Friday, June 29, 2012

Mermaids and Pirates Party - Food!

This will be my last post about the Mermaid and Pirate party, I promise!  I wanted to tell you about the food we prepared!  We like to try to maintain our theme with the food, so here is what we came up with for Mermaids and Pirates:

Mermaid Punch
aka Quick Cranberry Punch
adapted from Betty Crocker

1 (12 oz) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 bottle (64 oz) cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
1 bottle ginger ale, chilled

Make pink lemonade in a pitcher as directed on the package.  Stir in cranberry juice cocktail.  Insert frozen ice ring (see below) OR enough ice cubes to chill.  Before serving, stir in ginger ale. 

This recipe is very loose.  I did not use the exact quantities of each liquid, so my ratio may not have been right but it was delicious.  It is not too sweet and has a bit of a tartness from the cranberry juice, plus some fizziness from the ginger ale!

Ice Ring
1 bottle ginger ale
garnishes - lemons, clementine oranges, limes, fresh cranberries

Fill a bundt pan halfway up with ginger ale and put in the freezer until the ginger ale is partially frozen.  In the mean time, slice your citrus fruit in half and remove the meat, retaining a solid piece of peel.  Cut star shapes into the peel.  Once the ginger ale is at the slushy point, add your citrus rind stars and some cranberries.  Gently pour the rest of the ginger ale on top and return to the freezer.  Done!
Printable Recipe

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mermaids and Pirates Birthday Cake

As I have mentioned, the clever girl turned 4 and had a joint birthday party with the son of one of our friends.  We do a swim party each year, and this year we chose the theme Mermaids and Pirates.  I wanted a fun cake so I did a little internet searching and I found a really cool cake idea here.    When I read the reviews I realized I would have to make a few changes, plus that cake was a only a pirate ship and I needed to incorporate a mermaid!  So, I made the pirate ship, placed it in the ocean, and put a mermaid on a rock. 

The pirate ship and the rock are made of chocolate cake, and the ocean is white cake.  We'll do the pirate ship cake first!  I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe for the pirate cake.  Seriously, this is the most moist and delicious cake, you will be amazed.  Print the recipe below and throw away all other chocolate cake recipes.  I mean it!  It is that good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers June Challenge: Battenberg Cake

Hello, readers.  I have joined another baking group!  This one is called Daring Bakers.  The group started in 2008  with just a couple of people challenging themselves to make a particular recipe each month, and the group has grown to over 9000 at last count!  There are Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks, which started in 2009 (and whose numbers are included in the totals above).  I found this group when checking out a blog of another TWD baker, Mireia of Baking in Spain.  Thank you, Mireia!  So after you read about my take on this month's challenge, click over to Mireia's blog and see what she is up to!

Daring Bakers has a new challenge each month, which is secretly revealed on the first of the month (to members only!)  There are recipes and details provided as to what are mandatory parts of the challenge and what variations might be allowed.  Then everyone posts on their blog about the challenge on the 27th of the month.  The amount of information provided for each challenge is massive!  This month I printed 13 pages!  I am super excited to be part of this new group!

For the Daring Bakers June Challenge, Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! came to our rescue at the last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge!  She highlighted Mary Berry's techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mermaids and Pirates Party - How to Antique Paper

The clever girl's birthday party is this weekend!  For the past few years, we have had a joint party with some friends of ours with a son born 1 1/2 weeks after the clever girl.  We have such fun at our joint parties that we both fear the day when our kids want their own!  Our friends have a pool, so each year we plan the party around swimming.  In Houston, summer birthdays must involve water.  It is too hot for anything else!  So we have had a luau party, an ocean party, and now a mermaids and pirates party!  I tend to get sort of carried away in party planning, so you can expect to see several posts about the party!

We came to the idea for a Mermaid/Pirate theme from our desire to do a treasure hunt.  I am responsible for creating the clues for the hunt and wanted to make them look old... like for a real buried treasure.  So I Googled "antiquing paper" and came up with a great tutorial!  A-ha!

