Category Archives: techniques

Review: Zombie Cupcakes: From the Grave to the Table with 16 Cupcake Corpses

Zombie Cupcakes: From the Grave to the Table with 16 Cupcake Corpses

I’ve been catching up on The Walking Dead Season Two the past several nights.  I’m really enjoying the drama, the characters, the production, really…all of it.  Still, for those of you who have seen the show, you’ll believe me when I say it’s not making me hungry.  Like, not all.  (Nor particularly cheery for that matter.)

On the other hand, when Zombie Cupcakes: From the Grave to the Table with 16 Cupcake Corpses crossed my desk (thanks to the great folks at Andrews McMeel Universal for the copy), I got to thinking that it might not be so bad to eat a zombie now and then.  A cake zombie that is.

What’s the Book About?

This book is equal parts love letter to zombies and manual for making great cupcakes.  Recipes are introduced with zombie trivia questions (I was dismayed to see how many I got wrong…) and the designs themselves pay homage to many popular zombie myths, including the T-virus from Resident Evil, baseball bats for zombie bashing, and, of course, step-by-step instructions for how to make brains delicious enough for zombies and children alike.

Recipes start with decorations and the basics including how to make royal icing, blood colored gel, teeth, crosses, maggots and the aforementioned baseball bats.  Then the book goes on to give 16 different recipes ranging from Toxic Bite to Zombies Rising to my personal favorite, Bride and Groom (see the cover above.)  What’s even more impressive is the cupcakes aren’t just pretty to look at, they’re also delicious to eat with their assortment of frostings and fillings.

Even better, author Zilly Rosen obviously had would-be/wannabe/never-was cupcake designers like myself in mind when she wrote the book because the illustrations and techniques are simple enough that I think I could even make these cupcakes.

Fun Fact(s) I Learned Reading the Book

The budget for the Thriller video was $500,000, which in those days I bet was HUGE money.

There was a zombie movie in 1943 called I Walked with a Zombie.  I had no idea…

What’s Well Done?

This book gets high marks for three things.  First, it’s passion.  Either Zilly herself or someone involved in making this book loved zombies.  That much is obvious because the book is so much fun to read.

Two, the visuals in the book are great.  You know when you’re dealing with zombies, there’s going to be gore involved and this book doesn’t fail to deliver (for instance the Eye Popper recipe is very disturbing.)  Still, it’s not so gross I wouldn’t show my kids or eat one of the cupcakes if they were served to me.

Three, the ease-of-use of the book.  Literally, the illustrations of how to make the feet, eyes, zombie brides, etc. are fantastic and very userfriendly.

What’s a Little Rare

I thought the book was over before it was done.  There’s a lot of creativity in the pages and I’m sure with all the work that went into making the book great that expanding it would have been difficult or even cost prohibitive, but I just wanted more.

I’m not saying the book isn’t worth it’s price tag or anything, I just wanted to see more ideas and more zombie gruesomeness.


If you like decorating cupcakes or if you want to be good at it, this is a great book.  While the techniques focus on zombies, I have no doubt that they couldn’t work for other things, too.


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How to Make Brown Butter

Sliced ButterHow to Make Brown Butter

Okay, so in yesterday’s post How to Melt Butter, I talked about the fact that for the next several weeks, I am going to concentrate on going over culinary fundamentals.  I really want to cover the basics of cooking, and in doing so, equip all the home cooks out there with the skillz to understand what I (and other food writers) are talking about when we write recipes and to make absolutely glorious food.

And to prove that I wasn’t afraid to really get back to brass tacks, I started the series off with How to Melt Butter.  Today, I want to crank up the level of difficulty a shade or two and talk about how to make brown butter. 

I wanted to do something a little more advanced for a couple of reasons.  First (and most importantly), making brown butter riffs off melting butter.  But I also wanted to show practical applications of various techniques that we discuss.   This should keep things interesting and arm you, o gentle readers, with some extra knowledge in the kitchen.

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How to Melt Butter

Butter Not Yet MeltedMelting Butter

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve blogged steadily.  I apologize.  I got wrapped up in a new project that should be really cool and really perfect for local food producers, but it also has eaten into my blogging time.  (It’s sort of pre-alpha right now.)

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of great people encourage me to keep blogging, so here I am…  Blogging.

