Kitchen Tips – Preserving The Top Of Your Wedding Cake

I got a lot of great feedback from my post on Wednesday showcasing mine and Morgan’s wedding cake (both on our wedding day and then one year later) – thanks so much for the kind words!

In keeping with the wedding and memories mood I have going on this week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post about how to store the top of your wedding cake so that you can enjoy it the next year. I’m sure there are a few different ways you can do it, but I’m going to share what worked for us.

Our cake was not covered in fondant (I just can’t get in to chewy taste of it), but I’d imagine that fondant would only serve as another protective layer.

When you’ve got the top of your cake back home, transfer it to either a piece of flat plastic used for tiered cakes, or a cardboard cake round that has been wrapped in plastic before putting the cake on top (so the cardboard doesn’t absorb anything or give off cardboard taste!).

Place the cake top, uncovered, in the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm it up. Remove it from the freezer, and wrap it, cardboard or plastic round and all, tightly with lots of plastic wrap – no skimping! When done, place it safely in the freezer and leave it alone for a year!

To enjoy, move the cake from the freezer to the fridge 1-2 days before your anniversary. A few hours before serving, remove the plastic wrap and set it back in the fridge. Then right before serving, allow cake to reach room temperature before digging in by setting it out on the counter.

Good luck!

I’m a little torn when it comes to the summer months. One one hand, I love the weather, the warmth (HATE the cold) and all you can do in the great outdoors. On the other hand there’s the, lets call it cooking restrictions. Maybe restrictions isn’t the right word, but basically the discouragement of cooking with a lot of heat. A couple boiling pots and some roasting in the oven can kick summer heat into overdrive.

summer citrus salad1

So we turn to salads and this is one is quite tasty. It’s a bit different from your usual, being not so heavy on the greens and having no vinegar whatsoever. But its simplicity and uniqueness really make it stand out. Any apple will do and if you don’t have agave nectar, start at one tablespoon of sugar and work your way up to a taste that hits the spot for you.

Summer Citrus Salad with Spinach

Summer Citrus Salad with Spinach

1 apple; peeled (optional) and chopped into small 1/4 inch pieces
2 celery stalks; chopped
2 handfuls of baby spinach (about 2oz); chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon fresh parsley; chopped

Combine all your solids (apple, celery, spinach, walnuts) into a bowl and mix. Combine your remaining ingredients separately and pour over your salad. Toss to coat and enjoy.

Food Photography – Our Wedding Cake, One Year Later

I think my husband knows by now that I have a bit of an obsession with the photos of our wedding cake. I have no good response for this.

wedding cake

Sunday marked our very first wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a lot of packing, the movie Watchmen, a bottle of red wine given to us on our wedding day from two friends who had been in France (we were instructed not to open it until our first anniversary) and the top of our wedding cake that had been on the top shelf of my parents’ freezer all year.


The packing went as you might expect, the movie was still just as good as we remembered in the theater, the red was quite nice and the cake was still remarkably tasty!


The buttercream frosting had hardened a bit and tasted a little freezer burned, but the cake itself was great! I couldn’t believe it, so I had to eat most of it to be absolutely sure.


For the short time the cake existed last year before being devoured, it was four tiers. The layers alternated between yellow cake with blackberry filling and chocolate cake with chocolate filling – all frosted with french vanilla kiss buttercream and decorated with white chocolate curls and purple hydrangea. The cake sat on a 14″ silver cake plateau purchased online by my mom; we hope to keep it in the family for awhile.

wedding cake slices

The cake was designed by Teri Edwards at Cakes Unlimited, who we can’t recommend enough if you’re planning a wedding in Charlottesville.

topcake... one year later

The same is true for Meredith Montague Photography – Meredith took all of the amazing wedding cake photos that I’m over-enthusiastically sharing with you today (minus, of course, this last photo of our cake top one year later, looking, well, a little sad!).

More faux meat madness! Am I a one-trick pony? Perhaps. It has been a while since I made stir-fry and I was jonesin’. Traditionally I go for the savory and salty over the sweet but I decided to mix it up this time. One convenient thing (or arguably, bad thing) about tempeh is there’s no need to marinate because it won’t really accomplish anything.

Some Wok Smoke Goodness

This dish is loosely based off a recipe in a book a friend of mine gave me a few years back. It calls for some less common items like Kaffir lemon leaves which I’m sure are great, but a little too rare and exotic for me. We like quality food here but hunting high and low for an ingredient I’ll never use again before it goes bad just seems like a waste of time, money and sanity. So some DC-style modifications were in order. What do you think?

