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Ask Me Anything

Here’s the scoop. I have been siiiiick. All week. Some kind of flu/cold nastiness. Sicker than I’ve been in quite some time. So needless to say I haven’t done any cooking or baking. Since I don’t have a new recipe for you today I thought we could have a little Friday fun instead. I have been seeing people Tweet links to a website called Formspring. Basically, people can post a question and you answer it. Neat concept, but truth be told, I don’t need another password to remember or page to check. So I figured I would do the same thing, right here. Leave a comment, ask a question, and I’ll reply!

It can be food related, or not. Want to know what I eat for breakfast everyday? The first concert I ever went to? I know Dara probably wants to know the ratio of sports-related clothing items to dresses and skirts in my closet ;-) Your chance to sneak a peek into my life outside of the kitchen.

So while I’m hunkered on the couch under blankets, drinking tea, watching Christmas movies, and hopped up on DayQuil, I will answer your questions. Something you’ve always wanted to ask me? Ask away!

Hoping to kick this thing and be back in the kitchen this weekend. But in the meantime, let’s chat! I promise I won’t sneeze on anyone :)

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185 Responses to “Ask Me Anything”

  1. Molly on December 10, 2010 at 12:54 am

    I’ve already asked you a question on your FAQ page – whether or not you have any dairy-free recipes, or know how to substitute for that. But here, I’d like to offer you a challenge (for when you feel well again for baking): find and adapt a dairy-free recipe for cookies, and/or any other kind of delicious treats. They can be from your own blog – I have found one recipe so far: Lebkuchen, referenced in your 30 Christmas recipes post earlier. The search bar thing only works as far as the terms you’ve attached to your posts. Lebkuchen is dairy-free, as far as I can tell, but you haven’t described it as so.

    I’ll keep reading farther into your archives for more dairy-free recipes, but I’d also like to see you work your magic on a new recipe.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:03 am

      Hi Molly, A couple clarifications and then a couple questions for you:

      - The lebkuchen recipe actually contains an egg so it’s not dairy-free.

      - Unfortunately you won’t find any recipes on the sites specifically described as “dairy-free” simply because 99.9% of them aren’t. I worship at the altar of butter, what can I say? ;-)

      - Are you only looking for dairy-free dessert recipes? Things like hummus, some of the pasta recipes, etc. may not contain any dairy.

      - Finally, are you looking for a recipe that by its nature is devoid of any dairy ingredients, or are you looking for dairy substitutes?

      Reply

      • Molly on December 10th, 2010 at 10:06 am

        Eggs are also dairy!? I had no idea … I went to double check the definition of “dairy,” do see how stupid I was sounding. According to Dictionary.com, this “Jewish dietary law” includes eggs as a dairy product (referring as anything that is served with milk in a meal or something like that; I don’t quite understand it), where conventional definition is anything that is milk, made with milk, or derived from milk. I was speaking with the conventional definition in mind. Inclusion of eggs are definitely fine for me and my guests.

        Anyways, I was asking for recipes that by its nature doesn’t include any milk or milk products. Dairy substitutes is easy enough to switch around with regular recipes; it’s just finding the right substitute for the job.

        Reply

        • Aidan on December 10th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

          Eggs are NOT dairy under the laws of Kashrut. Eggs are parve — neither meat nor dairy. Dictionary.com is not an authoritative source for Jewish halachah. So go ahead and bind your meatloaf with an egg and don’t worry about it.

          Reply

        • Sharon K on December 10th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

          Dairy-free Peanut Butter Cookies (quick too!)
          1 c. peanut butter, chunky or smooth
          1 c. sugar
          1 egg
          1 t. vanilla
          Stir it all together and form into Tablespoon-size balls. Roll the balls in sugar, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and flatten with the tines of a fork in a criss-cross pattern. Bake at 350 for 8 – 10 minutes. Yum!

          Reply

  2. Vicki in GA on December 10, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Hope you are feeling better. That nasty virus has been going around the north GA mountains, too. I decided this year not to get a flu shot – I’ve likely got anitbodies in my system from 20+ years of shots. I don’t do sick very well.

    Okay – silly question – when a recipe calls for one cup of brown sugar, does that mean packed or loose? Some recipes indicate that the brown sugar should be firmly packed in the measuring cup, others don’t.

    One more question: Vanilla. It seems that the more expensive, better quality vanillas I purchase taste so much better than what is on store shelves. Am I fooling myself? I see various websites using the store bought vanilla my mom used for decades.

    Butter: I use hand-churned Amish butter. For baking I’m reluctant to buy store brands and purchase European or organic butters – the quality seems different than store brands. Another food snob opinion or is there a difference in quality?

    Reply

    • Fran n VA on December 10th, 2010 at 8:39 am

      Always pack your brown sugar! Don’t buy cheap vanilla from the Dollar Store….get the day-to- Vanilla Extract day kind in your grocery store (McCormicks, etc.), but I do use Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and I get it from King Arthur Flour when I buy my bread baking items. You can also get it at Williams Sonoma. It does taste a lot better especially in pound cakes and cookies. Sure do wish I could get hand-curned Amish butter. Do they have a website? I normally use unsalted butter in cooking and I normally use a good brand name. I try to catch it on sale and freeze it. I I use salted butter for the table….. Happy Holidays

      Reply

      • Barbara Lambert on December 10th, 2010 at 9:22 am

        Watkins Products has a wonderful Vanilla. If I can’t find a dealer I use a real brand from grocery and check the exp date!

        Reply

        • Vicki in GA on December 10th, 2010 at 11:55 am

          I bought Watkins this time as I live in the sticks.
          Normally, I order vanilla on line, too.

          Reply

      • Vicki in GA on December 10th, 2010 at 11:57 am

        We’re neighbors, kinda.
        I live in north GA mountains.
        Amish butter doesn’t have a website, but is sold at meat markets and speciality stores in the mountains. I have found it at Whole Foods.
        I’ll send you some! Seriously.

        Reply

        • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

          Thanks Vicki! Actually a girl I know who lives near me commented below that a family farm a few miles from me sells it! Small world! I am going to get some there!

          Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:10 am

      Hi Vicki! Thank you, sick is no fun at all!

      - Brown sugar. If you are measuring into a measuring cup, I always pack. If you weigh your ingredients, you can just spoon the brown sugar out.

      - Vanilla. I can tell a HUGE difference in vanilla. I used the store-bought vanilla for a long time and then started buying madagascar bourbon vanilla at Williams Sonoma a few years ago. Now that I use it so much I buy the quart containers of it from King Arthur Flour (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/madagascar-bourbon-vanilla-extract-32-oz). It’s not cheap but one of those lasts me a little less than a year.

      - Butter. My only rule with butter is that I use unsalted for all of my baking. I would love to try Amish butter – where do you find that? I have seen the European brands in my local store but at $8/lb and the amount of baking I do, that’s just not economical. I use either Land o’ Lakes brand or buy in bulk (4 lb packages) from Sam’s Club. I am thinking of splurging one day on European butter and enjoying it slathered on some French bread, so I can appreciate the taste :)

      Reply

      • Vicki in GA on December 10th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

        The European butter is good, but Amish butter spoils a person for life!
        None of the grocery stores carry it. Several meat markets or small independent family-owned stores carry it.
        The Amish deliver products to the mountains. Less than 25 years ago there were no major roads coming into this area so people didn’t have access to a lot of things. The Amish have been supplying the area with furniture and food goods for decades.

        When I first moved to the mountains from Sacramento, CA, I was in the grocery store buying ingredients for Banana Pudding. I asked a woman shopper what kind of pudding mix she used to make Banana Pudding – she looked at me like I was the village idiot! Before she walked away in disgust, her response was, “I MAKE my own pudding.” Okay.

        I learned quickly that people make things from scratch.

        The county maintains a huge cannery for the women in the community. During the summer local women still can food for the winter. I love to go there and learn. The cannery was built after WWII and was a working cannery. It is the neatest place – hot – but fascinating for this once city girl.

