Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wedding Cake: Take One

I like making food look pretty. So, I thought I would enjoy making cakes look pretty, too. After approximately 10 hours more work than I expected, and a whole lot more stress than I ever anticipated - I made my first wedding cake. I wouldn't exactly say that I enjoyed it. I've made a few smaller cakes - that, I enjoyed. This, not as much.

The bottom two layers were styrofoam and I used a very simple design - in my mind, it should have been a breeze. Granted, this was my first big cake - I didn't really know what to expect. The bottom layer was 16x16x5. That's over 4 square feet of fondant that was lifted over an over-priced block of styrofoam. Argh.

In the end, the cake turned out nice. I stressed learned a lot from trial and error - and will definitely do many things different the next time around. It was fun, at times - I think the amount of time it took stressed me out the most. My day-long diet of marshmallow fondant and Diet Coke probably didn't contribute much, either.

I'm sure after a few runs, and as I get better and quicker - I will have a lot of fun making cakes. And, I think the term enjoy will easily slip back into a sentence along with fondant and cake if the word profit were to exist along side.

For now, I think I'll take a little break. I'll probably dream the next few nights about smoothing fondant. Or have nightmares about it. And then I'll probably forget that it was stressful and get excited to do it all again. And when I do, I'll probably enjoy it - then. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pretzel Kiss Cookies

These little cookies are as simple as they look. They are fun, festive, and easy to make. I found the idea on Disney Family Fun. We included them with some little Christmas packages we made this year. Next time, I might be adventurous and see how caramel-filled kisses hold up. :)

Pretzel Kiss Cookies

Square pretzels (my package calls them Snaps)
Hershey Kisses or Hugs
Plain M&M's

1. Preheat oven to 170-degrees.
2. Line pretzels in a single layer on a baking sheet. Top each with a Kiss or Hug.
3. Bake for 3-8 minutes until the chocolate is soft, but not melted. Keep checking the chocolate every 30 seconds or so after 3 minutes by poking it with a toothpick or fork - it will melt at a different length of time depending on the type of chocolate - I used Hugs and dark chocolate Kisses, the Hugs melted much more quickly.
4. Once the chocolates are soft, take them out of the oven and press an M&M into the center of each Kiss. Let cool completely before moving, chill in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes, if necessary.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spinach Pomegranate Salad with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

Spinach Pomegranate Salad with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

mandarin oranges
pomegranate seeds
apples, sliced thin or into matchsticks
blue cheese (or gorgonzola)

1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

1. Toss together salad ingredients.
2. Mix together dressing ingredients in a cruet or small bowl, toss with salad.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mini Quiche

We try to feed the kids a healthy breakfast. But, I'm kind of lacking in my variety of what I make in the morning. Usually, our default is scrambled eggs. If I'm feeling fancy I'll do an omelet or crustless quiche. If Vahe is around, he sometimes cooks grechka (toasted buckwheat) or a creamy rice for the girls. Vahe has also converted me out of "dessert for breakfast," as he calls it. So, no pancakes, french toast, or waffles for us - although, sometimes I sneak in a syrup-slathered breakfast when we have guests over. So, I've been trying to think of new ways for us to get in our protein, fruits and veggies in in the morning.

I made these little quiches with a puff pastry crust, using the veggies I had leftover in the fridge. Really, anything goes. You could put in any variety of vegetables, meat and cheese - these are pretty hard to mess up. Kyah loved them - they were just her size. Hannah almost ate a whole one too! This is definitely a keeper, and will soon be taking its turn in the breakfast routine.

Mini Quiche

Ingredients: (makes 9)

1 1/3 sheets puff pastry (a frozen box usually comes in with 2)
5 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/2-3/4 cup of veggies, meat and/or cheese (if you are using onions, peppers, asparagus... any veggie that takes a while longer to cook - I would saute them a bit first)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or Herbs de Provence 
veggies, cheese, and herbs to top

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Lightly grease a muffin pan.
2. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry, and cut it into 9 squares - they will be about 4x4-inches each.
3. Push each square into a muffin tin
4. Beat the eggs with milk and add in salt, pepper and seasoning. Stir in the veggies.
5. Pour the egg mixture into the puff pastry bowls.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes on the rack just under the center rack. (The dough on top will brown much more quickly than the dough on bottom.)

*I put a little strip of parchment paper under the dough - to use as a little handle in taking the quiches out when they are done. They will pop out pretty well on their own, but this will make it even easier!

