Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rainbow Cake

So, last post I was telling you about how I was going to make THE Rainbow Cake to celebrate the last week of school. 

Well. It's official.

The Rainbow Cake ROCKED. IT. OUT.

It took some time, but really, it was quite simple to make.

I used 2 boxes of regular white cake mix, but I'm sure you could get all fancy and make some really delicious cake. I might do that next time. But for our first go round,  I wanted it as easy as possible.

I just made the batter according to the directions on the box.

I used this Wilton icing color gel. I got mine at Walmart for $1.50 each. It was a baking investment for that price, but I can probably get at least a good 4 or 5 more Rainbow Cakes out of them.

And technically, when you are photographing your color gel, Ella says you should arrange them into a happy face, like so:

Miss Ella and I had fun while we made the cake batter and separated it not-so-evenly into 6 bowls. Then we added about 1/2 teaspoon of gel color per bowl. Supposedly the two boxes of cake mix should divide into about 1 1/2 cups of batter per bowl. Our purple layer ended up much bigger than the others, but purple is Ella's favorite color, so it worked out well for us.

Ella is the stir master!

We baked and we cooled (in two batches because even though I bought two brand-spanking new cake pans for this endeavor, that only brought my cake pan ownership up to a whopping four pans).

See how big the purple is? I tried to cut the rounded tops off all the layers to make them flatter and more layer-worthy, but our purple layer was still huge. And, also, my layers were never actually layer-worthy. Not straight AT ALL I tell you!

I assembled and frosted. I also tried to do that trick where you place pieces of wax paper underneath the edges of your cake before you frost it. And then, when you're done frosting, you pull the paper out and your plate is all sparkling clean and frosting free. Except I placed a couple of the pieces of wax paper too far in and the whole purple layer tried to escape when I tried to pull the paper free. So I had to hold the bottom layer in place and get frosting all over my hands while trying to rescue the wax paper.

Note to self: Try not to be an idiot.

And then I frosted some more. I used this buttercream recipe because I had never made buttercream frosting before and it sounded yummy and easy. And it was, but I had to double the recipe, and even that wasn't enough to frost every layer and the entire outside of the cake, soooo.... Every time I took a bite I was thinking about the 4 STICKS OF BUTTER that I used. Next time I'll try something else.

Peyton and Ella were in charge of the sprinkles, so most of those either got dumped on the cake or were rolling willy-nilly on the table and onto the floor.

Ten seconds worth of sprinkling:

And then the sprinkle pour and pat down technique:

Then we stuck it in the fridge until after dinner.

Isn't my new platter adorable? I won it in a giveaway from Ampersand. I love it!!!

Back to The Cake!

I was excited, because I've never made a 6-layer cake before, and apart from it being semi-naked from lack of frosting, it looked nice from the outside. And when I cut out the first slice OH MY GOSH! I was jumping up and down and squealing with joy!

It's so beautiful and rainbow-y!!!

And James and Peyton and Ella were as thrilled as I was! Even though Peyton and Ella helped me make the cake, they were still totally in awe of their fantastically skilled baking mama. And even though it took absolutely no great baking skills, I will take all the kid admiration I can get. I love this cake!

My sweet family has declared that The Rainbow Cake needs to be a new Last Day of School tradition.

I'm in!

Oh Rainbow Cake, how I love thee.

Thanks for rocking it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Things

1. Squirrel Bird Gets a Vase

I spent $2 on a Michaels' grab bag. I'd like to say that it was money well spent. But really it was money spent on a bunch of crap I gave immediately to Goodwill. So I guess it was like I donated $2 to charity. Do I get karma points for that? Probably not.

Anyway, one of the things inside the bag was this cute little vase. We'll call it the $2 vase, shall we?

I'm not the biggest fan of Words in the Home, if you know what I mean. So I primed it, painted it, used some leftover supplies from my Kitchen Memo Board to fancy it up a bit, and gave it to The Keeper of the Cook Books as a peace offering.

Everyone needs a little kitchen mascot! Mine just happens to be a fat little squirrel bird. I love him.

2. A Happy Meal Tradition.

Is it a tradition if this is only the second time I've done it? Anyway. My kids love Happy Meals. We very rarely go to McDonald's, maybe once every couple months, so Peyton and Ella think it's a super special treat.

