Archive for category At Home

Too Busy Baking to Bake Anything

You might have noticed that things are little slow here at The Bake Cakery.  OK, a lot slow.  While I haven’t been baking goods of the sugary variety, there has been something else baking:

For those that know Jason and I, you might have thought this announcement would never come, but with grad school finished up and 8 solid years of marriage to look back on, we decided it was time!

I have been experiencing the joys of pregnancy: namely nausea, exhaustion, and moodiness. Without an appetite, I haven’t had the desire to bake or even think about new recipes for the past few weeks.  Now, with my first trimester about to end, I’m finally starting to feel hungry again.  I did have my first peanut butter craving and whipped up a batch of these cookies to celebrate.

According to the What to Expect When You’re Expecting App, Baby Beaird is in the peach stage of the produce journey at 12 weeks and 3 days.

This will be the first grandbaby on my side and he/she will join 4 other sweeties on the Beaird side.  Between moving to a new city, buying a fixer upper and deciding to start a family, we know we’ll have our hands (& hearts) full for a good long time… and that’s just the way we like it.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you bake, you’ve probably shelled out a pretty penny for vanilla extract. Nothing beats that extra sweetness and flavor in a cake, frosting or cookie! At $8.99 a pop for the cheap-o corn syrup stuff or $20+ for the really good stuff, its pricey. You can be like my friend Joey and buy a gallon at Sam’s and yes, that should last you a while.  But what if you could easily make your own at home?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Now when I say easily, please know it doesn’t take much effort, but I didn’t say fast. If you start now, you could have some ready for Christmas cookies! I’ve had the one above going for about 2 months and it’s not dark enough yet. Luckily I’m patient and have plenty of store bought vanilla bean paste to last a while. I find that we are pretty disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Have you ever spent much time thinking about how vanilla extract is made, what makes it wonderful and where it comes from?  If you just want to hurry up and get your extract started (the sooner the better…) then skip down to the recipe. Otherwise, stick around and I’ll share what I know about this amazing “bean”!

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla beans actually come from an orchid. Crazy right?  I just saw the Vanilla Orchid in person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (the orchid greenhouse is the best part!)  To get high yields, orchid farmers hand pollinate the flowers. Once formed, the beans are cured and fermented for up to a year to allow the aromatic flavors to develop. (Now you know why it costs so much!) Commercial vanilla extract uses grain alcohol to dissolve the flavor compounds of the vanilla.  The FDA requires a very set ratio of vanilla bean to water to alcohol in order to label it vanilla “extract”.  From what I’ve read, it takes up to two full years for vanilla extract to reach its full flavor. We won’t be quite so precise (or patient) with ours.

I put my jar in the pantry where its very dark with the door closed.  I see it there and I remember to shake it up.  One of the things I read that I’m excited to try is that as you use the extract, top it off with vodka. Supposedly the extract will stay flavorful for 7 years. I also can’t wait to try the same approach with lemon peels, lavender and other flavors that might make a nice extract for baking!


Ideas for Decorating an Apartment: Vinyl Wall Designs

Renters can decorate too, or so that’s what I’m telling myself.

After owning a home that we completely remodeled, living in a (very new) rental is somewhat of an adjustment. We were used to spending nights and weekends on DIY improvement projects and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves!Target Birds & Branches Vinyl Clock

I love to scour the Target endcaps for cheap clearance finds. On one fateful trip, I found this glorious “Birds & Branches” clock for just $6.24 (check the tag!) and it had to come home with me.  That was back when we owned our place and I never did find the time or the right place to hang it… Until now!

Target Clearance Price Tag

Our new rental has tons of style with pretty moldings, high ceilings and lots of details… but it doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about us or our taste. The blank wall above the fireplace was screaming for some art and this clock was the perfect size.

What’s great about it is that when we’re ready to move, the vinyl peels right off.  We even hung the clock part with a thumb tack so as to make the tiniest hole possible.

Removable Vinyl Wall Art

The clock came with extra birds that we felt would clutter the look.  My uber creative hubs had the idea to put one bird above the window molding for some added flair.

