My Cake Decorating Gallery

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Holiday Wreath Party


Finally a craft entry into the Food Blog!

It took me a little extra time to blog about this because I delayed taking a picture of the invitations that I created - see above and below! They were really fun to make. (Note: I normally would back-date this to December but I'd rather have it front-and-center for a while and will do that later so it doesn't get lost.)


For two years now I have hosted a party near the holidays - the first one was a Gingerbread House making party (will post blog about that eventually, or go to "Blissful Fun" album collection and this latest one was a wreath centerpiece making party. Both turned out great and everyone involved left feeling a little more creative than they had previously thought they were! Who knows what we'll do next year, but it will surely include something crafty, food, drinks, and great ladies.

The wreath idea was originally my mom's and at first I didn't like it but I threw the idea out there and got 1 other person interested so I went ahead with it. It actually turned out to be fun though a little unruley wrestling all those pokey evergreen branches.

I invited 6 ladies and had the help of my mom who showed me how to create a wreath and my dad went out and picked a ton of evergreen branches from assorted trees: Pines, Blue Spruce, Cedar, etc. I took care of the food and refreshments and had all the wreath supplies prepared: the wreath form, wire, hot glue, and decorative berries, pine cones, and glitter.

It was the final event of a whirlwind holiday season, from the Christmas Log, Cupcake-cake , Cookie Exchange, hosting adopt-a-family, looming Christmas shopping and working a ton of overtime ... I had specifically planned this party to occur the night of my last day at work. I had 2 weeks of vacation including that afternoon off so I was elated and very excited to ring in the Holiday season with this party. I appreciate having the guests take time out of their busy weeks too - not everyone had a generous holiday vacation like I did! (but I think they were all ahead of me on Christmas shopping!)

I picked out some appetizers and had others bring some as well. My mother-in-law brought a tasty Texas Caviar which was a bean dip with chips, yum! I had never had this and still need to get the recipe.


Andrea brought a tasty.. not sure what you call it.. Cucumber Dill Sandwiches?


See below for the exact recipe but it's basically the little rye breads with cream cheese topped with sliced cucumbers and fresh dill. Sounds simple but the flavor combination blew me away! Last but not least, Cindy brought a pumpkin roll which was delicious!


The appetizers I had were spring rolls from Trader Joes (yum) with a homemade dipping sauce of ginger jelly, red currant jelly, mustard, and soy sauce. I also had some phyllo triangles "wild mushroom" flavored from Trader Joes, also yummy.


I made a Spinach Artichoke Dip from All Recipes but I should've gone with Andrea's... mine was yummy but not the restaurant-style as hers sounded like. I also made "Mini Crab Puffs" from http://www.puffypastry.com/ which I would never make again (fishy).. ( though maybe it was the brand of crab I had. )

For a sweet ending I had the results of my cookie exchange which I was happy to share! I decided to make a fun drink - the Flirtini - which also was quite tasty! See below for the recipe of that!

Now on to the crafting.....


I showed everyone how to make little bouquets of various greens, use wire to make them a little "package", and then afix those to the wreath with more floral wire. With that technique, you simply continue around the wreath form, filling in. We started running out of White Pine and Blue Spruce so I hopped outside and snipped some fresh specimens from some of our trees! They were a little snow-covered but they made it into our wreaths just fine.

Since I didn't ask permission to post photos... the ones with other people are small or they are cut out!

There was an assortment of red, silver, white, and gold berries for decorations from the craft store and we also had miniature pine cones with assorted glitter to apply on them. I loved those glittery pine cones!


Also from the craft store, I purchased the glass vase and candles to go in the middle of the centerpiece. Just because of all of the supplies, I decided to ask for a nominal donation to help cover some of those costs - so if you are thinking about trying this party but you've spent all your dough on holiday shopping, think about that and/or asking for a dish to pass! A centerpiece for $5 or $7 (even though it looks homemade) is a good deal plus we all get to blow off steam from the holiday planning with a little pre-partying.

Everyone did a great job!!! Here are some of the final results of the Ladies Holiday Craft Night:

Natalie and Meredith were the first to finish!

Here's Cindy's Wreath!!! Beautiful!

Here's Chris and Megan's stunning wreaths!

Here's Andrea's wreath, which met all of her german husband's specifications! Way to go!

And finally, here is Andrea giving my wreath a Thumb's Up! Thank you!!

Even though creating floral arrangements is not exactly my thing (like it is for my mom), I still think it was a fun party to try something new and everyone walked away with a wonderfully fresh pine smelling centerpiece that they could use or give away (to a pesky neighbor if they didn't like it!) We all learned something new, I think. Thanks for all of you who could make it!



