Category: Kitchen Tips
Tuesday, September 29
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like to make fun birthday cakes for my kids. Before you start feeling guilty for not making fun birthday cakes for your kids, don’t, because I promise there are plenty of other things you do as a parent that I’m failing at. If, however, you are like me and making fun birthday cakes is your thing, I do like to share my cakes with you so you can steal my ideas!
Owen had a pirate themed birthday party this year and he decided he wanted an anchor cake. Nate and I tried to talk him into a pirate flag cake. That would have been SO EASY…just a 9×13 cake with black frosting, topped with a fondant skull and crossbones rolled out and cut into the right shape…if only. But alas, he wouldn’t go for it. Anchors away!
At first I thought an anchor cake would be easy peasy. Shaping the cake was in fact simple, However, frosting the cake was WICKED HARD. So many nooks and crannies around the edge! My frosting skills were no match and this was my worst-frosted cake ever, but it still looked cute enough and 4-year-olds surprisingly don’t notice these things.
Here’s how to make an anchor cake!
- Bake a 9″ x 13″ cake.
- Draw your anchor shape onto the cake oriented vertically by scoring the top of the cake with a sharp knife, then cut the cake into the shape. Make it a nice tall anchor. It’s okay to have the top circle cut off and the side “arrow” thingies cut off because you can…
- …use the large cake scraps to shape pieces to round off the top of the anchor and add to the arrow-shaped sides.
- For the chain, I mixed black food coloring into white fondant to make grey. I rolled out skinny snake shapes and linked them together. The final touch was to lightly brush the chain with metallic edible silver dust from Wilton. That was Anna’s idea and it made the chain look AWESOME. I rolled out a thin white disc for the hole in the top of the anchor where the chain is attached.
Click here for my comprehensive “Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes,” which includes a recipe for chocolate cake and buttercream frosting as well as LOTS of tips for shaping and decorating cakes. And, because I’ve never shared it before, below is the recipe for vanilla cake we use, which was what Owen requested. This recipe comes from my favorite cake book, Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. The book is out of print but there are copies on Amazon.
The best part of Owen’s cake had absolutely nothing to do with the cake. The wind blew out his candles while we were singing. Nate quickly relit them all, then the wind blew 3 of the 4 candles out again. Nate went to relight them AGAIN. Instead Owen just rolled with the punches and blew out the one candle. It was super cute, although I suspect that he knew 1 candle was easier to blow out than 4. Crafty guy.
Vanilla CakePrep timeCook timeTotal timeThis is a great basic vanilla cake recipe from Matthew Mead's "Cakes for Kids" book. I've re-written the directions in my own words.Author: Jane MaynardIngredients
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for pans
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅔ cup butter at room temperature
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temp
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1¼ cups milk
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange or lemon zest (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350º F.
- This recipe works for 24 cupcakes, 2 8-inch or 9-inch cakes, or 1 9x13 cake. If using cupcake liners, place liners in muffin tin and set aside. If using cake pan(s), lightly grease the bottom of the cake pan, line it with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper and the sides of the pan. Lightly flour the pan. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the 2½ cups flour, baking powder and salt.
- Using a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.
- Leaving the mixer on medium speed, add ¼ cup sugar. Beat for 3 minutes. Keep adding sugar ¼ cup at a time, mixing for 3 minutes between each addition until you've added all the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes.
- Add eggs 1 at a time, beating at medium speed for 30 seconds between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- With the mixer on low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, then ⅓ of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined for each addition. If using zest, add it now.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl then give the batter one more mix at high speed for 20 seconds.
- Spread the batter in the pan, filling cake pans or cupcakes ⅔ full with batter.
- For 8- or 9-inch cakes, bake for 30-35 minutes. For 9x13 cake, bake for 35-40 minutes. For cupcakes bake for 10-12 minutes. Toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean when done.
- Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a knife, cut around the edges of the cake, then invert the pan over the wire rack, lift pan to remove cake and peel off parchment paper. Let cake cool completely on the rack. For cupcakes, let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing.
Posted by Jane Maynard at 11:16 am 4 Comments
Categories: birthday cakes, fab faves, featured recipes, kids, Kitchen Tips, Recipes, sweet things Tags: anchor birthday cake, birthday cake, birthday cake decorating, cake, cake decorating, vanilla cake, yellow cake |
Tuesday, June 16
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I make freezer jam every year. It’s my favorite kind of jam. We never buy jam at the store. We’re completely spoiled and addicted to freezer jam and I blame my mom.
