I <3 Balsamic Vinegar

December 28th, 2009 by leigha

I never used to like balsamic vinegar.  Well, I should actually say I never tried balsamic vinegar because I didn’t think I’d like it.  I mean, it’s vinegar.  How good could it be, right?  It’s probably sour and gross… Oh how I was wrong.  I LOVE balsamic vinegar and I am so happy that I decided to give it a go tonight.

Jason’s been super understanding about the me not cooking thing, but I promised him that I’d make an attempt to cook more meals instead of us getting take-out.  Last night while we were at a local Italian restaurant (okay so I started for real today) he made a mention that I hadn’t made stuffed shells in a very LOOONG time.  I actually remember the last time I made them, and honestly it’s probably been 6 years or so.

So for dinner tonight I made manicotti for my man.  And this is where I fell in love with balsamic vinegar.  No, I didn’t put balsamic vinegar in the manicotti, but I figured I could make my own vinaigrette for our salad.  Jason’s a fan of vinaigrette’s too.  I actually didn’t use a recipe for the vinaigrette, I just kind of threw different amounts of balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic olive oil, salt, honey and spicy brown mustard together in a bowl and whisked it around til it combined and then threw it on the salad.  It was FANTASTIC!  Not bitter, but wonderfully sweet.

Now, this is really supposed to be about my new found love of balsamic vinegar, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of my yummy dressing.  I did, however, get a picture of my yummy manicotti.  This too I just threw together by the seat of my pants.  I cheated a bit and used jarred sauce since I didn’t get home from cake class ’til almost 8:30, but oh well–we can’t have everything in life.

Overall I’m super proud of myself for this one.  Now if only I could get my kitchen cleaned…

Jason’s Home Cinammon Rolls

December 27th, 2009 by leigha

I’ve been a very bad blogger lately, so I’m going to try very hard to get back on that horse and keep on blogging.  I can’t even lie and say that I’ve been cooking and just haven’t been blogging, because that would just not be true.  I just haven’t cooked.  I’ve been super busy, so I haven’t been cooking.  But I’m going to try much harder to be a better blogger and a better soon-to-be wife and cook.

Last month or so Jason’s sister called with a Christmas offer–She’d buy a plane ticket home for him if he’d come home for Christmas as a surprise for their dad.  He was gone from the Tuesday before Christmas until the day after Christmas.  I didn’t think it would be that bad since Christmas isn’t a huge deal for us right now.  We’re both a little too old to get giddy about presents and we don’t have kids to get excited for either.  The four legged kids we have don’t know any better, so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad of a time being by myself for the holidays.  It wasn’t HORRIBLE, but it wasn’t overly easy either.  I’ve gotten use to him being around and to be quite honest, he’s pretty handy to have around.  I missed him a lot.

To keep myself busy I bought Baking Illustrated while he was gone.  I really really really like this cookbook.  It has great recipes that you can be almost certain (barring user error) that are going to turn out great.  The cooks for this cookbook tested the recipes over and over and over again until they got them just right.

Since Jason came home yesterday I made him a special welcome home breakfast.  He loves cinnamon rolls, so that was my task this morning.  Overall, they were doable.  They weren’t horribly hard to make.  I will say that making the dough was a little intimidating, but I think I did it okay.  While hand patting the dough into the prescribed 12×9 rectangle for the rolls I kept getting holes in the middle of the rectangle from not spreading it easily enough I guess.  Oh, and the dough was super duper sticky.  I don’t know if that was normal or not, but the “lightly floured” surface ended up being spread with 1/4 cup of flour that would keep it from sticking to me and the counters and everything else it would touch.

Cutting the cinnamon log into the rolls was a fun endeavor, and I learned to not question Jason… The man’s brilliant.  I was having difficulty keeping the dough from sticking to the knife as I was attempting to cut them into individual rolls.  He suggested that I brush a touch of the melted butter on the knife blade.  I laughed at his silliness–if the test cooks wanted it that way they’d have said so, but I was open to the idea and tried it.  Holy cow, it worked.  I’ll never doubt that man’s advice again.

Anyhow, Jason enjoyed them (had 2) and his only suggestion is that next time I make them bigger like the “Grands” biscuits.  So they must not have been too terrible.  I kind of think they were in the oven a little bit too long and browned a bit too much and were rolled a little too loose so the filling kind of melted out of the rolls instead of staying in the rolls making them gooey.

Overall this was pretty easy, there were moments of intense irritation, but not too bad so I guess this was a flip out factor of 2.

The first picture is before they went into the oven, the last two are after they came out and were frosted.

Busy kitchen day! Orange Chicken and Strawberry cake

November 22nd, 2009 by leigha

Today was a really busy day in my kitchen, and the pile of dishes is the proof.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of anything tonight.  By the time I FINALLY got dinner finished I was so stressed and irritated and hungry that I didn’t care if I had a picture, I just wanted to eat.

