Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mermaid Treasure Cake

My middle child wanted to have a mermaid themed party this year.  She didn't want specifically Ariel, but rather a mermaid/under the sea theme for the whole party.  We picked cool tones like blues, aquas, and purples for the party theme colors, and went looking around for different mermaid cake ideas on Pinterest.  None of them completely struck our fancy, so we ended up doing a hybrid of a few cake ideas we saw and made the cake our own.  Behold, I give you, the most spectacular mermaid treasure cake in the history of the world:

Mermaid Treasure Cake
First thing that happened was we baked two cakes in a round 8 or 9 in pan, enough to give it two layers. We added some blue and purple coloring to each pan to add to the mermaid color scheme.  I often will freeze the cakes after being completely cooled and removed from the pan and wrap in plastic wrap.  It's easier to work with cake when it is cool and frozen.

Unwrap the frozen cake and place on the board you want to serve it on. I tend to put some strips of wax paper under the four edges of the cake, to protect the serving board from getting frosting on it.

frozen cake layers are easier to handle with less crumbs
Add a layer of strawberry jam (or frosting) between the layers to help secure them together and stack the other half of the cake on top.  Because they are frozen it is easy to trim back any areas that might be lopsided, or off center at this time.

Stack the cakes together

Now that the cakes are stacked you want to get a Wilton large round tip and put a large amount of light aqua blue frosting in a pipping bag.  I have seen many cakes on pinterest that will put a line of dots vertically up the cake, then smooth half the dot over then add more dots. 

I wanted to do that same effect, only I wanted it to look like scales of a mermaid tail.  So I put a line of dots about an inch in diameter all around the very bottom of the cake. 

dot along the bottom of the cake for a mermaid scale effect
Then take a small round spatula knife and stick in near the middle of the dot, and press and pull up to streak the frosting in the area above it. I ended up trading the one shown below for a smaller round tipped spatula (looks the same, just smaller) that would fit inside the blue dot.

Do this all the way around until you come back to the first dot.

Next layer you want to start up a little bit, covering up some of the streak from the first layer, and and a new layer of dots, and pulling them up as well.

Continue each layer, more dots, more streaking up

After a while, you will see the "scales" on the mermaid tale take shape

At the top layer I placed the dots as high up the sides without going over the top.  Once at the top, I pulled the streak up to the top side of the cake.  Going all the way around, it will look unfinished, but we will cover that up.

Next, switching color and frosting size tipped (smaller round tip) put a ring of purple dots around the top of the cake.  To remove the little peaks that stick up, dip your finger in water and touch the top of each dot.  The moisture will push the tip in and make it look like a round ball.

  I wanted to make a treasure chest on the top of the mermaid cake, but I wanted to make it look like sand.  So pour 1/2 cup (to start with) of brown sugar onto the center of the cake.  

Be really careful and slowly with a fork pull the sugar towards the purple dot border.  You don't want the sugar to actually touch or stick to the dots, or fall over the side of the cake, as it will stick to the mermaid scales.

  Go slow here until you have full "sand" coverage.

After that, it is time to build the treasure chest made of chocolate.  I mean, if you are going to have a treasure chest, one made of chocolate would be extra fabulous, no?   Gather up a pile of regular Kit Kat bars and make sure you are working in a cool place, or chill the candy in the fridge, as it tend to melt and I found even leave finger prints in the chocolate if it's too warm while you are doing this next part. 

You will need two full Kit Kat bars for the box, plus one Kit Kat bar cut in half for the sides.  You will also need a full Kit Kat bar for the lid.  The bottom of this box is open and will sit in the "sand".  I took a sharp knife an chopped off the very ends of the bars that flair out a bit, so it made more of a square edge. This was only on the parts that would not be seen.

Melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave for 20 seconds at a time until you have liquid chocolate. This will be the glue you need to make a chocolate treasure box  Working quickly, paint a swab of liquid chocolate down one side, making sure the front of the words "kitKat" are right side up.  Hold in place for a few seconds, then prop up against something so the chocolate can dry.  

Two sides of the chocolate Kit Kat box
  Make a second version of this for the other side of the box, also prop to dry. 

I tried to get all the Kit Kat logos facing the same direction all the way around the box

Once these two pieces are firm and holding together, place more liquid chocolate in the two corners and place all the pieces together to form a box.  Again, let it dry completely.

