Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pregnant Hula Girl Cake!!! (Using Wilton Classic Wonder Mold Doll Pan)

My cousin recently had a luau themed baby shower and I wanted to make her an extra special cake... This is what I came up with:

Pregnant Hula Girl Cake!!!!!
Making this cake wasn't terribly complicated but it did take me a little while to think of what I wanted to do and how I could execute it as simply as possible!
I started off with the Wilton Classic Wonder Mold Doll Pan. I purchased it at my local Michael's store using one of their 50% off a regularly priced item coupons, bringing the price down a good amount!
I have posted before about my favorite chocolate cake recipe, which I have blogged about before. I made a 1.5 batch of that cake for this project.
I assembled the Doll Pan (it comes disassembled slightly to ease in packaging), washed it, then used vegetable oil to grease the interior along with the extra "pole" that will stick through the middle of the cake to make it all bake evenly. 
I baked this cake for well over an hour (I would estimate nearly 70 minutes!). After the 50 minutes they recommended, I checked it every 8-10 to make sure I didn't overcook it.
This is what I ended up with:

Doesnt look perfect but who cares! It's going to be covered in frosting!
The cake baked very evenly. As a precaution, I wrapped dampened strips of towels around the pan. I have noticed this can make a difference in the around the cake domes up.
I used the Wilton tip #789 to frost the cake once I had it on my turn table. I am not exaggerating, that tip has REVOLUTIONIZED cake decorating for me. I used to fuss around and strugged with frosting my cakes, trying to get an even coating on the entire thing and also avoiding those dreaded CRUMBS. By using this tip, you will get a more even coating of frosting and also save a ton of time. In this video, they show you how to use it. I learned how in a Wilton Cake decorating basics class this past month (this will be covered in another blog spot, but yes, it was worth every penny!!!)
Once my cake was coated with a thin layer of the light brown buttercream, I moved onto adding the texture. I used the Wilton tip #233, which is typically used for grass, and used a thinner consistency buttercream dyed with a bit of cocoa powder. This allowed the frosting to come out in longer lines and look more like a grass skirt. I started from the top and worded around and around, going back and filling in areas that seemed a little light.
I used the tip #18 to make some small drop flowers on her skirt.
As for the doll, as you may have noticed, I did a little motifying to the original "ethnic" doll pic to make her not JUST a hula girl, but a pregnant hula girl (this was for a baby shower!!).
I used a thicker consistency buttercream with some cocoa powder added to match the doll's skin color to pipe on a pregnant belly. As it started to dry, I used some parchment paper dampened to smooth around her stomach. I also used buttercream to add the top and the lei.
And that is it!
All the baked goods I brought to the shower!
If you have any questions for me, let me know!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Baking BASICS!

Baking, to me, is relaxing, fun and (usually) delicious... But I know, many people see it as time consuming, stressful and difficult. It doesn't have to be!

Here are a few tips I live by:

- Before embarking on any journey, whether it's a trip or a project, I like to plan everything out. Very carefully and methotically.
  • Take a look at the recipe and make sure you have EVERYTHING you need (preferrably more than enough, just in case).
  • Make sure you have allotted yourself enough time. This will prevent stress and potential mistakes that could ruin your project!
  • Get out what you need. If you've ever watched a cooking show, the chefs always have their materials readily available (this can also be helpful to realize beforehand if you are running low on something essential).
- Read through the entire recipe once before starting. If there are any terms used that you are unfamiliar with, look them up! There are an abundance of YouTube video tutorials to rely on.

- Be sure to pre-heat the oven ahead of time. It's pretty inconvenient to wait, wait, WAIT.

- Speaking of pre-heating, when you put something in the oven, don't open the oven to check it! Trust your timer and only open it when absolutely necessary! Opening and closing your oven will allow heat to escape and this can cause the temperature in your oven to fluctuate. This can be detrimental to your baking.

