Lila’s Fourth Birthday

Another year has gone by and my baby is now 4. This past year, I think the best word to describe her is stinker. Yes, she has always been trouble incarnate, but this year especially so.  The terrible twos are nothing compared to the terrible threes!

So this year she chose butterflies for her birthday theme. She wanted a butterfly cake and butterfly gifts. That gave me a rather broad spectrum to work with, but I managed to get some things that she loved.

The day before her birthday, we took these butterfly cupcakes to her school so she could share them with her classmates in the summer camp.

The body is chocolate gems, the wings are mini-cookies, and the antennae are fruit rolls cut into tiny strips.

The body is chocolate gems, the wings are mini-cookies, and the antennae are fruit rolls cut into tiny strips.

Then on her birthday, I made this butterfly cake. I used my carrot cake recipe, swapping half the carrots for zucchini, and using cheese in the frosting instead of it all being icing sugar. It tasted quite nice, but I want to experiment with it and find a way to eliminate the icing sugar and make it with honey instead.

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In the afternoon we went to a fun play place, Bunny Bounce Funland. They had an inflatable bouncy house with a slide, a play area with a ball pit, trampoline, small swing and various other jungle gym toys. There were also a few arcade games and mini basketball/bowling games, air hockey, etc. that you could get tickets from to cash in for various items.

The kids had a load of fun, and Glad passed the time playing some arcade game. We had planned on staying 1/2 an hour, but ended up staying 1 1/2 hours. None of them wanted to leave even though it was past their dinner time.

At home we cut the cake and they decided that on birthdays, dinner should just be cake. 🙂 All the more reason for me to make it healthy.

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Then came the gifts. Lila had already gotten some before – a bubble blower set from daddy and an outing with me to a shop she had repeatedly requested to go in. It was one of those small costume jewelry/makeup/hair stuff places. She picked out a large pink hair clip, a set of clips and elastic’s with strawberries on them, and pink nail polish. In her words, “I have to have nail polish, Mommy, because I’m big now.” Ha.

The ones she opened were a Winnie the Pooh puzzle set, matching earrings and necklace set, faux gold butterfly earrings, a shirt with butterflies on it, and a mini purse that contained “makeup”: some chapstick and sparkly pink pressed powder.

She has wanted to play with makeup for some time, and once climbed way up to the high shelf in the bathroom where I keep my makeup (to keep her out of it) and took my bag down. When I found her, she had eye-shadow all over and black waterproof mascara on her face, lips, and legs. What a cleanup job! So I figured it was best to get her something she could safely play with.

She had a fun day overall. She is already talking about what she wants to do on her 5th birthday. Slow down, girl, and enjoy being four.

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Moist Carrot Cake

Here is a new recipe for you, adapted from one I found I know not where. The original called for a full cup of oil and 2 cups of sugar, and while is was good, it was also oily and too sweet. I wanted something healthier since in our house we are striving to eat as clean and healthy as possible, so I experimented and changed the recipe around a bit. I reduced the sugar to one cup, and the oil to 1/3 of a cup. The remaining liquid comes from yogurt. I also use brown sugar (when I can get it) and whole wheat flour.

Because it is so healthy, I often serve it for breakfast or lunch once a week. It goes great with coffee, or served with yogurt and fresh fruit. My kids love it like that.

I’ve learned from cooking shows that one of the secrets to light moist cakes is to not over-beat the eggs or the batter, to sift the flour to add air, and to gently stir in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Try this and you will find your cakes will be lighter. This particular one comes out very light and airy when these tips are followed.

So here is the recipe.

Just out of the oven.

Just out of the oven.

Begin by finely grating 3 cups of carrots. Do a little extra so you can pack the cups, about 4 medium-sized carrots. Set aside.

Then mix together:

4 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup plain yogurt

1 cup brown sugar

Mix together (don’t beat) until all ingredients are just combined. Add the carrots and stir.

(Optional: You could substitute half the carrots for grated zucchini. Raisins make a nice addition too.)

Next, sift together on top of the wet ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix gently with the wet ingredients until the flour is just mixed.

