A Hunter's Birthday Cake

Baking birthday cakes for family members has been fun throughout the years, but I never know what will be requested for the next celebration. As the kids grow up, their tastes and interests change, so it's rare that anyone ever wants the same kind of cake twice. One of my more recent cakes was topped with a hunting rifle. I didn't have a clue how to make a rifle, but with modeling chocolate and a bit of trial and error, the birthday cake was produced.

The honoree requested a half chocolate, half vanilla cake, so I baked the cake using an 8 x 14-inch pan I could split with dividers. 

The dividers gave the center of the cake a checkerboard look.

I had only tried using modeling chocolate once before, but it's easy to make. The recipe can be found here. Instead of using white candy melts and adding coloring, I used caramel candy melts for the stock of the gun and black candy melts for the barrel and scope.

Modeling chocolate is fun to use, and I hope to get the hang of it after a few more cakes.


Blueberry Muffins 5 Ways

All blueberry muffins are not created equal. Although the muffins may contain blueberries, there are as many ways to bake a blueberry muffin as there are varieties of blueberries. I've pulled five yummy recipes from my collection, but there are many more good blueberry muffin recipes out there. Each of these has a distinct difference that sets it apart.

1. Sparkling Blueberry Muffins

The sparkling sugar gives these blueberry muffins a pretty presentation and makes them look extra tempting. This is a recipe to keep handy.

2. Blueberry Hawaiian Muffins

If you have no time to get away, take a tropical vacation for breakfast. Coconut and chopped macadamia nuts make a crunchy topping on these muffins.

3. Alien Blueberry Muffins

This may be a strange name, but these muffins are unique with blueberries and white chocolate chips.

4. Citrus Blueberry Muffins

Lemon, orange, and lime zest combine to make these blueberry muffins one of a kind.

5. Mandarin Blueberry Muffins

What's better than a blueberry muffin? A blueberry muffin with mandarin oranges, too. Plus these are made with whole wheat flour and oat bran.

There are dozens of great blueberry muffin recipes. If you have a favorite, I'd love for you to leave a link in the comments so I can try it.



Teach a Child to Cook

As a writer nothing brightens my day more than seeing my name in a byline. Narcissistic? Maybe a little, but for the most part I'm just glad my work is appreciated and useful to someone.

A recent article of mine can be found in the food section of the July/August 2017 issue of Christian Woman magazine. The editor was generous and gave me three whole pages for "Teach a Child to Cook".

Teaching a child to cook is an easy way to help develop self-esteem along with essential life skills.  I believe parents do their children a disservice for many reasons when they don't allow kids in the kitchen. 

If you've never let your child help out with meal preparation, I hope this article will persuade you to give it a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject.   



Centerpiece Improvisation

When you're entertaining a crowd, often extra tables must be set up to accommodate the guests. For every table you need a centerpiece, and if multiple tables are involved it can get expensive. If the gathering is informal, you may already have everything you need for those centerpieces right under your nose. It can be a nice surprise to be able to improvise without buying something new.

When I needed centerpieces for three 8-foot tables, I decided to do some shopping in my own house. I stepped back to see what items I could find to serve as the centerpieces. I wanted something colorful, casual, and not fussy. My Fiesta ware seemed to be the obvious choice.

For each table I used two large disk pitchers on a large platter. Cereal bowls became candy dishes. I added a few silk flowers I'd saved from another event for an extra pop of color.

Total cost of my three centerpieces = $0

I've enjoyed my Fiesta ware on many different occasions. I've found the pieces to be versatile, and I also use them as my every day dishes. The colors are cheerful, and they are a sturdy stoneware. I've only broken one piece in all the time I've used them, and it was a strange accident. I reached for a bowl on a high shelf, and the shelf tipped. Apparently the bracket holding one corner of the shelf had fallen out. When the shelf tipped all the bowls slid off. I don't know how I managed it, but I caught every bowl except one. That bowl hit me in the forehead, then went on to hit the counter top and the floor. These dishes are heavy, and I still have a mark of evidence on my forehead from the accident. I mourned the bowl but was so glad I was able to save everything else.



Cheese Straws

Cheese straws are made from simple ingredients, and a batch can be mixed up and baked in a jiffy. I've been told that cheese straws are much more common in the South than in other parts of the country. A Southern hostess would be sure to put on her pearls and offer guests a tray of these delightful little appetizers.

Print Recipe

Cheese Straws

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash of garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray. In the bowl of a food processor, combine butter, cheese, flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Process until a smooth dough is formed. Fill a cookie press with the dough. Press the dough onto prepared baking sheet in long strips the length of the pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until straws are crisp. Use a knife to cut the strips into 3-inch lengths. Remove from pan using a flat spatula and cool on a wire rack. When completely cooled, serve or store in covered container.



Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

This whimsical cow and pig cake is one my niece asked me to make for her birthday. She chose this kind of cake because she raises and shows animals as her FFA projects.

The top 8-inch tier is white sour cream cake frosted in vanilla buttercream tinted pink. I used the piping bag liner trick to decorate this cake. The bottom 10-inch layer is chocolate sour cream cake frosted in double chocolate buttercream.

Print Recipe

Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, but not melted
1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Mix until blended. Add powdered sugar alternately with the cream, mixing after each addition. Scrape sides of bowl and beat an additional minute. Add a little more powdered sugar if needed, or a little more heavy cream if frosting is too stiff.



A Piping Bag Liner (I Learned Something New Today)

Decorating cakes is only a hobby for me. I have learned most of what I know on the subject by reading or by trial and error. I decorated a birthday cake this weekend, and I learned something new. This is such a simple trick, I don't know why I didn't know about it before.

I've always been one to end up with as much frosting on myself as on the cake when I'm decorating. Not today. The buttercream frosting stayed put in the piping bag. It only came out through the tip, like it is supposed to. Although I try to be careful, I usually end up with frosting oozing out the wrong end of the bag.

The way to fix that is with a piece of plastic wrap. Tear off a long piece and place it flat on the counter top. Pour a big dollop (enough to fill a piping bag)  of frosting in the center of the plastic wrap. Roll the frosting up in the plastic wrap lengthwise. With the frosting rolled up in the middle, there will be a rolled up piece of plastic wrap on each end.

Grab onto each end of the wrap and start spinning the frosting. Keep spinning until each end is tightly twisted.

Then thread one twisted end of the plastic through a piping bag fitted with a coupler. Cut away the excess plastic wrap, add the decorator tip, and secure the open end of the bag.

The bag is now lined with plastic wrap, and the frosting is contained inside. There was no mess. Not one bit of frosting oozed out of the bag. I also didn't have to struggle with filling the bag with frosting. It was neat and tidy. When the bag was empty, I pulled the plastic wrap out and threw it away. The empty bag was almost as clean as when I started, and I wasn't covered in buttercream.

This may not be a new tip for seasoned decorators, but it was big news for me. I hope someone else can also benefit from knowing how to line a piping bag. There's so much more I'd like to learn, so feel welcome to share your tips.