Archive for June, 2011

The Cupcake Caper

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

This time every year I am faced with lots of stress over cakes and cupcakes.  This year has been no exception and there’s only been one birthday so far.  You see the summer is full of birthdays in my family.  This year we added a preschool graduation into the mix too.  I’m not sure what got into me, but I thought I was going to make cake for my daughter’s graduation when I first signed up.  Until I was told there would be 150 cupcakes needed or two half sheet cakes.  Oops!

So I bought them at the suggested bakery near the school.  They are quite popular (and $$) and use fresh ingredients, but somehow I wasn’t impressed.  Though most of the 125+ people were happy and the cakes were eaten.  They were somehow bland and dense.  They were super cute though right?  And was I going to bake cake for that many people?  Nope.

 

However I spent two days (and more time and agony) perfecting 24 cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday party the following day.  Months ago my daughter picked out a cupcake photo she wanted me to make for her birthday.  It was an adorable cupcake decorated with sugar jewels out of our favorite cupcake cookbook (see previous review).  Turns out these are not so easy to find except for online and quite expensive ($1 per jewel).

Edible Diamonds

I went to CakeArt, an amazing cake decorating and baking supply store (they also have classes) in San Rafael for help on the jewels.  I thought if I can’t buy them, I can make them with molds.  Turns out they had a few “diamonds”, but the owner warned me they are made from isomalt and not good on many people’s stomache’s if eaten (and you know kids would try them).  Well, my daughter quickly understood this was not a good idea.  Luckily there were so many other lovely decorations she moved on and chose others.  This was still a few weeks before her party.

 

She still couldn’t decide on cupcake flavor.  One day she carried the cupcake book everywhere and reviewed it all during my son’s baseball game.  First she wanted lavender vanilla and I bought lavender.  Then it was strawberry milkshake, and I shopped for strawberry extract (couldn’t find).  It was too overwhelming that she could choose any flavor cupcake and frosting and mix and match with her chosen decoration.  Three days before she decided chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream frosting.  Hooray, I thought the hard part was over.

test batch

Since she had been so indecisive, yet so obsessive, I made a few test cupcakes for her reviewa few days before the party.  Then she says “Of course I’m going to like any of them…it’s a cupcake.”  Oh glad I wasn’t worried.  But glad I did the test.  I learned two valuable things from this recipe.  Do not spray with cooking oil as directed.  See above how the papers fall away?  And next, filling 1/2 to 2/3 full wasn’t enough.  I was also able to convince my daughter that the white frosting looked the best (her ideas of striped and colors were tried above).

test #2

Filling 3/4 cull and skipping the spray worked much better.

looking good and practicing my piping

Making the buttercream ahead for the test, I thought I’d just re-whip the next day when it was time to make a whole batch.  Well, this didn’t turn out so well.  The morning of the party, I frosted half of them and realized the butter cream was separating and kind of melting after a bit.  Yikes!

buttercream starting to separate

I quickly made another fresh batch of frosting and the second dozen looked far superior.  My daughter came in and said “Are these a diffrent kind?”  Having about one hour (still needing to shower and get dressed myself and pack the car with other food and ice chest) I scraped the frosting off the first dozen and refrosted them.  I felt much better.  O.K. first she was obsessed, and now I was.  As you can see, it all turned out fine…we made it to the party (at a gymnastics studio), everyone had fun, and the cupcakes were a hit.  Big kudos to the cupcake carrier too.  (Purchased at Target)  Great invention to protect your creations when on the go.

scraping off the melting frosting

fresh frosting fixed everything

the birthday girl adding the finishing touches

off to the party!

Share

It’s Father’s Day…Go Grill the Crap Out of Something

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I saw the message above on a greeting card and think it’s very funny.  I don’t believe it’s an accident that Father’s Day is at the begining of summer and dad’s are ready to cook and eat outside.  I guess it’s like getting back to nature and feeling like you’re living off the land and providing food for the tribe.  Or maybe it’s just to get out of the house and away from the kitchen where most of the usual action (good and bad) happens.

