Monday, December 2, 2013

Cake, Cake and Another Cake

How was everyone's Thanksgiving? We're back home in Kansas now, but we had a great time visiting with my family in Ohio and also with Joe's family on our way through St. Louis. Despite a couple of long days of driving, it was still a fun and relaxing holiday. We did some shopping, ate way too much food and played a bunch of games. But now we're facing a full week of work and I'm not sure how I feel about that haha. Oh well, Christmas break is only a few weeks away :)

I didn't get around to taking pictures of my cranberry pancakes using the brandied cranberry sauce because I forgot my camera's memory card. But I will try again this coming weekend. For tonight I thought I'd share a few cakes I've made in the last few months. Of course, I meant to share these as I made them but that obviously didn't happen. So let's just jump into them now :)

First up is a cake I made for our neighbor's family reunion back in October. Our neighbor's father is one of 12 children and every year the family gets together to visit and catch up. Though all 12 siblings are no longer alive, they all still get a spot on the cake. I had fun decorating this cake since it was all icing work and no fondant. The writing is still a little shaky but I'm getting better. 

Also, I think we should try and bring the name Hershel back. Just sayin'. 

The next cake is actually 2 cakes that I made for our friends' wedding in October. The bride wanted me to make the wedding cake and grooms cake so I happily obliged haha. The groom is a big fan of both the St. Louis Blues and Cardinals so I made a hat for each team to put on top of the cake that was 1/2 baseball 1/2 hockey puck. The Blues hat is dirty looking to match the groom's actual dirty Blues hat. The wedding cake is simple looking but was kind of difficult just because of the size of the tiers. I drove all these cakes to St. Louis bright and early on a Saturday morning after staying up almost all night to finish them. I think I stayed awake on the drive there by adrenaline only haha. 

 They all survived the drive and I got them quickly set up and started painting the "All You Need is Love" line (the bride is a huge Beatles fan). Then I went to Joe's parent's house and took a nap before the reception. Overall I was pretty happy with how they turned out.

This last cake is a 2nd Birthday for our little buddy, Aiden. I work with both his mom and dad and they were nice enough to commission me to make his cake. To say that Aiden is obsessed with the movie Cars is an understatement to say the least. The boy loves him some Lightening McQueen and Mater! So his party was all Cars themed. I made a couple dozen cupcakes and then the small checkered flag cake to put some candles in for him to blow out. This cake came together pretty quickly and I think it turned out cute. The hardest part was cutting around the template I printed of his name and the Cars logo. But even that worked out alright. 

I'll have at least one more big cake this year that I'll try and share. In the next few days/weeks I'm hoping to get some Christmas decorating done as well as shopping and baking. I'm sure you all will be crazy busy as well and I hope that you're also getting to have some fun in between. Until next time, have a great night!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Brandied Cranberry Sauce

Hey there. It's been a while, huh? I guess we've just been busy over here. I suppose I could recount what all we've been up to since I last posted at the beginning of October, but 1. it probably isn't terribly interesting and 2. I don't want to think back and try and remember what all we've been doing haha. I suppose I could give you a brief summary though. I've made a few cakes (which I'll show you eventually), we cat sat for a weekend, baby sat for a weekend, and have just been busy working and doing things around the house. Here for your viewing pleasure are a couple of cute cats :) The orange one is Chase who you've seen before here on the blog. We were watching him for the weekend. The black cat is Jet and he belongs to our neighbor but he wants to belong to us haha. He always comes and meows at our door. We love him.

I wanted to do a post about the cakes I've made recently but thought that instead I would show you a recipe that might actually be useful for Thanksgiving this coming week. If you've ever had Thanksgiving dinner with my family then you've probably tried or at least seen these cranberries. My Mom has been making them for almost as long as I can remember and they are one of my absolute favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner! Last year I even discovered a way to use the leftover cranberry sauce for day after Thanksgiving breakfast. Hopefully I will show you that recipe later this week. Of course if you're stuck with leftover cranberry sauce, it excellent on turkey sandwiches and by the spoonful :) , which is one of my favorite ways to eat it. The other great thing about these cranberries is that the last FOREVER in the fridge. It's probably because of the copious amounts of sugar and also the brandy haha.

Now for the recipe (it's so easy it is hardly a recipe!)

