June 17, 2016

Shift the Balance: Reza's Cheese Soup or Sausaquences and Peppers

Guess what today is! Guess what, guess what, guess what!

Okay, you're not going to guess so I'll tell you: TODAY IS THE DAY THAT DREAMFALL CHAPTERS: BOOK 5 COMES OUT!

No, but you guys, you have to understand, it's the final part of the final game of The Longest Journey saga, and it's been so long since Book 4 came out, and the ending of Book 4 kind of left me sobbing on my keyboard and I just...

I have a lot of feelings, okay?

Anyway, since we all know I celebrate with food, and since I already made Balance Cupcakes, I decided to make something out of the game itself.
Pretty early on in Book 1 (it seems so long ago...), Zoe-- one of the main, playable characters-- has a simple fetch quest: pick up lunch for her boyfriend Reza, and bring it to his office. Seems simple enough, right? It's designed to help you get used to navigating the Propast area (which is totally my favorite in the game), so it's not trying to trip you up or anything. Go to the food cart, talk to the vendor, pick up a food item, find Reza. Easy peasy. Reza even gives you free reign to pick whatever you like, though Zoe knows he doesn't have the most adventurous palate.

However, this is a gritty technopunk future, so when Nela reveals that she has some very rare real pork sausages for sale, it's a bit of a game changer.
Zoe knows that Reza would prefer his usual order of cheese soup, but she also wants to broaden Reza's culinary horizons, and the pork sausages are hard to say no to. So, it's up to you as the player to make the choice.
It seems like an innocent enough choice, something simple for the devs to throw in to give the player the illusion of control. However, as the end card says when you finish Book 1, this choice actually has unexpected and far-reaching consequences. Or sausaquences, as Zoe refers to them in her journal.
And, after one dev tweeted about everything coming back to a choice to you didn't think mattered, everyone's pretty nervous about the sausaquences coming back to bite us.

In honor of that potentially fatal choice, I decided to make both foods so you can make the choice for yourself.
Since it's mid June and it's been pretty warm here in NJ, I decided to make both meals in the slow cooker. Not that Nela does that, but I didn't feel like standing over the hot stove or turning the oven on. Plus I don't have Karl to help out. (Karl is the name of Nela's food cart. It makes more sense in context).
Reza's favorite cheese soup I decided to make nice and hearty. The broth is creamy and flavored with sharp cheddar cheese, and it's chock full of broccoli, potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. Plus, to thicken it up a bit, since there's not much evaporation in the slow cooker, I added a couple tablespoons of instant potatoes. That's totally optional: you can add rice or noodles with will absorb some of the liquid, go for a cornstarch slurry, or leave it as is, but I liked it this way.

One note is that you really need to add the cheese at the end. Cheddar breaks very easily if it's cooked for too long. You can always use Velveeta to avoid that, but we all know real cheese tastes better.
As for the sausages, since I wasn't going to make my own (Nela didn't either, so we're square), and plain sausages doesn't seem like much of a lunch, I went with sausage and peppers. Or, sausaquences and peppers, get it?
I thought it was funny.

Sausage and peppers is a ridiculously simple dish that I think every Italian knows how to make, and it's a fairly common street food around here, especially down the shore (usually served on a roll), so I thought Nela might approve.

My family usually makes it in the oven (dump everything in a baking dish, cover with foil, bake until the sausages are done), but now I might always make it in the slow cooker because holy crap on a cracker did it turn out good. The sausages were so tender they were like butter, and everything just came out so flavorful that I ate like three helpings when I went to taste it. Plus, it's even easier to make it in the slow cooker than the oven, since I don't have to preheat the oven or worry about a timer.

Now, you can brown the sausages on the stove first if you like. I won't stop you. Many people do, to cut down on grease and crisp up the casing. But that just seemed too much like work to me.
So now you have a very important choice to make: Reza's cheese soup or sausaquences and peppers. The fate of two worlds may be in the balance. Or possibly just the fate of your dinner.

Reza's Cheese Soup
Yield: 12 servings

3 ribs of celery, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
1 head of broccoli, chopped small
1 onion, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cans evaporated milk (I used skim)
3 tbsp. instant potato flakes (optional)
16 oz. shredded sharp cheddar
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

In the bowl of a slow cooker, add the first eight ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours until the vegetables are soft and the potatoes are fork tender. Add the evaporated milk and potato flakes, stirring until the flakes have dissolved. Cover and cook 30 minutes, until heated through. Add the cheese, half cup at a time, stirring until completely melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

Recipe by Kim

Slow Cooker Sausage and Peppers
Yield: 6 servings 

12 sweet Italian pork sausages
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes with basil
2 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 onion, sliced into strips
2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 large rolls, to serve

Add the peppers and onion to the bowl of a slow cooker. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Add the sausages and crushed tomatoes. Give a quick stir to coat. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, until the sausages are cooked through and tender. Serve in rolls.

