Tag Archives: birthday

Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

Chipotle Black Beans 2

For my birthday a few weeks ago, I received an Instant Pot pressure cooker. True confession: I bought the Instant Pot when it was on sale over the summer, hid it in my closet, and gave it to my husband to give to me on my birthday. Gift-giving often works out best for us this way.

I am still  in the pressure cooker learning phase, but I have made a few things that my family really loves. These spicy black beans have definitely become a family staple. In the last 5 weeks, I have made them 3 times, and everyone cheers to see them on the table again. I never expected such a great reaction to a bean side dish!

Chipotle Black Beans 1

These beans are flavored with chipotle peppers and various smoky spices. We like them on the spicy side, but if you want a little less heat, just scale back on the chipotles.

These beans (and yogurt making) have totally made the Instant Pot worth it. I love being able to start with dried beans and have a delicious dish in a little more than an hour. And No Soaking! No need to plan the night before. The total prep time for this recipe is less than 5 minutes (or as long as it takes you to chop an onion and measure some spices).

Maybe we will actually be able to eat our way through all of the dried beans in our basement now.

I also made these once using dried pinto beans, and they were delicious too.

RECIPE:

Chipotle Black Beans 2

Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken broth
1 can mild diced green chiles, undrained
1 lb dried black beans**
2 canned chipotle peppers, finely chopped plus 2-3 Tbs adobo sauce
*adjust for desired spiciness

Chopped Cilantro, for garnish

Set the Instant Pot to Sauté. Add the oil, chopped onion, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes with the lid off. Stir in dry seasonings and cook for 1 additional minute.

Add broth, green chiles, black beans, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.

Press Cancel to reset. Place the lid on the pot, with the valve in the “Sealing” position. Press the Bean/Chili button (or Manual, high pressure) and set the time for 40 minutes. After the beans cook, let the pressure release naturally (about 30-40 minutes).

Remove lid and stir beans. Remove bay leaf. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary. If beans are soupy, use a slotted spoon to serve. Beans will thicken with time. Garnish with cilantro.

Total Cook Time: about 90 minutes

**you can also use small dried white beans or pinto beans

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A Birthday Experiment

Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

Just wanted to give a little teaser of a recipe in progress. Next month I am making a couple of cakes for a church young women event. I wanted to try out a new recipe I hope to bring that night, and since Monday was my birthday, I figured that was as good of an excuse as any to try it out. Monday was also a holiday from school, so I enlisted Little J to help me. She was thrilled to help; she had been worried that with her two older sisters now gone at college, she would be on her own to come up with a birthday dessert for me.

This is not a traditional cake –in fact,  there is  no actual cake in it at all. It has a brownie base that is topped by chocolate, raspberry and vanilla mousses. It is not an especially hard cake to make, but is extremely time consuming, as there are long waiting periods throughout the assembly process.

We were pretty pleased with the result, although there are some additional changes I want to make to the recipe before I post it here. So you will have to wait until next month for the full revised recipe.

For anyone who lives close who would like to test it out for me, come on by! Since Little A won’t touch chocolate, there are only three of us left here to eat this enormous cake! (Don’t feel too sorry for him though- I am a sucker-mom and made him his own parfait out of the raspberry and vanilla mousses.)

It has been 4 days now, and we still haven’t made it halfway through. Help!!

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You know you’re old when . . .

Sourdough 1

According to Little J, you know you are old when you meet the following criteria:

1. You can wear all of your birthday presents.

2. More than 90% of those presents are in the gray color palette.

3. You request bread for your birthday cake.

Middle K couldn’t argue with those well-presented facts, but she accepted her ancient age of 19 happily as she bit into the crispy crust and chewy center of her homemade sourdough birthday bread.

While I am not happy about my kids getting so “old”, I am all for homemade sourdough bread as a birthday cake!

