Chinese New Year 2012 (including Superbowl Sunday)

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year.

This year was different, as I suppose it is most years; but, of course, it was a bit more noticeable this year.  15 days allows usually for 2 weekends with 2 big Chinese banquets.  Since the whole thing started on a Monday, it was hard to justify stopping everything to do a banquet.  Instead I brought lunch in for mother from Zoe Ma Ma (a great local hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in downtown Boulder).  She was confused until she started to eat the noodles…!  After gymnastics, we met my sister and her family at another non-fancy Chinese restaurant in north Boulder.  It was fun all around and with no cleaning.

~Over the course of the next few days, I incorporated the dishes that needed to be eaten and tried new Asian dishes.  (On the first day, we had dan tart – custard tarts, almond jello with fruit, and CNY candy from the red box.)  We ate steamed fish, long noodles, etc.  We brought in many items for my mother.  I made ji (traditional rice noodle dish), orange beef, gai lan, and almond jello; my sister made lamb and broccoli, walnut shrimp, and a Japanese bean/rice mixture.

The last dessert I made for that big celebration with mom was Pichet Ong’s pineapple tarts – that look like little tangerines. (See The Sweet Spot.) I made them last year but this year I made just a few modifications and it seemed to go a bit more easily than the year before.  They tasted amazing.

Then over the whole course of the 2 weeks: dan go (egg steamed sponge cake), almond cookies, Japanese Wagu hamburgers, steamed whole fish, peanut noodles, and steamed fat go little cakes.

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~Between Superbowl Sunday and Chinese New Year this year, we also celebrated National Chocolate Cake day!  Here are the cupcakes I made:

~Superbowl Sunday fell the day before the end of CNY.  We (my sister’s family and my family) have a great time making all sorts of bad-for-you-foods – noshing and watching the game and commercials.  This time only one of us was truly invested and so it was a bit more relaxing.  We could enjoy the exciting ending without getting knots in our stomach.  Anyway, my sister used her new 3 crock crockpot for queso, vegetarian chili, and regular chili and she brought 3 other dips with chips.  My daughter made a shortbread sandwich cookie – the first time she did everything with just coaching and hints from me….(She even made her own homemade vanilla pudding mixture to use in the cookie recipe.)

~I made 3 types of wings – 2 different Asian wings and 1 very hot Tobasco wing (using the Tobasco wing sauce, along with another secret mixture) and non-alcoholic sangria.

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I also made Boston cream pie (because it was suggested on some site) using Gale Gand’s cake, a pastry cream from some where else, and my own chocolate glaze.  Finally, I usually make regular nachos but decided to make a sweet nacho… crisped tortilla triangles with cinnamon sugar in the oven, sprinkled melted milk chocolate and homemade dulce de leche sauce, finely chopped fruit, and shavings of white chocolate…. The last was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

This was in some ways a more relaxing way to do things and very much more multi-cultural due to Superbowl Sunday coming at the end.  It did feel very much like we celebrated the whole time and everyone left with good feelings…  Gung Hay Fat Choy — I hope your year will be a good one.

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February 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

Gingerbread lighthouse and cottage 2011/2012

The last time I posted a gingerbread house, it was Jan 2010.  Needless to say, with my mother’s illness in Dec of 2010, things went a little crazy.  We still got one done but I didn’t have time to post.

*Here are a few pictures from Dec 2010/Jan 2011. 

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*So, this year I was still dragging.  I love that my mother is now in a care facility nearby and am grateful to have the extra time with her, but it does add extra time. Anyway, my niece saw this cute little tin with a lighthouse and wondered whether I could do one for our annual tradition.  (See other posts, more on gingerbread houses and gingerbread houses).

*The first problem to tackle was the idea that the lighthouse needs to be near the water.  Unlike previous houses, we needed to have a setup where the water made sense and played a part.  I decided to use the rice crispie treat idea to design a landscape – chocolate rice crispies for the land and regular for the sandy beach.  I crushed regular cheerios and chocolate cheerios and blended them to make the rest of the sand that would cover the beach.  Later I mixed a darker mix of the crushed cheerios to make the path.