Whether your dad is a BBQ guy or not, celebrate everything he does (or did) for you and your family.  I sure miss mine.  I’ll make sure my husband feels appreciated and loved by our kids and even let him watch some golf (before he grills our dinner).

Happy Father’s Day Dad’s, Grandad’s, and Husband’s!

Speaking of grilling, I received a copy of the new Cookouts Veggie Style, 225 Backyard Favorites – Full of Flavor, Free of Meat., by Jolinda Hackett.  This has some great inspiration for using the grill without the meat.  Note this is a vegetarian cookbook and not vegan (although there are many recipes) as there are many dishes with cheese (grilled Haloumi – yum).  Putting on a steak is always good and easy, but what if you want to grill something lighter?  Or you have a few vegetarians for dinner guest?  Or your daughter doesn’t want to eat meat today? (yes, that’s speaking personally).   We discovered putting tofu slices on the grill with our steak suits her just fine (and the rest of the family too sometimes).  See recipe below.

Review

Pros – Lots of great sounding recipes, with simple instructions for a variety of tastes and flavors.  A few mouthwatering photos.  Good grill basic intro.

Cons – Serving sizes and yields seems very large on some recipes (4 people eat an entire head of cabbage for slaw? 1/2 cup of butter for 4 ears of corn!).

 

Easy Herb-Marinated Tofu

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 package, firm or extra firm tofu, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together juice, oil and garlic until emulsified, then add in basil and rosemary.  Marinate tofu for at least 20 minutes or up to overnight – the longer the better.

Remove the tofu from the marinade and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place on a well greased grill over medium heat for 5 – 6 minutes on each side.

(Make etxra for left overs.  Grilled tofu is great for salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes)

 

tofu in marinade

Tofu on grill - oops I forgot to slice first

 

 

Share

The Whole Foods Parking Lot – Hilarious

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

http://www.fogandsmog.com/whole-foods-parking-lot/

Check out this video by Fog and Smog about the Whole Foods parking lot in Santa Monica, CA.  It’s hilarious, and oh so true.  It does seem like the stores have become so popular it’s hectic to get in and out of the parking lot.  I have my own story about a Whole Foods parking lot in San Francisco as a few years ago I smashed my fender into a pole.  Yep.  I was backing out and heard a noise.  I thought I was running over a to-go container, only to look up and see my fender wrapped around the pole.  Yep, “It’s gettin’ real in the Whole Foods parking lot.”

A few of the best lines:

“You’re the most annoying dude I’ve ever seen, brah/ Could you please move? You’re right in front of the quinoa”

Everyon’es favorite line “…Pay my 80 bucks for six things and get the heck out…”

By the way Whole Foods likes it too.  See article on Today show here.

 

Share

Kitchen Confessions – Cookbook Contest

Friday, June 17th, 2011

So there are a few things regarding cooking, eating and the kitchen (and beyond) that I’m not always proud of.  We all have these things right?  Nothing crazy, just things we’d rather not share with our kids, spouses and friends.  But here goes.  I have to tell someone.

1. When my kids aren’t looking I take a lick of batter.  I do share the spoon/beater with the kids if there are no eggs in the batter.  But I tell them it’s not safe if it has egg.  The message is correct, but I risk it for myself.

2. I forget to set or listen for timers.  My biggest mistakes in the kitchen are because I’ve overcooked something.

3. I used to eat Taco Bell breakfast burritos frequently.  Mind you this was 20 years ago.  I also ate Pop-Tarts as a kid.

4.  I’ve told my family a particular food was gone and I actually hid the very last of it for myself.  Specifically with a homemade chocolate sauce.

5.  I am secretly screaming inside when my kids are served (and eat) a birthday cake from Safeway.

6. I do not have a slow cooker.

7. I do not like raw oysters.

8. I am not fond of paper plates, plastic utensils and paper napkins (especially if you invite me for dinner).

9. I’ve turned off a burner with my toes.  I know other moms have done this while holding and/or nursing a baby.  Fess up.