ANYWAY…most years when I make my many batches of jam, I share a new tip or two on the blog. Far and away the most awesome freezer jam tip I gave was how many berries to buy for making strawberry or raspberry freezer jam. I don’t know what I would do without that post – I use it every year! If you want to read through the rest of the tips, click here – there is a lot of handy info in all those posts.
This year’s tip, however, is CRITICAL to success if you’ve ever tried to replicate what I do. Every year I say the following: “Just buy Sure-Jell pectin and follow the instructions for freezer jam. Works like a charm!” Well, DO NOT DO THAT. This year I cracked open my box of pectin and immediately noticed the directions were different. I did a lot of google searching and discovered that last year Kraft inexplicably changed the directions. They have since fixed the problem, but apparently there are still boxes out there with the wrong directions inside. If you follow the wrong directions (which tell you to mix the sugar with the pectin and water and then boil the three together), your jam will absolutely not turn out. So, I’m going to put the CORRECT directions here on the blog, mostly for my peace of mind. I really don’t want you buying bucket loads of berries only to have your jam bomb on account of me telling you to use the directions in the box. Argh!
Also, lest you think I am a domestic goddess (because I am not), my raspberry jam didn’t come out this year. It’s more like raspberry sauce than jam, but it still tastes like heaven, so whatever.
With that vote of confidence (I swear this recipe works 99.99999% of the time!), here are the instructions for raspberry and strawberry freezer jam!
Raspberry or Strawberry Freezer JamInstruction for using Sure-Jell pectin to make raspberry or strawberry freezer jam. If you want to make another kind of jam, the instructions on the inside of the box have a chart indicating the amount of berries and sugar needed. Be sure that you follow the directions below for making the jam, however, as Kraft misprinted the jam technique in 2014.Author: Jane MaynardIngredients
- FOR STRAWBERRY JAM: 2 cups crushed strawberries + 4 cups sugar
- FOR RASPBERRY JAM: 3 cups crushed raspberries + 5¼ cups sugar
- FOR BOTH KINDS OF JAM: 1 box Sure-Jell Pectin
- FOR BOTH KINDS OF JAM: ¾ cup cold water
- Freezer jam can be stored in any airtight container. Make sure containers are clean and dry.
- Crush berries and, using a dry measuring cup, measure the exact amount of prepared fruit into a large bowl.
- Measure exact amount of sugar then add to the berries, stirring well. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once berries have been sitting for at least 5 minutes (to time everything properly), mix the pectin and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring constantly. Once mixture is boiling, boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
- Add to fruit-sugar mixture and stir constantly for 3 minutes, until sugar is dissolved (a few crystals may remain).
- Add to containers, leaving ½" space at the top for expansion when freezing. Cover with lids and let stand for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for up to 1 year. Thaw frozen jam in refrigerator.
Thursday, April 30
Today I have a story to tell. After the story there’s a really good kitchen tip. So, you know, make sure you keep reading to the end. Which of course you would do anyway because I’m such a good storyteller, right?!
Our house came with a lemon tree in the backyard. A big, beautiful lemon tree that grows the best tasting lemons in the world. There was just one problem – the lemons kept getting this weird brown spot on the bottom.
We researched the issue and came up empty. Our gardener thought maybe it was a deficiency of some sort and asked other gardeners about it. Everyone was stumped. Then, one day, Nate noticed a blue tag on the tree. He flipped it over and discovered the tag had words on it and the words were these: Bearss Lime.
WHAT?!?! Our lemons were limes! Our gardener was like, “Oh man, I love Bearss limes! The way the tree was pruned I just never thought of it!” Now that we knew what kind of tree it was, our research was much more fruitful (pun intended) and we discovered that our yellow limes with brown spots on the bottom were actually just overripe.
In our defense, Bearss limes can grow really big and really yellow. I think Bearss limes should be renamed Trick Lemons. I mean, seriously, look how yellow those two overripe limes are in the picture above!
The reason our lemons were the best tasting lemons in the world was because they were actually limes. My lemon bars? Lime bars. Our neighbors’ favorite lemon chicken? Lime chicken. The list goes on. Lemon or lime, we love the tree and Nate makes the best lemonade, I mean limeade, you ever did taste.