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I am no expert at sourdough bread making, but this recipe has been consistently successful for me. I like to add some whole rye flour to my dough, but you can also use all white flour. Or for whole wheat sourdough, check out this blog by my new friend Lorie who shared her sourdough starter with me. That is one more thing I was really sad to leave behind when I moved!

Here are a few notes that have helped me as I make this sourdough recipe:

  • This recipe makes 4 medium-small round loaves of bread. I usually bake 2 loaves and place the dough for 2 loaves in the refrigerator to bake later. See additional note below.
  • I use a 100% hydration sourdough starter (fed with equal weights of flour and water)
  • I  have much more consistent results when I weigh my ingredients for bread, but amounts will also be influenced by humidity, flour brands, measuring techniques and starter consistency and strength. Dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl, but not be too stiff.
  • If you are baking on a stone, don’t skip the steam in the oven- that is what helps with oven rise and creates the thick crispy crust.
  • If you do not have a very strong starter, you can add about 1/2 tsp yeast to the dough when mixing.
  • The bread can also be baked in a covered ceramic baking dish instead of using a stone and steam. You will need to bake a little longer and should remove the lid about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time to darken the crust. (Sprinkle cornmeal on bottom of dish and place shaped loaves of dough directly in dish for their final rise.)
  • For a stronger sourdough taste and great texture: Make the dough and let rise for 2-3 hours. Then cut the dough into 4 pieces, put them in oiled Ziploc bags and leave them in the refrigerator for about a week. The dough will continue to slowly rise (open bags and punch down if needed throughout the week). When you are ready to bake a loaf: remove from refrigerator, shape into loaf and let rise until almost doubled and bake as directed in recipe.

 

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A very happy birthday to this awesome girl who has grown into an amazing young woman. I will sure miss her when she leaves for college this fall!!

RECIPE:

Sourdough 2

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Sponge:
400 grams (about 2 cups) sourdough starter
600 grams (about 2 1/2 cups) water
600 grams (about 4 cups) bread flour (or all-purpose flour)

Additional Ingredients:
500 grams (about 3 1/3 cups) bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
250 grams (about 2 cups) whole rye flour (or use additional white flour)
30 grams (about 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) salt

DAY BEFORE BAKING:
If you keep your sourdough starter in the refrigerator, remove the starter from the refrigerator in the morning and feed it with equal parts (by weight) flour and water. In the evening, prepare the sponge by mixing listed amounts of starter, water and flour in a large bowl. Stir together, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight.

DAY OF BAKING:
At least 5-6 hours before serving, prepare dough: In a large mixing bowl, knead together the sourdough sponge and additional white and rye flours. Knead for about 2 minutes, or until well mixed. Cover bowl and let autolyse (rest) for 30 minutes in the mixing bowl. Uncover, add salt to mixing bowl and knead for 5-6 minutes. Add additional flour, if necessary, until dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl when kneading.

Turn dough out into a large oiled bowl. Let rise until doubled, about 3-4 hours (longer in the winter). For round loaves, cut dough into 4 pieces and shape into loaves. Place each loaf on a square of aluminum foil (I like to use the non-stick foil), cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour or until risen, but not quite doubled. Dough can also be placed in greased loaf pans (I usually make 3 loaves when I use pans), covered and allowed to rise.

Place a baking stone in the center of oven. Preheat oven to 450°F for at least 20-30 minutes. About 5 minutes before baking, place a rimmed baking dish or roasting pan on the lowest rack or floor of the oven.  Fill a glass measuring cup with about 2 cups of water.

With a sharp knife, make 2 –3 slashes in the tops of 2 of the loaves of bread. Place 2 loaves of bread (on their foil squares) on the hot baking stone and pour the water into the baking dish. Immediately close oven door and bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 30 minutes. If the baking dish still has water in it after the first 20 minutes of additional baking, remove the pan of water and continue baking bread until golden brown. Remove bread to wire racks and let cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Repeat with remaining 2 loaves (or use 2 stones and bake together).