See him way over there on the right looking back at his buddy on the clock?.. No? Ok, I’ll zoom in:

Vinyl Wall Art

Overall we are excited to be city dwellers and have accepted the fact that we just have to get creative in our decorating. Stay tuned for more ideas as we slowly put together our new place!

Organized Cake Decorating Supplies

Keeping all my favorite cake decorating supplies in order is no small feat.  They range from tiny piping tips to a rather big turntable that I used to get an even coat of frosting on my layer cakes.  For the more frequently used supplies (spatulas, fondant tools, piping tips & bags, sprinkles etc.) I adapted the Wilton Ultimate Tool Caddy to fit my needs and make it easy to take on the go.

Wilton Cake Decorating Supplies Organizer

Luckily it is well-designed to fit a lot of the typical baker’s equipment, like this handy food coloring compartment:

Wilton Food Coloring Holder

But… I took it one step beyond Wilton’s vision and added some of my own touches to make it more practical.  I like to know where to find things, so labeling and organizing is an addiction second nature for me.  I’m also a little crafty and like to be unique so I did some personalizing while I was at it!

How I keep my Cake Decorating Supplies at Bay:

  1. Using a Silhouette SD that I borrowed from a friend (seriously the coolest crafting tool on the face of the earth!) I cut my logo out of sticker paper and applied it to bottom compartment.
  2. Bake Caker Logo Cut With Silhouette HD

  3. After putting everything in its place I used a label maker with black ink and clear labels (I don’t recommend the one I have to anyone… but it did the job). Now I don’t have to hunt for any of the supplies and I know where to put them back when I’m done making a mess in the kitchen (or better yet… hubby knows where to put them if he’s helping me with dishes)!Cake Supply Labels
  4. The last thing I did was get my piping tips in order…umm…like… by number. (Ok, maybe this was taking it a step too far but I looove it!)  Since the tip compartment is clear, I created a template that fits underneath, showing the spot where each numbered tip lives. If I have more than one of a type it just gets stacked on top!
  5. Cake Tip OrganizerWilton Piping Tips

I keep my fun BakeCakery stickers in one compartment so I don’t forget to include them with each cake. I soOoOO want to do a cake competition just so I can show off my sweet cake box!

How do you stay organized when it comes to kitchen gadgets?

To-Do: 2011

My heart flutters for goals, plans, to-do lists, and perfectly mapped out calendars. That being said, I’m not a big resolution maker.  I tend to make adjustments to goals throughout the year when things don’t feel right.  This year, I’ve decided to make a To-Do list for myself instead.

  1. Bake croissants from scratch. I been dreaming of this 24 hour process occurring in my kitchen, but have yet to muster up the gumption to make it happen.  That buttery flaky goodness is calling my name and its going to happen in 2011.
  2. Trim unnecessary expenses. With all the new technology and gadgets that surface every year (and a husband who makes his living using them) it seems like there is always something new to buy or a service we can’t live without.  3 years ago I never needed text messaging and last month I was over my 200 max by 197 messages… oops.  Luckily with technology also comes lots of options for consolidating services.  I found a free app for texting that solved my problem, it just took a few minutes to get it all set up.  I’m planning to sit down and take a hard look at where our money goes and see where we can trim some excess.
  3. Get Organized. If you know me, you know that I drool over the calendar in the front of Martha Stewart Living every month and secretly wish the calendar in my blog sidebar –> included things like planting tulip bulbs, setting up a compost bin and scheduling routine times for purging unneeded items or changing the air filter on the AC.  When Jason and I first got married, I could tell you what I was doing everyday for the next month with a quick glance at my planner.  In a lot of ways, I feel like grad school zapped my long term and short term planning. 5 years is a long time and the unpredictability of experimentation led to a “take it one day at a time” strategy.  Now that I’m done, I’m ready to get back to my uber organized self.
  4. Continue my Career. Graduating in one of the most difficult economies has not made finding a specialized engineering position easy. My goal for this year is to find a position that truly uses my abilities and where I can devote my energy to solving real-world problems. I am excited to leave the academic world behind and get my hands dirty!
  5. Plan Dates. Jason and I have taken to working all day and then tackling side projects during nights and weekends. Between remodeling our house, Jason writing another edition of his book and us pursuing our hobbies (none of which are particularly leisurely), we leave almost no free time for togetherness.  We finally committed to taking a vacation this year, not on our own initiative, but because our good friends invited us. So despite job hunting and the uncertainty of moving/selling our house,  I’m planning to steal away a little more time with the hubs in 2011.

