Thursday, December 29, 2011


With the New Year of 2012 arrived at last, I find myself thinking of many, many projects unfinished and some even forever left behind, appointments missed, things I've missed out on and things that will never be forgotten. My New Years Resolution this year? Love stronger, laugh harder, live happier. I'm going to spend more quality time with my children, make sure the Man knows how much I appreciate him and his hard work to support our family, and I'm going to stop sweating the small stuff.

It's been a tough year on top of a couple of "not so great" years. 2011 just about kicked my ass, excuse my language, but that's the best way to explain it. However, its over now; Mr. 2011 has grown and gone and today is a fresh, brand spankin' new year to look forward to. So, that's exactly what I intend to do - look FORWARD. I have goals to fulfill and people to love and cupcakes to bake and chocolate that just must be eaten with a stupendously delicious, hot, steaming cup of the best coffee on earth.

So lift your cups, your glasses, your cans of Monster and Coke, your hands, your hearts, or whatever it is you want to offer up and welcome this new year. Blare it out in your worst singing voice and wear it on your face like a big ol' sign of happiness because life is short and we need to live it up people! 

May you be blessed in all you endeavor. Help those who aren't as fortunate as you - and yes, there is ALWAYS someone less fortunate whether you think so or not. Be glad for the small things, let the hardships land on the ground and not your shoulders, and breathe. Just - let - yourself - breathe.

I love you all. Happy 2012

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sweet From Milk

Well, it's not the Sweet Potato Cheesecake that I promised, but it is yummy none the less! And I will do the cheesecake - I have to, its a goal obsession.
Now for today's bite of life: Dulce de Leche. Litterally translated, "Sweet From Milk," dulce de leche is a creamy, sweet, almost caramel-like thick sauce that goes well with just about anything from ice cream to pretzels. Several cultures have their own version, but it seems the roots of dulce de leche are Latin in origin. I'm not debating nor supporting that - just sayin'.
Traditionally it is made by slowly simmering milk and sugar (sometimes with vanilla or other ingredients) to reduce the moisture content and create a beautiful, rich, golden sauce. As a true American, however, I'm always looking for the shortcut method.
Using sweetened condensed milk in the can takes out half of the work for you. The most common method for this is to place a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for about three hours or so, adding water as necessary so the can is in a continuous water bath. Ignoring this step has led to many a can bursting into a fountain of hot, lava-like stickiness which coats everything and everyone in sight. Not pretty. And very dangerous.
After a little investigation, I discovered from another blogger (taylortakesataste) that there is a much easier, and much, much safer way to create this little Sauce from Heaven. (I should note that he also investigated and gained the idea from another site, crockpot365)
Using a slow cooker to create dulce de leche seems, to me, to be a much safer, easier method. Its really so very simple even a child could do it - which I am NOT recommending by any means.
The first step in this little venture is to remove the labels and place the cans, however many you choose to make, in the slow cooker and cover with water. I was a little nervous about placing metal cans directly on the crock, so I placed metal canning jar rings down first - I know, still metal! But it does relieve most of the contact issue of metal on crock. I don't know why it bothers me, it just does.
The beginning of the process.

After setting up the cans on the lids, fill the crock with water to just above the tops of the cans. A water bath is completely necessary - do NOT skip this step! Place the lid on top, set the cooker to "low," and let it rip for 8 hours.
Half way through cooking process - 4 hours.
You can see that half way through the process the water level is still high, typical of slow cookers. No need to do anything - just let it go (with the lid on, of course) for another 4 hours.
Cooking process complete.
Once the 8 hours has passed, remove the cans carefully with tongs onto a towel to dry and to cool to room temperature. This is very important - DO NOT attempt to open the cans when they are hot or even warm. No one needs to get injured over dulce de leche - be safe and leave them alone for a good while to cool down.
I feel I should insert here that no one, and I mean NO ONE recommends heating cans of sweetened condensed milk in any fashion what-so-ever. And I'm not telling you to, either. This is just what I do to get a desired result. All consequences are my own. :) There, disclaimer done.
Terrible photo, but - Oh Heaven!
After the whole process is complete and the cans have cooled, go ahead and grab yourself a piece of really delicious chocolate and dig into the creamy, velvety, rich goodness that is dulce de leche. Or, pour it over ice cream, put some in your coffee, add it to muffins or cake or frosting or just simply do what I like to do and stick your face in it and . . . . um, never mind. Its good. Its really, really, really good.
Hopefully this will tide you over until my promised recipe of Sweet Potato Cheesecake. Its coming - it really is! Perhaps with a topping of dulce de leche. Oh Heavens, I've created a monster!