 

Sourdough Notes:

    • This recipe makes 4 medium-small round loaves of bread. I usually bake 2 loaves and place the dough for 2 loaves in the refrigerator to bake later. See additional note below.
    • I use a 100% hydration sourdough starter (fed with equal weights of flour and water)
    • I  have much more consistent results when I weigh my ingredients for bread, but amounts will also be influenced by humidity, flour brands, measuring techniques and starter consistency and strength. Dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl, but not be too stiff.
    • If you are baking on a stone, don’t skip the steam in the oven- that is what helps with oven rise and creates the thick crispy crust.
    • If you do not have a very strong starter, you can add about 1/2 tsp yeast to the dough when mixing.
    • The bread can also be baked in a covered ceramic baking dish instead of using a stone and steam. You will need to bake a little longer and should remove the lid about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time to darken the crust. (Sprinkle cornmeal on bottom of dish and place shaped loaves of dough directly in dish for their final rise.)
    • For a stronger sourdough taste and great texture: Make the dough and let rise for 2-3 hours. Then cut the dough into 4 pieces, put them in oiled Ziploc bags and leave them in the refrigerator for about a week. The dough will continue to slowly rise (open bags and punch down if needed throughout the week). When you are ready to bake a loaf: remove from refrigerator, shape into loaf and let rise until almost doubled and bake as directed in recipe.

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Blueberry Pie in a New Home

Blueberry Pie 3

***DISCLAIMER: If you are just here for the pie, scroll to the bottom of the post NOW. Otherwise, you will be subjected to a long-winded not-pie-related-at-all monologue on our family’s journey this summer from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Not exactly a physically pioneer-worthy trek, but definitely an emotionally arduous one. So for those who are sticking this post out (i.e. my mother), welcome to the Smith family “What did you do this summer?” post. And yes, there will be pie at the end.

New House

We are officially moved into our new Maryland home now! While we have made a lot of unpacking progress, much of the house still looks like this:

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Two months ago today, we moved out of our Pittsburgh home, wandered around homeless for a month, then moved into our home in Carroll County, Maryland on July 7-8. The morning of July 8 (with movers still hauling in furniture and endless boxes), Brian and Little A left on a Boy Scout backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. Middle K also left that day for a 2 ½ week humanitarian service trip to Fiji sponsored by BYU’s HEFY program.  So while Little J and I unpacked, painted walls, rearranged furniture and made endless trips to Home Depot, Middle K lounged on Pacific island beaches soaking up a tan. (Actually she worked really hard in a remote village building outhouse type toilets <that flush>, complete with septic tanks they dug out and installed).

HEFY3

**LIFE TIP FOR TEENAGERS** When your parents decide to move you just before your senior year in high school (after 14 years in one city, one house, one school district, one set of awesome friends), if you approach the move without throwing tantrums, issuing threats or otherwise making an already difficult move even more painful—if instead, you approach it with grace and maturity (love you Middle K!), you will find your parents much more likely to say “yes” to questions like: can I redo my new room when we move? and the bathroom? can I buy some new furniture? can I go across the world to Fiji and do humanitarian work for the summer?

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HEFY1

HEFY 5

HEFY2

So grateful for this amazing daughter who has grown into such an incredible young woman. I am really going to miss her when she leaves for college next year.

Kelsey Mt. Rushmore

During our month of homelessness, I decided to drive with the kids out to Boise, Idaho to visit my parents and sister (who live there) and other sister and her kids who joined us there from Texas. It was great to visit with family and for cousins to get together again. Many thanks to Mom & Dad for housing us all and for fabulous Aunt Myrna who opened up her home to us in Boise and let us hang out at her cabin at Cascade Lake.

Here are a few pics of our trip west. On our way there we detoured north to visit Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. The drive through the Black Hills National Forest was one of my favorites. On the way home, we went south through Utah (doing college tours with upcoming senior Middle K) and then visited Bryce Canyon before heading east again.

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Mount Rushmore

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Old Faithful: not as impressive as I had expected. And so crowded!