How To Host a Holiday Centerpiece Wreath Making Party

1. Plan date, Send invitations
2. Obtain supplies: wreath forms, floral wire, decorations (berries, glitter, pine cones, ornaments, etc), glue gun and glue stick, candles and candle holders, floral push pins (look like big Us)
3. Plan for food and drinks

It's that easy!


Mini Dill Cucumber Sandwiches
Recipe from Andrea, fellow Cooking Club Member!

Ingredients
1 Package of small rye or pumperknickle square sliced bread
1 or 2 cucumbers sliced
1 bunch of dill

Cucumber dip
8 oz cream cheese
1 pkg dry italian dressing
3 tbsp mayo
spinkle of hot sauce

Directions

Mix dip and spread on small rye or pumpernickle bread slices
Place sliced cucumbers on top of bread slices and spread
Place one or two dill sprigs on top
Enjoy!


Flirtini
(sorry, I didn't take a specific picture of this drink.. this is just in the background of another photo)

From http://www.recipezaar.com/

Ingredients

1 oz raspberry vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau liquor
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz cranberry juice
1 dash of fresh lime juice
1-2 raspberries and lime slice for garnish
champagne

Directions
1. (Oops I just realized I didn't follow directions). Muddle raspberries in bottom of glass. (i just used mine for garnish. haha)
2. Mix everything except champagne in shaker and strain into glass
(again, I didn't do this, we just mixed and poured)
3. Top with champagne, garnish with mint (oops I didnt do that either.)
To make matters worse, I served mine on ice... yes champagne and ice sounds illegal.. but it was still delicious and at least it was cold for a long time. Often I'd prefer to water down a martini anyway...

Spinach Artichoke Dip
from www.allrecipes.com
"Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip II" (Ithink this is the one I used)

I thought this was "OK"... it was not what I was shooting for. I wanted the bubbly gooey stuff like you'd get at TGIF's or Chili's,... this was more of a warmed up version of a cream cheese cracker spread (also delicious).

Andrea says she has the killer recipe and next time I will take her advice and try it!

INGREDIENTS
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a small baking dish.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, garlic, basil, garlic salt, salt and pepper. Gently stir in artichoke hearts and spinach.
3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top with mozzarella cheese. Bake in the preheated oven 25 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned.





Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nobana Sushi


This place used to be called Nobel Fish House, but maybe because there already was a "Noble Fish" in Clawson, they eventually changed names (and maybe owners?) to Nobana! I was first introduced to this place when I worked at NWS as it was a hop, skip, and a jump away: Located on Crooks Rd just north of Long Lake in the plaza there. My boss said the "Michigan Rolls" were awesome and gave me a piece to try - and it was delicious. You could tell this was the ultimate in fresh ingredients. I am also a big fan of Cafe Sushi on Maple Rd, where I first had a Crunch Roll which is fabulous. Nobana is more convenient for me as I get off I-75 there frequently, and eventually I tried asking for "Added Crunch" to their spicy california inside-out rolls, and it worked! It was my favorite from then on. I also love their salad dressing and they always have a cold-case filled with freshly made sushi and salads to take away without calling ahead. If you're picky, call first or plan to wait / eat there (there is a small dining area) -- the cold case has a variety of rolls which change daily -- it seems to be well-stocked on weekdays, as this is a popular lunch spot for nearby offices.

At a recent visit (after a 17 mile run I felt sushi was much-deserved), The Husband and I ordered some of his (cucumber... boooooooring...) and my (spicy california crunch!) favorites. It had been since Shilla that we had sushi, a few months ago, and it was fab. I noticed Nobana had some new sushi chefs and also noticed the rolls had less crunch than... well.. I was accustomed too. It was still tasty, so I won't knock them too much. The house dressing on the salad was still delicious!

