November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Cakes

My mother-in-law and brother-in-law had birthdays on Monday & Tuesday respectively. I offered to make cakes for them, two separate cakes for their joint party. I didn't want my MIL to slave away on a cake for BIL, nor did I want her to have a store-bought cake. And I didn't want them to have to share a cake like they have in years' past. Yes, I deserve a wonderful daughter/sister-in-law award for my thoughtfulness & hard work. No, not really. I love to cook & bake, especially for special occasions and especially when I can share the goodies, then send them home with the birthday people, thus sparing myself all the extra calories!

So, yesterday was baking day. I knew my MIL loved pineapple so I made a Pineapple Mandarin Orange cake that I've made many times for my Mom for her b-day. It's light, fluffy and delicious. The recipe I always use is on a heavily stained page in an old church cookbook but I found the identical recipe on allrecipes, so here's the link. And here's a not very good pic-

I couldn't exactly cut a piece pre-party just so I could take a picture. And I didn't even think about taking pictures of the cut cake at the party.

And for my BIL...well, he loves chocolate and his favorite cake is dirt cake, that creamy, pudding-y, oreo 'cake' stuff. But, dirt cake was one of the many desserts that was served last week at our big family Thanksgiving meal. So, I decided to do a little something different but still in the same flavor family. I made this chocolate cake for my daughter's b-day a few months ago, minus the candy bars. It's a delicious cake, probably the best chocolate cake I've ever had. Very moist & rich but SO easy since you just use cake mix & pudding mix. And the frosting is just the best. It's an easy cream cheese/cool whip concoction that is the perfect consistency and I love that there's no butter or shortening in it. The recipe calls for crushed candy bars in the frosting, but I used crushed oreos instead and made it kind of a 'cookies & cream' cake.

For this double layered cake, I used this handy old round pan that I bought at Goodwill a while back.

It's an old "Ovenex" pan with a rotating "slider" that makes the cake pop right out of the pan so easily. I only wish I would've found two so I could bake both layers at once! (the picture was taken right after I removed the cake, it is not normally filthy & rusty)

The cakes were a hit, everyone went home fat & happy. Yay!

November 23, 2011

Thanksgivingy Things

I didn't plan on making cut-out cookies for Thanksgiving but my Mom gave us some Thanksgiving themed cookie cutters and a certain 3 year old insisted on making cookies with them. Just cutting shapes with her play-doh wasn't good enough. So, I dug out the sugar cookie recipe I printed off last year along with the perfect icing recipe I found last year and we whipped up a batch of each. I highly recommend these recipes, they are my holiday staples from now on-

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookie Icing

For this batch, I divided the cookie recipe in half, it still made a lot! And then I made one batch of the icing and it only iced about half the cookies. so, that would mean for a whole batch of cookies you would need to...(using my mental calculator)...quadruple the icing recipe...right?

The icing dries hard & shiny just like the recipe said. In fact, it dries so shiny and so quickly that by the time some of the cookies were sprinkled upon, the sprinkles didn't even stick.

Here's my little helper sprinkling-

And those are turkeys, pumpkins and leaves in case you can't tell. We will be taking this batch over the river and through the woods to Granny's house tomorrow.

Here's another Thanksgiving thing we made today, pumpkin pie shakes!

Got the original inspiration here, but that one was just a bit too 'healthy' sounding for me. Not really in the mood for spinach & carrots in my pie smoothie. So then I found this recipe, I made a smaller batch and changed a couple things. I really just threw it all in the blender, but they turned out so good I wish I'd paid more attention to the amounts. My estimation recipe-

Pumpkin Pie Smoothies

1 cup pumpkin puree (mine was frozen)
1 frozen banana
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 cup skim milk
2 T non-fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 t cinnamon
5-6 almonds
2-3 T real maple syrup

These were delicious and tasted just like pumpkin pie! Actually, I think they were better. I love the flavor of pumpkin pie but the custardy texture just isn't my thing.

And I'll leave you with a couple turkey pics. We have wild turkeys that come around every once in a while. They are lots of fun to watch. If they come close to the house, the kids like to go out on the deck and scare them, they look so goofy when they run away. They seriously look prehistoric.