With that said, free time is at a bit of a premium.  So for the next few weeks, I am going to do my best to post 3-4 times per week.  However, the content for these posts is going to be a little unusual. 

See, I’ve been meaning to go back and cover the basics for a while.  I realized while writing some articles for Big Blend Magazine and SheKnows that I take certain things for granted.  Namely, when I say to use a particular technique, I tend to have a general idea of what that means.  Now, if the technique is really wild, I’ll go into greater detail, but for something like melting butter, I just say “melt the butter” and move on.

However, as is the case with most culinary techniques, there’s an art to melting butter.  Seriously.  So I am going to spend the next few weeks going into intricate detail about the basics of culinary manuevers starting with … butter melting.

Also, it has occurred to me when I articulate the purpose of, I say that I firmly believe everyone can cook, but sometimes, novice cooks just need a little know-how.  As a blogger and a food fan, I want to give them that know-how.  Still, I think I’ve fallen down sometimes on know-how providing.

Well not anymore. 

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Charging a Pan

2452058411_31b275f6d1_mCharging a Pan

“Charging a pan” is another technique and term I throw around on the blog a lot that I wanted to explain further.

What is Charging a Pan?

In brief, charging a pan is just another name for preheating it.  It’s quite simple, all you have to do is put the pan on the burner, turn the burner on high and let it sit.

However, note that I said “preheating it” and “it” was a singular pronoun referring to the pan only, not the pan and oil in the pan.  If you put anything in the pan when you charge it, that thing might burn.  I was reminded of this fact this very morning when I served my son scrambled eggs with a nice aftertaste of BURNT.

I’m glad we understand each other. 🙂

Why Charge a Pan?

There are a couple of reasons why you want to charge a pan.  The best reason is when you are using a technique like a sear or a saute, which requires cooking the food over very high heat.  If you put the food in a cold pan, it can stick, it won’t cook evenly, and it won’t get that beautiful hard sear.  Also, getting the pan very hot will minimize the impact of adding food to the pan, which always causes it to cool.

Secondly, it is vitally important that you charge your pan if you are cooking something over a wok.  Have you ever seen the burners in a Chinese kitchen?  Those things are like mini jet engines, only hotter.  If you are at home on your standard burner, you need to get your wok HOT HOT HOT before stir frying for the best results.

Last, if you have an electric stove like some people (me, sadly), you should charge your pan so that it gets hotter faster.  If not, you are going to be killing a lot of time waiting for oil to get hot and water to boil.

When Good Pan Charges Go Bad

As mentioned above, just charge the pan, don’t charge the oil.

Also, you shouldn’t always charge the pan.  If you are cooking delicate foods (eggs, soft vegetables, seafood), all charging your pan will do is cause burnt food.

Last, keep in mind that even though you charged your pan on high heat, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn down your burner once you add the food.  Seriously, medium and medium high are your friend!

Thanks to Mel B. for the picture of Steam!

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Three Second Fires

4455328823_8598c2a23c_mThree Second Fires

One of the things you’ve probably seen a few times on the blog is the concept of a three second fire.  I use this technique to gauge if a fire is ready to start cooking.  (Oh, and I wish I could say I invented the method, but I pretty much stole the whole concept from Steven Raichlen because he’s a pimp behind the grill.)

Anyway, I wanted to define (definitively) what a three second fire is.  All you need to do is start your grill, come back a short time later, hold your hand above the grill about eighteen inches and start counting:

one Mississippi…two Mississippi…three Mississippi

Now, at this point it should be too uncomfortable to leave your hand above the fire any longer.  If you can leave your hand there a bit longer, the fire is too cold.  If you had to remove your hand before that, it’s too hot.

Remember, though, three second fires are not a way to prove how manly you are by keeping your hand above a roaring flame.  If your hand is too hot, move the darn thing.  There’s no reason to get burnt and besides, if the fire is too hot, you’re going to burn your food anyway.

The Three Second Fire in Review

Okay, here is the three second fire in summary:

1.  Make Fire!
2.  When the coals look they like are ready to go (no black, all gray) hold your hand above the fire
3.  Count three seconds.  If you need to move your hand at that point, the fire is perfect.
4.  If you have to move your hand before three seconds, it’s too hot.  Slow the flow of air or push the coals around.
5.  If could keep your hand above the grill for longer, consider adding more charcoal, increasing the air or pushing the coals together

Happy grilling!  Enjoy!

