Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Birthday Cakes!

What we do for our children!

Somehow, we've set a precedent for our children's birthdays. A day of fun, a scavenger hunt to find their birthday gifts (with all clues in verse), and a cake of their request. Believe me, I have no special cake decorating abilities, as you'll see if you look close enough. I have a couple of decorating tips, but only the ones that attach to the little tubes of colored frosting that you can buy at any grocery store. I rarely even use those. So you don't need any special equipment. Now if you want to make a simply beautifully decorated cake, go get some real decorator tips, take a cake decorating class...or go buy one. Those decadent bakery cakes are what I go for (better yet, just give me a big gooey and very chocolatey brownie), but for our children...they just want a cake that they've requested and looks cool to them. Here are some of their past requests for cakes that I've made.

"Mommy, can you make me a sleep-over cake this year?" was Mary Kate's request the other day. This sleep-over cake is made from a 9 x 13-inch cake with Twinkies for bodies, Reese's peanut butter cups for the heads, smashed large marshmallow for the pillows, and candies to embellish. I found this idea in Cooking for Kids Bible.

"Can you make a fun and yummy cheesecake?" was the request from Kathleen and Mikey. A tie-died cheesecake was the answer--red velvet cake on the bottom and swirled colored cheesecake mixture on top. I used the recipe from this site, but I'd strongly suggest that you only use about 1/3 of the red velvet cake batter and increase all the ingredients for the cheesecake proportionately to use 24 oz. of cream cheese instead of 16 oz. I made these changes, and was relieved I did. Otherwise it would have been like eating cake with a little cream cheese frosting.

Flower and bugs cake--made from one cake mix in a bundt pan, a small round cake pan, and a few cupcakes...and lots of colored frosting.

Soccer ball for our soccer super star--baked in a Pyrex bowl.

I used this recipe for the Mom Cat and Kitten Cakes--made from a couple of frozen pound cakes.

A monster truck made from a 9 x 13-inch cake, a couple of small round cakes, and candy for embellishments.

A cheetah cake made from a 9 x 13-inch cake and a small round cake with jelly beans as the spots.

A rainbow cake made from a bundt cake.

Flip-flop cake made with two frozen pound cakes, ice cream, whipped topping, and candy embellishments. Check out this site for the recipe. It can also be made with a regular cake and frosting. Get this recipe here.

Mike just HAD to have an Army helmet cake. I made one round cake layer and baked the rest in a Pyrex bowl. Check here for directions.

A lion cake--made from two regular cake layers and a small amount of batter baked in a small Pyrex bowl.

This cake was a big hit, especially since Mary Kate had a life-sized Raggedy Ann doll and had dressed up as Raggedy Ann for Halloween! I got the recipe here.

"A monster jeep riding up a mountain." That's what Mikey requested! It was made from a 9 x 13-inch cake and a couple of cup cakes. I sure could have done more with the "mountain" but when I need to make two cakes at a time for my twins, somethin's gotta give!

What will they ask for next?

(Here's what we've made since the original post.)

Mary Kate wanted a "volcano cake with tropical flowers." This is what she got.

The cake idea was from here, and the tropical flower idea from here.

Another "monster truck riding up a mountain" was in order. This time it was 3D, and I just winged it with various-sized cake layers topped with a cupcake for the mountain, the truck was made with a frozen pound cake, the boulders were krispie rice balls, and the rest was candy decorations and frosting.

This was an interesting order: a "tree with fall-colored leaves." My daughter ended up with this.

I formed stiff cocoa krispie treat mix around a drinking glass and added roots at the bottom. The "tree" was green-frosted angel food cake (I used a cardboard base to rest atop of the "tree trunk"), and the colored leaves were cupcake tops that were frosted green and rolled in fruity pebbles.

What have I started with these 3D cakes? I'm scared for the future!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spiced Pecans in your salad

At Christmastime our next door neighbor makes wonderful spiced pecan halves from all the big and lovely nuts from her son's trees. What she may not know is how anticipated her tin of sweetly spiced nuts is at our house every year! Our entire family drools when they see the tin coming! Needless to say, they don't last long.

For a few years, I didn't want to have a recipe for these gems because I thought it may dampen the specialness of her annual gift. However, I've realized that we just can't go through a whole year without them...and I've thought of other ways they can be enjoyed, not just at Christmas.

Our children eat a lot of green salad when I add fruit and nuts. So the addition of these nuts ramped it up quite a few notches. I just add them to the greens with a little green onion and whatever fresh or dried fruit we have on hand. Add some cheese if you like. I usually top it with the salad dressing I make for Napa Salad.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

16 oz. pecan pieces (not the teeny-tiny cookie pieces though)
1 extra large egg white
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 large zip-lock bag
Parchment paper

Whip the egg white in a large mixing bowl with a mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the pecans into the whipped egg whites. Stir the nuts into the meringue thoroughly so they are all evenly coated and moistened.

Put the sugar, cinnamon and salt into the zip-lock bag and shake up to mix. Put the pecans in the bag and seal it (leaving a little air in the bag to mix well). Shake well to coat the pecans with the sugar mixture.

Dump the pecans out onto a large, parchment-lined sheet pan or cookie sheet. (I use two pans so I can really spread out the nuts.) Spread out the pecans evenly on the cookie sheet.

Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and cool thoroughly. They will get crispy once they are thoroughly cooled. Store them in an airtight container.

Use the extras for a snack by itself or add some pumpkin kernels and craisins for a fantastic treat!

NOTE: If you're not making a full batch with 16 oz. of pecans, make sure to remove the appropriate proportion of egg white from the bowl before you mix in the nuts. If you use all of the meringue, the nuts will have too much coating and it may flake off the nuts after cooling, instead of adhering to them.

This is where I found my recipe for spiced glazed pecans.