Monday, September 25, 2017

Pumpkin Spiced Ice Cream Cake

Pumpkin Spiced Ice Cream Cake

Happy Autumn everyone!

I'm on a roll with the ice cream cakes! I wanted to improve on my first ever ice cream cake and I just couldn't help myself. This one is a totally different flavor and I think I got the cake and ice cream ratios just right this time. So I'm ringing in this Autumn with my autumn-colored autumn-flavored spiced ice cream cake! I could have very well called it spiced autumn ice cream cake or autumn spiced ice cream cake. But I chose to include pumpkin in there because the pumpkin ice cream inside had such an overpowering flavor and was really the show stopper. The pumpkin flavor was so strong that you could barely make out my homemade cardamon ice cream. I could have just gone with vanilla ice cream and it would have tasted pretty much the same.

Cardamon vanilla ice cream. This was an amazing flavor you guys.

I sort of cheated on this cake as well. I bought the pumpkin ice cream, the caramel sauce, the ginger cookies and the pumpkin spiced sugar cookies for decoration. All from Trader Joe's, of course. I made the chocolate cake, cardamon ice cream and whipped cream frosting myself. The cake itself was not as high and huge as my daughter's birthday cake so it was easier to handle. It was also not as intimidating when you served it. It made the perfect size dessert piece - not too tall and not too short :)

I baked my chocolate cake on a cookie sheet to get it nice and thin. By the way, this is also how you can make ice cream sandwiches. I didn't want a gigantic sheet cake so I cut my cake up and made smaller cakes. In fact, I cut some of it up to make ice cream sandwiches too so what was leftover for my cake was even smaller. Once all the layers were on though, I ended up with two decent size rectangular cakes. Again, there was a lot of in and out of the freezer so the cake would not melt. That really is the only tricky part about making ice cream cakes.

All layers frozen. Now, we're ready for frosting and decorations.

Here were my layers, from top to bottom:

  • Sprinkles
  • Whipped cream frosting, tinted peach
  • Cardamon vanilla ice cream (homemade)
  • Crushed triple ginger snap cookies
  • Caramel sauce
  • Pumpkin ice cream
  • Chocolate cake

I had two cakes to work with so I took the opportunity to decorate the cakes a little different. One was coated with frosting all over and then decorated on the sides with the pumpkin spiced sugar cookies. The other cake had a clean cut all around to reveal the beautiful layers inside so only the top of the cake was decorated. I think I preferred the look of this version more.

Cake 1: top.

Cake 1: fully covered in frosting and lined with sugar cookies.

Cake 2: top.

Cake 2: clean cuts on all sides and then frosting only on the top.

If I could create the perfect autumn spiced cake, this would be it. I put all my favorite fall flavors inside the cake and the combination was exactly how I imagined it would be. Delicious! After making ice cream cakes, I'm beginning to think all other cakes are boring. Lol.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ice Cream Birthday Cake

Recently, we celebrated our daughter's 2nd birthday. When I realized her birthday fell on a Saturday this year, I was super excited. However, it also fell on a Labor Day long weekend and no one could make it. Boo:( There are two things I'm always afraid of when I plan parties: 1) everyone I invite comes or 2) no one I invite comes. We had everyone come a few times in past parties but never no one come. So it was just the four of us and nothing like her epic 1st birthday party last year. But it was actually really nice.

This summer has been super busy for us and days prior to her birthday, I was up late every night working for the school PTSA. I was so tired so I was actually relieved that we weren't going to throw a big party. I was kind of sad I didn't get to throw my dream ice cream parlor birthday party. Another year, I guess!

We were in a heat wave so I decided to make an ice cream cake for the first time. This was a chance for me to try something new and there was no pressure at all. I have never been stress free on a party day ever until now. It was so relaxing! The four of us went running on the trail when we woke up. We had breakfast when we got back, then we took my daughter to Giggle Jungle, an indoor playground in town center. In the afternoon, while she napped, I finished off my cake and prepared stuff for the BBQ. We grilled plank salmon, tofu, cheese and sausages and I made quinoa corn salad. Then we took pictures and had cake.

