Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wilton Cake Decorating Class. Course 1, Week 4

Week four is our final week for Course 1 and that means only one thing... the dreaded rose. Granted, I totally psyched myself up for absolute failure. I'm just not at all artistic. But onward I went, armed with a cake that I won't have to throw out this week. I did use a boxed chocolate cake, but only because I had already bought it before I decided that my final exam should actually be edible.

I knew the decorating had to be done with the aforementioned vile buttercream but the actual cake could be icing with whatever we choose. So for my money, there is no better frosting than good old ganache. It is the absolute easiest thing in the world to make. All you need is one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips put into a bowl and one cup of heavy cream. Heat the cream (but don't scorch it!) and then pour over the chocolate. Let sit for a couple minutes then whisk until smooth. Refrigerate for about an hour. If it's too hard to spread as a frosting, just microwave it in 10 second increments until you get the desired consistency. I used the ganache as my filling and as my frosting. I also brushed each layer of the cake with cold coffee, to give it a little something extra.

Now it's time, time to get down to the business of rose making. After asking around to the others in the class what color would go best with the chocolate frosting, pink seemed to be the consensus of what would go best. So pink it was. I colored my icing and we started practicing. Roses are not easy! They are in fact, quite a process from the base, to the wrap, to the petals (first three, then five, then seven!). Most of us seemed to really have trouble, especially with the icing staying smooth and not giving us a ruffled rose. This is my first attempt at a rose and you can see how ruffled it is, making it look more like a carnation than a rose.

Continuing on, we all worked very hard on our roses and quite frankly, I decided that if I were to pursue cake decorating I'd probably end up with carpal tunnel syndrome! It is very hard on the hands and the wrist.

We also practiced making leaves, stems and bows.

And now it was time to put our practice to use and decorate our cakes. Armed with six pink roses, I was ready to make my cake look special. To make it look like a bouquet, I put a little mountain of icing down first and then would place the roses on and around the mountain.

Switching to green icing now, it was time to make my leaves and my stems.

You can probably tell that I still have a bit if a shaky hand. My stems are a little squiggly.

I was actually rather pleased with how the leaves came out. So much so that instead of doing a bow, I decided to instead make more leaves.

Once I was finished, I decided to try my hand again at the shell border. I'm having a bit of a difficult time with my positioning on making the shell border, but I think I can improve with practice. I always found that shell borders look very nice on cakes.

It was not coming out at all how I had hoped so I switched to a star border mid way though. That was looking much better.

And here is my diploma! I had a great time in the class. And loved meeting everyone who took it at the same time. Thanks to our great teacher Alicia and to Patty for taking the class withe me! And special thanks to Rhett for my cool little surprise :)

I'm hoping to take Course 2 in July, but it may end up being canceled due to not enough people signing up for the class. If that's the case, they offer it again in October, so I'll just take it then.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wilton Cake Decorating Class. Course 1, Week 3

Last night was week 3 of the Wilton Cake Decorating Course 1 class. This was probably the most fun of all the classes so far. We did a lot and covered a lot of ground from shell borders, to the rose base, to dot borders to evil clowns. But more on that a little later.

This week we had the choice of either making cupcakes or a cake. I decided that to make a cake because I wanted to practice icing it. I chose a Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge Cake. I make cake from time to time. I know how to make cake. I've made many many cakes. Rarely, ok never, are they boxed mix cakes. And never have I ever burnt a cake (OK, except this one time). But on my second time ever making a boxed cake, I burned the dang thing! I set the timer and left the room and then after a little while, I started to smell, not the heavenly aroma of chocolate baking, but a much more acrid smell. Oh no, this was not good! I got the cakes out immediately with only minimal damage. And since this was a practice cake, I didn't feel the need to remake it. So I let them cool. And armed with an almond filling, I continued. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I used the handy dandy cake leveler and then put the disgusting frosting around the edge and then put in the almond filling.

After leveling off the second layer, I placed it on top and pushed it down and there you have it. My burned chocolate almond layer cake.

Now I have to frost it with you know what, and hope for a better result than last week. On the suggestion of several readers, I decided to first do a very thin layer of icing on the cake called a crumb coat. This is supposed to take care of any of the crumbs that come off the cake and seal them to the cake. So I did that and then put the cake in the fridge to let the crumb coat harden a little. After about 40 minutes or so, I took the cake out and frosted it for real. Check it out! No crumbs!

Off to class I go, crumb free burned cake in hand. And as previously mentioned, we did a lot of practice. That two hours goes by fast so with a mere half an hour left, it was time to get to the *gasp* clowns! Our teacher Alicia showed us how to make the clown body, arms, legs, feet and hands. And then we were on our own. We could make clowns or we could just do more practice. Well dammit, I was making clowns!

With a number 21 tip, it is actually rather simple to make the clown. I used a parchment paper bag and painted up the side with green food coloring then filled my bag with the aforementioned gross buttercream icing. I didn't feel the need to buy the clown heads for any reason at all, so I borrowed Patty's (my sister in law, who is also taking the class) just so I could have the completely look to document. Here are my evil clowns!

With very little time to spare before class ended, I tried my hand at making the shell border. That didn't work out very well. But that is definitely something I will need more practice on.

Next week is week four, our final week. We will be making roses and I'm ascared! I sense disaster in the making. But we'll just have to see. Maybe I'll surprise myself :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wilton Cake Decorating Class. Course 1, Week Two

I didn't bother posting about week one since it was mainly an infomercial for Wilton products. But we were also shown how to make the disgusting pseudo buttercream frosting that is used for the class and how to ice a cake. For the second week we were to bring an already iced cake of our choice. Now, it goes against my grain to make a cake from a boxed mix, but when you're just going to practice on it, what's the point of going all out to make a cake from scratch. Especially since I sure as hell won't want to eat it after slathering it with that vile faux buttercream.

So I opted for a lemon cake mix with some canned raspberry filling. Check this out. It's just so very very wrong.

After the cake is baked and cooled, I used the coolest tool ever... the cake leveler. This is used to make your cakes nice and even and get rid of that hump that inevitably grows on top of the cake when you bake it.

And viola!!! Even cake! (The picture doesn't look real even, but it is, trust me.)

So now it's time to make the *shudder* buttercream. I shit you not when I say that this is what the recipe consists of:

2 cups of shortening
2 lbs of powdered sugar
4 Tablespoons of water
2 Tablespoons of meringue powder
2 teaspoons of clear vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of clear butter flavoring
pinch of salt

Seriously. Do you want to eat that? I don't.

From there I divide up the icing so I can change it's consistency. I need 3 cups of thin (add 2 teaspoons of water for each cup of icing), 2 cups of medium (1 teaspoon of water per cup of icing) and 1 cup of stiff (no water added).

I took some of the icing, filled the pastry bag and ran a border around the cake to hold in the filling. Then put my raspberry filling in.

Then put the second layer, after using my nifty leveler again, on top and pressed it down. Cool beans! Nothing seeped out at all!

Now for the icing. I will not lie and say this was easy. It wasn't, and I cursed quite a bit. In class, our teacher Alicia made it look so easy. But I got crumbs all over it and was trying to scrap them off and put more icing on and then just succeeded in getting more crumbs on it. But eventually I got it to a point I could live with. Yes, you can still see crumbs, but it is what it is.

Off to class we go. And for the first half we just used a practice pad and traced designs, made stars and then we made the rose base (which looks like a volcano, or a Hershey kiss). Then we had a choice of what we'd like to put on a cake. We were basically doing designs with the star tip so we made outlines of a flower and then filled them in with stars. So here's the start of my flowers.

My cake is still white, but the flowers are yellow. The fluorescents in the classroom kind of made a yellow wash to the photos. Here's my finished product.

I think it's safe to say, I suck at cake decorating. But I hope to improve!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Night Out at Aladdin's

For several weeks now Nick and I have been wanting to go to Aladdin's for dinner. It's not a place we frequent, but a place we really love. Something always comes up and we have ended up not going. But yesterday Nick was determined that come hell or high water, we were going to Aladdin's! And we did.

Aladdin's came into existence in 1994 and has grown by leaps and bounds! Now in seven states and with 28 locations, it still has that local feel to it that we love. As the day went on and anticipation was building, I couldn't wait to get some of their succulent grilled meats and dip it into that insanely good garlic sauce. Oh my... calm down woman.

