Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Stars are Aligning...

I feel like there is something big in the future, but I just don't know what it is. There have just been too many things that had to happen just the way they did for me to be where I am right now.

I finally got in touch with Paula Deen's cousin, Johnnie Gabriel of Gabriel's Bakery north west of Atlanta. On the phone, we set the appointment for 10am and I walked into the bakery at 9:55...and waited until 10:50 before leaving. The person behind the counter had told me that she had another appointment at 11, so I figured that I shouldn't wait any longer. I left my name and number and headed back to work. I got a call around 11:20 from Johnnie saying that she was there at 11:05 for our 11AM meeting. I had written down the time while we were talking, so I was confident I didn't mix things up, but I wasn't about to be rude. We reset the appointment for today at 1PM.

I left work just before 12 to head up there. It is supposed to take 35-40 minutes to get there from Decatur, so I wanted to have a little bit of wiggle room to get there on time. As I was leaving the parking garage, I heard the DJ say something about 'text whether you like this song or not and you'll win tickets to the Atlanta Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining show this weekend.' I didn't hear all the details, but by this point I was at the stop light outside my building and I sent in a text anyway.

Well, I won the contest and went by the studio on my way back from Gabriel's Bakery to see exactly what I had won. I won two tickets to the Atlanta Ballet, a signed Paula Deen cookbook, and two tickets to the show, including one of the celebrity chef demos. I had seen before that Paula Deen, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali were the featured chefs, but that the seats would be at least $100 so I didn't even bring up the show to my husband. The woman at the desk first gave me tickets to Bobby Flay and I asked if she had any Paula Deen. She did and I was able to switch them out. Good thing the studio was somewhat on the way back to work, otherwise I would have had to wait to pick up my tickets and who knows what tickets I would have gotten.

So I happened to be in the right place at the right time to get my tickets and I am very excited. I have been working hard on my Real Women of Philadelphia recipes and videos and I really hope that something comes of it. In talking with Mrs. Gabriel and Paul Deen that there was a lot of luck and timing that got them to where they are today. Well, many things have happened to get me to the book signing in the first place, which led to me meeting Paula's cousin, which resulted in me winning tickets to the show this weekend, which will lead me....where? I would like to hope that something big is getting ready to happen and maybe, just maybe that thing would come from the Philly contest. There have just been too many coincidences that keep happening, I feel like something is meant to happen. I guess I just need to wait and see what it will be, even though this is a time I don't want to be patient, I just want to know!!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Garden Update

Saturday was rainy all day, so I didn't get outside much at all. That is alright, that gave me the chance to work on my videos all day. But then Sunday, after walking the dogs, I went in the back yard to check out my garden. My seedlings look like they are starting to grow fairly well. But I have to be honest, I did a little jump for joy when I saw the teeniest tinyest little sprouts for my thyme and spinach, which I started from seeds. They are starting to poke through the soil and hopefully they will continue to grow and thrive.

I have been nervous about the garden. I spent a lot of time and money to get it started, and I really worried that everything would die. The fact that things are starting to get bigger is a lot more exciting for me than it probably should be. I will have to take some pictures of the garden now and every few weeks to document how it goes all summer long.

Video-filled weekend

I started working on making my videos for the Real Women of Philadelphia contest this weekend. My husband helped me film four videos so far. I have ideas for two more recipes already, but I need to try them out first to make sure I am happy with the proportions. The whole process was fairly difficult, I know I can be shy, but I didn't think I would have quite so much trouble getting started. I honestly had to have a little bit of wine before starting my first video, which was for spinach dip. I did two practices with the camera rolling and miming the steps and felt alright but when I went to do it for real, I got fairly anxious.

I watched the videos back later that day and thought I didn't stutter nearly as much I thought I did. But I did say a few phrases repeatedly, I need to work on that. For the remaining videos, I just went for the real thing on the first take.

The other recipes I filmed were a spicy shrimp dip, mashed butternut squash and my peanut butter sweethearts.

For the sweethearts and spinach dip videos, I had to do it in two pieces because of the 10 minute time limit. We stopped the recording during some of the baking steps to save time. So I had a few videos that I wanted to combine into one clip. I could not believe how difficult it was!!!! The software that came with the camera won't join clips, a free download program that is supposed to just join clips wouldn't join things correctly. It would repeat one of the clips twice and then run the second, or it would save it as a file extension that nothing else could read. Then I found some software on the computer and thought I had it figured out. I combined the clips like I wanted and hit 'make movie'...and waited...and waited...and waited. After an hour, the movie was done, and I was excited. But that didn't last. I checked the size and it was 4 times the allowed size and for some reason it made my 9 minute 40 second video into 15 minutes by adding all these effects that I didn't want. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to get rid of those, but to no avail.

I finally found a program that would work to join my clips the way I want. It took a few tries to get the file the correct size. This was a 4-5 hour process to get this far. Now I could start to submit my 11PM on Saturday night. The videos were due 9PM Sunday, so I wanted to get it done on Saturday so that I would have some time in case something went wrong. Then uploading the video to youtube took another hour. But around 12:30 or 1AM, I got it completely submitted. Hopefully the rest of the recipes will be easier.

I am excited to keep making my videos and hopefully they will get better each time. I can submit as many recipes as I want for each week. I very much hope I end up being a finalist, I am working as hard as I can. I will keep thinking up ideas and keep trying. Something has to work out.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Peanut Butter Sweethearts

Go to the site below to see my first submission to the Real Women of Philadelphia Recipe Contest. I have lots more ideas that will be on the way over the next few weeks. You'll have to read to keep up with me!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vanilla cupcakes with lemon filling

I knew it had to happen eventually, a King Arthur Flour recipe that didn't go quite as planned. For a friend's birthday, I made the very vanilla cupcakes with lemon filling ( over the last two nights.

