Tuesday, October 30, 2012
So Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, and we were among the very fortunate ones.
We had steady rain for probably 55 hours straight and some heavy wind, especially last night, but while the news of our region was filled with videos and photos of flooded streets and buildings, nearly submerged cars, and gigantic waves, we are far enough removed from low ground and water that we weren't really affected at all. We didn't even lose power, which was my greatest concern.
But our prayers are definitely with those who were so devastated by the storm - I can only imagine how difficult it must be.
We actually got to enjoy some extra time with Grant - since the Army post where he works was closed yesterday.I know some people go a little stir crazy when they are house-bound for a few days, but I really enjoy it. With no option of really going out, we got stuff done around the house and I spent some time cooking and baking.
I made cheesy potato soup for our lunch yesterday, a delicious new peanut butter banana bread (that ended up getting eaten before I took photos - guess I'll have to make it again!), simmered chili in the crockpot today, and baked a couple of new desserts for a dinner with friends tomorrow. Yep, our house has smelled pretty good the past couple of days!
After posting a lot of sweets lately, I figured I'd better even the tables a little and show you we don't only survive on sugar and butter.
There's bacon too!
This simple and frugal dish combines our favorite breakfast meat with lentils, onion, and cheese and a few spices...couldn't get much easier than that. And the entire family really liked it. For two dinners in a row.
That makes it a success, in my book.
You could make it vegetarian if you wanted - I'm sure it would still be tasty - but honestly, we enjoyed it so much with the smoky flavor of the bacon, I don't think I'll ever leave it out.
Serve with a nice green salad and some bread if you like.
Cheesy Bacon Lentils - (adapted from The Cheapskate Cook)
1 (1 lb) package lentils, soaked 24 hours*
4 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, beef) or water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
6 oz (about 8 or 9 pieces) turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (I use sharp white cheddar)
In a saucepan, combine lentils, broth, onion, and bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Drain excess liquid.
Turn off heat, remove bay leaf and add salt, pepper, bacon, and 1-1/2 cups cheese into lentils, stirring until cheese melts.
Evenly spread mixture into a lightly greased casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.
Bake 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbly.
*Soaking the lentils is an optional step. It's an easy way to help your body digest the nutrients found in the lentils. The day before making this dish, pour the lentils into a strainer, rinse them with water, and then pour them into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with filtered water to 1 inch above the lentils. Allow them to soak for 24-72 hours, changing the water every 12 hours. Drain the soaking water before using them in this recipe. If you choose not to soak the lentils, simply rinse them in a strainer and increase the stock/water to 5 or 6 cups.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Tell me these aren't some of the cutest cupcakes you've ever seen.
Go on, tell me.
Ha. I knew you couldn't. :)
I took the idea for these straight from Hello Cupcake (which I borrowed from a friend) and Marissa, our little dog lover, couldn't have been more delighted. The other little girls were pretty excited about them too.
They're really simple, and not as time consuming as I anticipated.
Since I don't want to violate any copyright laws or anything, I won't give all the instructions on how to make them.....but I will tell you that you use miniature cupcakes for the heads - and miniature marshmallows for the ears and shaping the nose. For the tongues, I used tiny bits of pink Mamba candy (Starburst would work just as well), and the eyes and nose were mini Reeses baking bits.
They were very fun to make and the girls sure had fun eating them!
The biggest activity at the party was cake decorating.
I had gotten the idea from Glorious Treats months ago and just HAD to do it for Marissa's party.
I baked little cakes for each girl - most were 5" layer cakes, a couple were 4" cakes. I frosted them with white vanilla buttercream and then set out various sprinkles, candy (I knew those Easter M&Ms I got on clearance would come in handy!), and bags of colored frosting with various tips for the girls to decorate their own cake to their heart's content.
It was SO. MUCH. FUN. to watch them and to see their personalities reflected in their work.
One little guest started out very meticulously working on a design - but by the end she had thrown all caution to the wind and just piled the frosting and candy on as high as she could. It was hysterical.
Marissa was very proud of her cake.
All the girls - Marissa, Natalee, Annika, Lydia, Anna, Esther, and Elizabeth.
An awesome group - just lovely.
And their cakes were lovely too.
Here's a look at the food table.
Yeah, not a lot of healthy stuff there. But they sure enjoyed it!
Honestly, it was one of my favorite parties we've ever had at our house.
Children in this age range are just a blast to have around.
