Sunday, January 31, 2016

Baby Shower Animal Cookies

My sweet friend Ginny is so trusting.

She asked me to make decorated sugar cookies for a family baby shower and when I asked her what design she would like, she responded, "The artist you are will produce fabulous results, I’ll leave it to you. " I really wanted to reward her faith in me with some extra special cookies.

Well thanks to my daughter Una, I knew exactly what I would make for my friend.

You see, Una had just attended a white elephant party and came home with a new set of Martha Stewart Noah's Ark Copper Cookie Cutters.

"I chose these just for you," she said when she presented me with the big beautiful set. I couldn't believe it, what a wonderful gift and truly proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

"Was it a struggle to win them?," I asked her, thinking there was surely a lot of trading and fighting to get them. "No, not really, no one else was that interested," she said.  Boy was I lucky there weren't any cookie decorators at that party! It was kismet and that's how these animal cookies came about and when I presented them to Ginny she was very pleased.

Here's how I made them:
The cutters.

The baked cookies. These are big cookies and it took four batches of dough to get 24 cookies, six of each.

I started by flooding all of the cookies. White for the polar bear.

White for the sheep.

Blue/gray for the elephants. I also flooded the lions with yellow and the kangaroos with brown.

When it came time to flood the giraffes, I used yellow but also had some brown icing ready in a pastry bag fitted with a #1 tip.

After adding the basecoat, I immediately dropped on some dots of brown.

I used a scribe tool to shape them so that they didn't just look like brown dots.  I let all of the cookies dry before moving onto the next step.

With a black edible ink marker, I added face details.

And some toe details too.
For the sheep, I added some wool by piping on swirls of stiff royal icing. I also added a mane and tail to the lions by using stiff orange tinted icing.

After adding some face details with edible markers, I decided the sheep also needed a bit of "wool" on top of their heads.

The elephants got details added with a black edible marker and tusks using the same stiff icing I used for the sheep's wool. I used a brown edible marker to add the horn, hoof and tail details to the giraffes.

The elephant's are my favorite.

Let the cookies dry completely before packaging.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bill's 90th Birthday Cake

I was so pleased when my good friend Bill asked me to make his dad's 90th birthday cake. His dad, Bill Haug, is a World War II hero who received three medals, the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, so we thought it would be nice to incorporate those into the design.

After some thought, I concluded that sugar cookie and royal icing would be the best mediums for making the medals. With royal icing, I could add lots of clean details and I also really liked the idea of being able to make the medals ahead of time.

Another detail we decided to add to the design was an edible photo. This is something I've been wanting to try for quite a while and it turned out to be surprisingly simple.  I just called the bakery department at my local Fred Meyer and the man who answered said all I needed to do was come in with the actual photo and they could print it on a frosting sheet for $9.

Once you get your frosting sheet photo, you need to keep it wrapped and away from sunlight until you are ready to place it on the cake. Exposure to air will cause it to dry out and become brittle and difficult to apply.

When you are ready to add it to the cake, the only real trick is it needs to be placed on fresh and smooth frosting. If the frosting is fresh, the photo sheet will melt into the cake and look cohesive. If you add it to cold frosting, it won't melt in and just look like a piece of paper sitting on top of a cake. Also, the helpful man at Fred Meyer said the frosting sheets look best on plain untinted buttercream.

After placing the edible photo on the cake, I gently smoothed it out with my hands and piped a border around it. It was a really nice addition and super easy.

Here are some more details:
I sketched the medals on paper and designed a template for cutting the cookies.

Cutting the cookies.

Ready to bake.

I flooded all three of the cookies with white icing and let that dry. Then, I added the medals in royal icing. The purple heart was the most complicated because of George Washington's profile. To make him, I piped a blob of medium consistency icing and used my scribe tool to maneuver it to create his shape. After that first layer dried, I added the hair and other details.

I gilded the medals using luster dust. After the royal icing was completely dry, I mixed the gold, silver and bronze luster dusts each with a bit of vodka and then painted it on.

I also customized the candles for Bill's cake. I bought these but they just didn't look sophisticated enough for a 90 year-old.

I made a paint by mixing a bit of meringue powder with water and blue gel coloring.

I painted the candles.

And then I immediately added colored sprinkles while the paint was still wet.

I shook off the excess sprinkles and set them aside to dry. Once dry, I used a soft brush to remove any stubborn remaining loose sprinkles.
I flipped over my sheetcake pan and with my friend Bill's help, we got a plan together for the layout.

The day before the celebration it was cake baking time. I made two Guinness Chocolate sheetcakes. For each sheetcake, I made my favorite recipe x 2.5.

I placed one of the cooled sheetcakes on my cake cardboard.

Then I filled it with seedless raspberry filling and added the second cooled sheetcake. I also placed strips of parchment under the cake to keep the cardboard clean while frosting.

I frosted the sides first.

And then I frosted the top. It took a lot of frosting!

After a single coat of frosting, I chilled the cake overnight.

