Train cake for a second birthday

So I’m 36 weeks pregnant and it’s my son’s second birthday party … of course I need to get all fussy over the dessert and make a train cake from scratch! Honestly, as I made this cake, I questioned why I was going through all the trouble. It probably cost 2-3 times as much as a sheet cake from the grocery store, and it took about 2-3 hours, instead of 2-3 minutes when just picking one out. But knowing exactly what went into this cake (including all the love), getting to be a bit creative, testing my “abilities” and seeing my son’s smile as the result of my work really did make it all worthwhile.
Since I’d be cutting the cake prior to frosting, I needed something “sturdy,” so a pound cake fit the bill. It’s not my favorite cake in terms of texture, but it did perform as required. A 7-minute frosting would have been my first choice, but it was 85 degrees and I needed something I could work with for as long as it took, so a modified cream cheese frosting fit the bill.
I was happy with the outcome, and so was my son, so I’m going to call this one a success.
Chocolate Pound Cake
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 4 sticks softened butter: unsalted plus 1 t salt, OR use salted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 9 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper (leaving paper an inch above pan on all sides), and combine flour and cocoa powder in a bowl
  2. Cream butter (and salt, if using unsalted butter) and sugar with a mixer on high speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy
  3. Reduce speed to medium and add vanilla extract
  4. Add eggs in 2-3 additions, mixing thoroughly after each and scraping down sides
  5. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture in 3-4 additions, mixing until just incorporated
  6. Scoop batter into pan and smooth top
  7. Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes
  8. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Pick up by parchment paper to remove from pan, and let cool completely on wire rack. Gently remove paper when cool and transfer to serving platter.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. Mix together sugar, cream cheese and butter on low speed until well blended, then increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed. Add more milk or sugar as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
Train Cake Tips
  • This was the first time I used parchment paper for a 9 x 13 pan, and it worked great! No fear of breaking the cake upon “unmolding.” I’m a convert.
  • Use a very sharp knife to cut pound cake, and don’t get too fancy!
  • A “crumb layer” of icing is absolutely essential. I just covered the cut cake with a thin layer of un-colored frosting.
  • Yes, I used standard food colorings for the icing, I admit it.
  • I used chocolate Twizzlers, M & Ms, E.L. Fudge cookies and a German black-liquorice-and-chocolate gummi (yum!) to decorate the “train.”
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Simply amazing cookies

What more can I say? These cookies are incredible. Amazing. Worth getting fat for. Almost impossible to stop at one. You’ve been warned.

Very Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 1/3 C butter, softened
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 C flour
  • 1 C oats
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 12 oz. chocolate chunks
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate chips
  • 8 oz. white chocolate chips
  1. Combine first five ingredients
  2. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients
  3. Mix dry ingredients with butter mixture
  4. Drop by large spoonfuls (golf ball-size) onto cookie sheet, slightly pressing down each cookie in the center
  5. Bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven, then remove to racks to cool completely

“Brown Velvet” Cheesecake

When life gives you really crappy chocolate cookies, make really fantastic chocolate cheesecake. Well, at least that’s my motto of the week.

Now to begin with, you may wonder, is there really such a thing as a crappy chocolate cookie? Sadly, yes there is, and they were lurking at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in the guise of great-looking cookies. My husband and I bought a stack of them and brought them home with the rest of our treasures, looking forward to breaking them out after dinner. And when we did … they were tough, excessively crumbly, and strangely lacking chocolatey goodness. Boo! We barely made it through one, but never a family to throw out food, we simply closed up the bag and tucked the rest of the large, homemade hockey pucks into the pantry.

Then one night as I tried to rest my weary mind, I was hit with inspiration! Of course, those mediocre cookies would make a exceptional crust. And an exceptional crust deserves an outstanding topper; cheesecake would fit the bill nicely. This time, I decided to expand my cheesecake repertoire with a Red Velvet Cheesecake recipe.

However, upon reading up on Red Velvet recipes, I was floored by instructions calling for 2 ounces of red food coloring. Um, I don’t think so, I’ll live with a not-red, Brown Velvet Cheesecake!