I just wish our kids weren't growing up so fast.
And for the record, I wouldn't recommend having three children born in the same month - if you can help it. Not only is it a lot of work planning and pulling off three parties, it's really hard to not gain like 10 lbs with treats like Cinnabon Popcorn and Puppy Chow sitting on my counter. Not to mention the cake and ice cream.
Great, now I need to diet going right into the holidays.
So now we have a *short* 1 month break until the next child's birthday.....
Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
So for Corban's birthday this year, he just couldn't decide what he wanted the theme to be. He's already done Legos. Swimming. A skateboard. Although he loves soccer and basketball, he wasn't interested in either of those being the theme. Hmmmm.
Finally, after pondering it for days, I presented the idea of a Board Game Party to him. He loves playing games and never gets the chance to play them with a group of friends - and he was instantly sold on it.
Although he is not super knowledgeable about chess, he does enjoy it and I thought doing a chess cake would be fun.
I got inspiration from Cake Central - and ordered molds for the playing pieces and the board off of Amazon.
From there, it was really very simple. I used chocolate candy coating - white and dark - to make the pieces. To make them 3D, I had to "glue" two halves together with more chocolate. I had a few mishaps and had to melt and re-do a few of them, but it wasn't too bad.
The checkerboard was trickier - because keeping the white and dark chocolate from getting into each other's spaces was a lot harder than I anticipated. The end result was FAR from perfect, but I don't think 9-12 year old boys really care. ;)
So I made the pieces the week before and stored them in the fridge and freezer.
I baked a 14" square cake (use ~13.5 cups of batter - I made homemade chocolate cake).
Then I just made Chocolate buttercream - a double batch, to which I added some sifted cocoa powder to make it darker brown.
I frosted the cake - put the mold pieces on - and then piped on some accents. I used the Wilton #17 star tip for the shells and the swirls - and a #4 round tip for the border around the checkerboard.
Oh, and the cake board is just foam board from the Dollar Tree - cut to a 16" square and covered with foil. Cheap and easy!
The only downside to the party was that Corban wasn't feeling too well. He had just come down with a head/chest cold and was just feeling tired and cruddy. In fact, he didn't even taste his cake until 2 days later. He just didn't have the appetite. So sad. But he loved his party and spending time with his friends.
They started off the evening playing a little basketball.
A good game of Apples to Apples Jr. - listening to them was so funny!
We had a Connect 4 Tournament.....
Corban had a little helper. What a good big brother.
Isaiah was the winner!!
Corban with Seth and Caleb (brothers). He had that Lego set built the next morning - despite feeling sick.
Israel and Corban - those Nerf guns are pretty fun!
Will and Corban - and some really cool camping gear.
Joseph and Isaiah (brothers) with Corban - and a new Superbook video. Awesome!
Happy 9th Birthday to our Corban!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I know that pumpkin recipes are all over the place this time of year - and I adore pumpkin like nobody's business. I refuse to wait for fall to make pumpkin goodies - I make them all year around.
In the past, I have cooked and pureed my own pumpkin and saved it in 2 cup portions in the freezer for whenever I needed it - but in the past couple of years, I've actually started using sweet potatoes instead.
Thanks to my blog friend SnoWhite, I learned that sweet potatoes make an excellent substitute for pumpkin in just about any recipe, and since sweet potatoes can be bought for ridiculous bargains around the holidays, I stock up and make a bunch of puree - for a significant savings over canned pumpkin or even homemade pumpkin puree.
We were cleaning out our freezer recently and I discovered several ziplock baggies of my sweet potatoes hidden away and was inspired to make something. This cake was the perfect choice.
It's moist and wonderfully spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg - and the banana and sweet potato flavors combine surprisingly well together. Although it would be very good just plain - or even made into muffins - the cream cheese frosting takes it to a whole new level.
Because, as we all know, cream cheese frosting rocks.
And I love recipes that get extra veggies into my kids - even if it is through cake.
Sweet Potato (or Pumpkin) Banana Cake (adapted from Whipped)
3 small bananas, mashed
1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup expeller pressed coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain)
2 cups sweet potato puree (or canned pumpkin puree)
2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour)
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. salt
1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (4 T.) softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13 x 9" pan.
Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, mashed banana, sugar, oil, yogurt, and sweet potato (or pumpkin) until light and fluffy.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and baking soda.
