Friday, March 18, 2011

Fun with Fondant (and CAKE!)- Round #2

Last weekend I decided to do another test cake to prepare for M's 1st birthday fiesta. I wanted to try to make a cake recipe from scratch, practice putting the fondant on the cake again, and try attaching some cut-outs to make sure they would adhere nicely to the cake.  I had leftover fondant from my first attempt that I had stored in the refrigerator by coating it in Crisco and then wrapping it in saran wrap and placing in a ziplock freezer bag.

I first made a Butter Cake using a recipe I found on Wilton's website.  The recipe called for both almond and vanilla extract, but I found the almond extract overpowered the cake and I will eliminate it when I make M's party cake and double the vanilla extract instead.  This cake is pretty heavy and should be good for stacking.  It was also quite moist.  I think it'll be delicious without the overpowering almond flavoring.  I didn't test the filling (I'm just going to wing it), but I'll be making a Strawberry Cream Filling to go in the layers of her cake.  She's already had pureed and whole strawberries, so I'm not worried about allergies with her.  I was going to make a raspberry filling, but I think it'll be easier and less time consuming to just double the strawberry filling recipe and make only that.
Once the cake had cooled, I leveled with a serrated knife (the cake slicer I bought, SUCKED!) and frosted it with buttercream frosting.  I took the fondant out of the fridge in the morning and didn't work with it until evening so it had time to warm to room temperature.  It was so much easier to work with coming out of the refrigerator rather than straight from being mixed.  The first time I placed fondant on the cake it took me 5 attempts.  This time I did it on the first try!  I used some star cookie cutters to make some fondant cutouts and practiced applying them to the cake.  I just dabbed my finger in some water and applied it to the cutout and then stuck it to the side of the cake and they held fast. One thing I have to remember to do before I decorate the cake is to wipe it down with a teeny bit of water to get the confectioners sugar used while rolling it out off the cake as it leaves a powdery look to the fondant.

I have a cake decorating kit from Pampered Chef that I dug out and practiced writing with.  The writing tip is a little wide so the lettes are pretty thick, but I think it'll still work.  I plan on just writing Mariela's name on the cake board as more of a decoration instead of writing directly on the cake.  I feel much more confident now that I'll be successful making her cake now that I've practiced twice.  I had a bad dream a couple weeks ago that it was time to sing "Happy Birthday" to her and I realized I forgot to make the cake!  Perhaps, I was worried about it subconsciously?!  Stay tuned because the next post will be the finished product and I also made a 2nd smaller 6" cake (see below) that I let M smash for an impromptu photo shoot which turned out adorable. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Digging to America" by Anne Tyler

Disclaimer: This is my opinion and mine only.  Take it with a grain of salt or a cup of coffee...however you'd prefer.  :)

I recently joined an online book club with my fellow March 2010 due date Mommies.  We're all in the same boat of juggling growing toddlers, work, and home life while wanting to still make the time to persue our own interests.  Reading has always been a joy of mine, but I've let it slip to the wayside in the past few years for other endeavours (i.e. mostly internet surfing, grad school, baby raising, house cleaning, and flat out laziness).  Well, it's about time I went back to basics and read a real book with a spine and pages that smell like a library- you know that musty paper smell that can be oh so addictive?  Our club picks one book a month to read and then we discuss online in a chat room on the 15th of each month.  Each mom gets to pick a book of their choice for the group to read.  February 15th was our official start date.

Last month, I joined my local library and was pleased to find out I still remembered how to use a catalog system to find the first book on our list on the shelf.  Luckily, it was in stock and I checked out my first book from the library since perhaps I was a middle school student!  I hope to show M the ropes of the library as I partake in this book club and when she's a bit older, I'll even get her a library card of her own and we can make visiting the library a regular thing.

The first book on our list was Digging to America by Anne Tyler.  I didn't even read the description of the book before I picked it up, so I had no idea what it was about.  Come to find out, the first chapter opened with the adoption of two Korean girls and their families waiting for them as the plane arrived at the airport.  I cried.  Not from sadness, but from joy.  I know it's just a story and the words really weren't even that moving, but adoption is close to my heart and I can imagine the joy of couples in real life who get to experience this momentous occasion.

