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While I was in China, I learned a bit about Chinese cooking at a place called The Hutong.   It’s a very cool little Arts Center that focuses on culture, art, wellness, and much to my delight, cooking!  My very first class at The Hutong was on Dumpling Making.  Dumplings, as you may or may not know, kick ass.  They are delicious little pockets of joy and can be made in countless varieties, including some very tasty vegetarian/vegan combinations.  I’ve made them since the class, most recently for my sister, Heather’s birthday dinner.  I’m no professional.  In fact, my dumplings tend to look a little wonky.  Sophia, my dumpling teacher, told me that Chinese people call dumplings like mine “ass dumplings” (since they look like doughy little derrieres).  Well, they may look like hineys, but they taste like heaven.  That’s what counts, right?

By the way, these types of dumplings are called Jaozi (pronounced sort of like jow-zuh, but not quite). They are quite a bit like Pot Stickers or Japanese Gyoza.

So, without further ado, here is a crash coarse in dumpling making, ala me, based on what I learned at The Hutong.  I won’t repost their complete recipe, but I can give you a pretty in depth run down.  If you have any questions, please let me know!  I’m happy to help.

Dumpling Ingredients

Fillings
When we arrived, our teacher, Sophia, had laid out a spread of ingredients in small white bowls.  We were encouraged to sniff and taste each ingredient (expect the raw meat, of course) and learned a little about each one, and how it was prepped for inclusion in the dumplings:

Pork: The raw pork was ground, like hamburger meat.  Sophia told us that it is best to find pork that is heavily marbled with fat when making dumplings, as the fat is necessary for a smooth texture.

Eggs: These were scrambled in a hot wok with a little salt and oil, then chopped finely.

Tofu: Sophia used a very firm, but in all other regards, basic white tofu.  It was crumbled, then stir fried in oil to reduce its moisture.

Carrots: The carrots we used were minced in a juicer, but you can also use a food processor, or (heaven help you) a veggie peeler and knife to achieve the same, finely minced texture.

Pepper Oil: Pepper Oil is made by infusing dried flower peppers (red or green depending on personal taste) in oil.  Sophia uses a plain Soybean Oil and Red Flower Peppers and heats them over a low flame in her wok.  You can strain the Flower Peppers out of the oil when it cools, or leave them in it for visual flair.  But don’t let them wind up inside your dumplings. That would not be so nice.

Pepper Flowers

Black Wood Fungus: Also called “Wood Ear Fungus”, these mushrooms are purchased dried and then reconstituted using room temperature salted water.  The dried fungus looks like a black rose, but after it is hydrated it looks more like a squashy pile of seaweed.  Mince it finely after it is hydrated for use in dumplings. On a side note, according to Sophia, these mushrooms are used to cool the body, and cleanse the digestive system in Chinese medicine.  They can supposedly help with gall stones and other various digestive issues, but should be avoided if you are an overly chilly person.

Dark Soy Sauce:
A thick, dark, and intensely flavored soy sauce that is usually used on meats. This is used only with meat dumplings, as the flavor is too strong for veggies.

Glass Noodle:
Sophia had a good time making us guess what these stiff, white noodles were made of.  Our guesses included: rice, radish, and vermicelli, but were all totally wrong.  These special noodles are made from green beans and peas.  They become totally clear when cooked, and have a very unique, elastic-like texture.  They should be boiled for 3-5 minutes, or until they become totally transparent, then drained, but not rinsed.  When they cool enough to handle them, chop them into little, 1/2 centimeter bits.

Ginger: We used fresh, finely diced ginger, but Sophia assured us that you can also use dried ginger or crystallized ginger according to your taste.  An interesting note, the preparation of ginger, as well as the part of the ginger root used, affects is purpose when it comes to Chinese Medicine.

Shitake Mushroom: In China, these little brown mushrooms are readily available both fresh and dried.  According to Sophia, the dried mushrooms have a better flavor for dumplings, so we used the dried kind.  These are hydrated the same way the Black Wood Fungus is – in room temperature salt water.

Scallions (Chinese Leeks):
In China they have these enormous scallions, which they call either chives or scallions in English.  I am not sure, but I think they might be closer to leeks in actuality.  They use them constantly in Chinese cuisine.  For dumplings, they chop them very finely.  You can also use regular old scallions if you prefer.

