Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Man in Black

Here he is! The Man in Black, himself - well, tiny and made out of fondant but still Johnny Cash. My friend Laura has been a huge Cash fan for years - even before the movie came out and made him so popular with the kids these days. So, for her birthday, I made a simple round cake decorated with a chocolate record. I made the record label and the figure out of fondant.

"I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down,down,down
and the flames went higher.
And it burns,burns,burns
the ring of fire
the ring of fire."

Here is a close up of Johnny. I was worried that he looked a little bit too much like Fat Elvis, but oh well. The Sun Records label could have been smoothed out on the side (dang camera catches every little imperfection) but I just ran out of time.
This was my first time working with fondant. It was fun but I definitely need more practice :)
The cake was a hit, anyway, and we had fun playing Karaoke Revolution until 2 AM.
Happy Birthday, Laura!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Own Glove Monster!

I saw the tutorial for this cute little guy on CraftyPod ( and knew right away that I had to make my own.
Luckily, the stores are under the impression that it is winter already so I easily found the needed stretchy gloves. I bought four pairs of gloves for $4 and will use the stripey ones for more monsters and the plain black to keep my hands warm this winter. These cheap gloves are perfect for people like me who lose several pairs each winter.
Anyway, this was a fun project and great for people who don't really know how to sew. I didn't follow the tutorial exactly (as you can see) but I think it turned out well, nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Autumn Birthday Cake for Alex

This is my first cake commission. A friend's mom asked me to make a cake for the birthday dinner she was planning. I was happy to make something for my friend Alex but a little worried because I'm not (as I've mentioned) really an experienced baker.

The design idea came to me almost immediately. I'm terrible at making the layers even and the frosting on the sides look smooth. So, I added the Pirouette cookies and ribbon to try to mask my lack of frosting skills. The cookies also remind me of birch bark so they fit in with my theme.

Making the white "chocolate" leaves on the top (side note: I wouldn't normally use white chocolate, as I think it is pretty vile, but I know Alex doesn't like dark chocolate and I thought the colors would show up brighter on the white) was the most challenging part of the cake. Originally, I was going to paint the chocolate onto real leaves and peel it off once it cooled (another side note, the instructions that I found on the web advised against using poison ivy or poison oak leaves! Um, isn't that just common sense? Who would make a poison ivy themed cake? Maybe for someone you hate....) However, it was warm and humid earlier this week so I wasn't sure if the leaves would be sturdy enough. So, I cut leaves from a sheet of white chocolate using a cookie cutter and then painted them with colored chocolate.

I once again used cake mix for the layers - chocolate and yellow. I would normally have added a layer of orange curd or perhaps a cinnamon filling, but Alex is a SuperTaster and can be quite finicky. So, I stuck with the basics - chocolate and vanilla. I'm still worried that the cake was too sweet, but Alex and her mom both seemed pleased with it. I guess that is all that really matters.

Since cake mixes do tend to be very sweet, I am planning to try out some simple cake recipes to see if I can find one that is (almost) fool proof. I just haven't had very good luck making cakes from scratch.

Next up is a cake for my friend Laura's birthday party on Saturday. I won't be able to post anything about it until then as the theme is a surprise :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My home away from home.....

I was just thinking about how much I love our "new" library. Okay, so it is over a year old now but I appreciate it more every time I walk in. It's so clean and airy - while still being comfy and welcoming. I make it to the library about once a week and wish I had more time to spend there. Usually, I stop by after work and it is just a quick run in to pick up my reserve books. Every once in a while, I take the time to browse through my favorite stacks - cooking, travel, crafts, art, and science fiction. It is awesome to be able to look for and order books through the library's website ( but it doesn't quite match the feeling of wandering aimlessly through the stacks, picking up whatever strikes my fancy. The only problem is that I usually end up with WAY too many books that way and have to lug them all home on the train.
Right now I am waiting to get a copy of Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and a video called "The Sketches of Frank Gehry". Since I am supposed to be trying to cut back on my spending, getting things from the library helps fill the void left my not being able to shop at the One Spot at Target. In addition, I probably learn more from my library finds than my Target finds :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hamburger Cake - Better Than It Sounds

