Spiced fudge

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I know posts have been sparse lately. Preparation for the holidays, recovery from the holidays, and the simple fact that it’s winter have made it hard for me to give two shits about the blog. I feel like I’ve been in a constant fight to stay awake for the last few weeks. My brain has also been extremely foggy, making it virtually impossible to make good words for those things that put good words together for the looking at words by the people. But I’m sitting on something that makes my body like an L and those pointy things on my hands are touching those squiggly things that make words. And I can’t close my eyes for sleepybys because I have to go see the lady who will fix the seeing part on my face because something is stuck and it gives me the ouchies. So let’s talk about yummy chocolate squares I make during the cold time, when people put up green, pointy triangles and blinky, shiny things.

(No, my fog isn’t that bad. But I did have a meltdown because I couldn’t remember what to call gelato bowls. So that was fun.)

Cookie-making is a big deal in my family. It was a fun tradition my siblings and I had with my mom every Christmas, and it’s a tradition I’m passing on to my girls. I feel horribly that I didn’t manage to make as many Christmas cookies as I normally do. I still have all the ingredients. Peanut butter kiss cookies in May? Why not?
One of the desserts I did manage to make was fudge from the recipe my mom gave me. It makes a lot of fudge, it’s edible straight out of the freezer, (and sometimes is even better that way) and it’s perfect for a nice, homemade Christmas gift for someone. A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to give the fudge some more dimension. I took my cue from the ancient Mayans and added spices, specifically cinnamon and cayenne. It gives the fudge a nice kick and dials down the sweetness so you don’t immediately go into a sugar coma. I put in the amount of spice that makes me happy, but you may certainly adjust the recipe to suit your taste.

Spiced Fantasy Fudge
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into chunks
2/3 cup (5 1/3 oz) evaporated milk
1 12 oz pkg milk chocolate chips
7 oz marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a 2 1/2 qrt heavy saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat to medium and continue to boil, stirring constantly, for approximately 5 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 234 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Pour into a large bowl and add the marshmallow creme, vanilla, and spices. Beat the mixture until well-blended. Pour the mixture into a 13×9″ pan/dish. Cool at room temperature.

Once set, (it will take a few hours to overnight) slice into cubes. For less mess, easier slicing, and better structural integrity, freeze before slicing. Fudge is best stored in a zip top bag in the fridge or the freezer.

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Gingerbread TARDISes are cool!

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Before August 2014, I was just a woman with friends who obsessed and squeed over Doctor Who.  I didn’t understand what it meant when someone said that David Tennant was their favorite Doctor.  I had no idea that I could possibly be even more spooked by statues.  And I only had a vague idea as to what a TARDIS was.

Once I finished watching the entire Star Trek: TNG series, I decided that all my geeky friends must be on to something and decided to try it.  I was instantly hooked.  I loved the wit with which each episode was written.  I loved that Rose wasn’t just an along for the ride, do what you’re told, sort of girl.  I loved the jovial snark that hid the deep anguish of Christopher Eccleston’s Time Lord.  It’s probably a good thing that Mike wanted to watch with me, otherwise I would have binge-watched the whole series.  (As opposed to finishing it in 2 months.)

Last year, I made gingerbread houses from scratch for the first time.  I wanted to do that again this year, but change it to something more interesting, more challenging.  A gingerbread Hobbit hole!  Sensing inevitable scream-crying of epic proportions because of such a difficult undertaking, Mike suggested something “easier”: a gingerbread TARDIS.  OF COURSE!  How could I have not thought of a gingerbread TARDIS?  And, as I’m wont to do, I spoke the words that always lead to my doom: How hard can it be?

When I began this blog, I promised I would share triumphs and failures alike.  I’ll call this one a hybrid of the two.  A failumph.  The pieces baked, (my rectangles were 5×9″) well, though not as straight as I would have liked.  The real challenge was getting the royal icing the exact shade of blue befitting a TARDIS.  I had leftover royal blue gel food coloring from Zoe’s 1st birthday cookie monster cupcakes, so I just used that.  
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More accurately, I should say that I just used half a pot of the food coloring, plus some black.  Safe for consumption, but not guaranteed to not turn your liver blue.

