quilt shop was today. So, in spite of the fact that I had zero time to do it and a lack of supplies, I decided to make her an edible sewing box.

The results would have been a great deal better had I taken my time and used the right supplies. A small brush is really necessary to paint the mold with the colored chocolate, especially those tiny thread spools. I didn’t think it was too bad, given that the last time I played with chocolate was when I was a teenager (and, no, we are not going to talk about how long ago that was).

I took it to Clare at the shop today and totally blew her away. “It’s too cute to eat!” she said. And then popped a tiny spool of thread in her mouth. (Yes, it tastes as good as it looks!)

That’s the kind of goodbye I can handle. The sweet kind.

Little Yummies

I love baking. Measuring, mixing, pouring, cooling, tasting. Every part of the process is just this awesome combination of relaxing and rewarding.

I’ve been a little fixated on cupcakes lately. OK, “a little fixated” is a bit of an understatement. “Completely obsessed” is likely more accurate. But they’re just the perfect little treat! Easy to make, fun to decorate, just the right size for a sweet, singular indulgence.

I was beyond excited when my new cookbook — Cupcakes: Luscious Bakeshop Favorites from Your Home Kitchen by Shelly Kaldunski — arrived last week. I thumbed through it, drooling over the beautiful pictures and appetizingly named recipes.

Luckily for me, I had a great reason to try out the new addition: My son’s 19th birthday was Thursday and we had a trip planned to see him at college. Of course, I had trouble narrowing down which recipe to try so I decided to make three different types of cupcakes to take with us. Each recipe only makes one dozen cupcakes, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal. And the kid does live in a dorm, with plenty of friends who likely would love to help him scarf down a cupcake or three.

After consulting with the other two kids, I narrowed down the choices to PB&J cupcakes, Salted Caramel cupcakes and Black & White cupcakes (which featured a yummy cheesecake center).

Here’s the part in the story where I go off on a little tangent and tell you that I learned three very important lessons while making these cupcakes:

1. A cooling rack full of cupcakes is apparently irresistible to my cat, who nibbled off the tops of two of them while I took Miss L to preschool that morning.

2. Our beautiful, sweet greyhound discovered that her snout is at the perfect height to snatch cupcakes off the butcher block while they are cooling. Another two gone, including cupcake papers.

3. The chickenese is not content to let her big little sister eat all the goodies and can, in fact, knock a cupcake off the butcher block and onto the floor by jumping up and down vigorously enough. No lie. (This is actually how we discovered the greyhound’s cupcake pilfering.)

*sigh*

The cupcakes were amazingly good. Like, so good that I can’t believe I handed over the boxes to my kid and let him have them all.

The Black & White cupcakes were the most challenging, mostly because the centers tried to fall out through the bottoms when I took the cupcakes out of the pan (they aren’t cooked in liners). The Salted Caramel required the most work, since the buttercream has caramel swirled into it and that had to be cooked from scratch. Well worth the effort, though, although we all though they didn’t really need the chocolated-dipped caramel on top of them. I used my favorite seedless raspberry jam with the PB&J cuppies, plus some organic peanut butter in the frosting. I’ll probably use regular peanut butter the next time I make them to see how it compares.

My only complaint is that the directions say to “distribute evenly” when filling the cupcake pan, even with the cheesecake filling of the Black & White cupcakes. It would have been a bit more helpful to give an amount for people like me who are a little challenged in the dividing-batter/filling department.

We ended up with leftover frosting and chocolate glaze, so I made a batch of Devil’s Food Cupcakes today. I topped them with the rest of the peanut butter frosting and then did three with the Gooey Chocolate Glaze. They were just as delicious as the others — only I get to enjoy them a little longer.

Krispy Cupcake

Do you ever get a wacky idea and decide to try it? That’s sort of the impetus behind this giant Rice Krispy Treat Cupcake “Cake.”

I bought this giant Wilton cupcake cake pan on clearance at Target more than a year ago. It’s been sitting on the shelf, completely unused, which is kind of par for the course for me.

And then inspiration struck. “What if I make some Rice Krispy Treats and use them in the cupcake pan? I bet that would be so darned cool!”

Not sure about the coolness of it but it’s definitely different. (I live in fear of seeing this pop up on Cake Wrecks. Seriously.)

The pan has two separate wells, one for the base of the cupcake and one for the frosting. I used almost an entire batch of Cocoa Krispy Treats for the frosting and a little more for the original RKT in the base side. Before I started filling, I buttered the heck out of the pan, which I think was the only way that sucker would have come out of there.

I layered the leftover bits in a bundt pan and ended up with a “chocolate frosted” Rice Krispy Treat bundt cake. It did require making an additional batch of originals. Oh, the sacrifices I must make.

It was much easier to get the two pieces of the “cupcake” to stick together than I expected. I unmolded them before they’d cooled down all the way through. They were firm enough to hold the shape but with just enough warmth in the center to stick together nicely.

I used some royal icing to delineate the lines on the “cupcake liner” and swirl around the top. I think that turned out OK but not so fabulous that I’d do it again. Better idea than execution, maybe. Didn’t take away from the taste, though. Yummy!

Burn, Baby, Burn

I like my new microwave. It’s shiny and clean and pretty and not on fire.

