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When I am not crazy-busy doing SAHM things, I sometimes dabble in cake-making.

I’m not crazy about the baking part, too messy, too worried about the taste/flavor/texture of the cake/frosting – too stressful. But a necessary evil if one is to be a cake-maker. Although licking the beaters does ease the pain.

I like playing with making the decorations and getting the cakes look pretty. Fondant is grown-ups’ Play-doh. Frosting is… well, frosting – great at any age.

My friend Kylie asked me if I could make something similar to THIS for her daughter’s 10th B-day.  Her daughter takes riding lessons on a horse named Monkey :)

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 gulp….

Until then, the most complicated thing I had made out of fondant was a bow. So I mulled, hemmed & hawed, stressed about it and then said yes.

It took a lot of planning, and a lot of “doing-ahead”, but it came out better than I expected.  I could not have done it without staring at Deborah Hwang’s pictures the entire time!

So, here’s my process:

I started with a rough sketch for Kylie, so she could see what I had in mind.  From there we were able to tweak a few details to match her vision for the cake. I’m surprised she trusted me after seeing my sketch of this “almost-not-quite-horse-like-but-not-really-horse” creature. Nevertheless, she did and I got to it!

Lola's Horse Cake

1. I made 4 – 13″x9″ vanilla cakes using this recipe I found on cakecentral.com which was supposed to be good for carving. I made the layers 5 days before the cake was picked up, wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap, and froze them.  This was a great time-saver. Frozen cake also carves better.

2. I also made the chocolate marshmallow fondant * for the body and hair of “Monkey” ahead of time, and used black-gel coloring. I tripled this recipe. The night before I needed the fondant, I set it out on the counter so it could come to room temperature by the morning. Btw, this fondant is yummy! Like a tootsie roll!
*My fondant was a little dry and started to tear when I rolled it out, so I had to cover the horse in 2 smaller pieces.  It probably had something to do with tripling the recipe, or my generous use of powdered sugar while rolling it out. Since I am a rookie fondant worker, I just covered a lot of the tearing with the other fondant decorations.
 

3. I used this recipe for marshmallow frosting to make the additional colors needed for the bridle and ribbon. I made some of the decorations ahead of time- the bridle links and the ribbon head along with the numbers (I made the bottom part of the ribbon fresh so the fondant could mold to the shape of the horse’s neck).

4. For the writing and flower decorations, I used Wilton’s meringue powder and their instructions for Royal icing. I divided it and used gel dye to get the desired colors.

5. The cake was filled and covered with this whipped chocolate frosting.  I made 1.5 times the recipe…. and I also added more whipping cream and powdered sugar to the remaining frosting after I filled the cake and realized that I didn’t have enough to cover the cake.  The whipping cream just made the frosting a little fluffier and airy.

Ok, so here’s the assembly part: (pics were taken on my phone camera, please forgive me)

I placed 2 cake layers side by side (long sides touching), and then placed the other 2 layers on top of them.

I taped 4 sheets of paper together to sketch my horse.  I cut the paper out to 19″x14″ which was the size of the Wilton’s cake board that I purchased from Wal-Mart.

I sketched a picture of a horse head onto the paper and cut it out.

I placed the paper on the cake layers and cut the outline of the horse.

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 I used the “scrap” pieces to fill in the tip of the nose and the top of the head. Then I placed these layers onto a cake board and “glued” the bottom layers onto the board using frosting. I trimmed the cake board to the shape of the cake, leaving a 1 cm border for the fondant (not shown in pics).

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While looking at the inspiration cake instructions online, I tried to copy the way she carved indentations into her horse head.  On a side note, don’t cut with the knife blade facing you or another body part- I got a really deep cut on my thumb from it. A frozen cake takes a little more muscle to carve, but I think the cuts come out smoother and cleaner.20140822_090339

 

After carving, I ran my knife between the layers in order to separate the top layers from the bottom ones.  I frosted the bottom layers and placed the corresponding layers on top. I used frosting to “glue” the layers together, especially the small nose and top-of-head pieces.