Some things I learned
I try really hard, and I know a few things about decorating, but I am by no means proficient at it.  Each horrible-looking project is another chance for me to learn something new to forget about the next time I decorate.  The first thing that I should have done differently is the size tip I used to outline each rectangle.  It was way too big.  Rectangles, that pretty much fit together before they were iced, didn’t fit together properly because the large lines of icing bumped against one another.  It’s part of the reason why I was only able to put together two pieces of the TARDIS.
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The second thing I learned is that, while royal icing is shelf-stable for several days, colors will change.  In this case, the blue became much darker.  It did, however, allow me to learn royal icing surgery.  It finally occurred to my foggy-headed fibro brain, to simply add the white icing to the deeper blue icing in order to achieve the original TARDIS blue I had created.  I would need to remove the dark blue cross pieces from the front panel.  There may be a much better way to do this but, what worked for me was to simply use a food-grade brush to wet the portions of icing that I wanted to remove, and then use a serrated knife to chisel away the unwanted blue.  Once the areas were level with the rest of the panel, I could go over the same areas with the correct color blue.  Water was also an effective tool for spreading icing.  It allowed me to move the icing, which was beginning to harden, to the places I wanted.  I basically painted the crosspieces on with thick icing.
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Remedy less murdery than the Sisters of Plenitude.
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The third thing I learned may seem completely stupid, but I found a way to intersect lines without making them cross.  Crossing any lines always leads to an unwanted bump-ups where they cross.  Rather than crossing them, I soon learned that I should be making L shapes.

I learned that painting with icing and making hundreds of dots can be really therapeutic.  I decided to make the inside of the TARDIS. It’s much more difficult on the inside. Using what I had on hand, I did my best to make the goldish-brown interior walls of 9 and 10’s TARDIS.  (Mostly because that was going to be infinitely easier than attempting 11’s.)  It was a little too yellow, so I painted over it with really watery brown icing.  It gave the brown color the walls needed, without obscuring the gold underneath.  Later I sprayed the insides with edible glitter.  I feel a little bad that I didn’t outline the circles with hexagons, but I felt that would have been obsessive.
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Edible markers are your best friends! Especially with a project that required fitting so many squares and rectangles on the pieces, it was a relief to have edible markers to mark where the ruler said lines should go.  The outside panels weren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than what they would have been, had I just been eyeballing it.

The controls
For funsies, I wanted to see if I could make the TARDIS controls with what I had on hand.  It was supposed to be my gingerbread house, so why not use candy?  The base was 4 gingersnap cookies iced together, with the two on top and bottom cut out into oval shapes.  The center tower is made of mini gumdrops, a peppermint round, and M&Ms.  It’s absolutely horrible….and I love it.

Sometimes you gotta laugh
It’s safe to say that my TARDIS did not turn out the way I had envisioned.  I put a lot of work, care, and attention into this thing, and it came out mediocre, at best.  (And no, I’m not fishing; I know what the final product looks like.)  So, when pieces began falling off and breaking and the panels wouldn’t fit together, I couldn’t help but just throw my head back and giggle hysterically.  I joked that it could just be the TARDIS that Vincent Van Gogh painted.  Ultimately, I had a much better idea*.
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*I’m aware it’s the wrong TARDIS for blowing up.  Just…just…okay?

Pumpkin spice and brown sugar creme brûlée

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A few years ago there was a run on cans of pumpkin at the grocery store. For some reason, it was just gone. I learned my lesson and made sure to stock up on pumpkin well in advance of pumpkin season. So I have a fair amount of pumpkin sitting around, waiting for some baking love. I also have a brûlée torch sitting around, waiting to set sugar in fire. The obvious solution was to make pumpkin creme brûlée.

Creme brûlée is one of those dishes that sounds really difficult because of the fancy name, but is pretty easy to put together. It’s a great dessert for dinner parties, as you can bake and chill the custard ahead of time, and then just caramelize the sugar as people are finishing their dinner.
As the custard baked, I realized that I’d probably be content to bake this just for the smell. Breathing in the spices will make you feel like you’re being enveloped in a warm hug. The spices do not overpower the dish, as so many pumpkin dishes are wont to do. The finished custard is creamy, but light, and the crunchy brown sugar adds a punch of smoky flavor.