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Boogie boarding the rapids on Payette River. We left with a few war wounds.

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Awesome time hanging out with Grandma and cousins!
(Grandpa too, but he is tough to nail down for a picture)

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It was REALLY hot in Idaho and Utah!

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Saw some temples in Logan and Provo that we hadn’t seen before.

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Bryce Canyon

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While we had a great time touring the country and visiting extended family, it is nice to be settled again, and to not have Brian commuting from Baltimore to Pittsburgh every weekend. Many props also to Brian who stayed in Baltimore working and missed most of these adventures (someone had to bankroll all of this fun!).

While some of us have been road-tripping the US, building toilets in Fiji and working in Baltimore, the other 2 members of our family have been off on their own adventures. Justin is doing a semester abroad this summer in Jerusalem. He gets home this week and will be here for about 2 weeks before going back to BYU.

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Dome of the Rock

And since last October, our oldest daughter, Alyssa, has been serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Berlin, Germany. We got to talk to her on Christmas and Mother’s Day, but mostly we rely on emails and the occasional picture to know how she is doing. So at one point this summer, our 7-person family was spread across 4 countries (and 2 states). That is definitely a challenge for a mom’s heart.

April 2015 Neubrandenburg 1

Rapunzel's CastleAlyssa and Bach

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But enough maudlin rambling: it is time for pie!

Blueberry Pie 1

Little A’s 13th birthday arrived in the middle of this chaotic summer and we celebrated with an awesome blueberry pie. Little A is much more a pie guy than a cake guy.

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And it turns out that in moving from Pennsylvania to Maryland, we are now closer to Amish country! And there is an Amish farm down the road that sells huge ripe blueberries for a couple of weeks in the summer. When I get more time, I can’t wait to go north (about 30-40 minutes, from what I hear) and hit up all of the fresh stuff at the Amish auctions there. My kids are also on the prowl for a great Amish donut place (Soergels: we miss you!).

Blueberry Pie 2

RECIPE:

Blueberry Pie 1

Blueberry Pie

Double pie crust (see recipe below)
6 cups fresh blueberries
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
¾ cup sugar (adjust based on the sweetness of berries)
3 Tbs cornstarch
1 Tbs flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbs cold butter
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbs heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place dough for one pie crust in a DEEP DISH pie plate (for a regular pie plate, reduce amount of filling).

In a large bowl, stir together the blueberries, lemon juice and zest. In a small bowl, mix sugar, cornstarch, flour, salt and cinnamon. Stir into berries and mix well. Spoon into the unbaked pie crust, mounding berries in the center. Dot blueberry mixture with small pieces of the cold butter.

Top with remaining pie crust. Seal and flute edges of the pie crust. Use a sharp knife to cut slits in the top of the crust (for steam to escape). Brush crust with egg wash. Place a large piece of foil on the lower rack on the oven to catch drips from the pie as it bakes.

Cover edges of crust with a pie crust shield and bake at 375°F for 60-80 minutes, or until filling is hot and bubbly (you should start to see filling bubbling from the center slits in your crust).

Double Pie Crust

2 ½ cups flour
1 Tbs sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter
3 Tbs ice-cold water

Place flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse once. Add butter, in 1 Tbs chunks, and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add water, 1 Tbs at a time, until dough just barely sticks together. (If you are not using a food processor, grate very cold or frozen butter into flour mixture using a cheese-type grater. Stir with a fork, or pastry cutter, and then slowly add water until dough sticks together.)

Divide dough in half and roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured surface. If dough is too sticky to work with, place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Top with a second piece of plastic wrap and press with your hands or a rolling pin until dough is a thick disk. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes, then roll again until thin enough to fit pie plate (about a 12-13” in diameter).

NOTE: For information on how to make your own pie-shield, click HERE.

