Monday, February 27, 2012

Bûche de Noël ~ AKA: Yule Log

Cub Scouts had their annual cake auction recently to raise money for the Blue and Gold ceremony. There were prizes given out in many categories, and it was a project we were to do as a mother/son team effort. Woo hoo, competition and bake time with my child, win/win! I decided to go for the Scouting theme prize and remembered a picture of a campfire log cake I saw in the Family Fun magazine that I had ripped out a few years ago, hoping to one day make it for a camping themed party. Then my log cake internet search opened up a whole new world of cakes! I had not known about the Yule Log tradition in several European countries, and it was interesting to learn as well as gain knowledge of different techniques in the making of yule logs. One day I'd love to try to make those adorable marzipan mushrooms that adorn many traditional yule logs.

My son joined Cub Scouts a few months ago and mostly likes it, except for the large gatherings of the whole pack which has helped me come to understand he has some form of large group anxiety. I saw it this summer at a very large family reunion of mostly boisterous Italians, and blamed it on lack of sleep from our long and tiring three week road trip. Looking back now, I know better. Granted, being tired didn't help, but there is something about a large chaotic group of people that sends him into an anxious state, which causes him to act socially inept. I've taken him to many plays and shows starting at age 4 that were large and loud, and it does not set him off. Granted Blue Man Group left him exhausted after watching it, but even I was from the amount of activity going on. But we are often the ones that the little old lady we sit next to scowls at thinking, "oh great, a little kid next to me", only to have them compliment him at the end of the production on how wonderful he was. Anyway, all this to say that Cub Scouts has given us something (the knowlege that I need to research group anxiety) in return for a crazy amount of time and energy I had no idea it would take when we signed up! Many activities are for the good of the community, which is a wonderful thing, but I'm not sure at what point there are too many structured activities in a child's life vs. the ability to choose what they want to do with their own time.

One such time consuming activity was this cake. Granted, I could have used a box cake mix and put some trees and a campfire in frosting. But they went and made it a competition, and to be honest, even if it wasn't, I still like mine to stand out. So we put a little more effort into our cake and baked it from scratch. For the cake I used Paula Deen's Old South Jelly Roll recipe, because let's be honest, anything that woman makes is going to taste good, because butter is just good.

I separated the eggs and worked with the whites since they needed a gentle hand, but Cruz helped measure out and stir the yolk mixture. Once done, he helped scrape out the batter onto the baking sheet while I held the bowl for him.

While the cake cooled, Cruz was happy to get to make a mess to get ready for the next step by putting powdered sugar all over a towel so we could roll it up without sticking. It cracked a little, but nothing the chocolate buttercream frosting wouldn't be able to hide. After 15 minutes I unrolled it and Cruz spread apricot jam on it, then I rolled it back up. Then I cut it about 1/3 of the way in at an angle and gave it the branched off look.

Cruz helped measure the chocolate buttercream frosting ingredients and we let the mixer do the work. We used this recipe, but I halved it, only I forgot to half the cocoa. This made for a very rich, chocolately frosting that luckily turned out to be more than just edible. I wished I had made the full batch at that point. As you can see in the picture below, my little one had no problem licking the mixer attachment.

After Cruz frosted most of it and I filled in the missing pieces, we got to work on the Chex Muddy Buddies recipe, because while I like the ideas of the coals in Family Fun magazine, I didn't like the idea of buying donut holes. So far the cake was all from scratch, and I had high hopes of keeping it that way. When I thought of what else I could pull off as coals, puppy chow came to mind. It turned out to be a good decision we all enjoyed since this time I did make enough for us to have some. In fact, I'm pretty sure during the auction the cake sold more so for the puppy chow than the actual cake! Cruz helped measure out all the ingredients, I melted them together and stirred in the chex mix, he covered them with powdered sugar, and we laid them on a cookie sheet to dry. This ended our Wednesday night baking adventure together, and after over 2 hours, Cruz was more than ready to be done helping in the kitchen. Into the fridge it went.

The following day I decided to spruce up the cake a bit. In my internet search I had run across a cake that had chocolate "bark" covering it. It made for a very authentic looking log. I melted some semisweet chocolate chips and  brushed them out onto a wax paper covered cookie sheet. That went into the fridge and once hardened, I broke off pieces and added it on top of the buttercream frosting. It definitely added a nice touch.

The Family Fun campfire version also included flames by way of fruit roll ups. Not wanting to work with such a soft medium, I decided to try to make hard candy instead. I've made suckers before and figured if I could make a mold, I'd be set. I found 2 star shaped pancake molds and distorted them to look like flames.

