Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Half and Half – Birthday Cupcakes for Kids and Dogs

Monday, January 18th, 2016

half

Both my kids birthdays are in July, thus there their half birthdays are in January.  Just when you make a plan to ease off the sweets and decadent foods from the holidays…here comes the halves.  As my kids are getting older (9 1/2 and 12 1/2) the half cupcake just doesn’t cut it (see  reaction above).  So the tradition of half the cupcake, and half the candle lives on.  But the second halves are off camera to be eaten as well.  We still sing half the birthday song  which sounds like this…”Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You”.  It’s a bit abrupt, but it works.  You also get a birthday card cut in half.  And there’s a present that consists of a single item of a pair.  Such as one wrapped sock, one shoe, one ski glove.  Yes, the other is given as well, but not wrapped.

cupcakes

This year my daughter and her friend made lovely cupcakes together. Not only did they look great but also tasted really good.  They chose a combination of chocolate cupcakes and wedding cake frosting.  What is wedding cake frosting?  Well here’s the recipe from Southern Living Big Book of Cupcakes on Amazon, by Jan Moon.  It’s a very versatile white frosting that can be used for any occassion.

Wedding Cake Frosting, page 31.

Makes 3 cups

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 (16 oz) package powdered sugar

Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended.  Beat at high speed 2 minutes or until creamy.

 

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In addition to the January halves, now we also have a dog anniversary.  We adopted our dog Ally McBeagle 1 year ago, January 15th.  So of course that deserved a celebration and more cupcakes.  These were peanut butter dog cakes.  A generous neighbor gave us a special puppy cake mix.  We added water and voila, doggie cupcakes.  Of course Ally is not as picky as the kids, but the kids loved creating her birthday cake and also bagged up doggie cupcakes for a few of her doggie friends to enjoy.  My daughter suggested a doggie birthday and that’s where I drew the line.  I even cringe as children’s birthday parties. I can’t imagine the chaos of a dog celebration.  Ally loved her cake.  Considering she’ll eat just about anything she finds on a walk outside, it wasn’t a big compliment to our baking.

 

 

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Tis the Season – Eat More Pumpkin with Banana Pumpkin Muffins

Monday, October 26th, 2015

pumpkins

My family loves all the seasonal food this time of year.  We buy enough pumpkin butter, canned pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and molasses to keep us going throughout the fall and then some.   Halloween may seem to be all about candy, but for me it’s all about pumpkin and the various ways we can incorporate it into our fall meals.  And why not?  According to this article in the Huffington Post pumpkin is healthy and helps our eyesight, mood and waistlines, while also protecting our hearts, immune system and skin.

 

I noticed some too ripe bananas on my counter and immediately thought of making banana bread or muffins, but how about banana pumpkin?  I switched the applesauce in my banana apple muffins with pumpkin and it was a big hit.  Banana and pumpkin is a great combo.  It was perfect for the kids’  weekend sleep over as well as snack after a soccer game.  Here’s the recipe.

 

Banana Pumpkin Muffins

(Makes 12)

1 1/2 cup organic wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sweet cream butter, (1 stick)

¾ cup canned pumpkin

2 medium ripe bananas

½ cup organic light brown sugar

2 cage-free, organic eggs

sprinkle of cinnamon

 

Preheat oven to 375F. With a fork, combine flour, soda and salt in a small mixing bowl.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Or melt butter in microwave for 25 seconds on high.

In a large bowl combine melted butter, pumpkin, mashed banana, sugar and eggs. Mix together with a rubber spatula. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and stir until just blended. Batter will be lumpy and very moist.

Spoon batter into greased muffin tin cups 2/3 full and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown and set. Remove pan from oven and cool on a rack 5 minutes, before turning out muffins.

 

 

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Boston Cream Pie Birthday

Monday, August 24th, 2015

 

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This year my son was turning 12 and his request for a dessert was a Boston Cream Pie.  I thought it was kind of out there and not sure he had tasted one before but his sister and I were ready to oblige.  Of course since his b-day is in the summer it’s always a very busy day and when you factor in all the other things such as camp drop shuttling and family in town there never seems to be enough time for a scratch b-day cake… especially a Boston Cream Pie.  Also I’m not sure why it’s called a pie.  It is clearly a cake.