Yes, I said “not on fire.” Because my last microwave? Died rather spectacularly yesterday, with flames and everything.

I’d noticed a few months ago that our microwave sometimes added time to whatever we’d set. Annoying, for sure, but nothing untoward happened and it stopped almost as soon as it had started, so we figured it was just an aberration. Or maybe my imagination, suggested my husband. Yeah, right.

Yesterday morning, Honey put his breakfast sandwich in the microwave as usual. And, as usual, he walked off to do something else while it cooked; in this case, he went to our bedroom at the back of the house to do some work on the computer. I was in the living room, trying to catch up on email before Miss L and I took off for the gym.

About the time I smelled something, I realized that I’d never heard the microwave stop running. “Hey, Honey! What are you cooking out here? The microwave hasn’t shut off yet.”

I should probably point out that I was on the other side of the wall from the kitchen yet did not pry my expansive behind off the couch to check myself. Instead, I waited for my husband to check on it, which involved a somewhat slow mosey from the bedroom to the kitchen where he found his breakfast in FLAMES. Real, honest-to-goodness flames. And smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. I could hear all this huffing and blowing and coughing on the other side of the wall, not that I interrupted my precious Internet time to go and see what was actually going on. Instead, I started quizzing my husband, asking for a play by play while he could barely catch his breath from all the smoke. Oh, and he was trying to put out a fire with his own breath because we don’t own a fire extinguisher.*

We are incredibly lucky because the extent of the damage was one microwave (a hand-me-down from my parents) and a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich. Poor Honey has endured lots of jokes at his expense, even though it really wasn’t his fault. As for me, I lucked out and found a bigger, fancier microwave on clearance (50 percent off!) at Target.

If only the burnt microwave smell would go away …

*Yes, I’m rectifying that.

Gobble Gobble

Our Thanksgiving this year will be one unlike any other my daughter has experienced in her short life.

I’m cooking.

Now, for most of my adult life, I’ve cooked and served Thanksgiving dinner for our family. There were a few years pre-kids and after the boys were born that we had dinner at this or that grandparent’s home but those mostly ended after we moved to Florida 12-plus years ago.

I love making big dinners, even if it’s just for the four (now five) of us. During our law school years, we’d invite other students who wouldn’t be traveling for the holiday. It was so much fun and we have a lot of great memories from those occasions.

That all changed when Miss L arrived on the scene a month before Thanksgiving 2004. Honey knew I’d have my hands full with caring for a newborn and he didn’t want me to overdo it just weeks after having my third C-section. He insisted we eat Thanksgiving dinner out. At a restaurant.

And it was wonderful. A full buffet of goodies, no dishes to clean, no hot pans to juggle, no leftovers to tempt me into overeating for days after. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we decided it would be a new family tradition — which would be continuing this year had the restaurant we’d agreed was perfect not turned into a special events facility. sigh

Not that it would have mattered this year, since we made plans to spend Thanksgiving with my folks at their home in South Carolina. Only … their plans changed because of my stepmom’s health and we found ourselves struggling to find a replacement dinner spot. It took a little work, but I convinced Honey that it would be no big deal for me to cook dinner this year. I had to promise that I wouldn’t go overboard, so no appetizers and only two desserts (and one of those is — gasp! — Sara Lee). Oh, and I have to make his favorite green bean casserole (I won’t tell you what I call it but it includes the word ‘slimy’).

Best of all, I have an excuse to make Aunt Marlene’s famous Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my family cookbook opens to that page. It’s as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and dressing (and I make it every year around this time, along with a pan of Granny’s dressing because it’s just not November without them both). Try it; you’ll be just as addicted as the five of us.

Aunt Marlene’s Sweet Potato Casserole
1/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar
3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup margarine
2 eggs, beaten
Mix all ingredients and pour into a 9″x12″ baking dish. Then mix ingredients for topping and put on top of casserole. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
Topping
1 cup brown sugar, packed (I like dark brown sugar but that’s my personal preference)
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 stick butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup flour
Mix flour and sugar. Spread over potato mixture. Sprinkle pecans over flour and sugar mixture. Pour melted butter or margarine over all.

Thankful: My seam ripper. Grrrr.

Comical Not Conical

Well, my first croquembouche may rate a  “3” in the looks department but it definitely scored a “10” for taste.

I don’t know why I got it in my head that this thing needed to be my birthday cake this year, but I was bound and determined to make it happen.

The cream puffs and custard were easy; I’ve been making those since I was a teenager. The caramel blond? Not so much.

I ruined the first two batches. As in, wasn’t-sure-if-my-pots-were-going-to-recover ruined. Really just an ugly mess. And frustrating. I gave up on the Gale Gand recipe and pulled my trusty Mastering the Art of French Pastry from the bookshelf for a different recipe. Much better that time although still not perfect. Although I did have an unfortunate incident that involved burning the tips of two fingers when I tried to retrieve a dropped cream puff with my bare hand. Brilliant move, if I do say so myself. I’m hoping the blisters will be gone by Thursday because I want to get a mani before I leave for Houston.

The croquembouche is supposed to be a bit more vertical than this. I’m blaming the poor shaping on my burnt fingers, since I’m right handed and was hampered by the discomfort. The guests at my little surprise shindig did not mind and proclaimed it quite tasty. I’d have to agree.