The Cat Cake – and a Steak, Too

Hello, hello, hello.

I was gone all last week, and this is why:

Cat Cake

Presenting The Cat Cake, jewel-tone cascading blossoms and all.

It’s 6″, 7″ and 8″ round tiers on top of a 10″ square tier of French vanilla cake with white chocolate ganache, covered in fondant.  The blossoms are made of gum paste.

Here’s a better look at the topper:

Cat Topper

The cats are modeled after the happy couple’s own pets, and I’m not at all displeased with how they came out.  They are made from Wilton Shape ‘N’ Amaze edible modeling dough.  It was my first time working with it, and it held up much better than fondant but I think I’m going to try my hand at modeling chocolate for sculpting 3D figures in the future.

There was also a groom’s cake (which used to be a uniquely Southern tradition):

Steak Cake

The groom is not only the son of our beef farmer, he also works for our butchers.  He asked if I could make a cake that looked like a big steak – if only all requests were that easy. This cake was red velvet, filled with a cream cheese buttercream and covered with a dark chocolate ganache and then with fondant.

The thing I liked most about making this cake was the opportunity to hand paint the top of the steak (like the cats, the cutting board is air brushed).  I’ll tell you, it gives me a huge appreciation for people who do this and do it well – it’s not the easiest medium, but I am fascinated with the process now.

A word about fondant: I’ve used Wilton products in the past.  Their traditional fondant is more or less easy to work with, but tastes like plastic.  Their new stuff tastes much better, but is a nightmare to work with.  I’ve worked a little with homemade marshmallow fondant, and while it tastes great, it tends to dry out very quickly; if you’re not very experienced working with fondant it will start to develop what they call “elephant skin” before you’ve got your cakes covered.  This time I ordered this fondant, and all I can say is “SCORE!”  SO easy to work with – while it sets up beautifully, it stays nice and pliable for quite some time so you can take your time.  It also tastes every bit as good as the homemade marshmallow fondant and is reasonably priced.

As with every cake I do, I look back and think of a million things I could have done to make them better, but the bride and groom were pleased so that’s about all I can ask for.  I learn something every time I work with these new mediums and techniques and I’m just loving it, even if my hands ached and ached all day yesterday.

I’d also like to take this time to say “Thank you” to Beloved, who not only made sure I had the time to do all this by taking over dinner and other chores, but also cut the dowels to the correct size to stabilize the tiers and constructed the boxes that allowed us to transport the cakes practically worry-free.  Thank you so much dear, not only for the loving help during this process, but everything you do for me every day.  I don’t express that nearly often enough.

Curried Lamb and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Well, it is now officially autumn. Weather-wise, it came early this year up here in northeast Ohio; the trees are already turning, which usually doesn’t really begin to ramp up until the second week of October in this neck of the woods, and my winter wardrobe’s migration towards the front of our closet is also a bit premature.  It’s the last week of the season for our CSA and Beloved has begun clearing out our own gardens, as well.

I don’t think we’ll be buying as many apples this year, as we still have plenty of applesauce from last year, but I’m really looking forward to some apple-based dishes, both sweet and savory, and I’m going to try and make some apple cider jelly.

We’ve decided not to do a CSA share next year, but rather get our summer produce from our own gardens and supplement with purchases from local farmer’s markets.  There’s only so much we can consume, even with Darling Daughter back home and The Young One here for the summer and holidays, and some of what we grew ourselves simply went unharvested – mostly leafy greens – because we just couldn’t eat it all.

Winter squashes are in full swing about now, and my obsession with cooking and stuffing them continues unabated.  Last week, it was Mexican-inspired stuffed spaghetti squash; this week, it’s a Moroccan-flavored lamb and quinoa mixture heaped inside roasted acorn squash.

Acorn squash isn’t my favorite – that spot is reserved for butternuts and kabochas – but we had two we’d acquired through our CSA share and I decided, since they were sitting there on the counter, just staring me in the face, that I probably should do something with them.  I wasn’t in the mood for soup (that happened last night with our lone sweet dumpling squash), but another stuffed squash sure sounded like a good idea.  It wasn’t long before I was pulling the last pound of ground lamb from our freezer and the bag of sprouted quinoa from the pantry.

It turns out it was an excellent idea – this was just delicious (frankly, I’d have been happy eating just the filling; it was that good).  Darling Daughter and I shared one half between the two of us, while Beloved inhaled an entire half all on his own.  This is also one of those dishes that is even better the next day, and it reheats beautifully.