This is where I saw I wouldn’t have enough frosting to cover the entire cake, so I added more whipping cream and powdered sugar to the remaining frosting and whipped it until fluffy.  Then I frosted the cake.

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Then came the most gut-wrenching, nail-biting (didn’t actually bite my nails while making a cake, that’s gross), heart-stopping part of the cake.  I rolled out my black chocolate fondant and saw that it was starting to tear, booooo :(

Instead of covering the cake in one glorious, seamless, gleaming piece, I had to roll out 2 separate smaller pieces which left a seam on the neck.  I was ok with that because I knew the ribbon would cover  most of that.  I also had some uncovered parts on top of the head, which was okay because I would cover them in horse “hair’ later.

I then added an eye and the eyelids.  Nostrils and ears came next.  I used some balled-up plastic wrap inside the ear as a support until the fondant dried.

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Why fondant?? why you have to do that??!! In some areas where the cracks were smaller, I used a damp paper towel to gently smooth them out. Kinda like cellulite after a tan – still there, but less noticeable.

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Next, I cut out the bridle pieces and added them to the previously made bridle buckles. I used a paintbrush to add a very thin layer of water to the back of the bridle in order to glue it to the horse.

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I used a toothpick to make the “stitching” on the bridle.

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I added hair by cutting out strips of fondant and made lines in them by running a toothpick over them. I strategically placed them over large cracks in the fondant.  I was hoping to make more 3D hair, but I ran out of fondant.

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Then I glued the head of the ribbon on using some royal icing.  I added the bottom of the ribbon pieces on using a little bit of water on back. Now the horse head was done!!! I used a damp paper towel to gently rub off any bits of stray fondant or powdered sugar.

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Finally I placed the cake on a full 19″x14″ cake board and glued it on with frosting.  I used the royal icing to pipe the decorations onto the board. 

Her invitation was the inspiration for colors and decorations on the cake board.

AugustLola (1)

The FINAL outcome!

BEFORE AFTER HORSE CAKE

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..well, my husband’s made-up-just-for-me-because-he-knows-how-much-I-LOOOOVE-“Chopped” version.

Last Saturday afternoon, I get a text from my husband who is at Whole Foods: “Chopped challenge, prepare your mind.” What??!! Awesome!!

I went through a phase where I watched old “Chopped” episodes on a nightly basis, right before bed, making multiple comments, multiple times on how I wish I could compete/judge in that show.

So imagine my excitement upon reading that text!!!

So, he comes home a little later with the following 12 ingredients:

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  • Cauliflower
  • Sour Cream
  • Organic dark chocolate sauce
  • Garlic herb hummus
  • Fresh ground almond butter
  • Aged cheddar
  • Pretzel buns
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Atlantic salmon
  • Raincoast crisps (bread crisps w/cranberry, nuts, seeds)
  • Organic eggs
  • Beef stick (fancy Slim Jim)

And these were his “rules”:

  1. All ingredients must be used.
  2. I had a total of 70 min to complete and plate an appetizer, entree and dessert (unlike the show where the appetizer round is 20 min, dinner 30, and dessert 20).
  3. I was also allowed to search for a cream puff recipe online, because I didn’t have time to memorize any dessert recipes give the 1 hour “heads-up”. (which I obviously would’ve done, had I been given more notice, obvi)
  4. We would be the judges. (best part)

It was by faaaaaar THE most exciting thing I have ever done in the kitchen – almost as much adrenaline pumping as that time we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite and thought I would plunge to my death… but this was less “fear-of-death” more “fear-of-the-timer”.

So, he set the timer, and I FLEW!!

Ovens on! Stove on! Every single clean pan in my cupboards out! Knives flying! Spoons stirring! It was exhilarating!!!!!

Deric got in on the action too as he played cameraman and filmed some of the action.

I had everything plated with only seconds to spare!

So, after the most awesome 70 minutes of my cooking life, here is what we ate for dinner.