Owen says, “Hi!”
Story’s over, kitchen tip time! If you don’t have a lemon press, aka citrus squeezer, get one! Seriously, I’ve been wanting a lemon press for years and finally, two weeks ago, I popped onto Amazon, found one that looked good and hit “buy.” I bought the Bellemain lemon squeezer and I love it. It is super sturdy and perfect for lemons and limes. Click here to check it out!
I now consider my lemon press an indispensable kitchen tool and don’t know how I lived so long without it. Take note: when you start squeezing, go slow or you’ll end up with juice all over your kitchen.
Friday, April 24
Happy Friday! Today for Show and Tell I am super excited to tell you about my new kitchen thermometer! I know, EXCITING stuff! 😉 I am a firm believer that all home cooks need an instant-read thermometer. I’ve been using a cheapo Pyrex thermometer for years, but I could tell for the last little while that it was definitely reading incorrectly.
I called my friend Lindsay to find out which thermometer she uses – I remembered that there was one she was completely in love with and had splurged on a few years ago. Today I’m sharing the details with you and demanding that any of you who do NOT have a thermometer must go buy one of these right NOW. It’s your homework. I’ll be checking next week. All of these instant-read kitchen thermometers are made by ThermoWorks and I’m providing you with three different options at three different price points, so no excuses!
- Thermapen ($96): This was Lindsay’s dream thermometer that she saved up for. She did in fact buy it a few years ago and used it for a long time. And she did in fact love it. And she did in fact recently break it and had to get a new thermometer (more on that in a second). If you want to invest in a really nice thermometer and you think you can keep yourself from breaking it, this is the one. Click here to buy the Thermapen.
- Thermapop ($29): This is basically the poor man’s version of the Thermapen but still super awesome. This is what Lindsay replaced her Thermapen with and she said she totally loves it, too. Click here to buy the Thermapop.
- DOT Professional Probe Style ($39): This is the one I bought. I was going to get the Thermapop, but when I found this probe style thermometer by ThermoWorks, I was sold. I LOVE having a probe style, I use it in the oven and grill all the time when cooking meat. I received it in the mail this week and it’s GREAT. Click here to buy the DOT Probe.
I cannot believe it’s Friday already and I REALLY cannot believe that in 2 weeks I’ll be heading for Africa! We had a logistics call with ONE and Heifer International this week and it just got me even more excited for the trip. I’m in the middle of getting all my stuff together for the trip, including breaking in my new waterproof shoes (I live in San Diego, nothing I own is waterproof!). Today I started my typhoid immunization pills, so there is currently live typhoid in my system. The team also mentioned on the call that we need to make sure we bring a headlamp because of frequent power outages in Malawi. Basically, it’s all starting to get very real that I am going to Africa and, honestly, I can’t wait! My headlamp and I are ready!
That’s it from me this week! It’s Show and Tell, so please share whatever you like! And if you have a kitchen thermometer that you love and recommend that is different than what I listed above, please tell us about it!
Tuesday, April 14
My relationship with fresh basil is one of the love-hate variety.
I love using fresh basil when cooking, but I can’t for the life of me keep a basil plant alive. I have the blackest of black thumbs. Buying fresh cut basil at the store just doesn’t really work, though. It only lasts 1 or 2 days and then it’s Bye Bye, Basil. I recently read a tip about snipping the stems of fresh basil and putting it in a glass of water like flowers in vase, but that only works about half of the time for me.
Luckily I discovered a basil plant that is AWESOME for people like me. I’ve seen it in a few different stores and it is the best! North Shore Living Herbs sells mini fresh basil plants potted in peat moss that I am completely in love with.
Here’s how it works: The basil plant comes in a mini pot with holes in the bottom. You place the pot on a plate or in a cup and make sure that it’s sitting in 1/4″ – 1/2″ of water (check it regularly to keep it watered!). The basil stays perfectly lovely for 1-2 weeks, which works really well for the home cook.
Be sure to keep an eye out for these great little basil plants. I guarantee you’ll fall in love!
Tuesday, March 10
Remember my 2015 New Year’s Resolution to give up paper towels? The process is underway and so far so good! We are down to just 2 more rolls, which I will keep in the garage for “emergencies.” Besides that we are done with paper towels! Today I wanted to share some tips for how to stop using paper towels in the kitchen that have helped to make our family successful at this goal. It was surprisingly simple and easy!(Side note: I will share tips for giving up paper towels in regards to housecleaning in a later post.)
