Valentine’s Mail Boxes

Kids valentine boxes ideas Valentine’s Day is something I get more excited about every year. Our family has established a tradition of celebrating the day as a family, staying in for a fancy home-cooked meal of pizza and white chocolate fondue. The kids love it! This year I thought I would add some extra anticipation and excitement around the day by giving them these adorable Valentine’s mail boxes.  Once a day, I sneak into their rooms and fill them with little surprises, candies and cards. They love to keep watch for the little red flag marker. When they see that it is up, they know there is a new surprise in side. Nothing beats hearing them squeal with excitement from their rooms when they find something new.

Kids valentine boxesThese Valentine’s boxes were from the $1.00 section at the front of Target in just plain red and white. Most of the goodies and Valentines cards were found at a local dollar store, so the whole project for 2 weeks of daily surprises for two kids cost right around $30.  Not bad!

I added the names and hearts on the sides and front to customize the valentine boxes. I wanted these to become a special part of our holiday traditions

valentine boxesAfter considering regular acrylic craft paint, decals or puff paints, I decided that nail polish would have the nicest finish and last the longest through a couple seasons of kid use.  To make sure the lettering stayed straight and even, I used masking tape to to section off the area. Then I used a pencil to outline each letter before I attempted to apply the nail polish.  I also used masking tape to make the bottom point of the hearts nice and even and centered. The top round parts were done free hand.

If you are going to make these at home, plan to do 2-3 coats of nail polish for the red on a white valentines box, and a good 4-6 coats for white polish on the red box. Don’t be startled if the first coat comes out looking uneven and bumpy! Let each coat dry for 30 minutes and keep applying. With enough refining, the it will become more even and solid.

After experimenting with puff paints and sticker decals, I decided that nail polish

Gringo Sushi

Gringo Sushi with bbq pork, french fries and avocado

This awesome appetizer may look like sushi, but it’s the farthest thing from it. If you can believe it, or if you’ve seen the recipe on TV from Food Network Chef Guy Fieri,  these rolls are stuffed with an assortment of your favorite bar food fare. We made a big batch of these for a Super Bowl party and stuffed ourselves sick. They were such an amazing combination of tastes and textures of dishes that we’d never experienced together before.  The light chewiness of the rice roll and wrapper was combined with the tangy savory deliciousness of BBQ pork, hot fresh french fries, and fresh avocado.  Check out the original Gringo Sushi recipes on Guy’s website and be inspired to roll up your own combination of ingredients!

Sushi for you

Besides the amazing taste, the real fun of serving this dish is all in the presentation. It’s fine dining meets pub food. These bite-sized treats have all of the visual appeal and finesse you get from a traditional sushi dish with all the comfort and down-home  tastes of a BBQ and burger joint.

To make the rolls, prepare your filling ingredients ahead of time. Choose any combination of foods that sound good to you.

You will need:
Sushi rice
Rice wrappers
Bamboo sushi rolling mat
Sushi ingredients (such as fries, onion rings, meats, veggies, etc.)
Dipping sauces (such as chipotle mayo, wasabi, BBQ sauce, etc.)

For this version, we got our filling ready first.  The fries were cooked, the pork was sauced up and simmered for a few hours, and the avocado was thinly sliced.  The rest of the process was just like making traditional sushi. We cooked shushi rice according to package instructions, pulled out our bamboo rolling mat, and began to layer ingredients over a softened rice wrapper laid out flat.  After rolling things up, we sliced our Gringo Sushi into 1-2″ portions and set them  face-up on a platter for serving.  Chipotle mayonnaise and a bit of wasabe make great condiments.

Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Raspberry laced chocolate layer cake recipeTo celebrate the birthday of a dear friend, I combined all of my most favorite chocolate and raspberry cake recipes and layered them all together in this over-sized and decadent dessert. It was a most satisfying combination! The structure of the cake is four layers of a dense milk chocolate cake with semi-sweet chocolate ganache, rasberry jelly and raspberry buttercream frosting in between each layer. The outside of the cake is frosted with a classic Hershey’s milk chocolate buttercream, coated with more ganache, and decorated with milk chocolate shavings on the sides and raspberries atop.

Here are the recipes:

Raspberry Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup Raspberry jelly
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 oz. whipping cream

Whip the butter until pale yellow and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, and raspberry jelly and combine for 1 minute until incorporated into the butter. On low speed, add the powdered sugar until mixed in thoroughly. Add the whipping cream, 1 oz. at a time,  and return to high speed when mixed in. Whip until light and fluffy.

