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Milk Chocolate Cake
Aug 18th, 2011 by Jessica

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A wonderful way to enjoy a Thursday evening. I’m ready for the weekend!

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Cookin’ for the Kitties
Nov 28th, 2010 by Jessica

My kitchen skills are improving slowly.  I’m no longer afraid to cook chicken or pork, and create meals for my husband and I to eat.  I decided to take this new-found skill and make a gourmet meal for our four cats.  Yesterday, I picked up a recipe book for our kitties and went shopping this morning for ingredients.

The stuff in this “gourmet” cat food is not something I ever would have touched before: chicken livers, ground beef, bonemeal, corn oil and iodized salt for starters.  I actually cooked chicken livers.  That means I had to touch them.  Bleh!

Our four cats showed their appreciation by way of sticking their noses to the sky and walking away from their gourmet food bowls, tails in the air.  I was so proud of this fresh home-cooked kitty dinner, but they did eat a single morsel of it.

Oh well.  At least I conquered my kitchen fears and successfully cooked liver and ground beef!  At least, I think I was successful.  Maybe there’s a reason they refused to eat it…  I’ll never know…

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Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies
Nov 21st, 2010 by Jessica

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

File this one under… unique.

We followed a recipe for Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies found at JoyTheBaker.com and they didn’t quite turn out like hers did.  Let’s just say, make sure you don’t use “natural” peanut butter.  Generic processed stuff would work better.  Ours came out way too oily.

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Garlic Pita Chips
Oct 16th, 2010 by Jessica

Garlic Pita Chips

Garlic Pita Chips

Today we snagged a recipe from epicurious.com for Garlic Pita Chips and took a shot at making our own for a snack.  You simply split the pita chips in half and spread on a mixture of butter, garlic and salt before broiling for 2 minutes.

Ours didn’t turn out very crunchy but we were afraid they were going to burn, so out they came at the 2-minute mark.  I tore one up and ate it for a delicious, simple snack. Not exactly healthy, but certainly yummy in moderation.

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Queen Creek Barbeque Festival
Oct 16th, 2010 by Jessica

Inaugural Queen Creek Barbeque Festival

Inaugural Queen Creek Barbeque Festival

This morning we wandered out to the Inaugural Queen Creek Barbeque Festival at the Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre.  The event featured over 40 local BBQ Teams providing samples of their cuisine, followed by a BBQ tasting contest.  One of my goals is to contribute to the community and participate in local events, so this was a fine opportunity for us to get out of the house.

Bark-N-Chickens BBQ Team Booth

Bark-N-Chickens BBQ Team Booth

Bark-N-Chickens BBQ Team Pulled Pork Sample

Bark-N-Chickens BBQ Team Pulled Pork Sample

Unfortunately we showed up a little bit too early.  The event was held from 10am to 6pm and we arrived about 10:15am.  We were about the 5th family to the parking lot, and the first ones to leave.  Most of the pit masters were not ready to give samples yet, but a few of them were on the ball so we stopped to grub up before we left.  We would have gone later but had to be home for a service call on our A/C so it was early or never.

AZ Barbeque Club Booth

AZ Barbeque Club Booth

AZ Barbeque Club Brisket Sample

AZ Barbeque Club Brisket Sample

The first place we stopped was the Bark-N-Chickens BBQ Team booth from Phoenix, Arizona.  We grabbed a sample of their pulled pork with their own BBQ sauce and split it between us.  It was a pretty good pulled pork sample and the BBQ sauce was sweet enough for me to eat.  Andrew seemed to like it, too.

The second place that was ready for customers was the AZ Barbeque Club booth.  We stopped by and they had a nice selection of meats and two sauces to choose from.  We chose the brisket over the pulled pork and ribs, and were very happy with the juicy sample they served up.  Andrew tried both their standard and Honey sauces and both were very good.

As a perk, we got to see the brand new Horseshoe Park which is pretty nice.  The Equestrian Centre seems like a very nice place to view events from their fully shaded bleachers.  We are glad to have been a part of the Inaugural year of this festival, and look forward to going back next year.  We’ll just have to go a little later, when more booths are ready to serve guests some samples.

