Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sunday Favorites - some of my cake creations

chocolate truffle wedding cakeThis super rich and delicious Chocolate Buttercake
filled and frosted with the most amazing
Chocolate Ganache - TO DIE FOR!
(the scent of chocolate completely filled the entire reception hall - you should have heard the comments!)

red velvet wedding cake vanilla buttercreamA Petite Red Velvet Wedding Cake filled and frosted with Vanilla Buttercream - Interior ruby color was stunning!!!

vanilla wedding cakeVanilla Butter Cake with
Vanilla Buttercream - Classic!

vanilla buttercream wedding cakeVanilla Almond Pound Cake filled and frosted with Vanilla Buttercream. Decorated with a stunning variety of fresh flowers and Rose Hips.

rose hips wedding cakeThe top tier to the cake above. I adore the rose hips - I added them at the last minute because I didn't thing the cake looked complete. I'm so glad I made a middle-of-the-night trip to Wal-Mart. Btw, I haven't seen rose hips there since.

vanilla and raspberry tiered cakeAn amazingly delicious Vanilla Butter Cake with Fresh Raspberry Puree Buttercream filling and Vanilla Buttercream frosting - accented with fresh flowers and ruby red raspberries.

vanilla and raspberry cakeAnother delicious Vanilla Butter Cake with Fresh Raspberry Puree Buttercream filling and Vanilla Buttercream frosting - accented with fresh flowers.

NYC Cheesecake w/Wild Maine Blueberry SauceNew York Style Cheesecake with Wild Maine Blueberry Sauce - Delish!

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Buttery Caramel SauceDelicious Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Rich,
Buttery Caramel Sauce - Yum!

These goodies were all made pre-blog, so I can't post about them specifically, but I'll be sure to get lots of pictures of future baking projects!

Eastern Redbud in bloomOne last photo of the gorgeous Eastern Redbud that is blooming all over our part of Virginia right now. It's stunning, and the blooms last for weeks and weeks!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Caprese Pasta Salad - Basil, Tomato, Mozzarella

Caprese pasta salad
Caprese Pasta Salad - ButterYum
Oh my.... this is one of the yummiest things you'll ever put in your mouth. Seriously, I could eat it every single day. It's so simple to make and requires very little skill, so there's no reason not to try it. Here's how.

First, you'll need a pound of cooked, rinsed, and drained pasta (cold). Here I'm using elbows, but any fun shape will do. I put the prepared pasta in a big bowl and start building the salad like this:

tomatoes and basilI start by chopping really ripe tomatoes, lots of them. The better the tomatoes, the better this salad will be, so use really good ones. I chop about 1/2 lb for 1 lb. of pasta.

Campari TomatoesI especially like Campari tomatoes.

The next really important ingredient is fresh mozzarella. It's really, really, really worth it to buy the fresh stuff.  You'll need about 1/2 pound, diced.

fresh basilOf course you're going to need fresh basil - it's the star of the show here, so the more the better! Use as much as you like. I honestly don't think you can add too much.

You'll also need a little vinaigrette - my favorites are light champagne vinaigrette and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, but feel free to use your favorite.  I use about 1/4 cup - just enough to lightly wet all the ingredients.

caprese saladStir it all together and season with salt and pepper (heavy on the pepper). Check the saltiness of your mozzarella first - brands differ greatly.

Caprese Pasta Salad
Printable Recipe

1 pound elbow pasta, cooked, drained, and cooled
1/2 pound diced ripe tomatoes
1/2 pound diced fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup of your favorite vinaigrette
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Gently toss ingredients together and serve.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Note - use a serrated knife to easily cut both the tomatoes and the fresh mozzarella. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's On Your Wall Wednesday

This is my home office. It was previously the formal living room, but we rarely used it and I desperately needed an office space, so out went the love seat, and in came a desk, filing cabinet, printer, etc. This wall houses my cookbook collection.

A closer look at the book shelf doors. They used to be clear glass, but I purchased something at the craft store called Gallery Glass which helped me transform them into faux leaded and textured glass. I like how it obscures the view of the books.

You'll see that I have a thing for mirrors. I just love using them to decorate my house. Whenever I head toward the mirror section of a store, the kids all say, "No Mom, no more mirrors! We have enough!" ....what can I say.