Pumpkin spice and brown sugar creme brûlée

Ingredients
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light/golden brown sugar
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups heavy whipping cream
8 tablespoons raw sugar or light/golden brown sugar

Heat 12-15 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Preheat oven to 325°F. Whisk pumpkin, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar in large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla, then spices and salt. Bring cream just to boil in medium saucepan. Gradually whisk hot cream into pumpkin mixture. (You’re tempering the eggs, or slowly adding the hot cream, so as not to cook the eggs.)

Divide mixture among eight 5×1-inch ramekins*. Divide ramekins between 2 large roasting pans. Add enough hot water to pans to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake until custards are just set in center, about 35 minutes. Chill custards until cold, about 6 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

ETA: I found this makes for a better crust- remove custards from the fridge for 30 minutes prior to torching. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon raw sugar over pumpkin custard in each ramekin. Using kitchen torch, melt sugar until deep amber. (Alternatively, use broiler. Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with brown sugar [not raw sugar] and melt directly under broiler until deep amber.) Refrigerate 15 minutes to allow sugar to harden. Allow creme brûlée to sit for 5 minutes before digging in.

*You can use 3 inch diameter ramekins with 1 1/4 inch high sides. Bake for 50 minutes. If you want to make a thicker custard, lower the cooking temperature to 300 degrees and cook for a longer time.

Recipe via Epicurious

Flatbread S’mores

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In the past, I have professed my love for s’mores. So I was delighted, to the point of squealing schoolgirl, when we had dinner at Bonefish the other week and they had s’mores flatbread for dessert. Both girls, particularly Zoë, were going a bit nuts by the end of dinner. So I ordered dessert to go.

Getting the girls to bed was a bit trying, so I was really looking forward to rewarding myself with dessert. I skipped into the kitchen and found this waiting for me.
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Henceforth known as Bird Poo Surprise

Doesn’t it look like a bird took a giant crap on the plate? Who thought it was a good idea to serve this to anyone? The flatbread was flavorless and chewy and the Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread was lost in a puddle of overly sweet, melted marshmallow fluff. And I really don’t get the tiny little bit of brown. Were they trying to reinforce the bird poo effect by only caramelizing that one spot? Irritated, I sat there nomming on the flatbread, because it was there, and wondered what I would do to make this better. I needed to avenge my mouth and pocket of fat that was headed straight for my ass. I needed gastronomical justice!
It’s a thing, okay?

From the bottom up
The first thing that needed to be addressed was the flatbread. It was too thick, which caused me to have to use a knife to eat the dessert. The only time a dessert should ever require the use of a knife is to cut a piece of cake, pie, etc. The bread was also in desperate need of some flavor. Once the chocolate and marshmallow melted away in your mouth, all that was left was the taste of oil and flour.

Next, I needed the chocolate to not be a pussy and stand up for itself. If you can barely taste chocolate in anything s’mores related, you’ve done something wrong. I also wanted a way to fix the problem of the cloying sweetness.

Finally, the marshmallow. S’mores, in my opinion, are all about a perfectly toasted marshmallow. Get it wrong, and you may as well have an angry German slap it out of your hand into the fire and shout, Wieder!* For me, the marshmallow needs to be complete melty gooeyness encapsulated in brown, crisp, tenuous burnt sugar. Melted marshmallow bursts as you press it between the graham crackers. Shards of the caramelized sugar crunch as you bite into the s’more, adding smokey and buttery notes to your messy dessert.

Did I just write marshmallow porn? I think I just wrote marshmallow porn.
…..aaaaaaaand, after doing a quick Google search, that is apparently an actual thing. ……………. Ahem!

Flatbread S’mores
Cinnamon Flatbread
For the flatbread, I used this recipe. Since the flatbread from Bonefish was so bland, I wanted to make sure that this bread was flavorful, but would also play nicely with the other flavors. I used a roasted cinnamon, which had a robust flavor and an almost spicy quality to it. The thinner the rolled out dough is, the more likely the bread is to crisp up. If the finished product isn’t the desired level of crispness, or even after the bread has been sitting for a few days and needs to be revived, just pop slices into the toaster oven and toast like regular bread. Make sure the dough has come up to room temperature before trying to roll it out. If it’s really difficult to roll it out and the dough draws back in after each roll, it’s not ready. Let it warm up some more and try again.
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Cherry Chocolate Sauce
I decided to make the chocolate component a cherry chocolate sauce. The tart, almost sour, flavor of the cherries help to balance all the sweetness. Bites of cherry also add some texture.

