Monday, December 13, 2010

Willy Wonka...Willy Wonka...

Felt like freaking Willy Wonka over here making peppermint bark for the season...12 batches to be exact! I made it for party favors to hand out to our Christmas party guests, and to bring to two Holiday parties.

So much time, so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.

It is pretty easy once you get the hang of it!

Peppermint Bark Recipe (Yes, I multiplied this by 12.....I've got a golden ticket....!)

6 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped ( I use chocolate chips, they work fine)

6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  (helps the chocolate melt evenly, and stay the right consistency. Don't use too much, or the two layers won't stick together...batch one...)

4 teaspoons of peppermint extract (NOT MINT. Tastes like toothpaste!!! PEPPERmint only ;)  Candy making is serious business, people.)
1/3 cup crushed candy canes (I crushed these in the food processor. AMAZING. really freaking loud, but it works. Or, the way I used to do it.....plastic bag....hammer.....go.) I didn't need close to 6 cups of candy canes for my 12 batches....anyone need dozens of candy canes?? Much less was about all that I seemed to need - just a good sprinkling on top.


Peppermint Bark: Line the bottom and sides of a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, smoothing out any wrinkles.

Melt the milk chocolate and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. (double boiler = amazing. heatproof bowl balanced over a bowl of simmering water = just fine)

Once it is melted and smooth, quickly add 2 teaspoons of the peppermint extract, and stir thoroughly.  (It changes the texture...wants to like dry it out...so stir quickly to bring back original melted texture)

Immediately pour the melted chocolate into the prepared pan and tilt the pan so the chocolate makes an even layer.

Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Then, melt the white chocolate and remaining 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Again, add the other 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract at the end, once melted.

Immediately pour the melted white chocolate over the milk chocolate and tilt the pan so the chocolate is in an even layer.

Sprinkle the crushed candy canes evenly over the white chocolate. (Press down a bit so it sticks into the chocolate, and doesn't all fall right off when you go to break this into pieces)

Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Remove the Peppermint Bark from the pan by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil.

Peel back the foil and break the bark into small irregular pieces.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Makes about 25 pieces.

 double boiler...
 layer one
 layer two
 with candy cane pieces sprinkled on top

 Pulled out of the pan, once chilled
 breaking into pieces
 bark!
....12 batches of bark....!
                                          

Our Christmas party!

We had the best time at our Christmas Party we threw for our family and friends!
We had a white elephant gift exchange, and an ugly sweater contest!
I made Kylie and myself some pretty awesome "ugly" outfits! And Joe wore a Grinch t-shirt that he let me add a bit of glitter puff paint to!
 My sweatshirt!
Kylie's shirt I made from a plain red shirt....this was pre-bedazzling: we added about 50 glitter pom poms and jingle bells to this later!

I also made lots of fun party snacks!
We had pigs in a blanket, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, spinach artichoke dip with bread rounds, ranch dip with veggies, my sister's amazing guacamole and chips, olives, cheese, crackers, brownies, mini-cupcakes, and cookies!!

And warm apple cider with optional (amazing) spiced rum to add! YUM.

Recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients (I multiplied this recipe by three for the party, making 36, and they were gone in minutes!)

12 whole fresh mushrooms - white button are what I used, and some mini-portobello
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or olive oil)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus, I added more over the top before baking)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper - i skipped this and added mixed Italian Seasoning instead - basil, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel.
Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add garlic and chopped mushroom stems to the skillet.
Fry until any moisture has disappeared, taking care not to burn garlic. Set aside to cool.
When garlic and mushroom mixture is no longer hot, stir in cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, onion powder and cayenne pepper.
Mixture should be very thick. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing.

(Then, I sprinkled the remaining Parmesan cheese over the tops to form a crust)
Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet. (So much easier to place one mushroom each in my mini-muffin tins - then they don't roll around)
Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

Party. check! so there.