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Peeps Cupcakes (with a Surprise)

Peeps Cupcakes 1

It has been a busy weekend for us around here, with a sleepover birthday party, a trip to the mall for an ear-piercing, church youth temple trip, oldest daughter returning from college, middle daughter returning from a school orchestra trip, a playdate for a little boy feeling left out of all the fun, regular Sunday church activities (plus an evening Easter devotional), followed by a child’s gall bladder removal on Monday.

Peeps Cupcakes 4

If anything can help you through the wonderful chaos that is raising kids, it is these Peeps cupcakes. We served them at Little J’s 10th birthday party, but they would also make a fun Easter dessert.

Peeps Cupcakes 5

The kids were excited to find a surprise inside of the cupcakes when they bit into them!

Peeps Cupcakes 2

I scooped out the center of the cupcakes and Little J filled them with candy Easter eggs and m&ms. I piped a swirl of the rainbow frosting onto each cupcake and then we topped each one with a Peep. We used the Vanilla, Strawberry, and Orange Crème flavors. These Peeps are separated in their package so that you don’t have white patches (with no sugar covering) where you have to break the Peeps apart from a normal package.

Peeps Cupcakes 3

To make the rainbow swirled frosting: Attach a large tip (I used a Wilton 1M) to a pastry bag. Using a clean paintbrush, paint stripes of gel food coloring along the inside of the pastry bag (the stripes do not have to touch). Carefully spoon white frosting into the bag. Squeeze out and discard a little of the frosting, until you begin to see color on the edge of the frosting. Pipe frosting onto the cupcakes: start on the outside of the cupcake, holding the bag straight up and down and proceed in a swirl, slightly overlapping layers, to the center of the cupcake.

Happy Birthday Little J! Here she is sporting her newly pierced ears:

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This week will be a much needed recovery week for all of us. A perfect time to reflect on the gift of the Atonement that we celebrate this week. Here is an Easter video on the Savior’s gift to each of us and who we can become Because of Him:

Because of Him

RECIPE:

Peeps Cupcakes 5

Cooked Vanilla Frosting

1 cup whole milk
5 Tbs flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar (do not use powdered sugar)
Gel food coloring

In a small saucepan, mix the flour and milk with a whisk until combined. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens (and is just about to boil). Remove from heat and let it cool completely to room temperature.  Stir in vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer works best for this) cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled milk mixture and beat for 5-7 minutes, until frosting is light, fluffy and completely uniform throughout.

FOR SWIRLED FROSTING: Attach a large tip (I used a Wilton 1M) to a pastry bag. Using a clean paintbrush, paint stripes of gel food coloring along the inside of the pastry bag (the stripes do not have to touch). Carefully spoon white frosting into the bag. Squeeze out and discard a little of the frosting, until you begin to see color on the edge of the frosting. Pipe frosting onto the cupcakes.

For a peaked swirl pattern: start on the outside of the cupcake, holding the bag straight up and proceed in a swirl, slightly overlapping layers, to the center of the cupcake. For a rose pattern: start in the center of the cupcake, holding the piping bag straight up and proceed in a swirl to the outside of the cupcakes (do not overlap layers).

Yield: frosting for about 24 cupcakes

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Beachcomber Rainbow Cupcakes

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It’s Great to be Eight!

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Especially when turning “8” comes with edible flip-flop adorned rainbow cupcakes.

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Earlier this month was my baby girl’s eighth birthday. Unfortunately, due to a bout of the flu on birthday party day, we had to postpone celebrating until last weekend. With these cute cupcakes, our Hawaiian luau was a great success!

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We used this Vanilla Frosting Recipe to frost the rainbow-sprinkle-filled cupcakes. Buttercream or Swiss Meringue Buttercream would also work well. The swirl was made using a Wilton 1M tip.

How to make Rainbow Frosting

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Prepare frosting and divide into 3 bowls (or as many colors as you are using). Tint each bowl with paste or gel food coloring. Place each color in a separate piping bag (or use Ziploc bags). Don’t fill bags all the way. An easy way to fill piping bags is to place the empty bag in a tall drinking glass and fold the top of the bag over the edge of the glass. Spoon frosting into the bag. Rainbow Cupcakes 112-1

Secure tops of the filled bags using a rubber band or clip. You can secure them together or separately. Cut ends off of the bags. DO NOT put a piping tip on these bags.

