Category Archives: Cooking

A birthday cake for a Thomas fan

by Carly

So the Little Man was fast approaching his fourth birthday.  For the last few months the Thomas obsession has grown to staggering proportions; it’s all Thomas all the time and you can’t move through our family room without impaling yourself on a train or six.  What’s a mom to do but make a Thomas-themed cake for the upcoming par-tay.

My mother always made our cakes as children and I’ve long desired to do the same for my family.  But a Thomas cake?!  I can’t begin to tell you what an amateur I am and how deep my fear of 3-D cakes runs.  Not the actual cakes – that would be silly – but the making of them.  Not so much.

 So I did what any good mom would do: before calling the bakery, I called Google.  Remember when you had to go the library to find out stuff?  Google was a treasure trove of Thomas cakes.  All them either baked in a special train pan or molded out of cereal treats and modeling chocolate.  Clearly that wasn’t going to work for me so I was thrilled to find a version of the cake you see below that involved a simple round cake and buttercream.

Before I get into the nitty gritty details and in the interest of full disclosure, I feel I need to tell you that for the masterpiece you see below I used a cake mix, a buttercream mix, canned icing and pre-made fondant.  And I’d do it all again.  Finally, lest you think the fondant is beyond your abilities, you should know that this Thomas cake was only my third attempt at using fondant.  You’ll never know unless you try so roll up your sleeves and think of it as play-dough for grown-ups!

Here’s what I used, but feel free to substitute your own recipes in place of the mixes:

  •  2 Cake Mixes (any flavour you like)
  • 2 14 oz. packages of “Creamy White Buttercream Icing Mix”
  • 1.5 24 oz. packages of “Ready-to-Use White Rolled Fondant”
  • 1 Can “French Vanilla” icing
  • 1 Tube black decorating icing (or you can tint some of your buttercream black)
  • 2 tsp. CLEAR vanilla extract
  • Eggs, Milk, Butter, Water & Oil as called for in the cakes and buttercream mixes
  • Icing Sugar to roll the fondant on
  • Green, blue, brown, black and red food colouring concentrated GEL (or paste)
  • Large ziploc freezer bags
  • No. 11 round decorating tip
  • No. 3 round decorating tip
  • No. 233 decorating tip (grass)
  • Coupler (fancy name for this )
  • Flower cookie cutter
  • Rolling pin
  • Wooden (or plastic) Thomas the Train

Here’s how it came together:

1.  I used the equivalent of two cake mixes to make three 8” (or 9” – we’re not picky) round cakes.  The leftover batter went into the cupcake tray so as not to waste it.  I prefer to grease and flour my pans before pouring in the batter.

2.  Bake the cakes according to the recipe you’re using and allow to cool 10-20 minutes before removing them from the pans.

3. While you’re waiting for them to cool, ice a cupcake and eat it.

4. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool until they’re cold to the touch.  I put mine in the fridge to speed up the process.

5. While the cakes are cooling completely, make some buttercream icing.  I added about 1.5 teaspoons of clear vanilla extract (not in my recipe) for a yummier flavour.

6. When the cakes are ready, level the tops of all three cakes with a serrated knife.  I just eye-balled it, but you can use a special cake leveler if you’re so inclined.

7. Save the tops for your husband.  It makes a nice thank-you treat for the help cleaning up you’re going to insist on later.

8. Cut two of the round cakes in half and stack three halves on top of each other to form the sky/tunnel.  I used canned icing in between the layers because I like it.  You can use that or a light layer of buttercream.

9.  Save the fourth half for your husband.  See number seven.

10. Crumb coat/dirty ice (see how I’m now trying to impress you with my technical terms so you’ll forget I’m using mixes and pre-made fondant) the stack of cakes.  This just means you use a thin layer of buttercream to make everything stick together.  It won’t matter if there are crumbs peaking through, but try to make the buttercream as smooth as possible to avoid lumps in the fondant.  My cakes almost always break, crumb or crack a little and I use the buttercream to “glue” those areas and build up any part of the cake that’s not level.

 *TIP* Use a butter knife or metal/stainless spreader for the icing work.  Never use a plastic spatula.  A knife will give you a more even coat and fewer crumbs/breakage in your cakes.  Keep the buttercream in a ziploc baggie or covered with a damp cloth/plastic wrap so it won’t dry out.

11. Crumb coat/dirty ice the remaining (whole) round cake.

12. Put the stack of half cakes and the whole round cake in the fridge to set.  This is especially important if you’ve had to “glue” your cakes.