11. I don’t like to be “out-ordered”.  This is when you go out to eat and your dining companion’s meal is better than yours.

12. I eat many lunches standing up by myself in the kitchen, bewteen pick-ups, while checking phone messages, searching cookbooks, and making to do lists.

13. I often cook to get out of doing something else, like cleaning.

14. I put rosemary salt on just about everything.

15. I don’t always sift, when instructed to.

So let’s have our first contest here.  I’d love to see if anyone else does some of these things and any other confessions they’d like to share.  These should be G rated please.  The top 3 answers will receive a copy of one of the new Idiot books (and no I didn’t call you one): Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Local, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking and Complete Idiot’s Guide to Easy Freezer Meals.  Simply blog a confession or agree with one of mine.  I’ll choose the top 3 funniest and most honest.  Winners will be contacted via email for their addresses (and must respond within 72 hours, or I’ll make a new pick).  Must be in the continental US and blog here between Friday June 17th and Friday July 8th.

 

Share

I Heart Iced Tea

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Yesterday was National Iced Tea Day.  Although you probably already knew that right?  I celebrated with a glass of iced tea.  Actually whether it’s a holiday or not, I drink a glass or two of iced tea.  There’s not a lot of beverages I drink.  My mainstays are water and iced tea.  I’m not big on bubbles.  I no longer drink coffee.  So tea, cold or hot is my drink.  Apparently this is true for many people, as tea is the most popular drink, worldwide.

Whether you brew it from a tea bag, buy a bottle or order at a restaurant – there are lots of options.  What kind of tea?  Is it caffeinated?  Plus there are the sweeteners to consider.  Watch out…  Many bottled versions have high fructose corn syrup.  Or there’s the fake sweeteners that are full of chemicals.  And you never know what you’ll get in a restaurant – Lipton, Nestea, fresh brewed, flavored, etc.

These are a few of my favorite iced teas…

My first is the Mighty Leaf, African Nectar.  This is good both hot and cold, but the first time I had the cold was at the Nob Hill Spa.  Brewing this at home or ordering it out (they also brew it at La Boulange) reminds me of my annual stress free day at the spa.  Mighty Leaf makes all kinds of teas in bag, loose leaf and iced tea forms in a huge variety of flavors.

My next favorite is Honest Tea’s Oo-la-Long Peach.  Honest Tea makes quite a few flavors and uses red, green, white and black teas, but this is my favorite.  Just enough sweetness and no chemical taste.

Finally our staple at home (my husband is an iced tea guy too) is Tejava.  This is bottled, plain black tea without sweetener.  This is good all on it’s own.  We stock up on the big bottles.

I have a few iced tea recipes in my book, Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry.  The antioxidants in many teas, hot or cold, can benefit everyone.  Just be sure to make decaf for the kids.  Adding a slice of lemon or orange makes it extra special.  The best way to sweeten iced tea is with simple syrup, as it mixes well with the cold liquid.  Granular sugar just adds grains without flavor. (My friends who endure my “iced tea with a splash of simple syrup” order at restaurants will attest for me).  Below is a recipe for a mint simple syrup that is a refreshing addition to hot and cold teas.

 

Minty Iced Green Tea

This is the standard and favorite “iced tea” in my family’s refrigerator. The mint syrup sweetens the sometimes bitterness of green tea. Despite the name this tea will not be green in color, much to my son’s dismay.
Yield 4½ cups

4 cups water

4 bags green tea

½ cup Mint Syrup (see below)

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add tea bags, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Carefully squeeze tea bags and discard. Let cool.

 

Pour tea into a glass pitcher and add syrup. Serve over ice.