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Ingredients
1 lb fresh cherries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream

Stem and rinse cherries. Place cherries in a pot with a wide bottom. Add water to the pot, just enough to cover the cherries. Over medium-high heat, bring cherries to a simmer, and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover the pot, and allow cherries to sit for an additional 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove cherries to a separate bowl and allow them to cool.

Remove lid from the pot and bring liquid from simmering the cherries to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and allow the liquid to simmer, reducing down to approximately 2 Tbsp of liquid.

Once cherries are cool enough to handle, remove pits. I used a paring knife and cut the cherries lengthwise down the middle, separating the sides. Gently remove the pit by prying it loose with your index finger and thumb.
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To make the sauce, combine chocolate chips, cherry liquid, and heavy cream in a small pot. Over medium heat, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly. Remove from heat once the chocolate is just melted and allow to cool until slightly thickened. You may mix the cherry halves into the chocolate or serve separately.

Vanilla-Bourbon Marshmallows
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I used this recipe for the marshmallows. If you’ve never made marshmallows before, do not be intimidated; it’s easier than you think. A couple things for these particular marshmallows: When the instructions say to mix until you have thick ribbons, this is what you’re looking for.
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Secondly, I would suggest letting them sit for 8 hours or overnight. While the recipe says four hours is the earliest time you can remove the marshmallows, I still found the mixture to be gooey and not entirely set on the inside after 5-6 hours.

These marshmallows are delicious, especially once I set the brûlée torch on them. They are full of sweet, vanilla flavor and finished off with just a hint of spicy bourbon. If anything, my complaint would be that I wished for more bourbon flavor. I do like bourbon flavor, or a well-mixed Manhattan. I tried to taste the bourbon I used straight so I could describe the flavor. Unfortunately, this was basically my reaction.
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Someday I’ll figure out how to embed GIFs.

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Mike wanted to take a picture of the dessert, bathed in bourbon light.

The result? It was scrumptious! I still don’t know that flatbread beats the trusty graham cracker in terms of a delivery method, but it does make it prettier. I practically had to stab Mike to get him away from it once he had tasted it. And really, isn’t needing to stab someone the best indicator of having done something right?

*Again

Chocolate sauce recipe adapted from Food 52.

Blackberry mojito lemonade tea

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Normally I’m not a huge fan of the Arnold Palmer, iced tea mixed with lemonade. But I became slightly obsessed after trying the blackberry mojito lemonade tea at Starbucks. Sweet blackberries, tempered with the sourness of lemonade, all grounded by the earthiness of tea. And just for an extra kick to make this drink unforgettable, a light, natural mint flavor suddenly appears, leaving your mouth refreshed and tingling.

After having a couple of them, I decided that I could make my own at home. I had made flavored lemonades before, so I knew it would be simple. All it would require is some muddling and the right balance of flavors. I feel like this was a great success. I’m also happy to tell you that it’s quite a lovely cocktail with some vodka mixed in. I know fall is coming but it’s still hot here, (94 with a feels like of 101 today.) So this drink is still perfectly lovely for the time of year.

Blackberry mojito lemonade tea
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Ingredients
24 oz by weight blackberries
1/2 – 1 cup fresh mint
64 oz lemonade (I used Santa Cruz organic lemonade)
1 1/2 – 2 cups brewed mild-flavored tea, cooled (I used English Breakfast)

Bring 12-16 oz of water to a boil, (8 oz per tea bag.) Once water has reached a rolling boil, turn off the heat and submerge the tea bags in the water. Allow tea bags to steep for approximately 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and allow the tea to cool to room temperature.

In a large pitcher, muddle together the blackberries and mint. (You can use a large spoon or, in my case, I used a mallet. *shrug* It works.)

Add lemonade and tea to the muddled mixture. Stir and refrigerate for two hours. The longer you allow the ingredients to hang out with one another, the better flavor you’ll have.

Pour drink mixture through a fine mesh sieve before serving.

