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, April 30, 2010

Wilton Course 4 - The Final Final!

Well this is it. The final cake class, the final exam, the final cake! There are no more courses after this one. This course we worked with fondant and gum paste. I had hoped for no contact with vile buttercream, but alas, there still was some. It was limited, but still the disgusting concoction of shortening, powdered sugar, fake butter flavoring, and meringue powder continues to haunt me. Gross.

In class the week before the final final, we made several different flowers from a gum paste/fondant mixture. I was actually rather pleased with them. Here are my daisies...

Cute huh? And here is my carnation. A carnation is pretty labor intensive, with several steps involved. But I was very happy with my outcome. I painted the tips with food coloring and the picture shows that it's still a little wet, but all in all, a pretty decent effort here.

Now as I prepare for the final final, I had to make a cake, fill it, frost it and then cover it with fondant. The decorating would take place in class. Here we go again! Boxed cake mixes are not my friend! I baked it, cooled it and then planned on trimming and freezing it. Well the trimming went fine. But when I picked up the layer to place it in plastic wrap to freeze, that is when the problem arose. The cake fell apart in my hands!

Urgh! It didn't seem like it was all that fragile. It was completely cooled. These dang things just don't like me. They're sick of me talking smack behind their backs about making scratch cakes and leaving them on the shelves. It's payback I tell you! It's a boxed cake mix revolt!! They'll show me, and they sure did!

Well, I smooshed the cake back together and wrapped it up tightly, determined to get what I needed out of this damn thing, which was a canvas for the decorations to come. The second layer stayed intact. Thank goodness.

When I took the cakes out of the freezer a few days later to prepare for class, the broken cake stayed together, fused by freezing. I would use it as the bottom.

With no other real options I filled the inside of the cake with vile buttercream, then iced the whole thing with the nasty stuff too.

Then rolled out my fondant and began the smoothing process.

It smoothed pretty well, and so I was ready to head to class for the... say it with me, final final.

The first part of class we learned how to make a fondant candy box. You can make this and put it on top of a cake and fill it with M&M's or jellybeans or tiny fondant flowers. Whatever floats your boat. Me, I think it's kind of ugly. Well, no... not ugly but just not something I would put on top of a cake.

Granted, I took the photo before it was totally dry and the lid would be stiffer, but still. Meh, just not my thing. It came out good though.

So now it's time to decorate our final cake. I had a plan and I was only mildly confident I could pull it off. But I wanted to do it. It was my last hurrah! I had to give it a shot. So I found a photo, I found black fondant and I got to work! Since my classmate Jill decided to be a slacker and not even bother to make a cake for the final (HA!) I put her to work on the border for my cake. And while we only got halfway finished in the time that was left of class, I am rather pleased with the result!

Oh yeah it's a zebra striped cake! Black fondant is a little messy and if you use the gum glue (made from a small amount of gum paste and water) as adhesive, it can bleed the black into the cake. But all and all, it is my tour de force!

Thanks to Jill for the help. Your balls are magnificent lol. Thanks to Alicia for putting up with me for 4 courses. And to all the other ladies I've met along the way. It was great fun, thanks for putting up with my cursing and my constant chatter. Alas, I don't think I'll ever be hired by Duff or Buddy. But it was fun and I did learn a lot =)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Plantains

Yes, more plantains! I once feared them now cannot get enough of them. This time I decided to mix it up a bit. They are delicious sauteed. They are wonderful with rice. But this time, yeah I'm going a little kooky with the plantain. Last year when I was at the Fabulous Food Show, I saw Tyler Florence make mashed sweet potatoes with bananas. I'm sure when Tyler makes it, it's delish, but it sounded a little off to me. I just can't wrap my hairdo around that flavor combination. So, why not try it with plantains!?

I didn't follow Tyler's recipe, I just winged it with stuff I had in the house. I started with two decent sized sweet potatoes, stabbed with a fork a few times and placed them on a cookie sheet.

Then I took my plantains, cut them in half and peeled them. I had three plantains. What else, what else? I looked around the kitchen and in the fridge and found one green apple so I washed, cored and cut it into quarters. Then wrapped the plantains and apple in foil and put it on the cookie sheet with the potatoes.

After about 40-50 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the potatoes were nicely soft and the plantains and apple were roasty toasty soft as well.

I then peeled off the peel of the sweet potatoes and the apple. You can probably leave the apple skin on if you like for some added texture, but I opted to take it off. Then dumped them all in a bowl. I added stuff you would add to regular mashed sweet potatoes... about 2 Tablespoons of butter (I'd add more but I'm trying to watch myself with that kind of thing), a teaspoon of cinnamon, and about a quarter of a cup of brown sugar.

Mash, mash, mash away!!!

It turned out really delicious! I served it with some of our leftover Easter ham. And just to clarify, this was several weeks ago. I don't still have Easter ham! :)

My Very Own Cake Wreck! Wilton Course 4, Class 2

Thank goodness I'm not a professional or my debacle may have actually ended up on Cake Wrecks! It all started out pretty good, and ahead of schedule I might add. Class is Thursday night and I made the cake on Tuesday. And I will say right here and right now, yes I should have frozen the layers. I didn't. In fact, I never even thought of it. But I'm putting it out there. I should have frozen it. So with that out of the way, the cake in question was a Duncan Hines banana cake. Generally if you read this blog regularly you know that I won't touch these class cakes with a ten foot pole. I hate vile buttercream and fondant isn't any better. But someone eats it so I do want to make sure it's edible. So without further ado, here is the cake that wasn't.

It started out all nice, cake trimmed and vile buttercream around the edge so the filling doesn't seep out.

So far, so good. I planned on filling it with vanilla pudding. OK, maybe a little too much vanilla pudding but that isn't exactly the problem.

Once the top cake is put in place, this is when bad stuff starts to happen. There's a crack on top, but I blob the vile buttercream on and start to spread.

It really doesn't want to spread, even though the consistency is good and not too stiff. The cake is starting to come off in big chunks and the pudding is oozing out a little.

As I frantically try and get the vile buttercream to hold the cake together, it's becoming more and more clear that it's just not happening!

The cake is a mess. It's fallen apart. There's no way at this point to salvage it.

What an absolute mess. There is only one thing left to do.

Toss that sucker in the trash!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grandma's Easter Bread - Revisited

As Easter approached, it was once again time to think about making Grandma's Easter Bread. Last year, if you recall, it was quite an undertaking. The recipe was huge, and even cut down it was huge. This year with the help of Nick and my friend Tom, it was cut down again. And this year, the whole process was much more manageable.

But I had more help this year. It was the use of Grandma's Kitchen Aid. I had it last year, but I hadn't cleaned it yet. Truth is, it took me about a year and a half after she passed away to actually do more than look at it sitting on my counter. But one day I finally decided to start using it and cleaned it top to bottom. She wanted me to have it so the least I could do is use it. Year after year she made Easter bread with that Kitchen Aid so it only seemed right to use it for that purpose again. Hers is much older than mine, but these are machines that are built to last.

So this time, I started out with a much more logical amount of yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons, dissolved in 1/4 cup of warm water.

While the yeast is proofing, take 2 cups of milk and put it in a pan on the stove and scald it, which basically means heat it but don't boil it. Then off the heat take the lard... you remember the lard right? Honest to goodness, real, it comes from a pig, lard. Not shortening. LARD. So take your 1/2 lb. of lard and put it in a pan on the stove with 2 cups of milk and 1/4 stick of margarine (2 Tablespoons). Stir so it all melts together.

After it's all melted, then add 6 beaten eggs and 2 cups of sugar. Mix well. Then add that to the Kitchen Aid that already has your proofing yeast. To that add 1/8 cup of anise seeds. You can use more if you like, I did.

Now it's time to add the dry ingredients and this time it will all fit in the Kitchen Aid! You will need 1 Tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 3 3/4 lbs of flour. It all fits, trust me! And look how beautifully it came together.

It was absolutely perfect. So then take a damp towel, place it over the top of the dough in the bowl still and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Don't forget the damp towel or the top of your dough will be all crusty and that doesn't appeal.

Once the dough has rested, it's time to shape them. You can shape them like this...

Or with eggs.

I color the raw eggs and then put them gently in the dough. But this is the last year I will be making them with eggs. As it turns out, no matter how pretty they are to look at, the majority of people I give these out to do not want the egg. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 - 30 minutes. But watch them. You do not want to overcook them because they can dry out easily.

Once they are done, it's time to ice. Place the cookies on wire racks and then inside a cookie sheet. All it takes is some powdered sugar and some lemon juice. You want the icing to be thick but still run. So just use your instincts and stir small amounts of lemon juice into about 2 lbs. of powdered sugar until you get the right consistency. It's easy to add too much juice and get a watery icing but all you have to do is add more powdered sugar. Once it's right, drizzle over the cookies and immediately top with sprinkles. If you don't sprinkle immediately, the icing will dry and the sprinkles will not stick.

And yes, I still like to lick the icing and sprinkles off the bottom of the pans :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wilton Course 3 - The Final Exam!

Just in time for the next class to start, I bring you my final exam from Course 3 - Fondant and Tiered Cakes. Be afraid, and if it's too much, please look away!