13. Take a much needed break.  I like to set my cakes for at least 30 minutes, but often wait an hour.

14. Open a package of fondant.  You’ll need about 12 ounces (about half the package) of fondant to cover the base of the cake.  Sprinkle some icing sugar on the counter and knead in some green food colouring.  This is where the gel or paste kind works best, because the colour will be more true, you won’t water down the fondant, and you won’t need as much of it.

15. Pull the base of the cake out of the fridge and spread on another thin layer of buttercream.  This is to give the fondant something to stick to and a sweeter taste to the cake.  Make sure the icing is as smooth and level as possible.

16. When you’re happy with the fondant colour, roll it into a circle-like shape, about 1/8 of an inch thick and a two inches bigger than your cake.  Keep adding icing sugar to the fondant/counter/rolling pin so the fondant doesn’t stick.

 *TIP* The thicker you roll your fondant, the less likely you are to see any bumps that still exist in your cakes.  Don’t make it too thick though, or your cake will fall over!  Keep as yet unused fondant in ziploc bags so it won’t dry out – it happens faster than you might think!

 17. Brush any lingering speckles of icing sugar off the fondant with your hands and carefully lift it over the base of the cake.

18. Pulling gently on the edges, smooth it out around the sides.  Using a butter knife, cut the fondant from around the base of the cake.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll cover it up later.

19. Tint some buttercream green and using the grass tip (No. 233) pipe grass around the base of the cake.  Rather than expensive decorating bags, I use large ziploc baggies for holding my icing.  Put the cake back in the fridge.  Keep the green buttercream with grass tip attached.  You’ll need it again.

20. Repeat steps 14 to 18 for the top of the cake, using blue food colouring instead.  You’ll need slightly more fondant this time so break open that second package and use about 18-20 ounces in total.

 *TIP* Covering the top of stacked cake halves was a fair bit harder than the round base.  Go ahead and trim then tuck in the corners/edges and smooth them out as best you can.  Don’t worry about a seam showing through – you’re going to cover it up with trees later.

21.   Bring out the base of the cake and spread a thin layer of buttercream on the top half of it.  Carefully place the stacked top piece on the buttercream.

22. Put it back in the fridge to set and have another cupcake.

23. While the cake is setting, tint some fondant red for flowers, green for tree tops and brown for tree trunks and railway ties.  Leave some white for the clouds.

24. To make the stones surrounding the tunnel, tint fondant with a very small amount of black food colouring gel, but don’t mix it too much – leave it speckled and grey.  Roll small amounts in balls.

25. Time to start decorating and finishing the cake!  Using a knife or metal spatula, spread some black icing (I used it pre-made from a tube I already had, or you could tint some leftover buttercream) onto the sky to make an upside down “U” shape.  It doesn’t have to be perfect – you’ll cover up the edges with stones.

*TIP* Have a small bowl of water handy.  With a paintbrush or your finger, use the water to attach the fondant cut outs to the sky and base.

26. Squish the stones you made into various shapes and attach them to the cake around the tunnel with a dab of water on the back of the stones.

27. Roll out the brown fondant and make some tree trunk shapes.  I did mine free hand with a butter knife and smoothed out any rough edges with a finger dipped in a bit of water. I deliberately put one on either corner to cover up the seams in the blue fondant.

28. Roll out some green fondant and using the flower shaped cookie cutter, make some tree tops and attach them to the cake.  Layer them on top of one another for a more three dimensional look, if you like.

29. Roll out some white fondant and using the flower shaped cookie cutter, make some clouds.  Before attaching them to the cake, stretch the shapes out to look more like clouds than flowers.

30. Repeat with red fondant to make flowers.

31. Pipe some green buttercream where the top cake meets the bottom cake to make a grass border around it, covering up the seams.

32. Using the brown fondant, cut some railway ties.  I did mine free hand.  Place them on the base of the cake using a bit of water.

33. Using the black buttercream (or leftover tube of black icing) and a No. 11 round tip, pipe the outline of the railway tracks.

34. Add some extra stones and pipe on some more grass around the tracks for decoration.

35. Tint some leftover buttercream red and using a No. 3 round tip, pipe on the birthday message.

36. Add Thomas to the cake and in just thirty-six short steps, you’re done!  The cake will keep overnight on the counter, as long as it’s not too hot.  If you’re worried, keep it in the fridge.