*Another complicating factor was the light placement.  Every year we would build a house around a hole in the board where we could put the light and then pull it out before the breaking.  This year I had to run the wires under the rice crispie treat landscape.  The placement had to be indicated before I started and then before the treats became too hard.  (Before the breaking, the wires were cut to remove the LEDs.)

*I adapted a pattern for the lighthouse from the web – What I needed was a good top.  So, I made an aluminum foil ball, sprayed it with non-stick spray, and placed on the cookie sheet.  Then I draped a piece of gingerbread over the top.

*I also adapted a house from  The Gingerbread Architect.  Oddly, it was a little more difficult to make the smaller house because the cutting actually has to be more refined – smaller windows, doors and decorations.

*As usual I poured caramelized sugar for the windows and attached them to the building pieces before we raised the buildings.  (We also decorate the walls.)

*For the water, I molded the aluminum foil around the bay and poured the sugar syrup into it.  Then I let it cool until it was hardened.

*The roof for cottage was regular sized M&Ms, while the lighthouse had mini M&Ms.  I also piped with icing sugar the railings, let them dry, and then carefully piped them into place (with all sorts of little bottles to hold them while they dried).

*All that was left was to make it snow.

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…and, of course, we had our usual breaking party…  Buddhist non-attachment and a lot of fun for all the kids.

January 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm Leave a comment

Daring Bakers Challenge July 2011 Fraisier

Daring Baker’s Challenge July 2011

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Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

(You can find the recipe here:  57_Fresh_Fraisiers-DB_July_2011.)

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For this challenge, we needed to make the chiffon cake and pastry cream from the recipes provided.  From there we could take it in any direction.  (By the way, the cookbook, Tartine, is fantastic.  I have made a few items from it and all have turned out wonderfully.)

*So…  Fraisier is similar to Fraise which is strawberry in French.  While I love strawberries, cherries have also just come into season.  I decided to make a Black Forest version because cherries are in season.

First, I made the chiffon cake.  In order to give the cake just a tiny bit more chocolate burst, I decided to add chocolate extract, as well as the vanilla extract and the cocoa called for in the recipe.

I also didn’t want to bother with dividing the cake and so used 2 cake pans.

While the cake cooled, I made the pastry cream.  This is an incredibly involved pastry cream.  It’s actually a lightened one – that is, whipped cream is folded into the pastry cream base and the pastry cream is mixed with a melted gelatin.  The gelatin is what eventually holds the whole cake together.

Note that in order to cool the pastry cream quickly, I spread the it on top of plastic wrap on a small baking sheet.  Then I covered the top of the pastry cream with another layer of plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from developing).  Using the method of mixing the gelatin into the pastry cream over the bain marie was good, but I had to whisk a lot in order to make sure that the pastry cream was perfectly smooth.

*The cherries took a long time to pit and cut in half.  When I tried to put them around the edges, they didn’t stay up.  So, I piped a thin layer of the pastry cream.  I ended up facing the cherries with the rounded side outward because it just looked better.

To decorate the top, I whipped together some stabilized whipped cream.  Then I spread some on top and piped little rosettes to hold the whole cherries (with stems) that I had kept for decoration.  (I saw a picture of a black forest cake with the whole stemmed cherries and it just looked dramatic.  It made sense to try to re-create it.)

Note that I didn’t use plastic wrap to line the edges.  Instead I had professional plastic strips that are a bit sturdier.  They allowed me to use a slightly bigger spring form pan and just pull the strip tight around the cake (holding it on the outside with duct tape.)  Worked perfectly….