Mystery Greens:
There is a very dark green leaf that is minced and added very commonly to dumplings in Beijing.  Our teacher, Sophia, called it Dill at first, but after we all smelled it we decided it definitely could not be dill.  She used the word “fennel” next, but I’m still not 100% percent sure it was fennel.  It had a slightly herbaceous, lemony aroma, but has a texture similar to spinach once its cooked. Up until the class I had assumed it was spinach or the dark leafed baby Chinese cabbage that I saw everywhere I went.

The Fillings
To make Veggie Dumpling Filling, you simply mix and match any non-meat fillings you like, then top them off with some Pepper Oil and a little salt.  (Tip: Dark Soy Sauce isn’t very good in veggie dumplings, AND if you are not a vegan, you may want to add a little egg white and whip the mixture up to make it a little more firm.) For meat dumplings, the process is a wee bit more standardized.  First, stir in a few teaspoons of Dark Soy Sauce into the meat, followed by the minced scallions, and some salt.  Crack an egg white into the mix and stir (in only one direction) until the egg whites whip up and get the mixture nice and sticky.  Once the mixture has gotten nice and firm, you can add your Mystery Greens and some Pepper Oil.  Add more Salt and Soy Sauce to taste, and maybe a little ginger if the mood strikes you.

The Dough
The dough is very basic, just flour and water, kneaded into a soft, but not sticky ball.  After you finish kneading the dough, set it aside covered with a bowl or in a lidded dish for about 10 minutes.  You can enhance the nutritional value of the dough (as well as the appearance) by using vegetable juice in place of water.  We used carrot juice and spinach juice, but there are countless other juices that could be used as well.  Beet juice, for instance, would create lovely purple dumplings.

Dumpling Dough in Three Colors

Once the dumpling dough is ready, it is rolled into a tube that measures a little less than an inch in diameter.  The tube is then chopped into 1 inch nuggets and dusted with dry flour.  We rounded the nuggets, then flattened them into discs using the palms of our hands.  You could probably use a cup or a mallet to get more perfect discs, but I’m not sure that’s really necessary.  The tricky part comes next.  You’ll need to flour your work surface, and get yourself a very small rolling pin.  Pinch one edge of your disc, then roll firmly into the center on three sides, (rotating each time).  Continue to roll the pin in very deep on each turn until you get your disc to be about 3 inches or so wide.  The goal is to make the inside of the disc thicker than the outside, so that the bit that holds the filling is strong, and the excess dumpling isn’t too chewy.  This took some practice, and for later inspiration, I took a short video of Sophia rolling her dough like an expert.

Stuffing and Folding
Another slightly tricky part, filling and folding the dumplings is a delicate art.  To a perfectionist, this activity could be maddening, but if you simply want to get that sucker closed, it’s not so hard.  Lay the wrapper flat in your palm, then use your other hand to scoop the filling into the middle. Not too much, not too little.  Pinch the middle of the wrapper closed first, then carefully pinch one of the edges together, and fold the remaining opening in the same direction that you folded the edge.  Repeat on the other side, and viola! Your little joazi is ready to go.

Cooking the Jaozi
After we had a platter full of dumplings which ranged in beauty from flawless to lumpy and weird (“Sexy Ass Dumplings” as Sophia says) we boiled ourselves a wok fill of water and dumped those suckers in!  This part excited me, can you tell?  I love boiling things in woks.  The steam!  The danger!  It’s really pretty thrilling.  Anyway, we boiled them until, and I quote, “they sink to the bottom, then rise to the top, then sink to the bottom again, then rise again, then sink and rise once more.”  Another clue to tell that they had finished cooking was to look at their shape.  Dumplings puff up while they cook, and when they’ve finished they shrink up like saran wrap.  You can also poke at the meat ones a bit to see how firm they are.

Cooking Dumplings

We also pan fried some, which were really really delicious.  To pan fry the dumplings, you heat oil in a wok, then place the raw dumplings in the pan, standing on their little dumpling bottoms.  Let them cook for a bit, until they become golden down below, then add a generous portion of water, and cover then pan.  You’ll know their finished based on the aforementioned saran wrap and poke tests, but you cannot, unfortunately rely on the sink and rise test this time.

Dipping
Jaozi are meant to be dipped!  They are most commonly, if not always, served with malt vinegar.  Most folks toss some hot chili pepper and sesame oil into the mix. (Myself included) And some people even like to add a little plain soy sauce to the equation.  Any way you dip them though, they should be pretty ding dang tasty.

