Saturday, July 28, 2007

it looks like a flower shop.....

Lillies, morning glories, petunias and poinsettias. All created from Royal Icing!

We learned how to use a lilly nail in class, and these were all done in the next to largest one. There is one that came in the kit that is the size to make lilly of the valley, but I have no clue how that is done. Someday we'll play with that idea. The lilly nail should also make for some awesome poppies!

This class was a lot of fun. I'm going to play with doing some more flowers with the frosting left from class, then its into the roses for the wedding cake again.

Making the royal icing this time was much easier. And I think I will forever associate royal icing with angel food cake. All of the flowers for the wedding cake are almond flavored, and since royal icing is egg whites (meringe powder), water, sugar and flavoring, the only thing missing would be the flour!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pizza, Pizza

I love pizza. I've loved it since I was a kid, and I've used it for feeding guests as well as breakfast (yes, COLD!), lunch (slightly reheated on a paper towel in the microwave) and dinner (fresh out of the oven).

I've given my daughter the addiction too....sorry kid!!

When we lived in California the place we usually ordered from had a slick system. They had caller ID on their phone system and a computerized list of what folks had ordered before. So ordering a pizza was a conversation sort of like this:

As soon as I dialed the number I'd hear: "Mountain Mike's Pizza"
ME: Hi, I'd like to order a pizza
MOUNTAIN MIKE: You want the medium half and half with mushrooms and sausage on one side and pepperoni and black olives on the other?
ME: Yup
MOUNTAIN MIKE: That'll be $14.95 and it'll be there in about 40 minutes
ME: Sounds good
MOUNTAIN MIKE: Thanks for calling, enjoy your pizza
ME: Thanks, we will
and usually in less time than they said, the pizza delivery guy would be at the door and we'd give the fellow a $20 and go off to eat our pizza (I think the delivery guys used to fight over who delivered to our house!)

Here in our new abode, we haven't ever found any place with pizza as good as we got there, so when we have pizza, we usually make it at home. I use some shortcuts along the way, but it is pretty good.

1 loaf frozen bread dough
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (or more if you want extra cheese)
1/4 cup pasta sauce (or more if you like really saucy pizza)
2 tbls corn meal
1 tsp olive oil
toppings (see listing below)

on the morning of the day you want to have pizza, take the frozen bread dough out of the freezer and put it in a pan to defrost (be sure to oil everything so it doesn't stick and cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out)

in the evening:
Organize all of your toppings. If something needs to be precooked (like hamburger or sausage), do it first. Once you start messing with the dough, you need to be ready to put this all together.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees
Prepare a large pan to bake pizza on (I use a jelly roll pan), use the olive oil over the entire surface of the pan, then sprinkle with the cornmeal

In the prepared pan, spread the bread dough to make a crust the thickness you like. Be careful not to put holes in it. Use a fork to prick the dough (otherwise it will make big bubbles as it cooks).

Bake dough for 4 minutes -- this gives it a chance to start forming a crust so the toppings won't make it soggy

Remove dough from oven. If any air bubbles have formed, use the fork again to poke holes in them.

Using a pastry brush, spread the pizza sauce evenly over the dough. Arrange toppings over the entire surface of the pizza. Finally put an even layer of shredded cheese over everything.

Bake for an additional 8 to 12 minutes (time depends on your oven, how much stuff you piled on, and how brown you like your finished product).

Cool for about 5 minutes before cutting.

Eat with caution -- that first bite will still be HOT!

Suggested toppings:
bulk italian sausage, "scramble fried" and drained
hamburger, "scramble fried" and drained
pepperoni slices
canadian bacon
thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
sliced black olives
thin slices of green pepper (or any other color you like)
sliced water chestnuts
pineapple (goes with the canadian bacon)

For toppings just put on whatever YOU like!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

practicing for the BIG day

As I'm starting to pack tubs full of things we'll need for the wedding, I decided to test my risers and make sure that the size cakes I'm making will fit on the risers (figuring that having a mismatch on the big day would be a major faux pas!)

This was my little "test shot" complete with testing to be sure that the cake top would fit properly on a 6 inch cake.

Lovely isn't it? The plan is to drape all of those lovely plastic risers in a piece of white lace (which was in the laundry when I took the picture) I think it looks pretty good!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Maison de Gateau -- verse 2

See? Its another cake!

Class on Friday nights for some reason is more difficult for me than on Tuesday. Maybe the fact that I had spent almost all day Friday working on wedding stuff had something to do with it!

At any rate, I got to class and had forgotten to bring some of the stuff that was on the list and had to borrow from my classmates. {sigh!} Fortunately, by this time we get along quite well and borrowing back and forth is pretty common.

This cake is covered with fondant. It does have that wonderful smooth finish that only fondant can provide, but our main complaint is that it doesn't taste all that good.

It was fun to learn how to do this, but unless someone someday specifically asks me to make one with fondant, I won't be doing much with this stuff.

We did fondant roses in class too, and I'll have to spend some time this week making a few more of those.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer "Smell" Patrol

It can be fairly said that summer can stink. Or at least that the heat of summer can make your kitchen smell bad.

There's nothing like walking into your home sweet home after being at work all day and being assaulted by that unmistakable reek of something “dead” in the kitchen.

There are several likely culprits for this problem and our kitchen (and possibly in yours too) and this is how we deal with trying to keep them under control.

Dishes in the sink
I know, it’s a pain, and you’re running late for work, but take the time to RINSE! If you make a habit of emptying your dishwasher right after the load is done drying, you can rinse those dirty dishes and use the dishwasher to stash them in until it’s full enough to run it again. By rinsing those dishes you’ll get rid of all the little pieces of food that spoil quickly and smell even faster. Special culprits for “the stink” – anything with a dairy product involved (you know, milk, yogurt, ice cream). Be sure to wash the dish rags frequently and throw your sponges into the dishwasher about once a week (or more often if they smell sooner) to further eliminate the “sink stink”

Mop up that spill
Remember the Petri dish? Nothing is quite so close to that perfect thin layer of growing medium as a spill of something on the counter, stove top or floor. We keep a stack of bar towels (those 15” x 15” terry squares) on the counter so we can easily grab and wipe whatever gets spilled. (I know, you could use paper towels, but I just hate adding to the land fill that way, so bar towels are my substitute for just about everything short of bacon grease and pet barf). Be sure to rinse the towel out or toss it into the washer right away or the bar towel becomes one more stink machine!

The Trash
Empty milk containers, packaging that meat was wrapped in, empty food cans, watermelon rinds and corn cobs are all major players in the Stinky Trash Can Syndrome. Empty that can frequently! No standing on it like a semi-automatic trash compactor just to get one more milk carton in there! And a little spray of Lysol or some citrus based air freshener after every emptying helps too.

Grog (aka: the garbage disposal)
I can’t remember when it was that we first started calling our garbage disposal Grog, but it just seems to fit. The garbage disposal is a wonderful thing, and it’s also a great incubator for “summer stink”. One of the very best things to clean the blades and freshens the air in the whole kitchen as well is any kind of citrus peel. I like to cut them into about ½ inch strips and feed them down one at a time (I’ve even been known to cut the strips and lay them out on the window sill to dry then use them one a day in the times I don’t have any citrus – just watch them carefully for infestations of mold or 6 legged friends). Failing the citrus peel, try this: first run some really HOT water down the disposal, then pour in a good dose of baking soda and let sit for about 5 minutes, finally, take a tray of ice cubes and run them through the disposal. Here’s how that works: the hot water will melt away any lingering greasy deposits, the baking soda neutralizes the smells and the hard ice will clean away any little particles that are still laying around in there.

So, that’s my list for today…..anybody got any additional tips?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Maison de Gateau reprise.....

This week will begin the marathon of cake baking for the wedding, so over the weekend I decided I should try out some of the new techniques I have been reading about.

One of my issues with one tier of the wedding cake is that it will be chocolate, and as such creates a major issue if crumbs show through the white frosting.

This week's cake was used to test the idea of a jam glaze over the cake, and I can tell you it worked wonderfully.

So, here is how I did it.

Bake cake in normal way, and chill in the 'fridge overnight.

Select jam of choice (I used raspberry). Bring jam to a boil in a small sauce pan. Strain out the seeds (I didn't do this step and it was a problem -- minor -- later).

Take cake from 'fridge and rest on a rack over a jelly roll pan. Be sure the tops of the cakes have been trimmed to level.

Using a pastry brush, spread strained jam over tops and sides of cake.

Return to 'fridge for at least 24 hours.

The jelly sets up like a firm, slightly sticky shell over the cakes, seals in the crumbs and is sticky enough for the frosting to cling to.

I forgot to do the strain part, so I had little bumpy seeds to deal with, but it still worked well.

I will definately use this for the wedding cakes!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stuffed Flank Steak

This is a recipe that began with a dish my mother used to make, and has been liberally "tweeked" over the years.

The prep work takes a bit of time, but there is really nothing very difficult in any of the steps.

Set aside about and hour and a half (from start to table) and try this one, you'll be amazed at just how elegant a dinner you can make!

1 1/2 to 2 pound flank steak
1 large carrot
1 shallot
1 cup raw rice (I use Basmati)
2 cups warm water
2 tbls olive oil
2 tsp beef bullion
4 to 6 medium mushrooms

Mix the bullion with the warm water in the measuring cup.
Peel the shallot and the carrot (or just scrub the carrot), cut both into fine dice (about 1/4 inch pieces).
Clean the mushrooms and slice very thin
Heat oil in heavy sauce pan; saute shallot, carrot and mushrooms slightly
Add raw rice and "toast" for about 3 minutes -- keep the rice moving so it doesn't burn
Add bullion/water mixture to pan and simmer until rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 to 15 minutes)
Cool rice mixture for about 10 minutes

While the rice is cooling, heat oven to 350 degrees

On a cutting board, lay out steak covered with plastic wrap (the plastic wrap keeps the mess level down while you beat it)

Use a meat pounder WITHOUT teeth (those just tear the fibers). If you don't have one of these, a wine bottle will work, or the edge of a heavy pottery platter.

Pound the meat to tenderize and thin it out.

Once the meat has been pounded, spread a layer of the cooled rice mixture over the meat.

Roll the meat with the rice mixture inside like a jelly roll and tie with string.

(There will be extra rice mixture left, save it to use as a side dish)

On the stove top, heat a heavy skillet (I use my large cast iron one)

Transfer meat to the pan and brown

Be sure to brown all sides of the roll. Use tongs or a large spatula to turn the meat so you don't poke holes in it and let the juices "leak" out.

Once all sides are brown, bake for about 30 to 40 minutes (depending on how rare you like your beef and how thick the roll is -- we like our beef pretty rare)

When the meat comes out of the oven, let it rest for about 5 minutes, then slice in about 3/4 inch slices for serving.

You can make a pan gravy with the juices and serve the extra rice mixture on the side.

A green veggie or a nice salad (or both!) go well with this and make a very attractive and healthy meal.

The left overs reheat nicely in the microwave. From time to time I've cut up the left overs and made "at home" TV dinners for the freezer for those evenings when we don't feel like cooking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

2 in one day!

At the request of my reading public, here is a recipe for sopapillas:

2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. shortening
1/2 cup warm water
Oil for deep frying

Sift dry ingredients together in bowl.
Cut in shortening until crumbly.
Add 1/2 cup warm water gradually, stirring with fork. Dough will be crumbly.
Turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth.
Divide in half. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Cut into 3" squares. Fry, several at a time, in deep fat at 400 degrees for 30 seconds on each side.

Yield: 40 sopapillas.

Serve with honey!

In a pinch you can take a package of commercial biscuits, roll them out flat, cut them into triangles, let them set for 10 minutes then fry as above. Makes fewer (about 20 small ones), but they are pretty good.

We interrupt this commercial for the Maison de Gateau...

(not to be confused with the Maison des Lunes -- or perhaps they are the same!).

It has been brought to my attention that the cookbook has been devoid of any recipe content for a while now, and I need to make amends!

So today I will share another summer dinner salad recipe.

This one is direct from my good friend in California, and I have noted my own additions/changes.

Amma's Taco Salad
1 pound ground beef browned, drained and cooled (I usually add some chili pepper to the meat while I'm frying it)
1 head of lettuce, shredded
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, diced (this isn't mandatory, but its really nice to have)
1 chopped onion (I usually use green onions)
3/4 to 1 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend)
1 15 ounce can kidney beans, drained
4 to 6 ounces thousand island dressing (ranch dressing is very nice too)
sliced black olives
hot sauce or salsa
1 bag tortilla chips, broken into pieces

Generally at our house this is served in a buffet "make it yourself" style so each person can create their own version.

This is a meal that can be put together in less than half an hour and will easily feed 4 to 6 people.