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Hiatus. . .

I apologize for the long break in postings - I've been taking care of some new situations within my family and it has soaked up all of my time. Just want to get this out there though - coming up in the next couple of days I will be making Sweet Potato Cheesecake. Now, sweet potatoes are one of my very favorite things. They are just yummy no matter what you do to them - sweet, savory, fried, baked, boiled, its all so good! And cheesecake, well, I just can't think of anything better than a creamy, smooth, not-to-sweet, versatile dessert like cheesecake. Mmmmmm, even just saying it makes me melt. Cheese + Cake = Love. :) Photos, recipe, and directions coming soon so please stay tuned! I promise - I haven't quit!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Little On The Lighter Side

Since I've been a Zinger/Twinkie making, cake baking fool lately, I've decided to lighten it up just a bit and post about a salad I made the other day - it was so yummy and so guilt free. I was inspired by a Cashew Chicken Salad offered by Milwaukee Burger Company that I recently had the pleasure of experiencing. A risk is not something I usually take when it comes to salad. I'm more of a purist - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, dressing = salad. Once I ordered a salad and they had put strawberries on it. I remember looking at the plate and thinking, "What kind of new-fangled idiocy is this?! Can't I just order a salad and get a SALAD?!" I bit my tongue, not literally, forged ahead with the salad anyway. Not gonna lie, it was gross. Since then I totally turned off the whole "experimental salad" switch and left it at that.
In recent years, however, I've noticed that (for reasons unknown to me) my taste buds are craving new and different, more flavorful things, so back into the quagmire of salad fixins I went. There have been some good, some really good, and some really bad experiences along the way, but for the most part I'll step out of my comfort zone to try a new-fangled idiotic salad.
Which brings us to this:
Chicken Almond Apple Salad
It may not look like a professionally assembled salad, but it was really, really good and bonus: It was good for me, too.
Two handfuls of washed spinach; one cooked chicken breast, cut up; three tablespoons slivered almonds; one green onion, diced; one Roma tomato, diced; 1/4 c. craisins; 1/4 Washington apple, diced, two tablespoons fat free balsamic vinaigrette. Simple, yummy, light. I'm having another one for lunch tomorrow, because after those Flingers, I need to lighten up!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Under Construction

Some elements of this blog will not be working for a bit - I am trying to set up different areas with a tab index and such and it is currently under construction. Please forgive me and please be patient with me. Should you have any ideas for me, please post them below in a comment. Thanks!

Cake Man Raven Makes Me Look Good Every Time

Red Velvet was never a real big interest of mine until my sister wanted to serve it at her wedding and I was making the cake. I thought, "What's the big deal? It's just chocolate cake with a bunch of red food coloring, right?" Wrong. So, so wrong.

Red Velvet cake has been a southern favorite for generations. It has crept its way into the hearts of many a northerner since then, including me. Red Velvet does have cocoa powder in it - but it is by no means or definition a chocolate cake. It is a flavor unto its own. When paired with the cream cheese frosting, it is a little bit of heaven on earth. And Cake Man Raven's version is so very delicious.

For those of you that do not know, Cake Man Raven is a bakery in Brooklyn, NY, owned and operated by Raven Dennis III. He has been featured in articles and television shows such as "Throw Down with Bobbi Flay" and "Good Morning America," and has been cake maker for many stars to date. He's a very busy man, and the Southern Red Velvet is his signature cake. With good reason.

Let's get to the business, shall we?

Start out in the usual fashion: Sift all of the dry ingredients together and mix in the wet until you get a smooth cake batter.