On Wednesday night, I made the lemon filling. First off, I don't know what kind of mutant lemons they use up there in Vermont. I think I used 6 lemons for the zest and at least 8 to get enough juice for the recipe. That added a lot more time than I was expecting. Then I put all my ingredients in my poor man's double boiler (a glass bowl that fits over a sauce pot) and went on with the recipe. It never thickened up the way the recipe said it would and I have no idea how anyone would ever be able to bring something like that to a boil over a double boiler! Isn't that the whole point of a double make sure the ingredients didn't get too hot. I eventually got tired of waiting to see if maybe, just maybe it would actually boil and I filled the bottom pot up with lots of water and turned the burner on as high as it would go. 15 minutes later and still nothing, just as I had expected.

I was tired of waiting around (and getting tired in general, its been a verrrry long workweek with lots of early mornings and late evenings) so I took the lemon mixture out of the bowl, poured off the water in the bottom pot and placed my lemon mixture in there and put it on over medium low heat. The mixture finally came to a boil and I cooked it for one minute and took it off the heat, covered it with saran wrap touching the surface and placed it in the fridge overnight. I was hoping it would have a good consistency the next day, but wasn't completely sure it would make it.

I made the cupcakes without any issues. 15 cupcakes seemed like a little less than I would normally make for that amount of batter, the cupcake cups were about 90% full. When I baked these, they didn't rise quite as much as I thought they might and the three in the second muffin pan were done much quicker than the others. I creamed the butter and sugar together for a long time, incorporating lots of air bubbles to help with the leavening, so that isn't the problem. Next time I will have to remember to spread out the cupcakes so that there is an even number in each of the pans.

Also, when I tried to cut the tops off per the recipe directions, it didn't look the prettiest. So I made an executive decision and just placed a heaping spoonful of the lemon curd (which did turn out nicely, by the way) right in the center of the cupcakes. It made for a much nicer presentation. I placed them in the fridge overnight to set up.

I didn't get a whole lot of feedback on this one since I placed all the goodies in the hallway for people to munch on at their convenience. But one person did say the flavor was very nice and the cupcake was extremely light and fluffy with an even consistency throughout. I didn't taste the cupcakes yet, but I still have the three at home where I tried to put the filling in the center and it looked awful (see the picture above). I will have to add my opinion this weekend, once I get a taste of these cupcakes. Then I will decide if they will be a repeat recipe or something that is pushed aside to give some other baked good the spotlight.

Deep Dark Chocolate Pudding Cake

A friend of mine from work's birthday is this Monday. I had planned on making something sweet for her to bring to work on Monday until I realized that many of the people around here will be gone for a conference. I didn't want her birthday to go by unnoticed, so I made a few things and brought them in today for everyone to enjoy. I wanted to make vanilla cupcakes with lemon filling (I will write about those next), but the recipe only makes 15 cupcakes. I wanted to do something a bit more than that. Since the cupcakes would be light and airy, I thought it would be a good time to make something nice and chocolatey. I didn't want to spend a lot of extra time on this, so I wanted a one pan kind of chocolate dessert, that way I wouldn't have to wait for a cake to cool, make frosting, then frost the cake on a weeknight and still make the cupcakes. I found a recipe from King Arthur Flour for deep dark chocolate pudding cake ( that fit all my requirements: very chocolatey, I already had all the ingredients, it is a one pan cake that is serving from the pan, and I didn't need to spend time beyond the actually baking part of things.

I really don't have much to comment on regarding the process of making the cake, which I doubled and baked in a 13x9 cake pan. It could not have been much simpler. Though I have to admit, I was a bit worried when I added the water to the cake and it was super liquidy. I was starting to worry that I had added too much, considering I was doubling the recipe as I went and my dog was whining to go for a walk (I took her to pee, but made her wait while I put the cake together so that we could go for a walk while it was baking) and I thought I got too distracted. I forged ahead anyway. When I first took it from the oven, it was very puffy, and it deflated a little bit as it cooled. I left it at room temperature overnight and brought it to work today.

I made a little sign that said Happy Birthday and placed it next to my creations. I also put little notes telling people what each one was. I also made sure to note that this one has a fudgy soft bottom, I just didn't want anyone to think the softness was unbaked cake. It is intentionally soft since it is a pudding cake.

I got a few people's reactions about the cake, and everyone really liked it. The fudge bottom with the cake top is really nice and the entire cake has a good flavor. I think this one will have to go into my 'tried and true' folder on my computer. It will be a great to go recipe when I am pressed for time, but still want to make something that looks impressive. It is nice to have a one-step cake that once it come out from the oven, it is completely done.

Italian Egg Drop Soup

In one of my many moments looking up random recipes online, I came across one for Italian Egg Drop Soup from ( I have found I really enjoy making soups and they make a great lower calorie addition to dinner. A good broth based soup with lots of veggies is filling and nutritious and I have been trying to add more soups to my diet. Also, when I make the soup at home, I can control the amount of salt and do not need to worry about any preservatives that might be in premade soups.

I love the butternut squash with apple and tomato with spinach recipes that I have and thought this would would be a nice addition. It has low sodium chicken broth, whole wheat pasta, chickpeas, eggs and spinach. Ok, well my soup had spinach. The recipe calls for arugula, but I love spinach and had it on hand, so I chose that over the arugula. I didn't add any scallions, even though I planned on it. I had some in the fridge from something else I had made a little bit ago, but when I pulled them out of the fridge, I didn't like the look of it and decided that I didn't really need it in my soup anyway. I do have some whole nutmeg that I bought recently, but I was using my microplane for zesting the lemons for the lemon curd filled vanilla cupcakes (more on that soon) so I went with preground nutmeg instead.

This recipe was easy to follow and it turned out great. Like most of my other soups, I will eat some for a few days, but will surely need to freeze some. I reheated some last night and this recipe heats well in the microwave, which is always good since I know my husband won't eat any of this one (between the eggs and the spinach, I really didn't have any hope that I could even get him to try this one!!!).

