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Chocolate Covered Cherry Heaven!!

I think the part I enjoy most about making cottage foods is the creative process. I know that many people would probably do things the easy way (it does make the most sense). Google a recipe and use that recipe word for word as it is. Oh, but not me. I am known for having to do things the hard way. I look at tons of recipes. I read them to see if they sound like they will work. There is a science to cooking, and after reading winning recipes and those of losing recipes, you begin to build a skill to detect when something doesn’t look just right about a recipe–for example, a recipe calling for 8 cups of confectioner’s sugar AND a five 5 ounce can evaporated milk. I can read that one sentence and tell you that the cake would be mega sweet. I take all that I learn from this recipe and that recipe, and then I create my own (from scratch of course).

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake

Well, this cake is my newest creation. The customer’s husband was turning 40, and she wanted a special cake for him. I asked what his favorite flavors were, and she said, “Chocolate and cherries.” Well, I couldn’t resist the desire to make buttercream filled chocolate covered cherries to top the cake. This cake weighs in at 7 lb. 10 oz. It has a Maraschino Cherry buttercream filling and chocolate ganache frosting on a basic chocolate cake. It was an enjoyable order, and wow, have I gotten LOTS of compliments on the photo on my Facebook page. So tell me, what are your favorite flavors?

UPDATE: I just got a message back from my customer, and I’m really excited about her response to the cake. She said, “The cake was DIVINE!! My husband was so impressed as were our friends. When we FINALLY got home yesterday, we cut some more and shared with both sets of parents and they loved it as well. It really is the best cake we’ve ever had.” WOW!! The best they have EVER had. I’m on the moon right now! That is really a stellar review for an amateur to receive. I know God has blessed me with this gift. I’m excited to see what else I can create.

Pics from My Big Day

I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. After this “Big Day,” I was steady baking, which is a wonderful reason to not have time to blog (but I was thinking of you all).

So if you will recall, I had an order for 80 cupcakes. This order wasn’t for 80 of the same flavor, basic cupcakes. It was an order for four specialty cupcakes (times 20). It was quite a challenge, and I LOVED IT! Here are the results from that day. Everyone was thrilled!! (Click photos to enlarge)

Sam’s Carrot Cake is what I call an “heirloom” recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. I want to share that recipe with everyone because it is BY FAR THE BEST carrot cake I have had. This recipe was used by the grandfather of the poster, and he was well known for always having it on hand. The poster wanted to share the grandfather’s legacy with others, so now I pass it on to you. It is exceptional without icing, but it is slap your mama down good with homemade cream cheese icing, fresh ground sugar and cinnamon on top! UN-BE-LIEV-ABLE!!!

Chocolate Heath Bar is a simple chocolate base with the ever time consuming, but worth it, Swiss Meringue Buttercream icing. Heath bar candy was baked in the base and also dusted on the top.

Lemon Curd filled Lemon is a nice lemon base with freshly made lemon curd (made with Meyer Lemons) and topped with a lightly, lemon flavored buttercream top.

Red Velvet is as it sounds. A wonderful from scratch recipe (as all my recipes are from scratch) that folds in beaten egg whites for a light and fluffy base to off set the heavier homemade cream cheese icing on top.

What Food Legacy Will You Leave Behind?

What food legacy will you leave behind? Fast food, microwave dinners, prepackaged meals, left overs? After being gifted with the talent to cook and bake basically anything I want, I have started considering the legacy that I WOULD have left behind if God hadn’t gifted me with such a talent. I have cooked most of my adult life, but it was really basic cooking. I still am no gourmet by a long shot (not that I would want to be). My legacy would have been one of super-sized menus and prepackaged meals.

Somewhat out of necessity, I started really watching what I purchased when grocery shopping. I made a rule for myself–buy only things that you have to cook yourself (and no, Hamburger Helper doesn’t count). Not only did I notice that my grocery bill dropped, but my cabinets and freezer were nearly always full. Add to that good news, a home that smells like “from scratch” cooking, and the combination is a little hard to beat. I can’t even remember the last time I purchased a “prepacked” meal. The only thing I buy that would even get close to that would be the meatballs that are already prepared for you. I like meatballs over hamburger meat fried out, and they taste good. The time investment in making them myself would cause me to avoid meals with meatballs, so I felt that one diversion was ok.