Enjoy!

Rachael’s Frozen birthday party: Doing what frozen things do in summer

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We decided on a Frozen theme for Rachael’s birthday party this year because we knew no one else would be throwing a Frozen party and themed party supplies would be readily available and not marked up.

But seriously, we knew we wanted to have her party at our local community center/pool. It is inexpensive, as venues around here go, (did I just refer to it as a venue? Wow; that’s obnoxious) it had plenty of room, and Rachael adores swimming. The angle was along the lines of Olaf wanting to do what frozen things do in summer.
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You’re Invited!
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I couldn’t buy the ready-made invitations where you just fill in the blanks. First of all, that would be too easy and not cause anyone angst or heartburn. Secondly, none of the invitations out there fit with the theme. All of them had either Anna or Elsa or just Elsa posing like the menacing snow sorceress she is. Oh, and there were the invitations which included Hans, standing all happy with the group. My reaction was, Um, have you seen the movie?

My approach to the invitations was to include the colors associated with both sisters. The blue, textured paper and the fuchsia ribbon are similar to the colors of Anna’s winter outfit. The snowflakes, of course, are linked to Elsa. I used a snowflake punch to create the three light blue snowflakes. I added a jeweled snowflake on top to create some dimension and sparkle to the snowflakes. And, of course, Olaf had to be included on the invitation.

Make with the cupcakes, lady.
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We all know what kids look forward to the most at any birthday party: the cake. I decided to go with cupcakes for the sake of simplicity. I had no desire to pretend that I have the skill with fondant that others have or pay for and post on Pinterest. It’s also easier to make enough to accommodate a large group of people.
Rachael had specifically requested chocolate cupcakes. I also wanted to have vanilla for those who don’t like chocolate. I decided to use the chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart that I used for Rachael’s 2nd birthday. Besides being one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had, it’s so easy! It’s a one bowl recipe; mix the dry ingredients together, then dump in the wet ingredients and mix until combined. No creaming butter with sugar. No adding the flour and milk alternately in three additions.
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For the vanilla cupcakes, I used Old Faithful. Rachael requested that they be blue. I did a trial, layering different shades of blue. I wasn’t entirely a fan of the look, so I decided to just stick with one shade of blue.
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This is why we do trial runs, kids.

I felt like the final products turned out delicious and beautiful. Everyone seemed to agree.

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Vanilla buttercream and Sixlets

I also made some fondant snowflakes to garnish some of the cupcakes. The kids really loved them. One of the girls asked me, before we had pizza, if she could have one with the snowflake. The great thing about them is that they look so complicated, but they couldn’t be easier.
I purchased a set of four stamps from my local candy store, Fran’s Cake and Candy. This is the set I used. I simply rolled out white fondant to no more than 1/4 inch thick on a surface dusted with cornstarch. (You can also use powdered sugar. I’ve found that cornstarch gives a better non-stick result.) Dust stamps with cornstarch as well. Press down the spring-loaded button, hard, to stamp. While pressing the button, push the cutter portion into the fondant and wiggle it until the shape comes free. If the fondant remains inside the stamp, pressing the stamp button will release the shape. Allow shapes to air dry and harden.
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I wanted to add a little sparkle, so I used edible glitter spray. Make sure that when you use the spray, you cover the area around where you’re spraying. It does wipe off of surfaces easily, but it will fly everywhere.
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I wanna stuff some chocolate in my faaaaaace!
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Putting labels on everything seems to be a thing. I don’t mind it if it’s a sign card so people known what a particular food is but, otherwise, it just kind of annoys me. (The trends this year was to label carrots as Olaf’s Noses and bottled water as Melted Snow.) There is one bandwagon I jumped on, however, because it’s right in the movie. We needed chocolate truffles, and they had to be labeled!

Strawberry Cheesecake Truffles
The first set of truffles I made were Strawberry Cheesecake truffles. I did make one modification. I was disappointed by the lack of strawberry flavor in the original recipe. It just got lost in the cream cheese. So I added an additional 1 tablespoon of minced strawberries, and that did it. The sweet tang of strawberries burst through the richness of the cream cheese. The graham cracker crumbs added a nice, sandy texture.
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Lemon Chiffon Truffles
The next set of truffles could not be simpler, and they sound lovely and fancy enough for a royal ball.
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These truffles are creamy, yet light and refreshing because of the lemon zest. One recipe does not make very many, so I doubled it on the next go round. I found that the zest of one large lemon is still sufficient for a double batch.

