Sweet Sandy B. Bakes

If we are ever to enjoy life, now is the time. Not tomorrow or next year... Today should always be our most wonderful day...

So, let's eat cake!

Notes on my adventure as a mom and baker and life as Sweet Sandy B...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Owls, official animal of hipsters worldwide

So owls are cliche anymore. I don't really care- I love them and they are my favorite. Like cuddling.
I've been wanting to make owl cupcakes for oh... about 2 years now. and today is my sweet baby girls 3rd birthday and since she has been celebrating this glorious event since last weekend she has had every sort of birthday treat imaginable. I had to do something different and BETTER for her to take to her nursery school class.

Therefore, I'm bringing the big guns. Mini owl cupcakes. Because they are smaller, just like my Moochie, they are automatically cuter. Thus, they will trump everything done thus far. Even the stupid cake Mr. Papers had someone else make for her birthday party yesterday.... hmph...

I was short on time so this is quite possibly the easiest treat to date (except maybe the Dump Cake). Check it:

One box cake mix. Whatever flavor floats your boat- and all the necessary ingredients to make said cake.
One tub of frosting- or two if you want to do two different flavors/colors
Mini Oreo cookies
Candy Corn, Mini Chocolate Chips, M & M's, orange candy gummies***** we will talk about the candies at the end****

First you will need to bake mini cupcakes w/ said box cake mix. Follow directions on the box, cool. If you want to be a perfectionist you can bake a cake from scratch (like my delightful chocolate cake) and you can use brown cupcake liners.
I baked cupcakes last weekend and had a ton left over, so I froze them, thawed them and used them today. So sue me. They are also in mismatched cupcake liners- not at all halloween or fall themed. Again, I suck at life.

So, if you baked from scratch or GASP used the box mix, let those babies cool while you

Mini oreos by nature are not as 'clean' as full size oreos. so they are a bit more 'dusty' on the creme filling. But, 3 year olds are eating these. They could give a rats behind. I'm in a HURRY here and working with what I have. You want to break them in half so the cream is on one side and then the "clean" side you will want to slice in half because these will be used later for further face decorating... See:

You frost the cupcake, then add the eyeballs, then the pupils (mini chocolate chips), then the beak- which can be either an orange M &M or a candy corn, then add the 1/2'd oreo as eyebrows/ears/feathers. Not sure what they are, but they are cute.

Here are a few variations:

Moochie's favorite colors are pink and purple (and lately orange) so, I made some pink owls as well. This is where I got slightly fancy

Pink frosting, pink heart sprinkles, oreo eyeballs, mini chocolate chip pupils, yellow m&m beaks

Super fancy, no?
Here they are in all their IN YOUR FACE glory ready to be half eaten by unimpressed 3 year olds

**Notes on the candy... The candy corn, I felt, was too big for a beak. And someone commented that they made them look like muppets, not really owls. And I obviously didn't use a single orange gummy thing. Because I would have had to manipulate the candy- i.e. cut it into the right shape, possibly use a rolling pin, etc etc. I was short on time. The M&M's worked best, looked the cutest (in my opinion) and kids all love M &M's. But I did have to sort through a bag of the candy to get only yellow and orange. SO, you could just buy reese's pieces and save yourself even more time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chocolate cake. better than a handshake, not as good as .. you know

Full disclosure- I'm not usually a chocolate cake fan. Hands down I go for 'yellow' cake with milk chocolate frosting. Nothing fancy, I want something that reminds me of being 6 and the pure joy of eating cake my mom made.

But, we are changing the dessert menu at work and I knew we needed some ridiculous chocolate to make the cut. SO I started playing around with a chocolate cake, because girls LOVE chocolate.
I put a variation of this cake up on special last week and guess who came in and had a slice? Chris Tucker ;) He loved it so much he asked me out for a drink after. that's another story!

