Monthly Archives: February 2012

Baking Food

Angry Birds Cookies

I’ve been making lots of wintery stews lately, and have even taken pictures, but I’ve been engulfed by Downton Abbey and have only just finished Season 1, so I have to keep my priorities straight, but look for those recipes in the near future. I’m thinking about having a Downton Abbey party. This idea hasn’t really materialized fully in my head yet, except that it would be really nice to have a staff of servants (which my children are proving out not to be), even if some of them can be quite damaging (though from what I’ve seen so far, mostly toward each other). I’m sure the party will need to involved these paper dolls, Edwardian desserts, and a whole new wardrobe for me. My husband’s English, and so are my neighbors, so maybe I can just have them milling around Englishing everything for effect.

Between Downton Abbey episodes, the kids and I did some cookie decorating. Our friends have a son who is really into Angry Birds. I mean, really into Angry Birds — not only does he play the game, he has the board game, pillow cushions, plush toys — you get the picture. I took a Downton Abbey quiz and discovered that my Downton Abbey character is the Earl of Grantham, so you will not be surprised to know that I’ve actually never played. We wanted to thank this family for something, so we made these cookies. I used the shortbread recipe I usually use, this time without subbing the coconut oil for butter (in truth, I haven’t found anything that tastes quite as much like butter as butter).  The kids started out by doing some sketches:

The daughter in this family isn't as into Angry Birds so we did a penguin and a bunny too.

I prepared the frosting, using for the first time the plastic wrap method from Karen’s Cookies, which worked GREAT and made for very little mess.  Then I outlined the cookies in black.

Cookies outlined

See the little frosting packets in the back? What a great idea (not mine)!

Next, flooded them:

Flooded cookies

(If you’re looking for a great tutorial on working with royal icing, visit Sweetopia, but on the condition that you do not compare her cookies to mine.)

We had to allow for drying time between layers, but it was easy enough to add eyes and fill in the beaks.

This was a first run, so I’d do some things differently. For one, you’ve probably noticed I didn’t follow the sketches. But I laid out this page to make it seem like I did. Next time, I’ll follow the sketches. I also started out outlining the eyeballs in black, but it made the birds look myopic and possibly Silicon Valley hipster geek-ish, and not quite as angry as I hoped. You’ll notice the bird just underneath the penguin in the photo above looks more like Concerned Bird than Angry Bird…and the beaks on the yellow birds makes them look like Twilight fans with goth lipstick. Should not have done them in black.  For the pigs, I should have flooded the whole circle first and then drawn in the detail, instead of having done the eyes and nose as part of the initial outline. And those things that were supposed to be ears? I should have skipped them.

Here are our other cookies. Here you’ll see Deranged Pig, Deeply Disturbed Pig, butterflies, a happy face and a bunny that must be related somehow to Charlie Chaplin.

It was a good way to spend a Saturday. Actually, I had totally forgotten that my husband had invited a friend over at 1, so at 12:50 I was still in pajamas, a hideous hair clip and had gel paste food coloring all over my hands. I ran upstairs to get dressed and the gel paste coloring was getting everywhere — like when I put moisturizer on my face, it was green. See, I do need servants.

Have any ideas for a Downton Abbey party? Please share!

Baking Food

The Daddy of All Cake / Cookie / Cake Pop Decorating Tips

The Decorated Cookie Logo

The Decorated Cookie has posted some life-changing decorating techniques on her site today.

When I saw this this morning, I nearly passed out. It was as if I lived in 200 BC and spent my whole life trying to figure out what the circumference of the earth was (just forget for now that they thought the earth was a giant terrarium), tried a bunch of measuring techniques, got all prune-y and sunburned doing it, and then someone just came up to me and said: 24,901.55 miles.

I wish I were one of those bloggers who could refer you to “my pal Meaghen Mountford“, but the truth is she has no idea that I exist and fortunately for her, has never seen me bake. But Meaghen has a book and a website about all things baked, cute and decorated.

And today, Meaghen posted a startling compilation of tips from her readers — you can find it here.  Some highlights include mess-free ways to handle the frosting mixing and piping (from Karen’s Cookies), tips on keeping cupcakes moist by freezing them, and — I’ve heard this one before from Melissa V who made the initial cake pops that got me into all of this — adding shortening to the candy coating for cake pops.

