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Monday, 30 June 2008
Gorgonzola is an Italian cow’s milk cheese named after a village that was once outside of Milan, Italy. Today most of the world’s Gorgonzola is produced in Novara, Italy. The cheese dates back to the 9th century. However, it wasn’t until the 11th century that it developed the blue/green mold we find on it today. The mold from Gorgonzola is the same type of mold found in penicillin. It normally takes 3-4 months to age.
Gorgonzola can be buttery, crumbles easily and can be very salty. The blue veins have a bite to them. Some Gorgonzola cheeses may be frozen, but, normally, just wrap them tightly in plastic and store them in the refrigerator. When shopping for Gorgonzola, look for paler cheese if you want it to taste sweet and darker varieties if you want more of a bit. Gorgonzola should never look brown in appearance. This is a sign that it has gone bad.
Gorgonzola has many uses in cooking. It may be melted into risotto in the final stage of cooking. It may go well alongside polenta or used as a pizza or salad topping. It can be an accompaniment to crackers, pears, apples, peaches, nuts, raisins, or made into a sauce for chicken or beef. It is often crumbled and turned into fondue as well. It is best served with champagne, full-bodied red wines, and sweet red wines.
Fettuccini with Spinach Artichoke Hearts and Gorgonzola
• 2 tbsp. Butter
Cook fettuccini al dente (long enough to still be firm, and not too soft). Drain and return to pot, add olive oil and coat well. Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add shallots, cook until lightly browned. Add white wine and bring to a boil, then add artichoke hearts (including brine), thyme, cream and reduce until sauce thickens. Pour sauce over pasta, add spinach, Gorgonzola cheese, and stir until coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with crumbled Gorgonzola and basil.
Radiatori with Mushrooms, Tomato and Gorgonzola Cheese
• ¼ cup olive oil
Cook pasta al dente long enough to still be firm, and not too soft). Drain and return to pot, add olive oil and coat well. Cover and set aside. Heat olive oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom and garlic; sauté until garlic begins to brown. Add white wine and simmer for one minute. Add tomatoes, basil and oregano and simmer. Add sauce to pasta in pot. Toss over medium heat until mixture is heated through and sauce coats pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola cheese and serve.
Friday, 27 June 2008
Hosting the perfect wine tasting party will make you the talk of your social group. The perfect party will allow you to entertain your guests and ensure everyone is happy. You will feel less stressed and more able to enjoy the party yourself, too, when you know you have planned your party carefully.
The following five steps will help you to plan the perfect wine tasting party. By following these steps you will be taken from the pre-party planning to wrapping up the party. You will find everything you need to make sure that your party goes off without a hitch in these five steps.
Step One: Find the right setting
You want the setting to reflect the overall atmosphere of the party. The party should be relaxing and laid back. You want people to be able to talk easily so there should not be a lot of noise. You also want a well lit area so people can see the wine.
Step Two: Decide who to invite
You should follow the general rule that a bottle of wine can be used for 15 to 20 people. Any more and you will run out of wine or be unable to give an adequate tasting amount. If you have less people then you will need to plan for the left over wine storage. Additionally, having the right number of people ensures that the conversation will not stall and that everyone will get a chance to speak their thoughts on the wine without being talked over or feeling crowded out.
Step Three: Prepare supplies
You want to ensure that you have everything you need for the party. You will need glasses that are made to match the wines you will be serving. You will need napkins. You will also need something to cleanse the palate in between tasting. You should choose bread at minimum. You can offer other foods, but be sure to follow general pairing guidelines so the taste of the wines is not ruined.
Step Four: Keep the party flowing
You want to make sure that the party keeps flowing. Move from wine to wine at a pace directed by your guests. When the conversation tends to slow you can move on to the next wine. Make sure you follow cues carefully or you could end up with awkward silence in between each wine.
Step Five: Closing the party right
Sometimes people like to linger about after wine tasting parties. It can be helpful if you have a way to wrap up the party that makes it clear he party is done. You may wish to send each guest home with leftover re-corked wine. You could also provide taxi service to get everyone home safely. Anything you do should make it clear the party is complete and everyone should leave. This is not rude, but important so that you are not stuck cleaning up into the wee hours of the morning just because a guest or two refused to leave. This will leave a good tastes in everyone's mouth.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Strawberries are abundant in the summer time. Below you will find two recipes that are delicious.
