Friday, February 24, 2012

Molten Lava Cakes

It SNOWED!!! I was so excited this morning that there were actually a few inches outside so I could take the boys out to play. I made sure to hurry up and do it this morning since who knows how long it'll stick around - I did not want it melting before we got out there.

As I was putting on all their gear, I started to wonder if it would even be worth it - once Aiden was decked out, he couldn't even sit. He looked a little bit like a turtle because he kept falling onto his back and then tried to roll onto his side so he could crawl, but then his snowpants were too slippery so he didn't get anywhere . . . and he was maaaad. Very mad. So I was rushing to get Asher dressed, and was pretty frustrated before we even got out the door.

SO WORTH IT!!! We had so much fun! Asher's not into snowmen yet, but loves to walk around, be pulled in the sled, and I even got them to both go down the little hill in our front yard. Aiden didn't care if snow was all over him; he crawled in it, laid in it, even put his face in it and came up smiling. Totally glad I took them out.

If you got snow and are feeling a little bit chilly, these lava cakes will warm you right up! If you're not cold, and it didn't snow, you should make them anyway. Oh. So. Yummy. I made them on Valentine's Day, and they are so chocolate-y and really decadent. They fill you up fast, but if you're like me you'll keep taking bite after bite despite how full you feel. The chocolate literally flows out of the middle when you poke it - it's like a warm chocolate brownie that comes with it's own hot fudge sauce. At the last minute (after photos) I scooped a little vanilla ice cream to go alongside . . .

Molten Lava Cakes (original recipe can be found here)
1/2 c. butter (plus some for buttering dishes)
2 tsp. sugar
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
dash nutmeg
1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
3 eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 4 6-ounce ramekins and sprinkle each with 1/2 tsp. sugar.
2. Place butter, chocolate chips, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan and melt over med-low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Whisk together flour, powdered sugar, eggs, yolks, and vanilla until creamy. Whisk in melted chocolate mixture and divide evenly among the ramekins.
4. Place ramekins on a baking sheet, and bake 12-14 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow to cool 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and turn onto a plate. Eat while still warm so the chocolate in the center is still molten. You can also eat right from the ramekin, but be careful because of course they'll be hot!

Here's some more pics of our fun in the snow today!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Cakes - Part 2

Have you seen these things called "cupcake cakes"? They're so fun for birthday parties - especially for kids! If you haven't heard of or seen them, basically you take unfrosted cupcakes and form them into some sort of shape (e.g. I used a number 1 for Aiden's bday) and then frost all of them together so the top looks like one big decorated cake. So cool. And, as I said, it's perfect for a party because everyone can just grab a cupcake and you don't have to worry about slicing a cake. I'm in love with the idea.

Mine didn't turn out as smoothly as the video showed, but I already know what I did wrong so I can fix it next time and you won't make the same mistake! Usually when I bake cupcakes, I like a little dome over the liner after they're baked. Apparently (as I discovered), that's not ideal for a cupcake cake. You want the cupcakes as close together as possible so there are few to no gaps between them; otherwise what happens is you need a lot of frosting to put in those gaps. (As I'm writing this, a light went off in my head telling me I could have just trimmed the edges off the cupcakes . . . sigh). Anyway, underfill your cupcake liners a little bit so they don't spread too far over the edges as they bake. Lesson learned.

The cupcake and frosting recipes I used came from "Cupcakes From The Cake Mix Doctor" and were titled "The Best Birthday Cupcakes (with two frostings)" - how perfect is that?!

The Best Birthday Cupcakes
1 pkg. butter golden cake mix
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 Tbls. vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pan with paper liners (mine made exactly 24, but if you fill them less you'll get more . . . obviously).
2. Place all ingredients in mixer and mix on low speed about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl, and mix on medium speed for 2 more minutes.
3. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full (or a little less if you're doing a cupcake cake) and bake for 24-27 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting

Chocolate Syrup Frosting
1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c. chocolate syrup
3 c. powdered sugar
1 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Place butter, cocoa powder, and syrup in mixer and mix 1-2 minutes on medium.
2. Add sugar, milk, and vanilla, and mix on low until combined. Turn mixer to med-high and beat an additional 3-4 minutes.