And have you heard of this? A KopyKake Projector? I could go crazy with something like this. Nevermind that it will take up half my house — look at all the cute things you can make with it! And you could probably even make up the cost of it by providing tattooing services with it in the comfort of your own home, right? I’m sure tattooing is easy. I have food coloring.

Now, back to sitting around in yoga pants. Happy President’s Day!

Fashion Shopping

Finding the Right Yoga Pants

I bet in heaven you’re allowed to wear sweatpants and eat cake pops and bacon every day.

My new fascination with baking requires me to invest in a new wardrobe — specifically, one that maximizes opportunities to wear knit pants with an elastic waistband.  This blog isn’t rated for mature audiences so I won’t post a close-up of my belly here, but you can trust that I have tested and maybe had a third helping of everything I’ve posted here.

All this to say that in the past few weeks I’ve become a bit of an expert in lounge wear. I’ve been known to wear exceptionally hideous clothing when no one’s looking, but 1) my expanding waistline demands more elastic waistband time, in public even, and 2) I live in California so I have to consider earthquake risk: that there could be a day where I might be stuck for some time in a single outfit.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1) Stick with black. I’ve been tempted by the occasional charcoal gray, and my biggest mistake was a heather gray which can only really be described as inappropriate — kind of like giving people a peep show of what your lower half might look like in black and white TV. Black masks a lot of detail, and you have a lower risk of the dreaded camel toe if you stick with black.

2) Heavier fabrics are more forgiving. Knits notoriously show off every little detail. Think fondant versus regular frosting — you’re  more likely to get even coverage, and again, reduce the probability of camel toe. I prefer fabric blends that contain some percentage of elastane.

3) Vertical seaming is very, very good. Any vertical details elongate the leg and are generally slimming. One pair I have has a really subtle extra vertical line of stitching about three inches behind the normal side seam, and it makes a huge difference.

4) Other butt detailing is generally bad. I tried on a pair that claimed to be “butt-lifting” and had concentric semicircles of black stitching on the rear like a padded bike short would. While someone from very far away might think I had a very lifted, rounded butt, anyone within 30 feet of me would wonder why I was wearing a very large black diaper.

5) Cut matters. I find that the most flattering pairs skim your thighs just enough to accentuate the shape without being tight. I generally prefer a straight leg, or one that flares very subtly at the bottom.

6) Know your inseam. When stand up and look in the mirror, with shoes on the back of your pant leg should be about 1/2 inch off the floor. Too long and the leg will start bunching up in the front, making you look chunkier and once again risking camel toe; too short and it will look like you didn’t bother updating your wardrobe after puberty.

7) Get a bargain. You don’t have to do this — they’ll still look good of course if you pay full retail, but I always think it’s fun to get a $45 pair of yoga pants for less than $20 — like I’m actually making money. I’ve found really good Adidas, Puma and New Balance pairs at Costco (wear a skirt so you can just try them on right then and there and spare yourself the returns line) and discounters like Marshall’s and Nordstrom Rack.

I would love to be able to branch out into other colors, actually….does anyone have tips on how to find a decent pair? If so, and if you have any other tips to add, please share! Stay comfy, everyone!

 

 

Baking Cooking Food

Homemade Granola

Happy Valentine’s Day!  To celebrate, I’ll share a picture of the one decent Valentine’s Day cookie that I did with royal icing. Will post about that another time, after I’ve recovered from the royal icing initiation.  I’ll just have to eat the rest of the evidence.

Valentine's Day cookie

The only cookie I'm willing to share publicly. Stamped the paper plate with non-toxic metallic ink.

Today one of my girls was home sick, so we spent a lazy day completely indoors and mostly in the kitchen. Which means we had plenty of time to make stuff. So I decided to try out Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola recipe that my friend Heidi shared with me. She said that it was delicious, and I proved it by having three bowls of it after I made it.   Here’s a closeup so you can get a sense of its sweet and nutty delectableness (look it up! It’s actually a word):

Homemade granola closeup

And it’s so easy to make that even I, who did this last time I tried to make something with rolled oats, was able to make it:

Burnt oats

This happened the last time I roasted oats. I followed the instructions and put them into the oven, took a shower, and came out with the whole house smelling burnt. Please do not shower when you are roasting oats.