Result:  The cake was tall and miraculously stayed together when cut.  It was extremely dramatic.  While the black forest cakes on the web seem to have denser chocolate cake and vary in decoration widely, I enjoyed thinking about changing the Fraisier to fit the bill.  Everyone really liked this version – They thought that the cake had enough chocolate flavor and the whole thing was a lot lighter than it looks.  That is, for a summer cake, it was perfect – light (not heavy, as a butter cake would be), fruity, and creamy (but not overwhelming like a full-fat custard).

*Summary: While this is quite an involved production, each of the pieces was not difficult (and the pastry cream could be simplified).  I could see myself making it again with the strawberries.  It was a fantastic, light summer dessert and everyone liked it.

July 27, 2011 at 5:57 am 2 comments

Daring Baker’s Challenge – Baklava

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Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.
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*I like making baklava every Thanksgiving/Xmas season, leaving a pan on the counter for all guests to indulge. The high sugar syrup insures that it will be OK for the short amount of time that it usually rests there.

*This month’s challenge was focused on the homemade phyllo dough.

*Here’s the ball of dough after I made it. It was very nice and smooth, if somewhat moist.  I made only the regular recipe, rather than doubling.

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*After letting it rest and putting together the filling and syrup, I rolled out the dough. (I used maple syrup in the syrup and filling.) I used a pasta machine to start and hand rolled the rest of the way. The dough was so delicate that it was difficult to move from the counter into the pan without it wrinkling.

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*Note that after baking, you need to pour the syrup over the top and let the whole thing sit overnight.  So, you can’t plan to have it on the same day you make it.

*Summary:  The flavor was good. If I made this again, I’d definitely make a double batch of dough.  I’d also try to figure out some interesting ways to roll the dough more efficiently so that I could get a thinner product.  I’m not sure that I’ll make this recipe again but it was fun to try it.

June 27, 2011 at 7:36 am 2 comments

New Mexico – Santa Fe 2011

Santa Fe 2011

This year we decided to take our spring break in Santa Fe.  We have been going since the 1980s – driving down from CO and staying at various places along the way.  (When we lived in NM, we would drive up for the opera in the summers and vacation during down times.)

~So, unlike other places, we have a long list of old favorites.  It’s difficult to decide where to go and to balance the old with the new.  (While we’ve been to San Francisco many, many times, there are very few old places that we absolutely have to see each time.  I’d list Recchiuti for chocolates and the whole ferry building as a must see/eat on our part.)

What did we do this time? Old favorites:

*The Shed –  Good as usual, reasonably priced for being so close to the Plaza.  On this visit, it seemed like the front desk did not have a good handle about actual wait times.

*La Cantina (part of La Casa Sena) – We’ve mainly gone to La Cantina because we like hearing the music.  Over the years, it’s been a bit harder because we’ve been less familiar with the newer musicals; however, the singing is often so good that it doesn’t matter.  The food has declined a bit and become a bit more uneven.  My salad was perfectly dressed and delicious.  The other dish we ordered had a steak that was a little tough (for the expensive cut they listed on the bill) but the sides were good.  The chocolate chili soup wasn’t quite hot enough, although the flavor was good.  The donut, on the other hand, was fantastic.  The portions are gigantic.

*Café Pasqual’s – We love coming to this fun, bright restaurant.  The food is also fun and creative; however, the prices are noticeably higher.  (The cheesy grits were served in a mini cast iron… so good that there were no leftovers.)  Service is fantastic for a breakfast location.  We’ve never shown up when they open and so do not know how long the line is at that early hour; however, on this visit, we just walked in and the wait list didn’t really start until after 9 AM.  This seemed to be true throughout our trip.

*Tia Sophia’s – They are known for their burritos and the prices are really reasonable.  It’s a place where locals go.  The service was friendly, the food was good, and the place was surprisingly uncrowded.