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This was what I learned to cook during my second Chinese Cooking Class.  It incorporates ginger, garlic, and peppers, three elements that my teacher told me were necessary ingredients for almost all Chinese home cooking.  This dish is a basic stir fry that combines sliced pork in a simple marinade with fragrant wild pepper oil, savory wood ear mushrooms, dried lilies, and the cool crunch of fresh cucumber.  Served with rice or a cold salad, this makes an excellent main course.  Like many Chinese dishes  I have learned to make, this one takes a good deal of preparation, but with careful scheduling and about 30 minutes of prep the night before, you can pull off the main bulk of cooking in less than an hour.

Garlic, Ginger, and X'ian Peppers

Flower Pepper Oil

  • 2 cups Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tablespoons Flower Peppers

Stir Fry

  • 8 oz. to 1 lb. Lean Pork
  • 1 tablespoon Dark Soy Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Malt Vinegar
  • 1 Egg White
  • 1 cup Dried Wood Ear Mushrooms
  • 1 cup Dried Day Lily Buds
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 1 cup Flower Pepper Oil
  • 2-3 Eggs
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • Fresh Ginger to taste
  • 2 – 5 Dried Hot Peppers, seeded and chopped into thirds (optional)

Goji Sesame Rice

  • 2 cups Steamed/Boiled Rice
  • 1 teaspoon Goji Berries
  • 1 teaspoon Raisins
  • 1 teaspoon Black Sesame Seeds

Phase One: Flower Pepper Oil and Rehydrating the Dried Ingredients

Flower Pepper Oil is a key ingredient in many Chinese dishes.  By infusing the spicy aroma and flavor of Flower Peppers into a simple base oil, such as Canola, Peanut, or Soybean, you can kick your stir fry dishes up a notch.  Pour at least 2 cups of oil into a wok, or deep skillet, followed by 2 tablespoons of dried Sichuan Flower Peppers.  Warm the oil over medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the pepper browns completely.  This process will fill your kitchen with the sweetly spicy aroma of Flower Peppers. Yum yum yum.  Remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool completely.  Once it is ready, strain the oil through a cheese cloth or fine mesh strainer to remove the Flower Peppers.  Keep the oil in a sealed bottle or container until it is used.

Infusing the Flower Pepper Oil

Wood Ear Mushrooms are also known as Brown Wood Fungus, Judas Ear Fungus, and Jelly Ear Fungus.  In your Asian grocery they may be called  木耳 mù ěr or 黑木耳 hēi mù ěr in Chinese or キクラゲ kikurage in Japanese. It is one of about a zillion edible mushrooms so be cafreful when you try to pick it out.  It looks like this.

Wood Ear Fungus and Dried Lilies

The yellow things on the right are Chinese Day Lily Buds.  They are called 金针菜 jīn​zhēn​cài​ in Chinese and are available at most Asian groceries.  If you have trouble finding them, take a simple approach and just ask for “dried lilies”.   Both the Wood Ear Mushrooms and the Lilies will need to be re-hydrated before they can be used.  This will take at least 30 minutes, so it’s not a bad idea to get this over with the night before if you know you’ll be short on time the next day.  Pop about 1 cup of each into bowls of cold, salted water and let them sit for 30 – 90 minutes.  Any less and they’ll remain dried out.  Any longer and they can begin to wilt.  When they have had enough to drink, drain them and set them aside, covered and refrigerated if you’re cooking them the next day.

Wood Ear Mushrooms and Day Lily Buds Re-hydrating in Salt Water

Phase Two: Prep Work

The first thing you’ll need to do is to slice and marinade the pork.  Start with a lean pork medallion and a very sharp knife.  Slice the pork as thinly as you can, and then chop the slices into bite sized pieces.  You can use between 8 ounces and 1 lb. for this recipe depending on the size of your crowd and your fondness for meat.  When the pork has been all cut up, toss it into a bowl followed by 1 tablespoon of Dark Soy Sauce, 1 tablespoon of Malt Vinegar, and 1 tablespoon Flower Pepper Oil.  This special soy sauce can be found at the Asian Grocery, but if you’d rather not add another odd bottle to your collection of household sauces, go ahead and use regular soy sauce.  It won’t affect the flavor all that much.  Add a little salt, an egg white, and a teaspoon of cornstarch.  Mix the marinade and pork well to make sure it is totally coated, then set it aside.