I’m just going to share what we did with some good old fashioned bullet points. Here we go!
- Buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cloth towels that are good at drying. I like lightweight cloth towels better than terry cloth. Flour sack towels are my favorite to use in the kitchen. In addition to the flour sack towels I already own (you can buy those pretty much anywhere these days, by the way), I also purchased the Tekla and Elly dish towels from Ikea, which were $0.79 – $1.00 per towel. (FYI: I like the fabric used for the Tekla towels a little better, they have a little hook for hanging and they’re cheaper.) I am also planning to buy a few of these Bird-E Towels on Etsy (thanks to reader Sara B. for that suggestion!).
- Store the towels all together in a VERY accessible spot in your kitchen. I bought a bin to keep all the towels in and we keep the bin in a drawer in the middle of our kitchen, one that all of the kids can easily reach.
- Get a small basket to set in the laundry area for soiled towels and cloth napkins. I bought a cute basket to set on our dryer and that’s where all the dirty (dry) towels and cloth napkins go.
- Hang hooks in the laundry or kitchen area. I found wall hooks that say “LAUNDRY” at World Market, but any hooks will do! After we’ve used one of the towels, if it’s too wet to throw into the laundry basket we hang it on a hook. Luckily for me my laundry area is right next to the kitchen, so the hooks hang above the washing machine. If your laundry room isn’t close to the kitchen, find a good spot in your kitchen to place the hooks. The key is that they need to be accessible!
- While we’re at it, get a basket for cloth napkins is stored in an accessible spot in the kitchen. We’ve had cloth napkins for a long time but we would were terrible and almost always just grabbed a paper towel because it was easier than walking across the room to the linen drawers. I took the cloth napkins OUT of the linen drawer and put them into a basket that hangs on the wall above the kitchen counter . As soon as I made that change we have only been using cloth napkins. It’s awesome! (Note: As you can see in the photo above, I haven’t actually hung the basket on the wall yet, but that’s the plan!)
The key to successfully getting rid of paper towels and paper napkins is making the cloth versions accessible and easy to grab. It’s so simple but it took me a while to figure it out! Now that we have our system in place, everyone is using cloth with no issues whatsoever. My kids know where everything is and what to do with dirty towels and napkins. Every time I see one of the towels hanging to dry above the washing machine it makes me so happy!
If you have any addition tips, thoughts or questions, please share! (Also, be sure to check out the comments on my original paper towel post. There are some great tips there, too!)
Thursday, February 12
Years ago I wrote about cheese paper here on the blog. Back then I didn’t know much about the stuff and it wasn’t very easy to buy. Luckily for all of us cheese paper is more accessible these days (thank you, Internet) and I actually use it myself now, so I feel like an updated post is in order!
I was first introduced to cheese paper at the Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. Their cheese paper has the adorable cowgirl logo printed on it (see picture here) and, I’ll be honest, that was the biggest appeal of the paper to me at the time – what a pretty way to store your cheese! As pretty as the paper is, it is actually very functional, too!
Cheese paper allows cheese to breathe while also keeping it wrapped properly, so it will last much longer and taste better. Click here to see the details about how cheese paper is constructed and how it works. Formaticum is the primary brand that makes cheese paper and it’s the kind I use. You can buy Formaticum cheese bags or a set with cheese bags and cheese paper on Amazon, but you can also buy all of their products directly on their website. I love both the bags and the paper. I have no affiliation with Formaticum – I just love their fancy, French cheese paper!
So, hop to it! Give your cheese a happy, super cute home!
Thursday, January 22
You know how last week I told you to buy a baker’s blade? Well, I have something else you need to go buy. Luckily it’s another inexpensive item so it shouldn’t be too painful!
When I was making Anna’s birthday cake last month, I bought a set of nesting round cookie cutters so I could make the marzipan pepperoni and onions. I can’t tell you how much I love this little set of cutters! Since I made Anna’s cake just a month ago I’ve used these cutters several times, for a few cookie recipes as well as a Christmas tree ornament craft we made for Cate’s birthday party. I’m thinking they’ll come in handy for biscuits as well.