They've recently created and updated their website, so you too can check out Nobana http://www.nobana.us/index.htm, a tasty and FRESH sushi joint. I typically call ahead and the service is fast - 10 or 15 minutes max. This equates to "call before I get to downtown Pontiac" on my way home from work... this is why Nobana is the only restaurant number in my cell phone, as bad as that may sound. The Husband thinks that's crazy, but he doesn't have to plan dinner for me so he can't make any comments... There are no current plans for any carb-bans in the near future so I hope to visit Nobana again soon! .. And you should, too!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cindy's Baby Shower: Baby Bassinet Cake


I was incredibly excited that Cindy's sister accepted my offer to bring the cake for the baby shower and immediately started looking for ideas in magazines, CakeCentral.com, and Google. My mom said she had made several baby shower cakes and there were lots of ideas and I quickly realized I didn't want a boring rectangle with the grocery-store shell border and buttercream roses. I came across many cool ideas but eventually decided I had to go for the BIG WIN even though I'm a novice decorator. I felt I needed to have "height" so the flat baby carriage idea was out, and making perfect 3-D blocks seemed impossible so I went with the challenging idea of a 3-D baby bassinet. Having never done anything like it,.. or even doing a basic buttercream cake all by myself before, I knew it was signing myself up for a little craziness but I believed I could pull it off. There were tons of examples online and in CakeCentral and I saved off all my favorites (and a few ugly ones to remind myself of what NOT to do) and began dreaming of how mine would look-incorporating all my favorite aspects of each of the example cakes.

The gender of the baby is a surprise, yay!! After attending another surprise gender baby shower, I quickly learned that means: yellow and green. It ended up working out perfectly because those were the colors Cindy's sisters used to decorate the party.

I visited my local cake supplies store a few times. Mandatory items were: more decorating tips for all the styles of piping I wanted, some brown food color for the teddy bear, the gumpaste mix and pre-made fondant, and two double cake boards (and they had rolls of beautiful foil which I also got to wrap the board in... way better than a doily!) My mis-pronounciation of "fondant" (still working on that one) was corrected by the staff at the store... I probably didn't sound like the type of person who was about to make the cake I did!

First, I baked the two rectangle 10.5x14.5 cake layers. Mine pillowed up in the center and I attribute that to using too much cake batter: I think 1.5 boxes is sufficient. (Yes, Boxes.... No, I didn't bake it from scratch! Boxes taste great, are moist and it's no-worries... that way I can spend every moment making it look cute by decorating rather than wondering why this cake is dry and flat). I think I used closer to almost 2 boxes per layer (and part of 1 box for the round cake).

I used the typical decorator's buttercream recipe from Wilton, and wanted a raspberry jam plus buttercream filling between the layers. It's what we had for our wedding cake and I know Cindy liked berries so it sounded perfect. .. to me anyway. hahaha.

I also used one 10in round cake pan for the "hood" of the bassinet. As the CakeCentral example had done, you simply cut it in half and sit it on top of the two bottom layers. The trickiest part of the baking portion of this project was to flip the top large rectangle layer onto the bottom layer.


I spread the jam on the bottom layer and buttercream on the bottom of the top layer and The Husband helped me do a big FLIP onto the jam. It worked out great, and if you try this at home, it's ok if your cake cracks by accident - that is what frosting is for! No one will notice as they're gobbling their piece of cake down.


I put a crumb coat of buttercream onto the cakes, including the hood (which was also filled with raspberry and buttercream), and wrapped tightly in Suran wrap and foil. In this stage, these cakes will sit in a refrigerator just fine for a few days, or if you wrap them tightly, they can freeze for a few weeks and be just as moist and tasty as the day you baked them. That's a good tip for the working woman.


Throughout the week before the shower, I wanted to get as many details done ahead of time as possible. I decided to try out fondant and gumpaste for the first time, and my goal was to make a green blanket, some colorful toy blocks, and a teddy bear... maybe more if time permitted. The gumpaste was a little hard to mix (had to add extra water to get it into a ball) but then worked like playdough after that. The fondant was very easy to add color to: you simply kneed in drops of food coloring until the color is as uniform as you need. (Not uniform makes a nice marble effect) I made a yellow blanket (you'll see later I really wanted a green blanket...oops) and four colorful square blocks out of fondant.


Fondant and gumpaste kept from drying out by being wrapped in suran wrap or put in zip-loc bags. They really dry out quickly so keep them covered unless you want them to dry stiff in that position. This ready-made Wilton fondant was easy but didn't taste great. I know you can somehow make your own and also flavor it with extract, but it sure makes for smooth cakes and objects. Gumpaste is also edible but I didn't try it, it didn't smell appetizing to me. Powdered sugar was used to roll out the fondant.

Finally, I had set aside the whole Saturday before the shower to spend decorating this cake. That gave me enough notice to run out Saturday night and glue two Kroger cakes together, just in case that was necessary. hehe. I was so excited and started right off with putting the "hood" on the bottom two layers using lots of buttercream.


I used soo much frosting, the final product was HEAVY -- actually almost 9 batches of Wilton's original recipe. I sure am getting good use out of my KitchenAid mixer, however.