This is the best ever strawberry pie and is easy to make.
Bake pie shell according to package directions. I like to use Pillsbury pie crusts or Pet pie shells in the pan.
Wash and slice one pint of strawberries.
Combine in a saucepan the following and cook until thick, stirring constantly:
3/4 c. sugar 3 Tablespoons cornstarch dash of salt 1 c. water 1 Tablespoon butter
When thick stir in 2-3 drops red food coloring.
Stir in strawberries and add to cooked pie shell. Chill for 2-3 hours. Top with cool whip, then enjoy yourself and sit back to receive all the compliments on your best ever strawberry pie.
If you like, you can layer strawberries, then layer bananas, then another layer of strawberries and make your best ever strawberry and banana pie
What makes a good cook is good recipes. A friend gave this recipe to me over 20 years ago. It really is the best ever pound cake, and is good with strawberries, peaches, blackberries or any other fruit.
1 pound butter (4 sticks) 3 cups sugar
6 Eggs - beat well after each egg until light and fluffy
1T Vanilla 1t almond extract 1 t butter flavoring
4 c flour - add alternately with milk
3/4 c milk
Pour in loaf pans, and Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour
This pound cake can be used with any fruit. It is delicious with peaches and whipped cream.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Hot summer days remind me of my mother's chocolate whipped cream layer cake. My mother, an excellent baker, was famous for her orange sponge cake. She didn't bake sponge cake in the summer, however, because she didn't want to heat up the kitchen. Instead, Mom bought a sponge loaf from the store. She cut the cake into layers and frosted the layers and sides with chocolate whipped cream.
Cream cakes, or ice box cakes as they used to be called, have been around for years. Fannie Farmer's "Boston Cooking School Cook Book," first published in 1898, contains a recipe for French Cream Filling. The filling is made with heavy cream, powdered sugar, a stiffly-beaten egg white, and vanilla.
The wartime edition of "The Victory Cook Book" has a recipe that is almost identical to Fannie Farmer's recipe. Gelatin powder is added to the whipping cream to keep it stiff. The original "Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion rombauer Becker, also has a recipe for whipped cream frosting, only they call it Sweetened Whipped Cream and Creme Chantilly Frosting. Their recipe has many variations: almond cream (toasted slivered almonds or almond paste), toasted coconut, orange marmalade or other jam, and fresh berries, to list a few.
In her two-volume book, the "Modern Encylopedia of Cooking," Meta Given devotes an entire section to refrigerated cakes and ice box cakes. "Refrigerated Cakes are ideal party cakes because they are usually made the day before they are served," she writes. Certainly, I felt like I was at a party every time I ate Mom's Chocolate Whipped Cream Layer Cake. You will turn an ordinary meal into a party when you serve this creamy, chocolaty, and decadent dessert.
1 10.75-ounce frozen pound cake
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (Mom used Hershey's.)
1 dark chocolate candy bar
Cut defrosted pound cake into three layers. Dissolve gelatin in water and set aside for five minutes. Combine powdered sugar and heavy cream in a small mixer bowl. Beat cream until it starts to thicken. Gradually add the chocolate syrup and dissolved gelatin. Continue beating until the cream makes soft mounds, but is not stiff.
Frost the layers with the whipped cream mixture. Stack the layers and frost the outside of the cake. Garnish the top with shaved dark chocolate. Stick two toothpicks in the top of the cake (to protect the frosting) and cover with release foil. Referigerate the cake for at least four hours. For Coffee Whipped Cream Layer Cake substitute two tablespoons of cold, extra-strong coffee for the chocolate syrup. Makes 6-8 servings.
Copyright 2008 by Harriet Hodgson
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Summer is the time to get outdoors, especially for those of us in the north who have been stuck in the house and office during a dreary winter months. It's even more enjoyable if you can share the good times with friends or neighbors.
Preparing for a backyard party is both simple and enjoyable. It's a good way to join together with a small group of people. It's a way to converse about weather, sports, politics, and current events in an informal locale. Patio parties are a great way to get to know your neighbors better and build lasting friendships.
