Saturday, October 31, 2009

Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies

This is one of the recipes I submitted to Pillsbury for their BakeOff contest. Unfortunately, neither this nor any of my other recipes were selected, but there's always next time. I think this recipe is a winner, myself. Of course, I love anything with peanut butter and chocolate.....I pity the people who have nut allergies because I can't imagine not having this timeless combination.
You can use any brownie mix you prefer, or even make them from scratch if you want.....I just used the mix to qualify the recipe for the contest. I don't really prefer Pillsbury brownies, if the truth be told. This time I used a Duncan Hines mix and it was really good.


1 box family size (13 x 9") brownie mix
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 (12 oz) package white chocolate chips
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Combine brownie mix, water, oil, and eggs as directed on box. Spread into a greased 13 x 9" pan and bake for 28 minutes, or until nearly done. Don't overbake!!! These are much better a little on the soft side.
Cool on a wire rack.
In a saucepan, combine sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter. Heat and stir until it bubbles and remove from heat. Add white chocolate chips and stir until melted. Add vanilla.
Gently spread on top of the brownies and level as much as possible. Chill until set.
Cut into small squares to serve. Store in refrigerator for optimal freshness.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Flower with Stem Cake

Made for my daughter Marissa's 4th birthday party, this cake was inspired by several I saw on this site......I just combined the different ideas to make what I needed.

I borrowed some candy molds from a friend and made little white chocolate lollipops (tinted blue and yellow to match the cake) as party favors. My first time making such things....they were lots of fun and turned out super cute. My kids loved them!

So on to the cake. A couple of days before the party, I baked a yellow cake - about half of the batter made 12 smallish cupcakes, the rest of it went into a 9"round pan. If I had an 8", I would have used that, but I don't. I also baked a chocolate cake in a 13 x 9" pan. All of these were wrapped in foil and frozen once cooled.

I had to trim down the circle to get the cupcakes to fit around it appropriately. I set one cupcake aside with the intention of making a ladybug out of it.....but by the time I got finished with the rest of the cake, I was too exhausted (36 weeks pregnant here) to put out the effort, so that cupcake didn't get used.

I cut the stem and leaves out of the chocolate cake, using only about half of the cake. I had almost an entire 13 x 9" pan filled with leftover scraps from both cakes!

I decided to use a true crumb coat this time, after doing extensive reading about the tremendous benefits. Well, I apparently did something very wrong, because it was nothing but frustrating and nearly tear-inducing for me. I made extra of the (high humidity) Wilton Buttercream frosting and thinned it with some milk to make it easily spreadable. I covered all of the cake with a light coat and was very pleased with how it seemed to seal in the crumbs.


Due to the nature of how my cake is set up with lots of pieces, and my cake board is HUGE, I couldn't fit it into the fridge, as is recommended. But many websites said that the crumb coat would set up on its own in a couple of hours.


Mine didn't. After letting it sit for at least 2 hours, it was still completely wet to the touch.
The problem with this is that now, when I'm trying to complete the cake, not only is there white, semi-slimy frosting on there that got mixed in with my colored frosting and compromised the tint, the cake is no longer frozen and therefore was so fragile in some places (particularly on the stem and leaves) that it was falling apart and creating more crumbs than I could imagine.

I have never been so agitated with a cake in my life.

Thankfully, I managed to pull it all together somehow (while hanging on to my sanity by a thread) and the end result was a lovely cake that my daughter adored and my husband declared as one of his top 2 favorites of the decorated cakes I've ever made (which is about 12 cakes, that I can remember).

I gave the whole flower part a coating of light yellow frosting, drew the outline of the flower petals and center with a toothpick, and piped in the colors with one of the star tips. I added the yellow lines (not intending for it to look like the sun, but it kinda does) and also piped blue stars around the bottom of the cake.

The stem is obviously a light green, with a darker green for the outline and piping around the edges.

So there you have it. I will only attempt a crumb coat again if I had the room in my fridge to chill the cake. Unless anyone has any other tips that might help me avoid such disaster the next time.
Thank you.

Mocha Fudge Cookies

This came from my Taste of Home Cookies and Bars cookbook....and is an amazing recipe. We had them at Corban's birthday party and then at our small group the next day....and everyone absolutely loved them. The coffee flavor is very subtle, which is nice because I'm not a coffee drinker. It really just enhances the chocolate. They're great with or without nuts. Try'll like them.


1 cup butter
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1-1/2 t. instant coffee granules
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 T. vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In a large bowl, melt butter and 1 cup chocolate chips in the microwave (or use your stovetop if desired). Stir until smooth. Combine the sugar, cocoa, and coffee; add butter mixture and stir. Stir in brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to chocolate mixture. Stir in the walnuts and remaining chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until edges are set. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Marissa's 4th Birthday Party

Marissa turned 4 yesterday.....and got to go to Chick-Fila for lunch and to play in the indoor playground (it was a rainy day and my big plans for going to a beach playground were tossed out the window), and then we ended up making a trip to 5 Guys for burgers and hotdogs for dinner....whew. We got an extra special surprise with a visit from Grant's brother, who happened to be coming to the area for work and ended up staying the night with us!
She had a great birthday...but this was supposed to be about her party, which was last Saturday.

