Tag Archives: handmade

Attack of the Zombie Cake Pop Army

Lately I have been totally obsessed with the blog, Bakerella.  This amazingly talented lady creates oodles of gorgeous (and delicious, I suspect) baked and candied goodies.  On of her signature creations is the Cake Pop, a smooshed cupcake rolled into a ball, covered with melted candy, and popped onto a stick.  Basic Cake Pops are pretty cool, but what really blows me a away are amazing decoration ideas she comes up with for them.  She makes chicks, sheep, easter eggs, even mini cupcakes out of her Basic Cake Pop recipe.

Red Velvet Batter Looks Pretty Gorey

I have been dying to try these things out, so when my neighbor had a birthday I hopped on the excuse!  He’s a huge Bruce Campbell and horro movie fan, and I wanted to make something fun that would be unique, yummy, and hilarious.  So? I made him an army of Cake Pop Zombies!

I started out by making a run to my local party store, and then grocery store, to pick up supplies: lollipop sticks, candy melt wafers and dyes, red velvet cake mix, a tub of pre-made frosting, Red Hots, Baked Bean Candies, and a huge, red, gummy spider.  When I got home, I threw together the cake mix and popped it in the oven.  While the cake baked, then cooled, I prepped my candy for use as decorations.  I cut several of the Red Hots in half, giving me an assortment of creepy red eye shapes.  I chopped the Gummy Spider into bits so that it could be used as brains.

After the cake was cool, I popped it out of its pans and into a huge mixing bowl.  Using a spatula, then a fork, then a spoon, then back to the spatula, I smashed and crumbled the cake until it was totally pulverized.

Crumbling the Cake

Crumbling the Cake

Next, I mixed in the entire tub of frosting.  This is where I think I made my first mistake.  First of all, Bakerella’s recipe calls for Cream Cheese Frosting specifically.  This detail had abandoned my brain while I was at the store, so of course, I picked up Vanilla Frosting.  Secondly, Bakerella suggests adding just enough Frosting to moisten and bind the cake.  In my enthusiasm, I added the entire tub at once.  Not too bright.

Mixing the Cake with Frosting

Mixing the Cake with Frosting

Forming my Cake Balls was challenging.  They cracked, they crumbled, they were pretty much uncooperative in general, the little bastards.  They were more or less spherical by the time I popped them in the fridge to chill – that was good enough for me.  I melted the Candy Wafers as they chilled, then took them out to insert the lollipop sticks.

Oh Cake Balls!

Oh Cake Balls!

Now comes the really disastrous part!  For some reason, I found coating these Cake Pops to be extremely difficult.  Because the Cakes were a little loose, they left crumbs in the coating!  Plus, I could not get the candy to stop tracing so that it would leave a smooth surface.  In fact, I couldn’t even dip the pops because the coating was just way too thick.  I am totally clueless as to what went wrong here.  I wound up having to spread the coating on with a spoon, which looked sort of awful.  I suspect that A) my Cake Pops were too big, and too shoddily constructed, and B) my candy coating was maybe not hot enough.  I had it in a double boiler, but maybe it needed more heat?

Coated Cake Pops

Coated Cake Pops

Zombies turned out to be a great first run of the Cake Pop recipe.  I’m afraid the technique has escaped me a bit, and I couldn’t for the life of me achieve a smooth surface on my Pops.  These guys ended up with all kinds of weird deformities.  Good for zombies, but if I had been trying to make cute chickies or easter eggs I would have had to abandon ship.  Luckily, all these craters, cake crumbs, and cracks gave my little Zombie Heads extra charachter.  I even decorated the true casualties, the Pops that has smashed or fallen from sticks during the candy coating process.

Cake Pop Zombies

Cake Pop Zombies

I used a tiny paring knife to carve out mouths and eye sockets for my zombies.  I filled these cavities with colored candy coating, dribbling them with blood and black ooze.  Some of them even had their heads chopped open so that I could show off their gummy brains. Yum?

Yummy? Terrifying? Yummyfying?

Yummy? Terrifying? Yummyfying?

Dean, and his wife Meg,  seemed to like his Zombie Army, though I think they might have freaked out their kids. 🙂

The Zombie Cake Pop Army!

The Zombie Cake Pop Army!

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Filed under Baked Goods, Sweets & Desserts

Adventures in Cheese Making

The other day I posted some pictures of my gigantic handmade lasagna, and mentioned that the cheese encased within its bubbly layers was totally handmade.  I promised to drop the skinny on you, so here it is, the story of my big cheesy adventure.

MLC

Would you believe everything you need to make cheese is pictured above? For serious. That's all there is to it! Of course, if you get into some more serious kinds of cheese, you'll probably need more ingredients. But for Ricotta and a simple Paneer, these staples will do you. According to some rumors I've heard you may even be able to make Queso Fresco from these simple ingredients. (Be still my heart!) 

