Thursday, April 30, 2009

Summer Weather = Zoo & BBQ Chicken Thighs

BBQ Chicken Thighs

On Monday, here in the greater Toronto area, we had great summer-like weather. The temperature in our area reached a balmy 28 C. With summer blue skies and warm humid air, you'd never know it was just spring if it weren't for the leafless trees and unbloomed flowers and sprouting plants. Mother nature was playing tricks on us because today, it was quite cool again and raining. After picking up Lauren from preschool, the two of us headed out to the zoo. I love going during the school year while most people are still working and kids are still in school. Mind you, there are a lot of kids on field trips visiting, too. But still, just the two of us enjoying our time together is wonderful.
I told her the drum was made from dried animal skin. She asked, "Did it hurt?"

Looking at the green spotted frogs and blue frogs in a popple terrarium.

I just love letting Lauren be who she is and allow her to guide me to where she wants to go. She's been to the Metro Toronto Zoo many times and knows it pretty well. She has a great love for living things whether it be animals, fish, insects, rodents, reptiles or flowers and plants. We pack a lunch and picnic at one of the sites along the path.

Hmmm...where to now?

"Look, Mom! There's another one over there!"

The first of many trips to the zoo this year was so nice, I can't wait to go again but hopefully, with the rest of the family.

Lauren loves her corn! She started munching on them right out of the fridge! This is the same kid who loves frozen peas right out of the freezer for a snack.
I did end up boiling them for her.

For dinner, we had the most tender, sweetest corn (product of the USA). It was the first batch of the season for us and it sure was expensive but well worth the price. $3.49 for 5 ears! My cousin in Florida just bought some the same day and paid only $1.99 for 8! I also BBQd some chicken thighs that I had premarinated with my basic recipe:

2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 sprigs green onions, chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a zip top bag and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and coat with sauce. Marinade for at least an hour in the fridge or overnight and cook on the bbq.

And Dorothy Lives On

Yesterday, we ALMOST Lost Dorothy AGAIN! Dorothy (as Lauren affectionately calls him) is our Siamese Fighting Fish. About 3 years ago, as part of a loot bag from one of my nephew's birthday parties, my 3 boys each got a Siamese Fighting Fish. Two of them died not to long after we brought them home but one, the sickly looking one (I think it was a female because the colors weren't as vivid), lived for about 19 months. One morning, Dorothy was just lying on its side at the bottom of his tank. I quickly flushed him down the toilet (what else do you do with a dead fish - I suppose I could have put him in the compost??) before Lauren noticed. Since we had the food and the little tank already, we went and bought another one and then another and another and another over a very short time.

A few months had gone by and Dorothy #2 was healthy as ever. Then one day, Dorothy #2 was having his water changed over the kitchen sink. She was a healthy, fine looking specimen. A very nice blue and had grown a little since we brought her home a few months before. As I was pouring the water out of her bowl, a little too quickly I suppose, Dorothy #2 flopped out into the bottom of the sink. I continued to pour the remaining water out of the bowl only to find the Dorothy was pushed by the current towards the drain. I quickly tried to rescue him but he wriggled out of my pincer grasp and OOOPPPS! down the drain. I told Lauren that Dorothy went home to visit her family, to see her brothers and sisters. She was good with that.

When I went to the pet store to get a new imposter, the sales lady asked if I needed any food. I explained that there had been an accident in the sink. She said, "Oh yeah, we have lots of those happening!" Dorothy #3 almost didn't make it as I put it in the stroller basket and collapsed the stroller on it. I'm so stupid that I didn't even notice until I got home and went inside with the rest of my purchases. The fish actually survived the ride home without any water in a broken container! His damaged gills from the lack of oxygen must've led to it's demise and #4 died within a couple of days for whatever reason. Frustrated, I ended up throwing out the whole fish bowl. I gave up on fish! At least I thought I did...

Last week, my hubby took a rainy day off and took Lauren to the pet store to "look". He said that she was SO excited when she saw the fighting fishes. She spotted a blue one and said, "Oh look! There's Dorothy with her brothers and sisters! She can come home with me now?" I asked hubby if he couldn't have picked a better looking one. He said there was no holding her back. She was SO SURE this was Dorothy and held on to him for fear that daddy was going to leave her there. It's a good thing I didn't throw out the food. I had to bring out the original old tried and true Ikea square vase.

