Let There Be Cake

It’s so much fun when a bunch of ladies gather to share tips.  My church had such a party recently.

  • Someone from a nursery came with a ton of plants and taught us how to design container plantings.
  • Another person taught a lesson on bread making (I was amazed that there are people who don’t know how to make bread, but there were).
  • We got to see how easy it is to make lip balms – simple ingredients, not necessary to decipher all those chemicals on the side of an expensive tube.
  • My daughters helped me teach some basic cake decorating skills.

It was tons of fun.  Instead of doing a demonstration where people just sat and watched, my daughters and I made some samples ahead of time.  First we decided that due to the fact that it had been a while since any of us had done anything like this, we needed to make a practice cake.  I didn’t get a good photo of that one.  At least I had the sense to make it chocolate flavored so that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it!  It turned out reasonably well, so next we turned our attention to creating samples for the class.

For the class, we lined the samples up down the center of the table where everyone could see them, then on a plain cake, I demonstrate one technique at a time and allowed everyone time to practice doing it.  We’d taken a couple dozen pastry bags filled with frosting, so there was plenty to go around.  We even had enough rose nails for everyone to try.

To illustrate pure white, my daughter decorated a white cake with roses, leaves, etc. – all in white:

Then she did the exact same techniques using colored frosting:

I illustrated basketweave and a different type of flower. It ended up looking like something out of the 70’s:

We also showed how easy it is to do something very basic, then throw a couple figures on top of the cake.  $3 for decorations and $1 for cake, instead of $40 for the bakery to make the same thing.  This one, and the cake at the top, were simple examples.  Normally you’d write “happy birthday” or “go team” or “welcome home” or something in the middle of the cake instead of leaving that space empty:

To wrap things up, we had a cake with some simple roses and matching ribbons swooping along the sides.  Maybe not the best ribbons we’d ever made, but people got the idea of how it’s done.

Everyone had a great time practicing, and when they thought they had the hang of it, we gave everyone a couple cupcakes to decorate and take home.

For those of you not trying to lose weight, the frosting recipe is:  2 cups butter, 2 pounds powdered sugar, 2 Tbsp liquid.  Liquid varies depending on type of cake.  My favorite is lemon juice, but water or orange juice will work, too.  Or probably anything else.  On chocolate cake I like to use the liquid from a jar of maraschino cherries in the frosting.  For white frosting, use white shortening instead of butter and add 1 tsp clear butter flavoring and 1 tsp clear vanilla extract (found in cake decorating stores).

Making the samples with my girls was the most fun we’ve had together in ages.  I realized that we’re doing too much work and not enough playing together. 

Hope you have a great week.  Don’t forget to play!

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Gummy Worms

On Tuesday, Dr. Nancy Brown posted a gummy worm recipe on the Get Better Health site.  Gummy worms are one of my favorite candies, so of course I had to try making my own.

This is an easy, fun project that I highly recommend for a fun time with kids (if you need an excuse – I’d even recommend it if you don’t have kids).  The original recipe calls for:

  • two small packages of jello (or one large package)
  • two packages Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water

Mix all together until dissolved, pour into a shallow pan, let set, then cut into strips.

We made the two-toned worms pictured above by pouring a batch made with lime jello into an 8×8 pan, eating half once it set up, then pouring half a batch of orange in to replace the lime that had been eaten.  Note that these worms were too thick.  The worms are better (floppier) if you divide this size batch into two 8×8 pans (yes, I checked).

Then we started experimenting.  My favorite:

  • 2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 12 packets zero-calorie sweetener
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Combine Knox and sweetener in the bottom of an 8×8 glass pan.  Pour lemon juice over to soften the gelatin.  After a few minutes, stir.  Place in microwave a minute or two, until juice boils.  Allow to set.  Cut in strips.  If you use this recipe and eat the entire pan without sharing, it’s a whopping ten calories (and 2g protein).

Next time we go to the store, I’ll buy lime juice and then we’ll try a two-toned lemon-lime worm.

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Non-Dairy Ice Cream

One of the hard parts of a dairy allergy is the inability to eat ice cream.  Especially for a kid who likes ice cream, to watch everyone else eating it and know that if you have even a spoonful you’ll be sick for three days, sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair.

Last week after our visit to Microsoft’s visitor’s center, our host took us out to ice cream — and the store had non-dairy options, so our family members who need to avoid dairy products got to indulge.  Sherbets often have milk in them, but some “sherbets” are actually a sorbet (frozen sugared fruit pulp).  I spent a couple days searching for recipes, then this weekend pulled out the ice-cream maker.