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Place a large tip (I used a Wilton 1M) on a separate clean bag. Place your frosting filled bags into the empty bag with the tip. Make sure that the ends of the frosting filled bags go into the tip of the empty bag. Don’t fill the frosting-filled bags too full, or they will not fit well in the empty bag. You will probably need to refill the bags before you are done frosting all of the cupcakes. To refill bags, place the entire set of frosting bags (leave them inside the bag with the tip) in a tall drinking glass. Remove rubber band or clip. Fill each bag with an equal amount of frosting. Re-secure the ends of the bags.

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This technique also allows you to easily switch the frosting-filled bags to a different sized tip, if you want to create different effects on your cupcakes.

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Happy Birthday Little J! Love you always!

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A Butterfly in Buttercream

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Today is my Little J’s 7th birthday. It is amazing how quickly time flies. My once-upon-a-time-baby is all grown up and decorating her own cakes now! I am glad she is still interested in fun little girl things like butterflies. Last year we made Cupcakes topped with Chocolate Butterflies for her 6th birthday. This year it was one great big butterfly cake.4911 071-1

Little J was in charge of design and decorations. She chose the color patterns of the icing sections, the sprinkles and the M&M borders (I love Easter-colored candies!). She also put on all of the M&Ms and sprinkles and shaped the antennae. She is very meticulous! My job was heavy construction: cake cutting and icing spreading.

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She carefully separated a rainbow mix of sprinkles into separate colors.

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If you look closely, the sprinkles are shaped like tiny butterflies. Little J says they are the baby butterflies and the big cake is the Mommy Butterfly.

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Congratulations Little J on a cake well done!

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Happy 7th Birthday Little J. We love you lots!

RECIPE:

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Buttercream Icing

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening (or additional butter)
1 lb (4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla
dash salt
Additional milk to thin icing

Cream butter and shortening with a mixer. Beat in powdered sugar, 2 Tbs milk, vanilla and salt. This yields 3 CUPS STIFF icing (for piping borders and decorations).

For thinner icing (spreading on cake): Gradually beat in additional milk, 1 tsp at a time, until icing is desired consistency.

FOR CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM: Add 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled and additional 1 Tbs milk.

 

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Happy Birthday

This weekend marks two milestone birthdays around here. One year ago, I started this humble little blog. That weekend also happened to be my 39th birthday. I will leave it to you mathematicians to figure out how old that makes me today. From here on out I think I will start counting my age in blog-years instead of actual years since my birth.

Since I started blogging a year ago, there are 2 questions that I get asked a lot. Why did I decide to start a blog? and Why did I name my blog “No Empty Chairs”?

With a growing family of 7 competing for computer time on one home computer, I don’t usually get much time to just “surf the net”. I usually have a specific purpose for using the computer. One day several years ago, I was looking for a recipe for a specific dish. And I came across my very first food blog (Kalyn’s Kitchen). A whole new world opened up to me that day! I had no idea there were so many people out there writing about food. I was instantly hooked. I followed links to find other great food blogs. I set up an iGoogle home page so that I could follow RSS feeds, and know when my favorite bloggers posted new recipes. I rarely commented, but loved the wealth of information and new recipes to try. I bookmarked (and cooked) tons of new recipes.

Until last year, starting my own blog was something that I thought about, but only as a far off dream. After all-I have no photographic skills or equipment; no real culinary training; I’m a math geek not a creative writer; and I felt like I had no time to really call my own, especially with little kids still home all day, big kids with their own schedules later in the day, and a full-time responsibility at church. But I did love to cook; still love to cook.

