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Perfectly Easy Pavlova and a Blogiversary!

23 Jan

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How many of you sewers out there were thinking I had gotten my hands on a copy of Cake Pattern’s newest release, the Pavlova wrap top and skirt, before it officially hits the market?  Sorry, no such luck.  But I did make you this tasty edible version of the Australian dessert that starts with a light meringue shell, gets filled with airy, sweetened whipped cream, and then topped with your choice of seasonal fresh fruits.

It’s also a celebratory dessert to commemorate my 1 year blogging anniversary!  In one year’s time, I have written 45 posts, gathered 98 (wordpress + google reader) followers, received 176 comments, and gotten 8458 hits.  That’s not too bad!  I’ll be announcing a giveaway tomorrow in honor of the special event, so stay tuned!  But until then, feast your eyes on this lovely and refreshing dessert 🙂

 

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I even made some mini ones to share.  Do you think they look like funny little faces?  This recipe looks complicated but it is as simple as can be.  My sister first introduced me to it several years ago and we have been making it regularly since.  If you have a few basic ingredients and an electric mixer, you can wow your friends and loved ones with this sure-to-please confection.

I have used strawberries, kiwi, and blueberries here because they happened to come in my produce box for the week, but you can use your favorite complimenting fruits — peaches, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries, etc.

 

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So, first you are going to beat your room temperature egg whites until they are stiff and glossy like so.  Can you see my reflection in these?

 

 

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The bottom row has been smoothed.

 

 

If you choose to make the cupcakes, one batch makes about 2 dozen regular size cupcakes.  This time around I just used a spoon to fill the paper cups then smoothed the tops with a wet metal tablespoon (this is a great kitchen trick for meringue).  If I am being fancy, I will use my piping tools to make mini meringue nests on parchment and forego the cupcake papers and tin.

 

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For the large pie, trace a 9″ circle onto parchment paper, flip the paper over and place it on a baking tray, then spread the meringue on top.  Use the spoon to spread it into the circle and smooth the top with the wet spoon.

 

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I spooned the whipped cream on top for the full-size Pavlova, but for the mini ones I piped the whipped cream on with a pastry bag and large closed star tip.  As for the fruit, you can make it as decorative (or not) as you would like.  It will taste great either way!

 

Pavlova

Serves 8 as pie or 24 cupcakes (you can’t eat just 1!)

1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature (from about 4 eggs)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
2 kiwi fruits, peeled and thinly sliced or 1 cup of another ripe fruit, such as peaches or nectarines
10 strawberries, green parts trimmed off, thinly sliced or other berries, such as raspberries or blackberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), whip the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a clean, dry bowl until foamy. Add the granulated sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla and continue whipping until stiff, smooth and glossy, about 8 minutes more. On a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit a sheet pan, use a pencil to draw or trace a circle 9-inches in diameter. Line the sheet pan with the parchment, pencil side down (you should still be able to see the circle). Spoon the egg whites into the circle, using the back of the spoon to smooth the top and sides of the disk (use a wet spoon for best results). Bake in the center of the oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until the meringue has puffed up and cracked on the top and the surface is lightly browned to the color of cafe au lait, about 45 minutes more. Turn off the oven, prop the oven door open, and let the Pavlova cool in the oven at least 30 minutes, to room temperature. This ensures a gradual cooling, which protects the delicate meringue.

Whip the cream and brown sugar together until stiff. Spoon it in the center of the cooled Pavlova and spread out to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Arrange the slices of kiwi around the edge. Arrange the slices of strawberry in the middle. To serve, slice into wedges with a serrated knife.

 

Recipe by Gale Gand, courtesy of the Food Network.

 

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Cheez-It Crack

28 Nov

Howdy Friends!  I hope everyone has been well and had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday (if that is the tradition in your country).  I am sharing a quick recipe with you today that will revolutionize your snacking habits — it will cause you to have the most intense cravings and desires at strange hours of the day — hence the name Cheez-It Crack.

You might think Cheez-It crackers are kind of plain.  You got over those when you were a kid.  Well, with the addition of a select few spices and some olive oil and a brief stint in a low oven, your lowly childhood crackers will be turned into your adulthood snacking drug of choice.  This salty-tooth satisfier takes about 3 minutes to put together and another 20 to bake.  Your friends will beg you to make them more and you won’t deny them because you know you need more yourself.  So go ahead and whip up a batch for yourself this weekend and find out what all the fuss is about!

