Homemade Birthday Cakes

We’ve had some serious fun making B-day cakes over the years for the kiddos.  They haven’t always turned out quite the way they were imagined, but they were always delicious and always loved.  I think homemade B-day cakes are yummier, less expensive and a lot more personal than the store bought ones.  They might not always look better, but they are like an extra “I love you” to the birthday person.  Here are some of my homemade beauties and not so beauties of the past.


This number 1 cake was for my little boy when he turned 1.  It was super easy to make by just cutting up a 13×9 inch cake into the necessary shapes, laying it out, then frosting and decorating it.  The other kids helped with the sprinkles and eating the leftover cake scraps.


This puppy dog cake was made with 2 round cakes.  One for the face, and the other for the ears and collar.  We used Whoppers for the eyes and nose, and jelly beans for the collar.  You can see how the kids “cleaned” the frosting off the tray with their fingers.  (mmmm…germs)


This Barbie cake was one of my favorites.  It was made by baking the cake in two round bowl shaped pans, then stacked and carved until it looked like it could be the bottom of a dress.  The fun part was jamming the naked Barbie into the cake.  Then we gave her a frosting dress.  It turned out cute, and my daughter loved it.


This truck cake was trickier than it looks.  It was made with one cake baked in a loaf pan, and the other baked in a square or 13×9 pan (sorry, I can’t remember.)  It was then carved to look truckish.  We used donuts for the wheels, and crushed up cookies mixed with chocolate frosting for the dirt and mud.  The grass was green colored coconut, and the windows were blue Airheads, flattened, and cut into window shapes.


This is supposed to be a Gotham City cake.  I baked a couple of cakes, then cut and stacked them to form buildings.  I’m pretty sure there’s some chopsticks in there holding it all together.  Then it was frosted gray.  Using a toothpick, I created some outlines of bricks.  The windows and doors are yellow Starbursts and chocolate bars.  There’s marshmallows for Mr. Freeze, and red and yellow sprinkles for Flash’s fire path.  We topped it off with a Bat Signal made from construction paper, and put all the Imaginext super heroes on the cake.  It’s a little saggy and slopey, but the little boy thought it was totally cool, and his was the only opinion that mattered to me.


This was an ice cream cake that I made in a spring-form pan.  Ice cream cakes are surprisingly easy to make.  I made an Oreo crumb crust, filled it with softened vanilla ice cream, then decorated it with sundae toppings and placed it into the freezer to firm up.  It was delicious and great for a summer birthday when you don’t want to turn on the oven.


I made these when my boy was seriously into Indiana Jones.  If you are unaware, they eat chilled monkey brains in the first movie, so I decided to make monkey brain cakes.  First I baked little round cakes for the heads (I think I baked them in mugs).  Then I frosted them gray.  I used black food coloring to make black coconut for the fur.  Chocolate chips for the eyes and black icing for the face.  The brains are whipped cream with mashed up strawberries.  They looked so weird and gross, that nobody wanted one at first.  Ha ha, success!  They did taste really good though.


This was my birthday pie that my kids and husband made.  (okay, okay, I helped.)  They did a really good job, especially considering they didn’t cheat and use store-bought pie crust.  Aren’t I lucky?  Although not a cake, it still counts as a birthday cake in my opinion.

There have been many more than this over the years (hello, 4 kids), but these are the ones that I could find pictures of.  Ugh, so lazy and disorganized.  Someday I’ll get it together.


Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

These cookies are delicious.  They remind me of brownies and chocolate covered cherries all in one amazing cookie.  They disappear fast, so make sure you try one first.  Someone has to be in charge of quality control, right?


1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 (10 oz.) jar maraschino cherries
1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1/2 c. condensed milk

Preheat oven to 30 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugar on low speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture; beat until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls;  place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press down center of ball with thumb (not too deep).

Drain cherries, reserving juice. Place a cherry in the center of each cookie.

In small saucepan, combine chocolate chips and condensed milk; heat until chocolate is melted. Stir in 4 teaspoons of reserved cherry juice. Spoon about 1 teaspoon frosting over each cherry, spreading to cover cherry. Frosting may be thinned with cherry juice.

Bake for 10 minutes or until done.  Yield; 4 dozen.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps

These cookies are so easy to make, and they are full of holiday flavor.  They are crispy and sweet and go great with a glass of cold milk or egg nog.  To pretty them up a bit more and make them even yummier, try dipping them halfway in some melted white chocolate and allow to dry.  Either way, this Ginger Snaps recipe is outstanding.  They’re great to give as gifts too because they stay fresher longer than most Christmas cookies, and don’t break and fall apart as easily.  I’ve even shipped them in the mail before, and they arrived unbroken.


