Monday, April 30, 2012

puffle cupcakes--guest post by bonnie @ inspiring pretty

i have been so excited about my oldest son’s birthday this year. birthdays are always fun, but this year he changed schools. why does that matter, you ask? only because his old school forbade any homemade goodies of any kind. and for a mama who sometimes bakes just to pass the time, this was almost sacrilege. so when we began school shopping, imagine my delight when I found out that our school of choice not only allotted time for classroom birthday parties; but they also allowed you to bring in any kind of treat you desired.

i wanted to make something special, but i didn’t want to go overboard for a bunch of second graders who don’t know the difference between marshmallow and meringue. aiden (the birthday boy) and I decided to do hostess throwbacks in chocolate and orange. his class is really into club penguin, so we went with a puffle theme.

i settled on a few batters from the sky high cakes cookbook. i chose vanilla buttermilk (and added orange extract) for the orange cake, and chocolate butter cake for the chocolate. the chocolate batter called for brewed coffee, which i was pretty sure the other parents wouldn’t appreciate, so I subbed it with hot cocoa. then i chose smitten kitchen’s seven-minute (aka, marshmallow) frosting as a filling and a swiss meringue buttercream frosting to go on top for its pipe-ability.

they were a LOT of work (if i never beat another egg white to stiff peaks again, it will be too soon), but they were spectacular. and the look on my sweet 8 year old’s face when he got to hand them out coupled with one of his classmates exclaiming, “i wish we lived next door to you!” made it all worth it. 
p.s. i halved the batter recipes, so they each yielded about 15 cupcakes.

orange buttermilk batter

2 whole large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoon orange extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with liners.

place the eggs and the yolks in a medium bowl. add the orange extract and 1/4 cup of buttermilk. whisk well and set aside.

combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a mixer; whisk to blend. add the remaining 1 cup of buttermilk and the butter to the dry ingredients and blend together on low. raise the mixer to medium speed and beat until light fluffy, about 2 minutes.

add the egg mixture in three additions, scrapping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Don’t over mix.

fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then pop them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

chocolate butter cake batter

1 cup flour
1 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup hot cocoa, cooled to room temperature

preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with liners.

in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, and salt on low speed until combined. add the butter and buttermilk and mix on low until moistened. raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

whisk the eggs and hot cocoa together in a bowl, and add to the mixer in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition.

fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then pop them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

seven-minute frosting

5 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs whites at room temperature
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

whisk first five ingredients together in a double boiler. To do a make-shift one, place a metal or heat-proof glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl. beat the whites on low speed until the mixture reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. do not stop beating while the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked.

beat on high speed for exactly five minutes. remove the bowl from the skillet and add vanilla, beating on high speed for two to three more minutes to cool.

swiss meringue frosting

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
20 tablespoons butter, softened (2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

beat butter in a stand mixer until light an fluffy.

whisk egg whites and sugar together in a double boiler. whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers, a minute or two.

remove from heat and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. be sure to mix long enough for it to cool completely.

add the vanilla.

finally, add the egg mixture to the butter and whip, whip, whip.
do not worry when this takes a while to come together. it can take up to 15 minutes, but it will come together. beating the butter ahead of time should reduce this problem, but you still have to whip it good. qlso, if you add the eggs while they are still warm, they will melt the butter and you will basically be out of luck, and $4 worth of butter.

to assemble:

several pastry bags with tips (in my experience ziplock bags will not suffice. the seams always seem split when any pressure is applied.)

miniature marshmallows, two per cupcake

black writing gel

fill a pastry bag fitted with a small, pointy tip (the design doesn’t really matter) with seven-minute frosting. push the point into the center of the cupcake and gently squeeze filling into the middle. you will see the cupcake start to expand, so stop short of it actually exploding.

separate the swiss meringue frosting into several bowls, one for each different color you want to do (we used four). mix desired amount of food coloring into each one. spoon about 1/3 on each color into its own pastry bag fitted with a star tip, or any tip that you think would make good looking hair.

frost the cupcakes with a knife or offset spatula in your different shades. flatten marshmallows into between clean fingers and place two in the center of each cupcake.

use black writing gel to draw a pupil on each marshmallow and a mouth below the marshmallows.

pipe hair onto each cupcake with the matching color in pastry bag.

keep cupcakes refrigerated until serving.

bonnie blogs at inspiring pretty along with lindsey and claire. it's a home for everything women care about. from recipes to weddings and spirituality to raising a family, we are here to share our lives with you and make yours prettier. our motto is 'a pretty home, a pretty faith, a pretty life'. born just outside chicago, illinois and raised in the mountains of colorado, bonnie found her home in southern california alongside her husband and three little boys. when she’s not cleaning up after all four of them, helping with school projects or making fabulously healthy dinners and scrumptious desserts, she enjoys being outdoors, a good cup of tea, writing and giving design advice to anyone who’ll listen. you can also find them on facebooktwitter and pinterest.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

diy: tissue paper pom-poms

diy tissue paper pom-poms

i made and hung these fun and festive tissue paper pom-poms in the trees for my kiddos train-themed birthday party. i originally got the idea from the fabulous martha stewart, of course. they are *super* easy to make and added to the ambiance of the backyard celebration. 

