Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cookies for a Cause

Happy Valentine's Day! (I know I"m a few days late...) This past weekend, some great friends from our small group and I had the privilege to serve some of Indianapolis's less fortunate. As a group of 5 couples, we've committed to doing a service project together once every other month and with each rotation, a different couple gets to choose who to serve. For the month of February, our sweet Lauren wanted to help a newer organization, Circle City Relief. CCR is a ministry partner within our church that collects un-purchased pizzas from Little Caesars and distributes them to those who need food. Every Sunday for the past year, CCR has spread the love of Jesus Christ by passing out pizzas and clothing, serving hot soup, establishing relationships, and praying for those who show up to IPS School 60 to take home some food and hopefully some hope.

So many cookies!
While preparing for our service project, the ladies and I thought it would be a nice gesture to provide cookies for the people we would be serving. Given the timing, it only seemed appropriate that we tap into a Valentine's Day theme with these heart-shaped cookies. When we approached the CCR leader with our plan, she loved the idea. She let us know that they were expecting 200 or so people... GASP. What did we get ourselves into? Instead of freaking out, we turned the opportunity to get together for brunch and just have fun in the kitchen with the girls!

(Side note: I served this spinach and cheese strata, my sister's famous coffee cake, OJ and coffee. I didn't think to snap photos prior to our enjoyment of the food but both recipes were perfectly lovely for a simple brunch!) 

After piping an edge to the cookies, here we are flooding the royal icing.
For the cookies, we went with my favorite sugar cookie recipe and because I've been sort of a royal icing addict lately, we went with royal icing for the smooth texture and yummy flavor. I go into more detail on royal icing here.
Our collective favorite cookie.
In hindsight, we definitely should have gone with a simpler icing - buttercream, perhaps - due to our time constraints and the sheer number of cookies we needed to turn out. Fortunately, we were able to ice the cookies quite quickly... but the drying process was more lengthy than desired for this type of project. Normally, the drying process wouldn't necessarily be an issue, but we had agreed to package the cookies in bags with ribbon.
With a little added flair.
After the ladies left my house, I placed all the cookies on my island to get an official "count". Glad I did - we only had about 150 and needed 200! We had many cookies left, so I simply whipped up a batch of buttercream and created a simple design for the remaining 50 cookies. I also added a touch of the pink buttercream to the royal icing cookies for a little added flair.
Here is what 200 packaged cookies look like. :-)

Lauren and I passing out cookies.

Fortunately for our group and the people we were serving, we were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day! Several hundred pizzas and over 200 cookies were passed out in just under 1.5 hours.

For me, I often take fresh, homemade baked goods for granted because I have a kitchen with an oven and the means to purchase ingredients. Some of the people we served were actually shocked that we would make cookies from scratch just for them. Yet for me, I felt absolutely blessed to be able to bring a bit of joy to folks who don't normally get to experience the fresh-made goodness of a cookie. <3

Just for fun, I thought I would also share some of the special Valentine's Day cookies I made for my Granny, who turned 83 on the 14th. I used the same cookies but decorated with leftover buttercream.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Basketball Birthday Cake

If you have read my previous post, you know that my husband is a basketball fanatic. When it came time to celebrate his 25th birthday last year, it was quite obvious to me that his birthday cake should be, well, a basketball.

When I began contemplating a basketball birthday cake, I knew a standard two-layer cake would not cut it - I had to come up with a way to make it rounded (3D, if you will). I've seen other people make several layers in an 8" or 9" cake pan, and then cut the cake into the desired shape - but I felt that would add extra, unnecessary step. I began scouring for ideas in my own cabinets - and then it hit me. I would use a glass bowl to bake a cake and then flip it upside down to create the 3D effect I desired. Using a glass, heat resistant, oven-approved bowl (gotta love Pyrex!) I received at one of my wedding showers, the game was on!

I did a trial run using my genius new method and found that (1) cake mix requires 55 - 60 minutes in the oven (!) but that it didn't affect the moistness of the cake (a very good thing). For Francis's cake, I used (2) cake mixes and ended up baking for 70 - 80 minutes in the oven. Again, I had good luck with the consistency and texture of the cake - but I think the (1) mix cake actually tasted better.

To create the look of an actual basketball, I used black (pre-made) icing to create the striping and a multi-dot tip (Wilton #233) to resemble the "grips" of a basketball. (The numbness in my hand and wrist from "squeezing" the icing bag that many times returned a few days later!)

Here is Francis blowing out his birthday cake, with the help of Camryn.

Other desserts for the party included banana pudding (Francis's favorite) and 7-layer bars.

Overall, I'd say Francis was pretty impressed with the basketball cake and I was pleased with the outcome. The only thing I would change is the consistency of the border icing. Since it was very thick, after several hours, the border began to pull away.

I'm already thinking of other ways to incorporate other rounded shapes into cake creation - perhaps I'll go with another passion of his... Golf!

Happy Birthday, Baby!

We Have Another Blogger in the Family!

Friends, please welcome my darling husband to the world of blogging. Over the past weekend, he decided to take the plunge and delve into these frequently charted waters for himself to see what blogging was all about. He chose a topic that is near and dear to his precious heart - basketball - and quickly became addicted to creating posts!

 PassDribbleShoot, authored by Francis H. Ramirez, III, dives into his love for basketball. As you read his posts, you'll start to understand why the guy is such a fanatic about the sport of basketball (and that he's actually a better writer than he gives himself credit to be!). My husband is pretty much the epitome of a baller - he plays the sport, lives the sport, and breathes the sport. In fact, basketball is actually much more than a sport to him - it's more like a way of life, a means of survival when the cards dealt to him made his situation seem pretty bleak to some folks. Through his stories of how he became introduced to the game and his journey to play college ball, I hope that you will be able to see how God sought and pursued Francis through the game of basketball. 

Here is Francis with the team at Rochester College (who happen to be two time National Champs during his tenure!). Francis and I will both be forever indebted to the College - and we have God to thank for leading us there. And while He led us to RC for very different reasons, without his pursuance, we would not have met.  Even more, without the College, neither of us would know God the way that we do now.

So if you like basketball or know someone who does, let them know about PassDribbleShoot. Francis's posts will cover all things basketball from his perspective - and his passion for the game will hopefully inspire others, as he does for me on a daily basis!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Football Rice Krispie Treats

If you are in need of a last minute Super Bowl party snack, I have just thing. These yummy Rice Krispies treats are fast, easy and fun to make! Not to mention, they are super cute.

Start with the tried-and-true Rice Krispie Treat recipe:

6 C Rice Krispies cereal
4 C Mini marshmallows (or (1) 10 oz bag of large marshmallows)
3 T Butter

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the marshmallows; stir until melted completely. Remove from heat and stir in cereal.

Pour mixture into a 9x13 inch pan. Spread with a buttered spatula or a piece of wax paper.

I smoothed on a layer of crunchy peanut butter and then made a simple ganache for the top.

Simple ganache:
1 1/2 C chocolate chips
1/2 C heavy cream

To make them party appropriate - I cut them out in the shape of footballs and added "laces" with buttercream icing.