After the first chapter, I felt the book moved rather slowly and it was hard to get through the next few chapters.  By the time I made it to chapter 7, it became an easier read and I flew through the last few chapters.  I didn't quite get the closure I look for at the end of a novel, but the book was okay.  It was a great story of adoption and family.  There was also some culture mixed in with a lot of reference to Iranian and Korean traditions which I found interesting.  I like that fact that it implied that family wasn't just a mom, dad, two and a half kids, and a house with a white picket fence.  Families come in all different forms.  Would I recommend this book to others?  Possibly, but it wouldn't be on the top of the list.

Stay tuned for my next review:  Book #2 is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and needs to be completed by April 15th.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's My Party, & I'll Cry If I Want To!

I can't believe I'm officially IN my thirties now.  It feels weird when I realize I am old enough now to have a husband, a daughter, my own house to clean and care for, my own flower and veggie gardens, a car, a job that I've been at for 5 years and counting, I've had time and money to travel the world, I'm done with school after getting a Masters degree, and I could go on.  Wasn't it just yesterday that I was playing M.A.S.H. with my bestfriends and thinking that turning 18 was so old?!  Yet here I am with a few stray strands of grey hair (yes, I looked and I even pulled a few out...I so hope that Old Wives Tale isn't true and that they don't multiply now), a husband of almost 2 1/2 years, a beautiful daughter, a home we built together from the dirt up (crazy!!), two cocker spaniels, a good career, and ::gasp:: a life.  Where did the time go and how did I reach my thirties so quickly?!

Alas, I'm not going to cry on this birthday!  It's actually been a great day.  I got to spend time with my family and shared cake with my coworkers.  A.R. & M took me out to dinner at Red Lobster.  Can you believe that in my 31 years I had never eaten there before?!  It was delicious.  I had scallops, shrimp, lobster, stuffed mushrooms, and the cheddar biscuits.  OMG, heaven is a cheddar biscuit from Red Lobster.  I totally see now why my Food Network Magazine did an article with a recipe trying to replicate those golden rounds of delicious in one of their very first issues (Note to self: FIND that article!).  A.R. gave me a smooch and a great big hug- God, his hugs are addictive- and said there's more to come, but he needed an extra couple days because he's been buried at work and trying to recover our lost harddrive at home.  I told him I'm okay...I got to spend time with him and our daughter and that's plenty...especially considering the sweet camera I just got as my new toy last month (Canon EOS Rebel T2i).  Little does he know how much the new lenses, tripod, speedlite, and other accessories I want are going to cost and add up to over time. He, he, he. :P

Here's hoping I have at least another 31 years to spend with my husband and daughter as we grow as a family and hopefully add to it someday.  A.R.- You are the best husband a girl could dream of.  I'm so very thankful and blessed that we found each other and said "I do".  I hope you know how much I love you. M- You are an angel from heaven, my precious baby girl.  I love watching you grow and learn new things.  Your developing personality makes me smile and I look forward to each new day with you.  Dream big baby girl and know that even in a few years when I have more grey hairs and am embarssing you, I will always love you and you will always be my baby girl.

Happy Birthday to me!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

She's been pierced!