here is what you will need:

tissue paper (20 inches x 30 inches). Choose one to three colors, or similar shades of the same color, to keep things from looking like a circus.


monofilament: aka fishing line (photo below of the one i found at a local sporting goods store that worked well).

wire. white, if you can find it. i couldn't and ended up opting for a thin wire that i was able to find at home depot instead of the traditional floral wire. worked like a charm.

stack four to eight the sheets of paper on top of one another, depending on you puffy you want them to be. i ended up using 10 for each one to make the large and puffy enough to work in the trees.

now, fold the sheets into 1.5-inch accordion folds, all the way across.

cut the ends of the tissue into round shapes, to give them a petal-like look.

cut about a foot and a half length of floral wire.
wrap the wire around the center of the folded tissue and secure it by twisting.

now the final part! pull apart each layer, separating it from the center one piece at a time. do this slowly and carefully. you don't want to rip the tissue paper.

measure the length you'd like to hang your pom pom from and cut a piece of monofilament accordingly.

knot the monofilament to the floral wire and hang!

i actually wish that i had made even more to fill the trees and maybe to hang from the porch, so don't be shy......make more than you think you will need.

i think that they turned out so cute. what do you think?

Monday, April 23, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: pesto burgers

this recipe combines two of my loves...homemade pesto (store bought works too) and a delicious burger. while today's weather on the east coast doesn't exactly scream "grill out," save this recipe for a sunny day and enjoy!

pesto burgers

two pounds ground sirloin

1/2 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs

1 egg

1 cup pesto sauce

olive oil

hamburger buns

fresh mozzarella-sliced

slices, fresh tomatoes

1/2 cup mayonnaise

mix the ground sirloin with the bread crumbs, egg, and 3/4 cup of the pesto. form into patties and cook in a heated pan coated with olive oil, flipping burgers halfway through cook time.

while burgers cook, toast both sides of buns on a heated grill pan. mix the mayonnaise and the remaining pesto and spread the mixture on both sides of the toasted bun. top with the burger, a slice of fresh mozzarella and some tomatoes. enjoy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

the best things about giving birth...

i have just recently had my fifth baby. yep, you read that right, five pregnancies, five labors, five deliveries, five hospital stays. i've given birth on both coasts and in south america. i think i'm almost an expert at this point. i'm not quite a *duggar*, but i've had my share of birthing experiences. so, here's my *letterman* top ten things about giving birth...only it ended up being 15 things...oh well.

15) losing cankles: i got to the point where i retained so much water that my feet were unrecognizable. in the hospital, i started to see the bones in my feet again. what bliss.

14) increase in bladder size: i am always amazed that as soon as that baby is out, i am able to go more than an hour in between each trip to the bathroom. it's amazing what normal bladder capacity really is...amazing!

13) you're expected to be in your pajamas...all day: there's no guilt. no one thinks you're a slob. in fact, most people will think you're an overachiever if you get *out* of your pajamas during your stay. when is that ever going to happen again? enjoy it. two to three pajama days in a row with no judgement...i'll take that!

12) meals will be brought to you in bed: again, when does this ever happen in real life? i may get a meal on a mother's day or your birthday brought up to your bed but chances are, i'll eventually get down to the kitchen where some of the mess will be waiting for me to clean up. not in the hospital. someone will bring you a hot meal, you'll get to eat it in bed and then someone will come and pick it up for you. no cleaning, no prep, just food. i don't care how bad the hospital food might be, i consider it a little gift.

11) you can request things, and someone will find a way to bring it to you: i always requested an after giving birth meal from my husband. i didn't get to eat during labor and delivery and i'm always starving. cost and inconvenience is pretty much not a factor after i've pushed a baby out. i go for it. usually when placing an order, my husband will mention that i've just had a baby. we get lots of desserts for free.

10) friends will come and hang out...and sometimes bring starbucks: when was the last time you had hours of girl time to chat? when was the last time you had more than one girlfriend come by and see you in one day? here's your chance. you can sit and chat to your heart's content. if they know you well and can bring you some liquid caffeine, all the better.

9) nurses are on call 24/7: post delivery nurses are pretty amazing. i'm pretty low maintenance with them in the hospital (again, not a novice here) but still, i know what to ask for. need to take a shower? a nurse will take your baby. need a little sleep? a nurse will take your baby. need a refill on your gigantic water bottle? a nurse will run and get that for you. they are like highly skilled and knowledgeable magic fairies.

8) gigantic water cups with straws: i don't know why i love these so much but i do. they are huge and oh so handy. if they made them so they would fit in the cup holder of my car, i'd be carrying one around everyday.

7) unlimited shower time: did i mention that a nurse will take your baby so you can shower? there is no time limit. i've never run out of hot water in the hospital. you can sit there forever. not only that, but after your shower, you have time to blow dry your hair...and put on make-up. you probably won't have that luxury for a very long time once you leave the hospital. don't miss it while you are in there. bring an extra deep conditioning treatment. exfoliate. shave both legs on the same day. go crazy.

6) internet access: most of the places where i've delivered have had wifi. this is fabulous. want to post your new baby to facebook? go for it. want to catch up on current events? it's right there. wanting to watch a show? pull it up on your laptop. again, this leisurely time is limited in the future. might as well enjoy it in the hospital.

5) catching up on all the shows you want: there is a lot of time spent lounging in the hospital. i usually hit a redbox on my way in and get a couple of movies to watch. i also pay for hulu plus for that hospital stay. all the shows you want are just a click away. when do moms ever have a chance to sit and watch tv shows? in the hospital you can watch as many as you may want...all day long.

4) napping in the middle of the day: go for it. you can nap at any time of the day and it is expected of you. there is no need to think about all of the things you could be doing while the baby is sleeping. nope, while the baby is sleeping, you get to sleep. when the doctor comes and takes the baby to check out, you get to sleep. any time of day, it doesn't matter. now that's something i could get used to.

3) taking, uploading, and sharing photos...all in one day: i hate to admit it but i've gotten worse with the photo taking with each child that has gone by. the only time this isn't the case is when i'm in the hospital. i can snap away at my little angels, load the pictures onto my computer, post them, make albums, share with my family. i'm like a picture taking guru laying in that hospital bed.

2) drugs: i take drugs. i take them during labor, they stay in there during delivery. i take some more after delivery. this last baby, i took a two hour nap while i progressed from 4-10 centimeters. thank you, drugs. thank you.

1) time to hold your baby: the number one best thing about giving birth? without a doubt, it's getting to hold my baby. at home, things pull me away from my little angel. like it or not, i have to put them down and get some stuff done. the survival of the other kids depends on it. in the hospital, i can hold my baby as long as i want. none of the other things compare.

what did i forget? how about you? what was the best thing about giving birth?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

diy: happy birthday balloon wreath tutorial

we used this balloon wreath on the front door to welcome guests at the boys birthday choo choo train party. it was simple to make and i know that it will be a fun, festive tradition to hang it on the door around celebrations for years and years to come.

supplies needed:
straw wreath (you pick the size in relation to your front door). remember that the bigger the wreath, the more balloons you will need. (note: do *not* take the plastic off the wreath or it will shed).

floral greening u shaped pins you can find them in the floral section of your favorite local craft store (i got these at michael's).
9" laytex balloons--i used around 12 packs of 25, but the amount that you use depends on the size of wreath that you use and how full you want the wreath to look.
take balloons and pin them into the straw wreath. i pinned them two at a time. simply put the balloons in the middle of the u shaped pin and stick tightly into the straw wreath. 

make sure balloons are close together to avoid any gaps.

line entire front, inside curve and outside rim of the wreath with balloons.

this only takes a few hours (yes, hours. i know....not *crazy* fast....but not so bad either). i made mine while watching my favorite shows at night after the kiddos had gone to bed (and there my or may not have been a few glasses of red wine involved). it was fun, is simple, beautiful and will be around for years and years of celebrations to come.
share with us photos of your finished creation--we would *love* to see it! are you on pinterest? follow us and we wold love to follow you back. (we are borderline obsessed with pinterest. is there a 12 step program for pinterest addiction?)

Monday, April 16, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: chicken parmesan burgers

spring is in the air and i am loving spending some time outdoors. all this warm weather puts me in the mood for some outdoor food. so, in honor of the beautiful weather, here's the first of our favorite burger ideas. come back over the next few mondays for more burgers that will please even your most picky eaters. enjoy!

chicken parmesan burgers

2 lbs. ground chicken
3/4 bag frozen, chopped white onions (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cups italian bread crumbs
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh basil - minced
3/4 cup grated parmesan
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup marinara sauce
hearty hamburger buns
romaine lettuce
fresh mozzarella - sliced
extra marinara sauce

mix the ground chicken with onion, 1 teaspoon fresh basil, 1/4 cup grated parmesan, 1/4 cup marinara sauce, and garlic. season with salt and pepper. set aside.

in a shallow dish, mix the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons minced basil, and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese.

coat a grill pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. form the chicken mixture into burger patties. dip each patty into the bread crumb mixture until coated on each side and place into the heated pan. cook about five minutes on each side until cooked thoroughly.

top each patty with a slice of fresh mozzarella. spoon marinara sauce on each side of the hamburger bun. add a piece of romaine lettuce and your burger patty. enjoy!