Cheez-It Crack

2 boxes Cheez-It crackers

2/3 cup olive oil

1 packet dry Ranch dressing mix

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 250F.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to coat.  Spread crackers on a large cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Source:  An addict never tells… Really, though, my friend Lee gave me the recipe 😉

Renfew 2.0 and a First Birthday

8 Jun

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So here's my second version of the Sewaholic Renfrew top that I made a few weeks ago. I chose the 3/4 sleeve cowl neck version for this incarnation. As you can see from the wrinkly sleeve bands, these "3/4 length" sleeves are more like elbow length on me. Next time I will lengthen them a bit to get a true 3/4 length. I cut this top from the same modified pattern as my last Renfrew but this one is a lot looser in the armpits. All I can say is that it is because of the fabric (this one is a really lightweight jersey). Be warned that the less stable your fabric, the more you will have to take in your seams. Aside from that, my only other issue (and it is very, very minor) is that the back of the neck is a little loose. Next time I will cut the cowl in a smaller size than the neck opening to eliminate this problem.

Version 2.0 improvements include cutting the sleeve and armbands 2 sizes smaller and stretching them as I sewed them on to ensure a snug fit. I didn't want another loose waistband like I had on my last version. This change solved the problem and the waistband is perfect! Also, the cowl on this version is awesome! It is pretty and drapey and it doesn’t show your goodies when you bend over.

All in all, I highly recommend this pattern. The second time around, I spent about 4 hours from start to finish on this shirt, and that included making some stupid mistakes that I had to fix. Next time (and there will be a next time soon), I bet it will take 3 hours or less.

I also completed a kitchen project recently, this cute ruffled cake for my friend’s daughter’s first birthday. My friend, Jenny, asked if I could make her little girl, Dublin, a banana-flavored, ruffled birthday cake with colors that matched the ocean and a dress sewn by her late great-grandmother. I was happy to oblige and went straight to my favorite banana cupcake recipe and made a double batch of the batter for a three layer 9″ round party cake plus a two-tiered smash cupcake. I filled the caked with salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream and frosted it with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. I was afraid the buttercream would be too sophisticated for a toddler’s palate, but Dublin seemed to enjoy it more than anybody, and that made my day 🙂

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This was Dublin's first taste of something sweet and there wasn't a crumb left when she was done!

The only modification I make from the recipe I linked above is using my own caramel recipe. If anyone is interested, let me know and I will be happy to post it.

Happy Mothers’ Day and Fresh Strawberry Pie

13 May

I hope all of you moms out there are having a wonderfully relaxing day.  I am looking forward to spending this afternoon with my mom and the rest of my family.  As usual, the gathering is centered around food and I was asked by the lady of the day to bring two of my Roasted Chickens and to make her favorite strawberry pie.  Now I usually like to make multi-step, showstopping desserts, especially ones that include chocolate.  But when Mom asks for the tastiest, simplest strawberry pie known to man as her Mothers’ day dessert, the dutiful daughter must comply.  This is a recipe that has been in my mom’s repertoire since I was a child and she still frequently gets requests for it.  It’s great because it only calls for 5 ingredients and doesn’t require turning on the oven — perfect for a hot summer day.  Plus the pie is cool, fruity, and refreshing.

So what are you waiting for?  Whip one of these babies up and see if you aren’t licking the bowl for breakfast, too 😉

 

By the way, my kitchen was featured on the blog Danny’s Kitchen yesterday.  I am so honored to be chosen as the first guest for this feature on Danny’s site.  Be sure to hop over and see more photos of the space where I create my kitchen delights (and flops) and find out what kind of pet I have in my backyard…

 

Fresh and Simple Strawberry Pie

8 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened

1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar

8 ounces Cool Whip, thawed

1 pint (12 ounces) fresh strawberries, sliced and patted dry

1-9″ graham cracker pie crust

 

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.  Blend in the powdered sugar.  Fold in the Cool Whip and then the strawberries.  Spoon into the pie crust and garnish as desired.  Chill before serving, at least 4 hours.

 

Source:  My Mom 🙂

Tips for Successful Cakes

20 Mar

I have so many posts waiting to be written that I don’t know where to start!  I even have a few finished sewing projects to show you!!  I will start with something that is already photographed, though, and since I will have a few cakes recipes for you in the upcoming weeks, I will share some of my cake baking tips with you in preparation.  Some of these tips have been picked up from various internet sources, some from cake decorating instructors, and some from learning the hard way 🙂

I hope you will find these tips useful and if you have any good tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

P.S.  The cake photographed above was made a while back for my aunt’s mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.  I had the cake layers and frosting made up and then got food poisoning.  My wonderful mother came over at the last minute to finish assembling and decorating the cake and delivered it to the party.  Thanks again, Mom!