Pour into a pre-greased and floured 8×8″ pan and bake in a 350F oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

This recipe also makes great muffins. Just reduce the baking time to about 10 – 15 minutes.

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Yummy! Especially with my morning coffee.

 

This post is being linked with Spatulas on Parade‘s Foodie Friends Friday linkup.

SpatulasOnParade

Fruitcake Recipe Miscalculation Adventure

This year I had a near-disaster with my Christmas fruitcakes: I ended up with too much batter due to a mental lapse and miscalculation. The story itself is quite funny.
 
I had finally put together my perfect fruitcake recipe. I tested it and everyone liked it so I prepared to make a larger batch to cover all my cakes at once. I only have a small oven, so of course, the pans are small (7″). My recipe makes enough for two of these pans or one larger pan – but that is what I forgot about when I began to calculate the ingredients I would need for 6 cakes – the amount I meant to make.
 
So instead of multiplying the recipe by 3, I did it by 6, meaning I would get 12 cakes out of it with the size pans I was using. Even when buying the ingredients, it didn’t register that 3 kgs. each of fruit and flour and 24 eggs was more than I meant to use.
 
I dug out my biggest pots to mix it all in. One was already full of the fruit I had presoaked in rum, and by the time I had mixed in enough flour to coat it all, the pot was overflowing.
 

I mixed the dry ingredents in another pot and the wet ones in a third pot.

 

As you can see, each of the pots were full up and it wasn’t going to be possible to mix everything together in one pot. I think it was around there that I realised my mistake, but there was no going back now that I had begun.

I began to think hard about how I could put it all together. The only item in the house large enough to mix everything in was the shower bucket. Before you freak out and think “gross”, I scrubbed it with Lysol and then washed it with dishsoap, so it was very clean (on the inside) when I used it. And yes, I had to mix it with my hand as it was a thick batter, just the way a fruitcake batter should be, but in the largest quantity I had ever seen. I hadn’t planned on mass producing cakes.

 
As I stood there elbow-deep in fruitcake batter, all I could do was laugh and make sure I got pictures of the whole thing. Once it was mixed, I was able to transfer it into the pots again and get the bucket back to its rightful place in the bathroom.
 
 

It took me two days to bake all 12 cakes and I’ve ended up with more than I planned on, but maybe I will end up needing them. At least half will be given away to friends and taken to school by the kids but the rest are for us. Maybe I should save some of them for next year.

My Perfect Fruitcake Recipe

I’ve spent years trying to find the perfect fruitcake recipe. I’m particular about fruitcake. I like it moist, with lots of fruit but no nuts, and no odd ingredients that are hard to find. So after reading and researching hundreds of recipes, the solution was to put my own together.

Here you will find my personal fruitcake recipe – tried, tested and delicious. I followed the fruitcake tips found at this link and they came out better than any recipe I have tried before. I only have a small oven so I worked with 7″ x 2 1/4″ square and 7″ x 2″ round pans. This recipe is enough for two pans that size or you could use a larger one. Check this site for approximate pan size conversions.

Perfect Fruitcake

Ingredients:

4 cups dried fruits – I used 3 kinds of rasins, apricots, candied cherries, candied fruit peel, tuttie fruttie, and dried amla (gooseberry). You can use any dried fruits that you like or have available. If you enjoy nuts in your cake, substitute part of the fruit for chopped nuts. Walnuts and almonds are good options. (Tip: make sure your rasins are seedless before you put them in. I didn’t and only discovered the seeds after all my cakes were baked.)
Rum – enough to cover the fruits (you could use brandy instead, either one is ok)

2 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat but you could use cake flour if you want)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each of cloves, nutmeg and ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup cooking butter, softened
4 eggs
orange juice or rum

Steps:

1) Begin by presoaking your chosen fruits. Place in a bowl or pot that has some expanding space, since the fruit will swell as it soaks up the rum. Add enough rum to cover the fruit, then cover with a lid and allow to sit. The site I mentioned above suggests soaking them a minimum of 3 days. I did them for a week.

2) When you are ready to bake your cake, drain the liquid off the fruit and set aside to use in the recipe. It will be syrupy.