Crust

  • 2 cups finely ground cookie crumbs of your choice (chocolate graham cracker would work well)
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1/4 C butter, melted

Cake

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1/2 C milk + 1/2 T vinegar OR 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 t white vinegar

Directions

  1. Mix together cookie crumbs and brown sugar. Add melted butter and mix well.
  2. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes; cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar.
  4. Add beaten eggs, about 1/4 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Add cocoa, sour cream, milk + vinegar or buttermilk, vanilla and vinegar; mix well.
  6. Pour batter into prepared crust and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cheesecake looks almost set. After cheesecake is cool, cover and chill in the pan, in the refrigerator overnight.

Five vaguetarian slow cooker meals!

Being a “crunchy” mom can be challenging. Washing diapers every other day; taking multiple unpaid breaks from work for well over a year to pump milk; making a healthy breakfast and lunch every morning to send to daycare, rather than just letting a child eat the free, government-provided meals of chicken nuggets, fish sticks and the like; making a healthy dinner for the family almost every night instead of relying heavily on prepackaged or take-out meals: crunchy moms certainly don’t make the choices we do because they’re easy.

While making healthy and earth-friendly choices is important to me, but it can also be time-consuming. And time is something that is at a premium in my life, as this summer, I will be the working mom of two little ones, and I will continue to be our household’s #1 cooker, baker, cleaner-upper of everything, dish-washer, laundry-washer, etc. So, making dinner every single night will likely not be in the cards.

As a result, I’m presenting 10 recipes for slow-cooker freezer meals: dinners to prepare, freeze, and then toss in the slow-cooker several hours before dinnertime. Because I am not a die-hard vegetarian, there are meat-based recipes in the mix — these feature vension, which can easily be swapped out for any other meat you prefer, or omitted entirely. I have not made these recipes yet, I am simply providing them as a reference for you, and for myself! I’ve seen ideas like this on other blogs before, but usually with only 2 or 3 recipes, or broken links to recipes, neither of which are very helpful to me. Original sources for the recipes are provided, although I have tweaked most of the recipes featured below. Any feedback is most welcome!

Generally, for the recipes below, dump everything into gallon freezer bags, shake them up, seal, label and put in the freezer. To cook, take bags out of freezer and set on the counter for about 30 minutes, then dump contents of bag into your slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. See each recipe for specifics, as some have ingredients that are added at the end of the cooking time.

1. Stephanie’s Goulash

  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 2.5 cups coarsely chopped bell peppers
  • 2 cups of carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 pounds venison meat, cut into one inch cubes
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 4 teaspoons Hungarian paprika or regular paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 cups hot cooked noodles
  • 1/2 dairy sour cream

Omit last two ingredients from freezer bags. Cook the noodles separately, the day of cooking, and garnish with sour cream.

2. Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

  • 1 (19 ounce) can black bean soup
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar chopped tomatoes in puree
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) can vegetarian baked beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained or 2 cups frozen corn

Combine all but last four ingredients in freezer bags. When the cook time is almost complete, add the last four ingredients to your slow cooker.

3. Chunky Corn Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup chopped baby carrots
  • 2 (15.25 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained or 4 cups frozen corn
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley

Combine all but last three ingredients in freezer bags. When cook time is almost complete, whisk together the flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk in a bowl. Stir the mixture into the soup, and continue to simmer until the soup has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley before serving.

4. Slow Cooker Pepper Steak

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 large bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar stewed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cube beef bouillon or 3 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put all but last three ingredients into freezer bags. When putting the frozen ingredients into the slow cooker, mix the bouillon cube or alternative with hot water until dissolved, then mix in cornstarch until dissolved. Pour into the slow cooker with other ingredients.

5. Moroccan Stew

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into chunks
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 1 can/1 cup chopped tomato
  • 2 cups carrots
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Combine everything except broth; add that the day you cook it. Serve with couscous.

 

Happy Halloween!

When I was a kid, my mom would make us a special treat for Halloween: a large, round brownie, frosted and decorated to look like a jack-o’-lantern. This was exciting for several reasons: we didn’t often have “sweets” in our home, and I was a sugar-fiend; we got to help with the decorating, which meant gorging on as many candy corn and M&Ms as we could shove into our mouths; and, it looked cool.

This year, for the first time, I decided to make my own. However, there was no prerequisite pizza pan with a short “lip” at the store, so I had to improvise and, rather than one large “pumpkin,” make two smaller ones in two glass pie pans.

