Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Wilton Rose

Tonight was the last class of my first Wilton Cake Decorating course.

Since Terence is out of town this week visiting his family in Florida, I decided to bring the cake to work, because honestly at this point it doesn't even sound good! I made a 9-inch double layered funfetti cake, smooth iced at home. As you can see I did get down that 90 degree angle on the edges, but it appears that I skimped too much on the icing and I think it looks a little bare. The 90 degree angle was achieved by using a blade to scrap the sides, THEN across the cake, not from the bottom of the sides up across the cake (like I did last week).

Throughout the course we have been learning parts of the Wilton rose technique. The base of the rose, built with a tip #12, and the petals in rows of 1, 3, 5, and 7, tip #104. You can even watch a how-to video on wilton.com. I can't say that I mastered the rose, there may have been some cursing, but I did end up getting a few good ones out. I eventually got the leaves to come out right as well, using tip # 352. Although the "leaf green" Wilton icing color looks more like neon green to me! After the centerpiece was in on the cake, I added some simple dots, tip #3, and a seashell border, tip #21 and voila!

Hope everyone enjoys work tomorrow!

Oh and if anyone is interested, Michael's is offering 50% off classes for the month of February.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Warning...clowns are involved!

Tuesday was my 3rd Wilton Cake course one class. We had to make a clown cake, umm yeah?! Well it's done and I learned some good lessons from this cake so it was all worth it.

As you saw my earlier post, Babka and Cake Prep, I smooth iced the cake and if you look my corners are curved at the top, well ideally they would be a perfect 90 degree angle. So I learned how to fix that and will hopefully have it go much better for next week. This week I made the perfect medium consistency icing so I was able to practice dots, writing, stars, and the beginning of the Wilton Rose! One thing I did learn about my icing, was to not be cheap! I went to Walmart to buy up all of my cake supplies for the entire class because they are the cheapest grocery store around here. I bought Walmart brand vegetable shortening and you can totally tell. The icing isn't as smooth as my practice book and not as smooth as the others in my class. So this week I will be buying the name brand shortening because I don't want my roses to be all crinkly!

As for the taste of the Red Velvet cake with cream cheese filling, eh. I told you I used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, well you can definitely tell. The cake is not as soft and fragile as I would have hoped, but the cream cheese filling was awesome! I guess I'll know for next time!

More Monaco and then Nice, France!

It's great waking up knowing we were already in port. We ate breakfast and were off onto shore!

I had mapped it out, I knew how to get to the train station...umm, sort of. We found our way there and went through the hassle of NOT having COINS to pay for the train ticket to Nice. Well, we eventually found out how to get to the ticket booth and ran for it. We ran back and just made it onto the train.

Nice was my first time making it to France, obviously, since this was my first trip to Europe. I was sort of disappointed. So was Deb. Unfortunately it was a Sunday so many things were closed. However, we made the most of it. We found our way to the French Riviera and were on the lookout for stars.

All we found was the beach, a nice market, and a place to enjoy some Leffe (to take the edge off).

I had found myself figuring out Italian from the first 10 or so days, plus it's close resemblance to Spanish. In France, I was lost. I was like "perhaps the beef tare tare." The waiter informed me, thankfully, "that is raw beef." Ha! I opted for the ham & cheese! It actually was on a baguette which turned out to be the best bread I ate on the entire trip! Deb went crazy in France...another pizza. She was pleasantly surprised, though!

Being semi-disappointed we opted to head back to Monaco and explore the city further. We got gelato, walked through the beautiful (and very rich) city. Found our way to the palace and even went to see Princess Grace's tomb. Overall it was a lot fun. Before we made it back onto the ship we stopped for cappuccino and crepes! Whoa, the crepes were amazing. Debbie was in heaven!!

Even got a nice shot of the ship before making it back onboard.

Next stop...the much anticipated Florence (aka Firenze)!

Golf...then winning at the "Monte Carlo Casino"

Even though we were supposed to wake up in Barcelona and head off to enjoy tapas and spanish culture we woke up alongside Italy. In only a few hours we'd pull up alongside Monaco a day earlier than expected. We'd have preferred the day in Barcelona, but sometimes things just work out...

