Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Train Birthday Cake

Last week we held my son's second birthday party. He's completely fascinated with trains, so I went in search of some ideas for a train-themed cake. I came across instructions for one that was so incredibly creative. I was a little hesitant about taking on that much work for his party, but it was just too darn cute to pass up.

The instructions for this cake are unbelievably straightforward - anyone can do it. However, the cake is very time consuming to decorate and takes a lot of patience. My son absolutely loved it, though, so I was glad I took on the challenge.

If you're planning a little boy's birthday party and are looking for theme ideas, try the train theme and the train cake. It's just so cute!

Train Birthday Cake

•1 family-size frozen pound cake (16 oz), thawed
•2 cans (16 oz each) vanilla frosting
•Blue food coloring
•Yellow food coloring
•Red food coloring
•2 Fruit Loops Cereal Straws (I used Twizzlers)
•1 Kids mini–ice cream cone (I used a regular sized cone)
•2 tsp light corn syrup
•2 Tbsp yellow decorating sugar
•2 Tootsie Rolls
•4 Ring Dings
•1 cup dark-chocolate frosting
•12 mini-Oreos
•4 Oreos
•11 large chocolate nonpareils
•12 Sno-caps
•1 blue M&M
•2 Tbsp mini-marshmallows
•2 green Fruit Loops Cereal Straws (I used Twizzlers)
•1/3 cup Hershey's Kissables (I used Gummi Bears)
•5 Hershey's Sticks or Kit Kats for the track (optional)

What you'll need:
•A bread knife
•A serving platter
•A resealable sandwich-size plastic bag (Ziploc)

Trimming the cake:
1.Using a bread knife, trim a ¾-inch piece off both short ends of the pound cake to make the cake about 9 by 4 ½ inches.
2.Cut the pound cake as indicated on the diagram to make two 2 ½ by 4 ½-inch cars, one 4 by 3 ½-inch car, and one 1 by 4-inch slice. Reserve the 1 by 4-inch piece and set aside.

For the colored frosting:
1.Spoon the contents of 1 can of vanilla frosting into a bowl. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to tint it a light blue.
2.Divide the remaining can of vanilla frosting in half and spoon into separate bowls. Add yellow food coloring to one bowl of frosting to tint it yellow; add red food coloring to the other bowl of frosting to tint it red.

For the engine decorations:
1.Cut the red Froot Loops Cereal Straws in half.
2.Brush the outside of the Kids Cone with the corn syrup and sprinkle with the yellow decorating sugar.
3.Heat the Tootsie Rolls in the microwave for 2 to 3 seconds. Roll out each Tootsie Roll on wax paper and cut into two 1 by ½-inch rectangles for the train windows.

Frosting the cake:
1.Lay the trimmed 1 by 4-inch slice flat on a serving platter. Spread the top with some blue frosting.
2.Stack the 4 Ring Dings, spreading frosting in between each cake, and lay the stack on its side to make the cylindrical front engine.
3.Place the 4 by 3 ½-inch piece upright behind the stack of Ring Dings.
4.Spread the entire engine with blue frosting to cover and make smooth.

Assembling the engine:
1.Spoon the chocolate frosting into a resealable plastic bag. Snip a small corner from the bag and pipe a 1-inch-high layer of chocolate frosting at the base of the cake.
2.Add 2 mini- and 2 regular-size Oreos to either side for the engine's wheels. Pipe small dots of chocolate frosting on the cookies and add the large chocolate nonpareils to the Oreos and press the Sno-caps onto the mini-Oreos.
3.Press the Tootsie Roll windows into the sides of the upright cake.
4.Press a single large chocolate nonpareil into the nose of the engine. Pipe a small dot of chocolate frosting on the center of the nonpareil and add a blue M&M.
5.Gently press the Kids Cone and Froot Loops Cereal Straws into the top of the engine. Fill the cone with mini-marshmallows for the engine's steam.

Decorating the middle car:
1.Set one of the 2 ½ by 4 ½-inch pieces of pound cake behind the engine. Frost with the yellow frosting.
2.Trim the green Froot Loops Cereal Straws with a serrated knife to fit the length and width of the top edges of the cake.
3.Fill the top of the cake with the Hershey's Kissables.
4.Pipe a half-inch-wide band of chocolate frosting along the base of the cake. Attach the mini-Oreos. Pipe a dot of chocolate frosting onto each mini-Oreo and add the Sno-caps.