Add the dry ingredients to the sweet potato mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean with most crumbs clinging to it. Let cool completely before frosting.
Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again.
Spread on cooled cake.
Linked to Crazy Sweet Tuesday and Crumbs and Chaos/ Seasonal Inspiration
Monday, October 15, 2012
It's Secret Recipe Club time again!
This month I was assigned to Veggie Converter, where Kristi enjoys blogging about food she makes for herself, a vegetarian, her husband, a meat eater, and their two undecided kids. In 2011, Kristi completed a challenge to create a different family-friendly vegetarian meal for each of the 365 days in the year. I think that is truly impressive!
Since I am trying to make more meatless meals for our family, I found her blog to be a great resource and inspiration. Knowing me, though, I was most drawn to the baked goods, like Carrot Spice Muffins, Crockpot Cheesecake with Cookie Crust, and Chocolate Chip Quinoa Muffins.
I finally decided on making bagels. Hers were made with dried blueberries - but since I couldn't bear to pay $3 for a 3 oz package of those, I substituted dried cherries instead.
I have made bagels once before - and while they turned out okay, I hadn't been particularly inspired to make them again. These, however, were so scrumptious and wildly popular with my children, I'm sure I'll make them many times. They were really good fresh on the first day. But truth be told - I liked them even better lightly toasted on the second day. With just a smear of butter, maybe a dab of jam.....yum.
The recipe may look long and involved, but it's really not. You do have to plan ahead, but I thought it was great to have bagels ready to boil and bake first thing in the morning. I'll admit, it took longer than I was anticipating because I could only boil 3 at a time, so at 2 minutes per batch, that took me 8 minutes, plus the time to get them in and out of the water. Then after they bake, you're supposed to let them sit for 15 minutes before eating.....we didn't quite make it that long. The children were
Dried Cherry Bagels (adapted from Veggie Converter)
Yield: 12 large bagels
1 tsp. instant yeast
4 cups bread flour
2-1/2 cups water, room temperature
1 tsp. instant yeast
3-3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
2-3/4 tsp. salt
1 T. brown sugar or sucanat
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 T. baking soda
To make the sponge, in your stand-mixer bowl, stir the yeast into the flour. Add the water and whisk well. Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature for 2 hours. It should double in size and fall when the bowl is tapped against the counter.
To make the dough, add the yeast to the sponge and stir. Add 3 cups of the flour, the salt and brown sugar. Stir slowly with the dough hook until the dough turns into a ball. Slowly add the remaining flour to stiffen the dough.
Add cherries gradually while kneading 6 minutes by machine (or 10 minutes by hand on a lightly floured surface). If you try to add the cherries all at once, it's likely that they won't incorporate into the dough very well and you'll end up with a pile of cherry bits at the bottom of the bowl.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Spray two large sheet pans with oil or cooking spray. Shape the bagels by poking a hole in the center with your thumb and spinning the dough around your thumb to form about a 2 1/2-inch hole. Set the bagels on the sheet pans at least 2 inches apart.
Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. At this point you do a “float test” to see if the bagel dough is ready for retardation in the fridge. Drop one bagel in a bowl of water. If it floats within 10 seconds (mine floated immediately), you’re good to go and you just pat that one off and set it back on the pan. If not, return it to the pan and check every 10-20 minutes with the float test.
Once your bagels are ready, cover them with plastic wrap or foil and place them in the refrigerator overnight (or up to 2 days).
When you’re ready to boil and bake your bagels, preheat your oven to 500°. Bring a large pot of water to boil with 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Boil as many bagels at a time that fit comfortably in your pot (mine fits 3) for 1 minute per side (2 minutes per side for chewier bagels). Remove with a slotted spatula to a drying rack and repeat with remaining bagels.
Respray baking sheets and divide bagels among sheets. Bake at 500° for 5 minutes. Switch the pans to the opposite shelves and rotate each pan 180 degrees. After rotation, turn oven down to 450°. Bake an additional 8-10 minutes, depending on desired golden-brownness. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Can you believe this is my first time making cake balls?
I first read a cake ball recipe on Allrecipes several years ago and was completely intrigued, but I just never got around to making them.
Fast forward a couple of years and all of a sudden, cake balls and cake pops were the newest "in thing", with creative cake geniuses like Bakerella gaining huge popularity.
I still never made any.