Thanks to Robert S. Donovan for the pic.

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Gourmet Olive Oils and Vinegars – The Tasteful Olive

The Tasteful Olive

The Tasteful Olive

Gourmet Olive Oils and Vinegars

So, by now, you may have heard me mention The Tasteful Olive and you may have noticed that I have been cooking with a lot of fancy balsamic vinegars and olive oils.  Well, that is because I met some tremendous foodies here in Overland Park, KS who run The Tasteful Olive, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar store.

Basically, the tasteful olive features rows upon rows of containers, each holding a different flavored oil (mostly olive, but some truffle) or 12-18 year old balsamic vinegar with flavors ranging from lemon to black currant to fig to chocolate to vanilla.  Oh, and did I mention, samples are completely free!

The thing to do is give yourself an hour to just go in and try each one separately.  Then go back and mix and match (my personal favorite is still the Persian lime olive oil with the lemon balsamic, but you come up with your favorite.)  Then buy them and cook with them.  You’ll find recipes on their site and this one!

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Unsurprisingly, they are big advocates of consuming olive oil at The Tasteful Olive.  Jeanne and her husband both espouse it’s health benefits on a regular basis.  You can read more about it on Jeanne’s blog.

Baking with Olive Oil

They also want everyone to try baking with olive oil instead of butter because its healthier (and if you use a flavored olive oil, it’s tastier, too.)  As such, they hand out helpful charts to anyone considering baking with olive oil that tell you how much olive you need to replace an amount of butter.  I have typed the chart in below.

They recommend you use a lighter olive oil (*cough* Hojiblanca from Australia *cough*) but use what you have.  Do be careful, though.  I have found that olive oil cakes can dry faster than cakes that use butter.

Butter/Margarine Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon 3/4 Teaspoon
1 Tablespoon 2 1/4 Teaspoon
1/4 Cup 3 Tablespoons
1/3 Cup 1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons
2/3 Cup 1/2 Cup
3/4 Cup 1/2 Cup + 1 Tablespoon
1 Cup 3/4 Cup

By my calculation that means I need 2 1/4 cups of olive oil to make Ina Garten’s pound cake.  God bless that woman!

What Are You Waiting For?

You know where to get good olive oil and balsamic (at least in KC, but look for The Tasteful Olive online), now get to cooking!

Picture taken from

Oh, and as I’ve noted before, The Tasteful Olive has given me free and discounted bottles of both their gourmet olive oils and gourmet balsamic vinegars so that I could create recipes.


Filed under Kansas City Cuisine, reviews, techniques

#MeatlessMonday Let’s Talk Risotto

Happy #MeatlessMonday everyone!   Today,

Let’s Talk Risotto

I don’t know if I have ever gone into the risotto making process, but it was a dish I set out to conqueror when I decided I was going to be a serious home chef.  So, it always has that feeling of being really important, even if it’s not that difficult to make.  Even better, it makes a satisfying, hearty vegetarian dish.

You know, I say that it’s not difficult to make, but it’s not entirely difficult to mess it up, either.  The good news is that I’ve made most of the mistakes one can make when cooking risotto and I’ve boiled them down in the following essay I call “Making Risotto.”

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Benton’s Steakhouse and Cooking Prime Rib

On Monday, I was invited to a United Way dinner at Benton’s Prime Steakhouse.  I met some very nice people there who are doing some wonderful things to make the world a better place.  This food blogger salutes all of you.

The dinner was also the first time I have been back to Benton’s in, well, longer than I can remember.  Not that I had a bad meal, but I’ve been trying to explore other culinary destinations in Kansas City.  Monday night reminded me that sometimes it’s good to go back again.

The event featured several stations including: a sirloin station with a morel sauce, a seafood/salad station, a lobster bisque station, a carvery station featuring four different types of meat, and the night’s crowning achievement: a banana’s foster station.  The contents of the sirloin station are fairly obvious (sirloin with morel sauce), the seafood had king crab legs and oysters while the accompanying salad station contained a delicious mozzarella salad (I’d like to call it a caprese, but it was more flavorful), and strawberry salad in parmesan baskets. 

The morel sauce was delicious and the oysters were surprisingly nice for being in the middle of Kansas.  The mozzarella salad was also very good and rumor has it the strawberry salad was nice.

The rubber really started to hit the road with at the carvery station.  There were several meats including a smoked bison, a lamb rib roast, and some of the juiciest, most tender prime rib I’ve had the privilege of eating.