Ice cream cake ready to be frosted.

Our BBQ birthday meal.

The cake was large and heavy because I only had a 10 inch spring-form pan. It was easy enough to do but it involved many steps in and out of the freezer so it wouldn't melt. In fact, I had to do the whipped cream frosting in two steps because it was way too hot out that day. I also had a bit of a leak the first time I layered on ice cream so then I started to wrap the bottom of my pan with aluminum foil. Lol. I baked my chocolate cake first into a thin layer. Next time I think I would like it even thinner. The cake was basically 50% cake and 50% ice cream and cream. I would have wanted more ice cream.

Here were my layers, from top to bottom:
  • Sprinkles and sugar cookies
  • Whipped cream frosting, tinted turquoise and pink
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Strawberry ice cream
  • Oreos, chopped into pieces
  • Chocolate fudge
  • Chocolate ice cream
  • Chocolate cake

I cheated here and there on this one. The only homemade stuff I made for the cake was the chocolate cake, strawberry ice cream and whipped cream frosting. Well, I took some of the vanilla ice cream and added cocoa powder and melted chocolate to it to make chocolate ice cream as well. The rest was purchased from Trader Joe's. The strange thing is, I don't even feel guilty about it. I have been so busy working that even assembling this cake was an accomplishment. Lol.

We have been very strict on my daughter's diet up until now. We are slowly letting her eat more and more of what we eat now, as long as it's not too salty or too sweet. She did try some of her ice cream cake! Just a small silver and she liked it! Small steps.

My baby is practically a little girl now. Wow. She had a fun filled day with the four most important people in her life and we took lots of pictures to show her when she gets older. No fancy big party needed.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Soccer Sugar Cookies

Yesterday was my 8 year old son's last soccer game of the Spring season. During the season, parents of each player would take turns bringing snacks for all the players. For the last game, everyone would bring something to share in a snack potluck. In the Fall season, I made caramel pumpkin popcorn and the kids didn't seem that thrilled. Lol. In fact, some of the kids didn't even want to take it saying that they don't like popcorn. What!?

This season we were assigned the "Purple" team.

Since the school Fun Run is wrapping up and I had time this week, I decided it was time to treat the kids to something special. A custom made sugar cookie, of course! Sugar cookies are so much work but there were only 9 players, 1 coach and 1 assistant coach. I could totally handle that. I only had to bake a little more than half the dough to get enough cookies. I made two extra for the two big siblings that often tagged along at practices and games.

After browsing Pinterest for ideas, this is what I found. I loved it because it wasn't your typical round black and white soccer ball. I instantly fell in love.

Here is what I ended up with. Works for me!

The soccer ball was a cookie as well. I baked round balls and they ended up as semi spheres since the dough wasn't super cold. But that worked out perfect! I dipped them in royal icing and after they dried, I drew and colored in the soccer ball with my black food marker. That was actually the hardest part. Lol. I initially started drawing freestyle but then I ended up with pentagons connected to squares and lines weren't lining up right. You could still tell it's a soccer ball but it was so messed up! I saved that one for my 8yo. Haha. I remembered seeing pins on Pinterest on how to draw a soccer ball so I went back to Pinterest. I know, right!? After a few, I really got the hang of it. Hey, you learn something every day!


The weather was fabulous and we ate snacks, mostly junk food, on the field after the last soccer game. I was pleased to see that 6 out of the 8 families there actually brought food to share :) Once again I was the snack organizer and everyone but one family forgot to bring snacks this season. That's a win for me.

Having soccer from 4:45PM to 5:45PM every Tuesdays and Thursdays was really stressful for us so I for one, am super thankful it's all over! The Fall season should be better since practices are nearby and games will be on the weekends. Phew.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fruit Kebabs on Pocky Sticks

I volunteered to provide all the food for all 24 kids in my 8 year old's class this past Valentine's day. No one offered to make or buy anything so I just volunteered to do everything. Sadly, this year is the first year I am not able to attend any parties because I cannot bring my toddler along. Last year, we didn't have many parent volunteers to help at the party so I had to work out a schedule with my husband for him to temporarily leave work so I could host the parties at school. This year we have a good team of room parents. Thank goodness!

