Wednesday, March 26, 2014

~ Chocolate Cake with Surprise Buttercream Icing Pockets ~

 Yum!!  This cake is just pure fun and pleasure, and very simple!  Again, I simply baked a boxed chocolate cake mix according to package directions except I always substitute applesauce for the oil in equal proportions.  It turns out much moister this way.  (And in a very small way, negates just a bit the buttercream icing!)

I baked this cake for my family in a large baking dish, about 12x15 inches, and let it cool.  I then placed some buttercream icing in a pastry decorating bag with the star tip and simple inserted the tip into the cake to almost the depth of the cake.  It's really just to the end of where the decorating tip meets the bag, this is single layer cake, so that worked well.  I tried to make evenly spaced rows of icing, but like my Mom used to say when I was planting rows of veggies in the garden...I can't make a straight row!!  This too, will be iced so I think the surprise of pockets of icing in the cake will make up for my crooked rows!

My kids are chocoholics, so I added a light drizzle of Hershey's Syrup directly over the cake.

I used the star tip to ice the cake also, in long zig zag rows to cover the cake, and drizzled more Hershey's Syrup at my daughter's request on top to give it a finished look.  This cake is awesome...first, very moist with a couple nice levels of chocolate taste to satisfy my chocoholic family, and is very pretty, an very simple to make.  Again, an easy and quick dessert that looks like it was harder than it was.  This was so easy, and so simple, there's not much reason to buy a store bought cake!!

Enjoy!!  'Til next time...have a great day!  :)

~ How to make a White Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb and Strawberry Garnish Easy and Simple ~

 Alright, cake decorating is a hobby of mine, I truly enjoy it, and it doesn't have to be complicated!  My brother-in-law just celebrated a birthday, and he loves strawberry-rhubarb pie, which I forgot and didn't have fresh rhubarb on hand to make the pie, so I came up with this White Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce instead.  It was easy to make, from a boxed mix...yes, boxed mix, and so pretty. 

Here's step by step instructions on how to I put it together.

First, I baked the cake according to the package instructions, but I always substitute applesauce for the oil the recipe calls for in equal proportions.  On a white or yellow cake, I will sometimes add canned or frozen pumpkin instead, and is actually one of my daughter's favorite cakes ~ pumpkin cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, but with this one, I used the applesauce.

 After the cake was cooled, I sliced it half horizontally, and poked some small holes with the end of a small dowel rod, you can use the end of a thin wooden spoon too, you just want to make some holes so the sauce can creep down into the cake.  Spread strawberry-rhubarb sauce over the entire bottom half of the cake, and it will look like this.  I used a bought version from Tastefully Simple, but I planted rhubarb last year, so I should be able to make and preserve my own sauce this year.  (That is a story all in of itself!)

 I placed the top half of the cake back in the pan while I iced the bottom layer.

I added vanilla buttercream icing over top of the strawberry-rhubarb sauce and iced to just a bit over the edges.  This makes it much easier to ice the outside of the cake later.

I then placed the top of the cake over the bottom iced layer.  Now, this is where I keep it real, because these things happen...the top layer broke apart as I transferred it from the biggie...I'm icing the top layer, so I just pieced it back together.  This cake is very moist...a perk of the applesauce.  The icing covers this up, and I'm going to guess my brother-in-law didn't even realize it had cracked apart!  Again, no biggie, this is life, and there is no reason to waste an entire layer of cake when something like this happens!!

Once the top is iced, it will look something like this.  This is a great icing technique for a beginner because it is simply a swirl pattern.  You can use the back of a spoon to make the swirls and peaks, or simply the edge of the spatula used to apply the icing to the cake.  See, you can't even tell the top layer split apart, icing fixes everything!!

This step was both fun and easy.  I simply took about one tablespoon of the strawberry-rhubarb sauce and about one tablespoon of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and warmed it until it had a nice consistency that would pour from a spoon.  This is a very sweet and rich tasting sauce, so you don't need much, since the cake is already sweet.

Apply the glaze over the cake, make sure the glaze is only warm, not hot, so the buttercream icing doesn't melt!  It will look something like this, don't worry about it being symmetrical on the cake, just so the glaze looks overall even, it doesn't have to be perfect.

This is where I garnished with strawberries.  I wanted the garnish to be symmetrical here, so I cut one large strawberry into wedges, I was able to make eight wedges out of this one, it was a huge strawberry!  Anyway, place them atop the cake in a symmetrical pattern...the garnish will end up balancing out the cake since the glaze was just drizzled on.

Take a look at your cake after the first strawberry garnishes are in place, and then decide how you want to fill out the cake.  It doesn't have to be like I have chosen, just follow your eye and add the garnishes to what pleases your eye!  I decided to add just four more wedges in between the first four, and the cake ended up looking like this.

It's beautiful!!  It's the strawberry-rhubarb that he loves, and even though it's not the pie he loves, this will satisfy his sweet tooth until I get rhubarb from my garden!  Also, a footed cake plate can make all the difference in presentation for a cake or dessert, and can be found at springtime estate and garage sales and thrift stores for a fraction of what they cost in a discount or department store.

See, this is a GORGEOUS  cake, and it was so easy to make and put together, really, once the cake baked and cooled, and the buttercream icing was made, it took about twenty minutes to decorate this baby.  That's it...quick and simple, and anyone can present this cake to their friends and family and save a ton of money in the process.

This was such a pretty cake, I made a chocolate cake for my family just to be certain there wouldn't be and icing missing and not so mysterious finger prints in my brother-in-laws cake!!

'Till next time....Have a great day!!  :)

Monday, March 10, 2014

~ What Exactly is it to Garden Organically? ~

Well, I have to honest and upfront first and foremost...I have been an organic gardener for as long as I can remember.  My Mom especially was an avid gardener of anything she could get seeds or plants to grow, and my Dad was more of a substance gardener...gardening to eat, potatoes and corn specifically, my Mom would and did grow anything, vegetable or flower.

One of my favorite sights...corn tasseling.

 Organic gardening...gardening without the use of synthetic herbicides or pesticides.  It's not as difficult as some make it.  Now, I have no formal degrees or certifications, I simply have lifelong knowledge of what I was taught by many 'mentors', and by what works for me.  It doesn't take a lot of money, and sometimes, well often, I think that organic gardening was born out of necessity.  Necessity years and years ago by people of native lands using what was immediately available to them, and now in modern times by people who either have to or want to use what is immediately available to them.  This can range from anything organic that can enrich soil, protect plant life by adding nutrition as it breaks down and moisture and insulation to their roots.  I use what's available to me...newspaper, cardboard, hay, straw, discarded weeds, kitchen scraps...yes, kitchen scraps can be added directly to the garden and it will compost throughout the growing season, and act as mulch at the same time. 

Brussels's them or hate them.  I love them!!

I don't think a weed free garden is a good thing anyway.  Certain pest bugs feed on weeds like burdock and other weeds, plus these weeds are usually native to their specific area, and wildlife depends on these weeds for food or shelter, so not all weeds are bad, just usually in a bad place when we plant our gardens.  I've never had a weed free garden...not for lack of desire, but because they are just so resilient!   I have learned over the years to be more tolerant of certain weeds, and that some weeds are edible.  Dandelions anyone?  I just read a teaser on our internet home page about how dandelion beverages are making a comeback!  that strikes me as funny, because I have always know people who love to make Dandelion wine!  The entire plant is edible.  I'm pretty sure that dandelions will populate the earth long after humans are gone, and that's just one nuisance weed!  So weeds are a bad thing next to your tomatoes and lettuce, but at the perimeter of the garden, or away from it a bit, they serve a valuable purpose.

Cockscomb of my favorite flowers and one of the easiest to grow!

I plant both vegetables and flowers interchangeably.  They often benefit each other, plus they look pretty, not to mention the pollinator's they attract right to your garden, and your plants that depend on those insects!  Several flower varieties either attract pests, such as nasturtiums attracting aphids, and marigolds and mints deterring many pests by masking the scent of desirable plants, or simply by being unappealing to them.  I personally love the scent of marigolds!

This apple tree was planted by my mom when  I was a kid, and now my kids harvest the apples!

Organic gardening can come in many shapes and sizes too.  Fruit and nut trees are often grown along tree lines, and abundant wild berry bushes, at least around here, and can be harvested by humans and animals alike.  Another thing about gardening organically, or living on an organic farm, be prepared to share with nature.  It's bound to happen anyway, so making it a more pleasant experience for all involved is best.  Now they can't devour your entire crop, but native animals are just as crucial to an ecosystem as plants.  Animals eat and scatter seeds and the loot they leave lying uneaten, either gets eaten by another animal or insect, or acts as a fertilizer where it was left, or new plants sprout.  I personally enjoy watching wildlife, so the thought of trying to completely keep them away is counterproductive to me.  If a food source, such as an apple tree and wild berry bushes are planted far enough away from the garden, most critters would prefer to feed away from humans anyway!

Flowers grow harmoniously in my garden along with vegetables.  Here sunflowers are dual task, they are beautiful to look at, plus great at attracting bees and butterflies to pollinate other plants, and birds to eat and spread the sunflower seeds.  The birds eat slugs and garden pests too!

So in a nutshell, it's not hard to garden organically, it just requires the desire to do so.  Once the desire is there, it's possible.  Once the understanding is there that gardening this way is time consuming, it shifts from being a task to being a thing of leisure.  It's best to start gardening small.  Plant what you will be certain to eat first.  Once you have success at what you will eat, think about something you like to eat and consider growing that.  For instance, most people don't have any idea of how much goes into planting and harvesting broccoli or cauliflower, it can take a few trys to get it right, so don't get discouraged.  Don't overwhelm yourself, if you do, you'll never get the part of gardening that is leisure instead of a task. And doing things for leisure is a lot more fun that task oriented work!   It's still work, but all good things require work.  The reward is wonderful, healthy food to enjoy by family and friends.

I'll post more on specific areas of organic gardening, but is there something specific you would like to know? If I have an answer or solution, I'd be happy to share my experiences!  None of us know everything, so gardening and farming is a community task sometimes, we rely on the knowledge of many for our successes!

'Til next time, have a great day!  :)