Ricotta Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon Whole Milk
  • 2 Cups Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 6 teaspoons Lemon Juice

I got my Ricotta recipe and instructions from this very thorough article posted on the foodie blog, Eggs On Sunday.  Though the recipe originated on Epicurious, Eggs on Sunday provides some valuable insight and tips to make your Ricotta come out perfectly on the very first shot.  Eggs on Sunday opted to half the original recipe, but because I am totally nuts, I decided to double it.  The process is very simple: Gently heat the milk, salt, and cream to a simmer, carefully stirring the entire time to keep the milk from scalding. At simmer, add the lemon juice (all at once), give it one quick stir, then let it sit for one minute. Stir again, sit another minute, then stir and simmer for two more minutes.  Immediately drain the pot into a cheesecloth and colander and allow it to drain for an hour.  Once the curds have cooled you can squeeze some of the excess water out of the cheese cloth.  Boom! You have a batch of frash, handmade Ricotta, the creamiest, richest Ricotta you probably have ever tasted. This stuff would make INCREDIBLE canolis.

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Here is a shot of my Ricotta. This is roughly half of the cheese I made. The other half I reserved for making Paneer.

Paneer begins where the Ricotta enters the colander to drain.  After the cheese entered the colander, I carefully spooned out the portion I was using for my Ricotta and drained it seperately.  I allowed my Paneer curds to cool slightly, then began squeezing out the moisture through the cheescloth. Squeeze, squeeze squeeze.  This was sort of messy, so I suggest doing this over the sink.   After I was done squeezing, I wrapped my cheese intoa bundle, and squicshed it onto a dish, making it about 1 inch thick.  I topped the bundle with another dish, and weighed it down with a giant can of tomatos.  This helps to squeeze out the last of the water.  I let the cheese drain for about an hour, then removed the cheese cloth.  Neato completo, my cheese was finished.

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While my Paneer came out pretty well, there are a couple of things I will do differently next time.  Firstly,
I plan to have two colanders and two cheesecloths on hand to drain the
pot of cheese.  This will make separating the two portions of cheese
easier.  Instead of spooning away, I'll simply pour half into each
colander.  Second, I plan on salting the curds after they enter the
colander. The cheese was rich and creamy, but a little bland for
Paneer. I am also playing with the idea of spicing the curds.  You can
check out the original recipe for Paneer posted by Emma on The Kitchn.  Check out the comments, as there are some great tips avaialble.

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The Mother of All Lasagnas

MLC-5
 
Behold. Lasagna! But not just ANY lasagna. Oh no. You're looking at a a lasagna made from (by my estimation) about 75% handmade materials. I made the sauce AND the ricotta from scratch, browned up some turkey meat simmered in the homemade sauce, and used store bought lasagna noodles and mozzarella. I am so looking forward to biting into this monster, but I am patiently letting it set while I wait for Scott Bobleo to get home.

He'd better hurry, because this thing is calling my name.
MLC-6

P.S. More on the cheese making tomorrow!

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Saucy & Thrifty!

Making homemade marinara sauce is pretty ding dang easy, and it can save you a load of cash, especially if you make large batches. Marinara freezes well, and spends most of it's cook time simmering unassisted, needing only the occasional stir to keep it on the right track. Easy, peasy, and amazingly cheap.

Here's how I make mine:

  • 1 Giganto Can of Diced Tomatoes
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Olive or Veg. Oil
  • 3-4 Small Onions (or 1-2 Large Onions)
  • A Few Tabelspoons Minced Garlic
  • Some Random Herbage
  • Extra Ingredients as the Mood Strikes Me (Red Pepper Flakes, Roasted Peppers, Cheese, etc.)

Sauce 1

Pictured above are some of the basic ingredients. I also use 3-4 small onions, and some Olive Oil. (Vegetable Oil can also be used instead.) Most folks already have at the very least a shaker of "Italian Seasoning" hanging around in the cupboard. This alone will do just fine, but if you want a little more control, try picking up some basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and/or cumin. Having fresh herbs on hand is awesome, but not necessary. If you love using fresh herbs, but want to make it more economic, you can freeze any unused portion inside a slightly dampened paper towel and a plastic bag.

Simple sauce can also be jazzed up with other ingredients. I like to make it a little different each time by adding things like Roasted Red Peppers, Parmesan Cheese, or by spicy Red Pepper Flakes.

Sauce 2

Start out by adding a few tablespoons of Olive Oil to a large pot. Load up the pot with plenty of minced garlic, and whatever seasonings you like.  Turn the heat onto a lo simmer and cover the pot.  Allow the herbs and garlic to infuse their flavors into the warm oil for about 15 – 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, dice up some onions.  Turn the heat to around med-low and add the diced onions.  Allow them to slowly cook until they begin to clear.

Sauce 3

Now, open your massive can of Diced Tomatoes and pour them into the pot. Stir the mixture well, and turn it up to med-high. Keep an eye on the pot as it comes to a boil, stirring now and then.  When it finally starts bubbling, bring it down to a simmer and let it cook for about 30-45 minutes with the cover off. You should check on it occasionally, but there is no need to hover over the pot. Let it be, and do something more exciting with yourself while it simmers. (Tip: Opening giant cans really sucks. If it's an option, make your husband/boyfriend/domestic partner do it. If that's going to happen, put on your best Rose the Riveter face and come at the can like you caught it using your good sewing shears to open blister packs of electronic gadgets.)