As long as I'm a room parent, I cannot allow the kids to eat store bought treats. Plus, it would cost so much more if we had to buy the cupcakes or cookies from the store. For the Valentine party, I provided two kinds of bakes and two kinds of fruit. Another parent went out and bought juice boxes.

I knew I wanted to have mandarin oranges presented as "conversation cuties" and something else. Chocolate covered strawberries would have been nice but it seemed a bit small and I wasn't sure if everyone liked strawberries. I always like variety so there is something for everyone. Then I thought of just small fruit skewers with fruit cut up using small cookie cutters. That's simple enough but it turned out, I didn't have any small cookie cutters for Valentines. Crazy, I know. My husband then suggested I use pocky sticks. But I figured they wouldn't keep long since they would get soggy. He said they would if I just kept all the fruit on the chocolate side. Good point. So we bought some and I tried it out. It definitely had potential.

After the trial day, I knew what I had to do. The sticks were short so I didn't want to cut shapes out of the fruit using cookie cutters (besides, I didn't have any cutters!) or they would be hard to pierce or they would break. Yes, this was tested. I had to cut the fruit thick and they couldn't be very wide either or the whole thing would be unstable and awkward. Funny. What began as a simple idea was turning into a tricky task.

So I decided on these three colorful fruit: strawberry, kiwi, and cantaloupe. With the cantaloupe, I scooped out cantaloupe balls. Not only were the balls pretty, but they were also easy to pierce and held well on the sticks. The strawberries and kiwi were just sliced about the same size so everything would look balanced.

A few hours before the party, I precut everything and laid them on paper towels to dry. I wanted to keep the fruit as dry as possible. Then I pre-pierced everything using a metal skewer and chopstick. Yes, you need to do this! Don't even think about piercing the fruit directly with the pocky stick. I didn't even try because I knew what would happen. Every time I pierced through the fruit with my metal skewer and then chopstick, I would use more paper towels to dry off the fruit. Keep everything dry! Some of this then went to the fridge until I was ready to assemble.

One pack of pocky sticks is not enough to make 24 skewers. I used 1 1/2 packages of pocky sticks to make roughly 27 fruit kebabs. In the process, I broke about 5 sticks. Of the three fruit that I chose, kiwi was the softest and wettest fruit so I wanted to sandwich that one in the middle. I had more strawberry than anything else so I used a piece of strawberry on either end. It worked out well and they were so colorful. I also had the nice side of the strawberry showing on top. Okay, that is such a detail but that's just me :)

When I was done assembling the sticks, I put them in the fridge for about 30 mins to 1 hour before I could leave the house. The fruit kebabs were dropped off school 1 1/2 hours before the party and I just told the teacher to keep it away from any heat. I also sent an email to the parent volunteers to use the food glove I provided to serve the fruit kebabs and to carry them by the fruit in the center, instead of grabbing at the end of the stick.

My fruit kebabs were so cute and of course they were delicious :) When I asked my son, he said that none of the sticks broke when they were passed out and everyone ate them. He also said that some of the kids didn't know they could eat the stick but he told them they could. Lol.

Of all the food I brought to the school, the fruit kebabs were the trickiest ones to make. But totally doable :) Here is the list of the ingredients that went into making these adorable fruit skewers.

Gourmet Fruit Kebabs
(makes about 27 sticks)

2 packages of Pocky Sticks
2 lbs of strawberries
6 kiwis
1 big cantaloupe (scoop out balls)

It wasn't all healthy but everything was homemade. I also made rice krispie treats and cookie bars for the kids.

Rice krispie treats

Sugar cookie bars

Friday, January 13, 2017

Touring Las Vegas with Kids and Eating at Buffets

Just before Christmas and as an early celebration for my birthday, the four of us went to Las Vegas for a week. My husband and I haven't been back since 2007. We stayed right on the strip and although it was considered low season, it was still very busy. Las Vegas never sleeps too. There are shows even on December 25th. It's definitely a happening and exciting place. Giant billboards, ads on top of every taxi, and everywhere you look on buildings and all those lights! They really go all out there. Our 8 year old was super excited being there for the first time. It was quite different from his usual Hawaiian vacation. Lol.