        Reply

        • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

          The cannery sounds so neat!!!

          Reply

          • Vicki in GA on December 10th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

            The agriculture teacher and another man run the cannery for the ladies from July through October. It opens again in the fall for deer hunters.

            All the equipment is very old but has been maintained well. All a person has to do is take produce and foods to be canned, a knife, apron, and jars. Everything else is supplied. There are huge long stainless steel tables to work at with pull down hoses at every station and big sinks at each end of the long tables. Also, there are big cook pots if a family wants to make soups, stews, or chilli beans – I’ve seen generations of women canning together for the winter. One lady told me that there are still people in the mountains would wouldn’t survive without their canned goods.

            The cannery has a very old apple sauce machine – all a person has to do is wash the apples and lay them on a stainless steel slanted bed and the machine does all the rest including removing seeds. The apple sauce isn’t chunky but the ease of preparation is quick. In the fall, some of the local ladies make apple sauce and add Red Heart candy so the applesauce is pink and tastes like cinnamon. You should smell the place when people are making that applesauce.

            The county has a grant to build a new cannery, but the old one will be missed when the new one is built.

            Cost of canning: $.25 a pint or $.35 a quart.

            Reply

        • Susan on December 10th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

          Vicki and Michelle,
          I live in the mountains of Western North Carlina and get Amish butter from the framers market that runs year round. I had never had it but when I could buy a 2lb slab for bout 8 bucks I said what the heck and we have been spoiled by how wonderful tasting it is…we laugh and say we can almost taste the grass the cows ate. Also get thick cut slab Amish bacon…OMG heaven we cherish that doll it out in small amounts and enjoy…

          There is truly nothing as wonderful as Amish made products.

          Reply

          • Vicki in GA on December 10th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

            Susan – North or south western NC?
            I’m two miles south of the NC state line – in the tri-state area of GA, TN, and NC.
            Within 45 minutes, I can drive from my home in GA to NC and TN and back to GA.
            After all these years of living in GA, I still think that is so fascinating!

            Reply

        • wendyb on May 4th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

          Small world: I live in Fair Oaks near Sacramento! Grew up on Long Island NY but CA is home now. Love all our fresh produce and farmers’ mkts year-round. Your blog is wonderful: have made several items all of which turned out great! (btw, I splurge on the madagascar vanilla bean paste and will be frugal elsewhere.)

          Reply

      • Tiffany on December 10th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

        I’d be willing to bet the Amish in Beaver and/or Lawrence Counties sell their butter…I use Plugra (Wegmans carries it) for special event baking, but otherwise? Costco bulk pack!

        Reply

  3. Vicki in GA on December 10, 2010 at 3:24 am

    On a personal note: what cosmetic would you never give up?
    Fragrance? Face cream? Mascara? Bath gels? Shampoo? Anything!
    I’m always curious to know what other women like and use.

    Reply

    • Tania on December 10th, 2010 at 8:31 am

      I hope you feel better soon! I had that nasty little bug back in October and it really did a number on me. My question is the same as Vicki; I’m always curious too about what products other women prefer. I have been searching for years for the perfect foundation and can’t seem to find the right one! One other question I had is that you really love hockey and pro-football, but do you keep up with college football? I can’t seem to get into pro sports at all, but have in the last couple years become addicted to college football. Go Buckeyes!!! Yes, I’m from Ohio and my boyfriend is a Brown’s fan! Side note: his best friend from college is from New Castle and of course a Steelers fan so they have a great rivalry going on.

      Reply

      • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:22 am

        Hi Tania, I recently started using Bobbi Brown foundation and LOVE it!

        As far as football, I really don’t keep up with college football. I didn’t go to a school that had a big team, and living in Pittsburgh, with professional football, hockey and baseball teams, college sports kind of take a back seat. I do follow Pitt and Penn State’s seasons a little, but I wouldn’t say I’m a passionate fan or anything like that.

        I like your boyfriend’s friend already ;-)

        Reply

        • Courtney on December 13th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

          Us Ohioans tend to have the opposite problem, especially those of us near Columbus. We do have a pro-hockey team now–Go Jackets!–but for the most part our lives are consumed with all things Buckeye. Pro sports just aren’t the same.

          Reply

      • Barbara Lambert on December 10th, 2010 at 9:25 am

        Tania, my hubby is a Brown’s fan. . .they are a special breed, aren’t they? One son is Browns, one Bengals. Gets interesting twice a season! Lived in Ohio for 23 years, GO BUCKEYES!

        Reply

        • Tania on December 10th, 2010 at 9:42 am

          Yes they are a special breed = ) I have never heard anyone cheer louder than he does when watching the Browns.

          Reply

          • Baking Serendipity on December 14th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

            I’m from Cleveland…and I think the louder we cheer, the more it drowns out the bad talk on the city of cursed sports :)

            Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:14 am

      Hi again Vicki! Hmmm that’s a tough question mostly because I’m fairly low-maintenance and not very brand-loyal when it comes to things like this, especially shampoos and soaps. I switch it up a bit.

      I will say, though, that I have been wearing Vera Wang perfume for at least 6 or 7 years now and it is the ONE cosmetic that I don’t think I’d change. I LOVE the smell and it’s perfect for me. It’s a clean scent, not overpowering. And when people compliment it, it’s usually “you smell so good!” vs. “your perfume smells so good”, which I think is a big difference.

      And one more – I recently started replacing some of my old makeup with Bobbi Brown and I absolutely love it. I think it’s great quality, goes on well, stays on, etc. I see myself becoming brand loyal there :)

      Reply

  4. Heidi on December 10, 2010 at 3:57 am

    I hope you are feeling better. I am in the Netherlands (military) and we have recently started a cooking class with the spouses. We meet once a month and take turns teaching the class. What do you think would be something good to teach? We have learned Thai food, bread, empanadas, and the mother sauces. Any suggestions?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Hi Heidi, That sounds like such a neat idea! Some ideas off the top of my head: cupcakes, cookie decorating, homemade pasta, soups, pastries… lots of possibilities! :)

      Reply

  5. Nuts about Food on December 10, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Ok, to keep you busy while you are in bed recovery, here goes: what, besides cooking, are you very passioante about?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:25 am

      Sports, specifically hockey. I guess that’s an interest and not as much an activity, but I just love watching hockey and football. I get fired up and am such a huge fan.

      In terms of other activities, I have taken a great interest in photography since starting this site and am actually waiting on a new camera to be delivered today (my first dSLR!). I also love losing myself in good books, I’m a big reader.

      Reply

      • madge @ vegetariancasserolequeen on December 17th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

        Hi Michelle!

        One week late in asking questions here! If you are just now getting a dSLR then what have you been using??? You mention a point and shoot, but your photos are amazing! What is your secret?

        I have a point and shoot and nearly non-existent access to good natural day light. Its been very discouraging for me…

        Thanks!
        Madge

        Reply

  6. Nuts about Food on December 10, 2010 at 4:21 am

    Sorry, don’t know what was up with my typing: that was supposed to be “recovering” and “passionate” of course…

    Reply

  7. Silvia on December 10, 2010 at 4:50 am

    Hope you are feeling better now, flu can be such a nuisance, but at least one has the chance to relax and watch all the films one would never watch otherwise.
    Now here’s my question: can one garnish cupcakes with a lighter frosting, I know I am sounding prissy but nobody in my family likes a butter frosting and I so do long to try those delicious cupcakes…
    thanks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:26 am

      Hi Silvia, Hmmm I am stumped on what you might mean by a lighter frosting? Like perhaps a glaze?

      Reply

      • Silvia on December 10th, 2010 at 10:06 am

        Well, something in that line I guess, I know it isn’t quite the same, but still would it make an acceptable substitute? Do you have any ideas?
        XXX

        Reply

        • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

          Well, I would say maybe a powdered sugar/milk glaze and you could dip the tops of the cupcakes in and let it dry. Definitely not the same as typical cupcake frosting, but if you just want a little something light on top, it might do the trick.