What are your plans for the upcoming year?

Cures for the Shop-A-Holic

I’m a girl, which I think genetically means that I like to shop (someone back me up with the scientific evidence). But I’m also cheap frugal. Normally, I get my retail therapy by shopping with coupons – its a fun hobby of mine that has also allowed me to divide my grocery and household budget by two.  But I also LOVE shopping for home decor (think vases, lamps and other pretty stuff) and kitchen gadgets (mortar and pestles, colorful knives, cake stands).  Normally when I need this kind of retail therapy I hit up TJ Maxx, Ross or Target clearance, but even at discounted prices you are spending real money (no coupons!) and it adds up.

Jason and I instituted a rule that if we are out shopping and really like something, we have to decide right then and there where it would go in our home. This has helped us to think through whether its really needed “this would go beautifully above the loveseat” and has prevented the impulse “but I really liked it and it was on sale” type of purchases. 

But, shhh, its not that fun!

My mom also taught me that if I really love something at one of those stores, I have to snag it that day because it will be gone tomorrow. (Thanks Mom!)

So this rule has been modified a bit: Buy it if you really love it – all stores have a return policy. If you haven’t found the perfect spot for it or used it within 30 days you probably aren’t going to, so leave the tag on and save your receipt. If the vases on the bookshelf make you smile everyday for a month, then you know it was a good purchase, if not, return it and wait for something you do love to come along.

Another fun way to appease my itch to shop is snapping pics with the iPhone of things I love but don’t really have a place for. Think of it as a digital shopping adventure that helps you figure out your decorating taste so that when you do need something you know what you’re looking for. I file them away in a folder on my desktop for easy perusing. You can also come up with some great inexpensive DIY ideas this way too!

Here are some photos from my last window shopping adventure to TJ Maxx:

Colorful Candle Holders $1.99 ea

Graphic Leaf Print Lamp $29.99

Cupcake Batter Pen $5.99

I already knew this, but now you know that I like a modern aesthetic, bright colors, and have an obsession with large graphic flower and leaf prints. The candle holders would look awesome as a dining table centerpiece (they hold votive or tall candles). The lamp I would rather have two of. I’m a fan of symmetry and would love to have them on bedside night tables or end tables next to a comfy couch. The cupcake batter pen I took a picture of just because it gave me an idea. I have tons of squeeze bottles from my baking and chocolate making (you can get them @ the craft store for $1 with a 40% off coupon). I just cut a larger hole in one tip and use it for mess-free cupcake distributing and even pancake dispensing. The Amazon description for this product says if you don’t use all the batter, put the cap on and leave in the fridge until the next day! Why didn’t I think of that?

What are some ways you reign in your need to shop?

Out with the 70’s

I mentioned earlier that we are in the midst of a master bath redo – in fact, we are nearing the end of  5-year  whole house DIY makeover.  Everything from the kitchen, to the floors and even the ceilings have been updated and there’s not a single light fixture in our house that was around when we moved in.  Call us crazy, but we have really loved taking our first house, a 1970’s contemporary, and updating it to suit our needs – one little step at a time.  With everything else pretty much wrapped up, our master bath was the only eyesore left:

This was just a few days after we moved in, and as you can tell, we had already decided the wallpaper had to go (little did we know how painstaking that would be). And this obsession with brass was prevalent in all the fixtures in our home – now completely eliminated!

We have done every project on a budget. Shopping clearance and online sales, choosing smart materials and putting in the time to learn the DIY ropes.  And we’ve been rewarded with a house we love coming home to (or in Jason’s case working in).  So needless to say our approach to the master bath was no different.  I love to start with a plan, so here is a mood board I put together of the products we were able to score at a discount thanks to some good sales and some out of the box (literally -thanks Ikea!) ideas.

