super easy superhero ice-cream birthday cake

spiderThere is a long-standing tradition behind my birthday cake and why it always has to be a Spiderman theme. I am not a baker. Nope. No way. My oven and I have yet to get along.

This year, I decided to make my own Spiderman strawberry ice-cream cake. Let me tell you, it was much much easier than I thought. There are so many cake decorating tools/ products out there these days that anything is possible. This cake took 2 days to make but was oh-so easy! I now know that in the future, I can make other types of fondant cakes!

I used the following cake supplies below. You can easily find them in the cake decorating aisle of JoAnn’s, Michaels or even Walmart.
– 1 large red fondant sheet
– 1 small black fondant sheet
– 1 small white fondant sheet
– 1 tube of black icing (make sure you buy the tube with a fine tip)
– a cake leveler (some people use non-flavored dental floss)
– 2 trays (I used a cardboard cake tray); I could also have used a cookie sheet.

For the cake:
– 1 box of cake mix (since I was making a strawberry ice-cream cake, the box of cake mix I used was a yellow cake mix)
– 1 half gallon container of strawberry ice cream

Other stuff:
– a pizza cutter and a sharp knife with a point
– a printed picture or shape of your cake, cut to it’s accurate size. I googled an image of Spiderman’s head. Then I printed his head out on a regular sheet of paper in the exact size I wanted my cake to be.

Because Spidey has eyes, I printed 3 pictures. One to trace the shape of his head, 1 picture to trace the black parts of his eyes and another to trace the white parts of his eyes. I used the shapes as templates.

Here’s the picture I used below:
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directions:
1.) Grease your cake pan heavily. Bake your cake according to the instructions on the box.
2.) Once cooled, flip the pan over onto your tray and pop the cake out. The cake should easily come out of the pan onto your tray.
3.) Take your head template and place it on your overturned cake.
4.) Using a sharp knife with a point, make deep downward cuts into the cake following your template.
5.) Discard the remaining pieces.
6.) Using your cake leveler, split your cake in half.
7.) CAREFULLY and slowly remove the top half of the cake and set aside.
8.) Slightly melt your ice-cream in the microwave to the consistency of  oatmeal. You want the ice-cream to be spreadable but not runny. If your ice-cream is too runny, it will make the cake soggy.
9.) Evenly spread the ice-cream on the cake half that is on the tray. How much ice-cream is up to you.
10.) Bring the two halves of cake together on the tray. It will be one large, ice-cream cake “sandwich.”
11.) Put foil over the cake and place in the freezer to set the ice-cream and bind the cake all together. I placed my cake in the freezer overnight. You don’t have to wait overnight, a couple hours in the freezer should work too.

second day:
1.) Take your printout and cut out the two sets of eyes: the black eyes and the white eyes.
2.) Using a rolling pin, separately roll out the white and black fondant.
3.) Use the pizza cutter to cut out your fondant eyes; use the printouts as a template. Set the eyes aside.
4.) Roll out your red fondant much larger than Spiderman’s head. You want enough red fondant to cover the entire cake.
5.) Remove your cake + tray  from the freezer and remove the foil covering.
6.) Set your cake + tray on a flat surface.
7.) Pick up your unrolled red fondant and cover your cake with it. Work quickly and press/push out any air bubbles. Stretch your fondant over the sides of the cake making sure to cover the entire cake with your fondant.
8.) Trim off the excess fondant with the pizza cutter.
9.) Place the cut-out black fondant eyes on the cake and then the white fondant eyes over the black eyes.
10.) Use a toothpick to pre-draw Spiderman’s black facial lines on your cake. I looked at my initial printout for where to draw the lines.
11.) Squeeze out black icing over your toothpick lines!

Not so bad, right?!

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mexican pie

20150413_193730_HDR~2 (2)My husband loooves mexican food. If he had it his way, he would have it for dinner 7 days a week. Sometimes, I like to express my gratitude for him being his fabulous self. I don’t know how he does it — being fabulous and all.

This dish is so easy to put together. I say, “put-together” because there’s not much “real” cooking involved. Everything gets thrown in the cast iron pan, the oven works its magic and voilà, a mexican pie with burnt cheese for a crust emerges.

ingredients
1 tube of chorizo (can be any kind you like)
1 bag frozen bell pepper blend with onions
1 box of pre-mixed mexican rice
1 regular can of refried beans
1 jar of Tostinos® salsa con queso sauce
1 bag of shredded mexican cheese blend
2 cans of Ro*tel® diced tomatoes and green chilies
guacamole
parsley
a cast iron skillet or oven proof dish

*I used a 10 in. cast iron skillet for this recipe

directions
1.) Pre-heat the oven to 450° F.
2.) Begin cooking the mexican rice according to the package.
3.) In a skillet, cook the chorizo. Drain on paper towels to remove grease. Set aside.
4.) Drain the grease from the skillet. In the drained skillet, add the bell peppers, refried beans, 1 can of Ro*tel®. Heat on medium high heat until mixed and cooked through.
5.) Add the chorizo to the skillet and mix.
6.) Once the rice has finished cooking, begin pie assembly in the cast iron skillet.
7.) Pour the entire bean/chorizo mix at the bottom of the cast iron skillet.
8.) Spread out the rice mix on top of the bean/chorizo mix to create an even layer.
9.) Spread out as much Tostinos® salsa con queso sauce you’d like over the rice.
10.) Add the shredded cheese on top. Do not be stingy with the cheese. You want to cover the entire thing so that a crust will form.
11.) Place assembled pie in the oven until cheese begins to bubble and brown.
12.) Garnish with remaining can of Ro*tel® diced tomatoes and green chilies, guacamole and parsley.

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ina garten’s mustard chicken

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Ina Garten is such an inspiring cook! Long ago, her simple, short and tasty recipes were what made me realize that cooking didn’t have to be so bad. Last night, I decided to make her wonderful crispy, crunchy, mustard chicken.

We have a tiny herb garden. Chives, mint, parsley, oregano and thyme are currently thriving in container pots on our deck. It has been so nice to be able to have fresh herbs on hand when I am cooking.

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 ingredients:
1 cup buttermilk
8 pieces of chicken (I used 4 thighs in this recipe)
1 cup dijon mustard

3 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups panko or bread crumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

directions:
1.) In a large ziplock bag, dump in your chicken.
2.) In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the buttermilk and the mustard. If you want more of a mustard flavor, add more mustard. If you want less mustard flavor, add less.
3.) Dump the buttermilk-mustard mixture in the bag over the chicken. Seal the bag and make sure the chicken pieces are coated thoroughly with the marinade. Leave in refrigerator overnight.

Next day: pre-heat the oven to 400°F

4.) In a food processor combine the: thyme, olive oil, bread crumbs, lemon zest, salt and black pepper. Pulse to combine all the ingredients. The mixture will be grainy and may not all stick together. That is okay.
5.) Dump out the breadcrumb mixture into a large flat plate.
6.) Working with one chicken piece at a time, remove the chicken from the bag and dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture. Make sure the entire chicken is covered.
7.) Place each dredged chicken piece onto a baking sheet with parchment.
8.) Repeat the dredging process until all chicken pieces are done. If you have leftover crumbs, you can press the crumbs onto the chicken.
9.) Bake at 400°F for about 40 minutes.
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a guide to salt: the policeman of taste

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The region of Camargue is located where the Rhone River meets the Mediterranean Sea in southern France.

Sea salt has been harvested in this region since Ancient Roman times. When cooking, I like to use this brand of French sea salt.

People have often asked what the difference is between different types of salts.

Here’s my very brief guide on 3 types of salts: common table salt, fleur de sel, and gros sel. All three salts originate from salty water. Generally speaking, when the water evaporates, the salt is left behind.

common table salt: this is the salt that you typically find in restaurants in a salt shaker. The salt is fine and white. A common, typical brand used is, Morton Salt.

Table salt is processed to produce a very fine texture. This allows table salt to be mixed into recipes much easier. The result of processing table salt is that important minerals are removed.

The price point of table salt is very low. You can get 1 pound of table salt for less than a dollar.

fleur de sel: this is the crème de la crème of salt that is usually from the north-west region of France. When water evaporates from the salt ponds, in the Summer, a Saunier (salt harvester), carefully rakes off crystals that have formed on the top layer of the water. The crystals at the top layer of the water are delicate and can easily sink to the bottom when harsh wind, rain or dew forms. This is why fleur de sel is harvested at night and quickly.

The method of raking is done by hand and is labor intensive. The Saunier must be very careful not to disturb the layers of salt that have formed in the water.

Because fleur de sel is not processed, the minerals in the salt are retained. Fleur de sel typically has a higher mineral content than other salts. It varies in color from light gray to white. The crystals are delicate and crusty — resembling tiny crystals of ice.

Fleur de sel has a wet consistency with translucent crystals. It has a strong sea and metallic taste. Because of fleur de sel’s distinct taste, it is often used as a finishing salt: sprinkled over a dish, after it has been cooked or as a garnish on top of chocolate caramels.

One 4.4 ounces of Le Saunier De Camargue Fleur De Sel costs around $13.00.

Lastly, there is Gros sel.

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gros sel is the salt that is harvested just below the layer of fleur de sel. It can be harvested by hand or by machine (the french harvest it mostly by hand). It is more affordable than fleur de sel. The taste is milder and is also moister. Sea salt from Camargue is bright white. I use this salt for regular, every day cooking.

The biggest difference between the 3 salts is the sodium content. Since fleur de sel and gros sel typically have larger salt crystals than table salt, they contain less sodium by volume. A home cook who determines the amount of salt to use by a teaspoon/other measuring spoon can actually use more sodium when using table salt because there are more salt crystals that can fit on the spoon.

I like to store my gros sel in a white, stoneware salt cellar with a tiny stainless steel spoon to make dispensing the salt easier. I purchased my salt cellar from here.

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4 ingredient quinoa caprese salad

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If you’re in the mood to throw something together that is healthy and delicious, this 4 ingredient salad will stand up to that craving.

you will need:
large pot
1 package of quinoa
Mozzarella cheese log from Trader Joe’s
Fresh basil
Tomatoes
Chicken broth
Balsamic vinegar

directions:

I like to use quinoa from Trader Joe’s.

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1.) Cook the quinoa according to the package. I like to cook the quinoa in chicken broth for a little bit more flavor. Cooking the quinoa in the broth is entirely optional. You can always just use water.

2.) While the quinoa is cooking, slice up pieces of the cheese; how big and how much cheese to slice is entirely up to you. If you like a lot of cheese, add more. Set aside when finished chopping.

3.) Chop up the fresh basil, about 1 cup. Set aside.

4.) Chop up the tomatoes. (Similar thing as the cheese.) I like tomatoes, so I tend to add a lot. You can use any kind of tomatoes. When I’ve used grape tomatoes, I just cut them in half. Set aside.

5.) After the quinoa cooks, remove from the heat.

6.) Stir the quinoa and add the: cheese, basil and tomatoes to the pot. Stir the ingredients together.

7.) Season with salt & pepper to taste.

I like to sprinkle my salad with about 1 tsp. of fancy balsamic vinegar.

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loaded tater-tot nachos

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Just when you thought that nachos couldn’t be anymore unhealthy… I introduce you to: tater-tot nachos!

This dish has all the fattening stuff and also some healthy stuff.

It’s quick to put together and it will satisfy everyone at your superbowl party.

you will need:
1- 9×13 pyrex dish or a metal pan similar in size
1 skillet
1 tube of chorizo meat
1 bag of Trader Joes tater tots or any other brand will do
Fresh guacamole
Salsa
Sour cream
Cheese of your choice (cheddar or Mexican blend). I used Tostinos cheese dip.
Green onions

directions:
1.) Pre-heat your oven to 450°F. Re-heat the tater tots by baking them in the pyrex/pan in  the oven until crispy (about 15-20 minutes).

2.) While the tater-tots are baking, cook the chorizo meat in a skillet.

3.) Transfer chorizo on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

4.) Add the chorizo to the tater-tots and toss.

5.) Top with a generous helping of guacamole, salsa, sour cream, cheese and onions. Serve immediately.

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señor taco: the best fish tacos

33120 Pacific Highway South, Federal Way, WA 98003
(253) 661-9915

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I have learned that you simply can’t sandwich a fish in a tortilla and call it a fish taco. I have had my share of delicious, different versions of this humble taco. I have tried them grilled and fried. Thin batter, thick batter… you name it. Prior to going to this establishment, my favorite place to get fish tacos was at Agua Verde, on Lake Washington.

It was one fine evening of discussing Mexican eateries in the Federal Way area when a friend of ours was shocked that we had never been or heard of Señor Taco. What did they serve? Where was it? If it was amazing, why haven’t we heard about it before? Curious, a group of our friends decided to meet at Señor Taco for dinner.

When I walked into the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the décor. It was basic, a picture of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall. The floor was a little grimy and seats/table stained with food. It wasn’t what I’d call the cleanest place I’d ever eaten. We sat at a table and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. This gave me a chance to look at the menu.

The menu is limited; they serve: tacos, burritos and tortas. No tortilla chips and salsa. I clearly wasn’t in Chipotle. Each fish taco was about $2.50. I decided to order just one to start.

This order forever changed my life regarding what a real fish taco should taste like. It was fresh, satisfying and included: a red cabbage slaw, tomatoes, fresh cilantro and a mildly spicy sauce. The fish was fried and crispy. Everything, from the tortilla to the crunchy cabbage, the sauce, the crispy fish and the cool flavor of the tomatoes helped to balance the contrast of flavors and textures. This taco was it. It was the stuff that fish taco legends were made of. I quickly ordered 2 more. The cook/server was very friendly. We stayed and closed the place down.

Señor Taco, you are my new favorite place!

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