The initial step to do in planning a backyard event is to choose the people whom you want to invite. These people can include friends, neighbors, family, or colleagues. It is important to invite people with similar interests so they can feel at ease being together and have fun in each other's company.
The next thing to do in planning a backyard party is to choose the entertainment. Entertainment ideas could be as simple as backyard games like hillbilly golf or corn hole. Playing your most widely popular CDs or getting all your guests involved in karaoke is always an entertaining choice.
The most important thing to do in planning a backyard party is to choose the treat to be served. I like to keep the refreshment option simple and easy so that I can enjoy the company of my friends and participate in the games or other entertainment. My favorite choice of refreshment is a serving of cheesecake and a cup of coffee or tea.
Serving cheesecake to my guests at my backyard party is a delicious, yet simple alternative. It is filling enough to satisfy my guests and meets all of their tastes. The sweet, creamy texture is a surefire winner. It's flavor is mild enough so as not to overpower, yet it's distinctive enough to be appreciated and remembered. Cheesecake can be served as is or topped with fresh, seasonal fruit, making a colorful, appetizing and healthy dessert. It can also be found in the different flavor options of turtle, berry, or key lime for that special treat.
Cheesecake is easy to serve. You need a very few utensils. One knife can be used to slice and serve each piece. In fact, if you find the right online store, they come already. It can be eaten on paper plates and with plastic forks or spoons for easy clean-up. It is easy for your guests to eat while standing, as there are no crumbs to drop.
Monday, 23 June 2008
For many people the idea of a cold soup seems almost verging on the bizarre. Soups are meant to be hot... With possibly the exception of Gazpacho, the only cold soup that many people know about.
Yet, around the Mediterranean cold soups are commonplace and even in Britain cold soups were commonly served in the 1910s and 1920s. Indeed, there's nothing as refreshing as a chilled lemon soup or an iced tomato and basil soup, especially on a hot summer's day.
Soups aren't just meant to be 'winter warmers' served on a chilly day. A cold or chilled soup can be extremely pleasant on a hot summer's day, especially if you're outside in the sunshine. So why not try a chilled soup yourself this summer?
Here a classic hot soup and a chilled soup you may not have heard of or encountered before are presented for your gastronomic delight.
Broccoli and Stilton Soup
1 carrot, julienned (cut into matchstick-sized pieces)
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 bay leaves
sprig of thyme
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp flour
225g broccoli florets
300ml chicken or strong vegetable stock
300ml dry white wine
2 tsp cornflour
100g Stilton cheese
150ml single cream
salt and black pepper to taste.
Start with the classic French stock. Melt 25g of the butter and add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, thyme and the broccoli. Fry gently in a covered saucepan until the onion becomes translucent. At this stage remove the thyme and bay leaves.
When the frying is almost done add the remaining 25g of butter to another pan. When this has melted 2 heaped tablespoons of flour and a twist of black pepper. Cook for a minute to reduce the rawness of the flour. Add 100ml of milk and whisk to a smooth paste. Then add the chicken stock and the wine. All the while whisking to a smooth consistency.
Pour this thickened stock over the cooked vegetables and bring just to the point of boiling. Simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes then allow to cool slightly and blend with a hand blender. At this stage crumble the cheese into the soup. Place back on the heat and keep heating until the cheese has molten (but do not allow to boil). Check the seasoning and serve.
Chilled Carrot Soup
4 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 celery stick, with leaves, sliced
360ml chicken stock
1 tsp salt
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
180ml single cream or sour cream and basil or mint, to garnish
Add the carrots, onion and celery to a saucepan along with 120ml of the chicken stock. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 15 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool then transfer to a blender. Season with salt and cayenne pepper then blend until smooth. Add the remainder of the stock and blend to mix thoroughly. Finally add the cream and blitz to mix. Pour into a bowl and place in the fridge to chill completely. Serve garnished with sour cream and fresh basil or mint leaves.
I hope you enjoyed these recipes and that they will tempt you to try your own home-made chilled soup this summer.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
At one time or another, we have all had to have our nine-to-five job. Although, we are grateful for the money that comes in, at certain points, we feel bored or maybe even down-hearted. That is when we need to find our escape point. After work, I escape to my kitchen, where I can create and (hopefully) make something absolutely terrific. My escape is even better when I can combine that with my other happy spot, Disneyland.
