Saturday, April 12, 2008

The evolution of the "Birthday Cake"

It started out innocently 17 years ago. We decided to elope. Someone found out and decided I would always regret it if we did not have a wedding - they were wrong, but still entitled to an opinion. So the women took over, they pulled of a nice wedding in 5 days. THe only thing I was stubborn about was the grooms cake. I don't know why I got it in my head that I needed to make it, but I did. Looking back, it wasn't very pretty, but it was still a beginning.

Foward to the girl child's 1st birthday. We lived on a farm. I decided she was having a farm party. We rented the legion, I decorated with homeade paper mache fish, steamers balloons -everything I could think of. Then I made a cake with a farm scene - twizzlers for the barn, tiny animals, etc. Birthday number 2 was Minnie Mouse. You guessed it. A HUGE Minnie head with about a pound of buttercream. Suddenly, there was a pattern. The second kid came along, and I couldn't leave him out.
So it went, and here I am - maybe 50 themed cakes in trying to figure out something different to do or Lu - he asked for a golf ball and a putter. I decided to do a large golf ball using fondant round pan and fondant (see pic) make a putter, and use different kinds of cupcakes to give it the "feel" of a course.

I made strawberry, vanilla and smores cupcakes. The smores came from Martha's cupcake show. Besides being fabulous, I let the kids help me torch the tops and they had fun. I used a mini bread loaf pan to make the square for the "putter" Then cut and rolled a paper towel roll and iced the end for the shaft. On the left is when we started to assemble it. Oh, and I almost forgot - I found candles in the regular cake section at wal-mart that spelled happy birthday and looked like golf flags. He was very happy, and it was kind of fun to do. Everyone liked the regular cupcakes, but they all flipped over the Smores one - came and asked for the recipe. They were so easy - I even used a boxed mix for the cake part (wait - what did I just hear? I think it was my MIL rolling over in her grave!! Sorry Ann - this would have passed for 100% home made!).
If I can find pictures, I think I will make a page on this blog with as many of the cakes as I can remember - I am always looking for new ideas and am sure others are too. Here is the finished cake:

Thanks for the pizza and poker Midgee - I had time to finish this.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kids in the Kitchen/ Knowing you are a "Foodie"

Kids in the Kitchen - Friday night is generally the night I don't cook that much, so I spent some time thinking about my kids and cooking. This was inspired by the contest being held at What's Cooking . I have always tried to encourage them all, but I am always amazed at how different kids are.
My oldest truly appreciates the finished product - she likes new flavors and is up to try anything. She understands what is really good, and what is just average. She also understands and appreciates the process of creating great food, but she really does not have the desire to do it herself. I think she wishes to be a great cook just for the connection with me, but for no other reason. She would be a fantastic food critic, but may never strive to be a great chef. That is ok. If I can just teach her to go a few things really well, she will be fine with everything else (I know you read this and I luv ya baby!).
The middle one enjoys cooking and eating. He is not always as open to trying new things, but is certainly open to learning how to cook anything. He likes to try new things and I sense in him the desire to make dishes that people will enjoy. He also asks a lot of questions and wants to make things that look and taste good. Right now, his best dish is an omelet, but he is always interested in learning something new, and seems to really listen when I show him new things.
The baby - well, he is the pickiest thing I have ever seen, but what he loves to eat, he really loves. In fact, he is as addicted to cooking shows as I am. He has perfected his Sunday night supper of pancakes and sausage. That may be because he realized that if he did not cook, Sunday night is automatically FFYN (thanks Mo) Fend-For Yourself Night. He loves to talk about recipes and techniques he sees on TV.

I really saw the differences in their cooking aptitude/techniques a couple of years ago when I decided that I would devote one Saturday to each child - we would go and buy a cookbook with recipes we had never eaten, and create a great dinner for the family. The oldest picked Chinese and we made an unbelievable meal - she mentioned it occasionally, but it was like "that was fun", maybe we will do it again. The middle chose a themed meal - Halloween - he enjoyed every minute, and occasionally mentions it,but he seems more interested in the day to day cooking I do. The baby chose Italian - even fresh pasta. He stuck with me all day (at that point he was only 6 or 7), ate almost nothing we cooked, but has talked about it, what everyone did or did not like and when he sees something on TV that might be better than what he cooked, he tells me to remember.
That is so crazy to me. How can you have 3 kids who are so different? I guess if I look at myself and my sister, I should understand. In general, most of what I cook is really good. I use experience more than I do recipes, but I am always seeking way to improve and learn new techniques. When I was 10 or so , I started cooking for my family, and by the time I was a teenager, I cooked 3-5 meals a week. When we were kids, she was happy cleaning up after me - as long as I cooked. When she married, she acquired a few dishes that she does fairly well - as long as she follows the recipe, but I never see her as being an adventurer. Given this, my kids should not surprise me. Even so, all of them enjoy making homemade pizza, so I may enter this int the What's Cooking contest.
OK - on the "Foodie" thing. Last night, the bubble bath and book never happened. It was after midnight before things were done. So my crew knows that if it is not "steak night", they can count on Fridays being easy on mama - homemade pizzas, nachos, frozen chicken strips, or something I do not really have to cook. Tonight, it was my laziest - frozen pizza. The boys (as usual) were happy with the Tombstone pizza. The girl child is watching calories, so I got her a Kashi pizza - it wasn't that great, so she only ate a slice. Oh well - it was worth a try - next time, we will do homemade so everyone can control what they want.
ANYWAY, frozen food means that I finally get the bubble bath I wanted last night! It occurred to me that I might be a "foodie" when I realized that I carried a book, a cooking mag, and a decorating mag with me and ended up reading the magazines for cooking ideas! The new Gourmet magazine has some fantastic recipes, but I may have to go Greek first a recipe from Ivy at . Her food looks like it is exceptional.
Enough for now - I am sure I will have something good on the stove tomorrow - the boys are going fishing!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Check out these vegetables!

