Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Paddington Cookies

I wanted to follow up the post about my shower with a "quick" post about how I made the Paddington Cookies (and really, any decorated sugar cookies). The process is pretty much the same no matter the design: Outline and flood, outline and flood. Add details (if necessary).

I've now finished the post and it's not "quick". Sorry I lied to you for a few sentences. But if you have ever wondered how I make these cookies, you can now stop wondering and instead be amazed by how much labor goes into them :P

Materials
To ice sugar cookies like this I use royal icing, which hardens as it dries. This means you can layer colors and additional piping to come up with fun designs...like Paddington!

Note: Meringue powder is what makes the icing harden, so it's crucial!

You can pipe using sandwich bags, but if you've got a lot to do I recommend just buying piping bags because they're slightly thicker plastic and easier to handle and the seams won't split on you when you're dealing with thicker icing or more pressure using a smaller tip. Trust me on this one.

You'll also want to invest in piping tips (I've linked to all the ones I used below - but Wilton #1, 2, and 3 round tips should do the trick). If you're using the same colors for outlines and details, tip couplers to save yourself the trouble of rebagging your icing when you change tips.

So that's:

Bake Your Cookies
The first step is obviously to make the cookies and let them cool. There were about 100 cookies for me to ice (50 Paddingtons and 50 suitcases)...so I narrowed it down to one tray to show you the progress (until I needed that tray to bake something on, then I switched to a platter :P).

I set my cookies out on baking sheets to decorate - it makes life quite a bit easier.

FYI - my mom baked these to lessen the burden on me. Good thing too, because these were way more intricate than I anticipated, and it took me all week to get them done. I guess gone are the days of my marathon sessions staying up all night! Pregnancy has ruined that for me, lol. I made the icing for these the Sunday before the shower (which was on a Saturday) and I didn't put the final touches on until that morning.

Anyways. This was the start. Naked Paddingtons.


Make Your Icing
Royal icing is simple to make:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup water
  • food coloring (I use gel color since it's more pigmented and doesn't mess up your icing consistency)
Mix together the sugar and meringue powder with a whisk, then add the water and extract and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and has no lumps of sugar. You can do this by hand or with a mixer.

Note: You want to make enough of each color that you don't have to worry about making more icing and trying to match the color! Once it dries the icing will be a slightly different color than what you started with so it's very hard to match.

Icing: Piping and Flooding
The main thing to know when icing cookies like this is the difference between piping and flooding.

Piping refers to using a bag filled with icing and appropriate sized tip to pipe an outline or details using icing. When piping, your icing should be slightly thicker and able to hold its shape, so you use less water to make it. If your icing melts into a puddle when you pipe it then you need to add more sugar.

Flooding refers to pouring/spreading icing into the outlined space to fill it. When flooding, you thin your icing with water so it spreads and self-levels. If the icing does not self level, add a little more water. Once you flood, you set the cookies aside for the icing to harden.

For reference: I make my icing in one big batch at piping stiffness/consistency, divide it into bowls add color, pipe, and then thin out the icing in the bowl as I'm ready to flood. If you make your icing and it's too thin, you can always add additional sugar to thicken it, or vice versa.

Outline piping
For outlining, I used a semi-thick icing for this that held it's shape, and a Wilton #3 round piping tip.

I started by piping the outlines for all of the colors I'd need, as you can see from these pictures!

Blue jackets!

Red hats!

Brown heads, legs, and hands (I filled the hands at the same time because they were so small)!
Flooding
Next up, I thinned out some of my icing a little and flooded everything I'd outlined.

Note: I did not thin all of the icing because I still needed some thick stuff for piping on details later! I left what was in the bags in the bags to use for detailing later.

You'll notice that the icing self-levels (if it's at the right consistency). As long as it's thin enough you'll get a nice flat finish after you flood and the icing hardens.
Hats! 
Fur!

Jackets!
Whew! They were starting to look like something at this point, but I remember being nervous that they wouldn't look good when they were finished.

Brief Intermission to say...
Before I continue - check out this next picture. I have no idea how this happened, but I freaked out when I saw it. Normally, the icing should not go all "distressed" looking when it dries. This has never happened before, and I was actually pretty upset that it did.

I have a few theories about why it might have happened:
  1. The icing was too thin/watery when I flooded (but I don't know...I've done this so many times that I really don't think this was the culprit).
  2. I overmixed the icing and introduced too much air.
  3. The room was too cold (our thermostat is set to 66)
  4. Christina it doesn't matter, you've said you're not going to make these for a while again anyways!
In the end it actually ended up adding some character, given that Paddington is a story from the 50s the distressed/vintage look suited him. Jennie even told me she really liked it and thought I did it on purpose...but I didn't know at this point that they would turn out so cute so I was pretty upset about ruining my cookies.