Cookie Dough Truffles
Everyone loves cookie dough. I love the crunch of sugar mingling with the sweet dough and slightly bitter burst of the chocolate chips. I love it even more when I’m not risking salmonella poisoning from raw eggs. In place of eggs as a binder, this cookie dough truffle recipe uses sweetened condensed milk.
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If any of these truffles begin to soften while coating them in chocolate, stick the tray back into the freezer for several minutes. You can maximize your dipping time by waiting to pull your truffle filling out after your chocolate has melted and you’re ready to dip. Also, while you can melt your chocolate in the microwave, I found that using a double boiler helps to maintain melted chocolate. To dip, simply place the truffle filling into the melted chocolate. Use a fork or spoon to roll the filling around for even coverage. Retrieve the filling with a fork, and tap the fork against the side of the bowl or pan to remove excess chocolate. (I found that tilting the fork back and jiggling the truffle to around the center of the tines works best for maximizing the removal of excess chocolate while maintaining a stable surface on which the truffle sits while you tap the fork.) Using the blunt side of a knife, carefully slide the truffle onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Try to place the knife slightly under the truffle to slide it off. If a large amount of chocolate pools underneath the truffle, called a foot, then you have not removed enough excess chocolate. Don’t worry, though. You may gently snap off the extra chocolate once it has set. If you wish to add any decoration or pipe any chocolate onto the truffle, do so before setting the truffles in the refrigerator. Once the truffles have set in the fridge, you may store them in an air-tight container in the fridge or you may place them in a freezer safe bag and gently lay them in the freezer. I was relieved to find that these truffles could be kept frozen until ready to serve, so I could make them well in advance of the party.

A bit of a fixer-upper
The room we used for cake and pizza was the room in which Rachael had her gymnastics class, so I needed a simple way to bring in the Frozen theme that wasn’t just a plastic Frozen tablecloth and blue cupcakes. Clearly, recreating Elsa’s ice palace was out of the question, (although, given the time and resources, you bet your ass I’d have tried it.) The food table was going to be the best way to achieve bringing in Frozen elements in such a large room.

The Fountain
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I knew I wanted to recreate the fountain in the courtyard that Elsa accidentally froze, but I only wanted to give the impression of the fountain. I figured that would be a simple, yet dramatic, table centerpiece. I found this Sumbawa Grass at Michaels. I spray painted it a light blue, and then I accented it and covered any parts that I missed with white, multi-purpose craft paint. Once dry, (and they dried very quickly) I spray painted the pieces with glitter spray paint, which simply added some subtle sparkle. (And after smelling the glitter spray paint, I feel like I finally understand the smell of every vocal jazz singer and amateur, teen gymnast ever.) I found a great blue vase at Home Goods for $12! I filled the vase with glass accents I still had leftover from my wedding, making sure to add enough to that my pieces were secure and rising high enough beyond the rim of the vase. Finally, to add a bit more dimension and highlight the sparkle, I placed a bendable tree of LED lights in the middle.
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We didn’t manage to get a picture of it at the party, but we received many comments on how cool it was.

Signage
My husband, the comedian, is responsible for the next two decorations. He suggested that we place a sign on the table that said:

Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Snack Bar

He also said we should fill a bowl with Swedish fish and label it “lutefisk”. So we did. And it was awesome!
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Even though he has so many bad jokes and groan-worthy puns, he strikes gold every once in awhile.