I love this cooke cutter set because there are 6 different sized circles and the cutters are double sided, with a smooth and a scalloped edge.
I bought mine at Michaels, but you can buy the set on Amazon as well. And you should, Right now! (That’s Bossy Jane talking. Sorry.)
Thursday, January 15
If you bake at all (cookies, bread, whatever), then today’s post is for you.
Last month I bought my very first baker’s blade. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t owen one until now. I think I just never thought about it until I was smack dab in the middle of making a recipe and couldn’t just pop off to the store to go shopping. Anyway, I went to Michaels (my least favorite store in the history of the world) about 3,148 times this past December. About the only good that came out of that torture was that I happened to grab a Wilton baker’s blade on one of those trips.
I love my new baker’s blade! Seriously, it’s awesome. It comes in super handy when making bread and cookies and other stuff, too. For example, it even came in handy when I was forming marzipan veggies for Anna’s birthday cake. The baker’s blade is perfect for scraping your floured surface clean, cutting dough up, moving stuff around, whatever. The baking world is your oyster if you’ve got a baker’s blade at the ready.
So, if you’re like me and haven’t ever happened to buy one, hop to it! Amazon sells the one I bought and love, which means you can buy it NOW and don’t have to torture yourself with a visit to Michaels. You’re welcome.
Thursday, January 8
If you don’t have an iPhone, then let me apologize in advance for today’s post. It’s pretty much useless to you, unless you get an iPhone one day and then you need to be sure to come back and read this! For those of you sporting iPhones, I am so excited about today’s post and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I do!
My neighbor Joan was telling me a few weeks ago how she uses Reminders on her iPhone to manage her grocery shopping list. She was describing how she uses it and it sounded pretty cool, so I gave it a try. Joan was right! Reminders is perfect for building a shopping list you can use week after week. The list is saved each week and it’s easy to make visible only the items you need for a particular shopping trip and then checking them off. I thought I’d run through the steps for how to use it and highlight why it’s so cool in the steps.
1. Open Reminders on your iPhone.
2. Click on “New List” at the top.
3. Name your list. I went super fancy and called my shopping list “Grocery Store”. You can also select the color you want the header to be, if you’re into coordinating your Reminder lists by color (which I am).
4. Start typing in your items. Easy peasy!
5. After you’ve entered in all the items for your shopping list, click “Done” on the top right.
6. Click “Edit” on the top right to reorder the items on your list (using the little parallel lines on the right-hand side to move things around). Order your list however you want. I chose to order the items by what section of the store they are in. I also add in parentheses what store I prefer to buy certain items at, just for my own reference.
7. Now you have your list and it’s time to go shopping! Go through and check off any items on your list that you do NOT need that week, then select “Hide completed” at the bottom. Sometimes you need to click the title of the list at the top to go to the Reminders home screen and then click back into the list to reset the list and make the “Hide Completed” and “Show Completed” button show at the bottom.
8. Go to the store and check off items as you shop. If you have “Hide Completed” selected they will disappear like magic!
9. When it’s time for the next shopping trip, choose “Show Completed” and uncheck the items you need that week. It should automatically reorder to how you originally organized the list – if it doesn’t, just click the list title to get to Reminders home screen then click back into the grocery list and it should be all good!
My goal is to put EVERYTHING I ever shop for at the grocery store on this one list. That means the first few times you go to the store, you’ll be constantly adding items you remember and re-ordering the list, but once it’s all put together it will be SO awesome and worth the work (and, honestly, it’s not very hard work). Note: when you are adding items and reordering them, you will need to have ALL the items on the list unchecked (so, NOT completed) to make sure you are putting them in the spot where you think they are going.
Hopefully this all makes sense! As soon as you start playing with it I promise it will. Here’s to happy grocery lists for 2015!
- My friend Jamie excitedly texted me this morning saying she had just set up lists in her reminders and it was perfect! She actually set up separate lists for the different grocery stores (a Trader Joe’s list, a Von’s list, etc). I thought that was a great idea and wanted to share!
- Android users: Be sure to check out Comment #6 below, where Kay describes and app called Google Keep and how she uses it for grocery shopping.
- Comment #7 below also shares another great iPhone app with sharing capability. If two people in your household equally do the shopping, I would definitely check it out. I know Reminders has a sharing aspect to it, but I’ve yet to try it out and see how well it works.