Large Slices of Ginger

Now comes the chopping.  In this dish, garlic and ginger play a major role.  You can go by your own taste on how much to add.  For me, I don’t hold back. I chop up about 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, and about 1/2 thumbs worth of fresh ginger when I cook this dish.  Peel the garlic and chop it into coarse, vertical pieces.  Shave the ginger, then slice it into large chunks.  These large cut chunks will add flavor, but are not meant to be bitten into during every bite of the meal.  As an added bonus, for those who don’t enjoy chomping into straight garlic or ginger, these large slices are easy to avoid.

Chunks of Garlic

Next, you’ll need to prep your re-hydrated ingredients.  Make sure your Mushrooms are totally drained, then carefully pull each one apart with your fingers, creating bite sized pieces from the giant individual mushrooms.  To prep the Lilies, pick them from the pile one at a time, and feel each end of the stalk.  If you feel a very hard nub at either end, chop it off and discard it.  You can leave the remainder of the lily whole, chop it in half, or even tie it in a knot if you want to get fancy.

Wood Mushrooms and Lily Buds Ready for Action

The cucumbers are next.  Get yourself a good sized English Cucumber, nice and long, but not too skinny.  Chop that sucker into 3 inch sections, discarding the round nubs on either side. Like so.

Chopping the Cucumber, Step One

Now, tip each section onto its flat side and cut it into 1/8 inch slices. Like this, and set them aside for later.

Chopping Cucumbers, Step Two

At some point it would be a great idea to throw on a pot of rice.  Long grain, basmati, whatever your pleasure, it’s best to have it steamed up, hot and ready when the dish is completed.  So get on it before you get cooking.  If you want to make your rice extra nutritious and delicious, not to mention extra interesting, toss in the following ingredients once the rice is finished cooking: 1 tablespoon Goji Berries, 1 tablespoon Raisins, and 1 Tablespoon Black Sesame Seeds.  Don’t these things look scrumptious together?  You know they do.

Goji Berries, Raisins, and Sesame Seeds, a Delightful Treat for Your Boring Rice.

What’s a Goji Berry you ask?  Sheesh.  If you must know, Goji Berries are small, red berries found throughout China, the Himalayas, and Tibet.  They grown on teeny little evergreen shrubs, and contain a boatload of goodies, such as antioxidants, beta-carotene, and the lesser known but very good for you cartenoid, zeaxanthin.  They are dried, and kind of look like pointy red raisins.  BTW, they are delicious in ramen.

Phase Three: Cooking!!

So you are finally ready to rock the wok.  Get the largest, most wok-like pan at your disposal and fill it with at least 1/2 cup of Flower Pepper Oil.  Heat that bad boy up over medium to high heat while you whisk together 2 – 3 eggs (depends on the size of your eggs, your appetite, and the amount of meat you’re using).  When the oil is hot, whisk the eggs like crazy to bubble them up, then drop them on in and watch the magic.  As a Westerner, the idea of deep frying scrambled eggs probably sounds completely crazy, but you’ll soon see the merit in this method.  Soon after your eggs hit the oil they will bloom into puffy delicious clouds.  Use a slotted spoon, or better yet, one of those round spatulas full of holes to nab the eggs out of the oil.  Once you’ve got them, drain them on a plate with a little paper towel and set them aside.

Now it’s time for the meat.  Are you ready?  Take a look at your wok first to assess the state of your oil.  It must be piping hot and plentiful.  Cooking the eggs may have reduced your supply, so go ahead and add some more if you think that your wok has less than 1/2 cup left.  Don’t be shy with the oil, you are cooking Chinese!  Trust me, no matter how much you add, they are adding more in China.  You really can’t overdo it.  Just make sure it is HOT.  Depending on your stove, you may need to set it on high.

Once you are ready, drop your marinated pork into the wok.  Right after adding the pork, take advantage of the slightly cooled oil by adding your chopped garlic, ginger, and hot peppers.  Continue tossing the pork until it has cooked.  Now, add 2 tablespoons of Chinese Cooking Wine followed by the Mushrooms and Lilies.  Cook these for a couple of minutes, stirring and tossing all the time.  Next, add the Scrambled Egg.  As you continue to stir, try to deliberately break up the egg.  Finally, add the chopped cucumber and continue to stir-fry just until the last ingredient has become hot.  Remove the mixture from the heat and serve it immediately along with your delicious, Goji Berry enhanced Rice.