          Reply

    • Katie on December 10th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      I didn’t like frosting much as a kid (love it now..) and my mom always did whipped cream piped on cupcakes for me. it was lighter I think, and you can deocrate with sprinkles or shredded coconut to make them prettier.

      Reply

    • Malena on December 10th, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      I just tried a new ‘lighter’ frosting this weekend for a birthday party with 50 guests…the people throwing the party don’t like “rich and sweet” food. (???)
      So, I decorated a HUGE two layer vanilla cake with a frosting made entirely of whipped egg whites, vanilla and sugar syrup…I had never done this before, but amazingly it worked…you basically just beat 2 – 4 egg whites until they get soft peaks, (I whipped 4 and had too much) whip in vanilla to taste and then slowly add sugar syrup to taste (made by boiling sugar in water until it just starts to get thick and syrupy). Somehow, if you keep beating the egg whites and sugar syrup, it keeps growing and getting fluffy and stiff. You get big swirly peaks of icing that have absolutely no fat whatsoever (for those non-buttercream folks) and you can control the sweetness too…Give it a try…everyone raved about it and wanted the recipe! BTW, you might want to refrigerate the cupcakes until you serve them as I did that with the cake and it was fine but I left the bowl with the excess icing out on the counter and in time it separated out and fizzled…..
      :)

      Reply

  8. Ginny on December 10, 2010 at 5:51 am

    This is similar to Molly’s question above. I have agreed to make my sister’s wedding cake next November. She has a severe dairy allergy and I need to find a non-fondant frosting for the cake. I would like to do a Swiss meringue buttercream, but I’m thinking that non-dairy margarine would probably not perform so well. Any thoughts on this, and do you have a recipe you can suggest?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:32 am

      Hi Ginny, I probably would not recommend the non-dairy margarine in a Swiss meringue buttercream. But here is a recipe I found on a celiac website that it just a traditional frosting, using a non-dairy substitute. If you don’t need chocolate, I would just substitute the 1/3 cup cocoa powder with 1/3 cup more powdered sugar. I’ve never tried it so I can’t vouch for it but perhaps it’s a start!

      http://www.celiac.com/articles/529/1/Butter-Cream-Nondairy-Frosting-Gluten-Free/Page1.html

      Reply

  9. Lauren at KeepItSweet on December 10, 2010 at 6:33 am

    hope you feel better soon! i want to know how you prevent yourself from eating entire batches of cookies etc. after you bake them

    Reply

  10. Maureen on December 10, 2010 at 7:24 am

    I know you must have answered this a million times – but once more for a new (but old) reader, please.

    What tools do you use to roll out cookie or pie dough and how do you keep it from being a sticky mess? I use a rolling pin cover and cloth, but they add so much flour to the dough that I keep thinking there must be a better, easier way.

    Just discovered food blogs this summer. I have gone through dozens and dropped them, but you are still on my list. Thanks for the recipes and laughs.

    Reply

  11. D on December 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Do you have any special holiday traditions? Hope you are feeling better!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:42 am

      The biggest holiday tradition that is still going on from when I was little is on my mom’s side of the family. We are Italian and do the traditional fish on Christmas Eve. When I was a kid, it was full-on: eel, bakala (cod), orange roughy, smelts, calamari, etc. Through the years of my grandma needing to scale back and my mom and aunt taking over some cooking duties, we’ve evolved. Now instead of some of that old-school fish that not many people eat, we do things like shrimp scampi, crab legs, I think we’re trying crab cakes this year, etc. We also always have various fritters with our Christmas Eve meal – usually corn, cauliflower and apple.

      Reply

  12. CaSaundra on December 10, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Get better soon!! What’s your opinion on the best homemade food gift to give this holiday season?!

    Reply

  13. Fran n VA on December 10, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Check out King Arthur Flour website. They did a gluten free wedding cake. It was shown on their blog.

    Reply

  14. Fran n VA on December 10, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Just found your website and it is great. I am really into decorating and food blogs! I have a question for all readers. Maybe you can help me find a kitchen wooden tool I have been searching for. There is a wooden tool called a “tartlette” that you use to push dough around in small tart shell pans. Also I am looking for the “spurdle/sprudle” that Luncinda Scala Quinn uses on her show. I know that it was made by a wood carver in Washington, but that is as far as I could get. If anyone knows anyone who makes wooden spoons, etc., please email me. Fhodges52@comcast.net. Thanks

    Reply

    • Barbara Lambert on December 10th, 2010 at 9:27 am

      I have a plastic tartlette, Pampered Chef.

      Reply

  15. Alice on December 10, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I hope you feel better soon! That nastiness was going around Texas during Thanksgiving, but I somehow managed to avoid it.

    My question would be: If you were on a deserted island and could only have 5 ingredients – what would they be? (You’d have salt and pepper).

    Just for fun, I think mine would be: lemons, butter, flour, eggs and garlic. Random, but I think I could make anything work with those :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Ooooh good question Alice! I love it! Butter (no-brainer, ha!), garlic, soy sauce, flour, and chocolate. The chocolate I would eat to make me feel better about being stuck on a desert island :)

      Reply

  16. Liddy on December 10, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Sorry you’ve been so sick! Hope you’re better quickly. I have a question about pastry mats. Is a silicone mat the best choice for rolling pastry, breads, etc., and what brand do you use? Also, is it safe to cut out cut-out cookies on a silicone mat, or is there another surface I should use for that so as not to cut through the silicone?

    Reply

    • Tania on December 10th, 2010 at 9:35 am

      I am curious about this too. My counters have a textured surface so it’s IMPOSSIBLE to roll ANYTHING out. I do pie dough in between to sheets of parchment paper.

      Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:55 am

      Hi Liddy, I use a silicone mat pretty much exclusively for rolling out all of my doughs (cookie dough, pastries, bread, pizza, etc). I had a mat from Pampered Chef but when I ruined it (story to follow) I replaced it with this mat from King Arthur Flour – http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/silicone-rolling-mat.

      You can use cookie cutters on the mat, and even a pizza cutter (with a light hand). However, if perhaps you were thinking to use that silicone mat for rolling out fondant and say you used an exacto knife to cut the fondant… I wouldn’t recommend that. Not that I would have ever done that and ended up with a mat that looked like Freddy Kruger took a hand to it, hence the replacement ;-)

      Reply

      • Jane on December 10th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

        Hope you have a speedy recovery. I also don’t do sick very well. I have 2 large silpat mats that I discovered were wonderful for rolling out pie dough. Wax paper and plastic wrap, which tended not to be wide enough, bunched up and slid around, weren’t doing it for me. And… the dough doesn’t stick! I place the dough between 2 mats and roll away. Remove the top mat, invert the pie pan on top of the dough, place a hand onto the bottom of the pan and flip the mat/dough over with my other hand.

        Reply

  17. Paula on December 10, 2010 at 9:03 am

    No questions, just wishes for a speedy recovery from this bug that has got you down. Feel better soon.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:55 am

      Thank you Paula :)

      Reply

  18. ChefAnn on December 10, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Feel better soon! Other than tea…what do you turn to (foodwise) to make you feel better? At our house, it’s chicken soup (preferable my homemade) or sugar cinnamon toast with lots of butter. Maybe a little ginger ale. And definitely hot tea!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:58 am

      Thank you! I have a couple of staples in my sick repertoire: Tom Tucker mint ginger ale. My parents always gave it to us when we were kids and so even now, it’s what I crave when I’m sick. Also, I think this is a Pittsburgh thing. I lived in Ohio for a few years and couldn’t find mint ginger ale anywhere!

      The other thing is garlic toast. When I was little and sick, my grandfather (an Italian immigrant) would make a piece of toast, then cut a clove of garlic in half and rub it, cut side down, all over the toast. Talk about opening up your sinuses!

      Reply

  19. Vanessa on December 10, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Hi Michelle,

    You can find Amish butter near us at Frankferd Farms on Saxonburg Blvd in Saxonburg. The website is http://www.frankferd.com/index.htm. My mother-in-law only buys butter from there and I love it. I think most times you have to pre-order though. Check out the website though it should give you more info. Hope this helps!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 9:59 am

      Awesome, thank you so much Vanessa!! I am definitely going to try it!

      Reply

  20. Barbara Lambert on December 10, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Question: what is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 10:01 am

      Growing up, my parents instilled in us that we never had to be perfect, we didn’t have to have straight A’s, but we had to do and try our absolute best because we owed it to ourselves. I think it’s a great way to approach things, even as an adult. Only you can know if you did that, and so only you know if you’re selling yourself short if you’re honest with yourself.

      Reply

  21. Helen on December 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Hi Michelle,

    All I can say is what an impressive site that you have! I just love the great recipes, photography, comments and reviews! What a professional job! Sending you big high 5 Brown Eyed Baker! I have this confidence in knowing that every recipe is just going to be fabulous!! After baking the Chewy Choc Chip cookie recipe many times over, I can not wait to make the Oatmeal Raison cookie recipe! I just know theyre going to be great! And I look forward to trying many, many more ideas and recipes! I also enjoy my subscription/emails, and am delighted to hear from you!

    As for questions, I wonder who you are..what you look like, how old you are, how you got started, what your educational background is, if your married with children and what your faith is. I believe that you must be a person who loves life, and lives it. I am sure that you must have an exuberante and joyful personality, and you are obviously very personable.

    I hope that you are feeling better soon, I would recommend, if you haven’t already tryed it, the ‘green’ Buckleys – works good, and fast!

    Thanks for everythng,
    Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

    Helen

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 10:06 am

      Aww thank you Helen, you are so very sweet!! Now to your questions:

      - As far as what I look like, there are pictures on my about page:
      http://www.browneyedbaker.com/about/
      Also, on my Unplugged and Steel & Ice about pages as well:
      http://www.browneyedbaker.com/unplugged/about
      http://www.browneyedbaker.com/steelandice/about

      - I am 30 years old :)

      - I started the blog as a hobby almost 4 years ago now. I love to bake and I also love to write and saw it a creative outlet for both, and as a way to motivate me to try new things in the kitchen.

      - Education – I have a bachelor’s degree in communications with a focus on marketing.

      - I am not married and I don’t have any children. I do, however, have a golden retriever who acts like a toddler.

      - I was raised Catholic, and still am Catholic, but I don’t go to church on a regular basis.

      Reply

      • Lauren on December 10th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

        Hi Michelle. I am sorry that you’re sick and definitely hope that you feel better :) soon. I don’t know if you remember, but you actually helped answer some questions of mine before I started my blog. I laughed when I read your responses to Helen’s post because I am 26 and just started my blog. I also have a BA in communications and am working toward my MBA in Marketing. :)

        Reply

      • audhobbs on December 11th, 2010 at 5:48 pm

        Ah-Ha! No husband and no kids! That’s how you get to spend so much time in the kitchen! I’ve been wondering about that since I found your site this past summer–(I made the Chocolate Chip Cookies and have been hooked). I read your ‘about’ post…now I feel like I know you a little more. I wish I would have been more into baking when I was single. Now I get a few hours a week, (mostly nap times and late nights) and have to pick and choose new recipes to try out because I know I don’t have time to try them all. Not that I don’t love every minute of married and motherhood life…I do. Hope you get well quick! Love your site. From one brown eyed baker to another…way out west.

        Reply

  22. Jill on December 10, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Hi, hope you are feeling better soon!

    We are getting ready to decorate christmas cookies tomorrow. I’ve always use the powdered sugar/water icing, I’m not very found of the look or taste of it. I’ve looked at other recipes but I don’t want something that tastes like shortening, but I don’t want to have to worry about spoilage either and i want it to at least achieve a semi-hard state so I can stack them between sheets of wax paper. Do you have a recipe you recommend?

    Reply

  23. Natalie on December 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I read your blog everyday. One thing I always have a problem with is pies. Every time I make one when it is ready to serve the pieces never come out .. intact. I’ve used pillsbury dough, and homemade dough and that doesn’t seem to make a difference. The filling, usually fruit fillings, just seem to never stay together. On the plate it always looks like more of a cobbler. What am I doing wrong? What are some tips? It’s something that really annoys me.

    Reply

    • Tania on December 10th, 2010 at 10:29 am

      Michelle has more experience and probably has some better tips, but I hope that mine will help too as I have come to loooove making pies. First, I use the butter flavored Crisco shortening sticks for the dough instead of butter. I have found that not only does the crust cut better and come out of the pie plate easier, but I also think it doesn’t brown as fast as butter (which I think is weird because you would think it would be the opposite). Secondly, I use cornstarch as my thickener for fruit pies. I find that a nice heaping TBS per pie usually does the trick and if you’re using frozen berries, thaw completely and drain well.

      Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Natalie, I actually use all-butter crusts and never have much of a problem with them coming out. As far as a thickening agent, I love using instant tapioca. It’s in a lot of recipes written by Cook’s Illustrated and I’ve found it to be the best.

      Reply

    • Cindy on November 10th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      I was combing thru the blog for some ideas and came upon your question. I ALWAYS prebake my pie crusts mainly so they are not soggy on the bottom. Another benefit is that you can cut a piece of pie and it holds up. Hope that helps. Give it a try.

      Reply

  24. Tina from PA on December 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I hope you feel better! First ,I love your blog ,you take away the touch of homesickness I often feel,I miss the Burgh area sooo much, second, with all the great places to shop around you ,where’s you top shopping spots? Thank You for always adding some sunshine to my day!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      Thank you Tina! When I’m shopping for clothes I love going to the Prime Outlets in Grove City. It’s about an hour drive, but they have all the stores I shop at regularly and loads of great deals! Around town, I like shopping on Walnut Street in Shadyside. I like that the stores there (JCrew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, etc.) all carry a petite section (I’m a shorty!), whereas the sames stores at the mall don’t.

      Reply

  25. Erik on December 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. My wife and I have been battling the yucks for a few weeks now, thankfully our daughter has escaped so far. So here’s a good one for you – I’ve been looking at some recipes from a couple of Eastern European blogs (I love the multi-layered tortes they make over there!) and I was wondering if you’ve ever heard the term “strong flour”? They call for it in a number of recipes in addition to regular flour. BTW, you might check out http://www.palachinkablog.com if you want to see something different from the regular American dessert fair. Hope you feel better soon.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Erik,I actually have not heard of strong flour but after some googling, it seems like it’s the equivalent of a bread flour or high-gluten flour. Thank you also for the link – I will check it out!

      Reply

  26. Monica on December 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Hi Michelle! First off, I love your site! You have such beautiful photos and delicious recipes! I made the cranberry-walnut rolls for Thanksgiving and they were a HUGE hit with the family. I am getting ready to make the chocolate babka from your site to give away as Christmas gifts. I made a different recipe last year and thought I would try the one you posted. I am a little worried about underbaking the center of the loaves – I remember having issues with that last year. Do you have any tips or suggestions to ensure that I do bake the loaf completely all the way through? (preferably without having to stab/cut into one!)
    Thanks! And feel better soon – My 9-month old baby and I were sick with the stomach flu earlier this week and it resulted in a major setback in my Christmas prep!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

      Thank you Monica! Ahhh babka. It will change your life :) Go rich and delicious. Bread can be tricky, but wait until the tops are nice and golden, and puffed. And resist cutting into the loaves until completely cool. They continue to bake outside of the oven, and cutting into warm bread can cause the residual baking process to stop and cause it to fall and be doughy/gummy.

      Reply

  27. Brandi on December 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

    When do you need to blind bake a crust, and when not to? Thanks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

      You blind bake basically anytime you are making something and are only using one bottom crust (no crust on top).

      Reply

  28. Maggie on December 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Hi Michelle! My sister/co-blogger and I both love your blog!

    My question for you is: what is your job outside of blogging? Or are you one of those lucky bloggers who has managed to make it their full time job?

    Hope you feel better soon! :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      Hi Maggie! Actually, as of exactly today, I am a full-time blogger :) But up until now, I have been a marketing analyst for a few different companies since I got out of college 9 years ago.

      Reply

      • Kyle on December 10th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

        Congrats on being full time blogging! My question is along the lines of how did you get FoodBuzz ads on your site? I am starting a blog and wanted it to look a little more professional but can’t quite understand their site. Will you share your secret of getting the website name out there? Your site is wonderful!

        Reply

  29. Amanda M. on December 10, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Let’s talk sugar creme pie…what’s a good recipe? Why are some fillings cooked before baking and others not? And how in the world do you get the pie shell not to fall into the filling on the edges?!?! I want to master it, but it’s hard!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Amanda, I actually have never heard of sugar creme pie! Do you have any sample recipes you can share? I’ll have to give it a go!

      Reply

      • Amanda M on December 10th, 2010 at 1:18 pm

        Goodness! This is a midwest staple! This recipe is the my favorite so far, I got it from Countryliving.com. There are thousands of recipes out there-some require you to cook the filling on stovetop before pouring it into a flash-baked crust. I haven’t perfected this yet, but my family still devours the whole thing everytime! Enjoy!

        2 cup(s) heavy cream
        1/2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
        1/2 cup(s) brown sugar
        1/2 cup(s) granulated sugar
        3 tablespoon(s) granulated sugar, for sprinkling
        1/2 cup(s) whole milk
        1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
        1 (9-inch) store-bought piecrust
        1 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter
        1 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon

        ——————————————————————————–

        Directions

        1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. For filling: In a medium bowl, combine heavy cream, flour, brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, milk, and vanilla.
        2.Fit crust into a 9-inch pie pan and dot bottom with butter. Pour filling into crust. Combine cinnamon and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and sprinkle on top. Bake pie until set and center is firm to touch, about 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack.

        Reply

        • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

          Thank you! I will definitely give this a try!

          Reply

  30. Daniella on December 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

    i hope you’re feeling better :)
    quick question: when making frosting like cream cheese or yogurt frosting( i make a low fat frosting with yogurt and cool whip.) Can you leave the frosting out on the cupcake? im always too nervous about leaving dairy food out. And if you can how long before the frosting get’s bad?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you Daniella :) I will leave cream cheese frosting out for a few hours, but if there are leftover cupcakes or I’m not serving them until the next day, I refrigerate. I’ve never made a yogurt/cool whip frosting but I imagine that would start to get soft over time as well. I’d keep frosting a few days. The buttercream at least, I can’t really attest to yogurt/cool whip.

      Reply

  31. Sandy on December 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Can you freeze baked cake layers for a chocolate cake. I have some time how and know I will be rushed later in the month so I wanted to bake the layers and freeze. How does that work? Thanks Feel better

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

      Sandy, Yes absolutely! You will want to cool the layers completely, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil. I would place each one in a tightly sealed ziploc freezer bag.

      Reply

  32. Meghan on December 10, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Hi Michelle! I hope you are feeling better soon! Although snuggling up with tea and Christmas movies sounds pretty good right now ;)

    You mentioned above that you just purchased your first dSLR camera. Congrats! I have been wanting one for a long time, and have finally decided to take the plunge. I was wondering what kind/brand you decided on and why. I know a lot of food bloggers use the Canon Rebel XTi, but my sister’s fiance recently chose a Nikon over that one because he said the lenses are interchangeable with different brands. I’ve been asking around for advice and I figured you’d be a good one to ask since my main purpose will be similar to yours – food photography. Thanks!!!!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Meghan, Thank you for the well wishes! I did just purchase my first dSLR, in fact, UPS tracking says it should arrive today! Yay! I bought the Canon T2i. The Nikon cameras can use lenses from different brands. Some factors in my decision-making: I had a Canon point and shoot for a long time and was very happy (and comfortable) with it. I borrowed my cousin’s Nikon D40 for about a week but felt like it was not very intuitive (for me, anyway). The Nikon equivalent of the Canon T2i (the D90) is roughly the same price, but has 12 megapixels while the T2i has 18, so I felt like I was getting more for my money. Finally, I went to a store and played around with both and was just more comfortable holding, shooting, etc. with the Canon. A lot of photography buffs will tell you that Canon and Nikon are both fabulous and it really comes down to the comfort factor.

      Reply

  33. Ram on December 10, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Hi Michelle, I hope you feel much better soon to enjoy the holiday season.

    I always wonder whether to grease or not the pan when baking chiffon or sponge cakes, please tell me what to do.

    Where do you buy your nuts and chocolates (what kind/brand)?

    What do you think is the trend now in baked goods, are cupcakes still in?

    Thank you and get well soon!!!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      Thank you Ram! I figure I can lay on the couch through Christmas as long as I am okay to stand out in the frigid cold to watch outdoor hockey at the Winter Classic Jan 1st :)

      I grease and flour pans no matter what I’m making. I always use vegetable shortening for the greasing.

      Nuts I buy in bulk at Sam’s Club – I keep lots of walnuts, peanuts and pecans on hand. Chocolate I use either Ghiradelli or Lindt and buy at the local grocery store or Sam’s Club (they carry some Ghiradelli products in bulk).

      I think cupcakes are still in, but whoopie pies seem to be getting very trendy lately too!

      Reply

  34. Tom on December 10, 2010 at 11:49 am

    NO real question. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate the great recipes. I am making a batch of your pumpkin maple cream whoopie pies to take to my daughter before finals. Hope you feel better.

    BTW, I am amazed you are single. A woman who is a great baker and a Pittsburgh sports fan I would think you would have guys lining up at your door.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind words Tom, and how sweet of you to bake for your daughter! My mom always sent me goodies for finals :)

      It seems that the right one hasn’t shown up yet ;-)

      Reply

  35. Robyn on December 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

    would love to hear more about your kitchen? big vs. small? in a house or apartment? i moved into a condo about six months ago and have, like, negative counter space.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Robyn, I actually live with my mom right now, so it’s a house and a decent-sized kitchen. But all of my kitchen accumulations are stored in a separate room on shelves because I can’t exactly kick her out of her own kitchen and replace everything with my stuff ;-) So when I bake, I gather my ingredients and supplies and carry them into the kitchen :)

      Reply

      • Robyn on December 10th, 2010 at 1:43 pm

        me too! half of my bedroom closet is bakeware, because i have limited cupboard space in my teeny kitchen!

        Reply

  36. Meghan on December 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Oh I have one more question, and it’s a bit more fun! In the past you’ve done joint-posts with Annie of Annie’s Eats. I always wondered how you two met since you live in different cities. Was it just through the blog world or do you have another connection? Just curious :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Hi Meghan, just through the blog world :)

      Reply

  37. Pina on December 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    Hope you’re feeling better soon, I read your blog everyday! Last week my daughter in law went to a cooking fair and brought back a few delicacies. Have you ever tasted or made “canele de bordeaux”? They are absolutety delicious. Perhaps this could be one of your next projects. I know I am, searching the net to buy my moulds and make them before Christmas.
    Happy cooking!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Ooooh I have not had canele de bordeaux. I could get on board with that project :)

      Reply

  38. Meaghan on December 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Michelle!

    I love your blog, it is so inspiring to get you in the kitchen and bake. I have been searching blindly for a cookie recipe that I had once. A late co-worker of mine received cookies from a client and they were so delicious. I think about them all the time and search trying to find something that may be similar. These cookies were a white cookie dough, not sure if it was sugar, butter, etc. and they had chocolate in the middle, assuming it was a hershey kiss. Seemed like a very simple cookie, but I can’t find anything like it. Does anything come to your mind that may be the answer to this mystery cookie I had?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:45 pm

      Meaghen, I’m assuming you’re not talking about peanut butter blossoms, right? http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2007/12/21/christmas-baking-the-peanut-butter-blossom/

      If not, I actually feel like I’ve had the type of cookies you’ve described before. I will ask my mom since I’m sure it was from Christmas when I was kid and get back to you!

