Thursday, September 23, 2010

Frugal Birthday Cakes: Part 1-Homemade Cakes

I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but I am just getting to it now.  Over the past few years, I have learned to love making homemade cakes for my boys for their birthdays.  I consider it one of my "labors of love" for my boys when it comes to their birthdays and parties.  Birthday cakes can be very expensive if you want something fancy to go with your theme, but I have found many ideas and tips online to help me make some adorable cakes over the past few years.  Yes, I'll admit they are probably not as cute or perfect as a true baker or cake decorator would make, but my children would never know the difference.  They are always so excited to see the special cake that "mommy made" for them.  :)  And, yes, they are time consuming, sometimes very time consuming, but to me, the delight and excitement on their face when they see the finished product makes it well worth it to me!  I have found that Betty Crocker cake mixes are the best and they taste so delicious, if you follow the directions, exactly.  My husband taught me that.  If it says beat for 2 minutes at low speed, you should literally time it for two minutes.  My husband's cakes always turn out so good, and I asked him how he does it, and he tells me, "I follow the directions."  Go figure!  Sometimes its worth it not to cut corners or improvise.  I probably spend less than $5-$7/cake (maybe less, rough estimate, depending on what ingredients I have on hand at the moment), but sometimes a little more, if I purchase a special cake pan or need new colors for the frosting.   Definitely less than a custom made cake from a bakery or even a grocery store.  Cakes at Costco are about $15.99 (1/2 sheet cake) and about $14.99-19.99 (1/4 to 1/2 sheet cake) at Acme.  I like having some special Wilton cake pans on hand for future cakes and to let other people borrow if they so desire to try to make their own cake.    At some point I think I will use a 50% of coupon at Michael's and get a pack of 10-15 colors/dyes so I have a nice variety on hand for my frosting.  My decorating skills continue to improve each time I try it.  I have a great recipe I will post soon of the butter-cream frosting I use.  It works great when chilled a little.

I thought I would show you some pictures of the cakes I have made for my boys over the years.

This was my first attempt at a cake for my first son's second birthday back in 2007.  An Elmo cake.  I did need to purchase the Wilton cake pan for this one.   My mom helped me a lot with this cake.  

I will always cherish this picture!  He ALMOST bit off Elmo's nose that night!  :)

This one below was for EVB's 3rd birthday.  He wanted a "James" cake instead of a "Thomas" cake.  With the Elmo cake we learned that the red icing can taste a bit bitter, so we used some spray red dye for this cake, but it did not work out very well at all.  I would stick with regular frosting.  We also made some cute cupcakes to go with this cake.  Again, my mom helped me with this.  It was pretty tough decorating it.  We used a Wilton cake pan that is very difficult to find.  I don't think they sell it anymore at the craft stores.  Thankfully, she had a friend who let us borrow it.

These were the James and Thomas cupcakes.  My mom found these adorable, eatable eyes!  

This one below is a dinosaur cake, actually a "Buddy" cake from the PBS show Dinosaur Train.  We didn't have a big party for my son's 4th birthday, but because of this cake and some decorations from the Dollar Tree he told me "this was the best birthday ever."  He made me feel like the best mom in the world!  See, birthdays can be frugal and lots of fun!!!  

I used two round cake pans and when the cakes were cooled, I cut out pieces of the dinosaur and put it together like a puzzle.  We made a really cool orange color by mixing red and yellow food coloring and used peanut M & M's for his eyes, mouth and toe nails.  My son was so excited that it was the same color as "Buddy."

Doesn't he have the best smile?