Magazine titles such as “Cook’s Illustrated,” “Cooks Country,” “America’s Test Kitchen,” and “Mother Earth News all played an integral role in my success as a home cook. While I haven’t studied them a lot, I have gleaned a lot of knowledge from their helpful pages. Now, I am not intimidated by those who cook well. The process doesn’t confuse me. I have organized my kitchen, so I know where everything is and it’s comfortable for me regardless of what dish I am conquering.

Now, the family heritage project. I have started a project encouraging people to write down the recipes of those meals they enjoy for the sole purpose to pass them along to the next generation. Yeah, it takes a little time to write it all down, but it is very much worth it. Not only are you leaving instructions to a memory they will likely want to relive again and again, you also helped to instill better eating habits (as long as your recipe isn’t how to heat a frozen pizza). 🙂 So here is the first card in my family heritage project.

My very own recipe for Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup.

My very own recipe for Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup.

All-time Favorite Cake Flavor? Tell me. What’s yours?

Favorite-Cake-000-Page-1

Cake, Cake, Cake

Valentine’s Day kept me busy for the entire week. I even had some orders unrelated to Valentine’s Day that stemmed from the photos I posted to my Facebook page. I did several different things. I will share with you my week. Maybe you’ll be able to smell a little sweetness from where you are.

This variety box was really fun, but tempering the chocolate wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  The white chocolate tempered easily, but the milk chocolate took longer to harden. It was still enjoyable and makes me look forward to creating chocolate boxes.

Chocolate Dipped Variety Box with Strawberries, Chocolate chip bars, and Pretzel rods

Chocolate Dipped Variety Box with Strawberries, Chocolate chip bars, and Pretzel rods

Next were these incredible strawberry cupcakes. I used local grown strawberries and worked them into my recipe, and when you open the box, you are hit with this unbelievable fragrance of fresh strawberries! I gave my mother one, and she posted on FB that she felt “pampered.” She is a tough one to impress, so I was excited with that feedback.

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Homemade Strawberry Buttercream Icing; Made with local strawberries

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Homemade Strawberry Buttercream Icing; Made with local strawberries

You can’t have Valentine’s Day without Red Velvet cake. I am surprised that people wait until Valentine’s Day to eat Red Velvet cake. It is wonderful cake. These cupcakes were a hit.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Homemade Cream Cheese Icing

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Homemade Cream Cheese Icing

Then, initially for Valentine’s Day, I received an order for a full cake for someone’s hubby. Something happened and the cake had to be postponed to Saturday, but I got word back from my customer that they loved the cake. Her husband was on his 3rd piece. They hadn’t long picked it up. 🙂 I would say that’s a winning feedback to receive.

Red Velvet Cake with Homemade Cream Cheese Icing

Red Velvet Cake with Homemade Cream Cheese Icing

Lastly, the Heath Bar Perfect Chocolate cake with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing. Lots of work, but I loved the outcome. This was the first time trying the Swiss Meringue Buttercream, so I’m sure that is part of the reason why it was a longer process. It need not take long after running through it a time or two. Hoping to get winning feedback from it.

Heath Bar Perfect Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

Heath Bar Perfect Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

One thing I haven’t been able to get my customers to do yet, clean my kitchen. 🙂 I tell them that is one great reason they pay someone to bake for them, so they don’t have to go through the whole process or clean up. What an awesome deal! I am so very thankful for my customers. They have been such a blessing to my family and I. I am looking forward to my cakes becoming a part of their family meals and discussions.

I was abducted by aliens…

…ok, so maybe not, but I really don’t have any other excuse for not posting other than I HAVE BEEN SOOOOO BUSY. Let me update you on all of the excitement.

If you follow my blog, you know that I was applying for my “cottage foods” license. I got it! I finished my food safety training, applied, and had my inspection. Now, I am a legal producer of cottage foods. It’s nice to be on the right side of the law. 🙂 If I can say I was abducted by something, it would be my kitchen. Since I got my license, I have been in my kitchen baking nearly every day. When I am not baking, I am researching all kinds of things about baking. This is just my personality. A friend of mine once said that it didn’t matter what I decided to do, that I would always become a professional at doing it. She’s right. I just educate myself and strive to provide high quality outcomes. When you make that your goal, then everything does seem to turn out to be “professional.” Although, I’m striving for more of a casual, country outcome (with professional results 😉 ).