      Reply

      • Meaghan on December 10th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

        Thanks Michelle! The cookies were not the peanut butter blossoms. I really think they were more of a butter cookie dough.

        Reply

  39. Kim - Liv Life on December 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Michelle, I don’t have any questions, but I just wanted to say that I hope you feel better soon. I had the real flu a few years back, it set me back almost a month! I have never been so sick… ugh! Hang in there!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

      Aw thank you Kim!

      Reply

  40. Lisa on December 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Hope you’re feeling better quickly, Michelle! Late last night I posted to you under the Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies recipe. I had major problems with making cut outs. My friend actually sent me another recipe that I can try tonight for tomorrow’s decorating. Not sure how to get these from flattening out so much but unfortunately, will have to move on to a different recipe. Am still enjoying your site and will try other things. Have a healthy weekend!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Hi Lisa, I responded to your comment a little while ago. I’m so sorry they didn’t turn out for you :( That is my absolute go-to recipe for my decorated cookies; I’ve found they hold shape better than any others I’ve tried. I hope you have luck with the new recipe! Happy cookie decorating!

      Reply

      • Lisa on December 10th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

        That’s why I was surprised that after I followed your instructions about putting the pans in the fridge before baking, it didn’t work well for me. That’s OK. I have made many recipes in the past and will manage, I’m sure!

        Reply

  41. AC on December 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    How do you make frosting the right consistency for frosting so it maintains the shape of the piping tip? Mine seems to flatten out a bit always. My kitchen is always hot (Arizona) so I always thought it was just a matter of melting, but as the weather cools down a bit, I’m thinking there is another problem. Is there any advice, like with meringue you should be able to flip the beater upside down and still keep a peak?

    I try to add more powdered sugar sometimes, but with cream cheese frosting it alters the taste…hmmpf.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

      Hi AC, are you referring to frosting for things like cakes and cupcakes, or sugar cookies?

      Reply

  42. Susie on December 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hey Michelle,

    I’m 16 and I’m from Toronto, and I must say, I love your blog! I read it almost everyday to get inspired and bake something amazing for my family and friends. I just have a few questions off the top of my head:

    - Chief culinary consultant; he comes up a lot but I’m still confused about who he is and what he does…

    - I find myself baking a lot for school events and it’s really hard finding a portable baked good that really impresses people (beyond your typical chocolate chip cookie or brownie or so on). Any recommendations?

    - Do you ever come up with your own totally original recipes? And if so, do they ever actually work, or are they complete disasters like mine? Haha..

    Thanks for the taking the time, Michelle. PS I play hockey and I’m currently sick right now… We’re alike in so many ways.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Susie! I just visited Toronto a few months ago – a really lovely city. To answer your questions:

      - Chief Culinary Consultant is currently a vacant position (previously held by my boyfriend, who has since become an ex-boyfriend… ah such is life, right?). It’s not a real position, just a clever way of referring to him ;-)

      - Portable baked goods – what about pies? or quiches?

      - I do come up with my own, but many times it takes significant trial and error. I have definitely had my fair share of disasters. Think cookies spreading into one big pancake, cupcake batter overflowing all over the oven… we learn and try again, right? :)

      And finally, I *LOVE* that you play hockey! I would have loved to when I was 7 or 8, but around here hockey still wasn’t big at that time, and there weren’t leagues for girls. I’m a little jealous :) I hope you feel better soon too!

      Reply

  43. Karen E. on December 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I have just finished a recipe for cookies and have decided my oven must run hot as the first batch was burned way before the time specified on the recipe. I have read recommendations on several sites to buy an oven thermometer to check the real temperature of your oven. Do you do this? And if so, do you have a certain type you recommend?

    Thanks and feel better soon!
    Karen

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Karen, Yes! I feel like I couldn’t function without my oven thermometer! I use a Taylor oven thermometer. I bought it at Bed Bath & Beyond for about $10. That was quite a few years ago, this must be the newer version (mine looks like an older style compared to it).

      Reply

      • Karen E. on December 10th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

        Great, thank you!

        Reply

    • Lisa on December 10th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      Karen, even though my oven is relatively new (well, less than 5 yrs old), I was always puzzled why I had to automatically lower my temperature. Finally invested in the oven thermometer and found out that it was off by about 50 degrees! Now I tell everyone they must get one!

      Reply

      • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

        Lisa, I got an oven thermometer as a result of a brand-new oven (in a newly constructed house!) underbaking things terribly. Through using the oven thermometer, I ended up finding out that the oven was beeping that it was done preheating when in actuality it was still sometimes 100 degrees below where it was supposed to be!

        Reply

  44. Meagan on December 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I Hope you feel better soon!! I was wondering if you had any advise for someone (me) who wants to start a food blog but I’m unsure where to begin and how to get started. About how many hours a week do you dedicate to your blog?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

      Hi Meagan, My advice it to just jump right in. Talk and write about what you’re passionate about. Let your personality shine. How many hours per week I dedicate to my blog is very, very different now than when I started ;-) When I first started I’d say maybe an hour or so a day, if I took pictures, wrote, etc. Now this is my full-time gig so it’s more on the order of at least 40 hours a week (usually closer to 50+).

      Reply

  45. Amalia on December 10, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Hi! (:
    I would like to know, what dessert/pastry you consider the most daunting and dificult to make? and, do you think a person needs a special skill to de good at decorating cakes or sweets?
    Thanks! i LOVE THIS BLOG!

    -Amalia http://buttersweetmelody.wordpress.com

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

      Hmm most difficult dessert or pastry, that’s a tough one. I think European-style tortes can be challenging since they are thin and usually use fancy buttercream.

      I don’t think you need special skills for decorating cakes – just a little instruction and practice! I took two series of classes at my local Michael’s and then just started playing around.

      Reply

  46. Zoe Says on December 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Hi,

    Just wondering how you manage your blog. Did you design it yourself or did you go to someone for help? I am looking to transition my blog over next year to a self-managed one and am looking for any advice on where to go for customization.

    Thanks and hope you feel better!
    Zoe

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Zoe, My sister is a graphic designer so she did my logo, the background, and some other things. I actually taught myself the technical stuff so I coded/customized everything myself.

      Reply

  47. foodlvr on December 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    We’re sick here too! Runny nose, crap in the throat so we’re coughing and spitting, oh it is ugly! My son is almost better, my husband is worse, and I’m in the middle.

    My question for you is (it is not food related) – what is your favorite guilty tv pleasure when you are sick and laying around? I’ll tell you what I do – all the shows I record during the week that I have no time for, or the movies I record, are what I watch when I am stuck on the couch with the tissue box and the garbage can. Lately it includes Sarah Palin’s Alaska (I can’t stand her but it is funny to see her shoot at stuff and miss), Homemade Millionaire, Cooking Channel’s Food Jammers, Nigella Kitchen, and Bitchin” Kitchen.

    I hope you get better soon! I hope we are all better soon! I can’t take it much longer (BTW, even while I was sick I baked some cookies for a party coming up, I made sure to wash my hands often, and wear gloves for part of it).

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:46 pm

      Oooh guilty pleasure TV, great question! Quite a few years back I watched Real Housewives of Orange County, which is guilty at its finest. I haven’t watched any of the subsequent seasons. Nowadays, it’s pretty much reruns from when I was younger. I LOVE watch old Beverly Hills 90210 episodes, Full House, Friends, and… wait for it… Golden Girls! Haha!

