Thursday, February 24, 2011

Traveling: Philippines (Part 3)

While I was in the Philippines I picked up a disposable underwater camera to play with for snorkeling purposes.  The pictures didn't turn out great, I remember the fish and sea being much more vivid, but they give you an idea of what I saw...

While rocking this awesome get up.

As the water got deeper, the sea floor just got to be a more amazing aqua color. 

I saw a lot of these striped little guys.  I have to say the fish coming so close to touch me kind of freaked me out, even though they were tiny and harmless a bikini offers very little protection from the sensation of things brushing up against you. 

The coral was so interesting, different forms and colors abound. 

So much is going on underneath the surface of that big, blue sea.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Explore: Griffith Park

My friend, Hale, and I headed up to Griffith Park Sunday evening for a night hike.  We met at the bear statue at the corner of Los Feliz and Fern Dell.

I believe the handiwork above is the work of the Knotty Girls?

I just liked the bark on this tree, it looks like most of it had been removed in some way and all that was left was this patch of bark that looks like a topographical model.

We hiked up to the observatory and made sure to check the view periodically along the way up.  I love pink and purple sunsets, so painterly.

Then we followed the ridge line up to the top of Mt. Hollywood.

You could see to the water, downtown, Burbank, Glendale and many more places.  It gets a bit cold at night, but it was a beautiful hike and a nice workout.

And since Griffith Park is surrounded by urban areas, we walked a few blocks over to Thai Town for some noodles to warm us up.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Handmade: Romantic Dinner

For Valentine's Day, I decided that the way to T's heart involved a giant buffalo sirloin steak.  I used this steak au poivre recipe from the Pioneer Woman.  I didn't have brandy or heavy cream, so I used red wine and buttermilk, it was just fine.  The sauce was fantastic, and browning the steak on the stove and then throwing it in a hot oven is the only way I've ever been able to cook a perfect steak.

I topped the steak with some bacony red wine mushrooms.  I cooked a few pieces of bacon in a skillet, drained off most of the fat, added the mushrooms and cooked them for a couple of minutes.  I added some red wine to deglaze the pan and let that simmer and reduce.  Then I put the mushrooms in a bowl and set them aside.  

For the asparagus, I used the same pan, added a bit more bacon fat and cooked the asparagus.  Then I crumbled up the cooked bacon on top.

I also made some crostini with pesto and mozzarella di buffala for extra credit.

And to finish off dinner I tried to go healthy with some beautiful berries, but who am I kidding, I made a chocolate fondue to dip those berries in and threw in some leftover cubes of red velvet cake that I had in the freezer from my Valentine's baking extravaganza.  Chocolate fondue is fantastically simple, I grabbed a double boiler added about a cup of chocolate chips, 1/4 cup of half and half and a splash of vanilla.  After some melting and stirring it was done and super yummy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Handmade: Heart (lips) Cake

My boss sent everyone in the office the picture of the heart cake from I am Baker and I instantly knew that I had to give it a try.

So, I did, and it didn't turn out perfectly, but it sure tastes good and it was fun to make, and it kind of looks like some great red lips, so that still works.

I used this white cake recipe and this red velvet recipe (this has to be my favorite red velvet recipe that I've ever tried).  For the icings, I used basic cream cheese frosting (1 package of cream cheese, 1 stick of butter, vanilla and powdered sugar) to mix into the red velvet cake and basic buttercream frosting (2 sticks of butter, vanilla and powdered sugar) to assemble and ice the cake.

I only had three 9" pans, so I used my springform pan for the 4th cake and used some foil to bring down the size a bit.  It worked out pretty well.

I sort of glanced at the tutorial and then gave it a shot.  I did some things slightly differently.

I made a parchment paper target instead of making a twine and toothpick compass.

I made a cake crumb and frosting cone for the indentation of the heart because I wasn't so good at carving the cake that intricately.

I marked the top layer with a toothpick.

And I trimmed up the sides just to neaten everything up.

After some more time in the freezer (freezing cakes is so much more important than I ever thought) I crumb-coated and frosted the cake.

Then to decorate it, I took this powdered sugar idea from Pioneer Woman and adapted it a bit.  Though, in hindsight I absolutely should have used chipboard so that it would have been easier to avoid extra sugar flying everywhere.

I used an x-acto and some parchment paper to make a random heart template for the top.

I mixed powdered food coloring into powdered sugar for some color.

I placed the template on the iced cake.

Sprinkled on my pink sugar.

Then I tried to carefully remove the parchment paper, but it got stuck to the icing and a little extra sugar got everywhere, but the hearts were still legible.

And for the big finish, here are the 'hot lips' that ended up inside.

And I had enough leftover red velvet cake to make this little guy for my Valentine's Eve dinner party.

I took a 6" round template, cut the cake out of the 9" x 13" pan, froze it and sliced it into three layers.  I added a bit of cream cheese frosting and dusted with the pink sugar.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Handmade: Easy Prettification

I can't pipe and I'm not very good with icing, so I do things like this...

Ice a cake as neatly as you can (in this case not very) and ring the edge of the cake in chocolate chips.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Handmade: Dad's Christmas Quilt

My mom, siblings and I made a quilt for my dad this Christmas.  Now, Dad is about 6'-5'", so this is a king-size quilt.  There is no way I could have made this myself, but it was really fun to help out on it.  It was a perfect way to feel very accomplished without having to do a ton of work.

Mom and I discussed the pattern and fabric choices, she raided her stash, cut out all of the blocks and mailed them to me neatly packaged with some instructions.

I spent a couple of weekends sewing blocks together and laying them out.

My living room floor was not big enough for the whole thing, but I got creative and finished the top.  Then I went home about a week before Christmas and we raced to finish by Christmas Eve.  Mom sewed on the binding and we all helped set it up and quilt it on her gigantic quilting machine.  And Grandma saved the day by hand sewing the binding on  that we could finish with about 12 hours to spare.  Score!

The pattern was simple; 9 squares each direction and the squares are just 3 different sized squares centered inside their borders of various widths.  Dad loved it.

Quilting tip: Batik (hand dyed) fabrics are the easiest fabrics to sew with.  They are kind of stiff, they don't unravel too much and they sew together easily without a lot of excessive pinning.  And they're gorgeous.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Hello to those joining me from Weddingbee.  I hope you find something you like and for now I'll leave you with some links to last year's Valentine's Day posts since this year's V-day is just around the corner.

CookiesCandy & Cards

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Handmade: Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

I started out with a rich Devil's Food Cake recipe from Baked Explorations, but I baked it in a sheet pan lined with parchment, so the cooking time went down to 20 minutes.  I'm not going to rewrite their recipe, because I didn't change anything, but you should get their book.  It's definitely my favorite baking book.

Then I cut out the layers (3-6" layers and 3-3" layers) and started carefully removing the excess cake (to be used later, but you can nibble on a bit now).

I just guessed at the frosting, but I'm sure it's been done before and it came out tasting exactly like the inside of a Reese's Pieces.

1/2 c. natural creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Whip the heck out of it, until it's light and fluffy.

Slowly add in 2 c. of powdered sugar, it'll be too dry and get kind of crumbly.

Add in milk 1 tbsp. at a time, until it's perfect (I think I used 2-ish).

Then I dumped in 1/3 c. of mini chocolate chips and started assembling.

Cake, icing, cake, icing, dowels, stacking... whew, almost done.

The small layers

The big layers

Then I made cake balls with the remaining cake and icing, and a little extra peanut butter because I was out of icing.

I dipped them in chocolate and let them set up and added a little gold luster dust.

I stuck in the varied size balls at various heights and called this cake done.  I really wish I had some more of it right now.