food: valentines day dinner recap

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Exhausted and sleep deprived; We stayed in for valentine’s day this year. I made lobster tails with roasted green beans and Scott made chocolate dipped strawberries.

This was the first time I attempted to make lobster, and I was pretty intimidated going in. I probably wouldn’t have thought of it on my own, but Peapod had a sale on them for v-day so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m so glad I did. They were really easy to make and turned out great. I used this recipe (learn how to butterfly here) for the lobster, and Giada’s recipe for clarified butter. It turned out perfectly.

The green beans are my go-to side…we have it all the time because it is so easy:

Heat oven to 350 degrees, throw green beans on a baking sheet, sprinkle with almonds, douse with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake (roast) for 20 – 30 minutes until beans start to brown and almonds become crispy. It tastes like candy. If you steam the beans first they cook faster. Works great with asparagus too.

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Since we always have chocolate chips and strawberries on hand, we end up having chocolate covered strawberries quite a bit too. They’re simple as well. Melt chips in microwave, dip strawberries, place on parchment paper to cool. The hardest part is waiting until the chocolate sets – but you can put them in the fridge to shorten the wait. This tends to make the berries sweat though.

We got a 20 minute break from the action to enjoy it all before cries rang out from the other room, and it was perfectly yummy to the very last bite.

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Kaylee’s 2nd Bee-day Party

Without further adieu, a few details from Kaylee’s bee themed second birthday party. The first order of business was selecting a theme. After a few weeks of debate I finally settled on bees. I had originally anticipated doing Sean the Sheep or Gabba party, but both have recently taken a backseat to Curious George and I wasn’t quite ready to celebrate that love affair quite yet. So I toured the Internet looking for inspiration and stumbled on this beauty of a cake at Zoe Bakes:

Isn’t that just the cutest thing ever? When I saw it I just knew I had to do a bee party so I’d have an excuse to make those adorable fondant bees (my attempt to replicate it turned into a miserable failure – details later) Luckily, Kaylee has a thing for yellow and points out every bug-type-thing she sees by shouting “it’s a bee”, or pointing and stating “ook a bee.” So yellow and white and bees it was.

We kept it really small this year out of respect for Kaylee’s newly found shy phase. I only needed a few invitations, but I still wanted to do something special for her. I searched high and low and finally ended up just making my own in Publisher (based on an inspiration I found on Etsy). I printed them up on card stock and bought some envelopes from Amazon that fit perfectly.

I wanted to keep the decorations relatively simple this time too. I made a banner,

a flower wreath “K” (no pics – tutorial here), and some doily streamers. The finishing touch was 72 balloons, blown up by PaPa (with the air compressor), and strewn about the house. The kids had fun kicking, throwing, sitting on (and occasionally popping) them.

I drug out the mason jars out again, this time wrapped in doilies and twine (inspiration). The little flowers were on clearance in the scrap book section at Michael’s. I used the jars to hold utensils and flowers.

I also made some bee headbands based on this inspiration piece (I left off the fuzz because we were having a co-ed party and it seemed pretty girly). These were included in the goodie baskets and a few extra were left out for the adults.

We scheduled around Kaylee’s nap time, although she didn’t take a nap that day, and ended up with a lunch-time affair. Food became the focus of the party and required the most planning.

I tend to think I have more spare time than I do, and as usual, I had grand schemes when it came to the menu. Eventually reality set in as the party date neared and I ended up significantly narrowing my to-do list down to items that were either super simple, could be made ahead, or both. Enter watermelon on a stick (the family kitchen),

Tomato Basil Mozzarella Salad (Savory Sweet Life), Bee shaped PB&J sandwiches for the kids (use bee cookie cutter and Pepridge Farm thin sandwich bread), Fruit Salsa with Baked Cinnamon Chips (To-Die-For! from The Girl Who Ate Everything), super-smart individual veggie cups with dip (from Spearmint Baby),

Peanut Butter Bumble Bees (from Kraft Foods) – tip: don’t use natural peanut butter or your bees will be flat,

honey & cheese pairings with crackers (inspired by Hostess with the Mostess & Martha Stewart), and dipped Pirouette cookies (inspired by Kaylee Eylander photography/Jenny Cookie),

rock candy on sticks (Card & Party Store), Lemonade (Simply Lemonade with lemon slices),  and Arnold Palmer (Tea & Lemonade) for the drinks.