Honestly, I think the main reason I never made them was because I was afraid I'd go to all that work and they wouldn't turn out right. See, I have a thing against frosting in a can. No offense if you use it, that's fine - I just don't like the stuff and when I read the ingredient list, I like it even less. But nearly all the cake ball recipes I've seen call for canned frosting.
I know, I know, I could totally just make my own frosting. But I have no idea how much frosting to make to equal the amount in a can, and I don't know what texture to look for when mixing frosting in with the cake, etc etc.....so I just kept putting it off.
The beauty of this recipe - and the reason I decided to try it - was that you don't use frosting.
The magic happens with the addition of sweetened condensed milk and caramel sauce. Oh yeah. That sounds like my kind of cake ball.
And I wasn't disappointed. They are dee.licious. They'll feed a crowd, they'll stay fresh and tasty for several days, and they'll freeze like a dream. Whatever that means. My kids and husband absolutely adored them, and our friends did too.
I made the Devil's Food Cake from scratch, using white whole wheat flour, and it was great. My first time using that recipe, and I'll definitely try it again just for cake with frosting.
Chocolate Toffee Cake Balls (adapted slightly from Love to Be in the Kitchen)
1 13 x 9" prepared Devil's Food Cake (made from scratch or a mix)
1-2 to 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (I used about 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
Chocolate candy coating (I used about 24 oz total, white and dark)
1/2 bag Heath chocolate baking bits
Bake cake and let it cool. Cut into large pieces and use your hands to crumble it into a large bowl. Make sure there are no large pieces! Mix in the sweetened condensed milk and caramel. Mix it into the crumbled cake using the back of a large metal spoon. The mixture should be moist enough to roll into small balls. If it's still crumbly when forming balls, add a little more sweetened condensed milk and/or caramel.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper and roll the cake mixture into small balls. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours or freezer for 15 - 20 minutes. Make sure you don't leave it in the freezer for longer than 20 minutes. When ready, melt the chocolate. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time until melted. Stir between each 30 seconds.
Remove half of the cake balls from the fridge or freezer and dip in the chocolate one at a time.
Using a spoon or fork, place the cake ball in the chocolate. If needed, spoon melted chocolate over the top, covering the entire cake ball. Lift the cake ball out of the chocolate and gently tap the handle of the spoon or fork to help the excess chocolate drip off. Place the cake ball on the wax paper and immediately sprinkle on some toffee bits. The chocolate hardens up quickly, and you want the toffee to stick.
Repeat until all the cake balls are done. Let the chocolate dry before eating.
Store at room temperature.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
I can hardly believe our baby is now 1. Seems like just last week we were headed to the birthing center. If you missed it before, you can read her birth story here.
Here are a few things to know about Miranda:
1. She is our only baby that didn't like a pacifier. Major bummer.
I can't tell you how many times I wish she would take one.
2. She got her first tooth at 7 months and now has 8 teeth. She got 4 on the bottom,
then two canines on the top, and finally her middle top teeth. Corban had exactly the same pattern.
The other 3 girls all got their 2 middle bottom teeth at 9 months and no more teeth until they were 15 months.
3. She is our only baby who refuses to crawl on all fours. She scoots on her bum and leg. She gets
around really fast that way and the seat of her pants is always dirty. Her knees stay clean, though.
4. She adores her daddy more than any of our other babies. For several months now, as soon as she
hears his voice when he comes home from work, she starts squealing "Da da!" and waving her arms and bouncing around. She thinks he hung the moon. He, in turn, is completely wrapped around her little finger.
5. She gives the BEST. BABY HUGS. Seriously. She will wrap her arms around your neck and squeeze.
None of our other babies did that at such a young age.
6. She doesn't like bread/muffins.
The only exception is cheese pizza. She loves beans (especially spicy Mexican flavored ones), lentils, cheddar cheese, grapes, blueberries, kiwi, strawberries, pineapple, and cheese crackers.
And she was pretty fond of her cupcake frosting and ice cream.
7. She LOVES our dog. Pretty much any animals, really. Grant takes the credit for that,
as he has encouraged her to pet Monty and play with him since she was born.
8. She also loves the dog's food and water bowls. Her favorite thing to do is stick her right foot into
his water bowl and splash around. I don't think Grant encouraged that.
9. She has a killer scowl when she's upset with you. I'm pretty sure she gets that from me.
10. She is a pure delight and joy to us. We cannot imagine our lives without her.
So I had decided to make a cake out of cupcakes for her birthday several months ago, and had a general idea what I wanted to do, but I actually got my final inspiration from this cake on the day of the party. I had already baked cupcakes (using this recipe, minus the raspberry filling) and just needed the frosting.