Decorating the caboose:
1.Set the remaining cake piece behind the middle car and cover completely with the red frosting.
2.Set the 2 remaining red Froot Loops Cereal Straw halves on top of the back of the cake.
3.Pipe a half-inch-wide band of chocolate frosting around the base of the cake. Press the remaining Oreo cookies in as wheels on either side of the caboose. Pipe a dot of chocolate frosting onto each mini-Oreo and press the Sno-caps on.

For the optional train tracks:
1.Cut 3 of the chocolate sticks in half.
2.Place the pairs of halved chocolate sticks in front and in back of the middle car and caboose. To complete, place the 2 long chocolate sticks in front of the engine cake.

Serves 8 to 10. For diagrams and more pictures, go to

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

Sometimes I feel like I'm in an appetizer rut. I have a few that I really like and I just keep making them over and over again for every party and get-together that I have. So I was trying to come up with ideas for something kid friendly for my son's birthday party and saw this recipe on another blog. I knew immediately that I had to try it, and I'm so glad that I did.

This cheese ball was fantastic! It was so easy to make and everyone loved it - kids AND adults. Everyone kept asking me what was in it and how to make it. And my sister took the recipe and made it for a gathering at her house the next weekend.

Make this - you won't be sorry!

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball
(from Mommy's Kitchen)

1 8oz. package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
For coating: 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans, crushed graham crackers, or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
For dipping: Graham crackers, chocolate graham crackers, vanilla wafers, pretzel sticks, Teddy Grahams or animal crackers.

1. Beat softened cream cheese, butter, & vanilla until creamy. Slowly add sugars until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Place mixture in a Tupperware or plastic container. Refrigerate for 1 -2 hours.

2. Form into a ball and roll ball in pecans, graham cracker crumbs, or mini chocolate chips. Serve with graham crackers, vanilla wafers, Teddy Grahams, pretzels, or animal crackers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

These cupcakes are wonderful! I made them for my son's birthday party. We were decorating with red and blue, so I knew red velvet cupcakes would be perfect.

The recipe makes 12 cupcakes. I needed more, so I made a double batch and it doubled really easily. The cinnamon cream cheese frosting was one of the best parts. So easy to make and super delicious! The cinnamon adds a little extra flavor and I love the fun speckles throughout it.

The batter can also be made into cake, which I plan to try someday. But cupcakes are way more fun for a kid's birthday party! And eat them with some ice cream - totally to die for!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
(from Joy the Baker and Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 and 1/2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. red food coloring
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Turn mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl mix together cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter, mixing thoroughly until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.

3. Turn mixer to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.

4. Turn mixer to low and add salt, baking soda and white vinegar. Turn to high and beat a few more minutes.

5. Spoon batter into a paper lined cupcake baking pan and bake at 325ºF for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean.

6. Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 and 1/3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, cold
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Beat the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-slow speed until it comes together and is well mixed.

2. Add the cream cheese all at once and beat on medium to medium-high until incorporated. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, or until the frosting becomes light and fluffy. Do not over-beat as the frosting can quickly become runny.

Makes one dozen cupcakes, double recipe to make two 9-inch layer cakes. Double frosting recipe to frost a two layer 9-inch cake.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Squash and Black Bean Chili

Here's a great, easy dish to make you happy that fall is here! Once the weather starts getting cooler, I always end up making a lot of chili at my house, especially fun variations on the classic. I really like cooking with butternut squash and this is a perfect use for it.

This chili is super easy to make. If your grocery store sells pre-chopped butternut squash, it will save you the time and the muscle power that goes into chopping and peeling one yourself. I had this on the table in about 30 minutes, and served it with a simple cornbread mix as a side dish. My sister-in-law gave me a great cornbread tip - spread honey on the bottom of the pan before you pour in the cornbread batter. Bake it up as directed on the package, and you have a fabulous tasting cornbread. It's super simple and delicious (thanks Kristin!).

Squash and Black Bean Chili

1 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
1 medium bell pepper (I used a small green and a small red pepper)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cans (15 to 19 oz. each) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 and 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
14.5 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
14 oz. can vegetable broth

1. In 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pepper, onion, and celery, and cook 5 to 8 minutes or just until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and chili powder and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, stirring.

2. Meanwhile, in small bowl, coarsely mash 1/2 cup beans. Stir all beans, squash, tomatoes, salt and broth into mixture in Dutch oven; cover and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Serve chili with shredded cheese, sour cream and lime wedges if desired.

Makes about 4 servings.

And here's my other favorite chili, which I've already made this fall because I love it so much. White Bean and Turkey Chili