Sauce 4

Now that the sauce has gotten some cook time in, it's time to smooth it out.  This can be done two ways: the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way is to stick an immersion blender (or stick blender) in the sauce and blend it until it is smooth. This takes around 30 seconds.  If you don't have a stick blender, you'll have to do it the hard way.  Allow the sauce to cool down, then put portions of it in a normal blender and blend. After you've blended it all, return it to the pot and reheat it. This takes, like, forever. Alternatively, you could blend the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. Also annoying, but less time consuming. (Tip: Stick blenders can be purchased for as little as ten bucks at Big Box stores. I love my fancy stainless stick blender, but I also have one I use for soap making that cost about ten bucks at a Walmart <insert GASP here>. It works just fine.)

After blending the sauce, let it simmer on low heat for another 30-45 minutes with the cover off. Cooking it down makes it nice and thick. Quit cooking it as soon as it is thick enough for your own taste. If you love it dense, you can just keep on cooking for as long as it takes. If you like it thin, you won't have far to go!

Sauce 5

And that, my friends, is all there is too it.  Let the sauce cool, and jar it up! If you want to freeze it, be sure to package it in plastic tubs or in freezer safe glass.

By the way, this recipe makes about 3 jars worth of sauce. (Give or take, depending on how far you cook it down.) If you really want to save time, get a bigger pot and double this recipe.  6 jars lasts an awfully long time.  Based on how much I pay for my ingredients, the cost of each jar works out to about $1.00 – $1.50. Most folks will already have spices, oil, and garlic at home, but even if you started with nothing, you'd only need to make an investment of around 20 bucks to stock your pantry with everything needed to make sauce on a regular basis.(Tip: Save yourself some heartache and confusion by marking the date the sauce was made on the lid. Washable Crayons/Markers, or blank sticky labels work quite well.)

Happy Saucemaking! If anyone has special homemade sauce tips, please share them in the comments.

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Candy Architecture

A rather wacky take on the traditional Gingerbread House, this
Toadstool Cottage that Michelle and I whipped up a few days before
Christmas was really something to see.  We kept asking ourselves as we
glued more and more little shrooms on the platter with royal icing, "Is
this going too far? Is this one mushroom too many?" But then we decided
that going too far was impossible when it came to Gingerbread Toadstool
Cottages. 

Toadstool House 1

Did I ever mention my deep and everlasting love for building things out of other things? Oh, and my love for candy?

Toadstool House 2

Michelle
baked the house and the roof from scratch out of actual gingerbread. 
The roof, a solid piece of gingerbread was baked inside a pyrex bowl to
achieve its perfectly round shape.  Since it was solid, it was pretty
heavy, so we reinforced the inside with some cardboard tubing.

Toadstool House 3
Scott
Bobleo foolishly scoffed at our Gingerbread House making skills by
challenging us to create a mailbox.  I laughed at him for doubting me,
then whipped up this little yellow beauty out of Lifesavers, Candy
Cane, and a Vanilla Tootsie Roll.  Suck on that, Doubty McDoubterson.

Toadstool Montage

We
made little mushrooms a number of ways.  The little colored ones are
made from gumdrops.  Just squish one gumdrop and then stick it (with
icing, of course) on top of an un-squished gumdrop.  There are also
teeny mushrooms made with regular gumdrops and bell shaped gumdrops. 
The larger mushrooms were made with bell shaped gumdrops, and topped
with either lumps of Gingerbread or Nilla Wafers.

Toadstool House 5
I
am really happy that Michelle acted on this idea.  I was bummed out
because I thought I wouldn't have time to make a Gingerbread
House(particulalry a Toadstool Cottage Gingerbread House), and I had
had my heart set on it since Thanksgiving.  When I was at Macys a few
days earlier, I saw the Martha Stewart Gingerbread House kit on
Clearance for six bucks and thought, "What the hey! I can make time for
a kit."  Kit in hand I popped over to Michelles, only to find her
baking Gingerbread for  this little wonder you see above.  I finished
my Martha Kit in no time flat, and then felt compelled to help Michelle
embellish the Toadstool Cottage.  We must have been at it for a couple
of hours, and I don't think we stopped giggling for more than a few
minutes alltogether.

Gum Drop Chapel 1

By
the way, here is the result of my Martha Kit.  Not so exciting as the
Toadstool Cottage, but very pretty anyway.  I added my own touch by
making it into a sort of candy chapel.  Don't ask why, I just felt the
urge!  Seeing my sis snap off the peppermint crucifix for a sacrificial
sucking session later on was good for a laugh.  My only complaint about
the kit was that the icing was more tasty than tacky.  I suppose you
can't ask much more from icing in a kit, but if I did it again I would
take the time to whip up a batch of real Royal Icing to go along with
the kit contents.  Getting that sucker to stay together with slow
drying icing was a real pain in the tookus.

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