Marissa had very specifically requested a blue flower with some yellow on it and a green stem. No matter that her favorite colors are pink and purple and she wanted all pink decorations....that cake HAD to be blue. Okay.....I complied! Beside the cake you can see a few of the blue and yellow flower lollipops I made with white chocolate in some fun candy molds (borrowed from a friend). Those were wrapped up and included in the goody bags for the little girls.

Marissa was quite the cheerleader in encouraging her friends during the beanbag toss.

We had a little craft time where the kids made pictures for their moms....we ran out of room/chairs at the table, so Grant stuck Annika on the counter. Worked out great!

Corban was the only boy at the party...he didn't seem to mind too much. They all worked hard to make beautiful pictures with crayons and foam stickers.

Getting ready to sing...Marissa LOVED her cake!

Got all the candles in one blow.

After cake and ice cream, the kids got to decorate sugar cookies (in the shapes of butterflies or flowers) with melted almond bark and sprinkles. Those were take-home gifts too.

Annika hard at work with her cookie.

Marissa and her friend Evie....this is fun!

Looks good enough to eat!

Opening presents.

Showing off a couple of new dresses....very cute!

There was tons of confetti stuff all over the floor after the we put Annika to work vacuuminig it up. She loves helping!
Can I just say that I'm relieved that Birthday Season in our family is finally over? I do enjoy planning fun celebrations for my kids, but it is so much work, especially having two on back-to-back weekends like we do. There are a few disadvantages to having all of your kids in the same season. So now I can relax a bit and focus on preparing for the baby, which is a good thing. She's coming in just a few weeks!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Bread

I got this one from SnoWhite's delicious food blog....and my family adored it. I had never made a sweet potato bread before, but since we love pumpkin bread.....and pumpkin has gotten more expensive lately.....I thought this would be great to try. I'm so glad I did! When Grant walked in the house while it was baking, he said, "It smells like Christmas in here!" That's a wonderful thing!

If you've never made sweet potato puree, check out SnoWhite's's very easy.

I did end up modifying a couple of things, because I doubled the recipe and ran out of applesauce and brown sugar. You can use applesauce in place of the oil (equal amounts) if you want.

The bread is delicious as is....but I think next time I may increase the spices a little, just cause I'm a spicy kind of gal. :)


1-1/2 c. flour (I use at least half whole wheat)
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sweet potato puree*
1/4 c. applesauce
1/4 c. oil
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. all spice
1/2 C dark chocolate chips
cinnamon-sugar (optional)

*Add a little water to mashed sweet potato until you reach the consistency of pumpkin puree.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix together flour, salt, brown sugar, and baking soda.
Combine sweet potato (or pumpkin), applesauce, oil, egg, and spices together.
Combine wet and dry ingredients, adding up to 1/4 C water if needed to make the dough moist. (I did add water to mine).
Stir in chocolate chips.
Pour into a greased loaf pan.
Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar if desired....which we nearly always desire!
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the bread is lightly browned. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Then, remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack.

Let cool completely before slicing. Ideally. Doesn't usually happen around here, we get too impatient!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lego Birthday Cake

As usual, I got my inspiration for this cake from one on this site and made my own variation of it.

I started out with making the fondant early in the week. This was my first experience with fondant, and I wanted to make sure I could make it right several days before the party. I used this recipe for Marshmallow Fondant from, since most people seem to think it tastes better, plus it's very inexpensive to make.

The only changes I made were to use 3 T. of water instead of 4 and I used Crisco instead of butter.

I left it in the fridge a few days then got out the Wilton paste food colors to work some magic.

Many people recommend using gloves for this process, but the only gloves we had on hand were latex and I couldn't imagine how nasty those would make the fondant taste, so I skipped the gloves. I did have to wash my hands between each color, of course, but I didn't have any problems with getting the color out of my hands, even the red.

