How to Make an Easy Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras season is here!  Pensacola kicked off the Mardi Gras celebration this week with Twelfth Night.  I love that Pensacola has such a family friendly parade for Mardi Gras.  We love to go to the parade but that isn’t until the end of February so we celebrated Mardi Gras this weekend with a homemade King Cake.

The “King’s Cake” represents the three Biblical kings that journeyed to Bethlehem.  King cake season goes from the end of Twelfth Night through Mardi Gras Day.  The cake is a ring of twisted cinnamon dough with a variety of fillings.  The most common is cream cheese but you may also find a variety of fillings like cherry, peach, lemon, rasberry and more.  The cake is covered with a sweet icing and then purple, gold and green sugar.  Often, there is a baby or a small bean hidden inside the cake but seeing as this presents a choking hazard, we leave it out.  Tradition states that whoever finds the hidden bean or baby is the person who brings the next king cake.

This is the first king cake I have ever made and I admit that I totally cheated!   We used a can of cinnamon rolls!  I might attempt a more difficult recipe.

Ingredients:

1 can of cinnamon rolls and the icing that comes with it

1 cup of sugar divided into 3 bowls

Directions:

Open the can of cinnamon rolls and fold each roll in half to resemble a hot dog bun.  Lay the rolls in a circle so that they are barely overlapping.

If you want to add a cream cheese flavor to it you can put a dab of cream cheese frosting in the middle of each roll.  In the picture, you will see the cinnamon rolls open facing out.  I wish that I had faced the opening towards the inside of the ring.

Bake the rolls according to the directions on the container.  My recipe called for 13-17 minutes and they were ready right at 13 minutes.  Be sure to watch the oven.

While the cinnamon rolls are baking, make your colored sugars.

Put three to five food coloring drops into the sugar and mix thoroughly.  I used this tutorial on how to dye your own sugar.

Take the metal lid off of the icing container, discard, and microwave icing for about 10-15 seconds so the icing is a little runny.  Pour the icing over the top of the cinnamon rolls and coat with the colored sugars.

Sugar Cookies – A Fun Family Activity

When Thanksgiving weekend came around, I couldn’t wait for it to be over so that we could put up our tree and get our house decorated.  Now that it is almost Christmas, I am having a hard time keeping up the holiday spirit.  Today, I spent the afternoon baking sugar cookies, a yearly tradition, with my family and it was just the ticket to get me back into the holiday mood.  We like our sugar cookies covered with icing and sprinkles.  This is not a healthy recipe at all, but it is the perfect holiday treat.  My kids love making these cookies and I am ready for the next few days of holiday activities!

This recipe is great because it is easy and uses ingredients that you most likely have in your pantry.  I shared this recipe here last Friday but I thought I would share it again.

To make the sugar cookies:

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 egg

1 t. cream of tartar

1 cup margarine, softened

1/2 t. almond extract

2 1/2 cup flour

1 t. baking soda

Mix powdered sugar, margarine, vanilla, almond extract, and egg.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.  When it comes out of the refrigerator, it may seem crumbly.  Mix it up and knead the dough by hand.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut shapes. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes.  The longer they cook, the crispier they will be.  Cool on a baking rack.

To make the frosting:

Ingredients:

1lb powdered sugar

1 stick of butter

1 tsp vanilla

a few ounces of water

Combine butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar in the mixer.  Add water and until it is a frosting consistency.  Dish into bowls and add food coloring if desired.  When you aren’t using the frosting, keep covered with a damp paper towel so frosting doesn’t harden in bowl.

Do you have a favorite cookie recipe?  If you would like to share it, please leave us a note in the comments!

Clean Eating with Freeze Your Way Fit

My pal, Briony, has started a new blog called Freeze Your Way Fit.  I have learned so much from Briony over the past two years on how to eat cleaner and healthier, waste less food, and save more money!  I am so excited to share her new blog with you!

Freeze Your Way Fit includes information on how to start eating healthier, utilize your freezer as a tool to help you cook less often and save money on groceries through couponing. 

Every Monday, she posts a weekly meal plan with healthy recipes and coupon link ups.  She also shares stockpile scenarios that will help you save money in the long run. 

One of my favorite things to see now is my stockpiled freezer.  For example, whenever I make a lasagna I will make two.  We eat one and freeze one.  It helps me to save time and I have a healthy meal waiting for me in my freezer.  Last night, we had leftovers that freeze well.  Instead of putting it in my fridge where I know it will just move into the back until I finally clean it out and throw it away, I freeze the leftovers and have entire meals ready for me in minutes! 