Goji Sesame Rice

Sliced Pork & Wood Ear Mushrooms

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Leftovers are a challenge that require some cunning to overcome. Without a dash of daring, a tad of spice, or a bit of flair, your leftover meat bits can leave you unfulfilled. They dry out, they lose flavor, they just plain suck it up. After my Mom whipped up a Rump Roast that would make angels cry it seemed a shame to reheat the once perfectly cooked meat and eat it in the same way. My answer? Curry! Who doesn’t like curry, anyway? By stewing the meat in this creamy curry stew/sauce it remained juicy and tender. Best of all, noone suffered from Dejavu when it came round for its second show.  This basic curry sauce can also be used to create first round meat dishes, and vegetarian or seafood based curries.  Just quick cook any meat or fish on the side, then add it when I mention adding the “meat”.  If you are looking for some other veggies that get along with curry, try cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, or black beans.  One of my favorite vegetarian additions to curry is tempeh.  Chop it into bite sized rectangles, fry it in a little hot peanut oil, and sprinkle it with a dash of soy sauce. Your curry will love it!

Ingredients

  • 1 Yellow Onion (Thin Scliced)
  • 4 tbsp. Butter (Salted)
  • 2 tbsp. Curry Power
  • 2 Cloves Minced Garlic
  • 2 Cloves Grated Garlic
  • 2 Knobs Minced Ginger
  • 2 Knobs Grated Ginger
  • 2 – 4 Dried Chinese Hot Peppers (X’ian Peppers) cut into thirds – Optional
  • 2 Cups Vegetable Broth
  • 1 can Coconut Milk
  • 2 tbsp. Wondra
  • Leftover Meat (I used 1 lb. Rump Roast, chopped into bite size pieces)
  • Leftover Veggies (I used 1 cup peas)
  • Fresh Veggies (I used one sweet potato, diced)

Directions

  1. Whisk together Coconut Milk and Vegetable Broth in a microwave safe bowl, then warm in the microwave for 45 – 60 seconds. Set aside.
  2. In a deep skillet, combine butter, onion, minced garlic and ginger.  Saute over medium heat until the onions have browned.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high, and begin slowly adding wondra, teaspoon at a time, along with small amounts of the Coconut Milk/Veg Broth mixture.  Mix constantly to create a smooth texture.  Continue adding liquid until the mixture is uniform in texture.
  4. Add any meat or seafood followed by any fresh veggies and the grated garlic and ginger.  If you are adding hot peppers, now is the time.  Try to remember how many pieces of hot pepper you’ve added so that you can remove them at the end.
  5. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once it is boiling strong, reduce the heat and leave the curry to simmer for the next 10 – 15 minutes.  While the mixture simmers, stir occasionally, keeping an eye on the texture of the sauce and any fresh vegetables you have added. You don’t want the sauce to burn, or for your veggies to become overcooked.
  6. When your veggies are tender and the sauce has reduced a bit, give the curry a taste and add any salt or other spices you think it might need.  Carefully remove any hot peppers you have added. (Chopsticks work well for this step.) Then add any leftover or pre-cooked veggies that you like.  If you are adding any tempeh or tofu you can do so now.  Let everything new warm up, then remove from heat and serve along with rice or egg noodles.

I would have included a photo, but curry just isn’t that good looking. Tasty though, quite tasty.

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Meat: The Final Frontier

Bobleo recently remarked that my cooking skills have really risen to a new level since we returned home from China.  I couldn’t help but agree.  The flavors that I am now whipping out are far more impressive, and each meal that I’ve attempted so far has been not only successful, but memorably delicious.  So what has been missing from my culinary projects so far?  Was it patience?  Knowledge?  Technique?  Perhaps it was Asian influences?  Though I’m sure these things play a role in my growth as a cook, there has definitely been a far more influential puzzle piece missing for some time.  Before I reveal the identity of this mysterious component, let me first apologize to all of the sweet fuzzy creatures out there.  The thing that has been missing is MEAT.

You see, I spent the majority of my youth as a vegetarian.  My meat loving father jumped on the vegetarian train when I was about seven years old, much to the chagrin of my Mother, the proud owner of an entire freezer full of frozen steaks.  The experiment in vegetarianism was a long, difficult journey.  During the eight years my parents and sisters and I dedicated to vegetarianism we suffered through many a horrible dish.  My father would cook up insane concoctions nearly every time he returned from a business trip to the West Coast.  Inspired by the mysteriously delicious an inexpilicably meat free dishes he had encountered there, he would create strange and often disasterous meals.  My mother, more or less at a loss without her carniverous knowledge to work with, often served up steaming piles of mushy veggies and beans over pasta.  Though we must have been served hundreds of different combinations of this meal over the years, my sisters and I simply referred to the concept as “Vegetable Mush”.

These years had lead me to believe that my parents weren’t very good cooks.  A very strange thing, since they both come from food families, are adventurous eaters, and are probably the most genuine “foodies” you could meet.  They know how to eat, that is for sure.  It was always a mystery to me that they didn’t seem to be phenomenal cooks.  To be fair they each had a few dishes that could really knock your socks off.  For instance, give my Mom a piece of salmon and she can blow your mind.  Show up at my parent’s house on a Sunday morning and my father will stuff you with perfect Belgian waffles, and enough crispy bacon to feed an army.  They can cook, don’t get me wrong, but looking back at my childhood, the food wasn’t always so hot.

The missing heart of my parents cooking turns out to be that same element that I have just begun to dabble in: MEAT.  Bobleo and I have spent the last few weeks at my folks’ place in Florida, and over the time we’ve spent here we have been utterly stuffed with one delicious meal after another.  My parents have long since abandoned vegetarianism, and now that I have jumped off the boat they have been free to cook what they like best.  Oh lord, how long has this been going on?  What have I been missing?  Rump Roast, capped in fat and onions, roasted in a bed of garlic, Short Ribs braised in red wine and herbs, prosciutto, bacon, bacon, bacon!!!  I’m in love, and I don’t think you can turn that sort of thing off.

So, I begin my meat-ducation here in Florida as I watch my Mom expertly prepare various cuts of various animals in her kitchen every evening.  Dinner is an event at my parents’ house.  I thought that it was just a weekend thing, but oh no.  My Mom spends anywhere from 1 – 4 hours every day cooking, depending on the complexity of the meal.  They both hit the wholesale club on the weekend, scheming what to eat for the next week or two, and purchasing meat.  Every day my Mom hits the local market to pick up fresh veggies and herbs to go along with the evening’s meal.  It’s not the chaotic race to dinnertime that I remember as a kid.  Now, my parents cook for the love of it, a beautiful thing, and something I hope to pick up on over our time here.  I really have very little knowledge of meat.  It is a strange new world for me, but for the love of cooking, I plan to go boldly where I have never gone before.

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Lately I have been totally obsessed with the blog, Bakerella.  This amazingly talented lady creates oodles of gorgeous (and delicious, I suspect) baked and candied goodies.  On of her signature creations is the Cake Pop, a smooshed cupcake rolled into a ball, covered with melted candy, and popped onto a stick.  Basic Cake Pops are pretty cool, but what really blows me a away are amazing decoration ideas she comes up with for them.  She makes chicks, sheep, easter eggs, even mini cupcakes out of her Basic Cake Pop recipe.

Red Velvet Batter Looks Pretty Gorey

I have been dying to try these things out, so when my neighbor had a birthday I hopped on the excuse!  He’s a huge Bruce Campbell and horro movie fan, and I wanted to make something fun that would be unique, yummy, and hilarious.  So? I made him an army of Cake Pop Zombies!

I started out by making a run to my local party store, and then grocery store, to pick up supplies: lollipop sticks, candy melt wafers and dyes, red velvet cake mix, a tub of pre-made frosting, Red Hots, Baked Bean Candies, and a huge, red, gummy spider.  When I got home, I threw together the cake mix and popped it in the oven.  While the cake baked, then cooled, I prepped my candy for use as decorations.  I cut several of the Red Hots in half, giving me an assortment of creepy red eye shapes.  I chopped the Gummy Spider into bits so that it could be used as brains.

After the cake was cool, I popped it out of its pans and into a huge mixing bowl.  Using a spatula, then a fork, then a spoon, then back to the spatula, I smashed and crumbled the cake until it was totally pulverized.

Crumbling the Cake

Crumbling the Cake

Next, I mixed in the entire tub of frosting.  This is where I think I made my first mistake.  First of all, Bakerella’s recipe calls for Cream Cheese Frosting specifically.  This detail had abandoned my brain while I was at the store, so of course, I picked up Vanilla Frosting.  Secondly, Bakerella suggests adding just enough Frosting to moisten and bind the cake.  In my enthusiasm, I added the entire tub at once.  Not too bright.

Mixing the Cake with Frosting

Mixing the Cake with Frosting

Forming my Cake Balls was challenging.  They cracked, they crumbled, they were pretty much uncooperative in general, the little bastards.  They were more or less spherical by the time I popped them in the fridge to chill – that was good enough for me.  I melted the Candy Wafers as they chilled, then took them out to insert the lollipop sticks.

Oh Cake Balls!

Oh Cake Balls!

Now comes the really disastrous part!  For some reason, I found coating these Cake Pops to be extremely difficult.  Because the Cakes were a little loose, they left crumbs in the coating!  Plus, I could not get the candy to stop tracing so that it would leave a smooth surface.  In fact, I couldn’t even dip the pops because the coating was just way too thick.  I am totally clueless as to what went wrong here.  I wound up having to spread the coating on with a spoon, which looked sort of awful.  I suspect that A) my Cake Pops were too big, and too shoddily constructed, and B) my candy coating was maybe not hot enough.  I had it in a double boiler, but maybe it needed more heat?

Coated Cake Pops

Coated Cake Pops

Zombies turned out to be a great first run of the Cake Pop recipe.  I’m afraid the technique has escaped me a bit, and I couldn’t for the life of me achieve a smooth surface on my Pops.  These guys ended up with all kinds of weird deformities.  Good for zombies, but if I had been trying to make cute chickies or easter eggs I would have had to abandon ship.  Luckily, all these craters, cake crumbs, and cracks gave my little Zombie Heads extra charachter.  I even decorated the true casualties, the Pops that has smashed or fallen from sticks during the candy coating process.

Cake Pop Zombies

Cake Pop Zombies

I used a tiny paring knife to carve out mouths and eye sockets for my zombies.  I filled these cavities with colored candy coating, dribbling them with blood and black ooze.  Some of them even had their heads chopped open so that I could show off their gummy brains. Yum?

Yummy? Terrifying? Yummyfying?

Yummy? Terrifying? Yummyfying?

Dean, and his wife Meg,  seemed to like his Zombie Army, though I think they might have freaked out their kids. 🙂

The Zombie Cake Pop Army!

The Zombie Cake Pop Army!

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This story is a little over due, but I felt the urge to post it anyway, if only to express my love for the particular beer that is invented here.  Many weekends ago Scott Bobleo and I popped off for a quick trip to see my sister, Heather, in Boston.  While we were in town, we decided to check out The Sam Adams Brewery Tour.  Since Heather lives so close by it made visiting extra tempting, but I would recommend stopping by to any beer lover. 

SA-1

Our tour was particularly great thanks to our tour guide, a young brunette who seemed to have a genuine love of beer, as well as a quick wit, and a talent for riling up crowds of tourists.  She was a lot of fun, and continued to impress us with answers to each and every question that was hurled at her.  Her responses were both educated and hilarious, making the whole experience really enjoyable.

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Apparently, Boston's Sam Adams Brewery is more of a formulary these days.  The folks here formulate new beers, ales, and lagers (which thanks to our tour guide I now know the difference between) and brew small batches of their most limited edition recipes.  The short tour takes you through a few rooms of tanks, barrels, hoppers, and gizmos, then into the tasting room, which is likely considered the highlight of the tour.  Each guest receives a small souvenir glass to taste from, and a selection of three popular Sam Adams beers.  After the three quick drinks everyone wanders into the gift shop with a sweet little buzz going on.  All in all, a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.

On the way we home we saw some nifty metal sculptures outside a metal studio.  Heather was a sport and posed for me with these lovely hooker robots.  We also discovered that there was a Boomerangs outlet right outside the Sam Adams Brewery. Lucky! Heather got a bag full of loot for 3 bucks!  We visited the regular Boomerangs store front the next day, where I picked up tons of great stuff.  It was definitely one of the best thrift stores that I have been to in a while.  Next time you hit up Jamaica Plain, make sure to stop by Boomerangs on Centre Street.  They have great stuff, and their profits go toward Aids activism.  Good deals, AND good karma, all in one shopping trip!

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By the way, one of my photos from our Sam Adams trip is being featured on Boston's Schmap, the online map and tour guide.  How exciting!

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