...by the chimney with care

I made us three some adorable stockings!
I bought 3 plain stockings at Big Lots for $2 each, with cute little curled up ends at the...toes?, and each in a different color.
Then, I cut our names out in bubble letters (Thanks Momma, this is how she made our family stockings years ago!!) from white felt.
I used spray adhesive to attach the letters to seasonal fabric.  (No sew!) I picked out a different one for each of us: a (manly, ha ha) red and green plaid (with glitter) for Joe, a forest green polka dot for me, and a striped snowflake fabric for Kylie. She was upset hers had less glitter than Daddy's, so I outlined her letters with silver glitter puff paint!
Then, I cut out a bigger version of the bubble letters in that fabric around the white letters already glued on, and attached each of these to the stockings.






AND stockings I made for the kitties!!

Ta da! Stockings!! So there.

Festivity!

I LOVE Christmas! Have I mentioned this? I love all the garlands I put up, and the little outside lights!
 I bought cheap, plain, artificial garlands at Walmart, and glitter ornaments from the Target $1 bin (where I live), and made these festive garlands to go up the staircase banister.

 I hung more of the same garland, with fake Poinsettia flowers from Michael's, above our kitchen area
 View of everything from outside!

Oh, Christmas Tree....!

We got our tree! A real, live, six foot tall tree! Hooray!
Last year I had a real one, but it was about 2.5 feet tall...now we finally have a place big enough, with a little rearranging!, for a full size tree.
I love it!
I got some amazing bird ornaments with feathers and glitter, and made a bow from ribbon for the tree topper we lacked.

 First ornament!




Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving Pot Luck!

We had a Thanksgiving pot luck & Chili/Soup cook-off at work! Very cool.
I brought a salad to balance out the mass amounts of chili I knew everyone would be consuming.
I love salads with fruit in them, so I decided to make up my own recipe with some in-season fruits, and one that was easy to make ahead of time!

It was so simple to make, and everyone really liked it!


I put baby spinach in first, with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. 
Then, added layers of :
freshly sliced oranges,
canned Mandarin oranges,
canned, sliced pears (because fresh would have turned brown),
grapes that I halved,
halves and pieces of walnuts
and dried cranberries

...and tossed the whole thing together.

I actually made this the day before, dressing and all, kept it in the fridge overnight, and in the fridge at work all morning, and by lunch it was still great!

Spinach holds up really, really well to dressing and doesn't wilt for a long time.  This made the salad even easier, since I could assemble everything ahead of time.

I sliced oranges the fancy way, and then also added some canned ones. ( in their own JUICE, NOT syrup)
I don't know WHY Joe & Kylie don't like canned Mandarin oranges - I love them!!
But, the trick to fancy orange slices is to peel the orange with a knife, taking off both the peel and all the white part. Then, cut in to each orange section right inside the white part from the left side, then the right, at a V angle, leaving you with perfect orange slices with no white part at all! You're so fancy!

Another fancy tip is to slice all the grapes in half. Not only are they easier to eat without flinging them across the room, while attempting to stab them with your fork...but they look very professional.
I don't think you need a step by step on this one, but I promise it doesn't take as long as you are thinking...just do it!

Now, the canned pears you may be thinking....umm, I don't want my salad to taste like an elementary school fruit cocktail... don't worry! Get the kind canned in their own juice, not sugar syrup, and slice them all evenly, and they really taste good! The reason I did this (I know pears are in season!) was because I knew the fresh pears would brown and look really gross, if I was going to make this all the day before.  Canned pears hold up nicely.

This salad, whether made for 2 people, or 75, is a simple, and wonderful addition to any meal!
So there. YUM!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

I am getting pretty excited for the Holidays…namely Christmas!!!
I bought some new decorations to be put up soon; got Kylie a mini fake tree with pink ornaments that we helped her decorate last night; and I made a wreath!

Kylie was so excited to get her own tree and to decorate it herself.
So fun!



…cats already attacked it once, spraying ornaments across the room. I hope this tree makes it until Christmas…or at least the weekend!  Test run for how they’ll act when we get our real tree. Two cats = double trouble for sure.


