Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baking tips, utensils and Chocolate Dishwater

Hi everybody!
Yea, I know, it's been a while. I have been living in my whirlwind, whipping, melting, baking ,delivering and lots of chocolate dishwater! I am having a blast doing these authentic German and Austrian desserts. Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed, but I just suck it up and put my nose to the grindstone and trudge forward, one chocolate dipped cherry at a time. Pretty soon, the end result comes to be and I pass it off to Viener Fest with a sense of accomplishment. Still pinching myself. Usually I leave a chocolate mess behind, since I create so many making various desserts at once. The "clean as you go" technique isn't always possible, at least for me, when you are making a ganache for the Opera Torte while you are preparing the apricot glaze for the Sacher Torte and melting chocolate for the German Chocolate and chopping nuts and preparing buttercream. Then I need chocolate for the tree silhouettes, and a different chocolate for the cherries, not to forget the whipped chocolate cherry ganache  for the Black Forest and fresh whipped cream too. That is only a few of the messes I create on  a very regular basis. I am messing up dishes faster than I can wash them. I not only could use an assistant, that would work for free, or Apple Strudel, I need an extra hand or two. For now, I will just do the best I can not to leave too much to clean after the delivery.
I haven't been doing much cooking lately. Mostly quick fix or crockpot. By the time I finish the baking and several sinks full of chocolate dishwater, I simply do not want to make another mess.

I have, however, gained a little knowledge in the past few months that have made my baking adventure a little easier. Since I am self taught, some of this will be too elementary for y'all experts.
 I figured I would share some of the things that have been instrumental in maintaining my sanity and eased the task at hand.

Stainless steel mixing bowls are wonderful! Lightweight, stackable for easy storage,they can be used like a double boiler top for melting stuff, easy to clean and they won't break when you throw them. Oops, I meant drop them :)

A small offset baking spatula is vital. You think that butter knife is the same thing, but no, it is inferior.

When making fussy frostings, like french buttercream, room temp butter means room temp. Another thing, most problems with it can be whipped away, just keep that mixer going full speed and cop a little attitude with that stuff. If it fails, it's only frosting, you can start over. Don't waste a bunch of time trying to recreate what might have been, Cut your losses and move on. Trust me on this.

If you are whipping cream to frost a cake, do it on med low speed with a hand mixer. As it starts to thicken, turn it down to low. You need to feel the resistance to know the proper thickness. It takes a little longer but I promise, it will stay firmer longer.

Replace liquid with buttermilk when baking chocolate cakes. Never been a fan of the stinky stuff till now.

Get you a couple of those scraper spatula things. I got mine at the dollar tree and they are so handy. I transfer cakes with them, scrape the stuck on melted and chilled chocolate glaze off in a snap, and smooth the sides of my cakes as well. There are many uses for these little things.

Invest in a KitchenAide if you can. A big professional one if possible. I got mine at Costco for about the same price as a regular sized one. If you aren't a member, you probably know someone who is. Speaking of Costco, they are a bakers best friend. Awesome deals on many of the things you will need. Maybe not as much as I go through, but a great place to stock up for holiday baking, or semi annual shopping.

Always test your cake batter to make sure you didn't forget the sugar.(Hard way lesson learned)

Preheat your oven for at least 20 minutes. You will get more even cooking.

Buy a can of Bakers Joy. I will never grease and flour again.

Sift your flour. And only beat your batter a couple of minutes once it is added. It create a tough holey cake if you over beat after it is added. You can go crazy beating the batter before adding flour, it will only make it fluffier.

Use light colored pans, preferably shiny. Dark pans tend to burn. If using them decrease heat to 325 and check cake early.

I know there are probably more things that just haven't come to mind. I will update when I think of them. Also, I am open to suggestions and tips from you. As I stated before, I am self taught and have never until now done accelerated multiple baking ventures that require a lot of steps and various forms of chocolate and lots of eggs.
 Those Europeans do some strange things to their eggs. I have always been accustomed to mixing it all together and whipping it up, or mixing liquid and then adding dry ingredients. One of my recipes starts off by beating just the eggs for 5 minutes on high. It has been a fun adventure, at times mind boggling, but I'm grateful for this experience. I probably would have never even heard of an Opera Torte, or a Sacher Torte if it weren't for this. Now, I have to say, I make a respectable version of both.

My final piece of advice, just go for it. Push your limits. You will amaze yourself.

Till next time... I got some chocolate dishwater to tend to.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Made The Scene!

Hi Everybody!
Just wanted to share some thrilling news. Viener Fest got reviewed in the Nashville Scene. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Scene, it is the entertainment paper. If there is something going on in Nashville, or close by, it will be in the Scene. It is a well written and widely distributed weekly paper that most everyone I know reads.
My Black Forest Cake is featured, and I got a mention! Hey, not bad for a small town girl. Here's the link if you want to check it out. If you find yourself in Nashville, stop by and enjoy a delicious meal and why not indulge in a hand crafted authentic dessert while you are there.