Piping Details
To pipe the details I took a slightly thinner tip and the piping bags from before and started drawing! For these guys I needed to pipe the following details:
  • Collars (blue)
  • Coat seams (blue)
  • Pockets (blue)
  • Hat outlines (red)
  • Hat brims (red)
  • Coat fasteners (white)
  • Buttons (brown)
  • Faces (black)
For the blue, red, and white details I used a Wilton #2 round piping tip. For the buttons and faces I used a Wilton #1 round piping tip.

Collars, coat seams, and pockets.

Hat details (red) and coat fasteners (white).

Buttons added!
The very last step, which I did Saturday morning, was to add the faces. I waited until the last possible minute because of all colors, black icing is prone to bleeding since it is highly pigmented. (I used to use black Wilton food coloring and it always bled. I read that Americolor is better for black and doesn't bleed as much, which is why I now buy a different brand. It seems to have worked.) The good news is that these faces didn't bleed and had plenty of time to dry before I left for my mom's!
Faces!
You'll probably guess, I repeated all of these steps with the suitcases (although with fewer colors, these were much easier):
Piped outlines.

Flooded.

Piped details.

They dried all distressed. Again.

Adding some initials!
And Ta Da!
The final product! A tin full of Paddingtons!


A close up of the finished bear and suitcase, before assembling the favors:


And now, I pat myself on the back for finally posting about sugar cookies! The pat is not only for posting about how I ice them, but for remembering to take pictures of the entire process and finished product to share! I have always forgot some part when photographing...so yay!

*Pats self on back.*

This is something I've been meaning to post about (literally) for years, so I'm glad I was finally able to, and to show off the only batch of cookies I ever prepared like this that truly felt like they were for me.

I hope you've enjoyed reading - and if you ever decide to decorate sugar cookies I hope you find this helpful - be sure to let me know how they turn out too!!


x


If you're interested in seeing some of the other cookies I've made through the years, I created a public album on Google Photos which you can view here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Please Look After This Bear

Aghhhh!!

Mini-Update on the Day to Day
I've finally gotten over the laziness that accompanied the cold I had last weekend (yes, it did actually take all 9 days...kind of) and this week things go back to "normal"! Or as normal as they can be while we wait wait wait for this kid to show up, since I'll be at the doctor every week from here on out. Baby is doing fine and growing well...and doctor said he/she can show up whenever now and we'll be good!

We're still working on painting (it takes me forever, doesn't it?), furniture needs to be set up, and we're both trying to maintain workout routines in addition to our full time work lives. And there are still dogs to be walked and vetted - Zorra is right at that age where she needs boosters and tests and stuff - so I'd say we're keeping pretty busy!

Anyways, with Baby Shower #3 coming up this weekend, I really need to post about Baby Shower #2! (Baby Shower #1 was at work, you can see details here!) Fair warning, I only have pictures of the decorations...none of the people who came or all the things we were gifted, but who cares about that stuff.

Baby Shower #2 - Please Look After This Bear
When I was four, my Nana and Auntie came over from England for the first time. My Nana brought me a Paddington Bear, and that bear became my absolute favorite toy. I have always had a thing for stuffed animals - just ask Anthony, since we have about 5 boxes of them in storage that I refuse to get rid of because I've saved them my whole life for my children - but Paddington was different. I don't know why, but I've always, always loved him so much more than other story-bears (like Winnie-the-Pooh, although Corduroy holds a close second!).

Over the years I've amassed a collection of Paddingtons. My Auntie bought me my next one, then my parents, my grandparents (mom's side) and it just kind of snowballed from there. A few years ago Build-A-Bear had a limited edition Paddington that I found while looking for a stuffed animal for my cousin's daughter, which ended with me buying myself one because how could I not??

The result is that I have somewhere near 20 stuffed Paddingtons to my name. As it happens, the only other nursery theme in running for this kid was Paddington, which Anthony denied in favor of Super Mario (booooooooo, I should not have recommended it!)

But you get the picture. So when it came down to decided on a shower theme, my mom had two ideas: Harry Potter or Paddington Bear.

In my mind it wasn't even a hard choice. I told her Paddington right away - no offense to my friends or generation because I obviously love Harry Potter...but Harry Potter showers are so overdone right now. Plus, Paddington has the bonus of being a (teddy) bear, which I feel fits perfectly in line with the idea of babies and all things soft and cozy.

