Monday, November 28, 2011

Photo Studio for only $49.99! Portable Photo Studio

For those of you looking for that great holiday gift for the food blogger (or ebayer, or etsyer, etc), look no further!  Thinkgeek is offering this Portable Photo Studio that comes with the following:

  • Collapsible photo lightbox, 16 inches cubed
  • Two high-output table-top 35 watt photo lights
  • 6 inch to 7 inch extension mini-tripod
  • Zippered nylon carrier, 9 inches by 4 inches by 8 inches
  • Does not include a camera ;)

And for only $49.99, which is 1/4 of the price compared to the ones from EZ Cube!

To top off those Cyber Monday savings, use coupon code CYBERMONDAY to receive FREE ECONOMY SHIPPING. Better hurry; this offer is only good through 3am ET 11/29/11!

My Hubby gets a special shout out for jumping on this deal and getting me an early Chanukah present!  Thank you Hubby!!
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ginger Snap Cookies

My favorite thing about ginger snaps is the way the house smells while they are baking.  The house smells like wintertime, white snow gently falling to the ground while the family is cuddled up inside, warm with hot cocoa and warm ginger snaps fresh from the oven.  

Here is the recipe:

Ginger Snaps
Makes about 3 dozen


2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
Sugar in the raw (for coating the outside before baking)


1. Mix together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl. 

2. In another bowl, combine together the brown sugar, molasses, canola oil, and egg until smooth. 

3. Mix the flour mixture into the brown mixture, stirring until dough comes together. 

4. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper. 

6. Roll dough into balls about the sizes of a silver dollar, then roll the balls in sugar in the raw and place on the baking sheets 2 inches apart.   Gently flatten just a little.

7. Bake 9 minutes.

8. Remove the cookies from the oven.  They will be very soft but will solidify as they cool. Leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

With the holidays around the corner, a nice idea for a gift is to bake your favorite cookie recipe and give them as a gift.  You can put them in a cookie tin with some tissue paper inside and decorate the outside with some ribbon like so:

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

I scream, you scream, we all scream for... (Updated)

...cake!  The Scream cake that is!

This weekend the DH and I went to a Scary Movie Party.  My task was to bring the cake in a spooky theme, and so I searched online for some caketastic ideas and found this cake design on the Wilton website.  It resembles the famous The Scream painting by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch:

There have been many great parodies of this chilling painting such as:

I figured if Homer can make this, then I can too, with cake!  The only question was, how was I going to make a tasty cake when it is going to have so much fondant on it?  I'm not a huge fan of Wilton's playdough tasting fondant so I researched and discovered marshmallow fondant.  

I decided to make my marshmallow fondant, which tastes a thousand times better than Wilton's fondant and costs a sixteenth of Wilton's $20 per 2lb tubs.  You can make marshmallow fondant (mmf) up to a month in advance, just store it in double wrapped cling wrap and then place inside a ziplock bag.  Do not refrigerate or it will break down due to the moisture in the fridge.

Here is the recipe for marshmallow fondant:


   16 oz of mini marshmallows
   2 to 4 Tablespoons of water
   2 LBS powdered sugar
   1/2 Cup of Crisco (for fingers and counter)


1.  Melt marshmallows and 2 Tablespoons of water in microwave until completely melted (approximately 1 minute 30 seconds).  

2.  Once melted, stir until completely smooth.  (Note: you can add food gel coloring at this point and stir to mix.  Much easier than kneading it in later.  This only works if you want one color for the whole batch.) Then add 2/3 of the powdered sugar. 

3.  Mix with a spoon unil you can't anymore, and then put Crisco on your hands and start kneading. 

4.  Once it's mixed well, put Crisco on your counter and knead until completely smooth.  

5.  It works better if you let it rest in an airtight container or zip lot bag and let it cool down for 24 hours, then use.  If it is necessary, it can be used immediately.