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Arizona Taco Festival
Oct 9th, 2010 by Jessica

Arizona Taco Festival

Arizona Taco Festival

Andrew and I took a drive down to the Scottsdale Waterfront this morning to attend the Arizona Taco Festival.  We got there just after they opened at 10am and had to wait in line for a few minutes with a few hundred other Taco lovers.  After we showed our ID’s, got a stamp and went through security, we paid our $10 entry fee each.  Andrew picked up 5 tickets at $2 each, which could be traded for food samples at the booths.  Instead of enjoying the food, I decided to capture Andrew’s tasting adventure on camera so I could share it with you.  Aren’t you lucky?!

After making our way past all of the booths, we round our way back to the start where Andrew could choose a few samples to try.  There were about 25 booths in all, each representing a different local taco shop.  After it was all over, Andrew happily declared his favorite and decided which were the best and not-so-good tacos of the day.

Beef Taco at El Toro

Beef Taco at El Toro

#5: Beef Taco from El Toro Barbeque

El Toro should stick to barbeque, as their brisket taco was below average.  This was not a great taco by any means.

Salsa and Pulled Pork Taco at Mi Salsa and Catering

Salsa and Pulled Pork Taco at Mi Salsa and Catering

#4: Salsa and Pulled Pork Taco at Mi Salsa and Catering

A standard pork taco with some flavor, but wasn’t anything special.  The salsa was their mild variety but was still a bit on the hot side.

Braised Short Rib Taco at Blanco Tacos

Braised Short Rib Taco at Blanco Tacos

#3: Braised Short Rib Taco at Blanco Tacos

This taco had a nice flavorful beef taste with a little bit of white sauce, making it a good beef taco overall.  It was not hot or spicy.

Fish Taco at San Felipes Cantina

Fish Taco at San Felipes Cantina

#2: Fish Taco at San Felipes Cantina

A nice piece of battered white fish with a standard cabbage dressing.  This taco was satisfying with a good flavored fish while most are bland.  This one hit the spot as far as fish tacos go.

Slow Cooked Chicken Taco at Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos

Slow Cooked Chicken Taco at Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos

#1: Slow Cooked Chicken Taco at Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos

With corn salsa, this sweet chicken taco on a triangle tortilla was the best one sampled at the Festival.  Carte Blanche is a food truck that travels around the Phoenix area.  Check them out on Facebook or Twitter to see where they are today.

So there you have it: Andrew’s ratings of the five taco stands that he happened to try at today’s Arizona Taco Festival.  There were so many to choose from that it was difficult to decide where to grab a sample.  We opted mainly for the most friendly staff or the most unique or yummy-sounding ingredients if they were listed.  Overall it was a bit expensive at $30 for 30 minutes, but a fun adventure and a great way to sample some delicious food from around the Valley all in one place.

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Graham Cracker S’mores Cookies
Oct 3rd, 2010 by Jessica

Thanks to a very delicious recipe from Bakergirl, we made Graham Cracker S’Mores Cookies this evening.  They are super delicious and I highly recommend anyone with a love of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows to make this recipe!

Essentially, it is a chocolate chip and marshmallow cookie baked on top of a graham cracker, adding a piece of Hershey chocolate bar and an extra marshmallow for toasting halfway through the baking process.

This cookie is perfectly balanced between crunchy and gooey, cookie and chocolate.  It is true cookie paradise!

Graham Cracker S'mores Cookies

Graham Cracker S'mores Cookies

You can find the recipe and more pictures at Bakergirl’s website.

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Healthy Fudgesicles
Oct 2nd, 2010 by Jessica

Homemade Fudgesicle and Creamsicle

Homemade Fudgesicle and Creamsicle

Got your attention, didn’t I?

Okay so they aren’t exactly healthy but they aren’t that bad considering the alternatives available on the shelf today. As many of my friends and family know, I have joined Weight Watchers Online and am finding it a lot easier than I thought it would be.

We picked up some star shaped popsicle molds (Tovolo, $20) from the local kitchen store (our favorite is Sur La Table).  The mold holds 6 popsicles at a time. I made up a WW-friendly Fudgesicle mix and filled half, and a yummy Creamsicle mix for Andrew (with regular ingredients like vanilla ice cream and orange juice). We just tried them and they are really good!

Trust me – I never would have thought the Fudgesicles would be good, but they are excellent. Here is the recipe I used.