I think my favorite part of what I do is research. I LOVE searching for recipes. It’s amazing how you can become educated to which recipes will likely work and not work. Sometimes, I can see a problem in a recipe. Other times, I don’t see it and the result shows there was a problem. Either way, I learn from the experience. Whether it’s too much flour or too many eggs, or perhaps not enough egg whites and too many egg yolks–all of that comes into question when deciding why it didn’t work out. Have you ever asked yourself, “what is a large egg?” When you buy eggs from the grocery store, that is pretty much defined for you; however, if you get your eggs from a farm, that definition may vary according to the breed of hen. It does matter.

Grandma's No Recipe Buttermilk Biscuits

Grandma’s No Recipe Buttermilk Biscuits

This week I will be testing some recipes. One recipe isn’t written down. Yeah, fun. It is my grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits. She says she’s been making them since she was 12 (she’s 85 now), so she doesn’t use a recipe. She just knows when it feels right. I have a pan of them getting ready to go into the oven. Actually, the first 9 felt too dry to me. I had room for 3 more biscuits, so I threw together the ingredients working solely from what I felt, and the last 3 felt “right.” How I know what “right” feels like, I have no idea. haha. I’ve never made a truly successful pan of biscuits before. There has always been something off about them. Well, we’re going to see how they work out. I’ll post about it when they are finished baking.

As you see from my photo, I was successful in baking nice, big biscuits. They even tasted good. These would be perfect for a breakfast sandwich because they are firmer, but yummy! Can’t wait til the morning. I’m gonna have a sausage biscuit.

What A Year! Reflecting on 2012

I can’t think of a year in my life that was so full of changes. These are all good changes, which is really nice for a change. I just can’t believe that it all happened to me. It’s like winning the lottery but way better!

1. I had an uneventful, quite successful pregnancy.

2. I had a BEAUTIFUL baby boy 7/5/2012 (who is actually playing with my toes at this very moment–hope he doesn’t suck them like he does his own ewww).

3. I found a new love for my kitchen and for cooking/baking.

4. I have started the process to start my own cottage food kitchen.

5. Although I have plenty to lose, in spite of my pregnancy, I haven’t gained a pound over the course of the year! Yay breastfeeding!!

6. I have finally seen the look of true happiness on the face of my mom and dad. They are totally in love with my son (their 1st grandchild).

7. I left my full-time job (after working outside the home for 24 years) and dedicated myself to care for my son in our home complete with homeschooling.

8. I have seen and heard my husband speak of me to others with satisfaction and pride regarding me as a mother and a homemaker.

My, my, I could go on. I am so happy!! As I begin wrapping up the requirements for my cottage food kitchen, I ask myself, why didn’t I do this before? Well, before–the food in our home came from a cardboard box. Yeah, I could cook, but after working and being just the two of us, we just “picked something up.” Oh the money we spent! Oh the calories and fat we consumed!!

Life is changing. Life HAS changed! I wake to the cooing of my son, or perhaps the screaming that communicates, “I’m wet or hungry or I’ve got gas give me my medicine NOW,” instead of an alarm clock for work. My day is full of changing diapers and making bottles for my wonderful baby (instead of having to deal with a bunch of adults who act like them). My home now has the fragrance of bread, cake or supper, instead of the stale smell of air barely breathed. I never thought I would ever echo my mother, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I can say that before the birth of my son–we were merely existing. Now, we are LIVING. I am SO happy to be alive, and I bake to share that same feeling with others. There is nothing like fresh, homemade baked goods. I have found “my thing.” My niche. I hope you find yours.

Leaving a Legacy

Great Grandma’s Homemade Dressing

In the past, my mother wasn’t very sentimental. I recall learning that she had donated a lot of my and my brother’s things, and I was upset–not because they were mine (ok, maybe because they were mine), but instead, because I valued what she, or another special someone, had given me.

