Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Cake

Here's one last sweet temptation for you and then I'm signing off for the rest of the week to spend some time with my family.  We arrived at my parents' house near Philadelphia last night and will be here for the week.  Even as an adult with my own house and own children, there's something about being here in the house where I grew up that really makes it feel like Christmas.

I wanted to share this super easy ice cream cake with you before Christmas in case you're looking for a quick dessert to serve houseguests post-holiday.  I made two of these in miniature for my daughters' weekday birthdays two weeks ago.  We'd already been eating cake and cupcakes for days around their parties (coconut cupcakes, chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, and salted caramel chocolate cake) so I wanted something easy and a little different than what we'd already had.

You'll need a 9" springform pan to make this cake.  To make in miniature, split the recipe below in half and divide between two small springform pans.  I used the ones here.

There are three parts to this simple ice cream cake: a no-bake chocolate cookie crust, vanilla ice cream, and crushed candy canes.  It goes together in five or ten minutes, which is perfect when you're looking to throw together something quick.  And let's face it, ice cream cake is a crowd pleaser.  Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Cake
12 candy canes
24 chocolate sandwich cookies (I used Whole Foods' 365 brand cookies)
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
half gallon vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

Place candy canes in a ziptop bag and crush with a meat mallet.

Put the cookies in a food processor and process until they turn to crumbs.  Add the melted butter and pulse until the mixture starts to come together.  Pour into a springform pan and press onto bottom and partway up sides.

Spoon vanilla ice cream into crust and smooth the top.  Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top and put in freezer for at least several hours before serving.

To serve, remove sides of springform pan and slip cake off the base.  Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Friday, December 21, 2012

{Sweet Friday} Salted Caramel Chocolate Layer Cake

This may be the perfect cake.

Just putting it out there.

Perfect for a special occasion, that is.  This is definitely not the kind of cake you whip up on a Tuesday because you want a little something sweet for dessert.  It's grand and rich and will make people say, "Wow.  What is IN this?"  A showstopper.

I made it a couple weeks ago for the family birthday party I had for Ada and Ellie.  I almost didn't make it because I got sick the week leading up to the party and was feeling overwhelmed and even for someone like me who is definitely not afraid of baking, there's just something about a layer cake that seems daunting.

But I pushed through and it turns out what looks kind of complicated is actually pretty simple.  There are three parts to this cake: coffee-laced chocolate cake (I used decaf), caramel chocolate ganache, and gelatin-fortified vanilla whipped cream.

Each component of the cake was relatively quick to make and as long as you start at least a day or two ahead of time - the whipped cream layer should set up in the fridge overnight - this cake is kind of a breeze to make for something that looks so impressive.

The top of the cake is sprinkled with sea salt (I used Maldon) which stays crystallized and gives an ethereal sparkle to the ganache frosting.  I didn't want to overdo the salt but wanted lots of sparkle so after sprinkling the sea salt I also sprinkled sanding sugar to really give it some glitter!  

My original plan had been to cut chocolate-covered caramels with a star-shaped cookie cutter and have them on toothpicks on top of the cake but the caramels would smash as soon as I started to press the cutter through, so I had to scrap that plan.  And eat a lot of smashed dark chocolate sea salt caramels.  Tough job, I know.

Plan B worked beautifully anyway.  I pressed mini marshmallow flat-ish with my finger and pushed a star shaped mini-cookie cutter through them to make lots of little white marshmallow stars that I scattered across the top of the cake.  It was the perfect touch of whimsy for a child's birthday cake.

So, if you want my advice, make this cake.  For your next birthday party, dinner party, or Christmas dessert.  I promise you, it isn't as hard as it looks.  And even if it was, it would still be worth it!

Click here for the recipe.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Party Wear

I wore a uniform to school for twelve straight years.  And I kind of loved it.  It was so easy.  And when I think about it, I still sort of have a self-imposed uniform now.  I spend a lot of my days in either yoga pants and long-sleeved t-shirts or if I'm feeling really fancy, jeans, a long-sleeved T, and a scarf or necklace.  I know...big time.