Side note: 4 batches of frosting at one time is a little much. I checked with my mom and she laughed and said "you're only supposed to make 2 batches at a time." Who has time for that? Four was a little rough but three worked fine and the mixer made it through like a champion.

Tip: If I were to do this cake again, I would've not listened to my mom and instead trimmed the rectangle cakes so they were flat layers... both of mine were small hills and with one on top of another, the slope just compounds itself and there's not enough buttercream in the world to stuff and stack to make them look like a perfect square. I know that shaved or cut cake is harder to frost, but that's what a crumb coat is for. Luckily, with the hood on and with all the ruffles and the blanket, even a bit of a curvature for a "bed" cake like mine is totally fine. If you want straight lines, however, trim the cake first before you frost. Turns out Ace of Cakes and Wilton does this for a reason, huh!

Another Note: It's harder to trim and make shapes with cake than you think. Maybe if you have wood carving experience, that would help. I trimmed the back of my hood a bit to try and make it rounded and you can see it's not quite symmetrical.


After the hood was mounted, I knew I had to cover the crumb coat with an extremely smooth layer of buttercream so I could later make my squiggles and have a nice clean white background on the hood. Smoothing buttercream like they do in bakeries is harder than it sounds and my mom offered the tip of dipping the spatula in hot water periodically as you spread. It worked wonders but I still don't know how they make buttercream wedding cakes so perfect.

Next, I finally got to add some color and made lots of yellow frosting. It actually takes a lot of planning and estimating to figure out how much you need. I was using yellow frosting for part of the basket weave, the "sheets" of the bed, some hood squiggles, a ruffle along the bottom, and criss-crossing on the blanket. It's hard to gauge.... I just made "a lot" and hoped for the best!

I had two frosting bags with couplers (allows you to switch decorating tips and keep using the same bag) and two #48 basketweave tips - one in white, and one in yellow. Basketweave takes some practice but then it's repetitive. You don't have to worry too much, baskets aren't perfect so it's forgiving. You can usually scrape off buttercream mistakes pretty easily, and try again. I used the Wilton method for basket weaving, as my mom's method must require some black magic (couldn't get it to work for me).


After about an hour, Step 1: Basketweave, was complete!


It was so fun to decide what to do next. I decided: the bottom THREE ruffles. (I capitalize THREE because my mom INSISTED that three was outrageously too much.. that two would be more suitable. I don't think she knew that I only wanted the bottom two to "peek out" so it wasn't too much ruffle maddness at all). The bottom was to be white and I used a large #127 rose tip (in another frosting bag with the large coupler) to put the bottom ruffle down. I had it barely attaching to the cake and angling out a lot, to make sure we'd see it with two more ruffles on top.


Likewise, I used another #127 tip for a yellow ruffle all the way around. I spread on some yellow frosting as the "sheets" to the bed and smoothed it out, and then used a smaller rose petal tip and made a white ruffle across the top of the basketweave.


I didn't realize it until the "upper small white ruffle" that I was holding the rose tips UPSIDEDOWN (and they weren't quite right.. but close enough, that's why I have a day job!)...



To finish it all off and bring green into the mix, I used a huge leaf tip to make a "double" green ruffle which is quite a pretty border and very easy to make. Yay, Step 2: Bottom Ruffles, was complete! Then... it was time to move on to... dun, dun, dun... The Hood!

I wanted to try "squiggles" or some kind of method like Wilton's Sotas or Cornelli technique -- just something different than more boring basketweave on the hood. I also wanted to use both yellow and green and when I tried Sotas on the paper plate, something closer to Cornelli looked better. It turns out pushing frosting (even when it's thinned out) through a #1 or #2 round tip is quite painful, especially after all the piping you just did. I had to take breaks after every line and stretch out my hands, it really did hurt badly.


Needless to say, the back of the hood was NOT going to be squiggles, but I decided quickly just to do diagonal tri-color star tip lines for a splash of colorful design.


It's Tuesday and my palms are still sore. I'm not sure I'd do the "squiggles" again, especially not in two colors, it looked a little like a brain after I stared at it for a while.. haha. I only glanced at Cornelli before trying mine, however a closer rendition of what Wilton does would probably look better. Mmmm brains. Oh well!! haha



I used the big double ruffle leaf tip in white to put the border around the squiggles and finish off the hood. Wow, Step 3: The Hood, was complete! At this point, I was practically done.


I only had to use another large rose tip ruffle and made a finishing white ruffle all the way around the top of the rectangle layer.