- Be sure not to over fill your cake pans and cupcake liners. Filling them about 2/3 full will yield a cake that won't be overflowing out.

- To ensure cakes come out nice and flat, cut up a towel into strips, dampen a strip and wrap it around the pan (safety pin it to keep it on). This will help the cake to bake evenly and not leave you with a domed cake!

- Last, but not least, HAVE FUN! This should be an enjoyable endeavour. Whether it turns out perfectly or not, it could be a fun activity to eat up some spare time and hopefully yield something tasty!

If there are any specific questions, let me know! I'm always happen to impart my little bits of knowledge on others:)


Friday, May 31, 2013

Oh-So-Delectable Chocolate Turtle Cupcakes (Chocolate, Caramel, Pecan)


So I don't know if you are familiar with the deliciousness that is a chocolate turtle...

...but they are clusters of caramel and pecans coated in chocolate.

They are one of my mom's favorite candies. Yum, yum, yum!

The office that I work in has a bake off from time to time, so various people who work here will bring in their best treat and then we all vote for which one was the best.

This was my first year competing and, though the competition was FIERCE, I managed to pull out a win! (well, a second place win, but whatever!).

I ended up making Chocolate Turtle Cupcakes, which are chocolate cupcakes FILLED with homemade caramel and then topped with caramel buttercream, a swirl of caramel and a pecan!

Yes, that sounds like a bit much, but it didn't take too long and the end results were to die for!!!

Yes, they did taste as good as they look :)

Best, Moist Chocolate Cupcake Recipe
(Yields about 2 dozen cupcakes or about 5 dozen mini cupcakes)

I rely heavily on this recipe.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1-2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk*
1 cup hot water

(*I have used non-fat milk and 2% milk in it's place and had similiar results. I've also made my own buttermilk by adding 1tsp of vinegar to milk and stirring it vigorously).

Preheat oven to 300*F
Mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl.
Add in the two eggs and almond extract, and continue to mix.
Measure out the salt and mix this in as well.
Finally, slowly add in the buttermilk and hot water, a little at a time, until fully blended into a thin batter (it's going to seem REALLY watery but it's okay, do not worry!)

I prefer to pour the batter into a small Pyrex measuring cup to make it easier to pour into the small cupcake liners, but that's up to you!

Fill the liners up about 2/3 full.

Bake the cupcakes for 22 minutes, then check them with a tooth pick. If the tooth pick comes out clean, they are done baking!

Allow to cool completely before frosting!

Next, I'll tell you how I made homemade caramel!

I followed this recipe from Food Network



Mix the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir. Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 degrees F on a candy thermometer), about 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful – the mixture is extremely hot! Watch the mixture very carefully at the end, as it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly. Turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream and vanilla. Don't worry - the cream will bubble violently and the caramel will solidify.
Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits.

**If you let the sugar cook too long or on too high of heat and it doesn't look like it's melting correctly, NEVER FEAR! Lower your heat and BE PATIENT. Even if you are toward the end and your caramel seems to have SEIZED up and not become the right consistency, just let it sit on low heat and chances are, it will fix itself.**

I let this cool for about an hour in the fridge, then poured some into a pastry bag. I used this to pipe some caramel into the middle of the cupcakes!

I saved about 1/3 to add to a basic buttercream frosting and then just a little bit to drizzle on top of the finished cupcakes.

Let me know if you have any questions about this recipe! They were absolutely delish and worth all the effort!:)


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vanilla Raspberry Cupcakes (BEST moist vanilla cupcake recipe)

So in honor of one my friend's birthdays, (Sarah of Sarah Christine Style!)  I let her choose her treat!

She picked vanilla cupcakes with raspberries. I thought about how I would make these and decided upon a simple vanilla cupcake, covered with raspberry jam and then a swirl of raspberry buttercream.

