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Thursday, July 15, 2010

I have blogger guilt...

Dear friends and blog readers,

I am daily wracked with guilt that I have not posted a single thing for weeks now. Life has certainly gotten in my way of sitting down and writing about all of the fun things we have been doing. I have more posts and pictures than I know what to do with (which is making it even harder to get started). But have no fear, next week my life should slow down and return to a normal neck-breaking pace again. A neck-breaking pace will be a relief after this chicken-with-their-head-cut-off dance that I have been doing lately. There will be posts about birthday parties, the best choclate chip cookies ever, delicious high-hat cupcakes, and even a Dreamsicle Cupcake that ultimately failed.

I'll be excited to get all caught up because once I do I will be blogging and creating under a new name. Keep checking back for more info to come.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 5, 2010

Simple Chocolate Cupcakes

This week I decided that it was time that I went back to basics and attempted to make the best simple chocolate cupcake that I possibly could.

I figured with this one that I wold just start with something I already knew worked. So, I got out my best vanilla cupcake recipe and made it chocolate by adding a hefty amount of cocoa powder to the batter.

It was finding a good chocolate buttercream recipe that gave me a bit more trouble. I learned that there are two different ways to make your buttercream frosting and people either prefer one or the other. The most basic difference is in the chocolate medium that you use. Many people will say that using a good quality chocolate and melting it down and adding it to your basic buttercream is the only way to go. Others believe that the best buttercream can only be made using a dark chocolate cocoa powder. The decision was easy for me...I didn't have any chocolate to melt down, but I did have the cocoa powder.

The cupcakes turned out great. I keep looking for something that I will consider 'mind-blowing', and although this cupcake was not, it was definitely worthy of much praise and could stand on it's own against many of the other chocolate cupcakes out there made by the little cupcake shops in our area.

I might try a different recipe next time, just to see if I can even taste (or remember) the difference. But there was nothing that I would change about this cupcake.

Overall decision: 4 out of 5

A Father's Day cupcake for the man who brings home the bacon

After a full week and weekend of birthday party prep and celebration, on Sunday it was time to show celebrate father's Day with the best husband and father I know...mine! After making two birthday cakes for Austin earlier in the week, I could not deny my hubby at least a cupcake of his very own. So for the man who bring home the bacon, I made a Bacon Butterscotch Cupcake.

Both Morgan and I are true believers that bacon can make almost anything taste better, so this was a super fun cupcake to make. I started with my favorite vanilla cake recipe and added melted butterscotch chips to the batter before baking. For the buttercream frosting, I too my favorite recipe but instead of butterscotch chips I added a fair amount of butterscotch ice cream topping. And then I dipped the bacon pieces into the left over melted butterscotch chips just to complete the trifecta.

Honestly, the cake and the buttercream were really great on there own. They both really tasted of butterscotch and the overall cupcake turned out great. However, I hate to say it, but the bacon neither made nor detracted from the cupcake. The bacon was just alright (did I just say that?)...but I would make this cupcake again, more for the novelty of it than anything else.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Maybe next time I will use the bacon in a cupcake that pays homage to breakfast - a buttermilk pancake cupcake with maple butterceam and bacon on top?

Austin's Superhero Birthday Party

Holy Superhero Party! This was so fun and by far the best birthday party we have thrown to date (not especially hard since my oldest is now only 4)!

I was so glad when we decided on the superhero theme because I had so many ideas it was mind-boggling. But in the end we only used a few of the ideas and the party turned out great.

For the cake, we decided to go with a basic red, white and blue cake design. I covered it in stripes and dots, and then added a bunch of exploding stars. It was definitely a eye-catching centerpiece for our snack table.

Since the party was in the middle of the afternoon, we provided snacks instead of an actual meal. We bought strawberries and blueberries to go with the red, white and blue theme, offered a veggie stray, some different potato chips and a variety of drinks and the table was ready to go. My hubby gets the award for most creative food idea though. He made a bunch of ice cubes and colored them each with food coloring. He let the kids pick their colors and then poured 7-Up in their cups. This way they could watch the the color of their soda change as their ice melted. Super!