When I created this cake and finally bit into it, I was whisked away. It was not to some exotic jungle, but to Adventureland. After all, there are some modern conveniences and safety precautions that Disneyland offers compared to some jungles.
This cake took me to that exact spot in front of Bengal Barbecue that I and my family always sit at to watch the world go by. I can feel the roughness of jungle rope, or the feel of climbing into great heights to reach the goal of being at the top of the Tarzan Treehouse (what we once knew as The Swiss Family Treehouse). Adventurous and mystified we sit and take it all in from a chair.
People are walking by, happy, carefree, and excited by that life that has brought them to this beautiful place. I watch the Jungle Cruise where families are coming from while the kids still are laughing at the lame jokes that came from their captain. I look to the right and I see the Indiana Jones Adventure. Kids looked stunned and parents look excited and happy. You wonder if these people look this happy at home. Everyone should look this happy everyday. That's when I look towards the tree house where all the rowdy kids are acting like monkeys and getting out all their energy (at least a third of it).
Sweet and savory barbeque chicken mixed with exotic yet playful spices tantalize my senses. Over the sweet barbeque scent, I detect the smell of dew. That's right, the smell of ancient and green rainforest soaked in its own moisture (it might be the smell of the water from the Jungle Cruise, but I am still going with the rainforest story).
Children laughing and screaming in good natured fun wake me from my fantasy. For a second there I thought I was in a rainforest, but no, I am Disneyland, safe and unscathed, but feeling still very adventurous. The hooting of the tropical birds and the old-fashioned sounds of the skippers' radios complete my happy picture.
Suddenly, I am back in my kitchen with the cake that started it all. Deep, exotic and playful, it matches where I am with that which makes us happy.
For an exotic cake of your own that might bring your sweet escape, try this:
"Adventureland Marbled Spice Cake"*
Ingredients: 1 and ½ tsp baking powder, 1 and 1/8 cups confectioners' sugar sifted, 6 tbs softened butter, 3 tbs non-fat milk, ½ tsp ground ginger, ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup Splenda, 3 tbs molasses, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 eggs lightly beaten, 7/8 cup all-purpose flour, and a few drops of vanilla extract.
1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 inch cake pan.
2) Cream the butter, sugar, and Splenda. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
3) Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture alternating with milk until combined.
4) Spoon 1/3 of the mixture into a bowl, and stir in the molasses, ginger, and cinnamon.
5) Drop alternating spoonfuls of dark and light mixtures into the pan. Run a knife through them to get the cake marbled.
6) Bake for 50 minutes. Leave in pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.
7) Stir enough warm water in the confectioners' sugar to make a smooth icing. Spoon quickly over the cake. Allow to set.
8) Enjoy with the feelings of your exotic sweet escape.
Likely Page Break
* Base for recipe from Cake and then I molded it from there.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
A couple of years ago, I was getting ready to make a simple apple pie. I was using Gala apple and had plenty of them. I was hungry and decided to eat an apple before I started on the recipe. The apple tasted bland, almost empy of flavor. Oh, oh, I thought, I better check another apple. The next Gala, too, was without any character. And then it dawned on me, it had been quite awhile since an apple really wowed me. And it wasn't just Galas... Golden Delicious, MacIntosh's, etc., all the apples I was buying, eating and using to cook with were low on flavor, and often, a texture disappointment.
This made me wonder. If it wasn't just one variety of apple that didn't thrill me anymore, could something be wrong with all the apples I was buying? Could it be the trees and how the apples were grown? I decided to find out. On my next shopping trip, I went to a whole foods store and bought nothing but organic apples. I had never really thought about going organic before, but I knew these apple were raised without chemicals and maybe that would make a difference.
To my surprise and delight, these organic apples were delicious. And you could really taste the difference between the various types of apples as well. I soon noticed something else - my children were eating more apple then they did before.
I had discovered a way to make my apple dishes taste better - by using organic apples.
