Reviews

Rainbow-Surprise Lemon Cake & Surprise-Inside Cakes Cookbook Giveaway

Traditionally frosting is the star of cake decorating, but what about the inside? Amanda Rettke proves that it’s the inside that counts with her cookbook, “Surprise-Inside Cakes”.

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When it comes to decorating cakes I am not an expert. Upon receiving the Surprise-Inside Cakes cookbook by Amanda Rettke (I Am Baker) I was a bit intimidated to go beyond the recipes for different layers of color and/or frosting without any cutting and cake-puzzle-assembling. It is truly impressive how many different interiors she was able to design and execute. But after reading through a few of the more complicated recipes I realized that with the right tools and some patience, paired with her excellent step-by-step photos and directions, I might be able to pull it off.

I really loved the smiley face cake and argyle cake but decided to start out small with one of the easier recipes – the rainbow cake. First I had to decide on a cake flavor. Amanda provides recipes for perfectly level cakes and frostings which can be used to create any of the surprise-inside cakes. However, you could also use your own recipe or even a boxed mix, I won’t tell. If using other recipes you may end up with a domed top which will need to be leveled off, unless of course you know that particular recipe does come out flat. Either way, a cake with these interior designs will look made from scratch no matter what recipe you choose.

Rainbow Balloon Lemon Cake 1

To see if a boxed mix would work, I decided to doctor up a white cake mix to create a lemon cake. (Did you know that rainbows taste like lemons? Well, at least this one does.) The cakes did dome but that was easily solved by slicing off the tops with a long serrated knife. After that I followed Amanda’s detailed instructions for assembling and frosting the cakes. I don’t think I’ve ever frosted such a smooth cake before.

Rainbow Balloon Lemon Cake 2

Upon that beautiful white scene I created my own balloon decorations using the cake-top scraps and leftover frosting. It looks like fondant doesn’t it!? Nope it’s something even better, something I have decided to call cake-ball-fondant! Yup, I am a genius. Instead of forming balls to be dipped in chocolate, roll flat with a rolling pin and cut out shapes with cookies cutters. Consider your mind blown.

Rainbow Balloon Lemon Cake 3

In order to find out exactly how I colored and assembled this cake you’ll have to read about it in the Surprise-Inside Cakes cookbook! To assist in keeping a copy into your hands asap I am giving away a copy of this awesome cookbook to one lucky reader. After checking out the recipe use the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post to enter.

Rainbow Balloon Lemon Cake 4

One year ago: Baked Eggs with Crispy Hash Brown Crust

Two years ago: Cheesy Cat Treats

Three years ago: Funfetti Cake Batter Smoothie
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Review: The Laughing Cow – What’s your snacking style?

The Laughing Cow® provided me with product and a $10 gift card for this review. However, thoughts and opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the brand.

Besides your typical cream cheese on a bagel in the morning, I’ve used The Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges in a variety of recipes on my blog: Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese, Corn, and Bacon Waffles, Jalapeno Popper Crostini, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes, Creamy Chicken and Herb Skillet and even the Baked Reuben Taquitos I shared yesterday. I’ve particularly enjoyed using them in single servings recipes such as White Cheddar Mac & Cheese in a Mug, Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas, and Cream Cheese and Bell Pepper Stuffed Chicken. The individual 3/4 oz. wedges are perfect for such portion sizes.

But then The Laughing Cow brought me back to the basics by asking, “What’s your snacking style?”. Well, I am not a snack-planner. I will plan every meal of the day but planning snacks is not on my radar, which means I have a “grab and go” snacking style. Granola bars, fruits, and cheeses are my typical snacking choices. My ideal snack is a small plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. Which means The Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges fit right in with my snacking style.

I’m curious, what’s your snacking style?

The Laughing Cow Snacking Style

The Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges are rich, creamy and the perfect snack for any occasion. With 35 calories per light cheese wedge and seven delicious varieties to choose from (such as creamy swiss, white cheddar, and queso fresco & chipotle), there are endless pairing options to enjoy whenever and however you want. Check out their product locator to find your favorite flavors at www.TheLaughingCow.com.

One year ago: Steel Cut Oatmeal with Bananas & Cobbler Topping

Two years ago: Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Smoked Paprika

Three years ago: Potica Nut Roll
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Review: Good Stock: Life on a Low Simmer

I have to admit, I had never heard of Sanford D’Amato before reading his memoir, Good Stock: Life on a Low Simmer. Regardless, I found his memoir to be very interesting. D’Amato takes the reader through his childhood in Milwaukee, training at the Culinary Institute of America, and his challenges and successes thereafter which eventually led to the opening of his restaurant, Sanford. He also included 80 recipes which woven into the stories, and places at the end of each chapter.