      Reply

  48. Juta on December 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Hello Michelle,
    I really love your blog, it’s very inspiring and wan’t to try all of your recipes (not joking). You are an expert at this and I’m just an amateur so I would like to ask for your advice. I was planing to buy a hand blender but recently I started thinking about a food processor. I understand it’s much more expensive, but maybe it’s worth it. Or is a good hand blender enough? I’m really lost, so I will be extremely grateful for your advice.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Juta, first just to clarify – when you say hand blender, are you talking about an immersion blender? If so, I would definitely get a food processor before an immersion blender. I actually don’t have an immersion blender myself, but I use my food processor multiple times a week!

      Reply

  49. Hanaa on December 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    First, I hope you feel better soon!!
    Second, what a cool concept. Ok, here it goes. As you might remember (or not, and that’s fine), I recently made Baking Illustrated Thick and Chewy Choc Chip Cookies. I made them again at a friend’s house (we measured everything) but her dough was softer than mine and the cookies turned out much flatter (still chewy though). The only difference I can think of is, I used UNbleached APF and at her house we used Bleached APF. Do you think that would make a difference? I briefly browsed through Shirley Corriher’s book and she says that unbleached flour absorbs more flour than bleached APF. What say you?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Hanaa, I’m not sure that the bleached/unbleached flour could have made a difference, but I have found that the cookie dough for those cookies especially can have a dramatic change in texture based on how well you cool the butter after melting it. I suspect that maybe the second time you didn’t cool it as long, which would have definitely caused the soft dough and a flatter cookie.

      Reply

  50. Katie on December 10, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    To echo everyone, I hope you’re feeling better, being sick all week is a drag! Hopefully your Italian mama is making you all kinds of Italian comfort foods :)

    If you could live in any other state, which would it be? Other country?

    What type of cuisine is your favorite (Mexican, Japanese, Indian, etc)? And what’s your favorite dish?

    What is your “fall back” food you make when you don’t feel like cooking a fancy meal or have any craving for something?

    Does your family enjoy all of your cooking and baking, or pass on the treats?

    HOW do you stay so thin and bake like that? LOL I know I have to give lots away and hold back from making a lot of the recipes because with yummy sweets in the house I have very little self control!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:34 pm

      Great questions Katie! Here I go…

      Another state, hmm, that’s really tough. I love the beach and the laid back lifestyle of the Carolinas. But I also love small-town and would be equally enamored with New England. Another country – although I’ve never been I think I’d have to say Italy. I already feel such a kinship with it since my grandfather was an immigrant and we enjoy so many Italian traditions.

      Favorite type of cuisine – I always love American fare and of course Italian, but lately I’ve been really into Asian. Chinese, Thai, sushi, etc. I can’t seem to get enough of it when I’m out; I need to experiment more with it at home!

      Fall back food when I don’t feel like cooking (other than takeout) is probably peanut butter and jelly :)

      Most of my goodies go to my family and friends, or I freeze them.

      As for staying thin, I really just eat a little bit of everything. I don’t naturally have a huge appetite. I can’t remember the last time I actually finished a meal at a restaurant, I always end up taking 1/2 home with me. So, I eat until I’m full and enjoy a little bit of everything :) I also eat fairly healthy/light most of the time outside of my dessert splurges.

      Reply

  51. Vicki in GA on December 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I like crispy cookies – how is a recipe tweeked to make the cookies chrunchy and crisp? More fat, less eggs, more or less flour?
    Sometimes I make the best chrunchy chocolate chip cookies and other times they are gooey. I don’t like gooey soft cookies.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Vicki, You pretty much hit the nail! More fat, less eggs and less flour.

      Reply

  52. Anne B on December 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Hello Michelle!

    I am from Washington D.C. and have been to several of the cupcake bakeries in the area. While I like frosting, to me…it’s about the cupcake. And some of the cupcakes I’ve tried just don’t seem to hold up to the frosting! I have a recipe I have not tried yet (coconut cupcakes) which call for the use of potato starch. Have you used this before and how will it affect the texture of my cupcakes? (I prefer a more dense cake!)

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery and thanks for your insight. Yours is my ‘go-to ‘ blog for the best recipes!

    Anne

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      Hi Anne, Thank you! I actually have never used potato starch before. I have heard it used as a substitution for cornstarch to thicken things like sauces and stews. I did some googling and it seems to be that potato starch can add some extra moistness to baked goods.

      Reply

  53. Cindy on December 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    First of all, I’m sorry you’re sick. Secondly, thank you for taking questions. I have been dying to know why when I put leftover pizza dough in the fridge for later or maybe for another day, when I go to shape it, it shrinks back & I can’t get a decent size circle. When the dough has been refridgerated, I set it out on the counter for a couple hours to get it room temperature. That doesn’t seem to help.

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

      Hi Cindy, there are a number of reasons that the pizza dough could be shrinking on you. Some of them: the dough wasn’t left to rise quite long enough, it may be too stiff (not enough water was used), and sometimes you just need to work it a bit, let it rest, work it some more, then let it rest. I always cover my dough balls with a damp towel while letting it rest before shaping.

      Reply

  54. Amanda on December 10, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I hope you’re feeling better!

    So the question I have for you is how did you get started in blogging? In the early days of your blog how did you make yours rise to the top to the point where you could become a full time blogger? It just seems like such a fortunate turn of events that you could turn a hobby into a job, I’d love to know your secret!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Amanda, The answer to that is kind of long-winded (as you might expect!), and I am actually planning on doing a post about this exact question over on Unplugged within the next week or two. So be sure to stay tuned!

      Reply

      • Amanda on December 14th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

        wonderful! looking forward to it!

        Reply

  55. Lindsay on December 10, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Being sick at this time of year is no fun, hope you get to feeling better!

    I have never made rolled out sugar cookies with royal icing, but I’ve always wanted to try. If I was going to incorporate those into my Christmas baked goodies, would you recommend using the All-Occasion Sugar Cookie recipe and Royal Icing or is it a little overwhelming to do all that the first time you make it? Are they good without the Royal Icing in case I run out of time or just get lazy?

    Thanks for all the great recipes, I’m about to make some peppermint bark tonight!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

      Hi Lindsay, You should totally make them! And Christmas is a great reason :) I usually make my dough one day, bake the cookies the next, and then decorate them the 3rd. Spreading it out makes it a little more manageable.

      And, if you don’t get around to decorating, the sugar cookies are awesome “naked”. I always save myself a few from a batch to eat plain :)

      Reply

  56. Laura on December 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Hi Michelle!
    Sorry you’re feeling icky. That nastiness went around here in MN too (and I’m sure there’s more to come…). Sorry if you’ve answered this already (and this isn’t my “real” question…) but who do you root for in Hockey? My DH roots for the MN Wild. Being from WI I have no Pro team to root for so I’m fairly neutral. Anywho…what’s your all-time fav choc chip cookie recipe? I want to make some for my BIL for the holidays…thinking of Alton’s “The Chewy” but wanted to see what you thought. TIA!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Laura! I root for the Pittsburgh Penguins :) I am from Pittsburgh and have loved hockey since I was a little girl, so they are definitely my team.

      All-time favorite chocolate chip cookie? That’s easy! Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies:
      http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2008/06/21/thick-and-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies/

      I made them 2.5 years ago and still have yet to make any other recipe since making them. They are the most perfect chocolate chip cookie. My family and friends go crazy for them!

      Reply

  57. Christine N. on December 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Does using margarine instead of butter in frosting affect its consistency? Thanks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

      I have never used margarine in place of butter for frosting so I can’t speak to the consistency change, although I imagine it would, and it would GREATLY affect the flavor. I personally would stick with butter.