A block from the Parthenon, Viener Fest brings a taste of Vienna to the Athens of the South: Austria and Hungry

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Yesterday I had a craving for soup. The weather had a crisp fall feel to it here in Tennessee, which is somewhat rare this early. I love soup and could eat it everyday, especially when fall and winter rolls around. I have never made this kind of soup before, and I sort of had to wing it, since I didn't plan on making it. I looked at a few recipes online and went from there. I didn't follow any one recipe. I did what I usually do; used bits and pieces of a few for a good base idea and just go with the flow. Sometimes you get a winner, other times, it's lesson learned, follow the recipe next time! Anyway, I was quite pleased with my results and will most definitely make this again. I can't wait to have some leftover for lunch, well brunch, since I don't think I can wait till lunch!

You need about 2 to 3 cups of cooked chicken. I used two frozen boneless chicken breasts boiled in 41/2 cups of salted water until done. After it started to boil I reduced the heat and covered the pot and simmered till done. Remove chicken and reserve broth. I suppose you could use another method for your chicken and used store bought broth. I didn't want to go to the store and this was one of those spur of the moment ideas.

2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
4 cups chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn (I used frozen)
1 small can chopped green chili peppers
1 small can enchilada sauce
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin (Or less if you want it milder.You can add more later if you aren't sure)
1 teaspoon chili powder
Dash of red pepper flakes
Dash of pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornmeal mixed with a little bit of hot water(optional)
Monterrey Jack cheese, green onions, sour cream, avocado, what ever you have.
Most people cut up corn tortillas to add to the soup when serving. I didn't have any so I used tortilla chips.

Heat oil in soup pot, add onion and garlic.
Cook until tender, add tomatoes, chili peppers, and spices.
Continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken, black beans, enchilada sauce, corn and broth.
Stir well and cook at a high simmer for about an hour.
About 40 minutes in, add the cornmeal mixture if desired.
Not exactly sure how long I cooked it. You will know when it is done, the smell will overcome you and you will be intoxicated by the aroma!

Allow to sit for about 15 minutes before serving.
I topped mine with a bit of Mexican blend shredded cheese and a few tortilla chips.
It is satisfying and absolutely delicious. Enjoy!

This is what it looked like before I sunk the chips and cheese and scarfed it down!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vegan Lentil Stew

I have discovered another winner from Alicia Silverstone's book, "The Kind Diet." Although I am not vegan, or even vegetarian, this stew (more of a soup, really) is so good. It is healthy and hearty, simple to prepare and cheap to boot! A definite win in my book! You don't often find me singing praises for vegan food, and I have never really eaten lentils very much, and this is the very first time in my life that I have ever cooked with them! I know, right? What the heck is wrong with me? A foodie who (is no spring chicken, by the way) has never cooked lentils? Well, they just weren't that common in my house growing up and I always associated them with green peas for some reason. I just figured I wouldn't like them so I never bothered to cook them. I have found a new curiosity for them and can't wait to compliment some other soup and stew recipes with them. I tried to find a copy of this recipe online straight from her book, but didn't succeed, so I will copy it straight from my copy. I did make a couple of substitutions which I will note.

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large onions, cut into chunks
2 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1/4 cup shoyu ( I used Bragg's Liquid Amino, which is a vegan substitute for soy sauce)
5 cups (I used 4) vegetable broth
3 tomatoes, cored and diced
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
5  (I used 4) cups water

Combine the first six ingredients together in a small bowl.
Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Make sure it is big enough for all the liquid.
Add garlic, onions, celery, carrot and potato to pot along with half the seasoning mixture and the shoyu.
Cook, stirring frequently for about 7 minutes, until the onions are tender.

Add water, broth, tomatoes and lentils.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat and simmer with the lid askew for 30 minutes.
Add the remaining seasoning mixture and cook for another 20 minutes or so until the lentils are soft.

My photography (or whatever you want to call it) does not do this dish justice. You must try this. It is so good I had it for breakfast this morning! I think I even dreamed about it.

Kristin Chenoweth's "Chenolicious White Trash Cookies"

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of Kristin Chenoweth. She is that adorable and funny actress, Tony Award winning Broadway star, TV star, author of  "A Little Bit Wicked" and the person responsible for me singing the praises of her oh so simple, yet awesome cookies. I love the name she chose for these indulgent little treats. I appreciate the fact that she is celebrating the fact that we all (or most I should say) have a little white trash in us, so why not claim it and wear it as a badge of honor? Plus, life is too short for stressing over the labels we are given, so I applaud her for throwing this one out there, and these damn cookies!
I haven't read her book yet, but I plan too. I did not even realize we had it in the house. Although, I should have expected as much, since both of my kids absolutely love her, and  "Wicked."
My daughter came home from a long day at work in a big retail chain on the last day of "Tax Free Weekend" with a big ole roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and a can of vanilla frosting and immediately turned on the oven, before changing into her comfy clothes. I asked her what she was planning on doing with those items. Her reply was "Make me some Chenolicious White Trash Cookies and eat about half of them. After the day I have had, I deserve it." No complaints here. I mean, you really can't go wrong with chocolate chip cookies and frosting. My daughter is great at finding easy sinfully good desserts from celebrities on the internet and in books, so I just sat back and enjoyed the smell of cookies baking and waited in anticipation. Anything with Chenoweth's name on it is fabulous, so we just got all white trash with her cookies and I believe they are share worthy, so here you go. I am copying this exactly as she wrote it in her book.