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*Coyote Café (The cantina is where we usually go but it was closed due to the cold weather.)  I don’t know how long we’ve been coming here.  The inside is the same and the food continues to be very good.  When you look at the menu, it looks very standard, especially by today’s world palate tastes.  However, each item has a unique and interesting twist.  The Caesar salad, for example, looks like a sushi roll and it includes these cheesy polenta rectangular shapes that are just delicious.  They have some very modern drinks (must have a good mixologist, as they call them now).  We watched a table celebrating someone’s birthday order an array of these drinks – it looked like fun.

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New venues:

*Chocolate Maven – This is new from our last visit to SF, otherwise we would have visited.  I read about it in several places.  From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything (it’s part of a warehouse complex); but, on the inside, it’s a whole new world.  *

Chocolate cake at the Chocolate maven

You are greeted by several large cases of pastries (classic breads and pastries, cookies, cupcakes, pies, and savory items, as well as “pre-made” chocolate items from other purveyors).  The room on the first floor has a large window that looks out into the kitchen.  You can also dine upstairs by heading up a spiral staircase.  Upstairs where we dined it felt like a small café – low noise, intimate, comfortable.  The food was delicious overall and very plentiful.

*Dinner for Two (D42) – What a surprise.  The restaurant is a bit odd in terms of shape and décor.  It’s a bit of a walk from the main Plaza but not too bad.  The menu is a bit large and seasonal.  What’s neat is that there are many different choices for how you can put together a meal.  First, you could choose the set 4 courses that the chef has created.  Other than choosing only 1 -3 dishes, this is the best deal for 4.  Second, you could choose to mix & match – This could include the standard 4 with one from each section BUT it could also be a salad and 3 desserts.  We mixed and matched for 2 set 4 meals and then just ordered 1 main.  The food was great.  The other unique aspect is that this is truly family run (mom out front, dad doing pastries and “at the table” flambé desserts, and son as chef).  We enjoyed enjoyed everything – including watching & listening to the larger 6 top near us.

*Clafoutis – This is far away from the main Plaza and it gets a little precarious when you hit Guadalupe – not a fun walk at that point.  However, this little place is somewhat worth the hike.  It’s like a little country cottage – with mini blackboards advertising in French and nicknacks on shelves.  Like any good bakery there’s a wide display of French baked goods.  Their menu has classics (like crepes and croquet monsieur/madame), huge salads, etc.  People were clearly visiting and having a good time.  We enjoyed a clafoutis of the day and a ham and grueyere crepe.  On our way out, we purchased some tuiles to munch on for our walk back to the Plaza.

*Jambo– This little place is stuck in a strip mall near Hobby Lobby.  We didn’t walk because Cerrillos is just not that much fun to walk.

Salmon salad at Jambo

The food is a combo Carribean/African.  It’s actually quite good and inexpensive.  As an adult, you can ask for a half portion which is what they serve as their kid’s meals.

*Harry’s Road House – This place has been around for a long time and my sister used to drive up from ABQ to eat here.  My brother-in-law requested that we take a picture of the scrapple for him.  The décor is eclectic and the rooms are large and bright.  We had the lemon ricotta pancakes and the special of the day (You can find a web recipe for the pancakes here.)  The pancakes were not overly heavy and the lemon made them have just the right level of sweetness.  There were definitely locals and regulars here.  The table next to us had two people show up later who complained that they couldn’t make it through the various dining areas to the back (where we were) without having to stop at every table.  You can’t really walk here from the Plaza but it’s so worth the drive.

*French Pastry Shop (in the La Fonda) – This is also not a new place.  We’ve often stopped in to get a quick pastry when the lines aren’t too long in the middle of the day.  This time we decided to go ahead and eat breakfast.  The Nutella crepe was good but took a long time (maybe because so many people order crepes there?).  The croissant was also good but like many classic chocolate croissant, there was not as much chocolate to pastry.  Finally, the croquet monsieur was good.

Vinaigrette – Nice & creative salads.

The Chocolate Trail:  We only missed one place (C.G. Higgins Confections) and Chocolate Maven should be included even if they don’t hand dip their own chocolates.

