My Cake Decorating Gallery

Monday, February 28, 2011

Indispensable Kitchen Tools

Tricia of Jonski Blogski Jonski Blogski challenged the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers to create a post in February about our most "indispensable kitchen tools".

So let's see, what are basic tools that I use every day and can't live without in the kitchen? At first I was thinking of things that I don't use very often but are handy when I do need them - like a submersible blender for soups and gravies, a scale for when I'm baking or weighing food for one reason or another, or my kitchenaid stand mixer, which I use for desserts more than anything else. The thing is, I don't use those items daily, and not even weekly. For tools that I really really can't live without, I had to get more basic.

The first thing that comes to mind are my knives.

Wusthof Classic 8Piece Block Set 8418

We never had fancy knives growing up and my mom is downright nervous around these things, but when I was getting married in 2006, the "thing to do" was to register for a fabulous set of knives and we were lucky enough to get these Wusthof Classics for our wedding! We also got the matching set of 6 steak knives but we don't need those as often so they don't make the "indispensable tools" cut! I was so pleased with how wonderful it was having a good quality knife in the kitchen that we got my mom a set and she enjoys them too - how did we cook for so long without them? It's one of those things. I use my super large chef's knife every day whether it is for cutting apples for a snack or chopping some onions and peppers for dinner mise en place. I even go as far as bringing it with me when we rent cottages for vacation. I love to do all the cooking on our vacations but I can't stand the crappy knives that the rental owners leave in the kitchens! (I don't blame them for stocking their rentals with crappy knives, actually, but I just work around it!)

Oneida® Colourgrip® Charcoal Handle Cutting Boards
Let's see, what else do I use in the kitchen all the time? Well with knives go cutting boards. I should probably just get a bunch of those plastic ones that can go into the dishwasher but I still have several wood ones. The Oneida ones shown above are dishwasher safe and I use them frequently. I particularly like the rubber ends which grip the countertop and mine also has a rim around it for catching juices and liquids - very handy. You just can't have your cutting board slip-sliding all around - you'll cut yourself! And you can't have juices leaking all over your counter, either. Honestly, every time some one mentions cutting boards on TV, they literally are changing their mind about whether wood or plastic is better. So I'm not about to throw out my wood ones yet, I just heard they were better last week! Ha. I try not to cut raw meat on any of my boards and just use a paper plate usually, just to make myself feel better sanitation-wise.


The third and final must-have item for me is my range. It was more expensive of a stove than The Husband was planning to get (this was before we were married), but it turns out the stupid layout in our kitchen meant that the dishwasher door would hit the handles of cheaper ranges so he got this Bosch gas stove, which is wonderful. Obviously I use this basically every day and it has never failed. I love gas stoves and I never want to go back to electric. That might be a problem when and if we ever get to move out into the country, but I'll deal with that then. Propane is expensive! For now, this is working out perfectly and the stove has gotten me through many-o-parties and entertaining, cake baking and simmering.

Well that sums up my most favorite kitchen basics. I use these items every day! Thanks for the challenge, Tricia!

Friday, February 11, 2011

My First Homemade Granola

Well I'll definitely be making this again! I had to leave out nuts and coconut since The Husband doesn't like those, but we love granola in general so I've always wanted to make it. I have a gigantic oatmeal canister and I had some leftover dried cranberries from last week's apple, pear and cranberry crisp... so homemade granola came to mind. I looked online for recipes on making "clumpy" granola... when I buy those artisan granolas from the store for like $6, I get annoyed when the oats are all separated. I found a few recipes and decided to alter it for our taste.



Clumpy Lumpy Homemade Cranberry Granola

Preheat oven to 250

Mix in a bowl:
4 cups old fashioned oatmeal
3/4 cup sunflower seeds (mine were roasted and salted so I didn't add additional salt)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (I think I added less because all recipes said to add them after baking.. I only added a few prior to baking and they turned out great - I'll add a bunch more next time, about 3/4 cup sounds good)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix in a microwaveable measuring cup:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pop the measuring cup with all of those ingredients into the microwave for 1 minute. Pour into the oats/seeds mixture and mix to coat the oats evenly.

Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, it is good to have it one big solid "bar" of granola... that way it will bake into a solid sheet and you can break it up into big clumps later. Cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes.

Let cool. The sheet of granola should be ready to break off into as big of clumps and lumps as you like, with still some loose granola for you also. This would be a great addition to any boring cereals, yogurt, ice cream, or just as a tasty wholesome snack!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ina's Apple Pear Cranberry Crisp


Yummy! I saw Ina making some tasty treats on her show the other day and she just so happened to be making this crisp which caught my eye because I had just purchased 4 bosc pears. I was possibly going to try poaching them but the more I thought about it, the less I thought The Husband might like a poached pear. Maybe I'll still try it someday, but this crisp was going to be right up The Husband's alley!