My mom gets full credit for a majority of this shower, for the food, making the invitations (and thank yous!) and coming up with cute ideas like the "Please look after this bear" name tags and marmalade sandwiches in a hat...but all credit for the spectacular decorations and set up go to my Aunt Anne and mom's friend Connie. And cupcake credit goes fully to my cousin Jennie - there were so many compliments on her cupcakes including these amazing Banoffee Cupcakes that...well they were amazing. And I know Jennie got a ton of compliments because everyone thought I made the cupcakes until redirected to her haha.

Anyways, I got to my mom's early because she'd asked me to make some sugar cookies for the favors and they needed to be assembled into bags and put out for people, so some organizing was still going on when I got there...

...but I walked in to the house and was absolutely floored. Everything looked so adorable and I couldn't believe all of the ideas they'd come up with, straight down to the paper bag "suitcase" favors and teddy grahams on the tables. It was like everywhere I looked there was some little detail that made it that much more adorable. Here are some pictures, to give you an idea!
Bunting everywhere!


You can't see them...but there were teddy grahams and gummy bears in the bowls on the tables!

I took pictures before everything was completely set up...but all of the gifts ended up on the stairs so they'd be out of the way. And there were a lot of them. There is another picture of this room later!

How many Paddingtons do you count in all of these pictures?


I thought this was such a cute idea...marmalade sandwiches in the hat, with a tag that says "A prudent bear always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat in case of emergency."

A tin of Paddingtons.
Favors completed and bagged! The bags also had little pots of orange marmalade in them :)

Dessert trays!! Strawberry, chocolate, and banoffee cupcakes (they were a HIT), shortbread, pizzelles, and custard cremes.

Paddington-esque name tags.


A Nigel, bored and waiting for the crowd.
Everything was so cute, and once we were all set up we just had to wait for people to start arriving! In no time at all we had a full crowd, everyone from family to high school and college friends to my Ragnar teammates (who OMG got my a BOB Ironman stroller AHHHHH!!!). ! It was so great for me to be able to see nearly all of my friends in the same place for once, to be able to talk and eat and catch up with everyone. A few of them even brought their own kids, which was pretty fun to see.

We talked and ate for a long while, and after I sugared myself up and had some caffeine it was time to open allll the presents.

I am not big on public present opening...but I've been told this is one of those things people really like. They want to see you unwrap what they put effort into finding just for you...so I went with it.

You guys.

There were so many gifts. I know it took me a solid 90 minutes to open them, and I was exhausted at the end. So many big boxes, some light, some heavy...and Nigel laying literally right in front of my feet the entire time, ensuring that things had to be lifted over and around him! He's ever my protector ;)

My Favorite Part....
But my favorite part of the gift opening were the books. I had asked my mom to include a note on the invitation for people to bring books (inscription optional) in lieu of or in addition to a card. I was so excited to see the books people picked to share, and we have a solid little library going for this kid with everything from Spot the Dog to Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein to all of the illustrated Harry Potter books (two copies of Sorcerer's Stone, as it happens). And everyone wrote the nicest things, or picked books that they loved which made it all even more meaningful.

In addition to the relief we'll feel when the nursery is set up, I can't wait to put up a bookshelf with all of these books. I guess it gives us some motivation to get on with it!!

Final Thoughts
And I think...that's it. I love the shower my mom threw so much. It was pretty perfect, and very 'me', which is funny because I've never been a person who liked showers. It was casual and informal, and even the gift opening was bearable. It is mostly just amazing to see how supported and well loved this baby already is. It's starting to feel very real (because the moving, kicking think inside me doesn't make it real enough :P), and it's clear we're in the home stretch now!


x

Thursday, November 30, 2017

BEST SOUP EVER - Caldo de Res recipe

So my last post was half about how sick Anthony and I were this weekend...and the sickness perseveres. I thought I was getting better, but I'm still run down and coughing and sniffling, which is great.

As a result, both Anthony and I have really been craving soup. Lots and lots of soup. And Anthony - having grown up with a ton of Hispanic influence (especially when it comes to food) - has been craving something other than the chicken noodle variety. I'm ashamed to admit that on Sunday we spent a ridiculous amount of money to get "Caldo" from a Mexican restaurant near us because it was all he wanted...he kept talking about this soup his dad makes with all these vegetables and chicken or beef...and with him talking about it, it became all I wanted too.

Well, since the sickness lingers, by yesterday it was still all we wanted for our sore throats and congestion, but I was not about to drop another $30 on a few portions of soup again. So I decided to try my hand at making some. And now I need to write down everything I did to make it, otherwise I'll forget it. Should you decide to replicate this, you're going to be really glad I did because this was SO good.