It was our 16 month old's second flight. Like the first one we took with her back in May to Maui, it was alright. Not great and not that bad either. Although on the way back it was hell for us since my husband and I were both suffering from food poisoning. Oh god. That story probably deserves a separate post of its own. It was only a 2 hour flight back but it was pure hell.

Despite our rough journey back, going to Las Vegas with the kids was surprisingly great. I mean it could have been better but we got to do a lot and we pulled it off. As I often tell my husband, a lot of parents in our situation probably wouldn't even try because it's too hard. Traveling together is hard work but as long as we don't anger many others along the way, that's a win for me!

Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolate Factory

Red Rock Canyon - 30 min drive from Vegas

We rented a car for a few days so we could explore the nearby parks outside of the Vegas strip. We visited Ethel M Chocolate factory and the holiday lights at their cactus garden. We shopped at Costco and Trader Joe's. Boring but it saved us a lot of money. Initially, we wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but we decided it was too far to put our baby through the car ride. Instead, we hiked near Mead Lake and saw the Hoover Dam. We hiked in the Valley of Fire (totally awesome!) and Red Rock Canyon (meh). The four of us watched V The Ultimate Variety Show and then my 8 year old and I went to Paranormal: The Mind Reading Magic show. We all visited the Marvel Avengers STATION. We just watched Captain America Civil War on DVD so that was pretty cool to see all the costumes. It was more for kids than adults though.

Marvels Avenger STATION

8yo waiting to collect our personalized M&Ms.

Vegas may be known for its entertainment but their buffets really steal the show. Let's be serious. You cannot go to Vegas without experiencing one of their epic buffets. Just like how the strip tries to mimic the world with their fake mini cities, buffets offer food from around the world too. Something for everyone and it's brilliant. Were they expensive? Yes, they can be. But you would likely pay more if you were to eat at a good restaurant on the strip. Vegas is just expensive. At least on the strip, which was where we stayed. Over the course of the week, we ate out maybe five times and three of them were at buffets.

Our first buffet was the Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station downtown. The only reason we went here was because Vegenation was closed early for a holiday party. We were tired from hiking and we just had to eat somewhere. Last time I went there back in 2007, I remembered I was impressed by the amount of food I saw and how cheap everything was. I wasn't an extreme foodie back then though. I have much higher expectations now and found myself rather picky about what I ate. There were a few things that were quite good so I just kept going for those things until I was full, instead of trying more things. When it came time for dessert, I shared a few things with my husband but I would have to say that none of the desserts were worth saving room for. This restaurant was actually the best of the three buffets that we tried for the kids because of the simple dishes they offered. Our 16mo was able to eat just plain steam vegetables, baked yams and other simple foods like that. She ate a lot too, which was awesome. Our 8yo ate quite well too but it was his first big buffet so he was ready. Lol. It was a weekday dinner and the bill for the four of us was $38.90. Our 16mo got to eat for free but our 8yo had to pay an adult fare. The meal was so cheap though so who cares!

Our second buffet was a giant leap from the first buffet. This was massive in both quantity and price. What else would you expect from the great Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. It was a holiday weekday and we went for brunch and our bill came to $149.21, without any alcohol. Our baby was free and our 8yo had the kid's discount. Note that buffet restaurants, at least the good ones on the strip, raise their buffet prices during the holiday. The closer you get to Christmas and even New Year's, the higher the prices go up. We got admitted around 11AM and we didn't have to wait at all, which was nice.