3) Place a cake pan in the bottom of your oven, then fill with water. This will help to keep the cake moist while baking. (If you are doing more than one cake, check after each one to see if more water should be added.)

4) Line your pan with wax paper or foil. To help it stick, lightly grease the pan with a little cooking oil. Then put the paper in, pressing into the corners and sides so it can fill properly. With the foil, you will have to press it down slowly so that it doesn’t rip. Set aside.

5) Preheat your oven to 300 deg.F. (If you read the link above, you will see they said to cook them at 325 or less. Mine took 1hr. and 15 min. to cook at 300 in the pan size I mentioned. Larger pans will take longer, as will cooking at a lower temperature. Lower it if you have the time.)

3) Toss the fruits with 3/4 cup of the flour in order to cover them well. This will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. Set aside.

4) Mix the remaining flour and all the rest of the dry ingredients together in one bowl.

5) In another large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar, then the eggs. Measure the liquid that you drained off the fruit and add to it as much juice or rum as you need to make a cup.

6) Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, a small amount at a time ’till it is all mixed.

7) Add the fruit to the batter until just mixed. Spoon into the prepared pan, making sure to not fill it more than 3/4 of the way. If it is overfilled, it will rise too much, take longer to cook, and not look as nice.

8) Cover the pan with some foil to keep it from overbrowning. What I did, since I have such a tiny oven, was I covered the cake for the first hour, then I took it off for the last 15 minutes and the color on top was perfect.

The top pan is the cake, the bottom one the water.
9) Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or knife into the center. It should be moist but not raw. Place on wire rack to cool. Once cool, remove the foil.

10 ) Fruitcakes taste best when they are aged. To age, tear a large piece of foil, then place a cloth on it. You are going to wrap the cake with it so make sure it is clean and one that you don’t mind getting this kind of use. Cheesecloth is best but you can also use tea towels or cotton diapers (clean ones, of course).
Set the cake in the middle and pour rum all over it. The cloth should soak some up, then wrap it well, first with the cloth, then the foil. Store in a cool, dry place.
A minimum of 4 weeks is recommended for proper aging, so you will need to resoak the cloth in rum each week. After that time, your cakes can be frozen until you want to use them. This way, you can make them early in the year and then store them until Christmas (if you are someone who plans way in advance and doesn’t wait until so late like me. : ) )

You can eat these cakes straight out of the oven, but they taste better with some aging. If you haven’t done so yet, go and read this list of tips so that your fruitcakes can come out perfect too.

Happy Baking!

Note: If you try this recipe and you like it, feel free to share it but be sure to link back to this post. Tks.

This post has been shared with the linky party over at Spatulas on Parade and Merry, Merry Munchies at Dining with Debbie. Check them out.

Dining With Debbie

Quick and Easy Homemade Pizza

When it comes to cooking, I am all about shortcuts and easy-to-make meals. I especially dislike spending a lot of time on something that my kids end up hating, mainly because I hate cooking. I would gladly hire a chef if I could afford it. But since I can’t, I force myself to 1. find easy meals that my kids (and hubby, he can be pickier than them) will eat without complaint, and 2. find the shortest way to make them.
This pizza is quick to put together and cooks rapidly in the microwave. I begin by thawing the crusts. These are the only size I can find here, about 7″ across, but they are the perfect personal pizza size. I buy these in packs of two and freeze them ’till I plan to use them. For the 5 of us, 4 pizzas are just right. Oh, they are precooked.

Next I top each one with sauce. You can either buy a readymade sauce, or make your own like I do (only because pizza sauce is hard to find here and is super expensive when I do find it). To 200 ml. of tomato puree I add a heaping spoonful of garlic paste, a pinch of sugar, Italian seasoning (lots!!), and salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all together and spread generously on the crusts.

Next, top with salami or your choice of meat. I buy a roll of it that is sold frozen so it keeps. I just put it to thaw at the same time as the crusts. The beauty of making individual pizzas is that you can personalise the toppings to the palate. If you don’t like the ingredients I’m listing, simply use your personal favorites or what you know your children will eat. I don’t prechop the salami; I just slice it over the crusts.