This wreath was so easy to make! Thanks to my friend Lauren and her crafty idea I copied!
I got some pretty ribbon and accessories at Michael's, along with this wreath base made of branches.

I tied the ribbon around to start, then just wrapped it around the whole wreath – hot gluing it at the end. The bow is a separate piece I also glued on. Then, added the little bird and leaves with a bit more glue.

I used one of those Command hooks (aka a hook that doesn’t leave a hole in your front door) to hang on the front door and voila! Festivity!







...and you better believe I am already listening to Christmas music non-stop. YES!!!

Ole!

I order Chicken Enchiladas Suizas just about every time we go out for Mexican food.
So I decided to find a healthier version I could make at home...

TA DA!



They turned out so well, Joe had seconds! That means the recipe was a real success :)

I served with extra sour cream, Mexican rice, and re-fried beans.
I also meant to add chopped spinach to the recipe, but forgot, so I served these with spinach on the side, that I added to the top of my enchiladas.

Oh, and it is like a casserole, so you don’t even have to roll up the tortillas into individual enchiladas, just cut into squares to serve.

And I halved the recipe and made in an 8x8 pan, not 9x13 so we would have 1 day of leftovers, not 6… (There was a never-ending casserole leftovers incident once…traumatic)

OK!
Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
3-4 Tbsp non fat milk
1 pound of cooked, cut up chicken
3 Tbsp light mayo
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 tsp adobo seasoning (couldn’t find – used “Mexican seasoning blend” I had on hand)
A pinch of salt
1- 4 oz can diced green chilis (I used mild)
A couple of big pinches of reduced-fat shredded swiss or Mexican blend cheese
8 soft taco size flour tortillas (use low-fat or whole grain)
1 cup reduced-fat shredded swiss or Mexican blend cheese
14 oz can green enchilada sauce
A couple extra tablespoons fat-free sour cream for the top
Avocados for garnish if desired
**(I don’t like anything spicy AT ALL, and Joe does, so I bought him a green jalapeƱo hot sauce to pour over his portion, and he was a very happy camper)

Directions:

   1. Combine yogurt and milk until it’s runny.
   2. Combine chicken, mayo, sour cream, green chilis, seasonings, and a couple big pinches of cheese. Mix well.
   3. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray and pour half the yogurt mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan.
   4. Cut up tortillas into squares and cover the yogurt with a single, even layer of tortillas.
   5. Spread half the chicken mixture over the tortillas. Top with 1/3 of the cheese, 1/3 of the can of enchilada sauce, and the rest of the yogurt mixture.
   6. Spread out another even layer of tortillas, then the rest of the chicken, 1/3 of the cheese and 1/3 of the enchilada sauce.
   7. Put on another layer of tortillas. Drizzle enchilada sauce over that, top with the rest of the cheese and a couple dollops of sour cream.
   8. Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes to slightly brown edges.
   9. Cut into 6 servings and top with chopped avocado if you desire. 



Friday, November 5, 2010

Awesome Ottoman, Man!

OMG, I love this! Two Words. Knitted Pouf
Sooo cute!!!! Click the link above to see!

It's Halloweeeeen Tiiiiime!

I made some pretty delicious cupcakes for our office Halloween Party. Did I MENTION I am on the Fun Team at work?!
The cupcakes are a yellow cake, with cream cheese vanilla icing, drizzled with pumpkin butter, and topped with a candy corn!
We'll call this one.....Semi-Homemade. Thanks Sandra Lee!

So to make said amazing cupcakes, first you'll need a mini cupcake baking pan.
Reason #2 you will want a couple of these? They are adorable!!!!

Reason #1 - besides baking the perfect bite-size cupcake to bring to a party (where everyone is too embarrassed to publicly try to neatly devour an entire regular cupcake, while engaging in semi-awkward co-worker conversation...), they also work great for (MINI- everything!!!!) mini quiche, individual omelets for a breakfast buffet - aka quiche with no crust; mini tarts, brownie bites, and more.
So!, you ask. "Where can I find such a wonderful baking pan?!?!"
Anywhere.
Mine are from Target: 24-cup Muffin Pan
It should make 24 cupcakes, whereas the regular size pans make 12.