What makes an apple organic? Organic apples are apples that are certified to be grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Non-organic apples are often sprayed with herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, up to 10 times, in a growing season. Not a very appetizing apple to feed to your kids or eat yourself. Organic apples are grown in soil that is more fertile and bio-active. And they are more nutritious - eating one organic apple is equal to eating up to 10 of today's non-organic apples!
As far as my recipes went, I didn't stop with organic apples, I soon began to tinker with other organic ingredients in my recipes. Did you know that organic cane sugar, actually has a nutritional value? It contains minerals and vitamins stripped away in refined sugar. I also discovered organic butter and milk. And began to use organic, whole flours. Yes, my cakes are a little heavier, now, but the texture and flavor is out of this world. These are the cakes and pies my ancestors conquered a continent on.
So now you know my secret method of getting the best tasting, most nutritious apple dishes - I use organic apples!
Monday, 16 June 2008
The word barbecue is a derivative of the West Indian term “barbacoa,” which denotes a method of slow cooking meat over coals. The barbecue, as we know it today, first became popular in America in the South. Pigs were a low maintenance and convenient food source for the Southerners. Pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, and entire neighborhoods would be invited to join in. The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these origins.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, barbecue first started appearing in restaurants and eventually grocery stores supplied large amounts of hog meat. In fact, the nation’s first supermarket chain was known as Piggly Wiggly.
The Difference between Grilling and Barbecue:
Grilling is a high heat cooking method. Food is cooked directly over the coals and is normally ready in a matter of minutes. Grilling temperatures are usually over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The high heat chars the food, seals the juices and creates a smoky, caramelized crust. Grilling is the oldest, most widespread method of cooking.
Barbecuing by contrast is a long, slow, indirect, low-heat method that uses smoldering logs or charcoal and wood chunks to smoke cook the food. Barbecue temperatures are usually between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This low heat generates smoke, which gives barbecue its unique flavor.
• The fire is ready for cooking when you can’t hold your hand over the flame for more than three seconds.
Brandon’s Bee Boppin’ Barbecue
• 12 chicken thighs
Lightly sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper over each beef rib. Put ribs in a separate container from other meats. After the ribs have been seasoned, cover each piece of meat with equal parts of Kraft barbecue sauce and Mr. Yoshida’s teriyaki sauce. Cover the container and store in the refrigerator. In a separate larger container, continue this process with the chicken thighs, Kielbasa sausage, and pork chops. Once each piece of meat has been seasoned and covered in the mixture, cover the container and put it in the refrigerator. Let both containers of meat marinade over night. The longer you can marinade the more effect the sauce will have on the meats. When the meats have finished the marinade process, barbecue on a charcoal or gas grill.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
Wine, Vino, the Nectar of the Gods. Whatever you want to call it, thanks to a growing number of vineyards and the exponentially growing demand for quality, affordable wine has made the number of wines on the market explode.
While the expansion of the wine market has helped to make quality wine more affordable, it's also helped to make the choosing of a good wine at either a restaurant or grocery store a bit more tricky. Fortunately, there are a few simple things to keep in mind when doing so that will help to ease the process.
Perhaps the oldest question, and the easiest to answer, is which wine to drink with which food. The traditional response is that you drink white wine with white meat (pork, chicken, seafood), and red wine with your red meat. While this generally holds true, that doesn't mean there isn't some wiggle room. With white zinfandel and rose' varietals floating around you get a mix of both your red and white wine, which can be paired with almost any kind of food.
The biggest mistake made when searching for a wine is the fear so many people seem to have with asking for advice. The smartest thing one can do when trying to figure out which kind of wine they want is to ask the question. Ask your server, bartender, ask the lady at the checkout counter, ask the person at the next table (which I've had happen to me...it's really quite amusing), read some wine reviews ahead of time, ask anybody to get an opinion on what kind of wine to go with.
"Give me your most expensive bottle of wine!" We've all seen the movies, we all know the line, the guy trying to show off by buying the most expensive bottle. Words of advice: price isn't the end all be all when it comes to buying a bottle of wine. Now I'm not trying to say that if you spend forty dollars on a bottle of wine that it won't be good, but some of the most enjoyable wine I've bought has cost me less than twenty dollars a bottle.