But when it came time to find my candy themometer and cherry flavoring, they were no where to be found. I had come this far, so I wasn't going to quit. I had to go to the dollar store to get a pan for the cake anyway, so I picked up a couple bags of jolly ranchers and decided I was going to try to melt those in the oven.

After many attempts and failures, I finally got 3 flames I felt were cake worthy and while still slightly warm and pliable, I molded them onto the cake.

 After picking Cruz up from school, I took the boys to a park where we found a nice looking stick for roasting marshmallows. Being one to kill a theme, I hot glued the stick to the pan, added marshmallows to the top and toasted them, and hot glued the cake description to the stick. Then it was time to fill the dead space in with coals, and I placed an edible smore on top of the coals.

Our cake went up for auction first, not the best place to be, as I noticed the cake prices increased throughout the night when there were less cakes and still many little scouts without a dessert to take home. But we still raised $12 for our cake. In the end, we placed first in a category and took home a big certifcate, Cruz learned the trappings of auctions, as he got caught up in a bidding war and ended up paying far too much for something he didn't really want, and we took home two box made desserts, a pineapple cake and red velvet cupcakes that the boys ate with delight. And most importantly I got some quality baking time in with my boy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chocolate Truffle Tartlets- BWJ

Again I waited until the day of the post to make my tarts. I had planned to make them and pawn them off as Valentine's Day treats but time did not allow for that. That's alright, today is Fat Tuesday, so I get to indulge a little. And it wasn't too hard to pawn my still warm tarts off to a few people.

Surprisingly, I decided not to read posts about BWJ bloggers' undertakings and just went straight from the recipe. As "easy" as these were to make, it turned out to be a decision that wouldn't haunt me. I'm looking forward to reading how everyone else did later tonight. And when I say easy, I mean it's pretty hard to mess these up, as forgiving as the dough is. Not to be confused with the amount of time that goes into making these little darlings! Definitely a special occasion treat. And just as well, because they are chocolately goodness that is hard to stop eating!

I decided to go with the 4.5 inch tart pans. I also decided to skip the biscotti in the recipe. Otherwise everything was exact to the recipe that you can find here. Oh... well, except for a little reading mistake I made, in which I only reduced the oven to 325 degrees instead of 300 for the filling bake, but since my tarts were not done until the 12 minute mark, I'm thinking it wasn't too big a mistake. They tasted good. And in my head, the more cooked raw egg gets, the better.

This dough was so moist and amazingly forgiving. I did not use any additional flour to roll them out. And, woo hoo, my first homemade dough completed! I know, sadly I have used Pillsbury refrigerated dough all these years thinking it was just as good. Silly me. Plus, Pillsbury does not come in chocolate!

Then came time for the filling. Could you go wrong with 3 different kinds of chocolate? This was the slightly painful and time consuming part- breaking the chocolate up. I will try out the food processor next time for that task.

Also needed in my kitchen is a scale. I'm sure I will run into more recipes that require 'so many ounces' of things. This time I eyeballed my milk chocolate shavings, which were in a big block of German chocolate I picked up from Cost Plus, based on the 2 ounces of pre measured blocks of white chocolate shavings. In a filling this full of chocolate, I'm sure being off by a little wasn't going to hurt me. Still, I have a suspicion I will be needing that scale in the future!

Now to figure out what to make with 8 egg whites.

February 14, 2012

St. Valentine's Day. There seem to be two camps on this day. Those who appreciate the opportunity to show their love to others, and those who despise the holiday all together. If you are great at showing your love to someone 364 days a year, you can probably take the so called Hallmark holiday off. If not, you'd better suck it up and make a kind gesture. Really, how hard is it to be friendly on a day that celebrates love. And it truly does. St. Valentine died protecting the rights of men and women to join in holy matrimony should they chose to do so. I'll honor that. Now Sweetest Day, that's another story.

But alas, there is no more Valentine's Day for me. I had my youngest on February 14th, 2007, so the day is all about him. He's my literal labor of love. There is something as magical to a mother about her child's birthday as there is to the child themselves. To them it's all about the presents and cake. To us, it's about being transported back to that day we brought a helpless, dependant life into the world that we carried as part of ourselves for 9 months. Just the date brings back all the memories of labor for me. Valentine's Day is no longer a Hallmark holiday for this girl. But I do get to celebrate one of the best things to ever happen to me, so I'm good with that.