Two days ago, when I was changing her water, over the sink again, but this time put her in a holding container by the sink. Live and learn, right? Well, while I'm cleaning the bowl, Lauren gets a stool and climbs up to observe. After all, she'll be doing this for her pet one day. I hear a little gasp. Lauren is speechless and pointing into the bottom of the other sink. Before I get a chance to look over, I hear her little wimper and low and behold, Dorothy #5 is at the bottom of the sink wriggling around again. Lauren had knocked over the cup into the sink and was frightened by the sight. I calmy plugged the drain and managed to pluck the wriggling fish to safety.

And so, Dorothy lives on... "I will vow to make sure you don't ever go down the drain to visit your family and I will keep your water clean while you are safely in a holding container, and fish out the many extra food pellets that Lauren thinks you need each day." Long live Dorothy #5!!

Fresh Lemon Grass

I love the lemony sweet scent of fresh lemongrass. I've had foods that have the flavor in it but have never actually tried to seek it out to cook with it. Only recently have I discovered it and decided to try to make a Vietnamese BBQ chicken dish with it. The only problem is that I'm not really sure which parts I'm suppose to use. I ended up peeling the outer layers of the woody stalk away and discarded it. It seemed like a lot of waste. Then I did read somewhere on the internet that you are suppose to peel the hard outer layers and save for soups and then use the softer inner bulbous part of the stalks chopped up. Well, I didn't know where to stop when chopping since even the upper parts seemed tender. I chopped two bunches up, put everything into a Tupperware container and popped it into the freezer to use at a later date.

Can anyone help me here? What are you suppose to do with each parts. I've been using it like I use green onions - the whole thing! Any help on this would be very much appreciated.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BzzAgent Nesquik & Beech Nut Toddler Snacks

Thank goodness it's ALMOST the end of the school year! I'm as tired packing their daily lunches as they are tired of eating my packed lunches. I'm at a loss as to what to pack these days. Sandwiches, soup? Canned fruit or fresh fruit? Cookies or granola bars? What to pack? Most days, William comes home with uneaten sandwiches and sometimes almost everything he left home with. I always wonder if he's eating someone else's lunch. My cousin's son uses granola bars as a trade-off for other snacks that he's not privy to at his house. As for drinks, Nicholas prefers water and William tries to pull a fast one and loads up with juice boxes, which is a no-no. What they really want is a hot, fresh lunch delivered right to the school each day. I never signed up to be a delivery person so that's probably not going to happen on a regular basis. They also don't want to come home as it cuts into their recess.

Well, I think I found a solution to the drinks and snack department at least. I'm in a word-of-mouth type marketing program, where you sign up to try new products and then spread the word by sharing the products and coupons that they send you with friends and family. By filling in a ton of surveys and answering a few questions, they'll email you to ask if you're interested in joining a campaign and they can target their markets and get direct feedback from members to let the companies gauge their success or lack of it. I believe that this type of marketing is more cost effective and word of mouth is the best type of advertising for any product or service.

At the moment, I'm involved in two campaigns: 1) Beechnut toddler snacks and 2) Nesquik 25% less sugar drinks.

My son Nicholas's job is to pick up the mail each day on his way home from school. In today's mail, there was a box that contained 9 tetra boxes of Nequik flavored milks (3 each of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavored milk). They each immediately consumed a vanilla flavored one and wanted MORE! Their school does offer a fresh milk program but my boys don't like the chocolate milk since it's too thick and sweet for them (strange kids I have). And white milk is good with cookies only, according to them.

Last week, my postman dropped off a huge box for the Beech Nut Toddler Snacks campaign which consisted of 12 bags of Yogurt Nibbles (Yogurt coated whole grain snack) and 6 boxes of Banana Cookies-Biscuits. THis new line offers little tummies the "No Junk Promise". Made with whole grain, and no preservatives, no salt added, no artificial ingredients or coloring. My kids, and friends' kids and myself think that these are great tasting products. A perfect snack for a kid or adults of any age.

To date, I've tried and spread the news on several products like Nabob coffee, Silk Soy Milk, and Fruits & Passions soaps and creams. If you are interested in more information or signing up to join in on the fun with this marketing program, visit It's free and you get to try new products or existing products for free, in exchange for at least two comments on each campaign you are involved in. The more input, the more invites.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Girl's Best Friend

Bailey, our Portuguese Waterdog is probably the best dog that a little girl could have. Look, would YOUR brothers let you dress them up like this??? If nobody'll play with her, Bailey will!

This poor dog...he lets Lauren do anything to him. We think he's attention starved, so any attention is good attention, according to Bailey. He actually can never have enough. We should've known when we went to look at the litter. His grandma looks very much like him and she was SO friendly and wanted to be petted the whole duration of our visit. HE'S JUST LIKE HER!!

