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Monday, March 29, 2010

Let 'em Eat Cake!

Recently, a new acquaintance of mine celebrated his 25th birthday. We kicked off the celebration with a pre-season Sounders game which was nothing less than crazy spectacular fun (even though we lost)! The next day I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for the evening and I decided I wanted to bake a cake and surprise my new friend Andy with it.

The reason why I got so excited is because I have a bit of a history with making fantastic cakes (with the help of some fantastic friends) the best ones made with love turn out the greatest. I decided to share these cakes with you because they really are quite fun. Ever seen Ace of Cakes? Well these cakes are QUITE at that level, but they are ALL edible and made with lots of love. :)

The first of these cakes was created for my friend Teego. My friend Maddy and I put together this guitar shaped cake and frosted using eight 9-inch pans of funfetti cake and lots and lots of frosting (we layed the cake out over an unfolded pizza box line with foil). We even used Hershey Kiss's as the "tuning pegs" for the guitar. Teego was moving away from our beloved Bellingham crew so we wanted to wish him well on his journey. It took quite a while to get the frost colors right but we did it!

The next cake is my first home made ice cream cake. Taking some of the knowledge I have after working at Baskin Robbins (my first job in high school), I decided to attempt to make this ice cream cake for Maddy for her birthday. I scooped and packed enough ice cream into a 9-inch pan inched with parchment paper and froze it. Then I baked a single 9 inch cake. After letting it cool and even freezing it for a bit, I put it together with the ice cream after unwrapping the parchment paper. I melted some vanilla ice cream and put it back into the freeze just so it would be thick enough to mold and spread around the cake. In case you ever wondered, that is pretty much what is on those Baskin Robbin's cake. It's called "deco-cake" but it's pretty much just melted vanilla ice cream. At least that's what it tastes like to me. So after I frosted the cake and froze it again, it was ready for some decorating. Since I didn't have an industrial awesome freezer, this didn't turn out totally right, but it was a great first attempt. :)

Pretty soon it was Maddy's turn to move away from Bellingham, and for one of my classes I decided to bring Maddy to "Show and Tell" for "Friendship Day". Part of my interpersonal communications class was to bring a friend who has made a significant impact on your life, share your interpersonal communication style and what you've learned and give them a gift. Most of these gifts ended up being inside jokes for most people...mine..was a pineapple. Maddy knew exactly what that meant and immediately started bawling her eyes out. It was sad and hilariously funny at the same time. But any way, for Friendship day, which was also a potluck, we contributed this Friendship Cake for the class to munch on. Too bad no one ate it because they thought it was too pretty!

After Maddy moved away I took a long break from making cakes...but the need soon nagged at me. When Drew's 21st birthday came around, I decided to make him a special cake. I was especially motivated after I especially failed making a cake for his then roommate Andrew. Andrew is a singer and I wanted to make him a cake in the shape of a musical signature surrounded by notes...but failed. I ended up buying him pie to make up for the loss...but he must have found a place to forgive me at some point because we ended up dating later on and made this beautiful Pikachu cake for Drew. Drew and Andrew were (I'm not sure if they still are) avid Super Smash Brother players. These guys could kick some serious ass at this game. Smashing buttons doesn't work here. But any who - Andrew and I made this cake for Drew in recognition of his smash skills. :) This cake took up a whole cutting board that we took out of the kitchen and wrapped in foil.

I also attempted my first cheesecake later that summer. Now, I am not a cheesecake fan - I find them too rich for my taste, but this recipe I delectable. I doubled the cookie crust amount and it cake out incredible. I highly recommend this White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake to anyone. This was my first attempt and has since then won me 2nd place in a bake off! (Which should've been 1st place...but 1st place went to the cake that had a WSDOT logo on it...if I had remembered it was for a work bake-off, I would've swirled the raspberry syrup into a DOT logo and won!)

While this isn't my best cake, it was still made with love for a special co-worker of mine at the time. I'm not sure what to call it but Courtney's cake!

So this brings us to the current cake. This one comes with a disclaimer because it's not my best work and not everyone "gets it". I do also have to say that I am not a fan of what this cake represents. In fact - I can't stand the game. It's a long story. But any way - Andy and his brother James LOVE beer pong. So...I decided to make them a beer pong cake (which seemed fitting since they were having a beer pong tournament to celebrate their two birthdays. It didn't really turn out how I worked for being an impromptu cake.

I think the best part was the little mini Coors Light and PBR bottles I tried to create. The were cut off muffins with wine corks stuck in them to give them a neck. haha. Even the ping pong ball was edible! The "cups" were just muffins with the tops cut off and addition cake on top to give it sort of a cup shape...but everything sort of ended up being stout and my frosting handwriting was wayyyy off that day. Not sure what happened. I think the frosting was too soft.

Either way - these cakes were too much fun to make. The key trick is to just let the cakes cool long enough before you start cutting and frosting them! I hope this inspires you to make some fantastic cakes for your friends!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Oh I miss you...

Hands down, I could move to Ireland in a heart beat. At the last minute I decided to put together an Irish meal for a few friends...some bailed so there was quite a bit left over...but mmm so good.