Brandied Cranberries
(From my Mom, not sure where she got it from)

1 pound fresh cranberries (NOT dried cranberries)
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of peach brandy

(Note: in these pictures I was making a quadruple batch of these cranberries. I wouldn't recommend doing that haha. I over-estimated my cranberry sauce needs I guess.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by rinsing, sorting and weighing out your cranberries. When sorting them you just want to pick out any really mushy ones or ones that are obviously bad.

Place the cranberries onto a jelly roll pan (or any large, rimmed baking sheet) and spread into a single layer.

Then sprinkle the sugar evenly over the cranberries. I will look like A LOT of sugar, but the cranberries need that since they are very sour on their own.

Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in the oven for 1 hour.

When removing the pan from the oven be very careful since the pan is now filled with the soft cranberries and a delicious cranberry syrup. Once the pan has cooled for a few minutes, remove the foil.

Finally, stir in the brandy. If your pans aren't too full, you can just pour the peach brandy right over your cranberries. I put my cooked cranberries into a bowl first since I had so much.

Then they're done!  Enjoy! I hope you do decide to try these this Thanksgiving. I'll be bringing some to our potluck at work this Tuesday, some to Ohio for Thanksgiving dinner, then I should have plenty leftover for me :)

In other news, I can hardly believe that it's almost December which means almost Christmas! I have a couple more cakes to do in December, then we'll be doing some whirlwind traveling around Christmas time. Between now and then though, I will try my best to soak in all the holiday cheer and to spread a little too. This has always been my favorite time of year but it seems the older I get the faster it goes by. Maybe I'll just leave my Christmas decorations up extra long this year!

I guess that's it for tonight. I'll try to not wait so long before posting again, but won't make any promises. If I don't get back on here before Thursday, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wedding Cupcakes and DIY Cupcake Tower

Two posts in one week! Wooohoooo :) And not only is it 2 posts in one week, I'm actually writing this one the same weekend we delivered these cupcakes! It's a Christmas miracle. October is shaping up to be a pretty cake heavy month, so be prepared. This weekend was my first cake order for this October and also my first wedding cupcake order ever. The bride who ordered them is my friend's sister's friend's sister. Did you follow that? haha. She was so nice to ask me to make her wedding cupcakes without ever meeting me or even trying anything I'd made. I was excited to do cupcakes for a wedding since I figured it would be way easier than a full wedding cake. It was easier, but it was definitely still a lot of work. Plus I still made a small cake for them to cut and to keep for their first anniversary. Here's a peek at the final display:

FYI - the cake flavors are: (bottom) vanilla cake, peanut butter filling, chocolate icing; (middle two) chocolate with cookies & cream icing; (top two) pumpkin with cream cheese icing; (small cake) vanilla and vanilla. 

When I asked the bride how she wanted the cupcakes displayed, she sent me a picture with a cupcake tower that she liked. I knew that I could probably buy or rent one, but to buy one would have been over $200 and the only ones I found to rent were much smaller and not at all like her inspiration picture. So I showed the picture to Joe and we came up with a plan to build one! I decided I wanted tiers that were 8" through 18" with a 2" diameter change between tiers. There is also an extra 10" circle that acts as the base of the tower. Though I think Joe and I would both recommend making a larger base circle. After we came up with our material list we headed to Home Depot. To make this cupcake tower you'll need the following materials and tools:

2 sheets of 2'x4'x1/2" MDF
2'x2'x1/4" piece of plywood
2 pieces of two foot long 1" PVC Pipe (1" inside diameter)
7 1" PVC Couplers
Paint (We used both spray paint and high gloss latex paint)
Gorilla Glue
Hot glue gun and hot glue
Small finish nail (like a Maze nail)

Router with a straight bit
Drill with several regular bits and one large bit (1 3/8" diameter)
Small carpenter's square
Saw for cutting PVC (Joe used a miter saw)

First you'll make an "arm" that will attach to your router to allow you to cut all your sizes of circles. Start by removing the base plate from your router. Place the base plate in once corner of your 1/4" plywood and mark where the screw holes are that attach it to your router. Also trace the circle where the router bit actually comes through the plate.

After that, draw a straight line down the 1/4" plywood that is the width of your router base. Taping off the plywood where you're going to cut it will help reduce the top layer of veneer from splintering. A saw blade with more teeth makes cleaner cuts, and Joe already had one from making our built-in bookshelves. Make your cut down the line.