I love making these large batches of soup, it is actually a lot more simple than I expected and it has great results. I will have to keep an eye out for more soup recipes to try in the future.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Philadelphia Cream Cheese Contest

So I have been thinking ahead to the dessert week for the Philly cream cheese contest. I am not overly confident in my entree, and I am not sure I will have a video camera in time to make a video to submit by tomorrow night. If I really felt very confident about the entree, I think I would work harder on it, but I feel like my strength is in my desserts.

I went back into my recipes to see what I could adapt for these purposes. I decided on a peanut butter cookie recipe with mini chocolate chips that I spread into a large cookie sheet to make one big cookie. I can then use a cookie cutter to cut out the desired shape and sizes. Then I have a cream cheese and honey filling to put between two layers.

That is as far as I feel confident in the recipe. It is now down to how to finish it. I still have a long way to go with regards to presentation and I am stuck on how to take this recipe to the next level. I know I want to layer the 'cookies' with the filling. Then the options abound. I created a chocolate cream cheese ganache and drizzled it over the top. I also tried adding some whip cream to the top, then sprinkling on some mini chocolate chips. The ganache worked alright, but I will need to put it into a real pastry bag with a very fine tip to get a much better drizzle

Another option would be to make the peanut butter cookie layers without the mini chocolate chips, spread chocolate filling in the center then add a cream cheese frosting to the top using a pastry tip to make it look nice. I have all the components that I am happy with, it is just a matter of deciding on what the best presentation would be. And I need to remember that this all needs to be done in an hour. So I don't want to do any elaborate decoration that takes a lot of time, since I will need to bake, cool, fill, then decorate the dessert in that time.

Then the final problem will be naming my creation. I will need to think long and hard to come up with a good and catchy name for this dessert. It isn't a cookie, the layers are a bit more cake like, and it has the peanut butter, chocolate and cream cheese elements to it.

Sounds like I have a lot to think about over the next few days with regard to the presentation and naming of my newest creation. That will keep me busy on walks with the dogs and while working out.

Ted's Challenge

I am not sure how I came across this, but I saw on Friday that Ted's Montana Grill is running their own cooking contest. Every two weeks, they will put up a secret ingredients and all you need to do is submit a recipe using that ingredient, the things in their pantry, and either a photo or a 1-5 minute video. The first ingredient, of course, is bison.

The first thought that came to mind was the cheeseburger macaroni-type recipe that I have had in the past. I decided to change it up for bison. So this recipe includes macaroni, cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, garlic, onions and various spices. I think it came together fairly well.

I took some pictures, though I am not fully satisfied with my presentation abilities, which I will talk about more in the next post. I added extra cheddar to the top of the entree and a little bit of chopped parsley as a garnish. I had originally wanted to add mushrooms to the main part of the recipe, but my husband thinks that the vast majority of people will despise the mushrooms. I am sure there are people out there who don't like mushrooms, but I am not sure that the percentage is quite as high. But I decided to leave them out of the recipe, just in case.

I posted a picture of the final dish and will submit the recipe in the morning. We are thinking of buying a video camera tomorrow, so I am waiting to see if that does happen. If so, then I may make the short video instead.

Overall, I am happy with the recipe. I am not sure if it is wild and crazy enough for a cooking contest, but it is good to eat, which is what matters to me. They won't notify the potential winners until the end of June, so even if something does come of this, I won't know for quite a while. I figure it is a good opportunity for me to keep thinking creatively and keep pushing myself to try new things.

Honey Wheat Black Bread

This morning, I made King Arthur Flour's Honey Wheat Black bread. This recipe makes 8 small loaves of bread, kind of like the kind you get at Outback. I had hoped the recipe would be close to the bread there, but it turns out this bread is quite a bit lighter and is sweeter.

I followed the directions using the stand mixer, but had to add a bunch more white whole wheat flour to make a reasonable dough. And like usual, the rising time was just way longer than it needed to be. Things just always seem to come up and the bread rises longer than I intend. The bread was well out of the bowl by the time I got back to it. It deflated alright, though. It is a very sticky dough, so I needed to use non stick spray on my hands to handle the dough.

The second rise lasted the expected hour. Some of the loaves were starting to touch, so I moved four to another baking sheet, which deflated them somewhat. So those four didn't rise quite as much, but all in all, all the loaves turned out well.

The resulting bread was just just wonderful! It is sweet and very soft. The crust is very soft and not crunchy at all. I think this is a recipe I will need to hold on to. I love bread with my dinner and these mini loaves will be perfect for satisfying my bread craving without having a large serving size.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2010 Vegetable Garden

I think I have everything planted in my garden that I want to get started with this year. I have a variety of plants that are both seedlings and starting from seed, so I am hoping at least some of them produce well this year. I will be very disappointed if I can't get anything to grow this time around. I am sure some things will not go as expected, but I will be happy if I can get some good veggies this year.

So here is a round up of the things I planted, all of which are plants to start unless I note that I started them from seed:
- sweet basil
- thyme (seeds)
- Greek Oregano
- Butternut Squash (not a lot of room left for this one, I made just one little hill to see what happens)
- Georgia Sweet Onions
- Chives (seeds)
- Roma Tomatoes
- Early girl tomatoes
- Cherry Napa grape hybrid tomatoes
- Brandywine heirloom tomatoes
- Better Boy tomatoes
- Black Beauty Zucchini squash
- Red Beauty sweet bell pepper
- Cucumber
- Cayenne long slim pepper
- Sweet pepper- great stuff hybrid
- jalapeno gigante pepper
- Baby's leaf spinach (seeds)

Here's to happy growing!

Time for Some Failures

Well, not everything can turn out like it should, especially when trying to come up with something new and different. I have been trying to think of entree recipes for the Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese challenge I mentioned in the Paula Deen post. I came up with something unique, but wasn't quite sure how to go about it.