*Kakawa – The building seems to be stuck on the side of a lot of parking lots – very non-descript.  You walk in, however, and it’s colorful, with quirky decorations and fun display of chocolates.  They are known for their hot chocolate concoctions which are incredibly rich and served like strong coffee.  Their elixirs are supposed to have health benefits.  We tasted one but found it to be too much and so we stuck with their standard flavors.  All the flavors are supposed to be based on ancient/historical recipes.  The chocolates were good.

*Todos Santos Chocolates (an old favorite but no real dining) – This is still the best.  The chocolates have that nice crunch.  The variety of flavors is stunning, with some unusual ones thrown in.  They have different shapes and great decorations.  The chocolate mushrooms are fantastic (still).  The customer service is not quite as good as it was. (I had to ask to have my over $40 worth of chocolates wrapped this time and one of my friends recalls little tin decorations added to the boxes which were not on my box.)  Because the chocolates are just a cut above, if you only have time for one shop, this would be it.

*Chocolate Smith (also has a small kiosk in one of the shopping areas near the Plaza) – This is a classic shop, serving classic types of chocolate.  It reminded me of See’s before they went large (when I was just a little girl).  Very amazing service and if you go down to their Cerrillos shop, then they’ll give you a taste of whatever you want.

Places we usually go but didn’t have a chance to visit (maybe someone can update us before our next trip):  315 [Bistro 315 when we started going there], the café on museum hill (amazing views), La Boca, India Palace (way too many Indian/Nepalese etc here in Boulder)… There are interesting places along Cerrillos but as above, it’s not a fun walk – you do need to have a car.

Museums:  You must visit some museum (at least one) during your visit to Santa Fe.  Just for reference, the best deal is the 4 day museum pass.  It has changed over time but if you’re a non-NM resident, it makes sense to buy a pass and see everything you can.  If you’re a NM resident, it is actually better to buy a museum membership.  We used the membership to visit everything from your classic museums in Santa Fe to forts all over the state.

*Museum hill used to have 3 places to visit on the pass but now just include the two main museums.  The revolving nature of the displays make both worth seeing every time we visit.  The Palace of the Governors has now split into two connected pieces with the history part in a brand new building.  They have also put holes into walls and floors so that you can see the original buildings/walls of the Palace of the Governors.  The new history displays are really worth seeing.

*While you’re at museum hill, take a stop at the Wheelright.  They ask for a donation and this month they had a wonderful exhibit of two grey hills blankets.  The Georgia O’Keefe and the Institute of American Indian Arts are also not included but are well worth a visit.

Other non-food notes:

*If you’re interested in Native American art (mainly jewelry and some pottery items), try to find something under the eaves of the Palace of the Governors.  You can buy directly from the artist.  I also like to support the museums – costs a little more but they also buy directly from the artists and you have the opportunity to support a museum.

*For rugs, we have had luck with Packards (a little expensive but reliable).  We’ve also found things we love by just going in and out of stores.  Sometimes it’s just one piece tucked away but it’s worth looking through the other stuff to find it.  (This is often true about anything, though.)

*Santa Fe also has the oldest house (supposedly) and the oldest church (mission).  The Loretto Chapel has a staircase made without any visible supports – it’s also lovely.

*Cooking School – While I haven’t found anything I want to take other than maybe a walking tour (and those have not been offered on the days we have come through), the people are really nice and their shop has a wide selection of useful items.  It’s worth a stop.

April 24, 2011 at 6:35 am Leave a comment

Daring Baker’s Challenge – Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

Daring Baker’s Challenge – March 2011

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The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

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This challenge was interesting because it came on the heels of making many versions of King’s Cake (click here to see the ones I made this year).  A King’s Cake is a yeasted bread ring with filling and icing.  Both the King’s Cake and the Meringue Coffee Cake are yeasted bread doughs and require the same kind of treatment as any other bread dough.

