Sunday, October 26, 2014

Frozen Party on a budget

Every parent wants to give their child lasting, happy, childhood memories. Creating the perfect birthday party is unattainable, yet something most of us try every year. It always goes the same way. You scour over a guest listed and hope that at least half will RSVP (but in this day no one does and it's irritating), then you shop, decorate, and create party foods that all tie in to your little ones theme perfectly. You may spend days, or weeks on something that is over in the blink of eye. You may stay up late making every little detail count or spend countless dollars on catered food or elaborate cakes. While I'm in the business of selling cakes, I'm also the first to limit how much I spend. I say pick one thing you can't live without and invest. For everything else, go to the Dollar Tree.

I have always kept my girls' guest lists to a minimum. My family tends to enjoy themselves better when they can concentrate their attention. Plus, I hate crowds :-P This also helps the pocketbook. A good rule of thumb is to invite as many guest as your child is in years. 5 years old  = 5 guests.

When it comes to decorations, I always look around the house to see what I can transform to fit our theme. If I have to buy something, I try and make it something that I can re-purpose.  For my daughter's Frozen party, we used Christmas decorations. The few I did buy, were from the Dollar Tree.

The food is all stuff that is quick, easy, and inexpensive. Most kids aren't going to go for fancy hors de oeuvres and you certainly don't need to feed them a meal....they have parents for that.  Pretzel rods and marshmallow pops dipped in white chocolate, carrots, candy in our theme colors, popcorn, and the cake. Done. Minus the cake, that was all $5. The real trick is to see what's on sale and how you can make it work. I just renamed all the snacks.


Believe it or not, this cake was simple. It was frosted in blue icing. I just used a round tip to make icicles around the top. The snowflakes are white chocolate. I simply taped a piece of parchment over a template I printed off of the internet and used my piping bag to pipe the melted chocolate over the lines. Then I topped it with mini dolls and an inverted glass bowl to give it a snow globe effect. The dolls were also a gift, so I wouldn't include that in the cost. I found the bowl at the Dollar Tree. If you can't afford to hire someone like me to make you a cake, this is a viable option. There are a ton of ideas on the web. When all else fails, just Google it.

I had to include the black and white because it made the snowflakes on top stand out.      
There are a ton of games that you can look up online and modify to fit your theme too. Think outside the box. I took a few well known games and gave them a wintery makeover. Instead of pin the tail on the donkey, we played pin the nose on the Olaf. And instead of making TP wedding dresses, we built snowmen.We even guessed how many jelly beans were in the jar with candy that I had already purchased for the party.

A bit blurry, but you get the idea.
Sometimes, having a great AND inexpensive party takes a little time. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time between researching ideas and trying to execute them properly. In the end, it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be fun. No matter what, it will be a special day for your little one. Do you have other tips and tricks for a great party? Please post some below!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Homemade wheat thins

I have had this recipe in my file for years, so I have no idea where it came from. I have made them and I can honestly say they do taste like wheat thins. So next time you are having people over, forget running to the store for a quick appetizer. These take only minutes to assemble and bake. Serve with fruit and a cheese tray and impress your guests! You could even cut them out in cute shapes or with fluted edges for that extra wow factor.



1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
 1/4 teaspoon vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
2. Add the flour, sugar, salt and paprika to a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the bowl.  Using a pastry blender, mix the butter into the dry ingredients thoroughly.  Combine the water and vanilla in a small measuring cup or bowl.  Add to the butter/flour mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms. If the dough is still dry, add a little more water.
3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered with a towel so they don't dry out.  Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin and roll the dough into a large rectangle.  Lift the dough and turn it as you roll to ensure it's not sticking.  You want to roll the dough as thin as possible, try to make sure it's 1/16-inch thick at most.  If you want all of your crackers to be perfect, trim the edges of the dough so you have a rectangle with even sides.  Use a pizza cutter to cut the rectangle into squares about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide.
4. Transfer the dough squares to the prepared baking sheets. You can place them close together because they will not spread.  Sprinkle the squares lightly with salt.  Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.  Save all of your scraps under the towel to keep the dough from drying out; re-roll them all at once to create a final batch of crackers.
5. Bake the crackers, one sheet at a time, until crisp and browned, about 5-10 minutes.  Check the crackers at 5 minutes, and if some of the thinner ones are browning too quickly, remove them from the oven.  The crackers can burn quickly so you want to keep an eye on them

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meatball Soup

I love fall and winter in Colorado. I hate hot weather so temperatures under 70 degrees are just right for me. I especially love making soups regularly. A bowl of soup, a fresh, hot hunk of bread, and a cool evening sound heavenly to me.