I wanted to make inside out turkey burgers using cream cheese and chopped spinach as the middle filling. I decided I wanted to add my grandmother and mom's barbecue sauce to the meat to make it a bit moister since the lower amount of fat results in drier burgers.

My first trial run was on Tuesday night, I made some of the sauce and added it to the ground turkey directly. But I really didn't have any idea how much to add, so it ended up a gooey mess. I went ahead and made the cream cheese, spinach and garlic filling and made the burgers anyway. I tried to grill it anyway, but just ended up with bits and pieces of barbecued turkey falling through the grates of the grill. I couldn't even start to flip them without everything falling apart. A spectacular failure!

So I thought it through and decided to run three different trial runs on Wednesday night for dinner. One would be the same thing, but with added bread crumbs and less barbecue sauce in hopes of being able to get it to hold together better. The second set of two burgers had the filling and the bread crumbs, but no barbecue sauce mixed in...I would brush that on like a normal burger. And the third test was to use the lower amount of barbecue sauce, place some in a muffin tin, then add the filling and top with more turkey like mini meatloaves.

Well, that was the plan anyway. In my haste when I got home to get something made for dinner before it got too late, I accidentally added the same amount of barbecue sauce. That is what happens when you triple the amount of sauce to make and then have one and a half times the meat and add sauce back to two thirds of the recipe. I just was in such a rush that I didn't think it through quite like I needed to. I thought I had the right numbers, but mistakes happen.

I warmed up the grill and got the oven ready while I put together the three experiments. I got the mini meatloaves in the oven, then went to put the burgers on the grill and....nothing. No gas left. Are you kidding me?!?! Ugh! So instead of getting more gas at that moment, I opted to make the burgers on the stovetop. I didn't want to go through the extra effort of exchanging the propane tanks when I had just realized I did add the wrong amount of barbecue sauce (after my husband pointed it out, that is).

So the burger with the same amount of sauce mixed in with the meat, bread crumbs and filling was another wonderful mess. No matter how long I left it on the pan, it wouldn't come together and of course it fell apart when I tried to flip it.

Experiment number two...bread crumbs in the turkey, filling, and painted on barbecue sauce. These actually turned out alright. They held together well and it wasn't difficult to cook them. My husband was definitely not thrilled with the amount of spinach in the middle and told me that I didn't use the secret ingredient (cream cheese) as the star of the entree and that I needed to adjust the proportions in the filling.

The mini meatloaves cooked for about 30 minutes at 375F. I actually liked the way these turned out the best. The meat was still plenty moist and it had a good spinach and garlicky flavor in the center.

So I guess I will need to determine if I think any of these recipes are worthy of submitting to the contest. I am almost tempted to rely more on the dessert, and side dish portions and keep thinking through my entree since there will be another entree week coming up soon. But then again I don't want to wait so long that I miss an opportunity. I have until Sunday at 9PM EDT to get a video submitted if I want to enter in the entree week. Gives me some things to think about...

As for pictures of these disasters, I forgot to take them this time, but I will have to remember for in the future. I must remember that each disaster is as much a learning experience as each success. No need to get down on myself about the things that don't work, it just means that I need to think longer and harder to get more creative on where to go next.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vegetable Garden

Well, I didn't do any new experiments in the kitchen this weekend, but I was certainly busy! My husband helped me put in a vegetable garden. My mom had suggested a small garden in the backyard and maybe a couple of tomato plants to start out with. That was exactly how it started, but with my personality, that was definitely not where it ended!

I thought about a plot about 4x5 feet along the side of our fence, but my husband commented that he thought it would be much bigger. So I kept that in mind while shopping for raised garden beds. The pre-made raised beds just seemed to be too expensive, though I have to admit that the ease of putting one of those in was quite tempting.

I called around to a few tool rental places, but decided to get a light duty tiller from home Depot. I got up early Saturday morning, took the dogs for walks and headed over to go rent my tiller. They had one there and I was the only person looking to rent anything at the moment. So I asked the employee if I could go look at wood for a few minutes, then come back. I got some help from someone in the lumber department and decided on the wood I would use. I chose 4 boards that were 12 inches across and 10 feet long. That would be a really nice 10'x20' plot. Ok, now that I knew what size garden I wanted, I went back to get the tiller.

At this point, things had gotten a bit busier and after helping a few other people, the guy got back to me to show me how to use the tiller. And it wouldn't start. He said he would have a technician in at 1PM and they should have it up and running that afternoon and they would give me a call. I went ahead and got all my boards and nails and all for the garden and took those home. So my husband and I went to a nearby park for a long walk and later went to calls. We called around 9:15PM and they said they had a tiller working and I could pick it up at 8AM.

8AM came around, and I went to get my tiller. And again, they were all broken. After a while, I ended up with a tiller from a Home Depot 15 miles away. I got it into the trunk and tied down and I was homeward bound. I cleaned up the garden area and then tilled up the ground. It was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, but still something I could handle. At this point, I had changed my mind on the plot size to 5'x30', since that part of our yard is only 18' total across and 10' out would have been too far. That meant that I had to saw through one of the boards to make the two 5' sides. I made it about 2/3 of the way through before my husband came and took over (he had been mowing the lawn and doing other yard work while I was working on my garden).

I started to dig down so that we could partially bury the boards for the edges of the garden when I realized I needed to take the tiller back. By the time I got back, the boards were almost all in place. After lunch and a short nap, I went to get dirt to fill in the garden bed. I started with 10 bags of 40 pounds each of top soil. I ended up having to go back and get 12 more bags!!! But once that was in and the little fencing was up, the garden looked perfect.