Appetizer: 

Pretzel bread crostini with cauliflower & Aged cheddar hummus spread – topped with Fried paprika beef stick crumbles, chili garlic chips and shaved aged cheddar.20140719_190734

Main Course:

Baked Atlantic Salmon with a pretzel/crispbread/aged cheddar crust, Pan-roasted beef-stick Brussell Sprouts, Aged cheddar mashed Cauliflower topped with chili garlic chips20140719_190811

and for my favorite………..

Dessert:

Cream puffs filled with a Sour Cream & almond butter cream served with Brown sugar glazed apples, Dark chocolate cinammon sauce and topped with a pretzel/crispbread/cheddar strussel.20140719_190745(0)

And the winner is….

US! we got to eat it, and I had a blast!

My favorite course was dessert.  I will try to recreate it someday, or some version of it.

I’m pretty sure we will be doing this on a monthly basis, it was just too much fun! Next time, he will be going to the Asian supermarket….. eeeeeek!! so excited!

AAAAAND, this was the aftermath….20140719_19381020140719_193739….but no worries, my adrenaline was still pumping, so I was walking on air even as I was cleaning.

And my husband, well, he got the “BEST-HUSBAND-EVER” award :)

This baby is 4.  Where oh where did the time go?!

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He is really REALLY into Legos… and not the mega blocks or Duplos… he likes the big boy Legos!

This year he requested a Star Wars Lego party.  It’s fun to see him so passionate about something. Well, he first requested a superhero-starwars-Chima-angrybird-transformers-Lego party, but I managed to talk him into narrowing it down a little.

A lot of the decor was compliments of Pinterest.

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As were the party favors which were Lego bags made from small paper sacks and circle card stock.  The Lego men and block crayons were made using some cute molds and melting down black and red crayons bought on Amazon (I didn’t have enough broken red/black crayons since those are his favorite colors and he always uses them up).

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His cake was a red velvet and yellow cake, with butter cream and white chocolate filling.  I made it in the shape of Clone Captain Rex’s helmet following a YouTube video tutorial, but changed his coloring from blue to red to accommodate Luke’s favorite color.  I also covered it in homemade marshmallow fondant (soooo much tastier than the store-bought gunk) and used the fondant for his helmet decorations.

20140710_180600 20140710_18060620140710_082041P1130589 P1130540 P1130541I used an edible ink marker to outline his mask, and Luke wanted in on the cake-writing, so I let him autograph the back….. that’s also where it’s especially apparent that this is only my 3rd fondant cake and I have a lot to learn.

P1130542 P1130591We had a fun time naming the food. My awesome graphic design sister made them for me (see her Etsy shop for those and more birthday printables).

P1130588 P1130587 P1130586 P1130535The kiddos beat the heat by splashing in the kiddie pools and slip n’ slides.

P1130563 P1130557 P1130560 P1130550The party ended with our homemade Darth Vader pinata being bashed by lightsaber noodles.

P1130624 P1130630Much fun was had by all, and one 4-year-old is neck-high is presents and Legos :)

Next year we’re going to Chick-fil-A and taking a family nap for his birthday.  I’m tired.

Links:

Clone Captain Helmet Cake Tutorial

Food card tents

Lego men & block molds

Lego man graphic

Star Wars Font

 

 

 

If you don’t know what Pinterest is, be warned – you may not want to know… explore at your own risk.

I have to admit, I’m on almost daily, usually pinning one or two things a day. Sometimes more.

….especially since I’m in the middle of a bathroom remodel, pregnancy and an indeterminately long adventure in stay-at-home-motherhood.

Last week I found this pin:

A gorgeous black door, with gray wall and white trim. I loved the way the black door looked in this room.
There were several more beautiful examples on the nestegg blog.

My walls are gray, trim is white, just needed a black door!
The painters came on Monday of this week to paint the nursery, guest room, and some other unfinished doors. They finished on Wednesday, and I got a beautiful, shiny black door.

