Monday, April 27, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Here's what is on the menu for this week:

Monday - spaghetti and meatballs, french bread, carrots

Tuesday - creamy enchiladas, green veg

Wednesday - pepperoni pizza

Thursday - smoked sausage, sauerkraut, pierogies

Friday - turkey spaghetti, green veg, brownies

Saturday - turkey macaroni bake, green veg, final cake from fondant class

Sunday - OAMC Big Day so who knows?

Do you know what you're eating this week? If you would like some menu plan inspiration, be sure to check out Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie to see what others are having!

Once a Month Cooking (OAMC)

My New Year's Resolution was to plan out our weekly menus at the beginning of each week. Each Sunday I would take a scrap piece of paper and write out the days of the week. Then I would fill in the days with whatever meal I planned on making that night. I hung the paper on the fridge as a reminder throughout the week.

Sounds simple, right? Wrong. It took me FOREVER to decide what to make. The hard part is that I only make meals from my stockpile, so if I don't already have it and it's not on sale, then I'm not making it. I buy all my beef and pork from the Sippels a couple times a year. When I run out of a particular cut of meat, then I'm out until they harvest another animal. Occasionally I'll pick up chicken or smoked sausage or canned tuna from the grocery store, but only when it's a super deal and not all that often.

As with any resolution I could only keep up so long. I did well with this until about the end of February. At that point I was still writing out the days of the week on paper, but then I would only fill out one or two days on Sunday. I'd go day by day just like I had been doing before.

One day while catching up on one of the blogs I read, Stretching a Buck, Marcy had a guest post by Tricia who is half of the blog Once A Month Mom, which is all about once-a-month-cooking, also known as freezer cooking, bulk cooking, etc. I had heard of OAMC before but never really tried it. I gave Tricia's blog a look and liked what I saw.

Each month, Tricia and her friend Cortney put together a monthly menu complete with shopping list. Throughout the month they post when a local store has an ingredient on sale so it can be purchased inexpensively. Anything left on the shopping list will need to be bought the final week right before the Big Day when the entire menu will be prepared and frozen.

So I have a problem with the OAMM menu. Remember how I purchase meat? I don't do it at the grocery store. April's menu is full of ham dishes. I like ham, but I don't have one. I'm completely out of chicken.

I decided that I like the OAMC concept, but that I'll have to devise my own menu to fit what works best for me and my family. I think OAMC (or twice a month cooking) will help me in my meal planning.

My next Big Day is scheduled for May 3. If I don't answer the phone, it's not because I'm ignoring you. It's because I'm going to be very busy making 2, 3 or even 4 weeks of meals. I gotta stay focused.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Joe!

Today is my husband Joe's 35th birthday. It's hard to believe that I'm married to someone that old!
I had asked him what he wanted me to do for his birthday cake a couple weeks ago. He said that he'd like it to be golf themed. He also requested german chocolate cake with coconut pecan frosting, but I already knew that was his favorite flavor, so I had those items stockpiled a while. The frosting was free (I love double coupons!) and the mix was an ok sale price.

So I brainstormed for a while and decided that I wanted to use the Wilton Sports Ball Pan. I wanted a design that would permit part of the cake to go with him to work yet still leave some at home for the family. I toyed with the idea of a golf ball stuck in the rough as well as one on the fairway. The "rough" version would include one-half of the sports ball sitting on top of a square or round cake with grass icing to give the impression that the ball was buried in the rough. The "fairway" version was pretty much the same thing except there would have been the whole ball resting on shorter grass. My sister said the "fairway" cake would be more impressive with its 3D ball, so I was leaning that direction. Either way the cake would be destroyed if I tried to take the sections apart, so that he could take some to work and leave the rest at home. I just didn't like that idea.

Then a couple days ago while lying in bed, I got the idea to do cupcakes. It solved my separation issue, but posed a new one. How would I incorporate the coconut-pecan frosting in a cupcake that would be iced with buttercream? I knew I would fill the space between the two ball halves with the coconut-precan frosting, but I had never tried filling cupcakes before. No time like the present, right?

Wilton sells a cupcake decorating kit that includes a Tip #230, which is a long round tip that can be inserted into a cupcake or other baked goodie to be filled. I really want this tip, but I haven't seen it sold separately and I already have or don't want the other items sold in the kit. I would have to make do with what I already own. I decided to use the largest round tip I own, a #12. I filled the bag with frosting and inserted the tip into the cupcake and squeezed. It worked rather well other than the clogging pecans. Note to self: if you add nuts to a piping bag, make sure to chop them smaller than the opening in the tip.

After filling the cupcakes, I covered them with green grass and placed one buttercream golf ball on each. Ordinarily I would have smooth-iced the cupcake first and then used the grass tip #233, but I like the brown cake peeking through. It makes it kinda look like dirt and grass.

One day when Joe wasn't around, I pulled a golf ball out of his golf bag to use as a model for his cake. It happened to be a Nike One Platinum that he found while out golfing one day. I changed a couple details to emphasize that this is his 35th birthday. Can you guess which ones?

The dimples were tedious, but relatively simple to make. I smooth-iced the cake first and let the icing crust over a bit. Then I used the ball end of a ball and veining tool to carefully make the impressions. I used cornstarch to keep the tool from sticking and pulling away too much icing.