Here are a few of my favorite recipes (I have made these at home on my own and they really are easy!):

Clean Eating Healther Granola Bars

Joan’s Homemade Hummus

And these are some of the site’s most popular recipes:

Homemade Yogurt in the Crockpot

Sneaky Sloppy Joes

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

If you aren’t sure how to begin couponing, freezing or moving to a healthier eating lifestyle, stop by her Getting Started Page.

The thing that I love about Briony is that she shares easy techniques to help everyone get started without making you feel overwhelmed.  Making it easy for all of us comes easy to her because she changed her eating habits gradually.  Here is Briony’s story!

Changing our eating habits was a very gradual process for our family. It all started when I was pregnant for the first time. I was sitting at the dinner table after reading the section in What to Expect When You’re Expecting about nutrition during pregnancy. I’m one of those people that can never do anything half way… and I want a book for everything. I had sat down earlier that day and made a chart to ensure that I was fulfilling every category of nutrient every day (seriously, I’m that crazy… I do this sort of thing regularly). I realized I was behind for the day so I made whole wheat pasta with meat sauce for dinner. I put ¼ cup of wheat germ into mine because I needed my dose of folic acid for the day. On the side I had ½ a red pepper and a baked potato w/ cheese. 

I took one bite of the pasta and started to cry. The wheat germ was way too much and made the sauce totally thick and dry. On top of that, we always ate white pasta so the whole wheat pasta seemed too heavy and just added to the thick, pasty mess. The amount of food surrounding me was simply overwhelming. “I can’t eat this. Our baby is going to be nutrient deficient!!” I wailed. My husband, Matt, was very sympathetic and reassuring… he kept his laughter down to a low giggle.

I ended up just eating the baked potato and the rest of my pregnancy consisted mainly of eating mac n’ cheese out of a box. The fact of the matter was that it was just too much of a change all at once and I was completely overloaded with information. I was so stressed out trying to get a check in each nutritional box that I wasn’t able to enjoy my food. Okay, pregnancy hormones might have had a little bit to do with it as well.  It was too big of a leap from what I was used to, which made it harder to stick with.

So how did I go from eating only simple carbs and processed cheese for nine months to the way we are now? It all started with baby food. Once Colwynn was old enough to start solids, my friend lent me Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. I already thought that we ate well. After all, I cooked dinner every night and I liked fruits and vegetables. However, my version of “cooking dinner” was anything from chicken stir fry (good) to Hamburger Helper (not so good). As I read through the book I learned a lot about how to make better food choices and what foods were more nutrient dense than others. I started making Colwynn’s baby food and began making VERY gradual changes to what Matt and I were eating as well.

Super Baby Food helped me develop an incredibly efficient system of using my freezer to make big batches of food for Colwynn and then use it one portion at a time. As Colwynn got older and started eating non-pureed foods, I began making even more changes to what Matt and I ate. I didn’t want to have to cook more than one meal for dinner so I started planning meals for us that Colwynn could eat too. Because the change had been gradual over a few months and we started making small substitutions and changes at a time, we didn’t notice as much and it was easy to keep up.

A little while later another friend introduced me to Clean Eating magazine. I combined the concepts of Clean Eating with the methods of batch cooking and freezing to develop a system of only cooking three or four times a week and utilizing our “freezer stash” so that we were still eating a nutritious, home cooked meal every night. Then I started adding different veggie purees into regular dishes to increase the nutritional content.

When we first moved to Pensacola, our family was living on one income and paying two mortgage payments. We needed to really watch our spending so I started looking into couponing. I checked out some how-to sites and planned my first trip to Publix. I walked out with an entire cart full of groceries for less than $20 and I was totally hooked! I found at first that it was difficult to save a lot of money on the things I wanted to feed my family. But once I got the hang of stockpiling and creative meal planning, I was regularly saving 50% or more a week.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Briony!  If you want to learn more, be sure to connect with Briony on the Freeze Your Way Fit Facebook page!

Sugar Cookies for Valentine’s Day

While the kids are outside playing in the gorgeous weather, I am going to whip up a Valentine’s Day treat for them…our favorite sugar cookies!  This is the recipe that my mother has used at Christmastime for as long as I can remember.  The picture below is from the test run I did last week!

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Ingredients

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 egg

1 t. cream of tartar

1 cup margarine, softened

1/2 t. almond extract

2 1/2 cup flour

1 t. baking soda

Mix powdered sugar, margarine, vanilla, almond extract, and egg.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  I usually start with my Kitchenaid mixer and then finish mixing the dough by hand.  Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.  When it comes out of the refrigerator, it may seem crumbly.  Mix it up and knead the dough by hand.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. 

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Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes.  The longer they cook, the crispier they will be.  Cool on a baking rack. 

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Once completely cool, frost with your favorite frosting.

I usually use a buttercream frosting, but this time I am going to use a powdered sugar frosting pictured above.

Ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar

2 T. vanilla

2 T. milk

food coloring if desired

Mix the vanilla and milk and add powdered sugar.  Continue to mix until it is almost a pourable consistency but not quite. 

I also made a chocolate powdered sugar recipe.  Following the above directions, I just added 2 T. of cocoa powder to the powdered sugar before combining with the liquid. 

Once you cover the cookies with frosting (it will be messy!!), allow to dry for at least an hour.

What is your favorite Valentine’s Day treat?

Snickerdoodles – The easiest recipe ever!

Are you looking for a fun treat for your Valentine?  I made these with the kids the other day for the first time and they loved them!  This cookie is definitely not your traditional snickerdoodle, but they are so easy and the kids will think they are great!  The recipe is from the Gooseberry Patch Quick and Easy

Ingredients:

1 18 1/4 oz pkg yellow cake mix

2 eggs

1/4c oil

1 1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 c sugar

Mix the cake mix, the eggs, and oil together.  I mixed in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, but I think you could probably just mix it by hand.  It will not look like cake batter…it will be more doughy.  Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and dip in cinnamon and sugar mixture.  This would make a great Valentine’s treat if you had pink or purple colored sugar!  Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. 

 The recipe makes 2.5-3.5 dozen depending on the size of the cookie.

It is no secret we love to cook together as a family.  As soon as I head to the kitchen my kids grab the dining room chairs to join me!  See another one of our favorite recipes to make together, Chex Caramel Corn.  Do you have a favorite recipe to make with your kids?

Rainy Day Baking

We love a good rain storm, but we were disappointed that they had to cancel so many outside activities yesterday because of it.  At Pensacola with Kids, we promote exploring Pensacola and the surrounding areas with your family but we also want to be a resource that promotes family time in general. 

When we realized that the rain was not going to let up, we decided to declare the day “Christmas Baking Day” and headed to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients.  My kids and I love to cook together.  As soon as I move to the kitchen, one of them will inevitably move a dining room chair into the kitchen so they can help! 

If your kids haven’t spent much time in the kitchen, be sure to go over the important ground rules before you get started (what they are allowed to touch, what is hot, etc).  I really like this Kraft website because it has a good list of top 10 safety rules for kids, but it also has a list of cooking skills by age if you aren’t sure where to get started. 

One of the recipes that we made yesterday was Chex® Caramel Corn from the Chex® Mix Recipe website.  Did you know that there were so very many different Chex® mix recipes?  Both of my children love the Caramel Corn recipe so we make it about once a month.  It stores well in an airtight container so it makes for a good treat throughout a busy week!

You can find the recipe for Chex® Caramel Corn here.  There are both oven and microwavable directions.  I prefer the oven directions.  My kids help pop the popcorn (we have an air popper and they love to watch the popcorn pop) and they measure and mix up the cereal and the popcorn.  I do everything else because it involves the stove top and the oven:  I cook the mixture, pour it over the cereal, and stir the mix while it is baking.  One of the new things that we tried this time, was to add food coloring to the mixture to give it a more festive look before it was poured on the Chex® mix. 

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This Chex® Mix recipe only needs to cook for 45 minutes.  You have to take it out of the oven every fifteen minutes to stir.  Make sure the kids are not near the oven when you open it!  We made one batch of green mix and one batch of red mix. 

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Once the mix comes out of the oven, you are supposed to stir often so that it doesn’t all stick together.  This step is very important.  If you skip this step, you will have bars rather than Chex® Mix! 

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Once the Chex® Mix was cooled down, we mixed the red and green batches together, added M&M candies, and bagged them up to give to the family as gifts!  My kids like to add in the extras (M&Ms, pretzels, etc) and stir it all up once it has cooled down a bit.

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