Next turkey is my daughter's library story time craft creation. He doesn't look too happy and his eyes are a little shifty. Wonder what he's so nervous about?!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

November 19, 2011

Baking & Sewing

Today was one of those very strange days where I crossed off everything from my to-do list and still had some time to spare! The planets must've lined up just right for me. So, I decided to bake a couple things and start a little sewing project with my extra time.

First, I made these Cranberry Corn Muffins from Snack Girl. They turned out really good, especially for not having any oil or butter! I'm planning on making them again but when I do, I will not use the paper muffin liners, they stuck like crazy to them! Hopefully if I generously spray the muffin pan they will come out easier (yeah, I know that would add a bit of oil, but it would be worth it). I ended up just putting all the wet ingredients in the blender along with the cranberries, that helped them get chopped up nice & small. I also added some orange zest like one of the commenters suggested. They didn't rise up super high but they weren't too dense, really just the consistency of a corn muffin but with a sweeter flavor and a little cranberry zing.

Yep, I used up the rest of my Halloween muffin papers.

Next, I baked some bread. I wanted to use this 7-grain cereal that I've had in the freezer for a while. It's a mix of wheat, rye, barley, flax, oats, corn & millet. We bought it on vacation last year at one of my favorite places, War Eagle Mill.

But, I couldn't find a good recipe. So, I just soaked the cereal and substituted them for the oats that were called for in one of my favorite bread recipes. I wasn't sure if it would work but it did! And the dough came out so soft and it rose so nicely, even with the expired yeast I used.

Here's the recipe-

7-Grain Bread
1/4 cup 7-grain cereal (soaked in warm water for an hour or so)

1 cup warm water
2 T brown sugar
2 T oil
1 pkg yeast

Dissolve the sugar & yeast and let it sit till foamy. Then add the soaked cereal.

Place in bread machine:
2 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 t salt

Then add the wet ingredients.

My bread machine has been acting funny lately, it always flops when it gets to baking time. So, I let it do the mixing, kneading and let it rise once. Then I take the dough out, knead it myself and put it in a bread pan. Let it rise for 30 minutes then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. I really like the rectangular loafy shape better than the wonky tubular bread machine shaped 'loaf'. It seems a bit more home made. Plus, I have a little helper who loves to punch down the dough and knead it too :)

I don't think there is anything better than freshly baked bread with butter & honey!

And my sewing project...I've been wanting to make a special bag to take to the library that would be just for books. I bought some adorable apple twill fabric at Joann's yesterday. It was in the remnant bin, I got a great deal on it, almost a yard for like 1.97. I got a good start on it tonight. It's a bit bigger than I planned it to be, but better too big than too small! You can never have too many books.

Here's hoping the planets align for me again very soon....

November 17, 2011

Soup & Dip

This might be my new favorite soup! I got the recipe idea from "Skinny Crock Pot." I like them on Facebook and they have a blog as well. The recipe is titled "Buffalo Chicken Chili" but I really wouldn't consider it a chili, more of a soup really. Here is the way I made it:

Buffalo Chicken Soup

Place in crockpot:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can chicken broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 lg (14oz?) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup hot sauce (Louisiana, Franks, or the like)

Cook the above for about 2 hours on high. Meanwhile, sautee in a little olive oil:

1 carrot diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t paprika

Add these veggies to the crock then cook for another few hours on low. Shred up the chicken when it is cooked through.

Ooooh, this soup was so good, I just love anything "buffalo chicken" flavored. The recipe said to use 1/4 to 1/2 cup hot sauce. I used 1/4 and it was pretty spicy! We had some celery dipped in blue cheese dressing on the side. Today I had some leftover soup for lunch, and after warming it up I put a little spoonful of the dressing in the soup and that was really good too!

Next up is a very yummy dip. I've been making salsa like a mad woman, at least one batch a week for us and often one for my mother-in-law who loves it too. But yesterday I decided to try a little something different. I made the salsa just about the same way as usual but blended it up with a can of black beans. It was so good and I can't wait to make it again. The kids devoured it! The way I made it is really more of a dip since it was thick, but if you add maybe another can of tomatoes it would be more of a salsa consistency.

Black Bean Salsa Dip

1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
small handful of cilantro
1/4 of a small onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
juice of half a lime
garlic salt to taste

Put everything in the blender and blend it up. It was so good, I could just eat it all up with a spoon! I just love the combination of flavors, and very healthy too!

**totally forgot to mention that I added corn to the dip too. Probably 1/2 cup frozen corn kernals, thawed.