Bake off in the oven and let the pans sit for 10 minutes. DO NOT TOUCH THEM! This is where everyone makes the mistake of taking them out of the pans too soon and they end up falling apart. Let them rest. They need it.
 Once the cakes have cooled and you have flipped them to cool completely, if there is a bump on the top, now is the time to "shave" it off with a serrated knife. Then you have scraps to give the scrappers, like this:
 How on earth could you possible resist that face?!
And this is what happens when you cut  your cake into layers and it almost falls on the floor when you try to flip it:
Love my cooling system - - - so do my neighbors.
When the cake is cooled completely, start assembling the layers, placing a small amount of the icing between each. I say small because if you put too much of this yummy goodness between the layers, you are going to end up with a completely overpoweringly sweet cake. Not what you want.
 I do my Red Velvet cakes in two 8" rounds and then divide each cake into two again, so I have four layers. I just like the look of the cake with so many layers, very pretty:
Back to the assembly - Once all the layers are stacked and the cake is completely iced, you can add the nuts to the side.
 I like to add a little decoration to my cakes, however small. The red on the top is crumb from the scraps that I trimmed off of the top of the cake after it cooled. Makes a pretty little representation of what's inside I think.

And there you have it, Cake Man Raven's Southern Red Velvet Cake. Yum! This particular specimen was for my sister's birthday - which is actually the second one I made for her. I was supposed to travel with the first one to her home, which is 1 hour and 45 minutes away from mine, and take her out to dinner for her birthday, but a snowstorm in the middle of March in Minnesota/Wisconsin put the kibosh on that little venture. I could have kicked Mother Nature in the shin that day. Can you tell I'm still a little mad? Didn't think so - I cover it pretty well.

One week later, however, I was able to deliver a second one and see my Uncle Tom & Auntie Joyce from Louisiana at the same time as they were passing through on a mission to buy an antique car. A Nash Metropolitan. Cute little thing. Anyway - it was a wonderful day. A very, very, very long, wonderful day.

Cake Man Raven's Southern Red Velvet Cake  *There are some slight changes by me in baking process!
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. fine salt
1 t. cocoa powder
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 T. red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 t. white vinegar
1 t. vanilla
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
crushed pecans for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and prepare two 8" round cake pans with non-stick baking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Using a stand mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined and a smooth batter forms.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake starts to separate from the side. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes in the pan. Flip cakes out onto a cooling rack, and then onto another cooling rack so that the top of the cake is upright. Let cakes cool completely, then level the tops, setting the scraps aside for decoration.

Cut both layers into two more layers. Place bottom layer on a circle cake board that is about 1/4" larger than the cake round. Spread enough frosting on the layer to cover completely but not thick. Place second layer on top of first, and spread with frosting same as the first layer. Repeat until last layer is placed on top. Frost entire cake with frosting.

Placing your hand under the cake board and tilting slightly, take a handful of the crushed pecans and "wipe" the nuts up the side of the cake gently to cover the side completely in nuts. Repeat as you turn the cake to cover the entire outside of the cake but not the top. Using a fork or just your hands, crumble the cake scraps saved from leveling the cakes. Place the cake on a cake plate and sprinkle the cake crumbs around the outside edge. Using larger slices of pecans, make a decoration in the center of the cake and dust lightly with additional crumbs. It is best to let the cake set for just a bit before serving so that the icing has a chance to set up a bit. This will make the cake easier to cut.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb. (2 - 8 oz. bricks) cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (I use salted and its just fine)
1 t. vanilla extract
4 c. confectioners sugar

Place cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in bowl and whip on high until light and creamed together. Add confectioners sugar and beat again until light and fluffy. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to let the icing stiffen slightly before frosting cake.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Newborn Twinkie-Thingies; Home Made Twinkies and Zingers

So this is a project that I’ve been literally dreaming of for weeks now, ever since I found the “Homemade Top Tarts” recipe on (yes, its spelled correctly). It seems I am now on a “make it myself” kick and just can’t seem to get over it. My family is loving it, my hips aren’t. Thus the yogurt sitting in front of me as I type and the gym membership. Damn slow metabolism!