Basically, all you do is coat oats, coconut and almonds in an oil-and-honey mixture, roast (you’ll want to turn them every 8-10 minutes to ensure even browning and to prevent the above from happening), and take them out when they’re a nice caramel brown all over.  Let it cool, and add in the dried fruit and cashews.  I bought some particularly plump dried cranberries and they made the cran-bites especially tasty.

Cooled granola with dried fruit and nuts

I used a rimmed baking tray for this and mixed the dried fruit in while the granola was on the tray for even distribution.

This was the first time I’ve made granola so I didn’t really mess with the recipe, but I’m seeing a lot of room for experimentation here (Raisins? Sunflower seeds? Tiny doll accessories embedded in my carpet?). After it all cooled (ok, and after I ate about a quarter of it) I put it into an airtight container, and am storing it next to my other cereals.  It’s the prettiest of the bunch!

Finished granola

Portrait of granola.

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten via my friend Heidi:

HOMEMADE GRANOLA

Ingredients

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 cups sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup good honey
  • 1 1/2 cups small diced dried apricots
  • 1 cup small diced dried figs
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the oats, coconut, and almonds together in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the oats and nuts are coated. Pour onto a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan. Bake, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even, golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally. Add the apricots, figs, cherries, cranberries, and cashews. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container.

 

 

Baking Food

Fondant Decorated Cookies

Nowadays, everything baked as cute-potential to me. Years of obligatory Christmas cookie baking have pushed me into mastering the shortbread cookie, but I was always a little sad that mine didn’t look cute. Certainly not Amy Atlas-cute. On the plus side, people who got my cookies knew they were definitely homemade.

One thing that has always fascinated/terrified me is fondant. On the one hand, it tastes gross. On the other hand, it looks amazing. Since it looks amazing, I always assumed that I, She Who Was Cursed With Inability to Make Frosting, would never be able to do it. Well, turning 40 has emboldened me and now that I have also successfully made frosting, I decided to give it a whirl. Note: if you do not want to spend a couple of hours scrubbing fondant scraps off the floor after you make it, I recommend that you don’t do this with your kids the first time. Nobody told me that. If I wrote a cookbook I would tell you these things.

First, the fondant-decorated cookies!

Fondant Decorated Cookies

I started by baking up a batch of shortbread cookies. I felt a little guilty about all the butter that goes into shortbread, so I modified the recipe a tiny bit by subbing the last tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of NUTIVA Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, which is the coconut oil that I think tastes the best.  I’ll paste in the cookie recipe below too. So you end up with a cookie that looks like this:

Shortbread Cookie

Now, the fondant prep was so messy and I did it with my kids that I would have required 8 more hands in order to have photographed it. But I will refer you to a great video tutorial (made by someone who apparently does have 8 more hands) on how to make marshmallow fondant. In my research the marshmallow fondant was easier and tastier than traditional fondant. And I have to say, it was pretty tasty for fondant.

Once the fondant is ready, you just roll it out — I used parchment paper sprinkled with cornstarch, both under and over the fondant (so I used my rolling pin over the top piece of parchment) and rolled out til it was about 1/8 inch. After this it’s pretty much like working with Play-Doh. You can color the fondant with a gel paste food coloring — you’ll need to knead it for a while to distribute the color (I recommend wearing plastic gloves for this if you’re not dressing up as Lady Macbeth in the near future). You can cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a knife and then make it stick to the cookie by wetting the back of the fondant like we used to do with postage stamps before sticking it onto the cookie.

Cutting out fondant

Excuse her dirty fingernails.

 

Fondant Cookies

Fondant cookies my kids made

I also did a few with royal icing that looked so bad that I’m telling people that my kids made them.

And just when you thought you’d be safe from sports on this decidedly unathletic blog, I just have share my favorite internet activity around Jeremy Lin and the ensuing Linsanity. I love Cinderella and underdog stories about Chinese /Taiwanese-American third-string NBA players from Harvard (so apparently do Rainn Wilson and Spike Lee), and this is one of the best. His quiet demeanor and humility just add to the charm:

Ok, back to the baking. I don’t recall the source of this recipe, which I’ve modified, except that it came from a Christmas cookie exchange years ago and I’ve used it ever since.

SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups (2 sticks + 5 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (Nutiva preferred)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Use an electric mixer with paddle attachment, and cream butter and sugar on medium speed til light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and vanilla and beat to combine. Add flour one cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.