That brings us to the cake…oh that lovely cake. Have I mentioned I’m terrible with cake? Something always goes wrong. Icing is not my friend. And, yet, I find myself inexplicably drawn to it. Fooling myself into thinking this time will be different. It never is…I decided to ‘make it mine’ by turning the original idea into individual mini cakes. I bought two Wilton Mini Wonder cake pans that roughly resembled bee-hives to help with the process. Two nights before the party I gave it a go. The bees were fairly easy to do and came together pretty quickly. I was confident I could make up a bunch with little trouble. I used a Betty Crocker mix and the cakes came out of the oven fine. They stayed moist even after they cooled though, and I think this may have contributed to my biggest issue; the icing kept sliding off no matter what I tried. After my third time scraping it off and putting it back on, I had half a tub left and zero patience. I managed to get the first one all cleaned up again and tossed it in the fridge before dragging myself off to bed, accepting my defeat. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make 16 cakes, even if I stayed up all night to do it. So, I settled on trying to salvage one special smash cake for all the effort, and called it a night.

When I opened the fridge to check on it in the morning the icing had slid off once again.  I’m sure this was the universes way of telling me I should just stop with the whole cake baking thing… But, undeterred, I started over with one of the uniced cakes and cold frosting, tucking it quickly back into the fridge when I finished in the hopes, by some miracle, it could make it a couple of hours. The last try worked, and no one was the wiser.

Much to my surprise, Scott stopped off at a local bakery and ordered a cake the day before the party. He left to pick it up early that morning and the day was saved.

It ended up being a very good thing that it was a small gathering since it was a blazing hot day and the party ended up staying inside. We had just enough room for people to sit and move around without feeling crowded.

We gave Kaylee a Step 2 water table, Little Tykes piggy bank, and her very own watering can (she loves to help water the strawberries).

Kaylee had so much fun playing with the kids that I only caught a few glimpses of her the entire time. She spent most of the day running here and there and everywhere, a blur of curls and giggles. It was a perfect little day.

I purchased  my various supplies on Amazon and from the local Card & Party Outlet.

You can view my Pinterest Board of Party Ideas here

I shot a lot of pictures while I was working on various projects and hope to have some time to share them eventually too.

Special thanks to my MIL for all the help getting things ready to go on bee-day and to my SIL for taking some pics while I was distracted with other things

Food: Chocolate Truffles

 

Truffles, straight from the fridge, are one of my favorite decadent treats and this recipe is superb. It has been slightly adapted from a William’s Sonoma book. The end result is super chocolatey, with a divine melt-in-your-mouth texture. Try it, you’ll like it!

Makes 25 – 30 pieces

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup of Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder (unsweetened)

Directions:

  1. Cut the butter into small chunks. Set aside.
  2. Place cream in a saucepan over medium heat.  When cream reaches a simmer (tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pan) remove the pan from heat.
  3. Add the butter and chocolate to the saucepan with the cream and stir with a rubber spatula until everything is melted and the mixture is very smooth. If the chocolate is taking a long time to melt you can place the pan back over medium heat and warm for about 20 – 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and stir again. Don’t let the mixture get too hot or the chocolate will burn.
  4. Let the mixture cool to the touch, about 15 minutes. Using the rubber spatula, stir in the vanilla.
  5. Scrape the mixture into a shallow bowl and refrigerate until it is solid, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  6. Use a melonballer to scoop the chocolate mixture into rough balls. Place each scoop of truffle mixture onto a cool work surface (a cookie sheet or silpat that has been placed in the freezer works well).
  7. Mix the confectioners sugar and cocoa powder together in another shallow bowl.
  8. Working with 1 truffle scoop at a time, use the palms of your hands to roll it into a smooth, round ball. If the truffles become soft as you shape them rinse your hands in cold water or dip your hands into ice water, then dry them thoroughly. You can also refrigerate the truffles to firm them up before coating.
  9. Roll each newly formed truffle ball in the bowl with the sugar/cocoa powder mixture to coat.
  10. Place the finished truffles in an air tight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. (You can even freeze the truffles for up to 3 months.)

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Sweet Treats, by Carolyn Beth Weil (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Sensible Sippers

We came across R.W. Knudsen  Sensible Sippers at Whole Foods last fall. They have several varieties of organic fruit juice available in toddler friendly sizes. Kaylee’s favorite is the banana flavor but she also enjoys the apple as well. These things were a life savor during her transition from the bottle. She adamantly protested milk for the first few weeks after we took the bottle away and was prone to periods where she wouldn’t drink anything out of a sippy cup at all. She never turned up her nose at these little juice boxes though. There was a period of a few weeks where she would drink 3-4 boxes a day. That got pretty pricey, but thankfully that didn’t last long and the milk ban has been lifted. She also prefers water to juice but she still has a few boxes a week.

