Running from the Law: March 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Basic Cake Decorating

A few weekends ago, I took a Basic Cake Decorating Class at Kitchen Conservatory with my friends Heather and Michelle.

As you all know, I love cake. In a big way. Especially the icing. Mmmm. And I love baking cakes. But I can NOT decorate them. Last year I made Ryan a birthday cake - his favorite yellow cake with chocolate icing. It looked like I let a 5 year old decorate it - lopsided layers, filling dripping out the middle, icing full of yellow cake crumbs, squiggly-drunk-looking handwriting. Pathetic. I didn't even take a picture I was so embarrassed. Ooops. This year I'm determined to make him a kick-ass cake. Or at least one that I'm not ashamed to let people see.

So, I recruited two of the craftiest girls I know (and great bakers) to learn the "basics" of cake decorating. Heather and Michelle are both already pretty talented at decorating desserts. Michelle is a cookie decorating goddess. Her cookies are so pretty and amazing it's almost a shame to eat them! And Heather has mastered the perfect "bachelorette party" cake. You would's that funny good. So I knew I was in good hands. (Plus, they're both gorgeous, so I had great models for my pictures!)

This was a BASICS class. It started at square one and basically got you to square two. Exactly where I needed to start. Basic buttercream decorating. No fancy-schmancy decorating, no fondant, no colored roses with leaves and balloons. That's too much for me. I needed to learn how to keep the damn thing from falling apart while icing and how to make it not look like I hosed it down with icing. This was the perfect class.

The chef started by making basic buttercream icing. It was really easy. I forgot to take pictures. Sorry.

Next step was to grab a cake. Someone at KC had already made a batch of cakes for us to use. Basic yellow cake. One layer. Unwrap and begin.
First things first, you have to make the cake completely even. If your cake is domed, you have to cut off the dome to even it out. If your cake has a sunken middle, you should trim off some of the outer top so that it's flat. It's very important to have a flat cake. Who knew?! I've never done this wonder my cakes were always lopsided. I just thought that if your top was domed, you flipped it over and that was obviously the bottom. Not so, my friends! Not so. That dome (even on the bottom) could come back to haunt you later. Cut. It. Off. Now.

How? Well I'm glad you asked. Eyeball it and figure out where you need to cut. Then lightly score the cake with your knife so you know. And here's the trick...instead of moving your knife across the cake and sawing through it (like I used to do), you SPIN the cake all the way AROUND the KNIFE. Rotate the cake. Do NOT move the knife. At all. It's imperative that you keep the knife completely flat while you're doing this.

Once you have a flat top. Do the same thing to cut the cake in half (so you have two layers).
Ta da!!! See those cake scraps in the corner? If you need to fill in some holes in your cake you can use those scraps.
Once you have two layers, you want to add moisture to your layers. This part blew my mind! I had no idea that you could flavor a cake and keep it moist this way. We made a syrup (a thin simple syrup) with 2 parts water and 1 part sugar. And then we added our choice of flavor to it. This is the same type of syrup that they brush on sponge cakes to add moisture and a bit of extra sweetness. You can flavor it with liquors or extracts or anything liquid. The girls and I chose a basic vanilla syrup. The chef added a cherry liquor to his. Someone else used Grand Marnier to give it an orange flavor. And you take a brush and dab it all over both layers of your cake. Make sure you get enough on there to flavor the cake, but not too much that it completely soaks through and runs out the bottom.
Next, we made the filling. Using the pre-made buttercream icing, we took a little of it and flavored it. Heather and I wanted a chocolate filling, so we added some melted chocolate to the buttercream. Viola, chocolate icing. Michelle used some raspberry preserves and mad a raspberry filling. Yum. Once made, you just slap it in the middle of one of the layers. You take the bottom of your spatula blade and go straight across the icing. Never lift UP. That's what pulls the icing and cake up so crumbs get in your icing. Straight across and straight off the edge. Then carefully place the other layer on top evenly.

