I’m no longer a fondant virgin – I believe Mary Berry would say in her polite British way, “it’s a bit informal”
If she had requested 100 mini-tartlets, my answer would have been yes. But she didn’t. She wanted cupcakes, 100 of them – and a small personal cake for the birthday girl – all covered with piped ombré rosettes. Piped? Ombré? Rosettes? Another lucrative catering gig missed – my lacking skill-set convincing me to pass it up. This isn’t a case of false modesty – I bake tasty shit. I’m confident I could give her a mouthwatering dessert to remember, but…cake decorating? That’s its own animal – and one that I’m not familiar with. I’ve probably piped buttercream on 10 cakes my entire life and never-have-I-ever worked with fondant. Sure, I’d attempt it for a friend, but not for a paying customer – no way, José. I image being one of those horror stories on Cake Wrecks – “This first photo is the cute cake we found on Pinterest…and this scary mess is what the so-called professional caterer gave us!”
Ugh! So, after declining the catering job, I decided to school myself on how to prettify my tasty cakes and cupcake. It’s gonna take many hours of practice, practice, practice. The cake above is my first crack at fondant – not catering pro worthy, but a valiant first try.
My first lesson learned: Fondant does NOT cover a multitude of sins. Make sure your cake and buttercream are thoroughly smoothed and leveled – it will make a decided difference.
I’ve heard store-bought fondant is almost flavorless. With a bag of marshmallows and box of powdered sugar, it’s so simple (and better tasting) to make your own, although a bit sweet.
8 ounces marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
2 Tablespoons water
1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), sifted, plus extra for dusting
Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional
Place marshmallows and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute until the marshmallows are puffy. Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some un-melted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30 seconds, continuing to heat and stir until the marshmallows are entirely smooth and free of lumps.
Transfer melted marshmallows to the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, a little at a time adding more as the powdered sugar is incorporated. Continue on medium until sugar is fully incorporated and the fondant is smooth.
Scrape the fondant onto a work surface dusted with additional powdered sugar. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and knead the fondant until it loses its stickiness. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, wrap it in cling wrap and set it aside at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc, add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball. Knead the ball until the fondant is a uniform color. To use, roll fondant into a large enough disk to cover the entire cake and transfer to cake, cutting away any overlap and gently smoothing fondant over top and sides of cake.
There’s no comfort food quite as quintessential as grilled cheese and tomato soup, but, let’s face it, without the toasty, gooey sandwich, you’re left with a bowl of “not much going on” – the bridesmaid rather than the bride. I love the flavor of tomato soup and this recipe below is my attempt to give it a makeover, make it a bit heartier, give it enough oomph to take the spotlight, rather than stay the eternal sidekick. Artichoke hearts and plump spinach tortellini as well as a few handfuls of extra-sharp white cheddar turn this soup into ultimate comfort fare; you won’t even miss the sandwich.
A soup classic pimped out with artichoke hearts, tortellini and cheddar cheese to make a hearty one-bowl meal.
½ onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup white wine
28 oz. canned whole tomatoes in puree, broken in smaller pieces with your hands
2 cups chicken stock
1 9-oz. bag frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped
1 10 oz. package refrigerated tortellini (spinach or cheese flavor)
1 ½ cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
In a soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté onions on high heat in a bit of oil until softened. Add crushed garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour and stir until tomato paste and flour darken and stick to the bottom of the pot, making a lovely fond (those browned bits on the bottom of the pot). Add white wine and scrape up all the browned bits. Add tomatoes in puree and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
Carefully purée soup, in batches, in a blender until smooth. Return to pot and rewarm over medium heat. Add artichoke hearts and heat through for about 5 minutes. Add tortellini and cook through, another 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in white cheddar cheese and cream until cheese has melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional cheese for garnish. Turn your back on the grilled cheese and enjoy.
This is my go-to fudge recipe – super quick and easy fudge you make in the microwave. What’s not to love?