A blonde moment Kristin herself would be proud of:
When I mentioned to my daughter, Skye, that I had posted this recipe, she asked me "What does it mean by 'bake on wrapper?' I replied "What are you talking about? You can't bake them on the wrapper." She showed me the sentence ' Bake as directed on wrapper.' I cracked up! We looked at each other and Skye said "Wow, that really was a blonde moment." Need I explain? (Bless Your Heart) :)


"Take a cudgel of that frozen chocolate chip cookie dough you buy at the grocery store and resist the  temptation to eat most of it raw.
Bake as directed on wrapper.
Lick plastic wrapper. Crack open a can of Betty Crocker ready-to-spread vanilla frosting and slather that on the bottom of each cookie with a butter knife-liberally if you are a Democrat, prudently if you're Republican.
Lick butter knife. Clap two cookies together forming one big, fat good-time sandwich. Done!"

Guess you can tell from the amount of frosting and the manner in which it was applied what political affiliation my daughter is! My suggestion, everybody needs to do it the liberal way in this case!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Oreo Peanut Butter Brownie Cups

Talk about all your favorite things! Here you get three of them all in one sinfully delicious bite. I must warn you, these things are addicting! You need to have people on hand to share them with unless you have some willpower of steel!
The beauty of this recipe is that it is so easy. I have personally never made them, but my daughter found this recipe somewhere and has made them a couple of times. Each time they haven't lasted very long, and no fesses up to how many they have actually eaten. It is still a mystery where a good third of the batch went. I guess the cat must have grown thumbs and took some to the neighbor that is always giving her treats as a neighborly gesture. Who knows? I know one thing for sure, I love them, but I'm glad they are almost gone because they will definitely tempt you.
Go ahead, try some. They are simple, affordable and something you will crave again. They travel well and the clean up is easy. What have you got to lose? If you eat too many, it sure won't be pounds, but you only live once, so have three of your favorites all in one bite every now and then.

All you need is a box of brownie mix 
A package of Oreos
Some peanut butter, we use creamy
A cupcake pan
Some cupcake paper liners
One 9x13 box of mix will make 24

Place an Oreo in the bottom of lined cupcake tin
Scoop a teaspoon of peanut butter on top of it.
Place prepared brownie batter on top.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 18 to 20 minutes.
That is all! Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rainbows Everywhere!

The past couple of weeks I have been making cakes to be used as props for a production of  "The Boys In The Band" that ran at Out Front On Main Theater in Murfreesboro. The play is based in 1968 and is a story of a group of gay guys getting together to celebrate a birthday, hence the cake prop. They have to actually cut and eat it on set. The play is quite popular, and still relevant today in some regards. If you ever get a chance to see it, you should. It brings a new perspective to what it must have been like to be gay in 1968.

 Well, I didn't really go over the top with any of the cakes, but I provided them with some tasty ones. I actually came up with a couple of delicious creations quite by accident. I will share those later. I didn't bother taking photos of most of them, so when I recreate the Coconut Cake using coconut water in the cake mix instead of water, I will post that too. I also did a vanilla cake with a white chocolate ganache that I hear was fabulous. If  I can remember exactly what I did, I will share that too. I really regret not taking pics of most of these. I didn't decorate them, that's not really my thing, taste is most important. If a cake tastes good for an informal affair, such as this, that is beautiful enough all it's own.

The exception to this is the rainbow cake I created for the boys for Saturday's show. It was Pride Fest Day in Nashville that day, and the Out Front team, along with some of the cast, were there to promote the theater.  It is blazing hot in Nashville this time of year, and I knew they would be wiped out after spending the day in the heat, then doing a show that night, to what turned out to be a huge crowd.The cast did not know what kind of cake was lurking under that white cream cheese frosting. It was pretty tall and kinda cute and festive, was all they knew. When Bernard cut into the birthday cake during the play, the rainbow was released! It was quite a sight to see the guys stay in character while doing double takes at the cake. It was a nice touch, and my little tribute to them in honor of Pride and a successful run.
I didn't really do anything special to make the cake. I just used two boxes of white cake mix and made three 9 inch layers out of each box. I separated the batter into three bowls and added food coloring to each one to obtain the desired color. Be careful not to over cook the layers. It takes less time since the layers are thinner.

I used almost three batches of cream cheese frosting made with an 8 oz pack of cream cheese, a stick of butter, and about three cups of confectioners sugar in each! It was a very heavy cake! All in all, it was a success, and a complete joy to make. I will probably do another one someday, just not real soon. There aren't many occasions when a six layer cake is called for that I run  across in my day to day life, but Pride Day is most definitely one of them. Everything is over the top, and rainbow filled, so it blended in just perfectly!