I found a bunch of recipes that we want to try, and decided to start with peach.  Now, the recipe says that it makes 1-1/4 quarts, but my ice-cream freezer will make six quarts.  We have a big family, and if I’m doing the work, I want to have enough for more than one serving per person so I decided to double the recipe.

I started by opening four quarts of peach slices, and drained the liquid into a measuring cup.  The recipe calls for water, but there’s no reason to pour this peach-flavored liquid down the drain.  I added enough water to the peach juice to make four cups of liquid, then the whole works got poured into a big pot along with six cups of sugar.  The recipe said to boil it for five minutes, but I lost track of time so it went a little long.

Have you ever used a hand-blender?  They’re great.  It’s definitely my favorite tool for turning peaches into puree.  This is something I do quite regularly, because we like to use mooshed peaches instead of syrup on our pancakes.  My first hand-blender was a wedding gift and lasted twenty-one years.  My second one didn’t make it nearly so long.  In case you’re ever tempted to buy a cheap one, don’t!  Or, if you do, when the hand blender breaks, remind yourself that you get what you pay for and next time should spend more than $9 if you expect this kitchen tool to last long enough to be of any use.

Given the untimely death of my hand-blender, I got out the sieve and attempted to force the peach slices through the little holes.  Despite what the recipe said, this was not an effective way to mash peaches.

By now the kitchen was a bit of a mess.  I pulled the blender (full-size) out and learned that the last child who made fruit smoothies did a quick-rinse instead of a good cleaning job, and didn’t dry anything.  This resulted in the gasket mildewing.  Not a good time to learn this will be a high-maintenance machine.

Next I dumped my peaches into Kitchen Aid bowl, added the splatter guard, and attempted to turn on the machine in an effort beat/mash the peach slices.  Unfortunately, this machine has been a bit temperamental ever since I used the meat grinder attachment.  I guess I can say that it’s no longer being temperamental.  One of these days I’ll remember to phone KA’s repair department.

My options were dwindling.  I looked at my hands and noticed that – thanks to Enbrel – I was wearing rings.  Off they came, hands were thoroughly washed again, and I got to act like I was two years old and making mud pies.  Quickly, however, I realize that there was no way I’d be able to squish that much fruit with my fingers.  I gave up and decided that this fruit sorbet would have large chunks of fruit.

The remainder of the ingredients went in, and I debated whether, given the day’s luck with appliances, it would be a good idea to use the ice cream freezer.  What would be the odds on the motor burning out?  Was it me?  The peaches?  The day?  Nobody’s luck can be that bad, so I stupidly decided to go for it:  into the ice cream canister went the peach mixture.

Gazing suspiciously at the lumpy orange mixture, I had second thoughts.  What to do?…  Another check of the pantry led to the discovery that my mom left her blender here.  One cup at a time, I was able to mash the peaches in mom’s blender.  Whew!

That job took much longer than it needed to, but finally I was able to double-check my recipe, add forgotten ingredients, and pour the mixture into the ice cream canister.  I inserted the paddle, added the cover, and placed the ice cream canister into the bucket.

Some people say that there’s an art to filling the bucket with layers of ice and rock salt.  I’m not one of those people!  I just go for it, and it usually seems to work.  Would I be writing this if anything had gone according to plan?  I attached the motor to the top of the cannister/bucket, and as soon as I plugged the cord into electrical outlet, the thing started hopping around like it does when the ice cream is frozen and ready to eat.  I adjusted the height of the paddle and tried again.  The motor whined.  I stared in disbelief that there was another appliance not working.

Based on past experience, I know that ice cream takes about thirty minutes to freeze.  This time, it was acting frozen immediately.  I took the top off to check, and discovered that the stuff at the edges was already frozen.  In the center, however, the mixture was still warm.  Assuming that I could just use more time & ice to reduce the temperature, instead of letting the syrup get cold might not have been such a good idea.  Who knew?!

I thought that the problem – now that I knew what it was – would be easy to fix.  And it was!  Once the sorbet was done, I moved it to our large freezer to hold while I made waffle cones.  Despite the need to replace a number of my small kitchen appliances, the sorbet turned out well.

Peach Sorbet

2 cups water
3 cups sugar
4 cups peach pulp
1 cup orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff