Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Ode to Valentine's Day

Just a few more weeks until the "loveliest" holiday of the year... Valentine's Day! To me, Valentine's Day is a day to show others that you care about them and that they are special people to you (of course, it's also about your sweetie!). Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share some neat ideas with you for Valentine's Day treats for your significant others, children, friends, and co-workers.

My personal favorite: Mini Heart Cakes (courtesy of Matt Lewis from Baked and Martha

Here's the recipe for the cakes:

Ingredients (Makes six 4-inch heart-shaped cakes)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup melted dark chocolate, for decorating
Speckled Cinnamon Frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, butter parchment, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, food coloring, and 1/4 cup boiling water. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and shortening on high speed until smooth. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cocoa mixture. Into another medium bowl, sift together flour and salt. With the mixer on low, add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until incorporated.
In a small bowl, mix together vinegar and baking soda until baking soda dissolves; mixture will fizz. Add to batter and mix until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking sheet, smoothing the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes, rotating pan after 10 minutes.
Cook cake completely on a wire rack. Using a 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out 12 hearts.
Place 4 strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy susan. Place 1 layer on the cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the cake; top with another heart, bottom side up. Cover entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and transfer to refrigerator for 10 minutes. Repeat process with remaining ingredients.
Remove cakes from the refrigerator and cover each cake with a generous layer of frosting, smoothing as you go around to create a flat surface.
Place chocolate in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip; decorate as desired.

Speckled Cinnamon Frosting

Ingredients (Makes enough for six 4-inch cakes)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Food coloring, in desired color

Whisk together sugar and flour in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add milk and cream and place over medium heat, whisking occasionally until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.
Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on high speed until cool. Reduce speed to low and add butter; mix until well incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and mix until frosting is light and fluffy. Add vanilla and cinnamon and continue mixing until combined. Add a couple drops of food coloring while continuing to mix, until desired color is reached. If frosting is too soft, chill slightly and then re-mix to proper consistency. If frosting becomes too firm, place bowl over a pot of simmering water and re-mix to proper consistency.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Re-Post This for a Good Cause!


Let’s Eat Cake, an amazing fundraiser hosted by the equally amazing Melissa Margarita-DiStefano, is coming up quick: Tuesday, February 17th at the Plaza Paramount Hotel! Let’s Eat Cake is a cake decorating competition with all proceeds going to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Learn more about the fundraiser right here.

In an effort to make sure we get the word out to everyone (and raise money), we are starting this chain-blog (Ok, not sure if that is correct terminology. But it’s like a chain letter so let’s just go with it, shall we?).

Here’s what we need you to do…Repost this post (or create your own new version) on your blog and ask others to post it on their blogs. Melissa will donate one dollar to the fundraiser for EVERY BLOG that posts on Let’s Eat Cake this week! With the power of the blogosphere, that can QUICKLY add up! Let’s make Melissa Pay! Once you have reposted it, leave a comment letting us know that you posted it along with the url to the blog. It’s for a great cause and it will be fun to see how far it will go! So lets do it… Lets blog it forward and raise money for a great cause!!!

**Kudos to Unique Designs for creating this fun chain-blog effort!**
P.S. Ok, Melissa… time to kick in another $1!
P.S.S. If any business wants to help out with a matching challenge, Melissa would love to hear from you!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Red Velvet Cake Balls

I just came across this recipe for Red Velvet Cake Balls from the Bakerella blog (which is fabulous, by the way!). I love this idea and can't wait to make them myself! Click here to see the original post. Check out the comments to find helpful tips to assist you in making them.

Red Velvet Cake Balls (From Bakerella Blog)
This recipe is based on a mix, but I imagine you can follow the same directions substituting from scratch cake and frosting (I'll try that one day). You can also try it with other cake combinations.
1 box red velvet cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)
wax paper

1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper, but I like to hand roll them.)
4. Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)
5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package.
6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.) I also only melt a few pieces of chocolate bark at a time because it starts to cool and thicken. It's easier to work with when it's hot.

For additional photos to help you along during the process, check out the original post over at Bakerella (link above).

This recipe is great as a simple treat for family or co-workers. I think it's also a great idea for a princess party or an adult soiree (remember, you can customize the cake and frosting combination to suit your taste/needs). Any way you incorporate these pieces of heaven, you're sure to have a hit on your hands!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holiday Greeting Card Survival Tips

I don't know about you, but Christmas seemed to get a little bit away from me this past year. By that I mean that I just didn't have enough time to do everything I wanted to get done before the holidays...

One such project was Christmas cards. I am not a stickler for sending them out every year (it usually depends on whether I have the time to do them), but this Christmas I thought it would be nice to do them. However, there were two factors playing into my decision on how to approach my Christmas cards: time and money. I suspect those same two factors affected many people's decisions about sending Christmas cards.

(Christmas card above designed by my talented friend Heather over at Viva La Diva; she designed then printed these at a local store.)

Hare are some tips and tricks to managing the Christmas card situation.

1. Send a New Year's greeting instead. This allows you some extra time to spend on the other holiday madness and gives you something to do in the down-time that follows the Christmas holiday. Plus, you can include up-to-the-minute pictures from your recent Christmas celebration.

2. Use a photo-printing service to make your cards. Companies like Polka Dot Design, Shutterfly, Costco, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and more, now offer printing services. You can customize your cards, place an order, and have your cards ready in a short amount of time. If you are using an online service that will deliver the printed product to you, just be sure you've allowed enough time for ordering, printing, and delivery before you need to send them out yourself.

3. Create a mailing list to print mailing labels for your cards. This is a great idea that I've only seen one or two of my friends do. Keep a spreadsheet or database on your computer (in Microsoft Word or Excel) for family and friends' addresses. This is easy to update as needed throughout the year. When it comes time to mail out those cards, simply create a label mailing from your database, print, and have fun sticking all those labels to your envelopes. This is also a great time (and money) saver when sending out party invitations.

4. Send an e-mail card or letter. Once you decide to send a holiday card or letter, the second piece to that decision is the cost of postage. If you are planning to send a lot of cards, this can add up quickly. To save money, consider sending an e-mail card or letter to your family and friends. It will not only save you money; it will also save you the time (and hassle) of addressing all those cards.

5. Save money by purchasing supplies in advance. Do some post-holiday shopping and buy your cards, letters, and envelopes for next year on clearance. This can save you more than 50% of the original retail costs of those supplies! Just don't forget to put them somewhere where you'll remember them (write a date on your new calendar that will remind you pull out those supplies and start working on them!).

For those who prefer to use an online service, create an account in advance, then sit back and watch those e-mail coupon offers to determine the best deal you can get. From personal experience this year, by watching the deals starting in October, you can save more money by ordering earlier rather than right around Christmas.

I hope these ideas are helpful! If you have any additional ideas, please post them in a comment; it's nice to help each other out. If you'll excuse me now, I need to go finish my New Year's greeting cards.

Holiday Hiatus

Happy New Year to all my readers out there! This is just a quick note to let you know that I took a holiday hiatus from posting to the Creative Entertaining blog. In a few short days, I will be back with new entertaining ideas you can use in the new year. --Jaime