Lauren thanks Bailey for being her playmate when there's nothing else to do...

Who needs a sandbox when you have a dog food box to dig in? (Don't worry, it's holistic and all-natural stuff we feed him - he eats better than we do!) As she digs and moves food from the bin to his bowl and back again, she drops a few and sometimes, like today, a whole bowl full. Fortunately, he's not food driven, at least not dog food driven, so he doesn't go after every little piece of kibble that falls his way. It actually would make my life a lot easier if he would! Most dogs act as vacuums but not Bailey, he prefers to be hand fed and preferably stuff like beef bones, salmon, shrimp, and most anything else we eat including pineapple, sweet peppers, cantalope, strawberries and broccoli.

With Lauren being only 3-1/2 years, she's probably caused this dog so much grief in this short time she's known him, he probably doesn't want to live another 7 years or so (average lifespan of PWDs are about 12 years). Maybe not in this household anyway. LOL! From day 1, he ran and hid under the table when he heard her little cries. If he only knew that that little bundle was going to grow to be what she is today, he would have probably ran away and found a new family!

Bailey usually starts out sleeping under the bed, on my side (to rest up for the next day's torture sessions) and generally moves around during the night. He hated being crated a puppy and since then, whenever we called "crate" before we went up to bed, I think he mistook that for "go upstairs and under the bed" because it was impossible to get him out once he got up there. Each morning, she looks forward to him making his appearance. When he's ready, usually around 8 am, he'll mosey on down. When she spots him, she gives him one of her most biggest loving squeezes and he just sits there like in this photo and takes it like a good dog. The poor dog even gets his tail jumped on and incredibly, he again just takes it like a good dog. When he doesn't want to be subjected to anymore of her harrassing, he'll just get up and walk away calmly like he's trying to sneak away without her noticing. Back into the living room, under the piano (it's like his den), near the window, to bask in the warm sunshine. Sometimes, she'll seek him out and invade his serenity and he'll just take it like a good dog. It's actually very cute to see them lying on the floor together. Or at times, she get his leash and "walk" him around the house. The other day, she even covered him with a blanket while he was napping. He looked up at me with those puppy-dog eyes that said, "Oh bother! Why me??"

All of the above is true, and with all the torture she puts him through each day, I'm sure Bailey loves her as much as she loves him. They truly are best friends.

If you are looking for a great family dog, a Porty is the way to go. They are non-shedding, have a very good gentle temperament, and VERY smart. Because the President has one now, the breed which was fairly unknown, has put this breed into the spotlight. Unfortunately, this causes a greater demand for them and hopefully, this won't cause irresponsible breeding.

Life's Simple Pleasures

These 50% less sodium Lay's Potato chips are one of my favorites!
My lips don't burn from the tons of salt of the regular Lay's.

When my dad was sick in the hospital a couple of months ago, my sister and I had gone down to the lobby for a little snack from the drugstore. We came back with junk food like a bag of Lay's potato chips, Coke and chocolate covered caramels. Yeah, we know, we could've come back with MUCH better choices, but what the heck, the kids weren't with us, so we could pig out on our own!! LOL!! While we were munching away, she was looking resolutely into her bag, like she was looking for something special.

A example of a good one!

I asked her what she was looking for and she just chuckled. That day, I found out that we were definitely from the same two parents since we had an oddity in common when eating potato chips. Something very strange and peculiar that the two of us enjoy: WE BOTH LOVE THE CRUNCH OF THE FOLDED ONES!! My hubby thinks it's just downright strange and just grunts and shakes his head when he sees me peer inside the bag before selecting my next chip.

My kids look for the folded ones and collect them onto a separate plate just for me! It's really very hard to explain what's different about them. I've tried but nobody understands what the thrill of it is. They think we're insane. Well, it's just one of those things. Is there anyone else out there that understands this odd likeness? If not, yo should try one today, and maybe you'll discover the joy that you've been missing out on! (Or maybe you'll just shake your head and think we have a sickness, too!)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lemon Meringue Pies

Last weekend, I was in the mood for Lemon Meringue Pie. I don't make it from scratch and I have tried versions of this pie from groceries/bakeries, all claiming to have the BEST lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately, after 20 years, I still have to say that the (Dr. Oetker) Sherriff's Lemon Meringue Pie filling that comes in a box, yes, in a box, is still the best! It offers the perfect balance of tart to sweetness in the lemon curd. It is simple and of course, delicious. Its no-fail recipe combined with a frozen pie crust is always a success.