Curried Lamb and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash. Liven up that ordinary roasted acorn squash with lamb, quinoa and curry powder.

Click the image to enlarge

Curried Lamb and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 2 medium acorn squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Cut the squashes in half, lengthwise, and scoop the seeds from the center. Rub each half with the olive oil; place cut side down on a shallow, rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork.
  3. While the squash is in the oven, cook the lamb in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks with a large wooden spoon. Once it has barely begun to brown, add the onion and continue cooking until most of the fat has rendered from the meat and the onion has softened. Stir in the garlic, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and salt and pepper and cook until the meat is cooked through and the mixture is fragrant.
  4. Remove the meat mixture from the heat and stir in the pistachios, raisins and quinoa, mixing well. Set aside.
  5. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool slightly. Turn it over so that the cut sides are facing up and spoon the lamb/quinoa mixture into the centers, packing it in as necessary, until all of the filling has all been used.
  6. Reduce the heat to 350 F and return the stuffed squash halves to the oven. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  7. Carefully cut each in half lengthwise before serving.
  8. Nutrition (per serving): 396 calories, 21.5g total fat, 41.4mg cholesterol, 512.4mg sodium, 833.2mg potassium, 39.6g carbohydrates, 5.1g fiber, 11.7g sugar, 14.8g protein

Sheldon

Suzanne over at 24 At Heart is getting a Newfoundland puppy in a few weeks, and is asking for name suggestions.  If you think of a name for what will eventually be a huge, furry, black dog, please go drop her a line.

I, unfortunately, couldn’t give her any ideas, because I absolutely SUCK at naming things.  Darling Daughter, on the other hand, is wonderful at it.  When stuck for a name for our latest side of grass-fed beef, it was DD who promptly came up with “Wellington.”

Think about it for a minute.

At any rate, when I decided to try my hand at amigurumi – the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures – I started with a turtle, mainly so I could eventually make a quartet and turn them into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a certain young man.

Besides, the pattern was unbearably adorable, and I’m a sucker for unbearably adorable.

When I began The Turtle, that was pretty much how I referred to it.  Eventually, though, Beloved asked me what I was going to name it.

“I dunno….George?”

Darling Daughter looked at me with some akin to mild disgust.  “No – SHELDON.”

And Sheldon he became, and because she named him, he now belongs to DD.

Sheldon the Amigurumi Turtle

For those of you who are interested, you can purchase the pattern here.  I used an F/5/3.75mm hook and Bernat Cotton Handicrafter Yarn in Olive for his head, body and limbs, Bernat Cotton Handicrafter Yarn in Cloves for the back of his shell, and Bernat Cotton Sugar ‘n’ Cream Yarn in Ecru for the front of his shell.

Now, if you look at the example that accompanies the actual pattern, you’ll see that Sheldon is not nearly as well-proportioned as the little guy in the picture, but I’m not terribly upset by that.  Sheldon turned out pretty well for a first attempt, especially when you realize I’d never crocheted anything in the round before – all of my previous projects have been limited to afghans and scarves (in other words, squares and rectangles).

I do know one thing, though – I will get better, because I am, pardon the expression, hooked on crocheting unbearably adorable stuffed animals.

Heaven help us when I graduate to clothing…

Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Happy…middle of September?  How the heck did THAT happen??

Before we know it, Autumn will be upon us.  In fact, it’s coming early from what I can see – we already have trees turning on our street (much to Darling Daughter’s dismay).

While I do NOT look forward to winter, I generally enjoy fall.  It’s a gorgeous season up here in northeast Ohio and the crisp temperatures are an invigorating excuse to wear my didn’t-exist-until-I-moved-North cool weather wardrobe.

Because, let’s face it, it’s cold for all of about 3 days in the middle of February down in Texas.

It’s also an opportunity to start tuning up for cold-weather cooking, which is (according to at least one of my readers) my forte.  I won’t deny it; I love casseroles and stews and braises and other hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare.

This particular recipe is a new favorite.  Ooooohhh, myyyyyyyy.

While the butternut squash Beloved planted earlier in the season didn’t take at all (this is not true of the one that has sprung up spontaneously in another garden – I guess the compost didn’t get hot enough again this year), the spaghetti squash is doing just fine.  We’ve already picked a couple, and I made this with the very first one Beloved harvested.

Fortunately, the harvest of this squash coincided with the last of the summer sweet corn we picked up at the farmer’s market.  When I finally decided what I was going to do with this particular one – I didn’t want it to involve a pasta sauce – I soaked and cooked some black beans, as well as a pound of Meat for Tacos. After that I made a fresh salsa with some red onion, a hillbilly tomato and a jalapeno, all from our garden, along with some cilantro from the CSA.  Once I’d roasted the squash, all that was left was to shred some cheese and assemble the whole thing and bake it in the oven.

