Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Next “Ace of Cakes” Star…

My best friend (and roommate) Jon is an avid collector of Jordan sneakers, and has been for as long as I have known him (since we were about 14-years-old). Jon’s birthday is three days after Christmas, and coming up with one gift for him is always a struggle, making figuring out the second gift nearly impossible. So this past December, I was brainstorming gift ideas for him, and it came to me: Make him a birthday cake that looks like a Jordan!

My baking skills are pretty much limited to Betty Crocker mixes, mostly due to the fact that I don’t have the patience to measure everything to the exact degree that baking requires. I’ve never used fondant before either… but I figured it couldn’t be too hard, seems like it would be like playing with Play-doh.

So I got to work planning my creation. I went online to and navigated to a site completely devoted to Jordan’s. After looking through the 23 different styles, I decided on Jordan 3’s, and found a color combination I thought I could re-create:

The bulk of the shoe is white, meaning I would only have to color the detail parts of the shoe. The red struck me as a little problematic, as red is a really hard color to get right. Also, the grey parts of the shoe have an “elephant skin” effect, which is a major design component for this style of Jordan.

I did a little Googling on how to work with fondant, for some background info. Then I spoke to baking guru (and my mother), Dilphia De Los Santos. We promptly got into an argument about it, because I’d read that you should use shortening as a lubricant for the surface that you are working with the fondant on, and my mom laughed in my face, managing to sputter something about powdered sugar. Typical De Los Santos stubbornness at it’s best.

After arguing about it for about 20 minutes, I finally conceded to my mom, and listened to what she had to say. Under her instruction, I mixed up two Betty Crocker “Golden Vanilla” cake mixes, poured the batter in a cookie sheet, and tossed (ok, gently slid) it into the oven. After it baked and cooled, I cut it into thirds and put a layer of frosting between each of the three layers of cake, using 1/4 inch wooden dowel rods to hold the layers in place. Then, I wrapped it in plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer overnight.

The next day, I took the cake out of the freezer, and, with several images of the sneakers I wanted to re-create in front of me for reference, used a paring knife to carve the frozen cake. I’ve always been pretty artistic, and I’m good at visualizing things, so it was, well, a piece of cake.

Next up, I covered my sneaker shaped cake in a layer of frosting (also of the Betty Crocker, pre-made variety), and set it on a foil covered cake board and put it aside. I rolled out a box of Wilton fondant on my powdered sugar sprinkled work surface (a large flexible cutting board), and rolled it up onto my rolling pin once it was about a 1/4 inch think throughout. Then, I rolled it from the rolling pin over the cake:

After smoothing it out and trimming off the excess, I took my leftover fondant and divided it in half. Half remained white, for laces and other plain details, and then colored 1/4 of it blue, and 1/4 grey. It takes a while to knead the food coloring in, and it most definitely can stain your hands (note to self: wear gloves next time).

I used a little tool Wilton makes to cut and shape my fondant details, which basically is a miniature, plastic, pizza cutter. To attach them to the cake, I rubbed the wrong side of each detail with a little water, starting with the bottom-most pieces first. After about an hour and half of creating and attaching the details, piece-by-piece, it began to look like a real shoe. For the elephant skin effect seen on the grey details of the shoe, I “sponged” on dark grey colored frosting over the grey fondant details using a crumpled up paper towel.

The last pieces I made were the laces, but realized that I needed to pipe the Jordan symbol on before doing that. I used the tiniest decorating tip my mom had, and practiced it a few times before attempting it on the actual cake. I used a tube of prepared red frosting for the symbol on the tongue of the shoe, since red is one of the hardest colors to get bright and vibrant. I used the dark grey colored frosting to create the elephant skin effect on the grey pieces to make the symbol on the back of the shoe.

After attaching the laces I decorated a small, 4-inch layer cake for the “birthday cake” aspect of my design, with blue frosting. I put it on the cake board, piped some little rosettes around it, and then wrote “Happy Birthday Jon!” in red icing on the board.

I managed to get the cake to our apartment safely, and put the red “24” candles on the mini birthday cake. I knocked on Jon’s bedroom door, told him there was something he “had to see” in the kitchen, and dragged him downstairs with me. He loved it, and I think I’m going to be making a different style of Jordan cake every December 28th for the years to come!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Did I mention I LOVE Rachael Ray?

