Thanksgiving 2014

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We had a fantastic holiday. We had stretchy pants, good friends, booze, great food, and weather mild enough to allow us to eat outside.

I am so grateful to have so many things to be thankful for. The only thing missing was my big boys, but they had a good time with the other half of their family.

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Family Traditions

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I love December–it’s my birthday month and I do enjoy Christmas. (although Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday)

I grew up with a mom who liked Christmas–her mom died the day before my 9th birthday and they played the Christmas song Winter Wonderland for her because she loved it so much. But my dad HATED Christmas. Hated it. He would miss family dinners and pretty much hide out until it was over, which wasn’t fun for my brothers and I.

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Of course, I grew up and married someone who hates Christmas. So the boys stay with me for Christmas each year and spend Thanksgiving with their dad. But my sweet husband likes celebrating. He also prefers Thanksgiving but loves doing fun things together and loves making my birthday special and loves seeing the boys’ faces on Christmas morning.

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For years we’ve gone to his parents’ house, but its five hours away. We have a great time and it’s good to get some Grandparent time in, but this is our first winter in this house and we love it here. We want to create special memories here and start to find out special traditions that work for our little family. So this year we are staying home.

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Last night was my big boy’s Winter music program and baby G and I went to cheer them on. In other years they were shy but not this year. They sang and danced and Peachy played the bell (Monkey was on bell duty last year) They were adorable and so proud of themselves.

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Afterwards I offered to take them to dinner. It’s been a while and they love dinners out. They couldn’t decide where they wanted to go and each one vetoed every idea the other had. I was driving in the general direction of home when I saw an option: IHOP.

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I am kind of a food snob and usually would NOT consider IHOP a viable option, but the boys have never been and what kid doesn’t like pancakes for dinner?! So we went and of course they LOVED it. We all had pancakes and bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and hot cocoa and it was a blast.

On the way home we blasted the AC/DC Pandora station and were enjoying it so much we drove around our neighborhood and the one next to ours and checked out all the cool Christmas lights. Some houses really went all out! When we got home we kept the party going and turned off all the lights and turned on the Christmas tree lights and danced around our living room to an old Iron Maiden record. As I spun around under the twinkly rainbow lights with my 3 sweet boys dancing beside me I was the happiest Mama ever.

Our lives are so hurried–rush to school, rush to finish homework and get in bed…it’s nice to just stop for a minute and enjoy each others’ company and do something different just for fun.

We still plan on baking Christmas cookies–both for us and for the children’s shelter nearby. We plan on making ornaments to add to our already-full tree. (I love unpacking each ornament from the years before) We plan on have a big Christmas Eve dinner–and we can each open one small present and a huge Christmas Day brunch and gift extravaganza.

I’m so grateful for the chance to give my babies experiences they will always remember. I still to this day dancing around under our tree with my mom and two brothers. It was Wham! and not Iron Maiden, but the feeling is the same and I know these moments are fleeting.

What traditions have YOU created with your special people?

8/8 Cupcakes

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I am so grateful to have a good kitchen this year. Last year for my boys’ birthday I made some pain-in-the butt cupcakes in ice cream cones for school.

My kitchen then was small and cramped and making over 40 cupcakes was in exercise in masochism. I made chocolate cupcakes for their actual party last year and I loved the recipe so much that I decided to use it again this year. It makes a moist, springy cupcake and a rich, delicious cake.

Normally I take a million pictures when I bake, but somehow (exhaustion!) I skipped that this time. I chose to make owl cupcakes because that is their school mascot, and whooooo doesn’t like owls??!

Here was my inspiration:

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And here was my finished cupcake. I used Reese’s pieces instead of M&M’s because they are all the colors I needed and I wouldn’t have to worry about not having enough brown or orange. (Luckily we don’t have any classmates with peanut allergies this year!)

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The kids seemed to like the end-of-day sugar rush but by then all I could think of was getting out of the heat and into some jammies. Luckily when my husband came home he made me this:

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I skipped the ganache this time and went with a basic chocolate buttercream but I highly recommend using the ganache if you are making this as a cake. It is tasty and shiny and beautiful. It also works for cupcakes, but in this case I wanted the Oreos to stick to the buttercream. I was afraid that once the ganache dried it would be hard to smoosh the Oreos into.

Perfect Chocolate Cake:

(Makes two 9″ rounds, one bundt or 18 cupcakes)

Cake:

2 eggs
2c. sugar
2c. all purpose flour
1/4tsp. salt
1/4 c. buttermilk (or 1/2 c. milk+1tbsp. white vinegar–I’ve done both and they both are fine, but this time I used actual buttermilk)
1tsp. vanilla
1c. butter, softened
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. boiling water

Ganache:

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (baking chocolate or chocolate chips)
1c. heavy cream
6 tblspn. light corn syrup
1c. heavy cream

Cake:
Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl combine buttermilk, eggs, baking soda (skip this if you used vinegar and instead add to finished batter just before baking unless you want a volcano science experiment) In a medium-sized heavy saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in cocoa powder until combine. Add boiling water and stir well. Pour over flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add buttermilk mixture over and stir until well combined but don’t overmix.