A box.  A box of chocolates.  Mama always said....
Now place the box on the cake where you want it.  The "sand" will help hold it in place.

chocolate treasure box on mermaid tail cake
Next we need to fill it with "treasure".  I decided to put some "filler" material in the bottom of the chest, so I used some captain crunch type cereal to fill up half of the chest, then I added those fancy jewels to the top. Jewels were found at Oriental Trading Company in a 12 pack of Velvet bags for vacation bible school, I just removed the jewels from the bag and used for my treasureThis was way more economical than buying other fake jewels from amazon or other places on line, and bonus, they looked pretty real! I also added a fake black pearl necklace hanging off the side of added effect.

Next came the lid.  I took two sucker sticks (can buy in a pack of 25 at the craft store) and stuck them in the front of the treasure chest in the two front corners.

The lid of the chest consists of one full Kit Kat bar.  Get some more of that liquid chocolate, and "glue" the lid in place, securing it at the back of the chest while holding it propped up on the sucker sticks.  It will take about 30 seconds for the lid to set in place. 

Every treasure chest needs a lid - to protect from pirates of course
After that, sit back and enjoy your awesomeness

Chocolate treasure chest - B-E-A-Utiful!
 My middle child absolutely LOVED this cake.

There were many OOs and Ahs when the party guests saw the cake. I found these cool twirly candles at Walmart that reminded us of waves, or seaweed.

They looked really cool all lit up.

This was the inside of the cake, once we cut into it.

Let them eat cake!

All in all, it fit right in with our under the sea mermaid party and the girls really loved his cake.  

I am told the next morning, that in the middle of the night, some of the girls snuck into the kitchen and demolished the chocolate treasure chest, as there was only a pile of cereal left behind as evidence.. those tricky mermaids...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Artichokes in a pressure cooker (Instant-Pot)

Did you know you can make artichokes in a pressure cooker?

So I went and did it.  I went and bought myself an electric pressure cooker. An Instant Pot.  I had heard fanciful (and almost unbelievable) tales from my Sister-in-Law that you could cook chicken breasts from frozen to done in 15 minutes, hot wings in 9 minutes, spaghetti in 6 minutes, baked potatoes in 12 minutes, and I even saw on Pinterest you could make homemade yogurt in a pressure cooker!  

What is the magical pot that breaks all known cooking and food safety rules?!
Say what?? How on earth is that even humanly possible? How does this thing actually work (barring wizardry and unicorn wishes), and what about all those scary explosion stories from the days of yore back in Grandma's kitchen in 1964??

Well the beauty of modern technology, is that they have removed (for the most part) the more dangerous aspects out of using a pressure cooker.  I took mine out of the box (very gingerly, as if I was handling a nuclear bomb) and managed to brave the boiled water test recommended in the instructions. I will confess, I was standing literally 12 feet away and hiding behind an open pantry door, just to make sure my kitchen wouldn't implode. After we safely depressurized, I wanted to take this baby for a test spin on something a bit more tangible... and way more tasty.

I had heard that pressure cookers are fabulous for steaming things, and my thoughts turned to my favorite veggie, artichokes. Normally, it takes about 40 minutes to an hour to steam those big ol' globe artichokes. 

Before learning how to cook these on my own, we had to go to Black Angus to get a plate of artichokes

We've always done the regular stream in a pot method in the past around here (click here for steaming artichokes the regular way), and it has worked just fine, though sometimes it's a crap shoot to get them just right, as in, not too mushy and at the same time tender enough to pull the leaves off for dippin'. Well I've cooked artichokes twice now in my new Instant Pot, and I'm here to tell you that you can have three perfectly cooked globe artichokes in 20 minutes!  No joke!

The first part of prepping the artichokes is the same as if you were going to steam them in a big pot.  Scrub the outsides with some water and a vegetable scrubber to remove any dirt or debris, and trim the stem to one inch.

Next, flip them around and cut off about one inch off the front of the choke. 

Take kitchen scissors and blunt cut across all the tops of all the leaves, to remove the tiny thorn that will for surely impale you skin if you are not careful.

Rub down each artichoke with a half of lemon (and set the squished half of the lemon aside for later). Next, in the bottom of your pressure cooker put:

Two cups of water
The squished lemon halves (sliced up thin)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic (or more to taste)
2 bay leaves

It's not that pretty, but it will add flavor to the steam, and thus the artichokes
Place the metal steam rack on the bottom of the pot, over your water, lemons, garlic and bay leaves.

Hard to believe you can steam something with only an inch or so of water
Place your three globe artichokes stem side up (facing down) - or sideways if they all don't fit along the bottom.  

You can fit three globe artichokes in a 6 quart Instant Pot
Seal the lid of the pot (I love the happy little chimes letting you know you are locked in place).  Make sure the nozzle on the top is set to "Sealing" and not "Venting" and you are ready to go.