Despite the many steps, this cake is actually much easier to make than it looks.  If you tried the fondant and it just didn’t work for you, or if you’re not up for it at all, you can skip all that and decorate it with tinted buttercream instead.  Either way I’m sure your Thomas fans will be thrilled.  Just try not to cry (not that I’m saying I did) when the kids dig into it.

I’m Carly.  I’ve got red hair and occasionally the temper to match.  I love potatoes, rainy nights, photography, my husband and my 4 year old son, Jacob.  Probably in reverse order.  But only when he sleeps through the night.  Jake, I mean, not the husband.  But him too.  I like sleep . . . and hate mayonnaise.  You can read more about our family at http://talkingmyselfoutofthetree.blogspot.com/.

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Apple Crisp

by Sara 

We went apple picking with Kids in the Capital on Sunday at Cannemore Orchard.  We had a great time with all our friends and came home with two huge bags of apples. 

What was the first thing we did?  We baked an apple crisp! 

It’s a recipe that I copied from my parents onto a tattered recipe card.  Its one of the first things I learned to bake.  It’s not the fanciest recipe but its the one I grew up with and the one my boys have always baked with me.  

The firefighter's favourite part

Wash and peel 4-6 medium apples.  Core and slice (thin) 

 

Melt 1/2 cup of butter and mix with:
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon 

Second favourite part: mixing 

Grease a 9×9 pan, spread the apples slices in the bottom, and crumble the topping mixture on top.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees 

Now we wait... 

And don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.  Or frozen yogurt if you’re Losing It, like me! 

Sara is mom to 4-year-old ” firefighter” and 2-year-old “monkey”.  You can find her at her blog, My Points of View.

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Versatile Muffin Mix

by Sara

With the start of the Losing It In Ottawa website, we’ve been looking for healthy snack options.  What I like most about this recipe is its versatility.  You can add chocolate chips, raspberries, blueberries, raisins, dried apricots, dried mango: whatever it is that tickles your tastebuds.  Another combination that has worked well for us is grated apple (1 cup) and grated carrot (already included in the recipe). 

If you decide to leave out the cup of grated vegetables, make sure to include another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of applesauce to make up for the lost moisture.

1/4 cup canola oil

1 egg

1 cup grated carrots or zucchini (or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of applesauce)

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup applesauce

Whisk egg, canola oil, and then applesauce.  Add in sugar and mix.  Add shredded vegetables to the ‘wet’ mixture.

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and any fruit or sweets you decide to add (e.g., blueberries, raisins, chocolate chips)

Stir the two mixtures together.  Makes 12 muffins.

Bake for 18 minutes at 400 degrees.

Sara is mom to a 4-year-old firefighter and 2-year-old monkey.  You can find her at her blog, My Points of View.

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Sneaky snack secrets

by Brie

I love to bake with the kids. Well, they love to bake and I like that they are happy and occupied. I don’t really like the mess but that is the trade-off for some happy moments stirring bowls of flour and eating chocolate chips when they think I am not looking.

Last week I was looking for a recipe to make with the girl and stumbled upon a great recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks. Vegan Lunch Box. While I still have two years before I will be making school lunches, I was looking for any kid friendly food ideas when I bought this book. I also like to flirt with veganism, which is never going to happen in our house because the husband refuses to give up cheese, so I was happy with the great ideas offered in this book. I have made a number of the recipes and I have always been really happy. The Fluffy White Cupcakes (p.249) is a favorite.

I had never made the Back-to-school chocolate chip cookies before but I was excited to try the recipe. Chocolate chip cookies are always good. And this recipe uses both whole wheat floor and silken tofu so I was feeling slightly smug. Yummy and healthy.

The cookies are easy to make and very good. Plus if you eat two at once that’s okay! They have tofu! And the kids won’t even know. When I brought these cookies to a weekly Kids in the Capital play date Sara’s son was chowing down on them. Since he is a picky eater she was thrilled to hear about the tofu. And of course her son was thrilled when she let him have a second one.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. The recipe makes about 4 dozen.

Mix together 2 and 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 3/4 teaspoons baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Mix together 1 cup room temperature margarine, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 sugar, 3/4 soft silken tofu (drained) and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat with a hand blender until light and fluffy.

Add the dry ingredients to wet. Stir in the chocolate chips. Place small balls of dough on the cookie tray, about 3 inches apart. Cook for about 12 minutes.

Eat!

When I made the recipe I didn’t have any margarine, so I substituted 3/4 cup of vegetable oil. They still tasted great. Next time I am going to try increasing the amount of tofu. Maybe 1 cup or even 1 and a 1/4 cups.