Honey Orange Tempeh Stir-Fry with Broccoli

Honey Orange Tempeh Stir-Fry with Broccoli
adapted from Wok Works

8oz tempeh
7 teaspoons oil (2 tablespoons, one teaspoon)
1 garlic clove; minced
1 teaspoon ginger; minced
a head of broccoli; chopped into small 1/2 inch pieces
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lime
Juice of one lemon
7 teaspoons soy sauce (2 tablespoons, one teaspoon)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rice wine

Steam your broccoli for 4 minutes and immediately dunk in cold water to stop the cooking process. Towel dry. Heat your wok, add two tablespoons oil and (carefully!) swirl around. Add your broccoli and stir fry for 1 minutes. Add your garlic and ginger and cook for another 30 seconds; tossing continually to prevent burning. Add all your remaining ingredients and toss to coat. Continue to cook until liquid reduced to a thick sauce (five minutes, tops). Remove from heat and serve. Enjoy.

English Muffin Pizzas

Today we’ll be having a different kind of culinary adventure – how about an adventure for people who are moving in under a week, have packed up pretty much all of their belongings, whose lower back and legs are killing them from packing and cleaning things up and who are left with a lot items that might not naturally go together?


Yeah, that’s probably a little too specific, huh? I won’t start whining about how exhausted I am, but I will admit that I may have just fallen asleep in the closet…

So today I bring you english muffin pizzas! They’re not the fanciest or most sophisticated dinner or lunch, but you shouldn’t knock them until you try them. It’s summer, and they’re light, easy and really tasty.


You know how there’s always that person in the group who can’t have cheese? Or someone doesn’t like meat? Another person doesn’t like a lot of sauce on their pizza? Remarkably, everyone can get exactly what they want with english muffin pizzas. Set up an assembly line of ingredients for kids and/or adults and have everyone decorate their own – there’s no messy, sticky pizza dough to roll out, and there’s no grease like with take out. Make as many or as few as you like.

english muffin pizzas

English Muffin Pizzas

whole wheat english muffins
fresh shredded mozzarella
Ghost Baker’s mom’s marinara
fresh basil, torn into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Toast english muffins first by themselves for a crispier crust. Add ingredients above as desired and add to a baking sheet. Cook until mozzarella melts.

Kitchen Tips – Avoiding Bean Soak

As a flexitarian, a significant portion of my diet is composed of beans which are a great source of protein. I prefer dried beans over canned because, not only are they “fresher” (in a sense that less is done to them before you get them), they are significantly cheaper. The problem with dried beans is the need to soak them. Just about every bean needs to be pre-soaked before cooking; usually overnight. That requires you to plan ahead, which doesn’t always happen.

My trick to avoiding this complication is a magical little device called a pressure cooker. I have to admit, when I first received this as a gift from my sister, I was quite unimpressed. “What am I going to do with this thing?” Answer: speed soaking beans. Stick in some beans, some water, cook for the appropriate time, viola! Good to go in less than an hour.

Pressure cookers are not a new invention. In fact, they’ve been around for quite some time with a bit a bad reputation. Old pressure cookers use to be quite messy but more importantly dangerous with the risk of exploding. Not today. Of course, anything under incredibly high pressure is in risk of exploding, but advances in technology and design has made this virtually impossible.

If you decide to buy a pressure cooker, I strongly recommend a stove-less version. Much more convenient. To top it off, pressure cookers are great for many other things, such as canning and general quick cooking. Check it out. It can be a worthy investment.

Quick & Easy Zucchini and White Bean Soup

The other day I was browsing Food Gawker for inspiration, and I came across a photo for zucchini soup. This is normally the type of thing that I would quickly skip over, but I remembered that I had a stray zucchini around the house that needed to be used, and not much time left to use it!


I talked over a few ideas with Edwin, who was of course thrilled at my newfound fascination with soup. I came up with a few changes to make the zucchini soup I found a little more my style. The biggest change was probably adding white beans. I really enjoy white beans; they always make a really malleable addition to meals. I also some celery, removed the onion and added less zucchini and chicken broth.


One thing to keep in mind is to be a little careful handling the zucchini. After chopping it my hands felt completely dried out, itchy, tight and raw. I was initially a little startled, but then I remembered an excellent comment left by a reader on Edwin’s Celery Root Bisque recipe from last year – handling squash can cause a condition called Contact Dermatitis, and zucchini is a squash. It shouldn’t cause any real damage, but if you’re susceptible like me then your hands might be a little uncomfortable right after working with it. Try touching it as little as possible or, if you’re really concerned, wear latex gloves when handling squash.