The last step, Step 4: Finishing Touches, was quite fun. My palms were sore so kneading brown into white gumpaste seemed to take forever and take all my hand strength, but I finally got it to get toward brown and away from ugly skin-tone that it started out with. I molded the bear by just using basic 2nd-Grader playdough techniques - make a few circles, rolls, and put them all together.


I then realized my blanket was supposed to be green (didn't want yellow overkill!!!) so I made another blanket but this time in green, and that was pretty easy. Then the fun part - I made diagonal lines in yellow on the blanket and mixed up two tea cups of frosting - one in pink and one in blue. It was brighter than I intended but looking back, I'm glad they were vivid. I used a drop-flower tip and made quarter turns which created pretty alternating pink and blue flowers. I decorated the blanket prior to placing it on the cake. I formed it to have a little wrinkle in it for a 3-D effect.


The blanket turned out exactly as I had planned. I was extremely happy with that, the basketweave and all those ruffles.. just what I wanted.

I used leftover yellow blanket fondant for a banner.. it was an experiment but I found buttercream writing stuck to it pretty good, so I used the "Welcome Baby Bliss" banner afterall.


Leftover yellow fondant also was used to highlight the bear's features, until I realized using yellow frosting was way easier (used it for the buttons). I placed the blanket and the bear, and finally the blocks. The blocks received the letters B A B Y, and then I placed the banner.


At that moment, The Husband came home from ice fishing, and it was absolute perfect timing. Here is a collage showing all my favorite details as well as a full view, which I used for my entry in CakeCentral.com. I love this collage!


Here's a back-side view:


I cut off the top of the cake box and slipped the bottom under the cake and built up the walls. I used skewers taped in the corners and covered it in suran wrap for the overnight rest in the refrigerator. The cake made a happy and safe trip to the shower and I was happy that the mother-to-be seemed to like it. I was even happier that she received a real bassinet as a gift, ruffles and all, which I thought was most excellent. Here is the picture of the Happy Customer and cake at its destination, but I cropped her out to protect her identity.


I should've gotten a picture with it but some one else snapped a shot of me with the cake, so I forgot to get one on my own camera. Oh well! It's long gone now.



A special thanks to Megan and Hubby's mom for driving the cake safely and helping carry it over icey conditions. :)

One final picture to share... I finally decided on the main design to use from a picture I "borrowed" from CakeCentral. I was trying to plan out the colors and see how it would look.. there were so many ideas floating in my head and so many options, it really was necessary to draw it out so I had a game plan. I used the basic MS-Paint program and have the very poorly drawn "ColorScheme" plan shown in the picture below. I put it next to the final product for a comparison. Too funny! hehe


I am so pleased with how the cake turned out and I am excited to have shared and documented the steps I took to complete it. I can't wait until my next cake adventure. Project "Husband Birthday Cake" is coming soon. Shh, it is a surprise.

Recipes
See my post for the Cupcake-Cake for Wilton's Buttercream icing for decorating.

Notes:
For all my buttercream batches, I used half almond extract and half vanilla.

I used regular box "yellow cake" for the cake ("too bad for you" if you have a problem with that!), and Smuckers seedless jam for the filling, though I don't seeds would've been a problem and I prefer Hero brand jams. I used about half a bottle of a large Smuckers bottle.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Melon Madness: Fruit Carving


Here is an oldie but a goodie, the result of my "Fruit Carving" class I took at the Community House in Birmingham last Spring. The class was a quick two or three hour introduction to the art of carving fruit. The chef who instructed us had a lot of experience in the field and the inexpensive entry fee (somewhere from $25 to $40.. can't remember) was well worth it.

We received our very own honeydew melons (a good choice because of the contrasting colors between the skin and flesh of the melon) and our very own Carving knife which was quite sharp (and can be purchased at GFS he said).

Since this was about a year ago, looking at the picture of the melon makes me think "how the heck did we do that, again??" but here's what I remember:

1. Use the tip of your knife to "Draw" on a flower (you see the center circle and 6 outward petals).

2. I think the next step was to angle your knife to carve out the inside of the petals

3. Then the last step was to carve out the circle around the entire flower and make a flat background that the flower is popping out of. You can make as many concentric layers of petals as you want, so you can do that first.

4. Lastly, I had that large blank circle in the middle of my flower so I decorated it with some hearts just for fun at the end of the class... I would make that circle smaller next time and skip the hearts.

Just a fun little thing to try. I bet there are many ideas elsewhere online, and some day when I want to dress up a food display for a party, I will buy some extra melons!