This is what I put in mine:
Frozen spinach - probably just a few Tablespoons - a little goes a long way
Mushrooms, green bell pepper & onion - all diced and lightly sauteed with a few cloves of garlic
Zucchini, shredded - put in raw
Cilantro, chopped
Italian seasoning

Then - I topped mine with feta, cilantro, and grape tomatoes. Yum!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eclair Cake

It's kind of embarrassing when people ask me for the recipe for this - because its so simple. This cake looks and tastes so much more complicated than it is. This usually what I bring when we get invited somewhere and are asked to bring dessert. It's easy to throw together, uses only a few ingredients - and keeps really well. You can make it days in advance (it actually should be made at least a day in advance), or even freeze it for months.

Eclair Cake

2 (3-ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk
12 ounces Cool Whip (I always use light)
1 1/2 boxes graham crackers (4-5 sleeves)
1 (16-ounce) jar of pre-made chocolate frosting

1. In a large bowl, whisk together pudding and milk - then fold in Cool Whip.
2. In a 9x13 pan, arrange enough graham crackers in single layer to cover bottom of the pan. (Break them apart as needed)
3. Pour 1/3 of the pudding mixture (just under 2 cups) over the crackers, and spread evenly over graham cracker layer.
4. Repeat layers of crackers and pudding mix two more times, then top with graham crackers.
5. Remove lid and seal from frosting container and microwave at 15-30 second intervals, stirring after each, until the frosting is melted and can be poured. Pour the frosting over the last layer of graham crackers, and tilt the pan to cover.
6. Cover, and refrigerate at least a day before serving - giving the crackers time to absorb the moisture and soften. (I usually let it chill for a few hours before covering it to let the frosting set - so that my plastic wrap will come off cleaner when it's ready to serve.)

*This dessert can be ready in less time by dipping the graham crackers in milk before layering. I would still probably give it at least 8-hours to absorb.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Napoleon Torte (Russian Napoleon Layered Cake)

My in-laws have been here for a few weeks now, and to celebrate Vahe's mom's birthday - I decided to try to take on something that was a little more traditional for her - this Napoleon cake. It took waaayyy longer than I expected to make - about 5 hours with the "help" of my girls. In fact, I didn't even bake 4 of the 15 layers the recipe calls for. But seriously, totally worth it - even 4 layers short.

Not really knowing what I was making, or how it should taste - I followed this recipe from group recipes almost to a 't', just omitting the alcohol - and baking the pastry at a slightly higher temperature.

The end result kind of tasted like layered crepes with a custard filling. And wonderful.

Next time I make this, I am going to try to sub out at least half of the butter it calls for (the recipe uses 3 1/2 sticks!). Also, I will make sure that the hubby is home - I think I'll be able to assemble the whole cake in under 3 hours sans little helpers. I'll make sure to add on an edit if the lighter version turns out well.

Napoleon Torte (Russian Napoleon Layered Cake)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon of salt
shy 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
3-4 cups flour

7 cups whole milk, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 egg yolks
5 Tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
zest from 1 lemon (about 1 packed teaspoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter

Preparing the Pastry
1. Prepare the pastry by blending together eggs, butter, sour cream and salt. Make sure these three ingredients are all at room temperature so that the butter will stay soft. (When I made this, I put my softened butter into cold sour cream and eggs - and the butter hardened up in little chunks. I eventually had to put the bottom of my mixing bowl in warm water for a while to soften everybody back up.)
2. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in vinegar. When the bubbles have stopped, stir into egg mixture.
3. Gently add in 3-4 cups of flour, until the dough becomes a little bit thicker than a cookie dough - and is no longer sticky. (I used 3 1/2 cups of flour.)
4. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, cover, and chill in fridge while preparing the cream.

1. Pour 6 cups of milk into a large heavy pot and gently bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. While the milk is warming - cream together egg yolks, sugar and salt. Blend until the mixture turns a lighter color. Add in flour, and mix well. Then, add in the remaining cup of milk and until all of the lumps are gone.
2. When the milk begins to boil, immediately reduce the heat to low. Very slowly, wisk in the egg mixture. Turn the heat back up to medium-high, and bring back to a boil. Simmer the cream for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon zest, vanilla and nutmeg.
4. Let the cream cool for about 10 minutes, then add in butter. Let it melt from the heat of the cream, then stir to combine.
5. Cover the pot and let cool while you prepare layers of pastry.