Bacchanal Buffet must be the mother of all buffets. There were simply too many choices. Too many good choices, that is. This was as close to any fine dining buffet we have ever experienced. I read that there are sometimes 500 different offerings at this place. 500! Now for comparison, we visit our neighborhood Thai buffet on occasion and that place offers maybe a dozen things to eat. Crazy. In the two hour limit that we had to stuff ourselves, we pretty much ate for the entire day. And a part of the next day as well. Another bite, I probably would have puked. Lol. We taught our 8yo well because his first plate of food was a lot of seafood. Then for his second plate, he stacked it full of pancakes and waffles. Ugh. There wasn't much for our 16yo. Everything was just too fancy and had seasoning. She ended up chowing down on plain croissants, multigrain bread sticks, and fruit. Just carbs. Oh well. It's one of those famous places you just have to experience. If you don't go to this one, there are others like the ones at the Bellagio or the Wynn. I hear they are all epic. If you don't go during the holidays, it will be much cheaper too.

Our third and final buffet was somewhere in between the first and second in terms of quality and price. We went to Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel for a late breakfast. We were admitted at 10:30AM so were able to enjoy some of the lunch offerings that started at 11AM as well. If there is no break between breakfast/lunch or lunch/dinner, you can definitely do that and pay the lower price. There was an omelette and crepe station where you just order what you want and they make it in front of you. Anything you would expect to find at breakfast, they pretty much offered. There were quite a few different selections of sausages from France. The pastries were a bit disappointing, considering it was supposed to be French. They even had stuff that wasn't typically French like sushi. It was the best looking buffet we've been to. The restaurant was designed to look like you were sitting and eating outside in a small French village. The stations were split into different regions of France and it was just charming. The bill for the four of us came to $61.61. Our toddler was free and our 8yo had a discount.

California Burrito. Yes, those are fries in them.
The two other times we ate out were at fast food places at the Garden Grill and at the Shake Shack. We had to chase the Garden Grill down since it was the last market day before they closed. We tried so many things and they were indeed delicious. Everything was plant based and vegan. The avocado tacos and California burrito were my favorite. The Shake Shack was tasty but after we were done, we had to visit a juice stand. Haha. I don't think I have eaten a cheeseburger in like 10 years. We had no idea the Shake Shack was a fast food restaurant. My husband, son, and I all had burgers and fries for dinner and there was nothing healthy on the menu. It was a last minute decision to go there since it was close by and I heard it was family friendly. I was surprised to see a lot of other families with small children there as well. I wondered if they were as surprised as I was to find the place was in fact a junk food restaurant.

Overall, we had a good time in Las Vegas with the kids. Las Vegas is so different than anywhere else you would travel to and it's exciting for both kids and adults. We would totally go again. Maybe next time, our kids could eat more. Lol. The nearby deserts were beautiful and I was surprised there weren't more people hiking and exploring the areas. If you don't believe me, check out some of our pictures below. Amazing! The strip is cool and all but you have to leave the strip and explore the Valley of Fire! It's a 1 hour drive but it's beautiful there and there are plenty of short hikes for family with small children. It reminded me of Mars and underwater caves. All those lovely rocks were just asking to be climbed on and I have never seen my 8yo so excited about any hike before. Seriously, it was pretty cool.

Valley of Fire. 8yo would not stop posing during the hikes.

Valley of Fire (aka Mars, no?)

Us by more cool rocks in the Valley of Fire.

Red Rock Canyon. There were some nice areas but the Valley of Fire was nice everywhere.

Rams spotted during a hike at Red Rock Canyon.

Alright. I bet you are dying to know about our food poisoning story, aren't you? No, I don't think we got poisoned at the buffets. You're safe. However, if you overeat, you may just puke. That's a different thing altogether. For us, I think we have narrowed it down to the fresh pasta we bought from Trader Joe's earlier in the week, which we tried to finish the night before our flight home. It was the roasted vegetable ravioli and porcini mushroom ravioli. My husband and I got super sick but our kids were fine. Our 8yo barely ate any of his pasta that night. I was the first one to vomit in the middle of the night. I felt crappy all night and couldn't sleep at all. After puking twice, I was just weak and nauseous for two days and didn't eat a thing. My husband started to vomit on the plane ride back. Hey, there is a first for everything! Yup, pure hell. Especially with a tired toddler jumping all over you. We made it back alive to tell the story at least.

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