 

Thankfully I found a recipe that makes the cake with a few shortcuts.  I would usually avoid a birthday cake mix at all costs, however I found an organic, all natural mix by Immaculate Baking Company (no chemicals, additives, GMO’s) at Whole Foods.  That wasn’t my only shortcut however.  No time to do the scratch cream this recipe calls for vanilla pudding.  Believe it or not my son hasn’t had vanilla pudding.  Funny, but pudding just doesn’t seem to come up the way it did in the 70’s in my childhood.  It also means since he’s not a big Boston Cream Pie connoisseur, the pudding would certainly suffice and be yummy and new to him.

My daughter and I had a great time making and assembling the layers.  We did use high quality dark chocolate for the frosting.  No need to short cut there.  And I must say it was pretty impressive looking, and very tasty.

Funny thing was my son didn’t recognize it as what he had asked for.  When he saw it he said “Wow, that looks great.  What kind of cake is that?”  Huh?  Apparently after some discussion what he was really wanting was a chocolate cream pie, as in a true pie with a crust and chocolate meringue.  Of well.  Now he has another new favorite dessert to add to his repertoire and now we’ll have to make a chocolate cream pie so he realizes the difference.

Here’s the Recipe I found and made from Taste of Home.com

Boston Cream Pie

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 10 min. + cooling Bake: 30 min.
MAKES: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package yellow cake mix (regular size)
  • 1-1/2 cups cold milk
  • 1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons hot water

Directions

  1. Prepare cake mix batter according to package directions. Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans.
  2. Bake at 350° for 28-33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing cake from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a microwave, melt chocolate and butter; stir until smooth. Stir in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough water to achieve a thick glaze; set aside.
  5. Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with pudding. Top with the second cake layer. Spoon chocolate glaze over the top, allowing it to drip down sides of cake. Refrigerate until serving.  

 

 

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Amazing Race Party and Food Challenges

Friday, July 24th, 2015

race

My family loves watching the Amazing Race.  The kids love to see all the crazy antics and challenges.  I love seeing all the settings and cultures from around the world.  And we all route for our favorite teams.  It’s kind of a life lesson in geography and anthropology all wrapped into one.  Showing the kids how people stick together and cooperate as well as how poor sportsmanship can bring down the team.

This year my daughter wanted an Amazing Race birthday party.  Since she wanted to participate I came up with the challenge and clues for her and her friends.  This was actually pretty fun and creative.  There was a dress up race around the park, a backyard obstacle course, a geography word scramble, just to name a few.  Of course I had to have some foodie challenges as well.
chopsticksobstacle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

friends

 

We actually begun at a favorite local juice shop, Juice Girl where the girls had to drink a juice and smoothie and determine all the ingredients before getting their next clue.  There was a travel to China challenge where the girls used their chopsticks skills.  Finally I put them to work with a race to make lemonade (the old fashioned way – nothing electric), as well as cupcake decorating (using candy they collected at a yogurt shop contest).  This was good idea as not only were they making things quickly but they would also be careful and make them tasty as they would be drinking the lemonade with their lunch, and eating the cupcakes after.

lemonadecupcakes

My daughter and her friends had a great time.  With all the challenges we kept 8, 9 year olds busy forabout 2.5 hours both at home and around town.  The challenges took some organizing (making simple syrup, gathering chopsticks) but really made use of things we already had at home (dress up clothes, obstacle items) and didn’t require buying much (bag of lemons, juices, smoothies).  We decided we’re going to do smaller get togethers and challenges more regularly, while we’re waiting for the show to start again.

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Easter Evolution and the Pollan Family Salad

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

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One of my favorite Easter activities is egg dying.  So that will certainly happen.  And although I like to do the natural dyes (see past blog for recipes and photo on right), we’ll likely do some not so natural too (photo on left).  This is an area as my kids get older that they like to experience both the organic, healthy way and the colorful less eco friendly way as well.  I figure the majority of our days we practice an eco friendly lifestyle of eating mostly healthy organic foods, reducing our meat intake, limiting processed foods and recycling, but sometimes the holidays have to have some leeway.  The chemical dyes are one way I’m giving in.