This one with handles would actually be better ;) Muffin Pan
OK, so once you have the little cupcake pan, (get 2, one box of cake mix makes a lot of cupcakes) you will also need (adorable!!) little paper liners.
Occasionally found hiding in the baking/cake decorating section of the grocery store (I have had pretty good luck with this).



Also found in more varieties than white at your local Party store or Craft store.
See: Party City - search results: Mini Baking Cup = AWESOMENESS!

And now for the recipe. If you can even call it that...

Cupcakes:


1 box yellow cake mix (+ eggs, oil, water as directed by box)
1 jar cream cheese frosting.
1 jar vanilla frosting (I mixed the 2 two to mellow out the cream cheese flavor, but you can use either/or)
1 jar pumpkin butter (From Trader Joe's in the jam section. think: apple butter. Also amazing on toast.)
1 bag candy corn
(That's it!)


Directions:


Mix cake batter in large mixing bowl as directed.
Line pan with baking cups.
Fill each baking cup 3/4 full with batter.
Bake ABOUT HALF THE TIME OR LESS OF THE TIME DIRECTED FOR REGULAR SIZE CUPCAKES. Make sure to not over cook! Test by sticking a toothpick into them every couple minutes after they start to look about done.


Remove from oven and let cool completely.


Mix 2 frostings together (or make your own...HA oops.)
Use fancy new frosting piping bag you bought (woohoo, finally!), or a plastic bag with a corner cut off, or just a knife to frost the cupcakes with prepared frosting.


To Decorate:


Pumpkin Butter: Once frosted, use another frosting piping bag, or drizzle with a small spoon (less pretty, same taste!), fill with pumpkin butter, and drizzle over the top of all the cupcakes.


Candy Corn: Umm.....top with a couple Candy Corn.

And....voila!



We had such a fun Halloween season with a couple trips to the Pumpkin Patch, carving pumpkins, dressing up, and baking cookies, too!








Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Souper 2.0

Today was another soup kind of day...and now that I am getting into this making soup thing! I decided to try out another recipe.

Disclaimer - to my dear friend Jessica: don't be offended I didn't yet try your Tortilla Soup Recipe! I was trying to find one today that was similar to Avila's El Ranchito soup that I love! Next time, will be your recipe's turn! Thank you for all your awesome recipes!! More to be posted soon!



Thank You About.com...Southern Food section??....and thank you Google for helping me find this easy recipe!

Found here: http://southernfood.about.com/chickensouprecipes and slightly altered.

Basically it is: open cans, pour in pot, simmer, serve! SO easy and delicious!



Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • juice of 1 lime, or about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice ( I used 3oz. of tomato paste instead, since I strongly disike tomatoes)
  • 1 can mild green chiles, undrained (4 ounces)
  • 1/2 Jalapeno pepper, finely chopped, optional (I skipped this, because I think mild salsa is spicy, but Joe said the soup lacked a ZING, so it appears next time I should add this to his bowl, and it'd turn out better!)
  • 2 green onions, with most of the green, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, diced ( I used frozen)
  • 3/4 cup corn kernels, frozen, fresh, or canned drained ( I used a blended frozen mix with peas, green beans, and corn) aka...all the vegetables Kylie will eat!
  • 1 cup cooked chopped chicken ( I used canned all white meat, in water - sue me)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese or a shredded Mexican blend
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Serve with tortilla chips, rice/beans, sour cream (brown rice is really good added into the rice, when serving! that is what we did. refried or black beans on the side)

Preparation:

Simmer chicken stock with tomatoes, lime juice, jalapeno, green chiles, cilantro, green onion, carrots, and corn for 45 minutes (or as long as you have!...I probably only did 20 max...I think it was fine Enough time to thaw frozen veggies, heat thoroughly, and blend flavors); add chicken about 10 minutes before done.
Top each bowl of soup with tortilla chips, sour cream, and shredded cheese, and rice, or serve on the side.
Serves 4.