This doesn't mean I don't like to get dressed up though!  So when holiday party time is upon us, I love finding some outfits that are cute, comfortable, and a departure from my usual uniform.  Here are a few I've either worn or would like to wear this holiday season, and where I'd be likely to wear them.

  1. Chevron Tunic
  2. Drop Earrings
  3. Bauble Bracelet
  4. Stacked Gold Bracelets
  5. Beige Patent Heels
  6. Black Ponte Leggings
  7. Patent Leather Belt

  1. Earrings
  2. Green Shift Dress
  3. Cabochon Belt
  4. Snakeskin Pumps
  1. Flower Earrings
  2. Green and White Peasant Blouse
  3. Gold Flats
  4. Black Velvet Skinny Jeans
  5. J.Crew Confetti Necklace (no longer available)
Thanks to Michaela for hosting a holiday fashion link party today and letting me step outside my usual blogger box to talk clothes.  Fun departure :)  Now back to my scrubby "work" clothes to finish painting my Christmas gift to Ellie...details to come...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

{DIY} Glitter Playdough

I recently made this glittery playdough for Ada's and Ellie's birthday party with our family.  There were going to be far fewer kids than at Ada's Bakery Party with her preschool friends so I didn't feel like I needed to have quite as much going on - just a little something for the kids to do in addition to playing with the toys in our house.  

It was so easy to make and the "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the kids were super sweet to hear.  The sparkles really make it look like something extra special and the kids were so excited to play with it.

I set a big bowl full of cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic knives, and other playdough accessories in the middle of the table and let the kiddies have their fun.

They all look so serious here, don't they? 

I used a combination of Kool Aid and craft glitter to color the playdough.  Food coloring would work fine in place of the Kool Aid but the Kool Aid is cheap, vibrantly colored, and smells nice.  For each Kool Aid color I used a coordinating craft glitter color: aqua Kool Aid + aqua glitter, red Kool Aid + red glitter, purple Kool Aid + purple glitter, and for the gold just plain gold glitter and no Kool Aid.  You could add a splash of vanilla extract if you like the idea of each color having a scent.

I bought a bunch of small food storage containers at Dollar Tree to store the glitter playdough.  So the kids could take the sparkly fun home with them as party favors, I packaged a set of each color in a clear party bag and tied at the top with silver rope.

And now for the "recipe!"

How to make easy, colorful, sparkly GLITTER PLAYDOUGH

2 c. flour
1/2 c. salt
3 tsp. cream of tartar
1 package Kool Aid
fine craft glitter (I like Martha Stewart craft glitter from Michaels)
2 tbsp. oil
2 c. water

Whisk the flour, salt, cream of tartar, Kool Aid and glitter (I used about half a 1.5 oz jar) in a medium-large saucepan.  Pour the water and oil in and stir to combine (it will be quite runny at this point).  Cook over medium heat until the dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides.  Let cool until it can be handled, remove from the pan, and knead until smooth.

Store in an airtight container.

This recipe made 6 palm-sized balls of each color.  For a smaller yield, cut the recipe in half

How to make easy, colorful, sparkly GLITTER PLAYDOUGH

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fried Meatballs

Feels like I've been doing a lot of birthday party talk lately, but then pretty much all I've done lately is think about and plan my daughters' birthday parties, so there you have it.

I've already shared with you the details on Ada's Bakery Birthday Party, but I also had a joint birthday party for Ada and Ellie the next day with our family and a few old friends.  No theme here, just a lot of munchie lunch foods, catching up, and a spectacular layer cake I'll share with you on Friday.

For the meal, I served big-pigs in a blanket (full-sized hot dogs inside crescent rolls), the arancini I showed you last week, a pumpkin soup I'll share next week, a mixed greens salad with apples and marcona almonds, and these little fried meatball nuggets today.  They might be the best meatballs I've ever had.

They wouldn't do so well atop your next plate of spaghetti - these are definitely of the cocktail meatball variety.  But they are extremely flavorful and the crispy outside with a soft juicy inside is fantastic.  They take a little time to put together and fry but the great news is they can be done completely ahead of time.  I made them a week before the party, fried them, then froze them until right before we were going to eat them, at which point I put them on a baking sheet and warmed them in the oven.