Over dinner, a good friend was lamenting her systematic eating of leftover Christmas fudge over the three weeks following the holidays – a piece or two every night. I laughed to myself imagining fudge, or anything sweet for that matter, would even last a week, let alone three, in my house. And then my mind faded from the conversation at hand and I began to be preoccupied with fudge. My internal conversation went something like this:
“Mmm…Fudge…Why didn’t I make fudge for Christmas?!…I haven’t made fudge for a while…I have an awesome fudge recipe…that’s easy too…super chocolaty…never gritty…why am I not making fudge this very minute?!…fudge…I need it…yummm…”
Needless to say, I pulled my super quick 5-minute fudge recipe out soon after that. I convinced myself I was performing a pantry-cleaning service by using up leftover coconut, almonds and almond paste in the process. Anything for a good cause.
If coconut and almond aren’t your thing, you can substitute your favorite mix-ins in place of the coconut, almonds and almond paste.
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup almond paste, chopped
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon (optional)
Line an 8×8” pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.
In a microwave, heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate on high for 1 minute. Stir to combine. Heat an additional 30 seconds if needed until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla, coconut, almonds and almond paste.
Pour fudge into pan and smooth. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Cool in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Use aluminum foil to remove fudge from pan, cut into 1” squares. Store in an airtight container. Fudge does not need to be refrigerated.
Simple carrot soup is elevated with the addition of Thai flavors, turning an everyday vegetable into something rather special in this Thai Carrot Soup.
I’m sweating as I shuttle food styling materials from kitchen to photo studio (AKA The backyard shed). “Soup Weather” in Southern California has morphed into sun-drenched 72 degree days. So much for those hearty soups I’ve been stirring up the past two weeks. This weather requires lighter fare for these temperate days. This mouthwatering Thai carrot soup laced with creamy coconut milk and piquant red curry is just what the Channel 7 weatherman ordered.
Simple carrot soup is elevated with the addition of Thai flavors, turning an everyday vegetable into something rather special.
1 lb. carrots, sliced into coins
1 onion, sliced
3 cups chicken broth
4 Tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and white pepper, to taste
sliced green onions, cilantro sprigs, or sriracha (optional, for garnish)
In a soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté carrots and onions in oil until onions have softened. Add broth, red curry paste, brown sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until carrots are fully cooked.
Remove from heat, add coconut milk and cilantro. Using a blender, blend soup in batches until smooth. Return to pot; season to taste with salt and white pepper. Garnish bowls with green onions, cilantro sprigs or sriracha.
In a tradition dating back to Roman times, some Italians eat a bowl of lentils on January 1 to ensure their wealth, luck and prosperity throughout the New Year because the flat legumes are believed to resemble coins.
My severance pay is coming to an end in a handful of weeks, which means I need to either hope for some of that luck and prosperity or, sadly, start looking for a new job. I’m not sure I’m ready to head back to corporate life. Although on some quiet days I’ve been bored, I’ve relished these six months of keeping my own schedule (which means staying up until 4 a.m. and sleeping until noon), working on projects (with a dozen more on my ‘to do’ list), being a tourist in my own town (museums, hiking and beach time), and having ample time to play in the kitchen. A two-day weekend doesn’t provide near the same freedom (or time!).
Ugh, well, if needs must, but perhaps I’ll start the job search next week. Today, I’ll go the easier route and test the Italian method while I update my resume. And while the tradition may be Italian, I realize this recipe is decidedly not.
A hearty soup chock full of lentils, sausage and healthy chard.
4 oz. hot Italian sausage (you can also use mild if you’re not a fan of heat)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 ¼ cup dried lentils
5 cups chicken stock*
3 big handfuls roughly chopped chard leaves, stems reserved for another use
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Greek yogurt (for garnish)
In a stock pot or Dutch oven, sauté sausage in oil until just beginning to brown. Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté until onions soften and become translucent. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bay leaves, curry powder, and cumin and sauté briefly. Stir in lentils. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
Add chard and continue simmering about 5 minutes until chard is bright green and tender. Add cilantro and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve bowls of soup garnished with big dollops of Greek yogurt.
* I use 4 cups of stock (1 container) and 1 cup water rather than open a second container of stock and have leftovers.