Gavin Broderick @ 6 months old

 One thing that's great for my little guy right now is that he gets a party at school on his birthday. The whole day is about treats and celebrating for him. At school he celebrates friendships and gets treats, and at home he celebrates with the love of his family, gets his favorite dinner, cake, and presents. It's an all day long fiesta. Poor boy doesn't realize yet during his adolescence it will no longer be all about him though. Wooing a girl will mean flowers and candy and larger than life stuffed animals on his special day. Luckily that is many years off in the future. Since we have moved to a small town, I am more at liberty to bake and make treats. I used to be required to bring store bought goodies to celebrations when we lived in Las Vegas. I have ripped out many a magazine page for future holiday party use, and lord knows pinterest isn't helping matters any these days. I'm glad I finally get to put some of those ideas to work.

For Gavin's treats we took 2 blueberry candy canes, cut off the bottom half, put them on wax paper in the shape of a heart, stuck sucker sticks in the middle and baked them at 250 degrees for 10 minutes. I cooled those in the fridge, then poured blue Wilton melting candy in the middle and made a white chocolate chip V in the middle. Once those cooled, I put them into candy bags and tied a personal message from Gavin to close them up. They just happen to be his favorite color too. You can see a Christmas version I love here.

We made these the night before, and off to school he went with these packed neatly in a box on the bus. Then off to work I went for the first time in 6 and a half years! Not that being a stay at home mom is play time, I only mean an outside the home job. And oh what fun I had at "work"! I got to deliver flowers on Valentine's Day. It was almost criminal to pay me considering how much enjoyment I got out of it. The different reactions from surprise, to embarrassment, to pure joy were so much fun to take in. But my fun was short lived since little man is only in school for a few hours. Soon it was time to pick him up and take him to his favorite of all places, Walmart, to grab a few things for his older brother's class they needed and a toy he got to pick out on his own for his birthday. Then my husband Shawn took us out for lunch, to celebrate Valentine's day for me, and little man's birthday. It was a place I had been wanting to try, so I thought that was a nice effort on his part to include me in the day.

The boys got to stray from their usual Tuesday night activity of Taekwondo so we could spend Gavin's special day together. They got to facetime on the iphone with a couple of their friends from Las Vegas. They were goofy about it, but you could tell they were really excited to see the girls. Gavin wanted pizza as his birthday meal. Easily done. I decided to stop by the meat market and get a couple of nice looking ribeyes for the hubby and I. Nothing says I love you to a man like steak and potatoes.

I used to marinate the heck out of my steaks. I remember they were good, but the marinade would overpower the true steak flavor. If you have a good steak, you don't need much else. A few years ago I ran across some steak grilling information on the internet. The key is to let them come to room temperature before you throw them on the grill, for even cooking. Now I take them out of the fridge about 45 minutes before I plan to put them on, rub them down with olive oil, sea salt and steak seasoning. The hubby ate it without A1 steak sauce this time. Always the tell-tale sign it was a great steak, because he loves his A1.

Grilled potatoes are easy and yummy. I peel and dice the potatoes. Dice some onion. Sprinkle some sea salt and garlic power, crack some pepper, drizzle some local honey, and place some pats of butter on top of the potatoes, wrap them up in foil and throw them on the grill 30 minutes before the steaks go on.

During the dinner making process I was cooling 2 round yellow cakes and making a buttercream frosting. The frosting recipe called for 2 sticks of butter, 3.5 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tbs heavy cream. I threw in one stick of salted and one stick unsalted butter because it was all I had, and skipped the salt. I put in the vanilla. Then I grabbed the powdered sugar only to find there was no where near 3.5 cups! I didn't measure, but I'd have to guess 2 cups, maybe a little less. Already into this process, I had to continue forward. It did not need any cream to soften it, the high amount of butter to sugar was enough for that. I whipped it for 10 minutes and tried it. HOLY COW! It tasted like my favorite bakery- Freed's buttercream back in Las Vegas. I beat it for 5 minutes more and now I have my new favorite buttercream recipe.

Little man required a blueberry cake for his birthday. I put a layer of blackberry jam between the 2 round cakes, and made a fresh blueberry compote to go on top of the cake. The boys gobbled it up so fast I knew it was a winner. The cake only lasted 2 days in a 4 person house, and my husband only got one piece, so it'll definitely go into the archives for another time.

After The Happy Birthday song and cake, it was time for family presents. Is it cruel I make them wait all day? On my birthday it's the first thing they want to do is have me open my present. To me, logical order dictates: dinner, cake, presents. I think building up to the excitement is good for them. Even if I get asked about the cake and presents all day long.

He was one happy little guy. It was an exhausting day for me, but I wouldn't trade it for a lazy day on the couch because there was so much happiness hidden in so many places.