Here is what you need for the cake:

This is a very straight forward cake, but there are few things you MUST do to get the cake right.
First, put all the dry ingredients into a bowl- flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda

mix them together to combine
then, add the vanilla and the SOFTENED butter. NOT melted. not cold. soft, room temp butter. It should look like this:

turn on the mixer and while it is coming together, you HAVE to do this:

Butter and coat two 8 or 9 inch cake pans with COCOA powder. because we are making chocolate cake- you don't want a coating of white flour on the outside of the rich brown cake. it will look gray and gross. We are frosting them anyhow- but trust me.
Now we add the liquids- 2 eggs and some water. Mix for THREE MINUTES. set a timer. THREE minutes. You want the batter to look like this:

It is thick, but you do not want to overmix. This will make the cake way too dense/tough and it won't rise nice and fluffy. You want fluffy and airy.

Pour evenly between the two pans and put in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes (this depends on what size pan you use. Smaller pan = longer bake time. Unless you make cupcakes. duh.

Now. The frosting. This frosting is the one that tastes and comes closest to your favorite Betty Crocker chocolate frosting from the tub. It is f'ing awesome. Here is what you need:

mix the regular sugar and cocoa powder in a pot. then add everything else BESIDES the powdered sugar and vanilla

mix with a spatula and try to smooth out the lumps while you turn the heat up on the stove top because you want to bring all of this goodness to a boil for about THREE minutes. stir continuously. you do NOT want to scorch the cocoa.

after three minutes- take off the burner and put anywhere else to cool for THIRTY minutes, at least. if you can and have room- go ahead and put it in the fridge. you can do this if you are in a hurry too.

this will coincide nicely with the timer going off indicating your cakes should be done. you know how to tell if a cake is done, right? ok good. well mine wasn't done after 35 minutes. so, i let them go for about 5 more minutes but I kept checking because this cake goes from not done to crispy in as little as 2 minutes.
you want it to look like this:

let them cool in the pans for TEN minutes. set a timer. TEN minutes. they need to cool a bit in the pan or they won't come away cleanly. BUT, if you leave them in too long, they will overcook and dry out. both things are bad. so SET.A.TIMER
and in the mean time you can keep futzing with the frosting mix because you want it to cool enough to look like this:

you want to be able to divide it like the red sea and see the bottom of the pot. you should be able to touch the bottom of the pan and it be cool.

alright turn the cakes out on a wire cooling rack and let them cool for at least an hour.

now pour the frosting mix into the mixer and start whipping it up. we want to incorporate as much air as possible so it will get light and fluffy. while the whisk is going, you can start pouring in the powdered sugar and the vanilla. and keep whipping! you want it to get thicker from the powdered sugar, but still whip up enough to frost the cake so it doesn't look like just a ganache.

see how the whisk is leaving marks in the frosting? it's getting thick enough!

so- i had some time left for the cake to cool and i started chatting on the phone and after an hour I was like- ooooops gotta torte and frost the cake. So I forgot to take pictures of that step but basically, I cut each layer in half and put frosting in between each layer. Then frosted the outside and it looks like this:

and then because I need the "triple" in the "triple chocolate" I added chocolate chips on top. you can add anything at this point- white chocolate shavings, or shavings from any candy bar, chocolate sprinkles- whatever makes your heart happy.

ta da! and now put it in the fridge and let it set up. and then the next morning wake up and give it to a friend, like me :)
FYI- i didn't eat ANY of this cake while baking, decorating or even after it was set up. I was fasting for a blood test.
talk about torture.
it might have been more torturous for my friend that was watching me decorate it and couldn't eat it either. zing!

So, if you are inclined- here is the recipe:
Chocolate Cake
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 2/3 c sugar
3/4 c softened butter
2/3 c cocoa powder
1 1/4 c water
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs

Chocolate Frosting
1 c sucrose
1/2 cocoa powder
1/2 c WHOLE milk (or heavy cream or half and half)
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Take aways- the timer is your friend w/ this cake. USE IT.
also, this cake tastes amazing with a raspberry sauce, or just a tall glass of milk.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's officially fall...

I love fall. Hands down, favorite season. First off because it brings the month of October. the best month of the year and not just because my birthday is in October (oh, on Thursday- did I mention that?).
Um, college football and HALLOWEEN are in October. yessssss

Also you can finally put on sweaters w/ jeans and sneakers and hide your belly again (thank you baby jesus), AND you can make delicious stick to your bones fall food.

like chili and cornbread.