I've tried a bunch of vanilla cupcake recipes over the course of my baking life. I've made great ones (like the 5 dozen cupcakes I made for my cousin's baby shower) and not so great ones (uh... No comment). This recipe is BY FAR MY FAVORITE. It yields a light, fluffy, sweet and moist cake that domes up perfectly.

Vanilla Cupcakes


1 1/2 cp. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs
3/4 cp. sugar

1-2 tsp of vanilla (pure or extract)
1-2 tsp of almond extract
1/2 cup oil (vegetable or canola would work)
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%, I assume fat free, 1%, or whole could work)

First, pre-heat your oven to 350*F.
Next, stir flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in large mixing bowl; set aside.
Now, mix eggs and sugar in a second bowl with a whisk or mixer.
After that, add the vanilla, almond extract, oil and milk to the egg and sugar. Whisk well!
Finally, add this liquid mix to the powder mix in the other bowl and mix well with a mixer.

Fill your cupcake liners about 2/3 full (don't go too crazy, they will rise!) and bake them for about 12 minutes. Try sticking a tooth pick into one that has domed up especially high. If it comes out clean, they are done! If any moist cake crumbs come off, pop them back in for an additional minute or two.

Allow them to completely cool before frosting!

(I slathered on a layer of preserves then frosted them with a simple buttercream with some of the raspberry preserves mixed in!)



Thursday, March 28, 2013

One week update (ACL repair surgery healing/rehab)

So one week ago today, I got ACL reconstruction surgery. I was so worried and scared that morning when I woke up, but I knew I would be better off doing this now rather than putting it off any further.

The day of surgery, I went home and rested all day. People told me I might be nauseous or totally out of it all due after anesthesia but I was very fortunate; I felt fine those first two days.

 (Photos from my first couple days post op with my two best friends: pink crutches and my iPad)

In my surgery, they gave me a nerve block in the leg I was getting surgery on via an enormous needle into my femoral artery. Fortunately, they gave me my first dose of general anesthesia prior to that shot so I have no recollection of it. Those first two days post-op, your leg might still be numb if you get a nerve block. It's nothing to be concerned about. It's a weird feeling but it was blocking the lion's share of the pain, so combined with my pain killers, I felt fine... A little loopy, but fine.

Once that nerve block started to wear off, that's when I really started to get serious about taking the medicine on time. If I forgot to take my pain meds every 3-4 hours, I would get intense pain from my hamstring to my calf.

I am a very active person normally so sitting still for two days was absolutely horrible. My boyfriend got me out of the house as often as he could for happy hour (no booze though since I'm on painkillers), to the beach, over to his house to play with his dog, etc. which helped keep me sane... There's only so much daytime TV and Netflix one person can watch before they start losing their mind.

(I chose to not just sit around at home during my recovery... I took trips to the beach when it was nice out, had a game night with my friends (that's Cards Against Humanity, my favorite game) and to a local bar for pool!)

By the Saturday after surgery (I had surgery on Thursday so like 2 days later), I was able to hobble around a little bit on the leg. I also started some exercises, which at that time was only to try to straight my leg flat and moving my foot in circle a few times every hour to prevent blog clots. Walking was (and is) a struggle but it was easier than relying on crutches. The decision to walk or use crutches should be made with your doctor. I am young and very active so it was easy for me to get back to being physical but this might not be the case for everyone.

I had a doctors appointment on Monday to get my bandaids off and to get stitches taken out. The doctor said my knee was looking good and told me to get back to see my physical therapist. I was amazed when I saw my knee. I had anthroscopic surgery so they didn't need to split my knee open to perform surgery; instead they used small instruments, inserted through small holes in my knee. I will have absolutely minimal scarring, which is great.