Then you apply a CRUMB COAT. Did you hear that?? Crumb coat. Yep, it's a coat of icing that traps all the crumbs. So they don't get in your icing! Isn't that brilliant?! Just take some of your leftover filling and apply a very thin layer of it to the entire cake (top and sides). You want to be able to see the cake through the crumb coat, so it's thin. Use your fingers to smear it everywhere. It does not have to be pretty, no one will ever see this.

(Please excuse the puffiness of my face...allergies are killing me.)

Refrigerate the cake for at least 15-20 minutes so the crumb coat solidifies. While that's going on, you can flavor the rest of your icing. We all chose to add some vanilla bean paste to our icing because it was so rich and flavorful. Others added fruit preserves or chocolate.

Now, the basic steps of icing a cake are (1) Top, (2) Sides, (3) Top. Place a huge dollop of icing in the center top of your cake. Using the same straight across method as the filling, spread the icing all over the top of the cake. It'll be falling off the sides, but don't worry about that. Rotate the cake and repeat until the top is smooth and pretty. Remember to never lift up.
Next, put some icing on the back of your spatula and apply the icing first down...the away from you. Use the outer edge of the cardboard cake round to be your guide. Holding your spatula perpendicular to the cake, pull the spatula down to fill in the space between the cake and the cardboard with icing, then push away from you, creating a nice edge. The top of the cake will now be messed up again along the edges. This is kind of hard to understand when I type it out, but trust me, it works.

Once you've iced all the way around the outside edges of the cake, you need to redo the top. You'll have little icing mounds all along the edge of the top of the cake. Just use your spatula and sweep straight across to push them out. Remember to never lift up. And then you have a perfectly iced cake. Nothing fancy, but better than I've ever done!

And lastly, you can add some piped icing around the edges to make it pretty. This was harder than I thought it would be. Michelle was really good at this part. Her cake was Martha-esque.
Heather wasn't thrilled with her piping job, but I thought it looked amazing!
And then there was mine...

It's not winning any prizes, but I was damn proud of it!! Kind of boring and white-looking but whatever. Michelle added some red and pink heart sprinkles to hers and Heather added some chocolate sprinkles. I put a few little pearl looking things on mine and some crystal sugar, but you really can't tell. Very white.

And then I took it home and ate the whole thing. :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sewing Basics - What You Need to Get Started

I've learned sew much (hahahaha) in my Beginner Sewing Class. And now I get to pass all that glorious and important information on to you! Don't you just love how the internet lets you live vicariously through other people? 

Sew anyway (hahahaha), in our first class, our instructor went over the basic tools of the trade, and what we needed to have in order to sew our first project. Whether you are learning to sew crafts, clothing, or home decor, these are the bare essentials for any sewer. You can find your essential sewing supplies at any fabric store, like JoAnn Fabrics or Hancock Fabrics. They also sell some basic sewing supplies at Hobby Lobby, Target and Wal-Mart.

1. A sewing machine - What sewing machine you buy will depend on your skill level and your budget. Sewing machines run anywhere from $75 to thousands of dollars. The fancier, the more expensive and maybe the harder for a beginner to use. If you're a beginner (like me), maybe choose an inexpensive (and basic) one to begin with until you know whether or not you're going to like sewing and continue it. You can always upgrade later and sell your machine to another beginner. Captain Magnets has a really good overview about how to go about buying a sewing machine.

2. Good scissors - Fabric cutting scissors. That are ONLY used to cut fabric. Do not use them for anything else, ever ever ever. Not paper, not tape, not anything. Get a separate pair for cutting your paper (or tissue paper) patterns. And get a couple pairs in different sizes. A little pair of scissors is nice to keep right next to your machine for clipping loose threads.

