Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Trouble with Cake Balls


"The term cake balls just doesn't sound appealing to me."

This is what I told my friend Shira a week or so ago after she mentioned she wants to make them. I am a little curious, but, seriously,  I just can't get past the name.

"No, they're really cute and easy to do," says Shira, the cake ball ambassador. "You  just bake whatever kind of cake you want, dump the cake in a bowl, break it apart, mix it with frosting and roll it into little balls." 

"Sounds weird," says me, the cake ball skeptic.

"Then you dip the balls in chocolate, roll them in sprinkles and chill them until the chocolate has set. I think I would put them on skewers and call them cake lollipops."

Now that's something I can support-- cake lollipops. Cute, whimsical and I can offer them to others without uttering, "Would you like to try my cake balls?" That's a line only Alec Baldwin can pull off.

Sufficiently warmed up to the concept I did some research and it turns out cake lollipops, also known as cake pops, are all the rage.  Being new to all this craziness I consulted an expert, Bakerella,  the Queen of Cake Pops. Way back in 2007 she wrote a post about red velvet cake balls and then a month later she introduced her readers to cake pops. Judging from the comments people are crazy about them, so much in fact that it seems a bit cult-ish. Although, describing the cake pop movement  as a cult probably isn't fair. Bakerella's following is so big that it's best described as an emerging organized religion.

Cakebot, an avid Bakerella follower, wrote a post with helpful tips and tricks, which includes a video demonstrating proper cake pop technique. After viewing the video I was a little scared. The whole operation looked like a giant pain in the you know what, although I should have should have known-- the video is titled "Cake Pops Can Be Tricky."

Apparently, there are many potential pitfalls in the lengthy process. Given my occasional bad habit of abandoning projects before completion I had to really do some soul-searching. To fully commit I  had to look cake pop fear in the face and accept that it might be a bumpy road.

Saturday, aka "cake pop day", arrived and I gathered everything together to take to my friend Toni's house who graciously allowed me to use her  lovely spacious kitchen.

Cake already baked-check
chocolate candy coating-check
lollipop sticks...

Lollipop sticks... were no where to be found. I had ordered some from Amazon earlier in the week and realized Saturday morning that they had not arrived. Turns out when I ordered them I inadvertently shipped them to my old New Mexico address.

 Which meant I couldn't make cake pops. Which meant that I had to make cake balls. To which Toni responded, after I called her on my way to her house to relay the news, "It'll be fine."

She tells me a lot that "it'll be fine." She is a very good friend.

Upon arriving at Toni's house we got right to work...

Chocolate cake out of the pan and into the mixer with cream cheese frosting.

Then roll it into balls...

Next, put them in the freezer for an hour or so to let them firm up.

Up until this part everything was pretty easy.

The next steps were not so easy and you will notice there are no more pictures of the process because covering the cake balls with candy coating and decorations is a very messy and stressful activity. At this point I just wanted to get the whole thing done so I could move on with my life.

Here's what followed in a nutshell:

We melted candy coating the microwave.

We rolled the balls around in it and I tried not to get stressed out when the coating was too thick or uneven or terrible looking. I told myself that's what nuts and sprinkles are for.

We discovered that using toothpicks or metal skewers to dip the balls in the chocolate isn't very efficient or effective. The only thing it did was make the process more frustrating.

Lesson learned: One person should be in charge of rolling the balls in the chocolate and the other person should be in charge of sprinkling nuts and sprinkles on them. It took us a few tries to figure out this winning strategy. Anyone who can accomplish these two things on their own deserves an award.

We put the cake balls back in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

Then took a picture...

I know what you're thinking...

"They're so cute!"

And now I'm going to tell you the truth...

They  might look cute, but they don't taste very good.

Cake balls are sugar bombs in the worst way. Maybe it's the boxed cake and canned frosting (which is what most recipes call for) that's the problem. Maybe the sugar content is something only people under the age of 15 can enjoy eating. All I know is that they are way too sweet and I had a hard time just eating one. Also, the texture is really weird-- almost like raw cake dough, which is not something I enjoy.