We went to the Hudson, First and Main location, even though the Highland Square one is closer. This way we can scope out the other restaurants that are there that we may want to try sometime. We were seated right away although there was a pretty good crowd.

To start, Nick had the China Mist Traditional Black Tea and I had the China Mist Green Tea. Both were very good.

We couldn't decide what we wanted for an appetizer. They all sound so good! But we had gotten hummus last time, so we crossed that off. I was leaning towards the, Dawali but once Nick saw the Falaffel, that was that. My husband is a notorious lover of all things chick pea. I forgot to take a pic, but as luck would have it, Aladdin's website had a picture of it and it did look exactly like this.

The falaffel were so incredibly delicious. They are a little fried piece of heaven. Ground chick peas and fava beans, mildly spiced with parsley and lots of garlic. They come with pitas and a yogurt tahini dipping sauce.

I had lamb on my mind so for an entree I chose the Mediterranean Lamb Plate. The marination and the grilling of the meat is to die for. It's juicy and tender, cooked to absolute perfection and it comes with that crazy garlic dipping sauce I mentioned earlier. I absolutely love garlic, but the first time I had that sauce I almost went into orbit! But then I took a second bite, and third and I was hooked! Now it's a must whenever we go to Aladdin's. It also comes with rice. But it's not any old white rice scooped onto your plate with an ice cream scoop! This rice is soft and fluffy, every grain separate. It has crunchy vermicelli in it and is topped with sauteed pine nuts, almonds, and cinnamon. It's so good on its own but I like to add some of my tahini yogurt sauce to it too.

Nick had the Mediterranean Shish Kabob Plate, which is exactly like my lamb plate only his plate has beef instead. Everything else is identical.

The portions are just right. Not too much, not too little and when dinner is over I'm feeling just right. Nick on the other hand, he's a dessert guy. We chose together from the huge dessert menu, thinking that I would have a few bites, but when that mouth watering Brownie Cheesecake arrived, I was just too full to partake. Nick assures me it was heavenly!

So another wonderful meal at the fabulous Mediterranean restaurant Aladdin's. If you have on in your area, give it a shot! You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rocking the New Grill

A gas grill is an essential part of my summer. Sure, as a purist of most things I do prefer charcoal, but it's not always convenient. So since we've been in a home (as opposed to an apartment), we've had a grill. In recent months, as if either willing our grill to bite the dust or just sensing it was coming, Nick and I have looked at grills whenever we were in Lowe's or Home Depot or anywhere else that sells grills for that matter. Sure enough, this past week flames started shooting out of the area where hose meets burner and, since I wasn't outside at the time it was happening and didn't turn it off quickly enough, it melted the knobs to the panel, rendering them useless. I guess we're lucky those flames didn't shoot down the hose and into the tank.

New grill time!

We did a run to four stores to comparison shop.... Lowe's, Home Depot, Target and Sears Hardware. The first three had very comparable models from different makers. All were black and stainless. All had a side burner, all had pretty much the same stuff and all were $199. $200 being the limit we set for our grill, the Weber was out. Damn!

We saw grills with ovens in the bottom. Grills with refrigerators in the bottom. Grills with built in rotisseries. Grills that were black, white, stainless, red, blue or green. Grills that had practically whole outdoor kitchens attached to them!

We ended up going with the Brinkman model from Home Depot. I chose it because my smoker is Brinkman and I was on a little bit of a smoker high.

Ain't it perty?

It has, as Nick likes to call them, big manly knobs. But be warned, these lovely chrome looking big manly knobs are plastic. That was kind of annoying.

It has the side burner, which I suspect I probably won't use much. I never really had a need for one before or wished I had one. But who knows, maybe I'll surprise myself.

And on the other side, it has a counter and a bottle opener. That bottle opener kind of made me laugh. It brought forth images of manly men, drinking beers and grilling giant slabs of meat.

And here was our first meal on the new grill. Burgers and dogs. The one with American cheese is Nick's, the dog is Nick's. I absolutely despise hot dogs, always have. I just happen to luck out when I took a couple burgers out of the freezer. One of them was one I had made with sauteed onions, feta cheese and parsley. Mine!! Mine!!! Nick wasn't upset to have the plain old cheeseburger though. As an aside, I have been seasoning my burgers with a blend I got the last time I was at Penzy's. It's called Mural of Flavor and it's awesome!