Spray cupcake tins or bundt pan with cooking spray, fill 2/3 full and bake for 18 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. Butter 9″ rounds and line with parchment paper. Pour equal parts batter in each and bake for 30 minutes or until fork inserted comes out clean. Cool completely on a baking rack.

Ganache:

Heat heavy cream and corn syrup until it reaches a simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate or chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth and shiny. Pour over bundt cake or dip the tops of each cupcake. For layer cakes, pour over first layer, add second layer and pour the rest on top, smoothing the sides. Let cool and dry before serving.

I have a feeling I’ll probably use this recipe again for G’s upcoming birthday. I used it last year for his birthday too. Not for him, he got a sugar-free hippie cake for his 1st birthday, but for the grown-ups and big brothers who were helping him celebrate.

Do you have a go-to birthday cake recipe?
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Baked: Nutella Scones

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My babies spend the night at their Papa’s on Wednesdays so tonight I wanted to bake them something special to see them off to school in the morning.

I made Chocolate Hazelnut Spread as part of Baked Sunday Mornings this past weekend and I wanted to use it up. (the last thing I would want is for yummy homemade goodness to be abandoned in the depths of the fridge) My boys LOVE Nutella so I knew Nutella Scones would surely be a hit.

I have only made scones one other time–a couple of years ago I attempted fig scones. This was pre-Kitchenaid so they probably weren’t great.

Now, you don’t need a stand mixer to make scones but until I owned my stand mixer I was not really advancing in my baking craft. There is really only so much you can do without one so even though I think I’ve always been a decent baker, the Kitchenaid helped me take it to the next level.

I have no idea how these will taste (hopefully fantastic) but scones are pretty easy to make. In this case you whisk together dry ingredients and set them aside, then smoosh in cold cubed butter. Next, whisk heavy cream and one egg then add to the butter/flour mixture. The chopped hazelnuts go in last.

Once the dough can more or less stay together you turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead/smoosh/guide it into a roughly 12×6 rectangle. After spreading the rectangle with Nutella you roll it (I had my dough on a flexible plastic placemat so I began the roll with the sheet around it to make it easier) into a cylinder.

Form the cylinder into a slightly flattened disc then cut into 6-8 pieces.

I was excited because I got to set up another drizzle station. Once the scones are baked you put them on a cooling rack and drizzle with warm Nutella.

The hard part for me was the baking time. I underbake cookies by quite a bit and underbake cakes slightly, but it’s my understanding that a scone that is too under has more in common with a raw pancake than a gooey brownie. (yuck)

Anyway, mine are all done! I can’t wait to have one with coffee in the morning!

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I hope my guys like them!!

Meyer Lemon Curd Gelato

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I received the Ciao Bella cook book for Christmas, along with the ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid. I have used the attachment four times now and both times I used the Ciao Bella recipes they turned out perfectly.

I wanted to use up the last of the Meyer lemons I bought for Easter as well as the last 1/4 cup or so of leftover lemon curd that I still had on hand. The plain base is perfect for pretty much any flavor you want to add to it, or you can add vanilla beans and/or extract and leave it as is.

Ciao Bella gelato is sold in Whole Foods Market, but making ice cream is so easy I really don’t think I’ll ever buy it again.

The book also had a recipe for lemon gelato that used the plain base plus 2 tsp. zest and 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice. I had 3 lemons to use up and that amounted to 1/2 cup of juice and so that is what I whisked in. I zested only 2 of the lemons–naked lemons are so weird! ;)–and also whisked in the remaining curd and added a bit of vanilla extract.

The resulting gelato was gently tart and creamy and the zest created beautiful orangey flecks– I was really pleased with it. The only issue I have with the Ciao Bella recipes is that it only makes about a quart which is just not enough for a family of 5.

Next time I think I will at least double the recipe and see how that works out.

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*adapted from the ciao bella book of gelato and sorbetto

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar

Directions

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine milk and cream. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn’t form, until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges and mixture reaches a temperature of 170 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in sugar until it is well incorporated and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Temper egg yolks by very slowly pouring in hot milk mixture while whisking continuously. Return custard to saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches a temperature of 185 degrees. Do not bring to a boil.

Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes or so. To cool custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in it; stir custard until cooled. Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or overnight. Makes enough for about 1 quart (or 4 cups) of gelato, realistically about 4 servings.

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Any suggestions on what flavor I should attempt next?

Hummingbird High: Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

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I have several Meyer lemons leftover from my yummy Easter Lemon Drop Cake. I’ve been wondering what I should do with them…lemon ice cream? Cupcakes? But as luck would have it, I stumbled upon this fortuitous recipe on one of my (new) favorite food blogs.

It seems completely meant to be right? Pudding…cake–my two favorite things on the planet coming together to help me not waste these beautiful, fragrant, thin-skinned lemons.

My boys are bugging me to make a Piñata Cake like I have been promising, but given the sensitive time constraints of the ripe lemons I think this might have to come first.

I promise, boys: Piñata Cake is next!!