So. way back in February an acquaintance- now friend :)- mentioned something about making bomb chili. I asked for the recipe and received an email with directions. It took 8 months, but I finally did it justice. It took some visual inspiration though, I saw what it looked like in their kitchen first today and Moochie & #1 were like, can we make chili too? You bet your ass we can. We went to the grocery store to get....

(ground meat, various beans, tomato sauce, tomato paste, celery, onion, jalapeno, tomato, green pepper, green chili, white pepper (?), cumin, regular pepper, chili powder) and FYI, you really do need a big ass pot. This exact term was used in the directions. This is no lie. biggest pot you have. use it.

*please note- I altered the recipe I received just slightly. Mainly, I did this:

Instead of using 2 lbs of ground beef, I used one pound of ground veal and one pound of ground sirloin. i'm fancy.

and the recipe also called for Frostbite. Back in February I was like- really? c'mon. do you REALLY use this? but today, I saw first hand that yes, indeed Frostbite is used.
I do not have Frostbite. Nor does my local grocery store. But you know what I do have? Sriracha. If you don't already have some, GO BUY IT NOW.

I had to get my mise ready so I chop chop chopped away while the kids waited not so patiently (we were going on a halloween treasure hunt around the block. i know, i told you I was fancy). And then we did some pop'ing and dropping. i.e. i opened what felt like 100 cans and let the kids dump them in the big ass pot.

Recipe called for 2 cans pinto and 2 cans kidney beans. I went off recipe and used 1 of each: pinto, black, cannelini, kidney. and then we put everything else in the pot except for:

meat, onions and green pepper
i let the onions get translucent and the meat cooked about half way. because then we just dumped THAT into the b.a.p. too.
and then we let it simmer away for about an hour while we went on our treasure hunt.
we come home and the house smells amazing. the kids aren't impressed and they want corn dogs instead. and butter noodles. shocking.
i sway them only slightly by telling them we are going to make fancy cupcakes. little did they know....

these ingredients would be making cornbread muffins. i'm mean, i know.
so we have cornmeal, bread flour, eggs, whipping cream, salt, baking powder, sugar, shortening and a can of sweet summer corn which I forgot to include. i was hiding it from the kids.
pretty much you just cream the shortening, then add liquids, then dry ingredients and last corn or whatever at the end (i envision bacon as a stellar addition) My friend said that vanilla is a good thing to add. huh.. never would have thought. and I love vanilla. maybe next time...
so, the mix is lumpy. i just plopped it in the muffin cups after letting the kids go nuts w/ the Pam.

15 minutes in the oven at 450.

kids are eating their corndogs and i'm salivating over the chili.
no lie as soon as the timer went off I served myself a bowl so it could cool down and waited TEN torturous minutes while the muffins cooled so I could turn them out w/o breaking them.
i even put Plugra butter on them. i know, i'm disgusting. it was worth it

Here is the recipe...

1 med. onion - diced
1 large green pepper - diced
1 jalapeno pepper - diced - keep seeds in
1/2 cup green chiles - diced (1/2 cup = 4 oz, which is exactly how a can is sold. woot!)
1/4 cup diced celery
2lbs ground beef (any ground meat would do I suppose. I was looking for lean, so you know veal and sirloin worked)
2 med. tomatoes, chopped (I suppose you could use a can here too)
2 29oz cans of tomato sauce
2 15 oz cans kidney beans
2 15 oz cans pinto beans
1 12 oz can tomato paste
4 tablespoons chili powder (I use http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyschilihot.html)
8-10 drops of Frostbite (http://cajohns.com/vmchk/Hot-Sauces/Frostbite-White-Hot-Sauce.html) *i used sriracha instead
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper (I just used more black pepper)
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups water

1. brown beef - crumble to pea-sized pieces
2. add diced onions and green pepper to beef while cooking
3. mix all other ingredients in big ass pot.
4. drain beef/onion/pepper and combine into pot.
5. simmer for 3 hours - stirring frequently.

i biffed on the stirring frequently as I left the house for an hour. oops... but i stirred even more frequently upon my arrival. whatever, it was fine. :)