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Happy 4th birthday, my beautful boy

Elijah, I love you more than I could ever explain to you. I love your smiles and your silliness and your giggles and your requests for me to tickle your "cute bony knees." I love that you yell, "Wook, Dad! Mine mommy is home!" when I get home from work in the evenings. I love the way you pretend that you have a bad back and walk hunched over as you let out fake groans. I love how you love to chase me around the house and I love your heart-melting smile. I love your love for books and for learning and I love the way you tell Sammy to "Get some sweep!" every night before bed, right before you kiss his head. I love the way you sing "Jesus Loves Me" and I love how friendly you are with everyone you see. I love how it feels to have your arms wrapped tightly around my neck and I love how you talk and sing to yourself all the time.

Thank you for everything you have taught us and thank you for telling me that you love me every day. I love you, my sweet sweet boy. Happy 4th birthday.

Check out our fun Monster Cupcake recipe!


Cheese-topped guacamole

This is Week #7 of my 2011 cooking challenge! Click here to view all recipes from this challenge. All recipes created for this challenge come from the Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010.

Guacamole recipes are not something I typically seek out. I have my favorite guac recipe, so why look any further? Making the recipe highlighted in this post has taught me a valuable lesson: Don't settle! Don't assume there isn't something better out there! This, of course, does not apply to my marriage because there is no man better for me than my husband. But with guac? I'm sad that I settled for so long!

This guacamole recipe was amazing! It had a fresh, zingy flavor that made it difficult for me to stop eating.

In a medium bowl, combine:

2 Hass avocados, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

1/4 small red onion, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves (I recommend using only 1 tablespoon)

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (I left the seeds in)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place the mixture in a serving bowl.

Put 1 cup of shredded queso Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until the cheese is melted. Pour the cheese over the guacamole and serve with tortilla chips.

I'm so happy to have found you, new guac!

Click here for a printable recipe!


Three-layer lemon cake

I asked my mother-in-law what kind of dessert she would like me to make for her birthday, and she said, "Lemon cake!" An idea was instantly implanted in my brain and I knew exactly what I wanted to create. Except, I couldn't find my vision anywhere in recipe form. I ended up piecing together a few different recipes in order to create this cake. I gambled big time, which I guess isn't terribly surprising considering I'm a risk-taker by nature. In this case, it paid off because my three-layer lemon cake turned out great. Phew!

If you plan to decorate your final masterpiece with candied lemon slices like I did, I would suggest doing this step first, and preferably a day ahead of time.

If you are in the mood to make your own lemon curd, do this, as well, ahead of time. Otherwise, you can purchase it at the store.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans and set them aside.

Sift together in a medium bowl:

3 1/2 cups cake flour

4 1/8 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a food processor, pulse until well combined:

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons lemon zest

In a large bowl, beat the following ingredients with a hand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes):

1 1/8 cups butter

Lemon-sugar mixture from the food processor

Add 2 1/3 cup sugar to the mixture and beat until smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes. Beat in 1/2 cup whole milk until well combined.

On low speed, add the flour mixture alternatively with another 1 cup of milk (in addition to the 1/2 cup already added), in three batches, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl (is this getting confusing yet?), beat 7 egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat until the whites form stiff peaks.

Add a quarter of the egg whites to the batter and gently fold in with a rubber spatula. Continue to gently fold in the whites, a quarter of the mixture at a time, being careful not to deflate it.

Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Let cakes cook completely.

While the cakes are cooling, grab your lemon curd from the fridge.

And prepare a batch of Lemon Buttercream Frosting.

Place one of the cooled cakes onto a serving platter and top with approximately 2-3 tablespoons of the lemon curd. Or more. Have I mentioned how delicious lemon curd is?

Repeat the process and top with the remaining cake.

Cover the entire surface of the cake with the Lemon Buttercream Frosting, being careful to keep the cakes aligned with one another. With lemon curd as the filling, the cakes tend to slip around a bit. I had my husband help by holding them into place with his hands while I frosted.

Decorate the cake with candied lemons, or however you desire!

By the way, the candied lemons are edible, but I removed them from the cake just before cutting since they are difficult to cut through. I had a few adventurous people ask to taste-test the lemons, which made me feel like my lemon-candying efforts were doubly worthwhile.

And that, my friends, is how you create a delicious and beautiful 3-layer lemon cake.

Click here for a printable recipe!


How to make candied lemon slices

Did you know that lemons in their entirety, peels and all, are edible? With a little bit of cooking magic, lemons (or any citrus fruit) turn into candy. And beautiful decorations for baked goods!

Start out with 3 large lemons because, unless you are very adept at using a mandoline or unless you are an expert at cutting consistently uniform slices with a knife, you will want to leave room for error. I used my mandoline to cut my lemon slices and I still had a culling rate of about 30-35%.

When you have a dozen or so lovely, deseeded lemon slices (again, this same process can apply to any type of citrus fruit), bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. While you are waiting for your water to boil, prepare a bath of ice water in a large baking dish.

Blanch the lemon slices in the boiling water for about 1 minute. Handle the slices gently.

Carefully drain the lemon slices and plunge them into your prepared ice bath. Let them sit for a minute or so in the ice water. Carefully remove them.

Combine the following ingredients in a large saucepan:

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

Stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer and add the lemon slices in a single layer.

Let the lemon slices simmer (no boiling) for 1 hour.

Remove the slices from the syrup and set them on a cooling rack over a stack of paper towels. It will take a good chunk of time for them to dry completely (sometimes as long as 12-24 hours), so plan ahead if you intend to use them for decorating baked goods.

Or, just dip them into chocolate and eat them like candy!




Bloggy Day & another contest!

I don't think either Ebby or I took a single non-food-related photo on our Bloggy Cooking Day this past Saturday. We cooked and baked an insane amount of treats and had more than a dozen women over to help us eat everything. It was a huge success and a ton of fun! We will definitely do another one of these soon (with my gracious husband's permission, of course). And we will get all of our Bloggy Day recipes posted, but it might take us a few weeks. Chantal and Joan, your appetizer recipes turned out amazing!

Now for another contest!

This one will be super easy. Leave a comment on this post, saying anything at all, and we will pick two random commenters as the winners (using Please include your blog address if you would like for us to provide a link when we announce the winners.

You can thank my sister because she has kindly offered to take care of the prizes for this contest. She will send each of our two winners her favorite scented 22-oz. jar candle from Colonial Candles. Each candle is a $24.99 value.

The contest starts now and ends at midnight on February 20th. Good luck!