Set the Instant Pot to "manual" and select 20 minutes.
That's it.  Just set it and walk away.  I chose to take this time and make some melted garlic butter (our favorite artichoke dipping medium) buy slowly melting a stick of butter in a small pan on the stove top with a spoonful of minced garlic in it. 

It will take a few minutes for the pot to come up to pressure, then a timer will count down the 20 minutes until ready. Once the cooking process is finished, you can quick release the nozzle using an oven mitt (steam will come screaming out in a loud and slightly terrifying way), or you can let it sit in there and naturally de-pressurize on it's own for a few minutes.  After that, carefully open the lid and peek inside.  

Perfectly steamed artichokes in the pressure cooker
You'll have yourself a dandy little set of globe artichokes, ready for devouring. I always take a knife and stick it down the center stem to check for doneness.  If it glides in with little resistance, you are cooked all the way through.

All that is left to do now is to cut the artichokes in half, clean out the choke (purple thistle-y parts with a spoon) and bring on the warm garlic butter! 

While they are still warm bring them to a cutting board face down, and with tongs, cut down the middle of the stem, slicing them completely in half.

In the center you will find a purple section of leaves (what would have become the flower) that you will need to scoop out.  Because everything is so soft, it comes out pretty easily. Just take a big spoon and gently cut out the center part and remove so they look like the two on the left.
Picture from Cooking's Good blog - The one on the far right still needs the center purple and thistle part removed

Preparing them this way is genius I tell you, because now you have an edible bowl where you can pour in a slathering spoonful of garlic butter and as you pull the leaves off, each bite will have a bit of butter on it.  If you have never eaten an artichoke before, simply pull off the leaves and scrape the lower half of the leaf in your mouth, pulling off all the "meat". It is DIVINE!

Don't forget to add on a couple of turns of sea salt over the finished chokes

They are great as an appetizer, on their own as a meal, or a side to steak, chicken, etc.

Also after you have pulled off all the leaves you are left with the very best part, the heart of the artichoke.  Be sure to saver these. I tend to cut them up like a cherished steak and pour over the remaining garlic butter and quietly savor each bite. I could almost go vegetarian if I could have these every night.  They are so satisfying! These have GOT to be my all time favorite green vegetable.  So don't be afraid to try this alien-esque type orb, as it could easily turn out to be your go to veggie - and DON'T be afraid to try a pressure cooker, they can shave tons of time off your crazy busy schedule while giving you quicker, easier, meal options. Stay tune for more experiments with my new Instant Pot. Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kitchenaid Makeover - Vinyl Decals

I recently painted my kitchen.  We changed from a light spring green, to a beautiful aqua color called "Hawaiian Sky".  I absolutely LOVE it.  It's so peaceful and calming.  

"Hawaiian Sky" paint color is a Dutch Boy paint color, and I found it at Fred Meyer
Of course, as home improvement chain reactions go, I am now on the lookout for a few teal accent pieces to help tie the colors in the kitchen together and give some pop to the room.  Most everything in the kitchen is white (cupboards, appliances), including my Kitchenaid Mixer.  I thought, hey, maybe I can gussy this thing up!

Plain, white, kitchenaid mixer. I'll now call this "the before"
I have long admired some of the Food Network gals and their fancy hand-painted mixers, but the lofty price tag kept me at bay.  I went over to Etsy just to see what was available, and found some gals that make vinyl decals specifically for your Kitchenaid... and I decided I would TRY IT!  There were many styles to choose from, but since I like swirly, and filigree designs, I went for a shop called "Good Golly Graphics" because they could do the cool design I really liked, in the exact turquoise color that would go with my kitchen.

Fast forward a few days later, and I was so excited to get this little package in the mail.  It contained tons of decals, a page of detailed instructions on how to do this project, and bonus - some links to some YouTube videos for the visual learners like me.

Vinyl decals for my kitchenaid by Good Golly Graphics
I decided to lay the designs all out to see what I had:  The nerdy symmetrical side of me was immediately giddy to see that each design had a matching set on another page, only the opposite direction, which would end up giving you more variety in the long run on which way you wanted the design to go.

There were a ton of decals in the pack.  Very nice!
The first step was to clean your kitchenaid mixer.  Let's just say it had been a while. Who knew flour could get way back there?? I got out my trusty degreaser spray and scrubbed that baby until she shone like the top of the of the Chrysler building (random Annie reference for your amusement).  After you have a clean, smooth surface, you can begin to place the decals on the mixer.  Being a perfectionist, and nervous, I watch the link to the YouTube instructional a few times to get the gist of things.  I waited til the kids went to bed (no interruptions) , and then I excitedly started my project with the perfect amount of peace and quiet to think about my masterpiece! The first step is to cut out the designs, very close to the decal.

Individual vinyl decals for the kitchenaid
The trick with the kitchenaid, is that it is curvy in spots.  Okay, all spots.  Let's just say I don't think there is a truly flat, flat spot on the whole thing. Not only should you cut the designs out close to the vinyl, but if there are any leaves or swirls that go into the design itself, to clip down between the shapes (white sections of the design) and make some snips so that your design would be able to bend around curves.

The next step is to get some blue painter's tape (hey, I JUST happened to have that, I just painted my kitchen, how did you KNOW!?) and tape your selected shape at the top and press firmly a few times, making a flap of sorts.

My first decal.  I was so nervous and wanted to get it right the FIRST time.
So now that the tape is at the top, it will act like a "hinge".  Flip up the design and take off the stiff backing while basically holding it upside down.  The vinyl will stay on the bendable top layer.  Once the backing is totally off, the painter tape has kept your design exactly where you want it without shifting. 

The painter tape acts as a "hinge" so your decal stays in place while it's all sticky and vulnerable
Then you slowly roll the vinyl shape down over the mixer's curved surface, smoothing as you go down (no picture of this, I need both hands on the decal). Once in place, rub gently over the whole shape to help seal it to the mixer.  Then take the blue tape off (it comes right off, I used the same piece again and again).  Now you can pull off the top backing layer of the vinyl decal.  The trick is to pull steadily at a 45ยบ angle with even pressure.

The more flexible backing side comes right off and the design is now firmly on your mixer
This works out pretty fabulously!  Once you get the hang of it, this painter tape hinge thing is awesome for the bigger pieces with many small curls and swirls. Matter of fact, I thought for sure that the tiny little end pieces of the intricate designs might rip up when I removed the final backing, but to my surprise, even the smallest of tiny swirls stayed in place.  Moving up the side of the mixer, every time I picked a decal, I would find it's opposite design on the other sheet, cut it out, and set it aside for the other side of the mixer (so both would match and also so I wouldn't accidentally use that piece somewhere else)

Four pieces down - no turning back now!
I felt it was logical to do some of the largest pieces first, to make sure they would fit, especially up the sides and over the top, then I would go back and fill in with some of the smaller swirls.  I'm not gonna lie, I was a little stressed at making sure the design wasn't going to be too busy, that it had enough visual white space, and that the pieces looked like they went together. Taking your time and planning ahead are key. Luckily, the decals are kind of see through, so you could lay them out and see how they would fit with the one next to it.  The hardest part I think was the back rounded end of the mixer at the top. It was the most curvy and the trickiest to make sure the vinyl went down flat.

Holy cow, it's turning out so cute!!!
When I was totally done, I stood back and admired my handiwork. Hey, that turned out even better than I thought it would! I went paparazzi mode and took pictures from each angle. First side:

 Other side:




I decided to put the Kitchenaid back on the counter, with the silver bowl back in place for the full effect.  You can see that I decided to leave the center part where the bowl sits white (I thought that gave it a nice contrast) and I can't believe how NICE it looks with my new aqua walls!  My hubby came home and was actually impressed.  He said it gave it "personality".

A designer look at a bargain price!
By they way, they have easier designs that you don't have to think too much about.  I saw a leopard print that had larger pieces that covered larger areas of the mixer all at once.  I think mine took longer to do because there were so many ways the pieces could go together, and it was all up to ME on how they looked...

So if you have an older mixer (before all the snazzy colors came out), or even if you have one of those newfangled colors, you can get some awesome decals for under $20 and try out a cool design that matches your kitchen.  Check out Good Golly Graphics because, not only can she customize the shown design into a ton of specialized colors (even silver and white), I found out she's an Army wife and doing this as home business while her hubby is deployed and she's keeping down the fort at home, so it's a great way to support the troops too. By the way, the exact design I picked is called "Flourish kitchen mixer swirl decal" and you can find it by clicking hereShe had a ton of colors to choose from.

Before                                                                                        After
I just love how it went from plain Jane to designer awesome in one evening.  The best part is, if I ever change my mind, the vinyl is removable and I can go back to plain white, or change it up with a new masterpiece if I wish. Plus, you don't have to go girly or swirly.  I saw designs on Etsy for every taste.  There were flame decals, nerd decals like turning your kitchenaid into a tribute to R2D2 or the TARDUS, fruits, tropical flowers, cherry blossoms, polka dots, Disney fun, animal prints - really you are only limited by imagination. Now get out there and gussy up your Kitchenaid mixer, stat!

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