Baking Pastry 
1. Preheat oven to 450-degrees.
2. Roll out one piece of dough very thin, just bigger than the size of a piece of paper, on a very well floured surface. (I just kept a piece of paper near so that I could make sure it was about the right size.) Don't worry about making it a perfect shape, after you stack the cake - you will trim the edges so that they are even.
3. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and use a fork to poke holes all over the dough.
4. Bake for 2-4 minutes, until just barely brown on the edges.
5. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. (Cook 2 sheets a little bit longer until they turn a golden to dark brown all over. Let these pieces cool, then crumble and set aside to spread on top and around the cake at the end.)

Assembling the Cake
1. Begin by placing one sheet of the pastry on a large plate, baking dish or board.
2. Spread about 1/2-3/4 cup of the cream on top, covering the entire sheet. Repeat with the remaining sheets of pasty and cream, spreading cream on the very top.
3. Refrigerate the cake for 2 to 3 hours.
4. After the cake has soaked and softened, trim off the edges of the cake.
5. Carefully sprinkle and pat in the crumbled pastry all over the cake.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


This is one of my favorite soups. Borscht is a traditional Ukrainian soup made from beets and cabbage. Not only is it wonderful, but beautiful too! 


2-pounds stew meat (or really any cut of beef cut in bite-size chunks)
2 quarts beef bouillon, stock, or broth (I am in love with the Better than Bouillon brand - I get it from Costco and always use it for any recipe that calls for stock or broth)
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded (I cheat and use a bag of coleslaw mix)
3-4 carrots, shredded (again, I usually cheat and get a bag of matchstick carrots)
3-4 beets, peeled and shredded (about 4-5 cups shredded)
1 large onion, diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3-4 potatoes, peeled and diced to bite-size

1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
garnish: lime, cilantro, sour cream

1. Simmer stew meat in bouillon with bay leaf until tender. Depending on the size of your meat, this may take up to a few hours.
2. Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil in a small saute pan over medium-high heat until the onion turn translucent. 
3. Add shredded cabbage, carrots, beets and onion to the bouillon. Add in enough water to completely cover the vegetables, if necessary. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
4. Add in diced potatoes, and simmer a few minutes longer until soft.
5. Remove from heat and stir in chopped cilantro. Serve with sour cream, cilantro, and a fresh squirt of lime juice.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thai Chicken Pizza with Peanut Sauce

A few weeks ago, I had the Thai Chicken Pizza at California Pizza Kitchen. It really hit the spot, and then I remembered this post that my friend Lindsay posted on her blog a while ago (I seriously make almost everything she posts - it is all amazing!). I tweaked her sauce recipe just a little bit, added chicken to mine (she's a vegetarian), and put it on my own pizza crust. This is definitely one of my favorite pizzas, so much more fresh and healthy than the traditional pepperoni!

Thai Chicken Pizza with Peanut Sauce

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon Thai chili sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons seasame oil
1/2 cup canola, vegetable, or olive oil

Pizza Crust
The link above will take you to my pizza crust recipe - or you can use your own favorite, or even a pre-made dough.

Pizza Toppings
mozzarella cheese, shredded
Grilled chicken breast, thinly sliced (If you want to be really ambitious - you could marinate your chicken in the peanut sauce before grilling)
shredded cabbage (I cheat and by a bagged coleslaw)
matchstick carrots
bean sprouts
sesame seeds

1. Make sauce by combining all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
2. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the prepared pizza dough, then top with mozzarella, chicken, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and sesame seeds.
3. Bake according to your recipe.
4. Top with fresh cilantro.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake

This is one of my favorite pumpkin recipes, and a Thanksgiving staple! The recipe comes from a combination of pumpkin cheesecakes recipes I have tried over the years - the best of each put into one amazing cheesecake!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup ginger snap crumbs
1/2 cup pecans
1/3 cup butter, melted

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Prepare crust by pulsing graham crackers, ginger snaps, and pecans in a food processor or blender until fine, even crumbs form. Stir in melted butter.
2. Press crust into the bottom of a 10-inch springfoam pan.
3. Make cheesecake by beating together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, stir to an even consistency. (This can be hand mixed, made in a KitchenAid, food processor, or blender.)
4. Remove just under 2 cups of batter and spread in bottom of pan. (Reserve 1-2 Tablespoons of batter for designs on top, if desired.)
5. Add pumpkin puree and spices to remaining batter and carefully spoon over first layer.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes. When all but about 1/3 of the cheesecake's center is set, turn the oven off - and prop open the door just a bit. Let the cheesecake slowly cool for about one more hour before removing it from the oven.
7. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely at room temperature, then chill at least 12 hours before serving.


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