Then drill a hole in each location you marked making sure to use a bit that is sized for the screw that will attach it to your router. Then use a large bit to allow the screws to counter sink into the plywood. This allows the head of the screw to not stick up and will let the arm lay flat on the wood when cutting.

Now's a good time to make sure it fits :)

Next use a larger bit to drill out the hole where the router bit comes through.

Once that is done, you can attach your router. Then use a ruler and measure from the INSIDE edge of the router bit down the arm and mark the radius of each circle size you want to cut.

Use a small drill bit to create a hole at each mark you made. These holes will allow you to temporarily attach the arm to the MDF board to be cut, and the nail will be the pivot point.

To cut your first circle, pin the arm down onto the MDF with a small nail through the hole marked for the radius of circle you want to cut. Be sure you left enough room all the way around to cut the circle. You don't want to have a flat edge :) It is also necessary to have the MDF up on some supports so that when the router blade goes through it doesn't scrape into your floor. You can see in this picture that Joe is going to cut a circle with a 9" radius, so that will be our 18" circle.

Set the depth of the router bit so that it will cut only halfway through the MDF. Making 2 passes around the circle to get the full depth will be easier on the router. Turn the router on and use both hands to rotate the arm around the pin.

After one pass, lower the router to the full depth and make the 2nd cut around. You may have to stop part way through to adjust the supports under the MDF. After the 2nd pass, the circle should be free!

After cutting out each circle, Joe used a 1 3/8" drill bit (which is the outer diameter of 1" PVC pipe) and cut a whole through the middle of the circle. The mark left by pinning the arm to the circle should mark the perfect center of the circle to drill through. The top tier and the bottom support do not need holes drilled through them since the pipe won't go through those.

Then repeat for all your other sizes!  The next step we did was to paint. First try and make sure all the sawdust is off the circles. Then either spray paint or roll/brush paint. I first tried spray painting, and the kind I was using (which was supposed to be really good) just wasn't covering at all. I ended up painting all the circles by hand using a paint brush and some leftover high gloss latex enamel paint that we had. I did that this morning in between making icing and decorating cupcakes :) Joe used some white spray primer that we had to paint the PVC pipe and couplers since they had some words printed on them.

Now it's time to cut the piping and assemble each connector. Start my gluing a coupler to the center of the top of the base layer and the center of the bottom of the top layer. We painted them first and then used Gorilla glue, but I would recommend gluing first (also preferably more than 2 hours before final assembly) and then painting. You want the glue to stick to the MDF, not the paint.

Then cut the number of PVC lengths you need for your number of layers. Since we wanted them to be 3.75" each, we cut them to a length that would account for the MDF thickness. Since the board was 1/2" inch thick, we cut them to 4.25". Joe used a miter saw to cut the pieces.

Once the pipe is cut, put each of them except for one into a coupler. The one you don't put into a coupler will be the one that goes into the coupler that's glued to the base layer. Use a rubber mallet to make sure you get the pipes all the way into the coupler. Otherwise the layers won't be the same height.

At the venue, we assembled the tower by hammering the first connector into the base plate with a rubber mallet, then sliding the 18" circle over it. The we hammered in the next connector and placed the 16" circle over that. We continued that process until we got to the top piece that had the coupler glued to the underside. We placed the attached couple over the final connector and hammered it in place. Then we added a little hot glue where each circle met the coupler beneath it for stability. Then it was finally time to load it up with cupcakes!

After it was full, we were both of kind nervous about how it was a little wobbly. Luckily we had 3 extra couplers with us so we slid those in between the 10" base plate and the 18" first tier to act as extra supports. They really helped! Then we called it good and went on our way.

Here you can see some of the extra couplers we added for stability at the bottom. 