At long last I got the all clear from A.R. to get M's ears pierced.  Thank you to the half dozen or so strangers that commented on what a cute little boy we had. :)  Of course there were stipulations in order to get said piercings...he didn't want to be there (he doesn't want her to think HE caused the pinches she'd feel in her ears), it's my job to clean them, and I should just "get it done".  Well, get it done- I did!
Unrolling the exam room paper is AWESOME.
I scheduled an appointment last week to have it done at our pediatrician's office yesterday on my day off from work.  M was fast asleep when we first arrived at the doctor's office and I thought they'd take advantage of her slumber to at least mark the earring spots on her ears while she slept.  No dice.  We had to wait for an infant room with a higher table and by the time it was open, M had woken up.  Of course she was all smiles and cheerful until the pediatrician took out the pen and tried to mark her ears.  She started crying as soon as we tried to hold her still.  What can I say?  My girl is a free spirit already and hates restriction.
Oh sweet, unsuspecting gal
After we had the dots marked and parent approved a nurse came in and we laid M on the exam table.  I held down her arms, while the nurse held her head, and the doctor did piercing number one in a second.  They gave her a break to recoup and I gave her, her paci and a cuddle and then we braced for ear #2.  We had her down, but the piercing gun jammed.  The doctor pulled the trigger, but it wouldn't go so we were holding M down a bit longer than she liked and she got pissed.  Finally, after what seemed like hours (more like 15 seconds) her 2nd hole was done and she cuddled with me, sniffling, with her paci.  The doctor handed me the instructions for cleaning her piercings, which M promptly took from me.  She bawled every time I tried to take the instructions away from her, so I think she thought it was like a lollipop for a job well done. :)
I tried to take the instructions away from her and it brought on more tears...OOPS! (the black on her forehead are ashes from Ash Wed)
By the time we got home she was back to her normal self and playing with her dogs and all her toys.  A.R. got out of school early last night or he wouldn't have seen her until this morning.  As soon as he opened the door he noticed her earrings and said, "What did you do?!  Oh my goodness, you did it.  Why did you pick those earrings?!"  Yes, his first thought was that he didn't like the plain gold studs the pedi's office provided.  He then of course promptly apologized to her, cuddled her, and said it was all my fault and my idea.  I told him he could pick her out her first teeny tiny diamond studs next year and at the same time buy her mommy a larger matching adult version if he didn't like the gold studs that much. :P  Today, she didn't even notice her earrings until I cleaned them morning and night.  My mother-in-law gushed over them and thinks she looks even more like a girl now...her challenge is keeping my nephew, J, away from them when I'm at work as he has an ear fetish and likes to pull other peoples ears when he's sleepy.  No joke, the kid is funny (he's 1 1/2).
Ready to go home back in the waiting room with her pretty ears.
Baby girl, you are beautiful with or without your adorable tiny earrings.  I hope you forgive me for helping to hold you down while the piercings were done...I know one day you'll like the fact I didn't make you wait to get your ears pierced until you were older.  Trust me.  That's a good thing...your Mama got her ears done when she was older and it took a long time for them to heal as I always played with them or showed my friends and they were constantly infected.  I love you my angel.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fun with Fondant

M's first birthday is fast approaching and after going a little crazy with the decor for her baby Minnie Mouse themed partay I decided it was time to reel in the spending.  I priced fondant cakes for Alexi's 30th birthday back in September and was shocked at the sticker prices, but still wanted something nice for M's party.  After doing some research and talking to a few people I know that are avid bakers, I decided to do a test run with fondant and see how it turned out.
I made a lump of fondant!
I did my test run just after Valentine's Day by making a test cake for Alexi.  I made marshmellow fondant using the recipe from Wilton's website and was surprised at how easy it was.  I even dyed it pink (after melting the marshmellow, but before adding in the confectioners sugar) with no problems.  If you attempt fondant yourself, just make sure you put lots of Crisco on your hands (take off any jewelry if you don't usually while cooking) and on all sides of your fingers as the marshmellow is super sticky before you mix in a decent amount of confectioners sugar to form more of a dough ball.
Rolling out the fondant
My cake turned out a hundred times better than I thought it would even if it was a bit lop-sided (I bought a gadget that will eliminate that issue going forward).  Making the fondant was easy and even working with it and rolling it out was, too.  The hard part was getting the rolled fondant from counter to cake.  I'm not going to took me 5 attempts and a few swear words before I got it.  Lucky for me I have enough fondant leftover to do one more practice run before her party to make sure I have my technique down.  The marshmellow fondant doesn't taste that bad, either.  I added almond flavoring to it and it was a little too sweet, but definitely edible.  I also used Wilton's recipe for buttercream frosting for the outside of the cake and it was delicious.
My 1st attempt at fondant...
For the main two tier cake I plan on making a butter cake with strawberry cream filling on the bottom layer and raspberry filling on the top layer.  This cake will be for the party guests.  For M, I'm going to make a smash cake without the fondant.  I'm going to make a Vanilla Cake with Whipped Frosting off of's/ website.  I'll color the frosting pink to match the larger cake and I think I'll probably put a little raspberry filling in the center for her.
Mmm, cake.
I'll definitely post the pictures of the cake I make for her party...wish me luck!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Finger-lickin' BBQ Chicken (crockpot)

This chicken turned out delicious and best of all only 5 ingredients are required, so the prep time was minimal.  The apricot preserves I used definitely made the sauce complete.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Pork Chops with Apples & Garlic Smashed Potatoes

I posted this recipe today on the food blog I participate in.  I found this recipe in my January/February 2011 Food Network Magazine and it was a hit!  I will definitely be making it again soon.