The author of Vegan Lunch Box also has a blog, which is how I first discovered the cookbook. Some of the recipes from the book and newer recipes she has created can be found there. 

Do you have any sneaky snack secrets? Don’t keep them to yourself! Please share!

Brie is the mom of an almost 4 year old daughter “the girl” and twenty-two month old son “the boy”. You can read her blog at Capital Mom.

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If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

by Brie

There is nothing like a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. Especially if it is homemade.

We have a favorite lemonade recipe that comes from our well used copy of The New Canadian Basics Cookbook. It is one of the husband’s favorite party treats to make. It is also one of our favorite treats to give. This year my one and a half-year old and three and a half-year old made a big batch to give to the girl’s preschool teachers as an end of the year gift. Needless to say, they loved it!

I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as hard to make as I thought it would be with two kids. My tip is to double the batch and then each child is in charge of their own batch. They each get their own bowl, their own pile of lemons and their own sugar to dump in the bowl.

I will warn you that the sugar, and not the boiling hot water, is the trickiest part of this recipe. I kept a close eye on the girl but when I looked back at her after turning away for only a moment she had her face in the sugar cup trying to lick as much of it as possible. She maintained she was just smelling it but I could see the white sugar crystals on her lips!

Here is our favorite lemonade recipe!

In a heatproof glass jar or a bowl, combine:

– 3/4 cup lemon juice

– 2 tbsp grated lemon rind

– 3 cups granulated sugar

– 2 cups boiling water

Stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and refrigerate. For each service, mix 2 to 4 tbsp concentrate with 3/4 cup cold water, or to taste.

 Then enjoy some yummy lemonade. Or, set up a table out front and teach the kids how to run their own lemonade stand!

Brie is the mom of a 3.5 year old daughter “the girl” and eighteen month old son “the boy”. You can read her blog at Capital Mom.

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I can’t believe it’s butter!

by Brie

I like the idea of making things from scratch. I really like the idea of making easy things from scratch. My new favorite easy thing to make? Butter.

Yup, you heard right. Butter. And I am making it the easy way. No wooden butter churn for me. All you need to make butter are two marbles, a clean baby food jar and some heavy cream (i.e. whipping cream). Oh, and a lot of muscle.

The three-year old girl and I had some fun one afternoon making butter while her brother napped. She plopped two marbled into the jar and then filled up the jar half way with cream. I screwed the lit on very, very tight. Then the shaking began.

I wish I could tell you that she did most of the shaking, but well, that would be lying. Instead she would do a little shaking and then hand the jar back to me to do a lot of shaking. So I shook and shook and shook.

After awhile I couldn’t hear the marbles rattling around anymore. I thought this is it! So I opened the jar and found…whipping cream. Convinced that I had somehow done something wrong, like buy the wrong cream, I let the girl eat four crackers spread with whipping cream. She loved it.

While she ate I sat there thinking. Finally I decided to try shaking the jar some more. And what do you know! I heard a distinct slosh sound and what had been whipping cream suddenly split into butter and whey. Success!

The girl ate another four crackers, this time topped with butter. I used the butter in my cooking the next day. Really, the butter is very yummy. After eating it you will want to make butter all the time.

The best part, though, was making something from scratch and showing the girl how butter can easily be homemade.

Brie is the mom of a 3.5 year old daughter “the girl” and twenty-two month old son “the boy”. You can read her blog at Capital Mom.

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Easy Birthday Cupcakes – A Mom’s Lifesaver

by Isabelle

I recently resuscitated an old trick of my mom’s for those times where you’re busy and you’re expecting a bunch of kids to your house: ice cream cone cupcakes. I made them a few weeks ago for my little guy’s fourth birthday, and they were a HUGE hit, with both kids and grownups.

Step 1: Prepare your favorite cake batter (or use a mix if you’re short on time and ingredients)

Step 2: Pour the batter into flat-bottomed ice cream cones placed in muffin tins.

Step 3: Bake according to cupcake recipe directions (nothing special needed for the cones).

Step 4: Decorate and enjoy!

This is what my quickie cupcakes looked like:

For slightly older kids, an easy birthday party activity would be to frost the cupcakes themselves. With the 3- and 4-year old crowd, though, I picked a different activity and just let them enjoy the pre-decorated cupcakes 🙂

Isabelle is the mom of 3.5 year old Jay and two-month old Rosie. You can also find her at Dr. Peach’s Blog.

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