On a Side Note: This is the first winter since I was little that I remember wishing there was snow on the ground. "Why?" you may ask. Asher got all this winter gear (snowpants, boots, mittens, shovel) and has only been able to use them twice! He had so much fun playing in the snow and being pulled on the sled, and I wish we could do it again! Especially since we also got some snowpants for Aiden on clearance that he hasn't been able to use at all yet. I was hoping to get some pictures of them being pulled together on the sled, but somehow doing that through the mud doesn't sound as appealing . . .

Monday, February 13, 2012

Red Velvet Cookies

If you haven't made anything for Valentine's Day yet and are looking for an easy treat you should must try these cookies! There are three reasons you should do this:
1) they are delicious;
2) they combine the delicious flavor of red velvet cake with the wonderful portability of a cookie;
3) they are stinkin' adorable. Seriously, look at those cuties!

I combined two recipes to make these - one (Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies) is your basic cake mix cookie, but rolled in powdered sugar before being baked. The second (Cream Cheese Cake Mix Cookies) is very similar, but you use cream cheese in the dough. So, I figured using a red velvet cake mix, but incorporating cream cheese into the batter, and rolling in powdered sugar would come pretty close to tasting like red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. It came pretty close, in my opinion, and either way, they taste great! I also cut them into hearts with a cookie cutter a few minutes after they came out of the oven - you don't have to, but it was fun! You could also add chocolate chips to the dough, or drizzle them with chocolate or white chocolate once they've cooled, instead of rolling them in powdered sugar beforehand.

Red Velvet Cookies
1 box red velvet cake mix
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 egg
powdered sugar, for rolling
1. Preheat oven to 360 degrees, and grease or parchment-line a baking sheet.
2. Cream butter and cream cheese together until creamy - 1-2 minutes. Add egg and beat again, 2 minutes.
3. Stir in cake mix by hand so you don't overmix it.
4. Using approximately 2 Tbls. of dough, roll into balls and roll in the powdered sugar.
5. Bake 8 minutes, remove from oven and flatten slightly with your hand. Return to oven for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes before cutting into shapes, if you desire.

On a Side Note: Aiden is a walking machine now - it's frightening. He has no fear. He'll definitely be our bumps and bruises kid. He's also a climber . . . The other day he was on Asher's trampoline and I went into the laundry room to grab clothes for the boys. Once I came out, Asher was on the trampoline, and Aiden had crawled on top of their kids' table and was just sitting there like it was totally normal. See what I mean?! FRIGHTENING! We'll see what these next few weeks bring . . .

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reading with Your Kids

At this point in Asher's 2 1/2 year old life, it really is reading with him. What he wants from reading time differs day-to-day. Sometimes, he just wants to listen while my husband or I read with him. Sometimes, he wants to finish parts of the sentences in books. Sometimes, when he's looking at a book I'll ask him if he wants me to read it to him, and he says, "No, Asher's reading it." Doesn't matter to me which scenario is occurring, I love that he's interested in books.

Aiden's attention span is obviously much shorter than Asher's, but he'll page through books on his own, and if he's in the right mood he'll bring one over and hand it to me to read . . . Granted, I usually only get through 2-3 pages before he's onto something else, but still it's good!