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 18th, 2012

I've always been lucky enough to have my birthday fall on President's Day weekend, which means an extra day off for the hubby, and now my school aged children as well. Before children, we would take a weekend trip. Usually California when we lived in Las Vegas. San Diego, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco were top destinations. When we lived in Michigan, it was almost always Chicago, a town my husband hates, and I love, so I knew to ask at a time when he couldn't refuse. Having kids has put a damper on my birthday weekend trip for now, both financially and feasibly. But I enjoyed my birthday "weekend" just as much as some of our mini vacations. And it truly has been a weekend long celebration. My oldest has wished me happy birthday for three days straight, and given me multiple hugs and verbal messages to the effect of, "I love you very much mom". The little one has made me a few cards throughout the weekend, and reused a gift bag to find presents around the house to give me, like glow stick bracelets.

My birthday weekend actually began on Thursday night. I had a great dinner with a friend. The company, the food, the wine, 2 desserts, and the present of a Trader Joe's goody bag made for a great girls' night out. And we shut the place down, twice!

Friday was parent teacher conferences where I got to hear how awesome my children were doing, and spent the day lounging on the couch watching my favorite food network competitions and recovering from all the wine drank the previous night.

Saturday was my actual birthday. The boys stayed quiet and let me sleep in. I got french press coffee and barely drank half a cup before the boys wanted me to open my present. The hubby got me purple wrapping paper in honor of my favorite color. The boys excitedly helped me open it. Much more fun than opening it myself.

The card is the first card I have received with all three of my guys signing their names themselves! You can see my husband's handwriting is only slightly better than my 6 and 5 year olds. It gets him out of filling out paperwork, so I guess it really is to his advantage.

The hubby ended up getting me a bread machine. After my first recipe with the BWJ group making my first loaves of homemade bread, I knew I didn't want to go back to preservative filled store bought bread. But I also knew I didn't have hours to spend in the kitchen every weekend since weekends are really our only family time. And my Kitchen Aid mixer didn't like the work it had to do kneading the dough. The machine is great in that it kneads, waits for the rises, and bakes it, and all you have to do is throw the ingredients in, set it and forget about it. I'm all about cutting corners where time is concerned, and this machine is my answer to weekly fresh baked bread! Happily, he did his homework and got me one that's highly rated and has more functions than bread making too. So far we've only made a Dutch Apple Cake in there because I have to replenish my yeast supply, but there will be some more bread baking tonight after our grocery store trip.

After opening my presents I decided to make a Big Apple Pancake- the one from The Original Pancake House. It's a bit time consuming, so I don't make it often. But it takes me back to my childhood. Going to The Original Pancake House was a special treat when I was a child. It was also a recipe we learned to make in Home Ec in high school since we were lucky enough to have an Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe, where I spent most of my adolescent years. You don't have to have a skillet to make it, but it helps. You can find the copycat recipe here.

Birthdays are "our choice" days. We get to pick the activities of the day. Usually I'd choose to get out of town and shop and eat, but we had a bit of a time constraint since we had friends offer to watch the boys for us so we could go out alone, a rarity for us. Normally I wouldn't impose my 2 wild children on anyone else unless I had to or was paying them. But these particular friends have a little girl that my boys are in love with, and I knew it would be as much of a treat for them to spend time with her as it would for us to have a few hours alone. Since a time consuming trip out of town wasn't a possibility, I decided I wanted to go geocaching as my activity. My husband found a cache near Lake Avalon he thought we'd like, and off we went, dog and all. Unfortunately we couldn't find the first cache, but the area by the lake was nice and I've bookmarked it in my head as a future picnic spot.

On the way back into town we passed by a micro cache and decided to try for it. It was not where it was supposed to be based on the description or location, but my caching abilities kicked in and I spotted it. We had taken a two year long hiatus from geocaching until then, and now I'm happy we've reconnected with an activity the whole family enjoys.

After grabbing some lunch, then putting the boys down for a nap, the hubby and I vegged on the couch and watched 28 Days. Jury is still out on if I liked the movie or not. Then it was time to get ready for our night out.