Dinner tonight was Orange Chicken that I got from Annie’s Eats.  It’s not the first time I’ve made the recipe.  In fact, I think the recipe is super easy and absolutely delicious.  But oh not tonight!  Tonight’s Flip Out Factor had to be at least a 3.5 for the Orange Chicken.  There was a lot of praying, guessing and finger crossing.  Everything was great until I got to the very last step where you thicken the orange glaze for the chicken.  That’s when I realized I’d used the last of the cornstarch to coat the chicken for frying.  So a quick google excursion told me how many tablespoons of flour to use and I thought it would be okay.  NO NO NO it was not!  I ended up with something that looked like brown paste, so I had to guess about adding different amounts of orange juice, vinegar, chicken stock and soy sauce to get an acceptable constistency and taste.  Then it was a lumpy mess that I had to run the hand mixer through to “fix.”  The taste was okay when all was said and done, it just wasn’t as pretty as it should have been.  But oh well, I was hungry.

I really need to make sure I have all the ingredients before I start cooking.

For class tomorrow I decided on a strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting.  After the chocolate birthday cake fiasco I decided I’d just use a boxed cake mix and not worry about trying to be all Betty Crocker and make my own.  I was going for really thick layers so I could torte the cake and have 4 layers instead of just 2, so I used 2 boxes of cake mix in my 2 9-inch cake pans.  M-I-S-T-A-K-E.  I need to just follow the stupid directions and stop thinking I can figure it all out myself when I have no clue what I’m doing.  I don’t know how in the world the professional cake people do the really thick cakes, but apparently I can’t do it, so I’m just going to start making 4 thinner layers that don’t have to be torted instead of just 2 thick layers that I slice in half.

After the Rainbow Cake’s crumb issues I decided I’d try to do a crumb coat on the strawberry cake so it’ll look pretty and crumbless.  Hopefully that works out well.  The strawberry cake’s still in the fridge setting with the crumb coat.  In about thirty minutes or so I’ll be able to pull it out and put on the pretty coat.  Crossing my fingers that works out okay… I’m too tired to deal with the irritation of it not working.  And I still have to make the regular buttercream for class tomorrow.


November 22nd, 2009 by leigha

I’m amending my previous post about the chocolate cake.  While it was fairly easy (not SIMPLE but not hard) it tastes HORRIBLE!!!!!  I took it home to mom we went to eat it last night and it was the most disgusting, dry, horrible cake I’ve ever had.  I will never use that recipe again.  🙁

It’s so disappointing, and so embarrassing that it happened with a cake that was supposed to be a gift.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

November 20th, 2009 by leigha

Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, so I decided to make her a cake and take it to her after my workshop on Saturday.  Since Jason got me a cake decorating book for my birthday (Pretty Party Cakes) I thought I’d try the recipe for the chocolate cake.  This is the first time I’ve tried to make a cake from scratch, and while it wasn’t HORRIBLE it wasn’t overly easy either.  I thought I’d try to use 2 9-inch pans rather than 3-8 inch pans and it didn’t do quite what I’d hoped for.  The temperature was way too high, so it ended up crisping the top with the inside still gooey.  Thankfully the crispy top flaked off really easy.  I used some simple syrup to counteract the dryness and then used ganache to kind of seal the cake so when I frosted with the chocolate buttercream I didn’t have the same crumb issue I had with the last cake.  It was a long process, but it was doable.  I think I started the cake around around 7:30 and I’m just now finished with everything right before midnight.  Hopefully she likes it…


The shading difference on the top of the cake is from my goofing the letters–I really messed up the T in birthday, so I just scraped it off, smoothed it out and rewrote it.  Letters aren’t my thing yet, but I’m working on it.  I also learned a few tricks about the dumb buttercream this time too.  First off making it was a cinch, even though I made chocolate.  But sealing the cake with the ganache did great to keep the crumbs away, but made the buttercream slip around a little bit on the top of the cake and around the side of the cake.  Then it didn’t want to smooth out nicely, so I heated up my spatula thinger put a little bit of parchment paper over the cake and smoothed the cake through the parchment paper.  Can I just say FABULOUS!  It worked so much better.

Aside from the late night hour, this was pretty easy, so I’m going to give this whole experience a Flip Out Factor: 2.

The Buttercream Aftermath

November 16th, 2009 by leigha

Tonight was Lesson 2 of my cake decorating class and I was able to use all of the *wonderful* buttercream that I made over the weekend.  I have to say, it really wasn’t overly horrible, I was VERY disorganized which made the whole thing kind of irritating and slow, but I guess I’ll get if figured out with enough practice.  Can I just tell you that piping stars is a L-O-N-G process.  Tons of little stars decorate my star cake.  For once though, I was not the one who flipped out the most–there was one girl that I really thing was about to burst into tears and go home within the first five minutes.  She had a bag/coupler/tip fiasco and couldn’t figure out how to fix it.  Poor girl–nothing worked for her, her buttercream was WAY too thick and she blew two bags.  Another girl had frosting that was so thin it was just dripping out of her bag she took it well though, and made us laugh to boot.  Tonight was fun though.  I like being able to go somewhere and do something “fun” after work.

So here’s the aftermath of the buttercream:

Flip Out Factor:  1  It wasn’t too bad, but my hand did start to cramp at the end of the first row.  I’m having some regrets about the smiley face inside the rainbow, but oh well, it’s on the cake and I can’t do anything about it now!


