Monday, July 29, 2013

S'mores Cupcakes in a Jar

**CAUTION**  Take caution when using a kitchen torch!!  We used Ove-Gloves.  Thankfully!  Without them, we would've had a disastrous occurrence.
I love S'mores.  I only eat them once, MAYBE twice, a year but they are one of my favorite treats of all time.  I was so excited that Dairy Queen would be featuring a S'mores Blizzard this summer but was terribly disappointed by the lack of similarity in taste to the real thing.  Too sweet and no char.

So when we decided to have an Indoor Picnic (read about it HERE), I knew I wanted to have something S'mores-related for dessert.  My daughter was helping plan the menu and we went round and round about dessert then decided to just make regular S'mores using a kitchen torch to give them that toasted flavor that we like.  And then I saw these cupcakes... click HERE to view the original recipe.

I showed them to Amelia and we both knew that we had to do cupcakes instead.  Enter Pinterest...

I remembered a Pin that I had pinned when I first started my addiction to using Pinterest.  Cupcakes in a jar.  Probably passé by now, but I've never done it and finally had a good enough reason to try it out.  I have a habit of testing new recipes on other people.  I don't know why.  Just roll with it, m-kay?

So spring boarding off the above recipe I came up with the following recipe and method.  It looks very complicated but it isn't.  Just a little time-consuming.  But sooooo worth it! 

S'mores Cupcakes in a Jar
makes 12 jelly jar desserts

Cake Layer
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated, room temperature
2 cups cake flour
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie pans with Silpat mat or parchment paper.  If using parchment paper, butter or spray it so that it comes away neatly from cake. 
Crush graham crackers into as fine a powder as you can.  Sift.  Sift and mix remaining dry ingredients into the crumbs.  Set aside.
Stir milk and cream together.  Set aside.

Beat egg whites with electric mixer until very foamy but before soft peaks form.  Set aside.
In large bowl with electric mixer, beat butter til light, about a minute.  Add sugar and beat together until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes.  Scrape sides of bowl as needed.  Don't shortchange yourself on time here!  It will be worth it when your cake comes out light and moist!
Add egg yolks one at a time to butter mixture, beating 30 seconds between each one.
Add 1/3 flour mixture to butter mixture.  Stir until well combined.  Add 1/2 the milk mixture.  Stir until well combined.  Add 1/3 flour mixture. Stir.  Add remaining milk mixture. Stir.  Add remaining flour mixture. Stir. 
Fold in egg whites until just incorporated.  Keep it as airy as you can!
Divide batter between the 2 lined cookie pans, spread with off-set spatula, bake on middle rack for 15 or so minutes til lightly browned.  I baked mine one at a time.  I'm sure you could bake them both at the same time if you rotated them halfway through, but since there isn't a long baking time, I went with one at a time.  Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes on wire rack.  Lift cake from pan and continue cooling on racks until completely cooled.

Marshmallow Filling Layer 
2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla

Beat all ingredients together til light and fluffy.  About 5 minutes.

Chocolate Layer
2 cups dipping chocolate, melted (I used Ghirardelli's)

Using a jar that you are using to contain your cupcakes as a cookie cutter, cut 36 rounds of cake to make 12 desserts.  There will be some cake left over.  I crumbled up the "scraps", put them in the freezer, and am planning to make something scrummy with them.

Lightly press 1 round of cake in each of 12 jars.  Pour a thin layer of chocolate over the cake rounds and let harden.  Spread a layer of marshmallow filling over chocolate and spread out to sides.  Brulee marshmallow filling with kitchen torch.  Use hand protection!!

Repeat layers, then add a cake round to the top.  You'll have 3 cake layers, 2 chocolate layers, and 2 marshmallow filling layers.  At this point you can put on the lid and decorate the jars however you choose.  At serving time, open the jars and top with a layer of plain Marshmallow Fluff.  Brulee this at tableside or let your guests torch their own.

Dig in with a spoon!  Enjoy!
Provide hand protection for everyone!!!  The jars can get hot and, if you aren't careful, 1st degree burns could happen.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Indoor Picnic

It has been quite a long time since we've had guests over for dinner other than family.  Life happened.  Busyness happened.  Laziness happened.  And we got out of the habit. 

When I was growing up we had company over all the time.  Especially after church services.  My parents' house was always open to guests whether for a meal and conversation or extended visits. Mom and Dad both seemed to enjoy it, although the bulk of the work fell to Mom.