Geez, that was a really long post. I realize most of you aren't going to run out and make a cupcake tower, but just in case you wanted to, now you know :) Or if you want to borrow ours, that's fine too! If you do decide to make one, may I suggest not waiting until 2 days before to start it? And DEFINITELY don't wait until 2 hours before to glue things together. You want more time for your glue to dry. Trust me. Well, that's all for now. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pink and Purple Princess Cake

Hello again! Can y'all believe it's October already? I can't. But that means it's time for all things pumpkin! :) I don't have any pumpkin recipes planned right now, but I'll come up with something. September was a busy month for us, though right now I'm having a hard time remember what exactly we did haha. I guess at the beginning of the month we finished the deck. Then I spent one weekend making a bunch of cupcakes for "tastings" for the 2 weddings I have coming up in October. Another weekend we babysat for our friends' toddler. He and Joe played in the morning while I made some sugar cookies for a friend's daughter (he and Joe also napped at the same time during the afternoon). Then last weekend I headed off to New Orleans for a bachelorette weekend for my sister, Mary. The camera I brought to Louisiana turned out to be dead :( so I don't have any pictures, but let me tell you, we had an awesome time! Staying out til 4:30 am on Bourbon Street was quite an experience haha. There is really just no place like New Orleans!

One of my favorite things that we did with the bachelorette party was go to a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. It was a blast! We did a class where we mostly just watched and got to eat the food, but Mary got to get up behind the counter and help make the crawfish etouffee. The instructor was great and managed to be very funny and very informative at the same time. The shrimp and artichoke soup that she made was one of the best things we ate all weekend, and we ate a lot good things! If you ever head down to New Orleans, I definitely recommend taking a class!

Now I'm back to the real world in Kansas and psyching myself up to make 180 cupcakes for a wedding this weekend. Some time between now and then, Joe and I also need to build a cupcake "tower" for displaying them on the cake table. We'll be sure to take pictures of how we do it. For now, I'll show you some pictures of a cake I made probably a couple of months ago for a coworker's daughter's ballet recital. The requests for the cake were pink, purple and princess!

I thought it would be fun to make some candy gem stones, so I found a mold for them at my local baking supply store. Then I used some chocolate candy melts in pink and purple to make the gems. It was pretty easy to spread the melted candy into the mold, then I just refrigerated the molds and popped out the candy. Most of the candy had rough edges of extra candy around them after popping them out, so I went around and cut off the rough parts with a sharp knife. Then I sprinkled them with a little edible glitter.

You can see that a few of them had air bubbles where the melted candy didn't make it to the bottom of the mold. 

I had planned to make a tiara out of modeling chocolate, but a late start and a bad batch of modeling chocolate resulted in Joe making a run to Wal-mart for a plastic tiara. Oh well.

The base is my typical rose icing, but I thought it was fitting for a group of little princesses!

I think that's all I have for tonight. Stay tuned for a couple more posts this week (hopefully). :) I hope you all are getting to enjoy some beautiful fall weather, and maybe a couple pumpkin spice lattes. Have a good night!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The deck is done! The deck is done!

...well, except for staining/sealing. But I'm calling it done! Tonight we glued on the rest of the post caps and added a few more nails to existing joist hangers, then just like that, all the "building" was done. As I'm sure you know, because it's all I've been talking about for the last 3 or so months, we've been working on this project for a while. If you saw our old deck in person, you know why it needed to be replaced. It was a bit of a hazard for anyone who didn't know its little "quirks". Like which boards not to step on and which hand rails not to lean on. But it's all safe now! Feel free to come over and dance across the deck and lean on any hand rail you want!

This is going to be a pretty picture heavy post so I'll try and just comment on pictures as I go. We'll start with some pictures of the old deck. Then a couple of progress pictures, followed by the final deck. Here we go!

The lovely old deck:

One thing we didn't like about the old deck was the various board sizes and the exposed screws and nails. Each board was nailed AND screwed down at each joist. Also, it wasn't good that two boards would meet up over one joist. That left very little room to fasten each board and made the boards more likely to rot. You'll see in pictures of the new deck how we fixed those problems :)

You can see in the picture above that the old deck had benches. There was one like that on either end. While they were occasionally useful, they weren't in the best places and it's not like we could move them. We decided that the benches would not be returning with the new deck.

That railing is definitely not safe!

This one isn't as obviously unsafe, but give it a little shove and it would almost fall off the deck on its own.

The landing where you can access the garage was supported by posts on one side, and by a little friction on the other. See the post that is kind of wedged against the house? It's like that because the nails that had attached the ledger to the concrete rusted through (again...nails, not bolts), and the landing sagged until the post was pinned against the house.You'll also see it caused the stairs to drop some and expose unpainted parts of the house. Joe jacked up that side of the landing and attached it to the foundation of the house with some heavy duty anchor bolts into the concrete. It's not going anywhere now!