Next comes the veggies. I use onion, spring onion, green peppers and mushrooms. I love it with pineapple, too. Often I’ll just put the meat and cheese for my kids since I know they will pick the veggies off anyway, and for hubby I add green chilies since he loves his food spicy.

The final topping is a generous covering of grated cheese. I love cheese so I like to combine different ones. Don’t bother grating the cheese in advance. Simply hold your grater over the pizza and grate until you have enough.

I use the microwave to cook them, but an oven could easily be used as well. You could get them all done at once on a cookie sheet. Since I don’t have an oven, I put them one at a time in the microwave. I use the bake setting and it cooks them at 350 degrees. I find that six minutes is enough. The cheese is melted, sauce cooked, veggies still slightly crunchy but done.

Remove and allow to cool for a minute before plating and slicing.

And here are two of my finished products. The are just the right size to fit on a plate and are quite filling as is, at least I can only eat one.

Slice and serve.

The total time it takes me to make these is about 30 min. from start to finish. I often serve them for dinner but they would make a great lunch too. This is also a recipe that is easy enough that your children could help you make it.

What is your favorite quick meal that your children will always eat? Share it with us.

My stovetop baking attempt

Something I really enjoy is baking, but I find myself without an oven and thus, no way to bake anything. I usually make all my family’s birthday cakes, and with Glad’s birthday just around the corner, I decided to try an experiment: “bake” a cake in a pot set inside another pot that is full of boiling water.
The basic idea was to use the double boiler method, except I later found out that a double boiler doesn’t work like that. Anyway, I made my favorite chocolate cake recepie, greased and floured the small pot, and put the whole thing on to boil. The general concept worked for the most part, except that there was no way to get any heat on the top of the cake so it never cooked, nor did the middle, though it probably would have if I had left it a few more hours. Yes, hours. The part that did manage to cook took 4 hours. I feel for an experiment it was ok, but that was a waste of gas and I don’t think I’ll try it again.
We did eat it, Glad and I. It was pretty tasty, even if it was half cooked in places. But now I need to find another solution. Does anyone know of a way to make a cake on the stove, without it burning? And I’m not talking about pancakes, I mean real cake. If you have any ideas, let me know.

On another note, Lila said two new words today. We were putting the toys away and she picked up a block and said “bok” and kept saying it the whole time we were working. Then in the shop, Logan was talking about chocolate and Lila, with a big grin, said “chocolate” (though not perfectly like that). At the rate she is going I won’t be surprised if she is talking well by the end of the year.

A Little of This and That

So today is a day to go slow, take it easy, relax. We slept late, ate at odd times, avoided all manner of normalicy. Ha. (Is that a word?) Here are a few pictures.

I found Lila under our desk this morning, chewing on Logan’s bottle. He doesn’t like it when she gets it so maybe that is why she is hiding.

Logan and daddy played cricket while daddy was watching India play South Africa. Glad says Logan will be a good bowler one day and that he can already throw like a pro. Check it out.









A tired boy eats his lunch. That is daddy’s cake on his face.

And here is the cake I made for my husband for valentines. We don’t celebrate valentines with anything big. Actually, I think this is the first time we have done anything, and by that I mean he gave me roses and I made him his favorite chocolate cake. It isn’t a big deal to us.



This cake is by far the best recipe I have ever found for a chocolate cake. It is moist and soft and delicious – the only one I ever make now. If you want the recipe you can find it at Simply Recipes. This recipe makes enough for a three-layer chocolate cake, but I only wanted a small one (it is very rich) so I made a third of the recipe. If you love moist cake, this is the one to make.

A few tips:

– Because it is so moist, you have to bake it in small pans. Don’t do like I did one time and make it in a super large one as it will fall apart when you take it out.

– When making the frosting, I found that you can cut the butter down to one third of what it calls for and it still comes out good.

You probably noticed the strawberries on mine. What I did was, after the cake was cool, I cut it in half, frosted the bottom and layered it with cut strawberries, then I put the top half on and frosted that well and decorated it with a few large strawberries cut in half. Mmmmm.

It was good, so don’t delay, make it today. Your taste buds will thank you.