The demo is done, as are the floors and trim. Last weekend we painted everything a calming blue and next weekend we are onto vanity construction. This may take a while since these aren’t vanities at all. We bought two Ikea Engan dressers and will be modifying them to accommodate plumbing for the vessel sinks as well as a slate mosaic countertop.  I guess we inherited more construction traits from our dads than we thought.  Stay tuned for more DIY adventures!

1 Dough, 2 Herb & Fruit Cookies

Ok, ok. I know my blog is called ” The BakeCakery” and that there hasn’t been a whole lotta caking going on lately.  I will remedy that sometime soon, but I assure you that there has been plenty of baking.   I want to share 2 amazing cookie recipes with you. They start with the same basic dough, both contain fruit & herbs (stick with me here…) and the end result is two incredibly unique, insanely tasty cookies.  In fact, my sweet cookie-loving husband said these were “better than chocolate chip” – Now that’s love!

Basic Dough

1 stick butter, softened
¾ c. confectioners sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Cream together the butter and two sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until just incorporated.  Form a ball from the dough and cut it in half.

Sage, Apricot, Cornmeal Thumbprints

makes 20 cookies

½ basic dough recipe
1/3 c. corn meal
½ tsp. dried sage
½ tsp. lemon zest, chopped fine
¾ c. apricot preserves
20 small sage leaves

Add the corn meal, dried sage and lemon zest to the dough and mix until distributed.  Form cookies into 1 in balls and press flat with your thumb.  Place a sage leave on top of each indention and cover with a tablespoon of apricot preserves.  Bake at 350 for 11-12 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Cranberry & Rosemary Cookies

makes 20 cookies

1/2 basic dough recipe
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, grated
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped fine
2o rosemary sprigs, for garnish

Add nutmeg, cranberries and chopped rosemary to the other 1/2 of the dough.  Mix until distributed.  Form into 1 in. balls and press lightly. Top each cookie with a rosemary sprig. Bake at 350 for 14-15 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

I’m not sure I can really describe the taste of these. They are unlike any cookies I’ve ever had, and I’ve tried a lot of cookies.  The sage one has an extra crunch from the cornmeal, but the caramelized jam also gives it a chewy, sticky quality.  The rosemary ones look like and have the texture of a chocolate chip cookie but they taste like winter!  Here are some photos Jas took as they were coming out of the oven:


Quick Tip: Paint Can Upgrade

Want a simple way to make painting easier? Poke holes in your paint can!

No seriously,  grab a hammer and a sharp nail and punch a couple holes around the inner most rim of your open paint can. It will allow any excess paint from pouring or brush-wiping to drip back into the can. This conserves paint, prevents spillage and makes it easier to get the can open next time because you don’t have all that extra paint in the rim to unstick!

Paint Can Manufacturers -if you’re listening – go ahead and add this feature in the factory and save us the trouble!

Another option is this cute little blue plastic pour spout that snaps on the rim and also helps keep paint out of the rim.  As you can see, we used both options to keep our paint can rim nice and clean.  We are in the midst of remodeling our master bath (DIY of course).  Look for more posts on that project in the near future!

Roasted Tomato Pasta Recipe

My family loves Italian food, so we are always making yummy pasta dishes. My sister introduced me to this delicious recipe a few years ago.  It is really simple, but somehow you end up with a very flavorful sauce that is even better than the sum of its parts.  Add in some diced grilled chicken breast and a slice of garlic bread and you have a savory, budget friendly dinner!

Roasted Tomato Pasta

Serves 6

3 c. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½  tsp. salt
½  tsp. pepper
1 bag fresh spinach
16 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or angel hair
½ c. Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ c. fresh basil, chopped
¼ c. pine nuts, toasted (optional)
1 c. chicken, cooked & diced (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400º. Toss the tomatoes,vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and spread onto a non-stick cookie sheet.

Roast the tomatoes for 25 minutes until they are lightly browned and wrinkled. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. When the tomatoes are ready, scrape every last bit from the cookie sheet into a large bowl and add the spinach. Toss in the pasta, cheese and basil. Sprinkle with pine nuts and cubed chicken if desired.

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