Tip: if you have leftover sauce, add it to rice or pasta

Recipe by Kim 

May 11, 2016

Frozen Buttercream Transfer Tutorial

Okay, you guys know how I'm not a cake decorator, right? Like, you've been here through all of my rants about how the Cake Boss and similar shows have made people think baker = decorator when most decorators aren't actually great bakers. (I know a lot of cake decorators who use box mix because it's easier, quicker, and they can spend more time decorating. I'm not hating, I'm just saying that you don't have to be both) I know with me, I really don't have the patience for most cake decorating. Occasionally, I'll go a bit manic and decide that I can make royal icing transfers or dalek cupcakes, but even then, I'm aware of my limitations and try to keep things simple.

So when I tell you that that cake up there was super easy to decorate, you'd best believe me.
A frozen buttercream transfer is a cake decorating technique that works pretty much like it sounds. You create the design with buttercream and freeze it to transfer on to the cake. It's similar to the RI transfers I did for my Balance cupcakes, but unlike royal icing, the buttercream will only need 1-2 hours in the freezer to "set," and it won't harden. That means once you put it on the cake, you just need to let it defrost for about 15 minutes, and the buttercream is soft and creamy once more. People will think you're magic when they realize the design is delicious frosting and not edible paper.

Also unlike a RI transfer, if a frozen buttercream transfer cracks or breaks while moving it, it's no big deal. Let the buttercream soften for a minute and then press the cracked pieces back together, smoothing it out gently with your finger or a piece of waxed paper. Mine broke into three pieces when I moved it to the cake. Can you tell where it happened? Cause I sure can't.
Can't draw? No sweat. Coloring pages work perfectly with this technique. You can find all sorts of free coloring pages online (which is what I did), or you can get coloring books for cheap just about anywhere (and if you've got kidlets running around, you can just borrow one of theirs)
This is the image I used, which I got for free on AZ Coloring. If you're just doing a character cake, you can just print it on out and get started. However, since a frozen buttercream transfer is an inverse technique, if you have any writing like I did, or if your image has to face a certain way, you have to flip the image. You can do this in any photo editor, or even in a Word document, which I did (the pan I used was roughly the same size as a piece of printer paper, so that was the quickest way to make sure the image took up most of the page).

If you're using a physical coloring book, you can scan the image in and flip it, or you can trace the image on tracing paper with a sharpie, then just flip the tracing paper over.
Tape your image onto a flat, portable surface (I used a cutting board), tape a piece of waxed paper on top of it, and start outlining. If your outline color is black, you're probably going to want to use a tube of black decorator's icing rather than homemade. True black is hard to get without massive amounts of food coloring and the premade black is less likely to bleed. Most people recommend using Wilton, but I didn't feel like going to Michaels just for a tube of frosting, so I used Cake Mate brand, which is carried in my local supermarket and has special tips you can screw right onto the tube. The tip was a little too big (the smallest they had was a #3), but otherwise it worked out fine.

Once your outline is finished, stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to set up. This is not strictly necessary, but it will help prevent bleeding and makes it easier when you fill in the rest of your colors.

While your outline is chilling, you can go ahead and mix up your buttercream. You don't want to use store bought frosting as you need the butter for it to freeze firm, so you'll want to use a recipe that's at least half butter (half shortening). If shortening skeeves you, I see no reason you can't use all butter, it will just need more time to thaw, and it won't take color as well.

I used 1 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup solid white vegetable shortening, 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste, a pinch of salt, and I didn't actually measure the sugar, but it was probably about 4 cups.
Once your outline is set and your buttercream is ready, you can start filling in your colors. I had planned out my colors before hand and I knew I would need a lot of white, so I just went in order of "colors that can be used to make other colors" (leftover pink was used to make purple, yellow made orange made brown). There's probably a better way to do it, but this worked for me. Make sure your buttercream is at room temperature, pipe it in (I didn't use a tip, but you can if you need more control)

Now, I specifically chose this design to cover the whole top of the cake, which is why I needed fill in all that white in the last picture. You don't have to do that. It depends on your design and your preference. I just like to do it this way. If your transfer is not going to take up the whole cake like mine, you'll just need to use your background color (in my case, white) to fill in any gaps (like the holes in the "hoot hoot"). Stick the transfer back in the freezer for another 15 minutes.

The last step, which I forgot to take pictures of, is a layer of more white (or whatever your background color is) over the entire transfer, making sure it's smooth and even. This makes sure you have an even base for the transfer. If you skip it, the frosting might sag once it thaws, and that doesn't look good.
Place it back in the freezer and freeze for a minimum of two hours. Once fully frozen, you can flip it onto your cake, or if you're making it ahead, like I did, wrap it up in a few layers of plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until you need it. I made mine a week ahead, but as long as it's wrapped tight, I don't see why you couldn't keep it in there for 2 or 3 weeks.
Place it on the cake while still frozen, then let it thaw for about fifteen minutes. The transfer is thick, about half an inch thick, so piping a border around the edge helps it look a little more seamless. Of course, I'd never piped a shell border before in my life, so I'm not sure it actually did much to help. Once the buttercream is thawed, you can cut the cake as usual, and watch all your guests try to figure out how you did it.