First I had to brainstorm the clues....  That was quite a task.  I made the mistake of starting when it was already late in the evening and I was exhausted from the day.  This does not tend to be the time when my creative juices are flowing very well.  So it took some work.  Also since our kids are turning 4, I needed to make the clues fairly simple.  Once I came up with the clues, I designed the pages using Microsoft Publisher.  You can use whatever publishing software you like, even Microsoft Word would probably work!  I found a graphic for a compass and a fun font and went to work!

So anyway, get whatever project you want antiqued, and use a LASER printer to print whatever you want on the paper.  Inkjet paper is water soluble, so that won't work.

Make some hot coffee.  This will sound outrageous to some, but neither my husband nor I are actually coffee drinkers.  Yes, it is true.  We are weird like that.  Nothing against coffee, we just don't have that particular craving.  So I used some instant coffee I keep on hand for random needs (mostly for making chocolate cake, but that is fodder for another post!)  Anyway, make up about a cup or so of hot coffee, depending on how many pages you intend to antique.

Take your beautifully printed paper and crumple it into a ball.  Now carefully un-crumple it and smooth it out.  Place it in a baking sheet bigger than your piece of paper.

Pour some coffee all over the paper.  You don't have to use a lot, but you do want all of the paper to get coffee on it.  I spread it around with my fingers, but you could also use a sponge brush or something, depending on how hot your coffee happens to be!

  Now sprinkle some instant coffee on top of the coffee mess (left photo).  Let this sit for a few moments, letting the coffee sprinkles start to dissolve a little bit. Take a paper towel and dab up the pooled coffee  and remaining coffee granules (right photo).

Put the baking sheet into the oven at 200F.  Bake your paper until you see that the paper is dry.  You can see that it is drying when the edges of the paper start to curl up.  The time on this will depend on the thickness of your paper, how much coffee you poured and how well you dabbed it all up.  It took each of my pages about 12 minutes.

Ta-da!  "Antique" paper!

Cool, huh?  My plan is to roll up my clues and stick them out of clean (as in washed out and no label) brown or green beer bottles and place them in the appropriate places at my friend's house.  My husband has had the job of drinking the beer this week to provide the bottles.  He was glad to help!

Here are the clues in the bottles ready for the treasure hunt!  I rolled up the pages on the diagonal starting from the bottom left corner, and rolled them fairly tightly to get into the neck of the bottles. 

In some of the bottles the clues were harder to remove, almost like a suction was created, and the kids had to turn the paper the direction of the roll to get them out.  I am not sure why that happened but it certainly didn't diminish the excitement of the treasure hunt!  It was a BLAST.    The kids loved it and were ALMOST sad to find the treasure, as that meant the hunt was over.  Our treasure was a little treasure chest filled with beads and chocolate coins.  Once the excitement of the treasure hunt was over, we divided up the treasures and sent a bag home with each guest.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tarragon Chicken Salad

I  enjoy a good chicken salad.  However I tend to be a bit picky about it, I suppose.  I have a hard time ordering chicken salad at a restaurant, as often it is too mayonnaise-y or sweet or chunky...  I think everyone has their own idea as to what chicken salad is supposed to be like so if you order it out, you are at the whim of the restaurant, which may or may not be to your liking.  Not a sure thing.  So I tend to make my own chicken salad at home to quench that desire when it comes.  Meet Tarragon Chicken Salad.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Father's Day Coconut Cream Pie

I have mentioned before that my husband's favorite pie is Coconut Cream Pie. I decided he should have one for Father's Day!  I've been making this same coconut cream pie recipe for a while... once I found it I stuck to it!  I make some changes here and there and it is a winner each time!