6.  If you find the fondant is tearing easily, it is too dry.  Add 1/2 Teaspoon at a time of water and knead it in until it is stretchy again.

The trick to making black fondant is to use the recipe above but add in some mini semi-sweet chocolate chips after melting the marshmallows and stir until melted and blended.  Then you can add your black gel food coloring and mix in until it reaches the blackest it can be.  This will be about 2 tsp per bag of marshmallows.  Here is the recipe from but note the recipe is calling for a 10.5 oz bag of marshmallows in the recipe instead of the above 16oz bag.  

Black Marshmallow Fondant


   6 oz. of semi sweet chocolate chips (about half of a bag)
   1 10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows
   3 tbsp. of clear Karo syrup
   3 tbsp. water
   1 1lb. bag of powdered sugar
   gel black food coloring


1.  Put your marshmallows in a microwave safe bowl, add the water, and microwave on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. When marshmallows come out they will be HOT.

2.  Stir, scraping the sides with a scraper. Immediately add your chocolate chips, and stir until the chips are completely melted.

3.  Add your Karo syrup and stir again, this time with a butter knife, making sure that all of your syrup is incorporated.

4.  Add a good amount of black gel food coloring, and stir again with your knife, making sure that you scrape around the edges. 

5.  Once your mixture is the blackest black that you can get, (I added about 2 tsp. of the gel coloring) then add about half of your bag of powdered sugar, and stir until the mixture is thick, with your knife. 

6.  Grease your hands liberally with Crisco and add the rest of the powdered sugar to the bowl. Knead your fondant until all of the powdered sugar is gone. 

7.  Store for up to a month wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a gallon Ziploc, and stored in an airtight container.

I also made my own own apricot filling called Lekvar (Hungarian).  The apricot Lekvar was so easy and tasted great.  I am now inspired to make my own Hamentashen when Purim rolls around in March.

The following Lekvar recipe yields about 2.5 cups of Lekvar.  You can use either prunes or apricots.


  1 1/2 cups pitted prunes, lightly packed
  2/3 cup water
  1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1/3 cup brown sugar

  1. Simmer all ingredients, except brown sugar, covered 25- 30 minutes until very soft and most of water is evaporated.
  2. Uncover last few minutes if necessary.
  3. Remove from heat and mash.
  4. Stir in brown sugar.
  5. You can keep Lekvar in the refrigerator for a long time.
  6. Store in a canning jar.

Unfortunately I made the cake with a boxed chocolate cake mix and the containers of chocolate frosting that you can buy from Duncan Hines or the like.  This made the cake taste cheap and overly sweet, and completely overpowered the delicate flavor of the apricot.  Next time I will make my own cake batter and use a light buttercream to hold the fondant on.  I'm considering making an orange cake to go with the apricot filling next time.  What flavor cake do you think would taste best with an apricot filling?  Comment your thoughts below!

***UPDATE:  I have submitted this recipe as November's YBR submission.  For more information of what YBR is, click on the button below which will take you to Spicie Foodie's site:

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Slow Cooker Hearty Beef Stew

The beef stew was a success!  I promised in my last blog post to list the recipe I used if the recipe was a winner, and oh boy was it ever!

I found this recipe doing a Google search for a lovely beef stew for the umpteenth time.  I found this one on Basil Kitchen's blog and decided to give it a whirl.  Well this recipe was just what I want out of a chunky, belly-warming beef stew.  You can't see it in the picture above, but there was a ton of liquid, and the beef is soft and fall-apart tender, which is how I love my stew.   I served this over a bed of Texmati rice that I made in my Neuro Fuzzy Zojirushi rice cooker (couldn't cook rice without this wonderful gadget- trust me, I've destroyed pots trying).