1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/3 cup white sugar for decoration


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C)

In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, and egg.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; stir into the molasses mixture.  Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls.  Roll each ball in white sugar before placing 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm.  Cool on wire racks.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

These cookies are one of my personal favorites.  They are soooooo good when fresh and warm right out of the oven.  Mouth-burn worthy!  And, they’re easy to make!  No rolling out dough business here.  If you can make chocolate chip cookies, you can make these.  And if you’re on a budget, like me, you can sub the macadamia nuts for less expensive walnuts, and they’re just as yummy.


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheet with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars together until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg, mixing well. Sift together the flour and baking soda. Spoon the flour mixture gradually into the creamed sugar mixture. Stir in the cranberries, white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.

Drop by heaping spoonfuls, about 2 tablespoons, onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time until lightly golden on top and the edges are set, 12 to 15 minutes.

Cool on the sheet about 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Holiday Thumbprints


These thumbprint cookies are fun and easy for the kids to help make.  They can be made with any flavor of jam or preserves you like.  Apricot and raspberry are our favorites.  You can also roll them in finely chopped nuts instead of sugar.  We like them both ways.  Try substituting a Hershey kiss for the jam, or some Nutella (haven’t tried that yet, but it sounds yum).  These cookies look great on a holiday tray.  This dough is easy to work with, and these cookies taste buttery and delicious.


1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

granulated sugar for rolling the cookies in

1/2 cup jam or preserves


In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, cream the butter and brown sugar together until smooth.  Stir in the egg and vanilla until combined.

Gradually stir in the flour and salt.  Cover the dough and refrigerate it for at least 1 to 2 hours or until the dough is firm enough to roll into balls.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Form scant tablespoonfuls of the dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll the balls in a bowl of granulated sugar.  Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.

Using your thumb, your knuckle, or the end of a wooden spoon, press an indentation into the center of each cookie.  If the cookie cracks, just press the crack together to make it smooth.  Fill the center of each cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon of jam or preserves.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until very lightly browned.

Cool on baking sheets for about 2 minutes.  Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat until all the dough is used.

These cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.  Makes about 4 dozen Thumbprints.

Gingerbread House



My kids love making gingerbread houses.  (Probably because of all the candy involved).  But they really are exciting and fun to make.  The kits they sell at the store are nice and easy, but we think the homemade ones looks and tastes much better.

I created my own template for the house by drawing the walls and roof on a piece of cardboard with a ruler.  This way, you can make your house look any way you want, and be any size you want!  Just make sure your cardboard pieces fit together the way you want them to before using them to cut out the dough.  For example, I wanted to have some overhang where the roof connects to the house, so I had to cut the front and back sides of the house a little narrower than I had originally drawn it.  Don’t forget to cut out some windows and a door!  And don’t worry, with the Royal Icing in this recipe, you can have no fear that your house will fall apart while building it.  It dries fairly quickly, and holds like cement.

Gingerbread Dough Recipe


5 cups flour

1/2 cup baking powder

4 tsp ground ginger

4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves or allspice

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1/2 cup dark molasses

1 Tbsp water


Whisk all the dry ingredients together and set aside.  Beat butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of a mixer on medium speed intil fluffy.  Add the eggs, molasses, and water and beat until well combined.

Beat half of the flour mixture into the mixer until blended and smooth. Add the remaining flour mixture and then knead the dough until firm and manageable, but not dry. Add more flour if the dough is wet.

Place the dough in a sealable container or zip-top bag in a cool place for up to 2 hours. If you make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate it, bring to room temperature before working the dough.

When ready to roll out the dough, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray your cookie sheets with nonstick spray.

Roll out dough about 1/2 inch thick and cut into desired shapes using a sharp knife and the cardboard templates you made, working in batches and keeping the remaining dough in an airtight container so that it does not dry out. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. The gingerbread will be light brown when it is done. Let cool completely before putting together.

Once you have your gingerbread pieces baked and cooled, you can trim them if necessary making sure your walls will be straight.

Royal icing with fresh egg whites:
1 large egg white
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Combine egg white and powdered sugar in a microwaveable bowl and microwave until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. The best way to do this is to microwave the mixture on high power, stopping every 20 seconds to take the temperature; it will take about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, but cook time will vary based on microwaves. Make sure to use clean utensils each time you check the icing. The other option is to microwave the mixture for 45 seconds on high, but the consistency will not be as good.

Beat on high speed until the icing cools and holds a stiff peak, about 2 minutes. If the icing needs to be thicker, add up to 2/3 cup more sugar; you will probably need to add about 1/3 cup more sugar. Food coloring can be added, if desired. Work with the icing in small amounts, keeping the remaining icing in an airtight container, as it will dry quickly.

Royal icing with powdered egg whites:
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon powdered egg whites
2 tablespoons water

Beat all ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer until stiff peaks form. Food coloring can be added, if desired. Work with the icing in small amounts, keeping the remaining icing in an airtight container, as it will dry quickly. The icing can be re-beaten if necessary.

Building the House

First prepare a platform for your house by covering a tray or board with foil.

Place your Royal icing into a pastry bag or a plastic zip-top bag with the corner cut off.