So here's what I did. I packed Peyton a lunch, like usual, and sent him off to school. At lunch time, as his class walked out of the classroom to get their lunches, I was standing outside with a Happy Meal and a chocolate shake. When he saw me, I said, "You don't need your lunch box today, kid!" His face lit up and his friends gathered around, "You're so lucky!" "What toy did you get?" "So cool!" and he was a ROCK STAR! It was so awesome. His happiness totally made my day.

But here's where I'm really patting myself on the back. Before Peyton's lunchtime, Ella and I went to the McDonald's drive-thru and ordered two Happy Meals - plain hamburgers, french fries, chocolate shakes please, one is for a boy and one is for a girl, thank you very much. We paid for them, got them, and headed off toward Peyton's school. Halfway down the street I thought, maybe I should just double check the order. I looked inside the Happy Meal boxes and they had given me two girl toys. My heart races just thinking about it. Can you imagine? My son's friends all gathered around him and his Happy Meal to see what toy he got and he pulls out a freakin' Liv Doll? Instead of turning my kid into Rock Star For A Day, I could have doomed his whole educational career. The horror! Say goodbye to him having friends and play dates. Say goodbye to good grades and self-esteem. Say goodbye to college. Say hello to jobless 40-year-old son living in my basement. So we rushed back to McDonald's, exchanged the loser-making doll for some sort of Pokemon dragon thing, and still made it to Peyton's school by lunchtime. Score! I dodged a bullet on that one. Lesson learned. ALWAYS check the Happy Meal.

3. She's Hilarious:

4. Bad Words in 1st Grade

Peyton: "Gavyn, in my class, calls his brother bad words!"
Me: "Oh yeah? Like what?"
Peyton: "He calls him the F word and the ST word!"
Me: "Shut the front door! What?"
Peyton: "You know, Freak and Stupid."

Sweet sweet little sweet.

5. Rainbow Cake

I'm not a baker. I bake on occasion, but it kind of bores me. When I bake I feel trapped by the recipe because I'm supposed to add Exactly This Much of something and Mix the Dry Ingredients separately and Bake At This Magical Temperature. I think measuring is for sissies, I mix all the ingredients in the same damn bowl, and I don't like being bossed around by a 3 x 5 card with a picture of Fresh From The Oven Pies on it. I want to punch those pies in the face.

I like regular-non-baking-type cooking because once you get the basics of cooking down, you are totally the boss of whatever recipe comes your way. Recipe? I don't need no stinkin' recipe!

HOWEVER! I will be making THE Rainbow Cake to celebrate the last week of my kid's school. This Rainbow Cake had better look awesome because I've been planning on making it for months. I decided to make it for the end of school because that seemed so far away at the time. Now that far away time is tomorrow. You know when you feel like you need to do something just to say that you did?

Some random person will say, "Yeah, so, I'm going to make a Rainbow Cake for my kid's birthday."
And I'll lean back all nonchalant-like and flip my hair back without even using my hands and say, "Yeah, so, I totally already made one. Because I'm more awesome than you."

I'm pretty sure it's going to be exactly like that.

This Fantastical Rainbow Cake had better Rock. It. Out.

Squirrel Bird, lead the way!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day Frame 2011

It's time to make Father's Day Frames! This is our third year making them and it's really fun to see how Peyton and Ella's decorative choices are evolving as they get older. You can see our frames from 2009 and 2010 here.

I love this project. It's fairly simple and definitely homemade looking. No fancy-schmancy nonsense here. This is Pure Kid Art.

Here's what you'll need:
Card Stock
Crayons or Markers
Mounting Squares (optional - you can just as easily use tape)
6 Paperclips
Letter Templates or you can make your own letters

For the previous frames, I had strongly urged Peyton and Ella to use crayons. Because if you use markers, sooner or later the paper will start to curl at the edges if you don't properly back it with stronger paper.  My years as an elementary school teacher have taught me important things such as these. Imagine 35+ art pages curling away on a bulletin board and driving me bananas. But Peyton and Ella REALLY wanted to use markers, and I let them be the bosses of this project, so there you go. Marker kicks Crayon's butt every time.

I'm going to show Ella's creative process for this one, but they each actually made their own this year. That's a big step in our little world!

So we printed up the letters on white card stock. Ella colored happily away with her markers and then she cut out the Y. She wanted me to cut out the rest.