The cake below was definitely the hardest and most time consuming cake, but well worth it.  All those little stars!  It took forever to ice it that I thought my arm was going to fall off!  My second son loves, loves sports, especially basketball.  He had asked for a basketball cake for almost a year!  I got a Costco cake for him for his second birthday (too pregnant and tired at that time to make one) and ever since that time he wanted another basketball cake for his 3rd b-day.  I discovered that Wilton sold a sports ball cake pan.  I found it at Michael's and had a coupon for it.  I think I paid $5-7 for it.  
I can't remember. 
 I thought it was a great thing to buy since I have three boys and they all love sports and balls.  I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to make soccer balls, baseballs, golf balls, etc. in the future.  Practice makes perfect right!  I made this cake twice for two separate parties.  The second time was a little bit easier.  You make two halves of the ball and then you put them together with frosting in the middle.  I found that making a 
9 x 11 iced cake to put underneath it helped relieve my fears of it "rolling" off the table.  Warning, it is very unstable!  I do love the way it turned out though and NVB was thrilled to say the least!

Now, this cake below was the simplest one I have made so far.  It was a last minute decision to put together.  I had a cake mix and chocolate frosting in the pantry, so that made it even easier.  I made a batch a cupcakes, then once cooled, I arranged them into the shape of the number one, and iced it.  It made for a perfect first birthday cake for our third son when we had a little celebration on his actual special day.  My big boys helped me decorate it.  He then got a free cake for his party the next day. 
More on that later.

Do you have any experience making cakes?  Any ideas for frugal birthday cakes?  Stay tuned as I will be posting the frosting recipe soon and also a way to score free first birthday cakes!  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Homeschooling has begun!

This is our first official week of homeschooling at our house!  I'm so excited for this new adventure for our family.  I'm so aware of my need for God as I take this new step of faith.  I feel very unprepared and inadequate, but I know He will help me.  I'm going to try to share my experiences with you as the year progresses.  I am very new to all this and have so much to learn.  I hope my experiences may help you too.  I've found some other helpful blogs and moms along the way that I will share with you in future posts.  Pictures of my boys may be an added bonus too!  Anyway, I wanted to start off this series by saying I HIGHLY recommend The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell.

This book is for anyone who is even thinking about homeschooling or is just getting started.  It was recommended to me, and I am only about 4 or 5 chapters into it, but I think it needs to be on everyone's shelf.  It has been so helpful in answering the questions/concerns like "why to homeschool," "the pros and cons of homeschooling," "having a vision/goals," "setting up a daily routine/schedule," and so much more. I think it will be a great reference book as time goes on too.   It has been so helpful to me especially since my husband and I have no experience with homeschooling.  I honestly wish I would have purchased it last year, so I could have had a year of so to prepare mentally for what we are doing now.  But I guess better late than never.  So, even if you only have kids under three at home right now, check out the book.  I don't think you will be disappointed. The $20 investment is well worth it.  I wish someone would have told me about it when my first was only three!  More to come soon....

Delicious Black Beans and Rice Recipe

I'm always trying to find new ways to eat even healthier and be more frugal with my cooking.  A dear friend was visiting a few weeks ago and she shared with me her experience with going gluten-free because of some food allergies she has discovered.  She shared with me that her and her husband were making some "beans and rice" meals and were realizing how much they could save eating more like that.  My husband and I love black beans, so I was on a mission to come up with something.  I knew cumin worked well with black beans from my black bean burger recipe.  I've been buying red peppers from Costco lately and thought those would go nicely too.  A little onion, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper too.  I'm excited to say I actually made up my own recipe and I paid attention tonight so I could share it with all of you!  It is delicious, very filling, nutritious, gluten-free, and so cheap to make.  It could be a main dish or used as a side.  My youngest son loved the mashed black beans and rice with the peppers too!  If you try it, please tell me what you think!

Black Beans and Rice

1 cup uncooked brown rice (following package directions for preparing) (not the 10 minute, instant stuff)
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 of a medium onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. cumin (more or less depending on how much flavor you want-I actually used a tiny bit less than two full tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Prepare brown rice according to package directions.  Spray a skillet with cooking spray and heat up 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium heat.  Once oil is hot, add onion, garlic, and peppers.  Saute until tender.  Remove from heat and wait until rice is all done.  Mix the veggies in with the rice and add the drained black beans. Stir in cumin, salt, pepper, and an additional 1 Tbsp. of olive oil.  Enjoy!