Not bad, eh?! The black even makes the brass doorknob bearable! almost likeable! (sorry I don’t have a really good BEFORE picture. It was the same buttery cream that was on all of the trim in the house.)

Only problem: I now want to slather black paint on every door in my home… which was not approved by the hubby. Maybe the front door??

and as much as I LOVE my black door, the real Pinterest success story lies in the following recipe.

We received organic arugula in our last two Urban Acres co-op bins and I needed some new ideas for what can be a very bitter/spicy green.

Arugula, Apples & Manchego in Cider Vinaigrette

I ran across this recipe on Pinterest a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had the salad a few times, but the vinaigrette really is the star!

I make mine with equal parts vinegar and oil because I don’t think it needs the extra oil. I’ve had the dressing everyday for the past 5 days, sometimes twice a day.

My new fave combo: Mixed greens, sliced peaches, fat-free feta, plus the apple-cider vinaigrette. Yum!

I’ve also put it on a mixed green, cherries, manchego cheese and red onion salad – or when the veggies ran short at the end of the week, some bibb lettuce and orange segments. Seriously, you cannot go wrong!

So 2 successful Pinterest attempts in 2 weeks, not bad! makes up for a few of the fails…

Rainbow chard is one of my new favorite greens!  It’s packed full of goodies and so easy to prepare.

I made a variation of this recipe as a pasta dish a few months ago when I first joined my local veggie co-op.

I have several variations for special diets and will include the changes at the end.

Start with your ingredients:

      • 2 large or 4 medium chicken breasts
      • 2 bunches rainbow chard
      • 1/2 large yellow onion
      • , sliced

      • 4 slices turkey bacon
      • , chopped

      • a few dashes of red-wine vinegar
      • Salt & pepper

Chop and wash your chard. Don’t worry about drying off too much – the extra water will create steam in the oven and help it become nice and tender.

Add chopped onions, turkey bacon, a few dashes of vinegar and any additional salt and pepper. Mix.

Season chicken breasts. I use Tony’s, yum! If you’re a purist, use just salt & pepper.

Coat a 13×9 casserole dish with olive oil spray. Add chard, and place chicken on top. Cover with Foil.
Bake for 40min at 350 F.
After 40 min, uncover, stir chard a little, and let bake another 10-20min until chicken is cooked through.

This is how it will look when it’s all done. The chard will cook down quite a bit, but it will be oh so tender!
And the smokiness from the turkey bacon combined with the sweetness of the onions will make you a chard believer!

Vegetarian option: omit turkey bacon & chicken, try replacing with smoked soy-sage or smoked tofu. Cooking time will decrease due to lack of chicken.

TSFL Lean, Green Meal: omit onions, add only 1 slice of turkey bacon. Replace onions with onion powder and count as condiment.

Low-sodium: Add only 1 slice turkey bacon, use salt-free seasoning on chicken.

See this collection of cookbooks?

Most of the time they are ignored, unappreciated, used as eye-candy on my hutch…

But every now and then I remember they exist, and I will read one… like a novel, seriously, start to finish… my eyes glazing over when I get to the end (hello dessert section!!)…

This particular day I was reading one of my favs “mediterranean: food of the sun” by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow.

And on the front it has this description:

… a culinary tour of sun-drenched shores with evocative dishes from southern Europe” GAH!!! drooooool…. yes, I do want to go on this culinary tour with you Jacqueline & Joanna!

And I have done just that many times!  I have read this cookbook start to finish at least 10 times… and I have only made one recipe from it.. shame…

But it was a perfect storm (extra time and all ingredients on hand)  that inspired me to make one of their appetizers…

If you are even the tiny-est bit interested in cheese,  this one’s gonna make you weak in the knees!

Yogurt Cheese:

The process starts with drying out your yogurt for 2-3 days in cheesecloth… I used non-fat plain yogurt for my first batch….
I think Greek yogurt will work better because it has a lower water content and will give you more cheese…

Then you roll the cheese into balls…. and place in sterilized jars (I used a jelly jar) along with rosemary, thyme, red pepper flakes and garlic- flavored olive oil.