Colds and Baking

I’ve been busy with baking, wiping snotty noses, cleaning the house, baking, snotty noses, laundry, and yes again, those snotty noses. Get the idea? Both kids have colds but poor Lila got it the worst. The first night I had to sit up with her and hold her in an upright position so she could sleep. I didn’t get much sleep that night. Her nose is sore from being wiped and she moves her head fast when she sees me coming to wipe it. Poor baby. Then she cries the cry of “Mommy, I hate you” when I’m done wiping it.

In the baking department, I DID MY FIRST FRUITCAKE OF THE SEASON TODAY. Ok, so I’m behind. I should have done them a few weeks ago and then had them soaking in rum by now, but better late than never, right? One difficulty with fruitcakes is that there are thousands of recipes out there and I couldn’t find one that was simple. When I’m making a cake, I don’t like to have 50 steps to the end. I prefer to use one bowl, one spoon, one measuring cup and one measuring spoon. I don’t want to sift, roll, toss, grate, crush, pinch, blend and fold every item into the cake. It takes forever that way. So I decided to come up with my own cake recipie. I did let everyone know that this was a test run so that they wouldn’t expect perfection. It came out better than I expected, just a tad dry, so I need to add more liquid, but other than that, it was good. Glad liked it so I know it was a success.

‘Tis the Season…

Ahh, December has arrived and that means Christmas is around the corner. My favorite time of year! The thing I miss most at Christmas is snow, but just for the season. I’m happy I don’t have to endure it until March or April like those of you in the frozen north. But every year I wish I could have a little just until after new years.

The other thing I really miss is candy canes. Those don’t exist here in India, and are just as much a part of Christmas for me as snow is. But everything else is here: the trees (ok, so they’re fake but we all know a real fir tree couldn’t hold up for even a few days in Chennai heat), decorations, music, and treats.

Yes, I love those special cakes and chocolates that only come out at Christmas. At the moment I am searching for a fruitcake recipe since I get to bake it this year. It’s been a long time since I baked anything. Well, it was a long time until I baked Logan’s birthday cake. I almost didn’t do it since it had been years since I had done it. Those who know me well know I used to bake often, usually for birthdays, but I also did a few fruitcakes for Christmas. Since coming to India there were always other people who did the baking so I never even gave it a thought. But now here in Chennai I will get my chance.

Well, I like baking so I am going for it. The first step is to find a good recipe as I don’t have one, so I am currently searching the net for a good one. I also hope to try at least one cookie recipe and perhaps I will try rum balls (I love these).

P.S. While searching for a usable recipe, I came across this one that is supposed to be good. Check it out for yourself.

 

The Best Christmas Fruit Cake Recipe You Ever Tried!
Guaranteed to be fun to make!

Christmas Whiskey Cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour, sifted
1/2 t. salt
1 cup bourbon
1 pound pecans, chopped
3 cups white raisins (or use candied fruit)
1 t. nutmeg
AND ~ a very large bottle of bourbon whiskey ~

 

First, sample the whiskey to check for quality.

Assemble all of the ingredients.

Check the whiskey again. To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.

Repeat this step.

Turn on the electric mixer and beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.

Add one teaspoon of sugar and cream until beat.

Make sure the whiskey is still okay… try another cup.

Turn off the mixer. Beat six leggs and add to the bowl, then chunk in the cup of dried flut.

Mix on the tuner. Throw in two quarts of flour. Gradually pour in the cow. Add 2 dried anything.

If the fried druit gets struck in the beaters, pry it loose with a drewscriver.

Sample the whiskey and check it again for tonsistency.

Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Who cares???

Check the whiskey again.

Now sift the nutmeg and strain your nuts.

Add one table. And the spoon. Of whiskee. Or something. Whatever you find left.

Grease the oven. Turn the crake pan to 350 degrees.

Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Pour the oven into the batter.

Throw the bowl out the window. Lick the batter off the floor.

Bake 300 minutes at 50 degrees.

Finish the blobble of whishy and flow to bed.

Have a Very Merry Christmas!

 

If you try this cake and something goes wrong, don’t blame me. Remember, it was your choice to drink all that whiskey.

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