Healthy Fudgesicles
1.4 oz box sugar free/fat free chocolate Jello pudding mix
1 cup Silk Light soy milk (Regular or Vanilla)
1/3 cup Fat Free Evaporated Milk
1 tbsp sugar (or substitute Splenda)

Healthy Fudgesicle Ingredients

Healthy Fudgesicle Ingredients

Mix the pudding with the Silk, then add the evaporated milk and sugar. Pour into mold and freeze for 4 hours.

The entire mix has about 330 calories, 2g of fat, and 3 grams of fiber. It makes about 3 large popsicles which come out to be about 2 Weight Watchers POINTS each. Of course if your molds are smaller you would need to calculate for that. If you used Splenda you could cut out another 45 calories.  They are much denser than other popsicles so it took a bit of coaxing and hot water to get them out of the molds, but all the struggles were worth it in the end. :)

Enjoy!

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Caramelized Peanut Clusters
Sep 26th, 2010 by Jessica

Caramelized Peanut Clusters

Caramelized Peanut Clusters

This morning we tried a recipe found on eatmakeread for Caramelized Peanut Clusters.  They were pretty easy to make and are quite delicious!  If you like peanuts with cinnamon and sugar, you will love this recipe.

It took about 30-40 minutes to make it on the stove top.  At one point we thought we had done something terribly wrong because the mixture literally turned into sand.  We continued to follow the recipe though and let it cook for a few minutes longer.  Eventually, a dark caramelized pool of goodness started to form and we mixed it all over the peanuts.

A simple roll out onto parchment paper and a little poking a prodding with the spatula, and we were pleasantly surprised with a whole tray of crunchy sweet goodness!

Yum!

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Baking and Icing Cakes: Tips for Beginners
Sep 3rd, 2010 by Jessica

My Simple Birthday Cake

My Simple Birthday Cake

Whether you use a boxed mix with canned icing, or the freshest ingredients from scratch, yummy cakes are always a welcome treat.  The occasional cake makes its way out of my kitchen, and many people jump at the chance for a slice when I make the effort.  I will be the first to admit that I’m no baking expert.  I don’t do this for a living or even an extensive hobby. Over the years I have picked up on a few things that might just help a beginner out there get the most out of their first few cake-making experiences.

I have taken all of the Wilton courses and have made a few elaborate cakes such as the Wilton Course II Final Basket Cake, the incredibly intensive Course III Final Tiered Wedding Cake with over 60 fondant roses, a basic Fondant and Chocolate Rose Cake, elaborate Cupcakes with Chocolate Candies, a Haunted Graveyard Cake, and even our infamous Optimus Prime Transformer cake in Vehicle Mode. Still, I don’t pretend to be any good at it.  If the cake is yummy, my job is done.

If you read this post and you have an idea for how to do things better/faster/yummier/prettier, by all means I would love to see your comments below!  First, a sincere word of warning for all of my readers: I like icing.  A lot of icing.  I also waste a lot of cake when I make my cakes, but that’s just because it gives me an excuse to eat the excess tops while I’m baking.  Yum!  I also don’t like fondant, not because it doesn’t look beautiful but because I hate the texture.  I usually steer clear of it on edible cakes, and use it for presentation when the look of the cake really matters.

Tips for Baking

I am a huge fan of all things Wilton, including their cake pans and the Wilton Yearbooks (which I often pick up at used bookstores on the cheap).  I assure you, I don’t work for Wilton, although it may sound like it from the way I lust after their products.  I always follow the instructions that comes with the pans for my cakes to see how much batter to put in each pan, and how long to bake it.  I often weigh my batter  with a kitchen scale to ensure it is as close as possible to the same in each pan.  I have a variety of 2- and 3-inch deep pans in 6″, 8″, 10″ rounds, squares and oval sizes.  With a pair of pans in each size you can combine any number of them to make any shape you want.

