My Cake Decorating Gallery

Monday, April 8, 2013

An Easy Thomas The Train Birthday Cake

This is a good birthday cake choice for moms out there who want to make something special for their Thomas fans but think that making a 3-D Thomas-shaped cake is a little too much work or too difficult! I knew I would be 8 months pregnant by the time my son's 2nd birthday came around, and it being near Christmas time and the Deer and Beer party also happening at the same time, it's already super busy. I searched pinterest and the internet to find a cute Thomas themed cake or cupcake idea that wasn't too elaborate or ridiculous.

I found this idea from whimsygirlscakes on that is way nicer than the cake I did but I figured I could do a version of the top layer of her cake. No need to create a 3D train, I will just use one of the new trains I got my son for his birthday and have it sticking out of the tunnel. I liked her #2 and the clouds in the sky but I improvised and used a sparkly blue 2 candle and made my floating clouds out of cardstock (I found the fondant to be way too heavy to have on a springy wire like that). I cut out my clouds and hot glued them onto some silver craft wire that I had on hand, which I had wound around a pencil to make it look like a spring. This idea worked great for the clouds and sun (the sun was some clip art that I printed out). I would definitely use this homemade glued spring idea again for clouds, etc, to have springing out of the cake! It was totally easy and you can make it in advance.

I also made a cupcake train which was inspired by the super cute Thomas cupcake train from the "A Britt Without Boys" blog post. I spent a TON of time trying to get oreos or even paper circles stuck onto the foil tins to act as wheels.. it was so annoying. Nothing worked, I broke tons of cookies with jabbing the toothpicks and skewers in, etc. I tried those pinwheel chocolate marshmallow cookies, also.. it was just an epic fail. Eventually I had to give up and just throw the cupcake freight cars onto the table without wheels and honestly, I hardly notice they are missing wheels. It's pretty obvious that it's a train. I already had the large Thomas train plastic whistle, who led the cupcakes down the table. From that blog, I got the idea for those square green and blue silicon reusable cupcake holders, which definitely made the cupcakes look more freight-like. I used red velvet cake for the cupcakes and the cake, since the red/blue theme went nicely with Thomas's shiny paintwork.

For the layer cake itself, I used red velvet cake with buttercream frosting in blue which was the "sky" backdrop. I rolled fondant into balls and some black food coloring to make the rocks around the tunnel, and painted some fondant black for the tunnel itself and cut it out into a "tunnel" shape. I used gray buttercream and piped a train track around the cake board which I wrapped in black foil paper. I rolled out some white fondant and made the clouds that were attached to the cake itself. Lastly, I used green tinted buttercream with my grass tip to create the border of grass around the cake.

The day of the party, I was totally frazzled as I waited until that day to make all the food and didn't even get a chance to drop the kiddo off at school so it was exhausting and I didn't get a chance to decorate everything and do everything I wanted. Those picture-perfect pinterest people.. really get on my nerves. They must have unlimited time or help and fabulous natural lighting all the time.
There are tons of great Thomas ideas online for decorations, treats, favors, and more. I am very proud of my invites which I saw an idea online and designed them myself in photoshop and printed them off on cardstock and mailed them to the invitees. I used a hole puncher to punch out "Dec" and "11" to simulate a real train ticket. Super cute!

I made Martha Stewart's chicken tenders (made with rice krispies, yummy!) for the kids and Giada's sausage stuffed manicotti for everyone else (which was a little too time intensive) and that all turned out OK. Add in some salad and some garlic bread, fruit, treats, and the cake, and you have plenty for a party. I didn't take a picture but I had another train set up on the counter which was hauling some foil tins of snacks - caramel corn, veggies/dip, salty snacks, etc. Walmart had the table cloths, blue and red streamers and balloons and blue paper bags which I filled with goodies for the party-goers.

Everything went great until the very last second when my 2 year old touched the candle and burnt his finger bad enough to get a blister. It happened so fast, I was surprised it got so burnt. He still takes about "finger, candle, hot, boo boo" even 4 months later... guess you have to learn some time. I felt really bad about that! Otherwise, the Thomas-themed party went great.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Salsa, Salsa, and More Salsa

Today is still kind of chilly and everyone here is ready for Spring/Summer to move right in. Think Spring! Today, I'm going through some older photos that I didn't get a chance to blog about and here is something to get us in the mood for the summer - a summer salsa garden!

We built a raised garden bed last summer in order to grow a salsa garden. The Husband went out of control with the number of pepper and tomato plants that he bought. They took over our deck all summer, as there was not enough room in the garden itself. The Neighborhood Groundhogs were quite a hassle but eventually we were able to keep them out and get some roma tomatoes and peppers growing, among many other plants.

We also went to the farmer's market and bought additional romas and a few days in the late summer/early fall, we spent an afternoon making salsas. We love fresh salsa so we made a large batch of that and we also wanted to try a canned salsa for the first time.

For the fresh salsa, it's pretty simple, just a lot of chopping!

Homemade Fresh Salsa Recipe

Dice up your roma tomatoes (these are best as they have less juice than regular tomatoes) and mix with chopped onions, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Adjust amounts to your taste preferences.

Blend some of the tomato mixture along with however many hot peppers you want and then add the hot mixture back into the batch of salsa. Adjust seasoning and hotness to your taste level.

We made several levels of hotness - Mild, Medium, Hot, and Chris. The Chris salsa is the hottest. (Chris is one of The Husband's best friends).

For the first canned salsa recipe I tried, it was quite time intensive, and it was an "easy" recipe which included using some canned tomato paste as well. You have to peel the tomatoes which takes a ton of time, and then chop them on top of it. I didn't care for the recipe flavor much so I will be trying another one next year, but the canning worked out great and the boys and family members loved it. I used it all up many months later as a sauce for enchilada pie so it did not go to waste at all, it was pretty good.. I just didn't like the vinegar/sugar ratio that I had in it.

Making your own salsa is fun and there are tons of recipes out there. You don't have to wait until tomato season to do it, either - there are roma tomatoes around most of the year, I think. It's nice to wait until the August/September time frame, though, and if you don't grow your own tomatoes, they will surely be plentiful in the stores and farmer's markets in your area! We are moving this summer so alas, the raised garden bed will be left for the next home owners. Maybe they will grow something fun, also!

Sugar Free Flour-less Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake

My dad does a great job of avoiding sugar and flour for the most part and this is a great way to eat to control your weight and increase your overall health. It can be tricky cooking and baking for people with this type of a diet restriction but it doesn't mean everything has to be bland and a salad. For my dad's recent birthday, I wanted to try something new but hopefully tasty. I came across a flourless peanut butter cookie recipe - it only uses peanut butter, sugar and an egg, and some one in the comments said they successfully used splenda. I also know how to easily make a no-bake cheesecake and my dad loves chocolate, so I thought why not try and put these two things together to make a yummy dessert?

It worked out great! I mixed up the peanut butter with splenda and the egg and mashed into the bottom of a springform pan - depending on the size of the pan you use, you might want to double the batch of dough. I used a small pan, 8" and made sure I had enough dough to go up the sides quite a bit so that it would look nice.
I popped it in a 350 degree oven and baked until set and slightly browning on the edges, around 15 minutes.

Then, with softened cream cheese, one container of sugar free CoolWhip (my dad loves CoolWhip and homemade whipped cream would not hold up over time), several tablespoons of cocoa and enough splenda to sweeten the deal. Some vanilla and chopped sugar-free chocolates or other candies would be a good mix-in to add into the center of this cheesecake - or how about some toasted nuts? There are many possibilities!

I think I chopped up some sugar free chocolates and mixed them in and also melted some to add to the cocoa chocolate flavor, but I can't quite remember.

After pouring the cheesecake filling into the cooled pre-baked peanut butter cookie shell, just pop into the fridge to set up for a few hours or overnight - if you can keep your hands off of it for that long! I used a canister of whipped cream to decorate the top, also. Some chocolate drizzles or nuts would also be a nice touch, or berries if you think that might go with peanut butter. I'm not sure!

I think a pinch of cinnamon might be nice for the crust, also.

Sugar Free Flour-Less Peanut Butter Crust with Sugar Free No Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

For the Crust:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar (I used splenda as a sugar free substitute)
1 whole egg

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix up in your mixer and spread evenly into a springform cake pan - size of your choice. If this is not enough dough for your size pan, make another batch. A pinch of cinnamon might be a nice touch.

Bake in the oven until slightly browned on the edges and set, about 15 minutes or so, depending on how thick you've made the crust.

Let cool thoroughly.

For the Cheesecake:
1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
1 small carton (1.5 cups) of sugar free cool whip
several tablespoons of cocoa powder - make it as chocolately as you'd like!
splenda - 8 tablespoons or enough to sweeten the mixture to your taste

Add Ins and Toppings:
Toasted nuts, chopped sugar free chocolates, sugar free chocolate sauce, melted sugar free chocolates swirled in, more peanut butter, vanilla, almond extract, etc

Thoroughly mix the cream cheese with the cool whip, cocoa, splenda, vanilla, and any of the other add-ins that you'd like to use. Pour into the prepared crust and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Top with toppings and decorations of your choice, serve, and enjoy!

My dad really liked this treat and I hope you will too! I thought it was pretty good considering no sugar and no flour. Yum!