GoodStock

Before talking about the recipes I tried, I wanted to recall a couple lines from his text that I, and I am sure many others, can relate to:

“It’s a shame that the first time we try foods, we don’t always have the perfectly prepared versions; many folks go through their lives hating certain foods for no other reason than that they were prepared incorrectly.” – Talking about his experience with sweetbreads, which I have never had myself but I definitely experienced this phenomenon with other foods. This list covers things such a meringue, meatloaf (wasn’t prepared incorrectly in the past, just different), red snapper, etc.

“I found out that with forethought, ingenuity, and organization, you don’t need all that extra space to create good food.” – Talking about his mini kitchen while living in NYC. His was probably smaller than mine, but I definitely applied those skills to pull off some creative and/or large meals. People sometimes cannot believe that I have a food blog after seeing the small size of my kitchen.

“Anyone who has ever seen a professional cook eat knows that the word savor is not in their vocabularies. Cooks usually eat at a frantic pace in large, voluminous bites, as time is always at a premium.” – I am by no means a professional, but I definitely have difficulty savoring my food. As a child I was always the last one done eating at the dinner table, preventing my other siblings from being excused. But then college happened and I had to woof down my food in between classes, and it has stuck ever since. You would think that with an exceptionally delicious meal or dessert I would slow down to savor but it’s the exact opposite, I want to stuff another forkful/spoonful into my face after barely swallowing the previous bite.

On to the recipes! The first I tried was the Lemon Curd Meringues which I opted to make with Meyer lemons. This was my first experience with homemade meringue on top of a dessert and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. In the past the meringues I made at home were crispy but this was fluffy like whipped cream with a slightly crisp exterior from the broiler. Great topped for lemon curd!

Lemon Curd Meringues

The other recipe I tried was his Black Bean Chili with Cheddar Cheese Toast. I’ve never made a chili that wasn’t my dad’s recipe, but this recipe was relatively similar using chunks of beef and beans, using black instead pinto beans, serrano instead of a bell pepper and a little bit of bacon. With a side of toast covered in melty cheddar cheese it was a success and a fun variation of chili from what I normally make.

Black Bean Chili

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy from Agate Publishing, Inc.. I was not compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

One year ago: Overnight, Slow Cooker Eggnog Cranberry Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Three years ago: Stuffed Green Peppers

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Review: OodleTip Pastry Bags

When it comes to baking, frosting can sometimes be a challenge, especially when using tips and pastry bags. Seeing a need, Brenda Grimes invented the OodleTip® pastry bag – the World’s only disposable pasty bag with an attached versatile tip. The OodleTip® bag debuted this past March 2013 at the International Housewares Show in Chicago. Since then the OodleTip® bag has been picked up by companies around the world. Michaels Craft Stores will begin carrying the OodleTip® & Little OodleDoodle® (for children) this month.

OodleTip® Bag Features and Benefits:

  • One piece bag with an attached tip – no more hassle assembling and dismantling
  • Disposable – no need to wash tip and store for future use
  • Customizable tip selection – includes several designs and sizes:
    • Food-Filling and large Swirl Size = 1”
    • French Star: Sizes 1/4 – 9/10”
    • Round and Piping Sizes: 1/32 – 1/4”                                                                                           
  • Flexible squeezable tip – no clogging during food filling
  • Retail box package includes: 10 disposable, 16″ OodleTip® bags with attached tips
  • MSRP: $9.99                         

OodleTip

I received samples of this product a couple months ago and have enjoyed using them for all of my frosting, filling, and piping needs. Since I don’t do a lot of mass quantity baking, I tended to use more of the OodleDoodles (meant for kids), but both kinds work the same. You start out with a plastic bag already fitted with a versatile tip. I liked to fill my bag before proceeding any further, ensuring that none of my filling/frosting would ooze out. Depending on the shape desired, you then cut the tip with a pair of scissors at the appropriate spot. One cool idea is that you could start with a writing tip, and then cut higher to change to a star.

OodleTip 1

After cutting you are free to squeeze away just like you would with a normal bag and tip set-up. The tip is also flexible, making it easy to squeeze out every last drop of frosting. Something you could not do with a normal metal tip. My only hesitation with using these tips is that I am the type of person that washes and reuses zip-top baggies, so it felt wrong to throw away these pastry bags. I actually did wash and reuse a couple of them, and they withstood the reuse. (And it was nice not worrying about the tip falling into the garbage disposal, subsequently being forgotten and ruined.)

OodleTip 2

So what did I make using these OodleTips? Remember these Peanut Butter Mousse Cookie Cups? I cut the tip to a round shape to fill these babies.

Peanut Butter Mousse Cookie Cups

Then, I cut the tip to a star to frost these White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes.

 White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Cutting to a French star resulted in the frosting on top of these Hazelnut Baci Cupcakes.

Hazelnut Baci Cupcakes

And finally, I also used the French tip to top this lemon curd with meringue. Not my best piping job ever, but it still tasted wonderful!

OodleTip 4

What do you think? Would you prefer using these OodleTips over the tradition piping bag fitted with a metal tip?

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary product from BonNosh, LLC. I was not compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

One year ago: Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells

Two years ago: Peanut Butter Fudge Brownie Bricks

Three years ago: English Muffins

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Eggnog Dip with New York Style Sweet Swirls Snack Crisps

When it comes to potlucks, it is always expected that I will bring a dessert (a safe assumption as I usually do). However, I mentioned wanting to bring something else to The Pharmacy potluck but was scoffed as if to not bring a dessert was unacceptable. I am not discounting the praise I receive when people say that they love my desserts, but give my non-baked goods a chance!

In order to win the masses over, I decided to team up with the new Sweet Swirls from New York Style for a dip to bring to the aforementioned potluck – yes a dessert dip, I compromised. New York Style Sweet Swirls is a new baked snack crisp product that comes in Cinnabon and Chocolate, and transforms any snack into something extra special. I knew they would be a perfect match with this eggnog dip.

Although I could have easily devoured them by themselves, the flavor of the Sweet Swirls was not dramatic. Instead they added just right amount of flavor to compliment the eggnog dip rather than overpower. My favorite for this particular dip was the Cinnabon and appeared as though most people agreed with me as that bowl dwindled faster than the chocolate. I thought for sure the chocolate would go first!

What would you serve with New York Style Sweet Swirls? Another idea I had for the Chocolate Sweet Swirls was to make little fruit pizzas, using them as the “crust” instead of a brownie. I’ll have to buy more in order to try it out!

Eggnog Dip

I also made an appetizer using the Garlic Parmesan Panetini. I will share that recipe at a later date.

Two years ago: Red Velvet Truffle Stuffed Funfetti Cupcakes
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Review: LouAna Coconut Oil & Hazelnut Baci Cupcakes

With all the holiday baking going on right now, I find myself longing for those traditional holidays recipes but at the same time love trying out new things. I have dabbled a little with coconut oil in my baking and cooking and decided to give LouAna Pure Coconut Oil a try in some of my holiday recipes. Coconut oil is the latest buzz ingredient with a neutral flavor and aroma which allows for its incredible versatility. It is a natural alternative to butter and other oils, and contains zero trans-fat. While other oils and butter are high in artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and low in HDL cholesterol (known as “good” cholesterol), coconut oil has been proven to actually raise HDL levels in the body.

LouAna

I decided to try this oil out in two different ways in one recipe – Hazelnut Baci Cupcakes which consist of hazelnut cupcakes topped with Nutella buttercream, chopped hazelnuts and even white chocolate Baci. Side note: Baci is the Italian word for “kisses” and the name for a truffle filled with milk chocolate, hazelnut gianduia, and a whole hazelnut, and coated with dark chocolate. I first experienced these little nuggets while on a trip to Italy with my highschool Italian class. In the U.S. I typically have only been able to find them at stores like Home Goods, and recently stumbled upon the white chocolate variety. I knew instantly that something special had to be made with them.

White Chocolate Baci

For these cupcakes, coconut oil was used in place of the canola oil and butter in the batter and even some of the butter in the frosting. The end result was a soft, fluffy cupcake topped with creamy frosting, and admirers that were clueless to the switch. These cupcakes may not be diet friendly, but I am a sucker for cutting out even minimal amounts of guilt from my baking and cooking. When you cannot taste the difference, why not make those little substitutions?

Hazelnut Baci Cupcakes

One year ago: Pasta with Butternut Sauce, Spicy Sausage and Baby Spinach

Two years ago: Blizzard Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

Three years ago: Buttermilk Pancakes
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Review: The Dollop Book of Frosting & Orange Cut-Out Cookies with Orange Cardamom Icing

Before I defended my dissertation a couple months ago several people came to my rescue with guest posts, including Heather Saffer, winner of Cupcake Wars author of The Dollop Book of Frosting. This cookbook is not only full of fun and creative frosting flavors, but also novel ways to enjoy frosting – because frosting should not be restricted to cakes and cookies. Today her holiday blog tour stops here and I am sharing a recipe from this cookbook that would be perfect to make this holiday.

