Plan Z, or Fourth Time’s the Charm

April 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Y’all, Zack’s birthday is in November. That’s how long this post has been waiting around for me to get my sh*t together and put the photos in and post it already. I feel much shame. The timing’s good, though, because Becky’s birthday is this week and she’s decided she doesn’t like cake that much, so we’re not doing a fancy cake for her birthday this year. Just brownies and Rice Krispie Treats, oh, and homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream. Recipes (such as they are) for the latter two will be shared soon. Swear.

I have established a tradition of baking awesome cakes for Becky for her birthday. Zack hasn’t ever requested anything particular, so he’s just gotten cake. This year, though, he decided he wanted a Thomas cake. No problem, I figured. I made the Millennium Freaking Falcon, after all. How hard can Thomas be? They even make cake pans in the shape of train engines! This was going to be, excuse the expression, a piece of cake.

Zack’s party was Sunday afternoon. The plan was to bake the cake Friday night so it would be nice and cool for me to decorate Saturday. I considered using the yogurt cake recipe that I’ve had so much success with, but wasn’t sure if it would be structurally sound enough to hold the novelty shape. So I whipped up a box mix, added the blue food coloring (as requested by the birthday boy) and popped that sucker in the oven (after I figured out the pan — it’s two parts that snap together. Weird.). Seemed to come out okay — the tester came out clean — so I set it on the rack to cool as per the pan instructions.

After it had cooled I went to pop the pan apart and while the part under the tester hole was fine, much of the rest of it was raw batter. Failed cake #1. Saturday morning I hied myself to the store and bought another couple cake mixes. Mixed cake number two, poured batter into train pan — separated this time (with foil over the tester hole) — and back into the oven. Forgot to add food coloring — no good.

Batter, batter, no batter!

Open another box, mix/add food coloring/pour/bake. Finally, cakes bake through and are the right color. Sweet! Now, to decorate. So now I have to get the cakes together. I shave the center edges of each cake, slap on some frosting, and push them together. Success! For about four minutes. And then the structural integrity — or lack thereof — shows its ugly face and large pieces just start falling off.

I find your lack of structural integrity disturbing.

I try to stick them back on with frosting (because you can never have too much frosting, and incidentally, the frosting was homemade cream cheese frosting), but every time I get one piece stuck on, another one falls off. Eventually, I have what is basically a lump of frosting with some cake stuck on. It is clearly not going to stand up properly. Maybe I can just lay it down on the track? So it’ll be like a photo laid down flat?

Looking like the train wreck it is.

Right. Clearly, the train cake is just not going to happen. And now I’m beginning to doubt that I can make this happen at all. A Facebook friend pointed me to this alternative (love crowd sourcing!):

Cute, right?

and I was considering it, but my confidence was, frankly, a little low at that point. Also it had gotten to be about 9pm. So I decided I’d just buy a damn cake in the morning — I could just draw a Thomas on with frosting (have I mentioned that I love my frosting gun? Got it half price on clearance at Bed Bath and Beyond because the box was damaged.).

Off to the A&P and they actually had a Thomas cake!!! I was halfway to the checkout when I looked at the price and saw it was $27. Yeah, I ain’t paying 27 bucks to feed cake to a bunch of toddlers (yes, I ended up spending way more than that on cake mixes etc. You keep your logic to yourself.). I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to make the alternative cake. I grabbed yet another cake mix and some candy for the landscaping. Baked it, cut it decorated it (after spending a few minutes trying to figure out why the original didn’t feel quite right: take another look and tell me where that tunnel is coming from? Bespin?) and ended up with this:

Choo choo!

Not too shabby, right? Zack was okay with it but not thrilled (I didn’t realize he’d already had a “landscape” Thomas cake at another birthday celebration or I would’ve figured out something else to do), but then it wasn’t really what he — or I, for that matter — was hoping for. Still, I’m not ashamed of it, and I got lots of compliments. The larger “stones” are Milk Duds, the smaller ones are Raisinets, and the patches of flowers are Nerds.



Expanding My Horizons

August 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

And my waistline, but so, so worth it. I came across this thing called Taste & Create a few months ago, where people make food from each other’s blogs (you sign up and get assigned a partner each month — it’s very cool). I decided to participate for the first time this month, and my partner was Always Eat On the Good China. The hardest part was choosing a recipe to make (and I’m totally going to make more of them — she has some really nommy sounding stuff!) but I finally settled on the Chicken Puffs. Chicken, bacon, cheese, puff pastry…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, in this case. They were amazing.


I did modify the recipe a little to use what I had on hand (for example, I used goat cheese instead of cream cheese), and since I’m not a huge fan of plain chicken, I also decided to play around with marinades* and tried something new: OJ and balsamic vinegar. Yeah, that’s a keeper (1c. OJ + 1 Tbsp BV to cover about 1.5lbs of cubed chicken). She mentions in her post about the recipe that although the pic shows a whole chicken breast, she now cuts it into bite size chunks, so I went that way with it. And I didn’t mix anything up for the cream cheese mixture — I just threw a bunch of goat cheese on top and then topped it with some fresh basil, because I am lazy. Oh! Also instead of spraying my cookie sheet I just lined it with parchment paper which works beautifully for keeping stuff from sticking. And I didn’t brush with the egg wash, but that was just because I totally forgot to do it. Seemed to come out fine, but they would’ve been a little crispier with the wash.