This photo of my foyer is actually a few months old. I didn't take a new photo today because the poinsettia finally kicked the bucket this week and I have yet to replace it. Oh, I found the buffet table at Crate & Barrel for 50% off. It was exactly what I had been searching 3 1/2 years for, and it fits the space like it was made to go there!

I guess I should change out this wreath in my foyer now that Christmas is over, but I just love it so much. I'll put up a spring wreath this week.

This is a watercolor painting that I found in an antique shop for only $3. It had a hideous peach colored oval matte and no frame. I pitched the dated yucky oval thing and replaced it with an inexpensive double matte from Wal-Mart. The frame was also purchased at Wal-Mart... I think the whole thing cost me under $15 total.

I got this huge Home Interiors picture at auction for cheap, cheap, cheap, and I love it, love it, love it.

Another mirror :). I love round mirrors (yes, got it cheap at auction).

Here's my family room fireplace wall. I saw this 32" Howard Miller clock at a swanky clock shop one day, but the price tag gave me a heart attack. I just knew if I waited patiently, I'd eventually find it for sale on ebay. About 6 months later I found it - it was a wedding gift to a couple who had just gotten married and they didn't like it, so it was brand new and I got it for a fraction of the original cost.

Yes, another mirror, and another ebay deal! This GIGANTIC and very ornate mirror was made to go over the mantle of one of the many fireplaces at a high-end antique dealer's house. The interior designer he hired apparently measured wrong and the mirror ended up not fitting. A new mirror was made and he was allowed to keep the first one, which he sold on ebay for a starting bid of only $99. The photo he posted was really bad so I was the only person who bid. I was thrilled.

This is kind of a funny store... as a newbie bride I was impressed with my MILs cross-stitch accomplishments. She has made some of the most beautiful pieces I've ever seen. It inspired me to try my hand at it too, so I started small, making a few cross-stitched Christmas ornaments to tie on to gifts that year. They turned out pretty well, well enough to boost my ego a bit (did I mention I was very young... knew it all... you know).

Anyway, I eyed the pattern to this lovely (and quite large) map at a specialty needlework store. I purchased the pattern, thinking I could make this in a couple of months and give it to my husband as an anniversary gift. When I proudly showed the pattern to my MIL and told her my plan she chuckled and very kindly told me that it was a 'much' bigger project than I realized it was. Well, I worked and worked on it every day for about 6 months until I couldn't look at it anymore. I put it away for 6 years before picking it up to finish it.

The timing actually couldn't have been better because when I finally finished the piece, an older relative in the family sold his home and had to clear all his belongings out. This frame was one of the items and I couldn't believe a) how nicely the color of the wood worked with the piece, and b) it was absolutely the perfect size. Perfect! Anyway, it's been hanging on the wall ever since (Uh, and I have yet to take on another cross-stitch project).

One more photo... not technically on my wall, but through the window which is part of the wall - does that count? :). This bright little gold finch is sitting in a Redbud tree in the back yard. I have absolutely no idea why these trees are called "redbud" because their buds and flowers are actually pinkish-purple, but they're my favorite spring blooming tree, and I just love the vivid pop of color Mr. Goldfinch adds.

Well, that's probably more info than you wanted to know, but thanks for stopping by and taking a look.

How to make Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC)

How to Make Italian Meringue ButterCream - ButterYum
Italian meringue buttercream is easier to make than you think. It's infinitely better tasting than those overly sweet, crusty, gritty frostings made with shortening and powdered sugar that are so often mistakenly called buttercream. This is the real deal - the texture of IMBC is silky smooth, and the flavor is utterly out of this world. I highly recommend you give it a try. Let me show you how easy it is.

You can find a gazillion different recipes for Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) online. Just pick one and go for it.

Start by combining the correct amount of water and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. I make IMBC frequently, so I invested in this nifty copper sugar pot. The pot has a nice pour spout and it seems to heat the syrup very quickly, but I used a heavy bottomed stainless steel sauce pan for years, so that will definitely work fine for you.

Stir the water and sugar together, just until the sugar dissolves, then STOP stirring and let it come to a boil like this.

Now add a candy thermometer. The sugar syrup isn't very deep, so I find putting the thermometer in the pan upside down gives a better reading. You can also tilt the pan to get a good reading, but be careful... the syrup is EXTREMELY HOT!

Cook until the temperature reaches 248F. As you can see, we're not quite there yet, but it won't be much longer. The temperature rises quickly once you get to this point.