Well, time has passed, and mom is a little more sentimental than she used to be. She now has black and white and other vintage pictures around her home of her family from years past. She has passed on to me a few items that she made by hand. Now that I am home with my little one and learning all of the joys of being a mother, she is sharing some of our family’s amazing recipes also. Note: most of these recipes aren’t in writing (or they were and when I was a teenager, I thought I would do her a favor and write them in a recipe book for her. I saw no need for the tsp, tb, c, etc that littered the pages either, so I left them off.) Uh…yeah! So the recipes she passes along to me are from her memory.

Great Grandma’s Dressing – Isn’t it beautiful?

My family has a lot of great recipes, but everyone knows this dressing. Every year, there are requests for it. For years now, I have wanted to learn to cook it and carry on the tradition of making it for family gatherings. Finally, mom and I got on the phone and hashed out the very rough recipe (not written down). She had me send her video of the consistency of the dressing on her cell phone, and she would tell me to add more chicken stock. It was a very enjoyable experience. It was part of her legacy (whether she realizes it or not). She is passing on to me a great number of things (not materialistic items). Fortunately, some of the family recipes are part of that legacy. Pictured here is baked chicken with great-grandma’s homemade dressing and giblet gravy with a side of salad (that one lone olive killed my photo–so I ate it ;).

Say CHEESE!

It seems that I am on a “food” run lately. Maybe it’s because I have been organizing my kitchen, or maybe I’m organizing my kitchen because I have found that I love to cook. Ok, so that question will not be answered today. I am a little behind in writing, so I am going to try to be a bit brief to get all of my posts in.

Cheesy Burger Bake – my own creation

I love mac-n-cheese, and I love ground beef freshly browned. Add them together with some tomato sauce and basil, and you get Cheesy Burger Melt. This isn’t really mac-n-cheese. It’s macaroni elbows layered with browned ground beef, tomato sauce, dried basil, cheese (3 layers). I baked it for approximately 30 minutes or until the cheese was the desired brownness.

The verdict? It looked good. Smelled good. Should have sat longer to cut into a wedge for serving (but we were eating late). In my opinion, the plain tomato sauce (store brand) lacked the flavor of others I have used. There was nothing really spectacular about it. I think it would have been better if I had used ground Italian sausage. My husband says it was better after being refrigerated a couple of days. Another suggestion might be to have continued on with the hamburger them and added bacon for added flavor and perhaps a shot of mustard for a little kick. I’ll have to try that out one day and update this post.

Kitchen Explosion

Now I have your attention! Yes, my kitchen has experienced an explosion of my interest. When I was in the workplace full-time, I was out of the kitchen full-time. If you read my last article, you know that I am home full-time now (read the article for details on why). To my husband’s delight, I have a new found love for my kitchen. Yes, it’s a bit too small, but as long as I’m the only one in it, it’s just fine for me. Get in my way though, and I lose interest because of bumping into each other at every turn.

So what has gotten my attention and brought such love into my kitchen, great food and being home full-time with my son ! Of course there are several things that brought me around to that realization…the discussion of DIY items with my friend (which made me think of making my own bread, butter, jelly and more), the successful attempt at making a pound cake from scratch

My cake–from scratch! 🙂

(Taste of Home, Million Dollar Pound Cake), the purchase of a couple of All-Clad pans at a bargain price, and being introduced to Cook’s Illustrated magazine and America’s Test Kitchen videos on YouTube. Yes, that’s a lot I know, but one led to another. In a matter of days, this had all happened. It all started from that one conversation with my friend. It’s amazing what contemplation will do.

I have since baked another pound cake (same type) for a church function, and made indoor pulled pork by following a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Can you say, AWESOME. I realized if I continue on this path, there will be a weight gain issue in our home. I was fortunate to find that Cook’s has a healthy recipes cookbook. They take many of the same recipes and work through them to make recipes that result in the same taste but with fewer calories and fat. That is a win, win in my opinion!! I was excited to learn that I can still love cooking without having to give up truly good food, using tried and true recipes, and participating in the fun of cooking led by America’s Test Kitchen. I’m so excited!!

So what’s exploding at your house?

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