 

My other give in is a Cadbury egg (my teeth ache just thinking about it).  My son is 11 and has never had one and is curious (ok, begging) to try one.  So in his Easter basket of rabbit glasses, a book, recycle “grass” and sugar free jelly beans will also be his surprise egg.  My daughter’s basket will also include real eggs from the chicken’s down the street.  Since she’s discovered the egg box in our neighborhood that shares eggs from adopted chickens, she’s enamored (and only wants to eat those – not store bought).

 

I’m not hosting Easter this year but were going to spend the afternoon with family.  There will be a festive egg hunt, followed by early supper.  It’s all ages (from 1 – 70+) so there’s lots of land mines when planning dinner.  I’ve been asked to bring a salad.  At first I was thinking it should be “special” and “holiday worthy” but then I came across this lovely and simple one from Michael Pollan, which is sure to please all diets and tastes (I’ll likely serve my cheese and nuts on the side).  I figure if it’s good enough for his family, it’s good for mine too.  (Although I still may add some edible flowers).

pollansalad

Pollan Signature Salad
6 servings

We serve this salad at all our large family gatherings. Light, crisp, both vinegary and sweet, our signature salad is a delicious addition to any meal.

For the dressing:
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

5 to 7 ounces mesclun or mixed baby greens
½ cup chopped, toasted walnuts
½ Bosc pear (cut lengthwise), cored, and thinly sliced
1/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

For the dressing: In a glass jar with a lid or in a small mixing bowl, combine the vinegars, mustard, grapeseed oil, olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Shake the jar vigorously or whisk in the bowl to emulsify.

For the salad: Place the mesclun in a large salad bowl. Pour on half the dressing and toss the greens to coat. Add the walnuts, pear, and more dressing to taste (taking care not to overdress) and toss again. Top with the Parmesan cheese shavings and serve.

Food for thought: Walnuts are the healthiest tree nuts around—they have close to twice as much antioxidants as other nuts! What’s more, they are an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which is great news for people who don’t eat heart-healthy fish.

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Happy St. Patricks’ Day – Corned Beef, Cabbage and Soda Bread

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

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My family got a jump on St. Patrick’s Day this year and I made our Irish feast on Sunday.  With all the kids’ activities I wasn’t sure I could do the holiday justice on a Tuesday night.  Last year I didn’t make corned beef because my son and I are the only ones that eat it.  I wasn’t going to miss it again this year, so I bought corned beef by the pound at Whole Foods rather than having to buy a whole pre-packaged brisket.  1, 1/4 pounds was perfect for our St. Pat’s meal plus another night of left-overs.  I also bought for the non-beef eater and vegetarian, aka my husband and daughter a small Field Roast grain loaf.  It actually paired quite well with my cabbage with apples (see below) and roasted potatoes and carrots.

 

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My daughter had also asked about Soda Bread after hearing about it on a radio commercial, so we made that as well.  I found a different recipe other than my own that called for buttermilk and all purpose flour.  This one also had raisins but my kids said “no” to those.  It came out good.  Big and dense, but not as dense as my wheat version.  The left-overs are really yummy dipped in soup too.  Here’s the recipe from SimplyRecipes.com.  It was pretty quick and easy.

 

the real corned beef

the real corned beef

 

I don’t like corned beef that’s falling apart and grey.  And I don’t have hours to cook it all day.  If you’re getting good corned beef from the butcher you should cook it so it actually has some flavor.  Here’s what I do… (note this is for a ledger piece of meet my

Corned Beef

1 1/4 pound piece only cooked about 45 minutes)

4 lb. corned beef brisket (brined from the butcher)

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons dijon mustard

Mix the mustard and honey together.  Use it to coat the meat.  Go right over the black peppercorns and other seasonings on the meat (of if you have a spice packet, mix with mustard).

Place meat on rack over roasting pan with 1/2 cup water in bottom of pan.

Roast approximately 2 hours or until thermometer reads 150F.

cabbage and apples

with Cabbage and Apples

I usually do this with purple cabbage because I think it has more flavor but this year my daughter wanted green.  It was still good.

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, sliced

1 head cabbage, sliced and shredded

2 apples, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté about 5 minutes.  Add cabbage and apples, stirring to combine.  Add broth.  Once cabbage and apples are cooked and wilted, about 7 – 10 minutes add in vinegar and salt and pepper.

 

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Making Whoopie…Pies

Friday, February 6th, 2015

My kids love to puruse lovely food photos in cookbooks and tell me which things they’d like to make.  While my husband and son were making plans to watch the superbowl, my daughter was checking out a baking activity for us ladies.  In the Whoopie Pie cookbook by Love Food (UK) she spied after dinner mint whoopee pies, and that was it. She even checked the cupboard and saw we had the ingredients.  Except one which she couldn’t reach.  So while we were baking the cookies and getting ready to make the frosting I realized we were out of mint extract.  Oops!  Hmmmm.  Here’s where it’s good to have a stocked pantry and the ability to make substitutions and create your own flavors.  Although my daughter was hoping for lemon extract.  I’m not a fan of lemon and chocolate.  Orange, yes.  Lemon, no.  Next she suggested coffee.  I was surprised by her choice, but chocolate and coffee is a perfect flavor pairing.

 

So we made After Game Mocha Whoopie Pies.  My kids not having too many whoopee pies in their lifetime were surprised by how soft the “cookies” were.  I had to explain this is more like cake and the cookies aren’t hard like an ice cream sandwich.  They understood better after seeing them assembled.  And yes, they scored a touchdown with the whole family.  These would be great for Valentine’s Day.  You could even shape the cakes into hearts.

Mocha Whoopie Pies

(this makes about 30 pies)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

large pinch of salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened

generous 1/3 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg, beaten

2/3 cup milk

 

Coffee Filling

1 1/4 cup cream cheese

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 teaspoon coffee extract

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugarm sifted plus extra for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.

Place butter, shortening and sugar in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until fluffy.  Beat in egg followed by half the flour mixture and the milk.  Stir in the rest of the flour mixture until incorporated.

Pipe or spoon small mounds of batter on the cookie sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.  Beake, one sheet at a time for 8 – 10 minutes until risen and just firm to the touch.  Cool for 5 minutes on pan, then carefully transfer with palate knife or spatula to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the filling, place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat together until well blended.  Beat in coffee extract and confectioner’s star until smooth.  Chill filling in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

To assemble carefully spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a star nozzle or simply spread carefully on flat side of half the cakes.  Top the filling with a second cake and dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

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Happy 2015! Try this Mocktail for All Ages

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Cocktail or Mocktail?

Looking for a special way to ring in the New Year with the younger or non-drinking set?  Here’s a festive, tasty “mocktail” that everyone can enjoy.

Organic Juice Sparkler

This is a fun and healthy way for children to join in on a fancy toast with a sparkling drink of their own. This recipe is really simple and can be made with any kind of fresh, organic juice such as orange, pear, or apple. At holiday time I like pomegranate juice because of the bright and festive color. Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants and flavonoids. The juice can be found year round in the fresh refrigerated juice section of most supermarkets.

Makes 1 cup

¾ cup sparkling mineral water
¼ cup fresh pomegranate juice

Combine water and juice in a glass.

Variation

If serving a crowd, combine three parts sparkling mineral water with one part fresh pomegranate juice in a pitcher. Serve over ice cube cuties for older children and adults.

Kids Korner

For a really festive drink, add a few cranberry ice cubes (just add cranberries when freezing water in trays) and a straw. Or a simple piece or rosemary or mint on the top is fancy for all ages.  You’ll be surprised how much those touches will excite your child.

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Hanukkah Chocolate Marshmallow Dreidels

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Over the years my kids have been curious about many religions, beliefs and traditions.  My son was very infatuated with Judaism when he was about 6 years old.  We set up a menorah in our fireplace with candles and he wanted to play dreidel all the time.  I love that we can learn about and borrow stories and rituals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.  No more so does this happen than with food.  We may not be Japanese but we certainly love our sushi.  I love to try new foods especially at the holidays.  With this being the first night of Hanukkah I was reflecting back on all the latke recipes I’ve made in the past.  (click to see recipes) There was the sweet potato butternut squash last year and the out of the garden pancake (green latke) a few years ago, and finally the traditional little latke that was part of my son’s religious exploration.

This year I thought we’d try something sweet and festive and I saw these adorable Marshmallow dreidels on Martha Stewart’s website.  These are fun and festive and would be a great addition to a cookie party of school gathering.  Of course we’ll be using the regular marshmallows as well as the vegan ones for my daughter.  Oy!  They happen to be kosher too.