Slow Cooker Hearty Beef Stew

 3 lbs cubed beef stew meat
 1/2 cup all purpose flour
 2 TBSP vegetable oil
 2 TBSP butter
 2 large russet potatoes, 1 1/2" cubes
 3 celery leaf stalks, 1/2" slices
 3 large stewing carrots, 1" slices
 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise, 1" slices
 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely diced
 2 TBSP minced garlic
 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted
 32 fl oz beef stock, low-sodium, intense flavor
 1 cup red wine
 1/8 cup worcestershire sauce
 3 bay leaves
 3 sprigs thyme
 1 TBSP sugar
 2 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
 2 tsp paprika
 1 tsp ground black pepper
 tobasco sauce
  1. Set slow cooker on high. Set aside beef, flour, oil, butter, tobasco sauce, and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the beef stock. Put all other ingredients into slow cooker. Allow to warm up.
  2. Meanwhile, dredge beef cubes in flour, shaking off excess. Set aside remaining flour. Do not discard.
  3. On the stovetop, heat 1TBSP oil in large pan. Over medium heat, brown dredged beef chunks in two even batches, second batch with the other TBSP of oil. Let sit and brown, about 5 minutes. Flip beef chunks and brown other side another 5 minutes or so.
    (You can speed up cooking time by using two pans simultaneously.)
  4. Add browned beef to slow cooker. Return to the same pan to make roux. Melt butter. Add leftover flour (approx. 1/4 cup) and stir constantly to get make a smooth roux. Add the reserved 1 1/2 cups beef stock to pan slowly while stirring and allow to thicken, scraping all earlier beef drippings. We've essentially made gravy to thicken the beef stew. Add to slow cooker. This also makes use of all that beef flavor from the pan earlier.
  5. Stir to distribute contents. Cook in slow cooker on high for 5 hours -OR- on low for 8+ hours. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired. When done, locate and discard bay leaves and thyme.
  6. Serve beef stew with french bread or over rice. Also surprisingly good with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Serve with tobasco sauce, individually adjusting for heat and tartness desired. Enjoy!

For some more Bucky Balls fun, here is my latest sculpture:

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Snowtoberfest NJ

I thought I prepared for the snowstorm that graced our presence the weekend before Halloween.  There was going to be slow cooker chili, peppermint hot cocoa, apple spice tea, and movies galore.  I was wrong, very very wrong.  I prepared for a snowstorm, not a power outage, and that was my downfall.

Saturday morning (well ok, afternoon) hubby and I woke to a white landscape, beautiful flakes falling from the sky, making for a cozy weekend inside.  Well that was the plan anyway, until the power cut off at 4:30pm Saturday night, not to return until Wednesday at 6:30pm, and we were some of the lucky ones, getting back power before Friday!  People are STILL without power, and it is now Friday, a full week after the storm.

The snowfall accumulation by us was 17 inches of heavy, wet snow that took down tree branches and power lines. As the heavy snow on the trees melted, the weighed down tree branches that survived would snap up and take out more power lines, creating a disaster worse than Hurricane Irene.  Power crews from 5 states were called in to help Jersey Central Power and Light restore over 600,000 customers who lost power for days.  A total of 3.1 million customers lost power across the Northeast from this freak October Nor'easter snowstorm.

Our comfy Saturday turned into a desperate attempt to cook tortellini, sauce and steamed broccolini on my propane grill outside, in the freezing snowstorm.  It was so cold the pot of hot water never did boil.  I started  cooking dinner around 10pm, and we didn't eat until about 1:45am.  I was determined to get that water to boil!  I failed, but the tortellini re-hydrated quite tastily in the hot-but-not-boiling water.

So in the past few months NJ has lived through an earthquake, a hurricane, and now a snow disaster.  What next, Mother Nature?  Bring it on!  (maybe I shouldn't have said that...)

This morning I stopped for my breakfast bagel and coffee, and on the door was a sign from the nearby New York Sports Club offering the community free use of their showers for those who are still without power.  Kudos to you NYSC!

This weekend I would like to attempt a slow cooker beef stew that looks mighty tasty.  I will post the recipe next, but only if it is a winner.
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