DollopBookofFrosting
As I expressed previously, Heather’s Ultimate Dude Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream stole my heart upon first sight. I can see why they were the big winner in Cupcake Wars. Flipping through the rest of the recipes I was also drawn to the Strawberry Spinach Cheesecakes with Strawberry Balsamic Goat Cheese Frosting and Vanilla Buttermilk Waffles with Maple Bacon Frosting. Frosting is now for breakfast kids, rejoice! Her recipes will take frosting down avenues you never thought possible. So if you love frosting and are looking for creative recipes then you really need to snatch this up. It would also be a great gift to grab for the sweet-tooth in your life ;-).

Orange Cut-Out Cookies 2

Now I know that I said frosting goes beyond cakes and cookies, but cut-out cookies were a staple for every holiday when I was growing up. We had scads of cookie cutters shapes, food coloring, and festive sprinkles for every occasion. These cut-out cookies pump up your traditional sugar cookie cut-outs with the flavors of orange and cardamom – a combination that will leave your palate both refreshed and comforted. For the upcoming winter holidays, I decided to cut mine with snowflakes and they tasted better than any snowflake that has ever landed on my tongue.

Orange Cut-Out Cookies 1

One year ago: Maple Breakfast Sausage
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Review: Creative Cooking (for One or Two)

I am changing things up a little this Sunday to instead talk about a cookbook that offers recipes which serve one to two people (sometimes up to four depending on how small you portion the servings). Seemed completely appropriate to post such a review on Single Serving Sunday!

Creative Cooking (for One or Two) addresses the problem that many parents have: how to go from cooking large quantities which feed a crowd to smaller servings for one or two when their children fly the coop. Or for those children who are now living on their own (like me still, ten years and counting).

These recipes span from breakfast foods, soups/salads/sandwiches, entrees, all the way to dessert. Many of these recipes can be made in a toaster oven (or microwave), reducing the amount of energy used and heat created compared to a full-sized oven. And each recipe includes degrees of difficulty and approximate calorie counts.

There is also a Festive Feasts chapter which offers meals for holidays and other special events, but with fewer servings for less leftovers. I loved this chapter as it relates to my Thanksgiving Dinner for Two. The festive menu line-ups include New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, sporting events, and even a birthday brunch.

Creative Cooking for One or Two

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Pinto Bean Breakfast Patty Melts & The New Southwest Giveaway

Have you had a chance to check out The New Southwest Cookbook by Meagan of Scarletta Bakes? If not then today is your lucky day because not only am I sharing a recipe from her new cookbook, but am also hosting a giveaway for one lucky reader to receive a copy!

scarletta bakes coverTo start, there’s a chapter which covers all the essentials for a southwest kitchen pantry as well as acceptable substitutions when you cannot locate a certain ingredient in a recipe, which I completely appreciated as sometimes it is difficult to find certain ingredients. Then there is a “building blocks” chapter covering all the condiments and foodstuffs seen in southwestern cooking from roasted chiles to homemade corn tortillas. Although it is not necessary to make your own tortillas, salsa, etc. from scratch, it certainly adds to the experience. I really want to try making my own tortillas once I get my hands on a tortilla press.

Browsing through the subsequent chapters, several recipes immediately struck me such as the fried sage smashed potatoes and the dulce de leche layer cake with sweet pecan “pesto”. The picture of that cake made me swoon, with pecan “pesto” dripping all over the place. But when I saw the pinto bean breakfast patty melts I knew it was time to treat myself to a hearty, spicy breakfast.

These breakfast patties were easy to throw together and I loved that they could be wrapped up before being cooked and saved for later since I typically only cook for myself. After being fried and topped with cheese, these patty melts were layered with spicy flavor – both in heat and spices. If you are a bit timid to spiciness you may want to consider removing the seeds from the jalapenos.

 Pinto Bean Breakfast Patty Melts

Want to win a copy? Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter after viewing the recipe below!

One year ago: Chewy Molasses Cookies

Two years ago: Andes Crème de Menthe Chocolate Cookies
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Review: Taste of Home Recipes Across America

One of my favorite things about traveling is sampling the local food. What food items have you tried during your journeys that you would love to have again? Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza, Southern Fried Chicken or Mississippi Mud Cake? You’ll find those classic regional recipes in Taste of Home Recipes Across America.

Divided into five regions (Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest, and West), Recipes Across America offers 735 specialties enjoyed by locals using regional produce. You’ll even discover ethnic specialties passed down through generations that became hometown favorites. In addition, hundreds of snapshots of food festivals and landmarks are scattered among the pages. And as a bonus, you’ll also find food folklore, recipe histories and fun food facts.

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