I did some research and chose a bunch of things I want in the garden. Some of the things include various kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (jalapeno, cayenne and sweet bell peppers), onions, chives, spinach, and some herbs. I think I will still have some space left over, so maybe I will also grow some peas or even some sort of squash, we will see about that. Later in the season I am hoping to add garlic, horseradish and broccoli raab.

I have a feeling I have gotten in way over my head on this project, but then again, it wouldn't be me if I didn't go completely gung ho on something. I am very excited about my garden (I woke up at 6:30AM...on my own...before the dogs woke me up!!!!) and hope it will be a great experience that I repeat for many years to come.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Its PAULA DEEN Day!!!!!

It finally arrived...the day I have been waiting for for the last two weeks. Paula Deen signing her book Savannah Style with coauthor Brandon Branch. They were at the Borders in Buckhead, which is about 30 minutes from my home. The signing started at 7:30 and I got there at 7. Even though I was worried about parking, I got a spot super close to the door. I decided to go by myself so that my husband could stay home with the dogs, who have been alone all day long.

I bought the book and got a wristband for the signing. They said she would only be signing the Savannah Style book and one other of her past books at the most and that due to the expected volume of people to show up for the book signing, there wouldn't be any personalization so that everyone could get through the line. I had brought my personal friends and family cookbook that I had made from the recipes gathered for my wedding this past fall and was secretly hoping she would sign it. I was a bit bummed to hear she wouldn't sign anything else, but I figure it was worth a shot.

As I stood in line, I tried to think of what to say when I got up there in hopes of getting her to sign both books and I was counting on a few things: 1) This was a cookbook I started from family recipes, and she is always very family oriented. 2) The picture on my back cover was of me feeding my new husband cheese...not the typical cake feeding picture and I thought that would get a laugh. 3) I have the striking ability to turn the puppy dog eyes on high when need be (this has back fired in the past since I am always the one sent to do anything that needs sweet talking, but more on that another time). 4) I had to remember that the worst thing that could happen is that she didn't sign my extra book, nothing catastrophic would result from that (though, I admit I knew I might be a bit disappointed).

So Paula arrived at the signing table right around 7:30 and talked for about 15 minutes. She explained a little about the book and introduced her co author, Brandon, the photographer and Brandon introduced one of his professors from college that taught him a lot about style and decor. Then she asked for questions from the audience. Everyone was shy at first, but then one woman asked if her son Bobby was single. Paula said that he wasn't married, but that he has given his heart to a young actress that has had roles in All About Steve and Two and a Half Men.

Then someone asked another question that I didn't hear, but Paula went on to tell us about a venture with Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese ( where the prizes include $25,000, the chance to write a community cook book and more...basically a dream come true for me. I will have to think long and hard and come up with some great ideas. That will be my project for the weekend.

I stood in line until sometime before 9 before getting my chance to meet Paula. In watching her interact with the other people in line, she seemed open to chatting a bit with each person and they weren't getting shooed along. Which is what I was hoping based on her personality we see of her on the TV. Maybe I will have a chance to chat a tiny bit.

I finally get up and she is still talking with the person in front of me and had my book signed and the coauthor signed my book before they finished talking. I wasn't ready to just walk off, so the first second I got I showed her my personal family cookbook. She looked at the front and thought it was a great thing I put together, though she said that she thought I wasn't old enough to get married, they don't let 13 year olds get married. I told her I was 28 and she was shocked. And she thought my dress was just beautiful. Here is basically what happened next (keep in mind that it was all such a whirlwind!):

Me: And I thought that you would appreciate that I put a picture of me feeding my new husband cheese rather than cake.

Miss Paula Deen: That is just too funny, that almost looks like watermelon.

Me: Yeah, it is the wine cheese they make.

Paula: Ahh, the port cheese, that is so very good.

Me: So if I wanted to start selling the things I make like my great aunt's sugar cake, what would be the biggest piece of advise you could give me?

Paula (thinking about this a bit...): Well, my story is such a strange one. I started out with just $200 and no training, but I thought I was a good cook. Do you make more than one thing?

Me: I know what you mean, I can't afford to go to culinary school. Yes, I make cakes and cupcakes and other things.

Paula: Do you have a kitchen yet? (me: not yet). Well, you can talk to a church to see if you can use their kitchen so you can get a business license. I worked out of my kitchen for 18 months, even though it wasn't legal. My first kitchen was actually in a dirty pool hall. And start small so that you can grow your business each day. It was easier for me to start small since I only had that $200. I just kept working hard and eventually got to the right place at the right time. Have you worked in a bakery?

Me: I have been wanting to talk to places so that I can get in and learn as much as I can, but I haven't yet.

Paula: Well, my cousin near here has a bakery and why don't you give her a call to see if she has any openings to see if you can get started. And that will also be good so that you can get a chance to see what it is really like to work in a bakery and see if that is something you would like to do for a living.

Brandon: She makes THE BEST Red Velvet cupcakes!!!!!! They are wonderful!

Me: Yeah!?! That is really cool.

(She opens my cookbook and I ask her to sign it, which she does and she even personalizes it for me: Dear Loren, Good Luck and Best Dishes, Paula Deen XO 2010.......yayayayayayayayayay)

At this point, I pull out a piece of paper and am writing down frantically. I am shaking beyond belief and have to ask for the name again. Not only did I get my cookbook personalized, but she also gave me a great lead in potentially reaching the next step in my baking career.

I was so very nervous and didn't say quite as much as I wanted (and stuttered more than I wanted, which I of course left out), but I definitely got more out of the conversation than I ever imagined. She spent a lot more time with me than other people and I was thankful beyond belief for those extra moments!!! Paula Deen was just as earnest and sincere as we see on tv and seemed to genuinely want to give me the best possible advice to get me started. I was on the verge of tears walking out, I was so excited. I immediately called my husband to tell him all about it and then had to call my mom.