3. Thread - This is a pretty easy one. Polyester thread is a good overall multi-purpose choice. Generally, you're going to want your thread to match the color of your fabric. However, sometimes you might want to use a thread in a contrasting color to give it a pop. Either way, there are 2 ways to go about buying thread. You can buy buy a multi-pack that has a bunch of thread in it in a variety of colors. Or you can just buy thread as you go, one spool at a time based on what you're working on to match (or contrast with) your fabric. I've seen variety packs of colored thread at Hancock Fabrics that run up into the hundreds of dollars. I'm sure I'll never need all those colors or use all that thread. So, for now, I bought a very small variety pack with 10 basic colors and I'll just pick up thread to match my fabrics as I go.

4. Bobbins - In order to use your thread, you're going to need bobbins. Buy extra bobbins that are specifically made to go with your machine. I've already learned this lesson the hard way. I bought some pre-spooled black and white bobbins, just to find out that they don't fit well into my machine and snag a lot. That just won't work. Your machine will probably come with a few bobbins, but it's nice to have a few extras on-hand in the colors you're working with to save you time.

5. Straight Pins and a Pin Cushion - You're going to need straight pins. A LOT of pins. I like the colored ones because they show up better. You want something that will stand out and get your attention so you don't accidentally sew over the pins (that'll break your sewing machine needle). The instructor of my sewing class suggested getting glass head beads (as opposed to plastic), just in case they get steamed/ironed so they won't melt all over your fabric. Good idea. Buy 2 or 3 types of pins and learn what you like to work with. They are cheap, bend or dull often, and inevitably get lost in the carpet, so have plenty on hand.

6. Pinking Shears - Although my instructor claimed these weren't "necessary," they are going to save you a lot of time and energy. Use your pinking shears to cut out your patten in the fabric. Why? Because the zig-zag edge will prevent the fabric from fraying! And then you don't have to stitch all the way around every single pattern piece to prevent it from fraying. Bingo!

7. Tape Measure - Your measuring tape should be flexible, for molding it to a shape, and a standard 60" long. Synthetic (non-cloth) tapes are preferable because they don't stretch or fray.

8. Fabric - For the true beginner stick to non-stretch cotton. Remember to wash and dry it before you even think about using it so you know it won't shrink. Keep a supply of inexpensive muslin fabric to practice on. I bought a whole bolt of cheap muslin for practice and learning. Avoid textured, slippery, highly patterned (plaids, stripes), or stretchy fabric for your first few projects.

9. Hem Gauge - For measuring small precise hems. Keep this next to your ironing board so when you're pressing in your hems, you have it handy. A metal one like this with a multi-functional sliding gauge for easy marking. Use it for marking button holes, seam allowances and all hems.

10. Chalk - different fabric works with different kinds of marking devices, but for many sewers it is just personal preference. Have at least 2 colors, like white and blue, in either a chalk pencil, chalk wedge, or tracing wheel with tracing paper. You can also use a marking pen that will fade off the fabric, but I've hear rumors that sometimes the markings come back after a few washes. Marking wax is something to get when you are working with knits like wool or tweed, but not needed for a beginner.

11. Assorted Needles - You might need to do a little hand-stitching in a few places on your project, so have some needles on hand. An assortment pack is an inexpensive way to make sure you have whatever size you might need.

12. Seam Ripper - A seam ripper just needs to have a nice sharp point for digging out the mistakes you will inevitably make. If you can find one with a longer grip (they tend to be very short-handled) your hands will thank you.

13. Iron - I hate ironing, but apparently in sewing you have to press everything. Repeatedly. Have an iron and an ironing board ready. If your fabrics are wrinkled, they won't sew right. Seams have to be pressed open so the fabric lays right. Hems have to be pressed so you know where to sew. LOTS of pressing and ironing. Get used to it.

Sew that's it! Ready to start sewing?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beef Wellington

Holy moly, mother of all good food and deliciousness...have you ever had Beef Wellington??

If not, you are missing out on one of the best dishes in the world. I had no idea I could ever make something this incredible. This recipe is horribly intimidating; it calls for about a million ingredients, has about 185 steps and took nearly 7 hours to make, but it was AMAZING. The individual steps weren't that hard, just time consuming. Seriously, how much time did Julia Child have to make dinner every day?! Anyway, with a little prep time before-hand (and store-bought puff pastry), this would have been much easier. But either way, it was SO worth it.