When my children were younger we had guests fairly often but as I mentioned above, things changed.  But now, with the full agreement and cooperation of my husband (of course!) we've decided that it is high time that our home is once again to be used to extend hospitality and fellowship.

My friend, Cheryl, and I, along with our daughters, met for coffee one morning for the express purpose of planning an evening for our families to get together.  Cheryl is a hostess extraordinaire but my husband had already decided that he wanted to gather in our home, so the "where" was set.  We chatted for, oh, 3 hours or so before we even got out our calendars!

I don't normally do themed "dinner parties" but since this is a jumpstart for me, I decided to do something a bit out-of-the-norm.  Amelia was here to help carry out my plans, so why not use her talents?  I didn't have to think long before the idea of an Indoor Picnic sprang to mind. 

Cheryl and I have had several conversations about our mutual dislike of outdoor summer activities so what could be more perfect than to bring the best parts of a picnic inside?

I only took a couple pictures of the serving table.  BAD BLOGGER!  I was just so excited that I completely forgot!  The serving table was covered with a red and white gingham tablecloth, layed out for people to serve themselves buffet style.  First in line for the food were these little ants that I found at a local educational supply store.  The drink station was also self-serve, complete with beehive shaped beverage urn, foam cooler, yellow straws, and lemon wedges and simple syrup for the tea.  I wouldn't typically use paper plates for dinner but I had found red paper plate holders that complemented the décor and theme so well that I couldn't resist.  But no pictures.  Ugh!

I set the dining table with red and white gingham placemats.  I made these from a tablecloth that was too small for the dining table but too large for the kitchen table.  Actually, I had 2 identical tablecloths that I made into 2 smaller tablecloths, 1 table runner, and 8 placemats... with a little left over for a craft project that I want to do for next 4th of July.

Each place setting had a place card.  I bought small metal frames and had my daughter spray paint them white.  After they were completely dry I added a "silk" flower to each.  The flowers were applied with hot glue, so they were easily pulled off for me to use the frames as place cards for another occasion.  I had an ancient pack of gingham letter stickers to begin each person's name.  I would like to have been able to do the whole name in gingham, but such is life!

The centerpieces were dwarf sunflowers.  I left them in their original containers, wrapped them with burlap, and tied a strip of yellow gingham fabric (frayed edges!) around with a loose knot.

After we ate dinner and had some great conversation, it was time for dessert.  S'mores Cupcake in a Jar.  I assembled these scrumptious beauties the day before (blog post coming soon!).  Cheryl's daughter, Kati, is the baker in their family so I asked her to pipe the top layer of marshmallow fluff on each of the cupcakes and she was more than happy to oblige.  Then the one and only party game began!  Everyone had the opportunity to torch their own.  Some opted out, some were excited to try a new thing, but we were all glad that there was hand protection from the flame!  Whew! 

It was delicious, if I do say so myself! You can find the recipe for S'mores Cupcakes in a Jar HERE. 

After a quick clean-up of the food, we retired to the living room (comfy seats).  More conversation.  More fellowship. More laughter. 

I had such a good time.  Everyone else seemed to enjoy the evening as well.  You can read a little more about the evening HERE on Cheryl's blog.  While you are there, check out some of her posts concerning hospitality.  You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

 It sure has rained a lot this summer.  I've heard many people say that they've never seen it rain so much in such a short period of time.  I don't know if that is a scientific observation, but I'd say they were pretty close to being correct.  We've lived here about 7 years and even the hurricanes that have passed our way didn't deliver this much flooding.  We are so saturated that even after several days of no rain, we still have standing water.  And the stench of rotting vegetation... phew!

We did not need to go outside to splash in the puddles, they came inside to seek us out!  Once I got the sump pump working, it didn't take long for the carpet to dry.  This has happened at least 5 times so we almost have the drying out process down to a tee.

1a, b, c... This is a panoramic view of sorts of our side yard, north of our house.  Our property line is just beyond the Mimosa trees in the background.  This latest downpour happened within a day of this area ridding itself of standing water from previous rain.

2...  The east side of our house.  Our entire parking area was under water, about 2 inches in places.
3... Across the road to the south. 
4...  Looking down on our parking area from the deck.  Even the pavers are under water.