I had planned on writing about all this tomorrow, since I am usually in bed by now (hey, I wake up at 6am everyday to make sure the dogs get walks and get play time before work), but I am wound up beyond belief at the moment and wanted to write this all out right now, I didn't want to forget anything. So I set up my laptop next to my husband, who is at the desk on the desktop. I wanted to sit next to him since I didn't get to spend much time with him today (though we did meet for lunch at J Christophers today...I really enjoyed the food, atmosphere, service and company!). He saw that I put up the conversation and laughed so very hard. He said it was awesome that I put the whole thing in conversation form. For the purposes of my self esteem, I will just assume that he was laughing because he thought it was cute that I was so excited that I wanted to write about it all and not because he thought I was overly silly.

Oh and I think Paula Deen is now one of my favorite people ever!!! She was simply delightful and it was so encouraging to spend a few moments with her on such a busy night. I hope to emulate her caring and enthusiastic attitude and I love the way she isn't afraid to be silly. No wonder she is so loved around the world!!!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Strawberry Sponge Cake

I mentioned earlier that a friend of mine had her birthday last Monday. That was the same day that I brought the hot cross buns in to work. I asked her what sorts of flavors she liked and she said she likes fruity things like tarts. I looked all around for a suitable recipe, but quickly realized that I do not own any tart pans. And a pie would only serve so many people.

So I was leaning towards a cake of some sort when I came across this recipe for a berry cake that looked light and airy ( That seemed perfect to me. Plus I have some jelly roll pans that I thought would be good for making this cake. I didn't think about the fact that it was a bit smaller than the suggested half sheet pan until I went to prepare the sheet for baking. By then, I already had all the ingredients and was not about to turn back. I also realized that the sides of a jelly roll pan do not come up very high. I was fairly anxious about that part of things, I was so worried that the cake would just overflow while baking.

The sponge cake was a lot of fun to make. I enjoyed watching the changes in the batter as the beating time went by. I couldn't get over just how much the cake increased in volume in a few minutes. Changes like that are totally cool. I decided to grease the pan rather than use parchment paper. When it came out of the oven and I let it cool for a while, it was still a bit difficult to remove from the pan. It took a lot of patience and a couple of spatulas to make sure the cake came out in one piece.

The syrup was also easy to make. Though I should admit that my OCD self turned my back to do the dishes (hey, I couldn't stand to have a few minute of not getting something accomplished and the dishes in the sink were calling to me) and the next thing I knew I heard sizzle sizzle. The syrup had boiled out of the pot onto the stove. Of course I was annoyed with myself for not paying closer attention and I knew it would be a pain to clean all the sugary syrup up off my stove. I tasted the syrup and thought the lemon flavor might be a bit over powering for the cake. Had the recipe been from anywhere other than King Arthur Flour, I would have used a portion of the suggested syrup on the cake. But since that website has yet to steer me wrong, I went ahead, though not without trepidation. I went ahead and soaked the syrup into the entire cake before cutting it to fit in the cake box.

The mascarpone filling was simple to make, though I did have a little bit of trouble finding it in the store. I will know to look in the specialty cheese section first next time. I had been looking near the ricotta and cottage cheese, but obviously I am the only person who thinks that is where it should be.

The recipe does not mention slicing the strawberries before placing on the bottom layer of the cake. Also, I thought it was a bit backwards to put the strawberries on, then the cheese filling, so I switched that. I had a small scrap of the cake left over from cutting it to fit in the cake box, so I experimented with that piece first. I sliced the berries and added some filling. When I tried to eat it, the whole strawberry slice came out in the first fork-full. OK, so that means that chopping the berries seems like a better path to take.

I added the filling and the strawberries and placed the second cake layer on top. I added the cheese filling on top. Then I looked at the didn't seem quite as perfect as I wanted. The picture leaves the sides of the cake open, but since I baked the cake in one piece, then cut it some of the edges were exposed. I couldn't leave it like that, so I iced the sides as well. I just barely had enough of the filling to finish the cake, but I made it!

Now on to the decoration on the top. I had plenty of strawberries, but wasn't sure I wanted my cake to look like the one in the picture. I played around a bit and decided to make flowers/stars out of strawberry pieces. I fit six on the top. But that didn't seem like enough, so I kept going. I made a border along the bottom of the cake with quartered strawberries and up the four corners. But that didn't seem like enough, I cut small strips of strawberry and made a border along the top edge. Now I felt happy with the decoration of my cake. It is a great leap forward in my presentation skills, though I know I still have a long way to go.

To make the cake seem even fancier, I placed the cake on a cake board in the bottom of a cardboard cake box. Now it looks good. If only I had a logo for my bakery, then I would have placed a sticker along the edge. I will need to start thinking about what sort of logo I want. That will be a good thing to think about while swimming or running, it will help the time pass quicker.

When I brought in the cake to work, my coworker was just soo excited. She smiled big and gave me a hug, even though she is not a hugging type of person. She said it was just perfect. I had a bottle of apple cider left over from New Years, so I brought that in as well. She was so excited, she sent out an email for everyone to come by for cake and cider later that afternoon. While out to lunch, she got two more bottles of cider.

4PM came around, and I went and set out the cake and plates and all. Everyone was extremely impressed with the cake and one person even asked if it was a professional bakery that had made the cake. His review was 'double hot damn' upon tasting the cake. I don't think I could have gotten any better compliments. It gives me hope that I may be able to sell my creations and that I can have the presentation that is good enough to sell. There wasn't one negative or even potentially slighting remark made, nothing to change in the future. One of my friends even made sure to mention her birthday is in a few weeks. I told her to let me know whatever she might like and I will be sure to bring it for her.

A few people were even asking me if I wanted to have my own bakery. Of course I would love that, or even just make enough to be able to sell from my home, perhaps online or even just through word of mouth. I just need to stay positive and keep working and keep learning. I never know who will read this or who will taste my next creation and that just might be the springboard that I need to take this to the next level.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Breakfast for company

Like I mentioned before, my husband's sister and brother in law stopped through town on their way north for a vacation. We knew it would be a short trip, from Friday afternoon to late Saturday morning. I had hoped to make dinner, but with it being Lent, which means no meat for my Catholic husband and sister in law, my husband wanted pizza. Well, he always wants pizza, but this gave him an excuse to go to a pizza place near us that is a bit more expensive than the chain places. He said he wasn't sure 'if they ate seafood,' which was code for 'I want a nice gooey cheese pizza for the last Friday of Lent.'

So I gave in trying to make dinner and then suggested breakfast instead. I actually really enjoy making breakfast and brunch, but it is not something I do often. My husband hates eggs with a passion and just isn't the type of person to eat a big breakfast. Neither am I actually, but I love to make it on occasion.

I kept trying to get input on what to make, what sorts of things people would like. The response was anything will be good, though we have never had a quiche we liked, so probably not something like that. And probably not too many veggies, either. So there went the spinach, ham and egg casserole I was hoping to make.

I had a cinnamon pancake mix left over from my Christmas gifts, so I figured that was a good idea. That would definitely keep my husband happy with a non-egg based option. Then I figured I would make biscuits and sausage gravy. I found a recipe on King Arthur Flour for biscuits that they even suggested would work well with sausage gravy ( I just wasn't sure if I would have the time to make these since the recipe includes a one hour freezing time.

I had a back up plan in place. This biscuit and gravy recipe from included a shorter preparation time ( Either way, I planned on using the gravy recipe since it had gotten such good reviews. It didn't matter in the end, I found time to make the biscuits Friday night after dinner. I could still socialize since our floorplan is very open, but I also got to make the biscuits the way I wanted to.

The sausage gravy was simple to make following the directions. I doubled the recipe without any trouble. I warmed the biscuits slightly and that was a great addition to the meal.

For the egg part of things, I was still at a loss. I could make scrambled eggs, but I really wanted to try something a little fancier since I don't get the opportunity to make breakfast like this. Most of the egg casseroles have sausage, which I already used for the biscuits, or lots of veggies. I would have loved the veggie-filled ones, but knowing that I might be the only person eating it made me think twice about that.

I have been reading Shirley O'Corriher's Cookwise book and remembered a recipe for baked eggs that I had marked. I have never had baked eggs and thought this would be a good opportunity to try them out. So I followed the recipe by buttering small ramekins, then dusting with plain bread crumbs. Next I broke an egg into each one and topped it with some freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper and two tablespoons of cream. Then some grated Gruyere to top it off. I baked the ramekins on a baking sheet at 350F for the suggested 8-10 minutes. The eggs still looked a bit soft and I ended up baking them 5-7 minutes more, just to be sure they cooked through. The eggs still looked a bit runny, but it was mostly from the cream and not the egg yolk.

The opinions on the baked eggs were varied. My husband didn't try it at all, which I expected. His brother in law ate part of his, but didn't like the Gruyere on top, so he didn't want to finish his. He evidentally only likes Cheddar, American or Mozzarella, so this was a bit too strange for him. My sister in law took a tiny (pretend) bite and said she liked the flavor. But she won't eat anything where the yolk isn't hardened, even though the runny-ness of the dish was from the cream, not the yolk.

Then there was my opinion. I actually really enjoyed the eggs. It was a different way to prepare eggs than I have ever had before. The fresh nutmeg was a strange and unexpected flavor addition, but I liked it. And I think I have fallen for Gruyere cheese. I have been wanting to try it, and this gave me the perfect excuse. It has a slightly nutty type flavor that I relish. I made a grilled cheese sandwich with it and I don't think I can ever go back to using American slices.

So I had a few eggs left over, since I wasn't sure how many to make per person. I wrapped them in Saran wrap and stored them in the fridge. I heated them through in the microwave and have had them with dinner the last two nights. I completely agree with Shirley's opinion that the baked eggs are a nice luxury. I don't usually use cream in my cooking, but since this was an occasion, I went right ahead. Maybe I will try to make them again for my mom, who sounded very interested when I was telling her about them. I am hoping I am not the only one that finds them not only appetizing, but very delicious.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A few repeats

In the last week or so I have already remade two of the items I have made in the recent past. On Thursday, we had some leftover chicken and we weren't sure what to do with it. We resorted to a favorite meal around our house...a buffalo chicken wrap. I didn't have time to make tortillas on Wednesday and wasn't interested in buying any from the store, so we planned on putting all the fixings on hamburger buns we have in the freezer.

On Thursday, we had someone coming over to look at some things around the house, so I needed to get home a bit early. I got home in plenty of time to make some tortillas, even though my husband said I didn't need to go to the trouble. Now I was in the mood for wraps and wanted to take advantage of the few extra minutes I had that evening.

I made the white whole wheat tortillas from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain baking book, just like last time. I measured out the dough this time so that I could split it evenly into 10 tortillas without simply guessing on the size. I believe that it ended up being just under 1 1/2 ounces per tortilla. Last time I guess on the sizes and ended up with 14 rather than the suggested 10 to 12, resulting in smaller tortillas than I would have liked. I wasn't going to repeat that mistake.

I rolled out the dough like before and made circles that looked pretty good on the dough mat. That is, until I went to pick them up and place them on the hot grill pan. Then they stretched out a bit more than I would have liked and my husband had to make a comment on the non-round shape of my tortillas. I got a bit better with each one, I just started making them more oblong and picking them up so that the area where they stretched would be on the shorter sides to make them a little bit more round. It will still take some more practice. Then again, the easier solution may be to just buy a tortilla press. I saw online that sells them, but mentions that it is unavailable in the stores. I haven't had a chance to look in the various stores around here for one yet. Hopefully that will make life a lot easier, except for the fact I would have one more gadget that I need to find a place to store in my kitchen!

My other repeat was the pecan pie. My husband's sister and brother in law came by for a short visit on Friday night to Saturday morning (more on that a bit later) and they had requested a pecan pie. I made the dough Wednesday night, rolled it out Thursday morning and let it rest in the fridge during the day before completing the pie Thursday night.

All the dough steps felt a lot better than last time. Having just the one trial run was enough for me to feel a lot more comfortable working with pie dough. I think I still handled the dough a little more than I should, but I did much better than last time. And I am sure I will get a bit better next time. I love apple pie, so I will need to make one of those soon.

The reviews on the pie were great! My brother in law was very pleased with the pie and asked me if I was trying to be like Betty Crocker now. I said it was something like that. He liked that the pecans were still a bit crunchy and hadn't gotten soggy and loved the filling, which is his favorite part. I didn't try a piece of the pie, since I had made it for them, but my husband had a small slice. I tried to get him to compare it to the first pie, but of course he didn't want to say too much. He said he liked this one, but he also liked the first one, as well. Hopefully the crust was a bit more tender than last time.

I had a little bit of dough left over, so I rolled it out and cut it into pieces using a pizza cutter. I transferred the pieces to a baking sheet and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. I put the chips in a 350F oven and cooked them for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention to the time. I just kept checking on them and guessed when it was done. They were a nice little treat, and I felt good about using the scraps rather than simply tossing them. I hate throwing things away that I could make use of.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hot Cross Buns

I saw a recipe for hot cross muffins on the King Arthur Flour website a few weeks ago and had hoped to make them to bring to work for St Patrick's Day, but life got a little hectic and I didn't get a chance to make anything for St Patrick's Day. So when one of my friends announced in lab meeting that her birthday was the day of our next meeting, I figured it would be the perfect time to bring something in for breakfast that morning. I was torn between these hot cross muffins and cinnamon buns. I have been wanting to make cinnamon buns, but haven't yet. I figure that I can make those another time and went with the hot cross muffins.

These are baked in muffin tins so they rise a bit higher than a flatter bun ( And the recipe makes 18 muffins, which is plenty to bring to lab meeting and still have a few at home for us.

As I have found with the other King Arthur Flour recipes, it was very easy to follow and each step came out just as expected. I think the biggest thing that I noticed was that my buns rose a lot more than the recipe suggested once I put them in the muffin tins. The dough was a lot more sticky than a bread dough, which worried me for a while, but I didn't want to add more flour and just kept going to see what would happen in the end. Perhaps I let the dough rise more than I was supposed to for the first rise.

When I let the buns rise for a second time in the muffin tin, the dough was still very sticky. I filled all 18 muffin cups and covered with plastic wrap for the second rise. After the suggested 20 minutes, I came back to put the muffins in the preheated oven. The dough had crested the muffin tins and some of it stuck to the plastic wrap when I removed it. I will need to remember to spray the plastic wrap with non stick spray before covering next time. I was afraid that the muffins would deflate because part of the dough stuck to the plastic wrap, but this wasn't the case. The muffins cooked beautifully in the oven and were nice and fluffy on top.

After cooling for a while, I added the crosses to the tops. I always misjudge the amount of frosting for anything I make. I either have half left when I am done or I run out super early and have to make another batch. Somehow I managed to get it just right this time. I was more than a little shocked and very happy about that. I put the buns in a tightly sealed container and put them aside to take to work the next day.

I brought in my hot cross buns and some OJ to lab meeting and everyone was surprised. Only a few people ate some before the meeting, so I was worried they didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. Perhaps they needed to be warmed for a few seconds to taste better. But after the meeting, people took a bunch with them and the last 4 were gone within a few minutes of placing them in the hallway.

I had one person tell me he loved the muffins and actually liked that they were taller and fluffier than normal hot cross buns. He also said that he had bought some at the store in past, but was always disappointed. He said mine tasted so fresh and wonderful and he had forgotten how much difference there is between processed baked goods at the store versus handmade treats. That made me very happy, you have no idea.

I think these were another great success. The greatest success is that I think I am not fairly comfortable with yeast breads. Each time things go a little better and I am a little less stressed during the entire baking process. I still need to make my cinnamon buns, I will get to those as soon as I can.

Eating Well Chili Con Queso

My husband is a cheese say the least. He loves all sorts of cheeses and cheese dips and it is no surprise that his favorite food is pizza. I happened to come across this version of chili con queso that uses low fat milk and corn starch to thicken up this dip ( I think Eating Well is becoming another one of my favorite recipe websites, I have liked all the things I have made so far.

For this dip, I used 1% milk and 2% cheddar and followed the recipe. When discussing the recipe ahead of time, I asked my husband if he wanted the scallions and cilantro as a part of the dip. He said to make it just the way the recipe suggested, so that is what I did, including the optional cayenne pepper. I wasn't sure how he would feel about the diced tomatoes since he isn't much of a veggie fan, especially ones that are in chunky pieces. But he seemed to be ok with the diced tomatoes in this recipe, which made me happy since I love tomatoes.

The recipe was easy to follow, the only thing was that the cooking times are always a bit longer than the recipe says. But I seem to find that for most recipes, it always takes a bit longer to bring to a boil or for water to evaporate or chicken to cook through than recipes say. Which is one reason why I usually ignore preparation times. The other is that my knife skills aren't the fastest, so it seems to take me forever to chop up veggies.

The final dip turned out pretty well, we were both happy with it. I think next time we will skip the cilantro, which I am alright with since it isn't one of my favorite flavors. I was happy when my husband suggested we omit it in the future. I tried to talk him out of adding it in the first place, but he wanted to try it. At least we both know now what it would taste like and not have to wonder in the future.

So in the end, this will be a repeat recipe in our home. It satisfies my husband's craving for all things cheese and it makes me happy that it has lower fat ingredients without sacrificing flavor or consistency and it sneaks in a few tomatoes into his diet.