Friday, January 30, 2015

Birthday Beauties

January brings another year of birthdays and ideas for a cake to personally complement each recipient. Between friends and family there have already been three birthdays in the past few weeks. One of my most recent creations was a guitar cake. This post is a tutorial of how to make this playful cake.
Guitar Cake - level, cut out using template and crumb coat
Decide how big your guitar will be, roughly sketch it out on a piece of parchment paper then cut out your template. Keep in mind, the size of cake served at a party is typically 1-1/2" x 2". This cake was made with two 9" x 13" sheet cakes; one was used for the neck, the other for the body of the guitar, which served 30.  
As for any cut and formed cake, they should be made from scratch to produce a cake sturdy enough to cut out, manipulate and decorate without crumbling. Madeira cakes are often used for this type of decorating. *NOTE: Cake mixes produce a light, crumbly cake and are not suitable for this type of work. The cakes must be baked at least the day prior to cutting and assembly.
After baking, cool completely then wrap the cakes well in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. When ready to cut and assemble the guitar, level the cakes (remove the rounded tops) then place parchment template on the cakes and cut out the guitar shape.
Refrigerated crumb coat, assemble on cake board
To cut, use a sawing motion with a very sharp knife. Keep the knife at a 90 degree angle to the counter so the sides of the cake are straight. Gently remove the unwanted sections of cake and 'crumb coat' each section. This means, ice all surfaces of the cake with a very thin layer of icing then refrigerate until the icing is firm. (This cake was about 2 feet long, so it remained in two sections until final assembly.) 
Now it is time to ice and decorate; transfer the cake carefully to a prepared 'cake board' for decorating, transportation and serving. Cake boards can be made with clean, heavy cardboard cut to the size you need, covered with tin foil then plastic wrap. A paper doily or colored tissue paper can be placed under the plastic wrap if desired. Color your icing any color you want for the guitar but remember to reserve some white buttercream icing for the guitar strings. 'Glue' the two sections together with colored icing then ice the entire cake and smooth the sides and top. 
The next step is to use 'rolled fondant' for the fingerboard, soundhole, pickguard, saddle and bridge. ('Ready to Use' fondant can be purchased at The Bulk Barn.) Simply open the package and roll out using a small amount of confectioners sugar so it does not stick to the rolling surface or rolling pin. Pipe the strings in white buttercream. Finish by piping a simple border in the same color as the guitar around the base of the cake on the cakeboard and insert jujube candies on toothpicks for tuning keys. 
I hope you found this tutorial easy, informative and has you excited to try creating your own Birthday Beauty!
Guitar Cake in cardboard 'Guitar Case'
Till next week...Bon Appetit!

Photos, cake, cakeboard and 'guitar case' by Sally Rae

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Need for Seed

In a normal year, I would have feverishly pored over the seed catalogs as they arrived a month ago! For 2015, I have decided to give my soil a rest; fallow the main vegetable garden and plant in containers closer to the house. This will result in a much smaller 'need for seed' and I seem to have almost enough in my seed box to accommodate my plans. 
I was doing really well ...I thought... until a friend called asking about 'Cool Breeze' cucumbers. I picked up the William Dam Seeds 2015 edition and felt the excitement of Spring and soil under my nails. I have been bit by the garden planning bug!
Some of my favorite seed varieties
Last year I wrote a list of what I could not live without.... select heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peas, tri-color bush beans and a few scarlet runners, broccoli, romaine, mesclun mix and of course fresh herbs round out the list. Rather than start ordering, I separated those packets from the seed box into a bag with said list, so as not to loose track of 'downsizing'!  
It seems the darling 'Cool Breeze' pickling cucumber is no longer in stock due to crop failure. William Dam has 'Corentine' that looks similar and I will try them this year for comparison. The only other seed I need will be a zucchini. Yes you read it right, I cannot live without at least one zucchini plant! I pick the fruit quite small and it is difficult to find the size I prefer at the markets. I was looking for a space saver variety but recently found a very interesting video on square foot gardening. All plants, including zucchini, were staked and leaves pruned from below the fruit as it was picked. I am excited to try this method.
My sunroom has south exposure with wide shelves at windowsill height, perfect for starting seeds. This is my first attempt at strictly a container garden for food and will keep you posted. I will start the tomatoes and edible flowers in the next 3-5 weeks. Yes, some say that is far too early but between the sunroom and portable greenhouse it works. 
Till next week, wishing you a successful growing season and Bon Appetit! 

Photo and seed selection by Sally Rae
William Dam Seeds  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Going to the Dogs