NOTE - be very sure your bowl and whip are free of grease, and make sure there are absolutely no traces of egg yolk in your whites. Greasy residue or the tiniest amount of egg yolk will keep your white from whipping.

In the meantime, beat room temperature egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whip attachment on med speed. Add cream of tartar, increase the speed to med-high and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

Here is what soft peaks look like... add the correct amount of sugar called for in the recipe and continue to beat until you reach stiff peaks.

Stiff peaks achieved. If your sugar syrup hasn't reached 248F yet, just turn the mixer speed down to low while you wait... you shouldn't have to wait long, if at all.

The moment the sugar syrup reaches 248F, with the mixer on med-high, start pouring it slowly between the whip and the edge of the bowl or you'll have strings of hardened sugar syrup all over the place. When all the sugar syrup has been added, increase speed to high and beat until the mixture cools to room temperature (monitor the temp by feeling the outside bottom of the bowl).

Now you can start to add your room temperature butter, a little at a time, until it's all combined. The meringue will immediately start to lose volume when you start adding the butter, but that's normal. Also, don't panic if your mixture starts to look curdled... just keep beating on high, it will magically come together soon. Add optional flavorings, and enjoy.

Here it is almost done... I'm making this batch vanilla, so I'll add either pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste to taste.

This is my vanilla version that I used to top some yummy chocolate cupcakes (cupcake recipe found here - cake batter only; no graham cracker crust or mini chocolate chips).

There are many recipes online, but this one will make 4-5 cups.  One batch will frost a layer cake, but you may want to make more if you plan to pipe decorations.  Leftover buttercream will keep at room temp for 3 days, can be refrigerated for 10 days, or can be frozen for long-term storage. Bring to room temp before using. Beat for a few seconds with a whisk to restore creamy consistency.

Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream
makes 4-5 cups
Printable Recipe

1 pound unsalted butter, room temp (must be unsalted)
5 egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (divided 1 cup, and 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Have butter ready at room temperature.  

In a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan, make the sugar syrup by heating the water and 1 cup of sugar to 248F (this will take 5-10 minutes).  

In the meantime, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer until soft peaks form.  Slowly add the remaining  1/4 cup sugar; continue beating until egg whites reach stiff peaks.  Turn off mixer if the sugar syrup hasn't reached 248F yet.  

When the sugar syrup is ready, and the mixer on low speed, carefully pour the hot syrup into the whipped egg whites, just between the wall of the bowl and the whisk, being careful not to allow the syrup to hit the whisk.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and whip until the meringue has cooled completely (check by feeling the bottom of the bowl).   

Once the meringue has cooled completely, slowly add the butter, 1 tablespoon or so at a time, until all the butter is incorporated.  If the mixture looks curdled or "broken" at any time, increase the mixer speed and beat until it smooths out before adding more butter.  If the mixture or your kitchen is too warm, a short rest in the fridge may be necessary.  Beat in the vanilla and prepare to indulge!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No light box, so how'd I get these shots?

Do you want to know how I took this lovely photo?

How about this one?

I bet you think I have a fancy schmancy DLR Camera (or is it SLR?)...


I bet you think I have a fancy schmancy light box?


Wanna know how I did it?

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, here you go...

A chair, a white plate, a spray bottle filled with water, and a couple of pieces of wax paper taped to the window to diffuse the direct sunlight. That's it. I set my camera up on a tri-pod, turn the dial thingy to "auto", zoom in, and click.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Wedding Cake Tasting

Sorry for the poor lighting, it's been raining here for days.

Anyway, a friend of a friend's daughter is getting married and asked to sample some of my cakes, so I put this little tasting together.

She was interested in tasting yellow butter, chocolate, and lemon cake.

The frostings she asked to sample were coffee, almond, chocolate (I did two versions), and raspberry. I threw vanilla into the mix just for the fun of it.

In the end they decided on chocolate cake with a combination of chocolate and raspberry filling and chocolate frosting. Their decision was heavily influenced by this wedding cake I made a couple of years ago (my very first by the way).

I love this photo taken just after they left... I'd say they enjoyed themselves.

Rain, rain, go away...

It's a day later and the sun is finally shining. Mmmm, leftovers!
Foodgawker declined this photo; the reason - photo/food composition
TasteSpotting accepted it - #40804