It was a beer night. I started at home with the Chicken Killer, not for the faint of heart. Then we went to the Stock Exchange for dinner where I got Left Handed Milk Stout on tap to go with my filet mignon and colossal shrimp dinner and creme brulee dessert. Finally, we finished off our date night at the Elks Lodge with an Amber Bock on tap and a 5 cent chinese food themed slot machine. It played with me, but took my money in the end. Then it was time to go pick the boys up and get them home to bed. I'm so grateful for my family, and all the special things we have, both intangible and tangible. Days like this where you smile all day long from the fun you are having with your family to the sweet texts and phone calls from the people who want you to know they care, are the more obvious, in your face, days of gratitude. But everyday is a day to be grateful for. I hope I make the people around me as happy as they make me. In the end, love and the relationships we form, and celebrating those people, are most important in my mind.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Star Wars Lego Birthday Party

My birthdays don't matter much anymore. They all blend together and most of the time I have to pause before I answer the question of my age. My little one is turning five tomorrow. It's a milestone that's freaking me out. When they are 4, you can still call them your baby. At 5, it seems harder to do that, like I'm grasping at straws to keep them little, when time has its own plan for them. I know, they will always be my babies in my heart. But your children have a way of shoving how quickly time passes in your face. And something about this particular birthday has my sensibilities up in arms.

Last weekend we had a little party with his friends. Being into both Legos and Star Wars, it wasn't surprising he decided on a Star Wars Lego party. I love planning my boys' birthday parties. I am a theme queen. I take a theme and run away with it. The first step in the party planning process was to make the personalized invitations. I used to buy these off ebay, until I realized I could do what these people were doing with a photoshop program. I usually print the invitations as 4x6 or 5x7 photos, but this time around Walgreen's had a set of 20 4x8 photocards with envelopes on sale for $8, so I splurged on those. I used the 4x6 picture below, and added the party information in the extra 2 inches on the bottom.

Then I sit down and do my menu planning. If I can match the food to the theme, so much the better. This time I decided on small bites for the adults instead of a meal to compliment the mini figure aspect of the party. Yes, I knew no one else would get this part but me, but completing a theme makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I labeled all the food to match a Star Wars character and attached the mini figure to the card on the appetizer table. I also had heartier fare in crock pots in the kitchen and a couple pitchers of cocktails, also labeled.

For the kids I decided on pizza, but not just any pizza. Legos are all about building. So I let the kids build their own pizzas. I was lucky enough to find sandwich cutters at Pottery Barn in the shape of the Millenium Falcon and Vader's TIE Fighter. I made my pizza dough several days in advance and used the Millenium Falcon sandwich cutter to make the shape I wanted. I baked them on pizza stones for 5-7 minutes at 450 degrees, used a spatula to flatten them back down after puffing up, and luckily they retained their shape!

I cooled them on racks and froze them until the morning of the party when I put them in the fridge. They came out soft and pliable. I was worried about this since I had never attempted homemade lunchables, but luckily they turned out great. Each child got a plate of 2 kinds of cheese, a cup of pizza sauce, and a bag of mini pepperonis. Build your own pizzas was a big hit with the kids.

I did utilize Party City for a few decorations like the table cover, plates and napkins. But I always make my own centerpiece. The boys make it easy because they pick themes they are already into, so we have those types of toys around the house. I use the table chandelier to tie the toys on with curling ribbon and you get a one of a kind centerpiece, free of charge. For the opening activity we put legos in buckets and each child got a base to build whatever they wanted.

I used to have amazing bakeries at my fingertips when I lived in Las Vegas. Now I live in a small town in New Mexico where the only cakes you can buy are grocery store cakes that are overly sweet, which leaves me little choice but to make my own. For the childrens' cakes, I did mini chocolate chocolate chip bundt cakes in the image of Vader's TIE fighter. I used the other Pottery Barn sandwich cutter to make the wings out of chocolate sugar cookies, the mini bundts were the body of the ship, and added a chocolate cookie iced with window panes in the center. I poured chocolate ganache over the mini bundts and added a little cream cheese frosting around the base. I found light saber picks on ebay and put two on my son's cake to make his special.

The adult cake was the same flavor in a big bundt cake, but with less ganache and more cream cheese frosting. I created the Sarlacc Pit eating Boba Fett scene. I made the sarlacc beak from the same chocolate sugar cookie recipe. I wanted to make the little teeth around the inside edge, but time didn't permit that.

The take home gifts were a bag of gummie bears, which I renamed Ewok bears and put a personalized thank you on top, and a light saber bubble wand. I was surprised how hard it was to find gummie bears. I lucked out at Cost Plus World Market and found a three pound bag.

It was a fun birthday to plan. They couldn't care less about all the work I do to make the theme perfect, and that's ok. It's really for me. I think I look forward to their parties as much as they do. One day that may change, I may lose that spark for all things themed. But for now I'm already planning the next birthday party in my head. My oldest has chosen Scooby Doo- mystery themed. Oh the possibilities!

 Happy 5th Birthday Gavin!