Ta da!
Perhaps red bowl, red soup wasn't the best option for the photoshoot...BUT they are CUTE bowls from Anthropologie! I love them - check them out here: http://www.anthropologie.com/latte bowls and the mini ones http://www.anthropologie.com/mini latte bowls are soooo adorable!! They actually are really reasonably priced, which is rare for the amazing Anthropologie. The big ones are $5 each and the mini are $2.50 each. (some math for you: I got 4 bowls and 2 mini bowls for $25. Not bad at all!) Plus, they look much fancier than the Ikea and Albertsons bowls that join them in our cabinet!


Last night, I also tried out one of the apple cobbler recipes I posted from yesterday's entry!
Recipe found at: http://southernfood.about.com/French Apple Cobbler

About.com/Southern Food again?!

Well, I actually followed the recipe exactly this time, except I halved it, and made it in a little bread loaf pan, because I figured we didn't need cobbler leftover for days. (Especially because SOMEONE, known as my boyfriend, doesn't LIKE pie, cobbler, cinnamon, or any fruit dessert. So....it'd just be me eating it. But, Kylie loved it!! Hooray!
It was super easy to make, and I actually had all the ingredients on hand already, except the 3 apples I bought. Try it out! Except, don't forget to get the vanilla ice cream at the store, like me, or you will be one sad panda...roaming around the kitchen trying to find a replacement to no avail.




So there.

ADDED NOTE:
Opt to add the jalapeno pepper to the soup...I added it to Joe's soup, night 1 of leftovers, and he said it made all the difference in the world. I also added a bit more salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That gave it the "zing" he was looking for ;)
So there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scarflace Narf

I just got this adorably awesome "scarf" !
I use the term loosely because it's more like a fabric necklace, and more to make me look cooler than keep me warm.

Check it out!
AND it is only $10 right now.....so...you should probably get one, too! From here: Roxy.com
I love it!

One crafty thing about it: It has a little TINY pewter silver feather charm at the very back of the scarf...WHY is it SO SMALL and SO CUTE?! AND COMPLETELY HIDDEN?! sad day.
So, I clipped the thread it was hanging by, and sewed it....(ok, ok, I am GOING TO sew it)...(I swear! I will!).....(soon!)...down toward the main part of the scarf, off to one side.  I want to check out the craft store for more little pewter colored charms to add, as well!.....but too many and I may end up looking like a Monopoly gameboard.
So there.

The apple of my eye


One thing I LOVE about fall is apple season! Yes, you can get pretty good apples year-round, but there is something about the fall months rolling in, that leads to that extra shiny, crisp, and juicy apple that i love!
There are more varieties than ever in the stores (Grapples...huh?!), and all the displays are so lovely.

We like the Fuji apples best around here; tried Gala, but they are not as crisp.


Now, you might think I am going to go all Martha Stewart on your ass and post lovely, fancy apple recipes...well. That's not the case.
In fact, I usually end up enjoying my apples quickly sliced with some huge steak knife, while buttering toast and pouring orange juice, then thrown in a plastic bag to be eaten at work later once sufficiently browned...YET still tasting great!
BUT...if I were to give you my favorite ways to use apples, these would be them!


*Thinly sliced or diced in a salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. (This works well with pears or roasted beets, too, but this is a post about...APPLES!)

*Baked in a yummy apple crisp or cobbler (ie: easier than a pie because these have no bottom crust. Just a super-easy layer of any variety of crumb topping on top of sliced apples)
Such as these:
Apple Cobbler Recipe
Apple Crisp Recipe

(PS Who knows the difference between a cobbler and a crisp! Not important.)
*Or, Kylie's favorite (and Joe's!) wedges dipped in peanut butter.

And here are some pretty apple pictures for you to drool over now.


So there. Happy Appling.

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