Secondary Aftermath:


Flip Out Factor:  5+  Six different colors of frosting, dirty couplers, dirty tips, dirty tupperware.  WHAT A MESS!

Barbecue Ribs, Spicy Corn & Smashed Garlic Potatoes

November 15th, 2009 by leigha

Today is my birthday!  Not only is it my birthday, but I get to watch my Alma Mater play football from the comfort of my couch and eat a good meal.  Jason decided he’d give me a break tonight and cook dinner so I didn’t have to–so tonight’s birthday dinner is BBQ ribs with the spicy corn Jason likes and my favorite Smashed Garlic Potatoes.

The secret to Jason’s ribs is more about the technique than the ingredients, but he said he didn’t mind me sharing his secret, so I get to share it!  The corn is something that I’ve been playing with for a while now.  One night I wanted to have corn, but didn’t have corn on the cob so I thought I’d play around with the can we had.  And the Smashed Potatoes are something that I’ve adapted from a cookbook I have.  I LOVE garlic, so I thought I’d add garlic to them and think they turned out well.  I think I might add a bit of salt to them next time since they seem a little flat, but they’re still good.

Jason’s BBQ Ribs

Flip Out Factor: 0 (I didn’t have to do it!)

1 Rack of Ribs

Store bought Spice Rub (Jason uses “Anything Goes” from the FreshMarket)

Store bought BBQ Sauce (Jason uses the Hickory & Brown Sugar from Sweet Baby Rays)

Preheat your oven to 275.  While the oven is heating, coat both sides of the ribs with the spice rub–really rub it on.  Put the ribs on a broiling pan and put them in the oven for 2 1/2 hours on each side (a total of 5 hours).  Once they’re done in the oven, pull them out and put them on the grill.  Put BBQ sauce on both sides, turning and recoating at least twice.

Spicy Corn

Flip Out Factor: 1

1 can of Corn Kernels

1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

1 tbsp Butter

pinch of salt

Black pepper

Melt butter in a medium saute pan on medium heat.  Drain liquid from corn and put corn in pan.  As corn cooks through add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  This recipe is really forgiving, so you can adjust the spices as you need.  I’ve also added garlic to this before and it was really good too.

Smashed Garlic Potatoes

Flip Out Factor: 1

This recipe I adapted from one I found in Rachel Ray’s 365: No Repeats–A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners. It’s her “Fancy Pants Bangers & Mash.”  I didn’t care for the bangers, but I kept the mash.

2lbs red potatoes cut into quarters (leave the skins on)

1/2 c. milk

2 tbsp cream cheese

2 cloves of garlic minced (her recipe calls for chives, but I didn’t have any, so I used garlic.  Was just as good in my opinion)

2 tbsp butter.

Boil potatoes until tender, drain, return to pot.  Add other ingredients, mash & done!


It’s much more a guy’s meal than a girlie birthday dinner, but it’s what Jason does well, and he wanted to help out, so by all means please do!  I wonder if he’ll do the dishes too…

I. Don’t. Like. Buttercream.

November 15th, 2009 by leigha

Flip Out Factor:  5 All I can say for this one, is it’s a good thing Jason was home or else this would have completely blown up.  Buttercream is not my friend.

For at least the last two years I’ve wanted to take a cake decorating class.  I thought the cakes at bakeries were “Oooh so pretty” and figured–hey I can do that too!  So, about a month ago, I enrolled in my very first cake decorating class.  I had to wait a few weeks, but my first class was November 9th.

On the drive over to class I was ridiculously nervous.  My heart was racing (I’m such a dork).  Anyhow, at class we learned how to fill our cakes with yummy stuff like jam, ganache, buttercream, etc. and how to frost the cake with thin buttercream.  Today is Sunday meaning since I have class tomorrow, I need to get my cake ready for class.

I have just spent the last five hours of my life working on that cake!  And it wasn’t even THE CAKE!  I know how to bake.  I’m by no means an avid baker, but I can measure and follow recipes without too much anxiety.  But Lord help me the buttercream!  Thank God Jason was home and toodled into the kitchen to see what I was doing because he happened to notice I didn’t have nearly enough buttercream for my cake and the 500,000 colors I have to take to class with me tomorrow.  So we had to dash off to the grocery store to get some more supplies to make more buttercream.  As an aside, if you are in the stock market you would probably be safe in buying stock in Crisco and Powdered Sugar with as much as I went through today.

Between stiff, medium, thin; royal blue, sky blue, green, purple, CHRISTMAS red (not just red, CHRISTMAS red) and yellow my head was thoroughly spinning and confused.

I FINALLY finished my buttercream and mixing in colors about an hour and a half ago and have spent the last hour and a half trying to frost that stupid cake.  Not only do I not like buttercream–but I. HATE. CRUMBS.  Crumbs have taken over my frosting.  It probably didn’t help that I’m slightly anal-retentive and wouldn’t just leave the cake alone.  Oh no, I had to try to smooth it out, only increasing the number of crumbs covering my poor cake.


Maybe next week will go better…