 

1.  Pan Preparation

Most butter or oil based cake recipes will instruct you to grease and flour your pans.  I don’t know about you, but I always get flour everywhere when I do this.  When I took a cake decorating class at a local community college a few summers ago, the instructor presented this brilliant technique.

 

Easy Peasy Nonstick Cake Pan Coating

1 cup shortening
1 cup all-purpose flour
 

Combine both ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined.  Scrape into an airtight, resealable container and store in the pantry.  Using a paper towel or pastry brush, spread a generous amount in cake pans to prepare for baking.

No need to shake flour in and then tap it out.  This also prevents that cake-y, flour-y mess on the outside of chocolate cakes.  This paste will keep stored in the pantry indefinitely (at least for as long as your shortening and flour would have been good for).

In recipes that call for buttering, lining with parchment, then buttering and flouring the pans, I have found that just a good coating of this stuff is sufficient.  But note that this paste should not be used for cakes that do not call for greased pans.

 

2.  Insure level tops

I do several things to make sure my cake layers are level.  First, I use insulating strips around my cake pans.  Wilton makes these and you can buy them at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s.  You can also use wet strips of dish towels wrapped in aluminum foil.  The theory is that by insulating the edges of the cake pan, the edges of the cake do not cook as fast, therefore, they will rise higher and be level with the center of the cake.

Rotate your pans partway through baking to make sure your layers bake and brown evenly.

Another tip I learned from my cake decorating instructor — press down gently on the top of your cake layers with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel immediately after removing them from the oven to level any high spots.

After cooling my cake layers in the pans for 10-20 minutes, I turn them out (top-side down) onto parchment-lined cardboard cake boards and leave them there for about 10 minutes.  I then slide the cake and parchment off of the cake board onto the cooling rack to finish cooling completely.  This is a trick I discovered myself that makes the top super smooth and flat and the edges very square.

Using these tricks, I haven’t had to level a cake layer with a knife in a very long time.

 

3.  Crumb coat

If you have gone to all the trouble of making your cake beautiful and level, you don’t want stray crumbs in your frosting.  Once you have filled and stacked your layers, apply a thin coat of frosting on the sides and top of your cake then place it in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes or so to allow the frosting to set up.  This will seal in crumbs and make it less likely for them to escape into your outer coat of frosting.  This is especially important if you are frosting a darker cake (like chocolate or red velvet) with lighter frosting (like cream cheese).

 

4.  Don’t point out your mistakes

If you have gone through the motions to make a filled, frosted, and decorated layer cake, chances are you are much more talented in the kitchen than most of the folks who will be eating your cake.  So don’t point out the minor imperfections that you may notice about it!  Smile quietly and politely thank everyone for their praises about your divine creation 🙂

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes

7 Mar

 

I have a new food blog crush — Scientifically Sweet — which presents delicious recipes with a scientific spin.  I was thrilled to learn that the release of a cookbook by the same name was imminent so I hopped over to Amazon and made a copy my own to satisfy my nerdy sweet tooth.  I was all set to cozy up on the couch with the book Monday night and plan which recipe I would try first, but my sweet little niece had other ideas.  Namely, ideas like a sleep over and playing dress up.

 

 

So once I got her off to school yesterday, I flipped through the 101 thoroughly and beautifully photographed recipes and decided my first victim would be the Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream.  I am always on the lookout for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe.  I am also a HUGE fan of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC, for short).

SMBC is not as cloyingly sweet or greasy as American buttercream made with powdered sugar and shortening.  It also holds countless flavors and mix-ins beautifully.  And best of all, you can make it by remembering the simple mathematical ratio of 1-2-3.  1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar to 3 parts butter.  I was intrigued by the recipe in this cookbook because it takes SMBC a step further by mixing in a vanilla roux, a step similar to that of an old-fashioned cooked frosting.

As far as the cupcake goes, the batter comes together easily with a one-bowl method and is smooth and silky.  The cupcakes rise significantly so be sure not to fill your cupcake liners more than half full.  The cake is fluffy and moist.  The cake releases neatly from the paper liners which I think is an important feature for a good cupcake recipe.

As for the frosting, it is very tasty.  It is silky smooth, creamy, gorgeous, and pipes like a charm.  I am not sure I will do this every time I make SMBC, but the extra step definitely takes the flavor and texture to a different level.  I will add vanilla beans to the roux next time to see if this will deepen the vanilla flavor.  I will also increase the salt a little to bring out the flavor a bit more.

