Friday, November 27, 2015

The best thing about "Black" Friday ... Thanksgiving leftovers!

So it's Black Friday... forget about shopping ... it's time for Thanksgiving leftovers! I never have to worry about gaining weight on the pies. My hubby Bruce downs any of the leftover pie by midday on the day after Thanksgiving. 

The thing I love eating the most is Turkey Stuffing Casserole. This casserole recipe has become as much a family tradition as Thanksgiving dinner itself. Now that it's just the two of us at home, one casserole makes enough for 3-4 meals. It's a good thing hubby likes leftovers. Pair this casserole up with a nice salad and add a little cranberry sauce and it's the perfect dinner of comfort food, traditions, and memories.

Turkey Stuffing Casserole

1 package stuffing mix (I use StoveTop Savory Herbs or Turkey)
4 cups cubed boiled potatoes
2 cups cubed cooked turkey
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a large saucepan, combine the two soups with 1/2 - 1 can water. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and add the turkey, onion, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Add potatoes and cheese and stir to combine. Pour into a 2 or 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Prepare the stuffing according to the directions on the package. Layer over top of the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly around the edges. 

Memories from Recipes

As I was anticipating this year's Thanksgiving feast, I pulled out the cookbook to find our favorite recipes so I could make sure all of the ingredients were on my shopping list. Most of my recipes are on full page typed and printed pages, but then there are a few of our very favorite recipes that are handwritten on random pieces of paper or recipe cards, stuffed in plastic sheet protectors, that I refuse to get rid of because of the memories they invoke each time I use them. Here are just three of our very favorites...

Sweet Potato Casserole ... this recipe is from one of my best Arizona friends, Joan Jansen. Each time I make this recipe, I think of the many years we spent together on early morning walks, working together at Weight Watchers, watching our kids grow together, and laughing and crying together through good times and bad ... Memories that I will treasure forever. 

Imitation Black Bottom Pie (our family members actually all agree that this should really be called "black middle pie" instead since that's where the "black" portion of the pie is located) ... this recipe is from my dear departed sister-in-law Vickie. She was a very sweet, yet opinionated woman, who I was proud to call my sister. She was not always respected by the people she loved the most, and was taken much too early by the ugly disease of Cancer. Our family was honored to be able to care for her during her last days, and we will always be grateful for those special memories that we made.  

And finally, Grandma Leavitt's Peanut Butter Balls (normally a recipe that we make at Christmas time, but has been known to surface during other special occasions during the year) ... this is a handwritten little slip of paper from my husband's grandma, sent to me at my request. I have such fond memories of this special lady that lived a good long life, many of those years spent as a widow. She was full of wisdom, laughter, and love, and I cherish the times we spent together. 

Sweet Potato Casserole
This has become a staple at our Thanksgiving table. The thing that makes this really speacial is the streusel topping... yum!

4 large sweet potatoes, canned or fresh (I prefer fresh)
(1) 5 oz. can evaporated milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract or juice (I prefer juice)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
Dash of cinnamon
Streusel Topping
1 cup chopped nuts ( I prefer pecans) with small amount of flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash sweet potatoes until smooth. If using fresh potatoes, peel and cut in pieces and cook until tender. Drain and mash. Add milk, butter, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and flavorings. Combine well and spread in casserole dish.  (Tip-to make this easy, combine all ingredients in bowl of stand mixer and mix with flat beater until smooth.) Combine streusel topping ingredients until crumbly and spread on top of potato mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until hot and bubbly around edges. The casserole can be made ahead of time, put in the refrigerator and baked just before serving. Add about 10 extra minutes. 

Imitation Black Bottom Pie
A traditonal family pie for Thanksgiving and other other special occasions. 

1 cup flour
1 stick ( 1/2 cup) butter

Combine to make a smooth dough and mold/press into greased pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees until barely brown (about 15 min.) Cool.

Bottom layer
(1) 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
(1) 8 oz. tub of Cool Whip

Cream together cream cheese and sugar. Add Cool Whip and mix until thoroughly combined. Spread over cooled crust.

Middle layer
(2) small packages of instant pudding mix, chocolate or fudge
3 cups milk

Beat together until thickened and smooth. Spread over cream cheese layer.

Top layer
(1) 8 oz. tub of Cool Whip
Chocolate pieces or mini chocolate chips

Spread or pipe on top of pudding layer. Decorate with chocolate pieces or chips. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Grandson Blake, after finishing off his Thanksgiving pie.

Peanut Butter Balls
In our family, we are all peanut butter and chocolate fans. So whenever homemade candies are made, this is the first request. A favorite Christmas treat, but also made for other occasions during the year. These can be made as dipped balls, or as a filling for molded chocolates.

2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 lb. (approx. 4 cups) powdered sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies

Combine together well to make a dough. Form into balls and chill. Dip in chocolate or chocolate candy coating. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... do they ever get old?

Is it my imagination, or are the Turtles making a huge comeback? And how old are they anyway? I remember decorating TMNT cakes when my kids were young... like about 30 years ago. I did a little research a few days ago and found out that the Turtles first made their appearance in 1984. Here it is 31 years later and they are more popular than ever... crazy!

I tried to find a picture of that first TMNT cake that I designed all those years ago, but couldn't seem to find it. Looked everywhere. I vaguely remember wanting to toss the picture so no one would request another cake like it. Back then, most of the cakes I decorated for birthdays were sheet cakes and all of the decorations were done in buttercream. I copied the pattern, cut it out with an exacto knife, and pressed it into the crusted buttercream. I then filled in the outlined design with thinned buttercream. I remember this TMNT cake being very detailed and very time consuming. (Not that some of the cakes I design now aren't time consuming), but all those different colors of buttercream are not always a joy to decorate with. I still do that once in awhile, but not nearly as often. 

Cake decorating has come a long way since then. We now have so many different mediums and different techniques to work with. During the last few months, I have decorated cake pops, cupcakes, and cakes... all with TMNT... cute, but still time consuming and a lot of work. And I just can't believe they're still around!

 RK pops in turtle colors

Monday, October 26, 2015

Molting Chickens = No Eggs

Our chickens are molting, and if you know anything about chickens, you know that when they are molting (losing their feathers), they don't lay because all of their energy goes to growing new feathers. So, for the first time in quite sometime, I had to buy eggs at the store so I could complete my weekend orders. I almost cried. We still have a few eggs left for eating, but I didn't want to deplete our supply. There is such a noticeable difference between our free range chicken eggs and store bought eggs. You have to experience it to understand.  Here are some pictures of our poor little chickens losing all their feathers. There are feathers everywhere-inside and outside of the coop. Hoping they will regrow before the real cold weather hits. 

Pretty in Pink

Today was all about pink at Carefree Curves, where I go to work out 3 times a week. My friend Amy, owner of the Curves franchise, ordered 11 dozen pink sugar cookies for today's Pretty in Pink Party- a celebration of women. Since she needed to pick those up at 5:30 am this morning and I don't work on Sunday, I did some juggling with my sleep this weekend. I had the cookies all baked on Saturday night, and went to bed early on Sunday night, so I could get up at midnight and finish decorating the cookies. Pink icing and sugar sprinkles everywhere, but loved the way they turned out! 

 All boxed up and ready to go...
This is what greeted me at 5:30 am this morning...
And here I am with Amy and a tutu... 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Grandchildren and Birthday Cakes

One of the joys of life is seeing the looks on the faces of your grandchildren when you present them with a birthday cake designed especially for them. Every cake is made with an extra cup of love, and seeing their eyes light up when they see the cakes is worth every bit of all of the work that goes into these special creations. Since most of my grandchildren are far away, I don't always get to design cakes for them, but for right now, I do have 4 of the 14 nearby. And when I am fortunate to visit on one of their birthdays, Grandma sometimes gets to bake a cake at their home, even though those are not as deatiled as the ones I make at home.

Here is a sampling of some "Grandma Cakes". . .

The joy on their faces is worth everything...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cake fillings... the difference between "cake" and "dessert"

After baking and decorating cakes for so long, I am very picky about the cakes that I choose to eat. I love cake, but eating a piece of ho hum cake with ho hum icing is like eating... well, "just cake," and I would just as easily pass it by. But when you have a deliciously moist piece of cake with a scrumptious filling and a great icing, it becomes a delightful dessert instead of "just cake." That is hard to resist. At Cathy Leavitt custom creations, we offer a wide variety of different fillings, from fruity to chocolate to fluffy mousses. Each one, combined with the right cake and icing, can be very tempting indeed. I have combined some of my favorite flavors as our Specialty Dessert Cakes on our menu. It's hard to pick a favorite, but anything with chocolate is always a hit. Lemon is becoming a strong second. 

Dark Chocolate Cake with Raspberry and Fudge Filllings

When we add a filling to a cake, I slice each layer in half. Note: I have an Agbay cake leveler that levels the top of the cake layer and slices the layer at the same time. One of my very very favorite decorating tools. Pricey, yes, but so worth it! Over the years, I have used many cake levelers and the problem is... they just don't work. If you're serious about cake decorating, look into this amazing tool!

Each cake normally consists of 2 layers, so after you slice each layer, you have four layers. I put filling between the top 2 layers and the bottom 2 layers, and add whatever icing I'm using in the middle. Before adding the filling, be sure to apply an "icing dam." Not only does this hold in the fillings, but it keeps the cakes level. Click here to visit my tutorial on filling cakes. This tutorial also contains recipes for an easy basic mousse filling and Bavarian Creme filling. To make a yummy coconut creme filling, you can add toasted coconut to the Bavarian Creme. (And then try not to eat it all before putting it on the cake... I know this from experience.)

Dark Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Mousse

Fill cupcakes? Oh yes, but you do not need a fancy cupcake corer in order to fill them. Just load your decorating bag with a large open round tip, like #12, push it into the center of your cupcake and squeeze... just don't go overboard. After awhile, you'll get the knack of it... so easy. After you've eaten a filled cupcake, you'll not go back to one without. 

 Spice Cake with Salted Caramel Mousse and 
Cream Cheese Icing, Drizzled with Salted Caramel
 White Almond Sour Cream Cake with Raspberry 
Filling, Vanilla Buttercream, and Toasted Almonds
Chocolate Cake with Bavarian Creme,
Chocolate Buttercream, and Toffee Bits

Fresh fruit can also be used as a filling in cakes. It is best to add a thin layer of whipped cream or mousse to the cake first, and then slice and layer the fruit on top. Some other good fruit fillings to use are Solo Raspberry Filling, Dickinson's Lemon Curd (my favorite), and Cherry All-Fruit Spread. Be creative and try different combinations! 

 Yellow Cake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Strawberries
Sample Cakes for Cake Tasting-
Chocolate Mint Mousse, Shirley Temple (1 layer of vanilla, 
1 of chocolate, with Bavarian Creme and white chocolate curls),
Lemon with Lemon Curd and Lemon Buttercream