Roll out dough between two sheets of floured wax or parchment paper using a rolling pin. Bake until pale golden, but not browned, about 13-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before decorating.

 

MARSHMALLOW FONDANT

I got this recipe off of About.com and it’s pretty much perfect.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces miniature marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tbsp water
  • Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional

Preparation

Dust your counter or a large cutting board with powdered sugar. Place the marshmallows and the water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until the marshmallows are puffy and expanded.

Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some unmelted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30-45 seconds, until the marshmallow mixture is entirely smooth and free of lumps. If you want colored or flavored fondant, you can add several drops of food coloring or extracts at this point and stir until incorporated. If you want to create multiple colors or flavors from one batch of fondant, do not add the colors or flavors now. Instead, refer to step 6 below for instructions.

Add the powdered sugar and begin to stir with the spatula. Stir until the sugar begins to incorporate and it becomes impossible to stir anymore.

Scrape the marshmallow-sugar mixture out onto the prepared work surface. It will be sticky and lumpy, with lots of sugar that has not been incorporated yet–this is normal. Dust your hands with powdered sugar, and begin to knead the fondant mixture like bread dough, working the sugar into the marshmallow with your hands.

Continue to knead the fondant until it smoothes out and loses its stickiness. Add more sugar if necessary, but stop adding sugar once it is smooth–too much sugar will make it stiff and difficult to work with. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, it is ready to be used. You can now roll it out, shape it, or wrap it in cling wrap to use later. Well-wrapped fondant can be stored in a cool room or in the refrigerator, and needs to be kneaded until supple before later use.

If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc. You might want to wear gloves to avoid getting food coloring on your hands during this step. Add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball.

Begin to knead the ball of fondant just like you did before. As you work it, you will begin to see streaks of color coming through from the center. Continue to knead until the streaks are gone and the fondant is a uniform color. Your fondant is now ready to be used or stored as outlined above.


 

Cooking Food

Linguine with Garlic Langoustine Sauce

A friend invited me to join her Mormon moms workout group that meets on Monday and Friday mornings, and I went today for the first time. Apparently Mormons like to go uphill really fast and leave Presbyterians like me with poor cardiovascular conditioning in the dust.  Then they do a bunch of pilates before doing it all over again (somehow finding a way to go uphill both ways).  Then, to spite me, Nike+ didn’t synch all my data and now I’ve been robbed of getting Nike Fuel points for a game that I don’t understand.

For this I deserve to eat.

This is super easy and great for entertaining. (I just wanted to write that because Barefoot Contessa does — I have no idea if this is great for entertaining but it is easy.)

I buy the langoustines from Costco, and they’re already cooked and frozen so I just thaw them in a mesh strainer. I’m sure I’m supposed to say that you should do this in the refrigerator but that’s not what I did. Oh, and langoustines are basically really small lobsters. I was going to link to a picture but I think it’s best not to see what they look like before you’re going to eat them.

Once your langoustines are defrosted, chop up some garlic and tomatoes and heat up your olive oil, on medium to low. You’ll want to put the garlic in there to cook for about a minute, so that they just start to look slightly golden but don’t burn.  Try not to salivate into the pan.  Turn off the heat and add in the tomatoes and langoustine, stirring. Add salt and pepper.

If you want it to taste even better, add in a half of a dried red chili pepper while the garlic is cooking. The pepper seeps into the oil slowly and gives it a nice, warm, rich flavor.

Cover and let it sit for a bit for the flavors to meld. While you’re waiting, boil the linguine. Drain, toss the sauce with the linguine, garnish with parsley, and eat those carbs. You deserve it!

LINGUINE WITH GARLIC LANGOUSTINE SAUCE

Ingredients

9 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 pound langoustine tails (pre-cooked, drained and thawed)

1 ripe tomato

1/4 cup parsley, minced

8 oz (1/2 pound) linguine

(optional) 1/2 of a dried red chili pepper or 1/2 tsp paprika

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Heat oil in a saute pan over medium to low heat. Add in garlic  (and optionally, the chili pepper) and cook for about a minute, til it begins to be a very light golden hue. (For a milder spice, substitute paprika for the chili pepper.) Off the heat, and stir in tomatoes, langoustine, salt and pepper. Cover to allow flavors to meld.

Boil the linguine and drain. Combine with prepared sauce above, stir in parsley and serve.

Serves 2-4.