One of our favorite desserts made easy!

To make two 9" pies or three 7" pies, prebake frozen pie crusts as per instructions or if you are making crusts from scratch.

Follow the directions on the box to make enough lemon curd for two pies and pour into baked pie crusts.

Divide lemon curd evenly amongst prepared, baked pie shells.

Whip 2 egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar for each pie. For a higher pile of meringue, use an additional 2 egg whites, and 1/4 cup of sugar. Make sure there are no traces of yolk in your egg whites or they will not fluff up!

Spread evenly over top of lemon filling to the edges of the lemon filling to the crust. Try to make peaks by pushing spatula or a fork in and pulling it out straight upwards, as the peaks will brown first and make it more appealing.

Return pies with meringue spread over lemon curd to the oven to brown for about 10-12 minutes and wait patiently...

Try not to eat them before they are chilled!

We often can't wait for the pies to chill and will gobble at least one while it's still runny -who cares! warm or chilled, it's still mmm mmm good! But if they do get the chance to chill through, it'll be the best lemon meringue pies you will ever have!

Whole Wheat No-Rise Pizza Dough

Last month, I posted a recipe for a No-Rise Pizza Dough which has become a family favorite. I made the same dough a little more healthier by using a bit of whole wheat flour. Having tried the whole wheat crusts from the chain pizza outlets, I was a bit skeptical about this. The problem with baking with whole wheat flour is that it absorbs a lot more moisture than regular flour. Not knowing this, I substituted the whole amount of white enriched flour in equal amounts. That was not a good thing. I had to throw away 6 cups of flour since I double up my batches (large family). The next time, I used 1 cup whole wheat to 2 cups of white flour per batch and it was PERFECT! My kids are fine with whole wheat and whole grain products so they didn't even notice the difference.

By doubling the recipe, because we like a thinner crust, I can make 3-4 large pizzas out of it. I actually made a panzerotti by piling one side of the crust with extra sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms and then folding the dough over and crimping by hand. I guessed at the bake time which was of course longer than the pizza. I forgot to take a picture AND I didn't even get a bite of it!

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups flour
1 tbsp. quick rise dry active yeast
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 cup warm water (110F/45 C)

Cooking Directions:

1. Preheat oven with baking stone to 375F. (I use a Pampered Chef bar pan or cookie pan.)

2. Combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. Mix oil and warm water and add to flour mixture. Use dough hook and mix until fully combined.

3. Stretch the dough as thin as possible to fit the size of your stone or baking pan, or if you have a pizza peel. Top with ingredients and place pizza on the hot stone in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

**HANDY TIP: if you let the dough rise for about a 1/2 hour, you will get a more tender crust but if you don't have the time, it's still delicious!**

**HANDY TIP: If you make extras, just put it in the fridge in a large ziploc bag and use at a later date, or make ahead.**

**HANDY TIP: If you have a stone, preheat it in your oven and slide your pizza onto it. It will cook more evenly and give you a crispier crust. If you don't have a pizza peel, like me, I use an Ikea flexible cutting board**

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Birthday dinner for Hubby

The last week had been like a food-fest around here. Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of photos because I just wasn't in the mood, and when I was, I would forget to take pictures of the either the before or after and it just wouldn't be worth posting if I didn't have both, or at least the after-picture of everything.

April 20th was Steven's birthday but because we drove my aunts and uncle back to Buffalo International Airport, we decided to stay the day to do some cross-border shopping. Got a few deals like a pair of boots, slip on shoes, and a pair of runners from Rockport/Reebok outlet for only US$70! and US$1.99 turtle necks and tops from Children's Place.

The selection of Pepperidge Farm Fishy Crackers that the US consumers have is amazing! We got all sorts like colored, honey, chocolate, pizza (they have those here in Canada), even corn. There was also ranch, double cheddar, white cheddar, and a couple of other flavors that I opted out of. I realized that if I got the teddy grahams, they're very similar but the fishy shapes are a little too cute and different for me to pass up on. We don't have chocolate teddies and they do taste very much like the chocolate fishies - yummy!