We met up with the Carson's in the spa that morning and a day of activities unfolded. We all competed in a putting competition in the lobby. I sunk 2 of 3 balls! I was all set to move on to the next round until those old folks came in and put 3 in a row in. I was like, dammit! :-) We even convinced Debbie to putt...she did awesome...like a pro.

Then Bob and I ventured up to the top deck for some mini golf. We had time for a full game, and an abbreviated game. I was down by 6 strokes and miraculously came back! It was a game of chance with blowing winds and a rocking ship! Once our time was over we ran and met up with our wives for Bingo. Of course!

At dinner we planned out our night in Monte Carlo. I was sooo excited! I wanted to go into the Monte Carlo Casino in a full tux, James Bond-like. I settled for the suit. We went out with our friends from the ship, Bob and Lisa, Tricee and Horas, and Kate and Derek. You think you are doing well in life until you go to Monaco. The cars parked on the street are insane! Lamborghini's, Ferrari's, Porsche's, classic cars, Bentley's, and so on!

We paid the 10 euro cover charge and went into the Monte Carlo. I was not scared to drop money into a slot...I was not going to be intimidated...no way! I went ahead and put in a whole 5 euros! (the minimum) Well...it worked out! I won 35 euros which covered our cover, slot money and the 4.50 euro water I got for Deb. What a fun time we all had in there. The ornate decorations, the clientele, the whole experience. We all went towards the VIP area, but that didn't work. I had the beautiful woman on my arm (which seemed to be the first requirement), but my wallet was obviously insufficient. Hello, I just dropped 5 euros! :-)

Afterwards we all wandered back towards the ship through the Carnival and more. We all had a full day the next day!

Mediterranean Storm, a day from Hell!

Since we booked an inside cabin it was always dark...which is perfect for Debbie's love of sleeping! The ship was rocking, rolling, and slamming into the waves...I couldn't believe I had slept all the way until 12 noon! I quietly got out of bed, got dressed and figured I'd go explore what kind of waves we were going through.

I noticed there was little light from outside...heard creaks all over the ship. You never would have guessed the ship was a mere 3 weeks old! The elevators in the grand lobby (spanning 10 or so decks) were shaking and you could visibly see their cables shaking back and forth. I found my way to my favorite lookout and couldn't make it outside. There was a sign about the heavy winds. So I backtracked and found a dead end again at my alternate. I went to the spa deck, found my way through their secret stairs and found the top deck. There was one guy there watching. So we got talking. Well, we were going through 45 foot seas and fighting winds upwards of 70 mph! Crazy! I mean our ship is 200 feet tall, 130 feet wide, and 1000 feet long...no matter which way you cut it...that's a lot of wind area!

Chairs were buckled down, doors were sealed off, and the Cove balconies, which I was wanting us to upgrade to...were locked from the outside! See, these balconies are a mere 40 feet from the sea! It's one mistake I could have and would have paid the repercussions to! (Deb didn't want to be that close to the water if we started sinking!)

It was around this time when I "woke up" and realized my watch read a little after 6 AM! Apparently the moment I woke up my watch was positioned just right at 12 and 6. Oye.

That day was rough, people all over the ship were quite sick. Debbie, included. The ship was really moving. In 1993, on the Carnival Celebration (oddly enough, another CCL ship), our family was on a cruise in the caribbean and we went right through a Tropical Storm. I may not remember things like they were yesterday, being 11 and all, but it was not nearly as bad as this. SOme of the slamming of the bow into the water were definitely beyond scary.

We were going between Sicily and Sardinia en route to Barcelona, Spain. At one point, around noon, we turned around. I was actually up in the gym when we made the "turn." WOW was the ship listing, it was nuts! Nobody knew why we were turning around, but it made sense, we had to go another way. We ended up hugging the coast of Sardinia...but found out later...we were going to miss our stop in Barcelona. UGH! We were both so disappointed.

(FYI, the coast guard turned us around due to the conditions. They were unsafe for travel. Another ship in the Mediterranean, the other option for our cruise, had it even worse! Another instance where I could have been in hot water!) The story is over at Cruise Critic.

The weather improved and we started making good time towards the end of the day...we found out we'd have a morning at sea and arrive in Monte Carlo, Monaco early.

Night ended with another formal night...here is the "loud table in the corner." I'm sure that's we were dubbed...we had loads of fun at every dinner!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Second Half Marathon; Aramco Houston Half Marathon - Jan 17, 2010

On Sunday, January 17, 2010 I completed my second half marathon.