Anyway, back to the Twinkies. So my recipe does not taste exactly like Twinkies, but that is totally fine with me since I find Twinkies to be a little . . . well, let’s just throw it out there: dry. Yes, I said it, they are dry and stiff and I don’t really like the consistency. In my version, I’ve used the ever dreaded cake mix and added pudding to give it a more dense texture. The end result was a nice cake that floats somewhere between pound cake and regular cake and holds up surprisingly well to the filling. And yes, they are much, much, much better than store-bought Twinkies if I do say so myself.

I actually made two different types of Twinkies with this recipe – If anyone remembers and loves the (Hostess) Dolly Madison Raspberry Zingers, you’re going to love this recipe. This has the great flavor of the Zinger without the added chemicals and other yucky stuff. And the taste is absolutely amazing! These will be my downfall. Guaranteed.
Hostess's Dolly Madison Raspberry Zingers
Home Made Flingers

The first step is to get the pan ready. You can buy a Twinkie pan; which is what I would suggest if you are going to be making these any more than once in your life – making the forms was not hard at all, but tedious. For those of you that know me, I can’t really sit still for very long without having to do something different. It’s the A.D.D. in me. I’m o.k. with that.

As you can see, I’ve taken a piece of regular aluminum foil that measures slightly longer than a 9 x 13 cake pan. Folded it in half lengthwise, then in half again widthwise, creating a square piece of foil.

Place the container in the middle, bend up the ends, bend up the sides, pinch the corners, fold in and fold down the long sides to make a “boat.”

At this point you will want to remove the container, and pinch the creases where you can see the outline of the round cover to create a more rounded end. Use you own judgment here get the boat into the Twinkie shape as close as you can.

Once all my boats were made (I ended up with 16), I placed 11 of them in the pan for the first round and baked off the others after that. Using a 1.5 oz. scoop, I placed one full scoop and one half scoop into each container (Yes, that is 2.25 oz. per boat, but I don’t have a scoop that size. My bad.)

Once the boats are filled with the batter, use a spreader or butter knife to push the batter to the edges. It doesn’t have to be completely flat, just mostly even.

Please, please, please do not forget to spray the boats with a non-stick baking spray. This stuff is amazing: 

Trust me. Use it, love it, thank me later.

Place the pan in a preheated 325° oven for about 11 – 15 minutes. You have to keep an eye on them just like you would cupcakes. If you can smell them, they are most likely done. Pull them out of the oven and let them set for 10 minutes. This allows them to set up a bit and they are easier to remove from their little foil jackets. Place them on a wire rack to cool and make the remaining cakes.

While the cakes are baking, you can make the frosting and get the other ingredients ready if you are making the Zingers. Place the butter, shortening, and vanilla in a mixer bowl and beat on medium until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and, starting on the lowest speed, mix until the frosting comes together. It will go through a stage of looking like a crumbly mess, but you will get past this stage fairly quickly. Don’t freak -  you haven’t screwed anything up.

Turn the mixer on high and get the frosting light and airy, scraping the sides once to incorporate everything; probably about 3 minutes or so is all you will need. Then you can add the marshmallow cream. Good stuff that. Yummmmm. 
Whip the mixture again until everything is incorporated and looking light, fluffy, and like you just want to stick your head in the bowl and . . . sorry. Just mix it.

Raspberry Zingers have a raspberry coating on the outside and a layer of coconut over that. This is what makes them little bits of bliss. After you make the frosting, mix the boiling water and the raspberry Jell-O until dissolved and set aside to cool and congeal slightly. Putting it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes accomplishes this.

To prepare the coconut, place it in a food processor and pulse until you have tiny bits of coconut. It will be sticky, but that’s o.k. Add the bit of cornstarch and mix well (Do not do this in the processor, do it after the coconut is removed). This gives it the workable consistency you need to roll the Zingers.
This is what it will look like after adding the cornstarch.
After the cakes have cooled completely, gently cut a small slit in the top side (which will then be the bottom side) of the Twinkies about half way through and to just about ¾ inch from the ends. Fill a frosting bag with the yummy marshmallow goodness and start to pipe the filling into the Twinkies, holding a bit firmly so they don’t blow apart from all the stuffing you are piping in. I can’t really say how much filling to put in – it’s kind of a personal taste kind of thing, but I put quite a bit. I used the whole recipe of filling for the 16 Twinkies.

