Monday, August 11, 2008

Ben's Birthday Bash

Ben turned three on Saturday, and we had a Diego-themed party. He had so much fun playing party games, opening presents, and blowing out the candles on his cake.
During the festivities, I had the Mexican Layer Dip on the island with some tortilla chips. You can find the recipe if you click on the appetizers tag. Since Ben loves fruit so much, I also put out watermelon, red grapes, purple grapes, green apples, red apples, kiwi, bananas, strawberries, honeydew, and canteloupe along with the three fruit dips you can also find under the appetizers tag.

We had 22 people at the party, all of them close family and friends, so we decided to serve dinner after the party. Mexican food lends itself to large groups and varied tastes, so we went with a taco bar. I wish I'd taken pictures of the toppings all laid out; my mother-in-law gave me a cool Tuscan serving set last Christmas that was perfect to contain the onions, tortillas, cheese, olives, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapenos, and lettuce. You can sort of see it in the background of the cake picture. I also made cheesy refried beans and ground beef taco meat. My SIL makes ground beef in the crockpot, which produces fine-textured meat similar to many Mexican restaurants. Since I made just under 6 pounds of meat, the crock pot was much easier than using the frying pan! I also made taco seasoning instead of buying it. See the recipes below for more details.
The party was lots of fun, and I am so grateful to have friends and family members who help me clean up!

I made two cakes: a dark chocolate 9x13 for the base and an 8-inch round two-layer yellow cake. The chocolate cake recipe is on the back of the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa box, and the yellow cake recipe came from a friend of my mother's. The yellow cake is dense and very flavorful, and I love the dark chocolate cake, which is lighter.
Yellow Cake
Preheat oven to 350.
2 1/4 c. flour
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 3 oz. pkg. vanilla pudding
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
4 egg whites
Grease and flour a 13X9 pan or 2 8-inch cake pans.Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the batter, ending with flour. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into batter. Gently spoon into pan(s).Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes until golden and no crumbs cling to cake tester inserted in the middle.
Decorator's Buttercream
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 T. milk
Cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, beating well on medium speed. Will appear dry. Add milk - beat until light and fluffy.
Cheesy Refried Beans
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
2 cans refried beans
1 cup sour cream
3 cups shredded Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (will mix up smoother if you grate cheese rather than buying pre-shredded)
1 package taco seasoning or 1/4 cup homemade taco seasoning
Mix 2 cups of shredded cheese with all other ingredients until smooth. Pour into 2 qt. baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or as a side dish or burrito filling.
Crockpot Taco Meat
Put the desired amount of ground beef into a crockpot. Add a chopped onion or two, and pour about an inch of water in the bottom of the crockpot. Set on high for four hours, stirring occasionally. When meat is cooked, drain off most of the water and add taco seasoning (one packet or 1/4 cup per pound of meat). Leave on warm until ready to eat.
Taco Seasoning Mix - adapted from

2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2-1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2-3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (or use 1/2 teaspoon white salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)
2 t. cornstarch
Mix all ingredients together. You can multiply the amounts by 5 or 10 and keep some in the refrigerator. I added some tomato paste to the taco meat because I thought it needed some tomato flavor.


Kristen said...

I'm always hungry after I read your blog...why is that? ;-)

The cake was absolutely adorable! Dad told me you put out quite a spread!

6 lbs of beef? How are the leftovers coming along!

Stephanie Carnes said...

That was the funny thing: we had enough left over for exactly one taco! Nobody left hungry. :-)

Kristen said...

Oh my head! You southerners must eat a LOT! ;-)

Alison... said...

I thought the same thing as Kristen... I read the blog and I'M HUNGRY!!!!

It's 9 AM but I could go for cake or Mexican food... or both!