Some Basic Baking Tips

If there is an budding baker in you, here are some basic tips for getting that cake to turn out just right!  Some of these tips are from Wilton Cake Decorating.

  • A pan with a lighter color (finish) like a shiny metal will result in a lighter colored crust.  I don’t like the dark non-stick pans, they always make my cookies and cakes too dark on the outside.
  • Two really cool tools to make your baking more successful:  Cake Release (a product you brush lightly on the bottom and sides of pan) and Bake-Even Strips (wrap these around outside of pan before baking to bake more even cakes without that puffy crown.)
  • Measure liquid ingredients at eye level and always level off dry ingredients.
  • Fill prepared pans only half full.
  • Bake cakes immediately after mixing in the center of oven.
  • Allow at least 1 inch of space on all sides and between pans.
  • Don’t open the oven door during the first 20 minutes of baking.
  • Test cakes for doneness while they are still in the oven.
  • Cool cakes in pans for only 10 minutes, using a cooling rack.
  • Plain Crisco is the only kind of shortening I will use in a cake.
  • To remove cake from a pan, place waxed paper over top of cake and place a second grid (cooling rack) on top of the paper.  Flip it over and remove bottom pan.  The wax paper keeps grid from making marks on the cake.

Did you know?
-3 teaspoons equals 1 tablespoon
-The number of X’s on confectioner’s sugar indicates the number of times it has been sifted.

Food Safety FYI

1.  Ready to eat food is generally good for 7 days in the fridge from the time it’s prepared or opened.

2. Even though most oils are fine stored at room temp, if you add something to the oil (like herbs, garlic, or peppers), you should store in the fridge.

3. Foods most likely to become unsafe include milk and dairy, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, baked potatoes, tofu, sliced melons, cut tomatoes, cut leafy greens, eggs, shellfish, cooked rice, cooked beans, cooked vegetables, sprouts, seeds, and untreated oil mixtures.

Lunch on a Stick

I have volunteered for lunch duty at school for several years now.  I am always shocked at how quickly the kids try to power through their lunch in order to get to the next recreation opportunity or social interlude.  I diligently pack my little one a hopefully interesting lunch with lots of little containers  and packets only to unzip the lunchbox at the end of the day to find some of it unopened, squashed, crushed and wasted.  So, I have decided to try and “contain” his lunch as much as possible, requiring less steps to eating in hopes of getting more into his belly while still adhering to his imagined time crunch.  Hence the idea of lunch on a stick.  If it’s on a stick, kids seem to eat it. With little plastic appetizer skewers,  I thread bite sized pieces of whatever I want him to eat and put them in a container.  Add some bread or crackers and maybe a fruit.    Voila!  Lunch on a stick!    The one pictured contains american cheese chunks, turkey pepperoni, cherry tomatoes and green olives, served with honey wheat Ritz crackers.  I know, olives are weird for kids but he loves them.    Try it with any assortment of ready-to-eat ingredients.  Those empty little skewers will make you smile!

For the love of Muffins..

There is nothing my son and his various assortment of friends and cousins enjoy more than fresh, warm little muffins!  My son loves muffins so much that he actually requested Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins on his birthday instead of a cake!  The first time I served him a store-bought muffin when he was two, he said “No Mama.  That not muffin.”  Apparently, he had already developed a palate for homemade baked goods.  I like to make mini muffins because they are quick and kid-friendly.  People also seem to like a small morsel of indulgence sometimes as opposed to a regular sized muffin.  Besides, when eating mini muffins, you can sample several flavors.  I will often serve a variety tray of muffins that always includes these faves.

Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Bread or Mini Muffins

Lemon Mini Muffins

What to do with Cherry Tomatoes??

My son loves to garden with Daddy.  They enjoy mapping out the plan each year, choosing the seeds, planting, watering and harvesting.   One of our son’s favorite garden “candies” is cherry tomatoes.  Every couple of days, son and daddy present me with a fresh bowl of juicy red bounty.   We keep some on the counter and my little one pops a few in his mouth each time he walks by.  Fine by me since they are packed with vitamins and nutrients. What to do with all those Cherry Tomatoes???   How many salads can a person eat!  Here are two simple ideas.  I hope you’ll share some of your ideas in the comments section.

Slice them and layer on a BLT sandwich.  I used thick cut bacon, whole wheat toasted bread, olive oil mayo mixed with seasoned salt, and a hearty portion of organic baby spinach and mixed greens.  Add a side of fruit or pasta and you have a simple, tasty meal that puts a big dent in your cherry tomato stock.  

Another idea….. thread a few onto skewers, marinate and grill along with some tasty beef filet chunks or Asian Grilled Chicken.  This chicken recipe was shared by a friend and I love it!

The Family Gets Fishy

It all started when I was in the bathroom.  When my son was about 11 months old, Daddy and I took him to the beach.  Daddy was in charge while I took a restroom break.  When I came back to the table, my little angel was gobbling up Daddy’s crab legs dipped in butter and loving every bite!  I tried to push aside my food allergy fears and smile as he looked up at me with a butter-dripping-chin.  Ever since then, my son has LOVED fish and seafood. We all do!  So, over the years, I’ve gotten more confident making these kinds of dishes at home.  Here are some of my faves.  My son eats most of this as long as it’s not too spicy.  I usually “deconstruct” the dish before serving to him and that does the trick.

Not easy, but worth it..  Crab Stuffed Shrimp

Other great recipes that are completely doable!

Baked Shrimp with Feta

Scallops & Green Beans with Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette    MY FAVORITE


Salmon Cakes with Cool Lime Sauce

Seared Ahi Tuna

Don’t be afraid of cooking fish and seafood.  It’s not as hard as I used to think and it’s fun experimenting with different choices.  If it’s on sale, cook it!


Chicken with Sausage and Potato Stuffing Makes Hubby Really Happy

Since we had a “stay at home” weekend, I tried a new recipe for Roasted Chicken with Potato Stuffing. It all turned out great, but the big hit element was definitely the stuffing made from sauteed red potatoes, onions, butter, Italian sausage, rosemary, thyme, S&P. It was delicious with the chicken but I think it would be equally amazing as a stuffing for a roasted red pepper or even a green pepper, if you like that better. There is definitely enough stuffing left over to freeze (after having the chicken) and then bring out later as a reinvented meal with the peppers.  This recipe does require some cooking time, so do it on an afternoon when you’re hanging around the house.  Your whole house will smell like Southern Sunday Yum!

Chicken with Potato Stuffing

Lunchtime Play Date Menu for New Classmates

I recently hosted a lunch and play date for several of the boys (and their moms) who will be in my son's second grade class this year, as a way to help him get ready for the school year.  It was also a good way to spend some time with the moms I'll be seeing this year in class.  These kinds of menus can be fun and low-stress, with a combination of prepared and homemade foods.  I placed the kids' food on a lower level table so they could graze at-will during the play date.  Most of the food was eaten off plastic toothpicks.  They also had paper plates and napkins available, and places to sit if they chose.   The mom food was served on a higher bar area.  The moms also enjoyed dipping into the kid munchies which is just as it should be!   Beverages were water and Turkey Hill lemonade served from my son's pop-up lemonade stand.  There wasn't a lot of food left over so I think everyone enjoyed themselves.    Here's what I served:

Kid Table
-Fruit tray with clementines, watermelon, strawberries and grapes
-Salami and mozzarella cheese skewers
-Hebrew National frozen pigs in a blanket with ketchup
-Veggie tray- carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes from the garden with Ranch to dip
-Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Bread or Mini Muffins
-Store bought cookies
-I also had peanut butter, jelly and sandwich thin bread available for the making if kids didn't like the food being served (we never opened it)

Mom Table
Ham & Cheese Party Sandwiches
-Triscuits with Boar's Head Horseradish Cheddar
-Tarragon Chicken Salad,  baby greens and store-bought sandwich rolls

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