I have since set up a Subscribe and Save subscription for them at Amazon and have a 40 pack case delivered to our door every two months. They are also elibigle for an additional discount of 15% through the program which makes them cheaper and easier than picking them up from Whole Foods.  They’re organic, travel & store well, and aren’t packed full of sugar and preservatives which can be hard to find these days. We always keep a few in the diaper bag along with horizon milk boxes.

food: homemade vanilla extract

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I stumbled across a recipe for vanilla extract on the web last year and the idea has been milling around in the back of my mind ever since. When I saw this tiny jar at Michaels for $1 yesterday I knew it would be perfect for this project. I will say it’s not cheap, well I suppose it could be as cheap as you’re willing to be. I love a good vanilla extract, in fact I really feel it is the make-or-break ingredient for cookies, and most other recipes that call for it. I typically make a special trip up to The Spice House in Milwaukee once a year to pick some up. I prefer the Madagascar variety, but I happened to have a few Tahitian beans on hand from my last trip out there (I typically use the beans for to-die-for homemade vanilla custard, they’re not what I would consider cheap though at $14.95 for three beans).   In the bottle they went, along with enough vodka to fill the jar.

It didn’t look like much at first, and although recipes seem to vary, it should be ready in 6-8weeks with full maturation at around 6  months. A week later the liquid is brown rather than clear. Pretty impressive.

The recipe I used is from Baker Street. I like it because they noted that you need 1/3 cup of vodka per bean – useful info for smaller portions like mine. And the amazing thing about vanilla extract? You can refill the amount you use without adding more beans. Also, you can remove and dry the beans and add them to your sugar jar for vanilla flavored sugar.  For my next batch I’d like to make it with bourbon rather than vodka to see the difference in flavor.

cupcake stand to fruit storage

So, I thought I’d share a repurpose/organizational tip with you. I bought this cupcake stand from World Market for Kaylee’s first birthday. It looked cute and worked out great but it has been sitting on a shelf above the washer and dryer ever since. I was cleaning said shelf the other day and was about to put the cupcake stand in the garage sale pile when I thought of a new use for it.

We are also big fruit eaters and Kaylee adores apples, pears, and bananas so I try to keep a lot on hand. We have lots of cabinets in our kitchen and decent counter space, but no pantry. As such I have had to come up with some creative ideas for food storage. We also have a small fridge so our cold fruit storage is limited to berries, everything else has to sit out. So while apples would keep much longer in the fridge, there simply is not enough room for the amount we eat.

I had been keeping all of the fruit in bowls on the counter but it was ripening, and sometimes spoiling, before we could eat it. Enter the cupcake stand. It works out perfectly and makes it easy to see exactly what we have. Plus the fruit hasn’t spoiled yet, perhaps because there is less physical contact and more air circulation.

I’m looking forward to seeing it filled up with all of the lovely fruit we’re bound to bring home from the farmer’s market this summer.

 

food: flourless peanut butter cookies

Food Network has a recipe for flourless peanut butter cookies. I love a good peanut butter cookie, probably my second choice next to a good chocolate chip cookie, so I decided to give these a whirl due to their simplicity and gluten-free nature. This was my second batch, but the first turned out just as nice. This time around I used White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter in an attempt to spice them up a bit (confession: my husband picked up two of these from the store and it’s so sweet I couldn’t imagine ever using an entire jar of it for sandwiches and toast).

They didn’t really taste all that white-chocolatey, but they were yummy. They are fairly crumbly, I would assume this is due to their flour-free-ness. The sea salt on top adds a nice flavor as well. They are super simple too – just a few ingrediants and 10 minutes in the oven. They have quickly earned a spot in my cookie rotation and I can easily see them becomming my go-to cookie in a pinch.

food: homemade snickers

I stumbled on a homemade snickers recipe on “How Sweet It Is” and knew instantly that my co-workers deserved a special batch for valentine’s day. They were the talk of the office for days. Words just can’t describe the sweet perfection of these treats. The pictures barely do them justice. They did take quite a bit of time, mostly due to waiting for each layer to cool before adding the next. I started making then right after dinner and it took me about 4 hours to complete in between tending to Kaylee’s evening routine. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if daddy wasn’t home. On the bright side, the extras lasted a week in the fridge so these could definitely be made a head. I have come up with a few of my own ideas for modifications the next time I made a batch of these lovelies. I’d like to try them with homemade caramel and marshmallows. But, they are exquisite as is.

food: gluten free brownies

I whipped up some gluten free brownies for Valentine’s day. They were super simple with Betty Crocker’s gluten free mix (we also love the gf chocolate chip cookie mix).
I baked them in a pie pan for a different shape. They are dressed up with Hershey’s caramel sauce and raspberries. They tasted just like regular chocolate brownies too, a little crunch on top and soft-ish center, without the super full belly feeling (Scott refers to this as gluten gut) afterwards.