      Reply

  58. Brandi on December 10, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Hi! Hope you’re feeling better.

    My question: What is the photo of on this post? It looks like pizza rolls. If so, yum! (If not, it’s still probably yum, anyway. :D)

    Reply

  59. Sharon on December 11, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Ohhh. Hope you’re feeling better!

    I have a quick question: is granulated sugar the same as castar sugar. I googled them but I still don’t quite understand. Castar sugar dissolves faster when baking cookies so should we always use castar sugar rather than white sugar?

    Okay… That was two questions

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 6:59 pm

      Hi Sharon, Castar sugar is also known as superfine sugar. It’s more finely ground than regular white granulated sugar and is used most often in drinks like lemonade and punches where you need the sugar to dissolve completely and quickly. I’ve seen it called for in a couple of dessert recipes, but not many. I would only use it if a recipe specifically calls for it.

      Reply

      • Sharon on December 20th, 2010 at 6:56 am

        Thanks a bunch!! :D

        Reply

  60. Cameryn on December 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    I have two questions, where can I get my hands on dutch-pressed cocoa powder and when decorating cupcakes, do you use the large tips?

    Reply

  61. Amy T. on December 11, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Michelle-
    First, I hope you are feeling better!
    Second, thanks for pushing me to bake bread from scratch. My family and I thank you!!!
    Now, I am trying to find a recipe for cinnamon rolls without any nuts as we have a nut allergy in my house. Any thoughts/suggestions?????
    Amy

    Reply

  62. Monica on December 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour?
    What do you think of the Crisco baking sticks in place of butter? I saw them in the store and was curious.
    Hope you feel better!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 7:09 pm

      I always use unbleached.

      I typically never use shortening in place of butter. I will use shortening if that’s what a recipe calls for, but won’t sub it in for butter. Butter has a distinct taste and also has specific properties (different from shortening) that results in specific textures in baked goods.

      Reply

  63. Terra on December 11, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Hello!

    I love reading your blog. I’m always here looking at all the recipes. I’m always excited to try them out but we never have any ingredients for anything. I did make the cowboy cookies once and my family loved them. My brother asked me to make some for him to bring into a work party and his coworkers loved them. I made two batches and for one batch, I substituted the chocolate chips for raisins (and cut back on some sugar because the raisins are really sweet) and surprisingly, everyone liked those more.

    I’m hoping to make tons of bark this year (especially trying out the white chocolate pistachio and cranberry one you have) and give them as little mini gifts.

    My question has to do with eggs: What size eggs should I use for baking? Some recipes state the size but I found that a lot don’t. I’m always worried that my recipe won’t come out right.

    Aside from that, I hope you feel better! Being sick is no fun. My sister came over last night and demanded that I dye her hair because her friend messed it up. It ended up taking me hours and then she commandeered my bed so I had no place to sleep and no covers. So now I have the sniffles haha. I’m guessing Pittsburg weather is pretty similar to Philadelphia weather. It’s so cold!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Terra, Glad the cowboy cookies were a hit, I love them! The raisin sub sounds great!

      For eggs, I always buy large eggs and that’s what I use. Always :)

      Yep, it is definitely blustery here, waiting for the snow! I am starting to feel better today, thank you :)

      Reply

  64. Abby on December 12, 2010 at 11:32 am

    How do you make a living writing a blog? Is it because advertisers pay to have their ads on your page? I love your blog by the way and hope you are feeling much better!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 7:13 pm

      Hi Abby, Thank you! I am starting to feel better today. There are many ways you can make a living writing a blog, but not all are directly related to “writing a blog”. Some examples: Yes, definitely advertising, but then also promotional agreements, freelance writing, recipe development, affiliate sales, the possibilities are seemingly endless. Many bloggers do it many different ways.

      Reply

  65. Annie on December 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I’m looking to buy a weighing scale for baking, do you have any recommendation? :D

    Reply

  66. Theresa on December 12, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Michelle, hope you are feeling better. I love your blog and recipes. The latest one I tried was your fresh green bean casserole–love love love!!! Listen up everyone, once you try this you will never want to eat the other popular version. Anyway, Michelle, I’m looking for a delicious chocolate cake log recipe….any suggestions?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 12th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

      Hi Theresa, Believe it or not, I’ve actually never made a yule log cake. My first suggestions would be to check Joy of Cooking and Cook’s Illustrated (they are my go-to sources for traditional recipes). Good luck and have a great holiday! :)

      Reply

  67. Pina on December 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    Can’t wait to try the peanut brittle.
    My question is: when a recipe says to alternate between the dry ingredients and the liquid, which do you start and end with?
    Thanks! Happy Holidays and Happy Baking!!!

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 14th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      Hi Pina, When alternating between dry and liquid ingredients, always start and end with the dry ingredients. Happy Holidays to you too! :)

      Reply

  68. H. Renee on December 19, 2010 at 5:25 am

    I’m sorry this is late, but it is a question that I’m not finding any answers to that help.

    I have a wheat allergy (not a gluten intolerance, think of a shellfish allergy with the hives and the puffing up and the breathing issues), and I can’t eat wheat, spelt, millet, or (we’re not sure) barley. This allergy was killing me, so we’ve had to cut everything I react to from the diet and have stocked the house with epi pens. I have to avoid the kitchen during all flour involving endeavors to keep it out of my lungs and… it makes me miserable to see other people bake and eat bread when I can’t.

    Is there any way to substitute these flours in breads or cookies? I am NOT gluten free, and all I find are gluten free recipes with horribly expensive supplies. I don’t need that; I need something I can make within my skill level and budget in my very own kitchen. Substitutions would be more helpful than recipes, or even a shove in the right direction if I’m a moron about this.

    I miss my breads and cookies and cakes and pastries of all sorts! Please help?

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 16th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      Hi there, wow, I am so sorry to hear about your allergies. I feel for you :( Unfortunately I am not very well-versed with these types of substitutions and would hate to point you in the wrong direction. Perhaps some other readers will have some suggestions!

      Reply

      • H. Renee on February 17th, 2011 at 1:09 am

        Thank you very much for responding!

        I’m still looking, but I’ve had some good luck with using Rice Flour in things like cookies and cakes. I’ve also had success with half oat flour, half rye flour pancakes, but bread is an ongoing battle. I’m hoping that adding vital Wheat Gluten will help and have a low enough wheat content that I won’t be very sick. :)

        Reply

  69. Lauren on February 17, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Hi! I am really sorry to hear about your allergies. Whenever an epipen is involved, it doesn’t sound like fun. :) I have Celiac’s, which I know is different than your dietary concerns because you can eat products involving gluten, which I cannot.

    Here is a link to a Wikipedia article that I found about vital wheat gluten. I would be a little concerned about using it simply because it is sourced from wheat and as you said, you are pretty allergic to wheat. Epipen anyone? :)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_gluten_(food)

    You noted that you are having success with rice flour, oat flour, and, rye. Have you tried potato starch or tapioca flour? Tapioca flour (starch: same thing) tends to mimic the properties of wheat flour in baking, including bread. I have a gluten free blog, which again, I realize doesn’t identically follow your path. My blog, however, does provide ideas that you may not have considered and you can adapt anything to fit your needs, even if that means using items containing gluten, but not wheat. Feel free to e-mail me: lpowell01@hotmail.com!

    Reply

  70. H. Renee on February 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I’m looking at vital wheat gluten. The amount is small enough (my more severe reactions are triggered by the amount and whether or not I’ve eaten as eating slows the reaction) in the recipes I’ve found that include it that I might be able to use it. I’ll do a skin and tongue test and try it very carefully if there is little or no reaction. :)

    Thank you for the link! I hadn’t thought to wiki, and it flags some problems I’ve had as wheat related and therefore treatable, most specifically difficulties breathing in exercise and problems with aspirin.

    I’d love to read your blog; I’m dropping you an email, and I’ll cite this blog so you recognize it. :) Generally anything that is gluten free that doesn’t include gluten free wheat (how DO they make that?) I can eat, so I think your information would be very helpful!

    Reply

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