During the cooler months, I like to send my kids to school with soup in their thermos' to warm their bellies. It can be surprisingly quick to send a hot meal to school with your kids. It takes very little prep work to make soup in about 10 minutes.

My girls' favorite soup, which they call meatball soup, is basically Italian Wedding Soup. Chicken broth, short cut pasta, mini meatballs, and spinach (or other greens). I make the meatballs ahead of time and freeze them. So all I am doing in the morning is bringing stock to a boil and tossing in pasta, meatballs, and a veggie. I'll give you one of my recipes. I have several meatball recipes, but this is a good soup meatball and, if you make them bigger, they go well with spaghetti.

1 lb ground turkey
1 lb mild Italian sausage
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 TBS milk
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp Italian seasoning (sometimes I do fresh herbs if I have them)
salt and pepper, just a spidge (that's an actual cooking term)

Start by soaking the bread crumbs in milk, until it is all absorbed. Moisture is key in meatballs. You can see by the photo that I used panko style bread crumbs. They can create a super crunchy crust if you are making a breading. In this case, they swell up like big fluffy snowflakes. You can certainly use regular bread crumbs, or make your own by grinding up a few slices of bread in a food processor.

Next, mix everything together in a big bowl. Much like a quick bread, mix just until combined. More is not better here. The more you mix, the tougher your meatballs will be.
Then I use a small ice cream scooper to portion the meatballs. This one holds about 1 tablespoon. For the soup I actually cut this portion in half so that my girls don't have a huge mouthful at school. For spaghetti, I make them twice this size.
I scoop all of them out first. Then, with wet hands (so the meat doesn't stick) I roll them into itty bitty meatball perfection. Then place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until they are browned. That is for the tiny size. For a whole scoop, I go about 18 minutes, and the large size take about 30 minutes.
At this point, I let them cool. Then freeze them individually and put them into a big ziplock bag for storage.

The day I want to make soup I bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Then add a handful, literally not figuratively, of a short pasta, like stars, letters, bowties... to the pot. Cook it per the package directions which is probably 8-10 minutes. Halfway through. I had 8-10 meatballs and some chopped spinach or kale. This makes 2 servings for a tiny thermos.

I like keeping meatballs in the freezer for just such an occasion, or making a quicker meal out of spaghetti and meatballs. There are a million meatball recipes and even more things you can do with them. You can change the meat to whatever is on sale. The spices can be changed to get a different flavor profile...think Asian, or Mexican. You can even just heat them and eat them as is! So make them soon. Then some morning when you just don't know what to send the kids for lunch...while the toast is toasting, make soup!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cakes and Bakes

I have not been a faithful blogger. I get busy, just like you, taking care of my home and my family. I typically forget about myself. Two things I really love doing for Tiffany are being in the kitchen and writing. In an attempt to do just a few things for myself once in a while I am converting Tiffany's Cakes to Cakes and Bakes. I want to tell you about more than just cake.

Previously I had two blogs, neither of which got my full attention. My hope is that by combining the two, I can post more frequently. Sometimes about cakes, sometimes recipes. I may even throw in some home keeping ideas, and frugal living tips too. Cause that's how I roll.

For my first new post I want to talk about getting your kitchen ready for Fall and Winter by not canning. Something I don't make from scratch is peanut butter. I tend to buy the 16 oz jars. When they go on sale, ounce for ounce they are cheaper than buying it bulk...seriously, look into it. Needless to say, we have plenty of plastic PB jars lying around.

After I clean them out, I use them to store homemade stock, jams and jellies, sauces, and leftover whey from making cheese (which I sub for buttermilk in my biscuits). Then I freeze them since plastic cannot be canned. If I didn't use these item up quickly, I might can them. However, I use stock almost daily and my family plows through PB&J sandwiches as if they had lifesaving powers. The jars stack easily in my freezer, already have lids, and are basically free. In case some of you didn't think of this: let your food cool a bit before putting them in plastic jars. I have melted a few personally.

*You can make freezer jam, but I prefer the taste and texture of regular jam. It is a matter of preference.