The pile of nommy stuff going into the middle of the puff: chicken, goat cheese, bacon, fresh basil.

So, modifications I’ll probably make next time I make this (because there will be a next time): First off, I think I’m going to try it as a pot-pie kind of thing…the puff pastry-to-filling ratio is just really high. Now, it’s puff pastry, so it’s not like my tastebuds are complaining, but I think it will be just as tasty topped with the puff instead of surrounded by it. Second — you might want to sit down for this one — I’m going to leave the bacon out. I just really didn’t feel like it added much to the flavor experience in this case. Weird, I know, but there you are. I also will probably try different marinade/cheese combos — I think this would be great with something spicy on the chicken and cheddar cheese, for instance. And there you have it…my first Taste & Create. This was tons of fun — I’m totally going to do it again next month!

Fresh from the oven.

*A note on using a marinade on something you’re going to wrap in puff pastry and bake: you need to dry it out before you put it in the pastry. Throw it in a saute pan and brown it — you’ve got lots of sugar in this marinade, so even let it caramelize a bit. You don’t need to worry so much about it being cooked through — the baking in the oven part will take care of that. And it won’t get too dry b/c you’ve added all that moisture to it.

Because you always want s’more!

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. It brings me so many awesome things that I want to make, both of the food and craft varieties (not to mention all of the cool articles I get from feeds like @NASA, @mashable, @arstechnica, @blastr, etc.) that sometimes I get a little overwhelmed. But sometimes, it brings me to something awesome that reminds me of something I’ve already done! The other day, I clicked on the link to this, which reminded me of my own super easy, no bake S’mores Pie recipe from last year. Here it is, for your nomming pleasure:


  • 1 graham cracker pie crust, baked*
  • 1 bucket Two Bite Brownies
  • 1/2 package mini marshmallows (or giant delicious ones cut into bite sized pieces)
  • Chocolate syrup (I’m a Hershey’s girl, but use what you like)

Preheat oven to 350 deg.
Break brownies into large chunks (approximately quarters) and place evenly in pie crust. Cover with marshmallows. Place in oven for 7-10 minutes, until marshmallows are lightly browned. Let cool, then drizzle with chocolate syrup.

* I used a pre-made crust because I am ridiculously lazy. I found that it did not hold together at all well, and if you have any inclination at all to bake your own, definitely go with that. The crumbliness of the pre-made crust was not a deal breaker, but I’ll definitely make my own next time.

Note: The above is the original recipe I typed up last year. I actually did not re-read this recipe before I re-created it this time, and I should have. I again used a pre-made crust and it again crumbled. I also just popped it under the broiler this time, which browned the marshmallows but didn’t let them heat long enough to get nice and gooey. So, I strongly recommend foregoing the pre-made crust and the broiler. But really, it’s delicious either way.


June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Might not be the prettiest cupcake I've ever seen, but it's one of the best I've ever eaten.

In case it’s not clear, I love to bake. Like really, seriously, I LOVE to bake. I have been known to bake 4-5 different kinds of cookies in a single day, in the summer, in a non-air-conditioned house. I’m pretty darn good at it, too. I make all kinds of different varieties of breads and pies and cookies and other nommy things…but I’ve never really been successful with cakes, for some reason. I have trouble with the flavor and texture and they just don’t turn out right somehow. So I’ve always relied on…shameful pause…mixes.

And really, I was okay with that. Cake is rarely eaten at my house (the incident when I ate an entire double layer cake by myself in under 36 hours notwithstanding), so on the rare occasion when I needed a cake, a mix got the job done. But now I have kids, who expect fabulous cakes. And while so far they have been satisfied with the mix cakes I’ve used as the base for those fabulous cakes, I just don’t feel right about not making their cakes from scratch. So I decided to work on my cake baking skills. On the day I decided this and started cruising the internet for cake recipes to try out, this recipe came across my Twitter feed.

Cupcakes have long been my nemesis. I can’t even make decent cupcakes out of a box. The bottoms always get burned, and they’re dry but somehow also underbaked in the center…I dunno. It’s weird. But seriously…Key Lime Cupcakes? Yeah, I had to have me some of those. So I started down the ingredients list, checking to make sure I had everything on hand.  (Protip: Always make sure you have all the ingredients or adequate substitutions before you begin mixing. I cannot tell you how completely it sucks to get halfway through your batter/dough making only to discover you’re an egg short or are somehow completely out of flour.) That’s when I discovered that this recipe called for seven whole eggs. No, seriously. Let me say that again. Seven. Whole. Eggs.

I happened to have seven eggs on hand, but that just seemed ludicrous to me. I mean, seven egg whites I could see, or even seven yolks. But seven whole eggs? I thought not. So I Googled “key lime cupcake recipe” or some such thing and came up with this recipe, which was much more reasonable in the egg department. I did decide to stick with the original glaze, though I actually found it a little overpowering and I think next time I’ll try a lime cream cheese frosting. Also, I left out the food coloring.

The cupcakes, though, were to die for. They were dense, but not heavy. Velvety on the tongue. Lovely crisp flavor. No burnt bottoms. I’m actually going to try it without the lime juice at some point and see if they serve well as a plain cake base. I strongly suspect they will. It will be delicious to find out.

ETA: Almost forgot — this recipe calls for some self-rising flour, which I never have on hand. Here’s a quick and easy substitute, made with stuff I do generally keep on hand.

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