Now, with 40-something cake balls in my fridge, I am asking myself if I'm the only person who doesn't like cake balls? Given the massive cake ball following should I worry something is wrong with me? Or maybe they're not meant to be consumed? Most bloggers who write about cake balls or cake pops write mostly about decorating them. Maybe they are for looks only. Kind of like a gingerbread house-- fun to decorate and display, but not so good to eat.

Maybe it's just the name? If I had gotten the lollipop sticks and called them cake pops maybe I would have enjoyed them more.

I think it is the name...cake balls... I should have known.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Question Du Jour

Tacky or not tacky?

Club Soda

Tacky or not it's still my favorite summertime drink.


Thursday, June 23, 2011


I don't like leftovers.

 I try to only cook enough for me and not enough for 4-8 people, which is the amount of servings most recipes produce.

I'm not a person who chirps, "Oh, just divide all the extras into individual servings and freeze them."

I don't like that either.

Except meatballs and tomato sauce. I will freeze those for later.

And maybe lasagna.

But that's it. Nothing else.

Unfortunately, leftovers are often inevitable, even when cooking for one, so I have to trick myself into thinking it's not leftovers and make something new the next time.

The Leftovers:
Pasta tossed with pesto

Turned Into:

Veggie Pesto PastaToss

I cooked the mushrooms and asparagus in butter and olive oil. Added a splash of white wine. Added in the pasta with pesto. Topped it with some Parmesan.

Leftovers? What leftovers?

Tricky...and delicious.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Would You Like S'more?

When I was a kid camping was a go-to activity for my family. I have fond memories of all of us hitting the open road in the family station wagon with our pop-up camper in tow. John Denver and The Carpenters provided the soundtrack for exotic trips to places like Montana and Nebraska.

Now that I'm all grown-up I cherish those early memories, but the allure of camping has waned. I find it's a stressful experience-- all the planning, car-loading, driving, car-unloading, tent- pitching and fire-starting can be overwhelming. Then, just as every thing is set up, it's time to start thinking about taking it all down.

I may not enjoy camping outside anymore, but I do like camping in hotels.

Does that count?

Okay, maybe not.

But I do love s'mores.
Hotels should add them to their room service menus.

Luckily, I can enjoy them at home without all the hassle of tents, dirt and mosquitoes.

I like to use a good dark chocolate in place of the more traditional milk chocolate.

A few minutes under the broiler leads to ooey-gooey, marshmallow-y, chocolate-ly goodness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Favorite Things

1 comment:
There are some things I will never grow tired of, for example, listening to the same Beatles songs over and over, watching "When Harry Met Sally" for the billionth time, and wearing my favorite J. Crew sweater that I've had for at least 10 years.

Creature comforts, some like to say.

I suppose the reason I'm drawn back to these favorite things is comfort and a warm and fuzzy sense of familiarity. Favorite things have a way of making everything better.

Food, of course, often evokes the same feelings. Just like my favorite sweater a grilled cheese sandwich can envelop me  in warmth and comfort, instantly transporting  me back to simpler times.

Just like listening to "Hey Jude" on repeat I never grow tired of grilled cheese sandwiches.

My version has gotten some upgrades over the years, but stays true to it's roots. Mushrooms sauteed in butter and rosemary, topped with cheddar and jack cheese, layered on sliced bread, lightly buttered, and cooked until golden and toasty.

Comforting, familiar and definitely worth repeating.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Must Read: Beaten, Seared and Sauced

1 comment:

If you've every toyed with the idea of attending culinary school, or are curious to learn what cooking school is really all about, than I highly recommend reading Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America.

Jonathan Dixon details all the ups and downs of learning to cook at the Culinary Institute of America. As a "career changer" his insight and humor paints a vivid picture of the experience. From trying to mesh with his much younger classmates, to balancing school demands with his personal relationships, to his honest disclosure of his own self-doubt and insecurities Dixon offers up a witty, thought-provoking and often gritty story straight from the hallowed halls of the CIA.

He covers all the culinary school experiences and I felt I was right there with him through all the classes, humiliating tongue lashings from the chef-instructors, exhausting externships and poignant moments that highlight why, for some of us, food is so important and meaningful.