Cooking and mealtimes have always meant so much more to me than just filling a physical need for nourishment. Food and meals (and of course treats!) are a way of connecting as family and friends, a way to share both happiness and tragedy, and a vehicle for showing love and gratitude. Family mealtime, dinner in particular, is one family tradition that I have always been adamant about. I learn more about my children at family meals than at any other time during the day. And what better way to entice your children to sit and talk than to provide them with foods they love (okay-they rarely ALL love every item in every meal, but it is getting a little better as they get a little older).

For years I have collected and organized in various ways our “Family Recipes”, the food that our family loves to eat. Some are new recipes found in cookbooks or magazines (or blogs!) and some are treasured favorites from family and friends. Some are things that I have created myself. I had always planned to find the “perfect” way to pass these on to my children as part of their connection to their past, something like a family cookbook. Blogging is my newest attempt at creating that lasting link for them. One that can continue to grow.

So about a year and a half ago, I started to find myself thinking about blogging more and more. Composing posts in my head as I cooked, or planned meals. Lying awake in bed at night wondering what I would call a blog. And then usually dismissing all of those thoughts with doubts and reasons why I would never really do it- lack of time, lack of skills: both photographically and computer/technology related.

Which brought me to my 39th birthday.  A perfect time for reflection and self-analysis. And maybe just a little bit of panic! Our family was gathered around the TV in the family room watching the General Conference broadcast from our church. Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was speaking. His talk was on the perfect example of Jesus Christ, and ways that we should pattern our lives after Him. He talked about a gravestone near his home with the inscription, “Please, no empty chairs”. As he spoke about this woman’s desire for her family to be together throughout eternity, a great overwhelming feeling came to me that this is exactly what I want as well. I want no empty chairs at my eternal table. So I will start with No Empty Chairs at my kitchen table. I want my family (and friends and neighbors) to WANT to sit around my table. To share life, with all of its joys and trials, as we share the nourishment and joy of food.

And so I invite you to fill a chair at our table, as I share the food that feeds both the body and soul in our home and helps cement bonds of family unity and friendship. Welcome to No Empty Chairs. I’ve saved you a seat.

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For those of you who have dragged yourselves through such a long-winded post, I share my favorite birthday cake:

Strawberries and Cream Sponge Cake Roll

5 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
5 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup sifted powdered sugar
½ cup flour

Powdered Sugar

1 quart strawberries, sliced
2 Tbs sugar
2 cups whipping/heavy cream
½ tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbs powdered sugar
Whole strawberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 15×10” jellyroll pan (or cookie sheet with sides) with wax paper and spray with cooking spray (Cooking spray w/flour in it for baking works great).

Beat egg yolks until light and lemon colored. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt, beating until stiff. Fold in ¾ cup powdered sugar. Fold in egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour. Spread batter in pan. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes (do not let cake brown).

Using a fine mesh strainer, sift a small amount of powdered sugar on a linen towel. Turn hot cake out onto towel. Carefully peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine strawberries and 2 Tbs sugar; let sit for 5 minutes. Beat whipping cream until foamy. Add 2-3 Tbs powdered sugar and ½ tsp vanilla, beating until soft peaks form. Unroll cake. Spread cake with berries, then half of the whipped cream. Reroll cake. Place on a serving plate. Frost with remaining whipped cream. Garnish with whole strawberries. Chill until serving time.

Sugar Free/Whole Grain Alternative: Substitute Stevia or Splenda for the sugar (use Splenda in the cake; stevia does not provide the bulk the cake needs, but is fine for sweetening the filling), and oat flour or finely ground whole wheat flour (white wheat, preferably) for the white flour.

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For detailed cake prep pictures and directions, see THIS POST


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How To . . . Make Butterfly Cupcakes (and a totally delicious frosting!)

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These are the cupcakes we made for Little J’s 6th Birthday Party.  The butterflies were easy to make, and look so cute sitting on top of a brightly frosted cupcake!

I first saw these butterflies on the blog Annie’s Eats. They are also shown in the book Hello Cupcake!