It. Was. AMAZING.  This is comfort food, folks – delicious, satisfying and quite healthful comfort food.  The servings are also quite generous, and the leftovers keep well in the refrigerator, if they’re well-covered.  It really reheats beautifully – Beloved and I shared one stuffed squash half the night I made it, and finished off the other half for lunch the next day.  It was every bit as good (if not a little bit better, as dishes like this tend to be).

This would also be awesome topped with a good, homemade guacamole.

Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash. Healthy and creative, this Mexican-inspired casserole is a great way to jazz up this versatile winter squash.

Click the image to enlarge

Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 pound [url href=”http://www.janssushibar.com/meat-tacos/” target=”_blank”]Meat for Tacos[/url]
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup fresh tomato salsa
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Halve the spaghetti squash and scrape out the seeds from the center. Rub both halves with olive oil and place them, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork; remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  3. While the squash is roasting, prepare the [url href=”http://www.janssushibar.com/meat-tacos/” target=”_blank”]Meat for Tacos[/url].
  4. Once cooled enough to handle, shred the meat of the squash into a large mixing bowl with a fork, leaving the shells intact. Season lightly with salt and pepper; stir in the beans, corn, taco meat, red onion and half the cheese until thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture back into the squash shells and top with the remaining cheese. Return to the foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. Reduce the heat to 350 F and return the stuffed squash halves to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Allow the stuffed squash to rest for 5 or so minutes before cutting each half in two. Top with the salsa and serve.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 584 calories, 36.4g total fat, 95.4mg cholesterol, 1076.6mg sodium, 1024.3mg potassium, 37.1g carbohydrates, 6.9g fiber, 4.9g sugar, 30.9g protein

The Button Infinity Scarf

Say hello to The Incredible Shrinking Girl.

The Incredible Shrinking Girl

Since moving in with us in late April, Darling Daughter has lost about 50 pounds.  It’s amazing what can happen when you simply cut junk out of your diet.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she has a pretty physically demanding job (which she loves)

Above is the photo she posted to Facebook last night to show off the infinity scarf I made for her.  You have to admit, the girl knows how to take a selfie.

The photo I took is a little less flattering (it doesn’t help that ALL of her clothes are just hanging on her these days), but you get a better look at the yarn I used (black acrylic interwoven with shiny, metallic threads in different colors):

The Button Infinity Scarf

I haven’t had much time to crochet lately (and I’m not going to have a lot of time until the wedding cakes I’m doing in early October, to say nothing of canning season, have passed), but when Darling Daughter asked for an infinity scarf to wear this winter, how could I turn her down?

For the uninitiated, an infinity scarf is simply a winter scarf crocheted into a big loop – no beginning, no end.  Since I wanted to do a braided scarf, I couldn’t crochet in a big loop; I had to crochet three separate panels, sew them together at one end, braid them, sew them together at the other end, then join the two ends before adding buttons at the seam.

I’d love to give you the pattern for it, but I sort of went off the cuff with this one and while I could write a recipe in my sleep, I have no earthly idea how to write a crochet pattern.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t try.  Because you know how I am.

So… here goes.

Materials:

– 3 skeins Loops and Threads Impeccable Glitter, “Mirror” color

– size H/5.0mm crochet hook

– 3 large, black buttons

tapestry needle

Abbreviations:

ch: chain

sc: single crochet

dc: double crochet

st: stitch

Make 3 panels using the following directions:

Loosely ch 18

Row 1 –  Dc in the 3rd st from hook; dc to the end of the chain (16 dc). Ch 1; turn.

Row 2 – Sc in 1st dc; sc to end of the chain (16 sc). * Ch 1; turn.

Row 3 – Repeat row 2 to *. Ch 3; turn.

Repeat rows (1 – 3) 23 more times for a total 24 rows of (1) dc and (2) sc.  Fasten off yarn and cut.  Weave in loose ends.

Line up the ends of the 3 panels.  Using the tapestry needle and the same yarn the scarf is made of, sew together the panels on one end.  Braid the panels; sew together the other end of the panels.  Bring the ends together and join them, again using the tapestry needle and yarn.

Attach the buttons at the seam.  Fasten off yarn and cut; weave in all loose ends.

Please, all of you serious hookers out there, let me know what I’ve done wrong here – it’s all a learning experience for me!