I so enjoyed this book and Dixon's writing that I spent some time looking for other things he's written. He has a blog ( that he updates periodically, which basically picks up where the book ended. I was happy to find it because, after finishing the book, I was really curious to see what he went on to do after culinary school.

Happy Reading,

Monday, June 13, 2011


1 comment:
Some of my most favorite kitchen adventures are those that really start from nothing, but end up producing something so good that it couldn't have better, even if I had planned it.

Take, for example, this green chili sauce.

If I had planned to make this I'm sure I would have mucked it up by over-thinking it and adding way more ingredients than necessary. Being an over-analytic and very slightly neurotic person I often find it difficult to keep things simple.

However, limited by what was only in my pantry at the time I was forced to keep it simple and the result was delicious.

Chicken tacos served as the catalyst this sauce. I realized I didn't have any salsa and, feeling inspired, rooted through my pantry to see what I had on hand that would work.

1 small can diced green chilis
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
juice from half a lime
salt to taste

Blend all together and you have the sauce. No cooking required.

I spooned mine over the chicken tacos with sliced avocado and sour cream.

I may sometimes stray from the kitchen, but it's moments and ideas like this one that keep me coming back.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Asparagus Salad

1 comment:

Chilled blanched asparagus
Fresh romaine lettuce
Simple balsamic dressing seasoned with salt and pepper
Hard boiled egg
Crispy bacon
Crumbled blue cheese

Toss all together and enjoy.

The End

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Toh-MAY-toh, Ta-MAH-toh


During my cooking hiatus, in between eating like a college student, I still took the time to make my own tomato sauce every few weeks. It was the only thing I made from scratch during that time because, let's face it, there is nothing better than homemade sauce. Plus, it's easy to do.

I love making tomato sauce. So much, in fact, that I harbored delusions of grandeur for a while about starting my own line of pasta sauces. As in, I would be the next Puck, Prego or Paul Newman-- pretty jars of sauce all lined up at the local Kroger store.

Then I remembered that only one person had ever tried my sauce.


This past weekend, while waxing poetic about my sauce, my best friend suggested that I make a batch-- we could try it and then she could freeze the rest for later.

I suddenly felt nervous. What if she doesn't like it? What if her husband doesn't like it? What if there is something inherently wrong with me that led to the belief that I make really good sauce?

Sensing my nervousness she suggested we have mimosas while we cooked.

Ah, vacation time is a wonderful thing.

So a few mimosas later we finished the sauce and now there are two more people who have tried it and, I'm happy to report, liked it.

Simple Tomato Sauce

4 pints cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
1 yellow onion (medium-ish sized)
4-5 garlic cloves (or more if you like it garlicky)
fresh basil
fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spread the tomatoes out on a cookie sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Let the tomatoes cook in the oven until their skins pop (about 30 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside.

Chop the onion and garlic. Heat up some olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Cook them for a few minutes (don't let them brown) and stir frequently. Once they've softened add the tomatoes and stir. Let it all cook for about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender puree the tomatoes, onions and garlic. Allow the sauce to cook a while longer (maybe 20 minutes or so). Chop up some fresh basil and thyme and add it in close to the end of the cooking time. Season with salt to taste.

Serve with pasta and Parmesan cheese...


Special note: this tomato sauce is a great base for chili. Just omit the basil and thyme.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Veggie Duty in NC

1 comment:
This is Lucy.

She lives in North Carolina with two of my most favorite people, one who is my best friend of 20 years and the other who happens to be married to my best friend.

It's good to have good people in your life.

It's even better to get to spend time with those people, which is what I did this past weekend. A quick trip to North Carolina to see my best friend, her husband, and their skipperke, Lucy.

There was a lot of catching up and shopping to do, plus a mandatory spa visit (oh, the torture) but in between all that we found time to cook.

Cooking with friends is such a nice way to pass the time.

I was in charge of the veggies and I decided to keep it simple to let the flavor of the veggies shine through. Button mushrooms, zucchini and red bell peppers lightly dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and thyme. After about ten minutes on the grill they were good to go, along with turkey burgers, potato salad and a few summertime cocktails.

Good friends and good food makes for a very good start to the weekend.


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