The savings are phenomenal! I love going to Sam's Club in the US. Since it's closed down here, we chose to keep our membership so that we could take advantage of items such as this. I bought 2 lbs. of instant yeast for only US$3.66! I paid close to C$6 for a pound not too long ago. 8 lbs. of unsalted butter for about US$1.60/lb. we pay about C$4.39 at Costco. The 5 lb. brick of cheddar cheese is only US$8.62 at Sam's and C$26.99! (Not a typo.) The shredded mozzarella was US$9.02. and whole chickens were only US$0.75/lb.! The savings list goes on and on for groceries. There is no tax on groceries so I could bring back as much as I could store in my freezer until the next time. You just have to know your prices because not everything is a better price. I know that dairy products and chicken are worthwhile bringing back. WIth a large family, it doesn't take long to gobble it all up.

So, on the menu for the belated birthday dinner was Caesar Salad, BBQ rib-eye steaks, steamed sugar snap peas, sauteed mushrooms and onions, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, fresh fruit roll.

On my ribeye's I just sprinkle with my favorite Clubhouse Montreal Steakspice and seasoning salt before grilling.

The stringless sugar snap peas are the best. They are SO tender and sweet. No need to de-string before cooking. Just steam for about 3 minutes and serve as is or sprinkle with a bit of seasalt.

The mushrooms and onions are just sauteed in a bit of butter with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

The roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes are a favorite side of our family as well. Preheat oven to 425F. I just peel and cut up the potatoes and place in a plastic bag. Coat with extra virgin olive oil, season with a bit of onion powder, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning and shake up. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet (stone preferably so you won't have to turn half way), and remove from oven when golden brown. Approximately 20 minutes.

I'd like to say that I made this fresh fruit spongecake roll, but I didn't. I do have a great recipe which I will post very soon, but I just didn't have enough time and energy to bake. It is a simple sponge cake, with fresh whipped cream and berries mixed in, topped with fresh berries. This is Mmm, Mmmm good! This is my favorite dessert especially in the summer. Often, I will make the sponge cake in a jelly roll pan and just slice it in half and layer. It may not look as attractive, but it all goes down the same!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Dad Loved to Cook, too!

Yi Muk Jung
October 4, 1933 - April 13, 2009.

For those of you who know me, you'll know why I've been neglecting my sites and emails. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in November, 2008 and had surgery to remove the mass on December 17th. He was deemed cancer free in mid-January. On March 15th, my mother called to say he was hallucinating and he was admitted to the hospital and was diagnosed with brain tumors. He was treated a week later with 5 doses of radiation, but never recovered from the fatigue after the third treatment. These treatments were suppose to prolong his life, but they seemed to have weakened him instead.

It is a difficult time for all our family after losing such a wonderful man. For those who knew him, knew that he was kind and always placed his own needs behind anyone else's. He was the most unselfish person who was hard working and made sure that his family had roof over our head, food on the table and clothes on our back and that we were happy. We didn't have much growing up, but us kids had his undivided attention when he wasn't out making a buck.

His love for cooking must've rubbed off on me. He didn't cook gourmet style, usually Chinese home cooking and everything was always tasty. I've learned that my love of cooking has helped bring my family and friends together. We both cook up storms and love to cook for huge crowds. My grocery bill is huge each month as was his. I feed 2 girls and 3 boys, as he fed 2 boys and 3 girls. When I cook, I leave a huge mess of pots and pans, utensils, dishes, etc. I can't help it and neither could my father. My sister says I take after him. I think that's a great compliment.

On Friday, we were all saddened at the finality of his life. He would have been happy to know how many people showed up to pay their last respects and loved him. You would know it just by looking at the number of flowers that were at the funeral home. A few of my friends commented that they've never seen SO MANY flowers (probably close to 100 giant bouquets) in one room. My 3 year old, upon entering the room again, said "I want to go back into the jungle!" My two youngest sons, Nicholas and William are both having a hard time understanding death.

He tried to maintain his dignity for as long as he could and we understood when it was time for him to leave us. The morning after he saw my two nephews and sister-in-law who returned from Arkansas to see him, my dear father peacefully slipped away. He was just 75.

Last night, I had a dream. We were having dinner at my parent's place and my father stood up and said to me with a smile, "I'm ok." Yes, I know. He is in a better place. His pain and suffering was short-lived, which was best for himself and everyone.

He was loved by all and will be missed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BBQ Season is Upon Us

A simple prelude to the lazy days of summer's lunch. I don't usually like anything on my burgers (boring, I know).

3 salmon and 6 Roadhouse burgers.

Cardinal Roadhouse burgers. The perfect weight and burger to bread ratio.