Raspberry Jelly
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon water

Heat and mash the raspberries and sugar over medium heat in a sauce pan. When bubbling, incorporate the lemon juice.  While it’s still hot, pour the mixture through a strainer into a second bowl separate out the seeds.  Pour the seedless raspberry mixture to the sauce pan and set heat to low. Combine the cornstarch and water and mix  into a smooth paste, then add it to the raspberry mixture. Cook over low heat until thickened and let it cool completely.

Toba Garret’s Devil’s Food Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (287 grams)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (285 grams)
3/4 cups dark brown sugar (170 grams)
1 cup dutch process cocoa (110 grams)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 oz. melted semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line 2 9-inch baking dishes with parchment paper covering the bottoms. Measure and add all ingredients (except the melted chocolate chocolate) into a large mixing bowl. Blend 30 seconds at low speed. Blend in the melted chocolate slowly, scraping the bowl constantly. Beat for three minutes on high speed, scraping the bowl. Spoon into pans and level with a spatula. Bake layers for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean

Strawberry Shortcake Cake

Strawberry short cake girls birthday cake designA quick and easy cake design made the perfect whimsical touch for my 3-year old’s birthday party earlier this spring. Rather than spend days before the event buried in fondant and intensive cake preparations, I kept things really easy and did this cake out of a cherry-chip box mix and vanilla buttercream frosting.  A few fondant touches and a Straberry Shortcake doll as a topper make this girls birthday cake design a cinch to put together!

Strawberry Sortcake decoration ideaColors are the key to making a simple cake really pop. Here is a close-up of the green beaded buttercream border. You can see where I used a damp fingertip to flatten the points that were left from application with the piping tip. The white polka dots are finger-flattened buttercream as well. The flowers and cake board covering are all done out of fondant.  I always like to add a finishing splash of color and polish by wrapping the cake board in ribbon. The red mirrors the top of the cake and balances the colors out a bit.

Strawberry Shortcake cakes for kidsTo keep things simple for this birthday cake, I used a toy doll and embellished it with some fondant decoration. The stem shooting out the top is floral wire with fondant rolled around it. I left 3″ at the bottom to insert to the cake.

To accompany the cake and develop the Strawberry Shortcake theme, I also made a few cake pops out of Rice Krispy Treats and dipped them in red chocolate with some sprinkles. They  added a little of a wow factor to the party without taking up so many hours of preparation as an ornate cake design. The packaging and display of these goodies is really what makes them something special.

Wired Birthday Cake

LED electronic birthday cake idea for boysThis birthday cake was a true celebration of all things held dear by my son.  Not being the biggest fan of cake, I decided to decorate it with all of his favorite candies and lay on an extra thick coat of frosting underneath, which his his favorite part. He’s also really into his electronics set and learning all about all things with power, so instead of lighting the cake with candles, we wired it with flashing LED lights all around the perimeter powered by a hidden battery pack.

Licorice birthday cake for boysThe cake had a rather intimidating start as a pile of wires. I happily left the electronic part of the project to my husband while I tended to the baking. It took both of us, however to fit the wiring up inside the tubes of licorice that would later run up the sides of the cake and hold the LED lights around the top edge of the cake. The licorice was a key to keeping the wiring elements separate from the edible portions of cake. It also kept it from becoming a fire hazard!

Licorice candy boys birthday cake with blinking lightsAaah, here the cake comes together a little bit. Two layers of cake on a thin cardboard base stood on top of a nest of wires. You can see how the wiring was ran up one string of licorice, connected to an LED light, and ran back down the other side. This hid all of the ugly electronics work quite nicely. They only other challenge was concealing the battery pack which powered the whole thing. My solution was to tape it to the cake pedestal and cover it with curly ribbon.

After the wiring basics were in place, it was time to fill in the remaining surfaces with candy. This cake held almost 2 packs of Red Vines licorice, half a bag of Skittles sprinkled on top, 2 packs of Sour Patch ropes, and one large box of Nerds.

Boys electronics cake with LED lightsMy son and his friends was in heaven with the candy overload, and they were blown away by the flashing LED lights. It caught a ton of attention and interest at the party venue that day. The effort was a bit extreme, but in the end it was totally worth it.

Boys birthday blue Nerd cupcakesAs a side note, we made a bunch of cupcakes sprinkled with Nerds and Skittles just in case the flashing lights made any of the guests skeptical about eating the cake. In the end, everything was devoured. It was a big hit!

Boys birthday candy cake with LED lights.