This year was a little different than in years past as I didn't participate in the local running group, Pearland Fit. I wish I had, I missed out on the experience of running and making friends. Plus the extra training time and motivation. Reason was our wedding, of course, which kept us out of Texas for the entire month of October. I was insistent on running it, though, knowing I wouldn't be as prepared in years past.

Two and a half years ago, Debbie and I decided we'd train for our first half marathon. I have always loved running, even post-knee surgery in 2002. In years since I've listened to the doctors encourage me to switch to biking or something...but for me, I just love running, so the thought of running a half marathon alongside Debbie was exciting. In early 2008 we completed our first...the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. Our time was around 2 hours 35 minutes. I remember that race because around mile 12 I looked over to Debbie and said, "I could totally run a full marathon." I would get flagged by Google sharing what her response to me was. I was determined. (That's us back in 2008 after we ran it together...)

Later that summer, we both joined Pearland Fit again...I was in it for the full, Debbie was back for the half. This time around, though...it didn't go as smoothly as in years past. Training for a half marathon and a full marathon take a lot of dedication and effort. That summer and fall I was playing softball every week, hitting the golf course often, and working out a ton. It was only a matter of time that with all the activities I was bound to hurt myself. One softball game put a thorn in my tire, when I tore my quad muscle. It was then I had to catch up to my training and found myself developing plantar fasciitis, which derailed me altogether. I bowed out of the race...

So...I decided I was not going to even try for the full this time out...I'd go for another half marathon. Granted I'd have to work my training around the wedding planning, the wedding, honeymoon...and then the crapfest that developed (which I don't feel like going into...). I had a lot of obstacles this year, but I wasn't going to let them be my excuses. To race day...I wasn't as anxious this time around...I definitely was thinking "avoid injury, finish fast, leave it all out on the course!"

Immediately following the gunshot I screwed up. I double pressed the "start" button on my Garmin, which meant I didn't start my watch. It is a runners best friend, as a GPS-based watch it shows you your pace which is a great tool. Around 1/4 mile in I was checking my pace and realize the time was stuck at 1 second! Well, I started it and continued on my race.

Miles 1 through 4 were great. My legs felt great, my knee was still keeping quiet, and I enjoyed every second. The thousands of people that come out to support their friends, family, strangers, and fellow Houstonians were out in force. The signs of inspiration helped, the cheering and yelling felt like they were all cheering for me, and it was great. The next 5 miles or so I did well, but slowed my pace slightly. Running along Studemont and Montrose there were just loads of people on both sides going crazy. I just loved all the people there...I remember it from 2008, but this time I was on my own and needed that extra bit of support. Debbie and I were there pushing each other then.

Miles 10 and 11 were probably my hardest...my knee woke up some (but never was beyond bearable), my ankles were starting to feel the uneven roads, my hips were starting to say hello...I definitely felt it. But my breathing was great...which I swear is the key to running long distance. As long as it's under control, you can go as long as your body will take you. Mile 12 I had a good laugh. I thought back to 2008 when I made those "marathon" comments...this time I laughed and said to myself, "pshh...I'm quite satisfied with a half marathon!"

Just short of mile 13 I had to pick my head up and be on the lookout for my supportive wife. I didn't want to pick my head up, I was just ready to be finished! But I picked up my head and saw her. She saw me and started jumping up and down!! It was the perfect culmination of all the thousands of cheering people I'd seen along the previous 13 miles...it gave me that last boost of energy. I smiled, waved, and charged forward (not seen in the pic, though). The last 1/4 mile was definitely great. I weaved in and out of a few people...as if it made much of a difference in the final standings! At 13.1 miles, I raised my arms and crossed the finish! I finished right on target with my goal, in 2 hours, 12 minutes, 16 seconds. Just a touch over 10 minutes/mile...I was more than satisfied!

(started in second wave, 10 mins, 9 secs after first gunshot, which is why there's a discrepancy in the clock time)

It was a great day and a great event. I'm sure there's more half marathons in my future, but for now I'm satisfied...

(Man, do I look exhausted or what?!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Babka and Cake Prep

Since prior to Christmas I had my eye on a recipe, but knew it was a lengthy one and needed some time and patience. I decided after running on Sunday to tackle this Chocolate Babka recipe courtesy of Cakespy.com. Maybe it wasn't the smartest idea as for some reason today my back is killing me!

