Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Birthday: Round Two

So Sugarbear wanted to go bowling with his friends for his birthday party.  I was flipping through my copy of Hello, Cupcake!, and I found a cute idea for some bowling pin cupcakes.  I also wanted to try out my Wilton Sports Ball pan, so I decided to make a bowling ball cake to go with the cupcakes.

Well, I loved how the cupcakes turned out!  I frosted some standard-size cupcakes, placed some unwrapped, mini-cupcakes upside-down on top of them, and then used some more frosting to attach donut holes to the very top.  I let them firm up in the fridge for a bit and then iced lightly over the whole thing.  Then I used a pastry bag with a #16 star tip to cover the cakes evenly.  The stripes and triangles were cut from strawberry Fruit by the Foot.  In the book, the author melts canned frosting and dips the cupcakes, which gives a nice, smooth finish.  I like to make my own frosting and wasn't sure how it would melt, so I went with piping. 

The ball cake turned out to be slightly difficult.  Next time, I will fill the pans a bit more full of batter and then trim the cake edges down to make a more rounded, as opposed to oblong, shape.  Also, I will ice one side, let it firm up, then flip it onto the serving board and ice the other side.  Sugarbear was more than pleased, so I won't beat myself up about it. 

My favorite frosting recipe produces an icing that is a cross between a buttercream and a whipped-cream frosting.  It came from one of my Wilton cake decorating class books.  They call it Extra-Special Buttercream Icing, and extra-special it is!  Even people who claim that they don't like frosting seem to enjoy it.  It is a good icing for frosting and shell-type borders, but is too soft to pipe flowers.

Extra-Special Buttercream Icing

1.  Cream 1 cup vegetable shortening* and 1 cup softened butter in a standing mixer.  Reduce the mixer to the lowest speed and gradually mix in 2 pounds of confectioners sugar.  Continue creaming until well blended.

2.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons clear vanilla**, and 6 ounces whipping cream and blend on low speed until moistened.  You may add up to 8 ounces of cream to reach your desired consistency.

3.  Beat at high speed until icing is fluffy.

*No trans-fat shortening does not take food coloring well (it separates overnight), and tends to make a looser icing.  Check the store brand shortenings as they tend to be "old-style" shortenings.  There is also high-density shortening, which is available from cake decorating suppliers, but I have never tried it.

**Clear vanilla won't tint your icing yellow and is available here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Birthday: Round One

Tuesday was Sugarbear's 7th birthday.  Since it fell on a weekday, we just had a small family celebration that night.  He got to choose where we went for dinner (In-N-Out Burger) and I whipped up some simple cupcakes for dessert.  The recipe I used is for "Yellow Cupcakes with Simple Chocolate Frosting" from Baking Illustrated.  The cupcakes were tender and buttery.  The frosting was simply a whipped ganache- intensely chocolatey.  Make sure to use a chocolate that you enjoy eating, because its flavor will dominate.

Yellow Cupcakes with Simple Chocolate Frosting

1.  For the frosting, bring 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Put 8 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate into a medium bowl and pour the hot cream over it.  Cover the bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Whisk the mixture until smooth, then cover and refrigerate until cool and slightly firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Don't let it chill too much longer than 1 hour or it may separate. 

2.  Once the chocolate mixture is chilled,  whip it with an electric mixer on medium speed until it's fluffy and mousse-like and forms medium-stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.  Set aside.

3.  For the cupcakes, heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with paper wrappers.  Whisk
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a standing mixer.  Add 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened, unsalted butter, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 large egg, 2 large egg yolks and 1 1/2 teapoons vanilla to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and stir by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

4.  Use a 1/4 cup (2 ounces) scoop to divide the batter into 12 tins.  Bake until the cupcake tops are pale gold and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-24 minutes.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack until they are room temperature, about 45 minutes.

5.  Spread 2-3 generous tablespoons of frosting onto each cupcake and serve.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


One of my favorite things to knit is a nice, basic beanie.  They are quick to knit and are infinitely customizable.  They make a perfect gift for the men on your list.  Add a cute, little pom-pom on top for your favorite lady.  The black and white striped beanie, above, was knit for my son's karate Sensei, and was inspired by his black belt.

This grey, maroon and cream beanie was knit for hubby.

This beanie was also knit for hubby, and was made to match his favorite bike.

Uncle D enjoys his beanie.

My friend Dave models his birthday beanie.

Here is the pattern I use for a basic beanie.  It fits an average 24" head.  You can make it a bit smaller or bigger by adjusting your needle size.

Basic Beanie

Worsted-weight yarn (I've used Wool-Ease (197 yds) and Plymouth Encore (200 yds) to make my various beanies.  One skein is enough to make one hat with some left over.)
16" circular needles- Size 7 or 8
DPNs- Size to match your circular needles
Stitch marker
Yarn needle

18stitches/24 rows= 4 inches in stockinette

Cast 84 stitches onto your circular needles.  Place your marker and join for working in the round.
Rounds 1 through 4:  Work in k1, p1 ribbing.
Rounds 5 through 38:  Knit.
Round 39:  *K2tog, k4; repeat from *- 70 stitches.
Round 40:  Knit.
Round 41:  *K2tog, k3; repeat from *- 56 stitches.
Round 42:  Knit.
Round 43:  *K2tog, k2; repeat from *- 42 stitches.
Round 44:  Knit.
Round 45:  *K2tog, k1; repeat from *- 28 stitches.
Round 46:  Knit.
Round 47:  *K2tog; repeat from *- 14 stitches.
Round 48:  *K2tog; repeat from *- 7 stitches.

Cut yarn. Use your yarn needle to run the yarn tail through the remaining 7 stitches and fasten off.  Weave in ends. 
You can add in any color-work you choose to make your own one-of-a-kind beanie.  It also looks nice in one gorgeous solid color.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chicken Pomodoro

One of my favorite magazines to pour over for yummy recipes is Cook's Country.  I recently  received the February/March 2010 issue in my mailbox.  One of the first recipes to catch my eye was one for Chicken Pomodoro (recipe card section).  It has all the flavors that my family loves:  tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic.  I decided to try it out.

All I can say is, "Wow"!  Even though the sauce has some cream in it, it was nice and light and fresh tasting.  Hubby deemed it a keeper after the first bite.  This is definitely one I will make for friends and family quite often.

Chicken Pomodoro

Pat 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts dry with paper towels.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook chicken until golden on each side.  Transfer to a plate.  (I lightly pounded my chicken breasts first.   I find that it keeps them more tender.)

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same skillet and cook 1 finely chopped onion until softened.  Add 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds.  Stir in 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, 1/3 cup heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil, then add cooked chicken and its juices back into the skillet.  Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a platter and tent with foil.  Simmer the sauce, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over cooked pasta (rigatoni is nice).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

My family's favorite soup is Pasta e Fagioli. If you've ever eaten at an Olive Garden restaurant, you may be familiar with it. My favorite version is from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (my kitchen Bible). I posted the recipe on my old blog and you can find it here.