(Left: photo four days post op (yup, THAT's it!) , right: standing four days post-op)

I had an appointment with my physical therapist on Wednesday that week. She mostly wanted to check in with me about how surgery went and where we would go from there for my post surgery rehab. I felt like I was basically starting from square one since I had made such huge strides in PT before my surgery. We started with my new exercises: 

1. 3 versions of leg lifts:

-10 lifts while lying on my back (she recommended I have someone there with me, "spotting" me while I do them).
-10 lifts while on my elbows
-10 lifts while on hands

2. Heel slides (starting to get my knee to bend again!) I only bend until I get uncomfortable pressure, not pain.

3. Hamstring and calf stretches (these will help to get my leg straighten again).

I'm hoping in the next two weeks to be back in the gym doing the stationary bike. That was the BEST thing I did in my pre-surgery rehab for getting my full range of motion back. I will be monitoring my process myself and with the help of my physical therapists and writing about it here!

If you have any questions about my experience or want any advice about what I've gone through thus far, feel free to comment!


Friday, March 22, 2013

My experience with a torn ACL... Part 1

Though my blog thus far has focused on my various culinary endeavors, I decided to switch gears a bit and talk about my experience of injuring my knee and getting surgery.

A little bit about me: I strive to be a healthy, active woman. I'm in my early twenties, I try to exercise several times a week doing a variety of activities. My diet isn't perfect but I'm always striving to make better (but still tasty) choices. I've played soccer at a variety of levels since I was in elementary school and have never had a serious injury (until now).

This all started in mid-February. I was playing on a co-Ed indoor soccer tram and while trying to stop from a sprint and switch directions, I fell sideways on my knee and it popped/started swelling up. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you hear a loud pop in a joint followed by immediate swelling, seek medical attention as soon as you can. I was carried off the field and sat with ice on my knee for a while before heading home (fortunately, my BF was there to help me out to my car and drive me home). That evening, I iced and elevated my knee and wrapped it up with an ACE bandaid.

The next morning, I took the day off work and headed to the local walk in clinic. I arrived right as they opened so my wait time was next to nothing. The doctor took a look at my knee, tried bending it a little (at this point it was more or less stuck at about a 135 degree angle as both the most flat and most bent I could manage). The doctor got me a knee brace and crutches and told me to stay off it as much as possible until my MRI. He also recommended I see an orthopedic specialistic. I rested that day and returned to work the next day. Fortunately, my boss/office mate lives by me so she was able to drive me to and from work while I was hurt. My injury was to my left knee so driving my stick shift was pretty tough with little ability to bend/straighten my leg.

That Friday, I had my MRI. This was my first one so I didn't know what to expect. I laid on a bed with a blanket on my upper bottom then the "bed" slid into the machine so only my head stuck out. It was VERY loud but they gave me head phones to listen to satellite radio!

As I got to work that day, I got a call from a nurse with my MRI results... I tore my anterior cruciatr ligament, had some bone bruising and also a small tear to my meniscus. I was pretty upset to hear this since I've known many people who have gone through this and it did not seem like much fun. By the time I saw my ortho specialist, I was back to walking without crutches in my brace and driving myself around. He spoke with me about the procedure he wanted to do (arthroscopic ACL replacement using my own hamstring tendons and possibly repair my torn meniscus). He showed me the images of my knee from the MRI and I could see where my ACL should have been and also where my meniscus tear is. Here's what it looked like, though this is not my MRI.


From there, I went to the physical therapy department (I really lucked out that my local clinic has all these facilities in the same building) to schedule my sessions. Before getting surgery, you really have to focus on being able to bend your knee and being able to straighten it completely. 

These are the exercises I started out with for the first four weeks of physical therapy. I tried to do the exercises at work and in the evening each day. I also continued to go to the gym during this time. I rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes two times a week and 10 minutes at the start of PT each time. I chose to wear my brace as I did that and it seemed to prevent any swelling. Using the cross trainer caused my knee to swell up the one time I attempted it so I wouldn't recommend that to others with a knee injury.