If you are making the regular Twinkies, you are done.
 Pop that little sucker in your mouth and experience the joy of sweet madness. But if you are on to more wonderful and amazing things that will completely rock your world (exaggerating just a bit), continue as such: After they are filled, roll the Twinkie in the Jell-O, covering all sides and ends, then roll in the coconut, covering completely, then set on the rack again to set and “cure” for at least two hours.
Yes, I DO have a messy counter. It's part of being so creative.
(Insert raucous laughter here)

Congratulations – you have just created awesomeness!


For cakes:
1 (18.25 oz.) box yellow cake mix
3 whole eggs
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. water
1 (5.1 oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix

½ c. butter, room temperature
½ c. shortening, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
¼ t. salt
3 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 (7 oz.) container marshmallow fluff

For Zingers:
1 (3oz.) pkg. raspberry Jell-O
2 c. boiling water
2 c. shredded sweetened flake coconut
2 - 3 T. cornstarch

16 Twinkie “boats,” prepared with non-stick baking spray.

Make Cakes:
In mixer bowl mix eggs, oil, and water until combined. Add cake mix and blend for two minutes on medium speed. Blend in pudding mix on medium for an additional 3 minutes until smooth.
Place 2.25 oz. of batter into each “boat” and bake at 325° for 11-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean. (Baking cakes at a lower temperature for a longer period of time reduces the “bump” in the middle of the cake). Cool completely.

Make Frosting:
Combine butter, shortening, vanilla, and salt in mixer bowl and blend on medium high for about 3 minutes or until mixture comes together and becomes creamy with no lumps. Add confectioner’s sugar and starting on low speed and gradually increasing to high, blend until light and airy. Add marshmallow fluff and blend on high until once again light and airy.

For Zingers:
Boil water, add Jell-O and stir to combine. Place in refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes or until thick but not set.
Place coconut flakes in food processor and pulse until flakes are very small. Dump into a dish and add cornstarch, starting with 2 T. and increasing if necessary to get a nice loose texture.

For Twinkies:
With a knife, cut a small slit in the top side of the cake. Using an icing bag, pipe a good amount of filling into the cavity, holding the shape of the cake with your hand to prevent splitting. Once filled, place cut side down on the cooling rack and continue to fill remaining cakes.

For Zingers:
Fill cakes as for Twinkies. Once that is completed, place the prepared Jell-O into a low baking dish or other container and roll the cake to cover completely. Move somewhat quickly to avoid completely soaking the cake. Placing the coconut in a similar dish, immediately roll the cake in the prepared coconut and place on the rack to set for approximately 2 hours. This lets the cake settle and “cure” for a bit.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Am Strange . . . But I'll Bet I'm Not The Only One!

This is my new obsession . . . .

Caroline's Firecrackers!

It may look a little funny, but believe me, you could get hooked on this one.

I know the whole "rage" about mixing salty/sweet and hot/sweet has passed for the most part, but I'll forever be a sucker for it. This particular concoction is a very simple mixture of Flaming Cheetos (yes, I said Cheetos) and white almond bark. Yup, that's it.

I know what you are thinking: "Good grief, the girl has completely lost it. That has got to be the worst combination of ingredients imaginable." And if that's not what you are thinking, maybe you are just as weird as I am.

The recipe is 12 ounces almond bark, melted and 1 package Flaming Hot Cheetos. I believe it's a 9 ounce package, but it could be 8.5 oz. too. Sorry, I threw the bag away before taking notes. Mix the two together and spread out as thick or thin as you like on a sheet of parchment or wax paper to set for a couple hours.

That was hard, wasn't it?

*****I would like to note that this is an original idea thought up while walking down a grocery isle. I am  proud to take full credit on this very odd, deranged idea of a recipe. :)