I'll link you directly to the recipe I used, which has all the details you'll need to make these yourself for your next cocktail party, but there are a few things I changed.
  • I omitted the fennel (I don't like the taste of dried fennel) and crushed red pepper (didn't want them too spicy)
  • I didn't wrap them in fresh sage leaves before breading (seemed like an unnecessary step)
  • I served them with sweet chili sauce instead of the suggested marinara
There wasn't a single meatball left and I saw kids and adults both gobbling them up.  So if you're looking for a crowd-pleasing, make-ahead appetizer for your next holiday or cocktail party, look no further than right here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Favorite Birthday Cakes + The Easiest Buttercream Ever

This is my last how-to post from Ada's Bakery Birthday Party.  The two cakes I made for her party have become my go-to recipes when I'm looking for something simple and easy.  And my source for something simple and wonderful is the same as so many other people: the Barefoot Contessa. 

Her recipe for chocolate cake is at once light and dense, chocolately but not overbearing, and fluffy without being spongy.  I think a simple vanilla buttercream is the perfect frosting for this cake (keep reading for the quickest buttercream frosting recipe!).

I adjusted the baking time but only because I was baking twelve mini-cakes instead of the larger cakes the original recipe makes.

I used an offset spatula to spread buttercream over the top and sides of the cakes, then piped additional frosting along the bottom and top edges.

Since the kids were taking these cakes home with them I wanted to make something different for the cupcakes we'd be eating at the party.  I've always been a little bored by plain vanilla cake but love Barefoot Contessa's coconut cupcakes.  They taste like vanilla cupcakes but with a little extra "something."

While the cream cheese frosting sprinkled with additional coconut that the Barefoot Contessa suggests is delicious, for a party with preschoolers I went with the same vanilla buttercream I used on the chocolate cakes, just tinted pink.  

And my favorite natural way to tint frosting pink?  Substitute room temperature juice from thawed frozen raspberries for the cream in the buttercream recipe.  You can also use a drop of red food coloring, of course.  A dab of green keeps it from being too electric.

So without further adieu, here are links to the recipes I used:

As much as I love these cakes, I actually think I have a new #1 favorite chocolate birthday cake after the family party I had for my daughters last weekend.  You'll have to wait until next Friday for details but it includes dark chocolate, caramel, and sea salt.  To die for.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

{DIY} Kids' Winter Owl Aprons | Children's Craft

Do I have to swallow my words that I'm not much of a crafter?  I don't think of myself as a crafter yet in the past couple weeks I've made two kinds of Christmas ornaments (here and here), a paper garland, and these aprons for my daughter's birthday party.  Maybe I'm a little craftier than I give myself credit for...

I wanted to have an activity to occupy the ten preschoolers at Ada's party and thought these aprons would be fun for them to assemble, practical to wear while decorating their cakes, and something they could take home and use as smocks for art projects or helping in the kitchen.

I will warn you, the cutting of felt shapes was a little labor intensive and my hand was pretty sore after wielding scissors for an hour.  Nothing a night of sleep didn't heal though.

I bought a set of twelve white canvas aprons here for around $20.  I made templates by tracing shapes onto cardstock-weight paper.  Nothing fancy here to aid in the tracing - kitchen bowls, a ruler, and a quarter were my main tools.  Then I traced eleven of each shape onto the felt colors I wanted to use and cut them out.  I stamped the irises onto the owl eyes using a round stencil brush and craft paint.

One thing I would have done differently is buy shapes for the really small pieces - maybe little sequins for the irises and puffy white balls for the tops of the hats.  I was cutting these shapes out at about 11 p.m. the night before the party so had no time to gather extra supplies!

I put sets of shapes into baggies and when the kids got here they each got a baggie and an apron and the other moms and I helped them glue the shapes to their aprons using Fabri-Tac permanent adhesive.

The kids looked adorable running around in their winter owl aprons.  Ellie put hers to use immediately as a bib while she sampled all the fruit.