My family and I LOVE the warmer weather, mainly because it's BBQ season. I used to BBQ year-round, but I've found in the last 4 years or so, as I'm getting older (40 something), I don't feel like BBQing in the winter months any longer. If any of you live in the northern parts of the USA or Canada (except for parts of British Columbia), you'd know that our winters can be quite long. Actually, Toronto's not bad compared to Quebec and the Maritimes. Especially this year it seems, summer can't come soon enough. The blue skies and sunshine is welcomed by us all, and apart from the near freezing temperature a the moment, (it's 1 C/33F outside) and the swamp when we look outside, it has all the makings for a beautiful summer's day. Who cares, I'll just pretend that it is. I've just gone out to fire up the bbq for lunch. It's not the first time this year, as we had an early taste of spring last month (about 18C).

The swamp. To be opened soon...

On today's menu is only six 1/2 lb.Cardinal Roadhouse burgers and 3 salmon burgers from Costco. My family loves these juicy hamburger patties. These are actually leftover in the deep freezer from last fall. I think that the salmon burgers were quite fishy, so only my hubby had one(he didn't mind them too much) . The other two prize-winning salmon patties will go to Bailey, the overweight Portuguese waterdog. I guess you don't have to wonder why he's overweight...
Our overweight Portuguese Waterdog, Bailey. Porty males are usually between 40-60 lbs. or so. Bailey is about 75 lbs.!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christine's Birthday Cupcakes

Since I didn't have time to allow the icing to harden, I couldn't smooth out the tops any.

I must've been out of my mind, but when my best friend Grace asked us to her daughter's 10th birthday party this weekend, I offered to make her birthday cake out of cupcakes. Actually, I'm quite honored that she's trusting me to make something palatable and visually pleasing for her darling daughter, Christine.

Since I've begun this cake decorating class a couple of weeks ago, I feel the need for a challenge. Since we're not all that into birthday cake, at least not the Duncan Hines kind, we can all share and my practice cakes won't go to waste at least. But with all that's on my plate at the moment, I did manage to find a couple of hours during the week to make the cupcakes from scratch from a yellow cake recipe from Cake Wardrobe's blog. They are delicious, although I probably should have sifted the flour twice to make it a bit lighter. They do have great flavour and easily doubled.

The cupcakes were made three days ago and promptly wrapped in plastic wrap directly on the cooling rack and placed in deep freezer until last night. While still frozen, as to avoid crumbs (although I don't these don't seem to have much) and because I didn't have much time, I tinted icing and used a spatula to spread the icing on each cupcake. Under normal circumstances, you should allow the icing to form a "harden" (not to be mistaken for royal icing which turns rock hard) and then smooth it out with parchment paper before decorating. But because it was late, I started decorating after two hours.

After cupcakes are cooled, you can freeze them to make for easier decorating, especially boxed mixes.

Iced each cupcake (I hate this yellow!) and allow to sit for a few hours to harden.

Stamp your pattern you want to fill in.Outline the pattern with a #4 tip before filling in to give your pattern a more defined image (I used #18 stars).

I used letter cookie cutters to stamp out the shapes, outlined each letter with #4 tip and filled with a #16 star. As you can see, I'm no neat-freak, especially since I was doing this in a hurry, but I think they came out very nice. What do you think? Will Christine love these? Will post more photos later today...

For the cupcakes
(recipe from Desserts by the Yard, Sherry Yard)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Happy Birthday, Christine!

1. Make the Cake: Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degreesF. Place liners to make 24 cupcakes.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together two times and set aside.

3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a large bowl and a hand mixer, and beat together at medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Scrape down the paddle or beaters and the sides of the bowl.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

5. Beating on low speed, add the milk and the flour mixture each in 3 additions, alternating wet and dry ingredients. Beat only until smooth. Fill the cupcake pans 3/4 full.

6. Bake for 30 minutes. To test the cake for doneness, lightly touch the top with a finger - it should spring right back into place; the cake should also be beginning to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. If necessary, bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.

7. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before frosting. (see Cake Decorating Weeks 1 & 2)

I transferred them onto a covered tray to transport. Let's hope they survive the trip!

Off to Week #3 at cake decorating class. Please check back later... : )

Later that day...

So, the cupcakes survived the journey to Christine's party. She was SO excited when she saw them and wanted to get the camera out for some pics! That's a good ego boost, don't you think? Even amateur decorating like mine, served a 10 year-old's heart delight well! Unfortunately, I think that will try the cupcake recipe again, this time double sifting as per the recipe's directions. That's me - always trying to take the shortcut. The flavor of the cake was wonderful, but the density a bit too heavy.