In addition to the aluminum, lipped pizza pan, the original “recipe” (which I believe was clipped from a Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1984) called for M&Ms, Chuckles and candy corn atop an orange-frosted brownie. My brownies feature white chocolate chips, and I used a cream cheese frosting, but overall, I stayed quite true to the original. Enjoy your Halloween!

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Oatmeal Cocoa Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did you ever bite into what you thought was an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, salivating with anticipation, only to discover that those “chocolate chips” were … raisins?! That might be great for some people, but I am not riding the white flour-butter-and-sugar-laden cookie train just to arrive at oats and raisins. But I do absolutely love a fresh, homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and so does my husband. Last night, he requested a dose of homebaked comfort, but couldn’t decide whether the aforementioned cookie would ring his bell, or if it was a chocolate cookie he craved. No problem, we can have the best of both worlds. I threw together this recipe, and proved it.

  • 1 C softened butter
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 3/4 C cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 C regular oats
  • 16 oz. chocolate chips (I used half dark chocolate chips and half semi-sweet, with a few additional white chips for garnish)
  1. Combine first four ingredients, beating well.
  2. Mix together all remaining ingredients except chips, then stir into butter mixture.
  3. Mix in chips.
  4. Bake 9-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. So good!

New Mama, New Baby banana bread

My family was recently blessed with two new babies within a month of each other: my brother and his wife welcomed their second little girl, and my husband’s brother and his wife celebrated the arrival of their second boy.

Since both of my sisters-in-law are smart ladies who know all about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, this loving act is a priority for each of them. But to successfully breastfeed, it’s important for new moms to enjoy plenty of nourishing food, something that’s easier said than done with a newborn babe, another little one to run after and a household to try to maintain.

To that end, I baked up a loaf of nutritious, delicious bread for each mama and her family. I concocted the recipe to include breastfeeding-friendly ingredients to support them in this venture as best I could. Oats, flax seed and brewer’s yeast are all traditionally thought to help increase milk supply. Nuts and whole wheat flour boost protein intake, and chocolate, well that just catapults this rich bread to a whole new level of deliciousness. Of course, though this bread is made with a breastfeeding mama in mind, it’s so yummy that every member of the family will be hacking off hearty slabs.

Selah and Nolan’s New Baby Banana Bread

  • 1/2 C unsalted organic butter
  • 3/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 2 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 C whole wheat flour (can use 1 C whole wheat and 1 C white flour for a lighter texture)
  • 1 1/2 C oats
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2 T milled flax seed
  • 4 T brewer’s yeast
  • 1/2 t salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 3/4 C chopped pecans, walnuts or other nuts
  • 1 C dark chocolate chips
  1. Cream together first five ingredients.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients.
  3. Add dry ingredients  to banana mixture.
  4. Pour into two greased loaf pans and bake 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, or until edges and top are set. Cool 10 minutes in pans before turning out onto racks to cool completely.

Gingerbread rockin’

Moist, decadent and great with beer

I’m a big fan of making up my own recipes, because I get to combine several of my favorite things into one creation. Christmas is the traditional time to enjoy gingerbread, which I love. I also happen to adore chewy, robust molasses cookies and craft beer. So let’s put them all together and top them off with spiced cream cheese frosting, shall we?

This layer cake incorporates the zing of both ground and fresh ginger, a hearty helping of molasses and one cup of dark beer. As for which to use, choosing the beer is half the fun, so I’ll leave that up to you. I used a homebrewed porter, but any dark ale will do. To accent the flavors of brown sugar and molasses, if you’re from Michigan you might try Scotty Karate from Dark Horse. Dragonmead’s Under The Kilt Wee Heavy would also fit this bill. Whatever you choose, seeking out an ale brewed in your region will bring some local flavor to your cake.

Wassail! Gingerbread Ale Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1/4 t ground cloves
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 C unsalted butter (omit pinch of salt if using salted butter)
  • 1 C dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 t minced fresh ginger
  • 1 C molasses
  • 1 C scotch ale, stout or porter
  • 1 C chopped pecans, optional
  1. Whisk together dry ingredients (first seven ingredients).
  2. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Add minced ginger and molasses and blend well.
  3. Alternately add dry ingredients and beer to butter mixture, about 1/3 at a time until finished. Stir in pecans if desired.
  4. Pour batter into two buttered 8” round cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes in a preheated 350 oven.
  5. Allow to cool about 20 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely on racks.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 C butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 C crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)
  1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter.
  2. Mix in the vanilla and spices, then gradually stir in the sugar as needed until desired consistency is achieved.
  3. Center one cake on plate or cake stand; frost top with 1/3 of frosting.
  4. Top with other cake, frost top with 1/3 of frosting and then frost sides with remaining frosting. Finish with crystallized ginger if desired.