Edible Hannukah Marshmallow Dreidels by Martha Stewart – video here

For an easy spin on the Hanukkah top, whip up these fun, kid-friendly treats. Marshmallows form the dreidels’ bodies, chocolate kisses serve as the tips, and pretzel sticks act as the knobs. A quick dip in melted chocolate provides a surface for piping white-chocolate Hebrew letters.12 chocolate kisses
8 ounces melted semisweet chocolate
12 marshmallows
12 thin pretzel sticks
2 ounces melted white chocolate
Dip bottom of chocolate kiss in melted semisweet chocolate. Press onto marshmallow; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat to make 12 dreidels. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  1. Dip bottom of chocolate kiss in melted semisweet chocolate. Press onto marshmallow; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat to make 12 dreidels. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  2.  Cut a small slit in bottom of each marshmallow; insert 1 thin pretzel stick. Dip dreidels in chocolate, and return to baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.
  3.  Fill a resealable plastic bag with melted white chocolate; cut a tiny opening in a corner, and pipe Hebrew letters onto 3 sides of each dreidel. Refrigerate at least 5 minutes or up to 8 hours before serving.

 

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Holiday Food Gift – How to Make Cookies in a Jar

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

cookiejars

The kids and I have started our holiday baking gifts.  Of course there’s cookies.  But I also like to give things that people can enjoy beyond the holidays.  So we make cookies in a jar.  I think this is especially good for teachers and co-workers and those traveling for the holidays.   Having ingredients pre-measured and ready, makes it easy for the recipient to finish the cookies quickly and can make them whenever they get a cookie craving (and they can get the credit for making them).

To make, you simply layer all the dry ingredients to your favorite cookie recipe in a clear container.  It looks pretty and allows the recipient to finish and bake when they’d like.  This Chocolate Cocoa Cranberry Cookie recipe works well because of the different colors of ingredients.  For those who may be allergic to nuts I feel free to use more chocolate or cranberries.   If you bake, you probably already have some ingredients on hand such as flour, salt, baking powder, sugars, etc.

The only other thing you need to buy is the container.  Here’s where you can get really crafty and creative if you’d like, depending on the occasion.  The recipes calls for a 1 quart jar however I’ve also used a one liter glass mason jar from The Container Store, when the quart wasn’t available.  The wide mouth jars are easier to layer and get ingredients in.  I find a screw top is simple and sturdy, and can be used again once the cookies are gone.  I’ve used various cards and tie-ons to present the recipe.  The kids can have fun personalizing these too.  I find it’s best to attach the baking instructions to the container, so the recipient doesn’t lose it when they’re ready to bake.

Once you get the hang of it and learn the layering and packing technique these are quite simple to do, and you can do a few at once. Here are a few tips for assembling:

  • Use ½ or ¼ cup size measuring cups to place ingredients in mouth of jar.
  • Layer flour in first.  If not it may seep between the layers.
  • Pack down each ingredient. This will allow everything to fit in the jar and also show the clear layers.  I use a spoon and a small juice glass.
  • Layer contrasting colors next to each other, for a better effect.  For instance, dried cranberries next to white chocolate chips and cocoa next to white sugar.
  • Wipe inside of container to clean flour and cocoa which will leave a dust and cloud glass.
  • Store in a cool, dry place
Ingredients

Chocolate Cocoa Cranberry Cookies 

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (if concerned about nuts add more chocolate and/or cranberries)
  • 1 cup total: combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, dried cranberries

Directions for Assembling Jar

  1. Combine all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a 1 quart wide mouth canning jar, layer flour mixture, dark brown sugar, white sugar, cocoa, chopped pecans, and chocolate chips. Pack everything down firmly between ingredients.
  3. Attach a tag with baking instructions (This is ready to print and paste on tag)
Baking Instructions

Chocolate Cocoa Cranberry Cookies

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Empty cookie mix into large bowl.

Thoroughly blend mixture with hands or whisk.

3. Mix in 3/4 cup softened butter, 1 egg (slightly beaten),

and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

4. Shape into walnut size balls, and place 2 inches apart

on a parchment lined baking sheet.

5. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking

sheet, then move to wire racks.

 

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