The below recipe is loosely based on this one that I found on allrecipes.com. I really just needed a base to start, and I tailored the soup based on what we like (for example, neither of us really wanted corn in our soup so I left it out, and this recipe didn't have nearly enough seasonings, so I added a ton). I'll list out everything I put in the Caldo last night, but know you can customize based on personal preference and what vegetables are in season, if that's your jam!

I can attest that this soup is very filling and super nutritious (because it's literally packed with veggies), and it's easy-peasy to make. It also makes a lot. We're both very happy about this and will be eating it for days.

And a fun little aside - I texted my mom and asked her if she'd ever had caldo, guessing she hadn't. She hadn't. I then proceeded to send pictures and brag about my amazing dinner to her and a friend, while they followed on jealously. I even proclaimed it the best soup I'd ever had. Not exaggerating. I have a feeling next time she comes for dinner this is what I'll make.

I may also have made a jesting comment to Anthony about being deprived by "growing up white" and never being exposed to this soup before the weekend. I was only half joking...the flavors in our house are definitely more varied than they were in the house I grew up in, and I love that!

Anyways...it's safe to say, there's a lot of caldo in our future. Recipe(ish) below - be sure to read through the notes as well for some tips and tricks!

#weneedbiggerbowls


Caldo des Res (Mexican Beef Soup)
Ingredients
1-2 lbs beef shank, with bone*
1 onion, roughly chopped*
3 cloves garlic, roughly diced
1 can (14oz) diced tomatos
1 jalapeno, roughly diced
2-3 Tbsp oregano (I know, it seems like a lot but flavor!!!)
1 Tbsp granulated onion
2 tsp garlic powder
2-3 Tbsp Adobo seasoning (Adobo is amazing and we use it in everything)
4 cups beef stock (I used salt free since Adobo has salt in it)
4 cups water*
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 zucchini/squash (I used one zucchini and one yellow squash), rinsed and roughly chopped
1-2 potatoes, quartered
1-2 chayotes*
1/2 head savory cabbage, sliced
1 lime, juiced
handful cilanto, chopped

For Garnish*
diced white onion
cilantro
fresh squeezed lime

Directions
1. Season beef shank with salt and pepper, then sear on both sides in a few tablespoons of hot oil in the pot you'll be cooking in. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
2. Add the tomatoes, jalapeno, and seasonings and cook until the mixture starts to bubble, then add some of the stock and bring to a simmer.
3. Start piling in the vegetables you're chopping, adding more stock as you go to cover the veggies, bringing to a simmer each time (when you run out of stock, start adding the water).
4. Once all vegetables have been added, squeeze in the juice from one lime and add a handful of chopped cilantro (reserve the rest of the cilantro and lime for garnish).
5. Let simmer 30-40 minutes, until the meat starts to come away from the bone. Remove the shank, slice, and return meat (and bone) to pot and simmer another 10 minutes.
6. Serve, topped with garnishes. See notes below (and picture above) for additional garnish ideas.**

Notes:
*I used a little over 1 lb of shank. You can make this with chicken instead - I want to try it sometime with chicken legs/stock. You should still sear the chicken before you start adding the other ingredients
*Roughly chopped really means that. You want big chunks of veggies in your soup...for reference, I'm talking 1 1/2-2 inch hunks of veggies
*I say 4 cups water...it's a guess. Add as much as you want to make it your desired level of soupiness
*Seasoning depends highly on personal preference, so taste as you add!
*I didn't have chayote, but you should add it and I will next time, probably some yuca too!
*We added extras to our garnish: avocado, pickled jalapeno, rice (Anthony), and I added a hard boiled egg for extra protein...but you MUST have cilantro, lime, and onion 
**This is traditionally served with warm tortillas on the side. I like my soup with bread (#whitepeoplefood), so I got a loaf of bread and had it with that.

There you have it!
I've never made this before, it was super easy, and Anthony even thought it was way better than what we got on Sunday. Anthony was actually impressed with my attempt, which always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling :)

I also want to follow up with the below pictures...this is what the pot looked like after I served up our soup (note the use of a cast iron dutch oven...omg good decision to make it in that!). After I served up our bowls, I added more stock and water and seasonings and brought it all back to a simmer while we ate...we plan to eat this for a few days (and freeze some) so no harm stretching it further! It's obvious that there are plenty of vegetables to spare! My pot just wasn't big enough!

The bottom line of this post (aside from preserving my memory of how to make this), is that you should go make this. Like right now, tonight, for dinner.

And you can thank me later!


x