First of all, this course had the most homework of any of the previous courses. Seriously. Before the final class we had to have a 9 or a 10 inch layer cake, a 6 inch layer cake, both iced and covered in fondant, they also needed to have their dowels in place. In addition to all that, we needed to bring some vile buttercream, 20-30 fondant roses and a bunch of fondant leaves.

Starting with the cake, since Nick and I will not touch anything that has that vile buttercream on it, I don't really bother making a cake from scratch for class. This week I used a Pillsbury fudge cake mix and I would say I will never use this cake mix again. As far as boxed cake mixes go, it's fine. It tastes decent and is very moist. Which is kind of the problem, it's very very moist. Which makes icing it kind of a nightmare. And I made it even more moist. I couldn't think of anything to use as a filling so while searching my pantry and refrigerator for something I found a bottle of maraschino cherries. I brushed each trimmed layer with the juice and then put the cherries in the middle of the cake.

Someone was most likely going to eat this cake so I didn't want it to have an empty center. That's just cruel! But then, icing it. No matter how many times I cleaned off my spatula, no matter how many times I tried to scrape the cake, it came out looking like a horrible crumby mess.

In the end though, it just didn't matter since I was covering the iced cake in fondant. So I rolled it out and got to work on smoothing the fondant over the cake.

I did ok, but ran into one little problem area.

I decided to make due with it though. Then I did it all again with the 6 inch cake. Yep, another crumby mess.

Booooo ghosty cake!

Nice, smooth. Just don't look at the other side ok?

Dammit! I told you not to look!

After getting both cakes covered, then I had to put the dowels in the 9 inch cake and get the dowels cut so they weren't sticking out by 5 inches in the cake.

So, armed with 20 fondant roses that looked really bad (I could not get my edges to ruffle and now realize that I needed to roll the fondant a bit thinner), no leaves because I forgot to make them, 2 cakes, vile buttercream and all the other supplies, I'm ready to head to class and put this final exam cake together!

The class mainly consisted of putting our tiered cake together and decorating it. As it turns out, my dowels didn't like up right with the pillars for the cake, so I had to move them.

It really wasn't much of a problem though because vile buttercream in the holes make it look pretty seamless, and plus the flowers were going to go over most of the area. So I started by putting the two cakes together with the pillars between them.

Then it was time to start piping the vile buttercream onto the cake so the roses would stick to the cake.

When the flowers were going to be on the side, a toothpick was added to insure they wouldn't fall off.

Once all the flowers were on, I had to color some of the vile buttercream green so that I could pipe on some leaves.

I also decided to make the border stars, yeah, because it's the easiest one. You caught me there. And then I decided to add more stars. The funny thing is, I've seen Buddy on Cake Boss say many times, "The more I added to that cake, the better it looked" and that really proved to be true. In the end, even though I was disappointed with my roses and I didn't get the fondant completely smoothed out in some areas, I was actually pretty happy with the look of the final product.

Spring Has Sprung Some Asparagus

The best thing about spring is probably the asparagus. Well ok, the sunshine is pretty nice too. But ahhh asparagus. I've blogged several asparagus recipes through the years, like this one and this one, and this one. The one I'm posting today, is classic Kathy. It's how I cook, it's the way I make things. It's nothing innovative or new. It's just yummy.

So we start out as I start out so often lately, with the roasting of the shallots. What can I say, I haven't yet fallen out of my shallot kick. Although, the leeks have been catching my eye lately.

Take 2-3 whole shallots, cut off the ends, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes. They will come out soft, sweet and oh so very delicious! They will slide right out of the outer skin.

While the shallots are roasting, roast the asparagus too.

Trim off the ends (bottom) of each stalk and then take rinsed asparagus and put in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in the 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned.

While the asparagus and shallots are roasting, saute the mushrooms. I use Baby Bella's as my go to mushroom. They have a bit more character than button and are comparable in price. Saute with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

When the mushrooms soak up all the oil, instead of adding more I like to splash in a little wine, but if you don't like wine you can always add a little chicken stock. Let the mushrooms get soft and a just starting to brown. Then added the already roasted shallots and asparagus to the pan.

You should also be boiling your water for the pasta while the roasting is going on. I used one of my fave pasta shapes Orecchiette and I actually found it in a whole wheat variety. What luck!

Orecchiette takes a little longer to cook than other pastas so be sure to read the package instructions if you go with this shape. But you can use any shape you want.... long, short, round, whatever. It's all good.

When all your ingredients are done, pasta is drained, toss it all together. You may want to add a little olive oil if the pasta looks dry or some of the pasta water. Top with some Parmesan or Romano cheese and enjoy!