If you were to go behind the bar of most wine intensive restaurants you'd probably find that while they more than likely have at least one bottle of wine that runs over fifty dollars, it's the ones that run around twenty to thirty that tend to be going out to tables, and nobody is complaining. While showing off your impressive bank account is great, don't let price be a determining factor when choosing a bottle, or glass for that matter, of wine.
"How will I know how the wine tastes?" Valid question, thanks for asking it. Surprisingly, most restaurants will give you a sample of the wine you want to try. If you go to a wine store, while they might not be able to give you a sample, they should be able to give you an excellent idea of what to expect from the wine.
Most restaurants use a progressive wine list, meaning that from top to bottom, the wines are listed lightest to darkest, sweetest to driest. This means that if you want a very dry red wine, you should jump to the bottom of the list, whereas if you want a medium bodied white you're probably going to want to look around the middle of the white wines.
Ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant is not a scary event. By simply talking to the staff, maybe doing a little bit of research before you go, and really just having a willingness to try something new, ordering wine is as easy as trying to decide if you want Miller Lite or Bud Light. Don't be afraid to try new things, and just remember, the worst thing that can happen is that you don't like it.
Oh, and as a side note, while price isn't a determining factor, if you can't pronounce the type of wine, not to be confused with the name...some of those are just mean and tricky, then you deserve to be charged for the most expensive bottle of wine on the list. Remember, it's merlot (mer-low), not merlot (mer-lot). It's cabernet (cab-er-nay), not cabernet (cab-er-net). This has been a public service announcement from your local bartender.
George R. Perry is the mind behind The $20 Sommelier. A retired bartender, George now commits himself to writing wine reviews and helping budget shoppers find affordable wine to enjoy. The $20 Sommelier can be found online at: http://the20bucksommelier.blogspot.com
Wednesday, 04 June 2008
This collection of recipes has been tried and tested on many occasions; I have included a couple of BONUS recipes that are family favorites.
Like my BEST EVER CHOCOLATE CAKE recipe, a favorite with my kids on their birthdays and everyone else who tries it. I use and recommend GLAD Bake & Cooking Paper as it is the best I've used to stop the Best Ever Chocolate Cake sticking to the tins.
1. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start
2. Use caster sugar for a finer texture cake, as it is absorbed by the butter and eggs more rapidly
3. Always use the type of flour specified in the recipe
4. Cook cakes in the center of the oven
5. If you cook more than one at a time place them on the same shelf being very careful not to let the tins touch each other, the sides or back of the oven and always reverse the positions of the cakes 1/2 way through cooking time
6. Always line tins with paddy cases, glad bake or use silicone bake ware
7. Never substitute ingredients as the results will be entirely different
Flour-less chocolate cupcakes 200 grams dark chocolate (good quality cooking) 2 eggs 90 grams butter 1/4 cup caster sugar 1 1/2 cups almond meal
1. Place chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl. Either place in microwave for 1 minute & stir OR sit over a saucepan of simmering water until melted. Cool slightly.
2. Beat sugar and eggs in a small bowl for 6 minutes, the mixture should be thick and pale.
3. Lightly fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the almond meal, then fold into the egg mixture
4. Spoon mixture into lined trays using an ice-cream scoop, fill to about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes then check with a fine skewer to see if cooked (inserted into cupcakes, if it comes out clean then there perfect)
5. Remove from the trays straight away and cool on wire racks for at least 1/2 hour before icing. You can dust with icing sugar instead of icing these Cupcakes, or cook as one round cake.
Tuesday, 03 June 2008
Creating a birthday cake for someone special brings joy both for the decorator and the recipient. Yet, achieving great decorating results also requires the fine-tuning of baking skills.
There are many important preparation steps prior to the actual decorating which directly effect how the cake looks. A few decorating tools and attention to the layers will result in a more even tiers and fewer headaches.
As the layers bake, the outside rim of the pan heats the edges of the layer faster than the center. Since the outside is baking faster, the middle of the cake rises higher, creating a hump. This problem can be avoided by using Magic Cake Strips around the sides of the pans. Once wet, the strips are wrapped around the sides of the pan and pinned in place. The strips cool the sides of the pan and allow the cake to bake evenly.