To add to the basic decor of our backyard, we blew up tons of red, white and blue balloons and I made a bunch of comic book inspired red and blue multi-point star shapes with words like "BAM", "POW" and "WHAM" written on them that we hung along the back fence.

When each child arrived for the party, they received a brown paper package with their initial on the front. Inside, they found a red cape and a mask which they could decorate at a craft table and create their own superhero identity. (I cut the basic cape shape out of simple red fabric and attached sticky back felt squares for the neck closure. I cut the mask shaps from stiff peiecs of felt I found at the craft store). We stocked the table with sheets of sticky back felt and superhero type stencils, scissors, and sticky back stars. We even had face paint crayons if you wanted to paint on your own mask or make a superhero tattoo.

Once all of the kids had all of their gear on, they played around in the yard for awhile. We had set out a table with tons of bubbles and wands, and the kids loved this. This was an easy and cheap addition to the party and I will definitely use again and again.

We played two party games that afternoon. Most of the kids were 4-years old and were just learning how to play party games so we didn't want to overwhelm them with having to learn a bunch of new game rules and play. So first, we did a simple game of "Hot Potato". Each of the kids got a turn to 'unwrap" one layer, until the last layer revealed a bunch of plastic superman rings that I found a a local party store. We also did a scavenger hunt. Since the kids couldn't read, I drew picture clues for them to find. The first clue was a crayon drawing of our plastic basketball hoop. The kids had to run there to find the picture (the slide) to find out where to go next...and so on. the last clue was a piture of the birthday cake. Once they got there, each child recieved a medal (you know the neckalce kind) and then we sang Happy Birhtday and had cake. This was so fun to watch and was super impressed that the kids could tell what all of my drawing were of :).

The best activity we had planned though was the Hot Lava Pit. We took our little plastic swimming pools and filling with just a few inches of water. We used a little red food coloring to tint the water red. My husband then used cinder blocks and 2x4 to rig up a kind of plank ac cross the pool. Then we set a fog machine under the plank...and voila...a hot lava pit. The kids had the best time doing their best to walk across the hot lava without falling in and then doing their best superhero jump off the end. It was the hit of the party!

Happy Birthday Austin! I can't wait to start planning next year party.

Austin's Knights and Dragons Birthday Cake

In our house, having a birthday is a big thing and my little man just turned 4! We spent many months discussing the pros and cons of all types of birthday themes and, after much deliberation, decided on having a Superhero Party. I had so many ideas and it was going to be so much fun.

However, about two weeks before the actual party, he started telling me how he had decided that now he wanted to have a Knights & Dragons party. This was just not possible. I had purchased, sewed, cut, and planned an awesome party already. There was no turning back.

So, since I am always looking for another reason to make cake, I decided that since Austin's actual birthday was on a Tuesday and his Superhero Birthday Party wasn't going to be until the following Saturday, that his actual birthday day could be his Knights & Dragons birthday...and therefore I could make another cake. (This actually worked out as a great theme because most of the presents that he was getting from his family on his actual birthday were of the knight and dragon kind).

So, I started planning another birthday cake. I searched everywhere for pics of knights and dragons cakes online for inspiration and found so many it made my head spin. The one thing I did find though, was that there was a huge difference between a good looking dragon cake and a just-ok looking dragon cake. I am usually a fan of making something that would be considered "awesome" so took the challenge...and ended up using gumpaste for the first time.

I love gumpaste! It is a lot like fondant. It is food grade, pliable and easy to mold, but a little more resilient and dries rock hard. Fondant will develop a crust but never actually dries completely. I thought gumpaste would be a better option because of the amount of small detail work I would be attempting to put together for this knight and dragon.

Wow! I was so happy with how this turned out. It is by far my most favorite creation. I had no desire to cut into this cake and eventually had to relinquish the knife to my husband who had to do the honors so that my son could actually have a piece of his birthday cake.

Austin loved his cake too! So, Austin and I decided to save the dragon from the top of the cake and now (a month later) the orange dragon still silently sits on top of our coffee maker in the kitchen. This way Austin and I can admire him whenever we want and it also leads to long talks about how special and fun his birthday day was!