She picked out 10 of her favorite Ella and/or Daddy pictures. We printed them up in 2x3 inch size. You don't need 10 pictures, but it's good to have an assortment when you're trying to puzzle them into the frames of the letters. 

We fit her pictures into the letter frames and taped them into place. She also wanted her letters framed with rainbow colors. So she chose her own colors and then decided which color should frame each letter. I cut them out and stuck them in place with mounting squares. 

Peyton wanted to keep his plain, so I just backed his with leftover white card stock to protect the letters from curling.

I overlapped the letters a little and attached them with mounting squares. I used the bottom edge of a piece of paper as a guide to make sure I was attaching them in a straight line. 

Here's the back:
I opened up the paperclips and Ella taped them into place.

So here is Ella's Father's Day frame:

I love all the colors in her frame! And I like that she had me cut the hole in the A a little larger so that it could fit two pictures. Clever girl!

Peyton and Ella both wanted hearts and little note on the back of their frames, just like last year. So we did a little more cutting and coloring and mounting squaring: 

And here is Peyton's Father's Day frame:
I love his super awesome marker skills and all the color he used.

And the back of his frame:

I'm so proud of my kids! I love their frames and I know James will, too!

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tortilla Soup

This is the best tortilla soup I've ever had. Look at it! It's amazing.

The original recipe is from Rachael Ray, but I've tweaked it a little over the years anyway, so now I'm semi-claiming it as my own. 

Yum Yum! Here we go!

Tortilla Soup

Vegetable oil, for drizzling, plus 2 tablespoons
3 ears corn on the cob
1 red bell pepper, split and seeded
2 or 3 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
Salt and pepper 
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium yellow skinned onion, chopped 
3 cloves garlic, chopped 
1 to 2 chipotle in adobo peppers, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes, 28 ounces
1 can tomato sauce, 8 ounces 
3 cups chicken stock

A note about the ingredients: 
I usually double up on the ingredients to make a huge pot of soup. I would like to say that it freezes well, and I'm sure it does, but ours never lasts long enough to freeze. It's soooo good!
Usually I'm lazy and use frozen corn.
If you don't have any poultry seasoning (I rarely do), you can use McCormick Grill Seasoning or any other salty seasoning mix you like.
A can of chipotle peppers will cost you a couple dollars. Whatever you don't use in this recipe can be frozen in an airtight container forever. One can usually lasts me several recipes. And don't be afraid of the chipotles! If you don't like spicy food, just add one.They add a wonderful deep, smoky flavor.
If I have any tomatoes on my counter that are a little on the soft side, I'll chop those up and throw them in. And sometimes I use a large can of tomato sauce. Because I'm a loner, Dottie, a rebel.

Garnishes (It's ALL about the garnishes BABY!):
Homemade tortilla strips 
Shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
Sour cream
Chopped cilantro
Diced avocado
Pickled jalapenos
Brown rice, prepared

A note about the garnishes:
I always make my own tortilla strips for this. Not because I'm awesome, although you know I am! but because they're really easy and super delicious!  You can use regular tortilla strips, but then you might as well add a cup of salt to your soup. The homemade kind are so flavorful and you get to decide how salty you like them. You can see how I make mine here.
A long, long time ago I was a server at The Cheesecake Factory for something like 7 years. I learned a lot about cooking working there! We always served our tortilla soup with a little bit of rice at the bottom of the bowl, so that's how I do it (of course, they used white rice, but that's okay, too). 

Make it:
Heat a grill pan to high and a soup pot to medium high. Drizzle oil on corn and place on grill. Add red pepper to grill with corn. Char vegetables 10 minutes, total, turning occasionally. Remove to cool, 5 minutes. Remove charred skin from the pepper. (Sometimes I skip this step and saute the raw chopped peppers with the other vegetables. And I throw in some frozen corn later on with the tomatoes, tomato sauce and stock.)

While vegetables cook, dice chicken. Add 2 tablespoons oil to hot soup pot. Add chicken to pot. Season with poultry seasoning, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. 

Lightly brown chicken on each side. Add zucchini, onions and garlic and chipotle peppers. Cook vegetables with chicken 5 to 7 minutes to soften. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and stock. Bring soup to a bubble, reduce heat to medium low.

Scrape corn off cob and add to soup. Chop grilled red pepper and stir into soup.

Top with your favorite garnishes.

Do you make your tortilla soup differently? I'd love to hear about it!



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