Since I was already spending the entire day making puff pastry, I figured I might as well use that puff pastry in something and cross off another recipe in the 10 Most Difficult Recipes Challenge. Plus, we needed to eat dinner. So, Beef Wellington it was. I know that I've tried Beef Wellington before, but I had no idea how involved this recipe was. In short, Beef Wellington is a preparation of beef tenderloin coated with pâté (often pâté de foie gras) and duxelles, which is then wrapped in puff pastry and baked.  Mmmmm.  How could that not be good?

I found this recipe for Beef Wellington on Recipezar, which is a combination of Julia Child's recipe and a local restaurant that the author liked. It was definitely not simple, but gave good step-by-step instructions that I could cross off as I went down the list. The recipe does call for pâté, which I did not use.  So, theoretically, I guess this recipe could be even better than it was had I used the pâté - however, I'm just not sure that would be possible.


Beef Marinade
 • 1/3 cup olive oil
• 1/2 cup sliced onion
• 1/2 cup carrot
• 1/2 cup celery
• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1/4 teaspoon sage
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 allspice berries or cloves
• 6 peppercorns
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup dry white vermouth
• 1/3 cup cognac or brandy

Mushroom Duxelles
• 2 lbs mushrooms
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons shallots, minced
• 1/2 cup dry madeira wine
• 4-5 tablespoons mousse type pate or foie gras
• 4 (8 ounce) filet of beef
• 4 slices prosciutto, thin
• 2 sheets puff pastry

Madeira Sauce
• 2 cups beef broth
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1/4 cup madeira wine

First step, marinate the meat. Place all marinade ingredients (except salt, vermouth and cognac) in a small saucepan and cook slowly until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and let cool. Season filets with salt; place in ziplock bag; add marinade mixture; pour on the wine and cognac. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.
Easy enough.

While the meat was marinating, I started working on the Mushroom Duxelles. Mince mushrooms in food processor until very small. Next, in the corner of a clean kitchen towel, twist the mushrooms a handful at a time to extract as much of the mushroom juices as possible. WHAT?? This was so weird!! I know mushrooms have a lot of liquid in them, but really? This kinda grossed me out. The author said to dampen the towel first so it won't absorb the juices of the mushrooms, which worked, but was still just bizarre to me. Reserve the juice for the sauce. Whatever Julia. I trust you, but I think it's strange.
To finish the Duxelles, saute the mushrooms and shallots in butter 7 or 8 minutes or so until the mushroom pieces separate from each other and begin to look dry. Add the madeira and boil until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste and stir in the pate or foie gras.
After the filets have marinated for 2-3 hours, remove them from the marinade and pat dry. Then heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy duty saute pan over high heat and sear the filets briefly on all sides. Return them to refrigerator until ready to assemble. Reserve the marinade for sauce.
Next, make the Madeira Sauce. Simmer all the marinade ingredients and the mushroom juice with 2 cups beef broth and 1 tablespoon tomato paste for 1 hour or so until reduced to 2 cups. Degrease, season and thicken with 2 Tbs. cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup Madeira wine.
And now for the tricky part. Assembly. If you're using store-bought puff pastry, the author says, depending on the size of the steak, you can usually get two Wellingtons out of each sheet of puff pastry.

Roll out each sheet a little to accommodate the size of the filet. Cut sheet in half.

Lay one sheet of Prosciutto on each half.
Place a spoonful of mushrooms on top; place a filet on top of mushrooms; spoon a little more mushrooms on top of filet.

Wrap filet in pastry. Pinch to seal.

Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Egg wash the tops of the Wellingtons. Bake until golden brown. About 25-35 minutes.

Use an instant read thermometer to insure that the meat is done to your liking. (130-135 for medium rare)

Serve with the Madeira sauce spooned on top.

And now you can absolutely die of flavor overload. It tastes like heaven.