As someone who works a full-time job, and has an hour and a half round trip commute each day for it, time is a precious commodity. So, while I really love to cook, I don't normally have the time to cook everyday, and on my weekends, when I do cook, I don't want it to take up my entire day. Excuse me for sounding like a self-indulgent young twenty-something, but, well, I AM! It's not as though I have a family that I have to feed everyday; most of the time it's just me. I want something great to eat, that doesn't take a million years to make.

The whole "30-Minute Meals" thing explains why I think Rachael Ray is a goddess. I know some people think her effervescent cheerfulness is too much. Not me. I don't think there is anything wrong with being fun, and goofy sometimes. Meet me in person, and you'll see what I mean.

But anyway.

I work Sunday - Thursday, and tonight was my free night to cook. I made one of my classics... chicken and spinach burgers (which is a variation on one of Rach's recipes from her "365: No Repeats" book) and sweet potato fries.

Here is what I started with:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • vegetable oil, to fry in
  • sea salt
Heat oil over medium-high heat. Cut potatoes into 1/4 inch strips, and fry for about 12-15 minutes, until crispy. Season with sea salt.

First up, I cut the sweet potato... well, tried. I have a mandolin slicer, which is awesome for cutting things uniformly, but the sweet potato was too dense for it. Since I am a klutz, I decided I shouldn't tempt fate with the possibility of me cutting a finger off, and I went back to basics: a cutting board and my trusty Furi East-West knife. I threw them into about a 1/2 inch of oil I had heating on the stove, and let the fries cook while I prepared the burgers.

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 8 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon onion and herb flavor Mrs. Dash
  • handful parsley, chopped
Combine above ingredients and form into patties. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

  • tomato, sliced
  • avocado, sliced
  • swiss cheese
  • honey mustard
  • rolls

I made the burgers a
bout a half-inch thick and the size of my palm, and on the stove they went. Since I was just cooking for myself, I only made two burgers, and threw some bread crumbs and an egg into the meat mixture and formed some chicken meatballs, which I baked for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

In the mean time, I sliced the tomatoes and avocado. I went in the fridge for the honey mustard... but I was out. I'm a little addicted to the stuff, so it makes sense that I didn't have any. I figured I could throw some together... about 1 tablespoon each of deli style mustard (obvious), honey (also obvious), and mayo (for some creaminess). I toasted the roll, and slathered it with the honey mustard. After a slice of swiss was good and melty on top of the hot burger, I piled it with avocado and tomato. This is the end product:

All in all it took about 30 minutes of cooking, with the bonus meatballs cooking while I ate. I froze them and will have them for another night when I am pressed for time. Also, I Betty Crockered some double chocolate cookies for dessert (you can see the package of mix on the counter in the first photo). I definitely have a sweet tooth, but baking is a little too exact for me, so something I can add oil and eggs to is perfect. And quick. And yummy. : )

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This is me...

So, let's get a few things done and over with. I am a 24-year-old photojournalist (I work for the Middletown Press), I am very much a "city girl"- I grew up in New London, went to school in Boston. Now, I live back in NL, in a funky little apartment downtown, although it seems like I spend more time in Middletown, since I work there.

One other thing- I love to cook. Growing up, my mom was the pastry chef at The Flood Tide Restaurant at The Inn at Mystic. She was always in the kitchen and I was right there with her. Since then, I've grown much less interested in baking sweets (I leave that to my mom- no one is better than she is), and gotten very into cooking- all kinds of things. What I guess I should say is that I am trying to teach myself to cook. I seem to have a natural knack for it, but I lack any kind of education in it. I'm taking the "read up on it, see it done, and experiment" approach.

I like to say that I'm not picky... but it's a total lie. I don't eat red meat, for the simple reason that one day, when I was 12, I decided I wasn't going to eat it anymore. I don't like sushi, jello, cilantro, chick peas... among other things. That may make me sound a lot pickier than I actually am... but you'll probably figure out that I will try just about anything, and try it again to see if I like it "this time" (including the four "gross" foods listed above).

What I plan to do with this blog is pretty simple: Try a new recipe, food, gadget, etc, then tell you about it. I'll take plenty of pictures so you can get your own taste of it, and maybe sometime down the line I'll work in some videos. Who knows? It's gonna be fun though.