First off - I had Beef and Guinness Stew EVERYWHERE in Ireland, I ordered it any place I got a chance to. The above picture is the first I had of it at fantastic pub in Doolin. Next to it is Deep Fried Brie..if you've never had it...I can't even begin to describe how incredble it is..I could probably eat that by the pound...mmm....(View a few pics of the places I went and the food I ate there here)

I got the recipe for tonight's dish off of Food Network. It seems relatively easy enough. I did all my food prepping the night before since I only had a couple hours before dinner once I got off work and needed every minute of it!

After reading the recipe it sounded like it would be incredibly thick, and I just didn't think there would be quite enough Guinness. I also thought it was odd there was no beef broth. So I modified it by adding beef broth, potatoes, and more Guinness. I'm glad I did. It came out perfect. Extra hearty.

In addition to this delicious stew, I made Corned Beef and Cabbage...I browsed a few recipes and then sort of put some together. I bought uncured cook Corned Beef Brisket from Trader Joe's because they were sampling it and it was great. Seemed easy enough. I prepared it with a head of cabbage, applewood smoked bacon (HIGHLY recommended),potatoes, carrots, celery, all purpose seasoning, a little bit of beef broth. Mmmm it was delightful. I've never had corned beef and cabbage but my friends who have said it was very tasty. So that's good.

Last but not least. Beer Bread. A simple mix from Trader Joe's (that they also sampled...) that you just mix with any 12 oz. beer. I first made this for Ben in addition to the homemade chicken noodle soup one day. And I've discovered it tastes much better with a stronger beer. The don't remember what I used the first time but it was a dark beer. This time, I used a Belgian beer (it was all I had until everyone came over with Irish stouts...). Either way - this bread is DELICIOUS! It is incredibly hearty - dense and is crispy flaky on the outside (due to lots of butter you pour on the out side when you make it.

And voila, and Irish meal (I wasn't sure how many people were coming or that I could afford to feed, so I kept this simple). I'd like to try Shepard's Pie sometime...I've heard so much about it but have never eaten it. Sounds tasty.

After dinner we jetted over to Kell's, which is a great secluded Irish pub in Downtown Seattle in an Alley by Pike Place Market. I had never been before, but for a first time visit - I was very pleased. The place was packed (well for a $20 cover - I expect it to be great). Everyone got a free t-shirt - apparently Kell's throws a week long celebration, so I'm glad I was able to experience the heart of it. I was very excited to have some Magner's Irish Cider. Not as great as Bulmer's, but I have yet to find that in the states...I miss it so much. The night quickly evaporated into hours of crazy Irish jigs with a live irish band that was actually from Ireland. Real accents and all. Eamon Maguire, is apparently a famous drum maker in Ireland. I befriended him last night when he tried to set me up with his nephew who was also in the trad group. They were really quite fantastic. It really made me miss day..I'll be back.

Until then - I guess I'll just keep going to Kell's.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tasty triumphs (and half a food fiasco) for weeknight dinners

It's been quite a while...I apologize. But here we go!

I've been on a health food binge lately since I'm training for a half marathon and tryin got make a couple lifestyle changes. This healthy version of a soft taco was really simple, and tasty. I don't believe in coounting calories so if you're already looking for that, just stop. But here are the ingredients (which were all from Trader Joe's by the way)! Try to imagine this folded up (sort of hard to fold it up and take a picture at the same time).

- Corn and Chile Tomato-less salsa

- Whole wheat flatbread (I thought it would be a healthier choice than a flour tortilla)

- Avocado and lettuce

- Ground Turkey sauteed with onions, mushrooms, and taco seasoning (A much better alternative to ground beef)

- No cheese, because I wanted to see what it would be like without it. Normally I would say I always need cheese, but I think the avocado and chile salsa made up for it. It was delish.

Then of course, because I had been eating so well, I ruined it by making a crazy awesome vegetarian lasagna.

Layer one: A tomato basil marinara and spinach
Layer two: I used a homemade cream sauce with sundried tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms
Layer three: The marinara with zucchini, ricotta and carrots
Layer four: More marinara and mushrooms
Topping: A spicy Arrabiatta marinara sauce topped with fontina, asiago, parmesan, provolone and mozzarella cheese (and some basil and oregeno)

Eaten with cream cheese garlic cheese's a good thing I've been running.

I had some crazy times at work and the day all the stress went away I wanted to make something awesome to celebrate.

I wanted to do a teriyaki salmon, but salmon was too expensive. Then I was going to do chicken, but then I noticed the steak was on sale. So that's what I bought instead. And then I just sort of threw together what I thought would sound good. I marinated the steak cubes with some oil, rice vinegar and black pepper. Then I sauteed some onions and mushrooms. Heated up some honey, mixed it with some soy sauce and sugar, and threw in the steak and cooked it all up. What went wrong was that the steak overcooked and ended up being too tough, and I think some pineapple would've been really good. I threw in some green onions which were definitely a good choice. Sesame seeds probably would've been good too. But oh well. Not bad for a cheap meal - and a good learning experience.

My favorite part was the chicken rice. Which is my mom's recipe. I cooked regular white rice with chicken broth instead of water and tossed in some deep fried onion bits when it was ready. Mmmm it smells fantastic and I highly recommend it. Usually really good with other chicken dishes.