I made a batch of buttercream and tinted part pink, a smaller part purple, and left the rest white.
I arranged the cupcakes in the general pattern I wanted and chilled them in the fridge for awhile so they'd be easier to frost. Some people recommend putting a dab of frosting under each one to "glue" it to the board, but I didn't do that and I had no problem with them moving or anything.
You can see here how I just frosted over the whole top just like it was solid cake. The gaps don't really matter.
So I frosted the bottom first, then the top with white, then I piped around the edges and did the sprinkles and writing. Very simple and quick - and it turned out so cute!
Sneaking a dab of frosting before we sang to her. :)
Yeah, I think she likes it.
We took her cute dress off for the real cake eating. Getting messy was fun!
Ummmmm.....fistfuls of frosting. Made for a happy baby!
Monday, October 1, 2012
First there was Prune Cake. That was a huge hit, and no-one was the wiser for it having a undeservedly unpopular fruit in it.
Then there was the Black Bean Brownies - even my discerning husband had no clue what those were hiding.
But these took me into a whole new territory. I'm not sure if I've ever even tasted beets before, but I've been convinced for as long as I can remember that "I don't like beets", so I've never bought them, cooked them, sampled them, or anything.
I can't really say why a recipe for chocolate beet cake jumped out at me....but I just couldn't resist the urge to give it a try. Living on the wild side, watch out.
It was kind of funny - when I was checking out at Wal-Mart, the cashier looked at the beets and said, "So how do you cook these, anyways?" My reply: "I have no idea. (I hadn't read the recipe fully yet). I guess I'll figure it out!"
My family saw me cooking the beets, so there was no surprise element this time, and we were all amazed at the vibrant color of the cooking water....it looked just like deep red grape juice or wine. Almost made you wanna grab a glass and down a cup full.....but it most certainly does not taste like grape juice.
I actually had only bought 3 beets, so my puree amount was a little short - I made up the difference with applesauce. The cake batter was a dark purplish color - but the finished cake just looked the normal chocolaty brown.
The taste - Amazing.
Now, Grant said it wasn't his favorite chocolate cake, and I guess I agree....but it is wonderfully moist and rich, has a nice texture and lots of chocolate flavor and you can't taste the beets at all. The children kept begging for more pieces - they were huge fans. I LOVE that we're getting a nutritious vegetable that I don't think any of us would eat otherwise.....I love the gorgeous color of the beet drizzle.....I love chocolate cake.....and I will totally make this again.
Note: The ganache isn't necessary - you could just dust the cake with powdered sugar or use the beet glaze - but I couldn't pass up a chance to make ganache. It is so good.
Double Chocolate Beet Cake (adapted from Straight from the Farm)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup expeller pressed coconut oil (or 1/2 cup butter)
2 cups pureed beets (from 5 medium beets)**
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Optional Beet Glaze
1 tsp. beet puree
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla
**To make beet puree, trim stems and roots off beets and quarter them. Place in a heavy saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 50 minutes or until the beets are tender. Drain off the remaining liquid and rinse beets in cold water, as they'll be too hot to handle otherwise. Slide skins off and place beets in blender. Process until a smooth puree forms. Let cool slightly before using in cake. You can make the puree ahead of time and store in the fridge for several days if necessary.
Preheat oven to 325°.
In a mixing bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Melt chocolate with coconut oil on the stove top or in microwave until completely smooth. Cool slightly. Blend chocolate mixture, beets, and vanilla into the creamed mixture. The batter will appear separated or curdled, this is normal!!
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to creamed mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack.
To make glaze, place chocolate chips in a bowl. Heat cream to a simmer (but not a boil) and then pour over chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir to melt completely. Allow to cool to room temperature (stick in the fridge to speed it up if necessary) before drizzling/pouring over the cake. If topping with beet glaze, I recommend refrigerating the cake to firm up the ganache first.
To make beet glaze, combine beet puree with powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Stir well. Add a few drops more of milk to desired consistency. You don't want it thin and runny, but it needs to be drizzleable.
Spoon into the corner of a sandwich bag and snip off a tiny corner. Drizzle glaze over top of cake.
Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday and Crazy Sweet Tuesday and Finding Joy in my Kitchen