I thought that the boys would want something fresh and good since they would be outside all afternoon. I decided to run by Farmer Browns on the way to work and I am so glad I did. They had tiny new potatoes, squash, pickling cucumbers and the steal of the day - red bell peppers for 40 cents each! Now I have to decide what to make to with it. I am sure some kind of pork. I will post after dinner.

It is now 9:50. I have just cloroxed one counter (when I win the lottery, I will never deal with cheap formica again!), working on the rest of the kitchen, just put a load of laundry in the dryer and am fixing lunches for Friday. What I would like to be doing is sitting in a warm tub with a great book and a glass of wine, but that is not happening anytime soon. So for now, what is pushing me through the night until the work is done is posting on this awesome meal while I am watching last night's Top Chef.

Menu for tonight: a little salad of cucumbers, red peppers and onions with balsamic vinegar, stuffed squash, fresh snap beans, tiny new potatoes with milk, roasted red peppers and grilled pork tenderlion. I got the thumbs up from all 6 of them, so I know it came off right.

I am only posting one recipe - it is for the stuffed squash.

10-12 (the smallest you can find) yellow crooknecked squash, washed well.

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Prick squash with a fork. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, split squash and use a small spoon to scoop out shells. Save "pulp". Mix pulp with butter, bread crumbs and cheese. Add Salt and Pepper to taste. Fill squash shells with this mixture.

Spinkle with a little shredded cheddar. Bake (covered) at 350 for 20 minutes, and then remove cover and let cheese brown.

The following is a picture of the meal - not the best plating, but much thanks to DD who puts up with her mother and continues to take and send pictures!! Even the pickiest of the 7 ate this.

Now I am off to finish cleaning and packing lunches. Springtime vegetables in Georgia make me a happy cook!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I cook too much/Chicken and Pasta

First of all, I wish I had taken a picture last night because dinner was fantastic. Too bad the girl child didn't get home in time with the camera. What did I cook? Simple - chicken breast strips seasoned with garlic, salt, thyme, basil and sauteed in olive oil. Sprinkled w/a little mozzarella. Served over bucatini rigati and marinara. Easy and perfect.
Anyway, as I was cooking and thinking about this blog, the thought occurred to me that I may just cook way to much. As in, maybe I am spoiling this whole crew. Growing up, almost everything we ate was from a box, the freezer, or something someone else cooked. My mom will cook, but she does not enjoy it. On the other hand, HIS mom never cooked anything from a box - he had never eaten hamburger helper or even a boxed cake. What a rude awakening for him. The funny thing is for a long time, there was a balance - I really cooked once or twice a week, did takeout some, and easy boxed or frozen some. Somehow over the period of the past 17 years, there has been a shift. As I look at this blog I realize that I cook probably 5 days a week and depend on quick and easy or takeout the other 2 days.
Is that a bad thing? I don't really think so. I love the whole process of making a meal, but I know not everybody does things this way. I just don't want my boys to grow up and tell their wives the same thing I heard at first - well Mom always made that homemade, or Mama always cooked it like this! As for now, I think I will try to keep a good record on this blog so the instructions will be there if they ever want to know how Mama did it!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Crab soup and tuna melt

Crab Soup:

1 medium onion
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 c. chicken or seafood stock
1 c. milk
1 cup lump crab meat
old bay seasoning/tony cachere seasoning
splash of heavy cream (if desired)
In soup pot over medium heat, saute onions in 1/2 tbsp of butter until translucent. Remove onoins and add remaining butter and flour. Cook , constanslty stirring for 4-6 minutes. Slowly add broth. Add milk, crab meat, and onions. Season with old bay and cajun seasoning to taste. Cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add a splash of cream (if desired). Garnish with green onions and croutons.
Tuna melt:
1 can tuna drained
1-2 tbsp mayo (regular or light)
1/4 c. chopped dill pickle
1 tbsp chopped onion (if desired)
Cajun seasoning
Grape Tomatoes
Cheddar Cheese
Mix first four ingredients, add cajun seasoning to taste. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. For each melt, toast 1 piece of bread, spread with tuna, top with sliced grape tomatoes, sprinkle with cheddar and broil until bubbly.
Quick and easy on a rainy afternoon.

How to Fry Fish - southern style

Step one - send your kids fishing and then clean the fish - or go to the store and buy some nice filets (catfish, bass, perch, grouper - almost anything will do).

Generously salt and pepper fish. In a paper bag, make a mixture of 1/2 cornmeal, 1/2 plain flour, and seasoned salt to taste. Put 3 or 4 fish in the bag and shake to coat.

Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet until it reaches about 300 degrees. Fry 1 fish to test the oil. When fish is browned, take out and drain on paper towels.

Adjust temp if needed. Add 4-5 fish to pan and fry until browned.

Serve with grits, slaw and fries.