As a continuation to last week's post, 'Sweet Potato or Yam', our canine friends also enjoy this marvelous tuber! If your dog is a fussy eater, has allergies, a sensitive stomach, intolerant to grains or none of the above, they will probably LOVE 'Sweet Potato Chips'. 
This journey began with a gluten intolerance in one of my dogs. My sister had experienced this in the past with one of her horses and her dog. When I asked for help and direction, she sent me a bag of "Crumps' Naturals - Sweet Potato Chews". A great Canadian product  from Ontario, but expensive to use daily with 2 larger dogs. The answer to dog cookies and treats was to make my own version. I have shared this recipe with numerous friends and clients to rave reviews of, "...finally, something my dog will eat!"  and " dog will do anything for a sweet potato chip!"
Bake single layer, DO NOT use any fat
To make your own 'Sweet Potato Chip' dog treats; use the larger, orange, sweet potatoes. They will be cooked first, then dehydrated, so will shrink to about half the size you start with. Either scrub the skins and leave on, or peel. With a large French Knife (my tool of choice is a very sharp, serrated 10" French Knife), slice the sweet potato into rounds. If you don't have exceptional knife skills and a very sharp, large knife; for safety, cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise so you have a flat surface on the cutting board. Then slice on a diagonal to get larger pieces. The slices should be uniform in thickness for even cooking and drying. The photos show my first attempts, the slices were quite thick and took far too long in the dehydrator. I now peel, slice thinner and line my bake sheets with parchment paper.
Dry until pliable, not sticky or wet
Place the sweet potato slices in a single layer on non-stick bake sheets... DO NOT use non-stick cooking spray, oil or fats of any kind... and bake in a 350 F. oven for about 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake another 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Once they are fully cooked, place slices in a single layer on the dehydrator trays. (I have a friend who does not have a dehydrator but leaves them in single layers on bake sheets in her gas oven to dry slowly.) No fancy or expensive equipment required, I have a small, home version dehydrator and use the setting for fruit and vegetables at 135 F.
Follow the instructions in your dehydrator manual, or dehydrate until the slices are still pliable but not 'sticky' or 'wet' feeling. Check them every few hours; turn the slices over, remove or rearrange as they dry, making sure they do not overlap. They will not all be ready at the same time even if you were diligent at cutting to uniform thickness!
Package with a desiccant
Once they are dehydrated yet still pliable, remove them and allow to fully cool to room temperature. Test again for any that may be wet or sticky. Place them back in the dehydrator if needed. You will get a feel for this by bending each piece and touching the surface. Package the finished treats in a zip-type plastic bag. It is a good idea to add a small 'desiccant package' inside the bag with the chips. This is the small, usually white package marked 'Do Not Eat' commonly encountered in packaged foods to sustain a state of dryness and retain crispness. 
Your dog will love these natural, digestible, no additive, no preservative, homemade treats!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sweet Potato or Yam

Four varieties of Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes and yams are both tuberous roots, but are constantly confused for one another. The truth is, what you are calling a yam is most likely a sweet potato.... and even more possible that you have never tasted a yam! 
Depending on the variety, sweet potato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple. The paler skinned sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin with pale yellow flesh. It is not as sweet and has a dry, crumbly texture similar to a white baking potato. The darker skinned variety (which is most often called a ‘yam’ in error) has a thicker, dark orange to reddish skin with a vivid orange, sweet flesh and a moist texture. 
A true yam is the starchy, edible root of a tropical vine (Dioscorea batatas) grown primarily in South America, Africa and the Caribbean. The skin is rough, scaly and difficult to peel, not even distantly related to the sweet potato! Yams have a higher sugar content and can grow enormous... sometimes over 7 feet in length! Yams are toxic if eaten raw, but perfectly safe when cooked. 
Both sweet potato and yam have a very low glycemic index and both are loaded with potassium, magnesium and phosphorous. Most people still think of sweet potatoes as yams regardless of their true identity. 
In the fall and early winter, the orange flesh sweet potatoes are available at reasonable prices and are JUMBO in size. Only two of these monsters are required for a big batch of soup! I developed this recipe a few years ago but this year, I had leftovers from Christmas Dinner... cooked meat, 'Apricot Pecan Wild Rice Stuffing' (pg. 279-'For the Love of Food'), roasted diced sweet potato and some frozen peas. I improvised the recipe below, making use of my leftovers and the result will fill the freezer with this nutritious, delicious soup. 
Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Curried Sweet Potato with Wild Rice and Chicken Soup   
            Yield: 8-10 servings              
Christmas Dinner leftovers become delicious soup!
½ c. wild rice 
3 cups water 
1 Tbsp. chicken soup base mix
3 Tbsp. butter
2 red onions, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. Madras curry powder
1½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt (divided)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼-½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 large, orange flesh, sweet potatoes; peeled and cut ½-inch dice (8-10 cups)
6-8 cups flavorful chicken stock
*3-4 Tbsp. brown rice flour (for thickening), optional

2 cups cooked chicken or turkey meat, dice into bite-sized pieces  
1 c. frozen peas
2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan, simmer wild rice in 3 cups water with chicken soup base mix and ½ tsp. salt, stir occasionally until cooked.
Meanwhile, heat butter in large saucepan over medium-low, add onion and garlic, stir occasionally until soft about 3 minutes. Add curry powder, cumin, chili, remaining ½ tsp. salt, pepper and Worcestershire; cook stirring for 2 minutes. Add diced sweet potato and chicken stock, stir well; cover and bring to boil. While at a boil, whisk in brown rice flour, if using. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sweet potato is cooked.
NOTE:*(If you want an even thicker soup, lightly mash some of the diced sweet potato with a potato masher or use an immersion blender before adding remaining ingredients.) 
Add cooked, diced meat, cooked wild rice with any remaining liquid and frozen peas. Simmer until heated through, taste and adjust seasoning.
Add green onions just prior to serving. 


Photos and Recipe by Sally Rae