The Absent Hostess … or the Night Before the Next Morning

How to be a good host when you won’t actually be at home with your guests? That’s the quandary I recently ran into, which I solved with a simple dish: oven-baked french toast. This is a do-ahead treat that you can assemble the night before, pop in the fridge and simply slide in the oven the next morning, with your eyes still half-closed, as the coffee perks. It would work equally well as a hearty hangover breakfast, prepared long before the makings of the hangover are even underway. Whether or not I’ll be imbibing, I’m thinking this will become my new New Year’s Day tradition. In any case, I’ll fall asleep with sweet thoughts of the custardy breakfast bliss that awaits.

Oven-Baked French Toast

  • 1 loaf soft-crust Italian bread
  • 1/2 C butter, melted
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 C 2% milk (use 4% for a richer dish, or go all the way and use 1 3/4 C cream, eliminating the ingredient listed below)
  • 1/4 C half and half
    1. Combine butter, spices and brown sugar in shallow bowl. Briefly dip each piece of bread in butter mixture, using a pastry brush or your hands if necessary to slather each side.
    2. Transfer each piece to a buttered 9 x 13 glass pan, packing tightly and making two layers of bread.
    3. Beat together the eggs, milk and cream, adding in any remaining butter mixture, then pour evenly over prepared bread.
    4. Cover and let sit in the fridge overnight.
    5. Bake 25-30 in a preheated 375 degree oven and enjoy with Michigan maple syrup.

      A mouthful of Thanksgiving

      It’s hard not to love Thanksgiving. This time-honored American tradition is, at the heart, still actually about gathering with family and being thankful. Though there’s no shortage of cartoony turkeys or plastic-leaf garlands on the market, it’s difficult to sully this day with cutesy characters and commercialization. Yes, there are probably special ingredients to buy, and in larger quantities than usual, but that’s all just leading up to the opportunity to relax, enjoy each other and partake of a butt-kicking feast.

      So how about an ultimate dessert to contribute to this feast? Well, since the beginning, or almost the beginning, of the Thanksgiving tradition, pumpkins have been part of the celebration. We’ll start with that. My rule for desserts is usually chocolate, but since chocolate and pumpkin may not be the ultimate pairing, make it cream cheese. Hmmm, sounds good, but we could probably tip the scales of decadence with nuts and caramel. Might as well. And just a regular crust won’t do, it needs to stand up to the filling and accentuate those pumpkin-pie spices. Gingersnaps, of course! OK, sounds like we’ve got a winner.

      Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake with Pecans, Caramel and a Gingersnap Crust

      Crust and Caramel

      • 25 gingersnaps, crushed (about 1 1/2 C)
      • 1/2 C finely chopped pecans
      • 1/4 C butter, melted
        1. Mix above ingredients and press firmly onto bottom and 1″ up sides of a greased 9″ springform pan.
        2. Bake 10 minutes in preheated oven (350 for silver pan, 325 for dark nonstick). Remove and let cool.
          • 14 oz. caramels, unwrapped
          • 5 oz. evaporated milk
          • 1/2 C chopped pecans
            1. Microwave caramels and milk until combined, stirring often.
            2. Pour mixture over crust and sprinkle with pecans.

              Cheesecake

              • 4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
              • 1 C sugar, divided
              • 1 t vanilla
              • 4 eggs
              • 1 t cinnamon
              • 1 t nutmeg
              • dash ground cloves
              • 1 C canned pumpkin
                1. Beat cream cheese, 3/4 C sugar and vanilla until well blended. Add in eggs one at a time while blending
                2. Remove 1 1/2 C batter and combine with remaining 1/4 C sugar, spices and pumpkin
                3. Spoon 1/2 of pumpkin batter onto caramel, top with plain batter, and repeat. Gently swirl with a butter knife for a marbled effect
                4. Bake 45-55 minutes in preheated oven (see above for temperatures). Cool completely, then refrigerate before serving.