My peanut butter jar filled with apple jelly next to a glass canning jar.
Stay tuned for fun recipes, tips and tricks, and cakes!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lemon Bars

I tend not to share dessert recipes. It's just my thing. If you have my recipe then you have no reason to buy my goodies. I probably wouldn't care as much if I didn't rely on selling at least a few treats a month to help feed my family.

However, no one local seems to order lemon bars. I used to sell my semi-famous, slightly tart and sweet, squares of deliciousness on very regular basis when I lived in Oregon. There is something about Coloradans making them impervious to the power of my lemon bars.

In light of this revelation, I have decided to post my recipe. It was adapted from an Ina Garten recipe that I found some time ago. I truly only made one change, but for me, it makes all the difference. I use some, not all, bottled lemon juice. I prefer it because the acidity level is constant and gives that tartness that I dig. Fresh lemons vary on the sour scale. I have also found that using a different sized pan, doesn't work. You'll end up thin, gummy bars. These are supposed to be thick, rich, and have a creamy lemon layer. Enjoy!

For the crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the lemon layer:
6 large eggs
 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (3 or 4 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (just juice the ones you used for zest and fill in the rest with bottled lemon juice)
1 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar.

 Then dump in the flour and salt and mix just until combined.

Press into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. I like to line mine foil so that I can pull the whole thing out of the pan, it makes for easier cutting once it is fully baked and cooled. It bakes for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the top is lightly browned.
In the meantime, ready the lemon layer.

See, I really do put some in.
Beat the eggs and sugar, until it gets light yellow and fluffy. Then mix in the lemon juice, and then the flour.
Last, I don't turn the mixer on, but still use the beat to gently mix in the zest. Turning the mixer on will create too much force and entangle the zest around the beaters. Then you'll spend a bunch of time picking it off. TRUST ME!
The original recipe says to let the crust cool before pouring in the lemon, but I never do. You'll bake the whole thing again, for another 30 minutes, or until the middle is no longer jiggly. Just to clarify, I mean the middle of the lemon layer. Baking this will not make your middle un-jiggle.
When it's done, the top will have a crust. Let it cool completely. Then dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. I go for 16, but feel free to make them larger or smaller.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Home

Did you know that a well known mega-chain coffee shop, the pumpkin spice lattes are chock full of fat, calories, and, should you choose to order them with non-dairy milk, they aren't vegan!? That's right, the PSL concentrate has milk in it. Even a tall, which is actually small, PSL with skim milk and no whipped cream has 200 calories, but even worse, 37 grams of sugar, that's about 3 tablespoons in a teeny 12 oz cup. Imagine what you get with 2% milk and whipped cream.

Normally, I would order a PSL without hesitation. However, I happened to have some leftover pumpkin puree after making muffins so I thought I'd create a homemade version of the classic fall drink. It just works out that it is also lower in fat, calories, and sugar.

For one latte:

2 oz espresso, or strong brewed coffee
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon real maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
6 oz milk of your choice (I use cow's milk, but feel free to experiment) heated and frothed

You simply mix all of the ingredients into your favorite mug and garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you like it sweeter, you can add a few drops of stevia or a little more syrup. This was perfect for me. You can also make a big batch of concentrate to keep in the fridge. Just don't mix in the dairy or coffee. Do that fresh for the best flavor. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cream cheese sugar cookies

I know that some people enjoy crispy cookies. I am not that person. I long for chewy, soft, and flavorful cookies. I am also not a person who eats store-bought cookies, unless they happen to be Oreos or Girl Scout cookies. But that's another story.

Here in Colorado, it can difficult to make a chewy cookie. The dryness in the air literally pulls the moisture from your baked goods. Please know that it may not be your baking. You could be a fantastic baker, but will fail in Colorado without making adjustments to your recipes.

With that said, I want you to take my sugar cookie recipe. These cookies, if baked properly, should stay chewy for about a week...if they last that long. There is not a magic time that I can list because it really depends on the size and shape of your cookies. Also, this recipe is for rolled and cut cookies. They won't spread or flatten out in the oven.

2 cups softened butter
2 cups sugar
8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
4 cups of flour

Cream together butter, cream cheese, sugar, extracts, salt, and egg. Then gently mix in flour. Refrigerate dough for at least two hours. Seriously, don't skip this step. If you do, the cookies will spread too much and come out crunchy.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and bake at 350 degrees until the bottoms are barely browned. Then remove from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to finish cooling and then store in an air tight container. You can frost them if you wish or drizzle with melted chocolate, but they are also great plain.