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*~Also, a colleague of my sister needed a lemon meringue pie.  For this pie, I made the filling a bit more tart than the recipes I found and the crust was made with a combo of butter and Crisco (non-butter flavored).  Essentially, I had made all the parts for this challenge over the few weeks before.

~In making various versions of King’s Cake, I found that using coconut oil made no difference.  In this version of dough, expeller pressed, safflower oil was substituted to give a healthier dough.  Also, a vanilla bean was steeped in the milk.  (This is a picture of the dough.)

~I wanted to make both fillings, so to keep it all straight, I left them in long lines.  I made the meringue as specified and followed the directions.  There was too much meringue and so it was both difficult to roll and difficult to pinch the edges together.  Searching through my cabinet, I found 2 pans that were about the right size and placed the cut rings into the pans (sprayed with Pam and a parchment circle on the bottom). 

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~What happened? I thought they rose beautifully and looked just like coffee cakes (as opposed to a different version of a King’s Cake or bread ring).  Because I grew up with more of a quick bread version of coffee cake (like a NY crumb coffee cake), this shape resembled more of a cake.  It’s also very dramatic.  The flavors were good – both fillings were fun.

What would I do differently? I would make less meringue and more filling. Also, the saturated fat (both butter and coconut oil) produced a more moist cake, as well as a richer mouth feel.  Maybe half/half next time?

Bottom line: Fun challenge…. I loved trying different fillings and will try this cake again using different mixtures.

March 27, 2011 at 7:20 am Leave a comment

King’s Cake (Mardis Gras 2011)

So, I’ve made King’s Cake (gateau des rois) before, at around this time.  One time I made 2 for a class of culinary arts students (during the week I was teaching pastry to them).  It’s a fun cake because it’s so colorful and flavorful but it’s also a good demonstration of a yeasted bread.

~This year I was a bit lazy and didn’t want to make croissants for my daughter’s French class.  Since they happened to be talking about Mardis Gras, I thought I’d make them some King’s cake.  My daughter and I had a discussion about galette des rois versus gateau des rois.  The galette uses puff pastry and frangipane; whereas, the gateau des rois is made with brioche.  In New Orleans, they usually put a little plastic baby (or pecan or something else) into the cake, but because this was going into her class, I didn’t put anything other than filling in –> I wanted to avoid lawsuits.

~Being who I am, I chose 2 different recipes.  One recipe is from the Allrecipes site (you can find it here) and the other is Emeril’s recipe.  Emeril’s recipe resembles a more traditional brioche (with lots of butter and egg yolks); whereas the Allrecipes version is a leaner loaf.  I used the Allrecipes filling for both and for the frosting, I used 5 cups poswered sugar, 3T melted butter,2 T vanilla, and 6T milk for the frosting.

~You can see the difference between the two loaves.  The Allrecipes version is lighter and produced a gigantic loaf.  If I made this recipe again, I would definitely split it into 3 loaves.

~Emeril’s loaf was denser and smaller.  The smell and flavor was just a bit more rich.

~In both cases, I let them rise with a small glass to hold open the hole but removed the glass before baking.  The hole filled in during baking…

~For these first 4 loaves,  my daughter wanted to make the icing.  We let the loaves cool overnight and she frosted and decorated before school.  Notice the beautiful, even job that she did.

~I’ve been interested in coconut oil and products for years now and since last week’s NYTimes article discussed coconut oil.  I re-made Emeril’s loaf:  reducing the 5 yolks to 2 eggs, using non-fat milk, and substituting coconut oil for the butter.  The result = the loaf looked essentially the same.  You could not taste the coconut oil (unlike some other true cake applications that I’ve made with coconut oil).  I placed rolled aluminum foil to keep the hole open during baking and removed them after the loaves were done.

~For these last 2 loaves, she made the frosting and my daughter and nieces decorated.

~Bottom line:  Everyone enjoyed all versions.  Unfortunately, today is Mardis Gras and so that means we can’t try again until next year.

March 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm 3 comments

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