Layers exceeding 10" need a little extra TLC. Use a heating core in the center of the pan to conduct heat into the middle of the layer. A heating core is a doughnut-shaped metal ring that is greased and floured, placed in the center of the pan, and filled with batter. The batter that bakes inside the heating core is placed in the center of the completed layer.
Even distribution of heat around the pan also effects the baking process. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and the pan in the center of the rack. Air needs to circulate around the pan to heat it from all sides. Not all ovens heat accurately. If you suspect your oven gets too hot or takes long to cook, check the temperature. A cake baked too quickly in a very hot oven will be overdone on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
If you still find your baked layers have uneven spots, a cake leveler is a handy tool that makes trimming the excess away simple.
Allow the layer to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before inverting onto a wire rack. This gives it time to shrink away from the sides and allows it to come out of the pan without breakage. Invert the layer on to a wire rack and then invert it again. I do this twice to make sure the flat part is face down. If you have any kind of hump and the hump goes face down, the layer will surely crack. Allow for complete cooling before trimming, filling and icing.
Place the layer on a cake board. If you are filling the center with anything besides butter-cream frosting,I recommend you pipe a ring of butter-cream frosting all along the outside of the layer being filled. This prevents the filling from leaking out.
After filling the center, brush away any crumbs with a pastry brush. Applying a crumb coat will keep crumbs out of the icing. If you are decorating with butter-cream icing,you can simply thin it with a little milk for this purpose. Warmed apricot jam also works well. Heat the jam in the microwave and strain it. Apply the jam to the surface with a pastry brush. Now chill to allow for settling and firming of the crumb coat. If you proceed directly to decorating, the filling will bulge out of the sides. Making the sides look attractive is virtually impossible when this happens.
Set the stacked tiers in the center of a lazy susan. Using a metal spatula, heap the frosting in the center. Work it back and forth while turning the lazy susan, but never actually touching the surface. If you drag the spatula, you may pull up crumbs, despite all the preparation. When the top is covered with icing, hold the metal spatula horizontal to the surface and pull it straight across the top. Remove any excess icing from the edges. Dot icing all around the sides with the spatula. The best tool to use for creating evenly frosted sides is a metal scraper. It gives you the best leverage for maintaining a straight edge as you frost. Turn the lazy susan as you hold the metal scraper perpendicular to the sides. Carefully lift any excess icing from the top edges with the spatula. If your icing is not perfectly smooth, allow it to crust for 15 minutes. Come back to it with a large piece of wax paper. Lay the wax paper on top and smooth your hands along the surface, starting from the center and working out towards the edges. Repeat this process on the sides, smoothing one area at a time.
Without a doubt, baking and decorating is very time consuming, but minimizing the mishaps makes it more enjoyable and gives you the best results.
Sunday, 01 June 2008
Everyone knows that women love to shop, after all there are so many lovely things to buy, like shoes bags and things for the home. Any of the above also make great gifts for
other women, so finding them things to buy is never an issue. But what about buying gifts for guys? This problem is the proverbial thorn in the side of even the most ardent shopper.
You may have noticed that guys are not often excited by a cute pair of shoes or an article of clothing. Below are a few pointers that will help you understand what kind of stuff guys really like to receive as gifts
based on a few personality types.
Guys love gadgets and want to know how stuff works, they love to have the right tool for the job and when they get a new "toy" it will keep them busy for hours. A good example
would be our best selling gadget, the Solio Solar Charger which uses the sun's power to charge a cell phone ipod or virtually any electronic device.
Some older Men are more interested in quality than anything else, which is why you see so many older men driving expensive cars. I guess when you get to a certain age you appreciate the finer things in life. We have a range of executive gifts, and one of our most popular is a briefcase / laptop bag which is handmade from natural cedar in Japan.
If something is fun he will keep coming back to it again and again. We have found some really fun gifts like the Pick Your Nose Cups that give you an instant nose job and will break the ice at any party or the marshmallow blaster which shoots marshmallows 30 feet, or the Zero Blaster which shoots smoke rings.
I think the main thing to remember when buying a Father's Day gift is that Men are really boys at heart. If it's fun, cool, good quality and a gadget, you are on to a winner.