Here is the cake I made for the company picnic last Saturday. People were very impressed by it, which I have to say made me feel a bit of a fraud. This was a really easy cake to make. Well, it should have been, anyway. The first time I made the yellow cake "bun" layer, I didn't grease the baking pan enough. So, I had to make another layer in order to get the bottom and top of the bun. The "burger" is a single layer of chocolate cake. The condiments are buttercream frosting, dyed the appropriate color.
I will say that it did look pretty cute and tasted better than I expected. I was worried that it would be dry. The copious amount of frosting layers (mayo, cheese, and ketchup) made up for the fact that rest of the cake wasn't frosted.
Kids especially were really wowed by this cake. I think they had a hard time wrapping their minds around a cake shaped like a burger.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunday Brunch

This past Sunday, my sister and I invited some folks over for brunch. Is there anything better in the whole world than Sunday brunch? Saturday brunch comes a close second but just isn't quite the same. The Twin Cities abound with really excellent brunch options. My favorites are:

the Chatterbox Pub (St. Paul location),

the French Meadow Bakery,

the Uptown Diner,

and Hell's Kitchen

However, although I don't especially enjoy getting up early, it is so much cheaper to make brunch than to buy it. Seriously, the price mark up on restaurant breakfast food is ridiculous. Six dollars for a plate of scrambled eggs? Eight dollars for french toast?

For this brunch, I kept it pretty simple (due to the previously mentioned loathing of getting up early). I made a spinach quiche, slightly adapting Mark Bittman's recipe from my battered copy of How to Cook Everything. I use this book constantly and highly recommend it to people who are just starting to cook. You can look up things that you are too embarrassed to ask your cooking/baking friends (like how to boil an egg or cook rice, or to find out what a kumquat is - not like those are my own personal examples or anything).
I used a store bought pie crust but I balanced that by using this great artisanal sheep's cheese I got at the Mill City Farmer's Market a few weeks ago from this seller:
The rest of the brunch was pretty basic : Fried potatoes with onion + yellow squash + green peppers, a fruit salad of pineapple + nectarines+ Honeycrisp apples (yay! they are in season, finally!) and a chocolate loaf cake. I meant to have bacon, as I think it is vital to any successful brunch (or, really, any successful meal), but forgot completely as I was rushing around the grocery store Saturday night.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Post - Lemon and Raspberry Cupcakes

My first post! Welcome to my blog.

More about me later, I'm sure, but for now here is a shot of the cupcakes I made this week for a coworker's birthday. I wanted to do something a little different for her so asked what kind of flavors she liked together. Turns out one of her favorite treats is lemon yogurt with berries.

I toyed with the idea of making a cake containing yogurt. However,since I was in a hurry and making these on a work night, I used lemon cake mix (but used butter instead of vegetable oil). I did make the frosting from scratch, though. I used a cream cheese frosting recipe that I found on Cream together a litte butter, some cream cheese, some vanilla, and a lot of sugar..... and voila! A frosting way better than the canned kind (plus no weird preservatives) with minimal effort.

I tried to give these a filling of raspberry jam but it didn't quite work out. Way back in high school I had a choice between taking Home Ec 101 or Horticulture and stupidly chose Home Ec. One of the few things I remember that we made were muffins with a jam "surprise" in the middle. Otherwise, I don't think I learned anything else that semester (our "recipes"were things like how to make sandwiches and a fruit dip that consisted of yogurt and sugar). So, anyway, I thought, "hey, cupcakes are pretty much like muffins, right?" Well, as it turns out - not so much. I think the cupcake batter is too light and fluffy to hold up the jam. Plus, I used one of those "simply fruit" types of jam. End result was a raspberry-bottomed cupcake, which was okay but not what I was going for, really.

If I had taken Horticulture instead of Home Ec. maybe my houseplants would be thriving instead of barely clinging to life. But then I wouldn't know the secret of that great fruit dip.......