My MixAdventures: Let them eat (pink) cake!

My daughter’s birthday is coming up this Thursday – the big 17. (We’ll pause here for a moment of reflection on how the F–k she got to be that old this fast!)  Because our weeks right now are filled with craziness, between school, work, drivers ed, civic orchestra, homework and getting everyone fed, clothed and transported as needed, I was getting a bit worried about having a chance to either make a cake or consume said cake with the birthday girl.  Add to this the following weekend has my husband out of town and my daughter performing Solo & Ensemble (a yearly torture thing where the kids have the opportunity to play a solo that is rated by a judge.) and beginning an ACT prep course and you’ll see our dilemma.

As it turned out, my daughter had a driving session (on actual roads! with other drivers/cars present! OMG!) and a rehearsal with her S&E accompanist so she’d be out of the house for several hours.  This gave me the opportunity to pull together a quick party.  Less you, dear reader, think I am any sort of Martha Stewart type who did so effortlessly planned a sophisticated soiree with homemade favors and tasteful decor, go ahead and wipe that thought right on out of your head.  We’re talking delivered pizza, paper plates, bottles of pop or beer (for the grownups, silly).  One thing that I decided wouldn’t be store-bought, delivered or, hopefully, made of cardboard, was the cake.  Time to pull out the trusty KitchenAid and try my hand at a cake.

Okay, since I had just a short time (I also had to squeeze in catch-up work, oversight of my son’s work and assorted Sunday duties), and it had to work right the first time, I decided to skip a step or two by using a box cake mix. Two boxes of yellow cake mix later, I was pouring  batter into pans and popping them into the oven.  The frosting I did decide to tackle from scratch and nothing was going to do but good old fashioned buttercream.  I found a recipe on the Food Network site that looked easy enough and set about making it.  Butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream went into the bowl in the appropriate order. The final touch was several drops of red food coloring.  My girl likes color – her hair is a lovely shade of blue at the moment – so nothing would do but a tasteful pink icing.

Frost, frost, layer, frost, frost and all looked lovely.  Sadly, I neglected to take a photo before we all dug in so you’ll just have to imagine the magnificence of the whole from the remaining bits. I’m pleased to say it was a big success – the birthday girl was tickled and everyone was quite complimentary.  I’ll call this one a success.

Yay, yellow cake and pink frosting!

Yay, yellow cake and pink frosting!

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My MixAdventures: Iced Pumpkin Cookies

I’m a Michigander, born and raised. For about a year, I had a client located in Columbus, Ohio that required frequent trips to that city.  As anyone located anywhere near a Big Ten state would know, Michigan and Ohio don’t mix all that easily and visiting Columbus, home of Ohio State University, was a trip into the lion’s den for many of my co-workers.  This shouldn’t be that big a deal for me – I attended a small liberal arts college on the west side of Michigan – no where near the mighty, mighty Wolverines but it’s the principle of the thing.

But I digress…

One of the very delightful things we discovered about Columbus was that it was a very good city for eating. Many wonderful restaurants, from dives to fine dining – all just calling out for our expense reports to include their receipt.  Just as fine were the treats: in particular Jeni’s Ice Cream (Brown Butter Almond Brickle, anyone?),  SugarDaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties for brownies and the reason for today’s post: a lovely little bakery in the Short North neighborhood called Piece of Cake.  Piece of Cake has many wonderful offerings but my absolutely passion are their iced pumpkin cookies.  Soft, caky domes of spicy pumpkin goodness, all covered in sweet icing. I’ve been known to buy a half dozen – you know, to share with the kids when I get home – but somehow manage to devour them before hitting the state line.  (no small feat: these bad boys are as big as your hand!)  I no longer work on the Columbus account so no more regular trips south. Jeni’s ice cream is now sold in my local fancy grocer – check. SugarDaddy’s ships, check and check. Piece of Cake? Nope: no local outlet for those wonderful cookies.

What I do have is desire, a can of pumpkin and that shiny, shiny new red KitchenAid mixer.  I found a likely recipe over at All Recipes and decided to give it a go.  Butter, sugar, lots of spices, flour and of course, pumpkin.  All went into the mixer in the prescribed order and I soon had a lovely bowl of pleasantly aromatic dough. I plopped it on the cookie sheets in little blobs, popped them in the oven and hoped for the best.  15 minutes later, I had oddly shaped little pumpkin cakes.  Golden brown on top but unfortunately a bit overdone on the bottom. (Note to self: time to invest in some decent cookie sheets. How many times will I need to see cookies with burnt bottoms before I learn?)  Sadly, one panful was lost when I filled the cookie sheet with dough, turned to grab a potholder and managed to hit the sheet with my elbow, neatly flipping it face down (of course) on the floor. We have two cats, two longer-haired dogs and two teenagers. No 5 second rule in these parts!

At any rate, I made a batch of simple icing, slathered it on and tried a cookie.  The verdict? A teeny bit drier than desired but the icing helped that. There was the unfortunate burned bits – got to research decent pans to fix that – and they were admittedly not very pretty but they were still quite yummy.  The kids seemed to like them.  I’ll definitely give this recipe another shot.

iced pumpkin cookies in a container

pumpkin cookies from All Recipes

My MixAdventures – Getting Started with a KitchenAid Mixer

Every year, the question comes from my husband: what do I want for Christmas.  I’ve learned to offer very specific hints; no “a new perfume might be nice”.  Instead, I offer the name, maker, bottle description and, if possible, a link or directions to specific Macy’s counter where it can be found.  It works for us: Mike feels less pressure and I get things I’ll use.  We still surprise each other with fun but it’s nice to know a few items are sure wins.

For the last few years, I’ve patiently added the words “kitchenaid mixer, red” to my list.  Each year, a noticeable lack of mixer under the tree.  That all changed this year.  Maybe it was the photo of the mixer, along with location of coupon and best place to get a deal I posted on my husband and kid’s FB pages?  Maybe I was extra good this year?  Or maybe, just maybe, my husband took my insistence this year as a sign that I was ready to get down to the business of cooking.  Seriously cooking.  Cooking as in not from a box, just add butter and milk and 1 pound of ground beef cooking.  Maybe.

Photo of red KitchenAid mixer in box.

My new KitchenAid mixer. Thanks, Santa!

 

Pretty sweet, eh?  I couldn’t wait to get started. Unfortunately, a muscle spasm in my neck the day after Christmas meant 2 days in bed on muscle relaxants.  I still couldn’t lift anything on day three, or do much at all, but I had my son help me get it out of the box and in its new home on my counter.  I didn’t have a whole lot of energy or ability to raise my arms, in truth, but I was determined to give it a whirl (ha) so I poured in the heavy cream, added sugar and vanilla and there was my first accomplishment: a bowl of whipped cream.  Not so fancy but it was a start.

A few days later, feeling much better, I got busy again.  This time, my goal was cinnamon bread from the little KitchenAid book that came with the mixer.  (Basic White Bread with cinnamon variation)  I won’t lie: yeast makes me nervous.  For whatever reason, in many of my past bread-making adventures, the damn stuff just don’t rise.  But with high hopes and a dough hook attachment, I set off.  Milk, sugar, butter, yeast, salt, water, flour, etc.  All in the proper order, into the bowl.  In a surprisingly short amount of time, I had a nice ball of dough.  I wasn’t sure if it was the right texture but off to the slightly warmed oven to rise.

And rise it actually did!

A little rolling, some butter, cinnamon and sugar and I had two nice loaves of prospective bread to pop in the oven.  We baked, we cooled and we sliced. Smelled heavenly.  Texture was a bit, well, chewy.  Chewier than I wanted bread to be, anyways.  Okay, it wasn’t a hit out of the park the first time out but the kids were reasonably appreciative, I had a photo of two loaves to post on FB as my first accomplishment and I will say, it made damn fine french toast the following morning.

 

I am determined that this big red bad boy not become a dust collecter on my already over-crowded counter. Weekends, when I have time to take on things like this, often get crazy but my goal is to try something out at least once every other week.  I’m looking forward to this and will report in here often.

cinbread