It was so good I hunted down Chef Nicholas Boucher to ask how I could make it at home and despite the fact I forgot to introduce myself as a food blogger and started writing down his every word as he spoke, he was pretty forthcoming about how to reproduce the prime rib at home.

First thing’s first: you’ll need some good prime rib.  Can’t do this without good prime rib.  (That’s my addition.)


1.  Preheat your oven to 500.  “I prefer a hot oven,” explained Chef Boucher.
2.  Put the prime rib in the oven.  Do not season with anything but a little salt.  (Chef Boucher explains that herbs or pepper will burn.)
3.  Sear the prime rib.  You are not looking for time, but for an appearance.  (You want a nice caramel color says Chef Boucher.)
4.  When the prime rib has reached that color, remove the prime rib and set the oven to 185.
5.  Put the prime rib back into the oven and cook for another 1-2 hours or until the meat has reached an internal temperature of about 135.

Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes and then serve with sides including mushroom medleys, asparagus, au gratin potoates (like Benton’s) or your own favorite sites.

Then, you know what to do!  Enjoy!

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When Does the Fish Come In?

I Never Buy Fish Except on Tuesdays

We stopped by the grocery store after lunch to pick up some juice.  As trips to the store often go, our quick trip turned into an hour-long buying orgy as we suddently realized how badly we needed asparagus, broccoli, red bell peppers, and chicken.  Oddly, enough, all of these things were on sale.  Funny how that works out, huh?

Anyway, I have a hankering to poach some salmon and stopped by the fish counter to check the prices on fish.  Then I walked off without buying anything, much to the surprise of both my wife and the poor fishmonger who gave me sort of a funny look.

“Aren’t you going to buy anything?” Mrs. WellDone asked.

“Nope, fresh fish shipments come into Kansas City on Tuesdays.  That stuff has been sitting around for five days,” I replied.  (And truth be told, it kind of looked like it had been sitting around for a few days, but that’s another story.)

The Moral of the Story…

As you have doubtless read before, the ingredients make the dish.  To get the best possible dish, you need the best possible ingredients.  Or in other words, better fish, better fish.  Fish that has been sitting around either in the freezer or the fishmonger’s counter is pretty much never going to taste as fresh as fish bought the day it has been brought into the city.

So I urge you to find out what day(s) the seafood comes into your city and try to buy it and serve it on those days or perhaps the day after. 

How?  Just ask the fishmonger.  And be careful about how he/she answers.  You want to know the day the store got the fish, not when the store pulled it from the freezer or anything.  You can also ask local chefs.  That’s how I found out.

But I Live on the Coast!

I’ve heard that doesn’t matter.  Living all my life landlocked in the middle part of the country doesn’t exactly make me an expert in the fishing business on the coast, but as I understand it, the fish still goes from boat to processor to warehouse before ending up at the grocer.  Sure, coastal fish doesn’t have to travel as far to reach your shelves as it does mine (unless you are, say, buying Maine lobster in California or Pacific salmon in New York), but I am pretty sure the flow of fish to store doesn’t happen every day anywhere.

Bonus Tip when Buying Fish

One other thing.  No matter, where you live: central US or coastal US, beware fish where the the narrower end has been tucked under the wider.  That’s sometimes a fishmonger trick to hide fish that is drying out (and hence don’t buy it.)  Sometimes fishmongers fold the narrow end to make the fish look pretty, though, so what you want to do is ask to examine that part.

If the narrow end is dry, discolored, or smells fishy, change your menu plans.  Old fish tastes fishy.  You don’t want that.

Okay, get to eating fish and enjoy!


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Savory Baked Brie



So on yesterday’s inaugural Foodies’ Night In (#fni) Twitter chat sponsored by @cookingwcaitlin, we were talking all things cheese with @AlouetteCheese

And as things go, we started talking about baked brie because what cheese conversation would be complete without talking about baked brie?  There were lots of suggestions about making it with fruit and jam and honey and while that’s good, it’s not my thing.  I like my brie savory with a little bite to it.  So let’s talk about making

Baked Brie with Spicy Sundried Tomato Pesto

Making baked brie is actually really simple.  I did a lot of research on the topic and found that all recipes really seem to follow the steps laid out in this eHow article.  Basically all you do is bake, top and eat.

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