Asher at about 8 months
Aiden at 7 months
You can start reading to your kids while they're still in the womb (which we didn't do) or wait until after they're born. Even if you wait until they're older, it's a wonderful habit to get into. I started reading to Asher when he was just a newborn, and at times it seemed silly and pointless because he was staring off into space, but I'm convinced that if we read to the boys often enough, it's something they'll want to do on their own as they get older. One of my tactics was to offer board books to the boys when they were/are little instead of, or in addition to, other toys so they were able to look at them frequently. It seemed to peak their interest more if they looked at books of their own volition instead of me pushing it on them. Reading has so many benefits that aren't necessarily thought of on the surface; it definitely increases vocabulary (which is one of the reasons we're encouraged to read to our children when they're young), and I would also argue that it helps with schoolwork - if reading comes easily, it's not as onerous to read for assignments because kids can focus on the material they're supposed to learn, and not struggle reading the individual words.
Reading through all 26 letter-books.
Right now we don't have a set time to read to the boys, but we do it almost on a daily basis. I'll admit, there are times when I'd rather be doing something else, or I can't stand the book that's brought over (e.g. Fox in Socks - too many tongue-twisters for my taste), or the book is way too long so I sneakily skip paragraphs . . . or sometimes pages. But, I think the important thing is that it's getting done. We've learned to try to engage the boys right away in the book by doing voices or silly sound effects to match the pictures, and those are the books that Asher would bring over most frequently. Whatever works with your kids is the best approach. Sometimes I'll just read a book aloud even if neither of the boys seems to be listening because as I said, it's something I think is important to establish early.
Aiden, Daddy, and Asher
I know as they get older their tastes will change with whatever they're most interested in at the time, but it's my hope that as parents we can always provide them with a book that will fit those interests . . . and that they'll enjoy reading it!
"Green Eggs and Ham" . . . twice, apparently :)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Tale of Two Cakes - Part 1

As I was deliberating what to make for Aiden's first birthday cake, I decided that white cake and white frosting would fit the bill. I had run across this cake recipe and this frosting recipe and was waiting for an excuse to give them a whirl - what better excuse than a birthday?

The cake recipe has "perfect" in the title, and while it was good, I think it would have been better if I had used cake flour (as the recipe calls for) instead of all-purpose which was all I had on hand; it was a little denser than I typically like. I like a dense chocolate cake, but I like my yellow and white cakes nice and light. Soon, I think I'm going to experiment on my own with white and yellow cakes . . . I've been left a little underwhelmed with every scratch recipe I've tried so far. Anyway, the cake was good, and the frosting was really fun and yummy, too. You use some Funfetti cake mix in the frosting recipe, and it adds a really yummy flavor! I'll warn you though, with dry cake mix added, the texture of the frosting isn't as smooth as it normally would be - it didn't bother me at all, but I thought I should give you fair warning in case you're a stickler for smooth-ness. :)

*Don't mind the absolutely horrid letters on the cake - I despise doing letters because I can never get them to turn out nicely. And in this instance, my stubbornness is to blame. I used a round tip for the letters, but with sprinkles in the frosting the tip ended up being too small so it kept getting plugged . . . and in my stubbornness I refused to go to the effort of filling a different bag, etc., etc., and the result was not good. Oh well, lucky for me I care more about taste than looks . . . except I'm still annoyed so I guess I'll have to try to perfect that particular decorating technique.

Perfect Vanilla Cake 
2 1/2 c. flour (I do recommend cake flour)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 tsp. vanilla
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch cake pans.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. Beat eggs and sugar for 1 minute, then add vanilla and oil and beat again.
4. With mixer running, add half the flour mixture, then half the milk, the rest of the flour mixture, then the last of the milk. Mix until just combined.
5. Scrape down the bowl, and divide batter between prepared pans. Bake for 25-29 minutes, or until lightly browned and the top springs back when pressed lightly.
6. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Cake Batter Buttercream
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 c. Funfetti cake mix
4 c. powdered sugar
2-3 T. milk
1. Beat butter and shortening until thoroughly combined.
2. Stir in cake mix, powdered sugar, and milk until combined. Scrape down bowl, then beat on med-high for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.

On a Side Note: A friend of the family (a young woman named Ruth who went to grade school with my younger sister), was 28 weeks pregnant with her first baby when they discovered she has stomach cancer. She was induced and delivered a 2 lb. little boy yesterday so she can receive cancer treatment as soon as possible. Baby John is in the NICU at Mayo, and is doing well so far. Please keep Ruth, her husband, and their new little baby in your prayers. If you would like to donate to help them with expenses, you can do so at this website: I'm sure they'll need all the prayers and support they can get!