This was my first experience with a three-dimensional cake. It was a little scary and not without its mistakes. I have definitely learned some things from this cake:

1. DO NOT listen to the Wilton directions concerning the quantity of cake batter, baking time and baking temperature when using Betty Crocker (maybe other brands too) cake mixes. I used one mix and it made two ball halves as well as 4 cupcakes. The balls baked at 350 for about 44 minutes. After cooling and settling, that seemed about perfect.

2. DO use a firm textured cake to ensure that the assembled cake will hold up. Wilton suggests using only 1 T of oil per cake mix.

3. DO ice the cake on its final cake board. It is impossible to move it without digging your fingers into the icing when you only have a small board supporting the cake.

4. DO make sure the bottom hemisphere is perfectly level before filling. Shave more cake off the base if necessary.

5. DO dowel the cake as an insurance policy, but cut it a tad short so that it won't show through if the cake continues to settle after icing or in transport.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

3-Step Jambalaya

I like to cook, but often my meals are Semi-Homemade rather than from scratch. Quick and easy is usually the name of the game around here.

Tonight I had nothing prepared. No idea what to make. Then I remembered a recipe I clipped from the coupons a few weeks ago. It was the March 8th Red Plum to be exact. The recipe called for Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage, which I stocked up on last week at Kroger. Pretty great deal that I would have overlooked without my Grocery Game List. I bought 8 packages. My List subscription more than paid for itself with the savings on the sausage. Ah, but I digress.

I pulled out the recipe and read over the ingredients. I had everything! But half of the ingredients were in the freezer. No biggie. I set the items out on the counter and walked away for a few minutes to give the stuff time to defrost a bit. The onions, peppers and tomatoes were still icy when I tossed them in the skillet. The sausage was still cold when I sliced it, but I didn't have any troubles passing the knife through it.

You're probably wondering exactly what the recipe is. Well, Hillshire Farm called it "3-Step Jambalaya". I thought that jambalaya usually had seafood in it, but this doesn't and that's fine here. Joe wouldn't have touched it if it had had any seafood. Really it's just doctored up Rice-a-Roni with some veggies and meat, but it was good and I like good. Good enough that I might save my last box of Rice-a-Roni especially for one of the 6 remaining smoked sausages.

3-Step Jambalaya

2 T butter or margarine
rice from a 6.8 oz pkg of Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 c chopped onion
3/4 c chopped bell pepper (I only used 1/2 c and it was green)
2 c water
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained (I used my last pint bag of frozen tomatoes from 2008. If you use canned tomatoes, I suggest trying a no-salt-added one because this dish is plenty salty already)
seasoning packet from rice mix
1 pkg Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices (I used the lite variety)
hot sauce, to taste (I happened to use Frank's Red Hot, but Tabasco would probably be good too)

1. In a large saucepan over high heat (I used medium since my stuff was still frozen), saute the butter, rice, garlic, onion and pepper for 5 minutes.
2. Mix in the water, tomatoes, seasoning packet and sausage; bring to a boil.
3. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is cooked. (I stirred occasionally during cooking to prevent sticking. The sauce was creamier due to the stirring.) Remove from heat and stir. Add hot sauce to taste.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wilton 2

In February I took Wilton 2 classes. Wilton 2 emphasizes flowers and introduces a couple new icings. Whereas Wilton 1 used only Buttercream icing, Wilton 2 added Royal icing and Color Flow to our repertoire.

We learned how to make rosebuds. The ones in the picture are made of royal icing, but in class we used buttercream. They're not bad and look great as part of a rose spray. That same week we also made chyrsanthemums, but I don't have any pictures because I didn't like a single one that I made, so I trashed them all.

The next week we used color flow to make these ugly birds. Color flow is interesting stuff. It smells and tastes horrible. It's redeeming quality is that it can be used to make plaques that are hard as a rock. This bird was supposed to go on my final cake in this course, but as you can see, I never even got around to removing the bird from the waxed paper. Maybe some day.

We also made our first batch of royal icing. I had never worked with it before, so I had no idea what to expect. Somehow I added WAY too much water, so it was super thin. It wasn't good at all. In class I added in extra powdered sugar, but I still didn't have it at the right consistency until the next day when I added even more p. sugar at home. Petals lose definition if the icing isn't stiff enough.

We learned apple blossoms, violets (see final cake pictures below), and violet leaves.

We also learned daisies, but some of mine could easily pass as a sun on a southwestern themed cake.

Daffodils are probably my all-time favorite flower in real life. Icing daffodils are cute, but not quite as high on my list.

Primroses are simple and would be great fillers.

These three roses are not Wilton Roses. They are Victorian Roses. The technique is the same, but it uses a different tip which produces a softer petal edge. I prefer the Victorian Rose to the Wilton Rose. I dried all the flowers except the rosebuds in flower formers (think paper towel core cut in half). The purple flower got mushed when I put it in the former to dry.

In Wilton 2 we only made one cake. The last week of class we learned the basketweave and rope border at the beginning of class. Then the rest of class was spent decorating our cakes. The basketweave is not difficult, but it is tedious and repetitive. My hand was tired by the time I got all the way around this small oval cake. How come whenever we practice something we do it perfectly, but when we do it for real, we don't do it as well? I did the rope well on my practice board, but on the cake it looks like the rope is unraveling.

The pansy was probably my favorite flower in this class. The ones on the top of the cake were all purple, all yellow or purple and yellow. On the bottom border I placed violet flowers and violet leaves.