Here's a shot of how the blue looked in the middle of my tinting process...isn't it pretty?
Corban was very proud to get to take some pictures for me. :)
Also a few days before the party, I baked two cakes; one chocolate and one yellow. Both from mixes...just easier. Once cooled, I wrapped them well in foil and stuck them in the freezer. Frozen cakes are SO much easier to cut and frost!!!
Day of the party:
I started out with making Buttercream Frosting...this time I used the Wilton High Humidity recipe, since it was a rainy day. I doubled that amount, which turned out just right.
Next I got out the yellow cake and cut it in half. I stuck one half back in the freezer and cut the other half into sections for the Legos. All of the sections I wasn't working on went back to the freezer as well. I gave the Lego sections a light coat of buttercream, then went to work with the fondant. I found that I had to microwave each color (just before using it) for about 10 seconds to get it really workable. I rolled it out with a light coat of Crisco....powdered sugar helped some, but I got frustrated with the white specks that I couldn't seem to get out of the fondant.
Anyways, I covered the cake sections very carefully (not really getting the corner technique down nicely until my last one, the red one). For the little studs, I cut large marshmallows in half, put a little frosting on them, then covered them with fondant too. The kids loved those!
After all the Legos were done, I got the chocolate cake out of the freezer and frosted it. I set the remaining yellow cake half on top and frosted it too. Then I just had to arrange the Legos on top. I had purchased some really cool Lego candies in Williamsburg at a candy store that I intended to use on the cake as well, but since I had a lot of fondant left over and hate to waste stuff, I just ended up rolling little balls of it for the bottom of the cake. I gave the Lego candy to the party guests in their goody bags. Worked out perfectly!

It was definitely a fun cake to make and everyone really enjoyed it. I DO like the marshmallow fondant and although I wouldn't necessarily want a whole cake covered with it (taste-wise), it really was pretty good.

The Logic of a 3.5 year old

The other night, we were having salmon for dinner. Salmon is Corban's absolute favorite, except for burgers and fries. Marissa, on the other hand, won't eat salmon regardless of what there is for dessert to tempt her. Grant attempted to sway her opinion by connecting salmon with her favorite color.

Grant: "You know, Marissa, salmon is PINK! It's delicious!"

Marissa replied (very sweetly): "You know, when chicken is pink, you shouldn't eat it because it will make you very sick."

She had a point...irrelevant to her dinner in front of her, but a point nonetheless!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Corban's Lego Birthday Party

Corban turns 6 years old today....crazy how time flies! We had his birthday party last Saturday, and due to his love of Legos, it was an easy choice for a theme.

I'll go into more detail in another post on how I made this was a big hit!

One of the activities was a Lego building contest - each child had a pile of Legos with which to build whatever they desired - within five minutes. The creations were then "judged" by the dads attending the party, with each child getting an award.

Corban and Marissa hard at work. Marissa got the award for "The Tallest", Corban's was "The Strongest".

The kids lined up for the Lego toss....where they had 5 tries to get a Lego into a series of boxes with point values assigned to each one.

The Lego Pick-Up game - the kids had to use chopsticks to pick up Legos and put them into bowls. The child who got the most in 1 minute won. It's much harder than you'd think!

The kids are ready for the "awards ceremony" for their Lego creations.

Corban and Marissa posing.

With his cake....and his goofy portrait.

It's time to sing!

Opening presents.

When a child is opening gifts, everyone wants to practically sit on top of them. Happens every time.

Ummm...what IS this thing??? A Slinky? What's that???
Oh, it's a gift from Mom. He did end up liking it, once he figured out what to do with it!

This Transformer from Grandma and Grandpa is one of his favorite gifts.

Another favorite gift: A Big Tub of Legos. Can't go wrong with that!
Everyone had a great time and I was so relieved that it went well. I was pretty wiped out afterwards...but it was worth it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Trip to the Zoo

I am running so behind! I just don't seem to get the time to sit down and blog about all the things I want to, but better late than never, right?

Last Monday, Grant had off for Columbus Day so after my early morning (kid-less!) grocery trip, we packed up and headed for our first trip to the zoo in more than two years. Apparently I'm only capable of going to the zoo when I'm eight months pregnant. What is wrong with me?
At least this time it wasn't July with the accompanying sweltering heat!

We brought light jackets, even though at home we felt fine without them. It was a good we all needed them, Corban more than others. (He had an unfortunate incident in the bathroom right after we arrived that .... well .... left his shirt soaked. With toilet water. I have no explanation. That jacket came in mighty handy.... as we're not in the habit of packing extra shirts for him.) Moving on.

Parts of the zoo are undergoing renovation and were closed, but we got to see some really cool animals nonetheless.

Grant and the kids checking out the Red River Hogs.

I think they were looking at the rhino here....Annika wasn't too impressed.

The giraffes were very popular.

But the lions were our favorite. We got to watch the mother with her four cubs frolicking around and playing for quite awhile.

They were literally just a pane of glass away from us! So cool!

Impressive creatures....and so entertaining!

The kids thought this (very cold) metal rhino was really fun.

A little better expression from Corban here.

Look at our little monkeys!

The spider monkeys were the other favorite - they would come right up to the glass and act like they were going to give "Hi-Fives". The kids LOVED them.

We saw other animals, of course, but these were most of the highlights. We really had a great time....and maybe we'll make it back again in less than two years. I'm really wanting to make a trip up to the National Zoo in D.C. sometime, but that's definitely a bigger trip. Maybe next year.

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