Overall, my first recipe from Scientifically Sweet by Christina Marsigliese was a success, and I am excited to try many more creations from this gorgeous book.  I hope y’all like desserts because it looks like I might be on roll 😉

 

 

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 15 cupcakes
 
 
For the cupcakes: 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cake flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (I just pulsed my granulated sugar in the food processor then measured it)
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp pure canola oil
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk, at room temperature
For the frosting:
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line 15 muffin cups from two standard muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together both flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Attach the bowl to the mixer, add sugar and mix on low speed until evenly blended, about 30 seconds.
 
Add softened butter and beat on low speed for 1 minute. The mixture will become less dusty as the butter becomes coated with flour and broken down into small pieces. Increase speed to medium-low and continue to beat until the mixture resembles damp sand or fine bread crumbs, about 2 minutes.
 
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, yolk, sour cream, canola oil and vanilla extract until smooth. Add it to the flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until moistened, sticky and the batter begins to form webs along the sides of the bowl and the beater, about 20 seconds. With mixer running on low, gradually add milk and then beat on medium speed for 20 seconds. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and then beat on medium speed for another 15 seconds. Do not over-mix. The batter will be smooth, satiny and creamy-looking. Gently fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to incorporate any ingredients stuck at the bottom of the bowl.
 
Spoon or scoop batter into lined muffin cups, filling them no more than halfway full (these cupcakes will rise quite a bit). Bake until evenly browned on top, the cake springs back when pressed gently with your finger and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
 

To make the buttercream, whisk together flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small 1 or 2-quart saucepan until evenly blended.  Gradually whisk in milk until smooth.  Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken and nearly comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, while whisking constantly, until very thick and paste-like.  When it is ready, the mixture will resemble white glue and you should be able to see the bottom of the pan as you whisk.  This will take about 10 minutes all together.

Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and into a small bowl.  This serves to remove any lumps and it helps the mixture cool down faster.  Place plastic wrap directly over the surface and set aside to cool completely at room temperature.

In the heat-proof bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites, remaining 2/3 cup sugar and salt. Place the bowl over a pot with ½-inch of simmering water or a double-boiler and whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 162 degrees F (72 degrees C), about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until it is completely cooled. This will take about 7-8 minutes and the mixture will appear white and fluffy like marshmallow or shaving cream.

Do not begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral (not warm).   Reduce speed to medium and add the butter slowly, one tablespoon at a time. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until creamy and smooth, 1-2 minutes. The mixture will go from looking grainy and soupy to smooth, silky and glossy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

At this point the cooled flour/milk mixture will be stiff.  So, with a wooden spoon or spatula, beat it vigorously until it is smooth and creamy.  Add half of the cooled flour mixture to the buttercream and beat on medium-high until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Add the remaining flour mixture and vanilla extract and beat until whipped and creamy, about 1 minute more. Cover with a damp cloth if using shortly.

Frost and decorate cupcakes as desired.

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

5 Mar

Please, add any missing ingredients for these cookies to your grocery list ASAP — you need to make them STAT!  They are like banana nut bread and chocolate chip cookies fighting and making up in your mouth.  And they are loaded with good for you ingredients — like bananas, whole wheat flour, and oats (and yes, a stick and a half of butter, too). 

 

 

Before you ask, yes, that’s milk on the rocks.  Growing up, my grandfather operated a large dairy farm.  We were only allowed to drink his brand of milk, whole fat of course, and always on the rocks.  And a big refreshing gulp of it was always followed by a loud and satisfying, “Aaahhhmmm!!!”  And truthfully, it still is, even if it is only in my head instead of out loud, even if the dairy farm has morphed into high dollar residential real estate, and even if the milk is 1% instead of whole fat.  My grandfather would like these cookies, and the next time I see him, I will take him a batch so we can dunk them in our milk on the rocks and say “Aaahhhmmm!!!” out loud together just like when I was a kid 🙂

P.S.  My grandfather grew, harvested, and shelled the pecans that went into these cookies.  He keeps my freezer stocked with several gallons every season.  How sweet is he?  See now why he’s getting some cookies soon?

 

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields 3 dozen

 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted (about 2 ounces)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk together both flours, salt, and soda in a bowl.
2. Put butter and both sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer ­with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale. Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in ­banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.
3. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or heaping tablespoon), drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12-13 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cook­ies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

 

Adapted from How to Eat a Cupcake who adapted it from Martha Stewart’s cookie cookbook.