What is Babka you ask? It is a filled twisted bread with a streusel topping, this one specifically is filled with dark chocolate and baking cocoa. Anyways, I love making homemade bread, but the furthest I have tackled is plain egg bread and if you count banana bread and what nots. Also, I broke out my KitchenAid Artisan mixer last week for icing prep and I wanted to see how it handled bread making! I seriously don't know why I waited so long to break this baby out. My mom and Grandmother got this for me for my bridal shower, yep back in August! Thanks so much again!

She handled great! I think my only complaint was that I had to wash the bowl out so much because I wanted to use it for everything.

Too bad I didn't take any other pictures of my Babka, it was amazing!! This is the only picture I got and it was half way through eating it already! It was sooo yummy!

Today I prepped for my cake class, I didn't want to make a box cake again so I decided to bake a red velvet cake with cream cheese filling. I used the recipe from Smittenkitchen.com. I think it came out pretty darn good, except if you look at the picture it is more like red-swirl velvet cake!

I think this may have been due to the fact that I used red icing gel dissolved in water and well, it didn't exactly dissolve that nicely. I did make some substitutions in the recipe, mostly because I already have 4 kinds of flour in my pantry and I didn't want to buy cake flour. I sifted 3 cups of all-purpose flour instead and I used vegetable oil instead of the called on canola oil.

Then I had to smooth ice the cake in prep for decorating tomorrow and prepare decoration icing. This was a bit more frustrating than I imagined. In class it looked so easy and tonight it was ummm NOT! I'll cross my fingers it gets better with practice and less cursing. See for yourself...

I chose blue and yellow as we are supposed to make a clown cake, yippee!

Tune in tomorrow for the final cake and tasting!! For the rest of my cake class writings...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wilton Cake Class #2

Yesterday was my second Wilton cake decorating class at Michael's here in Pearland. It is really quite convenient that the class is so close to home. I actually found out that there are a lot of places that host these classes. To find one near you head to Wilton.com!

OK, so like I said last week there are three courses, plus a fondant course that can be taken anytime after your first course is complete. The first course is all about learning how to basically ice a cake! Last week we learned how to "smooth ice" a round cake and this week we mostly concentrated on the star tip or #16 tip. Everyone was required to bring in a shaped cake already baked and prepared icing in the colors needed for the cake.

I chose to make a football, I really couldn't decide, but thought this would come in good use in the future! Wilton make all kinda of shaped cake pans and they include icing ideas (colors and amounts required). Little did anyone remember in the class that there are different consistencies of icing and we all made stiff consistency decorating icing...it didn't go over well. In less than five minutes every one's hand were aching so bad we all had to add water and remix our icing in class. This created a medium consistency icing which is much easier to decorate with.

I didn't exactly finish my cake in class so I had to come home (to an awesome homemade lasagna) and finish up. We took some pics and started eating :-)

If you can see from the pic, my brown icing seemed to have changed colors half-way through. I can't exactly figure out what happened! It may not seem like much, but it's my first cake of the class so hopefully we will see some improvement!

Next week we make a clown cake...hmmm I don't think anyone is too excited about this, but it will be a good lesson on smooth icing my cake, borders, and writing. I think this class may be a little formal and outdated, but the lessons give a good base and I can start using my right brain!

A little close up in my star action

My instructor, Mandi, started with the Wilton classes 5 years ago and is now teaching them and competes in cake competitions! She told me about one coming up in Austin the last weekend of February, they have cake competitions, celebrity demonstrations, and even a live challenge (beat that Food Network)! If your interested head to thattakesthecake.org, this year's theme is Science Fiction and Fantasy!

Cannolis in Sicily...day 9

Well after another day at sea, Debbie and I were ready for more exploring in Italy. Much had been anticipated for our visit to Sicily. My friend recalls Sicily as one of his favorite places to visit when he goes to see family in Italy.

Plus we got an incredible deal on our excursion due to my addiction to the Cruise Critic (cruisecritic.com) website and message boards. Months out of the cruise I started communicating with our fellow passengers with questions, advice, etc etc about the cruise, itinerary, and more! it's a great tool for anyone looking or planning on taking a cruise. In almost every stop members arrange excursions at lesser costs on their own. We took advantage here. The cruise version of our "Taormina on your own" was approaching $100 each. We did it for $20 each. Totally worth it...left more in the budget for cannolis!