I used a boxed mix (as I had 6 party-going 6 year olds helping bake and decorate) for the cupcakes, but made a homemade frosting for the girls to tint and ice their cupcakes with. The frosting was absolutely decadent! I normally dislike most frostings: buttercream, royal icing, fondant—they all get scraped off onto the side of my plate. But this frosting is amazing; it tastes like a rich buttery whipped cream. Maybe I like it because it doesn’t use powdered sugar. That and the butter!

The frosting recipe is below, at the end of the post. It is different from many frostings in that it is thickened with a cooked milk and flour concoction (that looks like glue!), and uses granulated sugar instead of powdered. This will be my go-to cake frosting from now on!

What really makes the cupcakes, of course, are the butterflies. They were surprisingly easy to make.

Making Chocolate Butterflies

040910 085-1 Assemble ingredients: Melting chocolate (both chocolate and colored), waxed paper, toothpicks, writing tip, Ziploc bags or pastry bags, butterfly stencil, “sprinkles”

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Trace wing and antennae pattern onto a piece of white paper.

040910 087-1 Place a small amount of colored and chocolate melting disks into separate Ziploc bags (or small bowls). Melt in microwave—Start with 30 seconds, squish bags, then add an additional 10 seconds if not completely melted.

I used a writing tip to pipe the chocolate, but I just cut off a small end of the bag to squeeze out the melted colored vanilla candy. I used Ziploc bags simply because I did not want to clean out pastry bags. I don’t recommend store-brand bags for this; I have had the seam rip while squeezing out the chocolate. Huge mess!

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Place a small square of waxed paper over your stencil paper.

Pipe chocolate around the edge of one wing at a time. Squeeze a small amount of colored chocolate into the center of each wing section. Use a toothpick to spread colored candy to fill the wing. Use a toothpick to gently swirl chocolate and colored candy. Sprinkle edges of wings with sprinkles, if desired.

Work with just one wing at a time. The chocolate hardens quickly!

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Place your bag of chocolate back in the microwave for a few seconds if it becomes too stiff (don’t forget to take off the metal writing tip!).

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Trace the antennae. Let wings harden completely.

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There are two ways to assemble the butterflies: create self-standing butterflies, or assemble the butterflies on the cupcakes.

I was making these for Little J’s party, where the girls were making and decorating their own cupcakes. I thought assembling them on the cupcakes would be too time consuming for the party, so I made mine self-standing. The down side of trying to make self-standing butterflies is that the cute little segmented bodies (see picture below) don’t stay quite so cute when you are trying to balance the wings in the still-wet chocolate.

For a great tutorial on how to assemble the butterflies on the cupcakes, visit Annie’s Eats.

040910 108-1 For self-standing cupcakes: using the melted chocolate, pipe a body onto a separate piece of waxed paper. Make little dollops of chocolate, being sure that they touch.

Now for the tricky part: find some odds and ends in your kitchen drawers to use to prop up your butterfly wings and antennae while the chocolate body hardens (I used plastic mason jar lids and medicine cups). Place the wings at an angle in the still soft chocolate body. Prop them up underneath. Place the antennae at the head of the butterfly and prop that as well.

I tried just holding the wings while the chocolate hardened, but the wings started to melt in my fingers before the body was hard enough to support the wings. Propping them was much easier!

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Gently peel the butterflies off of the waxed paper when you are ready to put them onto your cupcakes.

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RECIPE:

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Vanilla Cupcake (or Cake) Frosting

1 cup whole milk
5 Tbs flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar (do not use powdered sugar)
Optional: food coloring

In a small saucepan, mix the flour and milk until combined. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens (and is just about to boil). Remove from heat and let it cool completely to room temperature.  Stir in vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer works best for this) cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled milk mixture and beat for 5-7 minutes, until frosting is light, fluffy and completely uniform throughout.  Beat in food coloring, if desired.

This frosting looks best when piped with a large decorating tip (1M), but can also be spread with a spatula.

Yield: frosting for one cake or about 24 cupcakes

 

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