Food Buzz


Monday, February 14, 2011

Choo choo train cake for a very special boy.

As some of you know by now, I am often known as "Aunt Lisa" around these parts.  I have turned into some sort of fertility goddess for many of my friends and family and have therefore become an "aunt" to many children.  One of my favorites (I can't have ONE favorite, right?) is my little buddy Kieran.  Saturday was his second birthday party and I made him a very special cake.

Kieran got a very cool train set for Christmas and is obsessed (like, dvd on repeat obsessed) with Elmo so I had to figure out a way to incorporate the two toys together in one cake.  I decided that instead of taking the easy way out (store bought cake mix or frosting, sheet cake with train/elmo drawn on top) I would do it the hard (but much more fulfilling) way.  Everything from scratch and without any special pans.

Here is a bird's eye view of the cake:

...and here's how I did it...

I made two yellow cake recipes because I've been experimenting with finding the ultimate in fluffy, light cakes (not dense and "pound cake-y" in texture).  I will highly recommend this one from Made in Mel's Kitchen.  You should double the recipe and it will make one 11 x 17 sheet cake, five cupcakes and one loaf cake.  You will have some finished cake left over (scraps to snack on or extra pieces in case you don't measure correctly).

The first car is obviously the hardest because of the detail....  I cut two 6" x 3" pieces from the sheet cake and layered them to create the base of the car.  The bottom of the cake was a little sticky which held the two layers together.  I also cut two 2"x2"x3" triangles for the front of the car and layered them.  The cylindrical shaped piece on top of the engine was actually three cupcakes trimmed with a small biscuit cutter, stuck together with toothpicks and frosted..  The double decker back is two 2x3 pieces of cake cut from the loaf pan.

The three cars behind the engine were 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" blocks cut from the loaf pan.  I trimmed the top so that each was squared off.  I topped each car with something fun: blueberries (coal), animal crackers (real animals) and pretzels (logs).

For frosting I used Pioneer Woman's no fail buttercream: "The best frosting I've ever had" and doubled the recipe. It really is quite good (and was about all I ate during the hours surrounding the creation of this cake) I used gel food coloring to make the four different frosting colors.  I piped white borders along all the cars with a disposable pastry bag.

I broke off the bottom of an ice cream cone and used the top as the smokestack.  I placed mini marshmallows in for the "smoke" and glued some of the top marshmallows in place with frosting.

The Elmo is actually a part of a toddler fork and spoon set (not a bad deal for $4 on Amazon!) and I just stuck him into the cake.

I sprinkled desiccated (unsweetened) coconut as the base on the tray and placed the train over Kit Kats for train tracks. I used Oreo cookies as wheels and a peanut butter m&m as the headlight on the first car.

IT WAS SO MUCH FUN TO MAKE!  And even better was the reaction from Kieran and his family.  Pure joy.  I look forward to making my niece's FIRST birthday cake in May!

Some helpful hints:
** I highly recommend NOT building this cake in a hot kitchen on a warm day.  It was about 80 degrees out and the cake looked fantastic when I put it together in the morning.  By 3 pm when I drove over to the party, the back of the engine car was tipping over and the white piping was falling a bit.  But nothing a few toothpicks couldn't fix. :)

** I had some leftover wooden mini forks that I ordered from Smarty Had a Party back in December and used them to "spackle" and smooth out the frosting.  I brought a little kid to the house which included some of those forks, a sample of each of the different colors of frosting, regular toothpicks which helped.

**Don't get frustrated or wrapped up in the details.  The birthday boy or girl is only going to see the cake (and you), not the little mistakes that you may have made.

What is your favorite theme birthday cake?  Do you have any links or photos to share?  Please share!

Chow for Now! :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My favorite cookie. Period.

I have made many different kinds of cookies in my life...chocolate chip, oatmeal, chocolate brownie crackles, lemon sugar cookies, and more.  But typically, when I crave a cookie it's a Black and White.  My mom knows me well -- any time I come home to NY for a visit, a black and white cookie from my favorite bakery is waiting for me.  I usually inhale it within minutes of arriving home whether it's 7 AM or 11 PM.  I have tried many black and white cookies and haven't really found one locally that tastes as good as my NY favorite. I have found one recipe that gets as close as you can to the best.  Martha Stewart's recipe is the one I use and I added my own creative spin this time (I do prefer a higher ratio of vanilla to chocolate on my cookies).  You can find the original recipe on my blog from last summer when I whipped up a batch for a Hollywood Bowl outing.

Here is a pic of the ones I made yesterday (which are almost gone by the way).  I made them small - about 2 inches across.

I was having a day yesterday - where all I really wanted to do was cook and eat.  I didn't want to market my business, didn't want to "work," didn't want to do much of anything else.  Luckily I've been running for the last week every day as I train for a race in May.  I am feeling good, eating healthy meals while throwing in a few treats as a pat on the back.  I deserve it and so do you.  So, make these cookies and let me know what you think!

Chow for now!  :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Referrals, networking and marketing, oh my!

It was so great to meet with Heather Berkowitz, the co-founder of Classic Nannies today.   The timing couldn’t be better, considering my current quest to market my personal chef business, Chow for Now, to families.  Even

better, I love the idea of working with another woman-owned business.
I know how difficult it can be to juggle work, exercise, family and life.  And many times, nutrition is the first thing to be pushed aside.  I understand how much easier it is to go out to eat or to order take out because the idea of grocery shopping and cooking is daunting after a long day.  Plus, there are so many conflicting news items about what foods are “good” for you and which ones are not.  They even just updated the food pyramid!  It can be confusing and exhausting.  I can take away some of the stress by giving you your TIME back. 
Chow for Now personal chef service includes menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and packaging your dinners for a week during one scheduled cook day. I cook in your home, allowing the distinct scents of home-cooked meals to drift through your kitchen (think lemon roasted chicken or butternut squash lasagna) and I leave simple instructions making  it easy for you to heat up your food each night at your leisure.
In addition to weekly personal chef services, I offer daily “eat in” service, small party catering, gift certificates (for new parents, perhaps?), “adults night in” cooking classes, romantic dinners for two (we know it’s hard to get a babysitter sometimes) and cooking for your child’s birthday parties!  Think about how awesome it will be to have one less thing to worry about when your beloved Jack or Jane is turning 5 and you have 25 adults and their kids coming over!
The point of hiring a personal chef is to free up your time to be with your family.  How much is your time worth?  It all starts with a free consultation where we go over your family’s likes, dislikes, allergies, intolerances and general food preferences.  Then we pick a cook date and go from there! 
I am looking forward to working with Heather—and you—in the future!  

Chow for Now! :)