We ventured to Taormina and went to the Greek Amphitheater on the mountainside. The town was okay...we were definitely disappointed. Call it spoiled but we were not feeling the rain, humidity and temperatures in the 60s. Plus the bugs...strange looking ones....

So what did we do, we had lunch! I had a GIGANTIC calzone (with gorgonzola and more inside) while Debbie went way out of her comfort zone and ordered a..........pizza! All was amazing, as usual.

Afterwards we strolled the shops more and I bought more liquor. It's a cinnamon liqour called Cannella. It tastes like Christmas in a bottle! This time I didn't buy one for home and one for the ship...just one for home. But we did bring back pastries for the ship!!! (You know they never have enough onboard anyways...)

It was an okay place, Sicily, perhaps we'll like it next time. It was a beautiful departure when the weather cleared some...

Smooth sailing ahead and off to Barcelona. Or were we? The suspense builds! (Or not, I'm sure you all know what happened next!)

Move over food, back to honeymoon recap! Day 8

So I lost the wind in my sails on getting the honeymoon recap out the door. I'm back and going to move on!!

After Dubrovnik, we had another day at sea. It can be summed up easliy, relaxation...

...and BINGO twice, in the lounge then by the pool.

Our ship was apparently taking advantage of the calm seas, making great time en route to Sicily, that the Captain decided to do some maneuvering and such. We woke up to the the following the next morning. Perhaps he was out a little too late the night before???

(Actually the crew was definitely visible at night...including our Cruise Director who was more than willing to have a good time!)

Next stop...Messina, Italy...on the Island of Sicily.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wedding Beer wins gold!!!

As y'all probably remember from our previous posting (Our Wedding Brew), my dad made us a wedding brew and he just submitted it into one of the largest homebrew competitions in the country and it won GOLD!

It turned out to be a rather unique beer, not really in a specific category so it was entered in the specialty beer category at the Big Beer Festival in Vail, CO. I don't know how all this works, but I was told that the specialty category is the hardest category to win as you can enter in any beer!

A pic that my dad's friend, Greg, took of the winners posting

Besides winning gold at the Big Beer Festival, we all loved it at the Wedding, there was not a drop left in the place!

Thanks Dad and Congrats!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kitchen Krazyness

So as some of you probably knew, I baked up a storm over this past holiday season and it will keep on going well into the New Year!

It all started with Thanksgiving, after we found out my sister was coming to visit we decided to make an actual menu, our first holiday with all our new cookware! We made turkey, green bean casserole, Kadlec famous stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and homemade bread.

Turkey, Turkey, Turkey

Then came the desserts...this was my first real excuse to bake since we got back from our wedding/honeymoon and oh boy did I miss it. I had been dying to make my first cheesecake, so I made a yummy New York chocolate chip cheesecake, NO cracks! I also decided to make Eli's famous rum cake for Terence, knowing he would love it, and in a last minute attempt to stay true to the season I baked up a pumpkin pie.

Cheesecake and Rum Cake...does it get any better

Post-thanksgiving we were in full baking swing. I decided, of course, to send cookies out for Christmas so I started baking cookies on the weekend and freezing them. This included my boss' recipe for cowboy cookies, chocolate dipped sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, my new favorite red-velvet cake balls (which deserve their own blog), and coffee chocolate toffee.

Sugar cookies dipped in a white chocolate/mint chocolate chip mix and christmas sprinkles

PB cookies with dark chocolate chips (my favorite cookie)

Coffee Toffee (via Smitten Kitchen)

Cake Ball preview... :-)

Now, to start out the New Year, I decided to start taking the Wilton Cake Decorating Class at my local Michael's. There are three courses, plus a fondant course, that Wilton sponsors at local craft stores and bakeries. You have to start with Course I and my first class was last night, I definitely came home smiling! Last night we went over the the basics of all things icing, including how to smoooooooth ice a cake. Every week we bake a cake and prepare the Wilton buttercream icing at home then off to class to learn the different icing techniques. I cannot wait to blog about all my cakes, wish me luck!

Happy Baking!