It is pretty simple to throw together and Ina had made like 10 personal ramekins so I decided to half the recipe which worked out great for us - dessert for a few days. The dish I used was about 8x8 or 9x9. You simply chop up the fruit, mix up the ingredients and bake. I didn't have a lemon so I just used orange juice and some clementine peel grated, which is what I had on hand. The orange flavor was pronounced so I was worried The Husband wouldn't like it, but he did. I also put cinnamon into the crisp topping, and instead of parchment, I just sprayed my baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and I used room temp butter and slightly less, plus I used granny smith apples, since that's what I had handy. Other than that, I followed the recipe and it turned out just fabulous. I love the dried cranberry addition! Alas, we were out of ice cream but this would be perfect with it. I might make just an apple-cranberry crisp next time, the topping is a keeper also - really delicious. It tastes like little crumbled sandy cookies on top.



Ina's Apple Pear Cranberry Crisp
 as seen here on foodtv.com
Ingredients

2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4 pears)
2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 apples)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch baking dish

For the topping:
Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pretzel Crusted Mahi Mahi


I got a bag of frozen Mahi Mahi filets from Costco and I was looking for a tasty way to make them besides fish tacos. The Husband and I aren't into fish all that much, I personally need it to either have a topping or sauce or something to add flavor and I always choose the mild tasting fish, for instance we love walleye, perch, salmon, etc. Fried is always good too but I don't deep fry in my kitchen hardly ever. Anyway - I have also a ton of mini pretzel packages since we got a box of those from Costco also (and basically only the mustard flavored ones are getting eaten!) so I thought I should try a pretzel crust for the fish. I've heard of a cracker crust and I think I've seen a pretzel crust somewhere, so I googled for a recipe to follow. I know Mahi Mahi isn't usually crusted with things, and thus I didn't find a recipe for it, but I decided to follow a pretzel crust recipe for some other fish and just give it a whirl with what we have.

I thawed the mahi mahi, seasoned with cajun seasoning and Old Bay seasoning (which we found out we loved when we were in Baltimore!) and then coated them in some pulverized pretzels - I used 3 packages for 4 pieces of fish. I put some foil and cooking spray on a baking sheet and placed the fish on there and let them go. They took about 15-20 minutes and went great with some green beans and garlic and herb couscous with some olives thrown in. Very tasty, and even your family members who don't love fish all that much should like these, we both did and The Husband said to definitely make them again.

Pretzel Crusted Mahi Mahi

4 portions of mahi mahi filets (such as the ones from the frozen bag at Costco which can be thawed in 15-20minutes)
3 mini bags of pretzels or about 1.5 cups of pretzels
Old Bay seasoning or your favorite seasoned salt
Cajun Seasoning
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Pulverize the pretzels in your mini food processor or give them a good whack in a plastic bag until they are broken up pretty well. Season the thawed mahi mahi filets with your favorite seasonings, such as old bay and cajun seasoning (herbs and salt and pepper would do just fine also).

Put the pretzels on a plate, season with more spices and salt and pepper if you're interested, and press both sides of the mahi mahi filets into the pretzels and place on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. I sprayed the tops of my fish with more Pam to help with baking and I also put more Old Bay seasoning on top of the filets. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until done. The package said 10-12 minutes but mine took longer, so keep an eye on yours. Enjoy this healthy dinner.. each filet (without pretzel topping) is only 95 calories, so that's some healthy protein for you!

A Daring Baker's Challenge - My Baby Shower Favors - Decorated Sugar Cookies


So this post is WAY late but I did go to a lot of trouble to make these favors, especially since I was 7 months pregnant! So I definitely still wanted to put the post up, even though it's way too late to get credit for participating in the September Daring Baker's Challenge. It just so happened that the September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!”  Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I have always wanted try my hand at making some of those "professional" looking cutout decorated sugar cookies around. Those Cookies By Design places can charge 3 or 4 dollars per cookie so that certainly would add up fast if you were to use them for a wedding or party favor.

My mom was having my baby shower at her house and we went back and forth about favors, she wanted to just hand out random desserts but I wanted a more uniform favor that was packaged and ready to go, and preferrably something special that I've handmade. We still had an assortment of delicious pastries and confections for dessert. So, I decided the sugar cookies would be great for favors, plus I'd be completing a Daring Baker's challenge, which I haven't done so much while being pregnant. I decided on the "onesie" cut out shape and chose four different designs that I liked, using neutral colors (since we didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl!).

I used royal icing to decorate the tops of the cookies, which isn't my favorite flavor of icing at all, but it hardens nicely and you can do some intricate decorating. This was my first time doing "fill in" work for cookie decorating and it went pretty well, though at first I overflowed on a few cookies until I got the right consistencies and techniques down. The cookie recipe was just OK, I added some grated nutmeg and also some flavorings into the royal icing but I must be honest I won't use this recipe again. You can find the recipe here on Mandy's great blog! I thought the cookies definitely kept their shape well, and the icing certainly was good for packaging.

I bought some cellophane bags and made little favor tags "Thanks from Baby Bliss" and tied them on with ribbon. I think the decorated cookie is always a great favor idea, I always love edible favors myself!



Thanks to Mandy for a great Daring Baker's Challenge, and sorry that my post is about 6 months late! At least I did the challenge part on time!