Start off with a Foolproof Pie Crust.  For some reason, when I made the crust this time it turned out to be my best ever.  I think it may be because I used FROZEN butter instead of merely "very cold" butter.  I took it straight from my deep freeze, cut it into pieces and used it for the dough.  It didn't have any chance to defrost and lots of buttery lumps were visible throughout the dough.  I did actually use the entire water/vodka amounts this time, too and it wasn't "too wet" as it has been before, so I think the frozen butter helped there as well.  When it was baked, it was so flaky and delicious, I could hardly believe it!  Three cheers!

Anyway, onto the coconut cream part!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - French Strawberry Cake

Our Tuesday's with Dorie assignment this week was to make a French Strawberry Cake.  "Yippee", I thought.  Perfect timing for the clever girl's 4th birthday!  Then I read the recipe.  You start by making a "Perfect Genoise" and then continue to the strawberry cake recipe just for the strawberry and whipped cream part.  Have you ever made a genoise?  I had not, and I have to admit it had me quaking in my boots.  For good reason, as it turns out.

A genoise is a sponge cake that does not use any chemical leavening.  Instead, the batter is whipped such that the air suspended in the batter gives the cake its volume.  Flo Braker, the baker that provided this recipe for Baking with Julia,  states "The process of making a genoise can seem intimidating."  Yep.  That is certain.  It also says, "It may look as if disaster will strike at every turn."  Yep.  And, "follow the directions and it will do just what it's supposed to do, even when you think it won't."  Ummm, not so much.

You see that beautiful cake?  It sure looks lovely.  And it sure wasn't a "perfect" genoise.  Far from it!  You can't judge a book by it's cover.  Not everything is as it appears, my friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Orange Pancakes

You might remember my post about pancakes on Saturdays and my awesome "instant" pancake mix.  Well, here is a fun and delicious way to jazz up your pancakes!  Make them ORANGE pancakes!

Go ahead and get everything ready that you need to make those "instant" pancakes.  Into the bowl where you whisk your buttermilk and egg white, add 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate.  Whisk it all together and continue making the pancake batter as the recipe states.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Best Ground Beef Tacos

This is going to sound ridiculous but I can't remember the last time I made ground beef tacos before running across this recipe!  I find those little packets of taco seasoning unappealing and just never bothered to think of better ways to go about making a good crunchy taco.  Luckily for me, someone else did!  Mel's Kitchen Cafe did an adaptation of a Joy of Cooking recipe that we found to be delicious!

The recipe is super easy and fast, two things a busy person/mom needs!  Plus the clever girl LOVED them.  The facts that they were crunchy and she could put whatever she wanted on the inside were huge hits.  She even ASKED for taco leftovers the next night!  Yahoo!

When Mr. Clever Mom came home from work and saw I had made tacos, he said "I see you went "Old School" on me!"  Maybe I did go old school, but I went there in an awesome way! 

I'll help you figure out whether or not you should make them:
Pros:  Happy family
          No need to turn on the oven in the hot summer
          If you have a picky eater, they can make their taco just how they want it
          They are fun to eat!
          Easily gluten-free if that is an issue for you!

Cons:    um, wait a minute, I am still thinking.....
             you'll set a new yummy standard for fast, easy dinners??
             I don't know.  Maybe you readers can help me with the cons list?   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Pizza Rustica

This isn't actually a  Tuesday's with Dorie week.  This is the off week but I decided to try to catch up on some recipes I missed before I joined the group, so periodically I'll be posting extra ones!  This week I tried Pizza Rustica.  The group actually posted about this recipe on April 3, and the recipe can be found on page 430 of Baking with Julia, or on the host's blogs:  Emily of Capital Region Dining and Raelynn of The Place They Call Home.

I would say that overall the reviews of Pizza Rustica were so-so.  Many fellow TWD bakers described the filling as bland and the crust as too sweet.  I knew I had my work cut out for me to transform this recipe into something delicious!  So while I generally don't deviate TOO much from a recipe when trying it the first time, I did vary a bit this time!

