Friday, February 18, 2011

I Might Not Be A Good Cook, But I Can Bake Like No Other!

I love to bake.  I find it relaxing and a great way to relieve stress. And if the act of baking something delicious doesn't work, or the smell of something delicious baking in the oven doesn't help.... 
There is ALWAYS the eating part...

Most of my life, my mom gave us a special shape for our birthday cakes.  It was always a surprise to us, what it would be, and I remember getting excited thinking about the different cakes we'd had, what could she come up with next???
As I got older and more involved in the kitchen, I discovered her secret.  A pair of great cookbooks specifically for these special shape cakes.   

Now with my kids, I do the same thing.  We rarely have a 'normal' cake. Many times the kids have the family birthday and a 'friends' birthday, so we have a layer cake for family night and a shape cake for the party with friends.  I have sometimes allowed them the choice of what cake they want, but sometimes the surprise is the best part.  

I have been known to build the boys a great theme party, and try to find a cake that fits the theme. A big favorite was our Lego Cake. This was pretty easy to make and has been requested more than once. (not my picture. I normally use whip cream, not frosting on my cakes). 

There is much to be said about building a bit of magic in the kitchen.  I love to surprise the kids with special treats.  
For Halloween last year, I sent Chocolate chip cookies to school with the boys.  Half of them were piped with spiderwebs in white icing and the other half had chocolate icing spiders.  It took a fair amount of time, but the kids (both classes) and most of the teachers now look for my cookies and treats on special occasions.  It's worth the effort!  
For Valentines Day this year, we had our special family dinner a few days early. Just making sure that we were all here to enjoy it together.  So on February 14th, there was not much excitement around the house.  I needed to fix that!
I have made a heart shaped cake too many times to count and I wanted something a little different. And since this was a treat more for the kids than anyone else, I wanted something they would like but not a ton of leftovers.  So I found a tiny little secret to making heart shaped cupcakes in a regular muffin pan.  

30 seconds of extra effort making the cupcakes.... TOTALLY worth it in the end.  Added frosting and a cinnamon heart to the tops and it was a valentine treat for everyone.

I have heard a few times that it would be so nice to be so creative... but really I am not.  I may put out a bit more energy to make these things, but I rarely come up with the idea on my own.  So, if you haven't followed my links above yet...
I'll give away my secret weapons for free.
well, not ALL of my secrets....
Disney Family Fun is a great website... and for more than just recipes.  It has a ton of great ideas on it.  And another favorite, in fact one of my MOST favorites, is Betty Crocker.  How can anyone not love Betty Crocker?  Really. I think our original cake book is a Betty Crocker book.  This site has so many great ideas, the recipes needed, and of course the right box mix to pick if you are not a bake from scratch kind of person.  AND now... I just noticed today... there are even videos to walk you through some of the really cool ideas!

So there. I shared.  
Now, next time I come by, I'll tell you I'm coming so you'll bake a cake.   
(darn, now I have that song in my head....)  
And it better be a cool shape!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup For My Sick Family

Well, we are finally on the mend again... I'm sorry for such a long break between posts.  Everyone one has been sick at least once in the last 6 weeks here. Three adults, three kids all down at varying times with some sort of bug.  I am hopeful that the last of it has now passed.

Today is a snowy and windy kind of day.  Great day to make some home made buns and my favorite broccoli cheese soup.  There are very few things I enjoy more than a good thick bowl of cream of broccoli soup. Given my cooking history I had to search high and low for a good recipe that I could actually manage to make.
The broccoli cheese soup recipe I found first was heavy on onions, so it didn't really taste like broccoli anything.  But the directions were simple enough and, after all, this is soup I'm making... I just used less onions the next time.  It was great when I made it for me, so I attempted to share with the family. 
It's not a favorite for every one, but it is definitely something they will all eat.  And that is a rare occasion here!

Right now, while I write, the veggies are simmering away on the stove in half broth/half water.  Today I've added a small onion and a clove of garlic as well as some celery.  (I'm really big on onions right now, since they do seem to help fight these flu germs!)  
It smells absolutely FANTASTIC in my house right now. 
Once the buns are ready to bake, I will add the cheese and make the soup rich and creamy.

The dough is rising as we speak and the buns will be fresh out of the oven just in time for dinner.  I'm making the pull apart buns (also called clover leaf buns, I guess) as they are a family favorite.  Thank you to my dear mother in law for letting me in on that secret!! I've never known my trucker to eat so much of something home baked!  
Just by changing the way I baked them, I transformed these buns from 'okay' to 'awesome'.

And there is nothing... absolutely nothing better .....than having still warm buns to dip in the broccoli cheese soup that has been slow cooked all day... when the snow is blowing all around the house.

Stay warm!!