 5... Most of the grass in this shallow ditch is rotting and sludge-like.  This was taken 4 days after the last round of rain.
6...  Again, 4 days after the last rain.  This is the same area as picture 1b above.

 7...  The happy moment in all of this rain?  I looked outside and saw that my Crape Myrtles are blooming!  My son gave these to me for Mother's Day this year and I wasn't expecting them to bloom because they were quite small.  As I've mentioned before, if shrubbery could represent my childhood it would be the Crape Myrtle.  I like to think that one day a young girl will find herself perched in this one's branches, entertaining herself with all the thoughts that she is able to imagine and singing at the top of her lungs

All this rain has caused us a few problems with a backed-up septic system, dead grass, stinky air, wet carpet, walking through water to our vehicles, day after day of dreary weather, and now, intense humidity and mutant-sized mosquitoes.  But these are just minor annoyances, really.  Nothing that can't be dealt with using a shop-vac, a few fans, time, and judicious use of water.

I try to never say "it could  be worse" because it minimizes the situation.  Both minimizing and exaggerating are dangerous to my state of mind.  They lead to dis-quiet of both mind and spirit.  The more I practice defining things "as is", with a reasonable degree of emotional detachment, the more able I am to access the grace and wisdom that I am promised because of my faith, despite the depth or height I am currently experiencing.  And I am blessed no matter what!  

A friend shared a quote a few days ago that is so appropriate for this rainy season...

"If God sends rain, then rain's my choice." -- Dan Crawford, missionary 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Family Fun Day 2013

We took Levi and Liam to Family Fun Day.  Our church fellowship hosts this each summer in lieu of VBS.  This year's theme was "Superheroes".  Levi wore his Spiderman t-shirt.  Liam was wearing a Batman t-shirt, complete with cape. 

The boys had fun.  And candy.

I was only able to take a few pictures because they didn't stay still for any length of time.  If their feet were touching the floor, they were running!  I'm hoping the official picture taker got some better ones. 

We tied balloons around their waists so that we could keep track of them better.  It was a hoot to see those balloons flying behind them as they ran!

We were all tired by the time we left for home.  The boys fell asleep in the car.  Mommy and Daddy were out and about so we let them finish their naps in their cribs.  Grandpa and I fell asleep on the couch while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to get home.  Then I fell asleep again when I got to my home! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July, 2013, Pictures and Pavlova

Simple wood block table decoration.  I painted and put it together in a day.
Happy Independence  Day! (albeit a bit late in the day)

I've never been much of a holiday celebrationist.  But I'm learning to find the fun and lose the stress.  So far, so good!

Here are some pictures from the day...

Tablescape... checkered tablecloth (90% off), tin cans (upcycle), queen anne's lace (free on the side of the road), pinwheels (dollar store).  SIMPLE and CHEAP!  
Notice how the Queen Anne's Lace looks a bit like fireworks?

MENU... bbq pork sandwiches, green beans with bacon and toasted almonds, mac&cheese, pickles, and cheerwine
I just threw in a picture of me.  

Everyone loved it.
The twins ate berries til I thought they might pop!

And now for the recipe I promised...
I did a mash-up of two recipes.  One from my friend, Cheryl, and one from a Pin.  I knew I wanted the taste of Cheryl's (she served this at Ladies Game Night and it was absolutely scrumptious!) so I used her ingredients and technique but I wanted the amount of the Pin's. 

Pavlova with Berries

6 egg whites
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
fresh berries

*Preheat oven to 250*.  On the back of a piece of parchment paper draw an 8" circle and place on a cookie sheet (ink/pencil side down).  Spray lightly with cooking spray.

*Beat egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.

*Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until dissolved and mixture is thick.

*Slowly sprinkle remaining sugar over egg whites while beater is running.

*When egg whites are very stiff, beat in vanilla and vinegar until thick and glossy.

*Spoon mixture onto parchment and spread out using circle as a guide.  You can get fancy and swirl the sides with a knife!  Build up sides slightly. (I forgot to do that!)

*Bake for an hour until firm to the touch.  Turn off oven and leave overnight or at least until oven is completely cool.
*Remove from oven.
*Whip cream with powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Use immediately or keep cold until ready to use.
*Just before serving, spoon whipped cream on top of meringue then top with berries.
*Slice and serve!

**NOTE:  Some people prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon while cooling.  I left it closed.