If you talked to us at the beginning of this project, we probably told you that we were definitely going to use composite decking. We ordered several samples and went to a few places in Kansas City to get more information on them. Unfortunately, our favorite samples were also the most expensive and it led to us to reconsider using wood instead of composite. Below are all of our composite samples. I'll spare you from our decision process, but in the end we decided to go with cedar for the decking and railing. We will have to stain/seal it every few years but we decided we could handle that. I guess time will tell :)

We took apart the old decking piece by piece which meant removing about a million nails and screws, give or take a few (Joe says it ended up being about 16-18 lbs of nails and screws). We had to be careful to not harm the structure of the deck since we planned on keeping all of it and it was still structurally sound. The first thing to come off was the fascia, followed by the walkway, the stairs and landing, then finally the main decking.

Here is just one bucket full of nails and screws. That blue and yellow tool next to the hammer is something called a "cat-claw" that we borrowed from our neighbor and it was a LIFE SAVER when it came to pulling nails. 

Once we a good chunk of the decking removed and reinforced certain parts of the framing, we placed our big lumber order and it got delivered to the house! The delivery truck dropped the lumber off on our driveway so Joe and I had to carry it all into the garage. We couldn't park in the garage for a few weeks :) 

Then we started building! We started by installing the 4x4 railing posts then built the stairs and worked our way down the walkway to the main deck. Joe had to measure and cut new stair stringers (the zig-zagged wood the steps are attached to) because the old ones were rotten at the bottom and had about a dozen nails where the posts were attached. This took a lot of measuring, calculating, and cuts, but it all came out great!

You can see in the picture of the walkway above that we were able to use 20' boards on that section and avoid having to decking meet up over joints like I mentioned at the start of the post. We also used 20' decking on the main portion of the deck, but since the deck is actually close to 40' across, we placed two boards perpendicular to the house down the middle of the deck to kind of create 2 sections. In order to do this we had to add blocking between the 2 center joists. You can see those extra boards below. 

After all the decking was down and the last few posts were put in place, we had to attach the railings. We decided on aluminum balusters (aka spindles) because they'll be more durable and lower maintenance. The railing and boards that the balusters are attached to are 2x4 cedar. Joe cut all the sections to length and then we attached them to the posts (more on that later). We had to calculate the distance between posts to figure out exactly how many balusters to put in there and how much spacing there should be between them. We're really happy with how they turned out!

The FINAL step in the deck was gluing on the post caps. We opted for copper caps so that there wouldn't be any wood grain exposed since that would be a prime place for rot. To glue them down we used gorilla glue and bags of sand for weight.

Now for completed deck pictures!

Step out of our back yard and take a walk up the steps :)

Take a right at the landing and stroll down the walkway.

Admire the seamless decking :)

Hang another right and you're on the main deck. Hear the angels singing!

Then maybe walk to the other end and take a look back at where you came from.

And that's the deck! Real quick I want to tell you about how we attached all the various parts. When you're walking around the deck, you won't see any screws holding the decking down. That's because we used a tool called a Camo Jig that allows you to drill special screws into the edges of the decking so they'll essentially be hidden. Below you can just barely see the screw hole on the edge of the board.

For the hand railing we used another special tool called a Kreg Jig which pre-drilled pocket holes so that boards can be connected more securely. All the angled holes you see in the picture below were done using the Kreg Jig. You can also see in the picture below that the black aluminum balusters were just screwed into the railings from the outside.

We couldn't have completed this so quickly ("quickly" is relative of course haha) with out a few other tools. Joe's impact driver made driving all the screws a cinch. We also borrowed an air powered hand held hammer from one of my coworkers that saved Joe some serious forearm fatigue when adding blocking between joists. The other helpful thing we can't go without mentioning is the help of our friends. Our friend Greg helped demo the deck and haul old decking to the curb and another friend Josh helped with the demo and the re-building. We have the best friends :) Although they may not stick around long if we keep making them work on projects. Greg also helped install the hardwood floors in our dining room haha. Well, I guess I should wrap up the longest post in the short history of Lombardo Lagniappe. First, one more picture of the deck just because. Thanks for reading and have a great night!