Start building your house by squirting some icing on the bottom edge of one of your walls and placing it on the platform in the desired spot.  Hold until icing is set.

Next, take the adjacent wall piece and apply icing to the bottom and the side that will be touching the standing wall.  Put into position, and hold until set.

Add the remaining walls, using the icing to glue them together.  Let dry for about 5 minutes before icing the tops of the walls and putting the roof into place.

Now you can use the remaining icing to fill in any gaps between the walls, roof and create icicles, snow, and for attaching candies to your house.  Add gumdrop trees, bushes and a pathway to your house.  Be creative, and have fun!

Here’s the gingerbread house we made this year:

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Cinnamon Ornaments


Theses ornaments are so easy to make and the kids love to help make them.  We made ours a few years ago, and they have held up wonderfully, and still smell great!  As you can see, we used lots of different holiday cookie cutters.  We used glitter glue, giggly eyes and pom poms to decorate them once they were dry.  Each kid got to make a few of their own.  We gave them as gifts to family members and teachers, and kept some for our tree.  You can also write on them with a glittery sharpie or puffy paint and use them as gift tags.  These smell so good, you have to remind yourself and the kids that they’re not edible!

Cinnamon Ornaments Recipe

1 cup Ground Cinnamon

1 Tbsp Allspice (optional)

1/2 cup Flour

3/4 cup Applesauce

2 Tbsp White Glue


  • In a medium bowl, stir everything together until you can form a ball of dough.
  • Sprinkle some cinnamon on the counter, and roll out the dough ball to about 1/4 inch thickness.  (Be careful not to roll them too thin, or they might crack.)
  • Use cookie cutters to cut out the desired shapes.  Use a straw or toothpick to cut out a small hole for hanging.
  • Place them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
  • Slowly dry them in a 200 degrees F oven for about 4 hours, turning them every half hour to prevent sticking.
  • Allow them to cool and dry completely, then decorate, or hang them just as they are.

Tip:  You can usually find a big bottle of cinnamon at the Dollar Tree, since they aren’t going to be eaten, the quality won’t matter too much.


Minestrone Soup

There’s nothing like a bowl of hearty, warm, homemade soup on a cold autumn day.  This soup is full of healthy veggies, and tastes divine!  Leave out the pasta  for a low-carb meal.  Or, add the pasta, and serve with warm, crusty, buttered bread to fatten yourselves up for the cold winter months ahead!  Either way, enjoy!


Minestrone Soup Recipe

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 med. size onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 bag of baby carrots, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 1 28 oz. (big) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can full of water
  • 1 32 oz. carton chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp. italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. elbow or other pasta (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese


Pour olive oil into bottom of large soup pot, and turn on med. heat.  Saute onion, celery and pepper until soft.  Add all the rest of the veggies.  Next, add the tomatoes, beans, water, and chicken broth.  Turn stove to high, and bring to a boil.  Add all the seasonings.  Turn down to med/low, and simmer for 45 min to an hour.  Add pasta and more water if needed, depending on how thin you want your soup. (Remember, the pasta will absorb some of the liquid.)  If adding pasta, cook for an additional 10 minutes or until pasta is done.  Allow to cool slightly and serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Tip:  Cook pasta separately to prevent the noodles from becoming mushy the next day.

Coffee Maker Iced Tea

Coffee Maker Iced Tea

My family loves my homemade iced tea.  It’s cheaper, fresher, and healthier than the store bought versions.  Also, a lot of the store bought varieties are full of high fructose corn syrup.  By making your own, you can control the sugar content (I like to use honey or stevia) and you can make whatever flavor you want.  You can use herbal teas too, so you aren’t giving your kids caffeine.  It’s so easy to make, and I figured out an even easier way to make it using my coffee maker.

Choose your tea-  I’m using green tea with lemon.  Take 5 or 6 bags of tea out of your package.

Green Tea with Lemon

Measure your water, and pour it into your clean coffee maker.  I use about 10 cups of water.


Place your tea bags into your empty coffee pot, making sure you leave the tags sticking out the top.


Put your coffee pot back into the coffee maker, and turn it on.

Iced Tea

Relax for 20 minutes, while your coffee pot brews your tea.  The longer your tea brews, the stronger the flavor will be.

When it has reached the desired color and flavor you want, pour the tea into a pitcher.

Iced Tea with honey

Stir in your honey or sweetener (if desired) into the tea while it’s still warm.

Add enough water to fill a 2 quart pitcher and dilute it slightly. (about 2 cups)  Stir again.


Pop it into the fridge for a few hours, or add some ice to a glass, pour your tea into it, and enjoy immediately.

Lemon Green Tea

Homemade Applesauce


4 Granny Smith and 4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup apple cider or juice
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash nutmeg


Add apples, apple cider, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 15 minutes or until apples are tender.

Mash with a potato masher or use an immersion blender for a smoother consistency.  Serve warm or chilled.