The week before my surgery, I started a more intense pre-hab set of exercises (as seen above) since my leg was able to be almost totally flat (my right leg, when straightened, was 0 degrees and my left could flatten to 4) and could bend back to less than 90 without significant discomfort. These exercises felt a lot more like my usual level of working out so that was a nice change. I did these at the gym or at home each day in addition to biking a few days a week.

Surgery Day

The night before my surgery, I tried to hydrate as much as possible and eat a good meal earlier in the evening. I had to stop eating and drinking by 12 am and then I had to get to the surgery center by 615 am. I did my surgery as an outpatient procedure meaning I didn't stay the night there. I was pretty worried when I got there but all the nurses and doctors were really nice and made me feel really safe and gave me plenty of information to keep my mind at ease.

I got an IV of a saline solution for a while then they moved me to the recovery area to administer my nerve blocker, which numbed my leg via my femeral artery. They gave me the first of my anesthesia after explaining how they did the nerve blocker and after speaking to my surgeon and the last time I remember is the nurse getting the ultra sound ready to find the artery they needed to put the leg numbing medicine in. It was about 7:05 am.

Next thing I remember, it's 9:55 am and I'm in the recovery area with an enormous brace on my leg. I was very fortunate that I woke up easily and without any nausea or discomfort. It was weird have a heavy numb leg but I'd prefer that to pain. When the nurse came by to ask me how I was feeling, I responded, "like a million bucks," and I meant it. I was so happy to be done with that phase of my recovery and ready to start getting my strength back. They gave me a snack, got me dressed and allowed my parents to come see me. By 11 am, they were preparing to discharge me. My parents got my prescriptions and the nurse wheeled me out to our car and I went home.

I am very fortunate that I'm able to stay with my parents and they are able to care for me while I'm going through this. Definitely try to find someone to stay with you or visit you at least those first few days after the surgery. You have to have someone to drive you there and back and monitor you that first day but I'm now on day two and am still very dependent on my parents for help getting food and drinks since its hard to carry things while on crutches.

Another piece of advice I'd give someone else going through a similar surgery/recovery time is to remember you had an intense surgery. The medicine you are prescribed will help to alleviate some of the pain but it won't get rid of all of it. I'm focusing on resting and being as active as possible, within reason, and just remembering to take my medication on time. As I move through my recovery, I'll update my blog on my status and talk about my experiences.


What I have been up to since my last post...

Haven't had much time lately to blog about my baking due to the holidays then I tore my ACL playing soccer and have gotten really into home brewing beer and wine (post to come!)

Here are some pictures of things I did manage to make over the last few months:

Chicken kabobs with peppers, onions and pineapple. (Chicken was marinated for about 6 hrs in a lemon pepper marinade from Safeway, then BBQ about 2 minutes per side).

English style fish and chips. (I used this recipe for my batter without soda water though, and I prefer to bake my French fries on a cookie rack after soaking them in water for about an hr. and tossing them in olive oil. this yields some wonderfully crisp fries.)

Chocolate turtle cupcakes (my deliciously moist chocolate cupcakes filled with homemade caramel and topped with caramel butter cream, more caramel and a walnut. These babies won me second place in our office bake off!)

Shrimp pasta with tomatoes and lemon (my bf's new favorite dish. We've made it several times and its always good. I used this recipe but omitted the spinach. We made some red pepper olive oil, shown in the photo, that we tossed the shrimp in as they cooked that added a wonderful kick of spice. The bruschetta is just a slice baguette, topped with a mixture of diced Roma tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sliced fresh basil with Parmesan or mozzarella cheese, then baked at 425 for about 5 minutes).

Quick mini cheesecakes (I used a mini cupcake tray and mini cupcake liners. I put on Nilla Wafer cookie at the bottom of each and topped it with a cream cheese mixture found in this recipe. If you haven't heard of Bakerella, I would highly recommend you look at her site; she has tons of wonderful recipes. I deviated slightly from her mini cheese cakes and topped mini with diced and sweetened strawberries instead).

Please, feel free to comment below if you want more info on any of those recipes!