Isn't it a sight?!

Then you spread on bread..

drizzle extra olive oil and watch it slowly drip onto the bread………. oh my……

take a BIG bite! creamy, tangy, garlicky… ohhhh

Have for breakfast, lunch and dinner! (do not let hubby know about this… blame the half-empty jar on cheese-loving baby)
p.s. would also make GREAT gifts for hostess or friends.. or heck, the cheese alone is an occasion!

…here’s a peek at the recipe….

Inside this beautiful cookbook

Aren't the pictures fabulous?!

Oh Barcelona, you delighted and disappointed in the same bite!

As the Euros were quickly being depleted, we found ourselves eating in more often.

We went to the supermarket and even bought some canned goods (my choice, Deric was wary).
I grew up on many a canned delight – corned beef hash, Spam, ravioli, Beefaroni, Spaghettios, Campbell’s Noodle Soup, etc., so occasionally, in moments of weakness, I will turn to the humble can.

Luckily, these cans put their American counterparts to shame!

We had vegetarian beans,

and canned chicken meatballs.

pair those with some chorizo, rice, and a simple salad with lemon vinaigrette and you have a surprisingly amazing dinner!

Deric didn’t care much for the chorizo, said it was too greasy. I loved it! It tasted like the Hungarian smoked sausage that my dad would always bring home when we lived in Chicago. He would also have people ship it to him when we moved to Portland. Even my pickiest siblings would eat this sausage when paired with feta cheese and the softest french bread.

Luckily, Luke has apparently inherited my sausage gene – a bond I hope we will always share. He walked around the entire apartment, chorizo in hand, happily smearing orange grease all over.

Another supermarket delight included this ice cream confection that tasted mildly of cappuccino and custard.

After visiting Park Guell, we saw this window display, and I stopped in my tracks… and asked Deric to go get one. They were called Rocs de Gaudi, and were these really sweet almond meringues. We took a few bites, decided to finish it later with coffee, forgot about it, it smashed into a bazillion crumbs, and ended up in the trash; tragic.


And then there was the great Paella hunt.

I was determined to find the best paella on a conservative budget – not meager, just slightly limited. So I googled it. And I found a blog, which I will leave nameless, in which the author called herself an obsessed with paella. And since it appeared she had tasted several paellas in Barcelona, I decided to trust her… eh… wish I hadn’t. I was recommended a restaurant that served an 18 euro/per person seafood paella. Eh… it was okay. Just okay. It was rice, that tasted like seafood, served in a paella pan.

Maybe it was my weakened taste buds due to a sinus problem.. but the paella did not taste like what I expected paella to be. I had watched numerous Food Network shows that showcased paella, and how it’s supposed to be creamy, yet have a crust on the bottom… and it was that crust that I missed in this paella. Was it a good rice dish? Sure. Was it great? No. Will I have food blog trust issues from now on? Yes.

So, in my disillusionment, I vowed to find an “el cheapo” paella that could satisfy me. So we found one for 8 euros. And it was bland. But it did have the “crust” I was looking for!


In the end, I have decided to end the search for great paella. After all, how good can paella be? It’s just rice, and saffron. And I doubt it could stand up to the intense flavors of Thai cooking, which I would prefer any day to Mediterranean flavors.

But let’s end this on a positive note!

Best food I had in Barcelona:
Patatas Bravas! Fried cubed potatoes topped with a creamy yummy chili sauce! So good! In fact, it erased every bad memory of paella. It’s typically served as tapas, and we had it twice! Had we tried it earlier, I would’ve had them every day, maybe twice a day!

Some other yummy tapas included:
Tomato bread; bread smeared with garlic, olive oil, and crushed tomatoes

Shrimp patties; shrimp and herb patties, yum!

Beef skewers; beef skewers marinated in a chili sauce

And on that note, I bought a tapas cookbook and plan to someday throw a tapas dinner party, and maybe – if I run out of everything else to do, I might even try to make my own paella that will rival that of Barcelona.

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