 

Mint Syrup

The symbol of hospitality, mint has been used for scores of culinary and medicinal purposes over the centuries. This simple mint syrup can be added as a sweetener to hot and cold teas, as well as lemonade and plain water (see below)
Makes 2 cups syrup

3/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar

2 cups water

2 cups fresh mint (1 bunch), torn into 2-inch pieces
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and mint. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Pour though a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or pitcher and discard mint.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Share

Meatless Meal Ideas with Part Time Vegan Cookbook Review

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Part Time Vegan…Aren’t We All?  There’s a new cookbook I received called The Part Time Vegan: 201 Yummy Recipes That Put the Fun in Flexitarian by Cherise Grifoni.   Some people get so freaked out about veganism.  There’s always someone who thinks vegans are hippies or just unhealthy/picky
eaters.  Sure they can be.  But like this cookbook title infers:  we’re all part time vegans at different time of the day.  Did you eat an apple with peanut butter for a snack?  That was vegan.  Ever had grilled vegetables with balsamic and olive oil dressing?  That was a vegan meal.  So really whether we adopt an entire vegan diet or not, at some point you’re likely to eat a vegan meal or two.  Thus this book is for everyone.  Whether you’re looking for more meatless Monday dinner ideas,  cooking for a vegan guest or simply looking for more healthy ideas, The Part Time Vegan has tasty recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts.

 

My family made a few things as soon as I received this cookbook.  One night it was a total vegan meal with Cashew Cream of Asparagus Soup, Orange and Raisin Curried Couscous and Vegan Pigs in a Blanket.  O.K the soup wasn’t a family favorite.  But mostly due to the texture – which was too crunchy.  I must admit too, the color isn’t very appetizing (see below)  Next time I would process the cashews to a powder for a less grainy consistency.  But the flavor was good.  Everyone loved the couscous.  I think the orange juice really made it and I will certainly make that again.  And finally with the Vegan Pigs in a Blanket, my kids discovered vegan dogs.  I had never tried these.  My kids aren’t huge hot dog eaters and they know that hot dogs are usually made with cheap, random parts (yes, I tell the truth) and thus a bit scary.  But I didn’t have anything bad to say about these and my kids thought they tasted like “regular” hot dogs.  Who knew?
The favorite recipe was the Blueberry Muffins that I brought to my son’s baseball game to share for “snack”.  These were a huge hit.  The kids loved them.  Parents were surprised when I told them they were vegan and I was asked for the recipe a few times.  Although they do have more sugar than I would normally put in a muffin, so just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean low sugar and fat.

asparagus soup

Vegan Dog Blanket

Blueberry Muffins

Review

Pros: Lots of creative and tasty recipes.  Easy to follow recipes.  Good opening chapter about veganism and some of the less familiar ingredients.

Cons:  Pictures would be nice, as would nutritional info.
Heavy on sugar for some baked goods.

Share

New US Dietary Guidelines – Goodbye Pyramid, Hello Plate

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

The nineteen year old food pyramid has been toppled.  The US Dietary Guidelines have just been released and the new icon is (wait for it)……

a dinner plate.  What could be more simple and straight forward? (Really it cost $2 million to create?)

Anyone remember the last “My Pyramid”?  Easy to forget as their was so much going on with it.

 

The new icon makes it clear that fruits and veggies should make up half of your meal, while protein is the smallest part of the plate. The grain portion is a bit larger and still offers the advice to “make half your grains whole.” Some nutritionists say leaves too much room for less healthy refined grains such as white rice and white bread.  Anyways this seems a step in the right direction and certainly a big departure from the first guidelines from the 1950’s when food was more scarce (and governement wanted to be sure you were getting enough nutrients) to the 1980’s when the abundance of food became the problem.

The White House is spearheading the launch of the icon, aimed at boosting awareness of new federal dietary guidelines issued in January. The easier to understand icon goes along with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move anti-obesity initiative, and will be seen everywhere from restaurants, schools, workplaces and grocery stores.

The six main points of the new guidelines include:

1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables

2. Avoid supersized portions

3. Enjoy tasty meals but eat less

4. Switch to low-fat or fat free dairy products

5. Read labels and pick foods with less sodium

6. quench thrist with water instead of sweet drinks

See more details and read entire story on Healthline here.

I for one am in favor of the new icon and nutrition education and am glad the message is more current, and getting clearer from our government.  Let’s hope people pay attention to the advice.

 

Share