And speaking of my baby, well, she's not much of a baby anymore - as of 1:50 this morning Ellie is two years old.  I loved celebrating with my two December birthday girls this past weekend.  Sometimes I swear my chest actually hurts a little I love them so much.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

{DIY} Circle Garland

I saw the adorable circle garland pictured below over at Natty By Design a month or two ago and figured if her young daughters could make it, well then I sure as heck should be able to too!


I love how Natty used it here, in staging a piece of furniture she refinished, but I thought it would make a great, festive decoration for Ada's Bakery Birthday Party too, which is what finally got me moving to actually make one myself.

The process is pretty simple.  I used a 1" punch from the Martha Stewart collection at Michaels to punch out lots (and lots and lots) of circles from colored cardstock.  

I piled them up on the table next to my sewing machine, threaded with white all purpose thread, and then grabbed a handful of circles and started feeding them through the machine one-by-one.  

If you are quick as a cat you can probably do this without having to pause your machine much, but I found I had sort of an off/on rhythm going as I fed the circles through.  The presser foot really does all the work of feeding the circles, you're just kind of popping them in place under the front of the foot.  It sounds tedious, and it is a little, but I was really surprised at how quickly it went.  I don't think the whole sewing process took me more than 20 minutes.

I expect I'll be using this garland for some furniture staging down the line but it was a really fun addition to the decorations for Ada's party mixed with the gorgeous paper snowflakes I bought on Etsy last year (see the shop here).

I'm already thinking of all the fun uses for this technique - holiday garlands for the tree and banister, kids' bedrooms, playrooms.  Don't be surprised if you see more of these kinds of garlands popping up in my house.  I'm planning a little something with wax paper soon...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bakery Birthday Party

Today my sweet Ada is four.  I could wax on about the profundity of it all and how bittersweet it is to watch my baby grow, but today is all about the party!

This past Friday we hosted Ada's preschool class for a bakery-themed birthday party.  I had seen Courtney's Bake Shoppe Birthday Party last April and thought it was so adorable.  Ada loves to help in the kitchen so this was the perfect party theme for her. 

We started the party making aprons.  Each child got an apron with their name on it and a baggie of felt shapes.  The other moms and I helped the kids glue the shapes onto their aprons to make little winter owls.

Here's Ellie wearing hers while sampling the fruit platter.

After we finished with the aprons we had a pizza lunch.  I also served baby carrots, pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, and blackberries.  For drinks I used small clear plastic cups and cut striped paper straws in half.  I made a "soda" for the kids by stirring together cranberry-raspberry juice and sparkling water.

After lunch was the centerpiece activity - cake decorating!  I had made a small chocolate cake frosted in white buttercream for each child.  

On the table I set up mini condiment bottles (I bought a set of 18 made by Wilton from Amazon but saw them at Michaels as well) filled with green, blue, and purple frosting.  I bought an assortment of edible decorations from Sur la Table (made by India Tree) and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds from Whole Foods and had those set out in little bowls.

The kids were super excited to get to work on their cakes.  The 3/4 year old technique seemed pretty consistent - smash as much frosting and as many decorations on the top of the cake as possible.

I wrapped all the cakes up in small boxes (purchased at Michaels) so the kids could take them home with their aprons as party favors.

The last part of the party was singing "Happy Birthday" and having cupcakes.  I made coconut vanilla cupcakes with pink vanilla buttercream.  The little winter owl toppers were a Home Goods find.

I did all the prep and set-up for the party ahead of time and even with the large number of kids here, was really able to enjoy the party myself.  The kids seemed to love it and Ada was so happy, which was what I most hoped for from the day.

I kept clean up easy by using paper plates and napkins, plastic forks, and a vinyl tablecloth (EBay)...though the floor did need a thorough vacuuming and light mop afterwards :)

For details and tutorials on the circle garland, owl aprons, chocolate cakes, coconut cupcakes, and buttercream frosting, see these posts:

Linking to The Shabby Nest, Happy Hour, The Winthrop Chronicles, Home Stories A to Z, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia