Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

Notes from Ashley’s Test Kitchen: Insulated Cake Strips

Have you seen these little guys before? I hadn’t until I came across them in a little bakery supply store. Creating perfectly flat cake layers has always been something I have tried to master. I thought I had it all figured out by measuring out equal amounts of cake batter into each cake pan using a kitchen scale, then slicing off the top bump of the cake with a bread knife once they were cooled. Even after all of that busy work, I still had curved, browned edges along the sides of the cake. Sure, once covered in frosting, it doesn’t really matter, does it? For all of us OCD bakers out there…maybe it does.Wilton Bake Even Cake Strips

I decided to give these insulated cake strips a try one afternoon. I mixed up a quick yellow cake batter from Bakerella and prepared my pans. I saturated one strip with cold water per the instructions. I used the strip on one cake pan (Cake A) and left the other one without (Cake B). I put them in a 350 degree oven right next to each other and awaited the results.

DSC01221

A couple questions I had while waiting for the cakes to bake:

1) Will the texture be different since it appears to compress the cake into a flat layer? The texture of both cakes was exactly the same; nice and fluffy!

2) Does the baking time increase or decrease with the use of the strip? Both cakes finished at the same time. The only difference that I noticed, is that on the non-insulated cake, the edges browned a bit. The insulated cake was blemish free.

To my surprise, the insulated cake strip worked! Out of the oven came Cake A. A perfectly baked, perfectly flat cake layer without a domed center and no crispy edges! Where have these been all my life? And for $8 for two, it’s well worth the small investment. You can find the Wilton Bake Even Cake Strips here.

Cake A and B Result

Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

We’re on Facebook!

Hello Everyone! Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve created a Facebook page to help everyone keep up with new posts and information!

Find us here!

https://www.facebook.com/thesimpleelements

Thanks!

Elements of Food, Elements of Interest

A Musing on Food Photography

I’m learning how to use my new camera for my food photography for my new blog. It’s not a fancy DSLR so it doesn’t just automatically take a nice photo like our D700 does…but, I can still control the functions quite a bit. However, the lighting in our house is AWFUL which doesn’t help anything! I thought it would help to pick up a book on food styling and photography. I have to say, I’ve never been so disturbed…I had no idea that in the world of food styling…the tools of the trade include hot glue guns, chemical color enhancers to make your turkey looked perfectly browned, shortening and corn syrup to simulate ice cream, using Windex on cheese to make it appear perfectly melted, wet paper towels to keep bread from drying out…should I stop here? I think you get the point. My point being, is that you can rest assured, I won’t be trying any of these techniques. My blog is for real people, cooking at home…without a glue gun. I know I would be super frustrated if my recipe looked nothing like the photo. My photos are 100% real, using the actual recipe, and then fed to my husband and myself. No windex here. 🙂 Who knew? I kinda wish I didn’t.

Elements of Food, Elements of Interest

Testing Out Tonic Waters

Say goodbye to cheap grocery store tonic…top shelf tonic waters have arrived and are taking your usual Gin and Tonic to the next level. No more high fructose corn syrup fizz in a can, these waters come packaged in designer bottles with fancy ingredients. It’s funny that I sit here writing this post because I usually stick to wine, but I was prompted to write about this for a couple reasons. I was sitting down with a quick snack before heading over to my in-laws for a Father’s Day dinner when I pulled out my new Cooks Illustrated and was intrigued by an article written about Fever Tree Tonic Water. Being that I’m not a connoisseur of tonic waters, I had no idea what a variety of tastes they can impart on a very simple refreshing summer drink. I finished the article and we headed over to B’s parent’s house. When we arrived, I was surprised to find that Gloria had prepared a gin and tonic bar with 3 different artisan tonic waters to try. Wasn’t I just reading about this? We had samples of all three tonic waters before choosing our tonic of choice and the differences are quite remarkable. Rather than dilute your spirits with corn syrup and artificial flavoring, enhance them with one of these three artisan tonics.

Q Tonic Water: Packed in a sleek, rounded bottle, this one was incredibly refreshing, boasting all natural ingredients including hand picked quinine, organic agave, and 60% fewer calories than regular tonic water (and tastes better too!) This tonic was not overly sweet with the right hint of sharpness. Agave gives it a hint of sweetness without that horrible overpowering syrup that collects in the bottom of your glass. Available at Fancy grocers (Whole Foods, Kowalskis) and liquor stores (France 44, Surdyks)

Fentiman’s Tonic Water: Want a burst of flavor unlike anything you’ve had in your typical Gin and Tonic? Then this is the tonic for you. Crafters of botanically brewed beverages such as ginger beer, rose lemonade and curiosity cola, their tonic water has a blast of flavor as well. This lively tonic comes packaged in an old fashioned beer style bottle. When I first took a sip of this one, I was pretty much taken aback by the amount of flavor packed into it. It is much more pronounced than the other two we sampled. As B put it, it’s great to have on special occasions, but one would probably be enough flavor for the day. So if you’re looking for a big flavor, this is it!

Fever Tree Tonic Water: This is the one I was reading about in my Cooks Illustrated. Fever Tree is all natural made with high quality ingredients. This was B’s pick, he liked it best and I have to say I agree. It had the perfect amount of sweetness balanced out by a hint of citrus and bitterness. It has the lightest and most refreshing flavor out of three tonics we tried. I really liked the all natural citrus taste that Fever Tree gives off. It was easy to drink and tastes great on its own. Described as “champagne style carbonation,” it manages to keep its bubbles longer than most tonic waters as well.

A gin and tonic bar is a fun alternative to a wine bar or traditional cocktail bar. Throw a few of the personal sized bottles on ice along with a variety of gins, and let guests mix and match to find their perfect cocktail!

Elements of Food, Elements of Interest

Homemade Marshmallows

 

Nothing completes a yummy cup of hot chocolate like fluffy marshmallows floating around in your mug…but what makes that even better, are homemade marshmallows. Something has always intrigued me about them. I’ve always wanted to make them, but for some reason it seemed intimidating. I’ve only seen the puffy bites of sugar in the baking aisle at the grocery store, and it just doesn’t seem possible to replicate them. I was wrong. Not only could I replicate them, but they are so amazing that you’ll never buy them at the store again. They key to this recipe is a standing mixer. Get out your Kitchenaid, because these delights need to whip around for a good 15 minutes. Something you may not have in your cupboards is unflavored gelatin, which is a key ingredient in marshmallows. You can use gelatin sheets, but powdered gelatin is much easier to work with. You can usually find it where the boxed JELLO is in the baking aisle.

Ingredients

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin: I used Knox. It comes in a box of 4 packets, you will need 3.
  • 1 cup ice cold water: 1/2 for the gelatin and 1/2 for the sugar mixture.
  • 1.5 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • PAM cooking spray

Other things you will need

  • Standing mixer with whisk attachment
  • Candy thermometer (digital works best)

Directions

  • Place the 3 packets of gelatin into the bowl of a standing mixer with whisk attachment and add 1/2 cup of cold water.
  • In a small saucepan on medium high heat, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes covered.

  • Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F. (about 9-10 minutes) Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, immediately remove from the heat.
  • Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. The mixture should be lukewarm by this point.
  • Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.
  • While the mixture is whipping, prepare your pan. You can use either a cookie sheet that has sides, or a 9×13 baking dish. It just depends on how thick you want your marshmallows.
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray your pan with with nonstick cooking spray. Coat the entire pan with the cornstarch and confectioners sugar.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

  • Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. You can also use small cookie cutters to create marshmallow shapes. Just remember to dust the cookie cutter with confectioners sugar
  • Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary.
  • Store in an airtight container. Should last 3-4 weeks.

Elements of Food, Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

Simple Tip: Green Onions

Most recipes only call for the green part of the green onion. No need to toss the white bulb part of the onion…simply place the bulb root side down into a glass of water, and set in a sunny window. The green onions will regrow! You’ll never have to buy green onions again 🙂

UPDATE: My mom regrows her green onions in a little flower pot with soil. This prevents you from having to change out the water occasionally and they grow much faster and much better in the soil! Moms know best!

Elements of Home, Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

My Porch is NOT your Restaurant!

You spent your evening carving the perfect pumpkin for Halloween to sit happily on your front porch while trick or treaters come wandering by. What you also didn’t know is that you were also prepping this delicious treat for the neighborhood critter’s evening snack. Want to keep your furry friends from devouring your hard work as an appetizer? Follow this simple tip.

Mix hot pepper sauce and water together (or cayenne pepper powder) into a spray bottle. Spray your pumpkins with this spicy concoction and you’ll send these unwanted diners to another house for dinner 🙂

Elements of Food, Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

Simple Tip…Bell Peppers

Did you know…

Bell peppers with three bumps on the bottom are sweeter, and better for eating raw. Peppers with four bumps are firmer, and not quite as sweet…these are better for cooking.

Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

Simple Tip: Bananas

My co-worker Cindy is a wealth of information. She sent me a whole list of interesting facts and suggestions to help you out at home and in the kitchen. Today’s simple tip is about Bananas.

I left a banana at my desk at work for over a week and came back today to find this banana STILL in edible condition. However, the banana bunch that it came from has gone completely rotten at home! Apparently, if you separate the bananas from each other, they will last longer. Bananas ripen themselves by emitting ethylene, so by separating them, the other bananas aren’t prematurely ripening the others. Yes, they may look cuter sitting on our counter in a bunch, but separate them and they will be useful for days after they would normally be.

Elements of Home, Elements of Interest, Favorite Things

Favorite Object of the Day: Calf & Half Creamer

Good morning sunshine! Not going to lie…that is usually not a phrase that comes to my mind when my iPhone alarm goes off around 8:30 A.M. Yes, I know most of you are already at work by then, but lucky for me, my job doesn’t start that early…good thing, considering i’m pretty useless until about 10:00 A.M. I do much better starting late morning and ending late evening. To each their own. But, I most definitely cannot start my day without coffee, and lots of it. Luckily for me, my fiance and I are both coffee fanatics and thrive on that magical beep of the auto programmed coffee maker finishing its daily job. We both throw back several cups of coffee before even attempting the day.

If there is one thing I love…it’s crazy and fun kitchen stuff. I have a stockpile of entertaining coffee mugs that give me the ability to smile before the caffeine kicks in. So, when this little box containing the most entertaining creamer I have ever seen showed up at ClicktoShop, I HAD to have it! It’s the Calf & Half Creamer by Fred & Friends. I know you know Fred & Friends, they make all the humorous unique gifts that you can find at Bibelot and Patina (my two favorite stores by the way) You have to admit…it’s pretty funny…how could you not smile if you woke up to this on your counter…I definitely got a smile out of Brendan. It’s pretty cool…double walled glass in the shape of an udder? Love it. I even got one for my brother and his wife as a part of their housewarming gift. I think they loved it too. I love my job…testing new products as they come in? Doesn’t get better than that!

Calf and Half Creamer