Cooling the Cakes
Cooling the Cakes

Once you bake your cakes, one of the most important steps is how you cool them down.  If you don’t do it right, your cakes will either stick to the pan, stick to the rack, or might even fall apart.  Here is my method for cooling a cake:

  1. Remove the cake from the oven and check it with a toothpick.  If it comes out clean from the center, the cake is done.  Be careful not to over-bake the cake or it will come out dry.  If it’s still wet in the center, give it another minute or two in the oven and check it again.
  2. Once done, leave the cake in the pan to cool for 5 minutes.  No less, no more – 5 minutes is the key here.  Take them out right away and they will fall apart because they haven’t had time to set up yet.  Wait 10 minutes and it might stick to the pan.  Set a timer for 5 minutes and hang around nearby.
  3. Once 5 minutes has lapsed, use a thin decorating spatula to run around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake.
  4. Grab 2 sets of 2 paper towels, leaving each set connected.  This will give you two two-layer paper towels.
  5. Place one set of paper towels over top of the cake that is still in its pan.  Place your wire cooling rack upside down on top of that.
  6. Quickly flip the whole thing – cake pan, paper towels and cooling rack – upside down and gently remove the cake pan.  It should come off perfectly clean if you waited 5 minutes for it to cool in the pan.  You will end up with an upside-down cake on a set of paper towels, on top of the cooling rack.
  7. Start a timer for 2 minutes and wait nearby.
  8. When 2 minutes are up, take the second set of paper towels and place it on top of your cake, which is currently upside down.  Pull the bottom set of paper towels onto your hand and flip the cake, placing it back on the cooling rack with the paper towels still underneath.  Now your cake is right-side-up and sitting on another set of paper towels.  Gently peel off the original set of paper towels and keep them nearby.  Be careful doing this because sometimes the paper towel will adhere to the top of the cake a little bit, especially if you left it sitting on that set too long.
  9. Start a timer for 2 minutes again, and repeat the last step.  Keep doing this every few minutes for about 15 minutes, or until the cake has cooled down dramatically.  It seems like a lot of effort, but it works.  The paper towels keep the cooling rack from indenting your cake, and they soak up excess moisture which makes it easier to frost later.
  10. When the cakes are cooled, make sure they rest right-side-up until you are ready to frost them.

Tips for Icing

Cake Leveler
Leveling a Cake

A cake leveler is a must for anyone who wants to make layered cakes.  It is basically a piece of flexible wire that is taught between a wire frame with a handle on top.  It looks sort of like a hacksaw and it’s used to hack the top of your cake off to make it easier to layer more than one cake together.

This is where I get wasteful with my cakes.  I hack the tops off completely, just under the “hard line” where the edges are crusty.  Many people don’t go this far down on the cake, instead choosing to fill up the uneven tops with icing.  It’s up to you.

If you want to get a smoother surface to ice on, find the cake with the lowest salvagable point and set the cake leveler to that point.  Use that same height to cut all of your cakes so they are all exactly the same.  For example, if you’re making a two-tier cake with three layers each you’ll be working with six cakes.  Each cake should be the same height to help keep it level and easy to ice.  Any “top cake” can be put on a plate and munched on during the rest of the process.  If you’re into that kind of thing… :)

Two tiers of iced cakes, ready for decorating
Two tiers of iced cakes, ready for decorating

There are a bazillion books and tutorials on how to ice a cake, so I won’t go into much detail here.  You can use an air can to clean off the cake so all the crumbs are removed before you start icing.  The only tip I really have is to always use more icing than you think you’ll need, because it’s much easier to ice when you don’t run out of icing.  That can cause you to accidentally uproot chunks of cake and get crumbs all over the place.  You can always remove excess icing from the base if you have too much at the end.

Tips for Decorating

My favorite thing to decorate cakes with are icing roses and candy melts.  The standard Wilton Rose can be created  ahead of time from stiff buttercream and stored in the freezer until they are placed on your cake.  Take a look at any of the Wilton decorating books for instructions on how to create the Wilton Rose.  It’s so much easier than you might think!

Candy melts are also great for decorating cakes.  Wilton makes hundreds of candy molds and candy colors and flavors to create elaborate candies.  I use the ceramic decorating cups and food grade paint brushes to hand paint chocolate molds with various colors.  These lightweight edible creations are great for placing on the sides and top of cakes for a splash of color.

Video Icing Example

Here is a video I posted on YouTube to help beginners learn one easy method to ice a cake.  And before you say it, yes, I KNOW I use a lot of frosting. Yum!  Oh yeah, and please ignore the cheesy background music.  There is no real audio to speak of.  (Get it? To speak of?  Hardy-har har!  Nevermind.)

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you.  If you have tips to share, be sure to leave a comment below so I (and other visitors) can learn from your expertise!

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© 2013 Jessica M. Green