Please enjoy this complimentary bag of stuff
While roaming the Pinterest to get favor ideas, (because I really hate giving people cheap crap that will either be thrown away or annoy the parents to no end) I found baked marble necklaces. Look it up. They’re really cool! But Mike was afraid that I’d go all Ralphie and put my eye out somehow. Fortunately, before I went and did them anyway, he came up with a much better idea: fire crystal necklaces. I’d be able to tie in the oft overlooked trolls, create something that was unique, and hopefully give the boys something that wouldn’t make them scrunch up their noses and say, That’s for girls.
I was able to find different types of crystals in the bead and jewelry aisles at Michaels. I used really thin elastic cord, (0.5mm) to string the beads because it fit through the thin holes in the crystals and would potentially lower the choking hazard risk for some of the younger kids.
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Printable tags

I was able to make the next favor on the cheap. Homemade play dough is easy and cheap to make, and it always a hit with kids. I found the recipe for this particular dough here. If you’re making dough from this recipe for a lot of people, I recommend doubling, quadrupling, (or more) the recipe. For those who have never made homemade glitter play dough, here are a couple tips.
1) Never walk away.
You do need to constantly stir, skim the bottom, and scrape the sides to avoid a burned skin forming. If you’ve ever made it, it’s kind of like making Cream of Wheat. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes for it to come together, so you won’t be stirring long.

2) Get it out of the pot quickly!
This dough came together almost instantly. One second it’s liquid, the next it’s a giant dough ball. Have a pan ready to dump the dough onto. The longer it stays in the pot, once it has come together, the more likely it is for the dough to change color and burn.

3) You’re going to need glitter. Lots of glitter.
I was surprised at how much glitter was needed just to make the dough mildly sparkly. I patted the dough to a medium thickness and covered the surface with glitter, (I used both fine white and blue.) Fold, knead, repeat. Continue until you reach the desired level of sparkliness. I suggest pulling a portion of dough off, forming it into a ball, and judging the sparkle level that way.
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Zoë enjoyed helping pat the dough. She played with it as I packaged it saying, “Look, mommy. Anna’s footprints in the snow.”

“But, Julie,” you say. “Don’t glittery things fall into the ‘will annoy the parents’ category?”
Not this dough. Once the glitter was mixed in, it did not get on hands, clothes, or furniture.

I had several empty baby food jars that I had saved for crafting purposes from when Zoë was a baby, so I decided to package the dough in those.
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Rachael said it was the best birthday party ever! I hope this was helpful in throwing a Frozen birthday party for your prince or princess, and that they say the same to you!

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Vanilla Scones

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I love how simple, yet elegant these scones are. They’re light and flaky, like biting into a puffy, vanilla cloud. Don’t mistake vanilla for boring and bland. With so many layers of vanilla flavor, that would be impossible. This scone is also adaptable for different vanilla-infused flavors. I’ve already adapted the recipe to make a vanilla orange scone, (coming soon.) Kids seem to love them, too. They were the favorite when we had friends over for brunch. Rachael and her friends loved them.

Vanilla Scones

Ingredients

For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp. vanilla sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. coarse salt
8 tbsp. (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
½ cup low fat plain greek yogurt

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4-5 tsp. milk

You will need to make the vanilla sugar several hours to two days in advance. The longer the vanilla mingles with the sugar, the more vanilla flavor will be imparted to the sugar.

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Split open and scrape the seeds out of one vanilla bean pod.

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Measure 1 cup of sugar. Add the vanilla bean and stir and massage the seeds into the sugar. Add and cover the vanilla bean pod to the sugar. Seal the sugar mixture in an air-tight container for several hours to two days.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, vanilla sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to blend. Add in the butter pieces and toss lightly to combine. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the largest butter pieces are the size of peas and the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk, vanilla and yogurt to the bowl. Mix together lightly with a spatula or fork until a sticky dough comes together. Very gently and briefly, knead lightly with your hands to incorporate the remaining loose flour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough out to approximately a 7-8 inch square. Fold into thirds like a business letter. Pat the dough out into a 5 x 10-inch rectangle. With a lightly floured large knife or a sharp bench scraper, slice the rectangle in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into 5 equal rectangles to make 10 scones total.

Transfer the scones to a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Bake, rotating halfway through the baking time, until golden on top and just set, about 12-14 minutes total. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.

While the scones are still warm, make the glaze. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean in a small bowl. Whisk in the milk a teaspoon at a time until you have a glaze that is slightly thick but pourable. If you accidentally add too much milk, stir in some powdered sugar until you achieve the correct thickness. Drizzle the glaze over the warm scones. Do not add the glaze to the scones right after they come out of the oven. The scones will be too warm to allow the glaze to set. Let set a few minutes before serving.

Recipe from Annie’s Eats