Dry hands aside, I have to admit that I really loved this soup. Zucchini doesn’t really have a very strong flavor, so there’s nothing overpowering about the soup – the white beans and pepper make it flavorful. It’s light, very tasty and quick and easy to make – definitely a DinnerCakes win and a great summer dinner!

zucchini soup

Zucchini & White Bean Soup
adapted from Cooking with Michele

2 cans chicken broth (14 oz. each)
1 can cannellini beans (19 oz.), drained
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 cup half and half, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat large pot over medium heat and add oil when hot. Add garlic, zucchini and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock, drained white beans and thyme to the pot, then cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until zucchini and celery are softened, about 15 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and pour in batches of two or three into food processor (be careful not to overflow!) and pulse. When desired consistency is reached, pour final batch back into the pot and add half and half, followed by salt and generous amounts of pepper to taste (don’t skimp on the fresh ground pepper!).

Makes about 3 or 4 servings of soup.

Food Photography – Hazelnut Gelato

Ahhh, summer. Home of hot weather and cold treats. When I was in Europe last year I spent a few days in Rome taking in the sites and the cuisine. One of the highlights was the gelato. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a gelato stand there and I definitely took advantage; often partaking several times a day. Soooo good.

Recently, a gelato stand by the name of Pitango opened in the Reston Town Center; a walk from where I work. I sampled a small cup of their hazelnut flavor this week and I have to say it was amazing. Creamy but not heavy, cool but not brain-freezing cold, and the hazelnut flavor was so simple and yet so delicious (as a child of a German mother, I can tell you I know my hazelnut). I fear I may fall into a familiar multi-visit patter as I did in Rome.


Spinach and Mozzarella Stuffed Mushrooms

Edwin says he loves veggies, but I don’t think he cares for mushrooms very much. This is sort of crazy, right? What kind of flexitarian can’t appreciate some quality mushrooms?

baby bellas

It’s true, mushrooms are a fungus. They have no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds, and the thought of eating fungus is more than a little disturbing. But if you can put all that aside, they’re really a pretty neat food that can add great flavor to your meals.

baby bella capsdiced bellas

You might have guessed, they’re good for you! They can also be a little dangerous, as they’re sometimes confused with young specimens of the deadly poisonous destroying angel mushroom (destroying angel – what an amazing name!).


They do have some special storage and prep concerns that you may want to consider to preserve their moisture without becoming soggy and keep them fresh for several days (brought to you by

ready for oven

  • Store loose button mushrooms in the refrigerator either in a loosely closed paper bag, wrapped in a damp cloth or laid out in a glass dish covered with a moist cloth.
  • Store prepackaged mushrooms in the refrigerator for up to one week in their original container.
  • Clean them using minimal water – wipe them with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth, as mushrooms are very porous and may absorb water during cleaning and become soggy.


I made these for lunch recently one weekend for my husband Morgan and I, and we really enjoyed them. This is a fairly mild recipe – no strong, spotlight stealing spices or pungent cheeses. If you’d like more kick to yours, try sprinkling a little more cayenne over the top, or using a salty cheese like Pecorino Romano.



Spinach and Mozzarella Stuffed Mushrooms

1 medium prepackaged container of baby bella mushrooms
1/2 square package frozen chopped spinach, cooked
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
12 turns of black pepper, 4 turns of salt
2 tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs
cayenne pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Wipe away any dirt on the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Pop off the stems by hand (they come out much easier than if you try cutting) and dice stems.

Combine cooked spinach, diced mushroom stems, garlic and cheese (leaving out just a little bit of cheese) in a medium bowl. Using a small spoon, stuff mushrooms caps carefully so that they do not break.

Combine bread crumbs, salt, pepper, 2 or 3 taps of cayenne and a small glug of extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl. Bring together with a fork.

Sprinkle caps with remaining cheese and bread crumb mixture. Cook for 20 minutes; serve immediately.

A Mexican Mini – Mini Black Bean Taquitos

I never ate much Mexican as a kid. In fact, I hated mexican for quite some time. These days, I’m quite fond of the stuff; though I admit not all of it being authentic (I draw the line at Taco Bell, however. That stuff isn’t even food). A friend of mine held his wedding in Mexico a few years back and I was fortunate enough to attend. Excellent food; not only at the reception but at this excellent taco stand where we met one of the coolest vendors I’ve ever met. I had never eaten cactus before, but that was some good stuff.

Preparing your Taquito

So now I dabble with the style every now and then, admitting whole-heartedly that my German/Italian heritage gives me no special skills. But hey, I can pump out a few easy tasty Americanized treats. And when I’ve been snacking all day? Good to go with minis.

Mini Black Bean Taquito

Mini Black Bean “Taquitos”

12 5-6 inch tortillas
2 cups cooked black beans (1 can); drained
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup guacamole
1 onion; chopped
1 green bell pepper; chopped
2 tablespoons oil
Pinch of salt

Saute your onion and green pepper in oil for 10 minutes with a pinch of salt then move to a separate bowl. Heat your pan to medium low and heat your tortillas one at a time for 10-20 seconds. Add a bit more oil if you need. Add rice, onion and peppers, black beans and guacamole on a thin strip. Roll and enjoy.