On the day of the celebration, I added a second coat of fresh frosting and the edible photo. I also piped a border around the photo and around the edges of the cake. Now it's time to get my husband to help me transport it.

The cake at the venue, ready for the party!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Hearty Meal

Meatloaf and Baked Potato

Orange Chicken, Rice and Vegetables.
Guests at today's Wednesday Community Meal were treated to hearty entrees of meatloaf, roast beef and orange chicken and we received a very sweet compliment.

"You made me feel like I was eating at my grandma's house," said one man as he was leaving.

I'm so happy that he felt that way because it's exactly what we aim to do each week — Serve a pleasing meal in warm and friendly environment. We want the community meal to feel homey and comfortable because that's what our guests, especially the homeless, need and deserve.

We made the meatloaf from scratch with Cascade Farms Beef donated by SP Provisions and the roast beef and orange chicken were donated by Good Samaritan Hospital. The generosity of these and other local businesses allows us to feed the hundreds who come to our door each week and still keep our costs down.

We served 385 meals today.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Valentine's Day Macaron Ideas

Valentine's Day is right around the corner and I have no doubt that all your sweeties would love homemade macarons.

Macarons taste best after a few days of chilling in the fridge so you don't need to make them last minute, under pressure and stress. Make them on the llth or 12th and you'll be all set to share your treats on the 14th.

The real struggle is choosing what flavors to make. To help you decide, here are some ideas with links to the recipes — Just click on the flavor.

Pomegranate Raspberry

Morello Cherry

Salted Caramel with Little Pink Hearts

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Super Sweet Potatoes

When I spotted Dean, our volunteer dining room barista, by the kitchen window, I couldn't resist convincing him to pose for a quick picture.  I love his smile and positive energy.  Serving coffee and hot chocolate nonstop for two hours straight is hard work.
It was a busy day at The Wednesday Community Meal. We served 395 meals during our two hour service and everyone who came to eat received a delicious and well-balanced meal.

One of the highlights of the meal were the roasted and mashed sweet potatoes that we served as a side dish. The potatoes came from the Oregon Food Bank and volunteer Kate suggested and took on preparing them my now new favorite way.

Prepping potatoes usually eats up a lot of time, so to make things easier, Kate suggested we just wash, cut them in half and bake them cut side down on a parchment lined sheetpan. Her method worked worked like a charm. The potatoes were soft and caramelized when we pulled them out of the oven and then all we had to do was let them cool for a bit and scoop out the sweet flesh.

Then we mashed them with a bit of butter, salt, pepper and fresh parsley. They were soooo gooood!
The sweet potatoes after baking.

After the baked potatoes cooled for a bit, it was easy to scoop the flesh out of the skin. Look at that caramelized goodness! I love Kate's method!

Our main entrees today were pork loin, barbecue chicken, chicken curry, baked fish, chili rellenos, vegetarian lasagna and hot dogs. We had to change our menu in order to utilize all of the week's gleaned food. Making do with what we get is a challenge that keeps us on our toes, but it is the right thing to do because we save perfectly good food from going to waste.
A meal of roasted pork loin, mixed rice, roasted zucchini and tomato. We always strive to serve meals that are both nutritious and delicious.

I also have to give a special shout out to longtime and very dedicated volunteers Leah and Martha. They were absolutely indispensable in the kitchen today. We were short on volunteers so unassisted, they prepared and dished up every single bowl of soup and plate of salad that left the kitchen today. They worked nonstop for more than five hours and just wow! —I am so grateful.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Watercolored" Cookies

These bright "watercolored" cookies are easy to make and a perfect Valentine's Day cookie project for novice decorators who also crave some artistic freedom.

The "watercolor" is just gel food coloring, thinned with a bit of vodka. You can also use water but vodka is my preference since the alcohol evaporates more quickly and reduces your risk of getting the cookies too wet and dissolving the icing base coats. Usually when I paint cookies, I use thinned royal icing which creates a more matte look.

The only real trick to making these is to be absolutely certain that your base coat of royal icing is completely dry before you start painting. If it's not fully dry, it will crack and begin to dissolve from the paint.

Once the painting dried, I piped some heart details with medium consistency red royal icing, using a  bag fitted with a number #1 tip.

So bake some cookies, flood them with royal icing, let them dry, choose your colors and let your creativity flow! It's so satisfying!

Here's how I painted mine, but you should paint yours anyway you like — Experiment and have fun!

Once your cookies are base coated and completely dry, mix colors by putting tablespoons of vodka in small bowls and tint them with gel coloring. The coloring goes a long way so start by adding just a touch at a time until you are satisfied. The colors I mixed were light pink, medium pink, turquoise and yellow.

Go for it by adding the colors one at a time, with a soft brush. Don't overload your brush because the paint goes farther than you think.

After adding the pinks, I decided to let the cookies dry a bit before moving on. It's important that you don't get the cookies too wet.

I decided to add some piped details to mine, but they looked nice without it too.

Let the cookies dry completely before packaging or serving.