The basics of Pizza Rustica is that it is a savory pie with a sweet crust.  It isn't pizza-like at all, in the traditional pizza sense.  I find it to be more like a cheesy quiche, but with a top lattice crust.  That is how I described it to my family, anyway.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pancakes on Saturdays

Most Saturdays, I make pancakes for breakfast.  I don't do big breakfasts during the week, but I feel that Saturdays demand something different.  Pancakes, waffles, omelets.... something different than the norm.  What is the norm?  Oh, that would be cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, a smoothie, eggs in a basket, anything I can do fast so we can get moving!  But on Saturdays we have extra time in the morning!  So bring on something bigger and better!!

Most of the time Saturdays mean pancakes.  I use Alton Brown's "Instant" Pancake Mix recipe and it is perfect.  The fact that the mix is pre-made and just waiting in your pantry speeds the process up a bit so in the morning there isn't as much to do!  Plus the pancakes are delicious and puffy and everything a pancake should be!

First let me give you the actual pancake mix recipe so you can get a feel for where we are going...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TWD - Baking with Julie: Oasis Naan

The Tuesdays with Dorie baking group chose Oasis Naan for our recipe this week!  If you have ever had a desire to bake some flatbreads, I recommend this recipe.  It  was fairly simple and came together pretty easily!  I will admit that my naan does not look the way it is supposed to look.... it is supposed to be flat in the middle, not puffy like mine.  We'll get to that later.  Regardless, they tasted great!  You should try Oasis Naan!  The recipes can be found on Maggie's blog Always Add More Butter and on Phyl's blog Of Cabbages and King Cakes.

As it seems many of these TWD recipes are, this was a two-day process for me.  It didn't have to be, but it was for me.  Don't get me wrong, both days were REALLY EASY, so there is no stress involved with this recipe, there is simply some advance planning needed!  You start by making the dough of a recipe of what the Baking with Julia book calls "Persian Naan".  No mixer needed, friends.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lemon Icebox Pie

My dad is a huge fan of tart lemons. Every year for his birthday, my mom bakes him a tart lemon meringue pie.  The tarter, the better.  This year we celebrated his birthday while we were all together in Kansas City for the Jiggle Jam, and I decided to make a Lemon Icebox Pie instead.  As long as it was tart, I knew it would be okay.  So I scoured the internet trying to find the pie with the biggest quantity of lemon and the highest ratings by tasters, and I found a definite keeper!

The recipe I found is adapted from a restaurant in New Orleans named Clancy's and the reviews said things like "refreshingly tart", "it was VERY tart", and "the best lemon icebox pie I've every had".  Ah-ha, I thought!  This particular recipe had quite a bit more lemon juice and lemon zest than the others, so I figured it would work.

I must preface the recipe by telling you that if you like lemon icebox pie, you need to try this recipe!  It is super easy and really delicious!  Are you ready to see a super easy lemon pie recipe?

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Jiggle Jam Warhol Dress

Have you heard of the Jiggle Jam?  It is a kids music festival in Kansas City that occurs on Memorial weekend each year.  It is a BLAST.  My sister lives in Kansas City so when I discovered Jiggle Jam early last year, we decided we had to go!  And we returned this year.  I think it will become a tradition.  I decided the clever girl needed a special outfit for Jiggle Jam this year, and was inspired to create a rendition of the Warhol Dress by MADE.  To make it a special Jiggle Jam dress, I did an applique of a guitar on the front! 

This dress was made of 100% re-purposed materials.  The blue dress used to be one of Mr. Clever Mom's white undershirts.  I decided he had plenty of other white undershirts and dyed this one navy blue.  Remember how I said I was totally inspired by my experience dying the purple shorts?  Well, this was experiment number two!  It took many tries to get this dress the navy blue I wanted, in a relatively even dye.  I probably should have used a bigger bowl for dying the shirt.  I just kept checking on the color, giving it a stir and trying to rearrange the fabric to get it to cover in some sort of uniform manner.  The color did not turn out to be totally uniform but I like it.  It sort of looks like sueded cotton.  I used the Warhol Dress pattern for the dress but made it several inches longer.